25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. COUTTS presented a petition from certain citizens of the Commonwealth engaged in apprenticeship trades in the Australian Capital Territory praying that the Commonwealth Government will take no action which will adversely affect or prejudice the future of apprentices and the apprenticeship system by any proposal involving dilutee trade training or a lowering of standards in the skilled trades.
Petition received and read.
– I ask the Minister for the Army: Is it correct, as reported in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “ of 1st May, that he criticized the attitude of some employers to the Citizen Military Forces in that they were reluctant to grant young men leave to attend annual camps and bivouacs? Further, is it correct that despite the Minister’s appeal the Sout’h Australian Government - the biggest employer of labour in South Australia - still refuses to co-operate in the manner desired by the Department of the Army? Finally, does the Minister agree that the hard and uncooperative attitude of the South Australian Government-
– Order! The honorable member is now making comment. I ask him to direct his question.
– Finally, I ask the Minister whether the attitude of the South Australian Government is giving the green light to private employers to act in a like manner.
– It is correct that at the time of a conference which was held in Canberra a couple of weeks ago I said that one of the conclusions which emerged from that conference was that a considerable number of employers in Australia are not aware of the significance of Citizen Military Forces training to the security of this country, and that the recruitment and retention of members of the Citizen Military Forces would be helped considerably if those employers who are not helpful at present gave more co-operation. In relation to governments, the Commonwealth Government and all State Governments except those of South Australia and Tasmania give their employees leave on full pay for camps. The South Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government give their employees leave for camps but only make up the difference between the employees’ Citizen Military Forces pay and their normal pay. It would be of great assistance to Citizen Military Forces recruitment and retention in those States if those Governments followed the lead of the other Governments.
– Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to (he alleged remark made by the honorable member for Yarra that the second group of Yugoslavs which has been mentioned in the House was formed in Melbourne a few weeks ago? Can he say whether the well-known Communist, Mr. Ralph Gibson, was present at the meeting, and does he know whether the meeting was attended by any member of this House?
– The other group to which I referred did not consist only of members of the Yugoslav Settlers Association. That is an association which has a formal organization and exists in Melbourne. There are groups elsewhere which share the views of that association but which are not organized on a formal basis and do not have the same name.
A meeting was held in the club rooms of the Yugoslav Settlers Association on Friday, 6th March of this year, which was reported in the “ Tribune “, a Communist publication. The “ Tribune “ reported a speech that was made by the honorable member for Yarra, lt also reported a speech made by Mr. Ralph Gibson, who is a quite well-known Communist. In addition, it reported the names of the people who were present. Sir, insofar as the information that I have relates to the story which has been published, it includes as a speaker the honorable member for Yarra and, as an attender, the honorable member for Gellibrand.
– 1 spoke, too.
– You apparently did not speak well enough to warrant reporting.
– Order! I think that the Minister might have been in error in referring to the honorable member for Gellibrand.
– 1 apologize; I most certainly would not suggest that it was the honorable member for Gellibrand. It was the honorable member for Wills.
– I desire to direct a question’ to the Attorney-General. In March, 1960, the Government promised to introduce legislation to deal with restrictive trade practices. Can the Attorney-General assure the House that this legislation will be introduced before the fifth anniversary of the promise? Can the Attorney-General also assure the House that there will be no significant departure from the scheme outlined by the former Attorney-General on behalf of the Government? Also, is he aware that there is a fear in the community that, because of a breaking-down process, the measure, if it is ever introduced, will aid monopolistic malpractice rather than curb it?
– As to the first part of the honorable member’s question, the legislation will be introduced when the decisions have been taken and the legislation has been drafted. As to the second part of his question, I cannot understand how the honorable member or anybody else could form the view mentioned in it.
– I direct a question to the Minister for External Affairs. I understand that there is at present no liaison officer at Kota Baru, although there was one during the Dutch administration. It would appear desirable for liaison to exist with the Indonesians in West Irian; therefore, would the Minister consider having a liaison officer appointed?
– At the time when the Netherlands was administering the western half of New Guinea an agreement was concluded between the Netherlands Government and the Australian Government for administrative co-operation between West New Guinea and the Australian Territories. In pursuance of that agreement, and for the purposes of administrative co-operation, an Australian liaison officer was posted at Hollandia, as it then was, and a Dutch liaison officer was posted at Port Moresby in order to facilitate administrative cooperation. With the withdrawal of the Netherlands from West New Guinea that agreement between the two governments of course lapsed. No agreement for administrative co-operation has yet been concluded with the Indonesian Government.
– I would like to ask the Attorney-General a question. Is it a fact that a meeting of the Croatian Ustashi movement, which has since been designated a revolutionary movement aimed at the overthrow of government by force, and which is allegedly engaged in terrorist activities in Australia, was held in Geelong last year and that amongst the speakers who attended that meeting and addressed it were the leader of the Ustasha and also a Minister of the Crown? If so, what was the name of the Minister of the Crown?
– Mr. Speaker, there is a large number of organizations, groups or clubs composed of Croatians, and it should not be thought that all of these people share the views that are held by only a very small proportion of them. It is most important to understand that there is a group, very small from the point of view of numbers, which contains a number of hotheads. There is another equally small group also composed of hot-heads.
– Order! The House will come to order.
– We must understand that in these circumstances one group calls the other Ustashi and calls anybody who disagrees with it Ustashi. The second group calls the members of the first group Communists and calls anybody who disagrees with the views of the second group a Communist.
– Order! The honorable member for Yarra.
– Consequently we have allegation and counter-allegation, followed again by allegation and counter-allegation, and it is very difficult to arrive at the basic facts.
– Order! I ask the Minister to resume his seat. Honorable members on the Opposition side continue to interject. The honorable member for Yarra is one of the main offenders. I have already warned him and he has ignored the Chair. If he does this again I will deal with him.
– Tell us who the Minister was.
– Order! The honorable member for Hughes will remain silent.
– As to the remainder of the question, it is obviously something that ought not to be directed to me as a person and I do not offer an answer to it.
– Can the Minister for Social Services say which social service benefits are extended to aliens residing in Australia and which ones are denied to them?
– -In reply to the honorable member for Gwydir, to whom I am indebted for addressing this question to me, I may say that there is a great deal of uninformed comment about social services. The facts are that maternity allowances, child endowment and unemployment and sickness benefits are available to those who are likely to become permanent residents in Australia, even though such persons may not necessarily be naturalized Australian citizens. All other social service pensions are exclusive to Australian citizens, including, of course, naturalized Australian citizens. There ate, perhaps, two exceptions to this rule. A compassionate allowance may be granted to unnaturalized persons and a special benefit may be paid to alien migrants. Both of these provisions are designed to meet special circumstances.
– I address a question to (he Minister for Supply relating to the proposed introduction of a production performance allowance at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. I understand that agreement was reached with the trade unions concerned this morning. Can the Minister give us some details?
– For some months past, officers of the Department of Supply have bien negotiating with federal officials of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, the Federated Ironworkers Association and the Australasian Society of Engineers with a view to introducing into the Lithgow Small Arms Factory production performance allowances.
– Is this a Dorothy Dix-er? Why did you not inform the honorable member for Macquarie?
– You ought to be interested in this because it relates to the standards of employees of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. An agreement was reached this morning, based on the productivity levels which have been achieved following the application in the small arms factory of methods engineering principles. Two levels of allowance will be payable, one of 5 per cent, and one of 10 per cent, of the gross weekly salary, depending, of course, on production performance. The maximum allowances payable under the scheme will be £2 a week in the case of tradesmen and 32s. a week in the case of process workers. It should be pointed out that this scheme is unique in government employment. I should think that in the next few weeks conferences will begin with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and sixteen interested unions with a view to introducing similar schemes progressively into the Government aircraft factory and Commonwealth munitions plants generally. This morning’s proceedings ended on a most amicable note. I should like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the officers of the Department of Labour and National Service, who gave extraordinary assistance during the course of these very useful negotiations.
– Last Thursday, I asked the Minister for Supply some questions concerning the use of Commonwealth ammunition filling factories. I asked him what proportion of the capacity of these factories was being used for the manufalure of ammunition, and what proportion was unused. I also asked whether quantities of conventional ammunition were being imported into Australia and, if ammunition was being imported, whether that was because of a lack of technical knowledge in Australia, because of a shortage of Government factory capacity or simply because it was the Government’s policy to import ammunition. I now ask whether the Minister has been able to obtain answers to the questions.
– Last week the honorable member asked me certain questions and, as I do not carry the precise details in my mind, I sought time to get the right answers for him. The Commonwealth ammunition production and filling factories can meet all orders placed on the Department of Supply by the services. These cover something in excess of 75 per cent, of the conventional ammunition requirements of the services, and include small arms and gun ammunition, fuses, explosives and propellants. As to the production and filling factories themselves, it will be understood that these have been engineered with wartime levels of demand in mind. During peacetime they operate at something like 50 per cent, or 60 per cent, of their productive capacity, on a single shift basis. Most of these factories are already tooled up or are in the process of tooling up for the production of all wanted classes of ammunition, with one or two exceptions which I will mention in a moment.
So far as imports are concerned, ammunition is certainly not imported because of any lack, of technical skills or capital provision in Australia. Without quoting specific quantities, there have been some imports of fuses and 4.5-in. ammunition for the Navy, and some 105-mm. ammunition and 81 -mm. mortar bombs for the Army. Imports may arise where initial supplies of ammunition are required when a new weapon or a new store has been accepted by the services. In the intervening period, until production can be undertaken, quantities of ammunition may be imported. . Again, where small quantities of particular types of ammunition which it is not economical to produce in Australia are required, they will be imported. Thirdly, there have been occasions when the British Admiralty has been able to offer certain types of ammunition to the Royal Australian Navy at very advantageous prices. While I am on my feet I should point out that Australian factories are exporting ammunition as a commercial enterprise or under an aid programme to New Zealand, India,
Malaysia, Tanganyika and Uganda and that the value of these exports last year was approximately £2,000,000.
– I address my question to the Attorney-General. A few moments ago we heard the honorable gentleman mention the attendance of several members of the Opposition at a public meeting in such a manner, one might say, as to imply seditious or dangerous activities and to vilify the honorable members concerned. A moment afterwards, the Minister was asked a question about the attendance of the Minister for Immigration at a meeting which was held by a fascist group in Geelong, and the Minister attempted to avoid answering the question, and in fact did not answer it. Are we to infer from this that this association with a fascist group has the Minister’s approval and that he will always use his position as a Minister of the Crown to enable him to vilify his opponents and protect his friends?
– I find it extraordinary that the mental gymnastics of which the honorable member is capable would bring him to ask such a question. I stand by what I said about the meeting to which the honorable member referred. Apart from this meeting there have been other meetings held in places which were not advertised, and indeed they have been held in the most extraordinary places - certainly not in the sort of place where you would expect a body with proper motives to meet.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs whether there is any indication yet that the Soviet Union, which is by far the largest single debtor, will pay its duly assessed contributions to the United Nations. Will it be pointed out, at the next meeting of the General Assembly, that Australia has voluntarily paid more than its assessed contributions in order to help keep the United Nations organization in existence?
– We have no indication that the Soviet Union has changed its attitude towards the payment of its assessed contributions. It is quite true, as the honorable member has said, that Australia, in common with quite a number of other members of the United Nations, has consequently paid more than its assessed contribution. I think that what the honorable member is asking me to do is to make a debating point of this at the General Assembly. I recognize that it is a very good debating point, but 1 suggest that we might wait until we see what happens at the General Assembly.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the Minister noticed the concern of apprentices, and the unions concerned with apprenticeship membership, on the question of adult training which is currently receiving the attention of his department? Will he try to allay their fears and, as soon as possible, make a complete statement in this House setting out clearly the planned policy on apprenticeship of his department or the Government and showing clearly, in addition, the line of demarcation that will be nationally maintained between the standards of apprenticeship training and the standards required under the adult training scheme that we are now embarking upon?
– As I understand the honorable gentleman’s question, he wishes me to make a statement to the House to make clear the distinction between adult training and apprenticeship training. I shall be only too glad to have a document prepared for him. Before I make the document available to the House and provide an opportunity for it to be tabled, the honorable member will be able to look at it.
– 1 address a question to the Minister for the Interior. Is the Department of the Interior actively pursuing a policy of establishing Commonwealth offices in regional centres throughout the Commonwealth for the purpose of decentralization of administration? In what centres have Commonwealth offices already been opened? Is it considered that the city of Orange would be a suitable centre for such offices in order to give a better and quicker service to the public of the central west of New South Wales?
– I am well aware of the honorable member’s interest in this subject. I have heard him make speeches on it in this House. He has been in touch with me about the possibility of Orange being selected for the location of a Commonwealth office. The Commonwealth Government has a policy of decentralizing Commonwealth offices which are built when other accommodation suitable for the purpose is not available, or when there is a need for the construction of new offices. In Victoria in recent years, we have built offices at Shepparton, Ballarat and Mildura. In Queensland we have built offices at Townsville, Cairns, Rockhampton and Toowoomba. We will be extending Commonwealth offices in New South Wales as finances and resources become available. The civic authorities of many towns are asking that Commonwealth offices be constructed in them, and all of them will be considered according to their merits.
– I ask the Minister for Territories a question which arises from the report that a candidate at the recent elections for the House of Assembly in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea has challenged the electoral ordinance. The wording of the ordinance has been challenged, not the conduct of the electoral office. There is time for other candidates to challenge the wording of the ordinance before the House of Assembly first meets on 8th lune. I ask the honorable gentleman whether consideration has been given to passing a validating act through this Parliament before we rise so that the first direct election in the Territory will not be frustrated by a technicality with consequent disillusion and disappointment to the people who have so recently elected their first representative Parliament?
– I have no official knowledge that the election of a representative in the recent election held in the Territory has been challenged. If this has occurred, I shall certainly consider the matter along the lines that the honorable member suggests.
– I address to you, Mr. Speaker, a question which relates to Standing Order No. 144. This standing order states that questions shall not contain inferences or imputations. I direct your attention to Question No. 308 on the noticepaper which, when its two parts are examined together, contains a particularly vicious imputation against a man who is lying in a Sydney hospital after having had both legs blown off. He is probably at the point of death. He alleges - whether truly or falsely I do not know - that this is the work of Communists. In its present form the question is an offence against decency, and I say that without trying to prejudge the facts of this situation. Question No. 310, the answer to which is also unknown to the honorable member of Yarra, who asked it-
– I ask you, Sir, whether you have the power to order that this indecent question-
– Have you the power to order that the question be removed from the notice-paper?
– Order! I do not think there is any doubt as to the authority, but I question the wisdom of the course suggested. I shall have a look at the matter raised by the honorable member, but I rather think that the question could be in order at this stage.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for Immigration. Is it a fact that the meeting of Yugoslavs that he is said to have attended was a wellpublicized public meeting, held in a town hall and that a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen was displayed in a prominent place? Can the Minister describe the nature of the Croatian insignia alleged to have been displayed? What significance was conveyed to him by those insignia and what significance would they have been likely to convey to other Australian citizens? At the time of his accepting the invitation and attending the meeting, was any person piesent known to him to be an extremist?
– I appreciate the question, because it gives me an opportunity to clarify the situation. May I say in the first place that I received an invitation from the Australian Croatian Association. I regarded the invitation so lightly in a political sense that in my correspondence in reply, which I have looked up, I stated that I had two other appointments and would probably find it difficult to attend but that I would do so if I could. According to my memory, I arrived about 10.20 or 10.30 in the evening at the Geelong West Town Hall, where the function was held. That town hall was let for the occasion by responsible municipal authorities who, I know, are particularly careful about the organizations to which the hall is made available. When I entered, the hall was full of people and smoke. The occasion was a social evening and a band was playing, and the people present were enjoying themselves. They were drinking beer and eating pies and saveloys and all the strange foods that are eaten at such gatherings. I was welcomed, shown to a chair and given something to eat. Later; I was asked to address the gathering. At no time was there any suggestion of a political meeting of any kind. I suggest that if, over the noise of the band that was playing, anybody could have heard and understood any political talk, by people speaking in broken English in any case, his hearing would have been better than mine.
I should like to point out that the Corio electorate, of which Geelong is the centre, has probably as large a percentage of newcomers to Australia as any other electorate. I have attended Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Italian, Dutch and German functions by invitation. After all, these new citizens are my constituents and I treat them as such. So, when I was asked to speak on the platform at the Croatian function, naturally I agreed. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth was displayed on one side. There was, I admit, a portrait of some one else. I thought he was the president of the club. I did not really know who he was. In common courtesy, I thanked those present for their reception. I told them what a marvellous thing it was to see newcomers to Australia settling down and enjoying themselves and 1 wished them success in the future as individuals. No political atmosphere was evident. As far as I was concerned, there were no political implications at all. However, later, for electoral purposes, the Opposition stood behind statements that I was denying that 1 had been present at this function. I have never denied that I was present. There was no need for me to deny my presence. This was in my view just a meeting of constituents, and it was a good meeting as far as I was concerned.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Territories. Is the new investment company, Australia New Guinea Corporation Limited, subject to any restrictions on its investments in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea? Can this compan’y or similar companies acquire controlling interests in the industry and agriculture of the Territory, or is it intended to retain some degree of control for the indigenous people?
– I say, first of all, that 1 welcome the interest of Australian investors in providing funds to develop the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. As is stated in the articles of association, the purpose of the new company is to promote development, regardless of race or anything else. This objective is in the interests of the Territory. 1 believe that it is a good move. We are concerned with the advancement of the Territory and I think every one must admit that our efforts have met with great success. By continued economic development we will advance the standard of living of the people, and economic development will be achieved only by encouraging more investment. What is most important is that this group of Australian investors shows confidence in the future of the Territory.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Air. Is it a fact that an order has been placed in the United Kingdom for 3,500 pairs of what are known as Terry Loop socks for aircrew members of the Royal Australian Air Force, each of whom will be issued with three pairs? As the socks are all woollen, could the requirements have been met in
Australia? If so, why was the order placed in the United Kingdom?
– It is a fact that an order has been placed in the United Kingdom for some woollen socks for aircrew members. These are a special type of socks. They are very much thicker than the usual woollen socks and special machinery is required to make them. Only a very small number was required and Australian manufacturers were not interested. We were able to place this order in the United Kingdom following an order for the Royal Air Force, and so the manufacturers were able to continue the run of the manufacture of the socks. Once again we have a demonstration of the fact that wool is superior to other materials and I do not doubt that when the socks come to the airmen in Australia some wool from the electorate of Maranoa will be included in them. I can inform the honorable member that I used woollen socks when I was flying during the last war, but this did not on all occasions prevent me from getting cold feet.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Territories a question. Now that the Select Committee of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory has reported on the matters into which it inquired concerning the employment of aborigines, the conditions of employment, the wages paid and so on, will the Minister say what the Government’s policy is in regard to the report? Will he now say whether he believes that a 40-hour week is undesirable in the Northern Territory and elsewhere? Will he also say whether he thinks that £3 6s. a week is a sufficient wage to pay to aborigines in the Northern Territory?
– I point out to the Leader of the Opposition that the report of the select committee was made available only yesterday, and obviously I have not had a chance to consider it. The committee reported on legislation the purpose of which was to remove any discrimination against aborigines. The Leader of the Opposition has raised the question of employment. As was pointed out in a debate some months ago, we are considering measures by which the situation can be improved. Where an aboriginal has the capabilities to do a job and has shown his reliability he is paid the full wage that is paid to any one else in the Territory. However, if employers were obliged to provide aborigines with all the conditions mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition some aborigines would not have an opportunity to obtain employment. The employment of aborigines is not an easy task. Some assessment must be made of their capabilities, and we hope to introduce some machinery which will enable us to be advised on this matter.
– I address a question to the Minister for External Affairs. By way of short preface, I say that it has been reported that the United States Government has requested additional assistance from Australia and other countries further to combat Communist aggression in South Viet Nam. Will the Minister tell the House whether this request has yet been considered by the Government? Will further material help be given by Australia to the United States to assist it in this worth-while cause?
– The House will be aware, as a result of a statement made by my predecessor, that participating nationsat the recent South-East Asia Treaty Organization conference agreed that they should, to the extent of their various capabilities, examine the possibility of giving further assistance in Viet Nam. Since then the Government has received from the United States Government an aide-memoire indicating various directions in which such additional assistance would be welcome. The Australian Government is, of course, closely associated with the United States in Seato. We strongly support the United States in its various activities to safeguard the peace of this region. I think Australia has a record as a good member of Seato. In keeping with that spirit the Government is examining the request referred to by the honorable member and hopes at a very early date to be able to make a communication on the matter to the United States Government. I assure the House that there will be no holding back or unwillingness on our part to do what is within our capacity to do.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to the long drawn out and serious drought conditions which are devastating the Dawson and Callide valleys of central Queensland? Has any approach been made by the Queensland Government for Commonwealth assistance to the people concerned in that area? If the Queensland Government makes an approach, will the Commonwealth give a sympathetic hearing to a request for aid in conformity with this Government’s general policy on such matters?
– I am not aware of any such request having been received. There is an established practice that, when events which amount to a substantial disaster occur somewhere in Australia, if the relevant State Government gets in touch with us and asks us to help in the relief of personal hardship caused by the disaster, we will give help - we have always done so - on terms which are now well known. We do not propose to depart from that practice. However, at the moment I am not aware of any application being made in respect of this event.
– Yesterday the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Harding) asked me about a statement that I made after the meeting with the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia. I said that I would table that statement. I now present the following paper: -
Development of Northern Australia - Statement by the Prime Minister, 7th May, 1964.
Motion (by Mr. Killen) - by leave - agreed to -
That the following Order of the Day, General Business, be discharged: - No. 1- Fluoridation of Australian Capital Territory Water Supply- Proposed Select Committee.
– I present the following paper: -
Report of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary and Government Publications, together with the minutes of proceedings of the committee and minutes of evidence.
I ask for leave to make a short statement in connexion with the report.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– Official publications are part of the basic tools of trade of both the Parliament and the Executive. It is rather surprising, therefore, that the report that your committee presents to-day is the first comprehensive attempt to evaluate the Commonwealth’s printing and publishing methods. Your committee has found that these methods are in need of radical revision and that there is much scope for their improvement.
The present arrangements for having material printed are complex. They cause delays and prevent Commonwealth printing being executed smoothly, in proper sequence and by the printers best able to do each job. No section of the Commonwealth Public Service is properly equipped to advise departments on the style and format of their publications. The arrangements for letting the public know that publications are available and how they might be obtained are inadequate, and no single office can supply copies of all publications. At present departments are both authors and the publishers of their own publications.
Your committee believes that the report of the recent Canadian Royal Commission on Government Organizations clearly points to the weakness in the present arrangements in Australia. That report says -
Simply to print does not guarantee that it will be read. The true demand for a publication will not be realized unless the style attracts attention, potential readers know of its existence, and copies are made conveniently available. Without the publishers, the author may have limited success. . . .
Departments . . . can benefit from expert assistance in planning, preparing, printing and distributing their publications. A central repository of this expert advice is more likely to lead to the best form of publication and the means of distribution, both commercial and free. Departmental authors Lave varied talents, but not necessarily those of a publisher.
The establishment of a government publishing office staffed by persons with a wide knowledge of printing and publishing, on the lines of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in Great Britain, is therefore your committee’s first and main recommendation.
It is recommended that the publishing office should, among other things, be equipped to advise departments on the style and format of their publications; be responsible for the printing of all Commonwealth publications, whether the printing be executed at the Commonwealth Government Printing Office or elsewhere; be responsible for the general distribution of all publications; publish lists of the publications available; establish bookshops for the sale of publications; and, by every economic means possible, encourage the wider dissemination and use of Commonwealth publications. To do all these things effectively and to the satisfaction of members of the Parliament, departments and the community, it is essential for the publishing office to be operated efficiently and with imagination.
Your committee makes 67 recommendations in all, including ones which affect the scope of the parliamentary series, the size of parliamentary papers, the publication of consolidated acts and statutory rules and the publication of “ Hansard “. All are important and all deserve the close attention .?f each member of the Parliament. Your committee hopes that, as a result of its inquiry, Commonwealth publications will be more widely known and used, because, in the words of Abraham Lincoln -
True government of the people for the people involves a maximum of interest in government by every citizen.
Ordered that the report and minutes of proceedings be printed.
– I wish to inform the House of the following appointments of senators and members to be members of the
Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory: -
Senators Kendall, Vincent and Wood have been appointed by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and Senators Tangney and Toohey have been appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in that House.
Mr. England and Mr. Fox have been appointed by the Prime Minister, and Mr. Coutts and Mr. J. R. Fraser have been appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in this House.
Debate resumed from 5th May (vide page 1537), on motion by Mr. Adermann -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– There being no objection, that course will be followed.
.- In my opinion - I think most people would agree with me - the legislation now before the House for consideration concerns the welfare of one of Australia’s most attractive and most important primary industries. I refer to the dried fruits industry. In the main, it is engaged in along the Murray valley, which embraces the important centre of Mildura in Victoria; Coomealla, Wentworth and other adjacent townships on the New South Wales side of the Murray River; and Renmark, Barmera and other important centres along that river in South Australia. Of course, in Western Australia there are some dried fruits production centres.
When I say that this is an attractive industry, I mean that it involves a type of work that appeals to the average Australian who likes outdoor work which is interesting and which requires physical effort and, what is perhaps more important, a great deal of mental capacity and mental agility. Albeit, one could say that, in addition, they require that characteristic which enables most primary producers to stand adversity in the shape of unfavorable overseas markets, seasonal conditions, droughts, winds, frosts, fogs and the other problems which beset them. This industry is attractive likewise in the sense that in these important dried fruit-growing, grapegrowing and wine-producing areas the average holding of a blockholder is twenty acres. Blocks are rarely in excess of 30 acres. The end result is that in a place like Mildura there have congregated approximately 13,000 people all engaged in much the same kind of production, lt is a friendly community. Naturally, such requirements as schools, institutions, and sporting bodies of all sorts spring up there. It is a very nice state of society.
I could not help but contrast the situation in Australia in our closer settlements, particularly those connected with the dried fruit industry and the canned fruit industry, with the situation that applies in California. It was my good fortune to be in California in 1945. I took the opportunity, as did some other members of this Parliament, to visit the fruit-growing areas of the San José valley and other areas adjacent to San Francisco. The dried and canned fruits industries in those areas are enormous. In contrast to some sectors of those industries in Australia, with blocks of 20 acres being the rule, in California there are holdings of 100 acres and more under the direction of the owner who employs in the picking season a greater number of labourers than are employed in Australia. They are itinerant labourers who come from Mexico and various parts of the United States for the season only. The result is that there is only a small number of people permanently settled in those areas. In such a settlement there are many disadvantages compared with the settlements in Australia to which I have referred already, and which are of a much better character.
In regard to the measure before the House, I think I should say something in passing of the historical origin of the industry. 1 am indebted to a variety of documents for some of the facts I shall give. History records that the ancestors of the grapes from which our dried fruits come originated mainly in the areas south of the Caspian Sea, particularly in Persia, which is now called Iran. Over the centuries the growing of grapes for processing as dried fruits spread to Greece and Turkey, eventually across into Europe and, in later days, to California and Australia. It is interesting, in view of our export activities in this industry, to note that dried fruits were first exported to an international market from California in 1910. By 1922 Australia was exporting a substantial quantity of dried fruits. To-day Australia ranks third in the world as an exporter of dried fruits. This is not a bad performance. Indeed, it is a performance of which we can be justly proud.
I should like to look at the subject matter of the legislation in the sense of the organization of the industry. I have had some remote and also direct association with this industry going back to my membership of the Victorian Parliament as long ago as 1924. I do not think that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), in whose constituency the great city of Mildura is situated, would claim a longer association with the industry than that. However, I will admit he has a very intimate and close association with it. It is a characteristic of people who are working together, or who are settled in close contact with each other, that their opportunities for organization to protect their economic interests are much greater than is the case, for instance, with wool growers, who are scattered far and wide over the countryside. It was not very long after the establishment of the dried fruits industry that the Australian Dried Fruits Association federal council was formed. Up to the present date, because of the interest that the growers take in their industry - and their pressure on their electoral representatives - they have conferred on the industry wonderful benefits which I do not believe could otherwise have accrued to it. I wish that people in other primary industries would act likewise. I have already pointed out the characteristics of these people which has enabled them to establish their efficient organization.
To-day the Australian Dried Fruits Association has a membership of 98 per cent, of the growers of the Murray valley which embraces people from most of the States. Legislation which set up the Australian Dried Fruits Export Control Board was introduced in the 1920’s. When administrative bodies were set up, as a result of that legislation, in the respective States where dried fruits were grown, and those bodies started to use the powers ostensibly conferred upon them by that legislation, they came up against the Constitution. That was in 1936 or 1937. It was discovered, after the historic James case, that powers, which it was thought had been conferred upon those bodies had not been conferred at all. On appeal to the Privy Council the bodies lost their case. However, because of the power of their almost 100 per cent, membership, the organizations involved were able to overcome the constitutional difficulties that had arisen. As a result of that they have been able ever since to use control board legislation and legislation of the States which set up dried fruits boards.
I have mentioned the Australian Dried Fruits Association. I should like to refer to the legislation in the Commonwealth sphere which has enabled the State legislation to be operated, as I think the Minister will agree, with a reasonable amount of ease. In the marketing setup of the industry is the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board, which is vested with a vast measure of authority. I shall give a brief resume of the authority which that board possesses. The board consists of a majority of growers’ representatives, representatives of the packing houses and of commercial interests, and a chairman who is appointed by the representatives. We find that it has been vested in the past with these wide and, one might even say, drastic powers. I point out that it has no authority to buy or sell, but it does have these powers: It has the power to ensure that no dried fruit is exported from Australia without a licence by any agent, by any grower or by the Australian Dried Fruits Association itself. It can set out the conditions of the licences and such conditions and restrictions as are prescribed are operable after a recommendation has been made to the Minister and he has given his consent. In addition, no export is allowed except by the board acting as an agent of the owner of the dried fruits or of another person having authority to export the fruit in conformity with conditions approved by the board. The board’s powers extend to the usage of shipping. No grower, owner or agent can hire his own shipping accommodation. This must be approved by the export control authority, and the shipping arrangements must meet conditions satisfactory to the board as regards charges, space and all other such matters. That is a very wide power and it is a most desirable one.
In addition, this governmental authority has full power, with no reservation whatsoever, to make arrangements and give directions as it thinks fit for the handling, marketing and storage of dried fruits and also - and this is particularly important - for the shipment of fruit on such terms and in such quantities as it thinks fit. That is to say, it can lay down the price per ton at which the fruit, in England, Canada or some other place to which it is sent, shall be sold. It can set out the quantities that may be sent to Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or anywhere else, and nobody can gainsay the board’s authority. In addition, the board is authorized to take action on all matters necessary for the discharge of its functions as an authority in handling, distributing and disposing of dried fruits and in the conduct of experiments for the improvement of the quality of such dried fruits.
I have heard a lot of talk about bureaucracy. During the debate on the last piece of legislation we discussed dealing with primary production I heard a wheat bill that was once introduced into this House and approved by the Parliament referred to as a most socialistic measure. Well, honorable members can call this what they like, but the authorities and powers that 1 have referred to represent almost the power of life and death over an industry. However, the authority that is given these powers is, to all intents and purposes, one elected and approved of by the industry itself to handle the products of the industry. In those circumstances, and with the reservation that the authority must not use its wide powers to harm the rest of the community, I believe that it is desirable to vest these powers in it. Call it socialistic or call it what you like, I think it is desirable to allow the board to exercise these powers.
Despite all these powers that are to be conferred on this authority, we know that in a disturbed world, because of changes in quantities of dried fruits produced in other countries, prices of these fruits from time to time vary to such an extent that the Australian grower sometimes finds his return sufficient to allow him only the barest minimum of subsistence. Such conditions have been particularly acute over the last ten or twelve years, during which, as we all know, costs of production of practically everything in this country have gone to extreme heights. Within the last couple of years the position has been so desperate at Mildura and other centres that the growers have had to ask the Government for relief in the form of loans to enable them to remain on their holdings and in the industry. We must admit that, at times, boom prices are obtained, but surely it is reasonable to suggest that when people have to face adversity, through no fault of their own, the government of the day should come to their rescue.
The Australian Dried Fruits Association and the growers have been urging the Government for at least five years to introduce some satisfactory stabilization scheme. They have asked the Government to guarantee a price while offering, on their part, to make a contribution in years of good prices towards a stabilization fund from which they could draw in periods of adversity. Some schemes have been propounded. At least one scheme - the Minister will correct me if I am wrong - was submitted by this Government to the growers. I remind the House of the wheat scheme that the Minister was associated with and which was submitted not to the growers but to the State Premiers, who rejected it.
In this case the dried fruits growers, who are much more personally affected and much more responsible in a matter of this kind than the Premiers, rejected the scheme submitted to them by the Minister a few years ago. However, the Minister persisted, as I did when I was associated with the Ministry. Further consultation took place with the growers and, lo and behold, the Minister came up with a scheme which was recently accepted by the growers at a poll at which 88 per cent, of growers enrolled voted, 91 per cent, of them favouring the scheme. What better display could you have of a belief in the efficacy of guaranteed prices, stabilization and a more effective marketing arrangement for the industry? This scheme is rather different from the wheat stabilization scheme in some respects. In this case, under existing legislation giving certain powers and authority to a Commonwealth board, there is available, ready-made, export control legislation, and there is a very efficient association of growers, the Australian Dried Fruits Association, and the commercial packing houses through which that association operates. The Government now has determined certain costs of production of various dried fruits - £113 10s. a ton in the case of currants, £109 5s. for sultanas and £101 for raisins. The Government has said that if the returns to the grower do not reach these figures then it will make a contribution to bring the return up to the guaranteed price which will not fall below the cost of production by more than £5 a ton. When the grower’s return exceeds the cost of production by more than £5 a ton he will make a contribution to the fund, the limit of such contribution being £10 a ton.
I believe this is a very good arrangement. It can be administered through the packing houses which are able to assess the average returns because all the export fruit and local fruit passes through their hands. I make one further statement in this connexion; The prices I have given are those which will cover the current season, 1964, and they have been determined at a time when the growers are putting their fruit into the packing houses. There is a proviso in the legislation which is on all fours with the proviso in the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act and also with that in the butter marketing legislation, that a review will be made, no doubt by the Division of Agricultural Economics. This will be a review of any increases or decreases in the prices of fruit prior to the intake of fruit by the packing houses next season, and the Minister will be empowered to increase or decrease the Government’s guaranteed price by what he considers to be a reasonable amount. At least, that is my interpretation of what the bill means.
The measure contains other important provisions. For instance, the guarantee and the arrangement are to run for a period of five years, ending in 1968. It is also provided that if, because of very good prices obtained over the five years and because of very substantial contributions to the stabilization fund by the industry over the period, there is any surplus in the fund after contributions made by the Government during lean years have been recouped, then, if the scheme is discontinued, the balance remaining in the fund shall go back to the industry. I think that is fair enough. This is one of those occasions when I think I can say that a measure has the unanimous approval of the Opposition and indeed of this Parliament. We on this side are conscious of the importance of this legislation and of the need to avoid delay in bringing the scheme into operation. As I have said, the season is now in full swing.
There is one reservation attached to the Government’s guarantee of a kind that is common to many of our stabilization measures. There shall be no price guarantee by the Government in any year for currants in excess of 13,500 tons, for sultanas in excess of 79,800 tons and for raisins in excess of 11,000 tons. When one realizes that the average annual production over the last 25 years was 15,460 tons for currants, 55,308 tons for sultanas and 7,794 tons for raisins, one sees that this is not a bad guarantee. Of course, it does not go all the way, any more than the guarantees for wheat or butter go all the way, but one would not say that it is altogether ungenerous. Certainly it could be more generous than it is, but an Opposition always says that.
It is also provided that, irrespective of price, no levy shall be collected in those years in which production per acre is, in effect, disastrous. I have already mentioned that the average annual production of currants over the last 25 years was about 15,000 tons. This bill provides that when the yield for a year is as low as 8,000 tons no levy will be imposed, irrespective of the price received for those 8,000 tons. As for sultanas, no levy will be imposed if production does not exceed 50,000 tons, irrespective of the price received, and in the case of raisins there will be no levy if production does not exceed 6,000 tons. An exemption from levy in bad years is perhaps more justified in this industry than in any other, because the expenditure of money and the use of labour must of necessity be more continuous on the holding of a dried fruit grower than on any other property. Immediately the dried fruit grower has finished delivering his crop of currants, raisins and sultanas to the packing shed he is faced with the necessity of carrying out various operations on the orchards. More importantly still, he is faced immediately with a very large expenditure on the materials necessary to prepare his holding for the next year’s crop.
I notice that the measure also provides for the distribution and collection of levies through the packing houses.In order to make this practice legal, the Minister proposes that the packing houses which are licensed to take fruit - some of them are co-operative organizations and some are proprietary companies - shall form an organization to be known probably as the Australian Dried Fruits Association Proprietary Limited. As units of this company, the licensed packing house will be responsible for the distribution of moneys paid by the Government and for the collection of levies at the point of packing. That is an excellent arrangement. I think the pioneering work in this type of arrangement was carried out by the dairy produce equalization organization, which operates along lines similar to those proposed in the bill.
I do not want to prolong my speech on this measure, except to say something that I have said in connexion with other measures. My suggestion may be a little more difficult to adopt in this instance. I regret that the Government has not taken this opportunity to amend the legislation so as to provide for representation on the governing body of employees engaged in the industry. There are perhaps few industries where, at the critical time of harvest, the question of labour is of more importance than in the dried vine fruits industry. Fortunately, looking back over the years, I think there has been a fairly high degree of co-operation between the growers and the employees in this industry. That is rather wonderful when one takes into consideration the itinerant nature of the occupation.
The Opposition supports the measure. At various times, the Labour Party, in office in the States and as an Opposition here, has lent its support and encouragement to measures of this type. In about August of last year, my colleague, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton), and I visited Mildura at the invitation of the local branch of the Australian Labour Party. We had a look at the industry generally. I had not been to Mildura for some years. On this occasion, we met leaders of the Australian Dried Fruits Association and of the municipal authorities. We even met the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). We were made most welcome, and we undertook to do anything we could to improve the condition of life, not only of the dried fruit growers but of everybody living in the surrounding districts.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Maisey) adjourned. [Quorum formed.]
.- I move- [Customs Tariff Proposals (No. 13).]
[Customs Tariff Proposals (No. 14).]
Mr. Speaker, Customs Tariff Proposals No. 13, copies of which I have just tabled, relate to proposed amendments to the Customs Tariff 1933-1963 to give effect to the Government’s decisions following receipt of Tariff Board reports on -
Precision ground ball bearings
Bobby pins of ferrous metal
Tinsmiths’ snips or shears
On aluminium foil, duties of 17½ per cent. British preferential tariff and 25 per cent, most-favoured-nation have been proposed. This level of duty is considered by the board to provide adequate protection for both foil producers and converters. On the question of dumping, the board found that imports of aluminium foil at prices lower than normal values had caused injury to the local industry. My colleague, the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henry), has therefore taken action to make aluminium foil subject to dumping duties whenever appropriate. The duties on unwrought aluminium and unwrought aluminium alloys have been reduced to free, British preferential tariff, and7½ per cent, most-favoured-nation rate, but the import restrictions applying to these products and to aluminium and aluminium waste and scrap will continue up to and including 2nd January, 1965, which is the date of expiry of the Commonwealth’s undertaking given to Comalco Industries Proprietary Limited at the time of the sale of the former Australian Aluminium Production Commission’s factory to that company. It is proposed to remove the restrictions as from 3rd January, 1965.
Precision ground steel ball bearings will now become dutiable at protective rates of 27½ per cent. British preferential tariff and 37½ per cent, most-favoured-nation tariff and the current import restrictions on certain ball bearings will be removed forthwith. On bobby pins, a British preferential tariff rate of 20 per cent, is provided and the most-favoured-nation rate is set at the minimum level consistent with international commitments. On tinsnips, protection is being provided for the local manufacturer at rates of 25 per cent. British preferential tariff and 32½ per cent, mostfavourednation. The board is of the opinion that the protection now accorded will enable the local industry to increase its production and thereby reduce its protective needs. The industry will be reviewed by the board in three years time.
Customs Tariff Proposals No. 14, which I have also tabled, provides temporary duties on certain heat resisting glassware for cooking purposes and on certain glass tumblers and the like. The temporary duties proposed are in accordance with the recommendation of a special advisory authority and will apply only until the industry has been examined by the Tariff Board and the Government has considered its report. I commend the proposals to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Reports on Items.
– I present reports by the Tariff Board on the following subjects: -
Bobby pins of ferrous metal.
Passionfruit juice and passionfruit pulp.
Precision ground ball bearings.
Tinsmiths’ snips or shears.
The report on passionfruit juice and passionfruit pulp is the only report of those I have tabled which does not necessitate any change in customs duties. The Tariff Board’s recommendation for an increase from 45,000 to 60,000 gallons per annum in the duty free by-law admission of passionfruit juice and passionfruit pulp from New Guinea has been accepted by the Government. The Customs Tariff Proposals which I have just introduced propose the necessary legislation to implement the recommendations of the Tariff Board in the other reports tabled. I also lay on the table of the House a report by a special advisory authority on the following subject: -
Ordered to be printed. .
Debate resumed (vide page 1816).
.- The dried vine fruits stabilization plan for currants, sultanas and raisins represents another very commendable attempt to bring yet another primary industry out of the wilderness of insecurity and uncertainty and give it the measure of security and stability which is as much the right of the primary producer as tariff protection is of the manufacturer and arbitration court decisions are of the worker. That the plan has been accepted in a poll of growers by an overwhelming majority is not surprising and reflects an increasing confidence of growers generally in forming partnerships with the Government in the marketing of primary produce. This measure is a realization by the Government that a primary industry will remain healthy only if it enjoys reasonable protection from the violent fluctuations of uncontrolled and disorderly marketing. Dried vine fruit growers are as much subject to uncertainties and seasonal conditions as are other primary producers, and if a plan can be devised to take some of the uncertainty and some of the gamble out of the final net return from a crop by means of long-term stabilization, backed in the first instance by growers’ money and in the final analysis by the Treasury, then a major contribution has been made in the direction of justice and equity for an important sector of rural enterprise.
The guaranteed return to the grower has been fixed as the result of an investigation by officers of the Division of Agricultural Economics. The Government has adjusted the price upwards by approximately £3 a ton, and it is a price which is realistic and not one which will unduly reward the inefficient producer. By the same token it provides an incentive for increased efficiency. The plan does not, through its stabilization provisions, involve the Treasury in an unlimited contingent liability, but very wisely places a ceiling on the total production in any one season which can attract Treasury support. It is important to appreciate that this ceiling on a quantity basis has been applied to each individual variety, thus protecting a poor crop of currants from a large crop of raisins, and vice versa.
The quantities guaranteed under the plan are realistic, and a season in which these quantities are exceeded would indicate an above average yield which would carry a compensating factor of lower average production costs. The provision in the plan which relieves growers from contributing to the stabilization fund irrespective of how good the price may be in the event of the crop yielding a very low tonnage is an excellent innovation in stabilization planning, and in effect is a recognition that when an arbitrary guaranteed price operates the cost of production increases as yields fall. This principle could be extended to stabilization plans supporting other primary industries. The participation of approved industry organizations in the operation of the plan is consistent with its overall design; that is, a working partnership between government and grower. I confidently predict that this arrangement will make a valuable contribution towards goodwill, understanding and appreciation of each other, particularly during its formative years.
The concession agreed to by the Government not to require any moneys remaining in the stabilization fund at the end of the five-year period to be retained to support a continuation of the plan is extremely generous. Nevertheless, it is consistent with the idea that this is in effect a fiveyear contract and that at the end of the contract any remaining funds contributed by the industry will be returned to the industry. This again is an advantage peculiar to dried vine fruit-growers.
The provision not to disrupt existing industry marketing and equalization arrangements is wise. The Australian Dried Fruits Control Board has done an excellent job and has gained invaluable experience in this specialized field of marketing over a period of many years. The board has brought the industry through many disturbed periods. In 1962, it faced a most difficult problem of organizing the marketing of a record production of over 95,000 tons in the face of serious and unnecessary cut-throat competition from Turkish and Greek exporters. Dried fruit production in Greece for 1962 was estimated at almost 190,000 tons. The board was established in 1925 and in the intervening years has gained vast experience in the handling of an industry which is noted for its violently fluctuating conditions in both production and price. At present the industry is endeavouring, in common with most other primary industries, to cope with the problem of inflated costs at home and to market a large percentage of its production overseas in a market which is quite disinterested in Australian production costs.
Extremely high freight rates for carriage to overseas markets has further aggravated this difficult situation. The incidence of high shipping freight rates on the f.o.b. returns of Australian exports is particularly severe. On dried fruits shipped as general cargo to the United Kingdom and the Continent the rate has increased by 2S6 per cent. There does not appear to be any relief to be gained from the situation by using an Australian national line for the transportation of Australian exports to foreign markets, as it now costs about as much to ship a ton of general cargo in Australian interstate ships from Brisbane to Fremantle as it does from any Australian port to the United Kingdom and Continent of Europe.
The freight rates on canned and dried fruits are higher. To what extent this position is accounted for by the Australian wage structure has never been precisely determined, but it is significant that while overseas freight rates have increased by 256 per cent, since 1930, the basic wage - to say nothing of margins - has increased by 245 per cent, in the same period. If we are to accept the principle of the worker receiving wage justice in relation to the economic climate in which he and his family live - and I believe we do - surely we must commend the legislation before us. In a modest manner it endeavours to go some of the way along the same road in the direction of the dried vine fruits producer.
There exists some opinion against the expansion of Australian plantings of dried vine fruits. There is nothing new in these thoughts and from time to time they have been aired in respect of almost every primary industry. It is fortunate that they have nol been acted on as Australia’s overseas funds would not have achieved their present healthy state if pessimism had prevailed. World production of dried vine fruits can be expected to increase, but so also will world population, and what is more important, so will standards of living, particularly in the emerging countries. In many of these countries, dried fruits are not yet a traditional part of the national diet and it is to be hoped that the new level of organization at all industry stages, which this bill will promote, will also intensify thinking along the lines of positive sales and publicity efforts in these areas by the industry itself.
The pattern now being established by this legislation will permit the industry and the Government to look more closely at the question of scientific research in which the industry is a full partner. There is clear evidence that very wide fields of research are as yet unexplored in the areas of production, processing and marketing.
The history of primary industry stabilization and marketing plans reveals that they have seldom been perfect in their original form, as is true of so many other pieces of new machinery. There is no reason to believe that this plan will prove an exception, but the important thing is to place it on the statute-book and work to perfect it from that point. I support the bill as a most valuable contribution to the welfare and progress of the dried vine fruits industry of Australia.
.- I want briefly to mention some of the points of interest of this stabilization legislation. I want first to take to task the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Maisey) for one of the statements he made. He referred to freight rates in relation to the possibility of the establishment of a national shipping line. This point, of course, has a great bearing on the sale and marketing of dried fruits, as it has upon all our exports, whether they are wheat, wool or manufactured articles.
I am rather surprised that the honorable member for Moore and other members of his party generally are not in favour of at least trying to start some sort of competition among the shipping lines which serve on the trade routes leading to and from Australia. It should be common knowledge shared by the honorable member and all members of the Australian Country Party that the conference shipping lines have been holding this country and our exporters to ransom. I remind members of the Country Party in particular that our exporters are principally primary producers and f-r a long time they have been held to ransom by the shipping lines; I think that this situation has existed for far too long. Indeed, we have seen the situation arise where this Government has paid subsidies amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds annually to foreign shipping lines carrying our products overseas. One shipping line decided that it could not continue to carry our products to South America and some of our exporters were left without means of exporting their products to that market. I repeat that I am surprised that members of the Country Party do not at least attempt to introduce competition.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that we have a private enterprise government whose supporters talk about competition. It is evident to us and to Government supporters that there has been no competition between the shipping lines to reduce freight rates to overseas markets.
The honorable member for Moore referred to wage justice. This is something in which the Opposition has a great deal of interest and always has had. We agree that wage justice should apply not only to those persons who work for a wage, whether they are unionist employees in factories or on farms, but also to those persons who are engaged in primary production. That is why the Labour Party has always supported organized marketing and the institution of stabilization schemes for primary producers so that they might, in an orderly fashion and with some sort of security, market their goods in Australia and throughout the world. Past records show that the Opposition has an interest in these things. I am sure that honorable members who belong to the Australian Country Party and the Liberal Party will not disagree with me when I say that a Labour government, and particularly the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in that government, were responsible for the introduction of the wheat stabilization scheme and, as I recall, the dairy industry price stabilization scheme. Those schemes placed two of Australia’s great primary industries on a stable basis. I believe that this should not be forgotten by primary producers.
As the honorable member for Lalor has said, we approve the stabilization scheme for the dried fruits industry We approve it for two reasons. First, as I have said, we on this side have always strongly approved of anything that will afford security to primary producers. For this reason, we approve the present scheme. The other reason for which we approve it is that many of the producers in this industry were settled on their properties under soldier-settlement schemes. As soldier settlers, they deserve every consideration by the community and by this Parliament. Their position looks much brighter now, with respect to both production and prices, than it did a Vear or so ago.
The honorable member for Lalor mentioned that he and I, together, visited the Sunraysia district. While there, we met the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). One could almost go so far as to describe him as the sultana of Sunraysia. It is true that he has a keen interest in the measures that we are now considering. He lives in the Sunraysia district and he understands the problems of the producers there. The honorable member for Lalor and I went to the district to examine the problems of the industry. We found that it was confronted by many problems. The position in 1963 was in sharp contrast to the present position. In 1963, a great number of growers were in dire financial straits. At present, of course, the prospects for satisfactory prices overseas are good, and it appears that record crops may be on the way. In addition, the stabilization scheme will give the producers greater security. So, present prospects are a lot brighter in the Sunraysia district and in other areas where dried fruits are produced. However, this was not the situation even less than twelve months ago.
The stabilization scheme now proposed (ils come about for a number of reasons. Last year, many of the growers were living from hand to mouth. Many were in debt to the packing houses up to their eyebrows. Some growers had been forced to resort to loans and financial guarantees to so great an extent as to reduce them to living on £5 a week. They were in desperate circumstances. When the honorable member for Lalor and I visited the Sunraysia district, the growers pleaded with us to use our influence with the Government, if any, in an effort to obtain some sort of relief. I greatly regret that the Government did not see eye to eye with us and did not give the producers the assistance for which they asked. However, the need for that assistance now appears to have passed, desperate though the position was last year. Situations like that come and go in industries that have no security under stabilization schemes. In such industries, ups and downs occur, such as are seen in the wool industry. In recent years, we have seen great peaks in the wool industry, with high production and good prices, followed by a decline to the bottom of the trough, with the producers reduced to a desperate situation such as occurred a year or two ago. I only hope that some sort of stabilization scheme for that industry will be introduced in the near future.
The dried fruits industry faces intense competition overseas, mainly by Greece and Turkey. The principal problem confronting the Australian producers of dried fruits last year was the intense competition by Greece and Turkey, where growers were heavily subsidized by their own governments. Consequently, the producers in those countries were able to undersell the Australian producers in many markets, particularly in the United Kingdom and other European countries. This presented a great problem. But that problem has now been largely overcome by the signing of an agreement between Australia on the one hand and Greece and Turkey on the other. I should like again to commend Mr. Eugene Gorman on his great work in bringing together the dried fruits interests in Greece and Turkey, two traditional enemies, to talk over the problem and ultimately to sign the agreement. His deed has been considerable.
Only a week or two ago, I asked the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) a question about the possible effect on Australian producers of dried fruits of the dispute in Cyprus. 1 believe that we cannot disregard events there. The conflict on that island is very unfortunate, and the Australian dried fruits industry has to look ahead and be prepared. Greece and Turkey have been traditional enemies for centuries. People of Greek blood and of Turkish blood who live in Cyprus are engaged in what is virtually a small-scale war. It is quite evident that the home governments of the two warring factions have been prepared to go to war over the situation in Cyprus. A war would be dreadfully unfortunate, and in addition it would completely upset trading relations and could affect Australia in more ways than one. One effect on us would be a return of the intense competition by Greece and Turkey in overseas markets for dried fruits. The Australian industry has seen the effects of this competition before and could well have to face them again. I know that all honorable members hope that this will not happen. As I have said, this competition previously resulted in the Australian product being undersold in overseas markets.
A second cause of the difficulties faced by the growers in 1963 was one of the smallest crops on record. I cannot remember definitely, but I think it had been something like 40 years since a smaller crop had been harvested. This inevitably meant that the gross returns to the growers were greatly diminished. One must remember that the ordinary expenses of the producers of dried fruits continue on very much the same scale as usual whether the crop is large or small. Even if no grapes are harvested and no dried fruits are sold, pruning and other costs have to be met. This is a special circumstance that applies in the dried fruits industry and not in many other primary industries.
Another important factor at which the industry must look, I believe, is the remarkable decline in the domestic consumption of dried fruits since pre-war days. About 20 per cent., or perhaps 25 per cent., depending on the total production for the year, of the Australian output of dried fruits is consumed at home. Individual consumption was about 51 lb. a head prewar and is now about 4 lb. a head. The fall has been remarkable. I believe that the industry ought to look at this situation and find out why the Australian people are not consuming as much per person as in pre-war days. The Australian product is good. There is no suggestion that any other country produces raisins, currants or sultanas better than ours. Our product is equal to the best overseas. Vet our own community is not consuming as much per head. I believe that the industry ought to look at itself. Something is wrong somewhere. Apparently, it is not doing the job that it ought to do. I think that the industry should make a greater effort to promote its own products in Australia. After all, the home market is always the most reliable. It is not upset by agreements between other countries or political movements or economic changes overseas. Trade relations are not affected. The product is grown at, say, Mildura, and sold at Bendigo, Melbourne, Sydney or some other place in Australia. Our home market is our most reliable market, as it is for most of our primary products. The industry should make a greater effort to promote its product at home.
One of the great difficulties that the industry has faced, and now faces as far as I can tell, is the long waiting period before the growers receive the full payment for their products. The usual practice is for the packing house to make a down payment of so much a ton on the product, whether it be raisins, currants or sultanas, and this is followed by monthly payments. The full payment is sometimes spread over a period of eighteen months or two years. I think some effort should be made to complete the total payment within a shorter period. I know that, when growers want to finance replanting or some similar activity, they can approach a bank or the packing house for a loan, but it is better for them to use their own money than to borrow at high rates of interest. Payment of interest keeps up costs, and costs are a problem in the industry. This stabilization scheme will not only guarantee security for the growers and the industry itself but will also enable the banks and the packing houses to lend with much more confidence to the grower who finds himself in difficulties or in need of additional capital to expand, replant and so on. I think that the industry, the Australian Dried Fruits Association and perhaps the Government should examine the method of payment to growers. They now must wait a long time before they are paid in full for their products, and only good could come from an examination of the system.
Many of the blocks were established in the 1920’s, more than 40 years ago, and the yield from vines of that age naturally has diminished. Accordingly, many growers are finding it necessary to replant. They have been unable to do so because of the fluctuations in returns over the years. The unevenness of the returns has prevented them from building up reserves that they could use for replanting. Some of the growers, particularly the small growers, will have great difficulty in finding the finance for replanting. One of the great advantages of this stabilization scheme is that in future they will be able to count on a reasonable return and will have some security. They will know that they will get an adequate return for the crops that they produce.
There is another problem confronting the industry and I am afraid I cannot offer any solution to it. Forty years ago an economic block apparently was considered to be anything from 14 acres upwards. In these days of high costs the growers with blocks of 14, 15 or 16 acres just cannot make headway. Such blocks are too small. Growers cannot produce enough on them and cannot get an adequate gross return from their production. The problem is solved in some ways by a grower who is doing well buying out his neighbour. The smaller growers are being swallowed up. But this is not an entirely satisfactory solution to the problem. In southern New South Wales, to the north of Mildura in the Sunraysia area, the New South Wales Government has been much wiser in recent years. The minimum size of blocks there is now 25 acres. Growers with blocks of this size have a chance, even in difficult times, to produce enough to get some sort of a return. In difficult times, such as 1962 when the overseas market collapsed, growers with blocks of 14 or 16 acres are in desperate circumstances.
I should like to ask the Minister a question about this stabilization scheme, and I hope that he will be able to answer it satisfactorily. The wheat stabilization scheme, for instance, guarantees the cost of production. If the cost of production is 13s. 5d. or some such amount, this cost of production is guaranteed to the grower. I ask the Minister to say why this stabilization scheme gives the growers a guarantee of £5 less than the cost of production. This was called a give-and-take stabilization scheme. The grower does not put into the fund until his return exceeds the cost of production by £5 a ton and the Government does not put into the fund until the returns fall short of the cost of production by £5 a ton. I ask the Minister for a simple explanation of this situation.
– The guarantee for wheat relates only to a certain quantity, not the total.
– I know that that is so, but there is also a quantitative provision in this stabilization scheme. I would have thought that a fair thing would have been for growers to be guaranteed the cost of production. The cost of production in this scheme contains a number of items. It contains what we call the imputed costs, which is most important, and the owneroperator allowance, which I understand in the reduced figure is £1,085. In other words, it includes something for wages, if I may use that term. Interest and other items are also included. This is fair enough. Wheat-growers are given a guarantee of the cost of production. It is true that there is a quantitative clause in the wheat stabilization scheme, but there is a quantitative clause in this scheme. I am at a loss to understand why the cost of production was not guaranteed in this scheme. Such a guarantee is given to the wheat industry and I would have thought it fair enough to give the same guarantee to this industry.
The Opposition approves of the stabilization scheme. We have always approved of organized marketing and stabilization schemes. This scheme will give a measure of security to dried vine fruit-growers and I hope that in the near future similar schemes will be provided for other industries. I refer to the egg industry and to other industries that face the problem of ups and downs in production and returns. These fluctuations do not enable a primary producer to plan ahead or to make any definite move for expansion or mechanization or whatever it might be in the industry. Sometimes the producer does not have an adequate return on which to maintain his family. This was the situation in this industry until twelve months ago. I, along with the Opposition, support the bill.
.- The purpose of the bill is to implement a scheme for the stabilization of returns to dried vine fruit-growers for the period of five years commencing with the 1964 crop, which has just been delivered to the packing houses. First, I want to say that I am delighted with the bill. I thank the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) for visiting Mildura, Sunraysia and Robinvale to inspect at first hand the dried fruits industry with a view to submitting this legislation. The. dried vine fruit-growers are generally very pleased with the bill. 1 want to quote from portion of a letter received from Mr. R. B. Curtis, general secretary of the Australian Dried Fruits Association. He said -
Very soon I anticipate that the bill-
He was referring to the stabilization bill - will become law and in the meantime the association is already going ahead with a great deal of the preliminary detail so that the plan will operate expeditiously and efficiently.
People in the dried fruits industry are already making plans to put this legislation into operation. On his visit to Sunraysia the Minister addressed a number of meetings and met many dried vine fruit-growers. He encountered one of the wettest days Sunraysia has experienced in years, but that did not deter the Minister from inspecting the dried fruit blocks and the packing houses. Many people thought that it was not a fit day to be out of doors. The Minister was enthusiastic about doing something for the industry. His interest in the industry has culminated in the introduction of this legislation. The Minister must be as pleased as I am with the vote cast by the growers. Of the growers enrolled, 88 per cent, cast their votes and 91 per cent, of the vote? cast were in favour of the scheme offered by the Government. It is apparent that the Minister was very alert to take into consideration everything that was put before him at the meetings in Sunraysia and in Other parts because most of the points that were raised by growers and members of the Australian Dried Fruits Association have been covered.
I listened attentively to the speech made by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). I compliment the honorable member on his speech. It was one of the best speeches I have heard him make. He was completely non-political. I think he realizes that this is not a political subject; it is something for the benefit of an Australian industry. This industry was responsible for the land settlement of exservicemen and it has become one of Australias’ greatest decentralized rural industries. Realizing that, the honorable member for Lalor, who is himself a returned soldier, treated the bill in a non-political manner. I assure him that his action is appreciated.
I cannot say exactly the same about the speech made by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton). He supported the bill but I thought he did so grudgingly. He did not state that it was a good bill but he admitted that it was a good bill. What a world of difference there is between those two expressions. The honorable member for Lalor stated that this was a most important bill. That is why I appreciated his remarks. I know that the honorable member for Bendigo is a fair man. I know that both he and the honorable member for Lalor visited Sunraysia some time after the Minister went there and told the growers what he would do. I met the honorable member for Lalor and the honorable member for Bendigo in Sunraysia. They were given a civic reception. They found the people there most courteous. Anybody who visits this great tourist centre of Mildura, where it is said summer winters, will find the people most courteous. The people extended their normal courtesy to the honorable member for Lalor and the honorable member for Bendigo on their visit to Sunraysia.
I pass through the electorate of Bendigo twice a week when the House is sitting and I admire the beautiful apples at Harcourt. Only the other day when the apple and pear legislation was before the House I spoke about Harcourt. I assure the honorable member for Bendigo that if he puts forward a good stabilization plan aimed at helping the apple-growers of Harcourt he will have my best support. I think stabilization schemes are vitally necessary to our primary industries to-day. If the honorable member invites me to do so I will go into his electorate and try to convince the growers in Harcourt that they should have a stabilization plan.
For some time before the Minister visited the dried vine fruits growing area I had advocated a stabilization plan for the industry. Any primary industry that is not stabilized to-day is out of focus with conditions at home and abroad. This is because, in our present economy, the value of goods which primary producers, such as dried vine fruit-growers, have to buy has been increasing. But the dried fruits industry sells between 70 per cent, and 80 per cent, of its production overseas to countries with standards of living lower than Australia’s and, therefore, the growers have had to accept prices which, generally speaking, have been lower than would be available in Australia. This is why it has become vital for this industry to be stabilized.
Some speakers in the debate have said that stabilization will give the growers greater security. I think the honorable member for Bendigo said that. The Hansard report will bear me out word for word; I wrote them down. I do not know about greater security. As far as I am aware the growers did not have any security previously. As I pointed out to the growers, when they delivered their fruit to the packing sheds they did not have the slightest idea how much they would get for it. Now they know the minimum that they will receive for their fruit. In future conditions in the industry will be very different from those which existed in the past. The honorable member for Bendigo has asked why full payment for the product cannot be made earlier. The reason is that you cannot pay fully for the product until it is sold. We know that the Victorian Onion Marketing Board at one stage made advance payments and that when the onions were sold the price obtained for them was not as high as the advance that had been paid. As a result the board was left with a debt, much of which it could not collect from the growers. So you must wait until the product has been sold. You cannot ask the packing sheds to make full payment, as the honorable member for Bendigo suggested.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member said that he thought full payment for the product should be made earlier.
– I did not say that. I said we should look into this matter and try to do something about it.
– We have looked into it and we have found that stabilization of the industry will overcome this anomaly. When the price is guaranteed the packing sheds and the bankers will know exactly how much the fruit will be worth and the grower should be able to finance against the fruit he has delivered to the packing shed. Having done that, he will be in a much better position.
I was rather interested in the comment made by the honorable member for Bendigo about the shipping line. Sitting beside me in this House is the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Maisey) who was a member of the Australian Wheat Board.
He has pointed out to me - I thought it was worthy of note - that the cost of shipping wheat from Fremantle to Sydney in the Australian shipping line was as high as shipping from Canada to Sydney in the international lines. Honorable members opposite say, “ We want an Australian overseas shipping line “. But the facts of the matter are not as they are presented by some honorable members opposite. Every one knows about the strikes on the waterfront that have disrupted the operation of many overseas shipping lines and the process of exporting. If the Australian Government set up an overseas shipping line, there is not the slightest doubt in the world that before very long there would be strikes, costs would be higher and things would be the same as they were when the last Australian overseas shipping line was in operation. Although that line may have saved the primary producers some money for a certain period, the cost of it was so high that the Australian economy could not sustain it. It was like the Glen Davis mine, which was losing hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, but the Labour Party wanted to keep it going.
Let us see what has been happening in the dried fruits industry. I do not want to quote everything that every one else has said. The details have been given, and I desire to refer only to the broad principles. It is interesting to note that over the last five years the average pack weight of currants was 9,200 tons, that the quantity now to be guaranteed is 13,500 tons, and that if the crop in one year is under 8,000 tons the grower does not have to contribute. Over the same period, the average pack weight of sultanas was 62,600 tons. The quantity to be guaranteed is 75,000 tons, and if the crop in any year is under 50,000 tons the grower does not have to contribute. Again over the same period, the average pack weight of raisins was 7,700 tons. The quantity to be guaranteed is 11,000 tons, and if the crop is under 6.000 tons the grower does not have to contribute. One of the great virtues of this stabilization plan is that the grower does not have to contribute until he is receiving a reasonable return. He does not contribute until he is receiving at least £5 a ton over the cost of production. Therefore, he contributes only when he is in a reasonably good position. I use the word “ reasonable “ because the dried fruits industry is not as stable or prosperous as the wheat industry, the wool industry and many other Australian industries, and has not progressed as they have. It has been confronted with all sorts of conditions.
A grower may have his crop ready to pick and it may get black spot or be affected by frost. Many other things can happen and reduce his production tremendously. Even after he has picked the crop, if the drying period is bad he may incur heavy losses. This year the crop has been very good. In fact, it has been well above normal. In addition, this has been one of the best drying seasons that Sunraysia has ever known. If the growers can continue to grow reasonably good crops the stabilization fund will soon be in a very healthy condition. But I cannot speak about only the good things that happen. I have to tell people what the true position is. This stabilization scheme, like the wheat stabilization scheme, is linked with production. If a grower has a very poor crop - perhaps almost a complete failure - he is not assisted at all by the stabilization plan. Because the plan is linked to the tonnage, the more fruit a grower can produce the better off he will be. especially in respect of production up to the limit of the guarantee.
Growers have looked forward to a bill such as this for many years. About six or seven years ago a stabilization plan was submitted to the dried fruits industry. More people voted for it than against it. From memory, I think about 2,500 growers voted for it and about 900 voted against it. But the plan was defeated because many people did not vote at all. The conditions were that if a grower did not vote he was regarded as voting in the negative. So that plan was abandoned because of the apathy of the growers in not even coming forward to vote. This time the growers, realizing that the only chance the industry has to prosper is under stabilization, came along and voted in large numbers. People who, a few years ago, were right against stabilization of the industry are now very much in favour of it.
The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark), whose electorate adjoins mine over the Murray River, is to speak on this legislation. But we must remember that approximately 80 per cent, of the whole of Australia’s dried fruits production comes from the electorate of Mallee. The honorable member for Lalor said that the dried fruits industry is not like the wool industry, which is spread further afield. Sometimes it is very difficult to achieve stabilization of an industry when only one member of the Parliament represents the bulk of that industry. Dozens and even scores of members represent areas in which the dairy, wheat and wool industries are carried on.
Some complaint has been made about the fall in the Australian consumption of dried fruits. I think the honorable member for Bendigo said that the annual per capita consumption fell from 51 lb. or 5i lb. to 4 lb. That is quite right. Some of that fall may be attributable to the large influx of immigrants, because many of the people who have come to this country do not eat dried fruits. That is borne out by the fact that, although many of the countries from which those people came produce dried fruits, the Australian per capita consumption of dried fruits is higher than that of any other country. Mr. Speaker, some little time ago we were indebted to you for consenting to have dried fruits put on the tables of the parliamentary dining rooms. I suggest to you, Sir, that, if you were to take the amount that members of the Parliament ate as an indication of the average Australian consumption, the annual per capita figure would be nearer 25 lb. The dried fruits were put in nice bowls on the tables and I noticed that after the meal the bowls were empty. If members of the Parliament were to tell people all over Australia how much good dried fruits have done them and how much they appreciate dried fruits, the per capita consumption might be increased.
– You do not bring us up much dried fruit.
– I have been instrumental in getting all the dried fruit that honorable members have ever had in the parliamentary dining rooms.
I appreciate the introduction of this bill. I also appreciate the spirit in which it has been received. The dried fruits industry probably requires stabilization more than does any other industry. I pay the greatest possible compliment to the Minister for Primary Industry for the major part that he has played in bringing forward this legislation and submitting it to the Parliament and the people.
.- On behalf of the Australian Labour Party, I wish to say a few words on this legislation. It is very important. The purpose of the bill is to implement a scheme to stabilize the dried fruits industry over a period of five years. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) stated that the growers have looked forward to such a scheme for many years. This Government has been in office since 1949. Although the dried fruits growers have been trying for a long time to have such a scheme accepted by this Government, it is only now that they are to get it. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) might be looked upon as the reluctant bridegroom in this matter, in that it was very hard to get him to the party. I believe it was only Labour’s persistent prodding and its promise to produce a stabilization scheme at the recent election that hastened the decision of the Government to introduce the scheme.
The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) said that the Government cannot make advance payments to growers.
– I did not say that.
– You did. Under the present scheme in the wheat industry certain finance is made available to the Australian Wheat Board for advance payments to the wheat-growers. The full amount for the wheat is not paid in the one sum. Progressive payments are made. The growers are faced with the outlay of a certain amount for the handling of their current crop and preparing for the next crop before they receive full payment for the crop they have just produced. It has been pointed out to me by the dried fruits growers - 1 have it written here - that they feel that this scheme should be handled in a similar manner to the wheat scheme, and that advance payments should be made to the growers from Government sources at a reasonable and lower rate of interest than they pay to the packing houses at the present time. Sometimes growers have to wait a year or eighteen months for payment for their crop. In the meantime they have to pay a very high rate of interest on the advances made to them by the packing houses. For that reason the Government should provide the necessary advances. It is only a matter of the scratch of a pen for this to be done by the Commonwealth Bank, just as is done under the Australian Wheat Board’s scheme. This would be of material benefit to the producers of dried fruits.
The dried fruits industry has brought about decentralization. It is an industry very important to the life of Australia. It was established primarily for the settlement of returned soldiers, but many other people have since established themselves in it. The revenue that it produces from an area that otherwise would be running only a few head of sheep to the acre shows that the industry should be encouraged. As a matter of fact, the Government has done a good job in accepting the pleadings of the industry and bringing down this measure.
There is a great deal of uncertainty in the income that growers receive because it is substantially based on overseas sales. I have here the thirty-ninth annual report of the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board for the last year of publication, 1962-63. It is pointed out in this report that in the seven post-war years, 1946 to 1952, the average production of dried fruits was 63,978 tons. In the last year of record, 1962-63, the average production was 95,551 tons. So there has been a substantial increase in production, which has gone up by about 50 per cent, compared with the 1946-1952 average production.
Another important point with which the report deals is the Australian consumption of these dried fruits. In the same sevenyear period - from 1946 to 1952 - the yearly average of Australian consumption was 22,326 tons. For the last year of record, 1962-63, the Australian consumption was only 19,229 tons. As is Often pointed out, the home market is the best market for our products. That market should be exploited and developed to a far greater degree. We have a falling home market and an increase in our production of dried fruits. This makes it necessary to dispose of the increased production to overseas markets, which are subject to the problems of price cutting, under-production, over-production and other factors which influence them. Our average exports for the seven-year period 1946 to 1952 were 41,652 Ions. In 1962-63 our exports were 76,322 tons.
– That is a record year.
– So our export markets have been improved considerably. The honorable member for Mallee directs my attention to the fact that 1962-63 is a record year. That is because the Government limited the amount on which it proposed to pay a subsidy to the farmers. They do not receive any payment from the Government for any production over and above that amount.
The honorable member for Mallee also raised the matter of how the costs of the industry at home and the costs of exporting have gone up over the years. It is because of the wild inflation that has taken place since this Government came into office in 1949 that costs over that period have risen so considerably. Had those costs not increased at the rate they have dried fruit growers would have been substantially better off to-day because they would have been receiving greater profit from their exports. This report of the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board to which I have already referred also draws attention to the economic conditions of the dried fruits industry. It says -
The general condition of the Industry (admittedly subject to violent fluctuations) appears at the moment to be less satisfactory than in any year since legislation was introduced in 1925 . . for the orderly export marketing of Dried Vine Fruits.
The report points out that one of the chief factors concerned is the heavy increase of the cost of production over the past ten years. I emphasize that point, that one of the chief factors concerned is the heavy increase of the cost of production over the past ten years. This Government, which has been in office over that period, can blame only itself for allowing costs and inflation to get out of hand and thus cause the costs of primary industry to increase. This has affected the dried fruits industry just as it has affected the wool industry and all primary industries. Had costs been kept down and inflation controlled, something could have been done about this problem.
I remember that the Labour Party before leaving office put to this country a referendum proposal for powers to enable the Commonwealth to control prices. The members of the Australian Country Party and the Liberal Party at that time went out and strenuously opposed these proposals on the ground that competition would keep prices down.
– What a shocking thing to say.
– The Minister for Primary Industry, who has just interjected, is one of the members of the present Government who went out at that time and told the people that competition would keep prices down and that it was not necessary to amend the constitution to give the Commonwealth Parliament the power to control prices. The contention of the Labour Party that it was necessary for the Parliament to have these powers in order to stabilize the prices of our products has proved to be correct.
The board in its report expressed concern at the economic condition of the dried fruits industry. It said that the influence of speculative or boom conditions on land values had been another factor substantially affecting prices, lt went on to refer to the problem of shipping, specifically mentioning “ the extremely high rates of freight for the carriage of Australian dried fruits lo markets overseas “. This Government has persistently refused to do anything about establishing a Commonwealth shipping line to assist primary industries which export their products to overseas markets. Australia is an island continent and to-day we are trying to increase our exports. We are continually facing the problem of high shipping freight rates that have to be paid for the carriage of primary products. It is a shocking fact that freight charges on. goods that are brought here from other countries are much lower than the freight charges imposed for carrying goods from Australia to overseas markets. In other words, shipping companies grant concessions to overseas exporters sending goods to Australia while they slug the Australian exporter with high freight rates. They can do this because we have no shipping line to compete with them. If we had a line, even with only a few ships, we could exert some influence on freight rates.
I do not want to labour this point but I must direct attention to the fact that the Government has gone to great lengths to provide financial assistance for the Ansett airline to compete against the established government airline because it professes to believe in competition between the two airlines. In fact there is no such competition, because as soon as Trans-Australia Airlines gets ahead of its competitor the Government hops in and takes away some of the trade which has been gained by the government airline. My point is that if the Government is prepared to spend millions of pounds to assist a private airline to compete with a government-owned airline, it should also be prepared to spend money to establish our own shipping line to compete with overseas interests. We have a shipping line operating vessels in the coastal trade and it has done a very good job and has given a great service to industry. We should have a similar service operating overseas to look after the interests of our primary producers including the growers of dried vine fruits.
The report 1 have referred to devotes some space to the future outlook for Australian dried fruit. It urges a review of the dried fruits industry to make a determination of present and possible future production. Production must naturally increase as the years go by. I believe that additional markets will become available for the products of the industry. A good deal of effort will be needed to increase the home market. During the war years and immediate post-war years, when prices were a little higher overseas, growers were eager to export their products and were inclined to starve the home market. Many local consumers of dried fruits got out of the habit of using them. These people must again be induced to use dried fruits if our home market is to be increased. I believe that consumption in Australia can be substantially increased. I would like to see the industry spend a good deal of time and capital in advertising its products in order to increase the home market. It is, as I have said, the best market. It is a market in which you have a chance of ensuring a reasonable price for your product which is something that cannot be done in overseas markets.
There is one other aspect of the situation to which I should refer. Representatives of the industry came to the Government a year or so ago and asked for a government subsidy or payment to help them over a difficult period. The Government refused that assistance and many producers have had great difficulty in remaining on their properties. Before I resume my seat I wish to refer to the following remark which was made by the Minister in his second-reading speech: -
On export markets the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board will continue to exercise control over minimum prices and terms and conditions of sale but subject to direction by the Minister where necessary. 1 would like the Minister to keep a close watch on this matter and to exercise some direction if the need for it should arise. I have brought up this subject in the Parliament in the past because of complaints made to me by many growers that all was not well in the fixing of prices and in the marketing of their products overseas. Charges have been made that prices have been manipulated by the sellers to their advantage and to the detriment of the growers in Australia. Having made those few remarks I shall conclude in order to hasten the passage of this measure so that greater prosperity may be brought to this great industry.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Clauses 1 to 5 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 6 (Cost of Production).
.- I am not at all satisfied about the facilities that will be available for advances to growers under this legislation. I am indebted to the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) and the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton) who referred to this feature of the bill. In clause 6 there is a mention of the guaranteed price to be paid to the grower, based on an estimated cost of production of £113 10s. a ton for currants, £109 5s. for sultanas and £101 for raisins. There is a specific guarantee that the money will be available to the growers, but of course it is appreciated and recognized that the full amount cannot be paid to the growers other than by means of a loan by the competent authority covering the whole of the expected proceeds. In this respect the ultimate proceeds that will be available will be as nearly known in this case as they are in the case of wheat. What happens now in respect of wheat? Deliveries of wheat to the Australian Wheat Board begin to come in very early in December, or thereabouts, each year. At that stage, the wheat-grower knows that he will receive a guaranteed price of 14s. lOd. or 14s. 6d. a bushel for a certain portion of his deliveries. The members of the Wheat Board and the Minister have a fairly accurate knowledge of what the growers’ ultimate return will be. They make such a realistic approach to this problem that, just prior to the beginning of the season, they can say, “ We have a fairly good idea of what this wheat crop will realize. We will now pay to the grower 9s., 10s., or Ils. a bushel, as the case may be, on delivery.”
– It is never anything less than lis.
– There is a wheatgrower who knows. I thank him for his help. The wheat-grower gets nothing less than lis. a bushel immediately his wheat goes into the custody of the Wheat Board. Under this measure, the grower of currants knows that ultimately he will receive something in the vicinity of £113 for his currants, because that is the guaranteed figure. It might be more or it might be less, but it will be around that figure. Allowing for certain contingencies, it ought to be possible for the Government to make arrangements with the Commonwealth Bank so that a substantial proportion of that £113 can be paid to the dried fruit grower upon delivery of his product to the packing shed, in the same way as the Wheat Board makes a payment to the wheat-grower upon delivery of wheat.
I can see certain difficulties, which the Minister will probably mention, but I have set out the facts. If that can be done with wheat, why cannot it be done with dried fruits? What is the advantage in making adequate advance payments in the case of wheat but not in the case of dried fruits? As I understand, just before the wheat season opens the Wheat Board presents to the Minister for Primary Industry, for signature on behalf of the Government, a document guaranteeing a loan of so many million pounds, and this money is used by the Wheat Board to pay an advance of not less than lis. a bushel to the growers. Under this legislation, the Australian Dried Fruits Association is to be set up as a registered company with some responsibility. It knows that ultimately £113 is to be paid to the growers for currants and that other sums are to be paid for other dried fruits. Why cannot such a company assume the responsibility of obtaining from the Minister his signature to a document guaranteeing a loan for a certain amount and then itself pay to the growers, say, seven-eighths of the guaranteed prices? If that were done, a grower would know that immediately his raisins, sultanas and currants arrived at a packing shed he would get a substantial advance payment.
No doubt the Minister will say that the grower delivers to a packing bouse and that the packing house itself will arrange to get money from a bank. I point out that the Wheat Board gets its money from either the Reserve Bank or the Commonwealth Trading Bank at very favorable interest rates. The packing houses or the owners of the fruit will not be able to get money from the private trading banks or even from the Commonwealth Bank at the advantageous rates at which the Wheat Board gets its money. I cannot see why the dried fruit-growers should not have the advantageous terms for advance payments that the wheat-growers enjoy. ] should like the Minister to tell me what difficulties there are in the way of doing this. I should like him to tell me why the Australian dried fruit-grower is left to the tender mercies of the private trading banks or packing houses and be required to pay higher rates of interest than the wheatgrower has to pay on money advanced to him pending the sale of his crop. I suggest that the dried fruit-growers should enjoy the same advantages under this scheme as the wheat-growers enjoy under the wheat stabilization scheme.
– There is an obvious difference between wheat and dried fruits, and there is a difference between the Australian Wheat Board and the type of organization that is to be set up in this case. The Wheat Board is a full trading board and wheat is a grain which is dealt wilh directly. No intermediate action is required to make wheat ready for the market. Dried fruits may be likened to sugar cane, which has to go to a mill for treatment. The canegrowers receive an advance payment on cane delivered to the mill, but that cane has to be manufactured into sugar and the final price received by the cane-grower is governed by the price received for the sugar. A similar consideration applies to dried fruits. The final price paid for the fruits is governed by the price received for the packed product.
This matter of finance was discussed very thoroughly with representatives of the industry. The Government was not necessarily reluctant to include a provision that the Reserve Bank should provide finance for the scheme, but the industry representatives asked that the position be left as it was. They wanted to deal with the packing houses and did not want to come under the umbrella of the Reserve Bank. I would point out to the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) that up to the present there has been no real security of price. We have had to depend on what we were able to obtain on the open market. Under this scheme, there will be security of price. The packing houses will know what the ultimate return will be and consequently should be able to make greater advance payments to the growers. This system should ensure far better payments to the growers, because the security will be there. In any case, this is the system that the industry chose. 1 repeat that dried fruits have to be treated at ibc packing houses before they are ready for the market, whereas wheat goes direct to the market. It requires no prior treatment.
.- The Minister has pointed out some differences and distinctions. 1 admit that they exist, but he has not dealt satisfactorily with the position that, although it is true that the packing house is not the direct owner of the dried fruits, in the sense that the Wheat Board may be the direct owner of wheat, it is as much the direct owner of the dried fruits as a butter factory is of butter delivered to it under the dairy industry stabilization scheme. The organization which administers the dairy industry stabilization scheme pays the producer an interim price, based on the amount of the Government guarantee. 1 suggest that the dairy industry equalization authority gets its money from the Commonwealth Bank in the same way as the Wheat Board does, and at the same favorable rates of interest. It would certainly get the money at more favorable rates of interest than those which any co-operative or proprietary packing house would have to pay to the trading banks for money with which to make advance payments to the dried fruitgrowers.
– But this is their choice.
– You say it is their choice, but perhaps the influence of the packing houses came into play.
– They had Hobson’s choice.
– Exactly, and we know what Hobson’s choice was. In any case, we do not know, nor does the industry know, what profit the packing houses would take, for themselves between receiving the money from the banks on the security of the fruit and lending it to the growers by way of advance payments. I think this is something that requires attention. It certainly does give rise to the thought that before long there may well have to be a change in the marketing set-up of this industry. It may be that the legislation wil! have to be amended to embrace all the activities of the Australian Dried Fruits Association.
– Experience might show us a better way.
Mr. POLLARD__ The Minister might be able to find a better way. Under my proposal the export control board, rather than the Australian Dried Fruits Association, would be given the responsibility of disbursing the advances to the packing houses. That would fit in with the functions that the packing houses now have. I accept the Minister’s explanation of the differences between this industry and the wheat industry, but I still say that there should be some means by which the packing houses, on behalf of the grower owner, could obtain money from the Reserve Bank at the same price as the Australian Wheat Board and the dairy produce equalization committee receive it. I hope that the Minister will consider my suggestion.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Adermann) - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 5th May (vide page 1537), on motion by Mr. Adermann.
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill is complementary to the Dried Vine Fruits Stabilization Bill 1964 which we have just passed. This measure empowers the collection of the contributory charges. The Opposition offers no objection to the bill and, consequently, will support it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Adermann) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 5th May (vide page 1538), on motion by Mr. Adermann -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Adermann) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 12th May (vide page 1766), on motion by Mr. Swartz -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Daly had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ this House is of the opinion that the bill fails to meet the urgent needs of the people of Australia as it does not provide for a full national health plan embracing adequate medical and hospital services available to all and, particularly, dees not (a) extend medical services to all persons, (b) em ure free hospitalization in public wards, (c) abolish the 5s. prescription fee, and (d) end the exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers “.
Mr. REYNOLDS (Barton) [5.331.- The bill rnakes two broad provisions. The first increases the Commonwealth’s contribution towards approved medical costs, and the second abolishes certain pharmaceutical benefits that have been available through membership of friendly societies and other organizations. Before this debate was adjourned the Opposition, through the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), moved an amendment to the second reading in the terms se! out in “ Hansard “.
I said yesterday that in my view the whole of the national health scheme could be subjected to three broad criticisms: First, that it is doctor-dominated to the exclusion of other important professional services available in the community, secondly, that it is not comprehensive and does not fulfil the requirements of the people in regard to health and in regard to research into problems of national health: and thirdly, that the act, as it stands, is incomprehensible. One would have to be a Philadelphia lawyer to understand the provisions of this many-ruled national health scheme. 1 am sure tha’ no honorable member could claim to be conversant with even the major provisions of this scheme. Most representations that I receive on this matter from my electorate relate to some clarification of the measure. No doubt other honorable members have the same experience.
This bill will assist patients to some degree, but in other respects it will merely contribute to their confusion about the scheme. I propose to deal first with the increased Commonwealth contributions for approved medical fees incurred by patients belonging to fund organizations. I want to say at the outset that this provision is long overdue. The Government has been reminded by the Labour Party many times of the inadequacy of these provisions. Even in 1962 only 63.7 per cent. of. medical fees incurred by patients belonging to fund organizations were recoverable through this scheme. That percentage was made up by 26.6 per cent, being borne by the Commonwealth and 37.1 per cent, being paid by the fund organizations. The poor sick old patients were left to foot the remainder of the bill. The contribution by patients towards medical fees was 36.3 per cent. But in addition to that expense, the patient had also to make his contribution to the fund organization for membership. This contribution has been increasing year by year. The patient also had the expense of contributions by way of income and social services taxation.
It is well nigh time that the Government came to the aid of sick people and any increased benefits to be introduced as a result of this bill are long overdue. I suggest that they are grossly inadequate and that patients will be left with a great deal to pay in respect of some medical services. The level of assistance to be provided under this legislation is subject to agreement by doctors not to increase their fees at any time in the future, unless some other increases are forthcoming from the Government or from the fund organizations. In other words, this proposition is wholly dependent on the stability of fess charged by doctors.
Last year I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health (Mr. Swartz) what the Government was doing to try to induce doctors to guarantee that their fees would not be increased every time that fund benefits or Commonwealth contributions to fund benefits were increased. 1 shall quote my question and the answer I received on 30th April, 1963 -
What progress has the Government made in its negotiations with the Australian Medical Association to establish a stabilized scale of medical fees for services rendered under the national health scheme?
I received this reply -
The Commonwealth has not been engaged in negotiations with the Australian Medical Association regarding a stabilized scale of medical fees for services under the national health scheme. However, I understand that representives of medical benefit organizations proposed to seek a conference with the Australian Medical Association with » view to discussing this matter but I do not know whether any progress has been made.
That is an admission by the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) that al that stage the Government was not interested in approaching the medical profession for the stabilization of fees. Yet in this House the Minister’s representative told us that the Commonwealth’s paltry contribution could not be increased unless doctors agreed to stabilize their fees. The Minister pointed out that to increase benefits would bc foolish if it only meant that doctor’s fees were to rise proportionately. Yet we have the admission on record that the Minister was not even planning to approach the Australian Medical Association to get some kind of stability. The amount of reliance we can place on continuance of the present situation can be gauged by a report in the “Sydney Morning Herald” as late as 31st August, 1963. The headline is “Doctors Decline To Freeze Their Fees “ and the report states -
The Eastern Suburbs Medical Association has withdrawn its support r-f a plan by the N.S.W. Branch of the Australian Medical Association to stabilize medical fees.
I understand that various other branches of the association have not agreed, or if they have agreed, their agreement has been subject to some pretty important qualifications related to an increase in the cost of living in the community generally, to wage increases and the like. In other words, nothing has been said inside or outside of this House to give us a reliable indication that medical fees charged to patients by doctors will not be so increased as to offset even the comparatively meagre increase in refunds to patients payable under this legislation.
I have indicated that I believe the provisions are inadequate. For instance, the most used service is that of a visit to a general practitioner’s surgery. In such cases the Commonwealth benefit is to be increased from 6s. to 8s. for each visit. In New South Wales a medical benefits organization provides a refund of 10s. a visit so that the total refund to the subscriber patient will be 18s. According to the Minister for Health, the most common charge by doctors at their surgeries is 25s. a visit. This means that even after payment of the increased benefit, a patient who visits a general practitioner in his surgery will receive a refund of only 72 per cent, of the cost of the visit. I have already pointed out that the patient must bear also the cost of his membership of a fund and his income tax and social services contribution into the bargain, but he is to receive a refund of only 72 per cent, of his costs when the payments of the organization and the Commonwealth are combined.
A patient who is very sick must be visited in his own home by a doctor. It is thought that the most common charge for such a service by a general practitioner is 35s. a visit. The total refund payable is the same as is payable in respect of a visit to the doctor’s surgery; that is 18s. The Minister has admitted that 25 per cent, of consultations with a general practitioner - one out of every four - take place in patients’ homes. A refund of 18s. out of a cost of 35s. represents 51.5 per cent., or just over half of the cost. Many doctors charge more than 35s. for a visit to a patient’s home and in those cases the amount refunded will represent a smaller percentage of the doctor’s charge. So I make two points. First, the amount of refund payable under this legislation is still grossly inadequate in many cases. Secondly, there is no guarantee that even this level will be preserved because no real assurance has been given that doctors will not increase their fees.
In the few minutes remaining to me I wish to refer to the second provision of the measure; that is in regard to pharmaceutical charges. Until now members of friendly societies have been able to obtain prescriptions under the national health scheme at less than the charge of 5s. a prescription. Henceforth all persons joining societies after 24th April - that is, new members - will not be allowed this concession and must pay the full 5s. charge. The Labour Party adopts the attitude that a charge of 5s. a prescription should never have been introduced. Even Government supporters - particularly the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) - have said that they thoroughly disagree with this provision. It makes a discrimination of the most arbitrary and far-reaching kind between members of friendly societies, as it does between members of other organizations with which people insure and thus have been able to obtain, up until now, a rebate of the 5s. charge. But persons who joined the organizations before 24th April are to be allowed for the rest of their lifetime to continue to receive the concession. Their dependants, already born or to be born in the future, will also receive the concession until they are sixteen years of age.
I suggest that the easiest way of eliminating this discrimination is to adopt the Australian Labour Party’s policy of abolishing the 5s. charge. I maintain that there is no need for this deterrent charge - as it has been called - in Australia. The simple truth is that in order to obtain a national health service prescription you must go to a doctor. As I have demonstrated, you must pay at least 7s. out of your own pocket, apart from contributing to a fund organization and paying taxation for the visit. If a doctor visits you at your home it will cost you 17s., using as a basis of calculation the most common charge by doctors. This ought to be sufficient deterrent to any over-use of national health scheme prescriptions. I feel that to abolish the charge of 5s. would be a very satisfactory way of getting rid of the anomalies that are to be introduced by this bill to an already confused national health scheme.
. -It is apparent that Government supporters do not have a great deal of enthusiasm for the legislation before us. This has been indicated by the fact that two Opposition members are required to speak in succession in order to continue the debate, and has been dramatically underlined by the half-hearted nature of speeches which have put the Government’s point of view. The first Government supporter to take part in the debate was the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth). I recall quite clearly, although he spoke last week, that his speech lasted nineteen minutes. He was able to gather his scattered thoughts sufficiently well to sustain a contention for only nineteen of the 30 minutes available to him. Even in that time, he managed to scrape up a good deal of criticism of this measure. He said -
That was substantially the essence of the argument put forward by the honorable member for Isaacs. He was followed from the Government side by the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs), who is a medical practitioner in private life, and whose remarks were rather intriguing. It rather seemed to me that he found nothing to complain about in the present national health scheme. Apparently, he thinks it is completely satisfactory.
– Why should he complain about it? He is a doctor.
– I hoped that the honorable member for Bowman would take a different view. He spent a great deal of time eulogizing the drug companies and monopolies. Indeed, he mentioned some of them in specific terms.
– Does the honorable member not think that the honorable member for Bowman, being a doctor, would know more than he docs?
– I hoped that, as a doctor, he would declare his concern at the deficiencies of the national health scheme, and I express my disappointment at the fact that he did not. He not only eulogized the drug monopolies but also struck out quite savagely at anything suggestive of a comprehensive national health scheme. Anything that appeared capable of giving the people any degree of security in time of sickness appalled the honorable member for Bowman. He lashed out at the national health scheme in the United Kingdom and instanced the various irritations of that scheme as they affected doctors as the main justification for his attitude. He did not show much concern for the people of the Bowman electorate, but he showed a great deal of concern for the British Medical Association, or the Australian Medical Association, as it is known at the present time. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) was the next speaker on the Government side. He spoke for only 21 minutes.
The lack of interest of Government supporters is indicative of the Government’s attitude towards the national health scheme and the debate on this measure. By contrast, the Opposition has declared the inadequacies of the present scheme in a very clear-cut way. Our view of the scheme is presented in explicit terms in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and supported by speakers on this side of the House. The amendment emphasizes our hopes for a comprehensive national health scheme. We have stated our ultimate aims and have intimated what we stand for. We have said quite clearly that we propose to institute a system of hospitalization without charge. The honorable member for Bowman could hope to have his attitude understood if he pursued a similar aim.
We have stated that we would abolish the 5s. fee for prescriptions. If I may echo the sentiments voiced by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds), let me say that, in this, we are not in bad company. When all is said and done, it was the chemists’ guild that vigorously opposed the original proposal in March, 1960, to introduce a 5s. fee for prescriptions. I do not know whether the guild has decided to abandon the high-principled attitude that it took at that time. Apparently, it is now advocating that the 5s. fee be imposed on prescriptions dispensed by friendly societies. In 1960, the guild chemists and the Opposition stood together and contended that the fee was not a deterrent to abuse and that the proposal would not work satisfactorily. All the available statistics indicate that the imposition of this prescription fee has not been justified, whatever may have been the motives that inspired it.
The Opposition would end the exploitation by drug manufacturers that has been taking place on such a large scale. We have stated that we are concerned about the inadequacy of the national health scheme and its failure to provide for dental and optical treatment, home nursing and physiotherapy. We have made a study of hospital systems throughout the world, and we know that the hospital services available in Australia leave a great deal to be desired. Opposition members have mentioned previously, and we intend to mention again at the committee stage of this bill, the need for salaried specialist medical staff in our general hospitals. The Commonwealth could do something about this by making special grants to the States for this purpose under the grants provision of the Constitution. We have stated that we would subsidize State governments that provide comprehensive out-patient clinics at hospitals. Such clinics, of course, would have the benefit of salaried specialist medical staff. We have also indicated the urgent need to provide domiciliary medical services, which represent an efficient and economical way of providing for many people.
The Australian Labour Party sees in this bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a very halfhearted attempt to bolster a health scheme that is fundamentally bad. We are just not receiving value for the money that we spend on health at present.
– Labour is not winning votes by its policy.
– I do not know whether the honorable member will be much concerned over the fact that I am about to relate. In 1962, expenditure under the Australian national health scheme was £29 a head, whereas the United Kingdom spent £26 a head. For £3 a head less, the United Kingdom scheme was able to provide all the services that I have just mentioned. In a situation such as this, those who are charged with responsibility for the government of this country should be endeavouring to establish the reasons why we in Australia are not getting as much value for our money as the people of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and many other countries are getting for their money.
What will this bill do? We can identify its principal provisions under several major headings. First, as I have said, this measure will inflict a 5s. prescription fee on all future new members of friendly society dispensaries. Undoubtedly, instead of alleviating any problems that may exist at present, this proposal will only aggravate the situation very seriously. The bill will also increase by one-third the Commonwealth benefit in respect of medical services. I remember that when the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) mentioned this matter in his policy speech for the last federal general election, the impression abroad was that the present refunds to patients under the national health scheme were to be increased by onethird. But something in the nature of a confidence trick has been perpetrated. The people have now learned that the Prime Minister’s undertaking applied only to the Commonwealth benefit. The present rate of Commonwaelth benefit in respect of a visit to a doctor or a visit by a doctor to a patient’s home is 6s. This is to be raised by one-third, or 2s., making the Commonwealth benefit 8s. for each visit. Obviously, there has been a blatant attempt to mislead the people.
As the honorable member for Barton has pointed out, the Government’s proposals leave a great deal to be desired. There will be no improvement in the pensioner medical service, in which deficiencies have been very much apparent since 1955. No fewer than 100,000 pensioners are deprived of the benefit of the pensioner medical service. This shows how ridiculous the whole situation is. The Government pays 8s. a day towards the cost of hospital treatment for a pensioner who has no penioner medical card and who does not belong to a hospital benefit fund. However, if such a pensioner enters a nursing home, a rest home or a convalescent home, the Government is prepared to pay no less than fi a day. I believe that it is fair to contend that people in hospitals are more likely to be really ill than are people who enter convalescent, nursing and rest homes. Yet the Commonwealth will pay only 8s. a day in respect of pensioners in hospitals, whereas it pays £1 a day in respect of those who enter nursing, convalescent or rest homes. Why are honorable members on the Government side not concerned about this? They are in a better position than the Opposition is to have something done. The Opposition has continually complained about this matter. Do honorable members opposite not understand what we are saying? Do they not believe us? Are they prepared to face the facts and draw the attention of the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) to the need to do something?
– Frankly, yes.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member say that he is prepared to rise to his feet and speak on this occasion when there is apparent disinterest on the part of Government supporters. The honorable member will be able to keep the debate going and perhaps support our contentions.
One of the major flaws of the bill is that it discriminates against the mentally ill. Of course, in general terms the national health scheme discriminates against the mentally ill. Hospital benefits are not paid to people who go into mental institutions. In fact, this Government is continuing the practice of not paying the pension to pensioners who go into mental institutions. The honorable member for La Trobe, who has been taking some slight interest in what is being said, would probably like to look at this matter. Age pensioners, invalid pensioners and widows numbering some thousands are deprived of their pensions as soon as they go into mental institutions and in addition they receive no benefit from the hospital contribution funds of which th:y may have been members for a lengthy period. In general, this is a hotch-potch of a scheme and it is impossible to patch it up. Let us look at some of the provisions. If a person suffers from an illness effecting his ears or nose, he is covered by this scheme, but if his illness effects his eyes or his mouth, requiring optical or dental treatment, he is not covered. How can this be justified? We suggest that serious consideration should be given to the very apparent need to include optical and dental care in the national health scheme.
I want to talk about the drug industry for a little while. Last year the Opposition exposed the drug companies which were charging excessively for their products. We showed that the average cost of a prescription in Australia was nearly twice as much as the average cost in the United Kingdom.
– You exposed this yourself.
– That is so. In 1962, the average cost of a prescription in Australia was 20s. 2d. The average cost in the United Kingdom was 10s. and in New Zealand 12s. 6d. We provided details in our exposure and we gave statistical evidence. The Government was reluctantly forced to take action. The cost of diuretic drugs was reduced quite dramatically by 10 per cent, to 16i per cent. These drugs are used extensively under the national health scheme in the treatment of kidney, heart and liver conditions. We drew attention to the cost of tetracycline and the cost of this drug was immediately cut by 10 per cent. We showed the extent of exploitation with Chloromycetin, and here a cut of 25 per cent, was effected. Although my pronunciation of these names may not be good, I am at least making a sincere effort to tell the House of the situation. Doubtless the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs), who is a medical practitioner, would do better, but he has not exhibited his interest in this topic. Then there is a drug called erythromycin. The cost of this drug was cut by 25 per cent. Then the cost of tetracycline was again cut by 10 per cent. I understand that this was the third cut made in the current financial year in the cost of this drug. We encouraged Cyanamid D.H.A. Proprietary Limited to be more reasonable in the charges it made for drugs.
– You asked for a royal commission.
– Yes, I did. This is still being pursued by honorable members. In another place, a few days ago, Senator Cohen asked a question of the Minister for Health. He asked -
What margin of profit still remains to the drug manufacturer on the drugs and is there room for further reductions?
Surely that is a worth-while proposition to put. The Minister replied -
Quite frankly, I do not know and 1 do not. want to know. This is a private enterprise country and we do not probe people as lo what margin of profit they are making.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– When the sitting was suspended I had been complaining that the Minister for Health had indicated, when questioned, that he did not know the rate of profit being earned by drug companies. Moreover, he said, in effect, that he could not care less. We on this side of the chamber consider this to be a most undesirable state of affairs because drug companies in Australia have been making excessive profits. This fact is probably best demonstrated by a reminder to the House that, when the Minister’s attention was directed by the Opposition to this matter last year, some very dramatic reductions were effected in the price of drugs.
Let me remind the House of the tremendous increase that has occurred in the cost of pharmaceutical benefits. When Labour was last in office - that is far too long ago - the average cost of prescriptions was 4s. 9d. That cost rose to a peak of 20s. Id. and has levelled off at the moment at 19s. 4d. In the last ten years, the bill for pharmaceutical benefits has increased from £9,200,000 to £45,800,000. It is true that there has been a big increase in the consumption of drugs by the community but in addition there has been a big increase in the price of drugs. We believe that something should be done at once about this matter.
Earlier this year, I asked the Minister how many drug companies were operating in Australia and which of them were completely owned and controlled by overseas interests. The Minister indicated that 1 19 major drug companies were operating in Australia, of which no fewer than 70 were completely owned and controlled by overseas concerns. A number of the remaining 49 were partially controlled by overseas concerns. Of course, this means that record dividends are pouring out of this country.
In answer to another question, the Minister gave me the names of some of the principal drug companies that are completely owned by overseas interests. I am sure many Australians will be surprised to hear the names of some of (hose companies. I do not have time to read the complete list. Some of them are wellknown names. All are completely owned by overseas interests. They include Abbott Laboratories Proprietary Limited; Boots Pure Drug Company (Australia) Proprietary Limited; Burroughs Wellcome and Company (Australia) Limited; Cyanamid D.H.A. Proprietary Limited; Glaxo-Allenburys (Australia) Proprietary Limited; Eli Lilly (Australia) Proprietary Limited; Parke Davis and Company Limited; Schering Corporation, U.S.A.; Smith, Kline and French Laboratories (Australia) Limited; the Upjohn company; and Winthrop Laboratories. A lengthy list of drug companies owned by overseas interests has been provided, not by me or somebody else in the Opposition, but by the Minister for Health himself.
The next matter that we must concern ourselves with is: What are these companies doing? Earlier this year, I asked the Minister -
Is he able to state the names of the pharmaceutical companies at present being investigated under anti-trust laws in the United States of America on charges of monopoly practices or conspiracy to fix prices against the public interest?
That was a fair question. I also asked whether any of those concerns had subsidiary companies or branches in Australia which might reasonably be expected to indulge in the same kind of misdemeanour as the parent company has been indicted for under the United States anti-trust legislation. The Minister replied-
I have not received official reports of the investigations referred to, which, 1 understand, are not finalized. My department is constantly engaged in negotiations with drug companies regarding prices charged for drugs which may be supplied as pharmaceutical benefits, and, wherever possible, within the limits of its legal powers, to secure agreements to prices for these drugs on a fair and reasonable basis.
But I still do not know which of the companies operating in Australia are subsidiaries or branches of the overseas concerns that have been indicted under the Sherman antitrust legislation. The Minister in another place indicated that he just does not care about the rate of profit being earned by these companies in Australia, nor does he want to know how much profit they earn. This is a matter in which the Government should accept some responsibility, but so far it has failed completely to concern itself with the problem.
In the limited time available to me, I want to refer to the listing of drugs under the national health scheme. The list of drugs which may be prescribed under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and which I hold in my hand is available to every chemist in Australia and to every honorable member. I hope it is available to “ Hansard “ so that the reporter may properly spell the names of the drugs to which I shall refer. In this list there is a wide differential of price in respect of the same generic substance or type of drug. If the Government- had heeded the warnings and accepted the advice previously given to it, not only by me but also by other people, including the chemists’ guild, it could have effected a saving of many millions of pounds in the cost of drugs. Some people go so far as to say that the Government could cut the price of pharmaceuticals bv one-third if it put an end to the practice of allowing such a wide disparity of price in respect of the same kind of drug.
For some time, it has been contended that these drugs should be listed, not by their brand names or the names of the manufacturers but only by their generic names. There is a good deal to be said for that proposition. After all, every drug should be required to comply with the standard of the British Pharmacopoeia. That is to say, there should be only one standard - a given standard. No matter what the drug is, the standard should be as measured by the proper authority. Let us set up our own standard if we wish to. We are at present trying to do that under the activities of the National Biological Standards Laboratory. I think the Minister has admitted that this is being done.
Last September, in another place, Senator McClelland asked the Minister for Health a question. The honorable senator referred to item 134 in the list of drugs under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. That item is Carbimazole, oral tablet, 5 mg. The honorable senator was able to show that the price of that drug ranged from 19s. 8d. for 100 tablets to 32s. 4d. for 100 tablets. In respect of item 145, which is Chloramphenicol, 125 mg. oral capsules, Senator McClelland showed that the price ranged from 12s. 4d. for sixteen capsules to 18s. 4d. for the same quantity. Senator McClelland gave several other examples of a wide differentiation in price as between manufacturers. The Minister admitted that this differentiation existed. He said -
There are a number of instances of prices which appear to be higher than can be reasonably explained. The Government’s views on drug prices have already been made clear, namely, that we are well aware of the situation and that something will have to be done about it.
But the disparity in prices to which I have referred is in respect of the same generic substance in each instance. Why do we have a price differential? Let me refer to one or two other variations in price. These may be checked in this booklet that is available throughout the length and breadth of the country. I am told that Reserpine tablets are used fairly extensively for certain ailments or conditions. I am not an expert on these matters. This booklet shows that in respect of item 1983, which is Reserpine tablets in packages of 100, the price ranges from 7s. 8d. to 9s. 8d. These are .25 mg. tablets. There are no fewer than eleven suppliers of this commodity. Why should there be five different prices for this commodity which comes from eleven different suppliers? It is the same commodity in every case, and the people of this country are paying the bill. Either 7s. 8d. is a reasonable price or 9s. 8d. is a reasonable price, but you cannot have it both ways. The Government should not condone this differential in price. Paracetamol tablets in packets of 50, each tablet being 500 mg.-
– What is that?
– I would not have a clue. You have a doctor on your side of the House. He could have been of considerable assistance if he had shown an interest in this topic. I hope that the next time he rises to speak on the national health scheme he will make some constructive suggestions as to how we can get better value for our money.
There are many things that we need in our national health scheme. I said that before dinner and before the honorable member for Balaclava came into the chamber. We need to provide care for the teeth and care for the eyes. We need to give the Australian people a degree of security which they do not have at present but which is available in a number of other countries. The way to do that is to take an intelligent interest in the subject. If there is a doctor in the House who is capable of doing that, we should have the benefit of his assistance and advice, so that we laymen will not have to labour in a field which is pretty difficult for us. If he looks at item No. 1746 - paracetamol tablets, 500 mg. - he will see that the prices range from 9s. 5d. to 12s. 9d. That is not good enough. In regard to Item No. 1263 - cyclobarbitone tablets in fifties - there are seven suppliers and the prices range from 13s. 8d. to 16s. 7d. What is the reason for that? Why is the national health scheme underwriting a price of 16s. 7d. when these tablets can be bought for 13s. 8d. Is the 13s. 8d. article inferior? Is it liable to make people sick? Is it incapable of making people better? What is the justification for this position?
I make the charge that this Government is responsible for the wastage of millions of pounds because of laziness in this regard. Why does it not insist in referring to these items by their generic names? Why does it invoke the technique of a code system? Beside the item which I have just mentioned are these symbols: KL, MG, BA, HA and others. If we look at the back of the book we find that those symbols represent manufacturing companies. I contend that the generic names should be mentioned, the prices should be specified and people should be required to measure up to certain standards. Perhaps the next speaker from the Government side - if there is one - will deny the sense in what I am saying, if it is possible to do so. I point out that I was not preceded by a speaker from the Government side. I followed a member of the Opposition in this debate because there was not enough interest in this topic on the Government side of the House. 1 could give a long list of examples such as the ones I have given. I challenge the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz), who is at the table, to give a sensible answer on this generic name problem which I have raised. The Minister for Health has admitted that it is his desire to encourage the use of generic names. He could do this by a simple administrative act. He could eliminate for all time the tendency that the Government has to pay excessive prices for drugs which are used to. save the lives of sick people in our community.
– Half the doctors would not know the tablets by their generic names.
– There may be something in what the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory says; and the doctors’ capacity in this regard will only deteriorate if the Government does not encourage them to start to freshen up on these matters.
The National Biological Standards Laboratory does a great job, but it could do much more. Let me indicate the therapeutic nature of some of the present drugs. I have time to read only a couple of paragraphs from the annual report of the Director-General of Health for 1962-63. Under the heading “ Antibiotics Section “ the report states -
Of 300 samples collected under the programme 126 failed in some way or another to meet standards.
Under the heading “ Pharmaceutical Chemistry “ the report states -
This Section examined 675 samples during the year including 120 samples of items proposed for listing as Pharmaceutical Benefits. The failure rate was 30.7 per cent. . . .
So, although we pay high prices, this Government has taken inadequate action to ensure that the drugs being used in the Australian community are of a satisfactory therapeutic nature. These matters need a great deal of examination. I believe that the Australian people are entitled to hear some answers to the charges that I have made. I regret that this bill does very little to improve this hotch-potch of a national health scheme.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) devoted almost the whole of his speech to the prices of drugs.
– Is not that a good thing?
– It might be a good thing if this Parliament had any jurisdiction to deal with that matter. As the honorable member for Hughes knows, it is quite beyong the jurisdiction of this Parliament to fix the prices of medicines or drugs in any way whatsoever. That power resides in the State Governments. If the honorable member wants to get something done in that direction, he had better see the Labour Government in New South Wales and get it to deal with the matter in that State.
I congratulate the Commonwealth Government on its decision to increase its contribution to the medical benefits funds. I am a strong believer in insurance. Any one who has any common sense at all insures his home. If a home was burnt down and the owner had not insured it, the average Australian would say: “The owner of that house is a nit-wit. He is a no-hoper. How foolish it was of him not to insure his home”. It is also a common Australian practice to insure motor cars against loss or damage. When damage occurs to a car, if it is not insured, the average Australian expresses a derogatory opinion of the owner of the car who has failed to take the sensible and businesslike action of insuring his motor car.
Sickness is equally a hazard of life. But, for some unknown reason, the Australian people were very slow to insure themselves against the hazard of sickness. It was not until 1963, when the Government offered a very substantial inducement to people who were willing to insure, that the Australian people first realized the wisdom and necessity of insuring themselves against sickness. The Government offered a substantial subsidy to companies which provided medical insurance for people willing to in sure. In 1953, 3,300,000 medical services were rendered and the total cost of them was £2,900,000. By last year the number of medical services rendered had risen to 23,400,000 and the cost had risen to £28,300,000. What better testimony could we have of the willing acceptance by the Australian people of the need to insure themselves against the hazard of sickness?
In 1953, when the Government introduced its incentive, it was hoped that the Commonwealth benefit plus the fund benefit would pay about 90 per cent, of the cost of the medical service rendered. There was no fixed proportion; but on the then known medical fees and the Commonwealth and fund benefits, it was expected that people would have to pay only about 10 per cent, of their medical fees, and that the other 90 per cent, would be met by the Commonwealth benefit and fund benefit. However, since that year medical fees have increased substantially. Consequently, the gap between the amount paid by the medical insurance fund and the amount paid to the doctor has been widened. The purpose of this bill is to narrow that gap. The Government will increase its contribution by 334 per cent, so as to narrow the gap. It is hoped that when this scheme becomes operative and the medical insurance funds are able to find out how they are getting on following upon the Government contribution they too may be able to increase their benefits. I strongly support this national health scheme. It leaves the people free to go to the doctors of their choice. It preserves the doctor-patient relationship, which I believe is all-important in the field of medical science. Therefore, I strongly support the first part of the bill, which will do a lot to bridge the gap between the fees paid to doctors and the amount of Government and fund benefits.
With regard to the part of the bill dealing with pharmaceutical benefits I express the greatest concern. Australia is known as a land free of privilege. We do not have, and we aim not to have, in Australia privileged classes. One of the reasons why we have such a large intake of migrants from highly prosperous Europe is that people believe Australia is a country free of privilege, where there are no classes as such and people do not get special concessions because of an accident of birth or because they have great wealth. Australia, I believe, is the most classless society in the world. It is that characteristic which makes Australia the most sought after country for migrants. My objection to the second part of the bill is that it creates a privileged class of friendly society members. The effect of this is that a friendly society member who was a member on 24th April, 1964 can obtain his medicine for ls. whereas a person taking up membership on 25th April, 1964 or thereafter must pay 5s. for the same medicine. Two such people may be neighbours; they may have the same incomes and the same capital; they may be members of the same friendly society. Yet, one of them gets his prescriptions for ls. each while the other has to pay 5s. I believe this is creating a privileged class of friendly society members. This is repugnant to me, and I believe it is repugnant to Australians generally, because Australians frown on privilege. Lack of privilege is one of our great characteristics.
A somewhat similar position applies in the pensioners’ medical scheme. Pensioners who had a medical card prior to 1st November, 1955, are entitled to free pensioner medical benefits, whereas those who became pensioners on 2nd November, 1955, or subsequently, who may have the same incomes and the same property as the others I have just mentioned, are denied a pensioner medical card. I believe that that provision, creating as it does discrimination between people of similar financial positions and similar ages, has caused more dissatisfaction with our excellent social services legislation than anything else has. So I am not happy about the second part of this bill, which creates another privileged class, this time of certain friendly society members.
It may be said: “ Well, this is only a small thing. There are not a great number of friendly society members, anyway. What does it matter whether they get their medicines for ls. or 5s.? “ I believe there is a great principle involved. We have to speak out against these inroads into what I believe to be most important characteristics of Australia - the equality of opportunity, the lack of class distinction and privilege, and the provision of equality for all people. In the second part of the bill there is found the anomalous position that if a person has medicine prescribed by a guild chemist, that person has to pay 5s.; but if he happens to be a friendly society member enrolled before 24 th April, 1964, and goes next door to the friendly society chemist, he can get his prescription for ls. That is unfair to the guild chemist. I do not believe that in a system of private enterprise and free competition a guild chemist could have continued to compete in that position which was so grossly unfair.
The Minister for Health (Senator Wade) has tried extremely hard to find a solution to this most difficult problem. I put a solution to him. I hoped that the guild chemists and the friendly societies would agree to it. At first the guild chemists agreed but they withdrew their consent to it. That proposal provided for free competition between all chemists. Friendly society pharmacists are just as much chemists as guild chemists are. Why in a free enterprise society should they not be able to compete freely? Insofar as laws apply to one chemist, they should apply to all chemists. If any chemist is bound to charge 5s. for a prescription, all chemists should be made to charge 5s. for a prescription. Therefore, I feel that this 5s. charge should be applicable to the friendly societies as well as to the guild chemists. Also I believe that such restrictions as there are on the friendly societies that do not apply to the guild chemists should be removed so as to provide free and fair competition. When acceptance of that proposal was withdrawn the Minister had to look for another solution. The best solution he has been able to find is, if I may describe it this way, to stop the rot or to put a plug in to prevent this unfair competition continuing in relation to new members of the friendly societies. The previous provisions still continue in relation to old members of friendly societies. The fortunate people who are members of friendly societies to-day will still be able to have a prescription for ls. at the friendly society’s pharmacy, although if they go next door to the guild chemist they will have to pay 5s. People who join friendly societies in the future, however, will have to pay 5s. for their medicines, whether they get them from a guild chemist or a friendly society’s pharmacy.
I am going to support this bill. I regard it simply as a palliative, but 1 will support it because it will stop further unfair competition although I am convinced that it is not the solution to the problem. I trust that the Government will have another look at the matter and find a solution which will be fair to the guild chemist and fair to the friendly societies, provide for free and healthy competition, and also provide rules that will apply equally to all chemists. Honorable members will realize what a grave disadvantage the guild chemists have suffered and what a propaganda weapon the friendly societies have had. They have been able to say to the people: “ Join this society and you can get your medicines for ls. If you do not join and get them from a guild chemist you will have to pay 5s.” How could a guild chemist possibly compete under those unfair conditions?
I cannot see why insurance against the need for medicines should be frowned upon when insurance against ill health, motor car accidents and other eventualities is approved of. For some reason or other, the proposition has not been accepted that the guild chemist should establish his own friendly society or insurance society and collect subscriptions in advance from people who may want medicines. I believe in friendly societies and I believe in insurance companies. I believe that we should allow insurance companies to issue policies, if they are prepared to do so, against risks that are not covered at the present time. In my view the solution to this matter will lie in the provision of other insurance companies, where necessary, insuring against the need for medicines in the same way as we have insurance companies insuring against the necessity to pay doctors’ bills. If the basic principles I have outlined are adhered to - freedom of competition, laws which apply to all, the right to establish more insurance companies or friendly societies which will be permitted to give discounts or rebates according to the profits they make - then I think any legislation along those lines will have everything to commend it.
I support the bill purely because it will stop unfair competition between friendly societies and guild chemists in respect of future members of the friendly societies.
However, I do not like the feature of the legislation which creates a privileged class of the old friendly society members. Therefore I hope that this part of the legislation will remain on the statute book for a very short time and that an amendment will be brought forward to provide fair and free competition and to remove the privilege provided under this bill.
.- I rise to support the amendment so ably moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) to the motion that the bill be now read a second time. The amendment was in these terms: -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ this House is of the opinion that the bill fails to meet the urgent needs of the people of Australia as it does not provide for a full national health plan embracing adequate medical and hospital services available to all and particularly, does not (a) extend medical services to all persons, (b) ensure free hospitalization in public wards, (c) abolish the 5s. prescription fee, and (d) end the exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers “.
All that we are seeking in proposing this amendment is to restore to the people something they had when the Chifley Government was in office. The amendment expresses the opinion that the bill fails because, amongst other things, it does not extend medical services to all persons. I point out to the House that it fails to do just that. We have not a national scheme in the real sense of the term, because the scheme covers only four-fifths of the people of Australia. As previous speakers have stated, more than 2,000,000 are left out of the scheme. They include the chronically ill, the poor, the newly arrived or non-English-speaking migrants and people on low wages who wish to gamble on remaining healthy rather than pay the high premiums which still would not cover them against illness. Sick persons, it should be noted, do not receive the Commonwealth benefit unless they are contributors to one of the many medical funds. We say quite definitely that Commonwealth benefits should be paid to everybody in Australia, whether members of funds or not. They all have to pay taxes to provide the Commonwealth benefit, so why should they not be entitled to receive that benefit just as those who contribute to one of the funds receive it? Why should they be penalized because they possibly cannot afford to belong to one of the funds?
The national health scheme is deteriorating to such an extent that I venture to suggest it is in danger of collapse. It is breaking down under its many defects. As has already been mentioned, many contributors have to pay 12s. a week in direct payments to a fund, and in addition they have to pay one-third of their medical expenses themselves. What sort of a scheme is it that makes a person pay a high rate of contribution to a fund, taxes him to provide the Commonwealth benefit - and even this he does not get if he does not belong to a fund - and then makes him pay one-third of his medical expenses? I am sorry to see the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) leaving the chamber, because he, himself, raised this point: The late Sir Earle Page was Minister for Health when this scheme was first introduced and he said in the House that the scheme would provide for 90 per cent, of a patient’s costs. The honorable member foi Sturt said it was hoped that it would pay 90 per cent, of such costs. He said that he thought the people would have to pay only about 10 per cent. In 1961-62 the average proportion paid back under the scheme to insured members was only 63.9 per cent, which was well below the proportion of approximately 90 per cent, referred to by the honorable member for Sturt. But even this does not reveal the full picture, because the average of 63.9 per cent, covers payments to those who insure themselves at the very highest rates and also those on the lower tables who would, of course, get back in the way of benefits less than the average proportion.
The Government has now adopted another interpretation of the promised 90 per cent, refund of the doctor’s charge. It now uses the expression “ not greater than 90 per cent”. The refund certainly is not greater than 90 per cent, in any instance that I know of, and in many instances it is considerably below 90 per cent. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has pointed out that under this legislation the return in some cases will be 71 per cent, of the fee and in other cases will be as low as 50 per cent, of the fee. For instance, where a specialist charges a fee of four guineas the total benefit will be £2 18s., made up of a Commonwealth benefit of £1 5s. and a fund benefit of £1 13s. In other words, a total of 69 per cent, of the fee will be returned to the patient. But where a specialist charges more than four guineas the percentage of the refund, of course, will be much lower.
The new Commonwealth benefit for general practitioner consultations will be 8s., an increase of 2s. The Minister admits that the percentage returned to the contributor will vary from 72 per cent, to 86 per cent, for surgery consultations. But what is the position where the doctor visits the home? If we analyse it, we find that the return to the patient will vary from 50 per cent, to 60 per cent. It is obvious that when a doctor has to visit the home the patient is in a much worse condition than is the person who is able to go to the consulting room. Therefore, the sicker one is the more one will have to pay under this wonderful scheme about which the Minister boasts.
Although the doctors have been increasing their fees in recent years, this is the first occasion on which there has been any increase in the Commonwealth benefit for a general practitioner consultation since 1953, and it is a rise of only 2s., from 6s. to 8s. Last June, the doctors increased their fees by 20 per cent. The 2s. increase in this Commonwealth benefit brings the total refund to 18s. instead of the present 16s., but surely it must be admitted that the increase does not match the increases that have taken place in doctors’ fees. The view of the Opposition is that the patients are being called upon to bridge too big a gap between doctors’ fees and refunds. The law should be amended to provide that doctors’ fees cannot rise without a corresponding increase in benefits. In my view, and in the view of the Opposition generally, doctors’ fees should be fixed for a given period so that people may enjoy a given percentage refund for that period.
I have already mentioned that the scheme is in danger of collapsing. People who are well are not going to contribute to a scheme when they seldom need a doctor and when medical insurance is not worth while. The medical benefit funds point out - this is very important - that when the scheme began the Government was supposed to match the fund payments.
I understand that the Government was to pay 45 per cent., the fund 45 per cent, and the patient 10 per cent., which corresponds with the figures that we were given by the then Minister for Health. This will not be the position under the Government’s new proposal.
The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has pointed out that the fee most commonly charged for the removal of an appendix is £26 5s. The new Commonwealth benefit for that operation will be £10 and the fund benefit will be £12 10s., making a total refund of £22 10s., or 85 per cent. Thus, the patient will be required to pay 15 per cent, of the charge. But 1 emphasize that that is only where the cost of the operation is based on the charge most commonly made - £26 5s. Where the fee is higher, the patient will be called upon to pay a bigger percentage of the cost of the operation. 1 point out to the Minister, too, that medical care in Australia costs more per head of population than the fully nationalized British scheme that we hear criticized so much in this House. Further, we get less for our money than the English people get for theirs. Honorable members do not have to take my word for that, because the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 30th August, 1963, had this to say on the subject -
Australia at the present time has one of the least comprehensive national health schemes in the western world, yet medical care costs the nation more per head of population than the fully nationalized British scheme. 1 direct the attention of all those who criticize the nationalized British scheme to that article. The British scheme is more comprehensive than ours. For instance, our scheme does not include such important health services as dental and optical treatment. Nor does it include home nursing, physiotherapy and other very important services to the sick.
Now let us look at part (b) of our amendment, which states that the bill does not ensure free hospitalization in public wards. One cannot leave the subject of national health without referring to hospital costs and finance for hospitals. Hospital fees were increased late in 1963. The figures I shall quote relate to Western Australia, because I know more about costs there than I do about the costs in other States. In Western Australia, public hospital charges were increased from 56s. to 60s. a day in public wards, from 68s. to 84s. a day in intermediate wards and from 84s. to 108s. a day in private wards. The patient has had to bear that increase because the Commonwealth has not increased its subsidy of £1 a day since 1958.
Under the 1946 agreement between the Commonwealth and the States the Commonwealth agreed to pay one-third of the cost of a bed in the public ward of a public hospital. At that time this cost was 1 8s. a day, and honorable members will remember that the Commonwealth agreed to pay 6s. a day. When the cost increased to 24s. a day in 1948, the Chifley Government agreed to pay 8s. a day, which again represented onethird of the cost. This Government has refused to renew that agreement. As the cost of a bed in a public ward of a public hospital is £6 a day now, the Commonwealth should be paying £2 a day if it is to meet one-third of the cost, as it did when the agreement was first made in 1946. Instead, it is still making a basic payment of only 8s. a day, which is about onefourteenth of the daily cost of a bed in a public ward. The Commonwealth is paying only £1 a day, or about only half the amount it should be paying, to those patients who have insured themselves for a coverage of 16s. a day. It is paying 36s. a day for those pensioners who hold medical entitlement cards, but that still is not one-third of what this is costing the States. 1 remind honorable members, too, that under the Chifley Government all pensioners got free treatment, as did all patients who occupied public beds in public wards.
The 1948 .agreement between the Commonwealth and the States provided that treatment in public wards should be free to all without any means test. But this Government insisted that fees should be charged and, mark you, it refused to pay Commonwealth assistance unless fees were charged. This Government also made it compulsory for a patient to belong to a hospital benefits fund to become eligible for full Commonwealth benefit. The conditions of the 1946 agreement should be reverted to. That is all that we are asking for in the amendment we have proposed.
There is another factor which is threatening the whole structure of our national health scheme. It has already been mentioned by other speakers on this side and by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who preceded me. I refer to the high cost of pharmaceutical benefits. If I remember the figures correctly, pharmaceutical benefits now cost the Government about £38,500,000 a year, or 40 per cent, of the total cost of our national health scheme. In 1951, they cost £2,900,000, or 22 per cent, of the total cost of the scheme. It will be remembered that drugs were free under the scheme that operated at that time. Now all people except pensioners have to pay 5s. for each prescription dispensed. Last year, that alone cost the people £7,000,000 in addition to what they contributed by way of tax and what they paid by way of contributions to the respective funds to which they belonged. Despite those contributions it still cost them £7,000,000 out of their own pockets.
About 85 per cent, of the nation’s prescriptions are administered under the scheme. The costs are terrific in Australia compared with the costs in other countries. For instance, in Australia the average cost of a prescription under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme is 20s. Id., whereas under the scheme operating in England the cost is only 10s. 10d. The average cost of a prescription in Australia is almost double the cost in England. For each £1 the Australian Government spends on drugs the manufacturer receives 9s. lid., which is about 50 per cent.; the wholesaler receives 2s. 10d., which is about 14 per cent.; and the chemist receives a 3s. dispensing fee plus a mark-up of 4s. 3d., which gives him about 36 per cent. The drug manufacturers receive the lion’s share. In Australia drugs are about three times dearer than they are in Britain. There is no doubt that the big overseas drug companies and the Australian companies are exploiting the Australian Government and the Australian people. In many cases the profits from the drugs sold in Australia are being channelled overseas. The anti-trust committee which recently reported to the United States Senate on the practices of American drug companies reached certain findings. The committee emphasized that profits in the drug industry were well above those enjoyed by manufacturers as a whole, and it gave some figures. It reported that the gross profit margins of fifteen drug com panies in 1959 varied from 58.6 per cent, to 78.4 per cent. It pointed out also that prices to patients bore little relation to the actual cost of manufacturing the drugs. The committee showed that the capital outlay was extremely small for the profits involved. It pointed out that research spending by twenty major firms averaged only 6.4 per cent, of their return from total sales, and that advertising expenditure was about four times as large as the expenditure on research.
Honorable members should bear in mind that in the drug industry it is supposed to be unethical to advertise. Drug manufacturers do not advertise in the newspapers or on television. Nevertheless, on third class postage alone American drug companies were spending £5,333,000 a year, to send their samples and pamphlets to doctors and hospitals. American doctors complained to the Senate committee about the selling methods of the drug industry. The main complaint was about the coining of unintelligible chemical names for new products and the general campaign to induce doctors to prescribe by brand name only. The same practice applies in Australia, and it would appear that many doctors are learning their medicine merely from pamphlets.
This Government has a duty to force down the price of drugs. Where profit margins are unreasonably high it is the Government’s duty to curb them. If the Government cannot force the manufacturers to lower the price of drugs it should import drugs from companies which make reasonable charges. The tory Government in Britain took this action recently because the drug companies in England were making extortionate profits. I suggest that this Government should arrange for an expansion of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to compete with drug manufacturers. There is no reason why that should not be done. One obvious way to persuade manufacturers to lower their charges is to cease approving brand names for inclusion on the free list. By using only the chemical name, and by paying chemists possibly the lowest rate at which the product could be obtained, the Government would have a reasonable chance of forcing prices down to a proper level.
The drug manufacturers are doing exceptionally well at the expense of the Government and the public, but the wholesalers and the chemists are doing pretty well also. The wholesalers and the chemists between them account for about 50 per cent, of the cost of drugs. This compares with about 35 per cent, in Britain. For every national health service drug that he sells the chemist charges a 3s. dispensing fee and a 334 per cent, mark-up on the wholesale price, and for drugs that are not on the Government list he charges a 3s. 6d. dispensing fee and a 50 per cent, mark-up. Under the national health service scheme in Britain chemists’ mark-ups vary from 124 per cent, to 25 per cent, according to the number of prescriptions handled each month, and the professional fee - the charge for dispensing - is about ls. 9d. Australian. From these figures honorable members will gain some idea why the costs of the health scheme in Australia are so much greater than those in Britain, where the patient gets so much more for his contribution.
Most drugs to-day are supplied to the chemist already mixed and packaged; ell that the chemist has to do is to pour tablets, for instance, from a large bottle into a smaller bottle and to change the manufacturer’s label for one of his own. How many honorable members have gone to a chemist and been kept waiting while the chemist changed the label on a bottle or stuck a new label over another label? That is done regularly these days. Sometimes the old label can still be seen. If the patient knew what to ask for and did not require a prescription he would get the drug much more cheaply. If the chemist has to prepare the drug he raises the prescription fee to 5s. 6d. The chemist’s mark-up of 334 per cent, is often increased because he has bought direct from the manufacturer. This enables him in some oases to have a mark-up of 50 per cent. In addition, manufacturers often offer chemists rebates of 10 per cent, and more to buy from them, or for buying bulk or special lines. This means a higher return to the chemist. In 1962-63 the mark-ups and dispensing fees charged by chemists cost this Government £16,300,000. I have cited those figures to show what the benefits under our health scheme are costing.
The honorable member for Sturt suggests that the guild chemists were not doing so well as a result of the friendly societies being in the field, but he did not say that the number of chemists participating in the pharmaceutical benefits scheme has grown from 3,080 at the inception of the scheme to 5,100 in 1963, which is the last year for which I could find records. The chemists still seem to be coming into the scheme whether they are doing well or not. The chemist enjoys substantial returns. I admit that he has substantial overheads which would reduce the profit that he appears to get from dispensing medicines. He belongs to a highly skilled profession and, of course, deserves a reasonably high return for his skills, but that does not justify excess profits which, on the figures available, appear to have been made. The honorable member for Sturt was critical of the friendly societies. In one breath he said that he thought the friendly societies should not be allowed to charge less than 5s. as a prescription fee, but earlier he said that he believed in insurance. Apparently the honorable member does not believe in the ordinary little man insuring himself with a friendly society so that he can have cheaper benefits.
The benefits given to members by friendly society dispensaries emphasize the profits that are being made by chemists. In South Australia friendly societies charge ls. for a prescription, and members of a society can get discounts of 334 per cent, on whatever they buy from the friendly society chemist. That only serves to advertise the huge profits being made by organizations other than friendly societies. The charge for membership of a friendly society is 12s. a year.
I suggest that the Government did the right thing when at least it did not try to force the friendly societies to raise their prescription fee to 5s., the charge made by guild chemists. Friendly societies were admitted to the national health scheme in 1945, when they were granted the right to deal with the public only at the premises then in existence. In effect they have been pegged for about nineteen years. During that period the number of retail pharmacies has increased by about 70 per cent. Any friendly society formed since 1945 is allowed to dispense national health scheme prescriptions only to its members. Of course, a change is to be introduced by this legislation. Friendly societies formed before 1945 have been allowed more freedom in that respect but, as we have heard, those persons who become members of friendly societies after 24th April must pay a prescription fee of 5s.
It was decided that friendly societies, in return for their admission to the health scheme, would become subject to taxation. They are now paying taxation on turnover, irrespective of whether a surplus is declared. Two independent select committees set up by the Commonwealth have recommended that friendly societies should not be subject to taxation on business conducted with their members. This Government has ignored the recommendations, but if they were adopted, friendly societies would be able to increase their benefits to their members and in that way perhaps force down the prices of drugs to the public. I hope that the Minister will take note of the points I have raised.
The economic loss to Australia resulting from illness, apart from the suffering and distress that are caused, cannot be accurately assessed, but it must be enormous. There is no doubt that our curative services are very good, but what are we doing about preventive services? We ought to be tackling problems such as lack of sewerage, air pollution, poor housing, the relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, and other diseases. It is true that the medical profession has made a start to provide preventive services by co-operating in the prevention of industrial accidents and road accidents, but has not gone far enough. It seems more concerned with the treatment of sickness than with prevention.
The Australian College of General Practitioners and the statistics committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council have combined in the first full-scale Australian attempt to discover which diseases occur most frequently and which illnesses cause the greatest loss of manhours. The result of this survey could be useful in the control of outbreaks of disease, in discovering the relationship of diseases to social and environmental factors and in assessing the economic importance of illness. I think it would be a good idea if the health departments concentrated on the prevention of disease rather than on its cure. In this way the costs of our already overburdened health services could be reduced.
I wholeheartedly support the proposed amendment because I believe it tries to restore to the people that which is rightly theirs. It is an attempt to provide adequate hospitals and to extend medical services to all persons. It attempts to abolish the 5s. prescription fee and to eliminate the exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers. If this Government had any decency about it, it would get down to the job of doing just those things.
.- Mr. Speaker, I do not want to devote a great deal of time to the legislation which is now before the House but there are one or two matters to which I wish to direct my attention because of their importance, I believe, to a great many people. I appreciate that an opportunity will be available at the committee stage to deal more comprehensively with several matters occupying my attention.
I take the opportunity to support the amendment so ably moved last week by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). I believe that it highlighted many of the shortcomings of the legislation now under consideration. For example, the proposed amendment points to the fact that the alterations to be made to the legislation do not fully meet the medical requirements of the great mass of the Australian people. The changes to be made do not provide for a national health plan. Irrespective of what was said by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) when introducing this legislation, or by Government supporters who have spoken in its favour in this debate, the fact remains that the scheme as it is to be instituted can hardly be called a satisfactory national health scheme as a large proportion of the Australian people are not covered in any way at all and have not been covered by any scheme that has been provided by this Government. The bill does not contain provision for a return to the system of free treatment in public wards of public hospitals that was available prior to this Government’s entry into office in 1949.
This legislation does not provide for the abolition of the charge of 5s. for each prescription supplied by a guild chemist or a friendly society dispensary. Members of the Opposition have pointed out that when the national health scheme was introduced, the Opposition disagreed with the principle of a 5s. charge for a prescription.
This bill proposes certain alterations to that principle, but the Opposition docs not agree with them. At a later stage honorable members on this side of the House will again stress the point of view that we have advanced here on other occasions; that is that the 5s. charge should be abolished.
I believe that it would be very interesting to trace the history of medical assistance provided by Australian governments during the last twenty years. In the immediate post-war years, the Curtin and Chifley Governments accepted some responsibility in these matters and provided a system of free treatment in public wards of public hospitals. Prior to that time, no government had attempted to provide assistance for people unable to find the finance necessary for medical treatment. Previously people had accepted the responsibility of meeting the cost of hospital treatment or treatment by doctors as best they could. A great many people in those. times refused to seek the treatment they needed because they were unable to meet its cost. A Labour government attempted to provide some reform in this respect.
When this Government came into office, the people of this country were able to seek treatment and receive the best possible treatment available at the time in any public hospital throughout the Commonwealth. That treatment was provided free of cost. But the present Government immediately abolished the system of free medical treatment in public hospitals. The late Sir Earle Page introduced the national health scheme that has been thrust upon the Australian people. The honorable member for Grayndler and other speakers in this debate have pointed to its shortcomings.
I do not intend at this stage to traverse all the points that have been raised by my colleagues and, indeed, by some honorable members on the Government side who, obviously, find themselves in complete disagreement with some of the aspects of the national health scheme that we are now discussing. However, I do not believe that a scheme that does not provide for adequate hospital and medical treatment for all the people of Australia can bc said to be a proper national health scheme. Our present scheme is not a proper national health scheme, despite the assertions of the Minister for Repatriation, who, in his secondreading speech, pointed to the increase in the number of people registered with benefit funds as support for his claim that the scheme is popular. He stated that the number of members of benefit funds had risen from 1,425,000 in 1953-54 to 7,686,000 in 1962-63. Nobody doubts the truth of that statement. I have no doubt that the figures are correct. But the fact remains - Government supporters know it as well as do honorable members on this side of the House - that the people have no alternative. They have accepted the present scheme only because they have no alternative. The Minister can hardly boast of the great increase in the number of members of benefit funds when the people know that they must accept the present scheme or take entirely on their own shoulders the burden of meeting medical and other expenses that they cannot afford.
The national health scheme is not a proper national health scheme, because, as the Minister and the Government know, a great proportion of the population, for various reasons, does not belong to benefits funds. The reasons have already been highlighted. But let me dwell for several moments on one or two of them. Always, we come back to the financial aspect. I believe that there is a great deal of truth in the assertion that a great number of people in the lower income brackets cannot afford to belong to a benefit society. Many people who were formerly members of societies lost their employment and were obliged to exist on unemployment benefit. In normal circumstances, they had no alternative but to allow their contributions to benefit societies to lapse. What is the result? A former member of a benefit society is then in an invidious position through no fault of his own. If he wishes to rejoin the fund to which he previously belonged, he has to submit himself to the inevitable waiting period that is applied in such cases. Furthermore, many health conditions that were formerly accepted by benefit organizations are now regarded by them as being chronic conditions, and people with such conditions are no longer covered by the funds. I come back to the point that while people are obliged to pay so large a proportion of their weekly income in contributions to benefit organizations this difficulty caused by termination of membership owing to inability to continue contributions will remain.
The Opposition believes that if the Australian people want the best possible health service - as we are sure they so - this Government has a responsibility for ensuring that financial considerations alone do not prevent any member of our society from becoming a member of a benefit fund at a rate of contribution commensurate with his weekly income. Furthermore, the Government must ensure that that person’s interests are safeguarded should loss of family income occur. With these considerations in mind. Sir, we side that the present scheme has many shortcomings. 1 believe that it was the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) who, earlier in this debate, said that in 1953-54 Commonwealth medical benefits cost the country £2,900,000 for 3,300,000 medical services and that, in the year ended in June, 1963, 23,400,000 medical services cost £28,300,000. I point out that the honorable member missed the real point. In 1953-54, each medical service cost little more than £1, whereas, in 1962-63, each medical service cost far more than £1. Why has there been such a sudden change? 1 believe that it is due mainly to the reason that has been advanced by honorable members on this side of the House: Over the ten years in question, there was a complete change in the attitude of the drug manufacturers in this country. I do not want to traverse the ground that has already been covered by other honorable members on that issue. Sufficient has already been said to show quite conclusively that in many instances charges for drugs have been extortionate. However, the Government has made no attempt to exercise control in relation to this very important aspect of our national health service.
The honorable member for Sturt went on to discuss the question of the issue of medical entitlement cards to pensioners. This is a further very important aspect of the national health scheme. I do not want to deal with this matter at great length now, because I know that I shall have an opportunity to discuss it at a later stage in the consideration of the bill. The fact remains that the honorable member for Sturt pointed to the not insignificant number of pensioners who are denied assistance under the pensioner medic*; scheme. He pointed out the great injustice in this regard, and all honorable members concur in the proposi tion that there is great injustice. Far too many pensioners are denied a medical entitlement card, despite the fact that the Government, when it initiated its national health plan, declared that pensioners would be fully covered. They remained covered until 31st October, 1955. As from that date the Government applied the means test, and it has been applied ever since. I agree with one speaker on the Government side of the House who said that the means test should no longer be applied by the Government if it is prepared to claim that this is a truly national health scheme and to argue with Opposition members on that point. While these anomalies that I have mentioned exist, the Government leaves itself open to criticism.
We have been told that the number of hospital and medical benefit funds has increased to 188. I do not believe that services to the people have increased proportionately with this phenomenal increase in the number of funds. It is true that, in any capital city in Australia, one can see magnificent buildings occupied by hospital and medical benefit organizations. The organizations have been able to accumulate huge reserves. Yet, as we have been pointing out to the Minister, even under this amending legislation the people will not be able to receive a refund of 90 per cent, of the charges made by doctors. The Government has stood idly by and watched the accumulation of these huge reserves by the funds and the building of spectacular offices in every city, ft does the Government no credit to suggest that under this amending legislation approximately 90 per cent, of the charges can be collected by people who belong to medical benefit funds.
When the late Sir Earle Page introduced this scheme as Minister for Health, he said that the people who belonged to benefit funds would be able to collect 90 per cent, of the charges made by doctors. That has never been so. In point of fact, during the intervening period the amount has been proportionately lessened and F doubt very much whether in many instances to-day more than 60 per cent, of the cost is recovered by people who belong to medical benefit funds. The reason for this is perfectly obvious. The Government has never been able to reach any agreement with the Australian Medical Association. Indeed, the Minister went so far as to say in his second-reading speech that the Government has no intention of laying down any requirements for doctors in regard to their fees. I hasten to point out that I make no charges against members or the medical profession. I have the highest regard for them individually and I know that they are dedicated to their profession. But the fact remains that they have been able continuously to dictate to the Government. At no stage have the public or members of medical benefit funds been consulted on any of these matters. It has merely been a question of discussion between the Government or the Minister for Health on the one hand and the Australian Medical Association on the other. What has been the result? On every occasion the Government has had to come into this House with amending legislation, pointing out that it has no intention of legislating to control the fees being levied by doctors.
In these circumstances, it will never be possible to guarantee that the people will obtain a reasonable return from their contributions to medical benefit funds. I thought the honorable member for Grayndler pointed out most effectively that there is a great disparity in the charges made by various doctors. Indeed, the Minister himself admitted that the charges varied from one State to another. Is there any logical reason why the amount charged by a doctor in New South Wales should differ from that charged by a doctor in Western Australia or Tasmania? But that is the situation to-day. The Government has been powerless to take any action against the medical profession.
The Minister has assured us that the Australian Medical Association has given a guarantee that now the Government has increased benefits by 33i per cent, the doctors will not increase their charges. But there is no guarantee that this will remain the position over a number of years. It may be so for twelve months, but what will happen in eighteen months or two years? I say at once that, unless a better system than the one provided by this Government is introduced, then obviously the problem I have mentioned will never be solved. The public has always had to accept whatever conditions have been laid down by the Minister for Health on behalf of the Government and by the Australian Medical
Association. We believe that people should be entitled to recover the full amount of the fees charged by doctors, just as we believe that they should be fully covered for hospital treatment.
That brings me to one other point, and this is a most important one. When I commenced to speak on this matter I pointed out that Australia had a system of free hospitals when this Government came to power. Any person who was sick or who needed treatment in the public ward of a hospital was able to obtain that treatment without charge. When this Government came to power, the whole situation changed. Now a member of a benefit fund can insure himself against the risks of sickness and hospitalization. But the very persons who need hospital attention - I refer to those who are most sick in our community, the chronic sufferers - are not able to insure themselves fully. If the period of a person’s illness exceeds the period laid down by the benefit fund and accepted as a principle by the Government, the amount that he can receive in repayment from the fund is substantially reduced. In fact, the medical benefits fund reduces its contribution to approximately 16s. a day plus the Commonwealth contribution of £1 a day. So the total amount that can be paid towards the cost of a person’s hospital treatment is £12 12s. a week. This is the situation that faces the chronically ill in our community, but under a Labour government they had no financial worry at all. Now the amount they can recover for a sustained illness does not exceed £12 12s. a week.
Let us look at the cost of hospital treatment. Again, hospital charges vary according to the geographical location, but the average throughout the Commonwealth would be approximately £21 a week. Patients who are chronically ill must meet the difference between £12 12s. and £21 a week. How does a person on the basic wage or with an income even slightly in excess of the basic wage meet the difference? Does he meet it from the amount he receives as unemployment benefit or as Commonwealth medical benefits? Obviously, he cannot obtain the effective treatment that he should have. I believe that the Government should consider accepting the priciple that was accepted by previous Labour administrations and that is that the only effective means of providing proper hospital or medical treatment for patients is to ensure that they have no financial responsibility for the charges. I believe that that was the principle accepted by the Labour Government when it agreed to provide pensions for sufferers from tuberculosis. The Labour Government sought to relieve them of financial responsibility or worry.
With the introduction of this legislation it is obvious that the Government intends to make the public meet the cost of medical services. The Minister has said that a charge of 5s. must be imposed for prescriptions dispensed under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme in order to prevent the number of such prescriptions from increasing. But is that the real answer to the problem? Surely, if pharmaceutical prescriptions are necessary to treat people who are ill, the Government should be prepared to meet the cost of them. Surely the Government should be prepared for an increase in the number of these prescriptions in view of the fact that our population is increasing, because of both natural increase and immigration. Every person in Australia pays, in part, for these services through taxes. When this Government came to power there was a very healthy balance to meet the cost of these services. The Government expended all of those moneys and has left the people to meet the cost of their medical services.
Can this scheme be called a truly national scheme when it does not provide for people who have to consult optometrists or physiotherapists? The services of optometrists and physiotherapists are not provided for in this so-called national health scheme. Surely a person who needs new glasses or physiotherapy is as entitled to consideration as somebody who needs the attention of a doctor for a minor complaint. The services of optometrists and other qualified persons should be covered by this national health scheme, but the Government has refused to make this provision. Optometrists undergo a period of training and are qualified to prescribe glasses for people whose eyesight is faulty. In those circumstances, the Government should see that provision is made in the national health scheme to cover those services, but it has consistently refused to do so. So far as I am aware the Minister foi Health in another place and his deputy in this House have never given any valid or sensible reason why the Government should refuse to accept its responsibility in this respect.
Those are some of the reasons why we on this side of the House believe that if this legislation is not opposed outright, at least the opportunity should be taken to point out that the legislation must bc improved in many ways before the Government can validly claim that this is a national health scheme. The scheme has many shortcomings. The Government must be aware of them. The proposal in the bill in relation to friendly societies is ridiculous. Persons who join a friendly society after 24th April, 1964, will not be able to insure themselves against the payment of 5s. for prescriptions dispensed under the national health scheme. Those persons who were already members of a friendly society prior to 24th April, 1964, and who, because of their membership, were not required to pay the 5s. prescription charge, will be able to retain that advantage. They will obtain their prescriptions for ls., 6d. or whatever is the charge made by the friendly society, but persons who join after 24lh April will be obliged to pay the full amount. Here the Government is applying another means test similar to the means test it has applied in respect of pensioner medical entitlement cards. The Government has dealt with the national health scheme in a series of moves consisting of three steps forward and two backward. It has never been able to devise a scheme under which the people know that they will be protected in time of disability or ill health. The Government has not measured up to its responsibility in this field. I therefore support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler.
– As I have already delivered my second-reading speech on the bill it would not be normal procedure for me to speak at the conclusion of the debate.
However, the Opposition has taken the rather unusual course of moving a major amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill. If carried, the amendment would have the effect of frustrating completely the Government’s intentions in introducing this bill to amend a particular aspect of the National Health Act. In those circumstance’s, I feel constrained to make some comment at this stage and to indicate briefly but clearly that the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment. I will state some reasons why this is so.
The debate has been a most interesting one. In fact, it was quite illuminating. The debate brought out two things very clearly. One is that the Opposition still adheres to the rather outmoded philosophy that it held in relation to health back in 1948 and 1949 and which it has publicly expressed on various occasions since that time. Two major themes were apparent in the speeches of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and other honorable members opposite. One theme demonstrated the Labour Party’s wish to nationalize the medical profession. That wish v/as quite apparent from speeches made by honorable members opposite. The second theme indicated the desire of the Labour Party to provide medical, pharmaceutical and ancillary benefits free of charge to all members of the community. That desire is clearly stated. Those are the two important aspects of the Opposition’s case and they indicate clearly that nationalization of health is still very much a live issue in the Labour Party. The public of Australia should be aware of this situation. Having stated this philosophy, nobody on the Opposition side, including the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), said just how the Labour Party would finance its proposals, which would cost untold millions of pounds to introduce. Would the proposals be financed by a very substantial increase in income tax. or some other form of direct tax or would they be financed by an increase in indirect taxes? Perhaps the Opposition will answer that question at some stage, but the question was not answered in the course of the debate.
The Opposition has propounded the same old philosophy that it held prior to 1949. Personally, I am happy for the Opposition to continue to propound this philosophy because this was one of the reasons why the Labour Parry lost out so badly in the election last year. On that occasion the Labour Party went to the people and promised, as it has promised during the course of this debate, to give the people this and that. Perhaps the Opposition thinks the public is more gullible than it, in fact, is.
The Opposition did not indicate how it would finance its rather unusual grandiose schemes. The same philosophy was propounded during the course of this debate as was propounded during the election campaign.
In opening the case for the Opposition, the honorable member for Grayndler said that the present national health scheme was not a good one. Apparently any scheme in which an individual has freedom of choice is not a good one to somebody who believes in socialism. We on this side of the chamber are proud of- the present scheme. We believe it is one of the best of its kind in the world. That opinion is borne out by the generous support that the scheme has received from the public.
One could refer to many points raised during the course of the debate, but I will content myself by referring to the amendment which has been moved and which, as I have already said, cannot be accepted by the Government. Let me say why the amendment is unacceptable to the Government. The first part of the amendment states that the bill does not extend medical services to all persons. I have referred briefly to that point. Under the conditions which exist in Australia to-day, medical services are available to all members of the community. Each patient has full freedom to choose his own doctor. The Government, through its medical benefits scheme, has ensured that the cost of medical attention no longer presents a barrier to a patient seeking necessary medical care.
The scheme is based on the insurance principle and represents the Government’s endorsement of the concept of self-help by providing Commonwealth medical benefits to members of registered health insurance organizations who have taken the initiative in providing against the cost of medical treatment. The scheme operates within the framework of the long-established arrangements for the provision of medical treatment in Australia. Those arrangements are based on the freedom of the patient to obtain medical treatment from the doctor of his choice. That is where there is an obvious conflict of philosophy between the Government and the Opposition.
The whole basis of the medical benefits scheme is ideally suited to the Australian temperament and way of life. The individual is free to insure or to carry his own risk. He is free in his choice of doctors.
He is assured that through the voluntary insurance system he will receive assistance to meet the greater proportion of the cost of the medical services that he requires. At the same time, the obligation to bear a portion of the cost of each service provides him with a sense of personal responsibility in regard to his demands for medical care. That is the answer to the first part of the amendment.
The second part states that hee hospitalization should be provided in public wards. I suppose we should analyse this matter State by State, because in Queensland that is being done already. We must remember that there is a joint responsibility for national health. The Commonwealth has accepted a responsibility lo supplement the hospital system, as it is doing under the present scheme. But it is the responsibility of the States, within the autonomy that they enjoy and within their respective State boundaries, to provide certain health facilities. It is unrealistic to speak of free hospitalization in the broad sense because the provision of hospital services and facilities can never be free of cost. The question, therefore, is how the cost of providing them can be met.
Costs of hospitalization in public wards in public hospitals must be met by the patients, by the Government which establishes the hospitals - I referred to that a moment ago - or by both the patients and the Government. If the Government has to carry the full burden of financing these costs, it must obtain the necessary funds through the taxation machinery and consequently taxation must be increased substantially. If the patient is to bear the cost, the choice would seem to lie between meeting the full cost at a time when he is ill and possibly not in receipt of income, on the one hand, and providing over a long term against the risk of hospital expenses, on the other. The latter obviously is (he preference of the vast majority of Australians who voluntarily have elected to provide against the cost of possible hospitalization through the machinery of the Government’s voluntary hospital insurance scheme. By payment of the small sum of 3s. a week, every family in Australia can ensure that it will be covered for the cost of public ward hospital charges.
The third part of the amendment refers to drug prices and the abolition of the 5s. prescription fee. In reply to that I say that the direct effect of abolishing that fee would be to increase expenditure by more than £8.000,000 a year, based on the current volume of prescriptions. To that amount must be added the additional cost that would arise from removal of a deterrent against the unnecessary use of the scheme - a deterrent which this bill is aimed at preserving. As I explained in my secondreading speech, the Government believes that the proper balancing of financial responsibility in the provision of national health benefits is essential, lt is obvious that abolition of the 5s. fee would be completely contrary to the principle that has been established.
The last part of the amendment refers to costs of drugs under the Government’s scheme. Very clear allegations of exploitation by drug manufacturers were made by the Opposition. For some years the Government has been actively engaged in negotiations to ensure reasonable prices for pharmaceutical benefits. As has been pointed out to the House already, the drug manufacturers - whether they are government instrumentalities or private manufacturers - have to bear tremendous costs in relation to research and development before a drug can be placed on the market and before it can be assured of a successful market. That has to be taken into consideration. The Government is aware of that matter, lt is considered in the negotiations that are conducted. However, price reductions which have been announced already by the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) will bring the annual value of savings resulting from reductions negotiated during this financial year to £2,700,000. That figure was announced only a few days ago. The success of these negotiations is a concrete example of the Government’s practical approach to the problem of drug prices.
Having made those points in relation to the Opposition’s amendment, 1 can only say that the obvious purpose of it is to destroy and frustrate the intentions behind this bill. The Government rejects the amendment. 1 am sure that all thinking members of the Opposition, who have a regard for the rights of the Australian people and who believe in the freedom of the individual, will not support the Opposition in this instance.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Daly’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Sir John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mr. Fairhall, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to extend the operation of the Cellulose Acetate Flake Bounty Act 1956-1961 until 31st December, 1964. The current act expires on 30th June, 1964. A review of the cellulose acetate flake industry is at present being undertaken by the Tariff Board which, at the same time, is also examining related products. Because of the scope of the inquiry the relevant report of the board will not be received in time to allow the Government to study it and take appropriate action before the end of the current Parliamentary sittings. The bill, therefore, extends the current cellulose acetate flake bounty legislation for a further six months to allow time for examination of the board’s report and action thereon. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr. J. F. Cairns) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Snedden) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent an Acts Interpretation Bill, an Evidence Bill, a State and Territorial Laws and Records Recognition Bill and a Rules Publication Bill-
being presented and read a first time together and one motion being moved without delay and one question being put in regard to, respectively, the second readings, the committee’s report stage, and the third readings, of all of the bills together, and
the consideration of the bills in one Committee of the whole.
Acts Interpretation Bill 1964.
Evidence Bill 1964.
State and Territorial Laws and Records Recognition Bill 1964.
Rules Publication Bill 1964.
Bills presented by Mr. Snedden, and together read a first time.
.- I move -
That the bills be now read a second lime. The first bill will amend the Acts Interpretation Act at three points. On one of those points, the other three bills are complementary. It will be clearest if I deal with those other bills when I reach the point of the Acts Interpretation Bill that they affect.
Honorable members will not need to be reminded of the importance of the Acts Interpretation Act in assisting the drafting and the interpretation of Commonwealth legislation. They may recall that the act was amended last year to meet a special position. The present amendments also deal with particular points out of the many dealt with in the act. I think it is desirable that the act should not hereafter await review by a series of ad hoc amendments and I have directed my department to undertake, as soon as possible, a complete review of the act so that it can, if necessary, be replaced by up-to-date and comprehensive legislation.
The first purpose of the present amendments is to clarify the circumstances in which regulations may prescribe matters by reference to other instruments. The point came to particular attention recently when it was desired to adopt the High Court scale of witnesses’ expenses as in force from time to time for the purpose of standardizing witnesses’ expenses in other Commonwealth courts and tribunals. The expenses were currently allowable or payable under separate scales in respect of each court or tribunal. It was obviously inconvenient to make separate amendments of each relevant scale every time the High Court scale was altered. It was obviously convenient to provide that any alteration to the High Court scale should automatically operate to vary the other relevant scales. The question was whether regulations could do this because it would be a prescription by reference to a scale that might change from time to time thereafter. It could be doubted whether this would be a prescription at all. If express power were to be sought for a prescription of this nature, then the next point was one of principle. If there were to be power to prescribe by reference to instruments that might themselves be altered from time to time, the power should be limited to so prescribing by reference to Commonwealth legislative instruments because they are under the control of the Parliament. Accordingly, the amendment makes clear that there may be prescription by reference to any instrument existing at the time of the prescription but that, where the prescription is to be by reference to instruments as in force at any other time or from time to time, the instruments so referred to can only be Commonwealth acts, or regulations or rules under Commonwealth acts.
The second purpose of the present amendments is to provide for judicial notice to be taken of regulations under Commonwealth acts and Territory ordinances. It is anomalous that, at present, judicial notice is taken of Territory ordinances, and of proclamations and orders under Commonwealth acts, but not of regulations under Commonwealth acts. In consequence, regulations have to be produced and proved, and the need for this has been criticized in the courts and judicial suggestion made that the legislature should review the matter. The bills will take out of the Acts Interpretation Act, the Rules Publication Act and the State and Territorial Laws and Records Recognition Act, the provisions dealing with proof and judicial notice of subordinate Commonwealth legislation, and will replace them with a new comprehensive provision in the Evidence Act. The new provision will provide for judicial notice of regulations under Commonwealth acts and Territory ordinances.
The third purpose of the amendments is to take the opportunity to strengthen section 34b inserted in the Acts Interpretation Act last year. That section sought to remove difficulty from the way of implementation of revised Standing Order No. 315 - now No. 319 - which permitted papers to be delivered to the Clerk of the House instead of being presented to the House. The section provided, in effect, that compliance with the standing order is compliance with any statutory provision that requires or permits the presentation of papers - for example, regulations - to the House. The section should go further than this. It should expressly remove any doubt that the procedure under the standing order is quite effective for the purposes of any other statutory provision. I have in mind provisions that do not themselves require or permit the presentation of papers, but simply refer to the fact of presentation. For example, section 7 of the Evidence Act makes papers presented to either House admissible in evidence in all courts without formal proof. The present amendment to the Acts Interpretation Act would put beyond doubt that this rule applies to papers not literally laid before the House but, instead, delivered to the Clerk under the Standing Orders.
I commend the bills to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr.Whitlam) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: -
Without amendment -
Wool Industry Bill 1964.
Wool Tax (Administration) Bill 1964.
Wool Tax Legislation Repeal Bill 1964.
Without requests -
Wool Tax (No. 1) Bill 1964.
Wool Tax (No. 2) Bill 1964.
Wool Tax (No. 3) Bill 1964.
Wool Tax (No. 4) Bill 1964.
Wool Tax (No. 5) Bill 1964.
In committee: Consideration resumed (vide page 1856).
Clause 1 (Short Title and Citation).
.- I move -
That the clause be postponed.
I take this action because the Opposition believes this is the appropriate time to state its feelings regarding the Government’s introduction of this bill and its refusal to accept its reponsibility to give full medical entitlements to age pensioners. This is not the first time that I have raised this matter in the chamber, nor is it the first occasion on which the Opposition has taken the opportunity to put before the Government its views on the serious anomalies that exist in connexion with the treatment of pensioners. On a previous occasion I dealt with this matter during a debate on the Social Services Bill andI was informed that the matter of which I spoke was clearly one for the Minister for Health (Senator Wade). I now take this opportunity to move, on behalf of the Opposition, that the clause be postponed in order to give clearly our view that we believe the Government has meted out grave injustice to a large proportion of age pensioners.
Let me state briefly the history of the issue of medical entitlement cards. When this Government came to power and presented its first National Health Bill, that bill provided for complete coverage of all pensioners in all categories - age pensioners, invalid pensioners, widow pensioners and repatriation pensioners. All of those pensioners were eligible for medical entitlement cards. On 31st October, 1955, the Government amended the legislation to provide that, in the future, medical entitlement cards would be issued only to those pensioners whose income did not exceed a certain amount. In the case of a single person the prescribed amount was £2 a week and in the case of a married couple the combined income was fixed at £4 a week. This meant that if the income of a single person receiving an age, invalid or widow’s pension or a repatriation pension, whether it was a special rate or a service pension, reached £20s.1d. a week that person was denied a medical entitlement card. This meant, in effect, that after 31st October, 1955, all pensioners whose incomes exceeded the amount that I have just mentioned were obliged to register with one of the medical benefit funds and pay their contributions out of their small incomes. Various figures have been made available to us at times as to the number of persons who hold medical entitlement cards. The latest figures are not available at this stage but I believe it would be safe to assume that the number of pensioners who are not receiving the benefits that go with the issue of a medical entitlement card is probably greater than 100,000. We say that the Government is doing a grave injustice to these people.
When the amending legislation was introduced in 1955 - nine years ago - the Government applied a means test of £2 a week in the case of a single pensioner. It said, in effect, that that was the maximum income from other sources which a pensioner could have if he or she was to receive the benefits to be derived from the issue of a medical entitlement card. By so doing, the Government denied the great majority of pensioners in this country free medical and hospital treatment as from that time. We now have the fantastic situation that a pensioner whose income is exactly £2 over and above his pension payment can receive the benefits that accrue from the issue of a medical entitlement card, whilst another pensioner, whose income is £20s.1d. above his pension payment, is denied those benefits. The income which precludes him from enjoying them could be from an annuity or even a superannuation scheme. Honorable members on this side of the chamber submit that that is a fantastic situation. This is discriminatory legislation, aimed at the people who can least afford to meet the cost of medical services.
This situation has applied since 1955. To my knowledge, no Minister has ever advanced any valid reason why it should apply. Neither the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) nor his deputy in this place has ever given to honorable members on this side of the chamber any real reason why this situation should apply. The only reason we have been given was that offered by the late Sir Earle Page, who said that it results from a request made by the British Medical Association, now called the Australian Medical Association. Once again we have the Australian Medical Association dictating to the Government as to the concessions it believes should be offered to the people. In this instance, the pensioners of Australia are affected. I find myself in complete agreement with the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who earlier to-night referred to the discriminatory nature of the legislation in this respect. He knows that this legislation is aimed at those people who can least afford to meet the cost of medical services.
In the limited time at my disposal to-night, I cannot point to all the anomalies that now arise or explain how, if one wishes to do so, one can circumvent this legislation. The Opposition says that every person should be automatically issued with a medical entitlement card immediately he or she qualifies for a pension payment of any kind. Those pensioners who received medical entitlement cards prior to 1955 have retained them, irrespective of their other income. The Government is proposing to apply a further means test in the bill we are debating. What it proposes to do is completely unjust. I repeat that the first amending bill was introduced in 1955. nine years ago. The maximum amount of other income which a pensioner was entitled to have then without losing his medical entitlement card was £2 a week. Having regard to the increases in the cost of living and in wages since then, and bearing in mind that the maximum permissible income from other sources which a pensioner is entitled to have without affecting his pension is now £3 10s. a week, surely it is time that the Government reconsidered this maximum of £2 which precludes a pensioner from obtaining a medical entitlement card. If it is not prepared to abolish the means test, it should at least raise the maximum to something above £2 a week.
If one studies the position one will find that the average superannuation payment in most States is about £4 3s. a week. That 3s. over £4 precludes a married pensioner couple from being issued with a medical entitlement card. They are obliged to register with a medical benefit fund and make their contributions to it out of their paltry income. This matter has been brought before the Government’s notice continuously since 1955. If the Government persists with this policy, I say it is completely inhuman in its outlook to the pensioners. The members of the Government parties know of the anomalies that exist. In fact, we have pointed to them on many occasions. The people of Australia do not want this means test. If it is imposed merely at the request of the Australian Medical Association,I say that is not to the credit of the Government. I appeal to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) to consider altering the means test and providing for all pensioners the entitlement which they should enjoy.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the postponement of this clause for two additional reasons. The first is that it places a limit on fund benefits in cases of prolonged or chronic illness, and the second is that we advocate the restoration of free hospitalization in public wards. The limitation of fund benefits in cases of prolonged or chronic illness is one of the serious weaknesses in the Government’s national health legislation, and 1 propose to quote a few figures to support my argument. On 23rd October, 1963, the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) presented a bill on behalf of the Minister for Health (Senator Wade). Reading a prepared speech on behalf of his colleague, the Minister for Repatriation said -
The special account system came into operation on 1st January, 1959. Prior to that time a very substantial number of claims for hospital fund benefit had been disallowed by application of the hospital funds’ rules relating to pre-existing ail- - merits, chronic illness and maximum annual benefits. In the year ended 30th June, 1958, for example 8.3 per cent, of hospital fund benefit claims were disallowed by the funds’ pre-existing ailments rule, 1.3 per cent, of claims were disallowed by the chronic illness rule, and 2.6 per cent, of claims because the contributor’s claims exceeded the funds’ maximum annual limit. In that year, hospital fund contributors were disqualified from hospital fund benefit for more than 1,179,000 days by rules of this sort.
The Government was aware that this anomaly existed as far back as 1958-59. In October of 1963 the Minister for Repatriation admitted in this chamber that the Government realized that it still existed. Yet now, when the act is being completely reviewed, no attempt whatever is made to rectify the anomaly. No attempt is made to give justice or assistance to those people who need justice and assistance most. I referred to this matter yesterday. 1 said then that the national health scheme was introduced for one purpose only - to help those who were not sick; those who were suffering from short illnesses. People who have been unfortunate enough to have long or recurring illnesses have been given no assistance whatever. They receive only the special rate of £12 12s. a week while in hospital, which leaves then: with another £8 8s. a week to pay. When these people are in hospital they are most in need of assistance. Does any honorable member opposite believe that the man or woman who has been in hospital for 84 days in one year does not need assistance? Does any honorable member believe that people can carry on under the conditions laid down by this legislation?
I believe that the first thing that must be done is to amend the rules of the various hospital benefits funds so that instead of the organization being a closed society in which the existing board appoints members to fill vacancies that occur on the board, provision is made for subscriber representation on the board. Honorable members talk about democracy, yet the hospital benefits funds are the most bureaucratic organizations that have ever been constituted under a bureaucratic government. There must be subscriber representation on the boards of these organizations so that the people who contribute to the funds will have some say about the manner in which their money will be distributed and the manner in which assistance will be given to people who need it. It cannot be suggested that the funds have not the money to do this. The administrative costs of these funds during their first ten years of operation have amounted to approximately £15.000,000, and the surpluses of the funds for the first ten years of operation have reached almost £15,000,000.
I should like to cite a few examples to show what the real position is. I refer again to the statement made by the Minister in October, 1963. Although the figures that he gave were for the year ended 30th June, 1958, they are still applicable to fund benefits paid to-day. In fact, the position would be even worse on to-day’s figures. The Minister said - 8.3 per cent, of hospital fund benefit claims were disallowed by the funds’ preexisting ailments rule; 1.3 per cent of claims were disallowed by the chronic illness rule and 2.6 per cent, of claims because the contributor’s claims exceeded the fund’s maximum annual limit.
Of the claims lodged with hospital funds, a total of 12.2 per cent, were rejected for the reasons stated by the Minister, and hospital fund contributors were disqualified from the hospital fund benefit in respect of an aggregate of more than 1,179,000 days. If that total of 1,179,000 days is multiplied by 24s. a day, which is the amount of which the people have been robbed - that is the only way to describe it - by this legislation, we find that they have been deprived of £1,414,800 in hospital benefits. I repeat that that calculation is based on 1958 figures, but those figures would still apply to-day to people who have been unfortunate enough to require hospital treatment, under the rules and conditions laid down by the Government and by the bureaucratic hospital funds which have been created and are being maintained by the Government.
I ask the Minister to explain why the benefit from the various funds is reduced when a person enters hospital. Why is the fund benefit reduced from £16 16s. a week to £5 12s.? Why do people have to find £8 8s. a week more than they receive in benefits at a time when they need real assistance from the funds to which they belong. I belong to one of these funds - not because I want to, but because I believe I cannot afford not to belong. I cannot afford to go into hospital for any protracted period and to pay £40 or £45 a week. The same applies to the man employed in industry. He does not join the fund because he wants to. He joins because he cannot afford to take the risk of being ill and having to meet the additional expenses involved. He joins for the same reasons as he insures his home or his motor car - because he cannot afford to take the risk.
It is the responsibility of this Government to get rid of this obnoxious legislation which has brought about a state of affairs in which people who are seriously ill, who have chronic illnesses or recurring complaints requiring hospital treatment exceeding the 84 days prescribed by the rule, are denied the full benefit. It is time the Government introduced a system of free public ward hospital treatment. I know that government supporters say that such a scheme would have to be paid for out of taxation. I realize that somebody has to pay for it, but we have paid for it on previous occasions. The Chifley Labour Government introduced free hospitalization in Australia and people did not have to worry about the expense of hospital treatment. The free public ward hospital treatment was financed from taxation, to which we all contributed at the time. I believe that the public would be happy to pay taxation for this purpose.
The hospital benefits scheme that we now have was introduced for the specific purpose of reducing the tax burden of people in the higher-income bracket and as a means of applying an overall flat rate of tax not based on the ability of the individual to pay but on the ability of this Government to extract, irrespective of the individual’s income. I ask the Minister to explain why unfortunate people suffering from recurring or chronic illnesses must find £8 8s. a week over and above the benefit to meet their hospital bill.
I should like the Minister to explain also why we cannot have free public ward hospital treatment. We had such a system in Newcastle prior to the introduction of free hospitalization. Under that scheme we contributed 6d. a week to the Newcastle hospital and no limitation was placed on the time for which a subscriber or a member of his family could remain as a patient. There was no limit of 84 days imposed under that scheme; a person could remain in hospital for 84 years and he would continue to receive the benefit laid down under the scheme. If that fund could operate at that time and show a profit sufficient to make extensions to the Newcastle hospital, why cannot a similar scheme operate to-day so that the people most in need of assistance can be helped by hospital treatment?
.- I wish to add my support to the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who used the forms of the committee to move for the postponement of this clause to bring to the notice of the committee certain shortcomings of the legislation. The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) has given additional reasons in support of the Opposition’s proposal. I direct my attention first to the question of pensioners. It should be borne in mind that this Government makes much play of the fact that it introduced free hospitalization for pensioners. The fact of the matter is that free hospital treatment was given to pensioners and to all people many years ago by the Chifley Labour Government. The present Government, through this legislation, has taken that free treatment away from the vast majority of the people and, far from providing free hospitalization for pensioners, has passed the responsibility to the States. The Government merely makes a contribution of 36s. towards the bed cost of £6 a day.
Statements to the effect that the Government is giving free hospitalization to pensioners for the first time are completely wrong. In Australia to-day there are 100,000 pensioners who are denied medical benefits, and at a time when they need them most. As the honorable member for Bass has stated, without doubt this Government is discriminating against some members of this section of the community merely because they receive a miserable £2 a week, or £4 in the case of a married couple in income apart from their pensions. The married couple receiving £4 a week in extra income are denied these benefits and are denied free medicine at a time when they are called upon to meet their heaviest commitments. They have to beg and scrape in order to keep body and soul together.
– If one or both are on the invalid pension it becomes almost impossible.
– As the honorable member for Watson said, if one or both are on the invalid pension it is well nigh impossible for them to exist. I understand from’ answers given to questions that I have asked that the annual cost to adjust the benefit to provide a full cover would be in the vicinity of £1,000,000. The Commonwealth Budget is in the vicinity of £2,000,000,000, so the cost of the adjustment could hardly be said to be impossible to meet, because the money is available. There would be a saving to the Government if it adopted this proposal. The fact of the matter is that the doctors have insisted that this would be to the detriment of the medical profession. When honorable members consider the huge amount paid out - I think £4,500,000 - to doctors for medical treatment of pensioners in the last year and that that expenditure is accepted by the Government at the dictation of the medical profession, I think they will realize that approaches should be made to enable pensioners to be included in the benefits, especially when they have in mind the necessity to care for this section of the community.
The Government discriminates in every way against pensioners. 1 have known of doctors in my electorate who have been brought before a tribunal because it was stated that they were over-treating pensioners. On 23rd May, 1963, in reply to a question by me, the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) stated that he had made inquiries into certain activities of medical men and had found that they were treating poor aged and sick people too much. This shows that, in addition to failing to provide adequate benefits, the Government is also restricting where possible the treatment of pensioners and seeking to make it impossible for them to get the medical attention they require. That is why honorable members on this side of the chamber believe that at this stage the clause should be postponed. We believe that the Government, through the legislation before us, should provide for the pensioners in the community.
I do not know for how long any government could claim as a good scheme one which does not provide for 100,000 of the most deserving people the medical attention they desire. I commend the honorable member for Bass for raising the matter and I also commend the honorable member for Newcastle for mentioning points which are worthy of consideration by the Government.
I wish to refer to a point which was not raised by the honorable member for Bass but might well come within the scope of this discussion. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) made play of the fact that this is a voluntary scheme through which people can choose their own doctors. What is voluntary about a scheme which prescribes that you must belong to a medical benefits fund in order to obtain benefits? The Government will not compel doctors to stabilize their fees because its supporters do not believe in compulsion but the people of this country are compelled to belong to a medical benefits fund before they can obtain benefits.
– Before they will get the full benefits.
– That is so. The Government takes the people’s social service contributions but it will not stabilize medical fees. Government supporters are prepared to let the people be exploited and go into debt and to compel people to belong to a medical or hospital benefits fund before they can get back some of their taxation contributions. I can only say that the Government splits its ethics on this question.
The Opposition moves that the clause be postponed for the very important reasons outlined by the honorable members for Bass and Newcastle. We are opposed to compulsory membership of medical and hospital benefits funds. We believe that benefits should be paid to all people irrespective of whether they are members of such organizations, but at the same time we believe that voluntary affiliation with them should be encouraged. Approximately 70 per cent, of the population is covered by the scheme, which means that about 3,000,000 people are outside its scope. One of our reasons for seeking the postponement of the clause is that about 3,000,000 Australians cannot obtain benefits under this scheme because they refuse to be compelled to join a fund. They may refuse for a variety of reasons. Perhaps some cannot afford the contributions and others may not understand the scheme because of language or other difficulties. We seek the postponement of the clause also because we believe that doctor’s fees should be stabilized. There are about 1,000 categories of treatment which come within the scope of the act. The extent of the Commonwealth benefits cannot be calculated unless the actual cost of the treatment is known. We will comment further on that aspect at a later stage.
Until this Government by arrangement or agreement stabilizes for a given time the charges made by the medical profession for its services you cannot possibly expect the proposals before us to work; even those people who join hospital and medical benefit funds must pay up to 30 per cent, of the cost of their treatment. All these things point to the fact that the scheme is not a good one. It has many shortcomings. The Minister has said that the Opposition desires to nationalize health in this country, but the Constitution does not allow such a course to be taken without a referendum. That argument is therefore exploded.
Government supporters believe tha? the proposed scheme compares with the British national health scheme introduced by a Labour government and maintained by a tory government. The Minister would mislead the people of this country if he attempted to prove to them that nationalized or socialized medicine is not a good thing for the nation. If it is not, why cannot a tory government in Great Britain abolish that country’s national health scheme? The answer is obvious. It is because the British Government knows that it is a scheme which is comprehensive and not only covers the matters raised by the honorable member for Bass, the honorable member for Newcastle and myself, but also provides a complete range of benefits at a much cheaper cost than is provided by the half-baked proposal we are discussing here to-night.
I support the proposal of the honorable member for Bass and I hope that it will be heeded by the Government. During the course of the debate, we will expand and elaborate on the matters which are allied to the proposal of the honorable member for Bass and which make it necessary for us to protest at the shortcomings and the inability of the Government to produce a scheme to cover all sections of the community. I express the hope that in the very near future the proposal will bring the results it deserves. I am particularly hopeful that the Government will provide medical benefits for all pensioners.
.- I should like to protest against the iniquitous means test placed upon age and invalid pensioners. About two years ago, I placed on the noticepaper a question asking how many pensioners were debarred from receiving benefits because of the means test. As the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has pointed out, the number is now approximately 100,000 persons. I inquired also what the cost would be if the means test were abolished and received the answer that at that time it was about £1,300,000. In all probability, the cost would be greater to-day. By the abolition of the means test no great drain would be placed on the Treasury. In my electorate and in the electorates of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine), the honorable member for Grayndler and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) there are more pensioners than in most other areas in Australia. We know the needs of these people. Week after week they come to us complaining about the means test, not just for something to complain about but simply because they cannot meet the costs of treatment for their illnesses.
I shall cite the case of a widower pensioner who receives superannuation of about £3 10s. a week in addition to his invalid pension. He is debarred from receiving medical and pharmaceutical benefits. It is costing him all his superannuation just to keep alive. Similar cases are to be found throughout industrial electorates. If the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) or any member of this House wishes to visit these areas we can show them plenty of such cases caused by the iniquitous means test. In 1955, the late Sir Earle Page, the then Minister for Health, introduced the means test. At that time the basic wage was about £12 a week and the age and invalid pensions were about £4 a week. Sir Earle Page used this argument: A man on the basic wage was in receipt of £12 a week and had to pay for medical treatment for his wife and himself. A married pensioner couple should be allowed other income of only £4 a week. What he did not mention but what everybody knew was that very few people received the basic wage. Most people now receive wages well above the basic wage, which vary according to the industry in which they are employed. Another fact not taken into consideration was that the older people become, the more medical attention they need. Nobody can deny that fact. In my opinion, it was a great injustice to introduce the means test; it was also an action taken at the expense of unfortunate people and ill befits any government.
– The British Medical Association had Sir Earle Page bluffed.
– As my honorable friend has said, the British Medical Association had the late Sir Earle Page bluffed on this matter at that time. This means test on pensioners should be abolished. As I said before, the cost to the Department of the Treasury would be only about £1,500,000 a year. That is a mere drop in the bucket compared to a total budget of more than £2,200,000,000. One has to be among pensioners to see what is happening to them. It is of no use for the Minister for Health to say anything about what he thinks if he does not mix with age and invalid pensioners and is not aware of what they go through in trying to exist and pay medical and pharmaceutical expenses. The Minister should go amon pensioners and see for himself.
– Has the honorable member invited the Minister to his electorate?
– I have invited him on numerous occasions. Is there anybody in this chamber who would like to see his own parents existing in circumstances similar to those in which so many pensioners live? Obviously, no honorable member would like it. Yet honorable members opposite are quite prepared to Iel other people go through these trials in an attempt to exist on the pension, at the same time being denied pharmaceutical and medical benefits by this iniquitous means test that we have described. It is high time that the Government looked into this matter. It has the capacity to abolish this means test. In 1961 and 1963, the Australian Labour Party promised the people faithfully that, if elected to office, it would abolish the means test. Unless the present Government chooses to act now, pensioners can rest assured that the means test to which they are subjected will never be abolished until a Labour government is elected to office.
– Mr. Chairman, my comments on the amendment will be brief, because Opposition members wish to discuss a number of other matters related to the clauses of the bill and I do not wish to take up their time unduly. The terms of the amendment are that the clause be postponed. 1 realize that the Opposition is merely adopting the procedures of this chamber to voice an objection to certain parts of the bill. However, I do not know whether Opposition members realize that agreement to the amendment would mean withdrawal of the bill and the loss by the people of Australia of about £4,000,000 that they would otherwise have received in the form of Commonwealth benefits at increased rates under the terms of this measure. I believe that that should be appreciated and that Opposition members should be aware of the implications of their actions in opposing this amendment. As I have said, the Opposition has merely adopted the forms of this chamber. Whether it proceeded in this way or in some other way, its action would amount to the same thing.
Let us test the Opposition’s sincerity in relation to the national health scheme. The pensioner medical service mentioned by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who proposed the amendment, was introduced by this Government in 1951. That is the very scheme that the honorable member has criticized. Prior to 1951, there was no pensioner medical service. Had the Australian Labour Party sincerely wished to introduce a national health scheme, it could have done so when it was in office before 1949. In fact, under Labour’s administration, in 1949, there was no national health scheme. Comparison of government expenditure on national health during the last year in office of the Labour Government and estimated expenditure for the financial year 1964-65 reveals an interesting story. Expenditure on national health in the financial year 1949-50-
– -What was-
– That, of course, was before the honorable member’s time. Expenditure on national health in the financial year 1949-50 was £8,900,000 and expenditure on national health in the financial year 1964-65 is estimated at £104,800,000. It may be said that I am only citing statistics, but the estimate for next financial year is an earnest of this Government’s efforts. The present pensioner medical service, which was introduced by this Government, has been designed to assist those who are most needy. Others in the community are provided for by the insurance scheme and their needs are being met by that scheme at present.
The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) said that 3,000,000 people are not covered by the present national health scheme. In arriving at that figure, he overlooked the fact that it includes many people who are covered by the pensioner medical service and the repatriation system, as well as a reasonably wide range of service personnel whose needs are catered for in some way or other. The honorable member also discussed the United Kingdom national health scheme. He said that the present Government in the United Kingdom had not been able to make any changes in the British scheme. There are some fairly obvious reasons why the British scheme could not be changed. However, the United Kingdom Government has had to introduce deterrent charges in an effort to get some control over its scheme. It is interesting to note that that scheme is paid for out of taxation, and a comparison of the tax situation in the United Kingdom and in Australia is enlightening. We know that the United Kingdom health scheme is not the only item of government expenditure in Britain, but it absorbs a very large part of the Budget. I shall state the figures in Australian currency. In the United Kingdom, a single man with a taxable income of £800 a year is taxed at the rate of £163. In Australia, a single man with a taxable income of £800 pays only £63 in tax. These figures show that there is a substantial difference in the tax structure. A very substantial proportion of the higher taxes in the United Kingdom is absorbed by the national health scheme. I mention this only because the honorable member for Grayndler a little earlier compared the Australian scheme with the British scheme.
The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) discussed chronic illness. As he knows, prior to 195,9, there was no scheme to cover people who suffered from chronic illnesses. In that year, the present Government made provision for such people for the first time under the national health scheme. As a result, a person suffering from a chronic illness may now receive 16s. a day fund benefit and 20s. a day Commonwealth benefit without limitation of time. This represents a very substantial and helpful contribution that has done much for many thousands of people throughout the community. The honorable member for Newcastle also raised the matter of free hospitalization in public wards. The present Government’s national health scheme, as I have explained on previous occasions, is ideally suited to the Australian way of life. For a contribution of 3s. a week, a person can insure himself and his family for a benefit sufficient completely to meet charges in public wards. In fact, the average charge in intermediate wards is only a shade above the total fund and Commonwealth benefits that can be obtained for a contribution of 3s. a week.
For the reasons that I have stated, Mr. Chairman, obviously, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
.- Mr. Chairman, I rise at this stage because, in my opinion, the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) dismissed far too lightly the Opposition’s case concerning the issue of medical entitlement cards to pensioners and the matters discussed so forcibly by the honorable member ft: Newcastle (Mr. Jones). The Minister referred to the history of pensioner medical entitlement cards. We concede all that he said about the historical aspect. But at no stage did he indicate the reasons why the Government is not prepared to accept the contention by Opposition members that there is a real need for the issue of medical entitlement cards to all pensioners and not just to a comparative few as at present. The Minister said nothing about any reasons why all pensioners are not issued with medical entitlement cards. He merely dismissed the proposal that these cards be issued to all pensioners. He was content merely to deal with history. But we know it already.
Prior to 1949 when this Government assumed office all pensioners were granted treatment in public hospitals and it was free. There was no discrimination. The Minister knows only too well that at that stage the Chifley Labour Government was negotiating with the British Medical Association, as it was then called, for an extension of the cover provided to pensioners. The Minister for Repatriation on this occasion has not answered the charges made by the Opposition. He has not even answered the charge made earlier this evening by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). 1 am not satisfied that the Government cannot meet the cost of providing treatment for pensioners. Other honorable members who have spoken in this debate have already pointed out that the cost of granting this concession to all pensioners would not exceed £1,500,000 out of a total Budget of more than £2,000,000,000.
The Minister is evading the real issue. We are not concerned about the history of the issue of medical entitlement cards. We know it only too well. We know that in 1955 this Government introduced a means test. It is useless for the Minister to complain that certain conditions did not apply in 1949. They do not apply now. More than 100,000 pensioners are denied the benefits that they should receive from the national health scheme. Surely it is not too much to expect the Government to reconsider its attitude on this matter. The Minister has not denied our assertion that the Government acted as it did in 1955 at the request of the British Medical Association or the Australian Medical Association, as it is now called. The late Sir Earle Page, who was then Minister for Health, did not deny that the Government was amending the legislation simply because the British Medical Association had requested it to do so.
Let us have a look at the human side. Why deny to one pensioner whose income in addition to his pension is only £2 0s. Id. a week the privileges that are granted to a pensioner whose income other than his pension is only £2 a week? An extra Id. a week denies a pensioner the right to a medical entitlement card. Honorable members on this side of the chamber believe that these pensioners should be given the privileges that others enjoy, but the Government apparently is not willing to accept our assertion. The suggestion does not come only from Opposition members. Earlier in this debate the honorable member for Sturt referred to the injustice and the anomaly that exists because of the attitude adopted by the Government on this matter. Various organizations outside the Parliament have pointed to the injustice, and these are not only organizations of pensioners but also organizations of people who are in a position to understand the real problems that confront people who must live on a limited income. Pensioners are denied benefits that we believe any reasonable government, concerned about the conditions that apply to people who have reached the age where they must rely on social service payments, would grant.
The means test applied by this Government not only excludes pensioners whose income from other sources exceeds £2 a week by Id.; it also takes into consideration the small amount of interest that pensioners receive on ‘their bank accounts. Let me give an example, and I hope that the Minister will provide an answer. Let us take the case of a single invalid pensioner who receives a pension of £5 15s. a week. In addition to the social service payment, he receives £2 a week from superannuation, a war pension, an annuity or from some other source. If he has a bank account of £12, the Department of Social Services says, “ The interest you will receive on that amount will be at least Id. a week and you are not entitled to a medical entitlement card “.
Did the Minister answer any of the arguments that have been advanced by Opposition members? Not at all. To-night he merely dealt with the history of the legislation and the position that obtained when his Government came to office. It is true that there were no medical entitlement cards in 1949 when his Government assumed office, but the fact is that all pensioners then were able to receive treatment, as all people were, in the public wards of hospitals, and they had no worries about the cost of the treatment. But now pensioners are divided into two classes, and the classes were referred to earlier to-night by the honorable member for Sturt. The Government is creating class distinctions, and we do not believe that this is necessary.
Even at this late hour, the Minister on behalf of his Government has an opportunity to say that the Government will reconsider this proposition. The request that it do so does not come only from the Opposition. It comes also from interested organizations outside the Parliament. The Minister knows that there is an injustice. It is not a question of costs. The total cost to the country would be £1,500,000. If the Government cannot meet this cost out of an annual Budget of £2,300,000,000, is there any person who would not bc prepared to pay additional tax so that this service could be provided to pensioners? The Minister denies that it is a question of costs. He obviously agrees with the Opposition’s contention that this legislation has been forced on the unsuspecting people, particularly the ‘ pensioners, because the Australian Medical Association has demanded it. But, as the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has pointed out, the medical profession has done very well out of the pensioners. Last year, more than £4,000,000 was paid to the medical profession for the treatment of pensioners. Therefore, the doctors should not complain.
I say, as I have said before here, that this is a complete injustice and I will not be satisfied until the Government adopts a realistic attitude or at least a humane attitude. The Minister’s answer did not satisfy me and it did not satisfy any honorable member on this side of the chamber. If the Government does not reconsider its position, we will take every opportunity to debate this question. Honorable members on the Government side of the committee know that an injustice exists. It was mentioned by one of them earlier to-night. He is not now in the chamber. When I commenced to speak on this matter, he walked out. I know he would like to join in this debate and I know, too, how he would like to vote on this question. He would like to vote with the Opposition, because he has already pointed out that the Government’s action cannot be justified in an enlightened community. It cannot be justified on the basis of costs, because the expenditure involved is very small in comparison with the benefits that would be granted to a limited number of people.
Sir, I believe that the Government has a case to answer. The Minister did not answer it. He refused to answer it. We on this side of the chamber are not satisfied with the argument presented by the Minister on this occasion.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– 1 will not keep the committee for very long, because this matter has been dealt with very effectively by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and other Opposition members. However, I would like some clarification from the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz). I know that he is representing the Minister for Health (Senator Wade), who is in another place, but in his own right he is the Minister for Repatriation. I would like to ask him whether it is a fact that the Government, through the Repatriation Department, at present provides all ex-servicemen over 60 years of age who qualify for a service pension with free treatment in hospitals in respect of any disability, whether it is war caused or not.
– This came from the Opposition in the first place. We advocated it.
– I know that it came from the Opposition. That provision exists at present so far as repatriation benefits are concerned. Can the Minister explain why he considers this to be a necessary principle in respect of exservicemen who are over 60 years of age but unnecessary in the case of invalid pensioners over 60 years of age and age pensioners over 65 years of age? There seems to be an incredible inconsistency here for a start. I would like the Minister, when he replies, to try to reconcile those things.
The Opposition has referred to the fact that the granting of a medical entitlement card is subject to an income barrier. This is as a result of the 1955 legislation which provided that a pensioner couple with an income of £4 or more a week was debarred from the pensioner medical service. We know that such an income also debars them from other benefits. In some States they would not be able to obtain travel concessions on government railways and other government transport services. This is a side issue that has not been raised, and the Minister has chosen to ignore it up to date. How can the Minister reconcile this means test within a means test - this £2 barrier - against the situation in which a pensioner couple may obtain from the Department of Social Services an income of £10 10s. a week, which will be paid despite the fact that they have assets worth £4,040?
Is it not a fact that under the Social Services Act there is some compatability as between income and assets? Why is this principle not applied to the pensioner medical service? Why place a barrier on income only and disregard the fact that a pensioner couple may have assets amounting to £4,040 without affecting their right to hold a pensioner medical card? Is it not a fact that those pensioners who received a medical entitlement card prior to 1955 continue to hold the card regardless of the way in which their income may have varied? Does this situation make any sense?
The net effect of all this is that some pensioners still hold a medical entitlement card despite the fact that they have an income in excess of £2 a week, whilst other pensioners are refused a medical entitlement card because they have an income in excess of £2 a week. I ask the Minister: Is it not a fact that if a pensioner already holds a medical entitlement card, he will continue to enjoy the benefits of the card regardless of the extent to which his income may change? Does the Minister understand the points I am raising? If so, will he try to reconcile the two situations?
If a pensioner has income of less than £2 a week he may hold a medical entitlement card. If to-morrow he and his wife receive an income of £6 a week between them, or if he alone gets an income of £3 10s. a week, will he continue to enjoy uninterrupted the benefit of the medical entitlement card? If he will, the situation is absurd. As the honorable member for Bass has said, it discriminates between pensioners. Nobody can possibly draw any sensible conclusion from the conglomeration of arrangements that prevails at the present time.
I had not intended to take part in this discussion. There are many other points that need to be raised, but it seems to me that as these are the issues that are raised every day of the week by pensioners who come to see members of Parliament, the Government should be encouraged to understand the importance of them. Pensioners come to us and say: “ Mrs. Smith gets a medical entitlement card. Do you know that she has a greater income than I have? “ How can we explain this situation to these people? Are we to tell them that Mrs. Smith held her card before a certain date and that once she holds it it is never taken from her? 1 am sure that these questions are sufficiently provocative to ensure that the Minister will not be content to remain seated and not answer them. With a great deal of humility I ask the Minister whether he will be good enough to provide justification for the Government continuing these iniquitous arrangements.
Question put -
That the clause be postponed (Mr. Barnard’s amendment). (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Ayes . . . . . . 45
Noes . . . . . . 61
Majority .. .. 16
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 2 to 5 - by leave - taken together.
.- The committee will recall that over the years there has been some disagreement between the optometrists and the ophthalmologists in regard to the receipt of benefits under the National Health Act. From the beginning the optometrists asked that they be included in the scheme. The decision of the Government at that time was that the act was designed to provide benefits in respect of doctors’ fees only. For that reason a provision, which is now being amended, was inserted with the deliberate intention of preventing clients of optometrists from obtaining payment of any benefit in relation to the prescription of spectacles. It was necessary to make a distinction, and the course chosen by the Government was to say that, when a client goes to an ophthalmologist, if the consultation results in spectacles being prescribed the client is not able to claim a benefit.
Optometrists have fought against that for ten or twelve years. They have received no satisfaction at all. All the time they have been told: “ Why do you not tone down your complaint? You do not want to come under this scheme “. But this provision discriminates against them. There is a battle for clients between the optometrists and the ophthalmologists. The ophthalmologists are able to offer their clients a fund benefit, but it is denied to the clients of the optometrists.
– How can they do that?
– I will explain how they do it. That is why I rose to speak on ‘ these clauses. In 1961 I had quite a deal of correspondence with the then Minister for Health and the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). They said that there was ample supervision of what was happening. I asked that an investigation be made because the Commonwealth was paying £1 - that payment will now be increased to £1 5s. - in respect of a consultation with a specialist when all it should have been paying was 6s. - that payment will now be increased to 8s. - and if spectacles were prescribed no benefit at all should have been paid to the patient.
The ophthalmologists, quite adroitly, have used this provision to their advantage. I have seen the local ophthalmologists taking business away from the local optometrists because people know that if they go to an ophthalmologist they will receive the benefit, but if they go to an optometrist they will not receive it. I asked the then Minister for Health and the Treasurer to investigate the matter. They told me that they were quite satisfied that that was not happening. They said that there was nothing wrong at all.
I decided that I would test the position for myself. I usually have two pairs of glasses - one pair for normal use and one pair for reading. I decided to get a pair of bi-focals - the ones that I have on now. Usually I deal with an optometrist because I believe that optometrists should do eye refractions. But I decided to go to an ophthalmologist. He did not know who I was. I asked for an appointment and made one. When I went along, the ophthalomogist’s nurse said to me, “ Have you been referred by any other doctor? “ As all honorable members know, the answer to that question makes a difference in regard to the receipt of benefit. 1 said, “ Dr. Cox is my doctor “. So she wrote down “ Dr. Cox “.
I went in to the doctor. He examined my eyes and carried out all the tests. Then he wrote out a prescription. I said, “ I would like to pay this account now “. I said that because I wanted the evidence. He said, “ Do you belong to a medical benefit organization? “ I said, “ Yes, I do “. He said: “Well, on the claim form there is a certain question. When you fill in your claim form, you do not answer that question.” I said, “Don’t you?” He said: “ No. If you answer that question, you will not receive the benefit.” He must have thought that there was something wrong with my approach because he said: “It is quite all right. This is quite legal. Your medical benefits organization has no right to ask you to disclose private information on dealings between you and your doctor, or on what happens between doctor and patient in the surgery.” So I went outside and paid the account. When I got the account I saw that the words “ Referred by Dr. Cox “ were written on it. I put my claim in to the medical benefits society.
I am telling this story to the committee - more particularly to the Treasurer - because in 1961 he told me that this was not being done. But it is being done. I again ask for an investigation of the injustice that is done to optometrists. Ophthalmologists have the advantage of letting it be known in the district that if a person goes to them, breaks the spirit of this legislation and says that he has been referred by a doctor who does not know anything about him, he may receive the benefit. The Commonwealth loses money as a result of this practice. The Commonwealth should investigate it. A little while ago I asked that the Government put friendly societies and chemists on an equal footing. I ask that this matter be investigated by the Department of Health - and by the Treasury, because it is losing money - and that optometrists and ophthalmologists be put on an equal footing.
.- I thought I would tell the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) how he could solve his problem. He could have solved it two years ago by voting with the Opposition to give effect to the proposals which he has just announced to this House. The Opposition moved at that time that when a patient was referred from an optometrist to an ophthalmologist, the patient should receive the benefit of the Commonwealth contribution on a specialist basis. Unfortunately, sympathetic as I am to the honorable member, he was missing on that occasion from the ranks of those who would have made such a provision possible by voting with the Opposition. I have the utmost sympathy with him in the tragic story he told to-night, but the way to remedy the situation is to support amendments we have moved in this Parliament to give a comprehensive scheme which will provide what has been suggested to-night as a necessary reform.
The Opposition believes that the optometrists have a case. That is why we support the point of view they have put forward. I think the honorable member for McMillan is wasting his time in talking to the Minister because he will take no notice, but the honorable member will have an opportunity to vote on a measure like this in the near future. I suggest that the honorable member grasp the opportunity and save himself the trouble he described to the committee to-night. At the same time he can assist the optometrists in a matter which has been of great concern to them and on which they have made appeals to all members of the Parliament.
.- I do not want to detain the committee very long but as far as I am concerned this is a matter of great principle. I do not know what happened on the previous occasion when the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) had the opportunity of voting with the Opposition on this matter. The fact remains that whether he voted or not then, he has made a very valid point this evening. I have believed for a long time that the same consideration that is given to chemists, doctors and other members of the medical profession should be extended to optometrists. This view is shared not only by members of the Opposition. Apparently it is shared by some supporters of the Government.
There seems to be no reason why the Government should not meet this request which has been made so many times. I think all honorable members fully understand the case submitted to the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) by those who represent that particular section of the medical profession in Australia. I regard treatment by optometrists as being equally as important as any other branch of medicine. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has already pointed out that it is almost hopeless to suggest to the Government or to the Minister for Health amendments to the national health scheme that will benefit a large section of the community. The Government is not prepared to listen to reasonable requests. Surely, if the Government is not prepared to listen to the Opposition, it should be prepared to listen to the representations made to it by the optometrists. These are always based upon fact. Optometrists are not an insignificant section of the community. There is no valid reason - 1 repeat, no valid reason - why this Government should not include these people in the national health scheme. The Minister for Health has offered no reason why they should not bc brought into it. The Minister is prepared to sit idly by and even condone the type of practice referred to by the honorable member for McMillan tonight. That type of practice merely indicates how the Government’s legislation can be circumvented.
Apparently the doctor who made the prescription for the honorable member for McMillan said this practice was quite legal. It may be legal; I do not know. I am not prepared to argue that point. I am not a legal man. But I would hazard a guess that it is sailing very close to illegality. I think the Minister and his responsible officers in the department must acknowledge that point of view. The sensible thing to do is to bring optometrists under the provisions of the bill.
I believe that if a patient desires to go straight to an optometrist he should be able to claim from the medical benefits society to which he belongs in the same way that a patient who visits a doctor can make a claim. There is no reason why this should not be done. Optometrists are just as important to the health of the community as are doctors. The Government should consider the point of view that was expressed tonight by the honorable member for McMillan.
– The optometrist in the majority of cases is better qualified than the ophthalmologist.
– I agree with the honorable member for McMillan in that respect. I pointed out to the House during my second-reading speech that these people are highly qualified. After all, it requires Jong periods of study to obtain the degree which qualifies them to practice as optometrists. There seems to be no reasonable argument to be advanced by the Government to keep these people outside the scheme. The optometrists have made their representations and have presented their case to the Government but have been refused on all occasions. Even at this late stage the Government should reconsider the approaches that have been made by these people.
Clauses agreed to.
Clause 6 (Commonwealth benefit payable in respect of services specified in the Schedule.)
.- On behalf of the Opposition, I move -
That the clause be postponed.
I do this to direct attention to the inadequacy of the benefits contained in the Schedule to the bill. Clause 6 is the provision that amends section 14 of the principal act. The Schedule refers to professional attendances on the one hand and all the various items under the national health scheme on the other hand. It covers the Commonwealth benefit which is to be payable in respect of visits to doctors and visits by doctors to patients. It also covers the Commonwealth contribution to be paid in respect of expenses incurred in any hospital operation. The Opposition takes the view that these benefits are totally inadequate whether they apply to operations or to treatment by a medical practitioner. The Opposition also says that the whole concept of the national health scheme in regard to these benefits is based on very unsatisfactory grounds.
During the course of the second-reading debate, a great deal of attention was given to the fact that this Government seems to regard it as satisfactory that people should be required to take what is called “ voluntary insurance “. The point has been made that the voluntary part is denied to a very considerable extent in that it is impossible to get any benefit from taxation unless a citizen becomes a member of one of the benefit organizations.
It is very interesting to look at these benefit organizations because there is a tremendous number of them in this country at the present time. In fact, there are 188 of these organizations, 110 administering hospital funds and the other 78 administering medical benefits funds. The intriguing part about all these organizations is that they have been accumulating fantastic reserves. At 30th June, 1962, the hospital benefits organizations had fluid reserves amounting to £16,600,000 and the medical benefit organizations had reserves amounting to £8,400,000. That amounts to £25,100,000 stacked away for the rainy day or the day when the epidemic is supposed to come along. I have asked the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) recently what are the total assets of these organizations. He has intimated that this information is not available but the total assets of these organizations must be tremendous because the fluid reserves alone exceed £25,000,000. Similarly, I asked for details of wages and salaries paid by these organizations. The Minister said that this information is not available.
The administrative costs of the various funds have reached fabulous proportions. The medical funds have expended £16,300,000 on administration in the ten years from 1951-52 to 1961-62 and in the same period the hospital funds have expended £12,200,000. That makes a total of £28,500,000 expended between 1951-52 and 1961-62. Those are not my figures. Any honorable member can check them for himself as they are set out in an answer given to a question by the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) and appearing in “ Hansard “ of 17th September, 1963. So, there it is. We find this tremendous overhead. For people to qualify for Commonwealth benefits they have to belong to these iniquitous organizations. How can anyone justify such a top-heavy arrangement?
When all is said and done, only one fund is really necessary for a national health scheme. If this were a public fund, it could be underwritten by the tremendous resources of this country. Because fluid reserves would not bc necessary at all, it would be possible to expend the enormous sum which has been accumulated in reserves on giving the sick people in our community better benefits than they have had hitherto. But Government seems to prefer the existing situation. The Opposition is at a loss to understand what inspires the Government.
The benefits provided under this legislation are terribly disappointing. When the Government first indicated at election time that there was to be a 33i per cent, increase in benefits, most people took the statement to mean that the total of all benefits would be increased by 331 per cent. That might have represented something fairly substantial, and could have impressed a number of people. But having come to the Parliament and heard this legislation outlined, we have now ascertained that the increase is to be only one-third of the Commonwealth contribution. That is an infinitesimal proportion.
Let us consider the benefit payable in respect of a consultation with a doctor at a surgery. The Minister for Repatriation says that there is a common fee. He says that in South Australia it is £1 ; in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia it is £1 ls.; and in New South Wales and Tasmania it is £1 5s. The present Commonwealth benefit is 6s., and the present fund benefit is 10s., making a total benefit 1 6s. This legislation proposes to increase the Commonwealth contribution to the benefit by 2s. So, the Commonwealth contribution will be 8s., but the fund benefit will remain at 10s. The net effect of all this is that there is to be an extra 2s. returned to a patient who visits a doctor. In certain States the patient will receive in benefits 72 per cent, of the cost of the service, and in others he will receive 86 per cent.
But what is the position if the doctor visits the patient’s home? At the present time the cost of a home visit by a doctor in South Australia is £1 6s.; it is £1 10s. in Western Australia, £1 lis. 6d. in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, and £1 12s. 6d. in New South Wales. The total benefit to be paid is still only 18s. So, the return will vary from about 50 per cent, to about 60 per cent. Obviously there should be a special item to cover cases where the doctor visits the patient at his home. There is a tremendous disparity between the cost of visiting a doctor at his surgery, and the cost of having a doctor visit a patient at home. There is no reason why a special visit item could not be introduced to give people a higher cover than they are able to purchase at the present time. Although this proposal has been put to the Minister on a number of occasions, he has refused to acquiesce in it.
The situation to-day is that if people are so sick that they are unable to visit the doctor at his surgery, instead of paying £1, £1 ls., or £1 5s. as the case may be, for that visit, they have to pay as much as £1 Ils. 6d. for the doctor to visit them at home. And, of course, these people include the aged, the senile, the chronically ill and the seriously ill. They could obtain from 72 per cent, to 86 per cent, of the cost of a visit to a doctor’s surgery, but because they must have the doctor visit them at home, the return varies from 50 per cent, to 60 per cent, which is a fairly niggardly proportion.
There is not time for me to cover all the other aspects of this legislation. It is sufficient to say that this bill does not give the people of Austrafia anywhere near the degree of security to which they, as human beings, are entitled. We do not want to drag the chain in Australia in respect of this kind of legislation. Once Australia had the reputation of leading the world with enlightened social service and health legislation. But as a consequence of the miserable concept that underlies the national health scheme we find to-day that sick people in our community are in a most precarious position. We on this side of the House desire to attract the attention not only of the Government but also of the community at large to the inadequacy of this scheme. It is because of this that I have found it necessary to move that this clause be postponed.
.- I support the motion for the postponement of this clause. The Opposition is again using the procedures of this House to express its dissatisfaction at the failure of the Government to provide adequate benefits to cover all medical charges. The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) has put to the Parliament an excellent case for some form of coverage whereby there may be available to contributors the full refund necessary to cover the cost of medical attention. This scheme originally was intended to give contributors a 90 per cent, coverage but if one can believe what was said by the Minister in his second-reading speech the average has been approximately 65 per cent. For surgery visits, it ranges from 72 per cent, to 86 per cent, according to the States. It would be safe to say that the average person who is ill and is visited by a doctor pays 8s. in the £1 for medical attention.
The whole question of medical funds requires investigation. These latest benefits will not amount to any real improvement for the contributor unless the fund benefits are increased accordingly. In his secondreading speech, the Minister made it clear that that will not happen unless contributions to the funds are increased. That means that not only will the social services tax be maintained but, to get fund benefits commensurate with the 33i per cent, increase in Commonwealth benefit, additional contributions will have to be paid to the funds. With the honorable member for Hughes, I would like to know why the funds cannot afford to make higher benefits available without increasing the contributions by their subscribers. As the honorable member for Hughes has said, an amount of over £25,000,000 is held in reserve by these funds. Over the past eight to ten years they have averaged an excess of contributions over amounts paid out of several million pounds. In addition, unlimited money is available at times for newspaper wars such as we saw in Sydney, when the newspapers in that city carried huge banner headlines and also full page advertisements about who should and who should not belong to these funds. Without doubt, some funds are being run not so much for the benefit of subscribers as for the benefit of medical practitioners, who want to have payment of their accounts guaranteed. Take as an example, the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Limited, which is without doubt a doctor’s fund, because the fund has so stated in a document sent to me and to other members. This is what appears on page 6 of that document -
In order to provide the finance to start the M.B.F. doctors were invited to subscribe £10 each as working capital in a non-profit company to be known as the Medical Benefits Fund of N.S.W. Ltd. (The name was changed to Medical Benefits Fund of Australia when interstate branches were opened.) A condition of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of this company is that the capital can never be returned to original subscribers, nor can dividends be paid to them. Approximately 1,000 doctors in New South Wales responded to the invitation and became initial medical members.
Next, I refer to “Nation” of 27th July, 1963, in relation to directors of this fund. It states -
The members of the M.B.F. Council and its three State Executive Committees give their time to the organization for nothing and they deserve the public’s gratitude. But of the seventeen members of the Executive in New South Wales listed in the 1962 Annual Report, only five are described as “ Contributors’ Representatives “, the other twelve are doctors; in Queensland, there are four Contributors’ Representatives and nine doctors; in Tasmania there are two Contributors’ Representatives and seven others; of the twentyone full members of the Council, nine were Contributors’ Representatives against twelve others. Neither the representatives nor the doctors are elected by the contributors.
In other words, there is a fund which deals with hundreds of thousands of pounds over, which the contributors have no say whatever. I should say that this fund would be operated exclusively not for the contributors but in order to see that the doctors who are associated with it are paid, irrespective of the costs that might be involved.
Let us look at the new benefits, which the honorable member for Hughes has mentioned. Provision is made in this clause and in subsequent clauses for increased Commonwealth benefits of up to £30. A patient will now receive £22 10s. towards the cost of an operation for appendicitis. The Government, of course, has what it calls a common charge for this operation, but my understanding is that the common charge is extremely rare in all States. I understand that the average charge for the operation, far from being £26 5s. as the Minister has stated, would be in the vicinity of £30. That is a very fair average. This means that the percentage cost of the operation which will be recouped will fall accordingly. It will be nowhere near the figure of 90 per cent, suggested by the Minister. Let us look a little further. People do not get these complaints just for fun. A person who suffers a fractured skull will receive £25 fund benefit and £20 Commonwealth benefit, making a total of £45. No one knows what the cost of an operation for that purpose would be. It is idle to say that a patient would receive 90 per cent, of the expense involved. For an operation to the heart or lungs, the maximum combined benefit from many of the funds at the present time would be in the vicinity of £65. My information is that doctors skilled enough to perform such an operation may charge hundreds of pounds, so much skill being required and so involved is the operation. What chance has a person who is affected by heart or lung complaints to receive a reasonable benefit from the funds or from the Commonwealth under this scheme?
It all boils down to this: Unless the charges for these operations are stabilized, the scheme will completely fail to give any real benefit at all to the people. All that the Government is doing is building up the reserves of these funds under false pretences, one might say, because it is well known that fees are not stabilized and that irrespective of increases in benefits there will be no guarantee that costs will be covered. There should be no reason at all for these funds to build up huge reserves. What is wrong with having a Commonwealth medical and hospital benefits fund, guaranteed or maintained by the Commonwealth, and in that way doing away with the necessity to have huge reserves? What is economic about maintaining 188 medical and hospital benefit funds, with a multiplicity of controls and administrations?
Without doubt the present system, which the Government evidently intends to maintain, will not provide adequate benefits to contributors. The only ones who will benefit are those who are having payment of their accounts guaranteed, namely, the members of the medical profession. That is evident from examination of this document and of the clause that we are discussing at this stage and the succeeding clause, although the Government has stated that it is providing greatly increased benefits for the people. If time permitted, I could cite a dozen other examples to show that the ratio of combined fund and Commonwealth benefits to costs is falling all along the line. While these funds are building up huge reserves and using contributors’ funds to fight battles in the newspapers, and while there is this disparity between the cost of operations and combined benefits, we cannot expect the patient, who is dependent on the scheme, to get from it the benefit that he should receive.
Consequently, the Opposition moves that the clause be postponed. As full cover can be obtained from hospital benefit funds, why can it not be provided for contributors to medical benefit funds? The patient should be fully covered for medical costs involved in operations or in visits to or by a medical practitioner. I suggest that the Minister should consider carefully the reasons for postponing the clause.
Question put -
That the clause be postponed (Mr. L. R. Johnson’s amendment).
The committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 15
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 7 to 17 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clauses 18 to 21 - by leave - taken together.
– The Opposition opposes these clauses and will divide the committee on them because we want to find out just where the Liberal Party members and the Australian Country Party members stand on the issue of friendly societies. I am aware of a rift between the Country Party and the Liberal Party on this issue because I know that the Minister for Health (Senator Wade), who is a Country Party Minister, was virtually press-ganged into acceptance of the proposal that we are now debating. He did not want to agree to it. He was never happy with it and it was forced upon him because of pressure brought to bear upon the Liberal Party members of the coalition by the guild chemists and others who had the ear of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and othersin the top echelons of the Cabinet. It is no wonder that the Minister is at heart opposed to this iniquitous proposal, because what it aims to do is virtually to kill the friendly society system.
The friendly society system in Australia has rendered a magnificent service to the people. Ever since the year 1885 the friendly societies have been working to ensure that not only poor people but people in any section of the community could get medicines at low rates. A person who belongs to a friendly society can obtain medicine for as little as one-third of the price charged by the guild chemists. It is possible to have a prescription made up for1s instead of the 5s. that is charged by the guild chemists. This does not mean that the Government is paying out any more money; it simply means that the friendly societies meet the extra cost out of their own funds. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the existing legislation that requires the friendly societies to charge even1s. for a prescription. They do so by arrangement and under a gentleman’s agreement and they strictly enforce the arrangement. I know from my own personal experience that it is just not true to say, as Government members have been told by the guild chemists, that anybody can walk into a friendly society pharmacy and have a prescription made up and so enjoy a reduction of 4s. in the charge. I am very well known in Adelaide, particularly in King William-street where 1 go to work and return from work every day I am in that city. Most people in that district know me, especially in the friendly society chemist shop that I patronize. I go there frequently, but the people in that shop will not make up a prescription for me unless I take my friendly society card. I have had to suffer the inconvenience - and I speak truthfully on this matter - of going into that shop without having the card in my possession, and then having to return to my federal member’s room to get the card before obtaining my medicine and enjoying the benefit of the price reduction.
It is being said that the Government wants to have this 5s. charged for a prescription so that it will act as a deterrent. This suggests, first, that people are getting medicine that they do not need. This is an indictment of the medical profession because the inference is that doctors are prescribing medicines which are not required. I say that the Government is completely unjustified in making this allegation. But even if the 5s. charge is considered as a deterrent, it is not a deterrent to anybody but poor people. Nobody in the middle income or higher income groups would be deterred from obtaining medicine, eye drops or anything of that kind simply because he had to pay 5s. On the other hand, however, 5s. is a considerable amount of money to a pensioner who is not entitled to a free medicine card because he is earning more than £2 a week. So the proposition falls down whichever way it is examined. Another thing to which I object is that this Government, when it pointed the gun at the head of the friendly societies on this question, told them that it was prepared to allow them to give existing rights to their existing members, but it has not done that. I should like to hear from the Minister in charge of the hill whether he has yet got any information on this matter in reply to the query I raised during the second-reading debate.
I raised then - and I raise again now. in the hope that the Minister will answer it - the question of the existing rights of people belonging to friendly societies and whether their children up to seventeen years of age will still be covered, as well as children over seventeen years of age who are attending universities or schools up to an age of 21 or even 24 years, if necessary. Further than that, I want to know whether widowed mothers will be covered. There is nothing in the legislation which allows widowed mothers to be covered and there is a direct and specific prohibition against the inclusion of children up to seventeen years of age and children over seventeen years of age who are continuing at school.
The Government claims that £8,000,000 was collected in prescription fees last year. I say that £8,000,000 is not a sufficiently large amount to justify the inconvenience to which the Government puts the guild chemists and the drain it imposes upon members of friendly societies. The guild chemists have told me personally that they do not wish the 5s. charge to continue, so far as the friendly societies are concerned, so long as they are not themselves required to charge 5s. I admit that, since then, I have received a letter from the guild chemists, who now seem to have changed their tune and say they favour the retention of the 5s. charge. All 1 can say to them is that they are taking on a pretty unpopular cause if they are trying to sell the cause of the compulsory 5s. charge. The Australian Labour Party will not have a bar of it. We do not believe in compelling people to pay 5s. for medicine which ought to be free - and which was free until this hare-brained scheme was introduced by this Government some time ago. The prescription fee has not acted as the deterrent that the Government suggested it would be, because more prescriptions have been written and filled since the socalled deterrent was introduced than before, and the number is increasing year by year.
I want to make this final point: In order to justify his action in preventing the friendly societies from giving a rebate of 4s. of the 5s. prescription charge, the Minister is pretending that the friendly societies, by charging only ls., are destroying the deterrent effect of the 5s. charge.
The inference is that people belonging to friendly societies are getting more prescriptions, per head, than the average number of prescriptions spread over the whole population. I know for a positive fact that the Minister, or people from his department, have produced figures in an endeavour to support this contention, or at least they pretended, when speaking to the representatives of the friendly societies, that they had figures which supported it. Yet when I asked the Minister in this chamber the other day to let me have figures showing the average number of prescriptions per head of population for the whole of Australia - that is, for guild chemist customers as well as friendly society customers - and to let me have for comparative purposes the number of prescriptions filled for people who belong to friendly societies, he gave me the first figure but told me he did not have any figures at all so far as the second part of my request was concerned. If he was telling me the truth when he answered my question he was telling the representatives of the friendly societies an untruth when he told them that he had figures to suggest that their members were getting more prescriptions per head than was the rest of the population. For those reasons I say that this part of the bill is bad, and the Opposition will divide the committee on it. We will vote against it and we will look at those on the other side of the chamber who pretend to support the little people, and see how they vote on it.
Thursday, 14 May 1964
– I oppose the passing of these clauses. I refer at this stage particularly to paragraphs (c) and (d) of sub-clause (3.) of clause 20, which deal with the supply of pharmaceutical benefits to the spouse and children of a member of a friendly society or benefit fund. The provisions of the existing act contain no age limit as to the children of a member of a friendly society or fund who pays into such society or fund for the purpose of ensuring that his children will receive reimbursement of the cost of medicine. But under the provisions of the bill an age limit of sixteen years is imposed in respect of the children of a member of a society or fund and, as a result of this, many families will immediately find themselves in completely different circumstances. Sub-section (3.) of section 91. of the National Health Act, dealing with the scope of approval to provide pharmaceutical benefits, states that the approval applies -
There is there no suggestion of any age limit in regard to the children, whereas paragraphs (c) and (d) ofsub-clause (3.) of clause 20. of the bill read as follows: -
I do not know about all friendly societies, but 1 know that some friendly societies have a provision under which full-time student children of members are entitled to receive benefits up to the age of eighteen years. In the Goldfields Dispensing Fund, which operates in Kalgoorlie, full-time student children of a member are covered up to the age of 21 years. The provision under the Goldfields Dispensing Fund is on all fours with that of the Goldfields Medical Fund. That is a fair and reasonable provision. If parents, under the rules of the Goldfields Medical Fund and also under the medical benefits provisions of the National Health Act, are permitted to have student children covered up to the age of 21 years, I see no reason why the same people should not have the same cover in relation to pharmaceutical benefits generally. Under the proposals contained in the bill a student child who has no source of income will be obliged, immediately upon reaching sixteen years of age, to pay the 5s. charge for all medicine he receives on a doctor’s prescription. I say to the Minister that if this charge is to be levied against student children simply to deter them from trying to obtain unnecessary medicine and going to the doctor unnecessarily, I do not think it will have any effect whatsoever, because it would be silly to suggest that young people between sixteen and 21 years of age, whether students or not, are likely to rush to consult a doctor if they can possibly avoid it.
I would say that instead of going to the doctor more often than was necessary they would be more likely to avoid going to him for as long as possible, and that when they eventually had to go they very likely found that they required a great deal more medicine than they would have needed had they gone to see the doctor earlier. While we oppose this 5s. charge completely, we say that if there is a good reason for continuing it - and, personally, 1 cannot see any good reason whatever for doing so - then there is also good reason why the full-time students who are at present receiving pharmaceutical benefits because their parents are members of a friendly society should continue to receive those benefits. The proposal contained in the bill does allow a member of such a society, his spouse, and his children under the age of sixteen years, to continue to receive benefits; and it seems rather ridiculous that those of his children who have attained the age of sixteen years and are still fully dependent upon him should be cut off from benefit.
If this provision in particular were thrown overboard, the existing provisions in the act would continue to operate, and societies and funds would be allowed to make their own determinations with respect to the ages of children. I can see nothing wrong with that, but if the Government feels that it would be left wide open to abuse, or if it feels that friendly societies could stipulate some ridiculous age, the Minister should give careful consideration to the whole matter, and if he is determined to limit the age then he should have the limit of 21 years instead of sixteen years.
I should like him to say at this stage that we have already established the principle that a parent of a full-time student is expected to have full responsibility for that child. To support my argu ment, I refer to the recent amendment to the child endowment provisions of the Social Services Act. In that case the Government has decided that full-time students shall be eligible for child endowment up to the age of 21 years, and I see no reason why a similar provision should not be made with respect to rebates on the cost of medicines.
I also wish to refer to the position of the spouse and the children of a member of a fund or society and I should like the Minister to answer my questions. I should like to know whether the spouse and the children would be entitled to remain members of a friendly society or dispensing fund if the present member - that is. the husband and father, or perhaps the widow, in some cases - should die. Again, would the children be entitled to remain members if the parents became separated or divorced? I should like to know also what the position would be of the wife and the children of a deceased member if the widow should marry a man who was not a member of a fund and who, under the provisions of this bill, would not be permitted to become a member of a fund or friendly society. On the other hand, if the second husband were a member of a fund or a friendly society, what would be the position with relation to the children? Would they be entitled to benefit as a result of their stepfather’s being a member? Would they be entitled to continue to obtain benefits because their real father was a member? Or would they be put out completely?
That raises another issue. Up io the present time, a widowed mother has been able to obtain benefits from a dispensing fund or friendly society for full-time students up to the age of eighteen or 21 3’ears. Under this bill, she will not be allowed to do so and as a result even at this stage she will have the added burden of paying the full fee of 5s. for any prescription dispensed by a chemist following upon a visit from the doctor. I suggest to the Minister that even if the proposal we submit is rejected, he should give serious consideration to amending the provisions relating to the age limit of sixteen years with relation to children, particularly student children.
– This provision affects approximately 500.000 Australians who will be deprived of the benefit of the security they have had hitherto in times of sickness. During the course of this debate, we have heard a great deal about the importance that the Government places upon voluntary insurance. The very essence of the friendly society scheme is voluntary insurance. It is by the voluntary payment of an insurance fee of something like 9d. a week that these people have been able to secure pharmaceutical benefits in time of sickness, and it is interesting to see what the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has had to say on this matter. In his second-reading speech, he stated -
At the time that this fee was introduced the Government felt that it would not be appropriate for friendly society dispensaries to be obliged to charge the Ss. fee on pharmaceutical benefits prescriptions for their members because these members had lone been accustomed to meeting their medicine costs by regular weekly or quarterly payments to their societies.
And that was the position in March, 1960. One wonders what has happened since to cause the Minister and the Government to change their attitude. It seems to me that nothing at all has happened to justify the proposed departure from the original scheme. The Opposition is suggesting that at least 500,000 Australians who are members of friendly societies should have some exemption from this imposition of 5s. We made that suggestion as far back as March, 1960, and when we suggested it then we were not alone. Indeed, at that time we were supported by the guild chemists of Australia. I do not know that they have changed their attitude towards this question even now, but the point I want to emphasize is that the proposal contained in the bill is something like a sleightofhand trick. It provides no alleviation of the problem. I point out that these society pharmacies are run on a non-profit making co-operative basis and sell many commodities. They do not sell pharmaceutical products exclusively; they sci! many other things. A friendly society pharmacy is no different from any other pharmacy. It sells a great variety of goods such as tooth paste, soaps, cosmetics and bathing caps. Some of them handle photographic equipment. I think it reasonable to contend that if the societies do not have to pay the 5s. fee to the Government for every prescription dispensed they can in the long run sell more cheaply such commodities as bathing caps, powders and soaps, which are not included in the national health scheme, and in this way succeed in attracting custom to their pharmacies.
It is very wrong for the Government to give the impression that the chemists will be advantaged by the decision to deprive the friendly societies of the exemptions that they now enjoy with respect to this prescription fee of 5s. There are 140 friendly societies in Australia, and they have been established for approximately 80 years. It is important for honorable members to realize that these friendly society pharmacies are not incidental but fundamental to the societies’ activities. That is the reason for their establishment.
The sole purpose for which friendly societies are established is to provide medical and pharmaceutical benefits for their members, and if this measure impairs their activities in this direction, it will be most unfortunate. There are 4,000 chemist shops, and I refuse to believe that those 4,000 businesses can be very badly affected by allowing the 140 pharmacies conducted by friendly societies to continue operating in the way in which they are to-day. After all, when the Commonwealth health scheme was introduced the Government went along with the friendly societies, realizing that it was imperative to have their co-operation if the so-called national health scheme that it was introducing was to succeed. These are the main points, as I see them. It is very wrong to say that these societies have any advantage over ordinary pharmacies. As has been pointed out during the debate - I will not go into any detail on the matter - the societies are required to pay taxation despite the fact that several specialized committees have recommended that they should be exempted from taxation. They pay 10 per cent, of the amounts they receive under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme for the supply of benefits; they pay 10 per cent, of amounts received from the Commonwealth for supplying medicine to pensioners; and they pay 10 per cent, of proceeds from the supply of commodities to non-members. They have no advantage from a taxation point of view at all.
I believe it is very important to honour the undertakings which the societies have given to their members over the years. A person goes along to join such a society, receives a book of rules and a kind of contract is made. As the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) pointed out, a breach of contract is being effected by this legislation, by the provisions that are being considered at present. It is very wrong for the Government to impose its will on the friendly societies. In all good faith the societies have said to their members, “You pay so much a week or so much a month, and this is what you shall receive “. Included in the benefits are such provisions as care of a subscriber’s children. In some cases a child is defined as being under sixteen years of age and in some cases under seventeen years of age. In other cases student children up to 21 years of age are covered by the contributor’s membership. This particular provision is now going to tie all societies to the sixteen-year barrier. That is most undesirable. Surely the Government would not want to deny a contract in this way. I prefer to believe that this is an oversight and not deliberately inspired. Then there are contracts concerning widowed mothers and other aspects which, to my way of thinking, are being dishonoured.
I ask the Government to have another look at this measure. There is no doubt that the type of co-operative organization we are discussing now is a very desirable concept. If voluntary insurance is good - the Government contends that it is and makes it the very basis of its national health scheme - it should concede that the first voluntary organizations ever to operate in Australia in respect of pharmaceutical insurance were the friendly societies. I think the Government will do them a great disservice and injustice if this legislation is proceeded with.
Question put -
That the clauses be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- “21a. Section ninety-nine of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section (1.)the following sub-section: - (1A.) For the purposes of the last preceding subsection the Governor-General may appoint a committee to inquire into and report upon the prices charged by the manufacturers of drugs and medicinal preparations.’.”.
The purpose of this amendment is to request the Government to appoint a select committee of the Parliament, or even a royal commission, to inquire into the drug manufacturing industry in this country. I shall outline to the Parliament the reasons why we make this submission and move this amendment. The cost of prescriptions for 1962- 63 under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme was £40,000,000, an increase of £11,000,000 over the previous year. The cost for each prescription increased from 4s. 9d. in 1948-49 to 19s. 4d.- almost £1 - last year. Although the increase in the population was a little more than 3 per cent., the increase in benefit prescriptions was 35 per cent., and the increase in the total cost of prescriptions was 38 per cent.
Although the average cost of benefit prescriptions has remained virtually stable, the number of prescriptions written and the total cost of prescriptions have increased at ten times the rate of the increase in population. In fact it is said that the scheme is in danger of breaking down because of the high cost of drugs. We maintain that the reason for the great increase is not so much the number of drugs, but the excessive prices and the overcharging that is indulged in by the drug manufacturing interests. On about 30th April last year the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) raised this matter in the Parliament. It is significant that within a couple of days the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) was able to announce substantial reductions in the prices of certain drugs that were being supplied under this scheme. Only the other day the Minister announced that in the last twelve months he had been able to negotiate reductions in the price of drugs supplied under this scheme to the extent of £2,500,000. The Opposition believes that it is more than a coincidence that the price of these drugs has been reduced in that time. We maintain that the reduction has come about because the Opposition has shown that overcharging has occurred and that the Government and the people have been indirectly exploited through this scheme. For that reason a royal commission or a select committee of inquiry is necessary.
Let us consider the situation in Australia. The Minister said recently that there are 119 companies in Australia manufacturing or distributing drugs, and that 70 of these are owned or controlled by companies or persons outside Australia. It has been placed on record by people who are in a position to know that the drug industry, through those companies, has fleeced the national health scheme and exploited the sick and aged to the extent of £40,000,000 to £50,000,000 since the scheme was introduced. In Great Britain the drug bill which is contributed to by one-quarter of the number of people in Great Britain, now accounts for more than one-third of the cost of that country’s national health scheme and is climbing to the half-way mark.
Excessive prices have been charged for drugs not only in Australia but in other countries. This is instanced by the findings of the Kefauver committee in the United States of America. Most United States drug houses have subsidiaries in Australia. They have flocked to this country since our halfbaked pharmaceutical benefits scheme was introduced. The results of their efforts are indicated in their balance sheets. Highpressure selling campaigns have increased drug prices. It was stated in the Senate that more than 2,000 drug salesmen were calling on chemists every day of the week in an endeavour to increase turnover. Rebates and other inducements are being offered to increase business and so to exploit the Australian taxpayer.
There is no need for me to go through the records to indicate that excessive prices have been charged for drugs supplied under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Those prices are excessive when they are compared with those charged for the same drugs supplied to public hospitals and places of that nature. To give a classical example, 100 tablets of one drug supplied to hospitals were costing £4 15s., but the same number of tablets sold to chemists cost £40 or £50. We find also that Burroughs-Wellcome are selling a certain drug in Australia at 40s. 6d., but charging only 25s. for the same product in Indonesia.
If honorable members make a comparison of the price of drugs being supplied’ to Australian chemists with the price in Great Britain they will find tremendous differences. I do not wish to give the whole list of drugs in which over-charging occurs because time does not permit me to do so. Many instances of over-charging are already on record. The truth of what I have said was substantiated in this Parliament by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) who, not so long ago, said that something would have to be done in respect of drug prices because, undoubtedly, the scheme was in such a state that it might collapse if some effort were not made to ensure that drugs were supplied in Australia at a reasonable price. There is no need for me to stress at great length what is happening because the Minister for Health, the Prime Minister and other honorable members from both sides of the chamber have substantiated what 1 have said.
The “ Financial Review “ has indicated that huge profits are being made by drug companies. I suggest that these huge profits are coming almost exclusively from what the drug companies are getting from the Government under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. One company referred to in the “Australian Financial Review “ was Merck, Sharp and Dohme, which in 1962 earned a net profit of almost £400,000 on a paid ordinary capital of £200,000. Their staggering return was a profit of 200 per cent, on capital, and this profit came from drugs manufactured and supplied. Last year the company’s return was not as good as in the previous year and it was obliged to reduce its dividend from 100 per cent, to 75 per cent. That must have been a really bad year! In 1962, Drug Houses of Australia made a profit of £1,073,505.
If a study is made of the processes and methods adopted by these drug companies - their salesmanship, their methods of supply, the differences in charges for drugs supplied under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and elsewhere - and of their balance sheets, it will be realized that the Government is being exploited. I suggest that Government supporters, from the Minister down, know that. On 30th April, 1963, the Minister for Health stated in the Senate that one drug was costing the Australian Government £1,000,000 more per annum than was being paid for the drug in the United Kingdom. Three days after the Minister made that announcement the drug supplier announced that the price had been reduced by 10 per cent. This reduction in price was no coincidence. The drug manufacturers are waking up to the fact that these matters are being raised in Parliament, that time has run out and that they must do something to reduce their prices. In this case they made a meagre reduction of 10 per cent.
Since the activities of the drug interests have been mentioned in Parliament some price reductions have been made, but no doubt the companies concerned have in mind all the time that those reductions can be written off as a discount against the £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 too much that has been charged since this scheme was introduced by the present Government. The drug industry is grossing two and one half times the percentage on sales that other industries receive. We are paying fancy prices for drugs bearing fancy names. Drug companies charge as much as 100 per cent, more for some drugs than is charged for the same drugs under different brand names.
We on this side of the Parliament suggest that the whole situation demands an inquiry by a royal commission or a select committee. There is nothing that the drug manufacturers fear more than that Parliament will set up an inquiry of this kind. They know that if that happens the whole ramifications of their industry will be open for all to see. It is for this reason that I have moved an amendment, which I hope will be considered by the Government. If Government supporters will not listen to honorable members on this side of the chamber, surely they will heed the words of the Prime Minister who knows full well that some inquiry is necessary.
If an inquiry were instituted we would find that the reductions in drug prices would save much more than the £2,500,000 saving that has already been announced. An inquiry would also bring to light what has been happening in this industry, which has been responsible for exploitation on a scale never before seen in any scheme introduced in this country in our time. I urge the Parliament to support the amendment because I believe it to be necessary in the interests of the Australian people.
– Mr. Chairman-
– Pack it up. We got the message.
– I do not intend to detain the committee for very long. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has submitted a very significant case on behalf of the Opposition. He submitted a prima facie case to show that in the drug industry ruthless exploitation involving the national health scheme is occurring. It is a cause for great concern and alarm that, when such contensions are advanced and particularly when they are supported by statistical information, aa has happened throughout this debate, no honorable member opposite should have sufficient sense of responsibility to rise and give any sort of answer. 1 do nol know where democracy will end up if the Government, with its increased majority, can be so arrogant and so indifferent to public agitation, anxiety and concern that it can sit idly by while a case like that made out by the honorable member for Grayndler is presented. The honorable member has called for the appointment of a committee of inquiry or, if necessary, a royal commission to investigate the matter. Throughout the history of parliamentary institutions, whenever an Opposition has made such a cai] the tendency has been to treat the proposal with the utmost seriousness. However, on this occasion, because it is after midnight, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) says: “Pack it up. We got the message.” What an arrogant attitude that is for one who hopes some day to become the Prime Minister of this country to adopt! lt will be a dreadful day for the people of Australia if he is appointed to that office because we have seen the kind of attitude that he tends to adopt.
This afternoon I submitted a case for the need to designate pharmaceutical products by their generic names. I indicated that experts had contended that, if this were done, expenditure amounting to millions of pounds under the national health scheme would be saved. I do not know whether honorable members opposite know what is occurring. I invite them to do as I have done and to go through the list of pharmaceutical products which are made available under the national health scheme. If they do so, they will find that the example I am about to quote is typical of probably hundreds of such cases. I find it difficult at this late hour to pronounce the name of the drug, but it can be identified as Item 1262. This particular pharmaceutical product is called for quite frequently under the national health scheme. I am able to detect that in the schedule, which is available to all chemists and doctors in Aus tralia, the price charged foi this substance varies from 7s. 8d. to 19s. 8d.
– Who gave you this one?
– If the honorable member had been in the chamber this afternoon, he would have seen me show to honorable members a schedule of prices which is available to every chemist and doctor in Australia. I hope he is not now discovering for the first time that such a document is available.
– The honorable member should study the schedule seriously. If he had done so, he would have ascertained that there are hundreds of such cases. As I said a moment ago, the price of this substance ranges from 7s. 8d. to 19s. 8d.
– What is it? Spell out the name.
– No fewer than seven different prices are listed for this substance.
– What is it?
– Would the honorable member who is interjecting like to indicate what he thinks is a fair go for the Australian people? No fewer than eleven manufacturers of this substance are listed. They are indicated by code symbols, which are explained at the back of the schedule of prices. The products of these manufacturers are of the same generic substance and have the same therapeutic value. I certainly hope that there is not a high-class drug and a low-class drug. If there is a low-class drug, the way in which the honorable member for Fawkner is behaving to-night would indicate that he would qualify for it. I prefer to think that sick people are entitled to have, under the national health scheme, a high-class drug which has been examined and checked by our biological research laboratories. I have just pointed out a tremendous disparity in prices. The fact that a disparity in prices has led to the additional expenditure of some millions of pounds under the national health scheme is sufficient to justify the appointment of a royal commission or committee of inquiry. We advance our proposal quite seriously. We do not think the Government should treat the matter as off-handedly as it has.
I wish to make one or two other points before I resume my seat. The prices at which drugs are being made available under the national health scheme are expensive when compared with the prices charged for bulk purchases by hospitals and the Commonwealth Department of Health and the Repatriation Department. I have previously given a long list of examples which have established my point. I shall quote only two such examples to-night. Prednisolone tablets are made available to hospitals at 9s. 5d. per 100, but under the national health scheme they are made available to chemists at a price of £1 13s. 8d. for 30. What is a fair price to pay? Cortisone acetate tablets are made available to hospitals at 12s. 6d. for 40, and to chemists under the national health scheme at £3 9s. 8d. On the one hand, the Commonwealth is paying a low price. It is buying these drugs in bulk for the Department of Health and the Repatriation Department. So it knows the low prices at which they can be obtained. On the other hand, it is condoning the charging of the high prices which are listed in the national health scheme schedules.
We have managed to get some kind of message across to the Minister for Health (Senator Wade), as a result of which there has been a saving of some millions of pounds within a few months. But this overcharging is continuing year after year. We submit that if the Minister is prepared to have the matter thoroughly examined by a committee of inquiry or a royal commission, he will be able, as a result, to have the cost of drugs reduced by many millions of pounds, particularly if the Government decided to use the generic names system of identifying drugs rather than the company names, manufacturers’ names or brand names. For far too long this country has been held to ransom and the sick people in our community have been denied certain benefits. The money that is available for national health purposes could provide many services which are desperately needed. Laziness and indifference on the part of honorable members opposite is no answer to our charge. We have put it to the Government that many drug companies operating in Australia are the counterparts, subsidiaries or branches of overseas drug companies whose activities in some parts of the world are the subject of very careful examination. The Sherman anti-trust legislation has resulted in many of these companies being indicted. Yet the people of Australia are being denied the protection that is available to the people of the United States of America. In a recent case involving Bayer Pharma Proprietary Limited, Mr. Justice Myers made some startling revelations. The press report of the case reads, in part -
Mr. Justice Myers said that at the same time entries had been made in the Bayer Pharma books showing that the goods had been resold to Sterling Pharmaceuticals Pty. Ltd. at a profit of 50 per cent.
This occurs between one wholesaler and another. A profit of 50 per cent.! This is not my determination. It is the determination of a judge in the Equity Court, reported in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 2nd April, 1964. There is no limit to the kind of evidence that can be produced which justifies a thorough examination of the unprecedently high prices and the ruthless exploitation being allowed to operate in this country at present. I ask honorable members to give effect to the proposal of the honorable member for Grayndler.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I rise at this late hour to protest at the complete contempt with which the Minister has treated the amendments proposed by the Opposition to this most important bill.
Motion (by Mr. Howson) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . ..16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Daly’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority .. ..16
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause 22 (Powers of authorized persons).
.- The Opposition is opposed to this clause which provides for examinations to be made for the purpose of policing the prohibition of new insurance contracts under which the 5s. is repayable. As the Opposition opposed the clauses dealing with the implementation of the friendly society provisions, it now submits its opposition to this clause, and accordinglyIplace that opposition on record.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Swartz) - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Swartz) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.More than seven months ago I presented this House with evidence that there was in Australia a section of an international cloak and dagger organization whose headquarters were in Madrid where its leader was a man called General Luvoric who was previously the commanding officer of concentration camps in Croatia during the war. In the Argentine the leader of the organization was Dr. Heifer. This organization had as its leader in Sydney a gentleman by the name of Luvokovic and as its leader in Melbourne a Mr. Rover. I produced evidence to show that this organization modelled itself on the aims and methods of the Pavelic Hitler-appointed puppet government which ruled and terrorized Croatia and Serbia from 1941 to 1944.
I produced evidence to show that this Hitlerite gang in Croatia and Serbia had killed more than 800,000 Serbs, Jews and gypsies in four years. I said that many of its leaders were captured, convicted and punished, but that some had escaped and some had come to Australia, and I named several of them. I produced evidence that the Australian branch of this international conspiracy was indoctrinating its followers to accept Pavelic and his aims and methods as their inspiration and was actually training its followers to carry out military activities, to use weapons and bombs, and that it intended to send some of its numbers overseas in an attempt to overthrow the Government of Yugoslavia.
I pointed out that the organization’s intention was not to replace the Government of Yugoslavia by a democratic government but by a totalitarian one which would be committed to the programme of Pavelic and to mass exterminations in that country if it succeeded. I produced evidence also that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Opperman), then the Minister for Shipping and Transport, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in New South Wales, Mr. Willis, army officers and the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) himself had acted in such a way as to give this organization the impression that it had Government approval and support. I said that this organization had carried out physical attacks upon persons in Australia, and that it intended to continue to use force and violence here. I demanded a full inquiry into the activities of this organization and any other organizations connected with it.
Ministers, including the then Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) brushed aside my statements although the then Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) promised an inquiry into the photostatic and other evidence with which I provided him. Immediately, in October last year. I placed a full and detailed question on notice calling for a full inquiry and disclosure. Nothing was done. The questions I had placed on the notice-paper remain there and have not been answered to this day. Has the Government something to hide in this matter? If not, why does it not answer the questions that have been on the notice-paper for upwards of seven months? Despite this and despite the promise made by the former Minister for Immigration that an inquiry would be held, as far as I am aware no inquiry has been held.
Since then nine men have been arrested and convicted in Yugoslavia. Detailed evidence capable of being checked has been given to the effect that they were trained and assisted in Australia to go to Yugoslavia to attempt to overthrow the Government by force. Since then, in Australia three men have been physically attacked, five have been threatened with death, two social evenings have been broken up, one club-room has been severely damaged, a threat was made to place a bomb in the Yugoslavian consulate in Sydney and one member of the Ustasha - the organization in question - had his legs blown off in a bomb explosion last week.
I then thought it reasonable to demand that the Government take some action in this matter. But the Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) says that there has been exaggeration for political reasons. He has attempted to divert attention from the Nazi-type Ustasha by suggesting that I am associated with an organization the leaders of which he seeks to warn in the same way as at last he seeks to warn the leaders of the Ustasha. I tell the Attorney-General now that I am associated with an organization that was formed only a few weeks ago to protect its own members from the threats and attacks that have been made upon them by the Ustasha, and to oppose any one who is willing to use force, violence or the threats of it against any one in Australia or elsewhere. Everyone associated with this organization is opposed to the Ustasha. Are not honorable members on the other side of the House? Every one associated with this organization is opposed to the use of force and violence in this country or any other.
I challenge the Attorney-General to produce any evidence whatever to the contrary, and if he is unable to do so, to withdraw his slimy, sneering allegation designed to protect his Government and some of bis friends. I point out to the House that there would have been no need for this organization of Yugoslav settlers in Australia to meet at all if the Government had done its job. Had the Government been prepared to investigate the Ustasha movement and not to assist and encourage it in the many ways that it has done, but on the contrary made it clear that it would oppose its unlawful activities, the matter need never have gone beyond the stage at which it was in this House last October. Instead, many people have been injured, threatened and placed in fear. One man has had his legs blown off. The Government’s neglect has contributed to the occurrence of these events. I do not charge the Government with any more than neglect. I accept the explanation of the present Minister for Immigration that he was unaware of the true nature of the function that he attended at Geelong. I accept the statement of the former Minister for the Army that he did not know that the men who were permitted to use automatic weapons and guncarriers of the Citizen Military Forces near Wodonga were members of the Nazi-type organization who were training to overthrow established governments by force.
So much for past associations. What about the future? There can be no innocent associations with this organization in the future. But I do not accept as innocent all honorable members on the Government side of the House. I say, for instance, that the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) knows the true nature and aims of this Nazi-type Ustasha organization and is prepared to support and shield it nevertheless. But I disregard him. What he does can never do more than weaken those whom he tries to aid. However, I do not dismiss lightly the attitude of the AttorneyGeneral, although he is young and inexperienced. I submit that his attempt to dismiss this Ustasha feuding in Australia and with the Government of Yugoslavia as a publicity stunt of no significance is irresponsible and the mark of crass ignorance. I believe that the Sydney “ Daily Mirror “ took an accurate view when it concluded -
In answering Mr. Calwell, the Attorney-General was evasive. He appeared to be deliberately putting out a smokescreen. The sooner be dissipates it the better.
If the Attorney-General was putting out a smokescreen, I want to know why. If he was deliberately setting out to protect and shield this Nazi-type Ustasha organization without which there would have been no problem among the Croats in Australia, I want to know why.
– Will you tell us-
– I demand that he come clean with all he knows about this organization.
– Who - Gibson?
– He and any one else who knows anything about it, whether any one else’s name be “ Gibson “, “ Thompson “ or “ Jess “. If the Attorney-General knows nothing, as I suspect, I demand that he cause a full inquiry to be made at once. I challenge him to say anything that he knows about any other organization with which he knows me to be associated. I challenge him to say all that he knows about it. I ask him to be man enough to withdraw his slimy insinuations of this morning if he cannot back them up.
There is a case for a Commonwealth inquiry into this matter. I want to conclude what 1 have to say now by summarizing the statement that I have made. This organization that has been mentioned is responsible for nation-wide activities in
Australia, extending into Western Australia, South Australia. Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. lt cannot be adequately investigated by any State authority. Unless Lesic, the unfortunate man who was injured by a bomb, dies, there will be no inquiry in Sydney. 1 do not want the evidence in respect to the bombing of Lesic that is locked up in the files in the Police Department in Sydney to be kept in that form. I do not want it to be allowed to remain within the files of the Police Department in Sydney. We have to know the facts about that incident. These matters are not minor, unimportant incidents. A very small proportion of migrants is involved. A very small proportion of Croats is involved. But people who are willing to kill in pursuit of their intention to establish again in Yugoslavia a government like that established by Ante Pavelic during the last war are at large in this country. I say that responsibility for any force and violence and for any conflict among Croats in Australia lies at their door. The Government has a responsibility for investigating the situation.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Mr. Speaker, the matters that the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) has raised are pretty well known to this House. He says that I have made “ slimy insinuations “. This is an interesting method adopted by the honorable member to suggest that what I have said in the House is not true. What I have said is that the honorable member was present at a meeting at which members of one of the groups that I mentioned also were present. Does the honorable member deny that he was at a meeting?
– I deny your attempt to put it in the same class as Ustasha. A lot of people were at that meeting.
– Yes, a lot of people were there.
– Tell the full story.
– Here is the point about it: The honorable member says that these are slimy insinuations. I have said two things. First, I have said that the honorable member was at this meeting. I challenge him to say whether this is true. Now, the honorable member by way of interjection, says: “Oh, yes, I was there. But other people were there.” The second thing that I said was that the honorable member was on a platform with Ralph Gibson, a wellknown Communist, and spoke.
– You are a liar.
– Order! The honorable member will withdraw that remark.
– I have no intention of withdrawing it.
– I name the honorable member for Yarra.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) put -
That the honorable member for Yarra be suspended from the service of the House.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Sir John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 22
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 1.23 a.m. (Thursday).
Department of National Development. (Question No. 171.)
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following information: -
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members questions are as follows: -
s asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
When can I expect an answer to my question without notice regarding television in the Newcastle area appearing on page 1,000 of “ Hansard “ of 14th April, 1964?
– A reply was given on 12th May, 1964.
y asked the Minister represent ing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following replies: -
New South Wales -
The Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society in New South Wales, Sydney. Australasian Holy Catholic Guild of St. Mary and St. Joseph Friendly Benefits Society, Sydney.
Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australasia, Grand Council of New South Wales, Sydney.
The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society of New South Wales, Sydney.
The Newcastle and Suburban Co-operative Limited Medical and Hospital Fund, Newcastle.
United Ancient Order of Druids, Registered Friendly Society, Grand Lodge of New South Wales, Sydney.
The Phoenix Welfare Association Limited, Newcastle.
Independent Order of Odd Fellows of the State of New South Wales, Sydney.
The Hunter Medical Benefit Fund Limited, Cessnock.
Newcastle Industrial Benefits Limited, Newcastle.
New South Wales District, No. 85, Independent Order of Rechabites, Salford Unity, Friendly Society, Sydney.
The Lysaght’s Hospital and Medical Club, Port Kembla.
*Commonwealth Bank Health Society, Sydney.
Mechanics Medical Assurance Scheme, Newcastle.
Northern District Miners Medical Fund, Newcastle.
Hibernian-Australasian Catholic Benefit Society of New South Wales, Sydney.
South Coast Medical Benefits Fund, Wollongong.
The Australian Chilling and Freezing Company Limited, Medical Benefits Scheme, Aberdeen.
New South Wales Teachers Federation Health Society, Sydney.
Western District Medical Benefits Fund, Lithgow.
*The Commercial Banking Company Health Society, Sydney.
M.M. Hospital and Medical Club, Port Kembla.
E.R. & S. Hospital and Medical Club, Port Kembla.
Reserve Bank Health Society.
The Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales, Sydney.
Post Office Mutual Benefit Society of New South Wales, Sydney.
Australian Natives Association, Melbourne.
The Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows in Victoria Friendly Society, Melbourne.
*Latrobe Valley Hospitals and Health Services Association, Morwell.
Mildura District Hospital and Medical Fund, Mildura.
The Hospitals Benefits Association of Victoria, Melbourne.
Hibernian-Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, Victoria District, No. 1, Melbourne.
The Ancient Order of Foresters, in Victoria, Friendly Society, Melbourne.
United Ancient Order of Druids, Grand Lodge of Australia, Melbourne.
Australasian Womens Association, Melbourne.
Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australasia, Grand Council of Victoria, Melbourne.
The Victorian District No. 82 of the Independent Order of Rechabites Friendly Society, Melbourne.
Irish National Foresters Benefit Society, Melbourne.
Grand United Order of Oddfellows, Melbourne.
Independent Order of Oddfellows of Victoria, Melbourne.
Yallourn Medical and Hospital Society, Yallourn.
*Army Health Benefits Society, Melbourne.
The Mutual Benefit Society of the Employees of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, Melbourne.
Grand United Order of Free Gardeners of Australasia, Melbourne.
Geelong Medical and Hospital Benefits Association.
Naval Health Benefits Society, Melbourne.
A.N.A. Federal Health Benefits Company Limited.
United Brisbane District of the Ancient Order of Foresters’ Friendly Society, Brisbane.
Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australasia, in Queensland, Brisbane.
The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, Queensland, Brisbane.
The Queensland District, No. 87, Independent Order of Rechabites Friendly Society, Brisbane.
Hibernian-Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, Southern Queensland District No. 5, Brisbane.
The Queensland Branch of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society, Brisbane.
South Australia -
The Whyalla Hospital (Incorporated), Whyalla.
Hibernian-Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, Adelaide District No. 7, Adelaide.
The Albert District No. 83, Independent Order of Rechabites, Salford Unity, Adelaide.
The South Australian District, No. 81, Independent Order of Rechabites Friendly Society, Adelaide.
National Health Services Association of South Australia, Adelaide.
The Mutual Hospital Association Limited, Adelaide.
South Australian Police Department Employees’ Hospital Fund, Adelaide.
Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society in South Australia, Adelaide.
Western Australia -
The Hospital Benefit Fund of Western Australia Incorporated, Perth.
Friendly Societies Health Services, Perth.
Goldfields Medical Fund, Boulder.
Warren Medical and Hospital Fund, Manjimup.
Yarloop District Medical and Hospital Fund and Ancillary Benefits Fund.
Pemberton Medical Accident and Hospital Fund, Pemberton.
Norseman District Hospital and Medical Fund, Norseman.
Government Employees Hospital and Medical Benefits Fund Incorporated, Perth.
The United Ancient Order of Druids’ Friendly Society, Grand Lodge of Tasmania, Launceston.
The Tasmanian Government Insurance Office, Hobart.
United Friendly Societies Medical and Hospital Benefit Association, Hobart.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Tasmania, Grand Lodge, Hobart.
Electrolytic Zinc Employees’ Medical Union, Hobart.
St. Luke’s Medical and Hospital Benefit Association, Launceston.
Patons and Baldwins Employees Medical Benefit Association, Launceston.
The Queenstown Medical Union Hospital and Medical Benefits Fund, Queenstown.
Associated Pulp and Paper Makers’ Council Medical Benefits Fund, Burnie.
The Rosebery Hospital and Medical Benefits Society, Rosebery.
These organizations operate in more than one State.
Australasian Holy Catholic Guild of St. Mary and St. Joseph Friendly Society, Sydney.
The Lysaght’s Hospital and Medical Club, Port Kembla.
Mechanics Medical Assurance Scheme, Newcastle.
Northern District Miners’ Medical Fund, Newcastle.
Australian Natives’ Association, Melbourne.
The Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows in Victoria Friendly Society, Melbourne.
Mildura District Hospital and Medical Fund, M ildura.
The Hospitals Benefits Association of Victoria, Melbourne.
The Hibernian-Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, Victoria District No. 1, Melbourne.
The Ancient Order of Foresters, Friendly Society, Melbourne.
United Ancient Order of Druids, Grand Lodge of Australia, Melbourne.
Australasian Women’s Association, Melbourne.
Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australasia, Grand Council of Victoria, Melbourne.
The Victorian District No. 82 of the Independent Order of Rechabites Friendly Society, Melbourne.
Irish National Foresters’ Benefit Society, Melbourne.
Independent Order of Oddfellows of Victoria, Melbourne.
Yallourn Medical and Hospital Society, Yallourn.
The Mutual Benefit Society of the Employees of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, Melbourne.
Grand United Order of Free Gardeners of Australasia, Melbourne.
Geelong Medical and Hospital Benefits Association.
The A.N.A. Federal Health Benefits Company Limited.
The Whyalla ‘ Hospital (Incorporated), Whyalla.
Hibernian-Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, Adelaide District No. 7, Adelaide.
The Mutual Hospital Association Limited, Adelaide.
The Hospital Benefit Fund of Western Australia Incorporated, Perth.
Goldfields Medical Fund, Boulder.
Warren Medical and Hospital Fund, Manjimup.
Yarloop District Medical and Hospital Fund and Ancillary Benefits Fund.
Pemberton Medical Accident and Hospital Fund, Pemberton.
Norseman District Hospital and Medical Fund, Norseman.
United Friendly Societies Medical and Hospital Benefit Association, Hobart.
The Rosebery Hospital and Medical Benefits Society, Rosebery.
Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Tasmania, Grand Lodge, Hobart.
Group (i). - Those which under their rules provide fund benefit for both eye examination and spectacles -
Australian Chilling and Freezing Company Limited, Medical Benefits Scheme.
The Commercial Banking Company Health Society.
Commonwealth Bank Health Society.
E.R. and S. Hospital and Medical Club.
Grand United Orderof Oddfellows, New South Wales.
Reserve Bank Health Society.
Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, New South Wales.
New South Wales Teachers Federation Health Society.
Protestant Alliance Friendly Society, New South Wales.
United Ancient Order of Druids, New South Wales.
Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, New South Wales.
Newcastle Industrial Benefits Limited.
Independent Order of Oddfellows, New South Wales.
Post Office Mutual Benefit Society of New South Wales.
The Phoenix Welfare Association Limited.
United Ancient Order of Foresters, Queensland.
Grand United Order of Oddfellows, Queensland.
Independent Order of Rechabites, Queensland.
Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, Queensland.
Protestant Alliance, Friendly Society of Australasia, Queensland.
Associated Pulp and Paper Makers Council Medical and Hospital Benefits Fund.
Patons and Baldwins Employees Medical Benefits Association.
Group (ii). - Organization’s the rules of which provide for payment of a fund benefit for spectacles only -
South Coast Medical Benefits Fund, New South Wales.
The Newcastle and Suburban Co-operative Limited Medical and Hospital Fund.
Grand United Order of Oddfellows, Victoria.
Latrobe Valley Hospitals and Health Services Association.
Queenstown Medical Union Hospital and Medical Benefits Fund, Tasmania.
Electrolytic Zinc Employees Medical Union, Tasmania.
United Ancient Order of Druids, Tasmania.
St. Luke’s Hospital and Medical Benefit Association, Tasmania.
Group (iii). - Organizations the rules of which provide for payment of a fund benefit for eye examinations but which do not provide a benefit for spectacles -
Independent Order of Rechabites, New South Wales.
Friendly Societies Health Services, Perth.
Government Employees Hospital and Medical Benefit Fund Inc., Perth.
Group (i). - Those organizations the rules of which provide a fund benefit for both eye examination and spectacles only when prescribed by a medical practitioner -
Medical Benefit Fund of Australia Limited.
Hospital Contribution Fund of New South Wales.
M.M. Hospital and Medical Club of New South Wales.
Naval Health Benefits Society.
Tasmanian Government Insurance Office.
Group (ii). - Organizations which provide a fund benefit for spectacles only when prescribed by a medical practitioner -
Western District Medical Benefits Fund, New South Wales.
Group (iii). - Organizations the rules of which provide for payment of a fund benefit for eye examination by a doctor at which spectacles are prescribed but do not provide a benefit in respect of spectacles -
The Hunter Medical Benefits Fund Limited, New South Wales.
Army Health Benefits Society.
Independent Order of Rechabites No. 81 South Australia.
Independent Order of Rechabites No. 83 South Australia.
Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, South Australia.
South Australia Police Department Employees Hospital Fund.
National Health Services Association of South Australia.
n asked the Minister for Ship ping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Shipping. (Question No. 173.)
n asked the Minister for
Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister for Ship ping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. The Australian Coastal Shipping Commission has purchased property situated on the Brisbane River at Newstead and adjoining Newstead-terrace and Evelyn-street. It is approximately 2 miles from the Brisbane General Post Office, and it is 2 acres, 2 roods, 6.5 perches in area. In addition to land, the capital assets purchased consist of a wharf, access jetty, four dolphins and catwalks, and a small store and gatekeeper’s shed.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 May 1964, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1964/19640513_reps_25_hor42/>.