20th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Eon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at. 10 a.m., and read prayers:
– My ‘question, which is directed to the Treasurer, relates to the election promise by the Government parties to introduce legislation for an excess profits tax. Is it a fact that the Commonwealth committee on taxation has decided that there is no suitable formula for a tax on excess’ profits that can be applied within the limits indicated in the Treasurer’s letter dated the 15th November, 1950? If so, will the. right honorable gentleman state precisely the limitations that he imposed on the committee, and make available to honorable members the file containing the correspondence that passed between him and the committee on this subject, as well as the minutes of the. meeting of the committee at which the matter was discussed ? ‘
– The answer to the last part of the question is “No”. I direct the attention of the honorable member to the report of the committee on taxation. The committee was established by this Government in fulfilment of its promise to do so. The report is unequivocal. The terms of reference of the committee are stated in language that cannot be misunderstood. They were considered by the committee.
The findings of the committee are contained in a report tabled in this House. . [ have nothing to add to it.
– What about the limitations that the right honorable gentleman imposed ?
– Let me deal with the limitations alleged by the honorable member-
– Not alleged by me, stated by the committee.
– Order I The honorable member for East Sydney must not interject.
– If the honorable member will read the report, he will find that no limitations were imposed on the committee. The terms of reference of the committee conform exactly to the words used’ in relation to this subject in the policy speech of the Prime Minister.
– In view of the refusal of the United Kingdom taxation authorities to refrain from taxing pensions of British war widows resident in Australia if Australia exempts them, will the Treasurer make representations to the Prime Minister of Great Britain and request him to take the necessary steps to cause an amendment to be made to the British taxation laws to reverse this administrative decision?
– The question asked by the honorable member involves a matter of policy. The Government will consider the matter.
– Is it a fact that the Treasurer in 1939, when he participated in the debate on the Supply and Development Bill, stated that there was nothing to prevent the Government from operating a definite scheme for profit limitation? If so, is the right honorable gentleman still of the same opinion and will he bring his ideas to the notice of the Government in order to overcome his sudden and mysterious discovery of difficulties in tho way of imposing an excess profits tax ?
– I did not discover tho complexities of implementing an excess profits tax. A committee representative of the best brains available in Australia decided that it was impossible to introduce such a tax and, at the same time, maintain u degree of equity in its imposition. Whatever views I had in 1939 have been dissipated as a result of the passage of time and experience. If the honorable member lives long enough, no doubt he will be very sorry for many of the statements that he has made.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he recollects having made two broadcast addresses, one on the 5th October, 1950, entitled “Rising PricesWhy?”, and another on the 6th October, 1950, eu ti tied “Rising Prices- the answer”? Does the right honorable gentleman recollect that one of the answers that he -gave when dealing with the question of rising prices and extraordinary profits was the imposition of an excess profits tax ? I ask the right honorable gentleman whether it is a fact that, on the 5th December, 1950, in this chamber, in answer to the honorable member for Melbourne, who had asked when the excess profits tax legislation was to be introduced, he said that the honorable member could tell his colleagues that it did not matter a scrap whether the legislation wont on to the statute-book in the next week or the next month, because it would operate on the results of the whole of the year ? I now ask the right honorable gentleman whether he adheres to his original statement that extraordinary profits or exorbitant profits are being made by certain organizations in this country, and whether he has completely abandoned his idea of doing anything about them?
– Surely the honorable member for East Sydney is guilty of tedious repetition. His researches have not gone far enough. He has not examined the report of the committee to which the Treasurer has referred.
Mr. Ward interjecting,
-Order ! The honorable member for East Sydney is interjecting persistently. If he continues to interject while an attempt is being made to answer his question, I shall have to deal with him.
– He interjects because he is never interested in the answers to his questions.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral inform the House of the progress that has been made in the improvement and modernization of telephone services in Dubbo, particularly in relation to the transit switching facilities for trunk line connexions with towns served by the Dubbo telephone exchange. When is the work likely to be completed?
A noise bang audible,
– Order ! If I hear that noise again while the honorable member for Lawson is on his feet, some honorable members will find themselves outside the House. It is completely unparliamentary.
– A contract for the new telephone exchange building at Dubbo was let to a local company last June, I think. It is hoped the building will be completed some time in January of next year. It will be about six months after that before the installation of the necessary telephone apparatus has been completed. When that has been done Dubbo will have a very fine telephone exchange indeed. The magneto system will be replaced by what is known as the common battery system, and that will enable all telephone calls t.o be greatly expedited.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs give some indication of the stage that has been reached in the preparations for holding the Korean peace conference? Is it expected that this will commence at an early date, and, if not, what are the main causes that are delaying its commencement?
– The very brief story of the attempts to bring into existence a political conference, or a peace conference, in Korea, is that the Communists have not thought fit to accept the proposals of the United Nations. Mr. Dean, the very distinguished representative of the United States of America and the United Nations, visited Panmunjon and has been holding discussions with the Communists for a number of weeks. Two or three days ago, after his main discussions with the Communists had failed, the delegates divided into two committees which have been sitting for several days. The chief problem concerns the admission of neutrals, in some capacity, to the Korean political conference. That matter has not yet been determined. The place and time of the conference are also matters under discussion. Those are the details of our official information. According to press reports and radio broadcasts this morning, it would appear that there is now rather more hope for the reasonably early holding of a Korean peace conference, hut at the moment I have no official confirmation of those reports. I suggest that the United Nations attitude throughout has been that we quite firmly want to hold a Korean peace conference on reasonable terms which have not, up to now, been accepted. At the moment it appears that there is rather more hope of a conference coming into existence at a relatively early date. The important date ahead is the 23rd December, because on that date, according to the United Nations resolutions, the prisoners of war who have not accepted repatriation and do not want to return to their original countries, have to be turned over to the Korean political conference which is to have them within its charge for a month. Therefore, one can only hope sincerely that a Korean political conference can come into being at least before the 23rd December.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Army. As I think it would be correct to state that a considerable body of opinion in Australia believes that the press gave too lean a coverage to fighting in the Korean war, can the Minister say whether the Government has been able to take any action to increase the coverage of those exploits?
– I am at a loss to understand why the honorable member should suggest that there was a lean coverage, because I think that in the history of the world no other two battalions have had a greater number of press correspondents associated with them on active service. Ever since the 3rd Battalion went to Korea, the Government has had permanent public relations officers with the battalions and they furnished gratis to all Australian newspapers detailed accounts of the exploits of those battalionswith photographs. Three Australian battalions - the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment - have served in Korea. The metropolitan newspapers in the main have also sent from time to time a large number of journalists to be with the battalions and to work in co-operation with our own public relations officers in Korea. There has been almost a continuing association with the battalions. In December, 1951, the Minister for Defence arranged for twelve senior journalists, or editorsinchief, of newspapers from all States, with the exception, I believe, of Tasmania, which was not able to send a representative, to spend about 21 days in Korea and Japan and to live with our troops. Almost all of them wrote twelve or fourteen articles about the exploits of and the splendid work done by the Australian troops. Cinema photographers and wireless broadcasting technicians have also visited Korea and Japan to record the views of the men. I could go on interminably telling honorable members of what has been done in this connexion. Every effort has been made by the Government to ensure that the greatest publicity is given to the work done by our men in Korea. That applies also to the men of the Navy and the Air Force. They, too, have done a very good job. I do not think that anything more could usefully be done for them.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the dining room at Parliament House is a veritable baker’s oven, and that its heat was very much in evidence during the visit of the VicePresident of America? “Will the right honorable gentleman investigate the possibilities of improving the ventilating system of the dining room in view of the forthcoming Royal Visit?
– I have every sympathy with the honorable member because however hot it may be in the dining room, I assure him that the cooling system in the Cabinet room is indescribable. So, with a lively sense ‘of his interest, we shall do what we can about the matter that has been raised.
– Will you, Mr. Speaker, lay on the table of the House, for the information of honorable members, the report of the Public Service Board on. the administration of Parliament House?
– No, sir.
– In the ministerial party room the telephone directories for the country areas of Gippsland date back to 1951. As the Government has succeeded in bringing into operation a great many rural exchanges in country areas, would it be possible, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that the most modern telephone directories are provided in the party rooms ?
– I shall examine the matter.
– I preface my ques tion to the Postmaster-General by saying that I have made repeated representations to the Postal Department in connexion with residences provided for postmasters in country districts. Those residences are not equipped with garages.For some reason the department has refused to build garages in those places, with the result that the postmasters who possess cars must leave them in the open. They are not able to build garages themselves, because they do not own the property. Will the Postmaster-General give further consideration to the question of building garages where residences have been erected ?
– The department would like to provide garages and all other possible amenities for postmasters in various parts of Australia, but it is limited by the demand for real accommodation by people without homes. When it comes to a question of the provision of funds for an additional garage for somebody who already has a home as against the provision of funds for somebody who has not a home, priority must be given to the erection of the home.
– Has the attention of the Minister for External Affairs been drawn to statements about a very serious situation on the island of Formosa, sometimes called Taiwan? In view of the serious impact that a possible disturbance might have upon the policies of
Australia and the other countries affected, has the Minister any information as to the correctness of those statements ?
– The Department of External Affairs has no information other than that which has been publicly reported. I have already instituted inquiries, and I hope that by the end of to-day or at least by to-morrow the, department will have some positive and more authoritative information.
– Can the Prime Minister say why the number of immigrants who settled in Australia during the quarter which ended in September of this year-
– The Prime Minister is not responsible for the Department of Immigration.
– I know it is a question for the Department of Immigration, but the matter is one of great national importance. Can the Prime Minister say why the number of immigrants who settled in Australia during the quarter which ended in September, 1953, was 66 per cent, lower than the number of immigrants who settled during the quarter ended September, 1952? Can the Prime Minister also give any reason for the departure of 8,665 citizens from this country during the quarter which ended in September, 1953, other than that the living conditions of the people of this country, under the guidance of the present Government, are growing progressively worse quarter by quarter?
– In the first place, that it not a question. Secondly, if it i3 a question, it should have been directed to the Minister for Immigration who, obviously, is not here.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation, relates to the air service between the Northern Territory and the southern States. I direct the attention of the Minister to the fact that the service provided by Trans- Australia Airlines is already booked out for Christmas. In view of the fact that the air link is virtually the only link the Northern
Territory has with the southern States, and that the Government airline, together with other airlines, made available additional aircraft to cope with the Melbourne Cup traffic, will the Minister use his influence to have additional services made available to cope with the traffic offering in that part of Australia during the month of December?
– There are peak periods in the year when the airlines have great, difficulty in catering for all applications for passages. At times, the airlines try to obtain supplementary aircraft. Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited will have two new DC6 aircraft in operation from the beginning of next month. I have just given authority to Trans-Australia Airlines to charter a DC6 aircraft from about mid-December until some time in March, which will cover the summer season and the period of the Royal tour. ‘ I hope the chartering of the DC6 aircraft by Trans-Australia Airlines will enable it to make other aircraft available for the purposes mentioned by the honorable member.
Mr. Speaker having ruled out of order a question by Mr. Calwell,
– Order ! It is my invariable rule that 1 will not allow a question to be based on a newspaper report.
– On what authority do you base that rule?
– Order ! On the authority of the Chair.
– Is the Treasurer aware that the high interest rates which now exist are a major factor in the present inflationary situation? Is he also aware that such interest rates impose a. heavy burden on industry and home builders? Is he further aware that there is a widespread demand for a reduction of interest rates and that this trend is supported by the Sydney Financial Review? Will the right honorable gentleman institute proceedings in the Australian Loan Council with a view to securing a reduction of interest rates, as advocated for so long by the Australian Labour party?
– I consider that the honorable gentleman’s question is based on wrong premises. I am not aware of any demand for a reduction of interest rates, except a ridiculous reduction. I also point out that the Australian Loan Council, which includes five Labour Premiers, decides interest rates for Commonwealth loans.
– Will the Prime Minister give consideration to officially inviting all Victoria Cross winners who are living in Australia to attend the functions to be held in connexion with the visit of Her Majesty the Queen next year?
– I shall examine the honorable member’s suggestion. I do not know whether consideration has been given to a proposal of that kind, but I am obliged to the honorable member for raising the matter.
– Can the Minister for Territories inform, me whether it is true that an educational advisory board was appointed by the Administrator of Papua and New Guinea, and that no member or representative of a parents and citizens association was appointed to it? I point out that the existing board consists entirely of members of the Administration and the missions. If the Minister’s reply to my question is in the affirmative, will he state whether it is the policy of the Government to ignore or discourage-
-Order ! A question which involves Government policy must be placed on the notice-paper.
– My question does not involve Government policy. Is it the wish of the Minister or the Government to ignore or discourage valuable COntributions that parents and citizens organizations make nowadays in the field of education?
– The facts stated in the early part of the honorable member’s question are correct. The Education Advisory Board has been established under the education ordinance of the Territory, and His Honour the Administrator, in the discharge of the powers placed upon him by that ordinance, appointed the members of the board. .1 point out to the honorable member for Phillip and the House that the purpose of the Education Advisory Board is to tender advice to the Administrator on the actual administration of schools, and the persons or the institutions that can be properly represented on it are, in my view, those actually responsible for the administration of schools. Hence representatives of the missions and of the Administration, which also conducts schools, constitute the membership of the board.
– My question is directed to you, Mr. Speaker. Recently I asked the Minister for the Army a question in relation to a grave public scandal perpetrated at Tokyo. I refer to the Army payroll robbery. You requested me to resume my seat as the matter was sub judice because investigations were being carried out by a court martial. On what did you base your ruling, Mr. Speaker? Did you have official notification of the sitting of the court martial, or did you just accept the word of the Minister ?
– If the honorable gentleman had any objection to a ruling that I gave, he should have taken it at the time. I may inform him that the only scandals in which I am entitled, to exhibit any interest from the Chair are those that tate place in this building.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether it is a fact that scores of Nissen huts and buildings of other types that are the property of the Commonwealth are unoccupied at Parkes, Newcastle and other towns in New South Wales and are falling into a state of disrepair. Is it also a fact that the Minister recently informed the honorable member for Calare that the Government did not intend to re-open the immigrant centre at Parkes and that he was of the opinion that the buildings there were not suitable for housing? If those are facts, will the Minister indicate whether he intends to let the buildings at Parkes and other places fall to pieces while thousands of people are still without shelter or to offer them to State authorities which may be able to use them to provide at least temporary accommodation for many of the people who require homes?
– I do not know all the facts in connexion with the honorable member’s very long question. The main trouble with some of the immigration depots that are no longer required for immigration purposes is that they do not comply with local building regulations in relation to the height of ceilings and other matters. Consequently the local councils will not approve of their use for housing. In such circumstances, the only thing to do is to sell them for demolition purposes. As I have said, I am not completely familiar with all aspects of the matter raised by the honorable member’s question. However, I shall consider the whole problem and will supply him with a further reply.
– The question thatI wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, refers to the official report of adjournment debates in this House. Will you take up with the Hansard authorities the possibility of having the reports of such speeches provided with subject-matter headings in the same way as are questions without notice? This would make the reports far more readable from the point of view of the genera] public, and I believe that the innovation would be welcome.
– I shall examine the matter.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) - agreed to -
That Standing Order104 - 11 o’clock rule - be suspended for the remainder of the Session.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That leave he given to bring in a bill for an Act to declare a certain flag to he the Australian National Flag and to make other provision with respect to flags.
– The bills to which notices of motion Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 refer are inter -related. I suggest, for the convenience of the House, that one second-reading speech be made on those four bills, and that subsequently each bill be considered in committee separately and passed separately. I have discussed this matter with the honorable member for Melbourne, who agrees with the suggestion I have made.
– Is there any objection to the course proposed?
– I assume we shall see the bills. If any difficulty arises, doubtless we shall be able to raise the matter with the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) and with you. Mr. Speaker. It may be very convenient to do as he has suggested.
– We can deal with each bill separately in committee.
– I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not a party to any arrangement made between the two sides of the House on matters such as this. If the two sides of the House agree on a certain course of action, I am prepared to agree also, but I must not be asked to act as an arbitrator.
– As I understand the suggestion made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, each of the bills will be dealt with separately in the usual way, but only one second-reading speech will be made. It will cover the four bills. I think that is a reasonable proposition.
– I object to any agreement being made in respect of a bill before honorable members have seen it. When the bills have been introduced, I may be prepared to agree to the course suggested, but I object to any agreement made between the Vice-President of the Executive Council and the honorable member for Melbourne if honorable members do not know anything about the matter in respect of which it has been made. I feel that, by accepting such an agreement, we should be doing something that is not in the best interests of parliamentary representation. On many occasions, arrangements have been made about which honorable members on both sides of the House know nothing. I say that we should know what we are doing before we agree to accept this suggestion.
– In the circumstances, I have no alternative but to rule that every honorable member will be entitled to speak on the motion for the second reading of each bill.
Motion (by Sir ARTHUR Fadden) agreed to -
That, leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to give the force of law to ‘certain conventions and agreements with respect to taxes on income, and for purposes incidental thereto.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I take it that, despite the arrangements arrived at with the Opposition, I must make a second-reading speech on each of the four bills to which reference wa.° made just now.
– I understand that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), and the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) made an arrangement designed to prevent, repetition. I assume that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) will make a secondreading speech on this bill and, in dealing with the other bills, will say just as much or just as little about them as he thinks fit. Then these matters will be considered separately. In the long run time will not be lost, and everybody will have the right to speak on the measures. I suggest that the Treasurer should go ahead with the second-reading speech of the first bill.-
– There is nothing to prevent the Treasurer from making a speech now which will cover the four bills. Then, as the other three bills come up he will be in order in merely moving that each bill be read a second time. However, because of the objection that has been taken to this procedure, I cannot deny to other honorable members the right to speak on each of the bills, because they have that right under the Standing Orders and the rules of procedure.
– The Opposition has appointed a representative to help the Government carry out its duties in this House in an orderly manner. The House has disagreed entirely to the suggestion that I made, and of which you, MrSpeaker, have no knowledge. That suggestion arose out of an arrangement between the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and myself. Now,. .. certain honorable members of the Opposition have denounced the arrangement made between the leaders of the parties, and I suggest that some arrangement should be made that will convince them that the debate in this House will be quite general. As the arrangement made between the leaders in the House on the orderly procedure of business has not been accepted, we on this side accept the ruling that you have given. Second-reading speeches will therefore be delivered on every one of these four successive bills, and your ruling will be carried out. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) cannot have his way in an endeavour to overcome the objections nf his party to his leadership.
– I rise to order. Tho Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) stated that a number of honorable members of the Opposition had objected to the proposed procedure. I point out that I was the only one on this side who did so object. However, I do not renounce anything that the Opposition has agreed to. The right honorable gentleman has been endeavouring to put words “into my mouth to the effect that I have renounced the leadership of this party. That is definitely wrong. If the right honorable gentleman had. moved his motion after the four bill, had been presented, I should not have objected. I objected to the second-reading speech on a bill that had not been introduced. If the Opposition has ]na,’e an arrangement with the Government I am prepared to sand by it, but T am not prepared to give away the rights of this House to have a bill before it before it makes a decision.
– I suggest to the Treasurer that he should move, in respect of each bill, that the second reading be made an order of the day for a later hour this day. Then he can deliver four secondreading speeches later.
– Tie purposes of the Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill are threefold. In the first place, the measure proposes to give the force of law to a convention signed last May by the Commonwealth and the United States of America. The convention is designed to relieve of double taxation the incomes flowing between the two. countries, and to prevent fiscal evasion. The convention has already been ratified by the United States Government.
Secondly, the bill provides for the continued application of a similar agreement entered into by Australia and the United Kingdom in 1946. Finally, the bill contains machinery provisions required in connexion with the practical operation of the agreements made by the Commonwealth with those two countries.
The agreement with the United Kingdom has had the force of law since 1947, by virtue of provisions then included in the Income Tax Assesment Act. Those provisions are still effective, but it has been considered appropriate to include in one measure the whole of the statute law relating to agreements for the relief of international double taxation of incomes. The adoption of this course will necessitate the repeal of some provisions of the existing income tax law, and a separate bill will be introduced for that purpose. Corresponding provisions, adopted for application in relation to both the United Kingdom agreement and the United States of America convention, are contained in the bill now before honorable members.
Experience has shown that the double taxation agreement with the United Kingdom has facilitated the investment of United Kingdom capital in Australia, and has thereby assisted in the development of this country. It was in the light of this knowledge that the Government acceded to a United States proposal for discussions directed towards a similar arrangement between the Commonwealth and the United States. Exploratory talks held in Canberra in March, 1952, gave rise to proposals for the consideration of both governments. A detailed examination was undertaken of the practical effects of the propositions advanced, after which the Government authorized the drafting of a convention based on the principles approved. The text of the convention was adopted by the Government, and the Australian Ambassador in Washington signed the convention on behalf of the Commonwealth on the 14th May, 1953.
The broad principles of the convention are similar to those underlying the 1946 agreement with the United Kingdom. International double taxation may occur when an individual or company resident in one country earns income in the other country. It is usual for the country in which the income has its origin to impose tax while, in many instances, the country in which the recipient resides also levies tax on the income. The resultant double taxation is necessarily a deterrent to the international investment of capital. The convention employs two means of relieving the taxation by Australia and the United States of America on incomes flowing between the two countries. The first applies to certain classes of income, which are to be taxed only in the country in which the recipient resides. The second applies to other classes of income, and envisages the country of origin taxing the whole of the income while the country of residence, if it imposes tax, will allow a credit to relieve any double taxation. Stated in .broad terms, the purpose of the credit is to reduce the total burden of tax in the two countries to the higher of the taxes imposed by the two countries.
In the case of dividends, each country agrees, as a general rule, to limit its tax to 15 per cent, of the dividends paid to shareholders resident in the other country. The shareholders also bear tax in the country in which they reside, but there is allowed against this latter tar: a credit in respect of the 15 per cent, tax imposed by the country from which the dividend was paid. Lest it be thought that this country has been too generous to American residents who have invested their capital in Australian companies, I shall quote two paragraphs from page 59 of an explanatory memorandum which is being made available to honorable members. They are -
A very Urge proportion of the dividends flowing Australia to the United States is paid to United States corporations by subsidiary companies incorporated in Australia. Under the existing law, the profits of the subsidiary company are taxed by Australia, nml the dividends paid to the United States pa.-unl corporation are also taxed by Australia, ‘those dividends are again taxed by the United States in the hands of the parent company, while the ultimate individual shareholder who receives a dividend from the parent corporation is also subjected to United States tax.
At the rates of tax recently enacted, each pound of profit earned by an Australian public company and distributed as a dividend to a United States corporation bears Australian tuxes of up to lis. 6.:id. By restricting the amount of Australian tax on tho dividends to 15% of those dividends, the aggregate of. the Austraiian taxes will generally be Ss. 11.4d. for each pound of profit distributed by a public com pany
When it is borne in mind that the profits which have been taxed to this extent in Australia have to survive inclusion in the profits of the company for taxation purposes and are subjected to further tax in the hands of American shareholders in the American corporations, the need for tax relief cannot reasonably be denied.
The principal classes of income to be taxed only in the country of residence are shipping and air transport profits, pensions, purchased annuities, cultural royalties, remuneration of businessmen on visits of up to six months and business profits not arising through a permanent establishment in the country in which the profits have their source. All other classes of income are taxed in the country in which the income arises. The great bulk of incomes earned by undertakings in the United States of America from sources in Australia will continue to bear Commonwealth tax. The United States will provide the appropriate relief from doable taxation. Australia will, as in the past, protect its residents against double taxation on those classes of income which arise in the United States of America and which are taxed in that country.
A copy of the convention is included as the Second Schedule to the bill and honorable members will observe that
Article XVIII permits the exchange of available information between the taxation authorities of the two countries, if that information is necessary to carry out the provsions of the convention or is required for the purpose of preventing fraud or administering laws against the avoidance of tax. .Secrecy in respect of all information exchanged is provided for and, furthermore, there is a prohibition against exchanging information which would disclose any trade secret or trade process.
In Article XVI each country undertakes, where practicable, to collect on behalf of the other country amounts of tax sufficient to ensure that concessions provided in the convention are not enjoyed by persons not entitled to them. This assistance is granted on a reciprocal basis and clause 20 of the bill contains provisions enabling the Commonwealth to carry out its obligation in this respect.
The Government is gratified at the interest already shown both in the United States of America and in Australia in this convention. It is confident that the avoidance of double taxation will encourage the continued investment in Australia of capital which will contribute much towards a balanced economy and the further development of this country. When this bill receives the Royal assent, arrangements will be initiated for the exchange of instruments of ratification between the two countries. If this exchange is made before the end of this year, the convention will be effective in Australia from the commencement of the current income year 1953-54 and in the United States of America from the 1st January, 1953.
It is necessary to introduce four bills to give the force of law to the convention signed by. the Governments of Australia and the United States of America in relation to income tax, estate duty and gift duty and to effect the other slight changes which I have indicated in my speech. As the .four bills are closely related, it would be convenient, Mr. Speaker, to have your concurrence and that of the House to debate the four measures together.
.- I move -
That the debate be now adjourned.
The Opposition has no objection to debating the four measures together.
– As long as they are introduced.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is commencing to speak to the motion for second reading.
– I am not. I am replying to the suggestion made by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). Surely I am entitled to comment on that.
– There has been enough comment. I have given a ruling which cannot be circumvented.
– It is a ruling against me.
– I do not care whom it is against.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the law relating to income tax.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The primary purpose of this bill is to delete from the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act the provisions which relate to agreements for the relief of international double taxation of incomes so that those agreements may be implemented in separate legislation. As I have already indicated, corresponding provisions are proposed in the Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill 1953.
Effect is at present given to the double taxation agreement made in 1946 by the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom by the provisions of Part IIIb of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act and the inclusion of a copy of the agreement as the Third Schedule to that Act. It is now proposed to omit both Part IIIb and the Third
Schedule from that Act. Continuity in the application of the agreement is provided for in the Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill. Prior to the coming into force of the 1946 agreement with the United Kingdom, partial relief from double taxation was provided for by the allowance of rebates under section 159 of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act. That section has, however, been superseded by the provisions of the agreement and the section is now redundant. Accordingly, it is to be repealed as from the commencement of the income year which commenced on the 1st July last. The repeal will not, however, affect the rights of taxpayers to be allowed rebates under the section in respect of income derived before the agreement became effective.
The bill contains proposals of a drafting nature made necessary by the renumbering last year of certain provisions of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act. It also leaves open the way for the Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill 1953 under which all provisions relating to international income tax agreements will be brought together in one act. The explanatory memorandum to which I referred in my speech on the Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill 1953 also covers the clauses of this amending bill.
Debate (on motion of Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to give the force of law to a convention with the United States of America with respect to duties and taxes on gifts, and for purposes incidental thereto.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Sir ARTHUR FADDEN (McPherson-
Treasurer) [10.59]. - by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
On lLo 14th May of this year, a convention for the avoidance of double taxation on the estates of deceased persons and the prevention of fiscal evasion was signed on behalf of the Commonwealth and thu United States of America. The convention has already been ratified by the Government of the United States of America. It is proposed in the bill now before honorable members to give the force of law to this convention and, in addition, to provide for the practical operation of the convention.
When a person dies domiciled in Australia and his estate includes personal property situated in another country, the estate may, in respect of that property, be subjected to double death duties. Correspondingly, double duties may be levied on property situated in Australia if the deceased person was domiciled outside Australia. Under the existing laws of the two countries, a measure of relief from the double taxation is already provided. However, this relief may be seriously inade.%, :e, if the laws of the two countries regarding the situation of property are in conflict. The convention, in addition to ensuring a continuation of the practice of allowing credits, sets out rules relating to the situs of property. The adoption of these rules will render the credits allowable under the convention more effective than is at present practicable under existing lav.-. The rules determining the situs of property are comprehensive in their scope except that a mutually acceptable rule regarding the situation of shares could not be arrived at. Nevertheless, there will be few, if any, cases in which the practical operation of the convention will fail to give appropriate relief from the imposition of double death duties on the estates of deceased persons. In the generality of cases, the rules of situs adopted in the convention vary little from the rules now applied for the purpose of Commonwealth estate duty. Their chief value lies in their mutual acceptance by both countries.
The convention provides for a limited exchange of information between the taxation authorities of the two countries and, in this connexion, it will be observed that secrecy is to be maintained in relation to information exchanged. Information which would disclose a trade secret or a trade process will not be exchanged. The convention, which will becomeoperative when instruments of ratification are exchanged, will give more effective application to the principle, already acknowledged by both countries, that double duties on estates should be relieved..
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That leave he given to bring in a bill for an act to give the force of law to a convention with the United States of America with respect to duties and taxes on gifts, and for purposes incidental thereto.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The principal purpose of this bill is to give the force of law to a convention signed by Australia and the United States of America for the avoidance of the double taxation of gifts and the prevention of fiscal evasion. The principles which underly the convention are similar to those that apply in respect of the estate duty convention. The provisions of this bill accordingly correspond with those of the Estate Duty Convention (United States of America) Bill in respect of which I have just spoken.
This bill, by giving effect to the convention, will result in the relief of doubletaxation on gifts. I may add that the convention has already been ratified by the United States Government. This convention also will become operative when instruments of ratification are exchanged. A memorandum explaining the clauses of this bill and of the Estate Duty Convention (United States of America) Bill and the articles of the two conventions is being made available to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Anthony) agreed to.
That leave ho given to bring in a bill for an act to provide for the payment, through the Australian Wheat Board, to growers of wheat of a certain season of certain moneys in the Wheat Prices Stabilization Fund.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave -I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to authorize a refund to wheat-growers of moneys collected by them by way of export tax on wheat sold and shipped overseas by the Australian Wheat Board from the 1950-51 crop - known as No. 14 pool - together with interest that such moneys have earned in the meantime. The tax so collected was paid into the Wheat Prices Stabilisation Fund, the development and the maintenance of which have been fundamental features of the five-year wheat stabilization plan that expires with the marketing of the 1952-53 crop. This fund is a trust fund and its purpose has been to provide the moneys needed to meet any liability to wheat-growers in pursuance of the Commonwealth guarantee under the wheat stabilization plan. The Commonwealth guarantee over the period of the plan has meant that wheat-growers would receive in each year of the plan the established cost of production in respect of up to 100,000,000 bushels of wheat exported. If at any time the moneys in the fund, representing wheat industry contributions, should prove insufficient to meet the guarantee, the plan provided that the Commonwealth would then contribute from revenue the further moneys required to do so. The continuance of strong overseas demands and favorable export prices for wheat for a number of years now has precluded any necessity to effect payments to growers from the stabilization fund in respect of the guarantee. In fact, it has been possible, in recent years, to make repayments from the fund to growers from time to time.
At present there remains in the Wheat Prices Stabilization Fund an amount slightly in excess of £20,000,000, representing approximately £11,000,000 collected on exports from the 1950-51 crop - No. 14 pool - and approximately £9,000,000 collected on the 1951-52 crop - No. 15 pool. Tax collections were suspended during the 1952-53 wheat export year - No. 16 pool. After the passage of the bill an amount of about £11,000,000, plus interest, will be transferred from the Wheat Prices Stabilization Fund to the No. 14 wheat pool account and distribution to growers will be effected by the Australian Wheat Board on similar lines to earlier payments to them of the trading proceeds of the No. 14 pool. This, together with an amount of about £700,000 at present in the trading account, will represent the final payment on No. 14 pool, and will amount to about1s. 4d. a bushel. It has been the policy of the Government, endorsed by the industry, that the stabilization fund should operate as a revolving fund and that, when repayments are made to the industry, they should be effected from the oldest contributing pool.
As I mentioned earlier, the term of the first five-year plan has now virtually expired and there is no possibility of this money being required in connexion with that plan. The withdrawal of the money will still leave in the Wheat Prices Stabilization Fund an amount of approximately £9,000,000, being moneys retained from No. 15 pool. This is being held as the nucleus of a new stabilization fund, in the possible event of the development of a further wheat stabilization plan. Whether there will be a new plan or not will depend upon negotiations at present proceeding between the Australian and State governments and wheat industry representatives and, finally, upon the wishes of the growers themselves, since the Australian Government is not prepared to legislate for a new plan unless the growers in the wheat producing States indicate at properly conducted ballots that they favor the introduction of the plan finally proposed to them. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
SUPPLY. (“ Grievance Day.”)
Postal Department - Dairying - Mar garine - Telephone Services - Skeleton Weed - Myxomatosis - Security - Road Safety - Housing - Grasshoppers - Employment - Government Loans andfinance - Communism.
Question proposed -
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair and that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.
.- I have been asked by one of my electors to direct the attention of the House to the avoidance by the Postmaster-General’s Department of an obligation in connexion with an accident which occurred in Sydney some time ago. The case illustrates the extraordinary lengths to which this department will go in an endeavour to avoid the payment of its obligations to a person who has met with an accident, or whose motor car has been damaged in a collision with a departmental vehicle, when it is proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the responsibility for the matter lies with the department.
Mr. C. D. Burton, of 39 Kyogle.street, Maroubra, owns taxicab No. 1894. For a part of the time, he employs as driver Mr. J. Mottl, aged 25, of 5 Regent-street, Paddington, who is a taxi-driver by occupation. At 12.15 p.m., on the 12th May last, a Holden vehicle, the property of the Postmaster-General’s Department, and driven by Mr. W. C. Robinson, of 53 Wilbur-street, Lakemba, telephone No. UL3823 was involved in an accident with the taxi-cab. I mention, in passing, that I am giving all the details in order to show how careful Mr. Burton was to find out all the particulars. The Holden driven by Mr. Robinson bumped the offside mudguard of Mr. Burton’s taxi-cab, which was proceeding at a speed of about 5 miles an hour to the north through Elizabeth-street, Sydney. The accident occurred about 30 feet from the intersection of Elizabeth-street and Martin-place. According to the account of Mr. Mottl, Mr. Robinson stated to Police Constable Tolhurst, No. 2847, of the Water Police, that he was avoiding a collision with a car on his right hand side, and, in doing so, swung his car to the left and hit the taxi-cab. Mr. Robinson admitted that he was at fault in respect of the accident.
The story that I shall tell shows the lengths to which the Postmaster-General’s Department, or its officers, are prepared to go, and the tricks that they got up to, in an endeavour to avoid making a just payment to Mr. Burton of a paltry sum of ?9 15s. I believe that the cost of all the investigations which were supposed to be carried out by the department in an effort to avoid the payment of that sum would approximate ?50 or ?60. Mr. Burton reported the damage to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and received on the 11th August last the following letter signed by Mr. M. Sharpe, on behalf of the officer in charge of the postal investigation section: -
Without prejudice. Collision involving vehicles C.66334 and T1894, in Elizabeth-street, Sydney, on 13th May, 1953. I refer to your claim of ?9 15s. representing the cost of repairs to your vehicle and demurrage.
In order to permit further inquiry, would you please favour me with an itemized account of the repairs.
Should your vehicle be comprehensively insured, and you inform me of the name of the company concerned, I will negotiate with them direct and perhaps save you further inconvenience in the matter.
Those requests for information are of great importance, as I shall proceed to show. The Postmaster-General’s Department displayed considerable solicitude for the welfare of Mr. Burton in this respect. As a matter of fact, this interest in his affairs was most pointed. On the 14th August, Mr. Burton wrote to Mr. Sharpe, as follows : -
Quoting LetterN. 1/2/551.
I thank you for your letter of the 11th inst., and further to my phone conversation with you this day, I herewith enclose my account relative to the damage in respect to taxi-cab T.1894.
The charge of ?3 for one day’s demurrage was extremely conservative. The negotiations between Mr. Burton and the department were apparently in abeyance until I raised the matter with the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) in October. The honorable gentleman wrote to me on the 21st of that month, as follows: -
Following on your personal interview with me yesterday in connexion with your representations on behalf of Mr. C. D. Burton, 39 Kyogle-street, Maroubra, who approached you concerning the delay by the department in dealing with his claim in respect of damage suffered by his taxi-cab, 1 would like you to know that I shall have this matter investigated, and will let you have further advice within the course of the next few days.
I had no further advice from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, but Mr. Burton received a telephone call from Mr. Sharpe who, according to the information supplied to me, said -
I am just ringing to ascertain the name of the company with which you are insured.
I can assure you that the matter will be expeditiously handled.
This display of solicitude for Mr. Burton, and the deep interest in the insurance company, are most interesting. I shall refer to those matters again in a few moments. On the 30th October, Mr. McCarthy, another officer of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, telephoned Mr, Burton, and asked for information about the cost of repairs to the taxi-cab. Mr, McCarthy also promised Mr. Burton that he would fix the matter up in a few days if Mr. Burton told him the name of the insurance company. On. the 13th November, Mr. Burton received the following letter from Mr. S. F. Kellock, who is the Director of Posts and Telegraphs : -
Very careful consideration has been given to your claim for £9 15s., representing demurrage and the cost of repairs to your vehicle following its collision with departmental vehicle C.G6334 in Elizabeth-street on 13th May, 1953.
Reports indicate that the departmental driver was not guilty of any negligence, and in the circumstances it is regretted that the department cannot accept liability for the damage to your vehicle.
I remind the House that the driver of the departmental, .vehicle had admitted to the police that he was guilty. All the investigations and negotiations that had been proceeding for a long while were abruptly terminated by the letter. The whole point of this matter is that one of the conditions under which a taxi-cab is insured - and this condition is inserted in the policy - is that the driver of the cab must pay the first £10 of the amount of any damages caused to the vehicle. The solici tude displayed by officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for this man when they were trying to discover whether he was insured, was shown for the express purpose of ascertaining the name of the insurance company, so that they could avoid payment under that condition in the policy. They knew, of course, that the company with which Mr. Burton was insured would not take any proceedings against the department. I consider that the department took a mean advantage of this man when it threw upon him the onus of suing it for £9 los. As every honorable member knows, the slow processes of the law in respect of such claims would involve Mr. Burton in a considerably greater cost than £9 15s., even if he won the case. The department had adopted a paltry attitude. The Postmaster-General issues gold-edged invitations to functions here and there, and hundreds of pounds are spent on booze and all sorts of celebrations, yet the department tries to sidestep its obligations to a taxi-cab driver for a paltry amount, and, incidentally, isspending a considerable sum of money in doing so. I ask the Postmaster-General to be decent about this matter. Mr. Burton is an ex-serviceman, who drew his taxi-cab in a ballot for licences. He is not well endowed with worldly goods. He should be compensated for the damage that his vehicle sustained.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I take this opportunity to direct theattention of the House to the situation that has developed in the dairying industry’s fight for survival against a substitute product. I speak with particular reference to the action of some State governments in almost completely relaxing their margarine quotas. The Queensland Labour Government recently increased the margarine manufacturers’ quota in that State from 686 tons to well over 6,000 tons per annum. The New South Wales Government also increased the quota for that State from 1,24S tonsto 2,500 tons per annum. That, I think, was not unreasonable. However, theaction of the Queensland Government could easily cause chaos if the manufacturers of margarine in that State took advantage of section 92 of the Constitution in order to sell their product throughout Australia. Their quota of over 6,000 tons, when added to the quotas of other States, would at this stage supply almost all of Australia’s needs. . The difficulties of the Australian dairying industry have developed over a number of years. Some people may argue in favour of complete freedom of trade for the margarine manufacturers. However, as Mr. Norton, one of the leaders of the dairying industry has pointed out, every pound of margarine sold displaces a pound of butter.
The dairying industry complies with the standards of working hours and wages laid down in this country by the established arbitration authorities. It bears heavy costs that are imposed upon it because manufacturers and trade unions have applied to the Tariff Board for protection against the introduction of cheap machinery and materials. Thus, the dairying industry has a very high cost structure. I make no criticism of that. I merely point it out as a fact. Honorable members know, from the findings of the Milk Board in Sydney and other authorities, that the prices of dairy products are high because of the costs the industry has to bear. One of the high costs was agreed to by the former leader of the Labour party, Mr. Ferguson. Because the industry is saddled with such costs, it has great difficulty in meeting the competition of an article which contains ingredients derived from copra that is produced in New Guinea, where hours and conditions of labour are on a fantastically lower scale than on the mainland. Furthermore, manufacturers of margarine <san use an efficient machine which will produce many tons of this commodity each day, whereas the dairy-farmer must work seven days a week, milk his cows twice a day, and look after each animal separately.
My argument is not intended to support the imposition of further restrictions. We on this side of the House believe, because of our Liberal principles, in maintaining freedom as far as possible. However, the practice of granting protection to the dairying industry has become established in Australia. Other industries are safeguarded in the same way. Some protection against the inroads of mar- garine is needed at this stage of development of the dairying industry. World trends show that there is a general neglect of butter production in favor of other dairy products. This has been forced upon the industry everywhere by the inroads of margarine. The prices charged for butter and margarine respectively in various parts of the world make an interesting study. In Australia, butter costs 4s. lid. per lb. and margarine costs 2s. 6d. In the United Kingdom, butter costs 4s. 2d. per lb. and margarine ls. 10£d. In the United States of America, where butter is of a lower quality than in Australia, the price of butter is 7s. 3d. per lb. and that of margarine 2s. 8½d. Obviously, less discriminating purchasers and those who have not the economic means to pay the higher price for the better quality dairy product will buy margarine. I understand that about two years ago, when butter went off the market, the New South Wales Government told margarine manufacturers that they could ignore their quotas. It needed margarine at that time for government institutions, such as gaols, lunatic asylums and immigrant hostels. The result was that the margarine manufacturers began to produce large quantities, and some of them were reluctant to reduce their output to the quota levels. In fact, I understand that in New South Wales the quotas of margarine are still completely ignored. Some litigation on this issue is now in progress.
The Australian Agricultural Council must come to some arrangement about margarine. Some logical and reasonable action must be taken, particularly in respect of Queensland, where the Labour Government, notwithstanding the protestations of the Labour party generally that it will look after the interests of primary producers, has thrown caution to the wind. The demand for margarine in Queensland is about 900 tons a year, but, as I have said, the present quota for the State is over 6,000 tons a year. The manufacturers of margarine in Queensland can easily flood the Australian market with their product. Various results can flow from the Queensland Government’s decision. The dairying industry has geared itself to produce butter, and large capital sums have been invested in butter manufacturing equipment.
Mr. George Lawson interjecting,
– The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) should be ashamed of his colleagues in Queensland. Their action was utterly shameful. No argument in favour of removing restrictions can excuse a Government which throws caution to the winds and deliberately endangers an industry as the Queensland Government ha3 done. The dairying industry will be forced to divert large capital sums to the manufacture of other dairy products. It can do so, but the change will take time. The Australian Agricultural Council should take Queensland and New South “Wales to task. There should be some reasonable method of solving this problem, but at present a deadly blow is being struck at the dairying industry. The decision of the Queensland Government to make a quota of 6,000 tons of margarine available in a State whose people cannot use that quantity was unfortunate, stupid and arrogant. It constitutes a direct attack upon the dairying industry.
– Why should the Queensland Government attack the dairying .industry?
– There should be some protection for the dairying industry, like any other industry. The trade unions that the honorable member and his colleagues represent are quick to invoke protection against the importation of foreign goods if such goods threaten an Australian industry.
– Why should the Queensland Government want to destroy the dairying industry?
– God only knows! Some mad, stupid twist of human nature must have made it increase the margarine quota, and it should be taken to task. The honorable member’s interjection is absolutely inane. All we know is that the Queensland Government has increased the margarine quota as I have said. We do not know why it did so. We may learn the reason. within the next few days. It will be interesting to hear the reason. All we know at the moment is that this savage action was taken without any apparent reason.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I want to draw the attention of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) to the lack of the postal and telephone facilities in the electorate of Banks. The complaints that I shall voice have been made by businessmen’s associations, progress associations, branches of the Australian Labour party and private people. The whole of the community in my electorate is concerned about the lack of postal and telephone facilities there. Let me deal first with telephones. As the Postmaster-General knows, there are about 60,000 outstanding applications for telephone services in Australia. More than a half of the people concerned live in New South Wales, and 13 per cent, live in the Banks electorate. The number of outstanding applications in my electorate is unduly high.
– It is due to discrimination.
– I should not like to say that. Possibly the Postmaster-General himself is not at fault, but I believe that on some occasions he is wrongly advised by his officers. In his replies to the representations that I have made to him from time to time, he has informed me that certain jobs will be completed by certain dates. Although some of those promises were made three or four years ago, the jobs have not yet been started. There are 1,057 outstanding applications for telephones in Lakemba, 716 in Bankstown, 1,355 in Hurstville, 508 in Peakhurst and 213’ in Revesby. The total number of outstanding applications in my electorate is 3,849. I am disappointed to see that the Postal Department has decided to reduce its expenditure on new telephone services this year.
– By £2,500,000.
– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) has men:tioned the figure £2,500,000. I know that the reduction is well over £1,000,000. I believe that expenditure for this purpose should be increased, not reduced. From time to time, the Postmaster-General has made promises to me about telephone services, doubtless in good faith, but apparently he has been wrongly advised. In a letter to me dated the 30th October, 1951, the honorable gentleman said -
You will recollect asking me a question without notice in the House of Representatives on the 24th October, 1051, regarding a mobile telephone exchange at Peakhurst, New South Wales. You may remember in a letter dated 23rd April, 1051, I informed you of the difficulties which were being encountered by the Department in having erected a building to. accommodate the Peakhurst automatic exchange and that it was expected the exchange would be in operation towards the end of 1051.
Work is now proceeding on the installation of a portable telephone exchange of GOO lines capacity at Peakhurst, and portion of the equipment is scheduled to be brought into service during December, 1951, thereby providing service for some of the waiting applicants.
Tenders wore invited for the erection of the aluminium alloy prefabricated building which is to house the permanent exchange but none has so far been received. Negotiations with possible contractors are proceeding, however, and the work will be put in hand as soon as possible.
Telephone service for applicants in the Peakhurst area (a few of whom have been waiting approximately seven years) will be provided as the equipment is installed and the associated cable relief work in the area is completed.
That work has not yet been commenced. On the 25th August, 1952, in a letter to me, the Postmaster-General stated -
An underground cable proposal is now in hand to relieve the southern section of the Peakhurst exchange area and it is expected that this work will be completed during the current financial year.
That was the financial year 1952-53. The work has not yet begun. People complain to me about delays in the installation of telephones, and I bring their complaints to the notice of the Postmaster-General. He gives mo encouraging replies from time to time, but I find that the important work to which he refers is not commenced. The lack of telephones is affecting secondary industries, retail establishments and private people. In my opinion, the PostmasterGeneral was unwise to accept the advice given to him by his officers in relation to an increase of the charge for calls made from public telephones. I understand that the department intends to increase the charge to 4d. That means that the coin receptacles will have to be altered. Consequently, all work on the improvement of public telephone facilities is at a standstill, because the department is waiting for the new coin receptacles. I believe it would have been better for the department to leave the charge for calls from public telephones at 2d. People who have to use public telephones because they cannot get private telephones suffer from the disability that they have to leave their premises to make telephone calls. Very few new public telephones are being installed because of the proposal to increase the charge for calls.
The post office buildings in the division of Banks are obsolete. They belong to the Victorian era. Up-to-date buildings should be erected. The only post office in my electorate that is anywhere near up to date is the one at Hurstville. The others are completely out of date. I addressed a question to the Postmaster-General recently about the Mortdale post office. I directed his attention to the fact that it is a barn-type .building, although it is a grade 3 office. That is a very high grade. If an up-to-date country town that was entitled to a grade 3 post office were asked to put up with the kind of building used by the department at Mortdale, the people of that town would count the Government out. The Mortdale post office is a rented building, and the Postmaster-General says that his department cannot persuade the owner to make the improvements that are required. The reason why the owner will not make the improvements is that he expects that a new post office will be built on another site in the main street of Mortdale. The department owns an old building in the main street. It was abandoned many years ago, even by the white ants, and has been condemned by the local council. “Work should be commenced on a new post office building at Mortdale that will be in keeping with the up-to-date buildings in the main street. The department should abandon the barn-type building now being used, in which there are no reasonable amenities either for the staff or the public.
I want to refer to the post office at Herne Bay. Although Herne Bay is an up-to-date suburb in which a good business centre is being developed, the post office is tucked away in the Herne Bay housing settlement. That settlement provides emergency accommodation for people in New South Wales, and about 7,000 people are living there now. The post office is situated in one of the temporary emergency buildings in the settlement, some distance from the business centre. If an honorable mem’ber went to Herne Bay and looked for the post office there, he would not find it. As I have said, it is tucked away in the housing settlement in one of the hutments.
– -Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to raise a matter to which I referred last week in a question that I addressed to the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Mr. Casey). The question caused a great deal of merriment in the ranks of the Opposition. I asked the Minister if he was aware that skeleton weed was causing great concern to people in the wheat lands of Victoria and some parts of South Australia. The Minister said he was aware of the devastating effects of skeleton weed, and stated that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization was constantly endeavouring to find a way to eradicate it. The right honorable gentleman explained that, as he had been overseas for some time, he was not fully aware of the work done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization on the problem during the last two or three months, but I am sure that he took steps then to acquaint himself with the position. However, I think it is appropriate to raise the matter again to-day, because skeleton weed is causing great concern to my constituents.
Recently, a big meeting was held at Hopetoun, in the Mallee electorate, with the object of trying to devise some means to combat this pest, which has shown itself in many wheat-growing areas and is ‘causing great concern. At the meeting, officers of the Victorian Department of Agriculture showed slides that revealed the necessity for action to be taken to eradicate the weed. Mr. Mitchell, a chemist at Hopetoun, is taking a great interest in this matter and at every convenient opportunity he stresses the necessity to do something; further. I compliment the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization on the good work it has done, and is doing, to assist primary producers. All that I ask the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to do is to ensure that every means of combating this menace will be explored. I appreciate the great work that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has done in connexion with myxomatosis. Dr. McNamara did wonderful work in isolating the myxomatosis virus. I recollect that, while the Labour party was in office, members of the present Government parties tried to persuade the Labour Government to do something to spread myxomatosis among rabbits, but the appropriate Minister said that, as a means of combating the rabbit menace, the myxomatosis virus was useless, because when a rabbit was infected with the virus it isolated itself immediately and did not spread the disease among other rabbits. We asked the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to make experiments at a place on the Murray River which it did and so proved that if rabbits were infected with myxomatosis the disease would spread to other rabbits. It was stated authoritatively last year that myxomatosis has been the means of increasing our production by some £50,000,000. I mention this to illustrate the value of the* Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. As many honorable members do not know what skeleton weed is, I have brought a sample with me. This is skeleton weed. Do not mistake it for a Christmas tree for it does not give, it takes.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! I assure honorable members that this is not a laughing matter.
- Mr. Speaker, who represents a South Australian electorate, knows that skeleton weed is a serious menace. Its name is very appropriate, because it puts the skeleton clutch of famine on country where it thrives. I picked up the sample of the weed that I have now while I was walking between Parliament House and the Hotel Kurrajong. The honorable members who are interjecting walk over skeleton weed, growing between the concrete slabs of the footpaths, as they go to their dinners at the Hotel Kurrajong. One honorable member is shaking his head. As he walks to the Hotel Kurrajong from Parliament House, he walks over this weed which is devastating so much of our wheat lands. I ask that the Minister for External Affairs, who has charge of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization activities, should do everything in his power to encourage that body to experiment in order to evolve some means to eradicate skeleton weed. It is not necessary for experiments to be made out on the wheat lands, because skeleton weed is growing in close proximity to this building. In fact, I pulled this weed that I have shown to honorable members out of the ground not far from this building less than half an hour ago. Skeleton weed has a long hard root, and it is difficult to get all the root out of the ground when the plant is pulled up. The best time to attempt to eradicate skeleton weed is when it is first making its appearance in new districts. We should not wait for it to get a good hold on the land, because then it is most difficult, if not impossible, to extirpate. I know that it i3 the duty of the States to ensure that the weed is eradicated from areas under their control, and I know that they are doing a good job in that regard. One useful aspect of their work is in making the plant known to farmers, many of whom are not aware of its true nature. However, I suggest that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization should make a special effort to deal with this weed, and that the Government should assist men on the land by making available hormone sprays, which are so effective against the pest. I do suggest to the Minister for External Affairs, who has been so sympathetic and helpful to me on many occasions in the past, that he should bring home to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization the need for a concentrated effort to evolve an effective method to eradicate skeleton weed.
.- I wish to refer to an important and serious matter that was recently raised in this House by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), and which has not yet been satisfactorily dealt with by the Government. The honorable member asked the Prime Minister (Mr.
Menzies) a question about alleged tapping of telephone lines in Canberra, by the security service. Speaking from memory, I believe that the honorable member also asked whether the security service had an office in the same building as the telephone exchange in this city, and whether that service was afforded facilities for taking tape records of conversations of honorable members over the telephone lines connected to this building. The Prime Minister gave an answer to that question which was not really an answer at all. He said, facetiously, that he did not know whether the security service had an office in Canberra, and he made no reply whatsoever to the questions whether the tapping of telephone lines was in fact taking place, and whether the security service was engaged in this practice.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency among a number of honorable members of this House to try to laugh off such matters as this. Because they believe that it could not happen, they convince themselves that it has not happened and could not possibly happen. There is evidence already available to this House which proves that telephone tapping has been engaged in previously, and there is no reason why this Government should not now be following a practice that was adopted in the past. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) possesses a letter that was written to him by the late Sir Thomas Blarney, who was then CommanderinChief of the Australian Military Forces. Sir Thomas Blarney apologized in that letter to the honorable member for Melbourne, because it had been established that a record had been taken of a conversation which the honorable member for Melbourne had had with the then Minister for the Army, Mr. Frank Forde. The honorable member for Melbourne was discussing a certain matter with Mr. Forde, about which I have no knowledge, and a record of that conversation was taken by a member of the army intelligence organization. When that matter was taken up with the responsible authorities, a tendency was displayed similar to the tendency of the Prime Minister in answering the honorable member for Hindmarsh, to laugh the matter off. However, the honorable member for
Melbourne was persistent, and he continued to press for some investigation. Finally it was discovered that a recording bad been taken of the conversation, and the letter that I previously referred to was written by Sir Thomas Blarney as an apology to him for the occurrence. The honorable member for Melbourne has that letter in his possession to-day.
Surely no honorable members of this House would argue in the face of that evidence that telephone lines could not be tapped at the present time. However, the Prime Minister of this country has said that he does not know whether the security service has an office in Canberra, and, further, that he will inquire, and after obtaining whatever information is necessary he will decide whether he will make it available to the honorable member for Hindmarsh. I suggest that that is quite a cavalier method of dealing with such an important and serious matter. Why did not the Prime Minister tell honorable members, if there was no truth in the allegations of the honorable member for Hindmarsh, that telephone lines were not being tapped and honorable members’ conversations were not being listened to? Now let me tell honorable members of something that I have learned in the last few days, and let the Minister who is responsible for the telephone service to the federal members’ rooms deny that instructions were issued that records had to be taken of trunkline calls made by members of the Parliament from the federal members’ rooms, and that not only the name of the person who ordered the trunk call was to be recorded, but also the name of the person to whom the call was being made. I am sure that honorable members will be very interested to hear the Postmaster-General’s (Mr. Anthony) explanations of these things.
All sorts of peculiar persons worm their way into government positions at times, some of them people who have no regard for the responsibilities of their positions. I mention one particular person who was associated with army intelligence during the last war, and who would be easily capable of listening in to conversations and using whatever was said over the telephone to his own advantage or to the advantage of the politi cal organization with which he is associated. Honorable members of this House have frequently heard the whining singsong voice of Colonel Prentice, who is supposed to be a radio commentator on international affairs. Nowadays he associates his statements on international affairs with an earnest appeal to the public to invest their money in some trust or other, because he is associated with an advertising campaign for that financial concern. He never misses an opportunity of venting his spleen on the Labour party, and individual members of it, but he was a member of the army intelligence service during the last war, and people such as he worm their way into such positions so that they may use any information that they secure to the detriment of the Labour party or its members. I do not know the present members of the security service, because I am not interested in the service from the viewpoint of knowing all that it is doing, but I certainly am interested in the calibre of the men who are engaged in the service. Moreover, I am particularly interested in preserving the rights and privileges of the members of this Parliament who have every right to conduct conversations with their constituents, friends and business acquaintances, without having those conversations overheard and recorded by members of the security service.
It is most disturbing to me to find the Prime Minister failing to deny an allegation that telephone tapping has been taking place. Some time ago the honorable member for Hindmarsh and myself directed the attention of the House to the continual interruptions of conversations that had taken place between himself and myself, between Adelaide and Sydney, when it was quite evident that somebody was listening through the telephone line. On occasions when we halted our conversation and made some remarks to indicate that we thought it was being overheard, there was a distinct click in the instrument followed by clearer reception.. I suggest that those sounds proved conclusively that somebody had been listening to our conversation. We on this side of the House request that the statements made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh should be thoroughly investigated, that there should be a complete inquiry into all the charges that we have made and that the Prime Minister should deny or admit the accuracy of our statements. We should know whether telephone lines have been tapped by the security service officers, and we should also know if that is still being done, whether it is a common practice. Does the Government know anything about telephone tapping, or does it believe that it is not its business to know anything about it? The Prime Minister has brushed these allegations aside, and has said, in effect, “ Although I am the Prime Minister I shall not interest myself in the activities of the security service. When the chief of the service wants to interview me he comes to my office.” I believe that the name of the chief of the security service is Colonel Spy - or something like that. If the allegations of the honorable member for Hindmarsh are correct, it is obvious that the head of this service could not have a more appropriate name. Is it the purpose of the security service to protect the interests of Australia, or is it to listen to the conversations of, and spy on, the honorable members of this House? The allegations that have been made are most serious, and the Government should give a. more satisfactory reply to them than has already been given by the Prime Minister.
.- One can sympathize with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) in his great anxiety about what the security service may be doing, because he has more reason than . anybody else to be anxious about their activities. If he works himself into a fury of excitement every time he hoars a click on the telephone, or every time the line grows a little more clear, then he must live in a state of great anxiety.
I should now like to direct the minds of honorable members from imagination to fact - and rather regrettable fact. I draw the attention of the House to the statistics in connexion with the death and injury of persons in road accidents throughout Australia. We all know that road accidents have taken a serious toll of Australian lives, and that they have been increasing since the last war. In 1946, 1,300 people were killed on the Australian roads. The same number were killed in 1947. In 194S, 1,400 people were killed; in 1949, 1,600; in 1950, 1,900 ; and, in 1951, 2,000 people lost their lives. There was a slight reduction of the 1951 total in the following year, but the tendency each year has been for the deaths from road accidents to increase. The number of injuries not resulting in death have shown the same upward trend. In 1947, 24,000 persons were injured on the roads. In 1948. 25,500 were injured ; in 1949, 31,000 ; iii 1950, 35,000; in 1951, 38,000; and, in 1952, 29,000.
The problem of how to decrease this accident rate has received the most anxious thought from responsible authorities, but it is not often that the results of a particular attempt to reduce road accidents can be isolated and studied. Therefore, I draw the attention of honorable members to a controlled experiment, conducted by the naval air station at Nowra, to reduce accidents to personnel riding motor cycles. In a small community such as the naval air station, figures are readily available, and it is possible to conduct a controlled experiment. The surgeon-commander at that station has been increasingly anxious at the large number of motor cycle accidents that have occurred among naval personnel. Those who man the station are mostly young men, and a large number of them ride motor cycles. In the year prior to April, 1952, 142 head injuries including four fatal accidents occurred among them. All those injuries and deaths were due to motor-cycle accidents. That is a very serious toll in such a small community, and the four fatal accidents underline the seriousness of the position. The problem had been worrying the authorities at the station for some time, but after a very distressing accident, which occurred within the view of the surgeoncommander, action was taken. With the co-operation of the commanding officer, a rule was introduced which provided that all naval personnel who rode motor bicycles within the precincts of the station, or entering or leaving it, must wear crash helmets. That rule has been applied consistently since
April, 1952. I have not the figures for the period immediately following the introduction of the rule, but I understand that immediately there was a decline in the number of accidents and that that improvement has continued.
– A. decline in the number of accidents or in the seriousness of them?
– A decline in the number of accidents and in their seriousness.
– As the result of the wearing of crash helmets?
– As a result of the wearing of crash helmets. During the six months prior to last September there were only four accidents to motor cyclists, none of which was fatal. Contrast that with the position in the previous year when no fewer than 142 accidents occurred, which represents a rate of 71 for each six months. In that same period four accidents were fatal, which represents a rate of two for each six months.
There has been some speculation in relation to the manner by which such a result was achieved. Two reasons have been advanced for the remarkable drop in the number of injuries. The first reason advanced was that the use of crash helmets protects the head against serious injury. That is obvious. Secondly, it is thought that the wearing of the crash helmet creates in the person riding the motor cycle a consciousness of danger and that he takes active steps to avoid any accident. I mention this matter in the hope that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) will note the facts and that he will bring them to the attention of the National Road Safety Council. I understand that within the last few days this matter was mentioned in the Senate.
– Order ! The honorable member cannot refer to proceedings in the Senate.
– I withdraw that remark. I hope that the Minister for the Interior will bring this matter to the attention of one of his colleagues who also is concerned with the activities of the National Road Safety Council and that it will provide a. new line of thought for those who are endeavouring to reduce injuries caused by road accidents.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I desire to draw the attention of honorable members to the lack of encouragement that is given to people with limited financial means who desire to purchase their own homes. I think it is safe to say that the ambition of every young married couple is to live sooner or later in a house that they can call their own. Developments in recent years make that dream one that seems to be almost incapable of fulfilment. It is safe to say also that the difficulty which dashes the hopes of most young people is not that of high costs - which, of course, must be taken into consideration - or even the difficulty of obtaining materials or workmen to do the job, but the difficulty over the last two or three .years of obtaining finance.
Fifteen years ago, anybody who had in cash about 10 per cent, or 12 per cent, of the estimated cost experienced no difficulty in borrowing sufficient money to erect a home. To-day the prospective home builder who has in cash only 10 per cent, or 12 per cent, of the ultimate cost of a home finds himself in real difficulty. He finds, when he approaches the private trading banks or the private insurance companies, that they seem very reluctant to grant any financial accommodation. I regret to say that even the public money-lending organizations seem to be influenced by the same psychology and that the prospective’ home owner with limited means receives no encouragement from public organizations which should function in the public interest.
The War Service Homes Division is inundated with applications from ex-servicemen who desire homes. There is a number of reasons for that position, but one of the main reasons is that the ex-serviceman, when he seeks assistance from other lending organizations, discovers that it is impossible to obtain accommodation. He is forced to turn to the War Service Homes Division for satisfaction. It is almost impossible for the average person with an average deposit to obtain from the financial institutions sufficient money to build a home.
Ihe only other organizations which provide money for the building of homes - and I can speak with authority in relation to Victoria - are the co-operative housing societies. Those societies have made very large percentage advances to their members with the result that their members have had to provide comparatively small deposits. The societies have ana de those advances at extremely low interest rates. They have a .prospective membership of thousands of would-be home owners who cannot take advantage of the facilities offered because the societies themselves cannot obtain the money from the financial institutions. “We deplore that fact, because the Labour party has always stood for individual home ownership. Honorable members on this side of the House take the greatest exception to the implementation of any policy that would deprive ordinary working people with limited financial means of the opportunity to own a home.
Because the financial institutions will not provide money, the Victorian co-operative housing societies are unable to support the formation of new societies, even though they are guaranteed by the government. The co-operative ‘housing societies in Victoria recently issued figures which show the alarming drift in the direction I have indicated. The table prepared by the societies shows that in the financial year ended the 30th June, 1952, they were able to obtain from the trading banks, the Commonwealth Bank, the State Savings Bank, and insurance companies the sum of £6,525,000 for the purposes for which the societies were formed, but that for the year ended the 30th June, 1953, they were able to. obtain from the same institutions only £5,050,000. That is a decline of approximately £1,500,000 over twelve months. Honorable members can visualize what that means in terms of actual homes for potential home-owners.
The average, society in Victoria consists of between J 00 and 120 members, and it requires a bank credit of between £250,000 and £300.000. As I said, the co-operative societies in Victoria are unable to form new societies of people who have a reasonable deposit, because they are unable to obtain the necessary financial accommodation from the lend- ing institutions. I ask the Government what it proposes to do about that state of affairs.
People who do not wish to take advantage of the facilities offered by the cooperative housing societies but who approach publicly owned banks for the purpose of obtaining loans for homes are not receiving much encouragement. The State Savings Bank of Victoria will advance for a brick villa a maximum amount of only £2,000. When one considers the cost of a house, he can see that that will not go very far and that a substantial cash deposit is necessary. The facilities offered by the Commonwealth Bank are worse. The maximum amount that is advanced by that bank is only £1,750. Such advances are of no use to the average worker unless he has a substantial nestegg with which to bridge the gap between those amounts and the total cost of the house.
There are many people in the community who would be in a position to build a home, even at to-day’s high prices, if they could obtain the proportion of credit that was available to home-builders a few years ago. That proportion has steadily declined over the last two or three years, and one cannot refrain from thinking that it is a result of the credit restriction policy adopted by the Government after the introduction of the 1951 budget.
Not only is the potential home-owner confronted with the difficulty of obtaining a reasonable advance from a lending institution, but he is also confronted with the tremendous difficulties associated with the actual building of the house. He finds that the prices of homes have increased as much as 400 per cent, since 1939. Experts employed by the Melbourne Age have printed articles showing that prices have increased by up to 400 per cent.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I desire to refer to the problem of the grasshopper plague in New South Wales, which is being handled or mishandled by the New South Wales Labour Government. I preface my remarks by pointing out the tremendous damage that these insects can do when they assume plague proportions.
The life history of the plague locust is a very simple one, but it is probably not fully understood. The first stage commences when the eggs are laid in the autumn. They hatch after approximately five months and develop into hoppers from September to November. They take to the wing between December and February, usually in December, and during the period when they are on the wing they lay their eggs. The number of eggs laid is astounding. When I mention the figure of 400,000,000 per acre honorable members will realize the tremendous proportions that future plagues may assume. From January to March a second hatching of eggs laid earlier probably would occur. Those ‘hoppers would be on the wing between March and May, when they would lay. So the cycle goes on. Because of the overlapping of the various stages, there could be as many as three cycles a year. The first infestation is not very serious but it increases in tempo until, after a couple of years, full plague proportions are reached. I quote the following extract relating to the 1933-34 plague from the hook Australian Insects by Keith McKeown : -
An idea of the losses caused by locust swarms may be gained from figures issued regarding the plague in the Warren, Tottenham, Condobolin and Forbes districts, in New South Wales, during 1933-34. The main brood appeared in December. The egg-beds were distributed over an area of 522,240 acres. The second brood hatched in February, the area of the egg-beds extending over 2,944,000 acres. The area affected by this second swarm was calculated at 21,000,000 acres which were severely damaged, while an additional 11,750,000 were moderately damaged. A third brood hatched out in April, but climatic conditions were unfavorable for their development. The total loss to graziers from the 32,750,000 acres damaged by the locusts was estimated at £2,687,000, in addition to the cost of handfeeding stock and other costs. The loss to the wheat-growers was set down at £920,500.
The small loss incurred by the wheatgrowers is probably accounted for by the fact that the main brood did not appear until December, when a great deal of the crop had already been harvested. The extract continues -
The infestation included the greater part of New South Wales, as well as other States, so, when the relatively small area represented by the districts mentioned is taken into consideration, the total loss must have reached figures of startling dimensions.
Faced with these facts in the autumn of this year, when the pest first established itself in hopper form, the New South Wales Government practically ignored the signs and portents. It failed to take active measures to deal with the pest which then threatened to assume the proportions of a national calamity. In September of this year and even earlier references were made to the danger. In this House my colleague, the honorable member for New England (MrDrummond), asked a question regarding the supply of insecticides for the purpose of combating the pest. In a speech which I made in October I pointed out that even while I was speaking farmers might bc watching their crops being destroyed by locusts. In spite of these warnings the New South Wales Government treated the matter as of no great importance. In September, the Minister for Agriculture in the New South Wales Government, Mr. Graham, is reported to have said that his department had things well in hand. “ In fact “, he said, “ I am one jump ahead of the hoppers “. We would indeed have to be very nimble to be one jump ahead of the hoppers ! Later, however, he appealed for assistance from the Commonwealth because the State could not handle the situation. He asked for a Commonwealth grant of £30,000 to supplement the grant of a similar amount made by the State Government. He said that he had already purchased £14,000 worth of poison spray for the Pastures Protection Boards which would repay the money. Graziers know how that money will be repaid. The last occasion upon which money was made available for a similar purpose a levy was applied to graziers in the districts concerned for three years in order to raise funds to repay the money. If money is provided by the Commonwealth to assist the New South Wales Government to combat the pest will it be repaid? I assume that the grant by the State Government will be repaid by graziers in the affected areas.
Apart from the financial aspect of the problem, the principal question that arises is whether or not a proper approach is being made to the attack on the pest. The attack must be made in its first stages of life. I have been informed that three weeks before Mr. Graham made his request for assistance the honorable member for New England asked the Government to provide aircraft to deal with the pest and the State Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Graham) replied that aircraft would be of no value for that purpose. Since then, he has appealed for the allotment of aircraft to combat the pest. The grasshoppers are now only in their initial stage of growth. Only when they are at the hopping stage can they be satisfactorily attacked. Seven years ago the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which carried out extensive investigations into the life habits of the grasshopper, made recommendations to the States about the manner in which the pest should be dealt with, but its recommendations were disregarded. If the great research work carried out by that body is to be of value its findings must be publicized and recommendations must be given effect. At the instance of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture £250,000 has been set aside for agriculture extension services which include the dissemination of knowledge gained in the laboratories. The money is paid to the States with the idea that- as the result of its expenditure the most, good will be clone in tho right places. I strongly appeal to the Government to encourage the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to continue its research into the activities of the grasshopper and into methods of combating it. It should ensure that the information compiled by the expert officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization shall be disseminated among the States and that the States shall act on the recommendations of the organization and deal with the pest before it reaches the proportions of a national plague. Those of us who live in areas that arc particularly attacked by locusts know that the best time to destroy them is after the eggs have been laid, particularly at the first hatching, and later, in the hopper stage. The time is running short. We have until about January or February to deal with the next hatching and the job should be done properly. All that I might say on this subject will be of no avail unless the Government can persuade the States to act upon the recommenda- tions made to them. The Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the officers of Commonwealth departments are co-operating with the States in every possible way with the organization. They have given assistance by making troops and aircraft available in an attempt to eradicate the pest. Suggestions have been made that poison sprays should not be used-
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- As this will probably be the last “ Grievance Day” before the holding of the general election I take advantage of the opportunity to deal with some pressing problems that affect my electorate. I particularly want to speak about the plight of the many thousands of unfortunate persons who, on present indications, will be without jobs or homes during the coming festive season, and even during the Royal visit. Although the unemployment situation has eased slightly since the beginning of the year, when approximately 10,000 persons were unemployed in my electorate, large numbers of persons are still registered for employment in the offices of the Commonwealth Employment Service. Official figures which I obtained a few days a.go from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) indicate that, at the Commonwealth employment, offices at Granville, Bankstown, Parramatta and Liverpool - two centres in my electorate, and two in an adjoining electorate - no fewer than 1,096 males and 679 females were registered for employment on the 30th October last. Those figures do not take into account the large number of unemployed women who have not bothered to register because they realize that suitable jobs are not available for them. Apparently between 3,000 and 4,000 persons are unemployed in the Reid electorate. The number of unfilled vacancies is very much smaller than the the number of persons seeking jobs. According to figures furnished me by the Minister there are jobs available in the districts I have mentioned for only 337 men and 190 women, or a total of 527 persons.
The categories outlined by the Minister in which these vacancies exist show that very little work is offering in the building industry because home building is still in the doldrums in New South Wales, as it also is in other States judging from the remarks made this morning by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). The lag in home building that existed at the end of the war has not yet been overtaken. The New SOUth Wales Housing Commission alone has a waiting list of applicants numbering more than 100,000 persons. Many of them, unfortunately, are living in my electorate. The recent Commonwealth loan was oversubscribed by an amount of £15,000,000. t.f the Government had been really eager to deal with this situation it could have earmarked at least some of that surplus money to augment the provision for war service homes and home building generally. One would have thought that the fact that so much additional money was available would have induced the Government to increase the quota for war service homes for the current year beyond the amount of £28,000,000 which has been provided. It may well have endeavoured to prevail upon the private banks to release additional funds for home building purposes. It allowed them to withdraw from the Commonwealth Bank special deposits lodged by them amounting to between £300,000,000 and £400,000,000 to enable them to finance importers and others to pay for a lot of junk which has been lying in store since the flood of imports first commenced in this country about three or four years ago. If money can be provided for such purposes surely additional funds can be provided for home building. This Government has shifted the whole burden of financing home purchases on to the Commonwealth Bank. The bank has done a good job in that regard; it has provided annually £10,000,000 for homebuilding purposes. It should be supported by the private financial institutions. The Government should have stipulated that a certain proportion of the refunded special deposits should be utilized for the purpose of granting long-term loans. As we all know, the private banks do not like longterm loans and, accordingly, they do not take a prominent part in the homebuilding loan market. Building societies, which lend money on long term arrangements, should be encouraged to extend their activities. Only through them, are most people able to finance the purchase of a home on a small deposit with provision for repayment over a long term of years.
I come now to the subject of interest rates. Under the administration of the Labour Government the interest rate charged by building societies was fixed at 3-J per cent. Now, the banks are allowed to charge 4-J per cent, or more. Homebuilding loans are not attractive from their point of view. Insurance companies which can invest their money in gilt-edged securities and government bonds at 4-J per cent, with which no administrative expenses are involved, regard that form of investment as more attractive than investment in home finance. The Government should utilize- the credit resources of the nation to finance public works and allow private savings in the hands of outside institutions to be channelled into home building and private investment. Such a policy would stimulate the building industry which is now in the doldrums. In my own electorate a concern which was engaged in the construction of prefabricated homes had to close down recently and dispense with the services of its 400 employees. Many of its former employees are now registered at the Commonwealth employment offices for work. The concern was forced to close down as the result of the cancellation of a contract for the supply of prefabricated houses to the New South Wales Housing Commission of a value of £1,000,000 because of the restriction of finance available to the commission. From time to time, inspired news items appear in the press about the Government’s housing programme. The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) frequently refers to this subject. I know that he is sincerely interested in it, and that apparently he has tried to rouse the Government from its lethargy. However, the inspired news items in the columns of the press about the Government’s housing policy are without any real basis. I deplore the apathy of the Government in this matter. The people will take, with a grain of salt, any announcement made by the Government before the next general election about its housing programme.
Many industries depend for their prosperity upon the building trade. I shall read an extract from the New South Wales Contract Reporter, a weekly newspaper devoted to architecture, building and engineering. The article is published under the heading “ Building Industry Troubles and reads, in part, as follows : -
Last week, Mr. Wallace G. Pooley, General Secretary of the Association of Co-operative Building Societies, gave a broadcast address on housing problems. In the address Mr. Pooley said - “ As far as the capacity of the building industry is concerned, it has always been variable - unfortunately the industry has been to a large extent the Cinderella of our industries. There has been a lack of stability within the industry, created by two World Wars - a depression - and the complete lack of a permanent and even flow of finance, upon which the industry could depend for its existence and development. One year you would find the Government of the day urging every timber mill to double its output - every brickworks to add another kiln - builders to increase plant and take on more apprentices - and before you know where you are, building finance is frozen and the bottom falls out of everything. “Successive frustrations of this nature have destroyed confidence within the trade and it is the principal reason why our building industry 1ms not kept pace with our national development generally. I could name a dozen industries in which the output has doubled or trebled since 1939, whereas I doubt if the building industry is capable of building 10 per cent, more homes this year than it did in 1939.”
The honorable member for Batman has referred to the inordinate increases of building costs. Some of those increases are due to the periodic fluctuations in the trade to which Mr. Pooley has referred. The trade has never been established on a stable basis. When finance is available, a boom is created in the trade, and go-getters become busy.
– Order ! -The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin )has referred to an accident claim lodged by a Sydney taxi-cab owner against the Postmaster-
General’s Department. I have had correspondence with the honorable gentleman on the subject, and I am sure he knows that such matters are settled, not by an act of grace, but in accordance with the provisions of the law. The department is the custodian, or trustee, of public moneys, and cannot make an ex gratia payment to a person in respect of a claim which is not thoroughly substantiated. A person who considers that he has not been justly treated, may always take legal proceedings against the department for redress. The claim in the case mentioned by the honorable member for Watson is for an amount of £9 los., and legal action to recover such a sum would be taken in the Small Debts Court. If the department claims that it is not liable for that amount, I cannot see that I or anybody else can do anything in the matter.
– The department denied negligence.
– No, liability. 1 shall give careful thought, as is always my practice, to the representations of the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa). He makes his submissions in the most moderate way, and with great sincerity. However, I point out that I cannot do certain things, because of limited funds.
The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) discussed the manufacture of margarine. I believe that everybody is astounded at the action of the Queensland Government, which has increased the quota of margarine that may be manufactured in the State from 1,200 to 6,000 tons. I cannot understand why the government of a State, in which dairying is carried on extensively, should take such action. There must be an explanation for it.
– The raw materials for margarine are produced in Queensland.
– The explanation may be forthcoming, but the whole position is still a mystery to every dairyman in Australia. Has the Queensland Government adopted this policy because it considers that the margarine industry is of greater importance than the great dairying industry? Does the Queensland Government wish to provide cheaper commodities for the workers? If the answer to the second question is in the affirmative, the Queensland Government should be in favour of the reduction of tariff barriers to permit the importation of manufactured goods of all kinds. However, we on this side of the House do not subscribe to such a policy. Dairy farmers find it difficult to understand the reasons for the action taken by the Queensland Government. Personally, I have no difficulty in arriving at a satisfactory explanation, but I do not propose to discuss it at length now. .1 believe that the Queensland Government is taking vindictive action against dairy farmers, principally because they demanded a just price for their products, and a standard of living comparable with that enjoyed by persons in other sections of industry. The Queensland Government resisted that demand for a long time, and tried to prevent dairy farmers from obtaining a fair price for their products, and is now trying to destroy their market.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has asked whether telephone lines are being tapped. That matter has been raised before. It is noteworthy that the honorable member is always a fortnight ahead of, or a fortnight behind, views published in the Tribune, which is the organ of the Communist party.
– I do not even get the Tribune.
– Somehow or other, the honorable member always seems to have the contents of the Tribune to put forward in this House. Time after time, we notice that what the Tribune says to-day, the honorable member says tomorrow, or vice versa.
– Is the allegation in respect of the tapping of telephone lines true or false ?
– The statement of the honorable member for East Sydney is similar to those that are made by the Communists all the time in an effort to discredit the security service and the Government, and sometimes to hamper the security service. The honorable member has informed us that he is nervous about whether his telephone line is being tapped, and whether the security service is listening to some of the conversations that he may have in Canberra. The honorable gentleman is most concerned about that matter. I give an assurance to every honorable member that whether he is engaged in espionage, or only in making a starting-price bet, he is quite safe in respect of his telephone conversations.
– I rise to order. I submit that the Postmaster-General should not state, even jocularly, that honorable members may be engaged in espionage.
– Order ! What is the honorable member’s point of order?
– I think that the Postmaster-General should withdraw that statement.
– Order ! It is not a ma tter of the honorable member’s opinion. It is a matter of whether a statement of the Postmaster-General is in conformity with the Standing Orders. So far, the Postmaster-General is in order.
– I think that the statement of the Postmaster-General casts a grave reflection on honorable members. I take objection to it, and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to request the PostmasterGeneral to withdraw it.
– Order ! I cannot ask the Postmaster-General to withdraw the statement.
– Honorable members know that I was speaking in a jocular vein. My remark was not intended to be a reflection on honorable members. I do not suggest for one moment that they are engaged in espionage. I am merely pointing out that no honorable member need be afraid that any one is listening in to his telephone conversations. However, I take exception to the charges by the honorable member for East Sydney, who has said that he is not following the Communist line or the Communist technique. He has been making similar statements for years. He says that he is not a Communist, and that he is not a member of the Communist party. He points out that the platform of the Australian Labour party provides that a person who belongs to the Communist party may not belong to the Labour party. The honorable member regards that as proof that he is not a Communist, or a member of the Communist party.
– Will the Minister state whether the telephone lines are being tapped?
– I am dealing with the allegations-
– Are the telephone lines being tapped ?
– I have told you that your telephone conversations are quite secure.
– Order ! I ask the Postmaster-General to address the Chair.
– The Tribune has raised this matter, and it is picked up by the honorable member for EastSydney, who brings it before the House. The honorable member says that he is not following the Communist line. There is a lot of evidence that the honorable member is not a Communist, but there is also a lot of evidence that he is pretty closely doing the Communists’ work for them here. There is plenty of evidence to that effect.
– Why do you not use your own name?
– Order ! Interjections are disorderly, and the offence is aggravated when an honorable member interjects from a seat other than his own.
– Although the honorable member is not a member of the Communist party, he seems to have unfortunate associations. He had for his campaign director in the East Sydney electorate Mr. Jock Garden, who was the founder of the Communist party in Australia, and who was subsequently expelled from it.
– Who told the Minister that?
– The information was disclosed during the sittings of a royal commission. Jock Garden was expelled from the Communist party in 1923, because of his so-called religious beliefs. Later, he was elected to this Parliament as a supporter of the Labour party. After he was defeated, he was appointed by the honorable member for
East Sydney, who was then Minister for Labour and National Service, to his staff. Of course, he could not have been a member of the Communist party for twenty years, because he was a member of the Labour party during that time. Yet, when his office was raided by officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service in connexion with the New Guinea timber inquiry, a Communist party ticket was found in his drawer. He was still the campaign director of the honorable member for East Sydney, who had become Minister for External Territories, and he had an office next to the office of the Minister in Sydney, even though he was attached to the Department of Labour and National Service. So, there is no evidence that the honorable member has any connexion with the Communist party - none at all - except that he does the party’s work. He repeats the Tribune’s stuff time after time in this House. Any honorable member who searches the records will find that what is said by the Tribune to-day is said by the honorable member for East Sydney tomorrow. In respect of anti- Americanism, anti this and anti that, he follows the line of the Communist party all the way.
– Are telephone lines being tapped ?
– I have informed the House that they are not being tapped.
– Order ! The PostmasterGeneral has exhausted his time.
Question resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 12.44 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 18th November (vide page 263), on motion by Sir Earle Page -
That the hill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Allan Eraser had moved, by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to place greater emphasis through co-operation with the States and local authorities on the promotion of positive health -
in the establishment and maintenance of diagnostic and health centres;
in dental care of children under sixteenyears of age;
in the provision of medical training and research facilities and a system of regional hospitals; and to provide -
for substantially increased rates of hospital benefit having regard to the rise of hospital costs;
for the negotiation of fresh agreements between the Commonwealth and the States to ensure that throughout Australia there should be no charge and no means test for qualified patients occupying beds in public wards of public hospitals;
that payment of Commonwealth hospital benefits or medical benefits shall not be conditional upon a patient being a contributor to a hospitals fund or a medical benefits fund ;
that registered organizations shall be subsidized to ensure that their benefits will be extended to chronic sufferers and those suffering disabilities at the commencement of their membership of registered organizations;
to devise in consultation with the medical profession and State Governments machinery to stabilize medical charges and to determine just variations of those charges;
that medical benefits be extended to mileage charges of medical practitioners incurred by patients especially those in outback areas;
that the provision of medical and hospital benefits should be financed from revenue raised on a graduated scale based upon capacity to pay;
for the cure and relief of mental illness.”
.- Before I discuss the provisions of the National Health Bill, I wish to comment briefly upon the speech that was made last night by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). The honorable gentleman apparently had two complaints against the bill. First, he said that the plan prepared by the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) was vague. That is a curious sort of criticism when, in fact, the plan has been operating successfully for some time past. How then can it be vague, when it is working and working well? One can only conclude from such a criticism that the honorable member has no sound objection to the bill. The second point of attack amounted simply to the fact that the honorable member did not like the Minister for Health. That, too, is a queer sort of criticism. It had no relation to the value of the bill. The Minister for Health introduced this bill in order to carry out an undertaking, which he gave to the people, that he would present a complete national health plan to the House when all details of the scheme had been put in order, that he would seek the repeal of existing legislation on the subject and substitute the working plan and that he would seek to impose limits upon the power of governments to make regulations on health matters. I need scarcely say that any legislation which limits the regulationmaking power of governments is to be approved.
I have no hesitation in saying that the Minister is entitled to the highest praise for the tremendous amount of work that he has done in formulating this plan and putting it intooperation. He has displayed remarkable initiative and an astonishing degree of energy. He has not spared himself in any way and has demonstrated that he knows how to get results. The object of the bill is to provide a full-scale national health plan. It deals with the prevention care, cure and costs of illness. Health has a close association with social and economic development. National prosperity and national progress are impossible unless our citizens are strong and healthy. The present Government parties have not overlooked this fact. When the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made his famous policy speech in 1949 he said that the problems of national health should be approached on a basis of common-sense, and he reminded the people that there must be a spirit of co-operation between the Australian Government, State governments, municipalities, hospital authorities, friendly societies and members of the medical and allied professions. He also expressed a clear and decisive objection to all forms of socialized government medical services. That policy has been crystallized in this National Health Bill, of which the Minister for* Health and all other honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber have every right to be proud. One can see the extent to which health services have been developed by considering figures. In 1948-49, the last complete year of Labour rule, £7,000,000 was expended on national health services. This year, over £31,000,000 will be expended on national health. In other words, this Government is spending more than four times as much as did the Labour Government. This fact indicates the great progress that has been made since this Government has been in office. “We frequently hear the complaint that money can be found for all purposes in time of war but not in time of peace. This Government has demonstrated that a government, if it wishes, can make adequate provision for national requirements.
A simple but convincing example of the effectiveness of the Government’s scheme lies in the fact that one of every three prescriptions written by doctors in this country is dispensed at the expense of the Government. The cost of providing medicines alone this year will amount to £7,000,000. We are’ entitled to contrast this encouraging situation with the situation that existed during the last year of Labour’s administration. In that year, the Labour Government provided only £149,000 for the dispensing of free medicines. There were no other medical benefits of any sort. The contrast is striking in. the extreme. No national health plan would be complete unless it provided for the development of sound bodies and strong constitutions in the young. With that in mind, the Government has provided for the distribution of free milk to children under the age of thirteen years. This year 750,000 children at creches, kindergartens and primary schools of all kinds are being provided with free milk.
– That has been done in New South Wales for twenty years.
– The existence of such schemes in individual States cannot detract from the fact that this Government has provided for the distribution of free milk to school children on an Australiawide basis. Was any free milk provided for school children in 1948-49 under Labour’s regime?
– Yes, in New South Wales.
– But not by the Australian Government. I cannot understand why the honorable member persists in his interjec tions, which are on ti rely irrelevant because they do not refer to the bill before the House.
I turn now to another aspect of the Government’s plan - the provision of free life-saving and disease-preventing drugs. Here again, this Government has provided a service that was not provided by the former Labour Government. These drugs assist in the prevention of infectious diseases and ensure that, when illness occurs, its duration will be considerably shortened. They are provided, not for a limited class of people, but for everybody in the community, both poor and rich alike. No means test is applied. In this respect, the health scheme is of incalculable value and is greatly appreciated by the people. The plan also includes a free health service for pensioners of all categories. It provides for the payment of tuberculosis allowances and for free medical, pharmaceutical and hospital treatment. Under Labour in 1949, when the hospitals were supposed to be thrown open to everybody, but, in fact, were available mainly for the benefit of the wealthy; pensioners who had to attend hospitals as out-patients had to pay for such treatment. That shocking state of affairs has been terminated by the present Government. The poor pensioner, as he is sometimes called in this House, no longer pays for his hospital treatment. Treatment is provided for him absolutely free of charge, and, furthermore, there is now no need for pensioners to attend at the out-patient departments of hospitals. This contrasts strongly with the deplorable state of affairs that prevailed under Labour’s administration, when long queues of aged people waited for hours each day in the out-patients’ departments of hospitals. Pensioners can now be treated free of charge by doctors in their own homes. This is a magnificent service.
I refer now to the payment of tuberculosis allowances. Probably there is no greater scourge in the community than that of tuberculosis, which has been aptly described as the white plague. Young people are particularly susceptible to this fearful disease. However, with the help of the payment of tuberculosis allowances, the Minister for Health confidently expects that tuberculosis will be eradicated within one generation. The purpose of the plan is to provide allowances for victims of the disease so that it will not be necessary for them to work while they are sick. They will receive allowances while they are being treated free of charge. In addition, the Government has made provision for the allocation of hundreds of hospital beds for the use of persons suffering from tuberculosis and has set aside funds for medical research into the disease and the carrying out of X-ray checks. Tuberculosis thrives on bad living conditions. So long as the slums exist they will be breeding places for disease, drunkenness, crime and general human misery, and we shall have the greatest difficulty in eradicating the disease of tuberculosis. Consequently, any future housing agreements between the Commonwealth and the State should provide that a certain proportion of the money for housing that will be made available by the Commonwealth should be expended on the clearance of slums, which would assist in the eradication of tuberculosis.
I turn to the hospital benefits plan under which, by way of voluntary insurance, it is possible for a patient in a hospital to receive at least £6 6s. a week from the Government. I point out that it is a system of voluntary insurance. It is not a system of compulsory insurance in any way. The payments made are only a few pence a week.
Opposition members interjecting,
– If anybody says, that that is a hardship, I say he has no idea of the meaning of the word. It is extraordinary that the word “ hardship “ should be used in connexion with the payment of a fewpence a week. I do not believe for one moment that those who say that such a payment is a hardship really regard it as such. That was a purely opportunist interjection. Under this plan, at least £6 6s. a week is paid to a patient in respect of hospital treatment. Contrast that with the Labour party’s plan, under which only £2 16s. a week was paid by the Government to the hospitals in respect of each patient. That money was paid on the strict condition that the hospitals should be thrown open to the wealthy.
Because the hospitals were thrown open to the wealthy, they became overcrowded. The poor could not get treatment in public hospitals and had to look elsewhere for it. Hospitals came very close to bankruptcy. Under the hospital benefits plan of this Government, the poor are able to get treatment in public hospitals and hospital finances are being stabilized. There is no longer a fear that the hospitals will be driven into bankruptcy. That is .a direct result of the work of the Minister for Health.
The medical benefits plan also is based upon the principle of voluntary insurance, on the admirable principle of self-help. The insurance payment is only a few shillings a week. People who go to the pictures pay more than a few shillings a week for their pleasure. People who smoke or have a glass of beer pay more than a few shillings a week for their enjoyment. “Why should not they pay to get proper medical treatment? I am certain that the majority of the people of this country agree that they should pay to get medical treatment. I believe they are entering into this scheme with great willingness. The scheme is working well. Let us consider the position that existed under Labour rule. Labour made two attempts to introduce a medical benefits scheme. The first scheme was declared by the High Court to be unconstitutional. The Labour party was endeavouring, to use the popular expression, to push the doctors around, or, to use legal language, to exercise control and compulsion and to make the doctors conduct their practices, not as the doctors thought they should be conducted but as the Government wanted them to be conducted. After the Constitution had been altered, another attempt was made by Labour to introduce a medical benefits scheme. That scheme was a form of civil conscription. Consequently, it was declared to be unconstitutional also. I make no apology for using the term “ civil conscription “. If any honorable member opposite feels inclined to contradict me, let him read the report of the case. I refreshed my mind on it within the last half hour, because I wanted to make sure that the term “ civil conscription “ was used. There is no question that that scheme was a form of civil conscription. Why deny that? Now that the rumblings have ceased, I shall proceed. The medical benefits scheme of the Labour party was based on the notion that medical services should be entirely government services or socialized services. Under the Labour scheme, the cost of the services was to be paid by the taxpayers, the doctors were to be subordinated to the State, and the intimate doctor-patient relationship was to be destroyed. That was the basis of Labour’s plan. Labour still believes in socialized health services. Labour has stated that if it is returned to office, it will nationalize the medical profession. Nationalization is a fundamental part of Labour’s policy. That was stated in January of this year, and it has been reiterated since then by prominent members of the Labour party. It may be said that the Commonwealth Parliament has no constitutional power to so nationalize the medical profession, but experience has shown that there are ways to get round the Constitution. Governments can do things by indirect means that they are not permitted to do by direct means. By the use of economic pressure, they can bring about nationalization. That is the way the Labour party would work in relation to health services. Under a Labour government, only doctors who were prepared to participate in a Labour health scheme would be able to practice. It would be quite easy to formulate a plan of that kind. During the 1949 general election campaign, the Labour Minister for Health, who had been fighting a losing battle with the doctors, said that if the Labour party got back into power only the Almighty could save the doctors.
– Does the honorable member think that He would be on their side ?
– I leave the honorable member to judge. We know the result of the 1949 general election. Under the medical benefits scheme of this Government, medicine is not socialized, the patient is entitled to choose his own doctor, and the doctor is neither a servant of the State, nor bound to prescribe in accordance with a formula. Under the Labour scheme, the doctor had to obey the commands of the Government. Because some public servant who had never seen the patient and had no idea of his physical condition had said that, under certain circumstances, a certain drug should be prescribed, the doctor was expected to prescribe it. Any selfrespecting body of men would object to that sort of thing, especially a body like the medical profession, with its great traditions. No medical man worth his salt would submit to being bullied or pushed around in his professional work by any government department or by any Minister. Consequently, the medical profession, by and large, was hotly opposed to the Labour Government’s medical benefits plan. The doctors should be warned that it is quite apparent from the tenor of the remarks made by honorable members opposite that nationalization of medicine would be effected as soon as the Labour party was returned to power. Under the medical benefits plan of this Government, the doctor can prescribe in accordance with the needs of individual patients. The intimate doctor-patient relationship, which is so important, is being preserved. The friendly societies are playing their part in the scheme. They are not being destroyed, as they would bc under socialized medicine. They will carry on the fine work throughout Australia that they have been doing for years.
Because this plan is based on the principle of voluntary insurance, it will not be necessary to impose excessive taxation. Wo shall not have in this plan the abuse and extravagance that crept into the schemes for a similar purpose introduced in New Zealand and Great Britain. We shall not have the great number of highly paid government servants administering the scheme that would be necessary under a scheme of socialized medicine. It may be said that we are only saving the taxpayers. In a sense, that is true, but it has been frequently stated in this House by honorable members opposite that with every increase of taxes there is an increase of inflation in this country. Taxation increases the cost of goods, and in that way affects every member of the community. Under a scheme of socialized medicine, every member of the community would have to pay for it eventually.
Under the medical benefits scheme of this Government, surgery, injections, anaesthetics, treatment of dislocations and fractures, visits to doctors, consultations with specialists and a great many other matters are covered. The majority of the people who suffer from chronic diseases are pensioners, who, as I have already pointed out, are entitled to free medical treatment. Certain medical benefits societies are already accepting other sufferers from, chronic diseases. Other societies are for all purposes accepting all applicants for memberships except for any chronic diseases from which they may be suffering, but, within a period of two years, they will accept them even Cor chronic diseases. The plan has been very carefully prepared over the years. Whatever vagueness there may have been at the beginning was due to the fact that the Minister was carefully feeling his way through what may be described almost as a labyrinth of difficulties. The has ‘been able to formulate a practical working plan that is operating successfully. It is a plan that will prolong life and promote greater health. It does not depend upon a soulless ideology, but upon the needs of men and women.
.- I hoped that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) would deliver one of the objective speeches that we have heard him deliver previously, but he has become a propagandist. He is a victim of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). He has indulged in propaganda of the type with which the Minister has made us very familiar for the Minister is an ardent propagandist. But the fact that he has made a 27 page speech is not sufficient reason for us to believe that the Government has produced a good national health scheme. The Minister recently attended a medical conference and told the delegates at that meeting a very fine story about his own health scheme. For that story he received the applause of his hearers. Of course there was nobody there to present a view opposite to the one that he presented, and no objective statement was put before the meeting by a disinterested person. All that the meeting got was a paeon of praise from the Minister of his own scheme, and he has repeated that praise throughout his long second-reading speech on this measure.
An important fact to remember is that there was no practical health plan in this country until a Labour government introduced one. Indeed, it was not until 1943 that anything was done in Australia about national health. Then a Labour government set about giving the people an effective health plan. The Labour government’s plan was objected to on constitutional grounds, and a referendum of the people was held. The people decided to give the Australian Government power over health and health services. Then for the first time the people of Australia were given certain medical benefits by the government, which, of course, was a Labour government. If it had not been for the work of the Labour party it would not have been possible for the people to participate in any national health scheme. The whole of the tuberculosis plan about which the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) spoke, was originated by the Labour party, and all the preliminary work on the plan waa done by the last Labour Government before it had to relinquish office in consequence of Liberal and Australian Country party propaganda.
This Government’s health plan is based on a most inadequate foundation. Voluntary hospitalization has never appealed to a majority of the people, and it never will do so. The Minister said that about 5,000,000 people will be covered by this scheme, but that figure has not been arrived at by any conclusion based on fact. The administrators of the Ballarat Base Hospital informed me that 54 per cent, of the patients who were treated at that hospital received the 12s. benefit under the Government’s health scheme. As that figure includes a large number of old people. I should be astonished if more than 30 per cent, of the community voluntarily participate in the Government’s free hospitalization scheme, and I believe that only about 30 per cent, of all the people in Australia are interested in the plan of the Minister for Health. in America the Blue Cross plan of hospitalization is supported by only 25.8 per cent, of the American people, and that organization has been in operation for many years. That gives a clear indication of how voluntary health plans have appealed to the people of the United States of America. Only 41,000,000 people arc covered by the national health plan in America, and an investigation of the Blue Shield scheme, which has been established since 1944, shows that its benefits are extended to only 14 per cent, of the people. Surely the Minister for Health knows the number of people in Australia who will participate in his scheme, and, if so, he should give honorable members the figures and lay on the table a document showing the number of people who will be covered by his hospitalization plan. The people should have enough reliable information placed before them in order to judge for themselves the success or the non-success of this Government’s health scheme. Only about one-third of the community is prepared to join voluntary hospitalization schemes, and I suggest that that indicates a serious inadequacy in the Government’s health plan.
The inadequacy of the scheme explains many of the matters that the Minister misrepresented throughout his secondreading speech. It also explains why people do not go to hospital. Obviously, they do not enter hospital because they are not insured, and that is why there are not so many persons in hospital at present. This scheme has been put forward to discourage people from entering hospitals in order to prevent the overcrowding of those institutions. The scheme operates as a discouragement to doctors from sending their patients to hospitals, but doctors usually desire to send their patients where they can get proper treatment for their illnesses. The period of hospitalization has been reduced simply because many sick people say, “ T am not insured and I cannot afford to pro to hospital, therefore I will stay home “. But if a person is so ill that he has to go to hospital, then he want’ to leave the institution as soon as possible.
Most hospitals have 20 per cent, of patients’ fees outstanding. That state of affairs has been brought about because the hospital scheme is based on the principle, that 100 per cent, of the people will insure themselves, and it must fail because only one-third of the people will so insure. Moreover, it will take all the encouragement of which the Minister is capable to cause even that small proportion insure- themselves. The community needs hospitals and hospitalization, but the Minister’s scheme does not suit the community. However, the amendment moved by the Opposition, if incorporated in the Minister’s plan would enable the scheme to work in a much more satisfactory way in the interests of the people. The amendment requests, in part, that the bill should be redrafted to provide -
For the negotiation of fresh agreements between the Commonwealth anc! the States to ensure that throughout Australia there should be no charge and no means test for qualified patients occupying beds in public wards “f public hospitals.
The Minister’s extravagant statements spoil even the good features of his plan. No scheme is ever 100 per cent, efficient, and for the Minister to say that more than 8,000 doctors have supported his scheme, is gilding the lily. From the Minister’s own record, to be found in the library, it may be ascertained that only 4,156 doctors are registered in the lists of the Department of Health as medical practitioners operating under the pensioner scheme. Many of the names of doctors on that list, including some of those on the South Australian list, appear two or three times because those doctors visit two or three towns. Therefore, I can quite confidently say that the number of doctors who have actually subscribed to the health scheme of this Government is in the region of 4,000 and not 8,000 as the Minister has said. I have the highest admiration for the doctors in that group of 4,000 who work for the pensioners. I have heard reports about them from many people, and every report has been to the effect that the doctors are of the very best type. I have not received one complaint about the doctors, and all reports from the pensioners are in terms of unstinted praise. That is one of the good features of this scheme. However, there are some difficulties which must he overcome because they are rather serious.
In some towns, such as Beaufort near Ballarat, there are two practising doctors, but neither of them will treat pensioners. Consequently, sick pensioners have to travel about 25 miles in order to get treatment. I suggest that that state of affairs could be found in other places as well, because about half of the Australian doctors are not participants in the scheme. We must overcome that weakness of the plan. I believe that the Minister for Health would probably be happier if he were able to rely on a little compulsory unionism in this regard, so that he could make all the doctors see the light. As things stand, I am not able to advise him how the doctors now outside of the scheme can be brought into it. The other 4,000 doctors should enter the scheme in order to relieve their mates of the heavy burdens that they have to carry because all doctors are not participants. I hope that something like that will be done, and a scheme will be introduced that is acceptable to all the doctors.
My main opposition to this scheme flows from the fact that it has serious disadvantages in the way of costs. For example, the Minister said that a big and expensive department has not been set up to deal with this matter. That statement is really a form of misrepresentation. I can hardly believe that the Minister could have overlooked the fact that the hospital benefits organizations and friendly societies have considerable administrative expenses in connexion with this scheme. I do not know the details of their costs, but one honorable member of the Opposition put some rather astonishing figures before the House yesterday. However, the Minister must be aware of the cost of running insurance benefit societies, and it would be illuminating if he would put them before the House. The cost of administration borne by the organizations that I have mentioned is considerable because the experience of American health schemes such as the Blue Shield organization has shown that that must be the case. Ten per cent, of the expenses of the Blue Shield organization represent administration costs, and the Australian scheme, being smaller, is probably more expensive. If £8,500,000 is expended by the Government upon hospital benefits at the rate of 12s. a day, the insurance organizations will add an additional £4,250,000 because they pay at the rate of 6s. a day. If the administrative costs are calculated at 10 per cent, of turnover, the cost of administering the scheme will be at least £420,000, and probably £500,000. The largest part of that expenditure will be involved in the collection of millions of pounds in small amounts. If that could be obviated by payment of the amounts in a lump sum from the Treasury, the expenses of the insurance societies would be reduced to insignificance. The Opposition’s amendment provides for that to be done, and must carry the support of the whole of the people including the insurance societies and the friendly societies so far as medical benefits are concerned.
Every one agrees that the Chifley hospitalization plan was a plan without fault. I believe that that plan placed hospitals on a sound financial footing, and, indeed, that view has been supported by the honorable member for Balaclava. Irrespective of the tremendous increase of costs due to the Government’s economic mismanagement, which I shall not canvas at this stage, the hospitals were not compensated in any way for their increased expenditure. That expenditure was far in excess of their income, and was entirely due to the Government’s refusal to recognize that we cannot have efficient hospitalization unless it is paid for. The people have paid for hospitalization once through the shattered welfare fund, the moneys of which have been misappropriated to make remissions of taxation to the friends of the Government, and they have paid, again on a flat rate basis through patients upon whom the hospital authorities have had to place pressure to pay. In many cases hospital managers have been amazed at the audacity of the Minister in stating that they have made handsome surpluses, when really a large part of the excess income will never be received because it cannot be collected.
I have inspected the balance-sheet of the Ballarat Base Hospital, and I have discovered that, of an income of £83,000 in respect of patients’ fees, £17,000, or more than 20 per cent., is still outstanding. The Canberra Community Hospital had an income last year of £32,949 from patients’ fees, but £7,475, or 22 per cent., is still outstanding. The amounts outstanding in large city hospitals are much greater. The Labour party’s amendment should be adopted because it will be the soundest move to really help hospitals out of their troubles and keep them out. The amendment provides, in part, that the bill should be altered to provide - for substantially increased rates of hospital benefit having regard to the rise of hospital costs.
The Minister will say anything at all in order to sell the Government’s subterfuge for imposing a flat rate health insurance plan. That is indicated clearly in his statement to the press on the 7th October, when he said, amongst other equally erroneous things, that the Ballarat Base Hospital had converted a deficit of £11,310 in August, 1952, into a surplus of £18,586 in August, 1953. The right honorable gentleman did not say that the hospital had been able to meet an increased expenditure of £22,000 because of an increased State grant of £38,000. Every word of the 27-page speech delivered by the right honorable gentleman is suspect and cannot be regarded as even approaching the real facts. Although the Opposition does not agree with the whole foundation of the scheme, it has endeavoured, in a proper spirit, to amend it and to make do with it so that the people will receive some benefit.
I now draw attention to the deplorable position in relation to homes for old people throughout Australia. There is a big home in Ballarat, the Queen Elizabeth Benevolent Home, which has accommodation for 600 inmates. There is another home in Bendigo, another in Melbourne and others throughout the country which admit people from a very wide area. Because there is a home in Ballarat, honorable members should not think that its inmates come only from Ballarat. That home admits people from the whole of western Victoria. It has many persons from beyond Ballarat on its waiting list, although the people of that city raise £10,000 every year for its maintenance. Many sick people are cared for in the infirmary attached to that home. An old people’s home is the best way of looking after an old person who has no husband or wife, as the case may be, and no children. Sick pensioners and old people receive priority of admission to the Queen Elizabeth Benevolent Home. The 400 inmates of the infirmary receive the very best treatment. They are cared for by trained nurses for 24 hours of the day. All that the Queen Elizabeth Benevolent Home receives is £2 16s. a week or 8s. a day. That is the benefit that was provided by the Chifley Government and which has not been increased. It is quite impossible for the home to provide for these people on a niggardly £2 16s. a week. It costs an ordinary hospital much more than £2 16s. a day to provide for a sick person.
I invite honorable members to compare the manner in which the ordinary pensioner is treated with the manner in which one is treated when he enters a benevolent home. When an ordinary pensioner goes to hospital, he receives £3 10s. a week. Under this scheme, the Government pays an additional 12s. a day, or £4 4s. a week. That means that the pensioner receives a benefit worth £7 14s. a week. The pensioner may stay in hospital for several weeks until the doctor declares that his illness is chronic and that it is one for which the hospital cannot provide any treatment or any speedy relief. If the patient is then admitted to the infirmary of the Queen Elizabeth Benevolent Home or a similar home, the home receives Ss. a day or £2 16s. a week and the pensioner’s pension is reduced to £1 4s. 6d. That means that the Government pays only £4 0s. 6d. a week because the pensioner has been transferred from a public hospital to a benevolent home. The hospital receives £2 16s. a week, but the Government effects a saving of £3 14s. a week. The old people’s homes have asked for relief in the form of the payment of £2 5s. 6d. a week which the Government has appropriated to itself. They have asked also for the payment of the ordinary 4s. a day that is paid to other hospitals. The Minister for Health, so far from agreeing to any such form of relief, has refused to pay even the additional 4s. benefit that every other hospital receives. The old people’s homes cannot continue to provide, for the small sum of £2 16s., a service that costs at least £5 14s. 4d. a week. That is a matter which the right honorable gentleman should consider. Everybody wants to see the old people properly cared for and there is no better place in which to care for them than in the benevolent homes. No effort is too great for the people who care for them. On the occasion of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second one of the ladies’ auxiliaries in Ballarat decided to do something for the old people. They were asked what they would like to do and they said, “We should like to give them a good meal “. The reply was, “ They get that every day “, which is quite true.
The strongest criticism of the Government’s health scheme is directed to the manner in which the people must pay for it. The people do not want a voluntary hospital scheme. The Australian Labour party has actively opposed any scheme that includes a flat rate of payment by every one. The Opposition believes that payment should be based on the ability of all people to pay. Honorable members on this side of the House are of the opinion that the cost of the scheme should be met out of taxation which should be levied on an equitable basis. The Government has tried to foist on the people a scheme which the people do not wish to embrace. I do not want to paint a picture of what might happen in the future, but I suggest that, if costs rise, a revision of fees may be necessary. It is not enough for the honorable member for Balaclava to say that for a few pence a week one can receive free hospital treatment and that for a few shillings a week he can receive free medicine. That adds up to £.6 or £7 a vear, which is virtually extra taxation. The people have pa.:d once for their National Welfare Fund, but step bv ster the Government has inexorably debased the National Welfare Fund. The implementation of this scheme is another sten towards the rape of that fund.
When the Australian Labour party was in office, it implemented a scheme to which everybody contributed. Every person knew what he contributed. He knew what went into the fund and what he received out of it. This Government has introduced this scheme by subterfuge just as it introduced a simplified income tax return so that people would not know the amount of money that was put into the National Welfare Fund. The Government altered the payments from Consolidated Revenue into the National Welfare Fund, not on a proper basis, but on a plan that covered up the sum that it decided to give. Payments from the National Welfare Fund for the scheme which is now in operation will be tampered with, and the people will be required to pay in a manner in which they do not wish to pay. The Australian Labour party offers the strongest criticism of that feature of the Government’s health scheme. The Opposition is of the opinion that the scheme should be financed by the people on an equitable basis, and it will always adhere to that opinion. I am certain that, if the amendment proposed by the Opposition is accepted, the people will have a scheme for which payment will be made through taxation. All the recommendations outlined by the Opposition are sound and, if incorporated in the scheme, will make it a better health scheme. I strongly support the ammendment.
.- The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) has left honorable members in no doubt about the attitude of the Australian Labour party to this bill. He and other honorable members opposite have stated the Opposition’s attitude in specific terms. The difference between, the attitude of the Government and that of the Opposition is that the Government believes in a voluntary contributory health service system which enables people to retain their self-respect but the Australian Labour party believes in a socialized scheme. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and other Opposition speakers tried to claim some kudos for the scheme that the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) has submitted to the people. The honorable member for Ballarat said that there was no plan until the Australian Labour party assumed office. There may have been a plan then, but I remind the honorable member that there was no plan when his
Government was defeated. The Opposition talked about plans, but Australia still had no national health scheme. The Labour Government had some extraordinary proposals which it placed before the people, all of which the people rejected, it seems to me that the Australian Labour party is extremely jealous of this scheme. That has been made obvious by the remarks of honorable members opposite.
The honorable member for Ballarat said that the people did not want voluntary organizations. If I know the people of Australia, I know that they want something which carries with it some personal responsibility. They do not wish to lean completely upon a beneficent State. They wish’ to be good citizens who are prepared to play their part in the advancement of the State and its affairs. The honorable gentleman also claimed that thousands of doctors had refused to participate in the scheme, but last night the honorable member for EdenMonaro said the scheme was all for doctors, that it was initiated by the doctors and that they dictated its terms. It seems extraordinary that, if they dictated the terms of the scheme, they should not want to participate in it.
Australia is a country of fewer than 9,000,000 people and the time has arrived when the foundations must be laid for a complete national health scheme. That is what the Government seeks to do in the proposal now before the House. Everybody seeks happiness, peace and contentment, but there can be no happiness, peace or contentment for people who are not blessed with good health. That is an essential part of the very existence of man. Whether a man is rich or poor, good health is essential to his happiness whatever his position is in life. I say in the early part of my speech, because I think it is important to impress the fact upon Opposition members, that we cannot have good health unless we have good doctors. We cannot have good health unless we are prepared to put our faith in the members of the medical profession who have done so much for humanity. The great scientists of the past, the noble workers who have graced and who now grace the medical profession and those who execute their orders, the sisters and nurses in the hospitals,, and all those who contribute to the health of the people have rendered a great serviceto mankind. I deplore the vicious attackon the medical profession that was madelast night by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who opened the debate on behalf of the Opposition. It ill becomes a member of the Labourparty so to demean himself. No health scheme can be successful unless every person is prepared to accept individual responsibility, not only to himself and to the members of his family, but also to his neighbour and to the country at large. Modern civilization demands that we institute a system of national health that provides for the treatment of the illnessessuffered by the men, women and children in the community. Our much- vaunted civilization is not civilized if we do not evolve and give effect to such a scheme. Sickness strikes in the most insidious ways. There is seldom warning of the onset of illness or disease. The sick usually have little idea about how long they will remain ill or the expense in which they may be involved. It is ! beyond the ability of the average citizen to provide for the emergencies that result from sickness and ill health. Consequently, a national health scheme calls for the co-operation of all the people who may, at any time, be struck down by a severe and costly illness. It was upon that basis that the Minister for Health formulated hi3 scheme. We cannot allow suffering to go unheeded whether the sufferer be a friend or an enemy, a good man or a bad man, a person with a black skin or a white skin. Modern civilization must provide against the effects of ill-health upon the individual and upon the nation as a whole.
I pay a tribute to the Minister for Health for the magnificent job that he has done in the field of public health in Australia. The vicious, personal attack that was made upon him last night by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was cruel and dastardly. It reflected no credit upon the representatives in this Parliament of a great political party. I was amazed to see the honorable member stand in hi3 place, point his finger at the Minister for Health, and refer to him as “ this man “ in vituperative language, spitting out venom. Every thinking person in Australia will agree that the Minister for Health is one of the greatest Australians who has ever graced this country. He spent his earlier years in devoted service to the sick in his district. One has only to go through the area in which he practised in his younger days to realize the magnificent work that he performed. His innate simplicity, his amazing energy and his selfless service in the cause of his fellow men will be remembered long after the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has been forgotten. His services to the nation will be written into the history of Australia. He will be acclaimed by the generations of the future for this magnificent national health scheme which he has formulated and brought into being.
Last night, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro proposed a long amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill. The first portion of his proposal, which was set out in paragraphs (a), (b), and (c), was very effectively dealt with by another member of the medical profession on this side of the House, the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron), whose speech, by contrast with that of the honorable member who led the debate on behalf of the Labour party, was pleasing and well reasoned. Let us examine the proposed amendment. The honorable member proposed that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide, amongst other things -
Having regard to the financial position of hospitals throughout Australia when the Labour Government was in office and the so-called McKenna health scheme was in operation that is a strange proposition. Under the present Government’s health scheme the hospitals have for the first time for many years, showed credit balances in their accounts. They will continue to operate successfully under this Government’s legislation. If the proposal advanced by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro were accepted, taxes would have to be increased enormously. When the Labour party makes suggestions of this kind it does not count the cost. The next paragraph of the amendment is intended to provide -
That has already been tried, and it failed, as every one who has examined this matter well knows. Indeed, it was that very system that brought many Australian hospitals to the verge of bankruptcy. Such a proposal will appeal only to thoughtless persons. I am the president of the advisory board of a large hospital in Sydney, and in that capacity I saw rich people, who were well able to pay, occupy beds in hospital while destitute people were turned away. Honorable members opposite mouth the phrase “means test” as though it had some mysterious significance. Those who can afford to pay for hospital treatment should, as a matter of course, pay for it, and it should be possible for hospitals to compel them to do so. I have never heard of a case in any responsible hospital - and I know many of them in Sydney - in which a person who is unable to pay has been refused attention by the hospital authorities. That is a fundamental principle in the hospital system in Australia. The honorable member’s proposal is merely political nonsense designed to break down something that has proved to be good and to replace it by something that has proved to be bad. Another paragraph of the amendment reads -
Every person should contribute to such funds. If persons are not in a position to contribute, as is the case of pensioners and others in receipt of social services benefits, they are not required to contribute in order to obtain the government benefit. If, after having joined a fund, a man loses his job and cannot continue to pay his contributions and is forced to rely on social service benefits, he is still entitled to receive the government benefit, and this bill says so in plain words.
Another paragraph in the honorable member’s amendment seeks the redrafting of the bill- (5) To devise in consultation with the medical profession and State governments machinery to stabilize medical charges and to determine just variations of those charges.
That paragraph clearly indicates that the Labour party still advocates a system of compulsion and control. Indeed, compulsion and control are inherent in every proposal of the Labour party in relation to this matter. Opposition members have no faith in doctors. They want to . be able to order them about as they please. I remind them that there is a good deal of healthy competition among doctors which is controlled, to a certain degree, by the ethics of the profession to which all doctors voluntarily subscribe. A. doctor who spends a great deal of time in the pursuit of his profession and who gives of his best to his patients, naturally attracts more patients than dors the doctor who is content to limit his professional activities. That element of competition is always present in the medical profession. Another paragraph of the amendment proposes -
Thus, the Labour party favours a completely socialized health scheme. The last paragraph of the amendment is designed to provide for the cure and relief of mental illness. That is a State responsibility. I have no doubt that as experience is gained of the national health scheme improvements will be effected to it. The cure and relief of mental illness may be included in the scheme at a later date. The omission from the scheme of provision for the cure and treatment of mental illness does not interfere with the basic scheme upon which the Minister can very effectively build.
The proposals outlined in the amendment contrast rather strangely with the policies applied by the Labour Government when it introduced the so-called McKenna health scheme. They contrast, too, with schemes that have been introduced in other countries. I heard a very prominent man who visited Aus tralia recently say that the national health scheme propounded by the present Minister for Health is easily, the best national health scheme in the world. It is very well thought of by every person who has investigated it on behalf of other countries. Labour’s health scheme failed because it was based upon wrong premises and because Opposition members were too greatly imbued with the political philosophy of socializing medicine and too little concerned with the establishment of a lasting scheme that would benefit the people. Because they wanted to use force and to impose arbitrary controls they were unable to secure the co-operation of doctors, chemists or the people generally. They can blame only themselves for the fact that they cannot claim any credit for the present scheme.
This national health scheme is based upon a spirit of co-operation among all persons associated with it. When the Minister drafted his scheme and developed his ideas in relation to it he consulted all those sections of the community which would be associated with it. He discussed it frankly with the State governments, irrespective of their political colour. I heard the New South Wales Minister for Health, Mr. O’ Sullivan, at a recent meeting at the Royal North Shore Hospital, wholeheartedly congratulate the Commonwealth Minister for Health on this magnificent scheme. Consultation has taken place between the right honorable gentleman, State governments and the medical fraternity. I remind the Opposition that the doctors have not got all that they wanted, even though the Minister is a member of the medical profession. I am fairly closely associated with many medical practitioners, and I know that the Minister and the doctors arrived at an agreement on this scheme as the result of cooperation and consultation. A similar spirit was shown by that magnificent organization, the Pharmaceutical Guild of Australia. That body did not get all its own way, but at the same time, the principle of co-operation and consultation was established with the organization, whichhas a vital bearing on the success of this great scheme.
Then again, the Minister approached the friendly societies and the hospitals, and discussed the position with their representatives. He conferred at length with the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales, of which I am a board member, and with friendly societies which are to be responsible for the conduct of many parts of the scheme. This bill has been made possible by the discussions that took place between the Minister and the organizations concerned in a. spirit of co-operation.
Another feature of the policy of the Minister which is responsible for the success of the scheme is that he dealt with parts of the scheme at a time, and gradually put each one into operation. Each part was tested in public practice, and, where necessary, improvements were made. All the parts have now been brought together in order to give a complete medical and hospital service. I emphasize that the scheme has been made possible by the spirit of co-operation and consultation.
The Minister mentioned, in his secondreading speech, four indispensable features of .the national health scheme. Those features are essential to the permanence of the scheme. A hospital and medical service may be successful for a time, but four features must be adopted to ensure a permanent scheme. As time passes, there will be other Ministers for Health, and other governments, that will operate the scheme. The Minister mentioned, first, the necessity for a medical service of high quality. Such a service is fundamental to the success of the whole scheme. Any person who has travelled abroad will pay a high tribute to our young doctors, who are among the best in the world. They will be called upon to carry out the major part of the scheme. Secondly, the Minister stressed the necessity for all the people fully to support the scheme. The honorable member for Ballarat stated that only a percentage of the people had accepted the hospital and medical service. The honorable gentleman is hopelessly wrong. I am a member of the executive of the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales and I know that people are joining the approved organizations almost as quickly as they can be registered. But the support of all the people is required to make the scheme a complete success. Some people may consider that, because they have sufficient money, they do not need to participate in the scheme and pay their contribution of a few shillings a week. I say to them frankly that it is their civic and national responsibility to join the scheme. Every one should join it, regardless of his station in life, because the permanent success of it depends upon the wholehearted co-operation of all the people. The scheme is voluntary, but therein lie3 its fascination. In my opinion, sufficient publicity has not been given to this medical and hospital service throughout Australia, and some people are still apathetic towards it. They do not join an approved organisation because they think that they have no need to do so. I hope that people of that kind will have a change of heart, and make their contribution to the success of the scheme by becoming members of approved organizations without delay.
Thirdly, the Minister laid stress on the fact that the cost of the scheme must be carefully watched. I agree with that statement. The cost of administration should not be permitted to become an unduly large proportion of the amount of money that is handled. Fourthly, the Minister emphasized the fact that hospitals must be kept solvent. The maintenance of a medical service of high quality is the first essential of the scheme, and the solvency of the hospitals is perils the second most important of the four features to which the Minister has referred. Hospital finances, generally, are at last in credit, but that fact should not lead to slackening in efficiency of administration, or relaxation of public voluntary help for hospitals. It is grand to see the functioning of the hospital auxiliaries, consisting principally of women, who give their services voluntarily to the hospitals.
The scope of the national health scheme has been discussed by many honorable members and I shall not deal exhaustively with every facet of it. The ambit of the scheme is wide. Approximately 750,000 school children are being supplied with milk free of charge. Their health will be improved materially by the provision of that food, and, in addition, this service will encourage the habit of the use of milk in homes to a greater degree than exists at the present time. That is excellent. A vigorous campaign is being waged against tuberculosis. Valuable aid has been given by this Government for the diagnosis of tuberculosis and the treatment of sufferers. A generous allowance is provided which enables a breadwinner, who has not had time to find out whether or not he is suffering from the disease, to be diagnosed and treated. He is X-rayed free of charge, and, if necessary, he can obtain treatment in a sanatorium. He is relieved of worry, which is one of the greatest dangers of this dread disease, because the allowance granted by the Government is ample to maintain his family while he is undergoing treatment. The allowance is £9 2s. 6d. a week, plus 10s. for each child, and this payment, added to any other income that the family may receive, relieves the breadwinner of any financial worries in respect of the welfare of his family while he is in a sanatorium. Th.fi tuberculosis scheme is really wonderful. 1 believe that, ultimately, the campaign will wipe out this dread scourge in Australia.
The provision of life-saving drugs free of charge has saved many hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. A grand scheme has been instituted for pensioners, who are provided with free medicine, free medical treatment and free hospitalization. Under the hospital benefits scheme, the Government provides 12s. a day for a patient. The payment of only ls. a week entitles a person to almost complete security regarding hospital treatment. A person who wishes to enter a more expensive hospital may make the necessary provision for the payment of ls. 6d. a week.
.- Th” honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) accused members of the Labour party, including the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua), of spitting out venom when they spoke on this bill. He then proceeded to spit venom for two-thirds of his speech.
– I did not use the same language.
– That may be so, but the meaning was the same. In my opinion, the honorable member for
Ballarat has made a grand contribution to this debate. I also listened intently to the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), and I do not recall that he abused the medical profession at any stage. I believe that the honorable gentleman would be the last to abuse the doctors, and speaking from memory, I think that he paid glowing tributes to the medical profession of Australia. Of course, accusations of that kind are hurled against members of the Opposition for the purposes of party political propaganda. Members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party hope that such propaganda will serve their ends during the next few weeks. Some Government supporters declare that the Labour party, if it is elected .to office, will nationalize the medical profession. 1 know nothing of such a proposal.
– “We, as a responsible Opposition, realize that the Constitution does not make provision for the nationalization of the medical profession. Until the people of Australia consented to an alteration of the Constitution for that purpose, not one member of the present Opposition would stand for such a proposal.
The incidence of sickness in Australia is tragic. Hospitals are so crowded that “one patient is pushed out in order to make a bed available for an incoming patient. Out-patients’ sections of hospitals are packed with sick people. The doctors’ waiting rooms are crowded. Such a situation is deplorable. Australia is one of the greatest countries in the world and, if our economy was sound, an abundance of food, clothing and shelter could be provided for our people. Australia maintains only a handful of people in proportion to its vastness, but many thousands of people are in need of medical treatment and hospitalization. Something is wrong when this great country, which has such wonderful resources, has so many sick citizens. “Why are hospitals full? Why are the doctors’ consulting-rooms full? They are full because, notwithstanding Australia’s natural resources, our people cannot obtain all that they need to build healthy bodies. Our slum areas are a disgrace to us. Thousands of children are born and raised in those districts without sufficient food. Who will dare to deny that statement? Hundreds of married couples are trying to rear families in single rooms under the most adverse slum conditions. Local councils, if they were hard-hearted enough, would evict the tenants for the simple reason that the rooms are not fit for human habitation. How can we expect to have a healthy community when our capital cities are full of slums, where children spend the early years of their lives, underfed, poorly clad and badly housed? Something more than this Government’s health plan is needed.
We must put an end to the conditions that cause ill health. Our nation would be happier and richer if all the money spent in attempting to cure sickness were devoted, to the prevention of disease. First, we should make sure that our people have sufficient food to keep their bodies healthy and sufficient clothing to keep their children warm in the winter months. We should at the same time provide them with decent houses. Until the nation acknowledges its responsibility in such matters, we shall continue to have sickness throughout the land. The Labour Government did remarkably well when it was in office. For five years of its term it had a war on its hands, and for the remainder of the time it was occupied with the difficult and costly . task of rehabilitating the country after the war. In the circumstances, it should not be blamed for any shortcomings for which the people are suffering now. The blame should be thrown at the feet of the present Government and of previous governments of a similar political complexion, which have held office in this country for two-thirds of the period that has elapsed since federation.
– We shall continue to hold office, too.
– I do not believe that. I am sure that the people will reject this health bill, which the Government has produced for propaganda- purposes. The Government must produce something better than this if it wishes to regain the confidence of the people before the next general election. Why are our hospitals unable to accommodate all the sick people in the community? Why are the out-patients’ departments and the doctors’ consulting-rooms overcrowded every day? Incidentally, I pay a high tribute to the medical profession. The doctors have done a grand job for the people and, although they failed to cooperate with the former Labour Government, I shall not malign them. Many of them are overworking themselves in order to help the sick. Some do a much betterjob than others, of course, but, nevertheless, all of them attempt to discharge the responsibility that is thrust upon them as health officers.
Unfortunately, this bill does not pro vide for the essential needs of the community. The mouth is the gateway to health in my opinion, but the bill makes no provision for dental health. Benefits will be granted in certain cases which involve treatment of dental conditions, but, generally speaking, the bill overlooks the need to preserve dental health from childhood onward. A child’s first permanent tooth appears at the age of about five years. That is an important stage in its life. The bill should provide for free dental treatment of children from that age. The permanent teeth gradually appear until the child has a complete set at the age of about thirteen years. I ask. honorable members on the Government side of the House to consider what happens in a family with three children aged six, seven and eight years, respectively. The parents take the children to a dentist, who finds that many of their permanent teeth are already in a carious state, and tells the parents that one child needs, perhaps, five fillings, the second two fillings, and the third six fillings. Such conditions are not unusual. The parents naturally ask how much the necessary dental work will cost. The dentist tells them that he will reduce thecost as much as possible by using a certain type of filling in the posterior teeth and another type of filling in the anteriorteeth, but that the cost for one child will be ten guineas, for the second child eight guineas and for the third child fiveguineas, making a total cost of 23 guineas. How can the average working man and his wife find 23 guineas on the spur of” the moment? Somebody may suggest that the children should be taken to a dental hospital, but I point out that dental hospitals apply a means test and will not accept children if the father is earning more than the basic wage.
– Why did the Labour Government allow that state of affairs to continue?
– Let us not talk about Labour governments or Liberal governments. 1 am describing the situation as it exists to-day. Let us discuss that, and not the happenings of last year or the year before that. It is stupid and irrelevant to talk of the past and ignore the needs of the moment.
This bill is supposed to provide for the health requirements of Australians in a way that will raise the standard of health of the entire community. In fact, it does not even deal with fundamental problems. I repeat - and I am sure that, the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron), as a member of the medical profession, will agree with me - that the mouth is the gateway to health. Many diseases occur because the teeth of children have been neglected. Consider the difficulties of a basic wage earner who is told by his dentist that all his teeth must be extracted. How many honorable members know how much it costs to obtain a set of artificial dentures? It is impossible to buy a set in Australia to-day for less than 40 guineas. This bill does not provide for the assistance of basic wage and other low income earners who suffer from such misfortunes. I have reminded the House of these facts in order to prove that the bill does not embody the essential requirements < & satisfactory health plan.’ I hope that all the anomalies that I have mentioned will be attended to before the measure becomes law. It is of the first importance for a health plan to provide for the dental health of our citizens from childhood onward. Give the people dental treatment, and much will have been done to promote their physical well-being.
The bill provides mainly for the healthy man who does not suffer from serious ailments. People who consult a doctor perhaps once a year will benefit most from its provisions. Very little hope is offered , to those who suffer from chronic illnesses. I know of at least one individual whose sickness has cost him £20 a week for the last two years. This bill, when it becomes law, will not entitle him to receive more than the Government contribution towards the cost of his hospital accommodation and it will noi enable him to obtain anything with which to pay his doctors’ bills, because he cannot be accepted as a member of any of the health insurance organizations. That is a fatal weakness of this bill. Thi1 honorable member for Bennelong said that the bill provided for the needs <v such people. I should like him to show me the appropriate clause.
– The honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) gave illustrations last night.
– I know of specific cases for which the bill makes no provision.
– The bono rable member for Lawson named health insurance organizations that would accept sufferers from chronic illnesses as contributors.
– I have applied to many registered organizations, but none of them will accept people who have chronic ailments.
– The honorable member applied to the wrong organizations.
– The bill is at fault if only a limited number of organizations will accept such persons as contributors. Surely these are the people who are most in need of help ! They should not have to search Australia, in order to find a health insurance organization that will accept them. For this reason alone, I maintain that the Government and the Minister for Health have little reason to congratulate themselves, notwithstanding the eulogies of the honorable member for Bennelong. A great deal has -been said by honorable members opposite about the tuberculosis benefits paid by this Government. They were introduced by the previous Labour Government and have been continued by this Government. I regret that the tuberculosis legislation is not doing for tuberculosis sufferers what it was intended to do. In an attempt to save money, the tuberculosis allowance is withdrawn when an attack of tuberculosis is considered to have been arrested. In such a case, the sufferer goes back to work, although he has not been cured. He is forced back to work by economic circumstances. In many cases, there is a recurrence of the disease and the person concerned becomes a chronic tuberculosis case. The Government has nothing upon which to congratulate itself with respect to its control of tuberculosis benefits. Sufferers from tuberculosis in this country should thank the Labour party for whatever benefits are being granted to them.
The Government should accept the amendment moved by the. Opposition last night. We want concessions to be given in respect of dental treatment. We want concessions to be given to sufferers from chronic diseases. Most of all, we want a government that will manage the economic affairs of the country in such a way that we shall have adequate food, clothing and shelter for our people. Then the health of the Australian people would be so improved that it would be unnecessary to spend millions of pounds of the taxpayers’ money in order to make provision for ill health. I hope that, within a few months, this Government, which has been so careless in its approach to the economic requirements of the Australian people, will be cast into oblivion and that its place will be taken by a Labour government which will discharge its responsibilities to the people, give them the things that they need and, by so doing, raise the standard, not only of their prosperity but also of their health.
– The speech of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) waa characterized by extreme earnestness and, I am afraid I must say, appalling ignorance of the provisions of the measure. I was very interested to hear the honorable gentleman say that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) was not unkind to the doctors last night and did not intend to reflect upon them.. I listened to every word that was said by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who delivered his speech with great force and vigour. All I have to say is that if he did not intend to reflect upon the doctors by what he said last night, I shall be a most interested listener if he really cuts loose on the subject.
The honorable member for Adelaide addressed himself to some alleged defects in the bill. I was glad that he refrained from personal attacks on the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), although I think he did himself less justice when he failed to admit that what the honorable member for Bennelong said in appreciation of the right honorable gentleman’s merit was justified. The bill is, in a sense, the harvest of the years. The Minister for Health left the University of Sydney at the age of 21 years, fully qualified as a surgeon and the most brilliant man of his year. He soon earned the reputation of being the finest surgeon in the country districts of New South Wales. His work as a general practitioner is one of the legends of Grafton and the surrounding district, which, in those days, was a. pioneering area. The stories of his hair-breadth escapes from death by falling over cliffs or into crevasses due to mishaps on the so-called roads of that mountain escarpment area make interesting reading. It is no exaggeration to say that the right honorable gentleman had a charmed life. With that experience and background, with a magnificent record as a surgeon in World War I., in which he responded to the call of his country, and with a magnificent record in general practice on his return to Australia after that war, he hasbrought to bear on the most complicated and difficult problem of national health legislation a massive intellect and a mind extraordinary for its capacity to notice the smallest details but yet see the pictureas a whole. I pay tribute to a man whohas been awarded one of the highest personal honours that the sovereign of the British Commonwealth can bestow, who has achieved almost every honourthat any organization can give, and whois highly rated in world affairs by reason of his integrity and far-reaching knowledge. We are singularly fortunate that., in trying to shape our national health legislation, we have been able to take- advantage of the rich experience and the fine mind of the Minister.
I do not suggest that everything m this measure was conceived in the Minister’s mind. “We have learned much from the Beveridge report, the experience of other countries in the field of health legislation, and the muddle that a Labour Government made of our first attempts to frame national health legislation. 1 want to be fair to the Australian Labour party. It is not alone in having made a muddle of national health legislation. Labour parties in other countries have made an even greater muddle of their national health schemes. The Minister for Health has presented to the House a measure that represents the harvest of the years of his experience and the experience of other people. I am intrigued that the Opposition has not really attacked it. They say that certain things should be included, but they do not really attack the measure except on the fundamental point of how the scheme should be financed. Some honorable members opposite have been frank and open enough to say that if the Labour party gets back into power they will endeavour to put into practice their socialist theories about the nationalization of medicine. They have not learned the lessons that the people o£ other countries learned from their expensive experiments in nationalized medicine.
It does not serve any useful purpose, except perhaps to indicate individual opinions, for some honorable members opposite to say that they do not believe in the theory of nationalized medicine and that the Constitution will not permit the medical profession to be nationalized. I do not want to deal with matters that are not strictly relevant to the bill, but I feel I should point out that, although the Constitution does not permit many things to be done by the CommonwealthParliament, on some occasions the eggs have been nearly scrambled. At the back of the minds of certain people there is an idea that they can still scramble the eggs. If that is their view, I should prefer them to say so unequivocally, but apparently there is a division of opinion in the Labour party as to the wisdom of adhering to a theory which experience has proved to be fundamentally unsound and which, like the old idea of capitalism, is one of the shibboleths of the past. Under our British system, it is quite possible that the Labour party will be in power again one day. If it comes back to power, I believe that the last piece of legislation it will attempt to alter in any way will be this measure.
Honorable members opposite have said that if they are returned to office they will abandon the idea of a contributory health scheme and will finance the scheme from taxation. That would impose upon the 600,000 pensioners of this country a burden of taxation that is not imposed upon them by this scheme.
– “Why does the honorable member say that ?
– -The pensioners live in this country. Under a socialized health scheme, the cost of living, which this Government is trying to stabilize, would rise rapidly, because the national finances would be on an unsound basis.’ An unscrupulous government could adopt the course that Mr. Gladstone once referred to as a course by which people could be taxed without knowing they were being taxed. Such a government could increase the cost of living, but the people would not know why it was being increased. A Labour government, instead of adopting the honest method of asking people, other than pensioners, to pay 3d. a week - less than the cost of a postage stamp - to provide themselves with hospital benefits, would impose greater taxes, which would increase the cost of living and the burden that the people have to carry. Let us do away with humbug in relation to this matter. Let us face the facts. Honorable gentlemen opposite know that I have stated the facts. “When a piece of legislation is first brought before the House every honorable member of the Opposition, and perhaps some Government supporters, are entitled to say that this may happen and that may happen, and, having been a member of an Opposition myself, I know how lively one’s imagination can be about the dangers inherent in new legislation. However, we are not dealing with something entirely new in this health measure. This legislation will merely give statutory effect to a system that has been working effectively for some time .past, and, therefore, nobody can say that this bill may have this horrible effect or that horrible effect. If detrimental effects have not been made evident to the present time, then it is not likely that they will occur in the future. If the practice embodied in this legislation has proved to be successful, as I claim it has been, despite the gloomy outlook of the honorable member for Adelaide, then it has provided, and is still providing, real benefits for the people.
In approaching the matter of the national health scheme, the Minister for Health has sought, first, to win the cooperation of medical practitioners. After all, the doctors will have to carry out the practical side of the health scheme, and honorable members know perfectly well that any employer who cannot obtain the co-operation of his employees will have a pretty bad time and, indeed, will face the failure of his business. Doctors are not employers in the ordinary sense ; they are more of the nature of co-partners with the Government. Unless we can get our partners to work with us we shall surely face trouble. This very wise Minister sought, first, the co-operation of the doctors, a co-operation that the Opposition for some reason or other failed to obtain. Then he sought the co-operation of pharmaceutical chemists, and after considerable difficulty he got that cooperation. Finally he had to get the cooperation of the hospitals, and I believe that he faced some difficulties in New South Wales before he obtained that cooperation. Until recently the New South Wales Government was attempting to enforce, through its New South Wales Hospitals Commission, a system to provide that the unfortunate persons who occupied the general wards of public hospitals should pay for their accommodation. It was only when the Australian Government stated that the New South Wales Government would not receive the Commonwealth benefits unless free service was given to the patients in public hospitals, that New South Wales abandoned its attempt to force those patients to pay.
The benefits that will be extended to pensioners, tubercular sufferers and the general public are all intermingled in this legislation. The honorable member for Adelaide suggested that there was good reason why the Government should supply increased dental services. In this regard I can speak only of my own State. I was Minister for Education in New South Wales as far back as 1927, and at that time I was administering a school medical service. The service consisted of travelling clinics which visited the schools throughout New South Wales and attended the children. Whether that service extended to all the children of the State I am not prepared to say at present, but it operated for years; and if similar services have not operated in other States it is beside the point for honorable members to blame the Commonwealth. I am a great believer in dental services for children, and when I was a Minister in a New South Wales government it was my business to ensure that our travelling clinics throughout the State, including city areas, gave regular dental treatment to children. I noticed that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who moved the Opposition’s amendments to the bill, introduced such matters as provision for the dental care of children under sixteen. Perhaps he has not heard anything about the old New South Wales scheme, or perhaps since the Labour Government has been in office in New South Wales somebody has fallen down on the job and the children have been neglected. However, in any case, the Australian Government should not be blamed for the shortcomings of the New South Wales Government.
The Opposition has stated that it believes that the payment of Commonwealth hospital or medical benefits should not be conditional upon a patient being a contributor to a hospital or medical benefits fund. That attitude is rather misleading, because a certain portion of the benefit is not, contingent upon membership of any fund. For example, there is no obligation on pensioners to join a fund. They get the benefits whether they are in a medical benefits fund or not. All persons get certain benefits, but if they want to get much greater benefits all they have to do is pay into a medical benefits fund each week a sum which is less than the sum required to buy a packet of cigarettes. The honorable member foi- Adelaide said that we should have free hospitals, and said that he supported the remarks and the motion of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. I have learned something about the free hospitals in New Zealand. As a matter of fact, a member of my own family nursed in some of those hospitals, and she told me, as others have told me, that the most appalling thing that is happening in New Zealand is that people with incipient diseases, such as cancer and tuberculosis, have not been able to be admitted to hospitals because those institutions have been overcrowded by patients who have been admitted free and who have no real right to be in the hospitals ahead of those with very serious diseases. The information that I so obtained was given to me by persons who had no interest in politics, but were simply looking at the matter from the viewpoint of the welfare of patients. All such matters will have to be considered by the Labour party if at any time it should attempt to alter this magnificent scheme that has been put forward by the Minister for Health.
T do not wish to blow my own trumpet unduly, but since the Labour party has continuously claimed that all the benefits which have been conferred on suffering humanity have come from its own efforts, I must say that there is one little thing that was not given by the Labour party. I stand here as one who cannot be contradicted about this matter, and I say when I was a Minister in a New South Wales government we introduced free milk for school children. We corresponded with authorities all over the world to discover the best containers to use, the best methods of distribution and so on. Finally, I personally, and the Australian Country party-Liberal party Government with which I was associated, launched a scheme which provided for the distribution of milk free to school children. One of the fundamentals which I laid down, and which was adopted as a model in every other part of Australia, was that it did not matter a jot where a child came from if he or she was under the age of thirteen years, which is primary school age. A child attending school was automatically entitled to free milk. It is true that the scheme had not reached great proportions, from the view- point of distribution, when I left office. It is also true that my successors in office were sufficiently wise’ and decent to continue the scheme which was initiated by me on behalf of the government of which I was a member. However, even they were not making a success of it until the present Minister for Health, who is- in charge of this measure, had sufficient wisdom to see that if the scheme were to be made applicable to the whole of Australia it would be necessary for it te be backed by Commonwealth finance.
I know that this scheme for many years has been dear to the heart of the Minister for Health, because I discussed it with him when I was Minister for Education in New South Wales and in charge of this matter. The first thing he did was to get the scheme working. At the present time, 750,000 Australian school children are receiving this benefit. That will continue until every child receives fresh milk, good powdered milk prepared according to a formula that can be worked out by experimentation, or fruit juice. The honorable member for Adelaide has asked, “Why does not the Government attack the very basis of ill health ? “ I suggest that medical evidence indicates that there is nothing which provides a better foundation for good health in children than does the provision of fresh, wholesome milk. The child who receives such a benefit will have more than an ordinary chance in life. In the Minister’s second-reading speech he pointed out that in Great Britain, where such a scheme was in operation during the war years, despite the blitz and other hardships, the average weight of an English child increased by 2 lb-, compared with the pre-war average, and the average height increased by 1 inch. In addition, the constitution of the children was strengthened. That testimony cannot be denied. Although the scheme in this country has not had a chance to function properly, already 750,000 children are benefiting from it. I understand that this year £1,600,000 will be expended in that connexion. I pay a tribute to the foresight and wisdom displayed by the Minister for Health in dealing with this matter.
Whilst I am on the subject of basic health, I wish to refer to the action that has been taken in respect of sufferers from tuberculosis. Surely, if it is desired to achieve a basis of sound health it is first necessary to consider those who are carriers of disease and the focal point of trouble, as it were. Honorable gentlemen opposite have claimed that it was the Australian Labour party which commenced the tuberculosis scheme. That is true, but the scheme was basically weak and unsuccessful because the Labour government did not provide liberal pension benefits to those who were asked to enter hospital. It is on that ground that the scheme which is operated by the present Government is so much ahead of that conceived by Labour. In those days, all that sufferers received was the invalid pension. Under the scale of benefits provided by this Government, the number of people who willingly enter hospital has increased and the number of deaths from tuberculosis has steadily declined. There is, therefore, a real chance to wipe out this scourge.
Reference to the free provision of milk for school children and the efforts of this Government to remove the scourge of tuberculosis from the community is sufficient to answer the case put forward by honorable gentlemen opposite. A member of the Opposition has asked “What is being done for chronic sufferers ? “ It has been claimed that this Government is doing nothing for such people. I have here testimony from the head of the greatest organization of friendly societies in Australia, a body which expects that before long there will not be one chronic sufferer who does not receive suitable ben (“fits.
– What is the name of the organization ?
– It is the Combined Friendly Societies of Australia.
– What has it done?
– If I had sufficient time I would tell the honorable gentleman what it has done. I content myself by saying that its benefits include the provision that a dependent child, on attaining the age of seventeen years, is automatically transferred to full membership ; that all members and dependants who were contributing fo medical benefits to the friendly societies prior to the date of commencement of the present scheme have been automatically transferred to the new fund, and that that transfer h’as been given irrespective of the condition of health of the members and dependants concerned, and with no limit in respect of age.
I suggest that people should not wait until they are ill before they join a society and expect immediate benefits. It seems to me that common sense must be used in this matter, as in everything else. Apart altogether from the direct and immediate benefits provided by this scheme, I point out that in 1953-54 the Commonwealth will provide for the States, in matters of national health, approximately £23,000 for the national health campaign, £70,000 for national fitness, £71,000 for medical research, and £5,900,000 from the National Welfare Fund for public hospitals and other institutions.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) has paid a tribute to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) who has brought forward this sub-edited, reconditioned bill, and has hailed it as a masterpiece. Every man has his own view of the subject, of course. The honorable member has assailed those on this side of the House because they see all kinds of imperfections in the bill. In my opinion the tradesmanlike manner in which the measure was taken to pieces by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), and his suggestions about how it could be re-assembled so that it would be nearer the desires of the Australian people, was a job that had to be done and was done very efficiently. Having examined the right honorable gentleman’s secondreading speech, I cannot, with all the reluctance in the world, agree that it is a work of genius. Under the heading “ The Importance of Health “ he has trumpeted to a waiting world the following remark: - “The most important thing in the world is individual national health. Once people cease to live, other matters no longer concern them “. What a profundity! It is an utterance worthy of the great philosophers of the past. Whoever achieved it, either the .Minister or a member of his staff, should be recommended for a grant from the” National Literary Fund. The health of the Australian people is a very serious problem, yet we are ‘presented not with free medicine, but with the bromide of, “ Once people cease to live the other issues, however important they seem, no longer concern them “.
I tenderly lay that aside for future perusal by my family, who understand these things and who will enjoy them, and I turn now to the other claims made by the Minister for Health. In the Minister’s second-reading speech, he said that the man who had given the people of Australia this health scheme was the man who gave them the Loan Council. I pause there to ask what credit is there in owning the greatest unfenced stadium in the Commonwealth - the Loan Council? He also said that this medical factual evidence produced by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who always presents his evidence factually, shows that the scheme covers 3,000,000 of Australia’s 8,000,000 people. This approach continues for quite a long time, but I am almost rendered dumb by the statement that once people cease to live no other problems will torture or confront them. For those people the important problem forever will be laid aside.
Perhaps that is why honorable members have heard a lot of such nonsense as the statement that there must be a co-operative approach. The Minister’s remarks about the necessity for a co-operative approach cover a page and a half of the draft of his speech. Tho Minister said that we must all co-operate. Let us march together, hand in hand. When we get to the doctor’s surgery or to the chemist’s shop we shall be met by the question, “Where are your 3s.? Otherwise you do not get in”. If that is the sort of co-operation envisaged by the Minister, I am afraid that it amounts to compulsion of the wrong kind.
Before the Minister for Health dealt with the hub of the matter, he read another full page poster advertisement about free life-saving drugs. The greatest opponent of the free medicine scheme when the Chifley Government was in office was the Minister himself. He said that the scheme would cost millions of pounds. This. Government’s scheme has cost £7,000,000, but nothing is said about that. The right honorable gentleman had to introduce a bill to adjust the position that has arisen. Too often the wonder drug is the blunder drug, but nothing is said about that. The statements made by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) last night, and by other members who have suffered from illness or who have received information from their electorates, indicate that there is a lot more to the Therapeutic Substances Bill than the mere fact of a survey and an attempt to control the use of drugs. The racket that was supposed to take place under the Labour Government’s socialist legislation has taken place under the partially successful free-if-you-can-get-it medical and social benefits scheme which the Minister for Health now lauds.
I speak merely as a patient, because there are so many doctors in the House that I dare not do otherwise, but I do not know how the position in relation to the use of wonder drugs can be overcome except, perhaps, by the action of the Government and some warnings from properly constituted authorities. To-day, the doctor merely reaches for a proprietary preparation and, if he is like the Minister for Health, he does not know whether the dose is 3,000,000 units or 8,000,000 units. Likewise, the Minister for Health, in estimating that 3,000,000 of Australia’s 8,000,000 people participate in the national health scheme, is not sure. The question of free drugs has not been debated as extensively as I should like to see it debated, but there is thrown back at the Minister his own criticism, reported in Hansard, that the scheme is extravagant, unnecessary and expensive. These things are all right when he does them, but they were all wrong when the Labour Government made its first attempt to do something for the people of Australia but under a broader scheme than that which has been introduced by the present Minister for Health.
A lot has been said about free milk. The free milk scheme has been a useful scheme. Before the present Minister for
Health assumed office, there were other reasons why the giving of free milk could not be made an’ overall scheme. The Minister had the blessing of the Government and of the Opposition when he implemented that scheme. To-day, other things are required for the maintenance of the health of school children. If the Minister is proud of his effort in relation to free milk, let him go further and provide free orange juice for the school children. It has been proved that the vitamin content of oranges is something that children require. They have had free milk to repletion, but one of the tragedies of the free milk scheme is that not all of the milk that is delivered to the schools is being consumed. It is gratifying to know, however, that there is such a complete coverage.
When the honorable member for Eden.Monaro moved the amendments proposed by the Opposition, he said, in effect, that this crazy structure behind which the Minister for Health stands giggling needs buttressing. The Opposition asks the Government to consider the sensible amendments it has proposed. Will any supporter of the Government say that any provision in the proposed amendment is footling, silly, unnecessary or badly conceived? Each of the provisions flows from the anguish of members of the Opposition because the scheme is working in only a partial manner. Although supporters of the Government may like to comfort themselves by saying that they are doing all right because the billycart goes, they must remember that they will soon reach the top of the hill, and that the descent will be terrific.
One of the matters to which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro drew marked attention was the position of the insurance companies and profits derived by vested interests. He referred to the Medical Benefits Association, which is now known as the “ M.B.A.” because it is a brother of the British Medical Association. He points out that the scheme administered by that association lives upon contributions by the worker of either 3s. or 2s. a week to either scheme A or scheme B. The income of the Medical Benefits Association for last year, which honorable members have been told was not as high as it is this year, was £401,693. The benefits paid amounted to a mere £166,909. Expenditure equivalent to 33 per cent, amounted to £52,377, which left a reserve of £182,407 for the year’s operations. What does that prove? If honorable members look at the capital that was raised by the medical profession, the demands that were made upon that capital and the contributions that were made to meet the demands of the organization, they will see that the organization is on a very fair thing. We may well ask why the Government has not done something to ensure that, if the payment of 3s. a week is too much, it is not reduced forthwith. Where are these things going to end? Will the Government go outside its own bureaucracy, its own public servants, its responsible men in career jobs who are working for the community, and who, as such, are dedicated men and look to another offshoot which is further removed from responsibility, which works under its own charter given to it by the Minister for Health and which, because it is a non-profit making organization, can do as it likes with its own funds? The provision of health benefits is just as gigantic a gamble as any other form of insurance. What is to happen to this money? Is it to be represented by huge assets or invested in towering buildings? More sinister still, is the money to be built rapidly and permanently into a fund for the dissemination of propaganda against a programme of social services for all which will always remain the policy of the Australian Labour party? One begins to believe that it may be put to that use. The Minister has spoken glowingly of the opportunity that has been made for progress in health matters. I pause there to hazard a guess as to what would have happened but for the doggedness of the present Opposition, which was then the Government, in connexion with the referendum on social services. Honorable members on the Government side have spoken of the new powers that the Government will use regarding inferior drugs, milk for children, and other health matters. All arose from the 1946 referendum. They were covered by the social services power that was sought by the Labour Government and was denied to it by the present Minister for Health and supporters of the present Government. Where is the Government’s deep and abiding sincerity in the matter of social services? The Labour Government asked for powers and they were denied for political reasons, but having now been won by propaganda and hard fighting on the political battlefield, full advantage is being taken of them by this Government. The Minister for Health was one of the most violent opponents of the proposed powers when he was in the Opposition.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro spoke of the Minister’s attitude in connexion with the complete freedom of doctors. Surely the first consideration in all social and welfare benefits should be the individual citizen. What is the reason for this desire to lean backwards in favour of the doctors? All honorable members know that a doctor has his rights and that they will be preserved just as the rights of every ordinary citizen will be maintained. At The Hague, however, the Minister stated that this scheme would be regarded favorably by 23 nations, and he added -
There is no trace of State control in this scheme, nor will there be.
That sounds well until the scheme is examined. If any government occupying the treasury bench in- this Parliament is not prepared to think in terms of the State, which means the people and their first call upon the services and energies of the legislature, something is wrong. What is the reason for the Government’s desire to build up special privileges for one section of the community when there is no need to do so? What is behind its dramatic fear of the Public Service and the members of that service who have been administering the public medical services of the country for many years? Why is an outer rampart being built around the registered organizations that are associated with the proposed scheme? The proposal is full of holes and patches. Something about it suggests that it is not intended to be as good as it appears to be on the surface. Much of this debate has taken the form of a panegyric in praise of the Minister. The Minister is called a genius, he styles himself a genius and his followers repeat the same fullsome word. I am amazed because the only name that I have heard him called was one that was applied to him by his leader. He called him “ dogsbody “.
– Order ! The honorable member should refrain from such expressions.
– I was merely repeating a pseudonym that was used by somebody else.
– Order ! The honorable member for Parkes is a man of literary attainments. He should know better.
– I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for that reference. I turn my attention now to the taxation aspect of the measure. I presume that the cooperative nature of the special organizations that will operate under this bill will allow them to claim favorable consideration in connexion with taxation.
– They are nonprofitmaking.
– Therefore they have the benefit of the taxation concessions that apply to co-operative organizations. That is one reason why the funds of the organizations could grow to towering proportions. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has stated that the profits of some of those organizations totalled almost £200,000 in a year of experiment and preliminary work. As the scheme progresses, the profits will grow until they become extremely high. What is to be done about them? Have they been ear-marked for medical research? Will they be spent in any way other than in the construction of buildings? When an organization is non-profit-making, its expenditure becomes swollen. Surely there should be some provision for dealing with this situation.
Another matter of concern to the Australian Labour party and the citizens generally is that no safeguard is provided in connexion with fees. On the one side there is the inflexible condition that a person who desires to get benefits under the scheme must be a member of an approved organization and pay a certain sum. Under this scheme, which is alleged to be the best in the world, the citizen will have to pay three times. First he will pay to consolidated revenue because tax payments are demanded for social services. If the citizen is an adult with a wife and dependent child, he must also pay 3s. a week to contribute to Table A. Finally, he must pay from his hip pocket a. third time when he or members of his family consult a doctor. The taxpayer must pay the difference between the charge that is made by the doctor and the amount that is paid to him from the fund. He has to pay to Consolidated Revenue, to the insurance scheme and finally from his own pocket to the doctor. If this is a free scheme and the best in the world, I am living in a world of fantasy myself. Some honorable members on the Government side have expressed the opinion that the Opposition’s attack upon the scheme is not realistic but political. That is not the case. Honorable members on the Opposition side resist the proposal because no scheme can be successful unless it covers all the people. This proposal, because of its exclusive nature, can never cover everybody nor can it meet the needs of vulnerable groups.
As a result of pressure from the Australian Labour party, aged pensioners’ organizations and welfare groups, chronic sufferers have at last been slowly and reluctantly admitted into the scheme. When it first began to operate, chronic cases need not apply. The honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes), who is the son of a doctor, said there were very few chronic sufferers in the community. Australia is teeming with persons suffering from chronic diseases. There are arthritics, diabetics and heart cases throughout the community. They are a major problem for hospitals and other institutions. This scheme, instead of being one for sickness, is a scheme for the healthy. It is a gamble. A healthy man is forced to bet 3s. a week that neither he nor any member of his family will fall sick. In the circumstances, the scheme has no significance or depth. Under the pressure of public opinion and the Australian Labour party, the scheme will now be opened, to chronic sufferers. The honorable member for EdenMonaro has shown that one registered organization alone made a profit of £118,000 in a year. Is that not an indication that there is enough money in it to pay for chronic cases? Three or four gaps have been revealed in the bill. They are vital but they are not political. We were the pioneers of a complete, allembracive medical scheme, but upon it we were defeated.
The first point made by the honorable member who led for the Opposition in this debate was that the government of the day, whatever its calibre or its political complexion, has to go through a dog-fight in relation to a measure of this kind. The Constitution at one time gave to this Parliament nothing more than the care of the flags in the quarantine stations as its health power. The health power has since been enlarged. When the social services proposals were put to the people at the 1946 referendum we fought a lone fight. To-day, the harvest of that fight is being reaped by the Government. But for the dogged fight of the Labour party in that referendum there would be no bill such as that now before us. However, with all its shortcomings, its complexities, its omissions and its errors, it represents . a forward move. The second point was that’ there were certain important things which the bill lacked. One of them was the provision of subsidies for chronically ill persons. A most generous suggestion will be made in regard to that matter at a later stage of the debate. The Government will indeed be foolish if it rejects that suggestion in the teeth of public opinion. It is easy enough to say that chronics are being cared for, but when the heat and the excitement have died down we shall then see how many of them are debarred fi-om benefit for other reasons. So much responsibility rests upon approved organizations as the insurers of sick peoples that we must ensure that the legislative framework of any benefit scheme is satisfactory. Another part of the amendment refers to dental treatment. That, too, is most important, as is also that portion of the amendment which deals with the widening of general issues in regard to social services. The amendment has been submitted as a recommendation and it should be treated as such.
This bill is by all standards not a. magnificent contribution to the total care of the health of the community. The Labour party presented a scheme which at first may have been costly, but at least it provided that the cost of the scheme fell on those best able to bear it. It placed the mantle of safety over the sick, both the vulnerable groups and the wealthy, wherever they lived. That, in the final analysis, is the only health scheme worth anything. This bill contains compulsions that should not be imposed and infringements of principle. Implicit in this legislation is the fear that something will happen to a section of the medical fraternity and it is the shadow of this fear which conditions the plan rather than the needs of the community. These features were absent from the legislation introduced by the Chifley Government, which was subsequently held to be invalid by the High Court. At least that legislation had the virtue that it was based upon the advice of medical men in the House and of medical experts outside it. There is nothing worse than this hotch potch scheme which leaves out essentials and seeks to modify what has already been done. The Minister has gone a long way because pressure for these things always comes from the Labour party. That pressure comes from within when the Labour party is in government; it comes from a dour Opposition when the Labour party is not in government. This bill has no originality about it and in the circumstances we look at it askance. It is not logical or sensible for honorable members opposite to say that the amendment proposed by the honorable member for EdenMonaro should not be considered. If the amendment is rejected out of hand by the Government it will drive the first nail into the coffin of its own plan.
The issues that have been argued by the Opposition are threefold. The first is that the scheme is incomplete, and for that reason is not, in the ultimate, the best thing that could have been evolved at this stage. The second is that this scheme, which has been lauded to the skies, deprives- completely vulnerable sections of the community of benefits and accordingly it is a travesty of justice and it was so characterized by the honor- able member for Eden-Monaro. The third is that it does not include desirable features of earlier health schemes which were adopted after they had been examined by joint committees of the Parliament, including the Social Services Committee,’ upon which members from both sides of the House were represented, and after a conference with the British Medical Association, at which agreement was reached on 29 of the 30 items included on the agenda. These matters were mentioned by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro who presented the amendment for the consideration of the House.
The question has arisen as to when the allowance to .tuberculosis sufferers was introduced. The Labour party does not care who introduced it so long as the allowance is paid. It knows that the demand for these things came from the people whom it represents. The Minister should heed the advice of honorable members on this side of the House who know from personal experience in their own electorates and by conversations with the people what they are talking about when they speak on this subject. They are aware of the needs of the people. This bill is a thing of shreds and patches which consolidates nothing but the errors that the Government has already committed. Its omissions stand out more brilliantly than does the star which the Minister has said is rising in the sky as the result of this measure. The Government should .carefully examine the amendment which is in proper order and has been placed before the House. It was proposed in an attempt to help the Minister to fill in the gaps in the legislation and should be so accepted by honorable members.
.- We are accustomed in this House to expect criticism of a measure that has been introduced by the Government. Indeed, that is the task and the responsibility of the Opposition. But I express my disgust that the attack made by the Opposition was not directed against the bill. It was a three-pronged attack, first, upon the Minister who introduced it; secondly, upon the British Medical Association; and, thirdly, upon the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia.
– That is the British Medical Association.
– You are merely displaying’ your ignorance as you always do.
– Order ! The honorable member must address the Chair.
– But for the skill displayed by doctors and surgeons and the capability of physicians in my earlier years, I would not be in this House today. I, like many other honorable members, owe a great deal to the untiring zeal, the research and the ability of surgeons and physicians. It comes badly from elected representatives of the people that they should seek by their utterances in the Parliament to destroy the confidence of the people in their medical doctors. If there is one thing that the people should hold to firmly it is a worthy faith in their medical advisers. The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin), who interjected a little while ago about the British Medical Association, would, like other members of the Opposition, scream for a doctor if he or a member of his family fell ill. In times of illness, all of us rely upon the members of the medical profession. Where else would we seek assistance? When one talks about the medical profession one should look beyond those one sees in the surgery to the nurses, research workers, biologists and pathologists who stand behind the profession and labour to safeguard the health of the community. I am proud to admit that I owe a great debt to the medical profession, f believe that the people will resent the stupid and bitter attacks that honorable members opposite have made upon it.
Members of the Opposition have made an attack also upon the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). That attack was born of jealousy. We know th at the national health scheme which Labour introduced would not work because its superstructure was reared on a foundation of compulsion, which is alien to the Australian instinct. A scheme based on such a principle will never work in this country. Labour will never make a health scheme work, because Labour’s only weapon is compulsion. The Minister has based the existing scheme on the principle of co-operation, which is a strong instinct among Australians. He has achieved so high a degree of coopera.tion because of his high personal standing in the eyes of the medical .profession. His scheme is not to he implemented next month, but has already been in operation for a number of years and has survived the experimental stage. That scheme will continue to work as effectively in the future in the best interests of the people.
Honorable members opposite made an attack also upon the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia. I fail to comprehend the reason for that attack. I am a member of that fund, and I am also a member of a friendly society. As a contributor to the fund, I have no grouch whatever with respect to its administration. I have no doubt that many honorable members opposite are also members of that fund, and I challenge each of those honorable gentlemen to say that he, personally, is dissatisfied with any aspect of the fund whether it be the rate of contribution or of benefit, or any other feature of the fund. That fund is subject to outside audit, and its organization has all the elements of honesty. Contrary to the statement made by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), it has been in operation not for one year but since 1946. Since that time it has stood highly in the public esteem. As the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), and the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Fitzgerald), have said, the majority of members of approved societies and friendly societies are members of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia. That fact alone is evidence that the people are satisfied with the organization.
– The people have to join it.
– No individual is obliged to join any particular fund or society any more than the honorable member is obliged to remain a member of the Parliament. If an individual joins a fund and happens to become dissatisfied with it, he, or she, may withdraw from it and join another organization without loss of benefit, or delay. The contributors to such funds and not politicians, who may be looking for cheap votes, are most vitally concerned in this matter. The growth of the membership of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia is evidence that the people are satisfied with that organization. Under the scheme, approved societies, lodges and friendly societies are operating in competition with each other in providing benefits to the community.
– Every doctor is an agent for the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia.
– And so he should be. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) knows full well that the doctors as a whole, as well as the people generally, are quite satisfied with the present scheme. The honorable member would be well advised to take his doctor’s advice in this matter. Having listened to some of the honorable member’s speeches, I believe that he requires the advice of not one but two doctors. Honorable members opposite made much of the fact that the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia has already accumulated a substantial surplus. The fund, in its seventh annual report, discloses that at the 30th of June last it had a surplus of £185,395 12s. 3d. What is wrong with that ? At first glance it would appear that the fund had accumulated a large surplus in a particular year; but honorable members opposite, before criticizing the fund, should investigate and elicit the facts. One outstanding fact is that the rate of applications for membership of that fund increased abnormally during April, May and June, that is, the last quarter of its last financial year, and many of the new members paid their subscriptions for a year in advance. However, notices have already been circulated officially by the fund calling a meeting that is scheduled to take place in Sydney next Thursday, and on- the agenda attached to the circular notification is given of a proposal to utilize the surplus now standing to the credit of the fund for the purpose of liberalizing benefits to members including the payment of benefit in respect of chronic illnesses. Should that organization extend its operations in that way, its action will be beneficial, not only to its own contributors, but also to contributors to other organizations which will seek to emulate such improvements. After all. these organizations are nonprofitmaking. They are being operated solely for the benefit of contributors. For that reason, the present scheme actually works; and that is possibly one of its main features, particularly when we remember the efforts of the Labour Government to evolve a workable scheme. 1 have failed to notice any substantial difference between the friendly society to which I belong and the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia, but I have come to the defence of the latter organization because of the stupid, illogical and illadvised attack that honorable members opposite have made upon it.
I turn now to the amendment that has been proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). That amendment is designed to re-open the door to the old McKenna scheme which was found to be unworkable. Paragraph 5 of the amendment seeks “ to devise in consultation with the medical profession and State governments, machinery to stabilize medical charges and to determine just variations of those charges “. There, we see Labour’s old principle that those who control the money will control the people. Labour seeks to establish a State controlled medical benefits scheme with all the weaknesses which are inherent in State control and which rendered Labour’s previous scheme completely unworkable. The doctor-patient relationship should not be broken down by an act of parliament. A person must be allowed to consult the doctor of his own choice, and a doctor must be allowed to treat a patient as he thinks fit.
– And charge the patient as he pleases.
– The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) knows perfectly well that he has never been fleeced by a doctor. Can any one in this chamber honestly say that he has been fleeced by a doctor? Anyway, a person, if he considers that he has been overcharged by one doctor, is at liberty to consult another doctor. The argument that doctors are “ out “ to fleece their patients is too silly for words.
– Many doctors give their services in an honorary capacity at hospitals.
– That is so. Opposition members, if they took a more active interest in the social life of the community, would have a knowledge of the tremendous scope of the honorary services rendered by the medical profession.
– Everybody knows about them. Why does the honorable member refer to them?
– I resent the sneers of the Labour party against the medical profession. I resent the Opposition’s attempt to smear the doctors.
– We have not smeared the medical profession.
– Order ! The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) must remain silent.
– Opposition members cannot smear the medical profession, because doctors are doing great work for the community. I hold the medical profession in high esteem.
The National Health Scheme is of great importance to the individual - the worker, if you like - who contributes to an approved organization and receives hospital or medical benefits when he is entitled to them. In the past, hospital bills and doctors’ accounts were the bugbear of a man with a family. I have in my hand a sheaf of accounts that were received in one year by the head of a family. I shall read some of the amounts to the House. There are doctors’ bills for four guineas, 60 guineas, three guineas and five guineas. An account from a doctor who administered an anaesthetic is for nine guineas. Guineas, guineas, guineas all the time! There are hospital bills for £24 ls. 6d., £6 15s. 6d., £45 12s. 8d. and £93 13s. 6d. The accounts from the doctors and hospitals for that man’s family exceeded £400 in one year. The family had struck one of those bad breaks that, unfortunately, are experienced sometimes. However, the head of the family had insured with a hospitals benefits fund, which sent him a cheque for nearly £200. The medical benefits scheme was not in operation at that time. That illustration is indicative of the wonderful help that a hospital benefit scheme is to subscribers.
I also have here a bill covering the illness of the eldest child of the family. The youngster had complained of a bad ear for several nights. The parents, when they awakened one morning, found that the child had a swollen or distended ear. The doctor who examined it diagnosed a mastoid. Some honorable members may have experienced the feeling of dread that comes over parents when they receive that diagnosis from the family doctor. A mastoid used to mean a serious operation, always with a danger that the child’s hearing might be impaired for the rest of his life. On the occasion to which I refer, the parents immediately concluded that an operation would have to be performed; but that was not so. The doctor gave instructions for the child to remain in bed, and he gave the patient an injection of penicillin. On the second and third days, the patient had additional injections of the drug, after which the child was up and about again. The doctor’s bill for the treatment of the mastoid was for £3 15s. The father contributed to two funds, and received a refund of three guineas. Before the discovery of penicillin, the child would have been rushed to hospital, an operation would have been performed, and the child would have been an inmate of the hospital for three or four weeks. In this instance, the mastoid was cured with penicillin injections for an actual cost to the father of only 12s. The child had completely recovered in a few days.
That experience emphasizes three matters. First, the treatment of the mastoid did not impose a financial burden on the parent. Secondly, the discovery of such wonder drugs as penicillin has made some dangerous operations unnecessary. Thirdly, the Government supplies those drugs, which the research officers of the medical profession have discovered, free of charge. The discovery of the wonder drugs makes it possible for patients to be treated at home, thus relieving the strain on hospital accommodation. So, the man with a family, who is a member of an approved organization, has the comfortable feeling that he carries insurance against hospital and medical bills that might have overwhelmed him financially in the past. That protection is wonderful, and is undoubtedly a great comfort to parents.
I shall cite another example. A man was called home from a business trip to find that his eldest son was in hospital suffering from a dangerous fever. The patient had a temperature of 106 degrees, and was hovering between life and death. The doctors could not diagnose the illness, and the child was given the expensive drug, aureomycin. A few days later, the child was running round again at home. He had been given considerable quantities of aureomycin, which had undoubtedly saved his life. The bed which he had occupied in the hospital was immediately available for another patient. The doctor’s bill, and the hospital charges, were exactly covered by payments that the parent received from the medical benefits and hospital benefits fund. That kind of arrangement makes the scheme work. A man knows that, for the expenditure of £12 a year, most of the costs of medical attention and hospital treatment for his family will be met. That is a comforting feeling. That is why the scheme works. If any one tells the man, to whom I have referred, that something is wrong with the scheme, he will look at the critic in wonder, and suspect that something is wrong with him. He knows, from his own experience, that the scheme works satisfactorily. He is secure in the knowledge that no matter what a life-saving drug may cost, he can obtain it free of charge. He knows that his hospital bills will be met almost entirely because he is a member of an approved organization. In that way, he is relieved of anxiety.
I can cite other examples. The scale of benefits of an approved society makes provision for the cost of cardiographs. Earlier, I referred to a doctor’s account for £63. The refund received by the contributor from the approved organization, in addition to the government grant, amounted to approximately £50, so that his actual indebtedness to the doctor was reduced to £13.
– Is that so because the contributor lived in the honorable member’s electorate in Queensland ?
– Yes. Does that make any difference?
– My word, it does !
– What is the difference?
– We shall tell the honorable gentleman later.
– The medical and hospital benefits to which I have referred are all- important to .the man with a family. The man whom I have mentioned lives in my electorate. In fact. I am he. If Opposition members intend to cite the free hospital scheme in Queensland as an argument in favour of the Labour party’s health scheme, I can quickly disillusion them on that score. In fact, I was about to deal with that matter. For a considerable time, my activities as a Red Cross officer, my responsibility for blood transfusion services, and my association with doctors in other ways have afforded me ample opportunity to examine the free hospital system in Queensland. Some time when honorable members opposite are wintering in Queensland, as many of them do; and they want something of a shock, 1 invite them to visit the Brisbane General Hospital, which is the largest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere. Let them go into the tuberculosis ward and see beds so close that visitors have to walk sideways to move between them. Let them look at the crowds in the out-patients’ department and at the horrors of the public wards. If they do those things they will very soon alter their opinion about the great hospital scheme in Queensland. They will see the abominable waste that goes on. They might visit also the Westwood tuberculosis sanatorium, which is the only tuberculosis sanatorium in Queensland at present. Before this Government came to office under the wonderful free hospital scheme in Queensland, several wards of that sanatorium had to be shut down. A fortnight ago last Sunday I was at Westwood, and I saw two wards ready to be re-opened. I saw also the amenities and new services now being provided for patients there. Those things have been made possible simply because this Government has tackled the tuberculosis problem. Before honorable members opposite laud the Queensland scheme in this chamber or anywhere else, they should remember that the scheme did not work.
– Why does the honorable member always knock his own State?
– I am not running down my own State. Queensland as nature designed it is a wonderful State, but it is being spoiled by a government that remains in office only because of je rrymanderi ing.
I add my word of praise of this bill and of the work that has been accomplished by the Minister for Health. The national health scheme has been of immense assistance to the people of this community. It has been of great benefit to the health of childdren who, in some parts of Australia at least although not in my electorate, are able to receive free milk. It has been of incalculable value, of course, to. those members of the community whose lives have been saved by the wonder drugs which are available free of charge to rich and poor alike. It has been a blessing to tuberculosis sufferers who have been able to leave their employment to enter sanatoria for treatment secure in the knowledge that the financial burden of caring for their families has to a substantial degree been lifted from them because of the generosity of this Government and its realization of the .offering that this disease can cause. There has been an amazing drop in the death rate from tuberculosis throughout the Commonwealth. This Government’s health scheme has been of great help also to hospitals. It has enabled the provision of additional beds and of better treatment. The people of Australia know that whatever may eventuate, their health is safeguarded. As a parent I shoulder voluntarily and willingly the responsibility of providing for the health of my family. Each one of us should be proud to do that. I am glad that I and members of my family can go along to the doctor of our choice knowing that when he sends his bill, we shall be able to pay it. I am glad that I do not have to go to a doctor who is selected for me and say, “ Here I am. The Government says you have to treat me “. The independent relationship between doctor and patient has been preserved. To know these things give’ one a wonderful feeling. The spirit is one that should be encouraged in the community. The further we can get away from the state of affairs that the Labour
Government left in 1949, the better it will be for all of us. In those days people were starting to look to the Government with their hands out, saying “ I have something wrong with me. Provide me with something “, That was a completely wrong approach.. What we need is encouragement to men to look after themselves, to square their shoulders, and to stand firm against adversity. Most men are willing to look after the welfare of their families to the best of their ability We do not want compulsion or handouts from anybody. We want to be able to safeguard our own future. Under the wise provisions of this bill we shall be able to have all the amenities and all the comforts that we need, secure in the knowledge that no matter what may come into the life of a family, it will be amply met, and nothing need be feared. I support the bill and I deplore the amendment. I hope that we shall be able to continue on the path on which we have set ourselves towards the ultimate health and well-being of the people of Australia.
– The House has just been favoured - if I may use that word - with a remarkable address.
– And an excellent one!
Mr. E. JAMES HARRISON.Excellent, I suppose, if one cares to sit in the shade of a tree and whistle to keep up one’s courage, but not so excellent from the viewpoint of a government that will have to face the electors in a few months. Were it not for one’s sympathy with the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) whose hospital and medical expenses amounted to £400 in one year, one would be tempted to attack many of his statements. I ask the honorable member whether, if be had been a basic wage-earner instead of ,a member of Parliament, he would have been able to pay the £200 which was the difference between his total bills and the refunds he received. That is the test of whether this bill is good or not. The real te=t i<= not whether the bill is good from the point of view of a parliamentarian on a parliamentarian’s salary, but whether it is good from the point of view of a man who cannot possibly afford to pay £200 in medical expenses in twelve months. The honorable member spoke of the Brisbane General Hospital, which is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, and which may well be the greatest. In view of his references to conditions in the public wards and in the tuberculosis block at that institution perhaps I shall be excused for looking back a few years. When the Labour Government’s National Health Bill was before this Parliament in 1948, the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) had this to say -
In any event, free medicine and a free doctor are not of much use except for slight ailments, if neither a hospital bed nor satisfactory equipment is available when a patient becomes seriously ill and his life is in danger. The public instinctively feels that the provision of hospital accommodation and satisfactory equipment constitute the first indispensable step in any national health scheme. That statement is true in war and peace.
Although the Government has now been in office for four years nothing has been done towards attaining the objective which the present Minister deemed to be so important in 1948. The Minister cannot have it both ways. The honorable member for Capricornia has criticized conditions at the Brisbane General Hospital. I know something of hospital conditions in the metropolitan area of Sydney. Not long ago, seventeen brick kilns and 150 saw mills were closed down in New South Wales. Yet the New South Wales Government i3 denied money with which to build hospitals. It makes me wonder which of the Minister’s statements are sincere - those that he has made since he has been in office or those that he made when he was a member of the Opposition in 1948. We have had all the facilities necessary for the build.ing of hospitals during the last four years, but the Government has not allowed us to take advantage of them. In the electorate of Blaxland, which I represent, the need for hospitals seems to be greater than in most parts of Australia. This is not because the area is unproductive. In fact, since the end of World War II.. the area adjacent to Parramatta-Toad has become one of the most intensely industrialized districts in the Commonwealth. The Labour party held the view in 1949 that this was an important area and decided that a new hospital should be erected there to serve the people of Auburn. The hospital was needed, not only to provide for emergency cases arising from industrial accidents, but also to cope with maternity cases and illnesses.
The comments made by the Minister in 1948 are a part of history now. Notwithstanding those definite expressions of opinion, this Government has again refused to give any consideration to the needs of the various States for new hospitals. The result is that shocking conditions have developed in many places. St. Joseph’s Hospital and a small general hospital have rendered great public service in the Auburn district. However, the need for additional hospital accommodation is so acute that the objects of this bill will be defeated in that area. In order to illustrate my point, I refer to an unfortunate incident that occurred last week-end. One of my constituents took his son on Friday last to a doctor at Lidcombe who diagnosed the boy’s complaint as severe appendicitis. The parents suggested that the child should be sent immediately to St. Joseph’s Hospital or the Auburn District Hospital. The doctor replied, “ He cannot get into either of those hospitals before next February, but I can put him in Highbury Hospital this week-end “. Highbury Hospital is a private hospital in the Strathfield area. The parents did not have enough money to pay private hospital fees and, therefore, they were inclined to resist the proposal to send the boy to that hospital. The doctor then said to them, “Unless the child is operated on as soon as possible, you must take the responsibility for the result “. That was not a threat, because doctors do not behave in that way. It was merely the doctor’s considered opinion. The child was taken to Highbury Hospital on Sunday, but before authorities would admit him they demanded a fee of £12 5s. for the first week’s accommodation. The parents did not have as much money as that, and they had to leave the hospital and go to the father’s mother in order to borrow money before the boy could be admitted, although he urgently needed surgical attention. Yet honorable members on the Government side of the House say that the Government has done a good job during the last four years! Retribution will surely overtake them at the next general election if that is what they consider to be a good job.
– Is not hospital construction a State responsibility?-
– The Government cannot have it both ways, as I remarked earlier.
– We do not want it both ways.
– This Government is trying very hard to have it both ways. In fact, it is guilty of the offence that was charged against the Labour Government by the present Minister for Health in 1948. It has consistently endeavoured to make the national health service a matter of party political propaganda. One would almost think that in 194S the present Minister could see, as in a mirage, the shape of things to come and realized that he himself would one day make a political football out of the national health scheme.
The right honorable gentleman introduced a grandiose scheme prior to the last Senate election in the hope that, in the hurly-burly of the campaign, the Government would gain some kudos for it. Then, when the election had been held, he got rid of that scheme and has now introduced a new one in the hope that the Government will again achieve some political advantage at the general election next year. I earnestly hope that some day, somehow, we shall be able to elevate the health of the people above the base political level upon which this Government has placed it. Again I ask honorable members to compare the actions of the Minister for Health now with his protestations as a member of the Opposition in 1948 when the Labour Government introduced its national health service hill. The right honorable gentleman said -
If the Government desires to pay part or whole of the doctor’s fees for medical treatment, lot it follow the 40-year-old policy of the maternity allowance. That scheme has worked well. The money that is provided by the Government is paid direct to the mothers, who make their own arrangements with their doctors.
He said that such a scheme would be simple. But the provisions of the bill that he has presented to us on this occasion are entirely foreign to the views that he expressed in 1948. He and his friends have set up a medical benefits organization which, as the honorable member for Capricornia has admitted, made great profits last year. It is all very well to say that those profits will be used later. What has happened in the meantime? The money has been taken from people who cannot afford to provide such profits. Money should not be paid to the organization until a service has been rendered by it to the contributor. That is one feature of the Government’s scheme to which I am strongly opposed. I ask honorable members on the Government side of the House to think of the man I have mentioned, who is suffering great mental agony, not only because his son is ill in hospital, but ako because he has been obliged to go into debt in order to arrange for the boy’s admission. Is it fair to ask the average worker to contribute money to the scheme before he needs medical services?
We have been challenged to produce evidence of dissatisfaction with the present medical benefits organization. I tell the Government that, even in this building, there are bitter complaints against its operation. One man had to wait for six months before the benefit to which he was entitled was paid to him. Other payments are three months overdue. That is the situation from one end of New South Wales to the other. Perhaps the accounting section of the medical benefits organization concerned has fallen into a state of chaos. At any rate, the organization is very slow in paying the accounts that reach it from day to day from workers who are badly in need of the money, to which they are entitled. These organizations are in a wonderful position if they can obtain payment in advance but can take their own time about returning benefits to those who qualify for them. Apparently the worker is expected to bear the burden. If, for any reason, the society rejects a claim for repayment the applicant has no right of appeal. Supporters of the
Government have suggested that there are some bad features of the proposed amendment. However, I was delighted with the comments of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce). He dealt seriatim with the list of proposals contained in the amendment, and he commented unfavourably only in relation to clause 5, which reads -
To devise in consultation with the medical profession and the State Governments machinery .to stabilize medical charges and to determine just variations of those charges.
If the opinions that he expressed were typical of the opinions of supporters of the Government, the Opposition would be glad to submit the various proposals separately. It is, perhaps, not generally realized that the charges made for medical services in the eastern suburbs of .Sydney vary from those in the western suburbs; in point of fact, the charges vary in different parts of a locality. Although the British Medical Association is generally believed to be one of the most closely-knit organizations in this country, members of that organization vary in their approach both to treatment and charges. However, I do not want to be condemnatory of the British Medical Association, because the doctors render valuable services to the community.
– That is different from what the honorable member said previously.
– I have not said anything derogatory of the doctors.
– Evidently the honorable member does not know the meaning of what he has said.
– -There are times when the Minister for Air (Mr. McMahon) does not understand simple statements in relation to matters that are close to the hearts of the people. It should be obvious to the Minister that, as the honorable member for Capricornia attacked only one of the Opposition’s proposals, he agreed silently with the remainder. Doubtless, many supporters of the Government would do likewise if they were honest in their approach to this subject. The Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) stated that it would be unwise for a doctor to be placed in a position where he could not give every consideration to the requirements of kia patients. I point out that in the suburb of Lidcombe, in my electorate, there are only five doctors to attend to the medical requirements of 21,000 people. It is by no means unusual for persons requiring medical attention to remain in doctors’ waiting rooms from 9.30 a.m. to 4 p.m., through no fault of their own. It is necessary for them to get on the queue early in the day. The Minister will he unable to convince me that this Government is providing adequately for the medical needs of the people while that state of affairs persists. Many people in my electorate have to travel long distances and to pay many shillings for fares almost daily in order to obtain medical attention. The Government should not worry about providing a general cover in relation to a medical service until it has first attended to the main essentials of a health scheme
Let us consider the pensioner medical service. It is true that the pensioners derive some benefit from the scheme, but it is not generally appreciated that the pensioners are provided free only with medical attention that the doctors regard as ordinary attention by a medical practitioner to his patient. For instance, if the removal of a wart from the hand of a pensioner necessitates more than ordinary treatment, the pensioner is charged for the additional service. This bill provides no protection in that connexion.
– The doctor would not be doing his job.
– The doctor does his job, hut charges for it afterwards. I have in my possession a letter from the Minister for Health to the effect that pensioners are covered only for ordinary medical services.
– A doctor must interpret the schedule.
– Why does not the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) point that out to the Minister? The Minister stated in his second -reading speech -
The Government’s provision of free medical treatment and medicines to pensioners, in which over 5,000,000 services have already been rendered, enables many of the aged to receive treatment in their own homes.
This relieves pressure on thu hospital bed position from that group. .
The reason why the hospital bed position bas been eased in relation to the pensioner group is that neither this scheme nor any previous scheme that has been operated by this Government has protected the pensioners from hospital charges in excess of 12s. a day. Nobody will accept responsibility for the payment of the charges in excess of that amount, and the pensioners cannot afford themselves to pay the extra. That is the reason why relatively few pensioners now enter hospitals for treatment.
– I am almost convinced that the honorable member believes what he is saying to be true.
– Of course I do ! A supporter of the Government who is sitting behind the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) knows that what I have .said is the truth, evidence of which is abundantly available in the industrial suburbs. I remind honorable members that it is from the industrial areas that this country derives its wealth. It is from those areas that demands come for protection in relation to health matters. The significant difference of approach to this subject by honorable members opposite and honorable members on this side of the House is that the supporters of the Government believe that everything should be run -for the purpose of making a profit. “We have evidence of that in the Minister’s second-reading speech. When referring to the improvement of hospital finances he took pleasure in saying that the Royal Melbourne Hospital had completed last year’s activities with a surplus of £48,000. He said also that the Prince Henry Hospital showed a surplus of £34,000 last year. If the Minister believes there is any credit in taking from the pockets of sick people in one year £34,000 more than the cost of providing the medical services that they require, he can take that credit, because we do not want it. We do not believe that a health organization should be conducted for profit. We understand the outlook of the members of the Government parties. We know they will not touch anything unless some profit is attached to it. They want to make a profit, even if. it entails taking money from persons least able to afford it. That is what this bill will do.
– “Why does not the honorable member be serious?
– I am serious. These are the things for which the Government will have to answer next year. I turn to a matter that is causing me a great deal of worry. Since I have been in this House-
– Too long.
– It may be too long. But there will be a Harrison from Blaxland in the Parliament when there is not a Harrison from another part of the country, because I try to keep close to the people, find out what they want and give it to them. Since I have been in this House, it has seemed to me that there is an authority of some kind outside the Parliament - I am not referring especially to the British Medical Association in this instance - that can influence Government policy and decisions. Let me compare the National Health Bill that was presented to the Parliament last March with this bill. Under the bill we are now considering, when an appeal is made by a medical practitioner against a decision of a committee of inquiry, the court, to use the words of the bill - shall have regard to the evidence before the Committee of Inquiry and the Report of the committee.
The bill presented to the Parliament in March provided that when a medical practitioner appealed against such a decision, the Supreme Court that heard the appeal could admit further evidence and permit the examination and crossexamination of witnesses. Under that provision, a. doctor could be examined and cross-examined. In this bill, that provision does not appear, and a court hearing an appeal will not have the right to admit further evidence or permit the examination and cross-examination of witnesses. I do not say that the British Medical Association used its influence to secure the withdrawal from this bill of a provision that was included in the previous measure, but I say that the present provision is completely foreign to the function of any court in this country.
– Is the honorable member sure of that?
– HARRISON.- Tes, in relation to appeals.
– -Fresh evidence is seldom permitted to be called in an appeal.
– Clause 87 (4.) of the bill presented in March stated -
A medical practitioner who writes a prescription for the supply of a pharmaceutical benefit referred to in paragraph (o) of section eighty-four of this Act shall not direct in that or any other prescription that the pharmaceutical benefit is to be administered in a form other than a form prescribed in relation to that pharmaceutical benefit.
The maximum penalty proposed for a breach of that provision was a fine of £100 or imprisonment for six months. The present bill contains a similar provision, but no penalty is proposed for a breach of the provision. Either it was right to provide in the previous bill for a penalty for an offence of this kind, or a grave error was made in drafting the measure. I believe that outside influence has played an undue part in the moulding of this measure and that, in many respects, it is the measure, not of the Minister, but of an outside authority.
I conclude by saying that the amendment moved by the Opposition is a real amendment. I challenge any member of the Government parties to prove that any part of it is contrary to the best interests of the Australian people from a medical viewpoint.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– The measure before the House is a consolidation bill which will bring within the pages of one statute the various regulations relating to national health and the benefits made available to the Australian people by the Menzies Government. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) dealt with the problems of hospitalization. He put forward what I regard as the perfect non sequitur. He contended that because the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) had argued during 1948 that the hospitalization proposals of the Chifley Government were inadequate, and despite all the changes that have been made under the guidance of the Minister for Health since then, his present hospital scheme had failed. That was the perfect non sequitur. It was highlighted by the fact that shortly after he made that statement he drew attention to figures that had been cited by the Minister relating to hospital finances in Australia, and he showed that hospital finances are in a sounder state now than they have been since 1939. Whereas, three years ago, nearly all hospitals had deficits, a great majority .of hospitals now have credit balances. In the course of his speech, the Minister for Health made a statement concerning the increase that has taken place in hospital revenues during the last couple of years. They show conclusively the degree to which the scheme put forward by the Minister has been successful and the extent to which those who are administering the Australian hospital system can expect to receive funds in order to extend their activities and provide an increasing number of hospital beds.
In listening to the honorable member for Blaxland, I was compelled to wonder whether he had read the bill and knew what he was talking about. If the honorable member will read the speech of the Minister for Health carefully he will realize that never before in Australia’s history has the hospital system had better prospects and that never has better progress been made by hospitals than is being made at present. The honorable member said, in a deep sepulchural voice, that outside opinion had played a big part in framing the bill. I and several of my colleagues were on a committee that was co-opted by the Minister for Health to inquire into this matter, and I can state positively that no one but my colleagues put any pressure on me or endeavoured to induce me to have chances made in any part of the bill. The Minister and I listened to our colleagues on the committee and if we considered that their suggestions were acceptable we tried to incorporate them in the bill, and in many cases we succeeded. So the strange outside influence to which the honorable member referred has only been conjured up in his mind. I think that the tenor of the debate for the Opposition was set by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Eraser), who adopted a clear policy line in regard to national health. It was apparent from his speech that the Labour party has not deviated an inch from its idea of socialism. It has not departed from the idea with which it initiated the scheme of 1948 which the then Minister for Health said was intended to socialize the medical profession. That was the policy of the Labour party then, and those who care to read between the lines will know that it is its policy now. One finds running through the policy of the Labour party the ideas of dull servility, of the ant State, and of dependency upon others rather than the adoption of the vital idea so basic to liberal philosophy of a vigorous community prepared to stand on its own feet. I think that this fact illustrates the contrast between the two ways of thought of the opposing parties.
Before speaking of the details of the bill, I wish to examine the psychology behind it. The Government asked itself what the average man needed. What were his basic needs and requirements? Could we, in some way, meet some of these needs and lighten the burden of John Citizen, his wife and family? We had no intention of prying into the mind of the citizen and attempting to control his every activity. We made no attempt whatsoever to question the intellectual or social or spiritual values of the individual. I. personally, would not attempt to analyse those values. But we asked ourselves what were the basic needs of the common man. We knew that there was a common ground - the need for housing, the need for clothing and the need for food. Those are the basic needs of the community. The Government considered that provision for those needs should be basic to its policy but that that basis was not sufficient. We had to take an extra step forward and consider how a community could live a healthy, vigorous and intelligent life. It was that very philosophy that initiated these reforms and inspired everything that this Government attempted to achieve. When we examined the needs of a national health scheme it was decided that, after formulating a policy, a scheme must be provided to implement the policy. Later in the debate I hope to mention those administrative measures which are considered to be necessary to carry out our philosophy and put our policy into effect. We know that dead men tell no tales. It is equally true that the sick men cannot live a lively and vigorous existence. This measure was designed to enable the healthy man and his family to live free from many of the severest wants that beset them at present. This measure is another in the long line of success of Liberal party reforms of a novel character. I do not wish to claim that every single social service reform has been initiated by a Liberal party. But I do say that those who are prepared to be objective, and who will examine the measures themselves and analyse their contribution, will perceive that the nonLabour parties have always taken the lead in social reforms and have maintained that lead right up to the present time. The first reform I wish, to refer to is the achievement of a non-Labour Victorian government, which in 1901 introduced a system of age pensions. Honorable members will also remember the success of the Deakin scheme of invalid pensions which was introduced into this Parliament in 1908. Then there was the child endowment scheme of the Menzies Government brought into force in 1941. At the moment, what I want to emphasize is that in 1926, the gentleman who is now the Minister for Health initiated the National Health Council which was really the beginning of the present national health scheme. To-night we are the witnesses of the culmination of 27 years of development in this magnificent scheme that has been put before honorable members by my colleague, the Minister for Health. «
I do not say that the Government parties claim full credit for all social reforms, but I do say that they have led the way in all reform movements, and that this measure represents one of the best social service reforms that have ever been put before the Parliament of the Commonwealth or the parliament of any other country. I now contrast the achievements of this scheme with the achievements of the health scheme that was produced by the then Minister for Health, Senator McKenna - the failure of 1948. The main contrast is that the present scheme is working, but the McKenna scheme never worked. The measure before the House is but a consolidation of regulations or acts which have already given benefits to the people, and are working throughout Australia successfully. The McKenna scheme was an abject failure, and never even approached success during the whole period that the last Labour Government endeavoured to enforce it and to compel the members of the medical’ profession to abide by its terms. Can the statements that I 11-ave just made be justified? Let us consider them. The McKenna scheme was based upon socialization of the medical profession. But the doctors were a little too vigorous and mentally alert to be imposed upon, and they refused to co-operate in the scheme, and it collapsed. Neither the Minister for Health of 1948 nor the honorable member for Eden-Monaro in his speech last night, nor the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) attempted to disguise the fact that it has always been, and still is, the policy and philosophy of the Labour party to socialize whatever it can whenever it gets the opportunity to do so. However, the Labour party failed to socialize the medical profession.
The last Labour Government claimed that its measures would perfect social justice. If we consider the omissions from that scheme and make a comparison of the benefits given by this present scheme with the so-called benefits of the McKenna scheme, we shall see three notable omissions from the Labour scheme which prove that it had no claim to Ik- based on social justice. First, under the Labour scheme, no benefits were given to pensioners. Secondly, no provision was made for nutritional schemes such as the supply of free milk to school children. Thirdly, no provision was made for seriously or dangerously ill persons such as those suffering from tuberculosis. All honor” bie members heard the claim made by the honorable member for Eden-
Monaro that when the present Minister for Health assumed office he found lying on his table a complete draft scheme to provide for payments to tuberculosis sufferers. The honorable member may make that claim if he wishes to do so, but if he does he merely proves what the Government has been consistently trying to prove ever since it has been in office; that is, that whatever the Labour party might have intended to do, it did not have the administrative ability or the drive necessary successfully to carry out any one of its schemes.
There is a vast difference between this Government’s health scheme and the McKenna scheme. Our scheme has been successful, and the Labour scheme was a dismal failure. Moreover, the success or failure of the two schemes can be measured in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. The trifling and pitiful sum allotted for medical benefits by the Chifley Government in its last full year of office was £6,000,000. The amount that will be paid out by this Government under its health scheme during the next financial year will be £31,213,000. Therefore, if one cares to analyse the differences between the two schemes in terms of hard cash we find that whereas the Labour scheme was a dismal and abject failure the scheme presented by the present Minister for Health is already working well and is making a great contribution to the welfare of the Australian people. When the Minister for Health was making his second-reading speech on this measure he said that the bill was based On four principles. The first was the requirement of a high and improving quality of medical services. The honorable member for EdenMonaro stated that no provision had been made by the Government for improving the quality of medical services. If the honorable member refers to clause 9 of the measure, he will see that it will permit the Minister for Health to carry out various reforms, particularly with regard to teaching research and advisory services, and diagnostic and therapeutic services and anything incidental to those services. In fact the bill will give the Minister plenty of scope to carry out reforms. Moreover, he has already availed himself of those opportunities for improving the quality of medical services that were referred to by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
Most people, if they have one ounce of common sense and are prepared to recognize facts, will agree that we in Australia have a medical profession, particularly a general practitioner and specialist service, which is second to none in the world. Special cases excepted, we do not need to learn a great deal from other countries., and we have quite a lot that we can teach other people. The general reputation of doctors stands high in our community, and when honorable member? opposite attempt to deride the medical profession or bring it into disrepute they are attacking a section of the community that gives us splendid service, both voluntarily and for payment. Therefore, the first objection to the health scheme must fall to the ground. Secondly - and I hope to expand this matter at a later stage - this scheme provides nation-wide benefits of an essential medical and hospital nature. Thirdly, it attempts to solve the problem of controlling costs, and finally it recognizes the necessity for solvent hospital administration.
I shall now deal with the nation-wide benefits of the scheme, because we are under an obligation to show what this scheme will do for the people, and how they can obtain the benefits under it. There are five main provisions in the scheme. The first is the pensioned medical service; the second, the medical and hospital benefits assurance cover; the third, universal free life saving drugs; the fourth, free milk for school children; and the fifth, benefits for tuberculosis sufferers. Let us consider each of those benefits in turn, and ascertain how they will affect individual citizens and the community as a whole. Under the pensioner medical and hospital scheme, any pensioner can obtain a 12s. a day credit towards his hospital bills if he attends a State hospital. That amount is paid by the Australian Government to the State governments in order to benefit the hospitals. Pensioners and their dependants are entitled to general medical practitioner benefits. All they have to do to obtain them is to register themselves as pensioner-beneficiaries. Upon registration they will be given an entitlement card, and then they will be able to go to their doctors and have their ailments treated. The doctors will then claim their fees from the Government. If the pensioners want pharmaceutical benefits, they present their entitlement card t«.» the pharmaceutical chemist and obtain the benefits that have been provided under the pharmacy legislation. Surely no procedure could be simpler than that. Could there be any more practicable and workable service for the pensioners in the way of hospital and medical benefits than those that have been provided in this scheme by this Government? In my opinion it is time that more pensioners knew of the benefits that this Government has been able to give to them and appreciated how simple the operation -of the legislation really is.
I wish now to refer to the medical and hospital benefits insurance scheme. Again. I claim that in its operation it is both novel and advantageous to the Australian people. It is a co-operative insurance venture, just as any other insurance scheme is a venture. If a person wishes to insure his motor car he goes to an insurance company and pays a premium. If he subsequently damages his car, he claims against the insurance company fo] the loss. Similarly, a person who wishes to obtain the benefits of hea’th insurance goes to an insurance organization which has been registered and approved by the Australian Government. From the date when he becomes a member of such an organization he is entitled to both hospital and medical benefits from this Government. From that date, if he becomes ill and requires medical or hospital attention, he may claim the benefits covered by this legislation. As my colleague, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), pointed .out this afternoon, for 3s. a week a married man and his family may obtain comprehensive benefits. A man may obtain certain benefits for himself and his family for ls. a week, and increased benefits for 2s. a week. I do not propose to state the complete range of benefits available, but those who are interested to learn what they are may readily do so by referring to the schedules to the bill.
This scheme is a notable contribution to social services. What is much more important, it is simple in operation from the point of view of individual insurers. If an insured person goes to a medical practitioner he pays the fee and a refund is made automatically. The two things which appeal to me about this scheme are its simplicity and the wide range of benefits available. The honorable member for Capricornia told the House that last year he and his family, as a result of the payment of between £12 and £15 in premiums, obtained medical benefits which totalled approximately £400. That, I suggest, is a good illustration of the way in which the scheme works. It shows clearly that those who suffer most obtain the greatest benefits, I believe that, despite the contentions of honorable gentlemen opposite, this is a magnificent scheme and one which will serve the Government parties handsomely by helping them to win the forthcoming general elections.
The Minister for Health has pointed out that the Government was conscious of the need to relieve the fear in the mind of the ordinary man that he might not be able to pay medical or hospital expenses and so delay treatment to such a degree that when treatment was obtained, it would be much more difficult and perhaps much more costly. With a scheme of this kind, once a person has paid his premium and knows that he is entitled to comprehensive medical and diagnostic treatment, such as fear will be relieved. Consequently, it may be expected that individuals who are insured will go to doctors and obtain the treatment which is necessary as soon as they feel that there may be something wrong with them. I think that that factor alone will do much for the Australian community in the future.
The life-saving drugs provided by the Government cover a wide range. When such a drug is ordered on a doctor’s prescription, all that is necessary is for the person concerned to present the prescription at a pharmacy and obtain the drug. I ask the House to judge the sincerity of this Government and the extent of its assistance in the field of health and medical benefits. To assist honorable members to do ‘ so I propose to refer to figures contained in recent budgets introduced in this Parliament. In 1950-51, more than £115,000,000 was allotted from the National Welfare Fund for social services benefits. In 1953-54, the allocation will be £184,000,000. This year £31,212,000 will be made available for health services. By contrast, during the last year of the Chifley Government, only a miserable £6,000,000 was allotted for such purposes.
This bill represents a tremendous effort and a great deal of progress. A positive contribution has been made to the national health and welfare. It may be asked, “ Has this Government made a positive and realistic contribution to the standards of living of the Australian community ? “ I suppose, after all, it is in the degree of progress made in this way that this Government subsequently will be judged. I venture to suggest that if the present standards of living of the Australian community are compared with those of 1949 it will be appreciated that the present standards are significantly better than they were when the Menzies Government took office. In considering standards of living, it is also necessary to consider the reduction of working hours from 44 to 40 a week, reductions of personal taxation, the social services which the States provide, and also other matters. One fact which I wish to make clear to the House is that the present basic wage includes an amount of £2 10s. a week which is not related to needs. In other words, the present basic wage includes £2 10s. a week which was not included in the needs wage fixed under the old Harvester award. That is a considerable percentage of a basic wage of £11 16s. a week. It indicates in clear terms the way in which living standards have improved under the Menzies Government.
This Government is highly conscious of the fact that in introducing a scheme of this kind costs must be controlled. It could happen that the costs of such a scheme could dominate the budget, as has been the case in the United Kingdom and also to a lesser degree in New Zealand. Those costs could deprive the budget of its resiliency and prevent its use as an instrument of economic and financial change,. In addition, they could prevent the budget from being used as an instrument with which to control the economic climate. This scheme has been based on the fundamental principle that costs must not be allowed to get out of hand. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, of course. So far as pharmaceutical benefits are concerned, the costs in 1951-52 were approximately £7,000,000, whereas in 1952-53 they had been reduced to £6,487,000. It can he seen, therefore, that this Government has profited by the experiences of others and has attempted to embody into this legislation restrictions and controls which will bring costs within measurable limits.
The introduction of this legislation will remove three great fears from the minds of the Australian people. The first is the fear of sickness, which is one of the most awful curses in the world. That fear, I believe, has largely gone.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- When I listened to the speeech of the Minister for the Navy (Mr. McMahon), [ was reminded of the conceited man who was discussing the relative qualities of men and women. He said that the word “ man “ consisted of three letters which were the initial letters of the three words “ magnificent “, “ ‘andsome “ and “ noble “. The word “ magnificent “ was predominant in the Minister’s description of the bill and I could not refrain from adding the other two words. I mention that to indicate that the remarks of the Minister for the Navy represent the attitude of a conceited man and that they give an entirely wrong impression.
When the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) introduced the bill he said -
The most important thing in the world is individual and national health.
He also said -
Good health is the first priority of the whole world.
I con well believe that every member of the Parliament would endorse all of the sentiments that were expressed by the Minister for Health when he introduced the National Health Bill 1953. The right honorable gentleman’s state ments could be used generally, but on the other hand they could be pious platitudes. Honorable members should examine those two expressions to see which of them gives an accurate description of the Minister’s attitude to the bill. One cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that the bill indicates that there has been tedious planning and cunning plotting, which I have no doubt was the result of professional jealousy entirely superseding unswerving public service.
Honorable members should examine this scheme carefully, because undoubtedly it is universally desired. The scheme, in my opinion, resembles the poorest characteristics of each of the parties to its conception. I am reminded of the story about the beautiful French actress who suggested to the very ugly professor that he and she should marry. When he inquired why they should marry, she said to him, “ I am thinking of the progeny that would be the result of my beauty and your brains “. He said to her, “ I am thinking of the tragedy of the progeny that might be produced with your brains and my features “. I have not the slightest doubt that that is the kind of tragedy that is before honorable members, because the. beauty of service and the glory of brains, as interpreted by the hill introduced by the Minister for Health, have been either completely distorted or misplaced. I think the bill is a direct proof of the fact that one cannot serve two masters successfully. The two masters in this case are the British Medical Association and the public. There is not the slightest doubt, when one examines the bill from a proper perspective, that the Minister has obeyed the British Medical Association.
There is no doubt that a national health scheme is required and that it is universally desired. I say advisedly that when one examines the bill, he realizes that a flat rate tax has been devised. I understand that at the end of this year the National Welfare Fund will have a balance of approximately £188,900,000. That has been taken from the people of this country in taxes, yet a. citizen who is sick cannot benefit from that fund unless he voluntarily submits to this flat rate imposition about which I have spoken. I am of the opinion that that portion of the bill has been wretchedly conceived and I am equally convinced that the scheme has been organized very badly. The Australian Labour party has always supported the principle of ability to pay. Certain people will not be able to participate in the full benefits provided under the health scheme because only the comparatively well-to-do will be able to pay for them. We claim that the overall scheme reflects very little credit on those who have framed it. It is neither just nor equitable.
There has been very little or no consultation with the States and I think that for that reason the bill is deserving of greater censure than it has received. The Commonwealth should have conferred with the States in a very intimate manner, because surely it was desired that, not only should the best service be established, but also that the most economic service should be established.
The amendment proposed by the Opposition seeks the promotion of positive health (a) in the establishment and maintenance of diagnostic and health centres and (6) in dental care of children under sixteen years of age. All honorable members will recognize the importance of those two matters. It seems to me that it would be utterly futile for the Minister to try to excuse himself for not accepting such amendments. The proposed amendment for the establishment and maintenance of diagnostic and health centres should not be waved aside in the manner in which the Minister for the Navy attempted to wave it aside a few minutes ago. The question of dental care for children under sixteen years of age is of very much greater importance than is the provision of free milk to children who attend school. Such a provision has been made in other’ places, notably in New Zealand where the first approach to a health plan was made in the provision of dental treatment for children who attended school. It has been done with such great success that it seems to me that there is no reason why this Government should not have co-operated with the States in providing a dental service.
I return to the question of noncooperation between the Federal Minis- ter for Health and the State Ministersfor Health. It was the desire of the State Ministers for Health that theFederal Minister for Health should convene a conference in order that they might discuss’ fully the scheme introduced by the Federal Minister for Health. Apparently he refused to convene such a conference. The State Ministers themselves plan to meet on the 14th January next and, if my information is correct, there will be the severest criticism of the national health scheme and of the attitudethat has been adopted by the Federal Minister for Health. I understand that that conference will be held but that the Federal Minister for Health will not be present because he refused to convene such a conference.
– That is untrue. The State Ministers for Health have not asked me to convene such a conference.
– It was a State Minister for Health who gave me the information. I repeat that such a conference will be held on the 14th January, 1954.
– I tried for years to get the States to agree to a proper scheme.
– The Minister for Health has spoken in glowing terms of the co-operation between the Australian Government and the States in the matter of health, but he proposes to discontinue from June, 1954, the small subsidy of ls. 2d. a day that has been paid to the States on behalf of patients in mental institutions. I ask the right honorable gentleman seriously whether that action means that, in his opinion, mental sickness is of less concern than other types of illness. This is an important matter because in Victoria there are more people in mental institutions than there are in all the general hospitals in that State. It is important that they should receive treatment equal to or better than that given to those suffering from other illnesses. All honorable members know that mental institutions are starved for money. The condition of most mental hospitals in Victoria is deplorable, but even the small subsidy of ls. 2d. a day for each patient is to be withdrawn from next June. It is ridiculous that a government that has made reasonable allowances -for tuberculosis sufferers, acting on the inspiration of the Australian Labour party, should have completely forgotten about other major diseases. It should try to eradicate them just as an endeavour has been made to eradicate tuberculosis. That disease has been treated in the proper way, but I know of no reason why it should be selected for special treatment while others are ignored.
There is no evidence of any attempt by the Minister for Health to obtain the co-operation of the State Ministers for Health. Surely he needs the greatest measure of co-operation in establishing a scheme of this nature, because it should be operated on the most economical lines so that the greatest benefit can be extended to all. I believe that in Victoria the cost of a hospital bed is £20 a week. That is an extravagant figure for a hospital service.
– I am a member of a hospital board, and the charge in my district is less than that.
– That is the cost in the metropolitan area. I do not claim that it applies to country hospitals. J believe that there should be a closer examination of hospital schemes in all States to determine, in the first place, whether they are being over-capitalized. A hospital is being built in my area and the cost has mounted to £1,000,000. Approximately half the amount of money that is being expended on that project is going into nurses’ quarters. Costs of that nature should be closely examined.
– The nurses have to live on the job.
– In the metropolitan area, nurses on shift-work could easily go backwards and forwards to the hospital each day just as workers in other industries do. Ail these matters should have been examined when the Australian Government was taking a closer interest in hospitalization. Since they have not been examined, the whole scheme has beer ill-conceived and ill-considered. The Government has not examined costs to determine -whether hospital management expenses have been allowed to rise at an alarming rate. The fact is that there is no agreement between the British Medical Association and the Government, because the association will not enter into any contract with the Government. The Minister for Health recently addressed the World Medical Congress at The Hague, and he made the position clear. He stated -
There is no direct connexion between the Government and the medical profession. There is no fixation of fees by the Government. They are left to the discretion and judgment of the profession according to the skill displayed.
There is no agreement, therefore, between the British Medical Association and the Government except in one particular aspect. Apparently there is agreement, however, between the Government and the societies who act on behalf of those who are insured. Those societies are collecting the equivalent of a tax hut so far as I can ascertain, no two of them offer precisely the same conditions. The arrangement is most haphazard and should be regarded with deep concern. I know the details of some friendly societies that are offering certain benefits. Another which is largely conducted by chemists offers far greater benefits for a very little more in fees. The registered societies appear to he collecting fees that are completely out of proportion to the amount of money that is necessary to nin them. I have before me the statement of income and expenditure of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia as at the 30th June, 1953. That shows that contributions totalled £401,693 and claims amounted to £166,909. Obviously, the proposal is haphazard since there is no provision in the bill to protect those whose contributions are being paid to the societies that are approved by the Government.
I have been told of one organization in Victoria that has grown to fairly large proportions. Its scheme is not actuarily sound. Unfortunately, the information was given to me in confidence and I am unable to name either of the organizations that have been mentioned to me in connexion with the matter. I have been told that when the organization was registered it had neither accommodation nor experienced staff to handle the business that it had undertaken. Its officers became so worried about outstanding claims, which had brought a number of complaints, that they approached one of the largest friendly societies and asked it to take over the scheme. The officers of the friendly society examined the business and stated that it was not actua.il/ sound. They refused to have anything more to do with it. The organization is still having trouble in meeting claims as they are presented. Many persons who join it have spoken impatiently about the length of time that they have to wait for payments of their claims.
The Australian Labour party is deeply interested in the pensioner medical service about which the Minister for the Navy had much to say in this chamber. The Australian Labour party approves of what is being done so far as it goes, but it does not go very far, and persons outside this House who are interested would do well to examine the benefits that are offered under the national medical service. I point out that the provision for that service as embodied in the bill reveals the illogical and inconsistent approach of the British Medical Association. Although it will not enter into a contract with the Government in relation to the general health scheme, it most certainly has entered into a contract with the Government in relation to the pensioner medical scheme. If the British Medical Association is prepared to enter into a contract in respect of one portion nf the scheme, what can be its objection to the making of a contract in relation to the whole scheme? In these circumstances its objection must be thrown back into its teeth. We have been asked to approve of an agreement that exists only in the form of letters on the Minister’s file.
– The agreement is not before the House.
– That is so. It is contained in letters exchanged between the Minister and the British Medical Association, copies of which are on the Minister’s files. I say in the frankest possible way that the Government insults the Parliament by asking it to agree to an arrangement between a Commonwealth department and individual doctors. Whatever the agreement may be, it should be written into the legislation. There is no excuse for the failure of the Minis ter to write the agreement into the legislation so that the people may know what kind of agreement has been made between the Minister and the British Medical Association. In explaining the scheme the Minister wrote in these terms to a member of another place -
There is no formal document embodying the agreement between the Commonwealth and the British Medical Association relating to the provisions of the pensioner medical service. The arrangement is contained in a number of communications between the Government and the British Medical Association.
Parliament has a right to demand that the relevant file be tabled forthwith. If the Minister were reasonable he would table it and he would also agree to write into the legislation the provisions of the agreement which he has made with the British Medical Association on behalf of the Parliament and the people. What is the extent of the service which the Minister has agreed should be provided by doctors for pensioners? Upon close examination it is found to cover medical attention during attendance of the patient at a doctor’s surgery or at his own house. That is the only service available under the pensioner medical scheme.
– What sort of service did the Labour Government give to the pensioners ?
– Under the terms of the agreement between the Minister and the British Medical Association the administration of a general anaesthetic is not included in the service even if it be administered at the same time as other services that come within the scope of the pensioner medical service are rendered. The agreement does not include .the treatment of fractures, nor does it cover the ingredients of an injection or the charge for after-hours services. In rural areas it does not cover payment of mileage allowance which is covered in the metropolitan areas.
This scheme contains some very peculiar features. I notice that honorable members opposite are shaking their heads. It is of no use for them to do so because I have told no less than the truth. Mileage is provided in metropolitan areas and in well populated areas but it is not provided for in rural districts. The doctor is paid 9s. for each visit by a pensioner to his surgery and lis. when he visits the patient in his home. Unless the pensioner is insured with a registered organization he is not entitled to free treatment. The. provisions of the pensioner medical service scheme leave very much to be desired. The only bright spot in it is the fact that it established a principle - but only just. The scheme is nothing more than a hotch-potch scheme which awaits the hands of an administrator who will recast it and bring it closer to the heart’s desire.
.- The honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) concluded his speech by making a remarkable confession. He said that, in his opinion, all that was required to make this scheme perfect was the hand of an administrator. That was the conclusion reached by the honorable member after he had spent 25 minutes in criticizing various aspects of the scheme. Neither he nor his colleagues could say otherwise because they are dealing not with a proposed scheme but with a scheme that is in operation.
– “ Unfortunately “, says the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan). There has been no public outcry that the scheme is not wanted or that it is unsatisfactory. On the contrary, it has been applauded in all quarters. Let us compare this scheme with the socialistic health service which our friends opposite tried to provide. There was a public outcry because the promises made by them were not being fulfilled, satisfactory or unsatisfactory as they may have been. Our friends opposite have to face up to an actual achievement, not a promise, a plan, a proposal or something which is to be provided in the dim and distant future. They have to face up to a planned scheme which is working well. They view this achievement with envy because it has been lauded from the house-tops by the people. The Minister for Health may well be proud of his scheme. Opposition members are unable to offer any worthwhile criticism of the bill. They cannot direct their criticism to tangible defects in the scheme. They skirt all round it in a general way and invariably end, as did the honorable member for Darebin, by suggesting that the only thing wrong with it is that it lacks an administrator. What a splendid tribute to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) and to the present Government! The honorable member for Darebin referred to the pensioner medical service scheme, and said that the Opposition approves of it so far as it goes. In view of the fact that that scheme provides for a complete general medical practitioner service, I do not know how much further the honorable member expected that it should go, unless, perhaps, he desired that the doctors themselves should take the medicine that they prescribed. That scheme is complete in every sense whereas Labour failed to evolve any scheme half so satisfactory. In any event, where necessary, a specialized treatment is also provided for pensioners under the hospital benefits scheme. One reason why the honorable member claimed that the pensioner medical service did not go far enough was that no visible agreement existed between the Government and the British Medical Association. I am not sure whether the British Medical Association would be in a position to enter into an agreement with the Government that would be binding upon all its members. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The fact remains that the British Medical Association consists of honorable men who have entered into an arrangement with the Government, and that the arrangement is entirely effective because both parties are observing its terms with satisfaction to the pensioners. If the position were otherwise, every honorable member would he inundated with complaints from pensioners.
The purpose of this measure is to consolidate in one statute the provisions of a scheme which has been in operation for sometime, and which was brought into being mainly through the efforts of the Minister for Health. The honorable member for Darebin said that the Minister cannot serve two masters, that he could not look after the interests of the public and, at the same time, run around with the British Medical Association. That statement is all the more remarkable when it is remembered that the existing scheme has been evolved on a basis of cooperation whereas Labour could not produce a workable scheme at all. The only accusation that can be made against the Minister is that he has, on behalf of the people, successfully negotiated an agreement with the British Medical Association for the establishment and operation of a national health scheme which involves contributors to approved societies, the doctors who render the services and the Government itself in a minimum of cost. What is wrong with a scheme of that kind? Yet, honorable members opposite condemn the Minister because he has been able to view this problem, first, as a representative of the people, and, secondly, as a distinguished member of the medical profession. Because he has been able to do that, the honorable member for Darebin advanced the silly argument that the Minister was trying unsuccessfully to serve two masters.
T have. been intrigued by the references bv members of the Opposition to the balance of £187,000,000 standing to the credit of the National Welfare Fund which, they claim, should be used for the purpose of financing the existing scheme. Recently, I was informed by a member of the New Zealand Government that the cost of the national health scheme in that Dominion for a population of 2,000,000 amounts to £60,000,000 annually. Having regard to the fact that the population of this country is 8,000,000, the cost of providing a similar scheme here would amount to £240,000,000 annually. If the balance now standing to the credit of the National Welfare Fund were used as honorable members opposite suggest, it would be exhausted in less than a year. In any event, those honorable members ignore the fact that funds that are required to finance the scheme must be raised from some source. I repeat that the present scheme involves a minimum of cost to the Government, the contributors to approved societies and to the medical profession itself. No heavy burden is placed on any of the three parties. Honorable members opposite constantly advance the bogy that no one derives any real benefit from the scheme. The fact is that no individual is excluded from the benefits for which pro- vision is made under, the scheme. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) contended that the Labour hospital benefits scheme compared more than favorably with the scheme now in operation. As I was a member of the Parliament of Western Australia and a member of a district hospital board in that State when the Chifley scheme was introduced, I had the opportunity to study it at first hand. I recall that the Minister for Health in the Labour Government that was in office in that State at that time, when he was introducing the complementary Hospital Benefits Agreement Bill to give effect to the Chifley Government’s scheme, said -
A person may go into hospital and demand a bed. He will be entitled to it, because the means test has been abolished. Irrespective of whether he has an income of £4 or £50 a week he will be entitled to a bed, but he will have to pay doctor’s fees.
Later, he was chided on the fact that the Chifley Government’s scheme was based not on the actual cost of running a hospital but on the average collections from patients during the preceding three years. At that time, Western Australia, under its agreement with the Commonwealth, accepted reimbursement of hospital costs at the rate of 6s. for each occupied bed, whereas the actual cost was 6s. 6.5d. and the average collections from patients during the preceding three years was 5s. lOd. That Minister was chided on the fact that it was unsound to attempt to finance hospitals on the basis of collections instead of on the basis of actual expenditure. In the course of the debate on that bill in the State Parliament one honorable member interjected, “Are you satisfied with the agreement in that case?” and that Labour Minister, in support of his Government’s agreement with the Chifley Government, replied -
Whether we are satisfied or not, it is a matter of assenting to this agreement. If we do not, we will deprive the people of something which they can obtain for nothing. The Prime Minister assured us that if we had any specific proposal for a hospital building which might be affected by this scheme, he would be prepared to give every consideration to every request we made.
What was the outcome of that scheme? Hospital after hospital in Western Australia found that, it was unable to meet its commitments. Many people do not understand that one peculiarity of the scheme was that it provided for variations in payments. The Commonwealth paid to a State an amount which was supposed to be the average collections of the State over a period of three years, and a public hospital was paid by a State government the amount per patient per day which it had collected over the same period. The hospital at Wyalkatchem proudly boasted that its average collection for that period was 10s. 2d. per patient per day, and the institution received a corresponding payment from the Western Australian Government. Other public hospitals, which served the poor, had average collections of only 3s. per patient per day, and were paid that amount by the Western Australian Government. The Chifley Government’s socialized hospital scheme worked to the detriment of the institutions that it was supposed to benefit, and many people were denied treatment in them
Let Opposition members not attempt to compare the Chifley Government’s scheme with the present scheme. Although the present scheme has been in operation for only two years, our hospitals are boasting that they are able to meet their financial commitments and the demand for beds, and they are in a position to undertake a programme of expansion. Ho longer are the managements of hospitals unable to provide additional beds. No longer are they compelled to withdraw beds from use because of lack of funds. To-day, hospitals are able to make all their beds available to patients. The main feature of the present scheme is to provide hospital accommodation within a short time to meet the needs of the whole community. That was not possible under the Labour Government’s hospital plan.
Moreover, the present plan is of considerable benefit to every member of the community. I was a member of a hoa>pital board when the Labour Government’s scheme was in operation-
– I bet that hospital went “ bung “.
– The hospital would certainly have gone “bung” had the Chifley Government’s plan continued in operation. Do not worry about that.
The plan formulated by the present Minister for Health has saved that hospital and many other hospitals from bankruptcy. The agreement drawn up by the Labour Government provided that every person was entitled to a bed in a public ward, free of charge, but the hospital board of which I was a member was blithely told by the Western Australian Department of Health that it was expected to discourage patients from demanding a bed in a public ward, and direct them to take beds in an intermediate ward. What was the result? The i hospital to which I refer had four beds in one ward. One bed was regarded as being in a public ward, and the patient who occupied it suffered the indignity of being known as a person who was receiving free treatment. Another bed in that ward was regarded as being in an intermediate ward, and a charge was levied on the patient who occupied it. Another bed was considered to be in a private ward, because a screen was placed around it, and the patient who occupied it paid the fees applicable to a private ward. But each patient was served with the same food from the common kitchen, and was attended by the same nurses. The whole scheme was a filthy subterfuge in order to obtain additional money to enable the hospital to continue to function. The board had to accept a scheme that was neither more nor less than a piece of arrant political propaganda in favour of a supposedly free hospital scheme. The board could not carry on the hospital in that way.
I was a member of the Western Australian Parliament, and I objected to the agreement in 1945. I warned the State Government that every patient would demand a bed in a public ward, because he would receive free treatment. The State Minister for Health told me not to be silly. He advised me to believe that people still retained some degree of dignity. In other words, he confirmed that the State would have to resort to various measures of the kind I have mentioned in order to enable hospitals, operating under the supposedly free scheme of the Chifley Government to meet their commitments. As a matter of fact, hospital patients paid more under that scheme by way of hospital fees than they are called upon to pay under the present scheme. The Chifley Government’s scheme provided a niggardly amount for the maintenance of hospitals without any recognition of the cost of operating them, and, consequently, the hospitals “went broke”. The whole ramifications of the Labour Government’s scheme were thoroughly debated in the Western Australian Parliament in December, 1945. One of the members who took part in that debate reported that he had visited the eastern States in order to make inquiries into the scheme. He said-
I believe that the Medical Fund as formulated by the Commonwealth authorities for the people of Australia, is the greatest abortion of a scheme that has ever been produced in this country.
– Strong words.
– I agree. The member proceeded -
When I’ was in Sydney last June I discussed this matter with a highly placed Government official - I will not mention his name - and I asked him what he thought of it. He replied that, in his opinion, when it was brought to light it would be a absolute abortion because it had been framed by men who were utterly incompetent and would be controlled in the Commonwealth Government by a man who was equally incompetent.
He was referring to the fact that the scheme had been formulated by laymen who had, and could have, no knowledge of the special requirements of the medical profession. He used hard words, but they were completely justified by the results. The damn scheme never lived. That is a fact. I am dealing with facts. They hurt members of the Labour party. The present scheme is growing and flourishing and will continue to do so.
I shall refer briefly to some parts of the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. Obviously, he did not go to the trouble to make himself fully conversant with the contents of the bill. He desires the bill to be withdrawn with a view to making provision for the establishment and maintenance of diagnostic and health centres.
– Hear, hear!
– Provision for the establishment of such centres is made in the bill. I advise the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) to put on his glasses and read the measure. -
– Rip Van Winkle.
– I am perfectly well aware of the wishes of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. He advocates the establishment of a clinic, and patients would line up for miles awaiting their turn. Each would pass automatically in front of a doctor, who would diagnose his ailment, write out a script, and send the patient on his way. But the Minister for Health, who is a medical practitioner, has a complete knowledge of the requirements. The bill provides for the establishment of diagnostic and therapeutic clinics to which doctors may take their special problems. A doctor would not have resort to such a clinic to diagnose a pain in the toe or in the stomach, which any medical practitioner can diagnose. Such a clinic, which would be costly to maintain, would provide a doctor with skilled advice on complicated matters. A spirit of co-operation would exist between doctor and clinic, because cooperation is the keynote of this scheme. Provision is made for the dental care of children under the age of sixteen years. Some of the States, including Western Australia, have already introduced such a scheme.
– So has Queensland.
– I am informed that Victoria has introduced a similar scheme. I digress for a moment to say that whenever an Opposition member refers to Victoria, he speaks of the deplorable conditions in that State. I do not know whether the people of Victoria are deplorable, whether they have a deplorable government, or whether it is a deplorable State generally, but one hears continuously about the deplorable state of affairs in Victoria. Perhaps the best thing that Victoria can do is to lop itself off the continent and lose itself. Nobody would be sorry about that. I am proud of what happens in Western Australia. We do attempt to help ourselves. For years we had a very good government, but it may not be so good now. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro went on to ask for medical training and research facilities, a. system of regional hospitals, and so on. He quite ignored the fact that those things already exist. If the honorable member cares to examine the Estimates he will find that this Government is already providing substantial sums of money for medical research. “We talked about those things years ago, and they are already in operation. The honorable member should wake up and not sound 30 much like Rip Van “Winkle. I do not propose to say any more-
Opposition members interjecting,
– Of course, honorable members opposite do not like being told the truth. If they intend to continue this debate let us- hear what is wrong with the existing scheme. No member of the Opposition has yet said that he does not want the scheme. No one is game to say that. What is wrong with the pensioner free medical service, or the provision of the hospital treatment and medical benefits for the payment of a small fee ? What is wrong with the free milk scheme? I shall not go over all phases of the national health scheme that already exists because there are so many of them. But let us hear what is wrong with the scheme and not merely that it needs an administrator as was suggested by the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews). If the Opposition is able to offer genuine criticism of the bill, the people will listen to it and something worth while will be contributed to the discussion. We should like to know whether there is anything wrong with the scheme so that we may put it right. My view, however, is that, thanks to the good work of the Minister for Health, the scheme is functioning successfully throughout the Commonwealth.
.-While the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) has been speaking I have been trying to decide under what clause of the bill he would come, but I have been unable to fit him in anywhere. Therefore, I think he disproved his own statement that no one was excluded from this measure. I am afraid that he himself is excluded by his utterances to-night, Although I experienced the greatest difficulty in following the honorable member’s arguments, ‘ I shall endeavour to reply to one or two points he made. First, the hospital benefits scheme, which he claimed was so disastrous in Western Australia, was copied word for word from a recommendation made to this Parliament in 1945 by the Social Security Committee, of which the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) was a member. The honorable member for Moore, as usual, produced the socialist tiger, and claimed that we intended to socialize or nationalize health services.
– Is that not true?
– We have no intention of doing that, and we could not do it if we wanted to because there is no constitutional authority for such action. It is a pity that some Government supporters apparently do not bother to read the Constitution. If they were more familiar with the provisions of that document, perhaps they would cease to make extravagant and untruthful statements in this Parliament. Clearly there is no power in the Constitution to nationalize health in Australia. I assure the honorable member for Moore that he need have no fears on that score. The honorable member criticized Labour’s national health scheme. Why did that scheme not work? It was prevented from working by the British Medical Association. It was sabotaged from its inception. The British Medical Association refused utterly to co-operate with the then Minister for Health. Of the 7,500 doctors then in Australia 134 defied the British Medical Association and courageously cooperated in this scheme. That speaks for itself. Now we find the British Medical Association hand in glove with the Government on this scheme. I shall have something more to say about that later. As previous speakers have pointed out, this bill is a consolidation of five or six other measures under which various parts of this Government’s health scheme have been implemented. I admit that no government could relish the task of organizing health services. To get general agreement on such an important matter is most difficult, and I do not think that any government could produce a scheme that would satisfy everybody.
The first big attempt to give security to the Australian people against sickness was made by the Labour Government but, as I have said, that scheme was sabotaged by the very individuals who should have carried it out. This Government has succeeded with doctors Where we failed simply because, the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) has capitulated completely to the British Medical Association. If he had not been prepared to do that, the Government’s health scheme could not even have begun. However whilst I admit the difficulty of obtaining agreement among doctors, chemists and the people of Australia generally on all aspects of a national health scheme, this baby’s birth has been long delayed. I do not wish to make a personal attack on the Minister. I know that he is well meaning. He even looks after us when we are sick, despite the different colour of our blood. Our criticism is not levelled at the Minister because we know that, in fact, he is not responsible for the bill. Our criticism is directed at people outside this Parliament who have walked the corridors of this building and whose efforts have resulted in the presentation of this measure. We have a duty to the sick in body and mind. Although care of the mentaly ill is primarily a State responsibility, there is also some obligation on this Government, but no provision for the sick in mind is made in this measure. All of us, regardless of our political affiliations, are concerned about the health of the people. We are eager to maintain a high .standard of health and to fight diseases and troubles of the body. In that sense, we are as one. Our differences arise over methods of implementing our ideas.
This bill is a piebald affair. The Minister and his supporters speak loosely of freedom. Yet the bill will subtly impose coercion in its worst form. They speak also of fair play. Yet the bill viciously, if legally, discriminates between patients. It has been presented to us as the Government’s bill. Yet the fingerprints of the British Medical Association are on every page. The Minister capitulated to the association when he agreed to present the measure in its present form. Every wish of this great organization has been granted. The Labour Government, too, could have presented a bill of this character, which would not have pro- vided an adequate solution of our health problems, if it had been prepared to yield to the association. What are the principal omissions from the hill? First, it does not deal with dental care. That is why the ‘Opposition has proposed in its amendment that the scheme be extended to provide dental services for children under the age of sixteen years. Not every State provides a dental service. Tasmania, I am glad to say, has an excellent dental service that has operated satisfactorily for many years. Mobile dental units travel throughout the State to provide a valuable service for children. Queensland and Western Australia, too, have dental services, but other States are not so fortunate. This Government, therefore, has a responsibility to provide an Australia-wide service. The bill does not provide for the mentally ill. I shall not reiterate my remarks on this point. I merely point out that the Opposition amendment deals with this omission because we consider that the treatment of mental illness is of the utmost importance. The honorable member for Moore had the nerve to say that nobody would be excluded from the benefits of the bill, but the truth is that there are thousands of mentally ill people in Australia who will not be touched by its provisions, just as there are thousands of children under the age of sixteen years for whom it does not provide dental benefits.
A third category of people neglected by the bill consists of those who suffer from chronic ailments. This is the worst omission of all, in my opinion. The exclusion of such persons is clearly, specified in the propaganda circulated by the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia, that huge corporation that is owned and controlled by the doctors of Australia. The literature issued by that fund states that it is “ sponsored by the medical profession and supported by the Pharmaceutical Guild”. Fifteen members of the Federal and State council of the British Medical Association and three other doctors are among the 23 directors of the fund. The association has made .no attempt to conceal its affiliation with this organization, which eventually will absorb thousands of people who now belong to friendly societies. The form issued by the fund states that any illness or disability that was evident to the patient at or prior to the date of his admission as a contributor or registered dependant shall be excluded from benefit. Tubercular, venereal, certified mental, and chronic illnesses and admissions to convalescent homes, rest homes and kindred institutions are also excluded from benefit. Yet the honorable member for Moore had the audacity to say that nobody would be excluded from benefit under this bill. The Hobart Mercury, which is a strongly pro-Liberal newspaper, to-day published the following comment on the speech that was made last night by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro : -
Some effort should be made to standardize the rate of insurance, the scale of benefit and conditions of membership among registered societies.
The registered organizations are in a higgledy-piggledy condition without uniformity of any kind. The article continued -
Of equal importance is the fact that some provision should be made for sufferers from chronic illnesses. These are now debarred from insurance benefit and are under a financial as well as a physical handicap. If the insurance scheme cannot cover, thom, there is a strong case for a government subsidy to societies so that they ca.n be included.
The situation of people who are incapacitated by chronic illnesses is pathetic. AH honorable members know of such cases. The victims have no prospect of relief from their sufferings. Medical science, with all its greatness, has not yet cured the common cold. The atom has been split, but we have not cured influenza.
Arthritis is one of the most harrowing of these ailments, and it is becoming more prevalent in Australia from day to day. Has any honorable member ever witnessed a more unhappy case of illness than that of a person suffering from arthritis, with twisted limbs and hands? It is a terrible disease, and it is made more terrible by the fact that there is no known cure for it. Yet arthritis victims are not included in this fantastically wonderful scheme of the Minister for Health. The disease is the physical curse of this century, in my opinion. It immobilizes more people than does any other single -chronic disease. Young and old alike may fall victim to it because it does not discriminate. Great sacrifices are often made by relatives in order to care for arthritic people. Children deny themselves careers in order to stay at home and care for mothers or fathers. These people constitute a burnt-out work force without any hope of recovery. There is a constant financial drain upon the resources of families that include such’ sufferers. They face a future of pain and immobility, and the hopelessness of their situation breaks their spirits and crushes their initiative. Yet they are excluded from the Minister’s scheme! I have visited many victims of arthritis, formerly as a minister of religion and now as a member of this Parliament. One feels more helpless in the presence of an arthritic person than in the presence of any other form of suffering. Yet the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia will not accept such individuals for medical benefits! That is the answer to the boastful claim of the honorable member for Moore that nobody is excluded from the Government’s scheme.
Under this scheme, the Government has created two huge and powerful groups. On the one hand there is the British Medical Association, and on the other hand there are the friendly societies. In the future they may develop into political pressure groups -wielding impressive power. They have agents throughout Australia who go from place to place to persuade people to enrol with them. These agents work for them, talk for them, battle for them, and, if it comes to the point, will distribute political literature for them. The British Medical Association engaged in political propaganda before the last general election. The very scheme -for which this bill provides grew out of the association’s opposition to Labour’s health plan. It had its beginning in the political atmosphere of 1946. The British Medical Association fought for this scheme against Labour at the last general election. Time may prove that the Government has, in fact, created two huge Frankenstein monsters that will hold the fate of governments in their hands. That is not right or proper in a democracy.
The Government describes this as a voluntary health scheme. It is nothing of the sort. That is a complete misnomer. Thu compulsory aspects of the scheme are cleverly hidden by organizational jargon. People are being forced to join these benefit societies through sheer economic necessity. The Commonwealth’s scheme is medical conscription of a ruthless and subtle kind. So far, neither J nor any member of my family has joined a medical or hospital society. In my present frame of mind, I will not join one, and I will pay through the neck if anything happens to me. I will not be forced into a scheme in which I do not believe in principle. I reiterate that the scheme is medical conscription; it is forcing people to join societies.
Let us consider the position of an ordinary member of the community. After being discharged from a hospital he may receive an account for £70; had he been a member of a society the account would probably be for only £45. How can such a person continue to take the risk of having to meet such high hospital expenses? Therefore, through sheer economic necessity, he is forced to join a hospital fund and pay a subscription of about 5s. a week. Yet the Minister had the audacity to tell us that this is a voluntary scheme. Economic necessity is the worst kind of coercion. It forced people to do all sorts of things during the depression years, and it is now forcing them to join these societies. Proposal No. 3 in the amendment refers to that contingency. It reads -
That payment of Commonwealth Hospital Benefits or Medical Benefits shall not be conditional upon a patient being a contributor to a Hospitals Fund or a Medical Benefit Fund.
The Government should pay all hospital fees of patients, irrespective of whether or not they are members of hospital funds. Coercion is going on by subtle means. This Government’s scheme has destroyed the Tasmanian free hospital scheme, which was one of the best schemes in this country. We were proud of that scheme, under which complete treatment in hospital was provided to a patient entirely free of charge. If he wished, he could stay in a hospital for six months and then walk out cured and a free man; an account did not follow him home to dog his footsteps during the following six months or more. It is no wonder that the present Government’s scheme is unpopular in Tasmania.
– How has our scheme destroyed the Tasmanian scheme?
– Under this - Government’s scheme people have to pay for their treatment, whereas under the Tasmanian scheme that was formerly in operation they were treated entirely free.
– Tasmania is receiving about £400,000 a year from the Commonwealth under our scheme.
– Under the Tasmanian scheme many sick persons were sent to Melbourne for treatment by Collinsstreet specialists, at no cost to themselves. The Tasmanian Government held out against the Commonwealth scheme until it realized that it had been defeated. Being a small State, Tasmania could not hold out for too long - not as long as Queensland held out. Ultimately Queensland defied the Commonwealth and introduced its own scheme. Tasmania was blackmailed into the Commonwealth scheme. Let the Minister for Health deny that assertion, if he can. The Commonwealth said to Tasmania, in effect, “ If you stay out of our scheme we will not pay you even a subsidy of 8s. a day “. I am referring not to the subsidy of 12s. a day per patient per hospital bed,” but the subsidy of Ss. a day in relation to persons in public wards in public hospitals, which was introduced by the former Labour Government in 1948. The Commonwealth subsequently said to Tasmania, in effect, “ If you stay out of our scheme for any longer we will cut out entirely the provision of finance for your hospitals “. Dr. Turnbull, the Minister for Health in Tasmania, could relate better than I am able to do the full story in this connexion. The cost of hospital treatment discourages many people from entering hospitals to-day. Although there were smirks on the faces of some supporters of the Government when one of my colleagues on this side of the House made a similar assertion this afternoon, I assure honorable members that that is the real position. When the present scheme was introduced a census taken in Launceston revealed that there were 100 fewer patients in hospitals in that city than there were in the week prior to the scheme coming into operation. That is understandable. Many people in my electorate have refrained from entering hospitals because they are afraid 1 of the cost. They should be treated at government expense. They should not have to incur big hospital accounts that they are unable to pay. The longer this scheme operates the greater will be the hostility towards it by wage-earners, not only in Tasmania, but throughout Australia.
I come now to another aspect of the matter - the question of unpaid accounts. This is a vicious part of the present scheme. The Minister has claimed that hospital finances have improved since the introduction of his scheme. The honorable member for Moore referred to his experiences when he was a member of a hospital board several years ago. I am at present the chairman of a hospital board in Tasmania, and, therefore, I am able to furnish to the House up-to-date information in relation to hospital finances. I recall instances in which persons who have received hospital treatment extending over several weeks have been unable to pay their accounts. I am not referring to pensioners. It is the responsibility of a hospital board to obtain payment of the hospital’s accounts. When the amount of outstanding hospital accounts in Launceston and Hobart rose to £17,000 the Tasmanian Government had to threaten the people who owed the money with legal action. There is a threat hanging over the heads of those people all the time that if they do not pay their hospital accounts they may be taken before the courts. At Longford, in my electorate, a girl of 21 years of age returned to her home after being in hospital for several weeks. After a while her condition deteriorated and she returned to the hospital. When this case came to my notice the young lady owed £16, which she could not possibly pay. Her only income was the sickness benefit, which was sufficient to defray only her own personal expenses.
This case is typical of cases that come before hospital boards for consideration. We are afraid that this young lady’s condition will become chronic; if it does she will not be covered by the provisions of this bill. I have mentioned this case to illustrate that unpaid accounts are becoming a threat to the patients who are unable to pay them.
I have been informed by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) that charges for treatment at the Canberra Community Hospital rose from £7,242 in 1951-52 to £33,148 in 1952-53, and that outstanding debts at the 30th June last amounted to £7,276. This is typical of the position throughout Australia. It is obvious, therefore, that hospital finances have not been improved by the present scheme. Probably the hospitals will be forced to take legal action to recover outstanding accounts. So we have a fantastic situation. In the first place, people are scared of their illnesses. Secondly, they are worried about the probable cost of hospital treatment, and, thirdly, they are worried about what might happen subsequently if they do not pay their hospital accounts. All this additional worry is being thrust on to. persons who are already worried about their illnesses. Worry can entail hospital treatment just as much as can street accidents. Many people are hounded by sick bills for weeks after they return to their homes from hospital. Consequently, this aspect of the matter can become a nightmare for sick people who cannot afford to pay for hospital treatment. We have never had such a situation in Tasmania before.
In conclusion, I point out that this bill has many hideous features that were avoided by the Labour legislation of 1948 and 1949. The principal general criticisms that I make of the measure are that there is a quiz as to means and a charge is made for hospital accommodation, treatment and medicine. The Government pays 32s. a day in respect of each hospital patient who is a member of a medical benefit society. If a patient is a member of a medical benefits society, he may get 6s. a day from the society. That makes 18s. a day in all. If the cost of hospital treatment is 25s. a day, a patient is required to pay the difference between 25s. and 18s. a day from his own pocket. Under Labour’s scheme, any payment made to a patient by a society went into the patient’s pocket and stayed there, because hospital treatment was free. Under this scheme, the responsibility of paying for the treatment of sick people has been shifted from the community generally to the sick people themselves, who often are the poorest members of the. community. A great feature of Labour’s scheme was that the cost was borne by every taxpayer. That is the only just ‘method of financing a national health scheme. Under the Labour scheme, the healthy helped the sick, and the wealthy helped the poor. We all paid our taxes,, which went into Consolidated Revenue. A part of the taxes was used to give free medical treatment and free hospital treatment to the sick. We ensured that they would not he driven back to hospital through illness brought on by worry about medical expenses.
Prom the financial angle,, this scheme is basically unsound. An amazing feature of the Minister’s approach to the problem is that he dragooned the States into accepting’ his scheme by threatening that, unless- they accepted it, the Commonwealth, would not. make money avail: able to- them for these purposes. He said that no payment would be made by the Commonwealth to the States unless they charged all persons for hospital treatment. Each State government must charge the patients in its hospitals- for hospital treat*ment if it wants to get a payment from the Commonwealth in respect of those patients. Let me quote from a circular issued by the Department of Health on the 5th September, 1952.. The circular contains the following amazing statement : -
The basic principles of the scheme are that the1 Commonwealth benefits will not be payable unless a charge is made for the hospital treatment, and the Commonwealth benefit must not exceed the amount charged by. the hospital to the patient.
– Order !’ The honorable member’s time has expired.
.In. supporting the bill, I wish to> congratulate the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page)., who has- laboured for many years- to make’ a national health scheme of this type a reality. I deplore the rather malicious, poisonous and miserable attack that honorable members opposite, including the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), have levelled against a very honorable profession, of which the Minister is a member. Honorable members opposite have based, their opposition to the bill mainly on their opposition to the medical profession. I believe most people in this country recognize that the medical profession is a fine and honorable profession. Most of us recollect with gratitude the conscientious care and attention that we have received at some time or other at the hands of members of that profession, without thought of reward or fee.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and other honorable members made reference to the welfare state. They implied that the welf are state was a creation of the Labour party. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all hold to-day that one of the functions of a democratic government is to confer benefits of one sort or another on the citizens of the country for which it1 is responsible. The money to pay for the benefits is obtained from the community generally by compulsory contributions and is distributed to individual members of the community. But, within the conception of the welfare state, there are diametrically opposed views about how to attain a given social objective. The confused arguments presented by honorable members opposite in- the course of this- debate show that they have: no idea of the limitations of a welfare state if a free and healthy democracy is to be maintained and a. sound economy preserved.
One of the great difficulties that confronts! the members of the Opposition in this instance is that during the period the provisions that the bill proposes shall be made law have been in operation, the people of Australia, either by a process of reason or by instinct, have approved the methods adopted by the Government to confer medical benefits and hospital benefits on the; community. It is true to say that nine-tenths of the Australian people have said they approve of a scheme of this type. The honorable member for EdenMonaro made th& rather amazing suggest tion that, under, the’, present health scheme-, the Australian people are paying twice for medical benefits and hospital benefits - once by taxation, and once by a contribution to hospital and medical benefits societies. He said that there was about £186,000,000 in the National “Welfare Fund, and suggested that that money should be used to pay health benefits. The honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) made a similar suggestion. Under this scheme, the cost of hospital benefits, medical benefits and other benefits is met partly by contributions by individuals to medical and hospital benefits societies, partly by personal payments to hospitals and doctors, and partly by government subsidy. The cost is met from those three sources. The Government subsidy is paid from- the proceeds of taxation. Does the honorable member for EdenMonaro consider that the contributions now paid, to hospital and medical benefits societies and the personal payments made to hospitals and doctors could be paid by the Government without the imposition of additional taxes? That idea is quite fantastic. Does the honorable member suggest seriously that the £186,000,000 in the National “Welfare Fund is not being used, and that this Government is, so to speak, sitting on the nice fat sum that stands to the credit of the fund? The arguments advanced by the honorable member show either that he has a complete lack of knowledge of treasury finance or - I believe this to be more likely - that he is deliberately trying to confuse and mislead the electors.
Mr. Drakeford interjecting,
– If the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) really believes the statements made by the honorable member for EdenMonaro, he has gone down in my estimation. There .are limits to the health benefits that a government can provide. The honorable member for “Wilmot recognized that. He was honest enough to say that the limitations posed a tremendous problem. Let us see what they are. The first limitation is the availability of hard cash. We cannot have overnight a luxurious, up-to-date and complete health service. We cannot have overnight the clinics and hospitals that might be the ideal in a sort of rosy dream.
There are limits to the taxes that can be levied. Individuals cannot afford such an ideal service. Neither can the nation afford the burden of taxation which would be necessary to provide such a service overnight. We must build gradually towards the objective of a healthy nation. The second limitation to any scheme is the necessity to prevent abuse and malingering and to prevent citizens from taking undue advantage of benefits. We do not want a black market in wigs, dentures and spectacles, such as developed in connexion with hasty schemes elsewhere in the world. The third limitation is the necessity to prevent a decline in the efficiency of the medical profession. The number of medical men available in Australia is limited and it can only be increased at a certain rate. We must prevent the medical profession from suffering from overwork caused by filling in government forms. In view of those limitations the proposals contained in this bill are the best and most economical that can be conceived.
The administration of the bill will be quite simple. Few checks and counter checks will be needed. No army of civil servants will be required in order to administer the legislation. The various friendly societies and funds will provide an element of competition which will ensure maximum efficiency in their administration. The personal liability of the patient to pay something is, in itself, the best possible prevention of abuse that can be devised. The Labour party has not made any suggestions, other than its previous proposals which were not accepted by the people of Australia, to protect the nation from the consequences of the limitations that I have mentioned. No method of limiting the cost of its proposals were put forward by the Labour party. Their cost could easily have escaped government control. The Labour party scheme did not provide for any protection from abuse. It is true that the Chifley hospital scheme was free. It was so free that the hospitals lost £6,000,000 during its operation. .The hospitals were over-full, yet the Labour party still advocates that same hospital scheme. It advocates the provision of free medicine with no suggestion of how to prevent abuses which are well . known in Great Britain and New Zealand where such a scheme has been tried. Not one member of the Opposition has faced this problem squarely. There are only two practical solutions to it. The first is intensive bureaucratic control which is objectionable because the cost of administration prevents maximum health benefits from reaching the community. It involves snooping, spying and checking by officials. The second solution i3 the safeguard provided under this scheme of some personal payment by the individual. One of the faults of the Labour party is that it still regards itself as a sort of gallant Robin Hood whose job is to despoil the rich and distribute the proceeds to the poor. That banditry may have a certain glamour at election time for those who think that they will profit by it but it is a political objective which loses sight of the national objective of a happy and healthy nation growing stronger and healthier because of the incentives and opportunities offered to individuals to safeguard their health and that of their families. That should be the objective of any national health scheme.
The honorable member for Wilmot denied that the Labour objective was a socialist one. Yet the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) recently admitted that the Labour party was a socialist party. The Labour party itself is not a strong and healthy body. The rather odorous rumours that come from the other side of the House shows that the once living body of the Labour party is in need of health and medical benefits itself. The slogan of the Labour party is said to be “ Prom each according to his ability and to each according to his needs”. That principle might seem to be ideal but it has two limitations. The ability of the individual varies according to the extent to which he is allowed to enjoy the rewards of his ability. A man’s needs become quite unlimited if no price has to be paid for their satisfaction. Except in a slave state, no one can be compelled to earn except by the physical compulsion of his desire to live ac- cording to a standard. The extension of free benefits by taxing those who work and earn lessens the compulsion to work and earn and lessens the ability to pay. A need which may or may not be satisfied by the individual, according to the price that he has to pay, becomes intensified when there is an opportunity of satisfying it at somebody else’s expense. So we have two variables which grow wider apart in direct proportion to State interference. Labour’s’ approach to this problem is not as far removed from the concept of the slave state as Opposition members would have the public believe it is. Labour members have taken some pride in the fact thai, when their party was in. office they sponsored an amendment to the Constitution to give the Commonwealth power to provide health and medical benefits. It was the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) who had inserted in that amendment a proviso which prevented civil conscription. His foresight was providential for the medical profession and the public. But for that proviso the McKenna health scheme would have been brought into force. The High Court ruled that that scheme was unconstitutional because it involved civil conscription. Consequently, Opposition members voted for civil conscription when they supported that scheme.
A conscripted medical practitioner is no good to himself or the public. Conscription would result in a lowering of the standard of medical service. The then Minister for Health did not beat about the bush when he conferred with the British Medical Association in 1949. He said that in the course of time, private medical practice would be eliminated. Yet the honorable member for Wilmot denied that Labour has socialist intentions. Senator McKenna proposed to establish clinics and health centres such as are proposed in this bill but the doctors who were to staff them were to be civil servants. Gradually, private medical practice was to be eliminated. Do honorable members opposite suggest that that would have been unconstitutional? It was a perfect way of evading the provisions of the Constitution. Those of them who are not socialists try to take some comfort from the assurances of their leader (Dr. Evatt) and other prominent members of the Opposition, who seek to fool the public into the belief that they should not worry about socialization because it is unconstitutional. But let the people consider what happened after a referendum gave the Government power to institute health services providing they did not entail any form of civil conscription. It was after the Constitution had been altered in that way, that Senator McKenna stated that according to Labour’s plans the private practice of medicine would eventually be eliminated. Most of the members of the Labour party are socialists, but they compromise with the own consciences and their political approach to an unpopular subject by pretending that there is some constitutional disability which will prevent the nationalization of the medical profession.
I now refer to the Labour party’s amendment to the effect that there should be diagnostic and health centres, provision for dental care and training, research facilities and so on. We all agree that some of those services are desirable, but I” point out that they are part of the ultimate ideal of the Government. This health scheme is only the beginning of the Government’s attempts to provide all these things. We all agree that hospital facilities should be improved, but we must remember that hospitals fell into a very sorry state under the Chifley health scheme. -At that time the hospitals became over full, and went into debt to the amount of about £6,000,000. Under this Government’s administration hospital finances are improving, and there is a reasonable chance of improving facilities in specific areas. Local government bodies, local hospital boards and State governments are all concerned with the health of individual citizens, and all have some opportunity to use funds at their disposal to provide better health facilities for the people. Much good work is being done throughout the country by many citizens who act in honorary capacities. The honorable member for Wilmot boasted of his honorary work as chairman of a hospital board, and it is well known that the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) is doing similar good work. Citizens who engage in these activities know the basic needs of the communities in which they live, and to ensure that the financial position of their local hospitals is secure is one of the best methods by which this Government can improve the health services throughout the country.
This scheme is in accordance with the theory of collective assistance to meet the sudden burdens of individuals. It brings to the people what Mr. Churchill described as “ The miracle of averages “, and it protects the individual from, the onerous burdens of sudden disease and illness. It is a vast and comprehensive scheme covering hospital benefits, more than 600 individual medical services, pharmaceutical benefits, the fight against tuberculosis, pensioners’ medical and hospital schemes and the provision of free milk to school children. I now refer to the remarks of the honorable member to** Wilmot with regard to the disabilities suffered by those who have chronic illnesses. It is not correct to say that sufferers from chronic disease do not receive Commonwealth benefits. At present they may not be accepted as contributors by all benefit funds, but they do receive some benefits. The reason why they cannot be accepted by some benefit funds at present is that such organizations have to work out their schemes on ah actuarial basis and have to build up reserves before they are able to pay out large sums of money as benefits. Contributors to those funds pay premiums against the day when they will have to incur medical and hospital expenditure, whether it be months or years after they begin to contribute. During the time between a contributor joining the fund and receiving benefits, the fund has to underwrite contingent liabilities and accumulate reserves. The more substantial the reserves, the more secure are the contributors. As those reserves are built up and the funds become stable, the organizations will be able to. extend their benefits, accept responsibility for sufferers from chronic diseases, and pay them benefits from the fund. *[Quorum formed.’]
Nowadays it is popular to talk about people’s rights. We hear about the right to a job, the right to leisure, the right to a home, and the right to health. The more rights that a politician seeking votes can invent, the more popular he can 1 expect to become. But when .drawing attention to the rights of the people, we should also draw attention to the corresponding obligations that attach to each of those rights. If we agree that there is an individual right to rely on the community for some assistance in attaining or retaining health, we should point out that each individual has a corresponding obligation. The obligation is that he and his family must ensure that they shall noi be a charge on the community if it can be avoided. The individual must take whatever steps he finds possible to make provision for the future and for sudden emergencies. Only by the co-operation of the nation, the community and the individual, as provided for in this bill, together with the active co-operation of the technical experts in each branch of medicine and health, can we reach the-, desired objective of a happy and healthy nation.
.- The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) said that the medical profession, was a very exalted and honorable profession. We all agree with that sentiment, but we must also point out that there are other very honorable professions. The Labour party reserves the right to criticize any member of any profession which it thinks it wise to criticize. The long delay in bringing this bill to the second-reading stage strengthens the general impression that the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) is working in collusion with the British Medical Association. He has given that body ample time in which to push the claims of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia which, controlled as it is by the British Medical Association, is being advertised feverishly throughout the Commonwealth, in the press and on the radio. Having the advantage of close contact with the Minister, that organization is being granted favours which are denied to its competitors. Strenuous efforts are being made by it and by other organizations to enrol as many members as possible, in the hope that they will be able to set up the necessary numerical strength with which to combat any attempt by a future Labour government to give the people a national health service based on a system free of financial considerations. The Chifley Government set up machinery for that purpose. During the late Mr. Chifley’s speech on the relevant Labour Government legislation, he stated that -
No Labour government would tolerate any fascist clique telling electors whether or not they should receive free medical attention.
When a Labour government is returned to power, which will be very shortly, the British Medical Association tall poppies will begin to understand what Mr. Chifley meant when he said -
We arc going to see that the people get free medical and pharmaceutical benefits, no matter how long the fight goes on. There will bc only one finish to it. Make no mistake about that. I am not going to associate it purely with polities, I am going to associate it with the conservative outlook of the British Medical Association, and, as far as tj- “ir officers are concerned, with their museum minds that refuse to move with the times, if they continue with that outlook they will be swept away and replaced.
Those were the words of the greatest Prime Minister Australia has produced. Mr. Chifley’s statements raised the ire of the tall poppies of the British Medical Association, who then set out on a vicious and unrelenting press and radio campaign in an effort to create resentment against the Labour legislation. The resistance set up and the non-co-operative attitude shown by the medical profession, which, in fact, amounted to a general strike, rendered the measure completely ineffective. The British Medical Association declared a boycott against the Chifley Government’s proposals. In fact, at that time, the British Medical Association deliberately withheld free medical attention from the people of Australia by denying them the right to benefit under the Chifley Government legislation. Mr. Chifley wrote that legislation into our history, and it will be revived and carried to success by the next Labour government.
Amongst those who led the agitation against the Chifley free medical scheme was a Dr. Grieve, who is now president of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia. He is also president of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association. What does that add up to? In addition, a Dr. A. J. Collins, who is vice-president of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia, is president of the federal council of the British Medical Association. Dr. Hugh Hunter, who is secretary of the British Medical Association in New South Wales, is also on the board of directors of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia. Dr. H. H. Schlink, of Macquarie-street, Sydney, who is notorious for his mismanagement of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, inasmuch as the hospital is on the verge of bankruptcy, is also on the board of directors of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia.
Government supporters interjecting .
– Honorable members opposite do not like the truth, but the people of Australia must be told the truth about this scheme and the organization to which I have referred. I am explaining the link between the British Medical Association and the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia. My remarks should serve as a warning to the people of Australia that this organization could be used by the British Medical Association as a lever with which to increase doctors’ fees far beyond the capacity of the people to pay.
It is most unethical for the British Medical Association to run a fund which, tinder government subsidy, is doing business with its own members. Apparently, the fund is not too proud to accept the Government subsidy in addition to the contributions of the people, nor are the medical practitioners too proud to charge whatever fees they wish to charge. The friendly societies are particularly vulnerable under this scheme. The honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) yesterday used that worn-out phrase, “ the sanctity of the relationship between doctor and patient”. It is related to the phrases, “the bedside manner “, “ the family doctor “, and other similar platitudes which have been served up to the people over the years. That was clever propaganda, but it will no longer delude the people of Australia, particularly those members of- friendly societies who received a severe shock not long ago when they were served with a month’s notice that the British Medical Association proposed to terminate the contract which was so solemnly entered into with the friendly societies for the provision of medical services at a fixed annual rate. The British Medical Association thus displayed utter disregard of the sanctity of that contract. Honorable members opposite should ask themselves how many thousands of Australians suffered because of the termination of that contract. I suggest that hundreds of thousands are involved. So much for the tripe served up by honorable members opposite about the sanctity of the profession.
The old family doctor has gone. In past years the family practitioner was a kindly person who used to go about the suburbs treating the people, for nothing, if necessary. To-day, however, big business has entered the field of medicine. and doctors deal in hundreds of thousands of pounds. I predict that before many years have passed the British Medical Association, through the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia, will control the whole of the medical field.’ That is its aim. It will do so, in collusion with the present Minister for Health, if this Government is hot removed from office in the near future. The British Medical Association, by means of this fund, is endeavouring to become a potent political force. It has its agents all over the Commonwealth. Even the doctors are not too proud to inform people where they may join the fund. There is nothing to prevent the British Medical Association, under this legislation, from fixing charges to friendly societies in such a way as to force those societies out of existence. That is a danger which confronts many thousands of people who are at present members of such societies. The British Medical Association should not be allowed to have it both ways. Only recently, Dr. Hugh Hunter, when commenting on a decision of the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales to ask the Government to freeze doctors’ fees in the same way as the
Workers’ wages have been frozen by the
Commonwealth Arbitration Court, remarked that doctors, in their local associations, agreed to the fees which should be charged in their districts. The doctors were not bound to accept those fees, but it is interesting to note that the late Mr. Chifley in his national health scheme fixed the fees that doctors could charge for professional services. Hence the violent hostility from the trade unionists on the other side of the House who love to see the workers’ wages frozen by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.
The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) attempted to canonize the Minister for Health. It was a very pathetic effort. If the honorable member had spoken much longer, I should have thought the Minister would not be known as Sir Earle Page, but St. Earle Page.
– Order ! The honorable member must not use the personal name of any honorable member.
– I apologize. To illustrate the slipshod methods adopted by the Minister for Health in relation to this scheme, let me remind honorable members that early in 1953 the Government imported two American so-called health insurance experts to investigate and report on the Government’s national health scheme. They arrived by plane from America in a blaze of publicity, toured Australia, lived in the best hotels and smoked the best cigars at the taxpayer’s expense. . Did those experts submit a report after they were paid such high fees by the Government? If so, what has become of it? When does the Government intend to table the report in Parliament so that the people of Australia may know what those experts said about the so-called Page health scheme?
I invite honorable members to look at the hospital benefits provided under the Menzies-Fadden-Page so-called national health scheme. This Government repealed the Chifley Government’s free hospital benefits legislation and substituted- a scheme which provides Ss. a day for a public ward bed patient if the State accepts the Commonwealth scheme and makes a charge for hospital accommodation against the patient. An additional benefit of 4s. a day for each patient is paid by the Commonwealth if the patient personally insures himself to provide a hospital benefit through a friendly society or a benefits society approved by the Commonwealth. A further burden of ls. a week or 52s. a year is imposed on the already overburdened taxpayer to cover the hospital charges for a public ward patient. Under the agreement, the following charges for hospital beds are fixed : - Public ward, £8 8s. a week; intermediate ward, £12 12s. a week; private ward, £16 16s. a week. The patient is quizzed about his ability to pay. Under this famous scheme, the patient, irrespective of his illness, must answer a questionnaire so that his ward classification may be determined. The payment from his hospital benefits fund at the ls. a week scale would be £4 4s., for twelve weeks only, plus the Commonwealth subsidy of £4 4s., which continues indefinitely. After twelve weeks, payment from the patient’s medical benefits fund ceases and he is faced with the payment of that £4 4s. from his own pocket. Does the Minister for Health deny that? The patient, if he has been placed in an intermediate or a private ward, is faced with an additional charge of perhaps £8 Ss. or £12 12s.
I invite honorable members to consider the case of an average mechanic, with a wife and two children, who is earning £20 a week. He pays a social services contribution tax of approximately £60 a year, an additional tax of 52s. a year, which is paid to the hospital benefits fund and after twelve weeks he has ‘to shoulder the responsibility of £4 4s., £8 8s. or £12 12s. a week until he is discharged from hospital. Such are the benefits that are provided by this beneficient Government. The Minister for Health, when he was commenting on the benefits of the scheme, said with grim humour in his secondreading speech on the National Health Bill presented last March -
Already the scheme is starting to pay for itself in shorter illnesses, less sickness and shorter hospitalization, with a consequent greater turnover of hospital beds and a saving of millions of hours of working .time that hitherto were lost annually, thereby stimulating national production.
Grim humour, indeed ! A man is chased out of a hospital bed simply because he cannot continue the payments. He is hunted back to work and national production improves !
Now let us look at the much publicized medical benefits scheme. A further payment of a sum ranging from ls. 6d. to 3s. a week to an approved friendly society or medical benefits society is required of the taxpayer before he is entitled to receive the Commonwealth subsidy of 6s. for each visit to the doctor in addition to the 6s. he receives from the medical benefits society or friendly society. I stress the point; - and I hope that the people of Australia will, remember it - that the Commonwealth medical benefit is payable only to persons who have insured with a friendly society or a medical benefits society. That is compulsory. A rude awakening awaits many people who expect to receive payment.
Although it may be only coincidental, I point out that doctors’ fees were increased, by 6s. a visit on the 2nd July, the day after this scheme came into operation. I do not suggest that the gentlemen of the medical profession would be so unethical as to take advantage of the average basic wage-earner who is struggling to pay up to 3s. a -week for medical benefits, or imaginary medical benefits, for himself and his family. The local doctor’s prestige in the community is so high that his integrity cannot be questioned, but the fact still remains that his fees were increased by 6s, a visit!
– That is not true.
– Order !
– That is the exact amount of the government subsidy under this scheme. It was so blatant that, nine days after the introduction of the scheme, even the conservative British Medical -Association was forced to issue a warning to doctors that any increases in fees because of the introduction of the medical benefits scheme would, have serious results. Medical fees have skyrocketed and the pharmacists, after protesting to the Government, have been successful in securing higher rates for medicines.
I shall give to honorable members an illustration of the operation of the scheme. The details were given to me by a resident of my electorate who pays 2s. weekly for hospital .benefits and 3s. weekly for medical benefits. This man was suffering from, influenza and was confined to bed at his home. The doctor’s visit cost him 22s. 6d. and one bottle of medicine cost 6s. 6d., a total of £1 9s. He received from the medical benefit fund 7s. 6d. and a Commonwealth subsidy of 6s., a total of 13s. 6d. There was then a balance of 15s. 6d. that he had to pay from his own pocket, and, of course, he still had to pay 5s. weekly insurance while he was sick. Actually, therefore, he paid £1 Os. 6d. Before this scheme came into operation, the doctor’s visit would have cost him 15s. If the medicine had cost 6s. 6d., he would have had to pay in all £1 ls. 6d., so that, actually he was only ls. better off by being a member of a medical benefits fund. To benefit by ls. he had paid a considerable number of weekly payments of 5s.
The figures that I have given indicate the benefits that are derived from this crazy scheme. In spite of all the favorable publicity that has been given by the press and the radio to this so-called national health scheme, a close analysis of it reveals it to be one of the most blatant frauds that has ever been imposed upon the Australian taxpayer. An average sum of 3s. weekly must be paid and that means that every taxpayer will have to pay, on the average, £7 16s. in additional taxation yearly to gain full participation in the scheme. Each taxpayer has paid already his social services contribution and that should entitle him to the proposed benefits without further payment. This scheme gives the lie direct to the Menzies-Fadden promise of reduced taxation that was made at the 1949 and 1951 elections and in the latest budget.
The ever-increasing cost of medical attention and the compulsory reimposition of hospital charges under this obnoxious scheme must be a constant source of worry to all those in need of medical and hospital attention. Imagine the impact that the payment of an additional 3s. a week will have on the lower and fixed income groups. With the purchasing value of the £1 almost at vanishing point and the unending struggle of mothers of families to make the weekly wage envelopes cover the bare essentials of living, they are now faced with a further payment of 3s. a week to- ensure that their families will have adequate medical and hospital attention. Such is the frightful consequence of this Government’s proposals. The electors of Australia must surely be waiting for an opportunity to destroy this tax-happy Government. Much has been said about the assistance that is given to persons who suffer from tuberculosis. This prompted one writer in a Sydneynewspaper to state -
To rob the blind is a scurvy trick, even on the part of a larrikin, but the Canberra Government is only one degree removed by its ruthless war on the pocket money of T.B. victims. . , . The ‘ citizens T.B. League has advised that tuberculosis allowance, payments will henceforth be payable to only those patients who are considered “ a public health risk”. Already we have evidence of speedy implementation of this new interpretation of the Commonwealth Tuberculosis Act because people who are still receiving treatment and who are unable to be classified as arrested of the disease, have had the allowance terminated because it is claimed that they are no longer eligible for the allowance.
I shall now read to honorable members a letter that was sent to a resident of my electorate who is unfortunate enough to be suffering from tuberculosis. The letter was dated the 12th June, 1953, and stated -
I have to inform- you that payment of your tuberculosis allowance has been cancelled from 25.G.53 at the request of the Director of Tuberculosis,
If your invalidity is such as to prevent your obtaining employment, you may make application for sickness benefit, the necessary forms for which may be obtained at any post office. When completed, this application should be forwarded to the Registrar of Sickness Benefit, IOC Goul burn-street, Sydney.
If, however, you consider you ane permanently incapacitated for work to the extent of 85 per cent., it is open to you to make application for invalid pension. The necessary forms may be obtained at any post office and, when completed should be forwarded to this office.
Director of Social Services.
That destroys all claims of this Government to consideration. That letter was sent from a Commonwealth department. This scheme is a sample of political trickery.
-Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I preface my remarks upon this bill by stating that at various times when I have spoken in this House, I have been fortunate enough to speak after the late Mr. W. M. Hughes, who was the honorable member for Bradfield. I always enjoyed that experience because we had several things in common. One was some small association on my part with “Wales, and the other was mutual acquaintance with Warwick in Queensland. At other times, I have been unfortunate enough to follow the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin). I consider myself unfortunate in that respect because he has not. left me any meat to chew.
I should like to begin my speech by referring to some of the statements that have been addressed to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), who introduced this bill and is responsible for its passage through the House. Considering his record in the Australian Government, I consider that some of the statements that have been made have bordered on the scurrilous. I should like to prove that charge by referring to some of the legislation for which he has been responsible. That legislation is still on the statute book and no opposing government has ever thought of repealing it. He established the National Debt Sinking Fund in 1923, which has saved the Commonwealth almost one-half per cent, on every penny of our national debt. That, in itself, is no mean achievement. He’ was also responsible for the establishment of the Australian Loan Council, which we all consider to be extremely useful to the Commonwealth. He also introduced the original Federal Aid Roads Agreement, which has been of considerable advantage. He gave to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia its central banking functions, and was responsible for the establishment of its Rural Credit Department. No one will deny the value of those things. He was also responsible for the establishment of the Australian Agricultural Council, and various boards for the control of the export of wheat, meat and butter. Every member of this Parliament may well be proud of his great record. No one in this House will deny the right honorable gentleman’s political knowledge, his political wisdom and his political astuteness. The health legislation, which has been gradually introduced over a long period and is consolidated in this bill, will work well, provided it is given an opportunity to do so.
Opposition members should not direct scurrilous and specious criticism to this bill,- but should offer constructive suggestions that would be of help to the people. The assistance given by this Government to pensioners; the health insurance scheme, which has been so bitterly criticized by our political opponents but which gives a cover to the family of an insured person; the provision of life-saving drugs to every person who needs them; and the facilities provided for the treatment of sufferers from tuberculosis have all been of great value to the people. I do not say that some of those benefits were not provided by the preceding Labour Government. I merely say that all those benefits have been provided or continued by this Government. The vast improvement, so evident in the hospital position generally, will continue in the years to come.
I shall refer, during the course of my speech, to happenings ,in Queensland, because I know more about the position in that State than in other States. The Queensland Minister for Health has criticized this scheme which, he says, does nothing to help the hospitals. Those persons who criticize the scheme along those lines completely overlook the fact that this Government is sponsoring and paying for the construction of tuberculosis hospitals in every State. In Queensland alone, it is spending millions of pounds for that purpose, and is being extremely generous in allowing the State Government to act as its agent in the matter. This Government is building tuberculosis hospitals at Chermside, Toowoomba, Rockhampton and Townsville at a cost of millions of ‘ pounds. That work is of national importance.
This Government has also continued the immunization of children against various diseases, a work which was begun by the Labour Government. All those benefits form part and parcel of the health scheme that has been gradually brought into being by .this Government. For the second time in the space of a few years, a health scheme is being submitted to the nation. A government that introduced a socialist health scheme in the United Kingdom not many years ago eventually had to admit that it had bitten off more than it could chew and that the cost of the scheme wa3 more than the people could be expected to bear.
– The following government continued the scheme.
– But not in its entirety. The Labour Government modified it and the Churchill Government subsequently modified it still further. I venture to suggest that the scheme which is covered by the legislation before us, some portions of which have been in operation for more than a year, is, in its way, the most outstanding health scheme in the world. It provides us with an opportunity to test the difference between two philosophies. The first is that of the complete welfare State, which is believed in by Opposition members, but which they should have the decency to admit will not work, as was proved by the socialist experiment in the United Kingdom. The second philosophy is that which is responsible for the scheme introduced by this Government with the co-operation of all sections of the community. The last paragraph of the type-written copy of the speech of the Minister for Health, which was circulated to honorable members and which was given the heading “ Spirit of Service “ reads as follows : -
Voluntary co-operation, mutual understanding, self-help and mutual help breathe the spirit of service into the whole system. They provide a realistic basis for the attempt, on n national scale, to relieve human suffering, prevent sickness, provide the best possible service, and bring to all individuals maximum health and happiness.
The Government does not attempt to achieve its objective at the cost of the moral fibre and integrity of the people. lt asks the people to participate in the scheme and to help themselves. That is one of the essentials of any successful health scheme. “We must strengthen the moral fibre of the people, and not encourage them to depend entirely upon government gratuities, as honorable members opposite do. ,
It is natural that Opposition members should oppose some of the proposals contained in this national health scheme. They admit frankly that they adopt a socialist attitude on this matter. They have said that they will repeal this legislation if they are given the opportunity to do so. It would be a tragedy if they repealed it before we had an opportunity to prove that it is workable and that the people of Australia want it. So far there is every indication that it is. workable and that the people want it.
One of the outstanding features of th is scheme is the absence of undue government regulation and direction. It is a co-operative scheme in which people are encouraged to help one another. It would break down if the members of the British Medical Association forgot their responsibilities to the individual. If, by mischance, even a minority of the doctors tended to increase their fees in the knowledge that the Government was contributing a proportion of them, the scheme would suffer irreparable damage. Likewise, if the chemists do not operate within the scheme on a straightforward and honest basis, they will damage it to a serious degree. Of course, in a scheme of this kind, anomalies are bound to arise, but I believe that they will be overcome with the passage of time. I am confident that if honorable members opposite should regain office within the next few years, after the scheme has had an opportunity to prove its effectiveness, they will throw their present ideas overboard and retain it.
I desire to refer to certain provisions contained in the bill which many people may regard as being of only limited interest, but which, in my view, are most important. I refer to clauses 9 and 11. Under clause 9 the Government may provide for aerial, medical and dental ser- vices. That provision is an outstanding feature of the measure, because it will enable the Government to provide greater assistance to the flying doctor service. That service, which was inaugurated 28 years ago by the Australian Inland Mission, has developed to impressive proportions. It is administered on an area basis. It is providing a wonderful service to the people of Australia. Evidence of that fact is reflected by statistics in respect of the operation of the service in Queensland alone. “Whilst costs incurred on the flying side amounted to approximately £8,000 in 1950-51, those costs had risen to £20,000 in 1951-52 and to £24,000 in 1952-53. Last year, in Queensland alone, the service flew 98,250 miles on missions of assistance to the sick and injured in outback areas. During last year the service provided treatment for
I, 637 whites and 461 aborigines, advised treatment by radio in 770 cases and immunized approximately 80 children. In Queensland, the service maintains 212 pedal radio stations. During last year, it handled 43,S44 radiograms in tha’ State. Many of those messages do not relate to the medical services in any way whatever. That facility is widely used by residents on outback stations for the transmission of messages of a genera! nature, including orders for stores. The flying doctor service readily co-operates with the people of the outback in that direction.
It is estimated that the expenditure on the service during the current financial year will amount to £50,000, of which £30,000 will be incurred directly in respect of flying. The service acquires aircraft on a basis that will enable it to pay off the purchase price over a period of six years. On that basis, flying costs work out at an average of, approximately, 5s. for each mile flown. The radio service that is provided, particularly in the northern and central areas, is of considerable value to the nation from a defence view-point. During “World “War
In addition, the facilities provided by the flying doctor service has encouraged settlement in the outback. The knowledge that medical treatment will be available in such areas has encouraged many couples to get married and to rear families in such areas. In that respect, the service has contributed substantially to the development of the northern and central portions of the continent where increased population is a primary requirement. In addition, the radio facilities controlled by the. service have been made available for the transmission of material to supplement correspondence courses to children in the outback. As in the defence sphere, the service has proved its value in the educational sphere also. Another point that should be taken into consideration is that, at present, the flying doctor can take off and land only in daylight. It is beyond the financial resources of the service to improve and maintain flying strips. In this respect, it urgently requires assistance. The service could extend and improve the facilities that it provides at present in each of the important spheres that I have indicated, if the requisite assistance were made available to it. For that reason, I welcome the provision in the bill that will enable the Government to assist to a greater degree in caring for the health of residents in the outback. On that ground alone, the service should be accepted more and more as a Commonwealth financial responsibility. Dr. Alan Vickers of the flying doctor service intends to visit Canberra tomorrow, and I am pleased that the Minister for Health has agreed to discuss with him certain aspects of the service. Dr. Vickers has done wonderful work as an officer of the servcie. I have been led to understand that the actual direct Commonwealth grant in cash for flying doctor services throughout Australia has been at the rate of approximately £12,500 per annum during the last four years. I am not certain whether that figure is correct, but I understand that it is. I sincerely hope that, in one way or another, that amount will be considerably increased. Three bases are maintained in Queensland, and normally four aircraft are required. The grant which the flying doctor service in that State receives from the Commonwealth is from £2,500 to £3,000 a year. I believe that these matters are Commonwealth responsibilities, and I do not consider that such a grant is anything like enough if this service is to be expanded in the way in which it should be, in the interests of the development of our Commonwealth, and the safety of the people who live in , remote areas.
I congratulate the Government on the introduction of this bill. I believe that it is an outstanding piece of legislation in our world to-day, and that other countries will copy the ideas embodied in it. It is another achievement that the Minister for Health can add to his long list of successes.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Thompson) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) read a first time.
The following papers were presented : -
Papua - Report to General Assembly of the United Nations on Administration of Papua for year 1951-52.
Services Trust Funds Act - Royal Australian Air Force Welfare Trust Fund: - Annual Report for year 1951-52.
House adjourned at 11.13 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
How many people were killed on our roads andhow many were injured in road accidents in - (a) each of the States, and (b) throughout the Commonwealth during each of the years from 1939 to 1952?
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following information. -
The following is a statement setting out the number of people killed and injured in road accidents during the years 1939-40 to 1952-53 in - (a) each of the States, and (b) throughout the Commonwealth: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 November 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19531119_reps_20_hor2/>.