24th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
- Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask the Prime Minister a short but intriguing question. In view of his statement on the European Common Market last night, when will he ask the honorable member for Wentworth, Mr. Leslie Bury, to rejoin the Cabinet?
– I am greatly obliged to the honorable gentleman. I would recommend that he read my statement with loving care.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Immigration: Now that there are more registered vacancies in South Australia than there are persons in receipt of the unemployment benefit, will the Minister do all in his power to speed up the number of migrants to South Australia so as to avoid the inflationary effects of one employer bidding against another for scarce labour?
– As the honorable member for Sturt has implied, there is a very low unemployment rate indeed in South Australia. There are probably few parts of Australia whose economies are so buoyant as that of South Australia at the present time. I am well aware, as a South Australian who is engaged in these matters, as is also the honorable member, of the necessity for more skilled labour in the State. I can assure the honorable member that what he has said this afternoon is something which has my very deep personal concern.
– My question Is addressed to the Minister for Territories. In view of the commendably prompt consideration recently given to the democratiza tion of the Legislative Council for Papua and New Guinea, first by a select committee of that council and yesterday by the council itself, will the honorable gentleman introduce in the present session the brief enabling legislation which will show that the Government is now prepared to adopt most, if not all, of the views on political advancement endorsed, approved and recommended three months ago by all members of the Trusteeship Council, including our allies, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and France, which all have nonselfgoverning territories in our neighbourhood?
– The Legislative Council for Papua and New Guinea carried last night a resolution approving the recommendations of its select committee on political advancement and asking that the report be forwarded formally to the Government. When it is received I will place it before Cabinet at the first opportunity, and when Cabinet’s decision has been made on it, it will be immediately conveyed to this House. The Deputy Leader of the Oppositon referred to the question of legislation. Without attempting to forecast Cabinet’s decision I will say ‘ that will not be a simple piece of legislation.
– There is only one section involved, is there not?
– It will be a piece of legislation that will require very careful consideration by the draftsman. It is not the sort of thing he can write overnight.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Interior. I refer to the discussions I have had with him concerning the disposal of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Rathmines in New South Wales since it became surplus to Commonwealth requirements. I ask him whether these negotiations have been completed.
– As the honorable member says, he has taken a considerable interest in this matter. Only in the last day or so I have in fact signed a letter to him, and to one or two other honorable members who nave expressed interest in this matter, advising them that the Rathmines property which was formerly occupied by the Royal Australian Air Force has been sold to the Lake Macquarie Shire Council. I understand that the council intends to develop this property for recreation and other purposes.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Air. Is it true, as I have heard, that a Canberra jet bomber of the Royal Australian Air Force is this afternoon making a special mercy flight from Amberley to Canberra and thence to New Zealand to convey a quantity of serum required in that country for the treatment of a smallpox case? Can the Minister give the House any details of this flight and will he keep us advised of the results?
– The honorable member’s information is correct. We received a request for a mercy flight. It appears that a university undergraduate in Dunedin upset some smallpox virus into his eyes and, as there is no smallpox vaccine in New Zealand, we received a request to fly some vaccine to New Zealand from the Australian National University. I authorized a Canberra bomber to undertake the flight. It will be landing here about 3 p.m. to-day and will leave immediately for Christchurch. On its arrival there the New Zealand Air Force will pick up the vaccine and fly it to Dunedin, where the runway is not long enough for the Canberra bomber to land. This is one of the many mercy flights which the Royal Australian Air Force undertakes.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Repatriation. In view of the increasing demand on repatriation general hospitals which has resulted from the Government’s decision to extend free medical treatment to service pensioners, what action is his department taking to ensure that sufficient and adequately trained staff is available at the repatriation general hospitals?
– It is true, as the honorable member has stated, that there is a substantially increasing demand for treatment at the repatriation general hospitals and other hospitals operated by my department in all States. This increasing demand is due not only to normal causes but also to the very substantial upward movement in the number of in-patients, which was brought about by the decision of this Government, referred to by the honorable member, to provide medical facilities for service pensioners. To overcome this problem, particularly as far as nursing staff is concerned, we introduced a system of training for nurses in the three major repatriation hospitals - Greenslopes in Brisbane, Concord in Sydney and Heidelberg in Melbourne - and that is operating very satisfactorily. Last year, which was the first full year in which this system operated, 40 nurses graduated. At present we have 270 nurses training in those three hospitals. In addition to that we have a system for training nursing aids at practically all repatriation hospitals in Australia, and of course that assists the nursing staff eventually when the trainees graduate. In addition to that, with the co-operation of my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, we are endeavouring to attract trained nursing sisters from overseas. In this we have had some success. During the last couple of weeks four trained nursing sisters from the United Kingdom joined our staffs.
– I address a question to the Treasurer. It was recently announced that there would be a review of Commonwealth employees’ compensation benefits. Concurrently, the Victorian Government is reviewing its compensation legislation. Has there been any consultation or negotiation between the Commonwealth department concerned and the Victorian Government at any level?
– I will get such information as is available on that matter and pass it on to the honorable member.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry been directed to the fact that the United Beef Cattle Breeders Association of Western Australia has entirely dissociated itself from the meat section of the National Farmers Union which is opposed to any move to introduce a levy for promotion within Australia? Have the Australian meat industry organizations plans to proceed with a campaign for meat promotion both within and outside Australia?
– I have seen a press report that the United Beef Cattle Breeders Association of Western Australia holds divergent views from those of the farmers union. The position is that the Australian Meat Board some months ago commissioned a comprehensive survey into the probable value of a domestic promotion plan for Australian meat. The relevant report has been completed and copies have been sent out to the federally constituted meat organizations for consideration. Details of a promotion plan requested by the industry itself have also been sent out for consideration in conjunction with the report. Overseas promotion is a function that has been undertaken by the Australian Meat Board on its own account and also in co-operation with government departments.
– In view of the vast unemployment and the perilous position of the mining industry at Broken Hill, will the Prime Minister reconsider his decision and provide funds so that work on the standardization of the Port Pirie to Broken Hill railway line can proceed? The standardization of this line would reduce costs of the mining industry at Broken Hill by up to £1,000,000 a year, giving stability to the industry and providing work for the unemployed.
– The honorable member appears to be under the misapprehension that I decide these matters all by myself. In fact, they are dealt with by Cabinet. When any other Cabinet decision is available to be announced I will be able to announce it.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. In his answer, given yesterday, to a question which I placed on notice on 8th August asking who invited the president of the Bank of Red China to Australia, and for what purposes, the right honorable gentleman stated that the invitation was given by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia. The fourth part of my question seems to have been misunderstood and was not answered. I now ask: Was the Commonwealth Bank Board consulted before the three visitors from China were invited to come to Australia? If so, did it approve of the invitation before the visit occurred? If not, who paid for the visit of these gentlemen and for their entertainment?
– I am not able to say just what action the Governor took by way of consultation, but, as to the cost of the visit, I understand that the practice in cases of reciprocal visits of this kind - and there is a well-established practice in this field, I believe - is that the visiting governor pays his own expenses of the journey to the country to which he has been invited and that the cost of his entertainment and accommodation in that country is carried by the bank which issues the invitation to him.
– Did the
Government know anything about it?
– I will see whether I can find out anything further about the matter for the honorable gentleman.
– Is the Minister for Defence aware that there have been recent reports that New Zealand, Britain and the United States of America are either withdrawing or dispersing some or all of their forces which were sent to Thailand early this year? Could he advise the House of any plans for the withdrawal of the Royal Australian Air Force fighter squadron stationed at Ubon in Thailand?
– No plans have been made for withdrawal of the Royal Australian Air Force squadron. It was sent to
Thailand at the request of the Thai Government, and no doubt when that Government feels the time is ripe it will approach us and ask for the squadron to be withdrawn.
– Is the Postmaster-General aware that since the introduction of the extended local service area telephone system, which has given many subscribers the benefits of much improved services, many non-official postmasters have had their incomes reduced as the result of a reduction of work units? Is the Postmaster-General’s Department investigating the effect on these unfortunate people, with a view to increasing their financial returns so that they will be adequately paid for the work they do?
– The matter raised by the honorable member for Wimmera is one to which the department gave attention when the Elsa scheme was introduced. It was realized that in many country areas the remuneration of non-official postmasters would be reduced because of a reduction of work units. It was therefore decided - and I remember announcing this in the House some considerable time ago - that irrespective of any reduction of work units, there would be no reduction in the amounts that non-official postmasters had been accustomed to receive before the introduction of the new system. It was decided that the level of remuneration of these postmasters should remain as it had been previously. That policy is still being followed. I should make this qualification, however: It was decided at the same time that if a non-official postmaster who had been operating prior to the introduction of Elsa disposed of his undertaking to another person, the remuneration of the incoming postmaster would be at the level calculated under our regulations at the time of taking over the enterprise. In other words, he would take over with the knowledge that there would be some reduction in the rate of remuneration which the previous occupant had enjoyed. I believe that this is still the situation.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman was gracious enough to suggest to me that the Government intends to establish a committee to investigate the economy of Australia. Is this inquiry to be undertaken because Australian employment is being increased only as a result of a vast expenditure of overseas capital, which, as the Government knows, cannot long continue, and a reduction of which will cause an enormous increase in our workless, or is it being undertaken to find out why our economy is as healthy and vigorous as members of the Government have suggested?
– 1 never cease to admire the honorable member’s magnificent capacity for pessimism, a capacity that I do not aim to share with him. As for an economic inquiry, I hope, after question time, to obtain leave to make a short statement on that matter.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Army a question. Am I right in believing that the Army is not buying Malkara anti-tank missiles? Can the Minister tell me whether contacts have been entered into to buy the French Entac missiles instead? How many of these h’ave been ordered, and what tests were carried out by the Australian Army before deciding on the suitability of the weapon?
– I appreciate the honorable member’s interest in these matters. It is quite true that the Army is not buying Malkara missiles, because they do not suit the Army’s purpose. In its search for a suitable anti-tank missile the Army has examined in various countries the different pieces of equipment that are available. We are very interested in the French missile and will be purchasing a few for the purpose of investigation. However, as yet, no decision has been made in relation to equipping the Army with this weapon
– I address my question to the Minister for Supply. Will he state why the Australian Army prefers the French Entac anti-tank missile to the Australian Malkara?
- Mr. Speaker-
– I asked the question of the Minister for Supply.
-Order! It is for Ministers themselves to decide who is best equipped to answer a question.
– The Malkara is a magnificent weapon and the Army has nothing against it. This is a question of priorities and of the particular purpose for which the Army requires an anti-tank missile. As I have just stated in reply to the earlier question, we have examined every weapon of this nature and are interested in the Entac. We have nothing against the Malkara.
– I preface my question to the Postmaster-General by referring to the statement contained in the annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission that although it recognizes the importance of broadcasting local material on country national television stations, financial considerations will limit the establishment of studios to only a few centres. In view of the importance of this matter to the areas concerned, will the Postmaster-General examine the possibility of making additional funds available to enable the Australian Broadcasting Commission to build studios in a greater number of centres? In particular, will he ensure that when a station is established in the south-east of South Australia facilities will be available for the broadcasting of local programmes?
– The honorable member has referred to the provision of additional funds for certain purposes. Each year the Australian Broadcasting Commission, in common with other instrumentalities which obtain their requirements through government funds, puts forward its estimates of expenditure for the ensuing year, taking into account such matters as the honorable member has raised. The funds available are allocated on the basis of the estimates. Whether there will be any increase in the amount already voted for this year is a matter of Government policy and not one which I can canvass in reply to a question. The honorable member also asked that local material be broadcast on South Australian country programmes. I shall refer that matter to the commission and shall give the honorable member detailed information on it.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. When the Sydney-Hobart ferry comes into operation is it intended that occasionally the vessel will call at Bell Bay in northern Tasmania to serve the north of the State as well as the south, as the present ferry from Melbourne serves Devonport principally?
– This is a matter for the Australian National Line to decide after it has investigated the amount of traffic offering and the ship’s general schedule. As yet, no decision has been made.
– Will the Minister for Trade state at the earliest opportunity whether it is correct that trade by members of the European Economic Community with Communist countries has increased substantially in recent years? Will he inquire whether there is in existence any policy statement by an official of the community reconciling the view that the community is a defensive barrier against communism with the view that trade with Communist countries is advantageous to the Communist cause?
– The honorable gentleman has asked me questions about matters which are not within my memory and I may not have access to information about them. I shall see what information can be obtained concerning the facts of the matters which he has raised and shall inform him of the result of my inquiries.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport a question. Is the vessel “ Wanganella “, which previously was employed in Australian and New Zealand waters, now owned by the Hang Fung Shipping and Trading Company, of Hong Kong? Is the Hang Fung company a subsidiary of Albert G. Sims Limited, an Australian company dealing in scrap metals? Do future plans for the “ Wanganella “ include its use on trans-Tasman and Australian coastal cruises? Has the Australian crew been replaced by a foreign crew employed at wages and under working conditions much inferior to those fixed by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission as the minimum for the maritime industry in this country? Does the Government acquiesce in the move by this Australian-controlled company to avoid the payment of wages and the observance of industrial conditions determined by legal process in Australian courts? If not, will the Minister state what action he proposes to take to protect living and industrial conditions in the Australian maritime industry?
– It is obvious that the number of questions asked by the honorable member makes it impossible for me to answer them all at this stage. I point out that the “ Wanganella “ was sold off the Australian coast. It is not engaging in coastal service contrary to the provisions of the Navigation Act, and the employment of Australian seamen on the coast is in no way affected. I ask the honorable member to put on the notice-paper the other questions which I have not answered and I shall answer them in due course.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I ask: Will he make inquiries from the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia and inform me of the answers to these questions: - (1) What is the floor area of the premises occupied by the bank at present in Sydney and Melbourne? (2) What is the floor area of the premises under construction for the bank in each city and what area is to be used for the bank’s purposes? (3) What are the reasons for the differences between the present and the projected floor areas to be occupied by the bank? (4) What are the estimated costs of the new bank buildings in Sydney and Melbourne?
– I shall make known to the governor of the bank the interest which the honorable gentleman has disclosed in these matters, and I shall see how far I can satisfy his curiosity regarding them.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for Trade. In view of the dramatic reduction in exports of Australian steel to New Zealand brought about by a reduction from 20 per cent, to 5 per cent, in the New Zealand tariff on Japanese steel, and variations of freight rates between Australia and New Zealand and between Japan and New Zealand, can the Minister intimate the Government’s plans, if any, for the rehabilitation of this important export trade?
– The Government constantly endeavours to keep abreast of the circumstances which affect trade between Australia and other countries. Let us be quite clear: The Government does not conduct trade between Australia and other countries and is not in complete control of the circumstances which affect trade. However, the Government of this country is concerned, and I am sure that the Government of New Zealand is concerned, to sustain trade between the two countries. The matter in which the honorable gentleman is interested will be fully considered.
– My question is addressed to the Postmaster-General. I ask: Is he aware that, especially in country districts, the sign “ Post Office “ is often seen, perhaps on a gate leading to. a building in which the office operates, but there is no indication whatever of the name of the> post office? Does the Minister know that the display in a prominent place of the name of the post office would be greatly appreciated, especially by travellers? Has any progress been made in the affixing of the name on all post offices since I made my last request in this regard?
– The signs were taken down during the war years.
– I think that considerable progress has been made in putting up the names of post offices since the honorable member for Mallee referred the matter to me quite some considerable time ago - some years ago, I think.
– Two or three years.
– Yes. As an honorable member has suggested by way of interjection, action was taken during the war years to remove the names of post offices in certain areas, just as the names were removed from railway stations. However, at the time the honorable member for Mallee asked his earlier question, I said that the department would ensure that the names of post offices were prominently displayed on the buildings. I am referring to official post offices now. That practice has been adopted. I also pointed out, I think, that considerable cost would be involved in placing names on all the official post offices that lacked names at that stage, but that when a post office was being repaired, painted or extended action could be taken at very small cost to place a name on it. That is departmental policy and it is being carried out. I think that few official post offices throughout Australia now have not a name prominently displayed.
This practice also applies to non-official post offices where the building is provided by the department, as it is in many instances. We are responsible for putting up the name and this is being done. With non-official post offices, where the building is provided by the non-official postmaster and not by the department - 1 think this is probably what the honorable member has in mind - we encourage the postmaster to display the name of the post office. In my observation moving about the country, this suggestion of the department is being very largely carried out. I would be surprised to find that there are many non-official post offices that have not the name displayed, not necessarily on the building but perhaps on the window or somewhere about the shop. We will continue to encourage the display of the full name of the post office.
– I ask the Treasurer a question and preface it by saying that I understood from what the Prime Minister said yesterday that he was in a position to make some statement about the progress, if any, that has been made in relation to international commodity agreements. I ask: Has Australia taken any initiative to have new international commodity agreements entered into? If so, what is that initiative? Will he make a statement to the House, either in answer to this question or later, giving full details of what has been done?
– You addressed this question to the Treasurer, did you?
– Whoever is concerned. I thought it was the Treasurer.
– I will be speaking, as I think the House knows, to-morrow evening in the common market debate and I will be happy to deal with this matter then.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Interior. In view of the very wide interest in yachting, both at home and abroad, occasioned by the many Sydney to Hobart yacht races and more recently by the America’s Cup, will the Minister consider asking the Australian News and Information Bureau to make a full-scale documentary film of the coming Sydney to Hobart yacht race for home and particularly for overseas distribution?
– The Commonwealth Film Unit, I understand, has a full programme for the coming year, but I shall take the matter up with the department and see whether some arrangement can be made.
– Did the Minister for Labour and National Service support the promise given by the Prime Minister during the last general election campaign to restore full employment within twelve months? If so, will the Minister state whether the 75,000 registered unemployed will be in work by December next, or whether this promise, like that famous pledge to put value back into the £1, is to be repudiated?
– I think all sensible and honest witnesses will know that it is the policy of this Government to have the fullest possible employment of the Australian people. We believe, Sir, in full employment. No other government has so consistently achieved the objective of full employment as this Government has. I shall repeat what the Prime Minister said in answer to another question asked this afternoon: The Opposition lives on despair. Opposition members are the most unhappy breed it is possible to imagine. As a matter of politics, it is their wish that the number of registered unemployed should be as large as they want it to be for their own political purposes. If they look at the platform of the Liberal Party of Australia, or at the public statements of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and other Ministers including myself, they will see that we do everything in our power to live up to our philosophy of full employment. Unemployment is an intensely personal matter and we look at the problem from the point of view of the individual. It is he or she that matters. I think it is of such enormous importance that I personally am not prepared to make politics out of it.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs whether his department is assisting the United Nations to obtain administrators in West New Guinea at three times the salary, or more than three times the salary, previously paid to Dutch officials - at £7,000 per year, free of income tax. If the United Nations is heavily in debt, as it is believed to be, why does it offer such high salaries to subordinate officials?
– I think the honorable member has not followed the progress of this matter with his usual assiduity. The cost of the administration of the United Nations in West New Guinea will be wholly borne by the Indonesian and Netherlands governments in equal proportions. No part of the expenditure is falling on the United Nations. As far as the rates of salaries are concerned, no doubt the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority will consult those who have to pay the salaries. As far as Australia is concerned, we are prepared to give any assistance that we are asked to give in this direction but, so far, we have not been asked to give assistance.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. In view of the over-shadowing problem of the United Kingdom’s probable entry into the European Economic Community, will the Minister make a concise statement relating to the value of Australian imports and exports? Will he deal specifically with the important question of the invisibles - freight, insurance and exchange - and will he also tell the House the cost of trade promotion in the form of subsidies, maintenance of overseas posts, and taxation concessions? In short, will the right honorable gentleman tell the House what it is costing the Australian taxpayers to promote trade at the present time?
– I remind the honorable member that in the present sessional period the Committee of Supply is dealing with the Estimates, within which he will find all the information for which he asks.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. In view of the importance of attracting to this country as many tourists as we can, will the Government consider making recommendations to the tourist authorities for the holding of a national tourist week in this country along the lines I have advocated previously?
– I have given no thought to this proposal, which now comes to me for the first time, but I will be very pleased to look at it.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Is the Treasurer aware that the increased banking charges now operating are estimated to cost the Rockdale Municipal Council, covering a fairly typical local government area, an additional £250 a year? In view of the burdens already being borne by local governments and ratepayers, will the Minister give close consideration to the council’s request that he use his influence with the Commonwealth Trading Bank to give a lead to other trading banks by exempting local government bodies from these additional imposts or making their charges a little more equitable?
– I have already tried to make it clear on behalf of the Government that this was a matter which we considered came within the administrative capacity of the banks themselves and is not a matter in which this Government would regard it as desirable, under ordinary circumstances, to intervene. That attitude, I understood, was adopted also by the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke on banking matters earlier this year. In the circumstances I think the honorable gentlemen should resolve the differences which appear to have developed between them.
– 1 preface my question to the Minister for Trade by referring to paragraph 33 of the Joint Coal Board’s report, wherein that body has expressed concern at the possibility of the development of extreme competition between the various States in their desire to obtain overseas contracts for the supply of coal. They say the Australian interests concerned in New South Wales and Queensland will need to protect themselves by fostering their mutual interests and avoiding conflicting policies. 1 ask: Will the Minister investigate the practicability of co-ordinating tenders by Australian coal companies for overseas orders so that they will not indulge in cut-throat competition to the detriment of the Australian coal industry and the Australian coal reserves?
– I understand the significance of what the honorable gentleman says and I will refer his question to my colleague, the Minister for National Development, who is more closely associated with the Government’s policies in respect of coal in particular than I am, although I have a close association in respect of trade. I hope the honorable gentleman is not proposing that we should establish a cartel in this matter, because I understand that is the very thing he complains about in respect of tenders for certain things in his own electorate.
– I address my question to the Minister for External Affairs. Did the Minister read the speech in the United Nations General Assembly of the delegate from Upper Volta who accused Indonesia of blackmail by force and colonialism in respect of West New Guinea? Does he not think it strange that a newly emergent African nation should have more courage and principles on the question of self-determination for the Papuans than the older nations of the world?
– I did read the speech, but I hardly think it is appropriate for me to comment on the wisdom or unwisdom of the speech from a delegate of a newly emergent nation.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration. Is the Minister aware that qualified physiotherapists who come to Australia from Holland are unable to practise their profession in South Australia because of State legislation? Will he be good enough to direct his officers to examine the position and see whether the matter can be rectified as he has been successful in the past in correcting the effects of State legislation which hampers migrants? Finally, will he ensure that his officers overseas point out to these qualified physiotherapists, who may be induced to come to Australia because there is a grave shortage of qualified men in that profession here, that in at least some States they are not able to practise their profession?
– I am sorry to hear from the honorable gentleman of the difficulty in South Australia with regard to the recognition of foreign physiotherapists. As a matter of fact, they represent a branch of medical skill - I should hardly call them members of a branch of the medical profession, because I do not think they arc recognized by it - for which I personally have much regard and, indeed, feel very deep gratitude, as do thousands of people in other parts of the world. As the honorgentleman requests, I shall take this matter up with the authorities in South Australia, and if there is by any chance any misinformation about the position in the honorable gentleman’s State I shall do my best to see that physiotherapists abroad who intend to come here are suitably informed.
– by leave - Over recent years the Government has had requests from a number of organizations for public inquiries into various aspects of our economic affairs. Some of these requests have related nr;ncipally, if not wholly, to the Customs Tariff. Others have sought a wirier coverage and, at the extreme, have wanted an inquiry to comprehend all the main aspects of our economic affairs.
The Government has given much thought to these requests and has initiated inquiries of its own. lt has found difficulty in seeing that an inquiry limited to the tariff, or any particular aspects of the tariff, would be a sufficient undertaking. Apart from anything else, there would be great difficulty in confining any inquiry to the tariff because that subject is connected with and dependent upon so many other issues. On the other band, a general economic inquiry, as some have proposed, might have to become almost illimitably wide, take more time than is justified and by its very breadth, lead to conclusions so broad and vague and qualified as to be of little practical use. We have decided, therefore, to institute an inquiry of a particular kind.
We feel that it should serve the requirements of the widest number of people and organizations, that it should be helpful not only to the Government and its various agencies but also to trade and industry, and to all who play a constructive role in the growth of our economy. What we all need is light upon possibilities rather than guidance upon how to go about achieving this or that objective. We hope, in short, to have drawn up - as far as it is possible to do so with the information that can be had - a chart or prospectus of our economic potential - one that would show both the extent of our resources and their capabilities and also the limitations upon those resources.
It would also be valuable to have some competent and objective advice of an analytical kind upon certain great questions regarding the best use and disposition of our resources. For it is one of the fundamental facts about our economy that while many of our resources, so far as we know them, are good in point of quality, they are also limited in extent and subject to various handicaps upon their development. This makes it of the first importance that we should put them to the best and most productive use.
These are the main considerations which have guided the Government in drawing up terms of reference for an inquiry. These terms of reference are as follows: -
Having in mind that the objectives of the Government’s economic policy are a high rate of economic and population growth with full employment, rising standards of living, external viability, and stability of costs and prices, to inquire into and report its findings on the following matters: -
As they stand, these terms of reference are largely self-explanatory and need no great elaboration. No doubt, when the committee which is to conduct the inquiry has been assembled, we will have some discussion with it so that it will be quite clear in its mind as to what it is the Government wants it to do on its behalf and for the community. Appointments to the committee will be made as soon as possible. I cannot announce any names to-day. It is not intended to establish the body as a formal royal commission. Within its terms of reference we want the committee to have the greatest possible freedom in deciding how it goes about its work. The committee will obviously require considerable staff assistance and we shall certainly see to that. It also seems likely that the committee will wish to call on various people or institutions to undertake special inquiries. The facilities of relevant Commonwealth departments and authorities will be available to the committee, and we do not doubt that we will also have the co-operation of State governments and their associated authorities, so far as this is necessary.
Especially do we hope that industry, in its various branches, will co-operate in making information available and perhaps in undertaking investigations which only it is capable of carrying out. It should be emphasized again that, in the degree that it is successful in throwing light on our economic future, the results of the inquiry can be of great value to industry and trade as well as to governments. For its part, the Government hopes that the inquiry will be helpful to it in providing information which will help it in the determination of many fundamental issues of policy. Amongst these, obviously, will be the important issue of tariff policy in its broadest aspects. It should help particularly in setting the role of the tariff in its due context and perspective and integrating it with economic policy as a whole. Naturally the Government will wish the report of the inquiry to be available to it as early as possible. At the same time it realizes how wide and complex and difficult are the subjects it is putting before the committee and it has not therefore laid down a fixed period within which the committee should make its final report. That is something on which it will talk with the committee when it has been brought together.
The Government wishes to make it clear that it has the firmest intention of preserving the full independence of the Tariff Board as an advisory body established by Parliament, its system of open and public inquiry and its high public standing and prestige. These things are of the very essence of the Tariff Board system which has, over many years, served Australia well and has won admiration and respect overseas. The Tariff Board is, to repeat, an advisory body. It is not a policy-making body - although its recommendations necessarily have a considerable influence on policy - and it is not an executive body. Its principal and bestknown function is to consider, on reference from the Government, applications for protection by way of tariffs or bounties or, alternatively, proposals for the reduction of such protection. It also has power on its own initiative to review existing duties, to conduct inquiries on certain matters and to report to Parliament. But tariff policy as such is the responsibility of the Government and of the Parliament. Only Parliament can enact tariffs; only the Government proposes tariff legislation to Parliament. The tariff - and other forms of protection such as bounties and subsidies - are means to provide a degree of shelter for local industries against the competition of imports from other countries and so to sustain and promote the growth of these local industries. Protection has been the policy of all Australian governments since federation. Our own policy is clear; we are for effective protection for efficient Australian industry.
Tariff policy involves broad issues of principle - how far one class of industry should be encouraged by protection as compared with other classes of industry, whether diversity of industry or specialization should be sought, what relative weights should be given to the effect of tariffs on costs generally, on rural incomes and on consumers, how far international reactions to tariff increases should be taken into account and so on. But tariff-making is also a matter of decision in individual cases within a general framework of principles and under a changing context of circumstances. In that sense, tariff policy is built up and elaborated, precedent by precedent. It is equally apparent that policy on tariffs and protection generally must form part of, and be consistent with, economic policy as a whole. It must serve the same broad objectives of policy, external as well as internal. It clearly must be related to overseas trade policy - our relations with other countries - as well as to internal policy on the industries which provide the exports for overseas trade. It must be related to population growth and full employment but it must also be related to the problem of costs and prices.
More and more, as our experience widens, it is borne in upon us that sound courses of action depend on our ability to see ahead and, having seen ahead, to prepare ahead. The need for more information and better information, more light on what is going on to-day, what may or may not be going on to-morrow or next year or the next five or ten years, is common ground with every one. Business demands, rightly enough, to know what the Government is trying to do, what its objectives are and what its lines of policy will be. The Government, on its part, feels the need to know more of what business hopes to do and plans to do. The work of this proposed committee should help us all.
I lay on the table the following paper: -
Economic Enquiry - Ministerial Statement, 17th October, 1962- and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen). - by leave - agreed to-
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Tariff Board Act 1921-1960, as amended by the Tariff Board Act 1962.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) announced in February last a series of economic measures decided upon by the Government. These included certain proposals to strengthen and to speed up the operation of our machinery for assisting local industry in meeting competition from imports.
Earlier this year the first part of the necessary legislation in those directions was approved by the Parliament. Special advisory authorities are now provided to advise the Minister for Trade on the need for temporary protection of Australian industries - primary and secondary - against serious damage from import competition, pending review by the Tariff Board of normal protective requirements. The special advisory authorities are authorized, among other things, to recommend temporary safeguarding action by means of quantitative restriction of imports in cases where the tariff alone would not be appropriate. The power of the Government to apply quantitative restrictions, as was explained at the time, was not something new; it was a power which had been held for many years under the Customs Act.
Using that means of protecting a local industry is not something remarkably new or novel. Some of the most industrialized countries find it necessary to restrict imports in certain circumstances; this device has been continuously practised, for example, by the United States of America, by the major European Common Market countries - France, West Germany and Italy. Japan and the Communist countries continuously employ protective devices other than tariff. Some countries use a variety of protective devices - the tariff, tariff quotas, multiple exchange rate, quantitative restrictions, prior deposits, import monopolies and so on.
This bill will extend to the Tariff Board the authority to recommend quantitative restrictions. Other provisions in the bill will assist in reducing delays in the board’s operations and will introduce greater flexibility in the board’s administration.
I refer first to the matter of quantitative restrictions. Since the advisory authorities can recommend quantitative restrictions for temporary protection the board might well conclude that the removal of restrictions imposed on the recommendation of a special advisory authority could result in damaging competition from imports despite the provision of long-term tariff protection. The board, therefore, might wish to recommend that the restrictions be continued or that they be gradually removed. The Government proposes to give it the power to recommend accordingly. The board would have the right to recommend import restrictions in the special circumstances of any particular case before it where the board is satisfied that protection by the tariff alone would not be appropriate.
It is the Government’s intention that protection shall be effective. It is this Government’s policy that so long as an industry remains economic and efficient it has an assurance that where necessary it will receive protection. This bill is designed to give additional weight to that assurance. It should remove any uncertainty that may have developed as a result of importing practices aimed at evading or undermining tariff protection. It should help to create an atmosphere in which the expansion of local industry can be undertaken with greater confidence.
At the very roots of our national objectives is steady population increase. Hand in hand with that must go solid economic growth at a rate sufficient to provide work for the growing population. 1 have said before, and I repeat, that we must look to manufacturing industry as a principal source of increased employment. During the last two and a half years the tariff has stood alone as protective medium, almost for the first time in over twenty years without the bolstering of the incidental effect of import licensing. Generally speaking it has proved to be effective, but there have been occasions when that has not been so. We have had experience of our intention to give tariff protection being systematically countered, and not always by means which could be regarded as entirely ethical. There are circumstances in which tariff protection can be undermined to an extent which can make it an inadequate medium for protection.
Similarly, modern industrial developments have created industries which must have an assured volume of output to maintain production efficiency and a reasonable cost level. Endeavours to avoid serious injury to such an industry by use of the tariff may not be effective where overseas competitors with tremendous advantages of scale can adopt pricing policies aimed at undermining our protection. It may on occasions be necessary, where imports above a certain level would make an otherwise stable Australian industry unprofitable and even uneconomic, to use quantitative restrictions of imports to give effective protection to such an Australian industry.
It could, of course, be claimed that in any of these circumstances a tariff could be set sufficiently high to be effective. What this would mean in many, if not most, cases would be a prohibitively high tariff. That would not be in keeping with our principles of tariff making, and moreover would offer difficulties where part of the demand must be met by imports. It is clear that there are occasions when the use of quantitative restrictions will avoid unnecessary cost increases. However, I would expect that the need to use quantitative restrictions would arise on very few occasions. But it is worth noting that the right to use quantitative restrictions in particular circumstances is a right no country has foregone, even under the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Nevertheless our policy remains that the customs tariff is the normal and accepted instrument for protection of Australian industry. The Government intends therefore that the Tariff Board will consider protection by means of quantitative restrictions only in those cases in which the tariff alone would not be an appropriate means of protection. In short, the legislation is to authorize, the Tariff Board to recommend quantitative restrictions as a last resort.
In cases where the board recommends the use of quantitative restrictions it will be required to include, in its recommendation an indication of the extent to which protection should be accorded by that means. Of course, unless precautionary measures are taken, quantitative restrictions can in certain circumstances lead to cost increases and uneconomic expansion of the protected industry. The Government therefore envisages that the Tariff Board should recommend the use of such restrictions only under conditions in which the board is satisfied that consumers would be adequately safeguarded. Moreover, the proposed amendment giving the board this power requires that the board should recommend the period for which the quantitative restrictions will operate in each case in which it recommends their use.
The amendment which will give the Tariff Board power to recommend the use of quantitative restrictions is a new sub-section (1a) to section 15. Minor amendments will be necessary also to paragraph (h), subsection (1.), and to sub-section (3.) of section 15 to bring them into line with the board’s having power to recommend quantitative restrictions.
A further consequential amendment will be made to paragraph (b) of sub-section (4.) of section 18f, which at present requires that temporary quantitative restrictions applied on the recommendation of a special advisory authority must be removed not later than three months after the date of receipt of the Tariff Board’s final report. The amendment will provide that the temporary restrictions be so removed unless the board recommends quantitative restrictions extending over a longer period.
With the Tariff Board able to recommend the use of quantitative restrictions the protective armoury will be adequate. Adding this to the machinery for giving urgent temporary protection will mean that appropriate action can be taken with whatever rapidity the circumstances call for.
The Government has now decided that the remnant of the former import licensing system which has not in recent times been operated in a restrictive way, can now be removed. As from to-morrow, therefore, the only goods remaining subject to import licensing will be those on which quantitative restrictions have been imposed by the Government for protective purposes pending the receipt of a Tariff Board report on longterm needs. These restrictions cover aluminium ingots and alloys, certain ball bearings, certain classes of timber, and penicillin and streptomycin. In addition, certain classes of second-hand and disposals machinery for earthmoving or construction purposes will remain subject to import restriction.
Other amendments are designed to assist in reducing delays in the board’s operations, and to introduce greater flexibility in the board’s administration.
Section 1 1 (4.) and section 1 1 (5.) will be changed to allow the board to accept from a person appearing at the inquiry evidence in the form of a written statement confirmed by oath, as an alternative to the existing requirement that evidence shall be given in public on oath. The aim of this is to avoid the waste of time involved when witnesses are compelled to read, for example, detailed technical evidence. The acceptance of written evidence will be at the discretion of the board. Non-confidential evidence given in this way will be available at the inquiry to all interested parties.
Under section 12a the chairman is empowered to determine that, for the purpose of inquiry and report, the powers of the board may be exercised by himself and such other members of the board as he decides. He has, however, only a limited power to replace one member by another once a determination has been made. An amendment is proposed which will enable the chairman to vary a determination at his discretion, and which also will enable a reference to be divided among two or more “ divisions “ of the board as constituted under a determination by the chairman.
It is proposed to delete paragraph (g) from section 15(1.), which requires the Minister to refer to the board, for inquiry and report, any proposal for the application of the British preferential tariff or the intermediate tariff to any part of the British dominions or any foreign country. This section has never operated and is quite redundant.
The bill provides also for a re-drafting of paragraph (a) of section 16 to express in clearer terms the provision for the Minister for Customs and Excise to refer to the board certain questions under the Customs Tariff (Dumping and Subsidies) Act 1961.
It is proposed to delete the sections of the act dealing with indictable offences. These matters are adequately dealt with under the Crimes Act, and there is no need to repeat them in the Tariff Board Act.
Mr. Speaker, the amendments to the Tariff Board Act. which are now proposed, are consistent with our national objectives of expanding production and trade, of im- proving the standard of living and of providing employment for a constantly growing work force. These are the cornerstones of this Government’s policy, and they must be based on sound economic growth. Adequate protection to economic and efficient Australian industries, both primary and secondary, is an important factor in the achievement of these objectives.
The Tariff Board, for its part, has a vital and important role in advising the Government in this direction. Obviously the board in effectively carrying out its advisory duties must keep within its sights the objectives of Government policy - the objectives I have outlined in my remarks to-day and as given in Government statements from time to time. 1 commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Freeth) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to establish an Authority to Supply Electricity in the Australian Capital Territory, and for related purposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to set up a statutory corporation charged with the responsibility for the supply of electricity in the Australian Capital Territory. The proposed corporation will take over the undertaking known as the Canberra Electric Supply now administered by the Department of the Interior.
There is no need for me to dwell upon the importance of electric power to the community in the present day. Honorable members will be only too well aware of this. Canberra is in no way different from any other community in this respect. Electricity is the major source of reticulated energy for lighting, heating and power. It is accepted as a basic requirement for domestic, commercial and industrial purposes and for the day-to-day operation of the Commonwealth’s administrative agencies. It is, therefore, important to the community of Canberra and to the Commonwealth that the supply authority be geared to meet the day-to-day demands of this essential service, and that it be constituted in such a way that the electricity supply undertaking is operated in the most efficient and economic manner.
Up to the present, the undertaking has been carried on by departmental agencies, apart from the period from 1925 to 1930 during which it was a responsibility of the then existing Federal Capital Commission. With the rapid development of Canberra over recent years, the Canberra Electric Supply undertaking has for some time been experiencing considerable difficulty in coping with the work load and in maintaining a service at the highest standards of efficiency consistent with economical operation. This has been due to staff recruitment problems and an organization and procedures, both financial and administrative which, whilst suitable for normal departmental activities, are not appropriate for a large and rapidly expanding public utility.
Honorable members will readily appreciate the extent of the activities of the present Canberra Electric Supply and its rate of growth when I point out that since 1957 the number of units of electricity supplied has increased from 85,000,000 to 166,000,000 per year while the maximum demand has increased by 131 per cent. Over the same period, the revenue received by the undertaking has increased from £816,000 in the year 1956-57 to £1,494,000 for the year 1961-62. As at 30th June, 1962, electricity was being supplied to 19,231 consumers. The task that will face the authority will be no less formidable, for it is expected that the population of Canberra will have reached 100,000 by 1969, at which stage it is anticipated that the undertaking will be supplying electricity to approximately 30,000 consumers. It would be difficult to find anywhere in Australia an electricity undertaking having a rate of growth even approximating this.
The Government has decided, therefore, that the undertaking has reached the stage in its development when the constitution of a separate statutory authority is warranted. The proposed authority would be responsible for the purchase and generation of electricity and for its supply to consumers in the Territory. It would be completely self-contained, having its own technical, administrative and financial structure, so that it can be operated as a modern public utility. This would not be without precedent, as it has become established practice in the fields of electricity distribution and supply throughout Australia to set up authorities of this nature rather than to leave functions of this sort to local government as part of its normal area of operation. The approach varies from the decentralized system of ‘county councils in New South Wales to the highly centralized system of operation by the one State Electricity Com1 mission in Victoria. The basic approach of operating through specialized authorities is, however, common to all systems.
The authority proposed in the bill will consist of a full-time chairman, appointed by the Governor-General, and two other members, acting in a part-time capacity.
One of these will be a member of the Advisory Council of the Australian Capital Territory, elected by the members of the council. The other will be an officer of the Department of the Interior, appointed by the Governor-General. The chairman will be appointed for a period not exceeding six years and the departmental member for a period not exceeding three years. The Advisory Council member will hold office during the pleasure of the council, but for no greater period than the life of that particular council which elects him.
The functions and powers of the authority will be such as will enable it to carry on in the Territory the normal activities of an electricity supply undertaking. These matters are dealt with in clauses 17 and 18 of the bill. In addition, the authority will have such other functions in relation to matters affecting or connected with the supply or use of electricity in the Territory as are conferred on the authority by the laws of the Territory. I shall deal with this point at a later stage.
The authority will have power to determine the charges for electricity which it supplies in the Territory. The principles to be applied by the authority in determining the charges are set out in clause 19 of the bill. The authority will not be able to fix charges arbitrarily without reference to its responsibilities. Those responsibilities will be owed not only to the Commonwealth, from which the authority will obtain its capital funds, but also to consumers, to whom the authority will be responsible for the supply of electricity at reasonable prices.
When this bill comes into operation the Canberra and Jervis Bay electricity supply regulations at present in force in the Territory will become obsolete. I am having the regulations reviewed so that they may be replaced at the appropriate time by more suitable legislation. It is usual for legislation of this nature to confer some regulatory powers or functions on the appropriate supply authority. For example, most supply authorities perform some function relative to the licensing of tradesmen or to the control of appliances. Honorable members will note that the bill makes no provisions on these or similar matters. The Government has adopted the view that matters of this nature are more properly dealt with in ordinances and regulations of the Territory. The legislation of the Territory as such, insofar as it affects the private rights of individuals, is set out in ordinances and regulations and this bill is designed to encompass only the legislative framework necessary for the constitution and operation of the authority. For this reason the bill provides that, in addition to those functions conferred on the authority by the bill itself, the authority will also exercise those functions conferred upon it by the laws of the Territory. A resident of the Territory wishing to ascertain his rights and responsibilities as a resident would naturally expect that such of these matters as are dealt with by legislation are dealt with in the normal way by ordinances and regulations. In 1960 the Parliament considered and passed legislation to amend the National Capital Development Commission Act 1957 for this same reason, so that powers to be exercised by the commission and which would affect the rights of persons in the Territory would be dealt with by the laws of the Territory.
Another aspect of this bill with which I would like to deal is that it establishes in Canberra another authority in the field of local administration. Until now the undertaking has been part of the Department of the Interior and it has been easy to arrange liaison with other branches and sections of the department. The presence on the authority of an officer of the department will preserve the means for this liaison to be continued. The relationship and cooperation established to date by the Canberra Electric Supply with the National Capital Development Commission and with the Department of Works will of course continue.
In taking over the undertaking presently operated by the Canberra Electric Supply the authority will, of course, be taking over staff presently employed by the Department of the Interior. The rights of officers and employees who are involved in this transfer of staff will be protected.
The legislation is intended to come into operation on a date to be fixed by proclamation.
I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Luchetti) adjourned.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 16th October (vide page 1553).
.- In speaking to the estimates for the Department of Social Services I wish to refer to child endowment. This benefit was first introduced in Australia by a Labour government in New South Wales in the 1920’s. The then Premier, the Honorable J. T. Lang, made it perfectly clear that child endowment was designed specifically to assist parents, particularly those in the low income group, to feed, clothe and educate their children. In 1941, the first Menzies Government introduced child endowment throughout Australia. That Government was prompted at the time, not by any motive favouring the assisting of families, but only by a decision in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, as it was then known, on the fixing of the basic wage.
The rate of child endowment set in 1941 was 5s. a week for each child after the first under sixteen years of age. I emphasize that in that year the average basic wage was £4 7s. a week. In 1945, the Curtin Government increased the rate of child endowment to 7s. 6d. a week. At that time, the basic wage was £4 16s. a week. I should like to make it clear, at this point, that over the intervening four years, during which the basic wage increased by only 9s. a week, the Labour Government increased the rate of child endowment by 50 per cent. In 1948, the Chifley Labour Government increased the rate of child endowment from 7s. 6d. a week to 10s. a week, the basic wage being £5 19s. a week at that time. Between 1941 and 1948, the basic wage increased by 36.7 per cent., from £4 7s. to £5 19s. a week, but the Labour Government raised the rate of child endowment from 5s. a week to 10s. a week - an increase of 100 per cent.
In 1950, the Menzies Government extended endowment to the first or only child under sixteen years of age, at the rate of 5s. a week. However, the history of child endowment since then consists only of blank pages, because the rates paid to-day are the same as those paid in 1950. There has been no alteration in child’ endowment since 1948, except for the payment of 5s. a week for the first or only child, despite the fact that the basic wage has increased by 142 per cent. Furthermore, one must bear in mind the effect on the value of the £1 owing to the increase in the basic wage since 1948.
During the last federal general election campaign, the Australian Labour Party pledged itself to restore the real value of child endowment. But for the preference votes of supporters of the Australian Democratic Labour Party and the Communist Party of Australia, the Australian people would now be receiving child endowment at increased rates commensurate with the preservation of the true value of social benefits existing at the time when Labour went out of office. During the last election campaign, Labour promised that, if it were elected to office, the rates of child endowment would be increased to 10s. a week for the first child, 17s. 6d. a week for the second child and £1 a week for each subsequent child. Let me now give the committee a practical illustration of what this would have meant in terms of money to the families of Australia, as shown in the following table: -
Every member of the committee, with the possible exception of bachelors, of course, knows that the cost of raising children today is very much greater than when the 1948 child endowment rates were fixed. Who would deny the present high cost of educating, feeding and clothing children? Shoes, especially, are a very costly item in the family budget. Let me give the committee another practical illustration. My daughter had a baby about two years ago. She attends the local baby health centre, which has put the child on special foods, as baby health centres do with babies that attend. Those special foods for my daughter’s baby cost 35s. a week. That cost is in addition to the cost of clothing the child and providing other essential requirements. Yet this Government pays a paltry 5s. a week towards the sustenance, clothing and other costs of my daughter’s child. This is only one example of the way in which many thousands of families are affected.
From time to time in this chamber, we have heard appeals by the Government, and particularly by the Opposition, concerning the need to increase our population. If the Government is sincere in its endeavours to expand Australia’s population, it should realize that the most urgent need is to raise, the birth-rate. Many thousands of couples in Australia to-day are eager and willing to have bigger families, but cannot afford to do so in their present economic circumstances, and they will not bring children into the world unless they can educate, feed and clothe them properly and decently. It is up to this Government - to any government for that matter - to assist such couples. I make no complaint about the immigration scheme; I support it fully. But the fact is that a baby born in Australia is just as good as a migrant brought from overseas. I believe that the Australian Labour Party’s policy for the restoration of the full value of child endowment would do much to help increase the population rapidly, and I hope that at the next general election we shall be afforded the chance to put that policy into effect. I am sure that the people are looking for a change of government so that we shall be able to implement Labour’s policy.
I should now like to discuss the funeral benefit. In 1943, the Curtin Government introduced the scheme for the payment of a funeral benefit of £10 to those responsible for the burial of pensioners. I remind the committee that that was nineteen years ago, and that the basic wage was then £4 17s. a week. Despite the decrease in the value of the £1 in the intervening nineteen years, the rate of funeral benefit remains the same. Before the last general election, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a meeting of representatives of all the branches of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. The meeting was told that representatives of the league had made extensive inquiries throughout Sydney and had found that the cheapest coffin procurable was one without any trimmings which sold at £12 10s. in Sydney. Yet this Government still pays only £ 1 0 in funeral benefit to those who are responsible for the burial of age and invalid pensioners. As we know, undertakers have increased their prices a great deal more than people engaged in other enterprises have done. This is a very grave matter, and I ask the Government to take it up immediately.
Now, I shall discuss the position of age and invalid pensioners. From time to time when my colleague, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), makes a case for these people, members on the Government side of the chamber quote pension rates paid by some government years ago and compare them with existing rates. The Opposition is not concerned about comparing rates paid by any government in the past with existing rates. We are concerned with the questions: Can the economy afford to pay more? Are the pensioners entitled to receive more? Those are the questions with which we must concern ourselves. Would any honorable member admit for one moment that £5 5s. a week is enough, in these times of high prices, to maintain any person at a standard commensurate with the Australian standard of living? I do not believe there is one person who would suggest that it is sufficient. If there is a Government supporter who thinks it is sufficient, let him get up and say so during the course of this debate.
I believe, as the Australian Labour Party promised at the last election, that the pension should be increased immediately by 5s. to £5 10s. a week and that it must always be brought into line with the varying cost of living. The sum of 5s. a week is a tremendous amount of money to these pensioners. It may not seem very much to honorable members, who may spend that amount in a few minutes, but it is a lot of money to a pensioner. An increase of this amount would at least be a start and would give pensioners a few more benefits than they have now.
– Plus an increased rental allowance.
– That is correct. Pensioners to-day receive a rental allowance of 10s. a week, but we believe that this should be increased and that, in addition, more pensioners should be entitled to receive it. At present, this allowance is paid to a single pensioner whose income does not exceed 10s. a week and who pays board, lodging or rent. It does not apply to a single pensioner who owns his home but is compelled to pay rates. These anomalies should be corrected, and at the last election the Labour Party promised that it would correct them. My friend, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), some time ago referred to one of his constituents who received 10s. 3d. a week from the Repatriation Department. He was debarred from receiving the supplementary allowance because the maximum income permitted is 10s. a week. This person asked for his repatriation pension to be reduced by 3d. a week so that he could receive an additional 10s. a week. That is how farcical this situation is. Instead of judging a case on its merits, we have a stupid demarcation line of 10s. a week.
I should like now to refer to the Department of Health, and particularly to the pensioner medical service. In 1955, the Minister for Health, the late Right Honorable Sir Earle Page, introduced a means test for the pensioner medical service. A single pensioner in receipt of income, excluding the pension, of £2 a week or more, or a married couple in receipt of £4 a week or more, cannot receive pharmaceutical or medical benefits. At that time, Sir Earle Page argued that as a married couple receiving income exclusive of the pension of £4 a week each, plus an additional £4, would have the same income as people on the basic wage who have income to pay for their medical attention, those pensioners also should have to do this. What the Minister did not say, of course, was that very few people earn only the basic wage and that older people naturally need more medical attention and pharmaceutical goods than younger people do.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The first estimates to which I wish to refer are those of the Department of Health and I wish to deal particularly with the subject of mental health. Some seven or eight years ago, the Commonwealth Government appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Allan Stoller to investigate this subject, and after considering the committee’s report, the Government introduced the States Grants (Mental Institutions) Bill in September, 1955. The bill provided for the payment by the Commonwealth of £10,000,000 on the basis of £1 for every £2 provided by the States towards a total expenditure of £30,000,000 on buildings and capital equipment for the care of the mentally ill.
In introducing the bill, the Minister for Health, the late Right Honorable Sir Earle Page, pointed out that the successful treatment of mental illness required ample space, reasonable privacy and modern equipment. He explained how the growth of population had caused so much overcrowding that patients could not receive proper treatment. He stated that the provision of adequate accommodation might easily restore to civil life many patients who would otherwise be absorbed into the whirlpool of the permanently mentally disordered. Dr S’eller whose report was responsible for the introduction of the legislation, stated that at ‘hat time there was an immediate need for 10,000 additional beds throughout Australia and that the cost of providing these beds would be approximately £30.000.000.
Sir Earle Page pointed out that the Commonwealth Government was neither responsible for the conditions that then existed nor for any action that must be taken to improve them, but in order to alleviate the position the Commonwealth would make available £10.000,000. That position is still true to-day. Constitutionally, ti treatment of mental health is not a Commonwealth responsibility, but since the introduction of uniform taxation the States have been largely dependent on the Commonwealth for their revenue and the Commonwealth has recognized this by each year increasing its payments to the States.
At the same time, the Commonwealth Government is responsible for our immigration programme. It is a fact that Victoria, through its good government and other factors, attracts the largest percentage of migrants. Consequently, its population is increasing more rapidly than is the population of other States, and an additional burden is thus placed on its finances.
– It deals with the insane by hanging them.
– If that were so, it could find a few prospects here.
The Victorian Government has recognized its responsibility in the field of mental health. It lost no time in putting to good use the money it received from the Commonwealth under the 1955 act. Some of the other States have still not spent the money allocated to them, but all the money allocated to Victoria was spent by 1960. Because of a number of factors, including the large increase in population and an enlightened view on mental illness by the public generally, the demand for accommodation in mental hospitals has increased rapidly. Many parents with a retarded child, who years ago would have hidden it away in a yard or a locked room, now realize that the condition of the child can be greatly improved and that many such children can live useful lives. Most of these parents no longer feel that a stigma is attached to them because they have a retarded child, and fortunately the attitude of the general public has gradually changed for the better. Many people realize that this misfortune could easily happen to them. I understand that 3 per cent, of children are born with some degree of handicap and that 1 per cent, of babies require some type of special training or treatment. Mental illness is no respecter of social status or of any class distinction. People cannot dismiss this problem merely by burying their heads in the sand like ostriches or by trying to pretend that it is no concern of theirs.
It would do members of the Parliament good to visit the Kew Cottages, as I have done, and see what is being done there and at retarded children’s centres and special schools in various parts of Victoria to help these unfortunate people. But despite the great work being done in Victoria by the Mental Hygiene Authority - I speak only of Victoria because I know the conditions there, though I realize the same conditions may be found in other States - there is an immediate need for 1,500 beds to accommodate both the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped. At Kew alone, where 730 children are accommodated in the cottages, there was a waiting list at the end of September of 330. Of this 330, twenty had been on the list since 1959, 71 since 1960, 115 since 1961 and 124 names have been added this year. Some children whose names have been on the waiting list have died without ever having been admitted. One ward at Kew, which was built to accommodate 24 patients, now has 42 patients. I have been told that there is an immediate need for 66 beds for wholly dependent children at Kew. Another 200 are required at lanefield and 500 at Cranbourne. These are only for children, and nearly 1,000 are required for adults, I understand. All this urgent work has been held up by a lack of money. As I said before, constitutionally this is not a Commonwealth responsibility but these people are all Australian citizens and they are deserving of the very best we can provide for them. I believe that humanity demands that we do our best to help them.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission has recently televised two programmes on the subject of mental health, particularly with relation to children, and these have shown some of the heartbreak of parents trying to cope with their problems. I should like to see these films shown in Parliament House. Some parents are already in a desperate position and cannot wait two or three years for relief. I have been told that in some cases, where accommodation for a retarded child has not been available, this has resulted in desertions, divorces, mental breakdowns and even in suicide. There have also been emotional disturbances in the other children of the family. For some of the families which include a retarded child the provision of more accommodation for the mentally retarded will result in a slow return to a normal method of living instead of, as now, a painful, deteriorating existence. Those words are not mine. They are the words one of the parents of a mentally retarded child in Victoria. I am not trying to dramatize or exaggerate the position. I ask the Government to treat this matter as urgent and to make available immediately a further capital grant which will enable the Victorian Government and those other State governments which have the desire to do something to get on with the job of providing this urgently needed accommodation for the mentally ill.
I want to refer, briefly, to a recent issue of “ The Combined Pensioners’ Association News “ which has on its front page in large letters the heading, “A Bitter Budget for Pensioners “. An article under this heading urges pensioners to take action to bring about the defeat of what it calls “ this inhuman, heartless Government “ before it can bring down another budget. The article contains the following words: -
Elsewhere in the journal it is stated -
Though disappointed at the budget, especially the social services, it was not unexpected, as this Government has never been favorably inclined to the pensioners.
– That is right.
– No one minds criticism if it is constructive, but these statements are not. They are not even true. I do not believe that they express the sentiment or opinion of more than a mere handful of the pensioners. I have said many times in this place that the record of this Government in the treatment of pensioners is second to none. Apparently we do not tell the story frequently enough of what we have done.
I should like, respectfully, to remind the pensioners of a few facts. During its term of office this Government - the Menzies-McEwen Government - has increased expenditure on age and invalid pensioners from £40,000,000 to nearly £200,000,000. lt has increased the base rate of pension from £2 2s. 6d. per week to £5 5s. per week. It was this Government which was responsible for the introduction of the supplementary pension of 10s. per week which is paid to those pensioners who live alone, who have to pay rent, and who are deemed to be almost entirely dependent on their pensions. It was the Menzies-McEwen Government which introduced the pensioner medical service which now provides more than 800,000 pensioners and their dependants with a general practitioner service, either in their own home or in a doctor’s surgery. The Government has eased the income means test by increasing the permissible income from £1 10s. to £3 10s. per week. It was this Government which introduced the merged means test that raised the property limit so that a person would not lose his pension entitlement until the value of his property reached £4,750 instead of only £750. This Government has also permitted a pensioner to have cash amounting to £2,020 or assets of that value over and above his home, instead of only £200. Such a pensioner can still receive the full pension. During its thirteen years of office, this Government has either increased pensions or introduced new benefits in each of ten years.
I hope that the pensioners are not foolish enough to think that Labour has a better record than this. In 1949, when a general election was held which the Labour Government thought it had no chance of losing, that Government refused to increase pension rates. Labour governments certainly have not increased pension rates in every year in which they have been in office. In 1949, inflation was already well on the move and, as I have said, the Labour Government of the day refused to increase pensions in that year. It was the Menzies Government which introduced the homes for the aged scheme under which nearly 800 grants have been approved involving an expenditure of more than £14,000,000. This will provide accommodation for nearly 14,000 aged people for whom no provision had been made by any previous government.
These are only some of the benefits which have been made available to pensioners, and aged persons, by this Government. This is a far better record than that of any Labour government of any generation. Yet the journal to which I have referred was so unfair as to say that the Government has never been favorably inclined to pensioners. There is not the slightest doubt that if pensioners do bring about the defeat of this Government they will be doing themselves the greatest disservice it is possible to imagine. I hope that they will compare the record of the two parties and realize how unfair their journal has been.
.- I hope that the pensioners will compare the records of the Chifley Government and of the present Government and determine for themselves how much the pensioner’s £1 would buy during the relevant years. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) boasted about the Government’s increase of social services expenditure. The Government had to increase that expenditure or the pensioners would have been almost starving. The Government has had to increase expenditure in this way because of inflation. The Chifley £1 bought a lot more for the pensioners than does the Menzies £1. What matters is not how many pounds you have in your pocket, but what your £1 will buy. In this respect, the record of the Labour Government surpasses that of this Government.
My purpose in rising is to discuss the expenditure of the Department of Health under the National Health Act 1953-1959. The act covers such things as medical, hospital and pharmaceutical benefits. Supposedly, it covers a complete range of medicines for pensioners. However, its provisions are inadequate in many respects. I believe that a complete health legislation should make provision for optical and dental services and hearing aids. Even if the provision of such services would require increased contributions I think that the act should provide for them. Many people suffer from industrial casualties and occupational diseases which bring about a need for the services I have mentioned. The heavy cost of such services is a burden on the people who are affected by disabilities of this kind.
The Commonwealth Government should increase hospital subsidies paid to the States. The cost of hospital maintenance has increased tremendously and the need for additional hospitals has increased greatly because of an influx of newcomers to Australia under our immigration scheme. These factors have placed very heavy burdens on the States. In order to give some idea of the heavy cost of hospitals to a State I have obtained a copy of the latest report of the Minister for Health in New South Wales which sets out the daily cost of maintaining a hospital bed. In New South Wales the daily cost of maintaining a bed in a hospital is £5 12s. 6d.; in Victoria it is £6 5s. 7d.; in Tasmania it is £5 14s. 3d.; in South Australia £6 0s. Id.; in Western Australia £7 0s. 3d.; and in Queensland, due to a past Labour government, it is down to £3 14s. 4d. These bed costs have increased greatly since the Government last increased its subsidy to the States for hospitalization. That subsidy has not been increased since 1958, yet there has been a tremendous increase in costs since then. I think it is time the subsidy was reviewed. I hope that when this is being attended to the Government will be more liberal in its help to the States on this very vital matter.
I believe also that the range of medicines available to pensioners should be extended. In the British Pharmacopia there is a provision that prescriptions for pensioners shall be provided free, but very often age pensioners and invalid pensioners in Australia go to doctors who prescribe for them medicines and drugs which are not on the free list. I think it would be only right and just that all prescriptions, whether or not within the formulary, should be provided free to the pensioners.
I wish to take up the matter that the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) was speaking about when his time expired. I refer to concessional medical benefits to pensioners which operated before 1955. Every person in receipt of a pension before 1955 was permitted free medicine, whether or not he was in receipt of the full permissible income. As the honorable member mentioned, in 1955 the provisions were amended by this Government and a means test within a means test was applied on this matter. I believe that pensioners, irrespective of their income - up to a permissible amount - should have free medical services. However, the anomaly exists that a pensioner and his wife who were in receipt of a pension before 31st October, 1955, may receive £17 10s. a week and still obtain free medicine, but if they became pensioners after 3 1st October, 1955, and their income exceeds £12 15s. a week, they must pay for the medical service.
Invalid pensioners have complained to me that with incomes of £2 ls. or £2 ls. 3d. - or double that amount in the case of married people - they are deprived of free medicine. I know that in some cases it costs the invalid pensioner more than that amount to obtain the medicine. I think the present provision is out of date and should be amended the next time the act comes up for consideration. The same anomaly exists for widows. A person who was widowed before 31st October, 1955, can receive an income of £7 10s. and still obtain free medicine, but if a person was widowed after 31st October, 1955, the maximum permissible income is £6 5s. If her income is beyond that amount she must provide her own medicine. These are serious anomalies, and I believe it is time the Government brought these amounts into line with present-day costs.
Another matter that I wish to speak about is the special account benefits that apply in certain cases. Certain hospitals are recognized for the purpose of special accounts, and if a patient is in one of these hospitals under these circumstances he gets 36s. a day. There are also anomalies existing here. About 300 private hospitals or convalescent hospitals in New South Wales do not come within the special accounts provision, but they are doing a lot of work for our aged paraplegic or geriatric sufferers. There is no room to be found for these people in a public hospital and they have to go to a private hospital or convalescent home. 1 have been trying to find out as much as I can about this subject and I have a suspicion that discrimination is being applied. I think the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) should have a close look at the situation and, if possible, set up an impartial committee to investigate the kinds of hospitals eligible for the benefit. This is a very important matter on which it is difficult to obtain information from the Department of Health. I have written two letters to the department and have put a question on the notice-paper in this House in the hope that the Minister could provide the information, because there are people in my electorate who are urgently in need of assistance under the special account system to enable them to receive up to £12 12s. a week instead of £7 as at present. I have been unable to obtain a list of the hospitals in question. At present there are thousands of aged people in hospitals suffering from various diseases and the effects of the common stroke, and many of those patients are experiencing great hardship. I do not know whether benefits under the special accounts system are being fairly applied. Most help should go to the most needy, and it may be a good idea to grade the hospitals.
Many hospitals that do not come within the special account have patients who are quite unable to leave their beds or to help themselves. I think such hospitals should come within the special account system because it costs such a hospital more to look after bedridden patients than to look after those who can walk about and look after themselves. Some patients must be at a hospital to receive the treatment they need, but they are in quite a different category from those confined to bed. I believe the hospitals catering for the different types of patients should be graded accordingly.
Within the 450 hospitals in New South Wales are 140 which are accepted as qualifying for this special account, and I should think this would be typical of other States. I wrote a letter to the Director-General of Health in Canberra asking for a list of the hospitals regarded as being qualified for special account purposes, to which he replied -
The Special Accounts Plan was introduced from 1st January, 1959, to provide Fund benefits in those cases previously excluded under organizations rules relating to pre-existing and chronic ailments and maximum benefits. It was not intended, however, that Special Account Fund benefit would he payable for treatment provided in benevolent homes, convalescent homes . . .
There is no other place to which these people can go. I asked for a list of these places and I believe I was put off because the answer I received was that there were additions to and deletions from the list and it was not possible to supply an up-to-date list.
I merely wanted a list that was as up to date as the department could provide. However, the Director-General of Health in Canberra asked me to communicate with the Commonwealth Director of Health .n Sydney. I did so and asked him for a list, but I got the same reply. Apparently the details were not available and the director would not supply the list. I thought the best thing to do then was to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health (Mr. Swartz) for the information. My question was as follows: -
Will the Minister supply a list of hospitals in New South Wales recognized by the Commonwealth Department of Health for Special Account purposes at 30th September, 1962?
Although I had asked for -the list as it stood at a specific date the Minister evaded my question and I am at a loss to know how to obtain the figures, which I think are very important. There are many instances of people who are not well off requiring hospital treatment and who would like to receive the benefit of this £12 12s. a week. I know of a man earning the basic wage, whose wife has suffered a stroke and will be a permanent hospital patient for the rest of her life. Because she is not in a hospital recognized for special account purposes she is unable to receive the £12 12s. a week. The minimum fee in hospitals of this class in New South Wales is £14 a week, which is a lot of money for a man on the basic wage to have to pay. In addition to that he has to pay for special items and the cost of travel to and from the hospital. This man has to devote every second pay to this purpose.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Chairman, I wish to voice some slight dissatisfaction with the Government’s social services programme. This Government has done wonders during its term of office, but my complaint is that all its actions are Stereotyped and show a great lack of initiative. Social services are of great importance, but it appears to me that nowadays they are becoming more and more a political football. It is quite obvious to everybody that the programme which the Government had carried out in previous years was appreciated by the people at the last election, otherwise the extravagant promises put before the electors by the Opposition would probably have resulted in a change of government. It is common knowledge that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) in his election speech offered the people £120,400,000 in inducements to vote for Labour. Those who have taken the trouble to read the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who, I believe, is Labour’s Minister for Social Services designate, during the second-reading debate on the Social Services Bill 1961 will know that he foreshadowed the promises that were to be made in the election speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and no doubt his reason for doing that was to raise the appetite of the people for what was to come.
Labour’s promises, of course, were all empty, as no one can bring down £120,000,000 from the skies. Extra taxation would be necessary to raise that amount of money. But the Leader of the Opposition also promised the people that if Labour were returned to government taxation would be reduced!
It was noticeable, towards the end of last year, that what was almost dishonesty was shown by members opposite, who continually put forward the promise that if Labour were returned to government the age pension would be raised. Some said that the pension would be half the basic wage, but others went so far as to promise the full basic wage. However, it was realized by the time of the election that it would be impossible to raise the age pension to that extent and so honorable members opposite came down from the skies and reduced the offer to a rise of 5s., an increase which, if it had been proposed by the Government, would have been greeted by jeers from the Opposition. Social services are becoming more and more a political football.
At the time of the election the Government, with its record behind it, was right in highlighting the economic development which was taking place at that time. There is no doubt that this development is now getting into gear and that it will bring prosperity to many people and to the Government. This prosperity will, in turn, make further social aid possible, but I hope that this will not take the form of stereotyped flat-rate increases of social service payments. Mr. Macmillan, rightly or wrongly, is taking the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community and that will alter the structure of the United Kingdom from top to toe. If that colossal change can be brought about in Britain, surely some drastic changes can be made in our social services structure. I believe the best way in which to do this would be to institute a scheme of national insurance, but there are two great difficulties involved. The first is that no government is prepared to hold such a hot potato and the second is that it probably would take the life of a government to implement such a scheme and get it into working order. But what a chance it would be to remove any injustice or top-heaviness from our social services programme, prevent it becoming a political football and do away with empty political promises at election time! A further benefit to the community, as has been pointed out here many times, would be the help to the economy through universal saving. Many people would be able, by investment over their working lives, to provide themselves with many more comforts in their old age.
To-day, many young people spend everything they have, perhaps on a second motor car or on all kinds of gadgets which wear out in no time, whereas savings put into investment increase one’s income year by year. However, all this is no doubt a pipe dream. Therefore the Government must consider what can be done to make the lot of many people happier and, perhaps, more comfortable in the eventide of their lives. This is a particularly pressing question at the moment because the greater proportion of those who rely on age pensions now had not the chance to save which will be given to future generations. First of all, they were embroiled in World War I. Then came the long years of the depression, followed immediately by the Second World War. When the economy got into gear again after the last war many people were probably already receiving pensions and so they had no opportunity to save. I would have liked the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to be present in the House, but he has been called away. I feel that possibly not only the Minister but also the department is unaware of the very excellent social services committee composed of Government supporters that works under the absolutely untiring chairmanship of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). Even if the committee’s major recommendations cannot be implemented at the moment,
I point out that it has given a lot of time to discovering anomalies in the law and hardships among social service pensioners, and is seeking ways and means to benefit people who need help. There are a good few in that category who possibly need a little more help than just the stereotyped increase in the overall pension.
The committee will probably be making some recommendations, and, as I said, even if drastic changes cannot be made, I urge the Minister and the Government to examine the recommendations closely. I see no reason why the recommendations should not be implemented individually from time to time as the economy improves, as it is doing very rapidly. Any big changes can come at election time or budget time, but the main thing is that I urge the Government not to wait until election time before doing all it can to help. It is only in this way that everybody from the top to the bottom of the community can gain something from the strong momentum evident in the economy to-day.
.- My remarks will be concerned mainly with the Department of Health and I speak to Division No. 293, which shows an expenditure of £8,481 last year on the purchase and analysis of drugs. The estimate for 1962-63 is £8,000. I think that not only every honorable member but everybody in the country was shocked by the tragedy of babies born deformed as a result of the use by their mothers during pregnancy of the drug thalidomide. Australia’s Minister for Health does not seem to have been shocked sufficiently to do much about it. On 28th August I asked the Minister a question on Sis matter as follows: -
How many babies have been born deformed in each of the Australian States as a result of the use of the drug marketed under the name of “ Distaval “?
He replied -
Statistics are not available regarding this matter.
Later, I asked him the following question: -
Will the Minister inquire from each of the Australian States if it is possible to ascertain how many babies have been deformed as a result of the use of the drug thalidomide marketed under the name of Distaval
On 1 0th October he replied -
This matter is being investigated, in collaboration with State health authorities and the Institute of Child Health, School of Public Health and Tropica] Medicine, Sydney.
So at that late stage the Minister was making some inquiries into the position. But information like that should have been available to this Parliament and other parliaments as soon as it could be obtained, and in fact, the information was available in other countries. Information in my possession shows that the Minister of Health in the United Kingdom knew that 800 babies in Britain had been born deformed as a result of the use of this drug. Also on 28th August I asked the Minister this question -
Does the Minister intend to take similar action to that taken by the Canadian Government to assist the parents of these unfortunate children?
He replied -
The question of providing any relief that may be necessary in individual cases is one for the State welfare authorities.
I do not think it is necessarily a matter for the State authorities. The Minister’s attitude shows a callous disregard for the parents of these unfortunate children, who are entitled to some compensation. It is bad enough for a parent to have a deformed child due to unsatisfactory government safeguards without having to face unaided the financial difficulties of looking after it for many years. Also on 28th August I asked the Minister -
Is any action proposed to prevent the sale of such new drugs until they have been tested and medically approved?
He replied -
In answer to a similar question quite recently, I emphasized the part played by manufacturers, both in Australia and overseas, in the testing of drugs. Manufacturers make rigorous and searching tests to ensure the highest standards of potency, stability, and purity. In addition, members of the medical profession make use of the detailed clinical information available concerning new drugs before prescribing them for their patients. In the case of overseas drugs, the time lag between their first release overseas and their release on the Australian market ensures a high degree of safety in therapeutics prescribed by doctors in Australia, Because of this time lag, the effects of drugs on theraptutics prescribed by doctors in Australia, as a result of overseas experience, before new drugs are marketed in Australia. It will be appreciated that whilst manufacturers and laboratory authorities can discover much about the effects of drugs by testing on animals and other laboratory procedures, the ultimate test can only be the use of drugs on individual persons. Overseas experience is invaluable to Australia in this regard. The standards set by the therapeutics industry and the medical profession are supplemented by public controls exercised by the Commonwealth and State Governments, including Commonwealth powers in respect of the importation of dangerous drugs, and the Therapeutic Substances Act, which provides for prescribed standards of purity and potency of drugs coming within the scope of the act. The National Biological Standards Laboratory makes regular tests of the potency and purity of drugs which are listed as pharmaceutical benefits. I remind the honorable member that Distaval was not at any time available as a pharmaceutical benefit.
So we find that government testing of such drugs is confined to drugs which are listed as pharmaceutical benefits and that the testing of all other drugs is left entirely to the manufacturers. That means that as soon as manufacturers are satisfied that a drug is safe it can go on the market. They do the testing and the responsibility is then on the family doctor to decide whether or not he will prescribe the drug. But what position is the doctor placed in? Either he accepts the claims of the drug manufacturer in regard to the drug and prescribes it with possibly disastrous results, as has been shown, or he does not use drugs which may really be of help to the patient. The testing of new drugs should not be left entirely to manufacturers. The Department of Health, free from vested interests, should do the final testing. No drug should be allowed to go on the market until it has received the approval of the department.
Some manufacturers jealously guard their good reputations, but there are others whose standards are not so high. Commercial instinct sometimes plays a large part with them. Many useless drugs are put on the market and there are also useless variants of the same drugs. Some dangerous drugs are put on the market as a result of the manufacturers alone having the responsibility in regard to testing them. In some cases advertising of drugs is confusing and deceitful. The Department of Health should conduct the testing of drugs and ensure that they are properly tried out on animals before they are prescribed for humans. It also ought to ensure that no exaggerated claims are made about the value of various drugs. In addition, the naming of new drugs should be controlled so that no drugs will be marketed under a number of different names.
Consideration should be given to the issuing of licences to market new drugs. If necessary, the National Health Act should be amended in order to prevent the unnecessary suffering and horror that have been experienced recently, when deformed babies have been born as a result of the use of harmful drugs. Other countries have laws such as I am suggesting. France, for instance, has very stringent laws. In that country a government department checks and rechecks drugs and medicines before they are allowed to be placed on the market. In the United States of America there, is a powerful body, the Food and Drug Administration, and there is a prohibition on the sale of any foodstuffs or drugs that do not pass the very strict requirements of that organization.
Some drug companies spend millions of pounds every year in bombarding every doctor in Australia with coloured brochures advertising their drugs, together with free samples of those drugs. Every home is bombarded with advertisements by way of radio and television. As soon as a drug is found to be to some extent harmful, the manufacturers come out in full force to extol its virtues. Why should the Australian people be the guinea pigs on which these drugs are finally tested? Thalidomide is not the only drug that has been found to be dangerous. There is another one, used in slimming tablets, called podophyllum, and which has also been responsible for the birth of deformed babies. Carbromal, which is used in tranquillizers, has been shown to cause insanity, particularly when used by young women. This is a drug that can be purchased over the counter, without a prescription, almost anywhere in Australia.
The Minister for Health was good enough to supply me with a list of drugs containing carbromal. He included fifteen drugs on his list, which is headed, “ Preparations containing carbromal which are readily available in all States except Queensland, A.C.T. and N.T.”. I shall not read the names of all these drugs, but they include such wellknown preparations as carbromal tablets, relaxa-tabs and sedatabs. The point is that these are available without a doctor’s prescription anywhere in Australia, except in Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Even in those parts the people are not really protected, because the drugs can be purchased anywhere else in Australia. This further fortifies my contention that we should have some uniform law, and the procedure should be the same in all parts of the country, with proper control of all these drugs. The most effective arrangement would be for complete control to be exercised by the Commonwealth itself.
In the. little time remaining to me I should like to say a few words about the estimates for the Department of Social Services. First, I want to direct the committee’s attention to the reduction of the value of the funeral benefit. The Curtin Government introduced the funeral benefit in 1943, when the basic wage was only £4 16s. a week. The amount of the benefit was then £10, as it is to-day, although the basic wage is now £14 8s., or three times as much as it was in 1943. If the funeral benefit had retained its value it would now be £30.
I believe the Minister should also give consideration to the dependent wife’s allowance. I believe we are giving shockingly unjust treatment to wives of pensioners who have not reached the age of 60 years. The allowance is now £2 7s. 6d. a week. Adding this to the pension received by the invalid himself, the couple have a total income of £7 12s. 6d. This allowance is paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner or an age pensioner who is incapacitated. The wife is, of course, allowed to earn another £3 10s. a week, which means that the maximum that the couple could have to live on would be £1 1 2s. 6d. a week. But in most cases it is not possible for them to increase their income to this extent. Frequently the husband needs special foods, which involve added expenses. In most cases the wife cannot work because she is needed in the home to look after her husband. The result is, therefore, that usually the couple have to live on £7 12s. 6d. a week. Although, as I say, the wife is allowed to take a job and earn a certain amount in addition, it should be remembered that a good many such women have been out of industry for a considerable time, in some cases as much as twenty years or more, and it is not easy to go back into industry after such a time and take a job.
I raised this matter with the Minister some time ago, by way of a question upon notice. I asked-
In a case where the wife of an agc pensioner has not yet reached the age of 60 years will he consider making a provision for the wife to receive a pension equivalent to the age pension?
The Minister replied -
There is already provision in the Social Services Act for the payment of an allowance to the wife of an age pensioner if he is permanently incapacitated for work. Apart from this, if the wife of an age pensioner is permanently incapacitated for work, or blind, she may receive an invalid pension before she reaches 60 years of age.
Successive governments have taken the view that a pensioner’s wife should not be granted a pension merely because her husband is a pensioner and she has not attained the qualifying age of 60 years.
There can be no doubt about the justice of the claim of these women, but the fact is, of course, that their numbers are very small, and therefore the Government does not worry very much about them. If there were more of them the Government would be concerned about them and would increase their allowance. I sincerely hope that the Minister will have another look at this benefit. Although the Budget has been brought down, I do feel that even at this late stage some further consideration should be given to the matter.
What I have said in regard to these two social service benefits applies with equal force in the case of many other benefits, the value of which has been diminishing during the time this Government has been in office, because of the effects of inflation. The whole scope of social service benefits needs to be reviewed, so that all these benefits can be brought up to the standard that prevailed when the Government took office. That is the least that should be expected. There is no reason why these benefits should lose their value as they have done over the years.
.- I want to refer, first, to the special grants that the Commonwealth has made to the States over the last eighteen months. I do think that the Government should, at regular intervals, investigate the manner in which the States use these moneys. The Commonwealth should even insist on audited statements showing the way in which the special grants have been used. It is fairly obvious that State governments could use such moneys for other purposes than those of development and of maintaining a high level of employment, and it is for this reason that I suggest the Government should keep a check on the way the money is spent.
Referring to the estimates for the Department of Social Services, I would like to mention a matter that I have spoken about on many occasions in this Parliament, and which I have raised with the Minister. I refer to the supplementary allowance of 10s. a week that is paid to a single pensioner living alone and paying rent. I consider, as do many other members of this committee, that such a person, living alone, should receive more than 10s. a week by way of supplementary allowance. There is no question that, besides the human disadvantage of lack of companionship, the single pensioner is at a disadvantage financially compared with married couple pensioners, who receive twice as much between them by way of pension and who live together in one house.
The disadvantages suffered by single pensioners are obvious. It takes as much wood to keep the fire going for one person as it does for two persons; it takes as much electricity to keep a light burning in a room for one person as it does for two persons; it takes as much electricity to provide hot water for one person as it does for two persons. I know that the Minister is sympathetically disposed to this proposition and I urge the. Government to increase this allowance at the next appropriate time. I have been told by members of pensioners’ associations that generally they are satisfied with the social service, benefits which are now being paid, but they have expressed dissatisfaction with the aspect to which I have referred. In my opinion, this dissatisfaction is understandable.
The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) and other honorable members opposite have asked the Government to widen the scope of free or assisted health schemes to cover the dental and optical fields. This request appears to me to be unbalanced because, once you widen the schemes to include everything the people would like to receive free of charge or at a small charge, there is no telling where the process will end. Of course, to meet all the requests that have been made by Opposition members for improvements in our social services would entail the provision of additional funds. I have, taken the trouble to compare the expenditure on various schemes administered by the Department of Health when the Labour Party was in office with the present expenditure. In 1950 the cost of pharmaceutical benefits was £300,000. This year’s estimates provide for an expenditure of £41,000,000. That is a remarkable increase in thirteen years. Let us consider the provision of free milk for school children. In 1949 there was no expenditure in this direction, but this year the Government expects the expenditure to be £5,000,000. There has been a substantial increase in the funds made available for quarantine purposes. I have selected those three sections of the. department’s activities to underline the fact that this Government is pursuing a most reasonable and indeed a generous policy in its allocation of funds to assist various sections of the community from which demands are coming continuously and which in fact deserve. Government assistance.
Let me refer particularly to the quarantine regulations which are of such vital importance to our primary production. As all honorable members know, our primary products earn about 80 per cent, of our export income. Without them we could not develop this country. For that reason alone the strictest measures must be taken to protect the welfare of our primary industries.
I should like to pay tribute to the action of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and the department in pursuing a policy of decentralization of administration. Offices are located in many parts of Victoria. This enables citizens to obtain first-hand information about entitlement to social services and also to collect their payments at convenient locations. I pay a tribute particularly to the officers in the Wangaratta office which is in the electorate which I have the honour to represent. I have received unfailing courtesy when I have approached them with various inquiries, and I am sure that this has been the experience of my constituents. I commend them for their extreme diligence. They are doing a first-class job which, I am sure all honorable members will agree, indicates the high standards that are observed in the Department of Social Services generally.
I want to compliment also the Minister for Health in another place for the extremely able manner in which he is administering his portfolio.
– You will get on!
– I shall prove that I am not making merely idle remarks. The Minister for Health has placed a ban on the travel by air of migrants coming to Australia from countries which are infested with foot and mouth disease. This ban is most important because seven days is recognized as the period of neutrality for foot and mouth disease. In view of the speed of air travel, migrants from, say, Greece, could bring this dread disease into Australia because they arrive here in less than seven days.
Let me refer now to the most important subject of the importation of cattle hides. Many farmers were concerned at the possibility of foot and mouth disease being brought to Australia by the green hides which were being imported from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, particularly from Argentina. The Minister and the department are to be complimented for having banned the importation of green hides from those countries and for having placed more severe conditions on the importation of hides from the other countries which are permitted to export them to Australia. The measures which have been taken underline the fact that the Minister and the department are very sensitive to the catastrophic effect that the introduction of foot and mouth disease into Australia would have on our export income and on our national wealth. There is no question about the fact that a very stringent and very strict policy should be adopted. I am glad to see that the department, as is indicated by its attitude, has adopted a no-risk policy. I think we all agree that foot and mouth disease would be disastrous to the primary industries of this country.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I should like to say that I am pleased to see the action that the Government has taken on the manufacture and sale of fibroma virus in Australia. In the last few months, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories have refused to sell this virus, which, as we all know, is a counter to myxomatosis in rabbits, to any commercial rabbit-farmer in this country. This stand, although it does not represent a complete ban on the sale and use of fibroma virus in Australia, certainly indicates the seriousness with which this Government regards the use of the virus, with the possibility of highly damaging effects on the programme for the eradication of rabbits undertaken over many years at the cost of a great deal of research and much money. Once again, I urge the New South Wales Government, also, to guard against the possible effects of the use of fibroma virus in this country.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Chairman, I, also, wish to direct my remarks to the proposed vote for the Department of Health in this group of estimates that we are discussing. The estimates for that department make provision for a grant to the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness. I took the trouble to try to obtain the various annual reports of the council, which is required annually to submit a report to the Parliament, but I have not been able to obtain many of them. The last one available is that for the financial year 1957-58. I then took the trouble to examine the National Fitness Act, which was introduced, in 1941, by a government that was one of the best that this country has ever known. Section 6 of that act reads -
The Minister shall, each year, cause a general report containing a summary of the work done under this Act during the preceding year to be prepared and laid before both Houses of the Parliament.
– The report for the financial year 1959-60 has been submitted.
– If it has, it is not obtainable in the records of this Parliament. There is no record of its having been tabled.
I am somewhat reluctant to criticize the present Minister for Health (Senator Wade), who took over the portfolio less than a year ago. I give him full marks for at least showing an interest in national fitness, a cause about which his predecessor in office apparently could not have cared less. The present Minister at least has set things moving. I understand that a conference on the subject was held recently, and no doubt we shall hear more about it later. However, whatever action may have been taken by the present Minister does not excuse this Government for not discharging its obligations under the act, for not taking a keener interest in national fitness and for not pro viding the funds needed by the various State National Fitness Councils to carry out their work efficiently. I am sure that you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, know that each State has established its own council in accordance with the terms of the National Fitness Act passed by this Parliament in 1941. Each State has established head-quarters which provide meeting rooms for sports and youth organizations, technical advice in planning sports grounds, swimming pools, programming, equipment and so on, facilities for the publication of information brochures and the like, clerical services to assist amateur organizations, and library services to supply books, films and equipment.
The State governments each year have been increasing the grants that they give the National Fitness Councils. Despite the shortage of funds, the State councils are doing a very good job. Indeed, they have been outstandingly successful. But it is clear that they are not equipped to meet the demands at present made on them. They cannot do the job properly, and they will not be able to do it properly unless this Parliament votes for national fitness much more than is provided at present in the estimates for the Department of Health. The State governments are providing a total of about £130,000 a year for the various State national fitness organizations, whereas the total Commonwealth grant remains at £72,500, the level at which it has remained since 1954. Indeed, the history of this Government’s attitude towards national fitness seems like the history of its attitude towards child endowment. This Government is not concerned about the young people of this nation. It has not increased child endowment in order to meet the needs of our young people satisfactorily, and it has no plan to train our young people in national fitness. This Government is content to say that national fitness is a State responsibility and to let the States provide practically all the funds needed for the efficient functioning of the national fitness organization. The State councils have to provide trained staff, camping facilities and all the various requirements for the adequate training of Australia’s youth in national fitness, and the cost of all these things must be met out of the grants received.
I propose to give the committee a comparison of the provision made by the Commonwealth and by the State Government in South Australia. I shall not discuss the position in such detail in all the States. I shall show how the grants made by this Government have remained stationary since the financial year 1954-1955, whereas the State Government has raised its grant in order to meet the increasing demands of the growing population. The South Australian Government realizes the urgency of this important campaign for national fitness. In the financial year 1954-55, the Commonwealth Government allocated £5,742 to the South Australian National Fitness Council and the State Government provided £4,500. In 1955-56, both grants remained at the same levels. In 1956-57, the Commonwealth grant remained unchanged and the total provision made by the State Government was increased to £6,375. In 1957-58, despite the great increase in population as a result of the influx of migrants, the Commonwealth grant remained unchanged, as child endowment has done under the administration of this Government, and the State Government allocated £6,125 to the State National Fitness Council. In 1958-59, the Commonwealth grant still remained at £5,742 and the State grant was increased to £7,775. In 1959-60, the Commonwealth grant still was unchanged and the State allocated £8,500. In 1960-61, the Commonwealth still provided only £5,742, whereas the State grant rose to £10,000. The Commonwealth grant to the South Australian National Fitness Council will remain at £5,742 this financial year, whereas, I understand, the State grant will be £12,000.
The State Government has almost trebled its allocation since 1954-55, because it recognizes the urgency of national fitness and acknowledges the good work done by the national fitness organization. The Commonwealth Government, however, has not increased its grant since 1954-55. I hope that, by the time the next budget is prepared, the present Minister for Health will, if the present Government is still in office, see fit substantially to increase the Commonwealth grant. I believe that there is a chance that he will do so if he is still in office, because he, as least, takes an interest in national fitness. Furthermore,
I should like him to call a conference of the various State Directors of National Fitness and preside over the conference himself.
I think the appointment of the present Minister for Health to this position was a very good move. At the time, I thought his appointment was rather strange because a doctor had held the portfolio for so long. However, I am pleased to say that in my opinion he has completely surpassed the record of the former Minister, although this would not be hard to do. He has shown that it is not necessary to be a medical man to do the job. If we place before him a case which we believe needs some adjustment, he is not afraid to deal with the medical profession and chemists if he thinks they are in the wrong. For that I give him full marks. I hope he continues in this way, and I hope that the interest he is showing in the national fitness movement will result in a much larger grant being made for this purpose in the next financial year.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) spoke, in passing, of the plight of aged people. He said it was difficult for pensioners living alone to cope with increasing costs and that married couples receiving a pension seemed to have some slight advantage. I think he is quite right. One of the most pressing problems facing the nation to-day is the need to provide homes for aged people. I pay my compliments to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) for at least starting the scheme. I do not say it has been the success it should have been, but at least some provision is being made for aged people who need homes. There is an acute shortage in Australia to-day of accommodation for older persons on low incomes. This has resulted in thousands of our senior citizens being denied adequate housing at rents they can afford. The number of elderly persons is increasing each year, and unless additional housing is provided immediately, the problem will become much worse and much more difficult to solve.
Housing for the aged does not seem to be the real concern of anybody. It is not part of the general housing programme of the States. They look at the housing needs of the State, but not specifically at the needs of age pensioners. Perhaps the Minister for Social Services, who administers the scheme started by the Government, now realizes the need to set up a larger section in his department to deal exclusively with homes for the aged. In this way, a programme may be formulated to meet the needs of these people. A married couple receiving two pensions find it easier to meet the rates and taxes on the home they own than would one of them alone. When one passes on, it is most difficult for the person left to carry on alone. Sometimes one person occupies a large home and is really over-housed. Perhaps that person has lived in the house for almost a lifetime, with his partner, and when his partner dies and he is left alone, he cannot leave the home. If he tries to sell the home, with the present shortage of finance for existing properties, he will receive a very small sum. If he sells the home, he must live somewhere and so has to look for accommodation.
The homes for the aged scheme provides some accommodation for these elderly people, but I believe that the scheme has really moved away from its original purpose. Originally, it was intended to provide homes for the aged who were in need; but this is not so to-day. Almost without exception, the organizations providing accommodation of this type require persons seeking it to pay a certain sum of money for the right to remain in the units for the remainder of their lives. If they, unfortunately, are without capital, or if their children cannot help them, they cannot gain admittance.
– That is not right.
– I could take the honorable member to dozens of places where this is so. Unfortunately, the scheme has developed in this way. Do not misunderstand me. I do not blame the organizations for doing this. In this way, they obtain additional finance with which to build further units; but accommodation is denied to people who urgently need it because they have no capital.
I would like the Government to make more money available for this purpose, either through the Department of Social Services or some other department. I have been told by a member of the South Aus tralian Housing Trust that if the Commonwealth Government would grant the trust £2 for every £1 spent on providing cottage homes for pensioners, it would start a programme that could solve the problem of these people in a very short time. It would be able to provide for the needs of ali pensioners. What can be done in South Australia can be done in the other States. If the Government really wants to help these unfortunate people, it should enlarge its scheme. If the States are willing to provide homes for aged persons, the Government ought to subsidize them at the rate of £2 for £1, which is the rate of subsidy it provides for benevolent organizations. This is a problem-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) referred to the housing of aged people. The scheme was started by this Government. There was no scheme for housing aged people under the last Labour Government or any other Labour government and I am surprised that the honorable member should take this as a point of attack. Sir, since the inception of the scheme £14,000,000 has been spent by this Government on the housing of aged people and 14,000 of them have been housed. This is not bad. Of course, it is not perfection, but we shall never reach perfection in this life. However, it is a very substantial move in the right direction and, as I say, it is surprising that the honorable member takes this as a point of attack.
He also spoke about the Commonwealth providing more money for national fitness. So far as my own State is concerned, New South Wales, a mere tithe of what is being wasted by the State Government on the Opera House - I say what is being wasted, not what is being spent on the Opera House - would be ample for the purposes that the honorable member has in mind. But these are matters of our own scale of values. For my part, I can see many more important things for the Commonwealth to do than to spend money on national fitness, a matter that rests in the State sphere.
Now I want to say something about one of these things. In his Budget speech, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said - in 1949-50, payments from the National Welfare Fund were equivalent to some 47.7 per cent, of revenue from income tax and social services contribution paid by individuals. The comparable figure for 1961-62 was 63 per cent, and it is estimated to reach 72 per cent, in the current year.
In the last days of the Chifley Government, these payments were equivalent to 47.7 per cent, of the total revenue from personal income tax and in the current year they are equivalent to 72 per cent. This is a very large sum of money to be spent out of the national budget on social services, and I entirely support the policy of the Government in saying that in a year of stable prices such as this has been, there should be no all-round increases in social service expenditures: I stand by that. But this docs not mean that there may not be some directions in which more should be spent on particular social services.
On 22nd September, 1959, after a great deal of research - more than most members put into their speeches in this place - I came forward with a proposal that much more should be spent on widows with young children. Few heard that speech. None heeded it. In conversation with the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) afterwards, I. found that he had not even read it. Therefore, I am glad that on this occasion I did not have to go to such pains, because the job has been done for me. I propose to read some extracts from a report prepared under the auspices of the Council of Social Service of New South Wales and published this year. It is entitled “ Widows in Australia “ and is sub-titled “ A Survey of the Economic and Social Condition of Widows with Dependent Children”. It is by Miss Jean Aitken-Swan. In the introduction to this survey, which is the result of a very careful piece of research, the following statement is made: - . . bringing up some fifty thousand of Australia’s future citizens single-handed constitutes work of national importance, and their failure to do it would entail much unhappiness and far greater expense. In return the community is asked for once to put an economic valuation on a mother’s work. It should be of interest to all that the valuation is so low. It bears no relation to that standard of an adequate return for work, the basic wage, but as usual rates the mother with the infirm, the aged and other handicapped people who are not, as she is, doing full lime work.
The introduction goes on -
The widow is called apathetic if she stays at home and she is blamed if she goes to work. Her home is visited and her earnings watched. As if to underline the token nature of the payment, she receives the same sum whether she has to outfit the children for high school or whether they are babies. Like the widows of old she depends to some extent on charity. It is difficult to give the children a normal upbringing in these circumstances and to avoid burdening them with the sense of being different.
Further, it is stated - . . for years social workers and others concerned with the welfare of children have stressed the need of children for the security of a stable home background with the mother at the centre of it, especially in their years of maximum dependency.
A further statement reads -
While it cannot be said that a widow “ ought “ or “ ought not “ to go to work, since much will depend on individual circumstances, it might be expected that pension policy would weight the scales towards the socially desirable. But by limiting earnings and yet not providing the mother with enough to enable her to stay at home without getting into financial difficulties, it docs not seem to favour either course of action. The widow has one of two hard choices to make - to stay at home and care for the children, secure in her poverty and under regular surveillance, or to give up statutory benefits, including the concessions that go with them, and go to work with all the uncertainties that that involves where there are children at home.
Again, it is stated -
There is little point in trying to help herself to the maximum allowed by the pension regulations if in doing so her rebated rent rises, she loses her Commonwealth supplementary assistance and her State supplementary children’s allowance, her benefits under the pensioner medical service and her concession fee radio licence.
There are 14,154 civilian widow pensioners with young children in this country. In the summary and conclusions it is stated -
Social workers have long been convinced that the level decided for widows with dependent children is too low, and they have been appalled by some cases of distress and poverty among widows wilh which they have had to deal.
May I pause to say that, at my own expense, a little while ago, I arranged for a social worker who had been suggested to me by the Council of Social Service - not the head and front of some pressure movement but a person who knew what she was talking about - to come here and speak to a number of members about these matters. She brought the budgets of a number of widows with whom she was dealing. In all these budgets it appeared that the widows were denying themselves their proper food and sustenance to provide food and whatever else was necessary for their children. She told us that the incidence of ill-health among these widows was greater than amongst the rest of the population. As I have said, they were denying themselves food to provide for their children and they were suffering ill-health in consequence. This is the situation to which this report refers when it states that many social workers are appalled at this situation. It is mentioned in the report that the median weekly income of civilian widow pensioners is £8 6s. and these pensioners have young children. The following statement is made: -
It is a striking finding of the survey that 29 per cent, of all civilian widow pensioners had incomes so low that there was less than 10s. per head per week for every item of expenditure except rent and a low cost diet.
It seems to me that what I said in 1959, after my own researches, is amply borne out by this careful survey. The Minister was not prepared to hear what I said in 1959. Perhaps this survey by a skilled social worker, published by a reputable organization and, I believe, distributed to a number of members, will have some effect. I believe that this is a field in which something should be done. Although I agree with the Governments policy that there should not be all-round increases in pensions, here is a point at which action is necessary.
In the few minutes left to me I should like to say a word about another matter in respect of which I think something should be done. The importance which one attaches to things depends upon one’s own scale of values. For example the subject with which I propose to deal is more important to me than is the subject of national fitness, which was raised by the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin). It concerns disabled people. People in Sydney such as the Bedwins, themselves disabled, have put forward a most powerful case for the assistance of disabled people with respect to both hostels and sheltered workshops. I think that a number of members on both sides of the chamber are aware of the work that has been done by the people to whom I have referred. This is not the place, nor have I the time, to enter into the case that they have presented. All I say here is that that case has been put to the Government and it has been supported by a number of members on both sides of the chamber. I suggest to the Minister for Social Services who is now in the chamber that he should again put this before the Government when the next Budget is being considered. I believe that here are two sore spots where some balm should be applied, instead of granting across the board increases.
.- The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) spoke briefly about the provision of free milk for school children. Whilst I agree that such provision is a very good thing, unfortunately there is a limit of 2s. a gallon on the amount of freight which the Government will pay on free milk, which means that many children in outback areas are unable to take advantage of it. They are obliged to have only the powdered milk which is not very satisfactory, which most of them do not like, and which would not have the nourishment of whole milk. It was recently brought to my attention that at Leonora-Gwalia, in Western Australia, some 550 miles from Perth, where there are 170 children, those children were obliged to accept the powdered milk which they would not drink. I doubt whether an investigation would prove the cost to be an extra 15s. a week to provide the 170 children with free milk. I suggest to the Minister that the country could well afford to extend the limit of 2s. to something like 2s. 6d. or 3s., which would bring in a large number of country children and particularly those in outback areas and give them the satisfaction of having fresh milk.
I am rather amazed that during the thirteen years that this Government has been in office it has failed to carry out an investigation of the plight and needs of people in receipt of the social services benefit in outback areas. If such an investigation has been carried out, the Government has failed to do anything to correct what is a very poor condition, and has left those people in circumstances well below those that can be regarded as the Australian standard. It cannot be denied that the present rates of pension are insufficient to meet the ordinary requirements of a very large number of people who are unfortunate enough to have to live on the pension payment only. It is all very well to refer to the permissible income that these people can have, but unfortunately a very large number of pensioners are unable to earn anything and have no income other than the pension. Those people are obliged to try to exist merely on a meagre pension.
Even in the cities, where the pensioners are able to purchase goods at self-service stores or are able to pick up the odd bargain, they still have to live very meagrely on what they receive and, as a matter of fact, their circumstances are very poor. I put to the Minister that if the pension is not sufficient for people living in city areas, and I am sure that no honorable member on the other side of the chamber is prepared to say that the pension is sufficient for these people to live on, how can people in outback areas, where costs of living are so much higher, be expected to exist on that miserable amount? As all honorable members know, the pension is the same whether a person lives in the city, the country, the outback, in a reasonably low-cost area or in a high-cost area. In all places those persons on social services receive the same amount. I suggest that the rate of pension does not necessarily have to be the same throughout the Commonwealth. In proven high-cost areas it should be substantially higher than it is in a metropolitan area.
If it is considered that the pension should be uniform throughout Australia, then I suggest that an allowance be made to those people living in high-cost areas. It would be absurd to say that the present position is such as to provide for the average requirement right throughout Australia. If that were so it would mean that the people in the metropolitan areas - those areas which are accepted as being the lower-cost areas - are receiving more than they actually need, and I am sure that nobody would suggest that. Therefore, Sir, if we agree that the pension is not sufficient, or barely sufficient, for those in a metropolitan area, we must agree that pensioners in outback areas, in places where, the cost of living is so much higher, will find the going so much tougher. That must be obvious, and honorable members must agree that those people should get something extra.
To give an indication of some of the costs in outback areas, and for the infor mation of honorable members, I want to quote the prices of just some of the main food items at a place called Hall’s Creek, in Western Australia. I freely admit that the prices applying in Hall’s Creek would be as high, or nearly as high, as anywhere in Australia, but by the same token there are plenty of places that have almost the same price structure and where the cost of living is very much higher than it is in the metropolitan area. I quote these prices to give honorable, members some indication of what pensioners at Hall’s Creek and similar places have to pay for food.
At Hall’s Creek the price of butter is 6s. 6d. per lb., while in Perth it is 4s. 8d.; 1 dozen eggs cost 8s. 6d. as against 5s. 6d. in Perth; 1 lb. of tea is 8s. as against 5s. 6d.; 1 lb. of sugar is ls. 3d. as against 10d.; 1 lb. of rice is ls. 6d. compared with 10d.; 7 lb. of potatoes is 8s. 2d. against 3s. 6d.; 7 lb. of onions is 8s. 9d. compared with 3s. 6d. in Perth. I have a note here that at times people at Hall’s Creek have paid as much as 24s. 6d. for 7 lb. of potatoes or 7 lb. of onions during the wet season.
– Did the honorable, member for Mallee hear that?
– Every word of it.
– The honorable member for Mallee is smiling and seems to think that this is a joke. I can assure him it is no joke for the pensioners who are trying to live on the meagre pension made available. One lb. of bacon rashers at Hall’s Creek would cost 8s. as against 5s. in Perth; one loaf of bread would cost 2s. 3d. as against ls. 2d.; one packet of matches 3s. compared with ls. 7d.; one bottle of beer 6s. compared with 3s. 5d. I do not know whether the honorable member for Mallee is interested in beer, but I should like him to know that a 7-oz. schooner of beer costs 2s. as against ls. 2d. in Perth. Surely nobody would suggest that pensioners in those, areas, where the temperature is anything up to 115 or 120 degrees, should not be able to have a schooner of beer, and yet if a pensioner had one schooner of beer a day it would cost him 14s. a week. A small bottle of tomato sauce costs 4s. compared with 2s. 7d.; a small bottle of Holbrook’s sauce is 4s. as against 2s. 7d.; electricity is 2s. a unit; kerosene is 2s. a bottle; apricot jam, 4s. 3d. a tin; a 3-lb. tin of Sunshine milk is 16s. 6d.; a large packet of Rinso, 7s. 6d.; and the “ West Australian “ newspaper- is ls. as against 4d. in Perth. It may be a Coincidence, but when one adds up the cost of the items I have read one finds that the cost at Hall’s Creek is £5 5s. 2d. while the same articles in Perth cost £3 10s. Id., a difference of £1 14s. lOd. I am not suggesting that a person would need every one of these items, but I think they give a pretty fair comparison. The prices I quoted are those which would apply generally in Perth. In addition, in Perth a person would be able to shop at the self-service stores or be able to pick up the odd bargain.
I invite honorable members to consider the prices of vegetables and fruit. One lb. of carrots is 2s. 3d.; a cabbage is 3s. or 4s.; lettuce are 3s. each; tomatoes, 3s. a lb.; cucumbers, 2s. each; oranges, 7s. to 9s. a dozen; bananas, 3s. a lb.; and apples are 8s. a dozen. It must be remembered that because of the climatic conditions the loss is pretty severe on all perishable goods, and I have no doubt that in similar places in other States the same position applies.
The arbitration court in Western Australia heard evidence and argument and decided that in that area, and some of the surrounding areas, there should be a district allowance for the ordinary worker of £3 10s. a week. For some places farther south the district allowance was £3, £2 10s. or £1 10s. A few nights ago I referred to the income tax act. Under that act there are zone allowances which provide tax concessions for people living in those areas to compensate for high price structures, isolation and climatic conditions. It is well proven that costs and conditions in those areas are much worse than in the metropolitan area and, therefore, I say that something should be done to relieve the pensioners in those places who are in receipt of a miserable allowance. Of course, honorable members must remember that the district allowance and zone allowance are of no benefit to pensioners, for the simple reason that if they do not work they do not pay tax. They have to rely simply on the pension.
I ask the Minister to take some notice of these things and to have an investigation made to explore the possibilities of dividing the Commonwealth into zones or districts with the object of granting an additional pension or some different rate of pension for those living in the high-cost areas. I am aware that just a few weeks ago the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) made an interesting statement in this place.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Mr. Chairman, before the suspension for dinner I mentioned that the Postmaster-General had said in this House about a week ago that, if the Government had another £40,000,000 at its disposal, as far as he was concerned none of it would be made available for social services. I sincerely hope that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) does not think along the same lines as the PostmasterGeneral. I hope there is some kindness in the Minister and that he will take notice of some of the suggestions which have been made during this debate for improvements to the social services legislation.
I wish now to refer briefly to the funeral benefit. The funeral benefit to-day stands at the same amount as it was in 1943 when the Curtin Labour Government introduced it. At that time the payment was sufficient to cover more than half the cost of a funeral, and on that basis it should be at least £30 to-day. I think the Government should make up its mind on this issue. If it believes that a funeral benefit should be paid, it should bring the payment to a level more consistent with the payment made in 1943. If the Government does not believe in the payment of the funeral benefit it should have the courage to say so and should scrub it altogether.
Honorable members know that most pensioners are unable, without denying themselves things they require, to save one oi two shillings each pay day in order te provide for a decent burial and to avoid being buried as paupers. It is terrible te think that the funeral benefit has not beer increased in the last nineteen years. I think it was the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) who said that the present payment is not sufficient even to cover the COS of a coffin, let alone all the other costs of a funeral.
Another anomaly exists in the fact that as the Repatriation Act stands at present the wife of a service pensioner is not entitled to any allowance, although, under the Social Services Act, there is provision for the payment of an allowance to the wife of an invalid pensioner. It may be said that if an ex-serviceman is eligible for a service pension at 60 years of age he should be entitled to the invalid pension. In some cases that may be so, but if he takes that pension he cannot earn more than a couple of pounds a week to supplement it.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Mr. Chairman, when the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) was speaking before dinner he was describing the differences between the prices of many commodities in isolated areas in his electorate and those in the metropolitan areas. I was then writing some notes for an article which I send to newspapers in my electorate and the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) asked, “ Did you hear that, Mallee? “ I answered, “ Every word of it “, and I may have smiled, The honorable member for Kalgoorlie, misunderstanding, said, “ Well, fancy the honorable member for Mallee laughing at what I had said. If he is not in sympathy with country people, I am “, or words to that effect, as reference to “ Hansard.” will show. I appreciated what the honorable member for Kalgoorlie was saying and I was in complete accord with it. My remarks were addressed not to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie but to the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, in answer to his question.
.- Mr. Chairman, included in the £387,574,000 provided this year for the National Welfare Fund is a sum of £82,500,000 for hospital, medical and pharmaceutical benefits. It is only natural that in a huge scheme like this there should be some anomalies and also some misuses. But what seems quite unnatural is that there is so little being done by this Government for mental illness. I think most honorable members have had many requests from individuals and organizations for the renewal of the grant made in 1955 for mental hospitals. At all events most members from Victoria will have had such requests because Victoria is the State most acutely aware of the need for mental health services. Victoria has done more than any other State to cope with this problem and has, therefore, long since spent its share of the last grant made by the Commonwealth towards the capital cost of hospitals for the mentally ill. We all know that the provision of hospitals, as such, is a State responsibility. We are well aware that only in exceptional circumstances would the Commonwealth dare to step into a State sphere. However, it did so after an inquiry into mental health needs in 1955 and I will quote from the department’s own booklet to outline what has been done in this connexion. The booklet contains the words - “. . . to enable the Commonwealth to make grants to the States towards meeting capital expenditure involved in providing more and better accommodation and equipment for patients and staff at mental hospitals throughout Australia.”
In order that it should - and I quote again - play an active role in a nationwide campaign to improve facilities for the accommodation and treatment of the mentally ill.
I have made that quotation because it indicates clearly the Commonwealth’s interest in this problem and workers in this field can hardly be blamed for seeking further Commonwealth assistance. The very terms of reference of the Stoller inquiry, on which the whole scheme is based, clearly indicate a continuing interest by the Commonwealth. The purpose of the inquiry was -
To establish a basis for Commonwealth financial assistance to the States for the further consideration of the Commonwealth and for the future discussions between the Commonwealth and the States.
Arising from the Stoller report it was agreed that something like 10,000 beds were needed to give minimum relief, disregarding the fact that this number would increase to 20,000 by 1965. It was decided that £30,000,000 would satisfy the immediate needs and the Commonwealth offered £10,000,000 to the States if they would match that payment on the basis of £2 for £1.
Of that £10,000,000, Victoria was granted £2,740,000, all of which was spent by 1960 without satisfying the demands. To-day, at least another 1,500 beds are urgently required. Some of the other States have not yet spent their grants and it is claimed that the Commonwealth should not consider further assistance to the States until the whole of the existing grant has been used. I will not go further into that because the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) has given full details, to which I refer any one who wants to ascertain the position as it is to-day.
It has been suggested that the 1955 agreement was a special one to cope with the special circumstances existing at that time and that it was not to be taken as something which would be reviewed, but as a first and only grant for this particular purpose. It was implied that future governments should not be committed, but I do not see how we can commit future governments not to do something. Whether that is so or not, the fact is that the Commonwealth has not contributed to the cost of building mental hospitals in Victoria since July, 1960. Prior to the agreement of 1955, there had been an agreement for payment by the Commonwealth to the States of ls. 2d. a day per bed for maintenance, which the late Sir Earle Page, in his foreword to the Stoller report, said was unsatisfactory. He said that it “ did not go to the root of the matter “, nor did it provide for “ improvement of methods of treatment “. This agreement was allowed to lapse. It is a bone of contention now whether the amount of money which would have been collected by Victoria under the agreement - it is estimated at £1,481,467 12s. 4d.- should be deducted from the £2,740,000 which that State received from the Commonwealth, leaving a net gain of only about £1,260,000.
It seems rather strange that even though a person may be insured against illness with a recognized hospital benefits organization, hospital benefits are not paid if that person enters a mental hospital. Pensioners who enter a mental hospital because it is the only institution capable of providing the treatment they require and of affecting an improvement in the particular conditions involved, even lose their entire pensions. This is bad enough for single pensioners, but when one of a pensioner couple is advised by a doctor to undergo necessary treatment, and the income of the household is halved just at the time when the expenses are almost inevitably increased, that is bureaucracy gone mad.
In the past ten years there has been a great change in the public attitude to mental illness. Gone are the days of the insane asylums when unfortunates committed to their inhuman care lost all individuality and all rights. It is a long time now since 1955, when the existing agreement was signed, and several States have failed to face up to their responsibilities in this matter. It is time we got round, as suggested by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), to having some agreement among the States about sharing the amount that is left unused. I think it is quite wrong that patients in hospitals equipped for the treatment of mental illness are deprived of any claim to the daily bed allowance which is the foundation of any hospital benefits scheme. Even if a patient has been insured for years the fund and the Commonwealth make no contribution towards his hospital costs. The reason for this appears to lie in the fact that the mental hospital makes no charge to the patient. But if this argument is valid it cannot be right to go on paying the 8s. a day bed allowance in respect of pensioners and others who occupy beds in public wards for which no charge is made. I hope that this will be one of the matters that will be the subject of a new approach by the Ministers for Health when they meet this month to determine the terms for renewal of the expired agreement.
Some new approach is required in regard to over-payments that are made to people who are insured for more than the actual hospital charge. In such cases the benefit organization pays a cheque to the hospital and also sends a cheque to the patient for having been in the hospital, in effect. Another matter that needs a new approach is the referral of optical patients to specialists. As is well known, if a patient goes to a general practitioner the Commonwealth benefit paid is 6s. and the fund benefit is 7s. 6d.; but if the patient is referred to a specialist, on the first visit the Commonwealth contribution is £1 and the fund benefit is £1 13s. However, if the patient goes direct to the specialist, only the rate of payment appropriate to a visit to a general practitioner is paid and the patient is out of pocket to the tune of £1 19s. 6d.
For treatment for failing eyesight most people consult an optometrist. It is estimated that 80 per cent, of eye work is done by optometrists, and in the great majority of cases the patient’s trouble is solved by the provision of spectacles. Very few people would think of consulting a general practitioner for eyesight correction. They might go to the general practitioner in relation to some other complaint, such as a headache, and the general practitioner might discover that that arose from eye trouble and refer them to a specialist practising as an ophthalmologist. Very few general practitioners would have either the training or the equipment to handle eye cases outside the normal minor accidental injuries. If the patient is referred by a general practitioner to a specialist he is able to receive the higher benefit of £2 13s., because, in spite of the fact that no benefit is supposed to be payable if the examination results in the prescribing of spectacles, the accounts are made out “To attendance “, or in some similar wording, and the department is paying out large sums each year in contravention of section 4 (3) (b) of the act.
However, a matter of greater importance is that when a patient consults an optometrist and, because of his daily contact with this particular organ and his specialized training and study in all phases of eye conditions, the optometrist recognizes something that requires the services of an ophthalmologist, the patient gets only the lower rate of benefit legally unless he goes to a general practitioner and pays him a fee for a referral to the eye specialist. So, he pays an extra 25s., less 13s. 6d., but gains £1 19s. 6d. in refund. The real gainer is the general practitioner, and this appears to be the sole reason for the opposition by the Ophthalmological Society, through the Australian Medical Association, to approval of the recognition of optometrists as being qualified to refer patients direct.
On the question of qualification, I think there is no doubt that the optometrist, who serves a four-year course for a degree or diploma at university standard, is much better equipped to diagnose conditions associated with the eye than most general practitioners are. Referral through a general practitioner means an extra and unnecessary expense for the patient and also extra and unnecessary expense to the national health scheme. I have been told by eye specialists who are practising ophthalmologists that it would be much better for optometrists to refer patients direct to them. They say that the overloading consideration should be the interest of the patient.
Acceptance of the principle of direct referral would provide no added gain for the optometrist, but it would retain5 for him the client relationship so highly regarded in any business to-day. In this business there is quite a lot of body snatching going on. There are doctors practising as opticians who go after business by holding out the extra benefit refund as an inducement to patients and who direct holders of their prescriptions to a retail spectacle maker. Optometrists who find it necessary to send a patient to an ophthalmologist surely are justified in expecting their patients to come back to them for the spectacles that may be prescribed. If they have to advise the patient to go to a general practitioner, who in turn refers the patient to a specialist without the original professional man knowing where his patient has been sent, the co-operation one should expect between professional men is entirely lost.
.- In the few moments for which I shall have the privilege of addressing the committee I should like to commend the honorable gentlemen, particularly on the Labour side of the committee, who have made an earnest plea to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) on behalf of age and invalid pensioners as well as widow pensioners and repatriation pensioners, all of whom require more assistance than they now receive. I was greatly impressed with the case presented this afternoon on behalf of widows, particularly those with dependent children, who have to deny themselves food that is essential to the maintenance of good health so that their children can have enough to sustain them. To some extent this is because child endowment payments are not worth nearly as much as they were in the days of the Chifley Government, having regard to increases in the cost of living since that time. However, I do believe that some more generous payment should be made to the widow herself. 1 earnestly hope that the Government will deal more justly with these people who, without the assistance of a breadwinner, must accept the great responsibility of bringing up their families.
I would also like to make an earnest plea for dependent wives of invalid pensioners, who receive an allowance which is less than half the amount paid by way of pension to their husbands. If it is considered that a man needs £5 5s. a week to provide himself with the barest essentials for sustenance, then there can be no justification for granting the wife of such a man any lesser amount. I know that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), and many other colleagues of mine have made earnest pleas on behalf of these dependent wives of invalid pensioners. I strongly support the claims made on behalf of these unfortunate women who have to remain in constant attendance upon their invalid husbands, with no opportunity to supplement their income, and who are denied adequate means of providing for themselves. I do hope that the Government will show some sympathy for this deserving section of our community.
While expressing my great concern for these people, I must say that I rose to-night principally to bring to the notice of the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) two anomalies that I feel should be immediately corrected. I refer, first, to the case of a person in the city of Adelaide who suffers an injury and is taken to the casualty ward of the Adelaide hospital for treatment. He may have to return later to that institution for further observation of his injuries, to see whether the healing processes are proceeding satisfactorily, or to have postsurgical work attended to, such as removal of stitches. Such a person cannot make a claim on a medical benefits fund for reimbursement of any part of the fees paid. He cannot even receive Commonwealth assistance under the National Health Act. If he had consulted a private practitioner and had received the same treatment as that given at the hospital, he would have been allowed to claim certain reimbursement from his medical benefits fund, as well as Commonwealth assistance. This surely represents an anomaly, and it appears to me that it shows a partisan attitude on the part of the Government, with preferential treatment being extended to the private practitioner as against the public institution. I ask the Minister to recognize the fact that the law operates most unfairly in this respect, and to endeavour to provide more equitable procedures to correct such anomalies.
The other matter I wish to bring to the notice of the Minister is one that was mentioned by the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan). I think it is most unfair that a person must go to a general practitioner and be recommended to a specialist before he is able to claim the reimbursement to which he is entitled from the medical benefits fund. I have had personal experience of this kind of injustice. When I am in Adelaide I receive treatment from my local doctor, who has recommended that I visit a certain doctor in Canberra for treatment when I am in this city. Having been recommended by the Adelaide doctor to the Canberra doctor, I can claim a higher rate of reimbursement in respect of fees paid to the Canberra doctor than I can in respect of those paid to the Adelaide doctor, although both doctors give me exactly the same treatment. This is absurd, and I suggest that it needs correction.
The honorable member for McMillan was quite correct in what he said about the treatment of persons with defective vision, who must go to a general practitioner and then, on his recommendation, to a specialist, before they can claim the higher rate of reimbursement in respect of fees paid to the specialist. An example of this kind of arrangement was brought to my notice recently in Adelaide. People are being unjustly treated in being made to pay fees to two practitioners before being able to claim the higher rate of benefit. This is another illustration of the fact that there is a desire to load the patient with additional expense for the services of a private practitioner. I ask the Minister to recognize the justice of the case put forward by the honorable member for McMillan, and which I have supported with experience of my own. It is absurd for a government to allow such a situation to continue.
I shall now make way for my colleagues who, I know, have many things to say in connexion with these estimates. 1 hope the Minister will appreciate my earnestness in making these requests on behalf of the unfortunate people who suffer from various disabilities.
.- I wish to make some remarks about the estimates for the Department of Health and the Department of Social Services. I find that with the relationships prevailing at present between the Commonwealth and the States, a lamentable and tragic circumstance exists in respect of physically handicapped children. Of course, the States are responsible for health matters. Under the Constitution, a child is a State responsibility until it reaches the age of fourteen years. The age may be different in other States according to the school leaving age, but in Western Australia it is fourteen years. Then the child can go to work for two years, but when it reaches the age of sixteen it becomes a Commonwealth, responsibility should the matter of social service benefits arise. Thus we have the position in which physically handicapped children, who should be given medical treatment and whom some attempt should be made to rehabilitate during the course of that treatment, cannot receive the necessary treatment because they do not become a Commonwealth responsibility until they reach the age of sixteen years. At twelve, ten, eight years, or even earlier in life, no doubt the treatment would have been successful. Instead, by having to wait until they reach sixteen years of age to obtain Commonwealth assistance many of these children are severely or even helplessly handicapped and limited in their capacity to earn a living and become self-respecting and selfsupporting citizens. They then become a charge on the Commonwealth. At that stage - too late - the Commonwealth is prepared to examine them to see whether they can be trained for some occupation.
There is an enormous number of children in that category. Many adults and adolescents as well are in this vacuum which has been created by the peculiar circumstance that a child is a State responsibility until it is fourteen or fifteen years of age and becomes a Commonwealth responsibility only when it reaches the age of sixteen years, when it can claim social service benefits in the form of, say, an invalid pension. This is a sorry state of affairs. Many people in Australia have joined certain organizations and voluntarily have accepted the responsibility of caring for physically handicapped children. The Commonwealth’s attitude to these unfortunate children is a source of great concern to their parents, who are anxious for something to be done for them at an early age when any treatment would be of great benefit. The States will place the children in hospitals, but the children are not sick. They need medical treatment to help them overcome their disability, but apparently they are nobody’s babies.
I ask the honorable member opposite who is interjecting not to bother listening to me because I do not think he is interested in the human qualities of the individual. Apparently he does not care for any one who is less fortunate than he is. He is a member of this Commonwealth Parliament, he receives a very high salary and he enjoys the best of health. I ask him to show a little feeling now and then for those who are less fortunately situated than he is.
The problem to which I have referred is very serious, lt must be tackled by the Commonwealth Government. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) could confer with the Minister for Health in another place to try to overcome the problem.
– Do you expect the Minister to do that?
– I think he has sufficient knowledge, understanding and sympathy to do what he can, although I do not know what he can do.
– What has he done in thirteen years?
– Who has troubled himself to raise this matter in thirteen years? Only three or four honorable members in this place have mentioned it. The Minister for Health could place this matter on the agenda of the forthcoming conference of Ministers for Health. Undoubtedly the State Ministers will pass the buck to the
Commonwealth, and undoubtedly the Commonwealth Minister will suggest that every one should be concerned with the problem and that the Ministers should try to do something about it. Commonwealth and State departments must co-operate and work in unison unless, of course, the States want the Commonwealth to take from them the complete control of all health matters. If there is the co-operation which I have suggested the unfortunate people to whom I have referred will benefit.
The Commonwealth Government should tackle this problem in preference to giving assistance to people outside Australia. We are contributing funds to meet the cost of medical research in the so-called underdeveloped and backward countries, but if honorable members care to learn about what other countries are doing to rehabilitate the disabled they will find that we in Australia are more backward in treating disabled persons than are most of the socalled backward countries for which we are providing financial assistance. The Estimates this year provide for a proposed allocation of £198,000 to the World Health Organization, Such a sum of money could do an enormous amount of good if it were spent in our own country in the direction that I have mentioned. Surely to goodness, charity begins at home.
At their meeting the Ministers for Health should review the existing hospital agreement. The honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) referred to this matter. When the original hospital agreement was drawn up between the Commonwealth and the States - I think it was in 1942 - the Commonwealth agreed to pay the States 6s. per hospital patient per day. That amount was decided upon after assessing the average collections by hospitals from patients. It never had any relationship to the actual cost of keeping a patient in a hospital for one day. Although many hospitals at that time were collecting fees well above the average rate, and although the average charge by hospitals at that time was 22s. a day, the Commonwealth contributed only 6s. a day. The States were expected to meet the cost of so-called free medical treatment from their fees. Honorable members will remember that indigent and pensioner patients were to be covered by that section of the original agreement.
The States got the worst of the bargain. I was a member of a State parliament at that time and I did not hesitate to say so. The agreement must be reviewed completely before it is renewed. The Commonwealth’s contribution must be related to the cost incurred by hospitals in keeping one patient for one day. The States at present either must bear a disproportionate share of hospital charges or charge the patient a terrific fee for treatment. To-day people are becoming ill through fear of what becoming ill will cost them. The Commonwealth Government must tackle the problem.
Let me congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) for the way in which he administers his portfolio. I should like him to convey to the officers of his department the sincere appreciation of, I think, most honorable members in this place, and myself in particular, for the very fine service which they render to ex-servicemen who are their responsibility. I should like the Minister to consider the provision of convalescent facilities for ex-servicemen. We have reached a stage at which more and more ex-servicemen are seeking treatment in repatriation hospitals with greater and greater frequency. As ex-servicemen age, they become entitled to service pensions and therefore to treatment in repatriation hospitals. The demand for treatment in these hospitals by ex-servicemen will continue to grow.
The Public Accounts Committee, when I was a member of it, investigated the Repatriation Department. We found that the average stay of ex-servicemen in repatriation hospitals was much greater than the average stay of patients in ordinary civilian hospitals. Trying to ascertain the reason for this, we were told that the Repatriation Department kept exservicemen in its hospitals as long as possible, even during what may be described as the convalescent stage, in order to make sure that the patients had recovered, because there was no place to which the department could send ex-servicemen who still needed a period of rest and watchful attention for a short time after their recovery. This applies particularly to single ex-servicemen pensioners who are living in rooms and preparing their own meals or who, perhaps, are boarding and being inadequately fed. Under such conditions their health deteriorates until a war disability recurs or perhaps an ordinary illness strikes them down. They then enter a repatriation hospital where they recover their health and, probably within a very short time, they return to living under the same circumstances as before, only quickly to require re-admission to a repatriation hospital.
I do not suggest that there should be convalescent homes for the permanent care of people such as this, but there is a need for places at which they can stay, if they are not retained in hospital, until they have fully recovered their strength and are able once more to withstand the hard conditions under which they live. These men should not be discharged to return to their difficult conditions of living so soon as to make it almost inevitable that they will quickly become ill again and require treatment in a repatriation hospital. I ask the Minister for Repatriation to examine this problem. There, is a very great need for proper provision in this respect.
I suggest to the Minister also that he examines the rates of allowance paid to dependants of repatriation pensioners. We talk about the maternity allowance, and other benefits. Yet the wife’s allowance and the allowance paid to children of repatriation pensioners have not been increased for many years! We. think that this is a matter which requires attention.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I wish to ask you a question. The proposed expenditure under the control of the Repatriation Department totals about £116,000,000, but the proposed vote for the. department, so far as I can see, is £110,701,000. Which sum are we supposed to be voting?
– The honorable member ought to know that the sum which the committee is to vote is the sum stated at the commencement of each period of consideration of the proposed votes. That is the sum before the committee for its consideration.
– It is quite a while-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Chairman, I want to direct my remarks to the proposed vote for War and Repatriation Services. At the outset, I join with the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) in congratulating the new Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz). I believe that the Minister will bring sympathy to the administration of the Repatriation Department. We all appreciate the fact that the claims of ex-servicemen for pensions call for sympathetic consideration by the department, and ultimately, in many instances, by the Minister himself. I am sure that the present Minister will be prepared to consider sympathetically all the matters that are submitted to him.
I join with the honorable member for Moore, also, in paying tribute to the officers of the Repatriation Department generally. I believe that they always endeavour to consider sympathetically the claims for pensions and other assistance, in respect of disabilities and other matters, made by exservicemen. I pay tribute to the staff of the department for the handling of the affairs of ex-servicemen in these respects. At the same time, I want to make it perfectly clear that, as I have said on other occasions in this chamber, I do not agree with some aspects of the Repatriation Act. I hope to deal with several of them in a general way in the brief time available to me.
Before I turn to other matters, I want to emphasize that, as no measure to amend the Repatriation Act will be before the Parliament in this sessional period, our only opportunity to discuss these matters during this sessional period occurs while the proposed vote for War and Repatriation Services is being considered. Repatriation benefits are to remain unaltered in 1962-63, although some variations were made in 1961-62. It must be apparent to all honorable members that the existing rates of benefit will not be changed until 1963-64, and perhaps not even then, depending on the attitude that the Government adopts when it is preparing the next Budget.
I believe that the committee should be reminded that representations have been made to the Minister for Repatriation and to the Government Members Ex-servicemen’s Committee by representatives of both the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think it was in March of this year that representatives of the Returned Servicemen’s League met members of the Government Members Ex-servicemen’s Committee and submitted a seven-point plan for increases in certain pension rates. Despite the representations made by the two organizations which I have mentioned, the Government has made no change in the rates.
I shall now deal in a little more detail with one or two aspects of this seven-point plan. The Returned Servicemen’s League asked the Government to increase the 100 per cent, rate of war pension from £5 15s. a week to £6 10s. a week - an increase of 15s. It also asked that the wife’s allowance be raised from £1 15s. 6d. a week to £3 a week - an increase of £1 4s. 6d. The Government has ignored the request. As the honorable member for Moore has already pointed out, the wife’s allowance has remained unaltered for the last seven years at least under the administration of this Government. I consider that the request for these increases was fair and reasonable. Similarly, the returned servicemen’s organization asked that the allowance paid in respect of children be increased from 13s. 9d. a week to £1 a week - an increase of 6s. 3d.
I propose to show that there is a sound basis for the request by the Returned Servicemen’s League on this vexed question of benefit rates. In 1951, the average adult male wage in Australia was £11 lis. a week and the 100 per cent, rate of war pension was £3 10s. a week. The 100 per cent, pension was then 30.33 per cent, of the average adult male wage. In 1961, the average adult male wage was £22 18s. This pension was adjusted by the Government in 1961 and became £5 15s. a week. This was 25 per cent, of the adult average male wage. The R.S.L. asked for an increase of 15s. a week, but in fact in the period I have mentioned, from 1951 to 1961, these pensioners lost 23s. a week on the basis of the comparison between the pension and the average adult male wage.
The same position obtains with war widows. In the seven-point plan submitted to the Government, the R.S.L. suggested that the rate of pension for war widows be increased from £5 15s. a week to £6 10s. a week. That is not an unreasonable request if one keeps in mind the sacrifices that have been made by war widows. The increase sought was a mere 15s. a week. The exservicemen’s organization also requested that the domestic allowance be increased from £3 2s. 6d. a week to £4 a week, an increase of 17s. 6d., and that the child’s allowance be increased from £1 19s. to £2. These are not substantial increases, but the Government has chosen not to increase either the basic pension for war widows or the domestic allowance.
Let me once again take the period from 1951 to 1961. It should, of course, be remembered by Government supporters that in 1951, the year I take as the base year, this Government had occupied the treasury bench for approximately two years. In 1951, the average adult male wage, as I have said, was £11 lis. a week. In that year, the war widow received a pension of £3 13s. a week, which was 30.33 per cent, of the adult male wage. Tn 1961, the adult male wage was £22 18s. The war widows’ pension had been increased to £5 15s. a week, but this is only 25.1 per cent, of the adult male wage. In other words, the purchasing power of this pension declined by 5 per cent. Once again, the Government has failed to accede to the request made by the R.S.L.
Most other service pensions have also fallen in the same way. The service pension is now £5 5s. a week. The R.S.L. has asked in its seven-point plan that the service pension be increased to £5 10s. a week, an increase of only 5s. It has also asked that the wife’s allowance of £2 7s. 6d. be increased to £2 15s. a week, an increase of only 7s. 6d. As other Opposition members have said, the wife’s allowance is completely inadequate, whether it applies to the wife of a service pensioner or to the wife of an invalid pensioner, but it remains unaltered. In 1951, the service pension was 26 per cent, of the average adult male wage. In 1961, it had fallen to 23 per cent. The returned servicemen’s organization has sought an increase in the service pension of only 5s. a week. But service pensioners, on the basis of a comparison with the average male wage, have lost 14s. in purchasing power during the period T have mentioned.
The recipients of war pensions and allowances have suffered a decline in purchasing power in the period from 1951 to 1961. This applies also to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen whose pension is normally referred to as the special rate pension. Opposition members have always believed that governments, irrespective of their political beliefs, should give special consideration to those in receipt of this pension. In every debate on repatriation matters, we have advocated that the special rate pension should not be less than the basic wage. To-day it is £13 5s. a week. The R.S.L. in its seven-point plan requested that this pension be increased to £13 15s. a week, an increase of only 10s. This is not a large increase, especially when it is compared with the amounts now being spent by the Government in other ways. If the rate of special pension, compared with the average male wage, had been maintained from 1951 to 1961. it would have increased to £17 6s. a week. The R.S.L. has sought an increase merely to £13 15s. a week. The purchasing power of this pension, too, has declined in the period I have taken.
The Government should seriously consider the views expressed by the R.S.L. It has always had the responsibility of making recommendations relating to the pensions of ex-servicemen, no matter what governhas been in power. But the Government has ignored the recommendations made on this occasion by the R.S.L. and by the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia. The funeral benefit also remains unaltered. The R.S.L. sought an increase of this benefit in the seven-point plan it submitted.
I want to turn now to the recommendations that were made to the Minister for Repatriation earlier this year by representatives of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia. They submitted a five-point plan to the Minister. The most important point in the view of the association was that free medical treatment be granted to the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen. The Opposition has raised this matter in the Parliament over a number of years. In every debate on repatriation matters, the Opposition has asked the Government to consider immediately granting free medical treatment to the wives of these ex-servicemen.
– Order! The honorable members time has expired.
.- I wish to make some observations on the estimates now before the committee. They cannot really be dealt with briefly, but as you know, Mr. Chairman, the time allowed to debate the Estimates is strictly limited. My remarks will be directed mainly to the estimates for the Department of Health. Last year, during the debate on the Estimates, I referred to the cost of the health scheme and I rise to do so again now. As honorable members know from the papers before them, in this financial year £4,593,000 will be spent by the department which, out of the National Welfare Fund, will spend about £93,000,000 or about £10,000,000 more than last year.
When I raised this matter last year I put to the committee what I called two pertinent questions: First, what provision had been made for a periodic, comprehensive review of the cost of our national health service? Secondly, were we indifferent to the fact that the cost of the national health service is rising at a rate faster than that at which government revenue is rising? I then proceeded to point out that in the five years to 1960 the health expenditure of this country increased by 85.8 per cent, whilst the revenue increased by only 50.6 per cent. Indeed, I went a lot further. I gave much detailed information. If anybody cares to read my speech he will find it in the “Hansard” report of the debate on the health estimates last year. But I should add, perhaps, that this trend of costs rising faster than the revenue is still continuing. I shall say more about that later.
When the then Minister for Health replied to my speech last year he put a completely different construction on my remarks from that which I had intended. He pointed out that I had wanted to review the cost of the health scheme. Indeed, I had. But he then stated that the costs were constantly under review from year to year and from week to week. They were kept under the searching eye, as he said, of the department. Further reviews, he said by implication, were unnecessary. When I had spoken of the need for a review I had not meant that it should be carried out by the department. I had wanted it to be carried out by an independent panel of technical people. I had particularly used the word “ review “ on that occasion because I had felt that to use the word “ inquiry “ would have been to suggest something sinister in connexion with the health scheme. That was not meant. In fact, nothing is further from my mind in regard to this question.
If I were searching for a reason why a review of our health services should be held - and I am not - perhaps a very good example would be the Minister’s own reply to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), who raised the question of medical research last year. He said, during the discussion on the health estimates last year, that he did not consider that sufficient money was being spent on medical research. The Minister pointed out that the sum of £300,000 referred to in those estimates was not the only amount to be spent on this item. He proceeded to point out that a great deal of research was going on in the Australian National University, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. This was all being paid for by the Government.
It is conceivable from the Minister’s comments that a lot of overlapping occurs and extra expense is incurred in respect of this one item. It is conceivable that this could be avoided and the taxpayers’ money saved without reducing the effectiveness of research. Under our health insurance system I believe that there are a number of overlapping expense items in the medical services the elimination of which could save the taxpayer money without lessening the effectiveness of the treatment to the patient. One of these items mentioned by other honorable members this evening was ophthalmology. There are other anomalies, I believe, which time does not permit me to mention. I submit that if an independent investigating committee were appointed by the Government outside the department, ways and means would be found whereby savings could be made in the present health scheme.
The then Minister for Health also said last year that the Department of Health is constantly making a searching review of costs. I am sure that it is. But I would suggest that this review is not always made with complete equity, even to the supplier of medicines. Long delays in reaching decisions in regard to increased costs are very often the order of things. In the mean time, the drug suppliers’ complaints, or the chemists’ complaints have moved into further areas of discontent. I am not suggesting that the department does these things purposely. It is understandable that if it is to do its job for the taxpayer all costs must be thoroughly investigated, but the time that it takes to bring down a finding, I believe, is far too long. If a public review of the health system were made by an independent body of taxpayers, it is possible that what appears in our health scheme to be excessively expensive, such as certain items of service, may prove to be inexpensive. Therefore, there would be a very great advantage in having a complete review of our national health scheme.
Honorable members should be aware of the kind of problem with which the Government is confronted to-day. Rising costs of health programmes and medical services are really a world-wide problem. The paper “ National Income and Expenditure “ circulated by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) shows that in Australia, quite apart from the national health service expenditure, general health services have trebled in cost over the past nine years, whilst budget expenditure has less than doubled. If time permitted, it would be an interesting exercise to cite the increases that have taken place quite recently. If there are weaknesses in the present health scheme it is not because the scheme was designed that way nor is it the fault, I believe, of our health officers. It is due to the fact that the initial scheme was brought down in the early 1950’s and since then much has been grafted onto it. The scheme was initiated at a time when there was no yardstick by which to measure any proposal. Much of the scheme was of an experimental nature and much of it had never been tried out in the world before.
We in Australia have learned much about our health service in the last ten years. If, to-day, improvements can be made and services extended without great cost to the taxpayer I believe that they should be made and extended. I am satisfied that we have a national health service which suits Australian conditions admirably, and it has been proved that it can be paid for by the Australian people without having to nationalize the medical services. Generally speaking, there is nothing quite comparable with it, I believe, in any other part of the world. But that does not mean that it cannot be improved. Speaking of it as a complete service, I believe it is a good one. It has received high commendation from world health experts, but if we can improve on it without inflicting too high a cost on the taxpayer I believe we should do that. The way to find out whether it can be so improved is to have a general inquiry into the whole system. Therefore, Sir, mindful of everything that was said by the Minister last year in reply to my speech on this point, I again ask that the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) appoint a committee to inquire into the existing health services. The committee of inquiry, I believe, should be asked to determine whether there are any anomalies, inconsistencies, unnecessary complexities or other similar defects in our present scheme and make recommendations for their removal or for the general improvement of the scheme. The suggestions I have made, I know, are of a very wide nature, but I think they are important.
In what I am about to add I would again like it to be understood that there is no reflection on the competence and the devotion of loyalty of the Director-General of Health or any of his staff, but in this chamber we must never forget that the officers of the Department of Health are among the biggest spenders in the Commonwealth services. As I have already said, if the present trend continues they will soon bc equal, or very closely equal, to the biggest spenders in the Commonwealth Administration. At the present time, with the. inclusion of the National Welfare Fund, I think they rank as about the fourth highest spenders in the Commonwealth Administration.
With respect to the Minister and his staff, we in this committee can never be content with the suggestion that the only survey or surveillance necessary of this tremendous tax burden is that undertaken by the men who are themselves doing the spending. In other words, they should not be the people who are making a review of this cost. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it is a highly dangerous aspect of government that it should ever be suggested that we, in this chamber, should allow to go unchallenged a suggestion such as was made by the
Minister for Health last year. I accept without qualifications the Minister’s assurance that his department has his cost factors under day-to-day survey to the satisfaction of himself and his officers. The satisfaction of this committee and my electors calls for something very different, something that carries less sense of self-justification.
Having said all that, I should like in the remaining few minutes available to me to pay a tribute to the Government for the foresight shown some years ago when it brought down the Aged Persons Homes Act, which provides for our aged citizens throughout Australia the type of residential accommodation suitable for their advancing years. 1 believe that the mental comfort that this act has given to many people is very great indeed. Since the scheme was conceived and brought into operation some 13,600 persons have enjoyed accommodation provided under this act, and I think that that speaks for itself. In looking through the Estimates I note that over £14,000,000 is now involved in this very valuable service which is being given to the community. I am satisfied that the erection of homes under the provisions of this act has removed loneliness from the lives of many elderly people, who otherwise might have found their way into hospitals, in a way which would have embarrassed hospital administrators to a very high degree.
I am very pleased to see that a further £3,000,000 has been placed on the Estimates for 1962-63 for this very desirable service.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Unlike the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) I find myself unable to pay any tribute at all to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton).
– That is a little unusual!
– No; perhaps he would not expect me to do so. The provision under the Aged Persons Homes Act to which the honorable member has referred has dealt with only an infinitesimal fraction of the distressing number of cases of aged people in Australia who lack decent housing.
– But a Labour government did not even start on such a scheme.
– That is true. The fact is that to-day there are many hundreds of thousands of aged people who are paying exorbitant rents for unsuitable rooms, which are taking so large a proportion of their pensions that they are unable adequately to feed themselves. The Aged Persons Homes Act, which has been so largely advertised, costs this Government only £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 a year, and its administration is full of very serious abuses. Although some organizations operate properly under this act - I have seen that in my own electorate - as this scheme is operated at present there is no guarantee whatever that the aged person who most needs a home is accepted. On the contrary, some organizations actually charge £1,000 or £1,500 to put people into this accommodation, the cost of which is then subsidized £2 for £1 by the Commonwealth Government. There are cases where old people sell the homes in which they have lived, contribute £1,000 or £1,500 to an organization for the right to live in an aged persons’ home for the rest of their lives, and pass the balance of their property over to their relatives, while people who have no means at all and cannot contribute even £100 still find themselves having to pay exorbitant rents for unsuitable rooms.
The scheme has produced good results in many cases - there is no doubt about that - but it has left untouched the great problem of housing the aged and, in many cases, has worked very unfairly indeed in regard to the need of those who are accepted compared with the need of those who are rejected.
This afternoon and to-night honorable members of the Opposition have advanced, with detailed evidence, a number of submissions to the Minister for Social Services as to the urgent need for amendments in the present social service law. I have been very glad to see that the Minister has been present, I think, for the whole of the discussions affecting his department. I trust that he will take note, first, of the fact that he has once again been reminded that the rate of child endowment has remained unaltered during twelve years while the cost of living has increased by 140 per cent. In other words, the mothers of Australia and the families of Australia have been robbed of more than half the value of the child endowment payment which is their right.
Secondly, he has been reminded of the urgent need to adjust the maternity allowance, which has remained unaltered since 1948. The Minister has been told once again, and I hope this time he will take notice of it, that the funeral benefit remains at £10, a rate which was fixed in 1943, despite the fact that for the cheapest coffin, without any fittings whatever and without any of the other costs of a funeral, the price is £12 10s. The funeral benefit to-day does not cover even one-fifth or one-sixth of the minimum cost of burying an age pensioner. The Minister has been reminded that the age pension rate to-day is completely inadequate to maintain a single pensioner living alone and paying rent, and he has had explained to him once again the rigid conditions surrounding the supplementary rent allowance which prevent nine out of every ten people who need it from qualifying for it.
Although the Government has been able to claim credit for an amelioration of the property means test, the Minister has been reminded to-day that the income means test for age pensioners has remained unaltered for the past eight years of continuing inflation. He has been told graphically once again of the desperate plight of the dependent wives of invalid pensioners and of those age pensioners who are unable to earn any money. That human being is expected to exist in our society on the sum of £2 7s. 6d. a week, which every one of us knows to be utterly impossible except at the cost of malnutrition and great suffering. The Minister has been told once again of the need to do something for pensioners who to-day are excluded from the pensioner medical service under the iniquitous amendment made to the law in October, 1955. Since then no new applicant for this service has been admitted to the benefit of free medicine or free medical attention if his income, other than pension, is over £2 a week.
I wish to-night to devote a few minutes to a matter mentioned by the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan), developed by the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), and mentioned also by the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth), namely, the overwhelming case for the restoration of the national health benefit for eyesight examination. This benefit was withdrawn by the Government in 1953. It is imperative now that the benefit be restored and the only basis upon which this can be properly done is to pay the benefit whether the examination is made by an eye doctor or by an optometrist, each of whom is equally qualified and equally recognized legally for this purpose.
When the benefit was formerly paid for refraction by an ophthalmologist but not by an optometrist the result, if that had been continued, would have been to destroy the profession of optometry in Australia. Additionally, this invidious distinction between the ophthalmologist and the optometrist, both of whom are recognized legally as being equally qualified for refraction, imposed an extra and unnecessary expense on patients because, as the honorable member for McMillan said, 80 per cent, of the people requiring eyesight examinations normally go to an optometrist and not to an ophthalmologist.
When these disastrous consequences to the optometrical profession were explained to the Government it proceeded not to include optometrists for the purpose of the eyesight health benefit, but, instead, to abolish the benefit altogether. The result has been not only to exclude the patients of many ophthalmologists from a benefit to which they were justly entitled, but also to create an artificial distinction which it is virtually impossible to police or to enforce. The present ridiculous position is that a patient referred to an ophthalmologist receives the national health benefit if the ophthalmologist does not prescribe glasses, but receives no benefit if glasses are prescribed.
Faced with this absurdity a number of ophthalmologists are moved by sympathy for their patients to find a way around the restriction imposed by the law. When this happens frequently optometrists and their patients are once again placed in an utterly unfair position. In the light of experience the crude machinery set up by the Government has proved unworkable. It has produced chaos instead of order and has confirmed the worst fears of ophthalmologists and optometrists alike.
The law, as now worded, affronts ophthalmologists by withdrawing one field of their professional service from benefit. Moreover, it constitutes a form of coercion on their judgment, to which they should not be subjected. It tends to limit the ophthalmologist in the selection of proper treatment for his patients and this, surely, must be recognized as being thoroughly bad. The fact that the original legislation was discriminatory against optometrists is no reason to seek to remedy one injustice by the creation of another. Refraction forms a natural and necessary part of any comprehensive national health plan and to withdraw it from two equally entitled professions so as not to discriminate against either profession carries the danger of creating resentment and non-co-operation in both professions.
The Government is now condoning a new injustice to optometrists by authorizing the Medical Benefit Fund of Australia, which is sponsored by the Australian Medical Association, to pay a benefit for spectacles prescribed by a doctor but not for those prescribed by an optometrist, although he is recognized as being equally qualified - by skill and by legal qualification - to prescribe spectacles. The situation has become intolerable all round and it is mandatory on the Government to do something about it.
The solution attempted by the amendment made in 1953 has been demonstrated to be unjust and unworkable because, as I have said, a number of ophthalmologists, out of sympathy for their patients, find a means of getting around the law. The proper course now is for the Government to restore the refraction benefit with equal recognition of ophthalmologists and optometrist alike.
I can only describe as ludicrous the effects of another provision of the act which permits benefit to be paid to the patient of an ophthalmologist where the patient is referred by a private doctor and where the ophthalmologist does not prescribe glasses, but does not allow the benefit to be paid where the same patient is referred by an optometrist and the ophthalmologist does not prescribe glasses. This benefit is payable only if the patient is referred to the ophthalmologist by a general medical practitioner. It is not payable where the patient is referred by an optometrist, although the optometrist is a man specially trained to examine eyes in particular, and the general practitioner is certainly not so trained.
At present if an optometrist desires to ensure that his patient receives benefit for specialist examination by an ophthalmologist he must send him to a general practitioner. This is where the ludicrous situation arises. The optometrist sends the patient to a general practitioner with a note explaining why it is necessary to refer him to an ophthalmologist. The general practitioner makes no examination, but accepts the optometrist’s word and scribbles a note to the ophthalmologist. Although the patient then collects benefit in respect of the ophthalmologist’s examination he has had to have three examinations before treatment. He has had to pay an unnecessary fee to the general practitioner - and the Government has to pay an unnecessary benefit towards the cost of the fee of the general practitioner. The patient has had to have three examinations and the Government has incurred unnecessary cost. Surely the commonsense thing to do is to give the optometrist the right of direct referral of a patient to an ophthalmologist.
.- In the limited time available to me I wish to make some quick comments first, on the Repatriation Department and the estimates for that department, followed by a passing reference to the estimates for the Department of Health. Primarily, however, I want to deal with the estimates for the Department of Social Services. That is quite an ambitious programme, and honorable members can understand that I can make only quick references to the first two departments in the first part of my speech.
The annual report of the Repatriation Department has just been released. I find it a splendid document, and I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr, Swartz) and the officers of the Repatriation Department for that report. One finds on page 8 of the report, set out in a very helpful way, the current rates of benefit now being paid. All the benefits available are set out in a very clear fashion, which is of assistance not only to members of this Parliament but also to hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen throughout the country who may see the report. Exservicemen’s associations will find the report an excellent handbook indeed.
Apart from the information on rates contained in the report, the other statistical information contained in it is splendid. I want to refer particularly to the adoption of a business-like presentation of details of expenditure. This can be seen on page 19. This is a graphic presentation, which shows that 19s. out of every 20s. of the Repatriation Department’s vote is devoted to direct benefits to ex-servicemen or their dependants. The report also shows that the remaining ls. of every £1 is absorbed by administrative expenses and maintenance costs on the department’s many buildings throughout the Commonwealth. The general statistics which follow in the tables from page 22 onwards provide a fund of information to people who are vitally interested in this section of the social services programme of Australia. I think that the Minister for Repatriation will gather from my comments that I feel that his department has a very creditable record indeed.
On page 2 of the report there is additional information which I believe all members of the committee should take and present as widely as possible to their electors; for here we find that the war pensions for ex-servicemen in force at the end of the financial year number some 216,000, whilst dependants of incapacitated exservicemen receiving pensions total in excess of 402,000. Nearly 52,000 dependants of deceased ex-servicemen are also being cared for. Service pensions are now paid to some 42,000 ex-servicemen. Those are a few of the statistics which can be seen at a glance in the table on page 2 of the report.
I turn now to the estimates for the Department of Health. Earlier in the debate the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) spoke about the vote for national fitness. No one is more aware than I am that this is but a very small facit of the broad programme of the Department of Health. In the interim report released by the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) the National Fitness Act of 1941 calls for only three lines towards the end. But the honorable member for Kingston, myself and others who have had some close association with the national fitness movement, some in recent years and some for longer than that, know that this is a Commonwealth act which has been adopted by the various State authorities where national fitness councils are in operation. We know that the present vote of £72,500 has not been increased from the original figure included in the Commonwealth Estimates. It is on that ground that we criticize the vote for national fitness to-day. The honorable member for Kingston was wrong, however, when he said that the amount provided in the vote had stood at this figure only since 1954. I point out - and I want to underline this very firmly - that the vote has not been altered since it was first introduced.
On the credit side, I agree with my honorable friend that the new regime in the Department of Health under the new Minister has brought a welcome change, for the new Director-General, coming as he did with a splendid background of military training, and a close association with promoting physical fitness among servicemen, was quick to send a departmental officer to each State to look into the matter of national fitness. Shortly after the report of that officer was submitted, the DirectorGeneral, with ministerial approval, called a conference in Canberra. It is my surmise that a Cabinet submission has been made dealing with national fitness. I can surmise no further than that, but I want to express the hope that if there has been a recommendation along the lines that I think, it will result in a vastly extended vote which will help to re-invigorate the national fitness movement.
This is a small act which is designed to stimulate sport across this great Common wealth and to encourage the youth of our nation to achieve that standard of physical fitness which is the aim of so many of our young people. But others need to be encouraged also to spend time in attaining that standard.
In the remaining moments that I have at my disposal I want to deal with the estimates for the Department of Social Services, and will concentrate on the vote of £3,000,000 for expenditure under the Aged Persons Homes Act. Other speakers have referred to this matter during the debate. I want to thank the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who has spent a lot of time in the committee but who is unfortunately not here at the moment, for his recent visit to Western Australia. This visit gave him the opportunity to be associated with the opening of one of these aged persons cottage homes projects in my electorate.
In the annual report of the Department of Social Services, at page 15, we find before us the achievements of this small piece of legislation which was introduced in 1954. To date some £13,000,000 has been spent by the Commonwealth Government on assisting churches and charitable bodies to build modern accommodation for our elderly citizens. Almost 13,000 people have received the benefit of this accommodation. During the debate, as I expected, the honorable member for Kingston and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) have, unfortunately, criticized what has been done under this act. I wish the honorable member for Kingston would recognize that £13,000,000 expended in this way is not a mean achievement, because this is a new scheme which has to be understood and applied by the many bodies interested in the future and the welfare of our senior citizens. The tempo of receipt of applications is now increasing so fast that the Department of Social Services is well and truly aware of the need to increase the vote year by year. I suggest that so successful has been the operation of the Aged Persons Homes Act - a product of the present Government - that for months the Opposition has been taking every opportunity to criticize the scheme. To a question asked in another place a Minister replying on behalf of the Minister for Social
Services gave a forthright reply which is worth mentioning by me. The question asked in another place was, in part -
How many of these homes are for the really destitute and charge no entrance fee, but receive the same portion of an occupant’s age pension as do the authorities of State-controlled and maintained homes?
Other questions followed. The Minister, in his reply, said, in part, referring to those questions -
There is only one implication to be read into them. I give an answer in general terms. This legislation is, I think, one of the most forward steps in social services ever taken by any Australian government. It is aimed at helping voluntary workers in the field of social services and at supplementing the work which Churches and other charitable organizations do. I think I am correct in saying that every one of the homes is under the control of a Church or charitable organization. The Commonwealth’s approach has been not to interfere with the running of those organizations but to let them make arrangements that they think will give the best social results.
Now to a point that I want to underline. The Minister went on to say -
If a family wants to make a contribution to the capital cost of such a home in order to provide accommodation for a member of the family, so long as it is not asked or expected to provide accommodation for a period beyond the lifetime of the person concerned, surely that is a most desirable thing. Surely it is a good thing, if a family wants to make provision for an aged member and is in a position to make a financial contribution, that it should be encouraged to do so. Surely it is fair that if the occupant of this accommodation is in a position to pay a reasonable rental or charge he should be encouraged to do so.
– What about those who cannot afford to do that?
– I have told the committee the basis of the arrangement, and now you ask, “ What about those who cannot afford it”!
– I do.
– I am afraid that the honorable member for Grayndler and the honors i le member for Kingston just have not been moving around their electorates enough to realize how these organizations are functioning. They should be supporting those who are trying to provide these homes They should not be criticizing such a good scheme.
Let me tell honorable members how this arrangement operates. The principle of aged people helping themselves, where possible, is not only sound but also well established in social service legislation, Annuities and superannuation schemes are good examples of the application of this principle. I want to make the point thai our churches and charitable bodies could never have achieved the remarkable results I have mentioned without the co-operation of some of these aged people with their limited savings. This is a mighty hard world for charitable bodies to try to raise funds to help elderly people, and when you realize that project-: costing £100,000 or £200,000 have been undertaken by some of these organizations, and that one-third of the total expenditure must be covered by an audit certificate in the bank before the contract is signed, will you then ask yourselves where the money comes from? You have to realize that these voluntary bodies of people with some sort of a feeling for social need in our communities have said, “ Yes, we will raise money the hard way. We will seek donations from business houses.” But despite all their efforts, they have found that there is still a large gap between what is available and what is required, and many of them have found the answer in the rebated rent scheme. These old folk come along with their life savings and say, “ I cannot build a flat with my £400 or £500, but I will gladly give that money to the organization if it will rebate for me the rent of the flat that it will build with the assistance of my £400 or £500 “.
– And what if they have not got the money?
– I will answer that one, too. You will find, if you know anything about these organizations, that there are hundreds of people living in these flats and paying 30s. a week or less, and that if they have made a contribution of £100 or £200, or perhaps more, the 30s. rent is rebated.
– But it is pretty hard to get in if you have not got the money.
– You still do not understand how these organizations work. I suggest that you look more closely at their operations.
Finally, let me say that housing schemes for the aged do not in every case involve the provision of hospital buildings. A large proportion of these elderly people ask for nothing more than a little flat or cottage. They do not want to be put into an institution. They do not want people to feed them. The want to cook their own meals and to go to a hospital of their own choice when they become sick. That is why so many of our organizations are building flats and flats alone, and these 13,000 or 14,000 elderly Australians are very grateful to be reaping the benefit of this kind of scheme. I make the point that charitable bodies, nevertheless, would appreciate it if the various State authorities would offer to accept the occupants of these homes for temporary hospitalization. Then they could move into a State government institution, receive their hospital treatment and return to their little flats, fit and well to enjoy that accommodation for a further period of years.
My time has virtually gone, and I shall probably be robbed of the opportunity-
– Hear, hear!
– Honorable members opposite do not like it, but they have had a few words straight from the shoulder to-night. I wanted to say something about the plight of civilian widows. Many speeches have been made by honorable members on both sides of the chamber on this subject. My time having almost expired, I will content myself with making this comment: Many excellent achievements in the field of social services stand to the credit of this Government, and it is apparent that we should now do something for civilian widows.
.- I shall address my attention to the estimates of the Repatriation Department. I wish again to bring into the open the department’s administration of the legislation covering applications for pensions. Far too many of these applications are being rejected by the various tribunals. In 1943 a parliamentary committee inquired into anomalies that were apparent in the Repatriation Act and recommended amendments to that act. As a result, the provisions of section 47, which is known as the onus-of-proof section, came into force. The intention was to remove the anomalies and to place on the repatriation authorities the burden of proving that an application should not be accepted. My experience has been that only too often the intention of the legislation is not being followed. A perusal of the “ Hansard “ report of debates on the 1943 legislation will show clearly what the intention was. Honorable members on both sides of the House stated clearly that not only should justice be done to all exservicemen in the matter of repatriation, but also that it should be clearly shown to everybody that justice had been done.
Let me say to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz), first, that my remarks are not directed against him personally and that I do not reflect in any way upon him as the Minister. However, the Parliament having clothed the Minister with the fullest authority for the administration of the legislation, he must accept responsibility for shortcomings in that administration.
In my view, in respect of the majority of applications that are rejected, the cases are lost at the very outset, simply because in most cases the applicant failed to apply for a pension until many years after the war, and also because the applicant is unable to state his case fully. I know that the Minister will defend his department. I also know that he will say that the onusofproof provision is always faithfully administered by the various tribunals, the benefit of the doubt being given to the applicant. I reject any such suggestion. As I have already said, many cases are lost at the first hurdle, the Repatriation Board.
I am amazed at the procedure adopted in respect of pension applications, and 1 am horrified with the procedure adopted particularly by the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal, with their star chamber method of conducting hearings, when the members of the tribunals simply listen and refuse to discuss the merits of a case put forward on behalf of the applicant. I should have thought that such procedures would have been tolerated only in totalitarian countries, but I have recently seen these methods in operation here.
Many honorable members will recall that for years I have endeavoured to secure a war pension for a man named Arthur Thomas Ford, because I consider that Ford’s condition was war-caused. I have never been able to reach the Repatriation Board or the Repatriation Commission to state a case for Ford, but I was eventually informed by the Commissioner of Repatriation that a war pensions entitlement tribunal would further consider the case if I could produce new evidence under section 64 (7a). However, having produced the new evidence I found that I could not use most of it before the tribunal because the commission had not approved of it.
If time permits I shall return to Ford’s case later, but I want at the moment to direct the attention of the committee to a type of application that is still being rejected by the repatriation tribunals. I shall refer to only two of these cases tonight, and I shall ask the Minister to do something about them. I also ask honorable members opposite who are returned servicemen themselves to consider whether the Repatriation Act should be amended to ensure that at all levels of future investigations new evidence will be admitted, heard and considered by the various tribunals, as the evidence becomes available, and that if it is admitted it will be referred back to the body that rejected the application.
I refer, first, to the case of Cecil Winser Smith, who died on 19th July, 1960, at the age of 48 years, after a serious illness of two or three months, during which he underwent surgical treatment by a neurosurgeon at the Wallsend hospital. This is a case in which it is clear that the repatriation tribunals have followed their own line of thinking in the matter of the onusofproof, instead of accepting the cause of death shown on the death certificate. The death certificate which I have shows that my constituent died from cerebral abscess and otitis media chronica. Smith had suffered from cerebral abscess for two months and from otitis media chronica for seventeen years. On 17th June, 1960, Smith asked the Repatriation Department to accept otitis media as a war-caused disability, but it was not until 15th June, 1961 - nearly nine months after Smith’s death - that the Repatriation Commission acceded to Smith’s request and granted a 20 per cent, pension payable as from 17th March, 1960. Unfortunately Smith died long before the department accepted his disability as being war-caused and so he did not live to enjoy the miserable pension which had been granted to him. Worse still, Mrs Smith and her two children are left behind to struggle along as best they can because the repatriation tribunals have repudiated the cause of death.
It might be asked how that could occur in the face of the fact that otitis media chronica had been accepted as a warcaused condition. In my view, the repatriation tribunals have failed deliberately to apply the onus-of-proof provisions of the act in this case with any sense of justice or fair play. To prove my assertion I shall explain briefly what I mean. Smith’s condition of otitis media first occurred in 1942 while he was engaged storing ammunition and military supplies at Tenambit, near Muswellbrook in New South Wales. The work was being performed under atrocious weather conditions. It was hot, wet and dusty and flies, mosquitoes and other vermin were encountered. Smith was admitted to Muswellbrook hospital on 23rd November, 1942, when an operation was performed on his left ear and the drum was pierced. He was discharged on 13th December the same year, and thereafter became a chronic sufferer from otitis media as a result of which he lost his hearing on the left side. I have been told that at times it was almost impossible to stand near him because of the suppuration of the ear.
He was treated later at the Wagga Wagga military hospital and elsewhere for the same condition which would flare up periodically. Some time after discharge Smith was obliged to go to numerous doctors because of his condition and it cost him a packet of money. From about 1948 Dr. E. J. Egan, an ear, nose and throat specialist, treated Smith, and in 1952 advised an operation but Smith, being a big strong man, accepted his condition philosophically and gave it only secondary consideration. He refused to apply for a war pension or to seek repatriation treatment for his condition.
He first became concerned about his state of health about twelve months before his death when he noticed that occasionally he had difficulty in controlling some of his movements although he suffered no pain. He found that he could not grasp with any pressure objects which he picked up in his right hand, and his foot would drag. His medical advisers clearly were baffled but expressed no concern about Smith’s health although Mrs. Smith pressed for an assurance that her husband’s health was all right. About six or seven weeks before his death Smith was admitted to hospital. I have been told that tests were carried out to determine the illness from which he was suffering. I understand also that various pathological tests were carried out after a brain operation but that the tests proved negative. However, the patient passed away some five weeks later. The death certificate to which I have referred already was then issued by the doctors at Wallsend.
I am unable to say what happened during the next six months, but I am given to understand that other tests were made on the brain and it took two or three months for a report to be furnished. It appears that there was some switching regarding the cause of death although the registered cause of death remains the same. The authority for the observation which I have just made is a letter from the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation to Mrs. Smith dated 14th February, 1961, which, in part, states -
On 7.2.61 the Repatriation Commission accepted your late husband’s condition of chronic otitis media with mastoiditis and the determination is to operate from 21.12.59.
The Commission was unable to accept glioblastoma of the left cerebral hemisphere as due to war service.
It will be seen that nearly seven months after death had been recorded as being due to cerebral abscess and otitis media chronica, the Repatriation Department on 7th February, 1 961, accepted otitis media chronica as a war-caused disability but, at the same time, it rejected glioblastoma of the left cerebral hemisphere as being due to war service. Mrs. Smith was informed that the commission had determined that death was not due to war service. The commission’s determination in this case takes the prize for sheer effrontery. Let me repeat: The death certificate certifies death from cerebral abscess and otitis media and a war pension was granted for the otitis media but apparently the department claims that death was due to glioblastoma which is not mentioned in the death certificate. Could such hypocrisy be equalled anywhere?
But leave the matter at that and bt us accept that death was caused by glioblastoma of the left cerebral hemisphere. In that case I challenge the Minister or the Repatriation Commission to produce evidence which will prove that glioblastoma of the left cerebral hemisphere could not have been associated with the otitis media which had been accepted as being due to war service.
There is not one medical authority anywhere in the world which can state with certainty what causes tumours. I understand that a glioblastoma is a type of tumour which Macmillan’s medical cyclopaedia describes in this way -
Glioma - a tumour composed of neuroglia cells and occurring in the brain, spinal cord, retina and nerves.
Blastoma - a tumour or granular growth due to the presence of a germ or micro-organisms.
My late consitutent contracted otitis media of the left ear in the course of his war service. He underwent an operation for this condition in 1942. The drum of the ear was punctured, and thereafter from time to time it suppurated. Later he developed either a cerebral abscess or a glioblastoma of the left cerebral hemisphere which ultimately caused death, lt is important to remember that both the otitis media and the tumour occurred on the left side of the head. That cannot be ignored.
The left auditory nerve is a direct link between the ear and the cerebrum - which is the brain - and again I challenge the Minister to prove that the tumour or abscess, whichever it was, could not have originated through the auditory nerve by infection. I say it could have been caused in this way because the nerve is directly associated with the brain and because the otitis was suppurating almost continuously. No one can say with certainty whether the micro-organisms forming the pus had or had not travelled to the brain causing an infection. In my view, Mrs. Smith’s claim should have been granted.
I remind the Minister that sarcoma of the bowels has been accepted by the Repatriation Commission as a war-caused disability on the ground that it could have been caused by irritation following constant attacks of dysentery. Likewise, in my view, the glioblastoma of the left cerebral hemisphere could have been caused by the constant irritation in the middle ear by the suppuration. I appeal to the Minister to use his good offices to have Mrs. Smith’s case re-examined and a war widow’s pension granted to her.
Time will not permit me to mention the rejection of a claim by an ex-serviceman who was a prisoner of war for four years, but I shall do so on the next Grievance Day.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I propose to to address my remarks to the estimates for the Department of Social Services. From 1947 until about eighteen months ago costs and prices rose year by year. No group of people suffers more as a result of rising costs and prices than do pensioners. I believe that the greatest benefit that has come to pensioners has been the stability of costs during the last eighteen months. In almost every year during the life of this Government, pensions have been increased, to the great joy of those who receive them. Unfortunately, every year people in receipt of pensions have seen them eroded by continually rising costs. Throughout the years of Labour’s administration, costs were ris ing at the rate of about 10 per cent, per annum. When the Menzies Government came to office, this rising trend was partly checked, but, unfortunately, until the last eighteen months we have not had price stability.
I believe that, in real terms, pensioners generally are better off to-day than they have been at any time since the last war. They are better off not only because their pensions will buy more but also because, in very many instances, they have the great benefit of the Aged Persons Homes Act - one of the greatest enactments that has ever been passed by this Parliament. That act is designed to seek and obtain the cooperation of the churches and charitable institutions in a partnership to provide accommodation for aged people. The Government, in effect, says to the churches and charitable institutions, “We shall supplement on the basis of £2 for £1 any funds that you provide”. This means that the organization concerned has to provide only one-third of the cost of homes for the aged. During the short period for which this act has been in operation, 13,000 aged people throughout Australia have been afforded the most delightful accommodation, which is designed and suitable, for their needs. This accommodation is provided either at no charge to the occupants or at a rent that they can afford to pay.
I should like to take this opportunity, Sir, to congratulate the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) on the magnificent lead that he has given in the accommodation of aged people in his State, Western Australia. A few years ago, I had occasion to chide him on the ground that Western Australia lagged far behind South Australia and Victoria in the building of homes for the aged. He quickly accepted the challenge and provided the inspiration for the formation of Swan Cottage Homes, an organization that has done a magnificent job in the last couple of years in providing homes for aged people.
I believe so strongly in the wisdom of legislation like the Aged Persons Homes Act, which provides for a partnership between churches and charitable organizations on the one hand and the Government on the other, that I should like to see this kind of social service extended in other fields. I should like the Government to consider the introduction of an act or acts to enable subsidies to be paid to churches and charitable organizations, on the basis of £2-for-£l, for the provision of homes and also the establishment of workshops for disabled people. We have already been told of the grand job that has been done, in New South Wales in the establishment of workshops for the disabled. The Phoenix Club in South Australia is a similar organization that is doing an outstanding job in affording disabled people an opportunity to do useful work and to feel that they play an effective part in the community rather than merely impose a drain on it. I believe that, with advantage to the country, we can extend the kind of help given under the terms of the Aged Persons Homes Act to the. provision of workshops and homes for disabled people. Meals on wheels organizations throughout Australia, similarly, are fulfilling a most valuable role and 1 believe that the Government would embark on good legislation if it were to introduce a measure to subsidize churches and charitable organizations providing meals on wheels services to enable them to establish additional kitchens for such services.
I have had a little experience in social services, Sir, and I believe that Australia is the most advanced country in the world in the provision of comprehensive social services. That does not mean for one moment that we can be smug and self-complacent. We have, always to examine our social services carefully and see where improvements can be made. I have never hesitated, in this chamber and outside it, to point out respects in which I believed reforms are necessary. I have just mentioned the need to help the disabled by the provision of workshops and hostels, and the need for the extension of meals on wheels services.
I support those honorable members who earlier mentioned the plight of civilian widows. I approach this problem mainly from the standpoint of those young Australians who are the children of civilian widows. Unfortunately, they are virtually second-class citizens. The sum that the civilian widow receives for the maintenance of herself and her children does not afford her children opportunities in life equal to those of children both of whose parents are still alive, the children of war widows, or the children of the widows of servicemen, who receive the wonderful benefits provided by Legacy. I think it is perfectly clear, when we examine the pension payable to a civilian widow, the allowances payable in respect of her children and the severe limitations on the income that she is entitled to earn without her pension being affected, and compare her position with that of others in our society, that the civilian widow, and particularly her children have a very, very tough time. I believe that the family unit is of basic importance to this society and that we must do everything we can, not only to bring family units to Australia under our immigration programme, but also to ensure for the family units formed by our own civilian widows and their children a fair and reasonable opportunity to share in the progress and prosperity of this country.
I believe that the most important thing is to enable the civilian widow to help herself more than she is able to do at present. As has been pointed out earlier in this debate, under the operation of the means test a civilian widow has her pension reduced if she earns only a very small income. She has to choose between staying at home with her children and receiving in pension and allowances a total sum which is insufficient to maintain her and the children according to accepted Australian standards, or, alternatively, going to work and facing uncertainty, about what will happen to the children if they remain at home uncared for in her absence. She knows that under the present operations of the means test if she goes to work she will lose her pension. I believe that the most important and most urgent need is for the civilian widow to be permitted to earn more or to receive a higher income without her pension being affected in any way. That can be done simply by increasing the amount that she may earn in relation to each child. A simple amendment of the act would cover this provision. I very strongly believe, also, that increased allowances will need to be made for civilian widows with one or more children and particularly increased allowances for the children. We have recognized this need of war widows and we have very properly placed the war widow in a position where she is able to bring up her children in accordance with Australian standards. Unfortunately, we have not done this for the civilian widow. The sooner we correct this position the better.
I have the honour to be the chairman of the War Blinded Welfare Fund in South Australia, and there is one matter I would like to raise in relation to the blinded generally. I believe that the people who are blind are the proudest and most courageous people in Australia. They never winge and never grizzle. They never ask for anything. That makes it all the more our responsibility to see that the blind people get a fair deal. I realize that the Government pays them a pension free of means test and that is very proper. When we consider the blind, we must realize that their greatest disability is their inability to get about without help. Their greatest friend and comforter is the telephone, because it enables them to get in contact with the outside world that they cannot see. As a new social service, I would like the blind to be given some assistance towards meeting the cost of telephone rentals. I am not asking the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) to provide it, because I know he is attempting to put the Post Office on a commercial basis. But 1 think we could with advantage provide a new social service of an allowance of so much per annum towards the rental cost of a telephone for the totally blind. That would enable these people to keep in contact with the outside world and I am sure it would be a tremendous advantage to them.
I would like to congratulate the Government on its outstanding achievements in the field of social services. I hope, now that the major benefits have been provided, it will proceed to correct the minor anomalies that call for attention.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) finished his speech by congratulating the Government on its magnificent achievements in the field of social services. He did not tell the Parliament, and probably had no intention of telling the Parliament, that for nearly thirteen years now all the matters he raised as being objectives that the Government ought to try to achieve - telephones for the blind was the last of them - have been put to the Government time and time again by Opposition members without any success. I put the proposition in regard to telephones to the Government in my first speech in the Parliament twelve years ago. The honorable gentleman no doubt has also put it to the Government. At least one would hope that he has. Yet the Government has turned a deaf ear to the proposal. It has done absolutely nothing. It does only what it is compelled to do by the weight of public opinion. The blind are few in number and have no great say at elections, so the Government does nothing about them. It moves only when it is compelled to move by the weight of public opinion, which can influence the decision at the ballot boxes.
Let us consider the homes for the aged scheme, which has been mentioned here. I agree with honorable members that this is a good scheme. I am one of those who believe in giving credit where credit is due. But the scheme has not gone far enough. It is too limited. When we realize that about 20,000 old people are waiting to get into homes, that approximately 12,000 pensioners have their names on waiting lists for cottages being built by government instrumentalities such as housing commissions and the Housing Trust of South Australia, and that the Government allocates a paltry £3,000,000 a year towards meeting this need, how can we say truthfully, “ I want to congratulate the Government on the magnificent job it has done in the field of social services “?
I support the proposition put by the South Australian branch of the Labour Party recently. I hope that after the next federal conference of the Labour Party, this will be the policy of the party as a federal body. The view of the South Australia Branch, which has been published in the press and which was thrashed out and unanimously adopted by the branch, is that the Commonwealth Government ought to extend the provisions of the Aged
Persons Homes Act to include instrumentalities such as the State housing commissions and the Housing Trust of South Australia.
I made inquiries about this proposal in South Australia. I think the position in South Australia is very much the same as that in other States. South Australia has approximately one-eleventh of the total population of Australia. We can, therefore, multiply South Australia’s needs by eleven and assess pretty accurately the needs and the cost of meeting the needs throughout the Commonwealth. When I inquired from the South Australia Housing Trust, I was informed that there are 1,100 pensioners waiting on the list to be supplied with pensioners’ cottages. I was told that this does not represent anywhere near the total of those who want cottages and who are in need of housing. When these people seek to put their names on the list, they are told by the girl behind the desk that there is a five years’ waiting list. If they are very old, they say: “ What is the good of putting our name down if there is a five-year wait. We will not be here.” So they walk away and make no effort to have their names included on the list. Of those who have included their names believing that they will live long enough to get a home, some 1,100 are now waiting.
The South Australia Housing Trust has done a first-class job in this field, having in mind the limited resources at its disposal. I do not know whether honorable members on the other side of the chamber have seen the cottages that are being built for pensioners by the Housing Trust. If they were to see them, they would have to agree that the trust is doing a first-class job. The rents which the trust charges single pensioners range from £1 7s. 6d. to £1 17s. 6d. a week. I understand that rents for homes now being constructed will be as high as £2 2s. 6d. a week for married couples.
These cottages provide really marvellous accommodation. Each is equipped with an electric washing machine, refrigerator, cooker and all other modern conveniences. Judged by any standards they are beautifully built. They are well ventilated; they have plenty of natural light; and all of them have tiled bathrooms. Every possible attention has been given to the features that provide for the health, comfort and convenience of the pensioners. Around the outside, the cottages have cement paths and well-kept lawns and gardens. It is really a pleasure to visit the persons living in these homes. They are good to look at from the road as you go past. In many cases the homes which these people occupy in the sunset of their lives represent the very best accommodation that they have ever had. That is as it ought to be. Those who are fortunate enough to live in them are very happy, as are their families who like to visit them, who indeed are proud to visit them. In every way, everybody concerned is much better off.
The trouble is that each of these cottages costs an average of £1,800 to build. The interest on this amount, even on the basis of the low interest rate fixed under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of Si per cent., amounts to £1 16s. a week. In addition, an amount has to be set aside to cover depreciation, general repairs and other expenses. A very large amount is involved having regard to the fact that some of these people are charged only £1 7s. 6d. a week for rent. Obviously, the trust cannot go on building homes at the rate that would be necessary to meet the demand with the economics of the position as I have outlined them. But there is no doubt that if the Commonwealth were to extend the scope of the aged persons’ homes legislation so that the subsidy of £2 for £1 could be extended to the State housing instrumentalities, as well as to charitable organizations, this demand could be met reasonably quickly. Altogether, it would be necessary to provide about 12,000 homes. The cost to the Commonwealth of extending the subsidy in this way would be about £14,000,000. Not all of this sum would have to be found in one year. The cost could be spread over the minimum number of years in which it was considered that the houses could be built with the material and man-power at the disposal of the instrumentality concerned.
I think it is only splitting straws for people to say that the position of the Housing Trust is different from that of other bodies because the sum of £600 that it would have to contribute towards a home costing £1,800 would come out of Commonwealth loans. Of course it would. But surely only persons who do not want to help pensioners would be prepared to grasp at flimsy little technical points of that kind in order to belittle a scheme which would help old people. What does it matter if the Commonwealth provides the lot? The Commonwealth, at a referendum, asked the people to give it the power to deal with social services. The people having acceded to that request, is the National Parliament not prepared to stand up to its’ responsibility? We have the constitutional power to alleviate the distress and suffering of these old people. What does it matter if the whole amount ultimately comes from Commonwealth loan sources?
The churches are doing a magnificent job as are the charitable organizations engaged in this scheme. But they cannot possibly keep up with the demand from people who have no money to put down as a deposit or a contribution towards the cost of a home. Very few charitable organizations are able to accommodate a lot of people who are unable to pay anything at all. In most cases the charitable organization asks the person who goes into one of these homes to pay something towards its cost. Often, the organization likes the old person to pay the one-third of the cost which it has to find so that it can ask the Commonwealth to pay the remaining two-thirds.
I believe that housing is the greatest need of the pensioners to-day. There is no comparison between the single pensioner paying a high house rent and living alone and the married pensioner couple who own their own house and have no rent to pay. We must recognize that, for the pensioner, a far greater need than the basie wage is adequate housing at a reasonable rate of rental. It is more important that pensioners should have such housing than that they should receive the basic wage and then pay £5 or £6 a week in house rent. Every pensioner’s case is different. The single pensioner who does not own his own home and has to pay rent is in a much worse position than the married pensioner who owns his own home, and particularly those who own their own homes, have motor cars and perhaps receive independent incomes from some form of superannuation up to the permissible limit of £7 a week. The total income of such a person may be £17 10s. a week net, and he has to pay nothing in rent. How can he be compared with the unfortunate single pensioner who receives only £5 5s. a week and who has to pay, perhaps, a high rent for second-rate accommodation?
– His income would be £5 15s. a week.
– I stand corrected. The amount would be £5 1.5s. for a single person. I thank the honorable gentleman for his interjection. However, I remind him that if a single pensioner has more than £200 in the bank this miserable Government, which pretends to be so gracious to unfortunate persons, refuses him the extra 10s. a week rent allowance. I had a case the other day of a poor unfortunate woman who was frugal and put money in the bank. When her bank balance rose to £203 her supplementary pension of 10s. a week was quickly taken away from her.
I want to deal with another matter which the honorable member for Sturt mentioned. I refer to the meals on wheels organization. The present Government has been in office for nearly thirteen years and has had a majority in both Houses of the Parliament. It has governed during a period when we have had the best run of seasons, and it has had the best opportunities that any government has ever had in Australia. Yet it has done nothing to meet the repeated demands by members of Parliament for assistance to this well-deserving cause. How on earth can honorable members opposite conscientiously congratulate the Government on the magnificent job it has done in social services when, in this field also, it has turned a deaf ear to pleas? I want to renew the plea on behalf of the meals on wheels organization.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) said that the appeal of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) had fallen on deaf ears. I turned up the “ Hansard “ report of the speech which the honorable member for Sturt made on the Estimates last year when he dealt with the non-British immigrants. He pointed out that it would cost £1,000,000 or £2,000.000 to reduce their waiting time from twenty years to ten years in order to qualify for age pensions. In the current Budget the honorable member’s suggestion was adopted, so it did not fall on deaf ears. Consequently, the honorable member for Hindmarsh was incorrect when he said that the words of the honorable member for Sturt had fallen on deaf ears.
The honorable member for Hindmarsh also referred to aged persons. Of course, this is a problem now. It was not such a great problem when the Labour Party was in power because the medical scheme did not work! Since the medical scheme has been made to work by this Government people are living to greater ages, and they want somewhere to live.
– What an idiot!
– Now the interjections will begin. What did the Labour Government spend on health services? For the year ended 30th June, 1949, the expenditure was a miserable £6,000,000. The expenditure this year is £92,000,000. Honorable members opposite should try to relate that increase to the cost of living. The expenditure on health services was £6,000,000 under a Labour government and is now £92,000,000. Of course, a lot of old people are alive now because the Menzies Government has been in power and because a former Minister for Health, Sir Earle Page, made the scheme work. Honorable members opposite do not like that because they could not get the scheme to work. Under a Labour administration the scheme was a dead failure and the expenditure on health services was a miserable £6,000,000. And what happened to the people who should have benefited from expenditure on health services under a Labour government?
Where did they go? They do not want houses now because they are not alive. They did not have the benefit of science, health services and all the rest of it. That is the miserable situation to which honorable members opposite brought things, yet they try to reflect on this Government’s performances. Because of our present scheme many aged people are now walking about.
Last Saturday at Bowral a magnificent memorial home was opened. How much has this Government spent on homes for the aged? The honorable member for Hindmarsh now wants to get some credit from our scheme, which did not exist when his government was in power. The present Government has spent £13,250,000 on homes for the aged. That expenditure has been necessary because the occupants are alive now. The reason is that they have had the benefits of the health scheme, science and new life-saving drugs which were not available when Labour was in power because its scheme would not work. But a health scheme was made to work by a former member of this Government, Sir Earle Page, who died when he had passed his eightieth year. It is because of this scheme that elderly people can ask for assistance.
The homes for the aged scheme was introduced by this Government. The Labour Government did not have such a scheme, and it may not have needed one. It did not give health benefits as its scheme would not work. What a ridiculous set up! Fancy honorable members opposite trying to make a case out of a situation like that! Those members are now interjecting. What are their cries worth? Those members produced no results when they had the opportunity, but now they are looking for credit for something that has made a contribution to the welfare and health of the people and given them a longer life.
With people now living longer there is a geriatrics problem. Brilliant people have designed what is called the functional home, which provides for a man, his wife and two or three children, but leaves no room for an aged or retired person. Because of this we have had to face up to the problem of finding accommodation for them, and for this purpose there has been an expenditure of approximately £13,000,000. This Government has this problem because it created it - because it has kept people alive. Those people did not die through failure to get the life-saving drugs or the benefits of science. Honorable members of this committee should congratulate the Government, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) who is chairman of the Government Members Social Services Committee, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) who is secretary of the committee, and all those people who have made a contribution.
I invite honorable members to consider the pension. Under a Labour government it was £2 2s. 6d. In the first year that the present Government was in office there was an increase of 7s. 6d. to bring it to £2 10s.; next year it increased by 10s. to £3; then by 7s. 6d. to £3 7s. 6d.; in the next year by 2s. 6d. to £3 10s.; then by 10s. to £4; and to-day it is £5 5s. At the present rate of pension a man and his wife can receive £10 10s. and are permitted to earn £7 a week, making a total of £17 10s. They are also permitted under the means test to have in the. bank or in property other than their home, and the land on which it stands, which can be of any value, £4,040. In addition they may have a motor car for their private use and life insurance to a value of £3,500. They are permitted to have a total capital of some £20,000, or £25,000. So you see, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that honorable members opposite have no grounds for criticism - because they achieved nothing.
– You are a complete ignoramus; your statement is absolutely at fault.
– I ask the honorable gentleman to apologize. Does he apologize?
– You are the one who should apologize.
– The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, the great expert on social services, asks me to apologize, but what for? Should I apologize for the fact that when members of his party occupied the treasury bench they could not give even a miserable few pounds for homes for the aged, or should I apologize for the fact that they could not make a health scheme work? Do I have to apologize for that,
Mr. Temporary Chairman? It has come to a pretty pass when the recital of our performances is met with the barking of the disappointed people who have not been able to do anything. They miss out completely. The present scheme is to the credit of this Government and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) who has the greatest record of service in that department that we have seen since federation. He is to be congratulated for the splendid job he has done.
There have been remarks about pensions for aged and invalid people. For that category of pension the exemption on property increased in 1953 and 1954, when the special exemptions of the surrender value of life insurances was increased to £750. In 1951 there was an increase in the reversionary interest, and so on.
I come now to allowances for wives and children. In 1951, two years after the Labour Government was flung out of office, the allowance for a wife was increased by 6s. a week. In 1952 it was increased by 5s. to £1 15s. In 1961 there was a further increase of 12s. 6d. to bring it to £2 7s. 6d.
In 1950 the pension for a widow with one or more children was increased by 7s. 6d., bringing it to £2 15s. a week; in 1951 it was increased by 10s.; in 1952 by 7s. 6d.; in 1953 by 2s. 6d.; in 1955 by 10s.; in 1957 by 7s. 6d.’, and it is now £5 10s. The recital of those figures produces an outcry from honorable members opposite because their government did not achieve anything when it was in power. All they can do is talk, sing out and criticize, and when the honorable member for Sturt or the Minister is being congratulated, they do not like it. Now that this Government has given something further by way of social service benefits those honorable members seek to take the credit. When talking to the age pensioners they say. “The Government will give you so much “. They do not say, “ The Menzies Government “ but merely “ The Government “. In this way a Labour member gets credit from his constituents for shelling out the pensions that this Government increased. That is the situation, and now that the truth has come out Opposition members do not like it. I am not surprised; it must be very hurtful indeed.
I refer now to Class B widows, who are those over 50 years of age with no children under sixteen years. Every year there has been an increase in their pension. This has gone up from a miserable £1 17s. under a Labour Government to £4 12s. 6d. I invite honorable members opposite to relate that increase to the C series index. They will see that is a tremendous increase. The Labour Government pegged everything, and what happened? These poor people could not buy scarce goods because they were available only on the black market, and at greatly inflated prices. Petrol and butter were rationed and many other commodities were under the counter. Members of the Labour Government went around the country getting people tyres for their cars and other things but what did the pensioner get? Of course he could not get anything. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) can howl if he likes. I sympathize with that class of howling because of the abject failure of Labour, when in government, to do the things for which members of the Opposition now take credit when they are out among their constituents. So the story noes on.
– The story!
– Is the honorable member suggesting that what I am saying is not true? He just cannot take this. Expenditure from the National Welfare Fund in 1949 under the Labour Government supported by that expert on social services, the honorable member for Eden Monaro, was £74,500,000 and to-day under the present Government, the figure is £294,700,000, but honorable members opposite still cast aspersions on the Government. They do this in spite of the fact that the present expenditure is about four times as much as that under the Labour Government, They try to twist the figures of the C series index to show that the total expenditure to-day should be greater. Labour stands condemned for what it failed to do when it was in office. I remind honorable members opposite, who are interjecting, that health benefits for the year ended June, 1949, under the Labour Government, cost only £6,185,000 and that few doctors would co-operate in the national health scheme. The rest of the doctors refused to have anything to do with it. When the MenziesFadden Government came into office the then right honorable member for Cowper, the late Sir Earle Page, made the scheme work for the first time. The total expenditure out of the National Welfare Fund this year is to be £387,500,000 as against £80,700,000 in 1948-49. So, the expenditure this year will be nearly five times that in the last year of the Labour Government and costs have not risen by anything like that proportion in that period. Clearly pensioners and others are many times better off under the present Government than they were under Labour.
– Nobody will believe you.
– The honorable member is interjecting into a microphone, apparently under the impression that his remarks are going over the air, but our debate is not being broadcast to-night. The provision for invalid pensions under the Labour Government in 1948-49 was £41,600,000 but that figure has risen to £192,000,000 under this Government - an increase of nearly four and three-quarter times the former amount. Let members opposite try to reconcile that with the C series index. In the same period, widows pensions have risen from a total of £4,300,000 to £16,400,000, maternity allowances from £2,800,000 to £3,900.000, child endowment from £24,300,000 to £68,300,000 to £68,300.000, unemployment and sickness benefits from £1,000,000 to £13,000,000-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Mr. Chairman, it has been interesting to listen to the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate), but I will have to debunk much of what he said. I am glad that his speech was not being broadcast, because, listeners would have been under a misapprehension if they had taken notice of what he said. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) interjected when the honorable member for Macarthur said that a pensioner couple could have an income of £17 10s. a week together with £4,040 in the bank and still receive the full pension. That was what the honorable member said, but it is as far from the truth as it could be. That is the kind of statement with which I am constantly being confronted. A widower approached me some months ago and said a businessmen in Port Adelaide had told him he could have £2,020 in the bank and still get the full pension. I told him that, unfortunately, the businessman had given him only half the story. I said, “ You could have £2,020 in the bank and get the full pension provided you did not have any other income “. The honorable member for Macarthur does not explain that but, like the Port Adelaide businessman, says that a pensioner can have an income of £3 10s. a week and £2,020 in the bank and still get the full pension. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), knows that that is not so. A pensioner couple may have £4,040 in the bank that is £2,020 each. There is an exemption of £200 which leaves the sum of £1,820 each. This is counted as an income of £182, so such persons can get a full pension only if they have no other income. That is one point on which I felt I had to debunk what the honorable member for Macarthur said. The honorable member also spoke about what this Government had done about old folks’ homes on a £2 for £1 basis. He forgot that before this Government ever thought of making such a payment a subsidy was being paid in South Australia. In that State assistance was being given to churches and other organizations on a £1 for £1 basis for the housing of old people. That was before this Government come into office and yet the honorable member says that this idea is something which the present Government introduced!
The honorable member also asked what Labour had done about the proporty qualification for a pension. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget speech two years ago announced that the Department of Social Services had been able to envolve a scheme under which the two means tests could be amalgamated. I met a Minister on the following morning and he said, “ I suppose you are pleased with what has happened. You have been at it year after year”. I replied, “ Yes, I am pleased “. The Minister continued, “ I told some of our people that Albert Thompson would get what he wanted in the finish “. Yet the honorable member for Macarthur says the Labour Party has done nothing! I fought for about ten years to have the merged means test accepted. Both the Government and the Opposition have social services committees. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) is chairman of the Government’s committee and I was secretary of our committee when we were framing our social services policy. I put before our committee the policy which the Government is carrying out to-day and we decided to ask the Department of Social Services what the cost of the merged means test would be. I received from the Minister for Social Services a reply stating that this was a matter for him to deal with and that as I had raised a hypothetical question he could not tell me what the cost would be. Yet when the next Budget was brought down it was all there - the merged means test which provided that income from property should be calculated at the rate of £1 for each £10 by which capital exceeded £200, and the provision for reducing the pension payment by £1 for every £10 of excess merged income. The Government had adopted the policy which I had suggested.
I want to debunk something else that the honorable member for Macarthur said in regard to social services. He mentioned homes for the aged. Has he forgotten that it was a Labour Government that provided that not more than one-fifth of a person’s income should be paid in rent and that the balance of the rent should be made up by the government? When the present Government came into office it would not allow that scheme to be carried on. There are the facts! Unfortunately, I have spent a great deal of my speaking time in replying to the fallacious statements made by the honorable member for Macarthur and I am not able to deal fully with the matters on which I wished to speak. One matter concerns the national health scheme.
– The Labour Government had no health scheme.
– To the honorable member for Swan I say that in the time of the Labour Government there were two or three doctors in my electorate who made out prescriptions for free medicine, and people obtained that medicine free from chemists. The honorable member implied that the Labour Government’s health scheme broke down. Why did it break down? Because the British Medical Association, as it was then, told its members to send back the prescription forms connected with the scheme and to have nothing to do with the scheme. The honorable member for Macarthur mentioned that the former and late right honorable member for Cowper, Sir Earle Page, introduced the present Government’s national health scheme. Let me tell honorable members what has happened since then. Sir Earle Page was able to prevail upon the British Medical Association to accept the pensioner medical scheme. He used to rise in this chamber and say that if a man received a pension of even only 5s. a week he was entitled to a pensioner medical card. That scheme went on for five years, when this same B.M.A. which would not cooperate with the Labour Government told the present Government that it would not renew the agreement unless a means test were applied in relation to it. So the Government applied a means test which means that a pensioner receiving more than £2 a week in income other than pension is not entitled to a pensioner medical card. I think that the Minister would be prepared to liberalize that provision if it were not for the Australian Medical Association, as it now is.
What is the position about the pensioner medical scheme to-day? Recently I had a letter from a lady in which she told me that in addition to her pension she has just over £104 in income annually. She is a single woman, 77 years of age, who has worked as a music teacher throughout her life. Because she has a little over £2 a week in income other than pension, she is not entitled to a pensioner medical card, yet she receives only the same rate of pension as other pensioners receive - £5 5s. a week. I think that these matters could be rectified if the Australian Medical Association would play ball, but I am not satisfied that that organization will play ball.
Honorable members will know that I have had a lifetime’s association with friendly societies. When the Government’s national health scheme was introduced I discussed with friendly society members the schedule of refunds in respect of the cost of operations. I said to them, “ The danger is that where you are now paying twenty-five guineas for an operation and could recover a maximum refund of £22 10s., you will find that the surgeon will now increase his charges. Years ago honorable members opposite were talking about the most expensive operations. The maximum refund, consisting of Commonwealth benefit plus approved society benefit, is £45 for a contributor for the A group of benefits. The maximum for a B group contributor is £60. Recently I had a case in which an operation cost one hundred guineas. The doctor received £45 in the shape of the refund and the woman concerned - the wife of an ordinary working man - had to meet the remaining £60 or so. That kind of thing goes on. Operations which, before the present scheme was introduced, cost £25, now cost £40 or £50. Recently a person connected with such matters said to me, “ The present health scheme is the greatest golden egg ever given to the medical profession because the doctors are certain of getting the amounts provided for under the scheme “.
I give the Government credit for what it has done, but at the same time do not let any one run away with the idea that the Government has done away with all evils. I point out that what the Government has done in the present case was done as the result of the agitation brought to bear by the Labour Party. This has been the case with every progressive step taken by an anti-Labour government in the last 60 years. Why were pensions introduced? Because Labour had advocated their introduction with such effect and told the antiLabour government then in office that unless it introduced pensions it would be tossed out by the Labour opposition. The “ Hansard “ records will show honorable members opposite that this fact has been admitted by some of their own predecessors.
The honorable member for Macarthur has caused me to use most of my speaking time in replying to his incorrect statements, and I will not have the opportunity to deal fully with three or four matters with which I wanted to deal. However, I shall deal with one in as much detail as possible. I say to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) that one of the worst features of the social services programme to-day is the treatment given to the dependent wives of age or invalid pensioners. The amount of the wife’s allowance in such cases should be increased to equal the amount paid to a B-class widow. I have had before me the case of a man of more than 65 years of age who has had to leave work for health reasons. Because his wife is only 58 years of age she is not entitled to the same allowance as she would receive if her husband were an invalid pensioner. The age at which the dependent wife of an age pensioner who is not equal to an invalid pensioner can receive an allowance should be 50 years, and she should receive the same amount as a B-class widow. I think that the department should consider this seriously. A man of 65 years or over receives £5 5s. a week, but if his wife is 58 years of age she is not entitled to an allowance. She is not entitled to such an allowance until her husband reaches the age of 70, when the Government apparently considers that he requires looking after even though he is not classed as an invalid pensioner. Where an age pensioner is not equal to an invalid the wife should be entitled to an allowance if she is 50 years of age or over.
I join other honorable members in advocating increased benefits for civilian widows. I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) say that war widows had received increased benefits. Do the same for civilian widows. Let civilian widows earn more separate income than they are allowed to do now, and you will do something really worthwhile for them.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Roberton) read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to raise the matter of the battle between coal and oil. In New South Wales, since 1954, 9,000 coal-miners have left the coal industry. Despite this reduction in the work force, production has remained remarkably stable, and in the last year or two it has actually increased, for reasons that I do not want to canvass to-night. The coal-miners are now producing 5 tons per man-shift, as against 3.6 tons per man-shift four years ago.
There are two main reasons for the decline in employment in the coal industry. The first is the rapid development of technology and mechanization; the second is the much greater use of oil as a fuel. Let me give an example of the way in which oil is killing coal as a form of fuel. In 1955, in New South Wales alone, 1,500,000 tons of coal were consumed as fuel. By 1960 this figure had fallen to 850,000 tons, and it is estimated that by 1965, three years from now, the figure will be down to 245,000 tons.
– What should we do about it?
– You will hear in a moment. In Tasmania, competition from oil is gradually killing the Tasmanian coal industry, which is undergoing a process of slow strangulation. The big paper mill at Burnie, employing more than 2,000 men, recently announced that it will be going right over to oil in the New Year. It will then stop buying 1,350 tons of coal a year, as it has done in the past. In the Fingal Valley in my electorate this will mean the dismissal of approximately 50 railwaymen in the Launceston area, and about 50 coalminers, about a quarter of the total number of coal-miners in Tasmania. The Tasmanian Railways will lose about £300,000 a year in income.
The tactics of the oil industry are very clever. It has immense wealth behind it. It has tremendous selling ability. The salesmanship of the men in the oil industry is of the highest order, and they have persuaded small industries to swing over to oil. They are prepared to provide oil burners free if these industries will cease taking coal and start using oil as fuel. They are charging fantastically low prices for their oil fuel and coal cannot possibly compete with oil in this matter of price.
– Once they get rid of the coal they will put up the price of oil.
– Yes, that was what I was about to say. As soon as industrial firms go right over to oil they will be at the mercy of the oil companies, and then the oil companies will start lifting the price of their product. They are making a very clever move at the moment. The low prices they are offering are very attractive, but once the Burnie paper mill, for instance, goes over to oil, it will be completely in the hands of the oil companies, and those companies will then dictate the price of their product, and it will not be at the low level that it is at the moment.
It would be economically wise for big companies to have a leg in each camp, to take both oil and coal and not to go right over to oil. If industry comes to depend ultimately on oil we would face grave danger if Australian oil supplies were reduced in an international emergency. Australia is spending £160,000,000 a year on the importation df oil at the moment. Oil discoveries in Australia may reduce this figure during the next few years. However, I contend that a nation which allows oil to drive coal out of factories, out of homes and out of industry, while it may not be committing suicide, is at least doing something that could be classed as attempted suicide.
The displacement of coalminers, railway workers and other transport men represents a challenge to both Federal and State governments to find alternative employment for these men, the displacement being caused mainly by the increased use of oil as a fuel and by the introduction of automation.
I suggest that certain things will have to be done. First, training schools will have to be established in the coal States to teach these men new skills, no matter what age they may have reached. Secondly, specialists in the employment offices should be assigned to concentrate on finding new jobs specifically for men so displaced. Thirdly, Commonwealth grants must be made to the States for the purpose of making employment opportunities for these men. Fourthly, Commonwealth grants will have to be provided in order to help the States to build thermal power stations and plants for the extraction of coal by-products. These steps will have to be taken as part of our economic planning.
In conclusion I would like to read from an article that appeared in to-day’9 Sydney “ Sun “. It refers to an answer given by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) to three pertinent and awkward questions asked by my colleague the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). Referring to Senator Spooner’s answer, the newspaper article said: -
Oil companies’ sales of fuel oil in Australia increased by 8 per cent, over the past year, and future years might show a similar rise, he said.
He was replying to a question by Mr. Daly, Labour, New South Wales on the parliamentary notice-paper. Mr. Daly asked:
Has a grave situation arisen in the coal industry because oil companies are selling waste matter from oil refineries as industrial fuel?
Is the coal industry finding it practically impossible to compete with this fuel, because oil companies are dumping it on the market at give-away prices?
Is it being sold on world markets in competition with Australian coal while also imperilling the home market?
Replying, Senator Spooner said …” Coal industry markets have undoubtedly suffered because of competition from petroleum products. “Australian consumption of fuel oil in 1961-62 was 1.73 million tons, compared with 1.22 million tons in 1956-57. “ This fuel competition has had a considerable impact on the coal industry. However, I believe the coal industry will continue to obtain an adequate share of the fuels market in those fields - such as electric power and steel production - to which the economics of coal use are best adapted. “
Senator Spooner said there was a large and growing demand for fuel oil in Asia, particularly Japan.
I do not think that is a satisfactory answer to the question asked by the honorable member for Grayndler. It is about time that the Commonwealth Government, in cooperation with the State Governments which have coal mines within their boundaries, planned for the rehabilitation, re-training and re-employment of the many thousands of Australian workers who have lost their jobs so that they may find new jobs in, perhaps, new districts. This is a major economic problem which so far this Government has done absolutely nothing to solve. It is about time that the Government started to plan in order to meet this great crisis in the coal industry.
.- I was rather interested to hear the reply I received last week to a question which I had directed to the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) relating to a request by Mr. Kane, an Australian Democratic Labour Party candidate for the Senate at the last general election, for payment by the Commonwealth of his costs in challenging, in the Court of Disputed Returns, the election of my colleague, Senator McClelland. The AttorneyGeneral stated -
To show that this was no slip on the part of the Attorney-General I point out that he confirmed his statement a little later the same day when replying to a question by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). The Attorney-General said -
The request was made to me after the whole proceedings had concluded. This was the first communication of any kind that 1 had had with either party. The matter had been completed when I was asked to contribute towards the costs.
Let me refresh the memory of honorable members on this matter. The Senate poll in New South Wales was declared on 30th January this year. At the time Mr. Kane announced that he would challenge the result of the election in the High Court. I understand that a petition in relation to an election must be lodged within 40 days. Mr. Kane filed his application on the 38th day which happened to be the very last day on which this could be done because the 39th and 40th days were a Saturday and a Sunday. I understand that at this time Mr. Kane was negotiating with the Commonwealth on the matter of costs. In my question to the Attorney-General on 9th October I directed attention to the suggestion which had been made to me that negotiations had been proceeding.
The hearing of the petition took place on 9th and 10th May and the decision was reserved. Judgment was given on 25th May. At that time the question of costs was referred to Mr. Justice Kitto, and on 6th June Kane’s petition was dismissed and he was ordered to pay the costs of the action. His counsel then asked Mr. Justice Kitto to recommend to the Attorney-General that the costs be paid by the Commonwealth. The judge refused to make any such recommendation. Despite the judge’s decision on this matter the Attorney-General then took the necessary steps to have a proportion of the costs incurred by Mr. Kane met by the Commonwealth.
Let me return to the replies to my question and to the question of the Deputy
Leader of the Opposition in which the AttorneyGeneral said that he had not received a request until after the case had been concluded. If he cares to obtain the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 29th September, 1962, he will see a reported statement which has been attributed to Mr. Kane and which, to my knowledge, has not been denied. The statement is in these terms -
Mr. Kane said last night that before the hearing he had, on the advice of hrs solicitor, written to the Attorney-General asking that the costs of the case be borne by the Federal Government.
I do not know whether the AttorneyGeneral or Mr. Kane is lying. From my observations, I would say that they both are capable of it, but I am unable to determine who is lying in this instance. It is rather remarkable that in this action in which the Crown was not a party and in which, according to the AttorneyGeneral, no application had been made until after the case had been concluded - Mr. Kane states otherwise - the Commonwealth is prepared to meet a proportion of the court costs. Certainly no application was made by the successful Labour candidate, Senator McClelland, but his solicitors received correspondence from the Attorney-General, after the court had ordered Mr. Kane to pay the costs, offering to pay £250 of the costs incurred by each party to the action. Senator McClelland had never made a request to the Commonwealth for payment of any proportion of his costs. His counsel, on his behalf, rejected the Attorney-General’s offer because Senator McClelland was of the opinion that this was a matter in which Mr. Kane was advancing his own personal interest and that of the party to which he belongs - the D.L.P. - and that any costs incurred as a result of their unsuccessful action should be met by themselves and not by the Commonwealth.
Where does the Commonwealth come into this matter? Messrs. Barkell and Peacock, solicitors, who appeared for Senator McClelland in this case, earlier had made a request to the Commonwealth for payment of part of the costs incurred by a Mr. A. J. Dalziel, who appeared before a royal commission appointed by this Government a few years ago. Mr. Dalziel was completely exonerated by the commission, but when he applied to the
Commonwealth for a contribution towards his costs his request was refused, although he had been obliged to appear before the royal commission, which the Commonwealth had appointed, in order to clear his reputation and to preserve his integrity. As I have said, the application made by his solicitors to the Commonwealth was refused. What is the reason for the special consideration which has been shown to Mr. Kane?
As I implied in my question on 9th October, I am of opinion that this matter had been under consideration before the petition was filed. I am also of the opinion that Mr. Kane would never have filed the petition challenging the validity of the election of Senator McClelland to the fifth vacancy in New South Wales had he not received an assurance from the Attorney-General that the Commonwealth Government would consider favorably a request to meet his costs. According to the report which appeared in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ Mr. Kane, on the advice of his solicitors, already had written to the Attorney-General. Surely the Attorney-General - this trained legal man; this man who believes he is above all others in his profession - is not losing his memory to such an extent that when he replied to my question he had forgotten that Mr. Kane had written to him about the costs. However, he came into this chamber and gave us what was apparently, if we believe Mr. Kane, an untruthful answer.
Messrs. Barkell and Peacock now have written again to the Commonwealth Government on behalf of Mr. Dalziel directing attention to what happened previously and asking that the Commonwealth treat Mr. Dalziel at least in the same way as it offered to treat Mr. Kane by contributing, not the whole of Mr. Dalziel’s costs which, according to the letter I have, amounted to £1,500, but only £500, which is the amount that the Commonwealth offered to pay towards the cost of Kane’s challenge. So far as I am aware, no decision has yet been made in this matter by the Government or the Attorney-General. I shall be very interested to know what their attitude is to this request, which, in my opinion, has more merit than Kane’s request has - that is, if we can regard
Kane’s request as having any merit at all. Certainly, Daziel’s request has merit, because he was obliged to appear before a royal commission appointed by this Government and was completely exonerated in its report.
Let me say, finally, that when we in this Parliament ask questions of Ministers of the Crown, we expect the replies given at least to be truthful, even if they are not always courteous. The Attorney-General, evidently, was misleading this House when he said that he had received no request from Kane until after the case had been concluded. In my opinion, this is not the first occasion on which he has failed to be truthful in the reply given to a question asked by an honorable member. This is a most serious matter, and I await with great interest any explanation which the Attorney-General may be able to give.
.- Mr. Speaker, the matter that I wish to raise, also, relates to an answer given by the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) to a question directed to him. My complaint, unlike that made by my colleague, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), is not that the information given was not truthful but that I received no information at all. This evening, I direct to you, Sir, and to the Minister a complaint about the methods adopted by him in answering questions directed at him by Opposition members. Standing Order No. 142 states -
Questions may be put to a Minister relating to public affairs with which he is officially connected, to proceedings pending in the House, or to any matter of administration for which he is responsible.
Relying on that standing order and subsequent ones, Mr. Speaker, I recently directed to the Attorney-General a question upon notice - question No. 138 on notice-paper No. 49. I received the answer to-day. My question was in these terms -
The answer that 1 received was a masterpiece of brevity and evasion. It was as follows: -
The Minister and his officers are paid to provide the information, not to give answers like that. As a member of this Parliament, I want to know why the Minister is protecting this company by refusing to give the information that I seek. I have reason to believe that the activities of this finance company are suspect and in every way merit investigation. I should like to know whether the Minister is protecting the company because it is allied in some way with the Liberal Party of Australia, to which he belongs.
– Surely he would not be a shareholder.
– I should like to know whether the Minister, perhaps, is a shareholder and whether he does not want to reveal to the Parliament the fact that he is allied with the company. Has he in some way or other affiliations with this company that prevent him from bringing to light in this Parliament information that should be in the possession of all honorable members and should be revealed by the Minister responsible? I suggest that this company, in some way, has something on the AttorneyGeneral. It is his responsibility either to give the information sought in this Parliament or tell honorable members why he will not give information asked for in a question on notice.
I know that I am at liberty to search through the records of the Registrar of Companies in the Australian Capital Territory for the information that I have sought. But the responsibility for making such a search is not mine, I have the right to ask for the information. The Attorney-General, who receives a high salary as a Minister of the Crown, and the highly-paid public servants under his direction, are the ones who should search for the information so that he may give it to me. I suggest that, if he will not provide the information that I have sought, there is an ulterior motive for his refusal. As the honorable member for East Sydney said a few minutes ago, the Minister is evading questions and misleading the Parliament by the manner in which he answers.
– Order! I point out to the honorable member that he can make a charge against another honorable member, if he wishes to make such a charge, only by substantive motion.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
– Order! I think that the honorable member has come a little close to making a charge.
– I am not making any charges. I say that I am entitled to the information for which I have asked. Satisfactory answers have not been given in response to questions on matters which require to be ventilated in this Parliament. Honorable members opposite who are now interjecting have an opportunity to speak later if they wish to do so, Mr. Speaker. They have been a particularly silent lot this evening, but they are entitled to speak if they want to do so.
The honorable member for East Sydney stated a few minutes ago that the AttorneyGeneral had given him wrong information in the answers to questions that he had placed on the notice-paper. My complaint, however, is that the Minister will not answer a question. If he will not answer a simple question relating to the activities of a company, there must be some reason for his refusal. I ask him to explain to the Parliament in his own way why he will not answer my question. The Minister is not alone in refusing to answer questions. I have directed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and other Ministers questions which have not been answered to the satisfaction of honorable members. We have the right to receive proper replies to the questions that we ask. I say that the Minister behaved in an ignorant manner in presenting to a member of the Parliament a reply such as he has given to me. His action reeks of contempt for the rights of members to ask questions designed to obtain information that they require. I do not blame Government supporters for being satisfied with the answers given to questions asked by them, because they will put up with anything. Whatever may be their attitude, we on this side of the Parliament are entitled to respectful, truthful, and full and complete answers to questions.
I want to know why the Attorney-General will not give the information about the Television and General Finance Company (Australia) Limited that I seek. I think it is information that is vitally important. The company is registered under an ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory, and the information sought should be made available to members of the Parliament. I submit, Mr. Speaker, that the Attorney-General should answer my question, and I ask him to do so when he next appears in the chamber. I believe that it is necessary for the Parliament to have the information that I require. It is important to me and to the public to know just who are the shareholders of this company. If, for some reason or other, the Minister is withholding the information, I at least, as the member who directed the question to him, have the right to know whether that is so. Like the honorable member for East Sydney, I regret that the Attorney-General will not answer questions satisfactorily. It is vitally important to honorable members on this side of the Parliament to know that when we go to the trouble to put questions to Ministers we shall at least receive proper answers.
– You can look up the names of the shareholders.
– Honorable members opposite seem to have a lot to interject about. Some of them are mumbling away, apparently concerned about what I am saying. I shall be interested to see whether they will rise and try to protect the Attorney-General by supporting his method of answering questions. Government supporters may be prepared to accept answers of the kind that we have been given, but we on this side are not. This kind of contempt for the rights of private members, which should be protected, does not uphold the dignity of Parliament to the satisfaction of private members generally. Only if Ministers give proper answers to questions can the dignity of the Parliament be suitably maintained. When all is said and done, private members have little chance to voice grievances in this Parliament.
I hope that the Attorney-General will take note of the submissions that I have made to you this evening, Mr. Speaker, and that he will explain to the House why he will not give this vital information about a company which, I believe, requires further investigation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.29 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The information requested by the honorable member is contained in United Nations document A/C.5/920, which is available to the honorable member in the Parliamentary Library. The document shows all amounts owing to the United Nations by member States as at 18th September, 1962. In the document separate lists are given for the United Nations regular budget, the United Nations Emergency Force special account, and for the Congo ad hoc account, which relates to the United Nations operations in the Congo.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following information: -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice - 1 What preparations are freely on sale in Australia which contain phenacetin as one of their ingredients?
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following information: -
d asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice - 1 Did the Country Roads Board of Victoria, in a special report issued earlier this year, submit an estimate of expenditure of £2,350,000,000 as being necessary during the next ten years to bring the Australian road communications system to a proper standard?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
e asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. The Commonwealth owned an aggregate of 54 trading vessels at the peak of operations, the control of these being vested in the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board by the Commonwealth Shipping Aci 1923. By the end of 1926, all of these vessels with the exception of five “ Bay “ and two “ Dale “ class ships were disposed of to various shipping interests in Australia and overseas. The price received foi the 47 vessels, less commissions, was £1,103,172. The remaining seven vessels were sold to the White Star Line Limited, in 1928, for £1,900,000, the terms of the sale providing for a cash deposit of £250,000, the balance of the purchase price, £1,650,000, to be paid in equal annual instalments over a period of ten years, with interest at the rate of 51 per cent, payable on deferred instalments. In 19-32, the White Star Line Limited went into liquidation and it was not until 1948 that the final dividend in respect of the liquidation was paid, the loss sustained by the Commonwealth over the sale being £279,302.
m asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
When did the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission furnish to him the report which he tabled on 9th October, 19627
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The printed copy of the report was furnished to me by the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission on 9th October, 1962.
son asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
What is the (a) nationality and (b) tonnage of ships engaged in the transportation of bauxite from Weipa?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Apart from three trial shipments totalling about 30,000 tons to Japan in Japanese vessels in 1961, the only commercial shipments of bauxite to date have been from Weipa to Bell Bay, carried in Australian vessels. Shipments have been effected by .m-…… . (7,119 d.w. tons) in August, 1962, and “ Iranda “ (7,161 d.w. tons) in September, 1962.
d asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are. as follows: - 1 and 2. No decision has been taken on the recommendation of the National Radiation Advisory Committee that the Commonwealth should seek the necessary powers to bring all uses of ionizing radiation under Commonwealth legislative control. All States have passed legislation to give effect to the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council. Officers of the Commonwealth Department of Health are in close touch with the respective State Health Departments which are responsible for the acts and regulations. Since the 1960 report of the National Radiation Advisory Committee, significant progress towards national uniformity has been made through amendments to their acts by Tasmania and Western Australia, by amendment to the regulations by New South Wales and by promulgation of regulations by Queensland and South Australia. An ordinance and regulations have been drafted for the Australian Capital Territory and it is understood that in Tasmania the regulations are in their final stage of preparation. It is expected that legislation in the Northern Territory will follow the pattern of that in the Australian Capital Territory. At its recent meeting the Occupational Health Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council appointed a sub-committee to examine the relevant acts and regulations in the light of experience.
y asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. The High Court of Australia was established in 1903. The salaries of the Chief Justice and other Justices were £3,500 per annum and £3,000 respectively. Allowance for travel in the discharge of official duties (including the expenses of the Associate) was, in 1903, £3 3s per day in each case. The Federal Court of Bankruptcy was established in 1930. The salary of the Judge was £2,500 per annum. Current salary is £7,000 per annum. Allowance for travel in the discharge of official duties was, in 1930, £2 2s. per day. The Commonwealth Industrial Court was established in 1956. The salaries of the Chief Judge and other Judges were £6,500 and £5,500 per annum respectively. Allowance for travel in the discharge of official duties was, in 1956, £7 7s. per day. All Commonwealth Justices and Judges now receive allowance for travel in the discharge of official duties at the rate of £12 12s. per day. No payment is, or ever has been, made to Justices and Judges in the nature of “ living or entertainment allowances “. The salaries of Justices and Judges are fixed by Statute and I would direct the honorable member’s attention to the second-reading speeches made on the Judiciary Bill (No. 2) I960, and the Judge’s Remuneration Bill 1960, which can be found in Hansard for 6th and 7th December, 1960, at pages 3656 and 3658. Variations in the rates of travelling allowances have been made from time to time to meet increased costs or accommodation and other expenses incidental to travel. 3 and 4. The Judges Pensions Act 1948-1959 provides for a non-contributory pension for Commonwealth Judges. The scale of pension payments and conditions of eligibility are to be found in sections 6 and 7 of that act. They were fully explained in the second-reading speech made on the amending bill of 1958, which can be found in “ Hansard “ for 1st May, 1958, at page 1363.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
b asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. On 15th May I furnished to the House information on this subject which was supplied by the Commonwealth Banking Corporation in response to my request following a question without notice asked by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Cross) on 10th April, 1962. This information is incorporated in “Hansard” for 15th May, 1962, at page 2355. The managing director of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation has now advised that all aspects of the 8.4S a.m. commencing time for Corporation staff in the States where a five-day banking week is in operation were recently fully discussed between the corporation management and the executive of the Commonwealth Bank Officers’ Association. As a result of this discussion, it has been mutually agreed that the earlier starting time should be continued for a further period of six months. During this time the change will be allowed to operate without further opposition from the Association in order that it may be fairly tested. It is proposed that at the end of six months a committee, on which the corporation and the association will have equal representation, will examine the results of the 8.45 a.m. start and place its findings before the Corporation for consideration.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following information: - 1, 2 and 3. I have stressed, in answer to several similar questions recently, the fundamental role of the manufacturers themselves in the rigorous testing of new pharmaceutical products, and the contributions by members of the medical profession. A number of public controls reinforce the standards set by the therapeutics industry and the medical profession. At the point of import the Commonwealth exercises controls under which the importation of dangerous drugs is prohibited. This control is maintained by the customs authorities in co-operation with the Commonwealth Department of Health. Under the Therapeutic Substances Act, standards of purity and potency are laid down for drugs coming within the scope of the act. Because of the limitation on Commonwealth powers imposed by the Commonwealth Constitution, this control does not extend to the distribution of all drugs throughout Australia. For example, the standards of drugs manufactured and sold within States is the responsibility of the State authorities, and State legislation covers such matters as the control of poisons, substances deleterious to health, standards of purity, and misleading claims. By regulations under the Therapeutic Substances Act the Commonwealth has appointed a number of laboratories for the examination, testing and analysis of drugs to which the act applies. These laboratories include -
National Biological Standards Laboratory, Canberra.
The laboratory controlled by the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Sydney.
The Commonwealth Laboratory, Department of Customs and Excise, Melbourne.
The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Melbourne.
The question of the adequacy of the procedures followed in relation to the importation of new drugs and preparations is at present being examined.
d asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following information: -
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following information: -
In all countries for which mortality data are available the recorded death rates from the various forms of leukaemia (malignant proliferation of some of the blood-forming cells) have been rising since the turn of the century. Recent statistics, however, show a perceptible and consistent decline in the rate of increase of these diseases in the United States since 1940. If this trend were to persist the incidence could eventually stabilize and even decline. A similar trend has been noted in Japan but at later time periods. It will be necessary to verify the uniformity of this phenomenon by data from other countries.
In Appendix A to the second report of the United Kingdom Medical Research Council on the Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiations (December, 1960) it is stated that -
Much of the increase may be an artefact due to more complete recognition of the condition in life- either as a result of better methods of diagnosis or because of the provision of more adequate medical care. The increase in mortality attributed to leukaemia has been most marked in the elderly and it is in this group that improvements in the accuracy of death certification are most likely to have occurred.
While the cause of the increased incidence of leukaemias is unknown the recent reduction in the rate of increase appears to discredit the hypothesis that the growing exposure of human populations to radiation is the major factor responsible for the increase.
In the second report of the United Kingdom Medical Research Council referred to above it is noted that there are reasons for believing that the various types of human leukaemias may have different causes and that all the evidence that is at present available suggests that other factors than radiation must be implicated and that the effect of radiation is relatively small. It is interesting to note that in the report an attempt was made to relate the different incidence of leukaemia in different areas of the United Kingdom with the different levels of natural background radiation and of fallout. In particular, the committee of eminent scientists who prepared the report stated -
We have carefully considered the suggestions that local variations in fallout may have influenced the incidence of leukaemia in particular districts but in fact the total death rates from leukaemia are not consistently related to the figures of fallout and taking all the evidence into account we think they cannot be related to this factor.
These views are in accord with those contained in the several reports of our own National Radiation Advisory Committee. When we bear in mind that these reports and that of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation have shown that fall-out levels in Australia are considerably less than those in the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom I believe I can give the answer that the increases in the incidence of leukaemia in Australia from the years 1944 to 1961, cannot be ascribed to fall-out.
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following information: -
n asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The total number trained over the years is not known. At present employed in the categories listed are -
One young woman has completed full nursing training in Australia and has returned to the Territory as a triple certificated nurse.
Homes for the Aged.
d asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
Does he. before approving of applications for financial assistance under the Aged Persons Homes Act, satisfy himself that (a) the cost of administering the applicant organization is not excessive and (b) the terms under which accommodation is provided for aged persons do not include a means test which would debar persons with a little or no means whatsoever from gaining admission or require an applicant to make a financial donation to the organization before his or her admission will be considered?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
As far as possible the Commonwealth avoids intrusion into the internal management of subsidized homes so long as the requirements of the act regarding normal domestic conditions and the age of residents are satisfied. The selection of particular persons for admission to the homes and other details of a domestic character are matters for the organizations themselves.
d asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
Will he take immediate steps to allow applications for all forms of Commonwealth social service payments to be lodged post free?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
A pre-addressed envelope which is post free to the applicant is issued with each form for claiming age or invalid pension, and similar arrangements are being made in respect of widows’ pension claim forms. The other forms of social services assistance are not considered to be in the same category as pensions and, in any case, claims for unemployment benefit must be lodged personally.
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following information: -
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
What payments were made to the National Debt Sinking Fund in 1961-62 in respect of liabilities discharged on war service homes before the end of the repayment period?
– T ; Minister for National Development has supplied the following information -
The amount paid during 1961-62 to the National Debt Sinking Fund in respect of liabilities discharged on war service homes before the end of the repayment period was £4,336,528.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 October 1962, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1962/19621017_reps_24_hor36/>.