21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. P. -Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question relating to the exercise of power by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Is it a fact that during the past twelve months requests made by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to the private trading banks with respect to credit policy have been ignored by the great majority of the trading banks? Has the Government itself, or the Treasurer, intervened in the matter? “What is the present position? Is there any statutory directive under the Banking Act from the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to the private trading hanks with respect to the credit policy which the Commonwealth Bank desires?
– There is, at the moment, a comparatively new directive on this matter, a directive worked out by the Governor, discussed by the trading banks and, I am happy to say, accepted -all around as a sensible measure of control. As for what has happened in the past, I propose, next week, to make a statement on the matters that we are concerned with, and as the right honor.able gentleman has asked me this question, I should perhaps take this early opportunity of saying that what we are considering, and what we propose to deal with in one way or another, is not some crisis but a problem which ought to be dealt with now, in order that we may not have some critical state of affairs in the future. Therefore, there is no occasion for exaggerated statements on these matters - not that I am saying that the right honorable gentleman has made one. What I have been doing, as the head of the Government, is to have a series of conferences with various representative groups of responsibility and influence, the ultimate purpose being to observe some self-restraint - that is what it amounts to - in the period of the next six or nine months in order that we may not have some highly difficult problem.
I have thought fit to talk to a variety of groups of people. This morning, for example, after I had seen a number of others, I saw representatives of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and this afternoon representatives of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures. Later, I am to see the representatives of the trade union movement. I have already seen the representatives of the retail traders, bankers, stock exchanges, under-writers, and hire-purchase finance people. This is, in reality, what I may hope to describe as an experiment in co-operative understanding of a national problem. It is not to be misunderstood by anybody saying, “ You are looking for a policy”, because I must confess that I have gone into each of those conferences with a perfectly clear mind, and have been delighted to find how wide an understanding there is in all those quarters of the nature of the problem. ] have no doubt that, as a result of this experiment-
Mr. Ward interjecting,
– We will be able to deal with this matter, which has arisen from the balance of payments situation, without any panic - except in East Sydney - with good sense all round, a high degree of common understanding, and great satisfaction to the people of Australia, who will, as a result of thesethings. continue to enjoy record prosperity.
– Can the Minister for Labour and National Service inform the House of action taken by the Government following the report of the committee of inquiry into apprenticeship matters which the Government set up some time ago?
– A good deal of action has been taken following the report of this committee of inquiry which, as the honorable member has said, was set up by this Government. We have taken action at a departmental level, and there have been communications between the Prime Minister and the Premiers of the various States. There have also been consultations - again at departmental level - between the Department of Labour and National Service and the corresponding departments in the various State administrations. As to give a full answer to the question asked by the honorable member would take more time r,han I think fitting to occupy in replying to a question asked without notice, [ shall try to furnish a more detailed reply when the departmental estimates are being considered by the Committee “f Supply.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Labour and National Service been drawn to the fact that employers have stated that they intend to appeal to the Privy Council against the decision of the High Court that the provisions of State legislation granting to employees working under State awards the right to long service leave applies also to employees in the State who are working under federal awards? If the attention of the Minister has been drawn to that fact, will he recommend to the Government that the Commonwealth should intervene to prevent, if possible, such an appeal on an industrial matter being made to the Privy Council overseas, in order that the workers of Australia will at least know that arbitration matters are being settled here by our own courts - not overseas by courts that should more properly deal with constituional questions?
– I have not seen any such report. As to the latter part of the honorable gentleman’s question^ the Government would be, I imagine, very reluctant under any circumstances to interfere with the normal legal rights possessed by the citizens. However, I shall examine the substance of the question to see whether further consideration can be given to the matter.
– I ask the Prime Minister, in view of criticism that has been levelled in. certain quarters, whether he can assure the House that all practical steps are being taken by the Government to encourage the investment of American capital in this country as an important aid to our development.
– I confess that I was not aware of these criticisms. We welcome investments from overseas. It is a very, very important constituent in our economy. As, no doubt, the honorable member referred to the investment of private capital, I add that we welcome such investment. At one stage we were told that double taxation constituted some harrier to it. We effected with the United States of America, in the first place, a double taxation agreement of great advantage. In one way or another, the problems of foreign capital invested here have been dealt with, I think, sensibly from time to time. Any criticism of the handling of that problem is certainly not criticism that I share. Indeed, the inflow of foreign capital is one of those things that make it less necessary lor us to feel disturbed about our balance of payments and our international reserves.
– 1 direct to the Minister for Labour and National Service a question supplementary to one that I asked him last week about section 31 (l.)(a) of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Is the Minister conscious of the fact that, until the Government amends that section, there exists an appeal to the High Court only in matters affecting award provisions and breaches thereof decided by a civil court? This situation arises from the Long Service Leave case in which the decision of the High Court indicated that the Arbitration Court could hear appeals only from its own jurisdiction. Now an appeal from a civil court in relation to award breaches or the testing of an award matter can only be decided by the High Court. The recent decision of the court has given ground for considerable unrest in the trade union movement. In the light of this situation, can the Minister inform the House when this most unsatisfactory position will be referred to the Parliament by way of an appropriate amendment of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act?
– As the honorable member’s question itself indicates, this is a highly involved and very technical matter. 1 appreciate the fact that it is of considerable importance. I am not in a position at this stage to give the honorable member the kind of answer that he has requested, but I shall consider carefully the question that he has put to me to-day.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he intends to include a meeting with representatives of the primary industries in the series of talks that he is having with hankers, industrialists and trade union leaders.
– The discussions that I am having at present are highly material at this -point of time. On Tuesday next, I shall make a statement on the general problem.
– Do not become sick again.
– I hope not to become sick. I should be much better if the honorable member for East Sydney stayed away from the House.
– I am sure the Prime Minister would be much better.
– I certainly would; I. cannot stand germs. I assure the honorable member for Gwydir that I am highly conscious of the importance of consultations with representatives of the primary industries. I propose, immediately following my statement in the House next Tuesday, to have with representatives of those industries, conferences, the purpose of which will be made fully apparent by the statement that I propose to make. I am not by any means overlooking the primary industries. I attach great importance to discussions with representatives of them.
– I address a question to the Postmaster-General, to whom I last week directed a question concerning complaints about the difficulties of receiving broadcasts in certain areas in Western Australia. I accepted the Minister’s reply to that question as being satisfactory. I now ask the honorable gentleman whether he is aware that the reception of short-wave broadcasts in the north-western and gold-fields districts of Western Australia is most unsatisfactory because the broadcasts are swamped by transmissions from overseas stations on frequencies adjoining those of the national stations, particularly on the 32-metre baud. Will the Minister consider the advisability of increasing the power of the national stations to improve reception in those districts?
– We are conscious of the difficulties of short-wave reception in Western Australia, and my technical officers have been devoting a great deal of attention to it in order to ascertain what can be done in order to rectify the deficiencies. It is not altogether certain that an increase in power is the answer to the problem. I am informed that because the frequencies are so close together, it would be most questionable whether an increase in power would remedy the situation. However, the department is looking at the matter very carefully, and the honorable member can be assured that we shall do all that we can.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Supply. What sources of supply of bauxite are available to the Australian Aluminium Production Commission? Is it proposed to utilize the Victorian and Tasmanian deposits? Can the Minister indicate what reserves of bauxite are available in Australia?
– The first source of supply of bauxite that we have for the Bell Bay project is a stockpile of Malayan bauxite, part of which was brought into Australia during the war and part of which has been imported since. The plant which is already operating on alumina production, and which will be opened for aluminium production by the Prime Minister on Friday next, has been using Malayan bauxite for technical reasons, but it is hoped that, later on, the plant will change over to bauxite of Australian origin. As to the source of supply, speaking from memory, we have already a reserve of some 10,000,000 tons in the Wessell Island area, off the coast of northern Australia. Quite recently, a qualitative survey of the Arnhem Land district revealed what looks like some 50,000,000 tons of high-grade bauxite in that area. The survey was conducted by the Australian Government in conjunction with the British Aluminium Company in a joint venture which we are operating. We are pursuing those investigations, and I hope that the results will be even more encouraging than they have been so far.
– Will the Minister for Health explain to the House why cortisone is so expensive and why it is not listed as an item in the Government’s so-called free medical health scheme in order that it may be available to pensioners and other people on low incomes? Arthritis sufferers in my electorate for whom doctors have prescribed this drug cannot afford the treatment because of its expensiveness. The Minister knows that cortisone is the only treatment which gives relief for certain categories of arthritis. In the circumstances, I request the right honorable gentleman to make some arrangement to reserve a proportion of the supply of cortisone so that it may be made available free to those citizens who are in indigent circumstances. Treatment in tablet form, or by injection costs about £7 a week, and minor treatment cost3 about £3 10s. a week. The Minister knows that this cost is beyond the mean3 of many sufferers.
– It is unfortunate that the honorable member for Banks was not in the chamber when I spoke on this matter last night. 1 pointed out then that cortisone is one of the most dangerous drugs in the whole armamentarium of medicine. Therefore, it should not be used in these haphazard ways.
– I am not suggesting its haphazard use.
– The honorable member is. Cortisone, like every other dangerous drug and every life-saving drug, is examined by the body of specialists who have been specially appointed under the relevant act of Parliament. This is the only authority to recommend to the Government the drugs that should be put on the free list. The body of specialists has placed cortisone on that list in respect of four specific diseases, and has stated that those am the only diseases for which it should be used. There is no authority in the existing act to permit anything else to be done in that respect.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation inform the House whether it is a fact that the standard of general requirements for civil aviation purposes in the Northern Territory is higher than that which is required in New Guinea?’ Is it a fact that the lower standard in New Guinea is allowed on the grounds that developmental work is being carried on there? Will the Minister consider lowering the standard of requirements in the Northern Territory in areas which need airstrips for developmental parposes ?
– As far as I am aware, the Air Navigation Regulations which are in force apply to all parts of the country. In the Papua-New Guinea region a certain amount of flexibility is allowed for the obvious reason that there are places to which it would be impossibleto get by air unless some of the International Civil Aviation Organization regulations, for instance, were waived. Whilst we agree to this in that area, because nothing much else could be done, we do not like having to do it; but, broadly speaking the Air Navigation Regulations apply everywhere in Australia and its territories. I can follow the trend, however, of the honorable member’s question. He wants me to see whether we can permit similar flexibility in regard to regulations in the Northern Territory, and I shall be happy to look into the matter.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Supply. Having regard to the final cost of construction of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission’s plant at Bell Bay, in Tasmania, and the ridiculously low figure which has been decided upon as an ex gratia payment to the Georgetown Municipal Council in lieu of rates, -will’ the Minister undertake to review the assessment, with a view to arriving at asum more in keeping with the rateable value of the project, and which will enable the council to discharge the obligations that the presence of the industry in that area places on the municipality?
– I do not know about the “ ridiculously low figure “ to which the honorable member has referred. The figure was discussed by me with the Tasmanian Premier, and was accepted by him as a reasonable figure in the circumstances.
Mr. Barnard interjecting,
– If the honorable gentleman wants an answer to his question he must keep quiet, otherwise I shall not give him an answer. 1 say that the alleged ridiculously low figure is one which, on my understanding, was accepted by the Premier of Tasmania, as a fair figure in the circumstances. When this project gets fully under way and is a paying concern, as we hope it will be, we can have another look at the figure; but I remind the honorable gentleman that at the moment there is no obligation on this Government instrumentality to pay anything to the municipality, but it made an ex gratia payment, which was accepted as fair by the Tasmanian Government, in order to help the Georgetown Council, and my understanding of the matter is that the Georgetown Council is extremely grateful for it.
– Can the Prime Minister confirm or deny strong rumours current among ex-prisoners of war associations that the further payment to ex-prisoners of war from, the proceeds of the sale of former Japanese assets will be made very soon to ex-prisoners of war of the Japanese? Is it yet possible for him to give any indication of the probable amount of the payments?
– I cannot throw any light on that matter, but I realize that the honorable member has a very keen interest in it, as indeed we all have had for a Ion? time. I shall find out right away what the position is. I had not actually heard of any impending payment, but with my other pre-occupations in the last few days it does not follow that I should have heard of it, even had something been proposed in that direction.
– Can the Minister for Territories indicate when details will be announced of the scheme whereby civil servants and other Commonwealth tenants in the Northern Territory will be allowed to purchase the homes in which they live? I remind the Minister that such a scheme has been in operation in the Australian Capital Territory since the last sessional period of the Parliament, and it is felt in the Northern Territory that there has been undue delay in it? introduction there.
– I was under the impression that an announcement had been made regarding that matter, and it surprises me to hear that one has not been made. I shall make inquiries and inform the honorable member accordingly.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Included in the very excellent amendments of the Income Tax Act that have been introduced by this Government is a provision relating to the exemption of certain income of aged persons. That exemption has been related to the amount of the age pension. In view of the increase of 10s. in the pension, will the right honorable gentleman consider’ increasing the exemption under the act in order to maintain taxation equality between pensioners and those persons who receive a similar income from other sources ?
– I confess to not being as expert on this matter as is the honorable member, but I will certainly have his suggestion examined.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Services. Can an ex-serviceman who is purchasing his home on terms from the Department of the Interior obtain finance from the War Service Homes Division in order to make additions to that house to provide for an increasing family, or is he debarred by the amendment of the act which removed the provision relating to the discharge of mortgages? If he is so debarred, will the Minister consider amending the legislation so that, in cases where the existing mortgage is held by the Commonwealth through either a department or another authority, assistance may be given by way of providing additional finance ?
– The honorable gentleman did not state whether he was referring to people who had obtained an advance from the War Service Homes Division.
– No, I was not referring to such people.
– In that case, I do not think the substance of his question is correct. I doubt very much whether it has anything to do with the division or the Department of Social Services.
– My question is directed to the Minister who is acting for the Minister for External Affairs. I refer to various complaints that very few Australian sporting teams visit India and South-East Asian countries. Will the Minister try to stimulate such adventures as a means of informing our neighbours about Australia and of generating goodwill ? Perhaps a series of test matches would achieve more than a shipment of tractors, or even as much as the longdeferred tour of a parliamentary delegation.
– I agree that it is very desirable that certain sporting teams should visit South-East Asian countries, because such visits would promote a lot of goodwill towards Australia. T should like to see a cricket eleven or a tennis team visit those areas. I understand that my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, has already taken a real interest in this matter, and has suggested to various sporting authorities that they should take steps in this direction. I understand - and I think the honorable member will agree - that certain financial implications would be involved in such a step. Moreover, it has been found that the members of such teams are not always able to devote the necessary time to the purpose in question. I assure the honorable member that I shall pursue his suggestion, because I entirely agree with it.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister a question. Yesterday, during the absence of the right honorable gentleman, I asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council, who was acting on his behalf, whether the full text of the communication on housing that was sent to the Premier of Victoria would be made available to honorable members. The Vice-President of the Executive Council very kindly stated that he would convey my request to the Prime Minister. Has the right honorable gentleman decided to submit the full text of that communication to the House?
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council meticulously honoured his promise, as he usually does, and conveyed the honorable member’s remarks to me. For various reasons, I have not had a chance since of looking at the letter to ascertain whether there is any reason why its text should not be conveyed to the House. I will want to be satisfied that there is a good reason for not doing so. If there is no such reason. I will certainly do as he has requested, but I must first look at the letter again.
– Does the Minister for Labour and National Service know that concern is felt by some members of the miners’ federation, arising from fears of some unemployment as the result of a falling off in the demand for coal by certain regular coal users? Will he say what action the Commonwealth is taking to meet any unemployment problem thus created and to deal with the employment position in the coal industry generally?
– A few weeks ago, the Minister for National Development and I received a deputation from the coal industry, consisting of representatives of the employers and representatives of the miners’ federation. They pointed out to us that certain developments in the coal industry, arising from some falling off of consumer usage and some re-organization within the industry, were likely to cause some unemployment. We undertook to examine the situation. Discussions at a departmental level have been held between officers of the Department of National
Development and officers of the Department of Labour and National Service. Some action has been taken in relation to employment. We established an employment committee, on the lines of a committee that operated so successfully previously when somewhat similar problems arose in the mining industry. We feel that employment committees will enable us to overcome any difficulty that may arise from the displacement of labour in some mines. With regard to the larger question of the future of the industry, my colleague and I intimated to the members of the deputation which came to see us that we would be happy to resume our discussions with them at a time convenient to them. I understand that the president of the Australian Council of Trades Onions will not return from his vacation until some time in October. We expect that by about the middle of October, it will he possible to resume our discussion of the matters that were before us on the previous occasion.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Services. Is it a fact that the services of approved valuators previously used by the War Service Homes Division in Newcastle have been dispensed with since August of this year and that they have been replaced by the division’s own valuators? Is it true that an applicant must already wait for four and a half months for the valuation of a property, which takes up to six weeks to complete? Will the Minister examine the complaints that have been made about this matter with a view to providing the best possible service for people seeking valuations of properties, when finance is sought from the War Service Homes Division?
– I am glad that the honorable member has given me an opportunity to say that it is always the intention of the War Service Homes Division to give the best possible service to ex-servicemen, whether they reside in Newcastle or in any other part of Australia. I do not know whether there has been a change of the valuers employed in Newcastle. It is the policy of the division to use its own valuers, whenever that is practicable. If the division has its own valuers in Newcastle, naturally they would take the place of outside valuers. Nonetheless, I shall examine this matter. If there is any help that I can give to the honorable gentleman, I shall be only too happy to let him know. I assure him that the objective of the division is to provide an efficient service and as quickly as possible.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister, who is acting for the Treasurer. Does the right honorable gentleman recall that the debate on the Estimates for the Department of the Treasury, under which the affairs of the Commonwealth Bank were discussed, concluded at 10 p.m. yesterday, in accordance with a long-standing arrangement? Is he aware that most honorable membersreceived this morning the annual report of the Commonwealth Bank, which contains material which would have been very relevant to that debate and which they would have liked to have in their possession before the debate concluded? If that is nothing more than an unhappy coincidence, is it not indicative of a little bit of lax management? Can the Prime Minister give an assurance that when the Estimates are before the Parliament, all possible official papers relevant to them will be placed in the possession of honorable members in time for them to be used at the appropriate stages of the debate?
– I confess that when I received a copy of the bank’s report - I think latish last night, but I am not quite sure - I was rather surprised that we had not received it before, in time for the debate on the Treasury Estimates. It is eminently desirable that all such reports should, if humanly possible, be in the hands of honorable members before the Estimates are debated. I shall ascertain the reason for the delay on this occasion, and I shall certainly do everything that I can to see that such an event does not occur again.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Air, refers to a recent air accident in Western Australia in which a member of the Citizen Air Force was involved. Is it a fact that repatriation benefits do not apply to a member of the Citizen Air Force or his dependants, but that a lower rate of compensation is paid? If this is so, bearing in mind that these men are training to defend their country, would the Minister discuss with the Minister for Repatriation the matter of amending the Repatriation Act to provide that benefits to members of the Citizen Air Force shall be similar to those that apply to members of the Royal Australian Air Force?
– Compensation payments, retirement benefits and so on, in respect of all sections of the armed forces are constantly under review, but I shall take the honorable member’s comments into consideration when they are being discussed again.
– Has the Minister for Immigration examined the reports that a Russian diplomat en route to New Zealand was prevented by officers of the Department of Immigration from landing in Australia? If so, can he give the Souse the facts in relation to this episode ?
– When I had brought to my notice the report that appeared in yesterday afternoon’s press, I asked for a statement from the department with reference to these events. I find that what were comparatively minor events have been magnified into an international incident, partly because of some misunderstanding as to the actual occurrence on the part of the gentleman directly involved, and partly because of a highly colourful press treatment of the incident itself. Apparently, what happened was what normally happens to a person carrying a diplomatic passport coming either to Australia, or en route to another country through Australia. The passport was taken when the vessel arrived at Fremantle and, in order to avoid any embarrassment to the person concerned through having to wait in a long queue of passengers who were having their passports examined, it was examined privately and then handed to the ship’s purser. Apparently, the diplomat was not aware that the purser had it and formed the opinion that, in some way, he was being restrained from landing on Australian’ soil. That was certainly not the case, for,, although not travelling with an Australian vise, he did possess a letter from the British Ambassador at Moscow asking, that the normal courtesies be extended to him, and this, I am sure, has been done in all instances. When he reached Melbourne, an officer of the Department of Immigration called on him there and explained the circumstances to him. There was not, as a section of the presshas reported, an official apology tendered by this officer, because there was nothing about which to apologize, but the officer did explain the circumstances, and I understand that the diplomat expressed his regret that there had been any misunderstanding on his part. It has been made clear to him that he is free to land and move about here before his vessel moves on, whether it be in. Melbourne or in Sydney. I think that he is now completely aware of the circumstances, and he has no impression, whatsoever of any slight being intended or effected by any Australian citizen or officer of this Government.
– Has the Postmaster-General been reminded by the president of the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations of the very severe strictures which he passed on section 6k (2.) of the Broadcasting Act in 1948? He described it as of considerable danger to religious freedom of the air, and as a provision which must cause great disquiet to religious organizations, particularly those that had been attacking the menace of communism in Australia. Was the Minister’s criticism in 1948 utterly baseless? If not, how does he explain his inaction over the past sis years ?
– The Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations has been in constant touch with me on various matters affecting the Broadcasting Act. The act is under consideration at the present time, and amendments will come up before very long. I said yesterday that such matters would be dealt with during this sessional period or the next. However, we have taken into consideration all representations made by the federation and also by other people who are interested in the matter. The things that one may have said in 1948 are past history now. The fact is that the administration of the act, under this Government, has been very satisfactory to the Australian commercial broadcasting stations, and there has been no complaint from them in that regard.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that be has publicly stated that it is neither the intention nor the desire of hi3 Government to force Australian Military Forces upon the Malayan nation or people? Is it also a fact that the leader of the United Malays National Association, which is the largest group in the organization known as the Triple Alliance, which last month overwhelmingly won the first election of a representative government for the Federation of Malaya, has said that “ the arrival of Australian troops in Malaya was ill-timed and a psychological blunder”, and that “personally he was against sending more troops to Malaya “ ? [f these are facts, will the Prime Minister state whether his Government proposes to respect the opinion of the leaders of the Malayan nation and arrange for the early return of the Australian forces who have already arrived at, or are proceeding to, Malaya, and to abandon the plan to send Australian forces to a country where it is quite evident they are not r.o be welcomed by the elected government ?
– In the first place, the honorable member will not be surprised to know that I do not recognize any of his alleged facts as facts at all. We have all understood for a long time his great anxiety that Australia should be undefended in the right places.
– Answer the question now, and do not talk a lot of rubbish.
– Order ! The honorable member for East Sydney will remain quiet.
– That would have all the charm of novelty. As for the allega tion, which I have read in certain journals, that the arrival of Australian and New Zealand troops in Malaya is against the will of the Malayan people, every shred of information that we have - I admit we do not get it from the Tribune - is to the contrary.
– Can the Minister for Civil Aviation yet produce the reports of Trans-Australia Airlines, Qantas Empire Airways and Tasman Empire Airlines for the information of the Parliament, or are those documents, like the Commonwealth Bank’s report, to be delivered immediately after the discussion of the Estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation has concluded ?
– The production of the reports is a matter for the companies concerned. They have come to me, and, I believe, are in the hands of the printers. They will be tabled immediately I receive them.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
– I have received letters from the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), who is the Deputy Leader of the Anti-Communist Labour party, proposing that definite matters of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion to-day. I have selected the matter proposed by the honorable member for Hunter, namely -
The present critical position in the coal industry, threatening further and serious unemployment.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
.- For several years, I have warned this Government on many occasions of the threat of oil to Australia, and requested the Government to take action to produce oil from coal. In fact, for the last twenty years I have advocated the production of oil from coal in this country. I have seen the process undertaken in Great Britain, France, Holland and Germany in particular. Those countries are producing all the residual oil they require. That is not being done in Australia, despite the fact that we are so far from the centre of oil supplies. If another war should take place, our oil supplies could be cut off, and our aeroplanes and everything else that requires oil for fuel would be immobilized.
On my return from overseas, I submitted a report to the Government recommending, not only the production of oil from coal, but also a stowage system. Because Australia is not producing oil from coal, and because of the lack of such a stowage system, this country has no market for its small coal. What has killed the market for small coal has been the open cut. This method of obtaining coal has been responsible for putting into the small coal a considerable quantity of refuse and dirt, thus making it unmarketable, although, during the war, it certainly was marketable.
We in Australia should do something about this problem. Instead of importing oil from foreign countries, and helping to cripple the coal-mining industry by fostering competition from foreign oil, we should produce our own oil from our own coal. As I have said, I visited Great Britain, France, Holland and Germany, and all those countries, as well as America, are producing oil from coal. Time and time again, I have reminded this Government of the warnings that have been sounded by leading geologists of the world that the known deposits of well oil will be exhausted within 50 years. It is high time that something was done about this matter, because we should be in a pretty mess in the event of future wars if oil were not available as fuel for combustion engines. And the combustion engine is certainly not going out of existence! As we all know, the State Electricity Commission of Victoria is making briquettes from the Morwell deposits of inferior brown coal. Why should not we clean coal won from the small, rich Greta seams, by the use of washing plant, and convert it into briquettes ?
As I have said previously, I am greatly concerned about the crisis that is developing in the coal industry. Only last Friday night, I attended a meeting at Greta which was called to discuss the closing down of the Leconfield colliery, and conditions in the coal industry generally. Many honorable members will recollect disasters that occurred in the coal mines at Greta in which men were blown to eternity. At one time, Greta degenerated into a ghost town, but during the term of office of the Curtin and Chifley governments it was again built up. The mines resumed production and the inhabitants of Greta were happy and contented. Now, 92 Australian breadwinners have lost their jobs at the Leconfield colliery, from what was, just over ten years ago, an essential basic industry, and which was responsible for enabling us to gear Australia’s war effort to a pitch never previously thought possible. It will be remembered that during the worst periods of the war, the coal-miners worked on every day of the week. In fact, the authorities were hard put to it to prevent too many coal-miners from enlisting in the armed forces. The coalmining industry has the best record in the industrial sphere in the number of men who offered their lives or their limbs in order to defend Australia. At the meeting that I have just mentioned, I was acutely aware of the pained and stunned looks on the faces of many women who were nursing babies, which revealed their despair and what may be termed the heritage of hate that has been engendered in their hearts by the introduction by the coal-owners of the capitalistic system practised in England and other countries. The happiness and contentment of the residents of Greta have been destroyed by the refining in Australia of residual oil imported from foreign countries. Why cannot our coal be treated in the way that coal in Germany, England. Holland and other countries is treated? The coal-miners are alarmed at the obvious effect on the coal industry of the operations of oil refineries which have been recently established in Australia. Every effort should be made to produce oil from coal in this country.
As I have mentioned in this chamber on previous occasions, there is no reason why electric power should not be available along the whole of the east coast of Australia. Furthermore, gas should be piped to country areas in order to enable the womenfolk there to enjoy amenities similar to those enjoyed by the women of the cities. This is one suggestion that the members of the Australian Country party should support readily. As matters stand, the only time that the miners hear much about gas is when a disaster occurs and some of their number are blown to eternity. It is not available for domestic use on the coal-fields. Why should not gas be supplied to their homes? They produce the coal from which the gas is generated in Sydney, Melbourne, and other places where deposits of gas coal are not available. As I have stated repeatedly, gas could be produced at the pit tops of the coal-fields from Gunnedah to Maitland, and piped to the southern districts of New South Wales and Victoria. Why should not the miners’ wives be able to cook by gas and enjoy the comfort of gas fires and other gas appliances? If our own industry had been developed along those lines, coalminers would not now be faced with the prospect of unemployment. I point out that, apart from gas and oil, coal contains many chemicals. If, in addition to gas works and plant to extract oil from coal, there were established chemical industries nearby, the miners who are now losing their jobs could readily obtain alternative employment.
At times, I am forced to the conclusion that this Government is angling for another depression. I make that statement deliberately, because the things that are happening to-day are similar to those which occurred prior to the lock-outs of miners in 1929 and 1930, at the beginning of the depression. It will be remembered that, despite the decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, the production of coal was arbitrarily reduced by 12^ per cent., and the miners were locked out for fifteen months. No effort was made to force the coal-owners to re-open the mines. Some older members of the Parliament will recall the stand that I took on that occasion against the Bruce-Page Government. Subsequently, when the Labour Government of which T was a member failed to remedy the situation, I raised the matter for discussion as a matter of urgency. I do not think that any honorable member will question my honesty and sincerity throughout the whole of my political life in my fight on behalf of the coal-miners. I am not ashamed of my record. 3 believe that many supporters of the Government are prepared to submit to political strangulation in order that a Labour government might again be elected to office for the purpose of restoring balance to our economy, as the Scullin Government did after the Bruce-Page Government left the country in a financial mess. It will he recalled that. Mr. Bruce, now Viscount Bruce, was defeated in his own electorate by the then secretary of the Trades and Labour Council, Mr. Holloway. That was the first time in the history of this country that a Prime Minister was defeated in his own electorate. However, we should face up to the problems of the present rather than go into history. I am confident that we could solve our present problems by implementing the suggestion? that I have made.
This Government is not doing its job. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated that he wanted a pool of unemployment. Unless the position in the coal industry is remedied, he will have a flood of unemployment, which will strangle the Government. Of course, as I have already said, many supporters of the Government realize that only a Labour administration could restore balance to our economy, as was the case when the Scullin Government cleaned up the mess that was left by the Bruce-Page Administration.
I say in conclusion that the miners have always had faith in Australia and have always fought in its interests. I quote again the following words, which 1 once quoted when the Scullin Government was in office: -
GIVE US MEN.
God give lis men ! A time like this demandStrong wills, clear heads, true hearts, and read)- hands; Men whom the lust of office does not kill; Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy: Men who possess opinions, and a will; Men who have honour: men who will not lie. ‘For while the rabble, with their narrow creeds.
Their large professions, and their little deeds,
Wrangle in selfish strife, Lo ! Freedom sleeps, Wrong rules the land, and waiting Justice weeps. 1 have said before, and I say again, that our present economic system sows the seeds of destruction in the blast of public opinion, and that the general economic pressure is responsible for the growth of communism. Communism developed more in Australia after the 1929-30 lockout than ever before, and it will grow again. The Government encourages it, because it suits its purposes. Whenever I have been opposed by a Communist candidate at an election, the Communist preferences have been given to the Liberal candidate contesting the election under one of the many names by which the Liberal party has been known. At one time it was known as the Nationalist party.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Ordinarily, honorable members would have been engaged at this time on the business before the Committee of Supply - the consideration of the Estimates upon which a time-table has been imposed by an earlier decision of the House. It is a little ironic to find, as we have done this afternoon, that both sections of the Australian Labour party in this House, each of which strenuously resisted and voted against the allocation of time determined by the Government, have proposed matters for discussion and so taken up some of the time available for the consideration of the Estimates. I point out to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) that the consideration of the estimates for the Department of Labour and National Service on Tuesday of next week will afford him the opportunity to make the kind of speech that he has just made. I do not challenge the fact that the matter that he has raised is important, but before I deal with it on its merits, I suggest that the proposal by the two sections. of the Australian Labour party of these matters for discussion this afternoon reveals the lack of substance in the arguments they advanced agains the allocation of time for the discussion of the Estimates. The coal industry if important in Australia, as we all have had good reason to realize in times pas: and as we all realize at the present time. Indeed, on more than one occasion, all the political parties represented in theParliament have found it necessary to urge the industry to do more to help u> solve our general economic problems.
If ever any industry in Australia ha* by its own conduct contributed to its present difficulties, it is the coal industry, and, in particular, the section of that industry on behalf of which the honorable member for Hunter has become so vocal to-day. It is true that there is at present a decline of the pressure of the demand for coal, not because coal does not remain an important commodity, but because many sections of industry, despairing over a period of years of ever getting an assurance of regular supplies of good-quality coal at a. reasonable price, have been compelled to turn to other kinds of fuel to keep their businesses going satisfactorily. That is true, not only of the wicked capitalist against whom the honorable gentleman has inveighed from time to time, but also of great government instrumentalities conducted by governments of all political complexions. A government in Victoria, for example, has found it necessary to encourage the briquetting of an admittedly inferior fuel to assure itself of regular supplies at reasonable cost. The South Australian Government has found it necessary to develop deposits of lowgrade coal and to construct special railway lines and the like to assure itself of regular supplies of coal. Producers of goods have found it necessary to supplement the supplies of coal ordinarily available to them by the use of residual oil fuels marketed by the oil companies.
I repeat that if the coal industry, and particularly the section of it that has been most vocal in talking about its own problems, wishes to solve those problems by seeking assistance in this Parliament, it must first demonstrate its own good faith and determination to make a genuine contribution to the solution of its problems by doing the sort of job that it has the power to do.
I do not wish to devote the time allowed to me to a speech of admonition. 1 pointed out these things on a recent occasion when my colleague the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) and I received a deputation of representatives of the employers in the industry and of the union. Nothing that was said by us then has become less urgent, and there has since been no demonstration to me of the acceptance of what my COleague and I stated as something that should be taken into account by the industry. “We still have a progression of irresponsible, wasteful stoppages, which merely add to a bad record of irregularity of supply and to the cost of coal. I hope that the honorable member for Hunter, whose sincerity in this matter I have never questioned, will use his influence in the industry, and that other honorable members who represent coal-mining areas will do likewise, to urge upon those who have the power to give a better performance and to make the industry more efficient, the need to exercise responsibility.
I suggest to the honorable member for Hunter that it is futile for him to come to the Parliament in times such as these and advance the arguments that he has put to-day in rather emotional and highly coloured language. In the first place, could one imagine more stupid and irresponsible nonsense than a charge that the present Government is hoping for another depression ? What have we to gain, either as individual Australians or as a government, by bringing on this country the wretchedness of depression and the loss and suffering that inevitably are caused by those economic disasters? On the contrary, it is our proud claim that, during the six years that this Government has been in office, we have seen Australia enjoy an increase and a continuation of prosperity unprecedented in its history, and we trust that we have aided in that achievement. So far as it lies within our power, we are determined to maintain that happy situation. Let us put the sort of nonsense talked by the honorable member for Hunter out of the picture and consider the matter realistically. If we are to do something worth while for the coal industry,, let us cast aside the attitude of mind exhibited by the honorable gentleman. His remarks were merely typical of those that one hears so often from spokesmen for tut coal industry, who exhibit this spirit of antagonism which persists right up to this time - this residue of bitterness from past quarrels inside the industry.
Let the industry realize that all sections of it have a problem that they must lace together. It is no use imagining that we can hold the clock still in an age in which there has been an increasing use of oil products - in an age in which the use of hydro-electric power has greatly increased - in an age which is anticipating the use of atomic power for industrial purposes. We cannot hold the clock back. We have to behave as men of good sense in relation to this industry.
Coal still has an important place in the economy of this country. I believe that it could give us a useful export trade if those who have the responsibility of dealing with the production problems of the industry would devote themselves to that aspect of it in a spirit of cooperation and with the exercise of some, reasonable efficiency. Perhaps it has an even larger place than it enjoys at present in ordinary industrial consumption. I suggest that when industrial users are able to rely on a steady supply of good coal at a reasonable cost there will he a very marked increase in the consumption of coal.
I have noted with appreciation and with some approval the kind of statement that has been made by Mr. Warren, who has played a very responsible, practical and sensible role of leadership in relation to this industry. He is not dispirited by these developments. He believes that there is a future for coal. We have a rapidly expanding economy, and a rapidly expanding secondary industry which could consume greater quantities of coal if regularity of supply could be ensured. I suggest that if honorable gentlemen opposite have a genuine interest in the problems of this industry, they will use their influence to bring about a better performance in it.
As I indicated at question time, the Government has been giving a good deal of attention to the more immediate problems of the industry. It is inevitable, as re-organization takes place inside the industry and as the demand by one set of consumers tends to decline before another can build up, that there will be some movement of labour within the industry. But hundreds of vacancies are still waiting to be filled in the coal mines. As men move out from one mine, vacancies occur in others. There is a certain normal wastage of employment from the coal mines and, in ordinary circumstances, there is a call for some additional engagement. With the exception, perhaps, of the western district with Lithgow as its centre, there are, fortunately, vacancies in other sections of employment, particularly in Newcastle and Port Kembla, which should remove any real difficulty in satisfactorily placing those men who have moved from the coal mines. There are special arrangements which revive long-service leave and other rights which have accrued to a coal-miner if he subsequently returns to coal-mining operations.
-well. - Now tell us about the southern fields.
– At Port Kembla, there are ample opportunities for engagement because of the rapidly growing steel industry. On the larger subject, as I indicated at question time, the Minister for National Development and myself have been making a careful study of that matter through our respective departments. We have already had one useful discussion with representatives of the industry and, upon the return of the president of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, we hope that we shall be in a position to carry those discussions further. So it cannot be suggested that we have been without interest or sympathy, nor without some activity in relation to these matters.
Apparently, it cannot be stressed too often, judging’ by the quite unsatisfactory results of our urgings, that it is within the capacity of the industry itself to provide a great deal of its own salvation. The Government hopes that the more responsible elements in the industry will realize the truth of what we are putting to them - that we ourselves are entirely willing to work in co-operation with them to the best of our ability. If those elements wish the Government and the
Parliament to take special measures to assist them in solving the problems of the industry, then the least that we can expect of them is a demonstration of their determination to assist in the manner which is well within their capacity.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I support the-
Motion (by Sir ERIC Harrison) put -
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to -
That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 20th September (vide page 796).
Department of the Interior.
Proposed vote, £3,633,000.
Proposed vote, £3,535,000.
Proposed vote, £7,719,000.
Department of Trade and Customs. Proposed vote, £3,905,000.
Proposed vote, £1,362,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
– I propose to discuss the proposed vote for the Department of the Interior in relation to Division 61. - Administrative C. - Miscellaneous - Item 6, “ Commonwealth rented properties - Local government services, £80,300 “. I wish to relate my remarks to the failure of the Government to make adequate provision in the vote for ex gratia payments to local governing authorities in whose areas Commonwealth properties are situated. It is true that the position has been alleviated to a certain extent because the Commonwealth agreed, in 1952, to make some payments to municipalities and shires under certain conditions, which were as follows : -
Where a lessee or tenant of Commonwealth property is an authority of the Commonwealth engaged in the field of commercial enterprise, an amount, equivalent of the rates, be paid to the relevant local government body.
Where homes are purchased or erected by the Commonwealth for the use of Commonwealth employees or other persons, and used solely for domestic purposes, an amount, the equivalent of the rates, be paid to the relevant local government body.
That is very satisfactory as far as it goes, but to-day it does not go nearly far enough, because the difficulties that municipalities are encountering in the various fields of their activities are bad enough without their losing large portions of their rateable land as a result of the erection of Commonwealth buildings, which add nothing to the revenue of the municipalities. This problem was of relatively small dimensions until recent years, but, particularly since the end of the war, the Commonwealth has, in my opinion very rightly, engaged on a building programme for the accommodation of a number of Commonwealth departments that certainly require it. “We find, however, that the Commonwealth, in carrying out this programme, is depriving local authorities of substantial amounts in rates that they previously received. For example, the Commonwealth acquired a block of land in Melbourne some years ago for the erection of Commonwealth offices, a proposal which the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) indicated only last night was still in hand It has thereby deprived the Melbourne City Council of an area of land which would certainly be eagerly sought after by commercial enterprise as sites for undertakings. If this area were to he fully developed by private enterprise the Melbourne City Council could anticipate receiving annually an amount of £29,000 in rates from it. Because the land has been commandeered by the Commonwealth - quite correctly in my opinion - for specific and well-defined purposes, the Melbourne City Council will, in the ultimate, lose £29,000 a year. The erection of a large block of Commonwealth buildings in or near Phillip-street, Sydney, is also at present under discussion. When those offices are erected the Sydney City Council will lose a large amount of revenue. The Government also intends to erect Commonwealth offices in Brisbane, which will mean a loss of rates that would be otherwise received by the Brisbane City Council. In numerous cities and shires throughout Australia the Government is, very rightly, extending its essential activities; but in doing so it is also doing irreparable harm to local government bodies, which are finding increasing difficulty, in present circumstances, in financing the functions that they are now expected to perform.
I suggest that, because of the peculiar position in which local government finds itself to-day, when local authorities are performing services beyond the ambit of the services they were originally intended to perform, the Government might well come to their assistance, especially as many of the services local governing bodies now provide are of a national nature. That is an additional reason why the Government should make an ex gratia payment to local authorities equivalent to the amount that they lose in rates due to the acquisition by the Commonwealth of sites in their areas.
I do not think that any honorable member will disagree with my opinion that in the last twenty years there has been an astonishing growth in the number and kind of services that the public expects local authorities to perform. People now look to local authorities for a host of things that they did not expect councils to do twenty years ago. Whereas even only ten or fifteen years ago councils were mainly concerned with the construction and maintenance of roads, footpaths, kerbing, guttering, and recreation facilities, to-day they are expected to deal with matters connected with human values as well as with purely material things. They are expected to provide and maintain public health centres, child care centres, rest centres for women, community libraries, cultural centres and various other kinds of establishments. There is also a demand by the public for action by councils to increase land productivity, and in connexion with the destruction of noxious weeds, the drawing up of plans for the prevention of soil erosion, the initiation of flood prevention measures, and so on. The huge increase in the cost of the construction and maintenance of through roads in good condition surely should not be the responsibility of local ratepayers, many of whom seldom use the roads that traverse the areas in which they live. Those new demands on municipalities have created tremendous financial problems for councils. I put it to the committee that such activities as I have described, whilst they may be planned and carried out locally, and whilst it may be of advantage to have them under local supervision, and to have the efforts of local administration concentrated on them, are essentially activities of a national nature. They are not activities that benefit the local ratepayers. They benefit the whole community and, therefore, they should receive community financial assistance. Whether or not the municipalities like it, they are forced, as a result of public clamour and frequently as a result of the legislative enactments of State governments, to accept responsibilities which have assumed a prominent place in the municipal system of government.
I realize that, theoretically and in accordance with the strict letter of the Constitution, it is not the duty of th Australian Government to assist the municipalities in the discharge of their financial obligations. When the Constitution was framed, and when it was decided that the Commonwealth would do certain things and would not do certain other things, it was not envisaged that certain activities that are actually the responsibility of the Commonwealth would become the responsibility of the municipalities. Whilst, theoretically, the Commonwealth has no obligation to assist the municipalities in the directions that I have mentioned - I am not indicting this Government in particular, because past governments also have dodged their responsibilities - it cannot throw those responsibilities back to the States and ultimately to the municipal authorities. Let me say in passing that, since the introduction of uniform taxation, the Federal Treasurer, for all practical purposes, has determined what the States shall receive, and it is no fault of the States that they have only meagre amounts to hand out to the municipalities.
I am only asking the Commonwealth to make ex gratia payments in lieu of the payment of rates on the buildings that it is using, and in recognition of the large-scale services that it is receiving from the municipalities. Let me say, without being an alarmist, that so grave a problem as the solvency of the local governing bodies should not be lightly brushed aside. In the city of Melbourne, numerous municipalities are deprived of many thousands of pounds of revenue because of the refusal of the Commonwealth to discharge its moral obligation to make ex gratia payments. Such payments would be of material assistance. I suggest that this problem should be examined from a national viewpoint because municipalities are performing, in addition to the services that I have mentioned, a number of other national -services. Running through every municipality are arterial roads that are not used extensively by local traffic but by passing motorists and huge transports, yet the owners of motor vehicles within the municipality are expected to care for those roads. Because of the increasing number, size, and weight of vehicles, the municipalities find it almost impossible to effect the road maintenance and, in many cases, the reconstruction, that is necessary. Often these arterial roads lead to governmental establishments, and huge heavy transports travelling to those establishments tear up the roads. But the Commonwealth instrumentalities concerned do not pay rates to the local municipality. I suggest, therefore, that the Government should give very serious consideration to this problem.
I have not raised this matter for the purpose of achieving party political advantage, because honorable members on both sides of the House have advanced similar suggestions. Only recently, the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) made an admirable speech on this subject. To my way of thinking, he submitted arguments that it would be impossible for this Government or any other government to refute. The nature and lucidity of his arguments were such that [ thought the Government would have conceded immediately that what he said was correct, and would have proceeded to take action to ensure that the municipalities received this much-needed, and certainly well-merited, financial assistance. But nothing has been done, and it seems that the Government is determined to brush the matter aside or to put it into cold storage, possibly for evermore. It has had ample opportunity to do the right thing by the municipalities. It took a step in the right direction in 1952. If it believes that, for the community good, certain activities should be administered from a local centre rather than from Canberra, or another capital city, and if it believes that British jus tice can best be served by local administration, it should do everything possible to ensure that the solvency of local governing bodies is not threatened by circumstances that are beyond the control of those ‘bodies.
Because of increased public demand and the insistence of State governments, local governing bodies have been forced to shoulder responsibilities that were not regarded originally as belonging to them. When local government was inaugurated, local authorities were expected to accept responsibility for such mundane things as roads, footpaths and drains, but over the years that conception of local government has changed entirely. We now find that the ratepayers are expected to shoulder added responsibilities.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- As the air has become heavy with talk of reduced imports, there are one or two matters to which I should like to direct the attention of the Government. The first is the distortion of the normal pattern of trading which, in many cases, has resulted from departmental administration. The second matter is the trafficking in category B import licences. In regard to the first matter, I have distinct recollections of the time when import restrictions were first introduced and when statements were made and assurances given that, by no stretch of the imagination, were the ordinary channels of trade to be interfered with. Of course, that has not happened. We all know that, in normal practice, an overseas manufacturer appoints an Australian agent or distributor under some kind of exclusive franchise. In return for that franchise, it is the responsibility of that agent to establish and to consolidate a market in Australia for the goods of his principal and, secondly, in many cases, to provide fairly extensive technical service, dependent, of course, upon the nature of the imported goods.
Recently, there has been a tendency to favour the issue of import licences,, not to the agent, as one would normally expect, but to the end user of the imported product. Such a practice, of course, ‘bypasses the agent and leaves him in a particularly awkward position. I have in mind the case of an agent who applied for a licence to import a quantity of goods on behalf of a named client. The departmental reply was couched in terms similar to the following : -
The committee which determines applications of this type, after considering your request, has decided that your application must be refused. However, an application in the name of your client would be considered.
That communication contains the fairly obvious implication that the committee that deals with such matters was not prepared to give an import licence to the agent although the client, the end user, was named. Although the bona fides of the import were clearly established, the department stated that it was prepared to deal only with the end user of the product. Such action represents a gross and deliberate distortion of the normal pattern of trade, with consequent great hardship to the agent. If it served some good purpose, we could understand why it was being done hut, no matter how we look at it, we can see no advantage accruing to the Commonwealth from that sort of decision. The same amount of currency is involved and the same control of imports is exercised. So far as the balance of payments problem is concerned,- it does not matter whether the end user or the agent gets the import licence. The result is the same.
Although this process does not work out so badly for the user of large quantities of raw materials imported from abroad, it does inflict considerable hardship ou the small importer, the fellow who normally imports his requirements through an agent. We find now that, owing to the policy of issuing a licence only to the end user, the small importer is obliged to go thrown the difficult process of applying for a licence, establishing letters of credit, and clearing the goods through the customs. He has to go through a long and formidable routine to which his business is not accustomed. In addition, there is a multiplication of departmental paper work, which is to be deplored under any circumstances. Worst of all, it seems to me that, if these deals are to be made directly between the end user and the overseas manufacturer, the goods will be paid for abroad in full, including normal profit margins, so it may well be that the procedure will result in the expenditure of more foreign currency than would have been the case if the normal channels of trade were kept open. I suggest that ii. is time the Government gave some consideration to that aspect of import licensing.
I want to deal now with the trafficking in B category import licences. Many of the B category import licences were based on fortuitously big quantities of imports in the base year, 1950-51, or were secured under the hardship provisions which the Government prescribed some time ago. In many cases, the import licences for B category goods held by individuals are vastly in excess of the normal requirements of those individuals. As an immediate and inevitable consequence, the licences have gathered to themselves a market value and are being traded in. If the holders are not trading in them openly, they are looking round the foreign scene to find out what goods they can import in order to use up their licences and, as I am reminded, to earn them the largest profit. In other words, goods are being imported under these licences which have no relation to the real requirements of Australia in a time of import stringency.
The real difficulty is that general importers, who in many cases like to hold stocks of important goods in order to avoid the long delays involved in importing individual articles, are denied an opportunity to render that kind of service to their clients. It seems to me that, although important items cannot be brought into the country, all sorts of luxuries are being brought in. One has only to go through the major departmental stores of this country, at least in the capital cities, to see that the shelves are weighed down with continental foods, wines, perfumes, softgoods, ornamental glassware, toys and a thousand, and one other things which I shall not call luxuries, because I do not think we ought to regard such things as luxuries, but which at least are unessential when compared with the types of industrial equipment for which import licences are no being granted. The importation of those goods must reduce the amount of foreign currency available for more essential imports.
As a practising Liberal, I look forward to the day when there will no longer be any import restrictions. I do not regard the present balance of payments in itself as a cause for grief, but it does indicate a dangerous deterioration of our ability to compete and, therefore, it serves notice on us that we shall have to be more careful about these things. If we must have import restrictions, I hope the Government will be realistic about them and will give some attention to the points to which I have drawn attention.
It is some time since imports were split into various categories, and I believe the time has come when we should re-survey the categories and also review the import licences that have been in existence for a considerable time, in order to see what use has been made of them, particularly in the B category field, in which licences are completely interchangeable between any of the thousands of products, essential or otherwise, which are listed in that category. I think we ought to find out what use is being made of these licences and see whether some steps can be taken to ensure that the importation of luxury items will be stood over until a happier day and that the importation of less essential goods will not prevent the importation of goods that are essential to the conduct and the development of Australian industry.
– When the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) began his speech, I thought I should not be able to agree with him, but I am glad, to say that I agree wholeheartedly with hi3 opinion that there should be a review of the import licensing procedure, with a view to ensuring that only essential goods will be imported into Australia in future. I think the remarks of the honorable member on that matter were very sound, but I cannot agree with his remarks about the departmental procedure in relation to certain importers. [ say that the end user must be considered. My experience of the smaller businessman has been different from that of the honorable member. My experience has been that, in some cases, the smaller businessmen have established customs agents or indent agents by giving them the whole of their business, with the result that the agents now have import licences in their hands covering considerable quantities of goods, but I am sorry to say that a good deal of trafficking in the licences is going on.
– I am not complaining about the agent. I am complaining about the man who had a franchise and is being robbed of the fruits of his enterprise.
– That may be so, but when we try to protect the whole community, we must consider the interests of the community generally. I suggest that the departmental procedure is designed to protect some people whom the honorable member has overlooked. I have suggested to the departments that, as far as possible, they should ensure that import licences will be allocated to end users, which will prevent trafficking in licences.
However, I did not intend to speak about that matter. I want to use the few minutes available to me to discuss a subject that affects the Department of Works, the Department of Civil Aviation, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Services and, in fact, all Government departments that employ civilians. The subject that I wish to discuss is the employment of physically and mentally handicapped people. On a number of occasions, I have spoken about the employment of physically handicapped people, but now I want to deal also with the employment of people who are slightly mentally handicapped. They have great difficulty in finding any sort of employment. In the United Kingdom, there is a system under which factories are required to employ a percentage of physically handicapped people. That is a very good system, which works to the advantage of these unfortunate persons. But in Australia, no such provision is made, and we are dependent to a large extent on the good offices and the goodwill of private enterprise for the employment of handicapped people. I know that some government departments such as the State railways departments employ men who have suffered injury while in the service of those departments. That is all to the good.. Some government departments look after their own casualties, but apart from that and the rehabilitation scheme operated by the Department of Social Services, there is no nrovision in this community for the employment of physically handicapped people.
Recently, I came across a case which I consider to be of such importance to the community that I feel I should say something about it.. It is the case of a man who, because he is slightly hand capped mentally, can do only about a half of the work done by a normal man. He was employed by a government department. His employer, a departmental officer, felt that as the department had such a lot of work to do, he could not continue to employ the man, so he proposed to dismiss him. In fact, he may have done so. I made representations to the Minister that this man he retained in employment. He was a quite willing and easily manageable man and was employed on duties which he was capable of discharging. Returning him to the community meant that he could not find a job. I was assured by a Commonwealth Employment Service officer that the man was otherwise unemployable1, and that he would not he able to place him. This man has a wife and two children to keep. He had to face the prospect of his losing his employment, where he received a little more than the basic wage, and being placed on the list of unemployed people who receive £4 15s; a week for doing nothing: To a man who is mentally deficient, that is a very serious matter, and it is also most serious for his people: Doctor Stoller has said that persons who are- mentally handicapped are much better if they are employed in some occupation, particularly a manual occupation amongst other people. From a health point of view it is most necessary that such people should be employed wherever possible. T am very sorry that the Government is dispensing with this man’s services. If he is retained, the- actual loss to the community will be negligible. He will have to be paid £4 15s. a week, for which there will be no* return, whereas he has been paid a little more than the basic wage and the department has received from him about half a day’s work. At a time when we’ are so short of labour: there is an added reason why a man of this type should be retained in employment. The Government has many opportunities to use these men profitably. I do not suggest that the Public Service and. public authorities should be burdened by having on their pay-rolls personswho are inefficient, or that the Govern. ment should fill its ranks of employees with people who cannot get jobs anywhere else, but I do think that government, departments have a responsibility to the community to bear a fair share of the burden.
I know that the Commonwealth Employment Service has been successful in having physically handicapped people absorbed into useful employment l>v private enterprise. I have been active with Commonwealth Employment Service officers in having certain men placed, and I have been gratified to see the response of some very fine managers to appeals for employment by these men. A man who is mentally handicapped is in a slightly different position from that of a man who is .physically handicapped. The employment of a physically handicapped man depends very largely on whether he can be used on work in the performance of which his disability will not matter. In all other respects he is a useful citizen and a valuable worker, and he is not handicapped for certain classes of work. A man who is mentally handicapped can be employed only in work within a very narrow range. I suggest that government departments which require a. large amount of cleaning, gardening, and maintenance work to be done, can usefully employ people who are slightly mentally retarded or physically handicapped. I think that there should be provision for the absorption in the public service of some people of this type, and the Government should bear its portion of the responsibility. It is a matter of great regret to me that the services of a man, who was usefully employed for four or five years, are to be now dispensed with when we are so short of labour. I, therefore, bring the matter to the notice of the Minister for the- Interior. If such persons are absorbed, the benefit to the community is really tenfold. The present shortage of employment is relieved, the health of the community benefits, the burden on social services is reduced, and the families of the men concerned enjoy an enormous benefit.
Unlike the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who believes that discussions on the Estimates are of no value and that no good ever flows from them, I hope that by submitting such matters as I have referred to, I shall persuade the Government to listen, and that some effort will be made to ensure that the physically and mentally handicapped shall be absorbed in useful employment, with the Australian Government playing its part, together with private enterprise.
.- 1 should like to make some comments in regard to the Department of Trade and Customs and the Department of Health. I suppose it is true to say that no supporter of the Government, or no Liberal, is happy when it is necessary to impose certain import restrictions. The honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) addressed the committee on this subject this afternoon, and I am very glad to have the opportunity to support his plea that when import restrictions become necessary they should be reviewed from time to time. Without repeating the arguments which have already been put to the committee by the honorable member for Paterson, may I take the debate a stage farther by giving an example of a case which merits special treatment. It is one in which an application was made by certain people for. import quotas to allow them to import finished goods to enable them to keep their sales organization alive while they obtain the necessary machinery and build a factory to enable them ‘ <> manufacture similar goods in Australia. On many occasions in this chamber I have spoken of the necessity for decentralization of our industries, especially our lighter industries, and I believe that I have had the support of the Liberal Government, but not always the support of the anti-Liberals who sit opposite. The fact remains that the Government’s policy is to assist in the decentralization of lighter industries. Therefore, I think that when an application of ‘the nature I have referred to is made, and the applicant can prove to the Government’s ‘satisfaction that he wants only sufficient goods to keep his organization .alive while he establishes his factory in a country district, saying that in two ‘Or three years his factory will not only manufacture sufficient goods to meet the Australian market but will, he hopes, also enable him to export, some allowance should be made by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) in the exercise of his discretionary powers. I know that at such times as the present the Minister and his officers are overloaded with applications for import permits. I do not think that the department should be given the extra burden of deciding these matters which, I suggest, come within the discretionary powers of the Minister himself. So that he might have some help in the matter, it might be worth while for the Government and the Minister to consider my suggestion that certain members of both Houses of the Parliament be formed into a committee to sort out applications .of this type where it is necessary for the Government to use its discretionary powers in order to give assistance to people who wish to establish industries in country districts.
The other matter to which I should like to refer comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health. I think that we ;all should congratulate the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), the DirectorGeneral .of Health, ,and his officers, for the success of the medical .benefits scheme, the .pensioner medical scheme, and the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. As we know, certain anomalies have existed in the operation of these schemes. Some of .them have already been rectified, and others make their appearance from time to time. I should like to direct the Minister’s attention to a situation which seems to .arise in New South Wales. Owing to the shortage of hospital accommodation in that State, quite a number of subscribers to hospital benefits funds, although they pay a contribution which would entitle them to intermediate or private ward accommodation, are not able to obtain it. When they become ill, they arc given public ward accommodation. Of course, when the time comes for payment of the fees, they are not required to pay anything for being in a public ward ; .but they believe, as do many subscribers, that, ‘having subscribed to the fund for intermediate or private ward accommodation, and not wishing to deprive their doctor of the fees which he normally would have received from them, they would like to pay, although they received only public ward accommodation. They then make application to certain of the medical benefit funds to have their share of the fees paid, but this request is refused, because of the fact that they occupied beds in a public ward. They do not receive any assistance from either the Commonwealth or the medical benefit scheme, and the doctor does not receive his fee.
As we know, right through the generations, members of the medical profession have constantly given their services free to people who cannot afford to pay; but, as I understand it, one of the basic ideas behind this medical benefit scheme is not only to assist to provide proper medical services hut also to assist the medical profession to overcome the burden of ever-increasing costs. If a person is willing to pay and does not want to have charity in the form of a doctor’s services free of charge, some amendment of the present system should be made to enable this to he done.
I know full well that the lack of hospital accommodation is not the fault of this Government, hut the fact remains that there is, especially in country districts and certain city areas, a great shortage of hospital accommodation. We know of the unhappy proposal of the New South Wales Government to increase hospital charges in that State. In case that increase should come about, I bring this anomaly to the notice of the Minister for Health and his department in the hope that, in conjunction with the medical benefit funds, something may be done about it.
.- The Department of Works carries out constructional operations in the islands north of Australia. Very recently, I was in Port Moresby. While I believe that, generally speaking, the Department of Works, the Department of Territories and the department that controls native affairs are doing particularly good jobs in looking after the interests of the natives and in developing our northern islands, those bastions that lie between us and potential enemies to the north, I still hold the belief that much needs to be done. ‘While in Port Moresby, I got up at the major hotel in the district one Sunday morning and found that there was no water supply. That persisted during an extremely sultry day until very late in the evening. No water was available to anybody in the Port Moresby district for drinking or washing. I made inquiries, and found that this was not exceptional. I found that, on occasions, the people of Port Moresby were without water for as long as four successive days. Four days without water in a climate such as that of Port Moresby! I also found that the people always had to be prepared for a failure of the existing water supply.
– I am not upholding the position, but I have known that to happen in Melbourne, as well as Port Moresby.
– I have lived in Melbourne for 50 years and have never known it to happen.
– The honorable member is lucky.
– The reason advanced for the shortage is that the pipes that supply the water to the people of Port Moresby are inadequate, that they should be much larger, or that there should be additional pipes. There is ample water. It is not a question of shortage of water. Occasionally, in all the districts of Australia, water shortages occur, and they cause restrictions of supply to various places. That happens even in our capital cities. But on the occasion to which I refer, it was an absolute breakdown in the water supply, due to the inadequacy of the pipes serving Port Moresby. I suggest that the Department of Works give serious consideration to the provision of a better water supply for the district at an early date.
On this particular Sunday, when the water supply was inadequate, I travelled round the area of Port Moresby and inspected some of the accommodation that is available there for administrative officers and public servants generally who are brought there from the mainland of Australia. To say that much of it was disgusting is to understate the position.
L visited one district where there was a ramshackle building, the floor of which was not too sound by any means. The surroundings were deplorable and in a state of utter and absolute disrepair. It was called “ House Pig “ by the natives. Until very recently, it had been used to accommodate clerical officers going to the Territory. At present, it is used for dative accommodation. It should not even be used for that purpose.
Immediately opposite that place were the structures that were being used for single public servants going to the Territory. They were absolute slums. There was no furniture, there were no conveniences of any description. They were merely dilapidated structures built on the corridor style with rooms into which these officers could go to sleep. If they did not sleep, they had to leave the building, because there was no provision in the way of lounges or any amenities where they could entertain their friends or converse with one another. The rooms did not have sufficient furniture to enable the occupants to entertain friends, play a game of cards or engage in any of those ordinary social activities that take place generally amongst young men when they are in districts such as that and living, as it were, in barracks. A great deal of improvement should be effected to that accommodation.
I then visited a place that was known m days gone by as “ The Stables “. This stable was used as accommodation for jingle women who were employed in Port Moresby in clerical work, typing and other duties in the government offices. This particular structure had been improved recently. When I saw it, I did not know that it had been improved. I thought it was most deplorable. I had a conversation with a young lady who had gone up there, and she told me that, full of the spirit of adventure, she decided to seek employment in the government service in Port Moresby. She flew to Port Moresby. She did not know anybody. She arrived there on a very hot day and was transported to her residence. She said to me, “After looking at the residence, I decided to have a shower, but the shower room was filthy and not even moderately comfortable “. She then burst into tears. I said, “Do you intend to give up your occupation here and return to Melbourne ? “, to which she replied, “ No, as I have become acclimatized, I shall stay here “.
I understand that there is a turnover of 50 per cent, in government employment in Port Moresby. That is to say, 50 per cent, of the persons who go to Port Moresby to enter the government service remain in the service only until their first annual leave is due, and then return to and stay on the mainland. The main reason for this huge turnover of labour is the total inadequacy of the accommodation provided. It is proposed that another 200 government employees shall be sent to Port Moresby during this financial year. I do not know where it is intended to house them, but I emphasize that a basic requirement in Port Moresby is decent accommodation. If the development of New Guinea and adjacent islands is to proceed as rapidly as it should, the provision of housing should be accorded a major priority. The Department of Works should be instructed to go ahead with the construction of houses, and to extend the water supply at Port Moresby. Ultimately, it would be cheaper for the Government to heed my advice, and so obviate the huge turnover in government employment that now occurs. I also visited Manus Island; it is a very beautiful place.
– The honorable member had a most interesting trip !
– It was most interesting.
– Do I recall that the honorable member has criticized ministerial trips abroad?
– Not always. If, as a result of my efforts, the Department of Works extends the water supply at Port Moresby and provides better accommodation for government employees-
– The Department of Works has nothing to do with Manus Island.
– Then perhaps the Department of the Army, or the Department of the Navy-
– We are not considering the proposed votes for those departments.
– The Government should see that better accommodation is provided for its employees in our northern territories. This is a most important matter. The- development of the territories to the north of Australia is vital to our future security. They should be developed as rapidly as possible. Furthermore, the Government should see that its employees there are provided with the best possible amenities. The Minister who is responsible for works in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea should spend two or three months there travelling from place to place - not merely make a very brief visit,, as I did - in order to see at first hand what is required. The Territory coUld, with proper development, support a; much greater white population than now exists there, which is an important aspect of the matter from a defence point of view. I am. sure that moire white people could easily be attracted to. the Territory because, apart from, the housing situation that I have mentioned, I was pleased to find that conditions in Port Moresby were not nearly so undesirable as I had imagined. The climate in many parts of the Territory is ideal, and the scenery is beautiful. Many people there, who formerly lived in Tasmania, or in< mainland cities, stated that they would, not now live’ anywhere1 else. In view of the’ desirability of developing our island territories as rapidly as possible, I urge the Government to implement my suggestions at the earliest possible date.
– In view of some of the remarks that have been made in this chamber about the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), it is incumbent on some of us to say how much we appreciate the right honorable gentleman’s efforts. There has been some comment in the press about, the recent statement of an honorable member in relation to the age of our Cabinet Ministers. Although the Minister for Health is a little older in years than some of us, he is much older in terms of experience. He exhibits capacity for tremendous drive, and in many instances beats the gun. He has displayed great generosity. Concealed beneath his somewhat rugged exterior, there is great kindliness and generosity, which prompt him to enter the field first,, if possible, in order to help people.
Many people in mental hospitals have been grossly neglected. Honorable members have read the Stoller report on mental institutions, to which I propose to refer. [Quorum formed.] I was- referring, before the quorum was formed, to the melancholy situation that exists in mental hospitals. Although, at the time they ,ere constructed, they might have had adequate space and equipment for the treatment of those unfortunate patients, they are at present grossly overcrowded. The Callan Park institution was built to accommodate 600 patients, but in recent years it has accommodated 1,600. Even the recreation rooms have been invaded and turned into wards. No rooms are available for the examination of patients by doctors, and there is barely standing room in many of the sleeping wards. If honorable members could see the conditions in which the patients live, they would feel very sorry indeed for them. This condition of affairs is a tragic commentary on State governments, and particularly on the New South Wales Government, which is notable for its mismanagement and its lack of sympathy for people in unfortunate circumstances.
– Do not talk such rubbish.
– The honorable member could not take it a few minutes ago and had to call for a quorum. The New South Wales Government has failed lamentably to care for people who are forced to live in shocking circumstances. Some of the constituents of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) doubtless have been admitted to mental institutions, and he should think kindly of them instead of behaving in a destructive manner when I speak in their interests.
The Minister for Health recently introduced the States Grants (Mental Institutions) Bill 1955, which will help to alleviate the conditions of mental patients. This Government is to contribute £10,000,000 over a number of years to provide accommodation and equipment for mental institutions. We are all grateful to the Minister for acting so quickly upon a matter which has been so much neglected and was generally considered taboo except by the relatives of mental patients, who repeatedly approached members of the State parliaments seeking action. It is of great encouragement to the relatives of mentally ill people to know that the Minister for Health, unlike the various State Labour governments, has gone out of his way to serve the interests of mental patients. Indeed, he has stepped into a field that was beyond the constitutional competence of the Commonwealth in the past and has given a lead to the States. I congratulate him on his action. The States Grants (Mental Institutions) Bill 1955 will stand as a monument to himself, this Government and the Parliament.
I wish now to mention the Salk poliomyelitis vaccine. The Minister for Health sent officers of the Department of Health overseas to participate in research designed to develop a vaccine that would reduce the incidence of poliomyelitis, which is a disease dreaded by every one. All parents are afraid that, whenever a child suffers from a headache or some other symptom, it will prove to be developing poliomyelitis. The Minister and his officers have been working patiently to produce an effective vaccine m Australia, and I congratulate them on their efforts. An instance of the predisposition of the Australian Labour party to behave badly in its approach to these problems occurred when the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) attacked the Government for not immediately producing the Salk vaccine, which, he said, was safe, potent and effective. The honorable member tried to get in ahead of the Government and take credit for its work. The Minister and the Government were wise enough to realize that the Salk vaccine must be carefully tested to ensure that it will be safe. We do not want a repetition here of incidents that occurred in other countries where the vaccine was quickly put into use and some supplies, which were defective, infected children and caused their death from poliomyelitis. We know that Australian scientists are working to produce the Salk vaccine and that facilities are waiting to begin production when the vaccine is ready for use. We are grateful to the Minister for Health for his efforts to produce the Salk vaccine in Australia.
The following estimates of expenditure on various health services are provided for in the current financial year : - Medical benefits, £ 5,500,000; medical benefits for pensioners, £2,750,000 ; hospital benefits, £9,900,000; pharmaceutical benefits, £10,450,000 ; pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners, £1,480,000; nutrition of children, £2,500,000, and tuberculosis benefits, £5,990,000. The national health scheme introduced by this Government is regarded as one of the best in the world. Labour tried to initiate a national health scheme, but it would not work because the doctors could not administer it. It was a most spectacular failure. It is to the great credit of the present Minister for Health that he has made the national health scheme work well, and I heartily congratulate him. Commonwealth expenditure on health services is now about three times as great as it was a few years ago. However, a very inefficient and, may I say, corrupt Labour government in New South Wales-
– That is not correct.
– I repeat, a corrupt Labour government. I say it more in sorrow than in anger. That government has mismanaged its affairs and has now increased hospital fees in New South Wales by 50 per cent. What is it doing with the money that it receives?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The Estimates now under consideration do not concern the activities of State governments.
– I am discussing hospitals. The Estimates make provision for an estimated expenditure of £5,500,000 on medical benefits and £9,900,000 on hospital benefits. This expenditure will benefit people who enter hospitals in the electorate that you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, represent as well as in other electorates. However, action taken by another government, which I am not allowed to mention, has taxed the sick and the poor. That government, as a result of its own mismanagement, hurts the very people whom it should treat kindly.
The Australian Government has tried very hard to assist people by means of the medical and hospital benefits schemes.
Very patiently, over a num’ber of years, it negotiated with the insurance companies to make certain that they would honour their obligations to the organizations that pay medical and hospital benefits to their members. After a great deal of discussion, the hospital benefits scheme was worked out, and the raising of hospital charges now threatens to smash it. The increased charges will reduce to a desperate situation especially the people who have large families and who are attempting to buy homes. Those people suffer severely if they fall into financial difficulty. Only the other day I. received a letter from a man who had everything planned for the future. He bad fought for his country and was therefore entitled to a war service home, which be was paying off. Suddenly, he met with difficulty that upset his budget and threatened the future of himself and his family. Owing to some trouble after a minor operation, the attention of a specialist was required and he incurred heavy medical expenses. This Government is doing its utmost to help people who meet with those difficulties, and the efforts of the Minister for Health successfully overcome many of the problems. The Australian national health scheme is one of the best in the world. It compares more than favorably with the British scheme, which is costing approximately £S a head. I estimate that the cost of the Australian scheme is approximately £3 10s. a head. It is to the Government’s credit that it is keeping the cost of the scheme within reasonable bounds so that the scheme shall not fall down of its own weight.
Let us consider some of the benefits provided under the national health scheme. The tuberculosis allowance paid by the Chifley Government to a sufferer with a dependent wife was £4 lis. 6d. a week. This Government, has increased the allowance to £9 2s. 6d. a week. For a sufferer without dependants, while being hospitalized free of charge, the allowance was £2 2s. 6d. under the Labour Government. It is now £3 10s. a week. For a sufferer while not in hospital, the amount was £2 10s. 6d. under the Labour Government and it is now £5 12s. 6d. The pensioners’ medical scheme has been a wonderful boon to the people of my electorate and to the people of your electorate, Mr. Temporary Chairman. Free hospitalization has made a wonderful difference to pensioners. It means that a person in receipt of even a small pension gains tremendously from free medical and hospital benefits. Recently, in this chamber, the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) mentioned free milk for school children. I regret to say that he wished to substitute fruit juices for the milk. I would hesitate to replace milk - that delectable beverage from the queen of the animal kingdom, the cow - with fruit juices. Any one who fed a young calf on milk, and then tried in on fruit juices, would soon see a difference in the animal. There i3 no need to elaborate this matter. TheMinister for Health has done a magnificent job.
– Do not say it again.
– I know that tintis difficult for the Labour party to take. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) walked out of the chamber because he recognized his own failure. He recognized that the party of which he is a member turned down the sick, the infirm and the aged in New South Wales by increasing hospital charges by 50 per cent. I do not blame honorable members opposite for getting restive. They cannot possibly defend themselves. They have not a hope because there if such a difference between the careful housekeeping and budgeting of this Government, and their own mismanagement and inefficiency in respect of the hospitals. When we remember that one government which believes in socialization and pretends to look after this section of the people has let them down, we should feel very proud indeed of the Menzies Government which has helped them.
– I rise to speak on the Estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation, but I feel that I am not properly equipped for this debate. I have not information that I should have for this purpose, because the departmental report, like the Commonwealth Bank report, has not been made available to honorable members with respect to last year’s operations. Earlier to-day, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), commenting on the delay in producing the report of the Commonwealth Bank, said that he thought honorable members should be in possession of the information that would be contained in that report when they debated the Estimates for the Department of the Treasury.
I think that the Department of Civil Aviation has done a marvellous job, but much more could have been done if the Government had had a broader outlook.
The Estimates provide for the allocation of £7,719,000 to the Department of Civil Aviation in this financial year. Last year, the vote was £11,477,000, of which £10,707,SS1 was spent. It is idle for the Government, or for any one on this side of the House, to suggest that sufficient man-power is available to do all the jobs that the Department of Civil Aviation wishes to have done as quickly as one would like. My approach to the subject is one of condemnation, not of what the Government is doing, but of its general outlook. If the Government would supply further details about the expenditure of the department it would enable honorable members - whether members of the Liberal party, the Australian Country party, the Australian Labour party or the Anti-Communist Labour party - to do justice to the department in their criticism of its expenditure.
Because the Government has failed to make available to honorable members reports such as the report of the Department of Civil Aviation, we are able to engage in these debates only on the basis that was adopted by the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate), who talked about socialization as if it were a crime. Trans-Australia Airlines is an example of a socialized organization which is producing a profit. We are not allowed to know the exact amount of that profit, but I think that it will be more than £300,000 for this year. That is a brilliant effort in view of the fact that the experts on the other side of the chamber prophesied that Trans-Australia Airlines was bound to fail in competition with Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. They said that we did not have the necessary “ know-how “ to make a success of the venture. But it was the private enterprise concern - Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited - that failed in competition with this socialized enterprise. Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited had to come to this Government, and ask for money in order that it might continue operations. Much to my regret, we passed a bill which provided Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited with about £4,000,000. We do not even know what interest is being paid on the money that has been made available to that company. It is true that the bill provided for the payment of a certain rate of interest, but we do not know how much was paid to the company from the fund that was provided, and, therefore, we do not know how much revenue has been received from the company. The only reply that honorable members have been able to obtain from Ministers in ‘answer to their questions is that, as the company is a private concern, there is no need for it to make a balance-sheet available to us. That argument may have had some validity, although I do not admit it, before the Government provided the guarantee ; but after that provision, it should have been an obligation of the company to provide the Parliament with details of its workings so that honorable members could appreciate whether the Company really was given assistance for the purpose of enabling it to continue in competition, as the Government alleged. There was no competition in air transport in Australia before Trans-Australia Airlines started operations. Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited then had what amounted to a monopoly. Anybody who is familiar with the development of Trans-Australia Airlines cannot doubt that the establishment of that airline was essentia], unless the Government were willing to allow a private organization to control all air transport in Australia. That private organization was owned very largely by shipping companies. Its capital was not wholly Australian by any means because one-fifth of it was owned by the Orient Steam Navigation Company Limited, one-fifth by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Limited, one-fifth by McIlwraith McEacharn
Limited, one-fifth by the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, and one-fifth by William Holyman and Sons Proprietary Limited. All but £23,000 of the company’s capital was owned by very big companies, and that £23,000 was owned by what was at one time Queensland Airlines, only because that company was given shares instead of money when it was taken over by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. Here is a company controlled by private enterprise which competed with the Government airline and has had to be propped up in order to keep alive. Honorable gentlemen opposite are always saying that socialized enterprises are not successful. This one proved successful beyond a doubt. Perhaps I have some pride in it, because it was during my ministerial term that the company was established by the Labour Government. At all events, we run it on a basis that enables it to compete with very wealthy organizations. I have never forgotten that, during the war, we paid Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited £2,540,000 for the carriage of mail. That is an enormous sum. That company was the only one that could provide the necessary aircraft, so it could do what it liked because of the lack of competition. When We established TransAustralia Airlines people accused us of trying to create a government monopoly. I assert here, and I do not think it can . be denied, that if there is to be a monopoly of air transport in Australia, then it should be a government monopoly and not a private monopoly. It was because we realized that a private monopoly could demand what it liked from the Government that we decided to establish Trans-Australia Airlines. Before its establishment, we Were paying 8s. per lb. for the carriage of cipher books to our forces overseas. In fact, I remember one occasion when a Postmaster-General was not allowed to board an aircraft because he had issued an order that mails should have priority over passengers, and, when he sought to board the plane, the airline officials quoted his own instruction to him. Those were the days of priorities. For years and years, as a colleague reminds me, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited used some legal device to a void payment of landing charges.
We fixed the landing charges, but apparently the present Government considered them far too high, because it reduced them considerably. We fixed them on the basis that they would pay a certain amount, not by any means all, of the cost of providing proper air routes, radar, ground and all the other facilities that are essential for the safe operation of civil aviation services. We hoped that the private companies would agree to pay the charges without making trouble. They did not pay them, and they never do pay such charges if they can use any means of getting out of payment.
When this Government came into office, it decided that Trans-Australia Airlines could not carry all the mail. I know, and it cannot be denied, that big corporations were influencing their employees to travel by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and not by Trans-Australia Airlines. They were not so foolish as to put that in a written document that could be photographed and brought to this House as evidence, but the inference was there. I knew a case of two former Royal Australian Air Force pilots who had fought together in the war who travelled from Perth in different aircraft which arrived in Melbourne at about the same time. When the pilot of the Trans-Australia Airlines plane, who was one of the two, saw his friend at the aerodrome in Melbourne he asked him why he had not flown with Trans-Australia Airlines. The friend, who was travelling for a big organization, said he was not allowed to. We issued an instruction that all public servants should travel by TransAustralia Airlines. What a wail was set up as a result of that instruction ! It was terrific! It was said that we were displaying monopolistic tendencies. From the time we issued that order Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited began to squeal, and has been squealing ever since. When it wants any assistance it comes along to this Government and asks for aid as a private enterprise, and suggests that the socialist enterprise should be allowed to suffer.
I believe that Trans-Australia Airlines is so well established in public favour as a result of its splendid record that the
Government would not now dare to take any action against it more serious than it has already taken. I regret that when we are discussing civil aviation in this debate we have not before us full details showing the development of TransAustralia Airlines. We knew when we established Trans-Australia Airlines that it would lose money for a time, and in fact it lost nearly £4,000,000 before it began to pay its way. Since then, it has paid handsomely, except for one year. It is a revenue producer for the country, and yet we have to sit here and listen to tirades of abuse against it as a “ socialistic enterprise “. I am not one of those who believe that socialistic enterprises should be directed in respect of every little thing they do, although I would be willing to 3ee some direction in regard to major policy matters. I have no particular animus against Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. I read a very laudatory article in the Melbourne Herald on Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and the great things done by Ivan Holyman. He has no doubt done great things, but he suffered from the delusion that nobody else knew how to run an airline. He has been shown, however, that know-how can be acquired by other people provided they have the right contacts. It cannot be denied that Trans-Australia Airlines has been a very great success.
I realize that I cannot deal, in a debate on the Estimates, with subjects at the same length as I could in an ordinary debate, but I considered it my duty, in view of what had been said here by people on the other side of the chamber about socialistic enterprises, to make some answer. I remind honorable gentlemen opposite of government concerns such as the Postal Department and the Australian Whaling Commission. I wonder when the Government will sell the whaling commission? It has not been able to obtain the price it wanted for the Commonwealth line of ships, but I suggest that that line is an example of what can be achieved by careful and capable management.
The idea, that Labour governments want to carry the policy of socialization to the length that every butcher’s shop and grocer’s shop would be socialized is sheer nonsense. I have never believed in that, cor have any of my colleagues, yet we have to suffer from that kind of criticism from the other side of the House. Such criticism will not affect my belief that many industries at present being operated by private enterprise are being propped up by this anti-socialist Government and would fail if they were not given government assistance. That being the case, let me declare myself as one who believes that the Labour party’s policy will have to come to the rescue of this country because of the failure of the Government to conduct our economic affairs properly.
We are now being warned, in the middle of what is claimed to be the greatest period of prosperity that we have ever known, of the possibility of a depression or financial crisis. I remind the people who are continually criticizing the Labour party for its ideals, and its adherence to them, that it was the Labour party which inaugurated the policy of full employment that has helped to bring about prosperity, and that it was the Labour party which established the immigration policy which is now operating so successfully.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I should like briefly to mention two matters, the first of which concerns the Department of Civil Aviation. I mention it merely to tie it up with a matter that was mentioned during the debate on a previous group of- the Estimates. It concerns the use, by the management of the Commonwealth Bank, of the bank’s own aircraft. I believe that it should, in all justice, be pointed out that if the Commonwealth Bank can be considered to be in any way a government department using public moneys - and I am not prepared to agree with any such contention - there are other government departments which run their own aircraft, in my opinion quite justifiably. I think that people forget that government departments are in many ways conducting some of the biggest and most important businesses in the country, and I do not think that it is by any means improper that they should have at their disposal the normal facilities that are used by other large business enterprises. There are several business enterprises which run their own private aircraft, and personally I do not think there can be any valid objection to the Commonwealth Bank, or its governor, running an aircraft.
I turn now for a few moments to a matter concerning the Department of Works, which, I feel, has given a considerable amount of concern to many honorable members. I have heard such concern expressed in private discussions, and at public meetings, and I believe that something should he done to investigate fully what is happening in the Department of Works which gives rise to all the talk one hears about inefficiency and over-expenditure of moneys. Responsibility for these shortcomings should be sheeted home. If they are the result of poor administration, steps should be taken to remove the officers who are responsible, ff the Minister, because of the various tasks that he has to perform, is falling down on the job, serious consideration should be given to placing in charge of the department a Minister who would be prepared to do something about the situation. An investigation is warranted.
I direct the attention of honorable members to page 37 of the annual report of the Auditor-General for 1954-55 on which, in relation to the control of labour and materials, particularly on projects in Papua and New Guinea, the following statement appears : -
Audit investigations in the Papua and New Guinea region have revealed a most unsatisfactory position regarding departmental control of projects constructed under contract by various firms, including the following features: -
lack of adequate design and forward planning ;
faulty cost of estimation;
insufficient supervision of work in progress;
over-expenditure of funds;
performance of additional work with out authority;
failure to process cost variations promptly; and
failure to perform progressive quantity surveys to guard against incorrect work and overpayments.
That is only one small section of the criticism that is contained in the AuditorGeneral’s report. In his report for 1953- 54 also, he offered some very severe criticism. Only comparatively recently, a public servant came down from New
Guinea to Australia and gave to a lot of people first-hand information about what was happening in the Territory. As far as I know, all that has happened since is that some newspapers have carried articles dealing with the matter, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in answer to a question, has stated that he did not propose to take any action on the statements that had been made by that public servant. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) wrote a. letter about this man, which was not quite accurate, and he did an injustice to him. The point is that those allegations were made by a man who had everything to lose if they were not accurate. The AuditorGeneral’s Department has made a series of very similar accusations which bear out, to a large degree, the statements of that man, but, as far as I know, no action has been taken.
I understand that the Public Accounts Committee proposes to visit the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, to investigate the activities of the Department of Works, and to submit a report upon them. I believe that the committee is unlikely to be able to make the visit for some considerable time - possibly not within a year or more. The fact that so much has been said about the Department of Works and that the Auditor-General has made accusations in his reports suggests that urgent action should be taken. I should like to see such an investigation placed high on the priority list of matters that are to be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee. That is all I wish to say about this matter. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to direct the attention of the committee to this lamentable state of affairs. Some action should be taken fairly quickly to ascertain whether there is any truth in the allegations that have been made, and whether the Auditor-General’s report is accurate. If the allegations are accurate, some action should be taken to ensure that the department is placed on a much sounder and more efficient footing.
, - I wish to speak to that section of the Estimates which relates to the Department of Trade and Customs. I think every member of the community will agree that the big problem that confronts this country is the lack of balance in our overseas funds. “We are living beyond our income. We are importing more than we are exporting, and we are eating into our accumulated overseas funds. I have heard no reference in the discussions on this urgent problem - very urgent as far as Australia is concerned - to the operation of the Ottawa Agreement and of imperial preference generally, which [ think constitute an important factor in this situation. This would be a very appropriate time for the Government to have discussions on the operation of the Ottawa Agreement with the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Commonwealth relations, the Earl of Home, who is now in Australia and who to-day delivered a very fine address to members of the Parliament.
As I understand the situation, the Ottawa Agreement is having an adverse effect upon our economy in two very serious ways. First, it is resulting in the importation of goods which are up to 20 per cent, dearer than is necessary. Because of the operation of the agreement, >ve are paying up to 20 per cent, more than is necessary for consumer goods and capital goods that are being imported from countries other than the United Kingdom. That means that the cost of living in Australia is being pushed up accordingly at a time when it is so imperative that we should keep it down. Secondly, because of the inequitable manner in which it operates, the Ottawa Agreement, in my opinion, is adding considerably to the general lack of balance in our overseas payments, and is contributing to the fact that we are importing very much more than we are exporting.
Before I cite facts to illustrate my points, I want to make it quite clear that [ support the general principle of imperial preference. T support the spirit that underlies the Ottawa Agreement, and [ believe that that spirit and that principle should continue to prevail. After all, the. crimson thread of kinship runs through all of us. and I think it is a very estimable principle that we should keep trade within the family circle as far as possible. Everything should be clone to establish a system of imperial preference so that, as between Australia and the United Kingdom, and as between Australia and the other dominions of the Commonwealth, we should have as much preference on a two-way basis as is possible. I repeat that I want to make ii perfectly clear that that is my belief, and. I think, the belief of the average Australian. Most Australians support the spirit of the Ottawa Agreement and the principle of imperial preference.
The manner in which the operation of the Ottawa Agreement has developed is such that I am afraid it is not working equitably for Australia, but is imposing a burden on our economy. The agreement dates from 1932, which was one of the depression years. It was never particularly favorable to Australia, and developments since 1932 have resulted in it now being a real handicap to our economy. Under the agreement, Australia, contracted to give to the United Kingdom a substantial preferential margin over all foreign competitors on all British manufactured goods coming into this country. No distinction is made between consumer goods and capital goods. It is in connexion with capital goods, which Australian manufacturers sometimes prefer to bring in from Germany or the United States of America, that trouble arises particularly. Under the agreements, we give preference to all British-manufactured goods sent to Australia and, in return, the United Kingdom gives preference, not to all Australian exports to the United Kingdom, but only to some. For example, on our two main export commodities, wool and wheat, we do not get any preference on the British market. Although the agreements are based upon a sound principle with which we all agree, they are not working out equitably for Australia. We give preference to all British manufactured goods that come here, but we are given preference only on some of our exports to the British market.
Then the methods of giving preference to the goods that come to Australia from the United Kingdom and to the goods that we send to the United Kingdom are different. That difference works against the interests of Australia. Goods that we import from the United Kingdom receive preference by way of an ad valorem duty, which is a duty based on a percentage of the cost of the- goods. As I understand the position, the preference ranges from 12£ per cent, upwards and is close to 20 per cent, over the whole range of manufactured goods that come to Australia from the United Kingdom. But although the preference that we give to British goods that come to Australia is based on a percentage of the total cost of the goods, the preference given to goods imported into the United Kingdom from Australia is a fixed money margin per unit, regardless of the cost of an individual item. For example, we get a preference of 15s. per cwt. on butter and 4s. 6d. per cwt. on apples and pears.
The important fact to remember in considering the difference between the methods of giving preference to Australian goods exported to the United Kingdom and goods brought from the United Kingdom to Australia is that since the agreements came into operation in 1932 there has been a substantial increase in prices generally. British-manufactured goods imported into Australia receive a form of protection based on a percentage of the value of the goods, so it will be obvious that the value of that protection has increased considerably since 1932, because I think it is fair to say that the cost of the goods has risen by three or four times since then.
The quantum of the protection given to British-manufactured goods coming to Australia ha3 increased proportionately with the increase of the cost of those goods. But the protection which our exports enjoy on the United Kingdom market is a fixed sum per unit. Although the price of our goods has gone up, the unit of protection has remained constant. As the cost of our goods has risen by three or four times since 1932, the value of the protection given to them now is only about 25 per cent, of what it was when the agreements first came into operation. Because there has been a substantial general increase in prices since the Ottawa agreements first became effective, the whole effect of the agreements has been altered and they are operating inequitably to Australia. They are operating against the interests of the economy of this country, because there has been no attempt - at any rate no successful attempt - to alter the bases on which the protection is given to our goods exported to the United Kingdom and to British goods exported to Australia. There has been no attempt to bring up to date the measure of protection given to our exports and to make it more realistic in terms of present prices.
We must be frank about these matters. I have evidence to support what I am about to say. In addition, I am afraid that some British importing interests are taking advantage of the present position. I think that, in effect, they are departing from the real spirit of the agreements. We saw an example of that in connexion with wheat. In 1952, Mr. Butler, who was then the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, pointed out, quite rightly, that Australia was the main supplier of nondollar wheat to the British Commonwealth, and he appealed to us to increase our production of wheat, but, subsequently, British importers bought wheat from the Argentine and the United States. They spent dollars to import wheat from those countries, although we had surplus wheat in this country. Because of this defect in the agreements, our wheat enjoys no measure of protection on the United Kingdom market. So we lost those possible sales of wheat to the United Kingdom - sales that would have helped materially to improve our balance of trade.
Similarly, it appears that some British manufacturers have not lived up to the spirit of the agreements. I have said before, and I say it again now because I do not wish to be misunderstood on this matter, that I support wholeheartedly., and so, I believe, do all the people of Australia, the spirit of imperial preference, the spirit of keeping trade in the family. But some British manufacturers have not lived up to the spirit of the Ottawa agreements. They have a preferential duty of up to 20 per cent, operating in their favour in respect of their exports to this country. They have taken advantage of that fact to increase the prices of the goods that they send to Australia. They are selling goods to Australia at prices higher than those at which they are selling equivalent goods in other overseas markets and on the British home market. I believe that is a very serious state of affairs, which is to the detriment of the Australian economy. I think there is a clear responsibility on this Government to do something to ensure that those British manufacturers who are not playing the game and are evading the spirit of the Ottawa agreements, will not be permitted to continue to treat the Australian consumers in that way.
The Tariff Board, in its report for the year that ended on the 30th June, 1954- the latest report that I have been able to get - drew attention to the fact that British manufacturers have been using the preferential tariff that they enjoy in this country, not as a basis to enable them to compete with manufacturers in other countries, but as a means to secure on the Australian market higher prices for their good3 than they can get either on the local market in Britain or on markets in other countries. The Tariff Board, in paragraph 26 on page 7, of its report for the year 1953-54, after referring to the appearance before it of some representatives in this country of British manufacturers, stated -
Australia is still an importer of some raw materials from the United Kingdom. The Board has found many instances where United Kingdom suppliers have charged Australian consumers prices much higher than those -charged to domestic users. The f.o.b. export prices charged to Australian users in one year on three related products used as raw materials by Australian industries totalled approximately £125,000 more than the prices charged to domestic users in the United Kingdom.
United Kingdom interests can contribute “towards a lower tariff level in Australia with greater effect and sincerity by removing such causes than by opposing the defensive measures taken by Australian industries.
Despite the restrained language used in the report, that is a striking illustration of the fact that there is a clear responsibility on this Government to see that the Ottawa agreements will be revised so that they will not continue to operate in the lop-sided manner in which they have been operating so far.
.- Like the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr.
What I have to say this afternoon concerns an entirely different matter, and 1 say at once that it is not of the same cardinal importance as that which has been raised by my friend, the honorable member for Fawkner. I refer to the limitation placed on Australian travellers overseas in regard to the manner in which they can 3pend the not very liberal funds which are allocated to them, if I may remind honorable members of something which most of them may already know, Australians travelling abroad are allowed a sum of £1,300 in the United Kingdom, of which £300 may be spent on the continent of Europe. In addition, I am informed, 200 dollars are permitted for travel in the United States of America. This is not an outright, unconditional licence, as one might expect. It is astonishing to discover that Australian travellers overseas, who number approximately 50,000 a year, are not permitted to use their own money as they please.
– Will the honorable gentleman indicate the item which he is discussing?
– I am dealing with the first item, Salaries and Allowances, in the schedule at page 178 of the Estimates. The point I am coming to deals with import licensing. I regret that 1 have to take up time with this preface in order to make the point.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Lt is in connexon with the Department of Trade and Customs?
– Yes. As I was saying, this is not an outright, unconditional licence. It is granted, apparently, solely to cover the cost of travel, living, and clothing, and this sum may also be used for the purchase of small personal articles and a variety of minor gifts. The facts have been brought to my notice by travellers who wished to bring home to Australia for their own personal use some of the many fascinating objects in which, as we all know, the old world abounds, such as an old master, a modern painting, a piece of antique furniture, a dinner service, or a particularly pleasing Persian rug. Many of these items are unobtainable in Australia, but may be purchased relatively cheaply, in comparison with our own costs, in England and in various countries of Western Europe. Australians abroad, even while keeping within the total travel allowance of £1,300, can well afford to pay for them out of these permissible funds. Imagine their surprise, however, upon discovering that they are not allowed by the Department of Trade and Customs to do so. No import licence will be granted for articles bought in this way out of this allocated amount. I suggest to the Government that this is a regulation which is at once an unwarranted infringement of the liberty of Australian travellers and an affront to common sense.
The economics of the matter surely are that each overseas travel allowance is regarded as an import. I think that that is incontestable. Is it wrong, then, to spend a small portion of this money, which I emphasize is the money of the Australian traveller concerned, on goods of value and durability? Is it right to spend it entirely on consumer goods or services of an entirely evanescent nature, such as fares on aircraft, hotel bills, clothes, or parties and entertainments? Surely the national interest is better served by the purchase, for example, of a fine picture than by giving a monster dinner party at the Savoy. The former might well enrich the private and public art collections of this nation for centuries. A dinner, aswe all know, will be consumed in a few hours, with nothing left except hazy memories, an enormous bill - that is quite certain - and, for some of the participants at any rate, the inevitable sore head in the morning. I hope that the Ministers in the chamber this afternoon will direct the attention of their colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) to this anomaly, and seek to have it rectified at the first possible opportunity. It is quite illogical, it is contrary to the public interest, and it if indefensible on any reasonable ground.
I should like now to pass to another subject for general consideration, arising from the fact that the Minister for Trade and Customs does not belong to this committee, but sits in another place. It is true that I have said this before in other years, but as no notice has been taken 1 hope the committee will bear with me if 3 say it again. There has been some talk about the appointment of a committee consisting of members on both sides of the two houses to consider a revision of the Commonwealth Constitution. I suggest that one of the many reforms which this committee might consider is to allow an interchange of Ministers between the House of Representatives and the Senate, for the purpose of piloting through estimates such as we are now considering, and also so that the Minister in charge of a bill could direct it through each of these constituent assemblies. There is, of course, nothing novel in this idea. The system operates in various other legislatures, and particularly in two belonging to British Commonwealth countries. I refer to the Parliament of the Union of South Africa and also to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. From inquiries I have made, this system works well in both those countries, and I should imagine that if we are to improve the
Constitution in terms of over half a century of experience, this is one of the several reforms we might well consider bringing into our own Australian Parliament. I feel quite sure that it would work well, and that it would be of immeasurable assistance to members of either House, to have the Minister in charge of a department, when we are dealing with Estimates, and, when a bill is being piloted through the House, to have that Minister here before us, so that, he can reply to criticism and generally be answerable for the whole purpose of the bill to the members of the chamber in which the legislation is being considered.
. I should like to give some brief consideration to the Estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation, because I feel there is involved here one of those peculiar problems that sometimes arise under our federal system, where we have two methods of government, State and the Commonwealth, each of which is called upon to perform certain functions. “With the Department of Civil Aviation, we have a rather particular circumstance connected with one aspect of transport. It is something of a contrast from a railway system. For the most part, the railway systems of Australia are operated by the States, which are called upon to provide railway stations, tracks and rolling-stock and, out of the revenue from freights and fares, to make the undertakings pay. With civil aviation, a different practice has developed. The Department, of Civil Aviation provides airports and facilities to enable aircraft to fly. .Some idea of what those facilities are may be had from a perusal of the list of technical equipment contained in Division 71 of the Estimates. But the rolling-stock, or, in this ease, the flying-stock - the aeroplanes - is provided by separate corporations, one of them being government-owned, while the others are privately owned. The Estimates clearly show that the cost of the facilities far exceeds the amount taken in the form of air navigation charges.
A perusal of the Estimates discloses that air navigation charges total £371,000 whereas the cost of facilities provided is in the vicinity of £6,000,000. I point out here that the Australian Government is in a very fortunate position. Because it has abundant financial resources, it is able to say, “ We look upon aviation in Australia as having a defence potential, and therefore we do not ask the various operators to pay us anywhere near the cost of the facilities provided “. That argument is quite logical in itself, but it is a luxurious argument that is notopen to the States. In fact, when the State governments make their annual request for tax reimbursements, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) may find, upon examining their accounts, that their railways are running at a loss. He can then say, “ Your railways are running at a loss of £2,000,000. You cannot expect us to provide that £2,000,000”. Apparently the States are not able to plead, “ But perhaps the railways have a defence potential, or a developmental potential “. Although those arguments are logical in themselves, the only government that is able to-day to say dogmatically, “ We will carry a. certain defence potential in the airways but not in the railways “ is the Australian Government.
Another factor which, apparently, is part of government policy is that the Government can say, “Aeroplanes use petrol. Because they use petrol, the operators pay petrol tax, and to some extent, the petrol tax is a charge for the facilities that are provided “.
– It amounts to £1,000,000.
– Perhaps it is £1,000,000; and again, apparently, that is accepted as government policy. The point I am trying to make is that the Commonwealth, with its own limited responsibility in the field of transport, is free to make such a choice, while the States are not.
That raises the important point in our constitutional framework that there ought to be a better co-ordination of activity as between the States and the Commonwealth. If this country is to develop on a broad national basis, the States have to perform certain functions, of which railway transport is one, while the Commonwealth, in turn, has certain other functions. Perhaps more through economic necessity than anything else, we have reached the stage where control of the purse, for the most part, resides with the Commonwealth. Even tho cost of capital works for civil aviation purposes is met by the Commonwealth out of revenue, and to my mind it is perfectly logical that this should be done. But the States, if they want to embark upon capital development, must go to the Australian Loan Council and an allocation of loan money is made to them. If the money is raised on the public market, the States are required to borrow it under a policy laid down by this Government, and pay interest at the rate of 4i per cent., or thereabouts, whereas Commonwealth capital works are paid for out of revenue without any interest component at all. Sometimes, in accounting, a certain notional component is charged, but it seems to me to be rather stupid that interest should he charged when capital development can be financed from taxation. The same position arises in connexion with housing. The Commonwealth raises the money by way of taxation, or sometimes by the issue of treasury-bills, then tells the States that if people borrow this money from them, they must charge interest at the rate of 4^ per cent, for it. That increases the rent component.
I put that forward as one of those peculiar problems of our federal system that will inevitably arise while we have such a system. The day seems to be a long way off when there will be no federal system, and whilst these problems do arise, they should be tackled, and tackled with justice, as between the partners in the federal compact, the States On the one hand and the Commonwealth on the other. At the moment, the federal body has a luxury of choice, because it has an abundance of financial resources. As exemplified by these Estimates, it subsidizes air traffic, which means the transport of persons and freight by air; yet the States are told that, in order to meet the £1,500,000 or £2,000,000 deficit incurred by their railways, a large part of which is occasioned by this interest w*ment, they must increase their freights and fares, and the burden falls on a far large consuming public than is the CaSe with air transport.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 P.M.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner, T had pointed out that the Department of Civil Aviation exemplifies one of those peculiar problems that emerges under the federal system. Because of the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States, the Commonwealth can exercise a choice in framing its policy, according to the economic circumstances, and without much limitation. The States, on the other hand, have to cut their coat according their cloth - in the financial sense.
In the few minutes still available to me, I should like to direct the attention of the committee to the Department of Trade and Customs, particularly thesection that . deals with import licences. As a previous speaker has said, the amount that Australia earns from the export of its primary products determines the volume and variety of goods we are able to import. Obviously, therefore, at certain times we have to resort to the regulation of imports. In other words, we cannot expend on imports more than we -earn from our exports. In the last financial year, the balance of trade wasagainst Australia by approximately £250,000,000. If it is considered necessary, in order to maintain economic stability, to restrict imports and apply an import licensing system, at least we should try to be systematic in the implementation of that policy. We should beas selective as possible, in order to ensure that we import the things that are most urgently required to further the overall economic development of Australia. As I have said on a previousoccasion, I do not believe that we have adequate machinery with which to determine, with justice and equity to all phases of our development, precisely the kinds of imports that ought to come in. Yesterday, there was a conference, either in Melbourne or another of the State capitals, of officers of the Department of Trade and Customs. The officers considered the annual report of the department, in which are listed certain prosecutions for fraud that have occurred in annexion with the administration of the import licensing system. Of course, a system like this is always open to a certain amount of manipulation. If import licensing and regulation is to continue, every effort should be made to operate the system systematically and effectively. Included in the wild statements that have been made about this subject was one that the motor trade was responsible for about 70 per cent, of Australia’s imports. I doubt whether that statement was true. A government which is faced with the critical circumstances that exist to-day should, in addition to consulting interests in the community, appoint a committee of inquiry to investigate thoroughly the pattern of Australia’s import trade, so that we can make the most effective use of the limited resources at our disposal. If there is to be a cut in imports - as has been imposed from time to time - the problem should mot be approached on the rough basis of cutting all imports by a certain percentage, or dividing them into broad categories. There must be a much more systematic approach to the matter than now exists.
According to the Estimates, 116 persons are employed in the Central Import Licensing Branch. Although, at first sight, it would appear to be a large staff, it is not disproportionately large, having regard to the fact that the value of Australia’s import trade in this financial year will probably be of the order of £700,000,000. But we must consider whether this branch is doing adequately the job that it was established to do. As we know, Australia is experiencing difficulty in selling its surplus wheat, and the prices obtained for our wool have fallen.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to direct the attention of the committee to certain matters associated with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Works. I make it perfectly clear at the beginning that any suggestions that I might make, or any ‘criticisms - or anything that may sound like criticism - that I may offer, are not necessarily directed to or against the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes), for whom I have a very high regard. In view of the wide and diversified problems with which the Department of the Interior has to deal, we are very fortunate to have such a versatile Minister in charge of it. The department administers the Electoral Branch, the Meteorological Branch, the Observatory, the Forestry Branch, and the News and Information Bureau. Its principal function, however, is that of real estate agent for the Commonwealth of Australia. Perhaps I might justly claim to be qualified to speak on thai aspect of its functions with some authority. The department acts for most Commonwealth departments in connexion with resumptions, purchases, sales, leaser and rents, &c. Necessarily, it must collaborate closely with the Department of Works. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Works are very largely integrated in their interests. Having had an opportunity of observing what happens in these two department!:. I have come to the conclusion that thereis need for a very close examination of their functions. I consider that an element of inefficiency has developed as a result of a certain amount of overlapping, and there is perhaps not a proper relationship of activities in connexion with certain matters that are dealt with by each of them. It is a fact, of course, that whilst the head office of the Department of the Interior is located in Canberra, unfortunately the head office of the Department of Works is situated in Melbourne, and consequently an attempt is made by the Department of Works to administer most of its activities by remote control. That raises great difficulties, because the department’s activities artspread over vast areas throughout thelength and breadth of Australia. Whilst not attempting to criticize the personnel of the two departments, I believe thai there is not the degree of collaborate between the departments that ought to exist. Therefore, I suggest seriously to the Minister that, if he has not already done so - he no doubt has noticed some of these things himself - he should have a good look at the matter that I have mentioned.
As I said a moment ago, the Department of the Interior handles resumptions. It is an undeniable fact that during the period when Labour was in office there were widespread resumptions, [n many instances, land that was not actually required by the Commonwealth was resumed. The present Minister for the Interior deserves thanks because he is probably the first Minister to have compiled a complete record of the properties held by the Commonwealth. He has given instructions for the disposal of a great number of them. Ear too many properties were acquired by the Commonwealth before the present Government took office. It was much too easy for Labour, in accordance with its own whims and fancies, to resume property. The Labour Government seemed to delight in resuming and retaining possession of properties throughout the countryside, very often unfairly and without justification.
– It was wicked. The Labour Government seemed to be imbued with the idea that, in any event, the Government would eventually own all the property in Australia, and many of its policies were directed towards the attainment of that end.
– Labour’s objective was complete socialization, and if its administration had continued we should have had a condition very much akin to socialization.
– That is a ridiculous statement.
– The facts are there for all to contemplate. Only the other day a very significant case was brought to my notice. It concerned a property in the Warringah electorate. I happen to know very well the family of the man to whom it belongs. The son of the owner lives in my electorate and he approached me about the matter. In 1944 or 1945 the property was resumed. To this day no one has been able to tell me why the Commonwealth resumed it. The New South Wales Government wanted a strip at the front of the land for the purpose of widening Military-road, in the Mosman area of Sydney. The New South
Wales Government intimated its purpose, and for some extraordinary reason the Commonwealth resumed the entire property. A dispute over the resumption continued for several years. The owner was very much upset about the whole procedure. The sad thing is that, I believe, worry about the resumption contributed to the early death of his wife. No settlement was made until the present Minister learned of this state of affairs when he had the list of Commonwealth property compiled. He then inquired into the matter and discovered not only that no compensation had been paid for the strip of land that the New South Wales Government had resumed for the widening of Military-road, but also that no settlement had been made for the resumption of the main part of the property and that there was no reason why the Commonwealth should have retained ownership of it. The Minister did the obvious thing and returned the area acquired by the Commonwealth to the former owner. He is taking action also to have the owner adequately compensated for the piece of land that was taken by the New South Wales Government.
It is very simple, of course, for a government to resume property. My experience has convinced me that governments must be very careful about resumptions. When I say “governments “, I mean the Ministers in charge of the departments that make the resumptions. In making resumptions, the Commonwealth, the State governments, and local councils have developed the bureaucratic habit of wielding the big stick, which they know lies ready to their hands, and they select the most beautiful sites that they think they might want. Nothing seems to be too good for governments when they choose sites for their purposes. They have no regard for the needs of the local residents or of private citizens generally in these matters. They simply open negotiations, and, if those do not succeed, they then wield the big stick and exercise their powers of resumption. The recommendations of departmental officers in relation to resumptions must always be considered with great care.
Many resumptions have been made, and sometimes Commonwealth buildings have been erected, in the most unsuitable places. I have mentioned this aspect of the matter in this chamber previously. The Postmaster-General’s Department has constructed many telephone exchanges on choice commercial sites, though a telephone exchange will serve the public equally well if it is situated in a back street. State governments also resume good commercial sites when less valuable sites would serve their purposes equally as well. I have previously referred in this chamber to the resumption of an area of land for postal purposes at Crow’s Nest. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), through the Department of the Interior, is taking action to return to the former owner the part of the property not required by the Commonwealth. Certainly, the major part of the land resumed is not needed for postal purposes, but, simply because the PostmasterGeneral’s Department wanted a new post office, the property was resumed. [ do not object to the department resuming properties for this purpose. It must take the land that it needs in the interests of the public generally, but it did not need the property that it resumed in this instance. I might add that the resumption was made by the Labour Government.
I am concerned about the number of buildings that the Commonwealth is renting throughout Australia. I understand that this matter was mentioned this afternoon. I gather from my reading of the Estimates that the Commonwealth is now paying approximately £852,000 a year in rents. This is too much, and we should return to private industry and commercial interests the properties that the Commonwealth is renting in the cities. I am aware that action is being taken to vacate rented properties in Melbourne and Sydney, but the process needs expediting as much as possible. It is quite wrong for the Commonwealth to retain these rented properties when it is in a position to construct buildings for its purposes. However, I suppose we must not be too optimistic, because I fear that the size of the Public Service is becoming too great in relation to Australia’s population. It is true that the Department of the Interior needs a great many houses, both in the Australian Capital Territory and in other parts of Australia, such as the Northern Territory. [ shall discuss the Northern Territory more specifically when the Estimates for the Department of Territories are under consideration. I am concerned about the apparent claim of public servants in Canberra and elsewhere that they are entitled to expect that the rent of their homes shall be calculated on an uneconomic basis or that it shall be subject to a subsidy that is not available to the rest of the people of Australia. They seem to expect, as a vested right, that the Australian people generally shall put their hands in their pockets and pay taxation for the purpose of subsidizing the rent of certain public servants. I object to such an attitude as a matter of principle. The present basis of subsidizing the rents of public servants should be overhauled.
I guarantee that the rents received from the rented properties owned by the Commonwealth do not cover the outgoings in relation to them, such as the capital cost, the cost of upkeep and interest on the money borrowed to build them. That might sound a fairly broad generalization, but I venture to suggest that the net return to the Government cannot compare with the return from commercial rents and is not enough to balance the cost to the Government. I suggest to the Minister for the Interior that honorable members should be given an annual statement of the number of houses owned by the Commonwealth, their capital cost and the cost of maintenance, as well as the interest paid on funds borrowed for their construction. Perhaps the Minister can obtain this information if he looks up the records, but I guarantee that no other honorable member has the information.
-lan Phaser. - On the contrary, a full statement about all those matters is available to honorable members.
– No doubt the honorable member has a vested interest in Canberra, which is perhaps the principal offender. But I am not afraid of Canberra people. They have expected too much from the Government of Australia. It is about time this was stopped. There are people in Australia who look askance at the money that has been spent on th establishment of the Capital Territory. It is time that we had a serious loot at this matter and that the people of
Canberra faced up to their responsibilities in the same way as the rest of the people of Australia.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- We have just had the pleasure of hearing the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) speak in his usual style. We all know that the honorable member, in private life, is a very prosperous estate agent. One of the things that seem to worry him is the position of the estate agents in Canberra. He has claimed that the people of Canberra receive some special treatment compared with other taxpayers. The fact is that the people of Canberra pay a rent which is assessed on the capital value of the properties occupied, and which works out at approximately 6 per cent, of the capital value of the property. In fact, the people here do not enjoy some of the advantages which other people are able to enjoy who have had houses built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. They do not receive the rental rebate to which people who receive less than the basic wage are entitled under that agreement. I do not presume that there are many persons in Canberra who receive less than the basic wage. But the statement that people who occupy government homes in Canberra have some advantage over other taxpayers i quite untrue. Apparently, the honorable member for Bennelong would argue that a rental which represents 6 per cent, of the capital value of a property is not high enough.
– Is that the net amount that they pay?
– The rent is assessed on the capital cost of the home, and is approximately 6 per cent, of the capital value. That rent covers maintenance and other charges.
The honorable member also made a great cry about the fact that Commonwealth departments are occupying offices in the capital cities. I say to him that it is this Government that has aggravated that position to some extent. As Chairman of the Public Works Commit tee, the honorable member for Bennelong should have played a very important part to alleviate that position. The Chifley Government acquired a large area in the City of Melbourne, and the overall plan was prepared for the construction, of Commonwealth offices there. Plan* and specifications of the first block of offices were prepared in ]949. The Chifley Government, at the time it was defeated, was about to call for tenders for the erection of the first portion of the building on a corner which is one of the worst slum corners of Melbourne^ What happened? Only recently, after the expiration of five years, has the committee of which the honorable member for Bennelong is chairman, gone to Melbourne to inquire into this proposition. Five years after the plans were prepared,, the committee has found that those plans are good, and has accepted them. Yet the honorable member for Bennelong ha» complained bitterly that the Commonwealth is occupying offices that should be available to private industry. I agree with that view. I should like Commonwealth departments to move out of private offices into their own offices.
A similar position exists in relation to what is known as the Phillip-street project in Sydney. The Chifley Government had not taken as many steps in relation to that project as it had taken in respect of the Melbourne project, but it had acquired the site. Work was being done by architects and surveyors in order to ascertain the best way in which Commonwealth offices could be built in that area. There were more problems associated with that work than there were in Melbourne, including problems of street a linemen t. But that project was put into storage for approximately five years by the present Government. It is only now, after five years have passed, that the Government is starting to examine the plans which were being processed by the Chifley Government. Actions speak louder than words. If the honorable member for Bennelong wanted the Commonwealth to vacate privately owned office space in the cities, he should have interested himself in the problem five years ago, instead of coming into this chamber in September, 1955, and complaining about the Commonwealth occupying so much space which should be available to private enterprise. Of course, the accommodation rightly belongs to private enterprise, because the Commonwealth is renting office space in privately owned buildings.
However, I did not rise with the intention of speaking on that subject. I want to speak on one or two other matters which concern the Department of Health. L wish to raise the subject of ambulance services, particularly with reference to the service in New South Wales which, [ am proud to be able to say, is regarded as one of the most efficient ambulance services operating. Only recently, some experts were sent from the United States of America to examine the operation and organization of the ambulance service in New South Wales. It is unfortunate that this service, like many other services, receives six-sevenths of its finance from the public and one-seventh in the form of a grant from the Government. It has become impossible for this great service to function with the high degree of efficiency which it has observed in the past. This has mainly been brought about by increased costs and a decrease in subscriptions received from the public. The national health scheme makes provision for the payment of doctors, makes finance available to hospitals, and covers many other fields of health. I think that the scheme should provide also for some contribution to be made to ambulance services throughout Australia.
I do not want the ambulance services to be made a section of a government department. The ambulance services have built up a tradition of efficiency, and I want that tradition to continue, but I think that the time has come when the Government should make a contribution on a £l-for-£l basis to these services. Many people do not realize the great service that ambulance men render to the public, and the numerous menial tasks that they have to perform. First, let me point out that, in New South Wales, ambulance services which want to obtain any capital equipment must themselves raise the finance to purchase it, and the methods they adopt include the conducting of chocolate wheels, raffles, and so on. The work of raising this finance is done on Saturday mornings by members of the ambulance services, who go out onto the streets and engage in the activities that I have mentioned. I have seen ambulances in service in New South Wales which have clocked more than 300,000 miles. They are still on the road because they had had good maintenance. Those are the ambulance wagons which are called out on duty at any time of the day or night. Because of the way in which ambulance services have to fend for themselves in the matter of finance, the men who work so hard both at their official duties and at raising money, in effect for their employer, by means of chocolate wheels and raffles, enjoy no superannuation benefits, retiring allowances or any of the privileges which most people employed in industry enjoy nowadays. Yet they have to be expert drivers and hold a certificate of skill in first aid. No margin is paid to the men who take on work with the ambulance services although at time.= they have to act as midwives when babies are born in ambulances which are taking maternity patients to hospital. Often they have to transport mental cases, accident victims, people injured in brawls,, and so on. They have to be able to control crowds in order to keep them away from patients. All this work requires skill, training, patience and time. Only recently one of the ambulance sections in New South Wales had reached such a low state financially that it would have been unable to pay even the wages of the ambulance men had not the men themselves gone out into the streets and raised the money by means of chocolate wheels and raffles. The men are not paid for these extra activities, but do that work in order to keep the ambulance services in existence. On many occasions, when a big accident has occurred, men who have been off duty have come in to work to help their section but they get paid no overtime for doing so. It is a voluntary, unpaid act. Their families are suffering because of the conditions under which they work ; yet these men carry on.
I think that the time has come when we ought to be able to find, from a national expenditure amounting to £1,000,000,000 a year, at least enough money for £l-for-£l Commonwealth contribution to assist ambulance services throughout Australia to maintain their present high standard of efficiency, and to ensure that their financial stability is such that they will be able to modernize and maintain their equipment and pay a decent wage so ambulance men, as well as give them the benefit of some sort of superannuation and security. Those men deserve that consideration, at the very least, because they have given such great service for many years. I hope that it will not be long before we are presented with a budget that will make some provision for Commonwealth assistance to those worthy services.
– I also want to make a few remarks on the proposed vote for the Department of Health, but first of all let me say something about the subject of which the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon) has been speaking - the ambulance services. I quite agree that they are very fine services, and that they do all the things to which the honorable member has referred, but I want to point out to the committee that it is a remarkable fact that every time something costs a lot of money, which is now a State responsibility, by some curious process of reasoning it then becomes a Commonwealth responsibility. The ambulance services are, without any question, a responsibility of the States, and if New South Wales is providing only one-seventh of the expenses of its ambulance services that is a very poor commentary on the management of the Government of New South Wales. During the last two years the States have had millions of pounds from the Commonwealth in tax reimbursements and loan funds. They have had far more than in their wildest dreams they could have expected to have. Not only that, but I understand that last year New South Wales finished the year with quite a handsome surplus. If the New South Wales Government does not wish to devote any of this surplus money to its ambulance services that is the business of the State of New South Wales. But it is a curious thing, as I say, that every time something begins to cost much money the State governments in an effete sort of way immediately try to transfer their plain responsibility to the shoulder* of the Australian Government. If thiskind of thing is to go on we will very soon reach the stage where State governments have no responsibilities at all. Ii is quite unreal to indulge in a panegyric on the merits of the ambulance services, all of which is admitted by every member of the committee, and draw from thai the erroneous conclusion that ambulance services are therefore a Commonwealth responsibility. They are nothing of the sort! They are, and always have been, a State responsibility.
There are several other matters to which I should like to draw the attention of the committee. One is the question of the provision of drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, especially those drug3 which are known as “ restricted “ drugs, which are allowed to be prescribed only in certain amounts and in special circumstances. We often hear questions asked of the Minister for Health as to whether certain drugs cannot be put on to the free list, or the quantities increased. The fact is that the schedule of drugs is decided by a highly expert medical committee. The decision as to the amount which can be prescribed, and the circumstances in which these drug3 can be prescribed, is made by this committee, and it would be a very bad thing if the responsibility for these decisions were to be transferred on to another basis. The fact that some drugs are restricted drugs does not mean that it is difficult for medical practitioners to use them in appropriate circumstances. In actual fact, it is a perfectly simple procedure for a practitioner who wishes to use those drugs and is faced with the appropriate circumstances in which they should be used, to’ obtain the necessary supplies and use them ; but it would be, I believe, a great mistake if we were to interfere with procedures which have been set up and which, on the whole, work very satisfactorily indeed.
Many of those drugs are immensely powerful drugs. It is a very good thing that their use should be, to a certain extent, restricted to special circumstances. In that connexion, may I say also that there are many drugs which are obtainable, some on doctors’ prescriptions, and some not on doctors’ prescriptions - that, of course, has nothing to do with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act - and it would be of great assistance in the administration of that act if State governments examined very carefully whether drugs should be sold without a doctor’s prescription. There is, I believe, a great tendency in the country to-day for drugs, many of them powerful drugs, to be used far too liberally.
The national health scheme has now been in operation long enough for us to be able to make some evaluation of its success. It has, of course, cost a good deal of money. I believe the money has been well spent and I believe that the chief merit of this scheme, and an aspect in which it differs, as far as I know, from the national health scheme of any other country in the world, is that it has been based on a method of preserving family practice - general practitioner service and the family doctor, with the provision of a general practitioner service to people in the country who wish to take advantage of it. It is very easy to think that the provision of better medical services is purely a question of providing more technical skill, more specialist services and higher degrees of training. In fact, a service which provided purely for that would be more efficient if medicine were an exact science. As medicine is not an exact science, a national health service of that type, which, of necessity, would be based on the clinic and on the hospital instead of on the family practitioner, would frustrate its own ends. What we must remember, and what has been remembered and put into operation in the workings of this service, is that doctors are concerned primarily, not with the treatment of diseases, but with the treatment and management, in many cases over many years, of the people who have the diseases, which is a very different thing.
Like all other schemes, the national health scheme is not perfect, and it is possible for abuses to enter it. But there has been established a system of disciplinary committees, consisting of doctors and chemists, which police the scheme, and which on the whole, I believe, do so very satisfactorily. I do not think one can devise any scheme which cannot be abased in some particular, but I believe that on the whole this scheme, in the hands of those persons who have been charged with the responsibility of so doing, has been very adequately safeguarded, and that abuses have been kepi to an absolute minimum. It should be remembered that the people who constitute those committees and who are responsible for preventing abuses, or for correcting them if they occur, are the doctors themselves. They are, at the same time, making a very great contribution towards the success of the scheme by participating in one part of it - the pensioner medical service - at highly concessional rates. In fact, the rates are far below the ordinary fees. That contribution has saved the country a great deal of money. I do not make that statement merely to laud the profession that is rendering this service, because it has been a tradition of the profession from time immemorial that it should make its services available in very many directions without counting the cost. It would be a very sad day if the profession lost the will to do so or, indeed, the opportunity to do so. It is an instance of the co-operation and partnership with the profession that the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) has been able to obtain in the administration of this very fine scheme.
I should like to refer to one other very concrete benefit that we have received since the introduction of the scheme. I refer to the advances that have been made in the attack on the problem of tuberculosis in Australia. It is remarkable that, in the comparatively short time during which the present Minister has been in charge of the Department of Health, the death rate from tuberculosis in Australia has been reduced by more than half. Not only has that happened, but also a great many cases that previously were concealed have been brought to light and subjected to adequate treatment, which means that their infectivity has been removed from the general population. It is interesting to note that Dr. Holm, the chief of the tuberculosis section of the World Health Organization has made the following statement : -
I do not think any country in the world has a social system for tuberculosis cases a* good as that in Australia.
That is a very striking tribute to our national health scheme, for which this country is in great debt to the present Minister for Health.
In the short time that is available, I cannot say very much more. I have left much unsaid, but everything that I have said tends to show that the national health service has been set up by some one with a real understanding of health and its problems. I remind the committee that they are problems of human personality and human happiness more than scientific problems. I do not mean that they must not rest on a very firm scientific basis. Of course, they must rest on that basis; but they are primarily problems of human personality, and this country is extremely fortunate that it has a health scheme which has been introduced by somebody who understands those problems. As I have stated, we are spendbig a large amount of money on it. It is proposed that in this financial year, £39,000,000 shall be spent on the provision of various medical and hospital benefits, including tuberculosis benefits. That seems to be a large sum of money. I do not disparage the national health scheme of Great Britain, but I believe that if we had a similar scheme, based primarily on the hospital and the clinic and only secondarily taking into account the general practitioner and the family doctor, we would be spending not £39,000,000 per annum but probably close to £139,000,000, and that we would not be getting results that would be as good as those we are enjoying under our present scheme.
It is important that every one in the Parliament, and in this country, should understand that we have a national health scheme that is without parallel in the world. Like every other scheme, it has some features that perhaps call for improvement and alteration in the future, but on the whole it is not too much to say that it is a triumph of genius on the part of the Minister for Health. This country owes him a great debt of gratitude, and we are very fortunate, indeed, to have had introduced a national health scheme that is bringing so many benefits to the people of Australia.
.- I desire to make a few observations under the heading of the Tariff Board. I wish to deal particularly with the report of the Tariff Board in relation to the production of asbestos at Wittenoom Gorge in Western Australia. I appeal to the Parliament, particularly to the Government, to give earnest consideration to the fate of this very valuable industry. The project at Wittenoom Gorge was established, after great difficulty, in the remote Hammersley Ranges of north-western Australia, 700 miles north of Perth. The industry already supports a town of 750 people in this otherwise unsettled area. If Australian users of asbestos fibre were to give the project their support, it could readily sustain a town of over 1,000 people. The total amount of capital invested in the industry by the Australian Government and the Western Australian Government, and by Australian Blue Asbestos Limited, is approximately £2,000,000.
The town of Wittenoom, which is the largest inland town in the north-west of Western Australia, is completely dependent on the blue asbestos industry. Ii was built by the Australian Government and the Western Australian Government largely to assist the blue asbestos industry, and to populate the north-west of Western Australia. The town of Wittenoom, and the asbestos industry, are responsible for the continued existence of Roebourne on the coast, and the nearby port of Point Samson, which it one of the important ports of Western Australia. At this stage, I wish to quote some population figures which should interest honorable members and enable them to make up their minds about the justice of the case that I am presenting to the committee. The portion of Western Australia north of the 26th parallel, which is usually referred to as the north-west, has an area of 527,000 square miles and a total population, excluding natives, of 8,400. Of this number, 2,700 are in the coastal town of Carnarvon on the 25th parallel, leaving only 5,700 in the main north-west area. Wittenoom is the next largest centre, with a population of 750, or approximately one-sixth of the total, excluding Carnarvon. No known industry, except th, blue asbestos industry, could support a large centre of population in the northwest. Until the blue asbestos industry commenced, the important centre of Roebourne, with its port at Point Samson, was gradually going out of existence. The population dwindled from thousands in the early 1890’s to 126 in 1945. Due to asbestos production, the number of people in Roebourne and Point Samson has increased steadily, and to-day’3 statistics reveal that the population is 280.
– Order ! To what item in the Estimates is the honorable gentleman relating his remarks ?
– I am relating my remarks to the Estimates for the Department of Trade and Customs. I am dealing, as far as the limited time at my disposal will permit me to do so, with the report of the Tariff Board in connexion with the production of asbestos at Wittenoom Gorge. Let me give some other figures for the benefit of honorable members. After the commencement of production at Wittenoom Gorge, a total cargo of 12,800 tons passed over the wharf at Point Samson in 1953, of which approximately 10,000 tons were directly connected with the production of asbestos. Shipping services, air services and services connected with the transshipment of fibre from Wittenoom have derived increased revenue as a result of the asbestos project. It can be claimed fairly that asbestos production, even at its present stage of development, has been directly responsible for 900 additional residents in the north-west of Western Australia. This represents an increase by approximately 17 per cent, of the population of the main north-west area. The establishment of the industry has made a substantial contribution to a solution of the national problem of populating empty areas in the north of Australia.
The township of Wittenoom comprises 152 houses, each equipped with septic installation, electric light and running water. Another fifteen houses are located near the mine, and accommodation for 100 single men is provided also. There is a large retail store, including a butchery and a bakery. There is a cinema, as well as a cafe, a hotel and a school catering for SO pupils. There is a modern six-bed hospital, with a maternity section and a staff of five. A resident doctor controls the hospital and general medical work in the area.
The asbestos produced at Wittenoom - this is important - is of high quality and mostly long fibre. The present price of No. 3 grade blue fibre from Wittenoom is £130 a short ton at Fremantle. With the increased production that would be possible with support from the Australian market, the price of this grade of fibre could be reduced to £130 a short ton at Fremantle, or even less, depending on the volume of production.
For the manufacture of asbestos cement, it is possible to use an imported fibre of a lower grade than the No. 3 grade. The most commonly used imported fibre is 4K white fibre. The price of this fibre landed in Australia would be £102 a ton. Australian No. 3 grade blue fibre is superior to the 4K fibre for use in asbestos cement, as the blue fibre improves the strength of the board and at the same time enables more square yards of fibro cement to be made per ton of fibre and per ton of cement. Two Australian fibro-cement makers, Wunderlich Limited and Asbestos Products Proprietary Limited, have used Australian blue asbestos for several years, but James Hardie & Company Proprietary Limited, the largest user of fibre, is not prepared to use any. It prefers to use imported material. I express the opinion to the Parliament that that company has a responsibility to this country and should make every effort to keep the Australian asbestos industry in operation. All thai the asbestos company asks is that Australian users should take 50 per cent, of its production. If it could unload 4,000 tons a year on the Australian market, it would be able to export an additional 4,000 tons a year. The target for production is 8,000 tons a year.
Everybody interested in the development of the north-west of Western Australia feels that the Tariff Board did not give due weight to the facts submitted when the application for protection for the asbestos industry was made. Having read the report of the Tariff Board. T can only say that it appears to me that the hoard attached no importance to the capacity of the industry to earn money overseas. Large overseas shipments of asbestos from Wittenoom have been made during this year. It is understood that the firm orders held by the company for this calendar year total 6,000 tons, at an f.o.b. price of £100 a ton. That means that our balance of payments will be assisted to the extent of £600,000 during the current year. If the tariff requested were approved, that figure could be practically doubled, because imports could be reduced. But that aspect of the matter meant little to the Tariff Board, because apparently it was not even considered by the board in arriving at a decision. It seems odd that 6,000 tons of asbestos can be sold on the world market at £100 a ton f.o.b., while the Tariff Board has valued the material at only £56 a ton f.o.w. if used in Australia. On that basis alone, the board declared the industry to be uneconomic.
In view of those points, and having regard to the fact that the balance of payments and the restriction of imports are playing such a major part to-day in our economy and probably will continue to do so in the future, I strongly recommend that the Government review the valuation placed on the industry by the Tariff Board, particularly as imported asbestos cost over £3,000,000 during the last financial year. Doubtless the Government will accept the Tariff Board’s report and recommendations, but I hope that full and favorable consideration will be given to the provision of some other form of assistance by the Government to this vital industry. I believe that the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the Western Australian Government, should make every effort to keep the industry moving. It has been responsible for the establishment of a town in one of the most isolated parts of the north-west of Western Australia. It has done a magnificent job. It has provided amenities for its workers which are equal to those enjoyed by workers in any other part of the State. I appeal to the- Government to give consideration to the possibility of assisting the industry.
I point out that it is an industry which is not without strategic value to this country. Let me read a letter, dated the 22nd December, 1943, written by the
Director-General of War Organization of Industry. It is published in a booklet entitled The Australian Mineral Industry. The letter is as follows: - . . . inquiries have been made amongst all the Commonwealth Departments concerned, and I am now able to place on record the fact that there is complete agreement as to the importance and urgency attached to your projects for the production of asbestos fibre in Tasmania and Western Australia.
That gave the company encouragement to continue in 1943. Because of that encouragement and the assistance received from the Federal and State governments this industry was established. If it does not now receive financial aid from the Federal Government another ghost town will be seen in Western Australia. One of the newest towns that have been developed in that State will go down overnight, unless action is taken urgently to give the industry an opportunity to continue.
.- There is every justification for the plea of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) on behalf of the blue asbestos industry at Wittenoom Gorge. Here is an opportunity for the Government to dispel an idea which may be prevalent in our minds that had this industry been established on the eastern side of the Nullabor Plain the plea which is being made for assistance would not need to be made so strongly and without result. I support the remarks of the honorable gentleman. The persons who established this industry are deserving of the highest praise and every encouragement to continue an undertaking which is very valuable.
I want to make some reference to a White Paper which has been distributed to the Parliament in connexion with the budget and which makes its appearance for the first time in the Parliament’s history. The White Paper deals with the civil works programme for 1955-56 and, while its contents will come up for discussion under the proposed votes for capital works, it is appropriate that mention of the document should be made at this stage, because the works to which it refers are to be carried out by the Department of Works. For the first time in history, honorable members are able to know where the Government proposes to expend some of the vast amounts of money which they will be called upon ultimately to approve. It is more than three years since, from my place here, I attacked the holus-bolus presentation of the budget, with honorable members being asked blindly to approve the expenditure of tremendous amounts of money. The proposed expenditure of about £1,000,000 for an Australian embassy in India was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee. Parliament had approved the expenditure of that vast amount of money by approving an initial expenditure of about £500. The civil works programme amplifies the information given in the Estimates, and it indicates not only the amount which it is proposed to spend during the year, but also the amount authorized in previous years, and the balance required for further expenditure, so that honorable members will be aware of the Government’s commitments in connexion with its works programme during the year. I pay a tribute to the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) for having initiated this very valuable move. It is in conformity with recommendations which were made to the Parliament by the Public Accounts Committee. The adoption of the suggestion encourages the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland), with myself and other members of the committee, to hope that eventually, and within a reasonable time, parliamentary control of public affairs will be restored, if it ever existed.
The proposed vote for the Department of Health is £1,136,000, which is only the cost of administering the department. I should like to see included in the Estimates some reference to the funds which are actually controlled by a department. The Department of Health has a wonderful record and could very well include for the information of the Parliament the amounts which it proposes to spend during the coming year as well as a comparison with the expenditure for past years. Honorable members would then be made aware of the wonderful effort of the Government towards improving the health of the people of this country, [n 1949-50, when the Government took office, the total vote for health provisions in the Department of Health, including tuberculosis, medical, pharmaceutical and hospital benefits, and children’s nutrition, amounted to £7,508,877. This year the department will disburse for these purposes £40,000,000. That is not a bad effort in five years. It reflects great credit upon the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). It is a tribute to his wisdom and illustrates the tragedy which would befall the people of this country should they be denied his services in this place. The proposed expenditure this year is £4,250,000 in excess of the amount provided last year. That is not additional money going down the drain in mere expenses. It is made up of additional health benefits provided to the public. The policy of the Department of Health, which i3 also the personal policy of the Minister because of his medical knowledge, has been the prevention of ill health rather than its mere alleviation. As I see it, the medical benefits scheme is based on prevention. Statistics could tell a story of great success in this direction in the field of tuberculosis. I am only a layman, but I have gained some knowledge from personal contact with people in this field. The Minister could confidently assure the country that, provided we can exclude people infected with tuberculosis, the day is in sight when we shall have this disease completely under control, and within a reasonable time after that we may expect its almost entire elimination from Australia. This is a very fine record indeed. The Minister starts, of course, in the right way with the nutrition of school children and the provision of health benefits for them. I am always concerned that in every field of governmental action there is always a cleft down which some unfortunate people are likely to slip because of a conflict between departments or because of a division of responsibility. I am concerned for that section of the people who might fall into this cleft. I refer to the physically handicapped young people. The Department of Health is concerned with the health of the people, and with sickness; but the physically-handicapped children, and even the adults, are not necessarily sick people, so they do not come within the ambit of the department. They may come within the ambit of the Department of Social Services, once they have the right to claim social services benefits. Between the two, they seem to be nobody’s baby.
I suggest to the Minister for Health that the time has now arrived when he should call into consultation the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) in order to make certain that this particular group of people is not allowed to 3lip into this cleft between the two departments. The Commonwealth cannot escape its responsibility in this connexion. It has to do the job. Up till now, the job has been neglected. I am not prepared to say that any particular government is responsible for that neglect, but the problem must be tackled now.
I was fortunate enough to attend a conference of the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association in Brisbane last week and I learned from leading medical men that the problem of cerebral palsy was submitted to the medical profession for action as far back as 1S61. It was not until five or six years ago that this problem of cerebral palsy of spastic children was attacked, and then it was by voluntary effort of laymen. Fortunately, it is recognized to-day in medical quarters that this problem is their real responsibility. It is also the responsibility of governments, and something can and should be done about it.
I do not know whether this is the result of the influence of our Minister, but the keynote of discussion in the medical and educational fields at that conference was prevention, and I was delighted to learn from the highest medical authorities in the Commonwealth who were in attendance that provided appropriate action is taken at the proper time, this is a preventable complaint. No stigma is now attached to cerebral palsy, yet nothing was done for children in this group, although their case was put forward in 1861, until laymen voluntarily undertook to provide what we have in Australia to-day - a clinical and educational centre in every State, maintained by voluntary contribution from the public.
The purpose is to assist a section of young people who hitherto have been kept hidden away in back yards and dark rooms, because the public did not understand the nature of the complaint. That section demands attention to-day. These centres have proved what can be done for these children, and that demands action by all governments. I am not prepared to say that it is the responsibility of either the Department of Health or the Department of Social Services alone. I believe it is a problem which concerns both departments. I believe that the problem demands some gettogether on their part.
Finally, I ask the Minister for Health to investigate the system of collection of medical benefits contributions from members of medical benefit societies or companies, whatever they may be called. It has come to my notice that certain organizations collect contributions from their members by the sale of stamps, which are stuck on to a piece of cardboard, or a piece of paper. When the contributors to those companies or societies claim either medical or hospital benefits, their claims are recognized only upon the production of that cardboard or piece of paper. They may have contributed for years, but if they cannot produce the card or paper, their right to any benefit under the scheme disappears. That is a slip-shod way of conducting the affairs of such an organization. Imagine any one paying premiums to a life assurance company for a benefit at death and the company having no record of whether or not the insured person had kept up his contributions and relying completely upon the production of the policy in the event of a claim ! Some investigation needs to be made, and some better method should be evolved so that there will be a record of whether a person is financial, up to the time of his claim or up to the time of his illness, in the organization in which he may be enrolled as a member.
If the department should make an investigation of the financial circumstances and liabilities of these organizations I do not see how any of them could satisfy it that they are solvent and able to meet claims made by those who have been contributors unless they have registers of their financial members.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) will find very few Australians willing to join in his paean of praise of the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). While this Minister may have pleased the representatives of vested interests who sit on the Government benches, he will go down in history condemned by the great majority of the Australian people because of his destruction of the splendid system of free hospitalization established throughout the Commonwealth by the Chifley Government. He will be remembered as the Minister whose parsimony in refusing to increase even by Is. a day the 8s. a day paid by the Chifley Government for each occupied bed, and thus refusing at a time when inflation had taken half the value out of that money, contributed to the suffering of tens of thousands of hospital patients, and caused the increase in hospital fees in various States, Liberal and Labour alike.
The Minister will also be remembered for the introduction of a policy completely opposed to the modern social thinking in that he has created once again a flat-rate contribution scheme for hospital and medical benefits under which the poorest person in the community is levied exactly as much as the richest member of the community - a policy that was in defiance and repudiation of the present-day concept that people should contribute according to their means towards the services of the community.
Before passing on to deal for a few minutes with the most remarkable attack made by the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) upon the people of Canberra, I should like to refer to the statement so flatly made by the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) that ambulance services are the responsibility of the State government and never the responsibility of the Federal Government. In the first place, he completely forgets that even under its limited constitutional powers, the Commonwealth has powers that enable it to conduct ambulance services. In the second place, the honorable member for Oxley is an outstanding exponent in this chamber of the philosophy that “ What was good enough for my grandfather is good enough for me “, and that “ What is, is best “ and all proposals for change should be rejected. In that, he echoes the philosophy which truly represents the political outlook of the members of the Liberal and Australian Country parties who over the years have resisted all change and all progress until they have been reluctantly forced to make some change by the forces of progress represented by the Labour party on this side of the chamber.
I hope that the day will come when the Commonwealth will operate the ambulance services, just as I hope to live to see the day when the Australian Parliament will possess unlimited legislative powers under the Constitution. We will have then a truly national parliament, clothed with power both to raise revenue and to direct its expenditure. Instead of the present system of six sovereign State governments, we will have twenty or more new States, or provinces, each in its own area, administering such delegated powers and responsibilities as are handed to it by a sovereign national parliament.
I have described the attack made on the people of Canberra to-night by the honorable member for Bennelong as unusual, because it is unusual in these days to hear such an attack made publicly in this chamber. It is, of course, not uncommon to hear such criticisms voiced privately by the members of the Government parties. I was very interested to observe the manner in which his fellow Liberal members around him applauded his attack on the people of this National Capital, because what he said was in direct line with the attitude that was taken by those who were the predecessors of the present Liberal members of this Parliament. They resisted the establishment of Canberra. They have never had any sympathy with the ideal of a national capital.
– We voted for it. Bruce and I brought the people up here. What the honorable member has said is absolute nonsense. He should look at the inscriptions on the foundation stones.
– I would not deny to the Minister for Health any of the pleasures of recollection that he has.
– Tell the truth for a minute !
– I am afraid I cannot allow to fall on the right honorable member for Cowper the mantle of the great King O’Malley, and I cannot allow him to claim the credit for the establishment of Canberra; the decision was taken before his day.
– I received the proclamation from the English Parliament.
– The honorable member for EdenMonaro should get back to the Estimates.
– I am dealing with the proposed votes for the Department of the Interior, which relate to Canberra. Of course, what particularly angers the honorable member for Bennelong - I shall leave the right honorable member for Cowper for the time being - is that in this National Capital, it is not possible for private speculators to make any money out of unimproved land values. The honorable member for Bennelong is, in his own profession, the direct representative of the collectors of unearned increment in the community. The City of Canberra - indeed, the Australian Capital Territory as a whole - stands out as an oasis in Australia. It is the one place in which that form of exacting tribute from the people who really do the work and create the values is not permitted. One can walk throughout the whole extent of Canberra and not see on any unoccupied block of land a “ For sale “ notice, because in this area land speculators and private estate agents have no means of taking an unearned profit by holding land out of use until the surrounding community has increased its value and then taking that value for themselves.
– He could not set up his business here.
– The honorable member for Bennelong could not set np his business here. That is what annoys him so much. He does not like to see such a system in existence. He therefore says that harsher terms should be imposed on the citizens of Canberra who are the tenants of the Government and the occupiers of government property. He says that they are not paying enough for the houses which they occupy. He refused to accept the figures that were so courteously offered to him by the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon), which show that the citizens of Canberra are paying rent on the basis of 6 per cent, of the capital value of the houses that they occupy. Of course, the honorable member for Bennelong does not think that that is nearly enough. In these matters, he is a bit of a usurer ; he would like to see a basis, not of 6 per cent., but of 10 per cent., 15 per cent., or 20 per cent., if he could get that much out of the unfortunate tenants of the houses which are owned by those people whom he represents in the community. The people of Canberra, next, I should say, to the people in the electorate of Eden-Monaro, are the most intelligent people in Australia.
– Yon will get on !
– Would the honorable member for Mallee, who is interjecting, deny that that is so? After all, the electors of Mallee did not show much intelligence in their choice of a representative in this Parliament. The people of Canberra set an example to the whole of the remainder of the people of Australia.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! That matter is not covered by the proposed votes for the Department of the Interior.
– They pay in full for the homes that they occupy and, indeed, in many cases they pay and suffer considerably for the fact that they have to live in this city. They miss in Canberra many of the social services which are available in the States. By living in a city which is so spread out as this one is, they are compelled to pay particularly high transport charges. I consider that the present rentals and other charges which are levied on them by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), far from being too low, are in many cases far too high, and I believe that the member? of the Liberal party, in the Australian Capital Territory at least, will he the first to repudiate the utterances that have been made in this chamber on behalf of that party to-night.
– I rise to rebut the statements that have just been made - extravagant, fantastic and false statements - by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). He said that we have treated the States with parsimony. Let me tell him what the State Premiers thought when the Labour Government, of which he was a member, forced its scheme down their throats. At the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers that was held in Canberra on the 16th and 17th August, 1949, three months before this Government came into office and started to provide some real relief to the hospitals of Australia, Mr. Hollway, the then Premier of Victoria, said -
Although the Labour Government may claim that it provided free hospital treatment, it was done very largely at the expense of the States.
Mr. Hanlon, the Premier of Queensland, said ;
I do not suppose that any of the Premiers thinks that he can get it both ways. If the Commonwealth’s hospital contribution is increased, that fact will be taken into consideration in fixing the general Commonwealth allocation to the States. There is a catch in this hospital benefits scheme, and the States were foolish to enter the agreement in its present form.
Mr. McGirr, the then Premier of New South Wales, said the same thing in regard to the States being penalized by that scheme. Every one of the States was anxious to get it altered as soon as we came into office. Labour’s scheme was simply a trick, under which the State governments were given a certain amount of money on condition that they ceased to collect a similar amount. It did not result in any increase at all of general hospital revenues. They were sick and tired of it. Finally, they all came into this Government’s scheme on the 1st October, 1952, when, as honorable members will recall, we were at the height of the inflationary period. Under this Government’s scheme, the amount of the
Commonwealth contribution to the revenue of the hospitals has grown from just on ?6,000,000 to more than ?13,000,000. In the case of New South Wales, the amount has grown from ?2,500,000 to ?6,500,000. The scheme has enabled every hospital in Australia to get out of the red. In the year that that action was taken, every hospital in Melbourne wrote to me and stated - as they had written to their own State Premier - that they had reached a stage at which they were unable to keep their beds open. Dr. Schlink, the chairman of directors of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, said that he would have to close whole sections of his hospital because of the position. What is the position to-day ? We are now giving them approximately ?13,000,000 a year instead of the ?6,000,000 that they were getting before. Some States are receiving three times as much as they received before. As a result, every available hospital bed is in use at the present time. Hospital after hospital has sent me its accounts to show how its financial position has improved. I was recently asked to a function at the Balmain Hospital, about which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) should know something, because he was the representative of Balmain in the New South Wales Parliament for some years. I was told at the function that for the first time the hospital had ended the financial year with a credit balance. The gathering, which was held on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the opening of the hospital, was attended by about 1,000 people, and a large body of waterside workers was present.
The social services that were promised by the former Labour Government were simply a snare and a delusion. Take its miserable offer to the States in relation to mental institutions : The Labour Government asked the States how much they were collecting. The amounts collected by the respective States varied between 8d. and Is. a day for each patient. The allegedly generous Labour Government, which the honorable member for EdenMonaro says showed us a good example, informed the States that it would give them Sd. a day for each patient if they would cease their collections. Not one extra shilling was spent on mental institution :<.-, and the position of the poor unfortunate mentally afflicted went from had to worse during the five-year term of the agreement entered into by the Federal Labour Government. This Government has now shown the States the way out and has undertaken to make substantial contributions to the cost of the additional accommodation required to care adequately for mental patients and to ensure that thousands of them shall be able to return to their life in the community instead of being drowned in the maelstrom, or, perhaps, more aptly, the cesspool in which the mentally afflicted have been living for the last ten years, owing to the over-crowding for which the Labour Government was responsible.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro has the audacity to suggest that this Government has not done anything for the poor and needy people in Australia; but what did the Labour Government do to provide for the medical treatment of pensioners? It did nothing. It was left to the present Government to introduce a scheme for the provision of free medical treatment for pensioners, and in the last three years more than 10,000,000 medical services have been given to the pensioners. Both doctors and pensioners tell me - and I attend the gatherings of pensioners before Christmas each year whenever I can - that, for the first time, under the scheme introduced by this Administration, pensioners feel that they are being treated as real men and women because they are able to go to the doctor’s surgery and claim treatment as a right instead of seeking it as a charity, as they had to do when Labour was in office. The pensioners now feel that they are treated as if they really have a stake in the country. Though this Government has improved the conditions of the pensioners so much, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro dares to suggest that it has done nothing for them ! What it has done means nothing to him, of course. He can pay for medical treatment and get it. However, pensioners were unable to obtain free medical treatment until the present scheme was introduced three years ago, nor were they able to obtain free medicines. Even more important, they were not accorded due recognition of their status in the community, which they value even more than they value a few shillings. In addition, this Government has given them much higher pensions than they ever received before.
– The increased pensions will buy less.
– They will buy very much more. The figures contradict the honorable member. One has only to talk to pensioners and to consider how they voted at the last general elections to know their true feelings.
Let us now consider other matters that touch the daily lives of the people and affect their medical expense.-. T wish t,i make particular reference to free lifesaving drugs. The former Labour Government proposed a scheme under which ordinary drugs would be provided free. It envisaged a very limited list of free drugs. What was the result? Approximately 150 doctors entered into the scheme, and about 200,000 prescriptions were written in the two or three years that the scheme lasted. At the present time, more than £10,000,000 worth of drugs annually are dispensed free for the treatment of diseases. This enables tens of thousands of people to avoid having to enter hospital. No matter how costly the antibiotic drugs may be, those who need them are able to get them absolutely free. What is the result? In Canberra the availability of these drugs and their use in home treatment by doctors has reduced the demands on the hospital for treatment by no less than 17 per cent. The treatment of pensioners at home with free drugs has greatly reduced the number of out-patients attending at almost every hospital in Australia. I have been told that the demand on the out-patients departments of the Perth hospitals has been reduced by about 6 per cent, because pensioners can obtain treatment at home. As a result of this Government’s medical benefits scheme, many people no longer go to the out-patients clinic at the hospitals. Instead, they call the doctor to their home. In consequence, the outpatients departments of hospitals are gradually becoming what they were originally intended to be - places where people of moderate means could obtain free treatment from the greatest specialists in the country, who normally charge a fee of many pounds. This Government has completely revolutionized Australia’s health services.
I turn now to tuberculosis benefits. The Labour Government introduced a measure for the payment of tuberculosis allowances. I supported it in this chamber. If the honorable member for EdenMonaro cares to examine Hansard he will find my contribution to the debate on the measure recorded there. I venture to suggest that it was the best-informed and most exhaustive of the speeches on the measure. It was in sharp contrast with the miserable speech of about two pages in length that was read by the Minister who introduced the bill. When I took office as Minister for Health, I found that although fifteen or eighteen months had elapsed, three States had not signed the accessary agreement. The Minister for Health in the former Labour Government, Senator McKenna, stated that he had left on a file in the Department of Health a proposal for the payment of tuberculosis allowances. When I examined the file I found that Senator McKenna had proposed an allowance of £4 10s. a week, but that it had been rejected by the Labour Treasurer, the late Mr. Chifley. In my discussions with the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) about the scheme for the payment of tuberculosis allowances, I insisted that we should not institute the scheme unless we paid much higher allowances. The basic rate of allowance is now £9 12s. 6d. a week, and additional amounts are paid in respect of the patient’s wife and children. As a consequence, thousands of tuberculosis sufferers who previously had concealed their condition have sought treatment voluntarily because they consider that the cost of maintaining their homes is now provided for. These concealed cases were a danger to their fellow workers and to their families. Not only have they been treated, but also thousands of them have been completely cured or have had the progress of the disease arrested and are back at work, taking their full share of the activities of the community^ The achievements of this Government in that field are remarkable. The records show that no expenditure was made under the scheme proposed by the Labour Government. It was not until the present Government took office that tuberculosis allowances were paid. Between 1949 and 1954, a total of approximately £28,000,000 was spent on the scheme. The death rate from tuberculosis has been reduced from 28 in each 100,000 persons to 9.6, or about one-third of the previous number.
At the conference which was held with the representatives of Asian countries who came to Australia in order to examine the treatment of tuberculosis sufferers in Australia, it was stated that in the past four or five years, the Australian Government had done more in this respect than the government of any other country in the world. The facts stand for themselves. The live people stand for themselves. The men and women who are back at work stand for themselves. The people who have not had to go to hospital because of the measures that we have introduced stand for themselves. The people whose lives have been saved stand for themselves. The pensioners stand, men with dignity and manhood and with a citizenship that they never had before. The Government has no reason to apologize for anything of this kind. What the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said goes absolutely by the board.
The honorable member proceeded to say that people must pay a flat rate contribution in order to go into hospital. He has been a member of a hospital board, and I thank him for his work on it, but he knows as well as I do that there is no flat rate contribution for hospital attention. A flat rate is payable in return for a benefit of 6s. a clay and other rates are payable for benefits of 12s. a day, 18s. a day, 24s. a clay and 36s. a day. All those benefits are hacked by the Commonwealth contribution of 12s. a day. There is not a flat rate but a rate of contribution which has relevance to the patient’s means and to the type of treatment that he desires.
Then the honorable member said that the Government should give more assistance to ambulance services. The State of New South Wales has had a Labour government for the last fourteen year’s.
If it is really Labour policy that ambulance services should not make any charge, that is the State in which one would expect to see that policy in operation. Recently, I opened an ambulance station in the electorate of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. I was sorry that the honorable member was unable to accompany me on that occasion, because he was ill. I also opened ambulance stations in the electorate of Gwydir and in several other electorates. I found that the State Government contribution to the ambulance service in - New South Wales represents less than 10 per cent of the total upkeep _ of the ambulance stations. The rest of th’e money required is obtained from donations or actual charges for ambulance services. That is what happens in this Labour State in which the Government has complete power - not the limited power that is possessed by the Commonwealth. When the Chifley Labour Government introduced its national health legislation in this chamber I said that it was a tin-pot sort of thing which nobody would support. I said that it would fail because of constitutional difficulties.
The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), who spoke on the Estimates for the Department of Health, knows that about 80 per cent, of the people in his State are insured for hospital treatment. It is no use telling those people that there is a flat rate contribution. I suppose that 70 per cent, of the people of New South Wales are insured for hospital treatment. They know what takes place. It is a scandal that, after a five-year agreement had been arranged for the purpose of giving insurance organizations a definite plan upon which to work, the New South Wales Government should suddenly increase all hospital charges. The State Government knows that the insurance associations have a. rule that contributors must give three months’ notice of their intention to change to a higher rate of benefit. It was a cruel and harsh action to raise hospital charges suddenly, instead of waiting until the 1st January, on the excuse that hospital revenue was low. The State Government did not take that action because of low hospital revenue. It raised hospital charges because its railways deficits were terrific. It decided to make the sick people pay when it should have made the well people pay. I think that is the greatest scandal that has occurred in my lifetime.
.- It is unfortunate that the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) became so heated and disturbed by the forthright remarks of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). This is a subject which we should be able to discuss calmly. We should consider the position of the sick people of this country dispassionately, fairly and without heat. The discussion can be clouded only by bitterness, such as the Minister has displayed. There is one outstanding fact that the right honorable gentleman did not mention, and that is that in the days of the Chifley Government, public ward treatment was free in every institution, either approved or run by any board under the control of a State government. That was an outstanding feature of the Chifley Government’s plan.
– If there were any public wards.
– It is amazing that the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) should be so completely out of touch with the hospital position-
Mr. Leslie interjecting,
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member for Moore must cease interjecting.
– Since hospitals began to operate in this country, public ward treatment had been free until the present Minister for Health intervened, and destroyed the system of free hospitalization. Let us give praise to those who are entitled to praise. The previous administration treated the people very well indeed with respect to hospitalization. In the past, admission to hospital did not depend on a means test, but on a medical test. But what is the position now? When a person goes to hospital, he should immediately receive treatment for his condition or injury. But what happens ? His financial means are considered in order to determine whether he shall go into a private ward, an intermediate ward or a public ward. That is a most undesirable feature of hospitalization, and it should be corrected.
I pass from that subject to another matter which, I think, should be considered by the Minister for Health and by the Government. That is the case of chronic illness. I refer to those people who have been sick for many years and who need hospital treatment and a doctor’s attention. They are permitted to contribute to benefit societies but, immediately upon entering hospital, they find that they are not eligible to receive benefits and are obliged to pay fantastic rates for hospital treatment. I am not complaining about the hospital doctors and those who are charged with the responsibility of running hospitals, for they have a difficult and trying task in these days of inflation. These are matters to which the Minister for Health should give reasoned and fair consideration.
I wish now to refer to some remarks made by the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) in reply to statements made by the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon). Speaking on the subject of ambulance services, in reply to statements made by the honorable member for St. George, the honorable member for Oxley said that on every occasion when a service began to cost a great deal of money the States attempted to shift the responsibility for it on to the shoulders of the Commonwealth. I want to say that the honorable member for St. George made a very forceful and just case on behalf of ambulance services, and [ think that a vote of thanks, a word of appreciation, is due to the St. John Ambulance Brigade, and other ambulance services functioning in Australia, for their splendid work for the community. They are undoubtedly part of our health organization, but, despite the fact that they render outstanding service and give a tremendous amount of time in a purely honorary and voluntary capacity, not one penny piece goes from the Commonwealth purse to aid them. That is to be deplored and should be corrected. I remind the honorable member for Oxley that the Commonwealth is the tax collector of the nation. Under our present uniform tax system the Australian Government is the only government in Australia that levies income tax, and has the sole authority in respect of disbursements over and above the reimbursements made to the States under the uniform tax reimbursement formula. How that revenue will be disbursed is determined, not by the will of the State Premiers or Treasurers, but by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. Consequently, I think it is right and fitting that a government which was able to conclude the last financial year’s operations with about £70,000,000 to spare, should give some financial aid to ambulance services throughout the country. I join, therefore, with the honorable member for St. George in asking that reasonable consideration be given to this matter.
Another important matter to which the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has referred concerns sufferers from tuberculosis. I wish to offer due praise to all associated with the fight against tuberculosis, to the Minister for Health himself, to the voluntary organizations, to the Citizens Tuberculosis League, to the Anti-T.B. Association and to all the voluntary organizations which have made a contribution to the solution of this problem. It is not a sectional problem. Its solution does not rest with the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. It has to be shared by the whole of the people of Australia. However, whilst giving praise to those who have made their contribution to the solution of the problem of tuberculosis, including the Minister for Health, I am bound to say that the Government’s scheme in relation to sufferers from tuberculosis does not go far enough. There are too many instances of sufferers of tuberculosis having been declared free of the disease, their sputum test having been pronounced negative, and thereupon having been forced to lose the tuberculosis allowance and to go back on to the invalid pension. Because of desperation owing to the inadequacy of the invalid pension they have been compelled to go to work in order to earn a few pounds to augment their incomes to an amount adequate to maintain them and pay for the protective foods that they need. I make a plea to the Government to give the position of such people further consideration. It is an all-important matter. I do not share the pessimism of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who has said that this debate is meaningless because nothing will happen as a result of it - and, incidentally, thereby records a oneman vote of no confidence in the Government that he supports. I feel that if nothing is done on this occasion, perhaps something will be done in the future, in the direction of dealing more justly and in a more fitting manner with the matters that I have raised.
I now wish to return to a subject mentioned earlier in the evening, I refer to the item in the proposed vote for the Department of the Interior which relates to the payment of rent by tenants of the Commonwealth. There are a number of Commonwealth rented properties in the area in which T live. They were built in about 1942 for approximately £900 each, and despite the fact that the Government has collected rents from the tenants of those properties for a period of thirteen years, to-day their valuations have increased from £900 to about £2,000, and more, and the rent has in some cases been increased. In addition to that, we have the great reluctance displayed by the Commonwealth, as the landlord, to deal with applications by tenants _for repairs and renovations that an ordinary landlord would be called upon to effect. I state this publicly to-night because it seems to me that representations along those lines seem to have fallen on deaf ears. I do not really blame the Minister at the table, but it does appear that the Department of the Interior and the Department of Works have grown in such a fashion that those in charge of them are completely out of touch with the ordinary people with whom their departments deal. So I ask that consideration be given to this matter also.
I return now to a matter raised by interjection by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds). It concerns municipal rates on properties acquired by the Commonwealth. As one who has been associated with local government, I put it to the committee that most persons who serve in this Parliament look on local government as a partner in the conduct of Australia’s affairs. We have the Government of the. Commonwealth, the governments of the States, and local governing bodies. I believe that we should treat local government a little more justly than we are treating it, and, in all cases where the Commonwealth is not paying rates, speedy action should be taken to see to it that rates are paid. Local government has increasing responsibilities. It now provides free libraries, recreational facilities and many other services to the community, and it is urgently necessary for the Government to treat local governing bodies as members of the partnership of government. In respect of the wider matter of the Commonwealth’s responsibility to local government, I consider that the Commonwealth has a duty to establish, in major cities and provincial towns, Commonwealth buildings to house Commonwealth departments and offices.
Several honorable members have complained about the occupation by Commonwealth departments of private properties throughout the country. I am concerned that the Commonwealth should build suitable edifices in each city and town where they are required for the accommodation of departments and their concentration in one locality. It is most unfortunate that the Government of Australia should be occupying all sorts of ramshackle buildings in various cities and towns. We should build in the capital cities, and in provincial centres where they are required, buildings of a type suitable to each particular locality and in harmony with their surroundings. 1 know of many places in my electorate, such as the cities of Bathurst, Lithgow and Katoomba, in which many government departments are operating. There should be erected in each of those places a building suitable for the accommodation of departments. If that were done, private property could be handed back to private ownership and used for such purposes as the private owners desire. At the same time, the Commonwealth would thereby be making a worthwhile contribution to the development and decentralization of Commonwealth activities in the areas concerned. I make these pleas in the hope that at least some of them will fall upon fertile ground, or upon the ears of a Minister who eventually will do something about them. I could refer also to the Department of Civil Aviation, but time will not permit me to do so.
I conclude by saying that this Government, with its financial resources, has a duty to help local governing organizations to overcome the problems that beset them. It can do that merely by paying its rates, as do other landlords and owners of property.
.- It is my intention to refer to the proposed votes for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Civil Aviation. Before doing so, I feel that I should refer to the remarks of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser). I suggest that the statements he made to-night in relation to the health scheme can only be described as being positively ludicrous. His statements were so far removed from the truth that those intelligent electors of Canberra to whom he referred, and who know full well the principles of the Government’s health scheme, will regard them as being, as I have already stated, positively ludicrous. When the honorable member transferred his attention to an attack on the statements made by the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), he distorted the truth to such a degree that he shocked honorable members on this side of the chamber by what can only be described as a degrading, humiliating and abject spectacle of a member of the Parliament resorting to the most blatant form of flattery of electors in the forlorn hope that he may win a few more miserable votes in a seat which is definitely shaky, and which may well be lost by him at the next general election. I suggest that it might well be that to-night he did his own brother a very great disservice because, if the people of Canberra are as intelligent as he claimed, and if they thought that those statements were made by his brother, they would rebound against him.
When we were discussing the proposed vote for the Department of the Interior last year, honorable members on both sides of the chamber pressed the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) for some kind of electoral reform. Every honorable member from Queensland, whether he is a member of the Liberal party, the Australian Country party or the Australian Labour party, and every
Queensland senator, unites in the request that the Minister should give serious consideration to altering the polling hours for that State. The polling hours for Queensland State and local authority elections are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There has been no confusion or difficulty caused by the adoption of these hours. It has been suggested that, if the polling hours for federal elections were from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., members of certain religious organizations would find it difficult to vote because their religious beliefs prevent them from doing so between the hours of sunrise and sunset. But no such difficulty has arisen in relation to local authority or State elections. The fact that polling hours for federal elections are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. causes a degree of confusion in the minds of the electors. I suggest that the Minister should give serious consideration to my proposal, with which every other member of the Parliament who comes from Queensland agrees.
– That is not true. Labour members want the polling hours to he from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
– The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has been advocating in this chamber for years that the polling hours should be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
– The Australian Labour party has decided that they should be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
– If the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) had been observant, he would have noticed that the honorable member for Brisbanenodded his head in approval of my suggestion.
– I approve of it.
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) has also advocated those hours. I suggest that the honorable member for Melbourne should confer with the members of the Labour party and ascertain what they really think.
– Like the rest of us, those honorable members are bound by the party decision.
– I now direct my remarks to another aspect of electoral reform. A recent gallup poll indicated that only 19 per cent, of the electors are opposed to the abolition of the practice of distributing “ How to vote “ cards on polling day. It is suggested that, instead of electors being accosted by booth workers distributing “ How to vote “ cards, the name of the candidate and the political party that he represents should be printed on the ballot-paper. That reform would meet with the approval of a majority of the people. My opinion is supported by the result of the gallup poll, which indicated that 75 per cent, of the people were in favour of the reform. I again urge the Minister to give consideration to the suggestion, r sincerely hope that he will give serious consideration also to my earlier suggestion that polling hours in Queensland be from S a.m. to 6 p.m. If it were so desired, New South Wales could retain the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. arrangement, and Victoria, to please the honorable member for Melbourne, could do likewise.
I pay tribute to the work that has been done by the Department of Civil Aviation. It is recognized that Australian civil airlines have the highest standard of efficiency, the highest standard of safety precautions, and the best record for safety in the world. Within the last three and a half years, not one accident ha3 happened on Australia’s civil airlines. That is a direct tribute to the efficient work and conscientious efforts of the officers of the Department of Civil Aviation. Having prefaced my remarks with those comments, I wish to refer to the Eagle Farm airport, which is Queensland’s chief airport. Set out on page 14 of the White Paper on the civil works programme for 1955-56 under the control of the Department of Works are the appropriations for the Brisbane airport, which total £1,427,768. Expenditure has been authorized for the erection of a control tower, the strengthening of the 75-degree runway, the erection of a transmitter building, and the construction of a new runway to be known as the 38- degree runway. Recently, the Department of Civil Aviation was the subject of direct and ill-informed criticism by the Brisbane press and the Premier of Queensland. As a result of that criticism, an inspection was made. It was true that there had been a certain amount of deterioration of one strip only, the 75- degree runway. This was brought about by unanticipated excessive use of the strip by nose-wheel aircraft. But it was also true that the Government had approved the appropriation of funds to provide for the complete reconstruction of that runway. The reconstruction of that runway has now been completed. The foundations are of high quality gravel and are such that we can say without fear of contradiction that the runway is equal to any other runway in the country.
Now we find that the Department of Civil Aviation has embarked on the development of a new runway at Eagle Farm airport. It will be known as the 38 degree runway. There are already three runways at the airport - the 24 degree runway, the 75 degree runway and the 40 degree runway. All of them are in excellent condition. Now a 38 degree runway is to be constructed. That is the beginning of the implementation of a most imaginative plan of development which has been conceived by the department, and which will enable it to provide at Eagle Farm airport, if it should become necessary, a series of four parallel runways - one of the most modern developments in civil aviation. It is to be hoped that the development of vertical take-off aircraft will make it unnecessary to construct the other two runways required for a system of four parallel runways at the airport.
I was particularly pleased by the sympathetic consideration which was given by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley), in collaboration with the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), to the claims of farmers in the Pinkenka. Meeandah and Landers Pocket area. The original plans for the development of Eagle Farm airport envisaged the resumption of large tracts of farmland but, by slight amendments of the plan, which were approved by the Minister for Civil Aviation and the Minister for the Interior, it has been possible to avoid the resumption of that land, and most of the land that will be used for the development is swamp land that has no commercial value. Consequently, farmers in the district will suffer the very minimum of disturbance.
Eagle Farm airport is of great historical significance to Australia, because it was at that airport that Sir Charles Kingsford Smith landed the Southern Gross after his flight across the Pacific from America. Therefore, I believe that some recognition of the role of Eagle Farm airport in that flight should be given. I know that the Southern Cross, the aircraft which Sir Charles Kingsford Smith piloted on that epic flight, is now packed in crates somewhere in Sydney. I feel that that shows a complete lack of appreciation by the Australian people of the efforts of that great pioneer of aviation. I suggest that it would be fitting if the aircraft were unpacked, reassembled and sent to Eagle Farm airport, to be suitably displayed there in some kind of display case, so that it can be preserved for posterity. I feel that no site for the display of the aircraft would be more fitting than Eagle Farm airport in Brisbane.
There was a movement in Brisbane some time ago for the erection of a monument to Sir Charles Kingsford Smith at Eagle Farm. A sculptor was commissioned to make a likeness of Sir Charles in his flying kit. That has been done but, owing to lack of funds, the monument has not been cast in bronze. There is still some money in the pool. I take advantage of the fact that the estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation are under discussion to suggest that it might not be beyond the powers of this Government to provide the additional money necessary for the erection of a monument to Sir Charles Kingsford Smith at Eagle Farm airport. I suggest also that, if we in Queensland can raise enough money to pay for the accommodation of the Southern Gross at Eagle Farm and for it to be suitably encased, so that it will be preserved, the Minister for Civil Aviation should permit the aircraft to be re-assembled and displayed there, as a recognition of the epic flight of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith across the Pacific.
– Mr. Temporary Chairman - [Quorum formed] - I was astounded this evening to hear the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) challenge honorable members on this side of the chamber to look at the facts in relation to hospitals in New South Wales. The right honorable gentleman, referring to K ew South Wales, made a statement which, in my view, was quite unbecoming of a Minister. I cannot help but cast my mind back to the condition of the hospitals in New South Wales before the advent of this Government. It so happened that I was a member of the New South Wales Parliament shortly before this Government was elected to office on the 10th September, 1949. After the passing of the Chifley Government’s hospitals legislation in 1947, the hospitals in New South Wales reached such a state of solvency that the State Government, at a cost of less than £250,000 a year, was able to write off the deficits in the budgets of all hospitals in the State at the end of each financial year. It was the advent of the Menzies Government, on the 10th September, 1949, and the selection of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) as Minister for Health that brought trouble to the hospitals in New South Wales.
The Minister for Health said to-night that the recent increase of hospital charges in New South Wales was instituted by the New South Wales Government in order to cover up deficits incurred by the State railways. That statement was quite unbecoming of a Minister. Let us look at the facts, as the Minister suggested. I put it to honorable members that, from the day when the Chifley Government’s legislation became effective, the hospitals in New South Wales were in a very strong financial position. We must keep in mind that as the members of this Government believe in free enterprise, they must believe also in private hospitals. While the Minister was on his feet to-night, I recalled that on Monday of this week it was my responsibility to pay an account to a private hospital on behalf of a lady who had entered the hospital on the 23rd July of this year. After taking into account the miserable 8s. a day which the Government allowed the hospital in respect of that patient, who was in a shared room, an account of £104 6s., covering the period from the 23rd July to the 16th September, was forwarded to me as the lady’s attorney. That is the type of hospitalization one would have under free enterprise if it were not for the kind of government that we have in New South “Wales. As was stated by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), the New South Wales Government was faced with a flat payment, which was fixed by the Chifley Government before the onrush of inflation that was experienced after this Government came into office on the 10th December, 1949. The trouble in respect of hospitalization which forced the issue in New South Wales may well be related to remarks passed by the Minister for Health in this chamber. How often did honorable members on this side demand that the Government should not proceed with its policy of imposing a tag on the provision of the additional 4s. a day, that the New South Wales Government should charge for public ward accommodation? That was the root of the trouble in respect of hospitalization throughout Australia. When the Government imposed that tag, hospital finances commenced to go downhill. For the Minister to condemn a State like New South Wales for its hospital administration, after having advocated forced payments from patients to enable hospitals to balance their accounts, is hypocrisy of a kind which I did not expect from a Minister who has served as long as the Minister for Health. The right honorable gentleman is the very Minister who advocated the principle which has now been forced upon hospitals in every State, and in New South Wales in particular.
The Minister claims some credit in respect of the establishment of hospital benefit funds. I agree that when the hospital benefit funds were established the Department of Health had an overriding control. It was in a position to guarantee the payment to hospitals of the additional 4s. I am not unmindful that at that time it was stated that hospital finances would prosper as from th B t div. I heard the Minister refer to the societies which were being established. I have in mind one large hospital benefits society in New South Wales, the roots of which are in Macquarie-street, which admitted recently that at the end of the last financial year it had surplus funds amounting to £200,000 which it wished to give away in the same manner as it had given away £200,000 in the previous year. The Department of Health told the society that it was not considered right and proper for that amount to be donated in the way it had been donated in the previous year. When organizations which are directly under the control of this Administration can afford to disburse £200,000 of funds which were collected from contributors, at a time when hospitals are languishing for money, something is radically wrong. That situation should be faced by the Minister and the Government. We are in an almost ridiculous position in ‘ respect of hospitals. If my memory serves me correctly, Ne-n South Wales this year is budgeting for an expenditure of £16,000,000 on hospitals. The New South Wales Government is doing its best to help, but it is budgeting for a deficit of £2,250,000. Every other State will be in a similar position. The States had to accept the policy of the Minister that persons who enter hospital should contribute to their upkeep. Ever since the right honorable gentleman became Minister for Health, lie has advocated that hospital treatment should be on the basis that the patients should contribute something towards their upkeep, that the amount of 8s. a day fixed by the Chifley Government should be paid and, if the patients were contributors to a fund, the Government would make available a further amount of 4s. a day. If the Minister really meant what he said to-night, the Government would have increased that amount of 4s. when the budget was introduced this year. The Government knows full well that the amount of Ss. a day fixed by the Chifley Government in 1949 would have to be increased to nearly £1 in order to have the same value.
Responsibility for what is happening in respect of health, and the perilous position of hospitals throughout Australia rests at the Government’s door. It is of no use for the Minister to try to bluff his way through a series of facts in relation to the failure of the Government to implement a sound hospital policy. The time has arrived when we must have a completely new approach to problems of health. I do not think that anybody will deny that the hospital benefit societies, in their own way, are trying to fill a gap which exists in the provision of proper health benefits, but that is only a part of the problem. It is of no use to have a health scheme’ under which patients contribute, unless hospitals are available for their treatment. Everybody knows that with the Federal Government malting away £45,500.000, and the State governments - irrespective of their political flavour - showing deficits, the health scheme is becoming unbalanced. If, in the interests of the future health of Australia, the Government really wants to take action, it will call a conference of State Ministers for Health to try to hammer out a scheme whereby the provision of hospital accommodation would become a national responsibility, and be met from the financial resources which are available for the purpose. The Minister may rightly claim that life-saving drugs have shortened periods of illness. I know something of that as a result of personal experience this year, and I know that he, as a medical man, realizes that such drugs are valueless in serious cases unless hospital accommodation is available for the treatment of the patient. The provision of hospitals is not a responsibility of State governments only. Nobody in this Parliament will say that the provision of the great hospitals which are required to-day is the responsibility of any authority other than that which gathers the taxes. National health is fundamental to national progress. It is true that penicillin and other drugs are provided free by the Commonwealth at a cost of £39,000,000. That £39,000,000 might well be wasted without a reorganization of the whole approach to health in Australia. It will be wasted unless there is complete co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. I was astounded when I heard the statement of the. honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) about the New South Wales Government. We all know where the responsibility lies. Those who con trol the purse strings must make provision for the hospital requirements of the people.
– Why did not the Labour Government make provision for a referendum in respect of health matters, instead of the miserable proposal that it did put forward?
– The Minister has had six years to do something about the matter, and he has only just started. If he can go for six years without doing something about it, the people of Australia will be thinking it is time that they got rid of this Government. I am glad that the Minister has returned to the chamber. I shall remind him of what I said when he was absent. I was a member of the New South Wales Parliament shortly before this Government assumed office on the 10th December, 3949. The Minister knows that the hospitals became bankrupt after this Government assumed office. What was the financial position of the hospitals in New South Wales in the two years preceding the election of this Government? I was a supporter of a Labour government that made provision for the wiping off of all outstanding hospital accounts at the end of a financial year. That Government wiped the slate clean for every hospital in New South Wales. Whatever the failures may be now, they lie at the door of this Government and of the present Minister for Health.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I can understand the reason for the attack made on the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and other members opposite. I feel that they are endeavouring to cover up the maladministration of the New South Wales Labour Government, and to distract attention from its decision to increase hospital fees by 50 per cent. I do not know whether it is a remarkable coincidence, or whether it is something of which we should take note, but the fact that all three members of the Opposition who have attacked the Minister most violently come from New South Wales indicates that there is a purpose behind this criticism of him. But the attack has failed. Throughout the Commonwealth of Australia, one hears the great commendation of the Minister for his present health scheme. It would be impossible to find in any country, amongst any group of people, unanimous approval of any proposal that was put forward by any government or any Minister. I am sure that the honorable member for EdenMonaro was talking with his tongue in his cheek. In fact, a couple of times I thought he was performing the feat so well that he would choke himself. A recent survey in Canberra showed that about 17 per cent, fewer people were now entering hospital. As the honorable member has had some experience of the work of hospitals, he must have been fully aware of that fact.
I desire now to read the following extract from a letter that I have received : -
I can tell you we have appreciated the Government’s medical pensioner arrangement both for medical attention and medicines. Without it, we would have just about been bankrupt.
That is the view of two age pensioners, a man and his wife, and if it is of any interest to honorable members opposite, let me say that these people are not in my electorate, and, therefore, would not be writing to me in that strain in an endeavour to derive any benefit.
Having had quite a deal of experience with hospitals before I entered this Parliament, I can speak with some authority on this matter. It is obvious to any one that the financial position of the hospitals throughout the Commonwealth has vastly improved under the assistance that has been given to their administration by the Minister for Health. The majority of people in this country are prepared to make some contribution for the benefits they receive. “We should be poor types indeed if we were not prepared to make some contribution towards the time when we may be in need of medical attention.
– Opposition members themselves are insured.
– As the Minister has pointed out, Opposition members possibly are contributing to this scheme now.
Reference has been made to taxation, and the surplus at the end of the last financial year. The suggestion has been made that we should lavishly expend the whole of this amount in any and every direction. I point out that it has been mentioned in this chamber and elsewhere - evidently honorable members opposite have not taken any notice of it - that the supposed Commonwealth surplus of £70,000,000 is not one that can be expended in any of the ways that have been suggested. If we were to add up the cost of all the suggestions that have been made for the distribution of this alleged surplus of £70,000,000, 1 should imagine thai it would be in the vicinity of £700,000,000. I am sure there is no need for me to defend the Minister for Health. As we saw this evening, he is quite capable of defending himself. In addition to that, the scheme which he has presented to the country is defence which speaks for itself.
I come now to a matter that really concerns the Department of Civil Aviation and the Department of Works. I regret that the proposed vote this year for the Department of Civil Aviation has been reduced from £11,477,000 last year to £7,719,000. I feel that despite the talk of the need to reduce expenditure, this is one department that should not be affected. I hold that belief particularly as a representative of a country electorate, because I am a little afraid that the reduction of the proposed vote for this department will not affect expenditure on major airports such as Mascot, Eagle Farm or Essendon, but that the country airports and air services will suffer. 1 regret that very much indeed, because there is an urgent necessity for the expansion of many of the aerodromes in country districts.
If the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), who comes from Western Australia, and I were to leave Canberra at the same time, he would arrive in Western Australia before I would arrive in certain parts of northern New South Wales. Air services for people in the country are just as important as they are for those who are travelling between capital cities. Even though a tremendous amount of development and progress has taken place, and even though I fully appreciate the fact that we cannot perform a feat of magic and pick money off trees, even though I realize that money does not grow on trees, I do feel that a greater amount should be expended on the establishment and improvement of country aerodromes. The establishment of aerodromes indirectly assists people in the country, because it brings certain additional amenities. In a number of country towns where aerodromes are established, the railways are giving better services. They are putting on daylight express trains, and extra trains, and they are seeking to give the country people improved services generally, in an endeavour to compete with air travel. In those areas, where the only means of public transport is the train, the Department of Railways runs a train at a certain time and says, in effect, “ Take it or leave it “. If one does not take it, he walks. For that reason, I should like to see greater attention paid to the establishment of air services and aerodromes in country districts. I consider that there is need for greater co-operation between the Department of “Works and the Department of Civil Aviation.
An aerodrome has been established at Kempsey in my electorate. For a considerable period the townspeople have been endeavouring to have night-flying facilities installed there, as well as a waiting-room for passengers. After waiting for a considerable time, and making representations to the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley), I recently received from the Minister a reply to the effect that an estimate for the work had been received from the Department of Works, but as it was considered to be excessively high, a reestimate was being made, and that within a short time I would be advised of the result. I certainly hope that I shall soon be advised when the waiting-room will be built. At present people who are waiting to board aircraft from Kempsey to Sydney have to stand out in the open ; if it is raining they have to remain in the conveyance in which they travel to the aerodrome. When the aircraft comes in, they rush to board it, and alighting passengers rush to board the motor vehicles. The present practice is both dangerous and incon venient to the travelling public. I am apprehensive that some day, unless proper facilities are provided, some one will be seriously injured at the aerodrome. There should be close liaison between the Department of Works and the Department of Civil Aviation in this regard. The reply to which I have referred indicates that the process of estimating has to begin all over again. I hope that both the Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes) and the Minister for Civil Aviation will do all possible to expedite the provision of the facilities I have mentioned, so that the people who use the aerodrome at Kempsey will not continue to be inconvenienced.
.- The Department of Health has been discussed at some length to-night, in a way that warranted a considered reply by the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). Instead, the right honorable gentleman made an incoherent statement reflecting on those who had invaded what he regards as his special domain. The fact is that something has been done by the Minister, notably in connexion with tuberculosis, to which my friend and colleage, the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) has referred. For the rest, the concept of the Minister was quite incorrect from our point of view. The approach that was made to this subject by the Labour Government, in its time, was a far better approach to the matter of catering for the health needs of the community. The Labour Government set out to bring into operation a real health service, suited to the needs of the Australian people, in accord with the best health standards, and at a minimum of cost. It is true that, by a combination of Government action and friendly society co-operation, the people do, in fact, receive a fairly substantial contribution towards the cost of medical services. But it is also true that the cost of medical treatment is a frightening hazard for the Australian people, particularly for family men. Doctors’ fees have risen somewhat, although not so greatly compared with other costs; the cost of medicine has risen very substantially; and hospital charges have risen out of all proportion to other costs. A man who requires hospital treatment for either himself or his family to-day is faced with a staggering burden of costs, which, in many instances, is far greater than he can afford.
The Minister for Health, by means of this Government’s health service organization, has imposed a new tax on the Australian people. It is a national health contribution. I do not think that the people pay this tax unwillingly, nor that it is even unpopular. Nevertheless, it is an additional tax. It is from the proceeds of that tax that the Government has made its dramatic contributions, which have enabled the hospitals to remain solvent - a fact to which the right honorable gentleman referred. It would be far better from every point of view if the Australian Government levied this tax directly instead of by the roundabout and infinitely more expensive method that is now applied. However, the Opposition talks in vain on this subject, because the Minister is committed to the present scheme. It is wrong, shortsighted and inequitable. I suggest that a reversion to the Chifley Government’s scheme - or a modification of that scheme - would benefit all sections of the Australian people. It was more equitable in operation, as far as the people are concerned, and more economical from the Government’s point of view. The suggestions, and indeed the attacks that have been made by certain honorable members in relation to the national health scheme have been intended to persuade the Minister to have another look at what he believes to be an adequate contribution towards the cost of maintaining the health of the people of this country. The right honorable gentleman regards it, quite wrongly, as a model scheme.
I wish now to deal with another aspect of health services in Australia - the blood transfusion service. Nothing has made such a valuable contribution to improving the standard of health of the community and reducing suffering and loss of life in recent times than has this service. The Government should realize the value of the blood transfusion service and bear a substantial part of the cost of providing that service throughout Australia. At present, the bulk of the cost of providing it is borne by outside organizations. I know that propositions have been made to the Government in this connexion, but I do not know the stage to which negotiations have proceeded. However, I do know that the Government could make a valuable contribution to the health of the nation by relieving those outside organizations of a substantial proportion of the cost of provision of the blood transfusion service.
I wish now to supplement the remarks that have been made this evening by my friend and colleague, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) in relation to the blue asbestos industry at Wittenoom Gorge, in Western Australia, about which he knows so much. The honorable member made an eloquent plea to the Government to take steps to ensure that that undertaking shall not be allowed to close down. Perhaps it is not a great undertaking, compared to the great industrial corporations of the eastern States, but it is great, as the honorable member for Kalgoorlie graphically demonstrated, from the point of view of Western Australia. As the honorable member hap said, the Tariff Board considered this industry and recommended adversely on it. The Government’s responsibility does not end there. As my colleague so eloquently demonstrated, it cannot afford to allow this infant industry to cease operations. We spend the vast sum of approximated £1,100,000,000 a year on the administration of Australia, and an infinitesimal part of that great sum would enable the undertaking for which my colleague and friend has so much concern to carry on satisfactorily, keep men employed and make a significant contribution to the populating and development of that northwestern area.
I turn now to the Estimates for the Department of Trade and Customs, which is of significant interest at the present time. In recent times, we have heard and read a great deal about the effects of a heavy flow of imports upon our trade balance. This is not a new problem. It has recurred intermittently throughout the years. We have had a rush of imports and a great depletion of our overseas balances; panic has then developed in Government circles, and sudden and drastic curtailment of imports has occurred. Administration of that type does the maximum possible damage to Australian industries, small and large, to their employees, and also to the people with whom we must keep faith - the exporters of other countries. The Government refuses, until it is too late, to acknowledge the signs that arc plainly in the sky, and then, in a panic, it imposes heavy import restrictions, as if has done previously and as it has foreshadowed for the not-far-distant future. It is infinitely better that the Government should take heed of the signs as they slowly emerge and not wait until a heavy flood of imports has reduced our overseas balances to perilously low levels. It has teen completely clear to honorable members, to the country at large and even to individual citizens who are not normally concerned with such things, that import restrictions would be inevitable. Apparently, the Government alone was unaware of the developing signs.
Approximately six months ago my attention was directed to a small and not very important industry that was meeting the need for the provision of an amenity in the community. Its existence was threatened by a flood of imports from overseas. I suggested to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) that, at a not-far-distant date, we should have to control imports, because it was evident, even at that stage, that our overseas balances were rapidly being depleted. The Minister stated that it was not possible to exercise controls because of agreements already made and the normal existing trade relations. I suggested to him, and - 1 repeat now, that the Government might have shown an early appreciation of the effect upon our overseas ‘balances of the heavy flood of imports and the action that it would inevitably be forced to take. It should, at that stage, have controlled imports of non-essential commodities. Had it done so, there would have been no need for panic now or for statements about the crisis looming on the immediate horizon. Apparently, the Government is willing to go *long. as one of my colleagues said recently, hoping desperately for something to turn up. It refused to act at an early stage by restricting imports of nonessential goods. It would not even do something that we on this side of the chamber consider it should have done - approach the authorities in Great Britain to ensure that exports from Britain to Australia of non-essential commodities were not encouraged.
This Government seemingly encourages imports of all types and considers that the flood of imports will keep down prices by making more goods available on the Australian market. Instead of making that bald general approach to the imports problem, the Government should have made a selective approach. Its duty plainly is to ascertain what Australia can produce and to encourage imports of goods that this country cannot produce. In the long-term view, it should encourage the use of overseas capital in the form of machinery - preferably heavy machinery - overseas artisans, and the like, in the development of new industries that will help to reduce the need for imports and develop a more self-sufficient economy with which, perhaps, to meet the needs of another war. But the Government has not approached the problem of imports in this intelligent fashion. As I have said, it has actively encouraged imports of all kinds. Apparently, higher-priced luxury goods predominate in this rush of imports. The Government has now panicked and has demanded that the people take action to halt the flood of imports. If the desired effect is not attained as the months pass, even more savage and more harmful import restrictions will have to be imposed.
There is a further aspect of the matter. If additional import restrictions are found necessary, there will be a big increase of staff needed to examine applications for import licences more closely. Considerable delays in the obtaining of licences will occur, and importers will experience all the other difficulties that result in financial loss after a sudden imposition of controls. Trained personnel required to meet the sudden emergency will be lacking and dislocation of trade will occur. We have read in to-day’s press reports about trafficking in import licences. Panic action of the kind taken by the Government inevitably causes these things. The Government has made provision for substantial expenditure by the Department of Trade and Customs. In passing, I suggest that the grouping of the functions of the departments might be better arranged, ft seems to me more appropriate to link trade and commerce than commerce and agriculture, and trade and customs. It is surely the duty of the Government to ensure that Australia produces the maximum volume of the most diversified types of commodities that it can produce. Immigration policy will affect this problem. The Government, in addition to making long-term provision for the importation of various types of machinery to develop new manufactures, should ensure that its immigration programme is geared to this policy.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
House adjourned at 10.59 p.m.
The following answers to questions mere circulated: -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice - -
– I would remind the honorable member that the Curtin Government came into power in October. 1941, and Japan entered the war in December, 1941. Accordingly, Sir Iven Mackay’s report of February, 1942, and the report of the royal commissioner (Mr. Justice Lowe) in July, 1943, were submitted to the Curtin Government, of which the honorable member was a Minister. I have not read the books of the two American officers mentioned in the question, but, in view of th<? foregoing information, their opinions must obviously relate to strategy when the Curtin Government was in power.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 September 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550921_reps_21_hor7/>.