26th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. As an Australian artist receiving an income of $5,000 per annum would pay $1,100 in taxation, and as an Australian artist receiving $100,000 a year would pay $63,000 in taxation to the Australian Government, is it true that an artist from the United States of America, spending only 2 months in Australia, and earning $100,000 or any portion of that amount would pay nothing in taxation to the Australian Government? If he would pay something in taxation to the Australian Government, what would be the amount?
– The Government has a predilection for handling practical matters. If the honourable member will put on paper the case he has mentioned I will investigate it and inform him of the exact outcome. I cannot vouch for the figures he cited concerning Australian taxation on the income of Australian artists.
– I can.
– The honourable member may be able to do so, but he would know how many children the artist has and what taxation deductions he can claim. I have not that information, but this appears to me to be an unlikely hypothetical question. If the honourable member could let me have the details, I should be pleased to give him a precise answer.
– In directing a question to the Minister for the Navy I refer to the building of twenty patrol craft and the announced programme for delivery of all these vessels by mid-1969. Is it a fact that it is over 2 years since the order was placed and that only five of these vessels have been launched and none has yet been delivered? Is the Minister satisfied, even with repetitive assembly line production, that the shipbuilding consortium of Evans Deakin & Company Pty Ltd and Walkers Limited can complete the contract on schedule? If not, has he considered alternative means of ensuring that the schedule is met?
– The information contained in the honourable gentleman’s question is essentially correct. Fourteen patrol craft were ordered in, I think, November 1965 and a further six about 6 or 7 months later. There has been a slippage in the contract which was awarded to this Australian consortium after tenders were called on a world-wide basis. The letting of this tender to an Australian consortium is pleasing to the Government because the Government’s policy is to place as much work as possible in Australian shipbuilding yards. Indeed, at the moment, out of twenty-eight naval vessels under construction twenty-four are being built in Australia. There are two novel aspects to this contract. The first point is that this was the first order for naval craft since World War II placed with a private shipbuilding yard. The second point was, as the honourable member mentioned, that the production line method was used for the construction of these particular patrol craft and this had not been done before in Australia. To answer the last part of the honourable member’s question, I say that we see no reason at the moment for any delay in the promised delivery date for these patrol craft which is the middle of 1969.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. I ask: Is the Minister aware of the disgraceful dispute taking place between the various overseas container shipping lines over the cutting up of the spoils to be earned from the carriage of general cargo from Australian ports to all ports of the rest of the world? If so, does not the Minister think that the time has arrived for the construction and operation of a Commonwealth overseas shipping line using container vessels?
– There is a certain amount of readjustment and competition emerging among overseas shipping lines, largely brought about by the introduction of new types of ship. I do not know that it logically follows that because there is more strenuous competition amongst overseas shipping lines it would be the ideal moment for an Australian line to engage in this kind of enterprise. This matter is under constant examination by the Government. As soon as an opportunity emerges for us to engage in this kind of enterprise without losing money we will do so.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry whether he would indicate in general terms what progress is currently being made in the development of new markets and whether^ any trade missions or trade ships are being planned for the next few months.
– I can assure the honourable member and the House that a great deal of vigour is directed to further promotion of Australian goods throughout the world. Attempts are being made at all times to develop new markets. At the present time arrangements are in hand for 15 fairs and trade displays to be held this year. Some of them will be in established markets and some will be in comparatively new markets. There will be displays in Kuwait, in Africa and in West Germany. The system of having store displays is again being negotiated and arranged. There will be store displays of real significance in Great Britain, Japan, Canada and the United States of America. Trade missions are being planned and conducted constantly and three are operating already this year. Two more trade missions are approved for later in the year and three more are under consideration. In the judgment of the Department of Trade and Industry - and in this judgment I concur - the use of trade ships is not the most profitable way of getting results.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. During the last session of this Parliament the Government tabled the report of the Committee of Investigation into Transportation Costs in Northern Australia, commonly known as the Loder report. In view of the great importance given to this investigation by his predecessor, as well as by some of his Ministers, and because of the importance of this report to people in the northern half of
Australia, will the Prime Minister arrange for time to be allotted for this Parliament to debate the substance of the report and the conclusions reached by members of that Committee?
– I will give consideration to the suggestion made by the honourable member. I recollect that he has submitted motions in this place, on at least two occasions that come to my mind, which have been directed to this report. There have been opportunities in the course of the Budget debate, and no doubt there will be further opportunities in the course of the Estimates debate, for honourable members to make reference to it. However, I will discuss his suggestion with the Leader of the House to see whether it is practicable or desirable to have such a discussion during this session.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Territories. I preface it by asking whether the Minister has seen an article appearing in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ of 18th July, and headed ‘Safari in Arnhem Land’, in which ‘the general public are invited to light bush fires in the only country in the world where they thank you for lighting them - in the Arnhem Land escarpment country? In view of this publicised invitation to desecrate our national assets, will the Minister see that an early campaign is mounted to educate the public not to rape this great national asset but to save it from arsonists, game slaughterers and can and bottle throwers?
– I have seen the article, and I share with the honourable member great concern about these few people who set out to despoil our very great flora and fauna areas of the Northern Territory, which are of great interest to most Australians. I can assure him that all necessary measures will be taken to bring this sort of situation to an end.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. As the dual roles of New Zealand and Australia are so important in the defence of this part of South East Asia, I ask the Minister: Firstly, how close are the defence planning systems and logistics of the two countries? Secondly, are there any serious differences of opinion over major defence matters? Thirdly, is there any substance in recent reports of ill feeling between our respective troops in Vietnam?
– I can assure the honourable gentleman that over a very long period every effort has been made to align as closely as possible the defence requirements of both Australia and New Zealand. I am happy to say that these efforts are working out very well. Honourable members may recall that my colleague the Minister for the Army made an announcement about standardisation arrangements only a few days ago. It is true that the joint efforts of Australia and New Zealand are enormously important for the defence of this region. In reply to the honourable gentleman’s last question, I think there is a general appreciation abroad that Australian servicemen - and this is so in our experience - and New Zealand servicemen - as we know by their repute - are all pretty tough minded characters, and I can well understand a situation where there may have been some banter or indeed some personal matters between the two bodies of servicemen that might have been reported out of context to indicate some difference of feeling. Because of the importance of this matter I have had it investigated, and we can find no substantiation at all for the allegations. The New Zealand Minister for Defence also investigated the matter. I do not think I can do much better at this time than include in Hansard the words quoted by him in answer to a Press question. He is reported to have said:
I heard all that stuff in the Second World War and my Australian father-in-law told me the same from World War I. Brothers are like that and we New Zealanders won’t regard the article as other than a journalistic line. Modest though our numbers are we are glad to be alongside you and would rather be with you than any others on earth.
– -My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. What is the reaction of the Government to the creation of the new Atlas Line of five ships now launched to trade between Australia and Hong Kong and Japan? Does the Government condone the attempt of the eastern division of the Conference lines to kill, by a freight-cutting war, this new and first competitive venture in eastern Pacific waters?
– Insofar as the competition between overseas shipping lines affects cargoes from Australia, this question is properly a matter for the Minister for Trade and Industry. I have no comment to offer upon the competition of overseas shipping lines engaged in trading with Australia.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. Could two or more sons of a family be called up for national service? What is the policy in respect of twin sons? Will the Minister consider making a concessional arrangement to ensure that multiple callups will not place an unfair burden on any one family or involve it in unfair sacrifice?
– The Government’s policy is to treat every member of a family as an individual. If as a result of one member of a family being called up undue hardship is caused to the parents or to the next member in the family called up, this matter can be brought before a magistrate who will give a verdict according to his judgment. The matter has been examined in very close detail over a long time and on a number of occasions. So far we have not seen any reason to change the policy.
– Does the Minister for Immigration know that a grave industrial situation exists in Port Hedland due to Australian workers being dismissed and replaced by Japanese workers? Does the Minister consider that it is right to import foreign workers under contract or indenture to do jobs that Australians can do? Why has he given approval for these workers to come to Australia and displace Australian workers? What action does he propose to take to settle the trouble at Port Hedland?
– I am sure the honourable gentleman is aware that discussions are taking place between unions, trades and labour councils, the Western Australias Government and employers to bring about a proper solution to the situation that exists at Port Hedland. At present officers of the Department of Labour and National Service are actively pursuing the matter and officers of my Department are in contact with them. As soon as I am able to inform the honourable member and the honourable member for Kalgoorlie, who raised this matter yesterday, of the outcome of discussions I will do so.
– Will the Minister for Health say whether he has recently approved proposals by some hospital benefit funds to increase the limit on the number of days for which hospital fund benefits may be paid in any one year?
– Yes, I have approved the extension of benefits in the case of several funds in respect of contributors who have received their maximum benefits in any one year. The honourable gentleman will have noticed in the newspapers this morning an announcement by one fund about this matter, but approval has been given to other funds. These are extra benefits to supplement the standard rate benefit provided under the Government’s special account plan. It is a particularly desirable development because it assists those most in need of assistance. I would make the point that should any other fund wish to introduce a similar scheme I will be only too glad to consider any proposal on its merits in the light of the fund’s capacity to pay the extra benefits without an increase in the rate of contributions.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry a question along the lines of that asked by the honourable member for Wilmot of the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Is the Minister aware that the ship ‘Cymrick’ refused to call at the port of Cairns early this month to load 240 tons of frozen beef for British markets and that the cargo had to be taken overland to Townsville? Is he aware also that another ship refused to call to pick up 200 tons of hides and a quantity of frozen beef, with the result that those cargoes had to be taken overland? Will he take steps to remedy the situation and prevent the economically unjustified whittling away of trade with the port of Cairns?
– I have no knowledge of the incidents to which the honourable member has referred. I will make inquiries and let him know the position. I can imagine only that incidents such as he mentioned might arise from some situation flowing from the rationalisation of shipping between Australia and the United Kingdom and the Continent. In the light of the big problem of the apparently unceasing increase in shipping and freight costs, the Department of Trade and Industry studied the manner in which trade was conducted in the existing circumstances of shipping and pointed out to the shippers that substantial economies to the shipping companies could be effected if they rationalised the activities of the various shipping lines. Instead of a whole succession of ships calling at one port, each to collect a small cargo, they should, subject to some financial arrangement amongst themselves, leave a particular port to a particular ship and in this way obtain a great deal of additional efficiency. This has resulted in an adequate service between Australia and the United Kingdom and the Continent being conducted for about a year, with each ship obtaining a great deal more efficiency out of its operations than hitherto obtained. This resulted in some ports not being serviced by overseas liners, as they had been previously, but the arrangement provided for coastal shipping to pick up cargo at those ports and take it to the ports that were serviced by overseas liners. If there has been a breakdown in the arrangement, I would not like it to create a desire to revert to the earlier substantially inefficient method. I should like it to create a desire to correct whatever deficiency is revealed.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation. Is he aware that about 70% of the Australian public seeking eye care consult optometrists? Is he also aware of the high standard of optometric education in Australia today and the technical ability of the present day Australian optometrists? Does be know that, despite this, repatriation patients are often required to travel many miles from their homes to consult eye doctors when they have previously had satisfactory eye care from optometrists in their own area? Does this not cause considerable inconvenience to the patient and involve the Government in extra expense to meet the cost of travelling and often of accommodation? Will the Minister discuss this matter with his colleague to see whether alterations can be made to overcome this anomaly?
– I know that this matter has been raised by the honourable member on several occasions. I will certainly see that it is referred to my colleague in another place for further consideration.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. As Cabinet decided the action that would be taken against postal employees for refusing to work on Saturdays, can the right honourable gentleman tell the House whether Cabinet has instructed the Minister for Health to take action against doctors who have refused to accept 41,000 pensioners for treatment? If no decision has been reached, can he tell us Why the Government discriminates against only one section of the community?
– My colleagues the Minister for Labour and National Service and the Postmaster-General have kept the House informed of the progress of matters related to the postal dispute. The Minister for Health has kept the House informed of developments related to negotiations with the medical profession. I am glad to notice the interest that the honourable gentleman is taking in trying to ensure that Government policies are carried out as the Government intends them to be.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for External Affairs, relates to the vitally important nuclear non-proliferation treaty which is at present under negotiation in the United Nations. When does he expect that a preliminary draft of this treaty will be available for the information of honourable members and when does he propose to allot time in this House for discussion of the matter before the treaty is finalised for signature in the United Nations?
– The Australian Government is taking a very close and anxious interest in all the progress being made towards non-proliferation agreement on nuclear weapons. We have been very much encouraged by the signs over the last month or so that some progress is being made towards the preparation of drafts and the exchange of drafts between the Great Powers. I expect that these will come under discussion during the session of the General Assembly of the United Nations which is now in progress. As at the present moment it would be difficult for me to say that there is any definitive draft which could be put before the House as being the one draft that is likely to be under discussion. The question of debating this matter in this House is of course one on which there will need to be consultations with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Yesterday, twenty mayors of cities and municipalities of New South Wales visited this Parliament to talk to country members and to senators and, in particular, to stress the grave problems facing their communities and the need for the establishment of new industries to hold the population of, and to expand, their communities. I put it to the Prime Minister: Will he indicate now to the mayors of those country cities and municipalities his willingness to receive them, to discuss their problems and to indicate some measures that might alleviate these grave matters that are causing them so much concern?
– I think that it is well known that local government authorities function inside the jurisdiction of the State governments. We, for our part, have made it clear that should there be a desire to have consultations between the three areas of government - national government, State government and local government - on problems of local government, the Commonwealth would join in them. But as local government authorities function inside the boundaries of the States and under the laws of the States, it would be for the States to indicate their desire for such a conference before we would be able to arrange it.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General. Is he aware of the great number of trade competitions, coupons, giveaways, gimmicks and the like that are being exploited now in food and domestic goods? Is he aware also that since the upsurge of this spurious type of trade, the prices of food and domestic goods have increased considerably? Is he aware that the day of the ‘special’ has almost gone? Will he consider the advisability of calling a conference of Attorneys-General with a view to adopting uniform legislation to eliminate this nefarious method of trading?
– This, of course, is not so much a restrictive trade practice as a type of undesirable practice that flows from an excess of competition. It is essentially a matter for State governments to deal with and, in fact, in some States legislation exists to deal wim this particular type of advertising or trading. The question of packaging particularly was on the agenda at the last two meetings of AttorneysGenera] and I would think that the subject matter raised by the honourable member is one that will receive their continuing attention.
– 1 ask the Minister for Trade and Industry a question. It follows an answer which he gave to a question asked by my colleague, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports, on 4th April last, and a Press statement which he made the week before last. The answer he gave my colleague concerned the Australian Bankers Development Refinance Corporation as it was then called. The right honourable gentleman stated:
At the same time that Cabinet discussed the matter and reached this decision it gave some consideration to whether there was scope not so much for leaning on Australian banking finance, from both the private banks and the Reserve Bank, but perhaps to mobilise to some extent foreign funds which it would be hoped could be obtained more in the form of loan than in equity ownership of some of the great enterprises with which we all are familiar these days.
He then dealt with the need to mobilise funds to ensure an Australian equity in these enterprises. A fortnight ago he issued a Press statement referring to the fact that the Aus tralian Resources Development Bank, as it is now to be known, had been importantly renamed and its functions redesigned, and he stated that there was nothing which he had learned from the announcement which indicated that this Australian organisation was to have the primary object of preserving for Australia ownership in ventures connected with the development of our natural resources and opportunities. I ask the right honourable gentleman: What conclusion has the Government reached on this matter which he detailed during the last session? If no conclusions have yet been reached, how far has the Government’s examination proceeded?
– If my memory serves me correctly, in the answer that I gave in April I said that the suggestion that I had put to the Government was not in my opinion or, at that time, necessarily in the opinion of the Government an alternative to or competitive with another banking proposal that came into existence as the proposed Bankers Development Refinance Corporation. I think I indicated to the House that the Cabinet had asked me to obtain some further particulars about the practicability of my proposal. I have taken some steps to do this, not by myself, but acting - I believe quite properly - through the Department, by appointing a man of considerable experience and repute, after consultation with the Public Service Board. He has been asked to make the necessary inquiries. However, I found that in the interim what I had in mind had been so misrepresented to so many people that the best thing I can do, I think, is to abandon altogether what I had in mind.
– My question, which is addressed to the Prime Minister, is supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Macquarie. Should the Premier of New South Wales approach the right honourable gentleman with a submission on behalf of country mayors concerning decentralisation in that State, can he arrange to have the report of the interdepartmental committee inquiring into decentralisation completed so that it will be available during the study of such a submission? I ask also: Could the question of the employment of women and young people in country districts be taken into account during the investigation?
– The honourable gentleman has mentioned an interdepartmental committee. What we have been discussing in this place has been a committee representative of the Commonwealth and State Governments. I have no doubt that within our own administrative structure there is consultation between departments on these matters. I believe that what the honourable gentleman has in mind is the report that will come to us in time - not too distant a time, we hope - from the intergovernmental committee. I imagine that that committee will certainly consider the problems of employment, particularly of females, in cities and towns other than the capital cities.
– I wish to ask the Postmaster-General a question. I preface it by pointing out that considerable discussion has taken place in Victoria over the televising of a sporting event last Saturday. I ask the Postmaster-General whether any provisions exist in the Broadcasting and Television Act or any other Act whereby sporting and other popular fixtures could be televised on closed circuit television to theatres as is done on occasions in the United States of America.
– The Broadcasting and Television Act provides that the Australian Broadcasting Commission in its own right and the commercial stations exercise their own judgment in regard to what programmes they televise. From time to time I receive complaints about the televising of certain sporting events. On the other hand I receive comments which suggest that there is insufficient televising of these particular events. Last Saturday there was an important sporting activity in Melbourne. I understand that there was also another important sporting fixture last Saturday and that it was televised, at least, in Brisbane. In regard to the sporting fixture in Melbourne last Saturday, the Victorian Football League would not agree to the televising of that particular event anywhere in Australia.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether he will inform the House of the final agreements concerning the terminal for the standard gauge railway in Western Australia, both with respect to the situation of that terminal and the financial arrangements.
– The final agreement reached between the Western Australian Government and the Commonwealth was that the terminal will be situated at East Perth and that the joint standardisation project will bear the costs of taking the standard gauge railway as far as Bassendean. The project will also bear the equivalent amount of money which would have been incurred if the recommendation of the consulting engineers to site the terminal at Midland had been followed. In other words, an amount equal to the cost of the Midland terminal will go towards the cost of a passenger terminal at East Perth. The rest of the cost of taking the line from Bassendean to East Perth and any additional cost which may be incurred in constructing a more -elaborate passenger terminal will be borne by the State Government.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Air. I understand that it is difficult to unravel the cost of transporting Ministers around the continent in VIP aircraft from the cost of the ordinary operations of the Royal Australian Air Force. Also, I understand that the Prime Minister used a VIP aircraft to go to Rockhampton and to do a couple of days’ fishing at Townsville last week. This is public knowledge. I believe that the Minister for Air should be able to unravel this. Will he make a spot check of this operation and report to the House on the cost as all the dockets and vouchers must be readily available, even at this late hour?
– I believe the House already knows the general policy that we have adopted concerning VIP aircraft. The instance which the honourable member has just given is not outside this general policy. I have nothing to add to previous statements on this matter.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Civil Aviation and refer to an article in yesterday’s ‘Australian’ in which there is a report from a gynaecology and obstetrics conference.
– Order! The honourable member may not quote from a publication.
– No, Sir. It was reported that Dr H. G. Mutke said that air hostesses of today were perhaps exposed to more dangers than in the past, particularly in view of modern jet travel. I ask the Minister if he will work in liaison with the Minister for Health in closely watching research in this direction to ensure that a section of the cream of young Australian women will not suffer ill effects later in life.
– I can well understand the interest of the honourable member in this subject. I can assure him, first, that the standard of the air hostesses in the domestic field in Australia and of those associated with our international airline, Qantas Airways Ltd, is the highest in the world. I think we should be very proud of the standards they maintain and of the fine service they give. I shall certainly be pleased to discuss with my colleague the Minister for Health the matters raised by the honourable member, although I feel that no basic problems are involved.
– My question is directed to the Acting Treasurer. Have Australian reserves in the United States of America increased in the last 12 months from 28% to 38% of our total overseas reserves? Has any of the transfer of reserves to the United States been due to requests or pressures from that country? For what purpose has the transfer been made? Is it associated with Australia’s commitments for fixed and open-ended contracts for defence purchases from the United States, is it a hedge against inflation or is it to cover redemptions of United States loans which are due for early maturity?
– I cannot confirm the honourable member’s figures at this moment. However, I will obtain precise information for him. The distribution of Australian reserves overseas varies accord ing to the different requirements from time to time. Some of these have been mentioned by the honourable member. We may, for instance, have transactions with the International Monetary Fund. There may be items of defence equipment to be paid for. Various factors are involved. There may be a number of commercial transactions which require the movement of currency between countries to cover payments falling due. There are large numbers of considerations which influence the Reserve Bank when it determines movements to meet new requirements.
– I wish to ask the PostmasterGeneral a question regarding the proposal that the Post Office be administered in future by an outside authority. I preface it by reminding him of a statement by the Leader of the Government in another place, who said: ‘In due course this matter will come to the Government for a decision’. I ask: What opportunities will members of this House have to voice their opinions on the merits of this proposal before the Cabinet makes a final decision? Can the Minister assure the House that if a decision is made to alter the present administration, members of the Parliament will still have the opportunities that are now available to them to raise any matters affecting the Post Office; that funds necessary for capital expenditure will continue to be given a high priority; that the views of the people, including telephone subscribers, and particularly those in areas in which improvements are badly needed, will be considered sympathetically and that the rights of those people will be protected?
– It was indicated recently that the Government had agreed to a changed procedure of administration within the Post Office involving the creation of a trust account to take the place of the present Treasury accounts. At a later time I will bring legislation before the Parliament and I will then take the opportunity of making some observations regarding what might be generally termed a statutory corporation type of operation. I hope that this will give members of the Parliament an opportunity to express their views on the subject. The honourable member referred particularly to the supply of capital funds. This is one of the real problems associated with the financing of the Post Office. Whether it is a statutory corporation or a government controlled operation there is no easy way in which to find sufficient money year by year for the purposes of the capital works of the Post Office. I hope that when we have a discussion in this House, that particular aspect will not be overlooked.
– I ask for leave to make a personal explanation. I have been misrepresented. When I was speaking in the House yesterday in reply to a question I said, inter alia, in respect of sales of wheat to mainland China - and I quote from Hansard:
The Australian Government does not believe that to set out to try to starve the Chinese people would contribute anything to the ultimate wellbeing of Australia or to our immediate wellbeing. Nobody believes that such a policy would contribute either to an end result in military terms or to Australia’s reputation internationally.
The ‘Australian’ newspaper of today’s date, reporting my reply, states:
He told Parliament that it would be in Australia’s interests to starve the people of China.
I think that this is nothing but an obvious journalistic incident that has occurred, I think completely without malice or intention, but it is of such importance, because I was speaking of the Australian Government’s policy, that it is obviously necessary thatI should correct this misreport.
Assent to following Bills reported:
Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1967.
Post and Telegraph Regulations Bill 1967.
– I move:
That, having in mind proposals for the erection of a new and permanent Parliament House (in this resolution referred to as “the Parliament building “) and in that connection the need to examine the efficiency or otherwise of working arrangements in the present Parliament House and any changes in those arrangements that may seem to be desirable, a Joint Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report on -
library facilities, and catering and other facilities and services in the Parliament building for Members of the Parliament and others;
communication services; and
That the committee consist of -
Honourable members will recall that the Committee was first constituted during the life of the last Parliament. With the dissolution of that Parliament, the Committee ceased to exist before its work had been completed. The Government’s purpose now, as it was then, is to ensure that the views and interests of both Houses will become known and can be taken into account before plans are drawn up for the building of the new Parliament House.
The motion before the House is in the same terms as the earlier motion except that it gives the new Committee power to consider and make use of the minutes of evidence and records assembled by the previous Committee. The question of the site of the new Parliament House has not been made one of the formal terms of reference. I repeat the assurance given to the previous Committee by my predecessor that any member or members of the Committee will, in the Committee’s report, be free to make such observations on the question of the site as he or they may desire. I commend the motion to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) agreed to:
That Government business shall take precedence over general business tomorrow.
Debate resumed from 6 September (vide page 868), on motion by Mr Swartz:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Mr Speaker, the Opposition does not oppose this Bill. Probably it is the shortest repatriation measure ever introduced into this chamber by any Minister for Repatriation or any other Minister representing a Minister for Repatriation. It provides for very small increases in the pension payments to be made to children of deceased ex-servicemen. The Opposition’s concern is that this Bill ignores the great bulk of repatriation pensioners who look to this Government for a measure of generosity. They have not received this consideration in this legislation and they did not receive it in the Budget of 1966 or in Budgets that preceded it in recent years. I am referring to payments to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, to the general rate pensioners - those receiving what is commonly known as the 100% war pension - and the war widows. The Government has refused to recognise the decline in the purchasing power of those pensions. It has certainly rejected the very carefully prepared submission by returned servicemen’s organisations on repatriation benefits generally.
This Bill provides for increased weekly pensions for children who have lost one parent because of war service. The pension will be increased in this case by 50c to $4.40 a week for the first child and by 50c to $3.25 a week for the second and subsequent children. If both parents are dead the weekly pension for each child will rise by $1 to $8.15 a week. This is the full extent of the increased repatriation benefits announced by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in his Budget Speech. The measure of the Government’s generosity is shown by the amount by which overall expenditure on repatriation payments will be increased this year. The cost for this year will be $127,000. For 1967-68 the cost will be $169,000. This is the full extent of the increases to be provided by the Government this year to persons who are in receipt of a repatriation payment of one kind or another. This Bill merely increases the pension now being paid under the Repatriation Act to certain categories of children.
The Opposition believes that the Government should be censured for its complete neglect of those who served this country in two World Wars and in Korea, and who are now serving in Vietnam. The requests made by the returned servicemen’s organisation on behalf of these people have been completely ignored by the Government. The Opposition does not oppose this legislation. Of course, it appreciates any increase that the Government is prepared to give to those receiving repatriation payments. But the Opposition strongly supports the Returned Services League and other interested organisations which have submitted that the Government should be censured for allowing repatriation pension rates to fall to the alarming level that they have reached in recent years. At the New South Wales State Congress of the Returned Services League in Sydney the National President of that organisation issued the following statement on the 1967 Federal Budget:
The Commonwealth Government has completely ignored the detailed case put to them in March by this Executive. It has ignored the plight of the TPI and General Rate Pensioners and has abandoned the War Widows to the miserable amount of compensation they received prior to the Budget
The League has demonstrated year after year how pension values have been eroded, but the Government has maintained its ‘do nothing’ attitude. Hie Repatriation provisions of the Budget . . .
And this I believe is a most significant statement-
– What is the date of that?
– I am quoting from a statement issued on the 1967 Federal Budget by the National President of the RSL, Sir Arthur Lee. I quote further from the National President’s statement, because this is a significant point. He said:
The Repatriation provisions of the Budget are a disgrace to the Government, a disgrace to Aus tralia and a betrayal of those who have suffered in war.
The report continues:
To complete this dismal picture the War Service Homes allocation has been further reduced at a time when a number of improvements are urgently needed.
Sir Arthur was speaking on behalf of the thousands of ex-servicemen who belong to the RSL and to whom this Government made specific promises in 1949 that it would maintain the purchasing power of repatriation payments in this country. It also promised to increase the purchasing power of repatriation payments by restoring - as the man who became Prime Minister after the 1949 election said - value to the Australian £1. I think what has been said by the National President of the RSL confirms that the Government has completely neglected its responsibility in this respect.
The Opposition joins with the RSL and other people in this country who have displayed interest in repatriation and who believe the Government has a responsibility to ensure that the purchasing power of pensions is maintained, as was promised as far back as 1949. As honourable members know, there are three main pension rates for which this Government is responsible. Firstly, there is the special rate pension, which is the amount paid to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen; secondly, there is the 100% general rate pension for those who have suffered a partial disability; thirdly, there is the rate payable to war widows. This Government has allowed the purchasing power of all these pensions to decline. No increase is provided in this Budget for any of the three categories of pensions. One should ask on behalf of the Opposition - I am sure the Federal Executive of the RSL has put this to the Government - what has happened to the representations of those who are responsible for these matters on the Government side? I refer particularly to the exservicemen’s sub-committee of the Cabinet. We were told long ago that the Government members - particularly the exservicemen in the Government - were sympathetic to the claims of ex-servicemen. So I ask: What has happened to the recommendations that one would expect from the subcommittee of Cabinet on these matters?
– The request made by the Returned Servicemen’s League has been completely ignored.
-Order! I direct the attention of the Deputy Leader 01 the Opposition to the fact that this Bill is rather narrow in its scope. Its purpose is to increase repatriation war pensions for the children of ex-servicemen. It does not cover the whole field of repatriation benefits. I must ask the honourable gentleman to confine his remarks to the Bill.
– I respect your ruling, Mr Speaker. We appreciate that this is one of the most restrictive repatriation measures ever introduced into this Parliament. Undoubtedly this course has been adopted by the Government for the express purpose of preventing the Opposition mounting an attack on the Government’s repatriation policy. The Opposition does not oppose these increases being granted, but perhaps the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz), who represents in this place the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), will explain why the Government has seen fit to make certain recommendations, as announced by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in his Budget Speech, relating to the amounts to be paid to totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen who served in Vietnam. The Treasurer said that servicemen who served in Vietnam and who are covered by repatriation legislation will in future be able to receive benefits under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act.
– And the pension as well.
– And the pension as well. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to explain the Government’s intentions in respect of this legislation. For example, the Treasurer said that a married private soldier who has been totally and permanently incapacitated as a result of war service will receive an amount of $31.50 under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act, together with a basic repatriation pension of $34.55. The Opposition does not object to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen receiving benefits under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act. We welcome this kind of provision. But the Minister should explain why a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman who served in one of the special areas referred to by the Treasurer should now receive a payment of $31.50 under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act and a repatriation pension of $34.55, making a total payment of $66.05 a week. Why the discrimination? Why docs the Government feel that it is essential to make this kind of payment to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman who served in a special area, such as Vietnam, and ignore the needs of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen who served in the First World War, the Second World War or the Korean War? The Minister should explain why the TPI rate is to be increased from $31.50 a week, which is the present rate, to $34.55 in the case of ex-servicemen who served in the Vietnam theatre of war.
– Order! I remind the honourable member again that the Bill is extremely narrow in its scope. I have reminded him of the main purpose of the Bill. I suggest that the honourable member confine his remarks to the Bill now before the House. This Bill does not present an opportunity to debate the whole field of repatriation.
– The matters I have raised are of very great importance. Anomalies exist in the field of repatriation. No doubt the Minister will be prepared to explain why the Government is now seeking to discriminate between ex-servicemen according to the theatres in which they served. Why is the increased rate not included in this Bill? How does the Government intend to increase the TPI rate? Does the Government intend to implement the increase by regulation? If it does, this course has been adopted solely to prevent debate in this House on repatriation matters generally. I respect your ruling, Mr Speaker. I know that the Bill is limited. I appreciate the tolerance that you have shown to me. Because of the Government’s attitude towards repatriation I am obliged to move on behalf of the Opposition:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: “whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, this House is of the opinion that the rates of pension for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, the general Tate pensioner and war widows are inadequate and should be revised’.
– Before the Chair accepts the amendment I would like to see a copy of it. At first hearing I doubt whether it is a relevant amendment. (Mr Barnard having submitted in writing a copy of his proposed amendment)
– Order! I am afraid that the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is not relevant to the Bill. Therefore it cannot be accepted.
Speaker, I regret that in the circumstances I must move:
That the ruling be dissented from.
– Will the honourable member submit his motion in writing?
– Yes. (The motion having been submitted in writing)
– Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion.
– In considering your ruling, Mr Speaker, and its application to the present circumstances, the House should keep in mind the principles that relate to a second reading debate. First, there is the general principle-
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Should not the motion that your ruling be dissented from be put without debate?
– No. I remind the honourable member for Wills that he must debate the motion before the Chair and that is that my ruling be dissented from.
– You can rest assured, Mr Speaker, that that is exactly whatI propose to do. The House has had long and continuing discussions as to the scope of a debate on a Bill. For a long time the tradition was that in a second reading debate honourable members could discuss the subject matter of the Bill and of the Act that the Bill was to amend. This was the view of honourable members on both sides of the Parliament and was the practice followed by honourable members on the Government side when they were in Opposition. On a number of occa sions I and my colleagues have opposed the ruling that the debate is confined within narrow limits. This ruling resulted from advice given 7 or 8 years ago by the then Attorney-General who is now the Chief Justice of Australia. The consistent attempt to restrict discussion in this Parliament must be resisted.
– Order! Is the honourable member reflecting on the Chair?
– No, Mr Speaker. I want to read now a statement made by the former Prime Minister when a motion similar to this was being debated in 1949. He said:
I have been a member of this House for many years and have heard such an amendment moved many times.
– Order! I remind the honourable member that we are not discussing the subject matter of the Bill but the motion that my ruling be dissented from.
- Mr Speaker, I have not mentioned the Bill. With all due deference to you, Sir, I am speaking to the motion of dissent from your ruling that we cannot proceed with a wider debate than has been allowed. I have not mentioned the subject of the debate in any way. I am discussing how we should debate the Bill, the extent of the debate that should be allowed and so on. I think this is valid in this instance. When debating a similar motion here . in 1949, the former Prime Minister-
– Order! I remind the honourable member that my ruling does not relate to the scope of the debate. My ruling relates to the amendment that was moved. The question we are debating now is the dissent from my ruling that the amendment is not relevant, not the scope of the debate on the Bill.
That the ruling be dissented from.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. W. J. Aston)
Majority .. …35
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed (vide page 1 357).
- Mr Speaker, the Bill before the House has reference to the payment of allowances to the children of deceased servicemen. These are the children of people whose death has been attributable to war service. I draw the attention of the House to exactly what this means in terms of human hardship, human deprivation and human suffering. The number of children involved at this stage stands at 6,229 of whom 113 lost parents In the First World War, 5,866 lost parents in the Second World War; 157 lost parents through the Korean and Malaya wars; 40 lost parents in the Far East Strategic Reserve and 53 lost parents on special overseas service. What the Government has decided to do in its great magnanimity, and tears of gratitude in its eyes for the service rendered by the parents of these children, is to raise by 50c the amount paid to the first born child of a deceased ex-serviceman. This will cost $3,000 a week which is approximately $150,000 a year. That amount would hardly run one VIP jet from here to Rockhampton and back again. The second child is receiving, for some reason, $3.25. In respect of a child whose parents are dead, the amount will be $8.15 for each child.
What has always puzzled me since I entered this Parliament is the manner in which the allowance of this kind for children is evaluated. It does not matter, it appears, whether it concerns our own parliamentary pensions’ scheme, pensions under the Commonwealth Superannuation Act or pensions such as those under discussion now. How on earth do we arrive at the figure of $4.40 per week for the first born child as an allowance because of the death of the exserviceman parent? What exactly does this amount of $4.40 mean in terms of current costs? I have made a rough estimate of some of the things that the average child of 13 years or 14 years, boy or girl, might require. I suppose a pushbike these days costs approximately $60 to $70. I know that a suit of clothes for a boy aged 14, 15 or 16 years cannot be purchased for much less than $30. A blazer for the child at school costs approximately $15. The mother of three children, when her children become older, might require an additional room on her home. How much would the construction of another room cost? It would probably cost another $1,000. These allowances paid to the children of deceased soldiers are mean and miserable to the point of being ludicrous.
– What do they eat?
– Apparently they do not eat. The first born child receives only $4.40. A pound of butter costs about 40c these days. On my evaluation, the allowance for the first horn child would provide 11 lb of butter.
What I cannot understand is that we continually bring this charade before the Parliament in this way. In the thousands of millions of dollars that this country has to spend at Budget time every year, the people who are in greatest need - I would say from my experience that the people in greatest need are the civilian widows with children, and children who have lost their parents and have no income other than whatever pension or superannuation allowance is available - do not receive justice.
I turn now to the plight of a child who has lost both parents. Many children are unfortunate in that they have lost both parents. This is the total orphan, as one might say. What does it mean to that child to be allowed $8.15 per week until some time in the future? Admittedly education allowances are available when the children reach 14-15 years age group or at university level under the education scheme for children of soldiers. This scheme sees that they are adequately cared for provided they make the distance. But $8.15 is ludicrous for a child who has been deprived of its parents. Nobody can possibly keep a child on that sum a week. Even if a child is living with a guardian, relation or anyone else this allowance does not mean a thing. I think that this Bill, restricted in scope and dealing with a very simple matter, is indicative of the attitude of this Government to so many social problems which beset the country-
Motion (by Mr Snedden) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Swartz) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time
– I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact - and make clear in the record - that, in the course of the discussion of very important social matter, the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) chose to gag a member on this side of the House. Every restrictive provision that can possibly be used has been employed this afternoon against the Opposition.
– Why did not the honourable member put his name on the list of speakers?
– The honourable member for Ballaarat may speak if he wishes. I have usually been co-operative in this place concerning anything that I have been asked about within reasonable time. I feel that I was entitled to speak on this Bill whether I had put my name down on the list of speakers or not. The honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard) spoke for about 10 minutes. In other words, everything that the Government can do to suppress the Opposition it will try to do. There are only a few methods that we on this side of the House can use and from now on I will use them.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 15 August (vide page 80), on motion by Mr Howson:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I could speak on this Bill for 45 minutes, if I wished, but I assure the House that I will not do so. I suggest with respect that a little admirable restraint should be shown occasionally here. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) is a man who tends to be moved by spirit. Fearing that such a remark may be understood, 1 add that he is a teetotaller. What I do suggest is that there are occasions when he may not have placed his name on the list of speakers but he feels that some pertinent matter should be talked about. I respect his rights. All I am suggesting is that he could have had 5 minutes of the time that I could occupy. I am sure that the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) would not dare to gag me within the space of the time allowed me under the Standing Orders.
Although I can assure the Minister that I am not going to take my full time, nevertheless I think that this is a Bill that is important enough for me to use my full time. Unlike the Bill we have just passed, there is no limit upon the scope of the debate on this Bill concerning sales tax. It is anticipated in this Budget that the Government will collect $414m in sales tax. The sort of items upon which sales tax is imposed can be found in fifty-seven pages of very small print. They are grouped mainly in classifications of items that cannot be taxed and items that can be taxed. This Bill will add a few items to the list of those that are taxed and take a few from that list. Its net revenue impact in the current financial year will be an increase of about $ 1.25m. This represents 0.25% of the total sales tax yield. Though the overall effect on the total yield is relatively so small, some of the items that are being exempted from tax and some that are being subjected to it are at least worth considering.
It seems to me that the sales tax is often used as a social instrument. The theory is that anything can be taxed unless it is especially exempted. Details of the proportion of total sales that is subject to sales tax can be found in the statistics published annually by the Commissioner of Taxation. The latest figures available are those for the financial year 1964-65. They refer to total wholesale sales. I believe that the tax is applied at the point of sale by the last wholesaler. Total wholesale sales in 1964-65 were $9,482m, but net taxable sales were only $2,500m, or slightly more than one-quarter of the total figure. So a substantial proportion of sales is not subject to sales tax.
Another factor is that this tax is not applied at one constant rate. There are at least four rates. The minimum is 24%. Next in ascending order is the 124% rate, which. I believe, is known as the general rate. There are two special rates of 221% and 25%. For the most part, the 25% rate applies to motor vehicles for personal use and the 224% rate to motor vehicles for commercial use. It is interesting to note that of the $41 4m estimated to be collected from this tax in the current financial year, nearly half will come from sales tax on motor vehicles. I think that sometimes the House ought to ask: Is a motor car regarded as an essential? Australia has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world. I understand that our motor car population is growing at more than twice the rate at which our human population is increasing. At the weekend, I saw in the news some reference to our declining birth rate. I sometimes wish that there was a declining birth rate, if I may so describe it, for motor cars, but this seems not to be the case. Our population is growing at less than 2% a year and the number of motor cars is increasing at something like 6% a year. If there were no sales tax on motor vehicles, they would be considerably cheaper. The sales tax, being about’ one-quarter of the total price, is a significant enough deterrent to the purchase of motor cars. If this sales tax on vehicles were to be eliminated, no doubt sales would be greatly stimulated. In some respects, this tax has been used for this purpose by the Government in past years.
Only a few months ago, in this House, we discussed a rather interesting measure that exempted from sales tax safety belts fitted to motor cars at the point of manufacture. I do not propose to discuss that matter in detail on this occasion, except to point out that the action taken by means of that measure was just another illustration of the way in which the sales tax can be used selectively to encourage something to be done or to discourage it from being done. The purpose in exempting safety belts from sales tax was to encourage manufacturers to fit them in order to make motor cars safer.
It is rather interesting to see the kind of criticism of the design of motor vehicles that has been voiced in recent times. Even in the United States of America, which is virtually the home of the motor car, there have been numerous claims that, as an engineering product, the motor car in many respects is one of the worst designed pieces of machinery in existence. It is said that bad design makes it in many respects a menace not only to those who travel in it but also to those outside it who are abroad on public thoroughfares. When the earlier sales tax measure that I have mentioned was before us, I suggested that the Government consider exempting from sales tax certain parts of motor cars if it were believed that their installation or perhaps some variation in their design would make vehicles safer. I now repeat that proposal.
I understand that a certain kind of windscreen would be safer than the type now commonly used, but I am told that if it were fitted to vehicles at the point of assembly it would not be exempt from sales tax. I suggest that the safer variety of windscreen should be exempt from sales tax when fitted at the point of manufacture, so as to promote its use. I simply suggest this as an illustration of the kind of thing that could be done if the Government wished to make motor vehicles safer.
The measure now before us provides for the exemption from sales tax of certain kinds of machinery used for specific manufacturing or industrial purposes. Refrigeration plants used for the storing of eggs are to be exempted. This will assist the egg industry. Winches which are used for logging and which are attached to trucks are to be exempted. Apparently, some winches are fitted more conveniently in manufacture, and this Bill will remove the anomaly that arose because winches fitted as original equipment were not exempt from sales tax. This seems to me to be a sensible proposal. A number of items of boot and shoe repairing machinery also are to be accorded exemption, and this is a worthy move. The rates of sales tax on pewter and silver ware for domestic use are to be brought into line. Previously, silver ware was taxed at the rate of 2i% and pewter ware at the rate of 121%. Justly enough, the Government has now decided to make the two rates uniform at 2)%. This seems sensible.
However, there is another proposal that I cannot applaud. As the Minister for Air (Mr Howson), who is also Minister assisting the Treasurer, pointed out in his second reading speech, technological and social changes have largely brought about the displacement of the conventional gramophone or record player, which used to be so popular, by tape recorders and tape players. The traditional record player is taxed at the rate of 25% and tape recorders and tape players have until now been taxed at 121%. Instead of the two rates being made uniform at 12i%, the lower one is to be raised to 25% in order to bring them into line. I suggest that it would have been more equitable to reduce the tax on the traditional record players to the lower rate, as was done with pewter ware, rather than to raise the lower rate to the level of the higher one. The same sort of concession seems to have been applied to what are described as ‘art candles’ and ‘decorative candles’ which are taxed, I think, at a rate of 25%. However, for some odd reason waxed candles were not taxed at all. Now the waxed candle is to be taxed at a rate of 2i% and the tax on the decorative candle is to be reduced from 25% to 21%. I am not quite clear as to why the rates for candles have been lowered and the rates on all electronic devices have been raised. Perhaps it has been done on the score of protecting the revenue. I can concede that there might be some difficulty in immediately abolishing sales tax. Nevertheless, the policy of my Party is progressively to reduce sales tax and to eliminate it altogether on certain items. One or two of these items are still subject to tax and I want to say a few words about them.
The honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Beaton) the other day and, I think, also the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) referred to the fact that quite a number of school requisites still bear sales tax at the rate of 12£%. As an example of this the honourable member for Bendigo cited school exercise books. For instance, instead of paying 10c for an exercise book we would have to pay about 11.5c for it because sales tax would be applied at the rate of 12i%. The honourable member pointed out the cost of supplying one child in a family with exercise books in the course of a year. Exercise books are only part of the school requisites. We can see that it would cost quite a few dollars in the course of a year for exercise books for a family that has several children. I was gratified to know that some concessions have been given in exempting rubber bands from sales tax in this particular dispensation. However the Government has not seen fit to go all the way and abolish sales tax on school requisites in general and exercise books in particular. I notice that another item, for some technical reason, has evaded sales tax. This has now also been brought into the net. I refer to some terrible device known as a ‘clutch pencil’. I am not quite sure what this is but I understand it is somewhat distinct from a biro or a fountain pen and other kinds of writing instruments which bear tax at the rate of 25%. So the terrible clutch pencil, which has evaded the net up to date, is now trapped and bears a tax as though it were a fountain pen or a biro.
I would now like to say something about another matter. I am sure that all honourable members have received a very attractive folder which has been circulated by a body known as the Cosmetic and Toilet Manufacturers Association of Australia which is a division of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales. As recently as June this year the Association sent out copies of a newspaper advertisement published in the ‘Daily Telegraph* of 17th February. The article is headed: Hospital Beauty Care Is Good Medicine’. The point has been amplified in this attractive leaflet which was sent to me. It asks the question: ‘Would you forbid cosmetics in your family?’ To this I give the categorical answer: ‘No, I would not forbid cosmetics in my family’. On the second page of this publication is the heading: ‘Everybody (beatniks excepted) uses cosmetics and toiletries . . . and is penalised by a “ luxury” sales tax of 25%’. The publication goes on to ask whether the person to whom it is addressed uses a safety razor or whether there is a young baby in the home. It refers to the girl who goes to a secretarial school and to the working girl and the nurse who serves the public. The publication points out that all of these people are weighed down by the tax on cosmetics which operates at the rate of 25%. People who have given a lead in asking for the reduction of this sales tax include Mrs K. Adami, General Secretary, Housewives Association of New South Wales, who thinks it is a terrible thing. Mrs Pat Hills, former Lady Mayoress of Sydney, agrees. Then there is Mr G. Rhee, Assistant General Secretary, Tasmanian Division of the Red Cross Society, Mr B. P. Sloan, Personal Manager, Farmer and Company Ltd, and Mr John Brisbane, Chief Cosmetic Buyer, David Jones Ltd. All of these people urge the Government to reduce this iniquitous tax on cosmetics. They do not necessarily want the entire sales tax removed but they suggest that it should come down from 25% to the general rate of 124%. This publication appeals to me in the first place and to the Commonwealth Government not to levy a sales tax of 25% on these goods which is twice the general rate of sales tax. I would suggest to the Government that it should give consideration to placing these items on the general list rather than on what might be termed the luxury list. The Minister might give some indication later on as to how much is collected from what are rather broadly described as ‘cosmetics’. This seems to cover a fairly broad division from razor blades down to baby powder. All of these items come within the description of ‘toiletries and cosmetics’. Perhaps the Minister might give some indication as to how much is collected from these items. If he could do this at least the House would be in a position to assess whether it would be better to reduce the sales tax. I would imagine that the Government would be receiving a few million dollars from this tax - I doubt whether it would be much more. It might be found that this money would be better in the hands of the taxpayers themselves. The industry assures us that if the tax were removed it would mean an immediate reduction in prices of the items concerned. I am sure that everyone would, be happy if this were done.
The pamphlet issued by the Cosmetic and Toiletry Manufacturers’ Association of Australia pointed out that baby powder is taxed 25% while dog powder is free of tax. I have heard this mentioned before. The article also points out that hair spray is taxed 25% and hair nets are free; hand lotion is taxed 25% while women’s gloves are free; baby cream is taxed 25% and baby toys are taxed I2i%; face powder is taxed 25% and compacts are taxed 121%; razor blades are taxed 25% but dog clippers are taxed 124%. This goes to show that there is really not a great deal of logic in the first place as to what is taxed and what is not. Secondly, there is no great logic either as to why some things that are taxed are in fact taxed at a rate different to others. It is for this reason that I believe that the House should occasionally reflect upon a lot of these taxes. Some of these taxes have been imposed at some historical point in our economic history. They have become rather permanent things. After all, $414m per annum is not a small sum and it is a tax that is determined by a choice that people make of particular articles rather than their capacity to pay generally for things as a whole. After all they are buying things which in a civilised community are regarded as necessities according to our standards. I consider that there are certain iniquities in subjecting these items to a fiscal tax over and above their cost of production and distribution.
I ask the Minister to look more closely at this whole matter. It is true that he has reduced the tax on some items, but it is also true that he has increased it on others. I have tried to show that there is not a great deal of logic in the way the tax has been removed or reduced in respect of some items and not others. In some cases the tax seems to have been used rather in the way that a yo-yo is used, being pulled up at one stage and pushed down at another - and I suppose it is always handy to have the yo-yo immediately available so that if conditions become stringent it can be used as a social device.
I think the time has come in Australia for the sales tax and all our other taxes to be considered as one whole rather than being considered in isolation from one another. Sometimes when they are considered in isolation what we call equity in respect of one tax is largely neutralised by a certain amount of inequity that creeps into the structure as a whole. I hope that some time in the near future the Government will do as the Government of Canada has recently done and initiate a comprehensive inquiry into the whole of the tax structure, at least at the level at which it concerns us in this Parliament. I urge that suggestion upon the Minister, and I intend to do so again when we discuss, perhaps next week, the most fundamental and the central tax in our system, namely the income tax levied on individuals and companies.
– in reply - I shall answer very briefly the questions raised by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). I think he will agree with me that this is not the time to deal with the general tax structure and that it would be better to discuss that general theme when we have a debate on the income tax. For that reason I will not deal now with that point which he has raised. I do believe that in a situation in which sales taxes are in operation we have on this occasion been logical in our approach to the legislation. The honourable member mentioned, for instance, tape recorders. If the tape recorder ceases to be used for the purpose for which tape recorders were originally envisaged, that is, as a piece of office equipment, and becomes rather an instrument for entertaining people in much the same way as a gramophone does, then surely it is logical to place it in the same tax bracket as the gramophone. This is the kind of logical step that we have tried to take on this occasion.
Similar remarks apply to candles. We have placed them in the same category as other forms of lighting and have imposed the same rate of 2i%. Similar action has been taken with pencils. I see that the honourable member has now been shown what a clutch pencil is. I hope that from the little demonstration he has now been given he will understand the logic of the situation. Exercise books were also mentioned. It is administratively extremely difficult to decide what is an exercise book for school children and what is an exercise book or an accounting book for the use of the average member of the public. I think most of these examples have been given in previous debates on this subject.
I believe that if the honourable member looks through the whole schedule that we have put before the House he will find that we have done the very thing he has asked for; we have tried to be as logical as possible and have tried to remove as many as possible of the small anomalies that have crept into the Act over the years since we last had a general review. In spite of the examples cited by the honourable member I think that he will, if he looks more carefully at the schedule, agree that we have tried to do the very thing for which he has been pressing.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I move:
In the First Schedule after amendment No. 23 insert the following amendment: *23a. Item 135a. after “legs”, insert “or one or both arms’”.
The schedule sets out a list of items that are exempted from sales tax, and Item 135a would read, with the insertion of the amendment I have proposed:
Motor vehicles (and parts therefor) for use in the transportation to and from gainful employment of a person in respect of whom the Director-General of Social Services, or an officer appointed by him for the purpose, has certified that he has lost the use of one or both legs or one or both arms to such an extent that he is permanently unable to use public transport. . . .
This matter has come to my attention iu connection with a particular case that I believe well illustrates the difficulties associated with the problem. It is the case of a commercial artist who was born with deformed arms. These extend perhaps halfway down to where the elbow would be on a normal person. By using one hand that is partially usable, and by using his mouth and his toes, this man is able to make a livelihood as a commercial artist, but he cannot use public transport in making that livelihood because he has to take large portfolios of his drawings to his employers and it is impossible to do this in public transport vehicles such as buses and trains. He has to take these things to his employers in a car which he is able to drive. He has driven it to my home. Some mechanical contrivance fitted to the car enables him to drive it. This is the case that brought this matter to my attention.
Is this amendment that I have proposed desirable, and if so what would it cost? On the first point the principle is already established that where a disabled person can be encouraged to earn a livelihood he should be so encouraged because it is a good thing not only for his own well-being but also, of course, having regard to a more sordid consideration, for the sake of the Treasury. If he earns a livelihood he does not receive social service payments and he may, indeed, make some contribution to the national revenue. The exemption from sales tax of the car of such a person could be the marginal factor enabling him to earn a livelihood. The small extra amount that he would have to pay by way of sales tax may be the very thing that would make it impossible for him to earn a livelihood. It could be marginal and it could be vital to him.
I see no reason why there should be a distinction between disability to the legs, which is now accepted as a ground for exemption of the vehicle from sales tax, and disability to the arms, if in either case the disability prevents the person from using public transport in making a livelihood. There is a safeguard here. The DirectorGeneral of Social Services must certify that, having regard to his disability, a man cannot use public transport in proceeding to and from gainful employment. This could relate to arms as well as to legs. In either case the same control is exercised to prevent the possibility that some person who should not receive a concession might receive it. Again it may be argued by the Minister that this provision may be difficult to administer; it may be that a number of people would have to be examined by a medical officer on behalf of the Department of Social Services. It may be that some people who ought not to receive the concession would receive it but, although there may be the possibility of some small abuses, surely where we are helping disabled people to live happier and more useful lives to the benefit of the community, we should lean on the side of making the concession. Surely when the matter is balanced like this, this is the side on which we should come down.
I have no doubt that there are other cases. How many are there? I cannot assess the cost but I should imagine that the number of people who have a disability in relation to their arms or legs and who require a car for the purpose of earning a livelihood - and this must be certified by the Director-General of Social Services - would not be great. I cannot believe that the cost involved would be at all considerable. I have on at least two, and possibly even three, occasions made representations to the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) as the Minister for Air (Mr Howson), who is sitting at the table, knows, prior to the preparation of the Budget and I have been assured in terms, with which all honourable members are very familiar, that my suggestion would be taken into account together with other proposals in connection with the forthcoming Budget. However, nothing has been done and therefore I take this opportunity of raising the matter publicly in this chamber and asking the Minister to accept the amendment. If he does not do so I think that under Standing Orders I will be entitled to speak again.
I do not think the Minister will close the debate and in the event of his answer not being the straight and simple answer which I would hope to receive, that the Government is happy to accept the amendment, I will have a few more words to say on how this matter can be dealt with.
– The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) has, I know, raised this matter not on two or three occasions but on at least four occasions, of which I have a record, extending back over a number of years. These are not the only representations that have been made to the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) on this matter. In his amendment the honourable member deals specifically with the question of the loss of one arm or both arms. When this legislation was brought to the Parliament it was dealt with on the understanding that the loss of both legs normally prevented disabled people from using public transport. Certainly there are very many more people who have lost only one arm who could use public transport than there are people who have lost one leg. If we accepted the amendment it would be opening wide the exemption. It is obvious that most people who have lost only one arm have no difficulty at all in using public transport. In fact under the Repatriation Act, to which the honourable member has referred in correspondence, this is recognised and the loss of both arms is required, not the loss of one arm which is what the honourable member has referred to in his proposed amendment.
Other proposals have been put to the Treasurer in respect of the blind, those who are suffering from heart disease, those who are suffering from arthritis and those who are suffering from other serious diseases which, in the opinion of doctors, would place them in the same category. When we get to this stage I am afraid it is not possible for us to estimate the total cost. The existing provision involves an annual loss of revenue of the order of $600,000. One would expect that the number of people who have lost arms would approximate the number who have lost legs and if we add to that number those in the other categories I have mentioned, we could expect an additional loss of revenue similar to that resulting from the present exemptions.
These, generally, are the reasons that have led the Government at the moment to maintain the present situation and not to extend the Act along the lines suggested by the honourable member for Bradfield. I have taken note, once again, of the points he has made and I shall undertake, on behalf of the Government, that another look will be had at the subject in light of the extra matters he has raised. However, I am not prepared, on behalf of the Government, to accept the amendment at the present time.
– I am grateful to the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) for giving his reasons for not accepting my amendment, but I cannot accept them for reasons that I shall now give. He spoke of a loss of $600,000 to revenue. I can only assume that that estimate is based on completely wrong premises. For example, he said - and I think this indicates his thinking - that a number of one-armed people can use public transport. Firstly, let me make a slight correction. The item refers to people who have lost the use of an arm or a leg, not to people who have lost an arm or a leg.
– One or both.
– Yes, but the provision refers to ‘the use of. A person can lose the use of an arm without losing the arm. However, this is a small correction. The point is not whether they have lost an arm or lost the use of an arm but whether the loss prevents them from using public transport for the purpose of gainful employment. I stress the words ‘for the purpose of gainful employment’. In the case I mentioned - and there will be others - the man gains employment as a commercial artist. For this purpose he’ has to go to the people who employ him and take with him portfolios of drawings that he has made. He cannot have gainful employment unless he is able to take these drawings to his employer. It may well be that a person with one arm, or with the use of only one arm, can travel on public transport even into Sydney, despite the overcrowded condition of trains, to do work as a clerk, telephonist or whatever it may be, but in the case I mentioned the man cannot get gainful employment unless he has a car. We have a safeguard. The Director-General of Social Services must satisfy himself that a man needs a car for the purposes of his gainful employment. There will be other cases like this.
The Minister’s estimate that this concession would cost $600,000 is obviously based on the idea that everybody with only one arm, or every person without arms, would automatically, without a certificate along the lines I have suggested, be able to obtain the exemption from sales tax when purchasing a car. I am suggesting nothing of the sort. A careful reading of the amendment makes this perfectly clear. It states that the car must be used for transport to and from gainful employment and the disability must be such that the person is permanently unable to use public transport for the purpose of going to and from his gainful employment. This has nothing to do with the blind. It may well be that a blind person can travel in public transport. We have frequently seen blind people travelling in trains and buses. We have frequently seen them walking with their dogs. It is true that these people can move to and fro by means of public transport. But in cases such as the one 1 have cited people cannot move to and fro to gain employment without a car. To say that everybody suffering from blindness, heart disease, arthritis or something else would be covered by my amendment, or that they could be covered by a further amendment along the lines I have suggested, is nonsense.
This matter obviously needs more consideration than the Minister has been able to give to it. I concede that he only knew of it this morning and I have do doubt that he had other things to attend to. But obviously it needs further consideration, having regard to what I have said. I hope that the Minister will ultimately take a broader view and not the procrustean attitude he has adopted. We are concerned with people, not just the convenience of tax gatherers. We must have tax gatherers and their convenience is important, no doubt, but there are also human considerations. When human considerations in a case like this are put into the scale I have no doubt which side of the scale would be weighed down.
There are ways of dealing with this amendment. The Minister has not had time to consider it fully. That is not his fault. Nor is it my fault for that matter. I did not realise until late last night that it was possible to move an amendment of this kind. I believed that such an amendment would be out of order. For reasons for which nobody is to blame the Minister has been taken, to some extent, by surprise. Is there any reason why the Minister should not report progress at this point of time and, when he has had time to consult with his officers, bring this Bill back to the Committee next week? I have seen this happen in another parliament and I see no reason in principle against it. The Minister himself conceded, I think, that he had not been able to consult properly with his officers. His speech indicated as much.
There is another course of action which could be taken. It was done in a parliament with which I was once familiar. The Minister could make arrangements for this matter to be carefully considered and for an amendment along the lines I have suggested to be inserted when the Bill is dealt with in another place. I do not want to be placed in a position of having to go to friends in another place and ask them to bring this matter up. I would much rather that it be dealt with in this place; that the Minister should report progress now and that the Bill be brought back next week for 5 minutes or 10 minutes and be disposed of at that time.
This matter is tremendously important, not to many people but to a few people. Their whole lives are involved. In the case of a man who is marginally unable to accept employment because he cannot afford the full market price of a car, his life is ruined because we are not prepared to take 10 minutes next week to give proper consideration to this amendment and then perhaps remove this impediment to a happier and useful life for him, as well as giving some advantage to the Treasury. I do urge the Minister to consider this course.
– I do not want to take up the time of the Committee but it seems to me that the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) has made a point. I urge that further consideration be given to this matter. It is not one which involves a great amount of money but, as the honourable member said, it may be very important to a small number of people. Perhaps the Minister would consider either one of the two alternatives put forward by the honourable member for Bradfield. I hope the Minister will adopt some flexibility when considering this matter.
– I do not wish to go into the technical details of this matter. I understand the difficulty confronting the Minister in respect of accepting an amendment without looking at some of the implications. I think that the Minister has shown some sympathy for the class of people covered by the amendment. It is not intended to embrace many cases. At least consideration could be given by the Minister’s officers to the impact of the amendment to see whether the case mentioned by the honourable member could be covered in this legislation.
I find it difficult, with respect, to accept the figure given by the Minister as to the cost involved. If the average sales tax on a motor car is $500, and if, as the Minister said, the loss in revenue could be $600,000, that means that there are 1,200 such cases in the community. I would not think that there would be that many. I agree with my friend, the honourable member for Bradfield, that this case has been examined on a wider premise, perhaps, than he imagined. I only put that forward as a consideration.
The Opposition will not support the amendment because I understand of some of the technical reservations involved. But I am sympathetic, as is the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I believe that the Minister also is sympathetic. Perhaps the amendment could be examined and inserted in the Bill when it reaches another place. Being a money Bill perhaps it would be difficult to do that. Perhaps a separate amending Bill could be introduced at a later stage. I do not think anybody would object to the passage of an amending Bill.
– I have nothing to add to my previous comments. I have told the Committee the cost estimate that has been given to me by the Department concerned. This is a money Bill. It is part of the general Budget. To incur an extra cost such as is involved in the amendment is not acceptable at the moment to the Government. Honourable members may say that there are reasons for not accepting the cost estimates I have given. The second reading speech on this Bill was made some weeks ago. Honourable members have had every opportunity to examine the Bill and raise this matter with me. It was only today, when the Bill was mentioned on the blue sheet, that the Government received notice of this amendment. There was no time to look into it. I arrived at the figure I mentioned when I made an examination of the amendment this morning. If the figure is what I think it is the Government could not accept this amendment at the present time.
I have given an assurance that the Government will look at this suggestion and if it decides to change its decision then there will be an opportunity to take action in another place. This Bill has been on the notice paper for 4 weeks but has only just come before the House. Honourable members have had a fair chance to consider it. I do not think the Government can hold up the passage of this Bill. It is required for transmission to the other place.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howson) - by leave - read a third time.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mr Howson, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to increase the monetary benefits provided by the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act 1930-1964 and to vary the format of the Third Schedule to the Act. The opportunity has also been taken to provide for the amounts of compensation payable under the Act to be expressed in decimal currency.
I shall describe the increased benefits provided by the Bill. The Act at present provides a basic lump sum benefit for the dependant of a deceased Commonwealth employee of £4,300 ($8,600). Under the Bill the amount is increased to $10,000, a figure considered by the Government to be reasonable by comparison with the amounts provided under the legislation of the States. The present maximum lump sum benefit is increased by the Bill from £4,300 ($8,600) to $10,000, with proportionate increases for other specified injuries. The maximum lump sum benefit for a specified injury is kept the same as the basic lump sum death benefit and the statutory maximum that is payable in cases where incapacity for work is not total and permanent. Lump sums for less serious specified injuries are maintained at constant proportions of the statutory maximum, the amounts presently being expressed in dollars. This has meant that each time that the statutory maximum has been varied in the past, it has been necessary to repeal and re-enact the Third Schedule to show the new amounts payable for the various specified injuries. To avoid this in the future the Bill provides for the replacement of the list of monetary amounts in the second column of the Schedule for those injuries which attract less than the statutory maximum by a list of percentage equivalents of those amounts.
The Act prescribes the maximum amount of compensation which may. be paid in respect of any one accident to an employee who is not totally and permanently incapacitated. In accordance with past practice the Bill also increases the existing maximum from £4,300 ($8,600) to $10,000.
As honourable members will be aware, the weekly payments were fixed in 1964 to provide a total amount for a man with a wife and one child equal to the 1964 Federal six capitals basic wage. In reviewing the rates at this time the Government concluded that the amount payable to an employee should be increased to $25.35 or 75% of the current equivalent of the 1964 basic wage. The Bill so provides. The amount payable for a dependent wife will be increased to $6.00 and the allowance for each dependent child to $2.45, making a total weekly payment for an employee with a wife and one child to $33.70. This rate is also regarded by the Government as reason able in comparison with the rates contained in the legislation of the States. The new rate of weekly payment for an employee who is a minor will be $19.00, representing 75% of the rate applicable to an unmarried adult employee.
The Act provides that, subject to a specified minimum payment, currently £700 ($1,400), the lump sum payable upon the death of an employee shall be reduced by the amount by which any lump sum paid to him before his death, in redemption of the Commonwealth’s liability to make continuing weekly payments of compensation, exceeds the total of all weekly payments which would have been payable had he continued to receive weekly payments until his death. The minimum payment figure is seldom applied but it is increased by the Bill to $1,650.
I am happy to be able to inform the House that the Government has now virtually completed its examination of the many other proposals for amendment of the Act put forward by honourable members and other interested parties in recent years, and it is hoped that it will be possible to introduce amending legislation giving effect to the Government’s decisions before the end of this session. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Webb) adjourned.
Consideration resumed from 26th September (vide page 1340).
Department of Civil Aviation
Proposed expenditure, $48,634,000.
Department of Shipping and Transport
Proposed expenditure, $49,581,000.
Proposed expenditure, $19,761,000.
– 1 think that the debate that bas occurred so far on these estimates illustrates the unsatisfactory nature of the presentation of these matters in this chamber. There have been a number of speeches from both sides of the chamber - and many of them have been good and constructive - but they have not been focused. They have dealt with a variety of matters - some with shipping, some with civil aviation, some with roads, some with road safety and so on. There has been no focused debate on any one part of the subject, because the subject is far too wide and it is not reasonable to expect the chamber to be able to deal with it in a coherent way. I would suggest very strongly in regard to these and other estimates that the manner of presentation is unsatisfactory and that the estimates should be taken one by one so that debate could be focused.
I want to speak about one thing, and one thing only, and that is, general railways policy. It seems to me that we in Australia are not making intelligent use of the railway systems here. Transport by rail costs very little marginally, because a great part of the costs are fixed assets - railway lines which will not deteriorate very much more if they are used than if they are not used and rolling stock which in some cases is only seasonally or partially used. Indeed, the motive power - whether it be electricity or diesel oil - is not really a significant drawer upon foreign exchange. Electricity is almost entirely generated from local fuel and a gallon of diesel oil in a diesel electric locomotive will provide perhaps seven or eight times the ton mileage of a gallon of diesel oil in a road vehicle. So the marginal cost involved in using our railways is very small and involves a very small amount of our scarce foreign exchange.
If we were looking at this matter rationally I think we would consider a policy of using our railways properly. It is one of the real functions of the Department of Shipping and Transport - a function which it has not so far performed - to try to fashion a reasonable policy for the whole of the railway systems of Australia. Most of the railway systems of Australia are owned by the States and it is a case of coordinating the States, helping them and, perhaps in conjunction with them, elaborating an appropriate policy.
States more than the Commonwealth are subject to local pressures. Some of the things which should be done with the railways will unfortunately generate quite considerable adverse local pressures. A State might fmd it more difficult to ride these through than would the Commonwealth, but if the Commonwealth were to set down a plan which gave an incentive and an advantage to the States, some way through might be found.
Firstly I want to talk about the interest charges and the exchange and sinking fund charges that go with them. It is difficult to know what these are in respect of the railways of Australia. If you look at the accounts as they are presented you will find that they come to something of the order of $63m for a year. This is for all of the railways of Australia. But the real total is considerably greater than that because some of the States have written off large amounts to Consolidated Revenue and some, for example Victoria, do not charge the railways interest but as against this make some charge for annual depreciation. So one does not get a uniform system of accounting among the railway systems of Australia and the crude figures do not give a proper comparison. I would think, taking a rough approximation without going into details, that the total interest, exchange and sinking fund charges applicable to the Australian railway systems, State and Federal, are of the order of $90m a year. This figure compares with the amount of $500m a year, in round figures, which the railways earn in revenue. So the interest and other charges represent about 18% of revenue.
These fixed charges have been incurred. They have to be paid whether the railways are used or not. Since these are nationally owned railways it would seem that one of the best things we could do to help our primary industries would be to arrange to write down these interest charges on condition that the benefit was passed through in terms of freight reductions to the great primary industries of Australia. I speak not only of the agricultural and pastoral industries but also of the mining industry. If we could do this - if we could give these people cheap freights - we would be doing something to stimulate production in the whole of the Australian economy. The same amounts would have to be paid but surely they could be paid through Federal Consolidated Revenue. We have heard a lot in this place recently - much of it justified - about the inadequacies of the Commonwealth’s financial relations with the States. My suggestion might be one way to redress the balance. If the Commonwealth would take over not just the existing railway debts but railway debts plus what has been written off and is charged otherwise - unless you do this the States would not be fairly treated as between themselves - the Commonwealth would be doing far more to help the export industry and the primary industries than it is doing by small things such as export incentives.
But along with this there should be a plan for efficiency in the railway services. I do not think this means that the railways will lose or gain a higher percentage of freight than they have today compared with the road services, but it would mean some rearrangement and some rearrangement upon economic lines. If we could get rid of the anomalies of the various State rate books which have been built up on the bad old principle that you charge the freight that the traffic will bear; if we could get the freight rate books down to a reasonable level then it would be possible to remove the co-ordinating road taxes and to allow traffic to choose freely that form of transport which is most advantageous to it.
We have figures given to us from time to time showing the inefficiency of the Australian transport system compared with systems overseas. Those figures are based on such things as percentage of national income devoted to transport. I am not certain that these comparisons are always valid. I think many of them are exaggerated, but even allowing for some degree of exaggeration, the Australian picture is not a very pretty one. Our transport system is very largely inefficient because we do not use our railway assets properly. We do not charge freights according to what the traffic costs. Because we espouse this bad principle in the railway rate books of charging what the traffic will bear we have had to bolster the position by quite stultifying uneconomic road taxes, which make it impossible sometimes for the producer to use that form of transport which is really most economic.
Our railway systems were laid down in days when motor transport was non-existent for the most part or very inefficient. Those days have passed and many of our lines should not be carrying regular services. They should be used for carrying full train loads of such things as wheat and fertiliser and perhaps bales of wool in times of seasonal flush. But to maintain a kind of daily service along them in mixed goods and things of that character is uneconomic and absurd. Perhaps Victoria is the worst sufferer in this regard because as it happened, Victoria was a very wealthy State due to gold strikes in the last years of the 19th century and was able to build a network of railways - a very sensible network on the assumption that no motor lorries were available, as they were not in 1900. But this network has become quite uneconomic and futile under present conditions where motor transport is available. I instance Victoria, but I do not want to confine my remarks to Victoria. This is also true to some extent in New South Wales. We have the railway lines, and they can be used for full train loads. They should not be used as general mixed goods carriers. That is better done very often by road from a few good terminal points.
The use of containers and the deficiencies in railway facilities at terminals need to be studied and corrected throughout Australia. In the whole of Australia there is not one efficient stock transfer point. We do not have a transfer point of which we can really be proud. So the costs of moving stock are quite inordinate. It very often happens that the people who stand to gain most by an efficient transport system are their own worst enemies, because there are local pressures that seek to have this service or that service continued. It would be far better if we could look at our railways as providing the backbone for all our transport. We could do so if we had, as we do not have now, a concerted Commonwealth policy directed towards this and perhaps towards writing off for the States the interest debt, carrying it into our Consolidated Revenue and making it obligatory for the States, in return, to reduce their freights particularly on the crucial products that enter into our export schedule.
– The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) has touched on one facet of Australia’s transport problems. Perhaps the major problem with our railways is simply lack of population and the sheer ratio of mileage of railways to population. The figures are - I give them from memory - that Australia has about 25 miles of railway to each 10,000 of population. The United States of America has about 10 miles to each 10,000 and Great Britain has considerably less than that - about 7 or 8 miles. Unless and until we can get adequate population we as a nation will find ourselves saddled with a rail system that conceivably could cater for the needs of a population of 25 million to 35 million. In addition to that, the rail freight schedules need drastic revision. They are definitely designed to ensure that freight is diverted to the respective capital cities. We have federated our nation constitutionally,but we have yet to federate our railway systems.
My main purpose in speaking this afternoon is to deal with a much broader problem than that. The main problems of Australia in relation to transport are population, area and remoteness from our overseas markets. There are many problems, of course. Currently the major problem is the lack of a national Minister for Transport. Associated with that is the absence of a national transport policy. We have five Ministers who divide amongst themselves the responsibility for the control of Australian road, rail, air and sea transport. We have a Minister for Shipping and Transport who strangely controls only Australian coastal shipping. We have a Minister for Trade and Industry who, in contrast with his title, controls our overseas shipping. We have an AttorneyGeneral who deals with the Trade Practices Act and that part of it which now relates to the control of shipping agreements. We have a Minister for Civil Aviation and we have a Minister for Labour and National Service who controls the various aspects of the stevedoring industry. We have a pretty poor base on which to build when a government cannot reconcile the needs of Australia and telescope them into one major ministry.
Other problems that face us are Great Britain’s entry into the European Common Market and subsidised overseas shipping lines operating to Australia. The honourable member for Mackellar touched on the need to conserve foreign exchange. Other nations, and major nations at that, including even the United States, have discovered that it is well worth their while to conserve foreign exchange by subsidising a nationally owned shipping line. We can do better than that and I will come to that point later. Japan, by means of exchange manipulation and internal policy, is able to twist and contort itself into almost any shipping price structure. We have the further problem of the container method of handling cargo. This has upset the nice arrangements for overseas shipping services for Australia that have operated for many years. They are convenient from the Government’s point of view but mighty costly to Australia. I refer to overseas shipping conferences, especially the overseas conference controlling freight to the United Kingdom and Europe and the other conference controlling exports and imports to and from the Far East.
On the question of the conservation of foreign exchange and our overseas reserves it may be worth while to note that it is generally accepted that the cost to Australia of overseas freight and marine insurance is about $400m a year. The figure may vary but that seems to be the net amount after allowing for expenditure on fuel, wages and commodities that may be purchased in Australia. Last year there was a rundown of $177m in our foreign exchange reserves. At the moment these reserves of $l,198m represent only 42% of Australian imports for one year. In that respect they are the lowest, with the exception of the year 1952, in the whole of the postwar period. We have had warnings within recent weeks from Sir Roland Wilson and Dr Coombs, who have stressed the need to conserve foreign exchange. The rundown that can occur if the present situation is not corrected could be very serious in view of the other open-ended commitments that this Government has undertaken for defence purchases from the United States. There are many overseas loan redemptions to be made in the very near future.
We are the twelfth trading nation of the world. That was made clear yesterday at the reception to the President of the Republic of Italy. At the same time we are the only major trading nation that is wholly dependent on overseas shipping for both imports and exports, and the Commonwealth Government is most obstinately persisting in a policy that ensures we remain so dependent. Our export and import trade is most attractive to any shipping company or shipping combine because of the reasonable balance of both exports and imports. Ships do not proceed in one direction lacking a full or reasonably full cargo. The cartels that have existed have in the past placed a premium on inefficiency. The weakest, the most inefficient and the most slovenly of the shipping lines had been guaranteed, until the recent rationalisation policy, a return of 8% on capital. The rationalisation policy for which the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) claims so much credit has had the affect of reducing the ships occupied with our overseas trade from 95 to 79. This is a substantial saving, but it is a palliative only. lt is not the final remedy. The final remedy, of course, is for Australia to have its own national overseas shipping line. I addressed a question on this point to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth) the other day. The Minister most carefully evaded its implication.
But in fact there has been a recommendation from Sir John Williams, the Chairman of the Australian National Shipping Commission, to the Minister for Shipping and Transport that the Australian National Line should participate in the Far Eastern trade. The conditions have been set out most clearly in a letter. I have asked the Minister to produce that letter. He has said that it is before Cabinet for consideration. 1 am sure that it will stay there in the refrigerator. In point of fact both the Minister for Shipping and Transport and his colleague, the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen), are notoriously at- loggerheads with one another. They cannot agree on political matters and they certainly cannot agree on matters which are of vital importance to Australia.
The Commonwealth has persisted with the conference setup. For that reason, it has introduced a new part of the Trade Practices Act relating to shipping which replaces the Australian Industries Preservation Act. It is still hoping to tinker along and to maintain a balanced system of overseas transport. A comment was made in this regard in the ‘Australian Financial
Review’ on the 15th of this month. It is as follows:
Commonwealth policy is loaded against success and the planners of this policy are in fact seeking power without responsibility - a bad concept in any philosophy.
The Department of Trade through the Australian trade practices legislation is seeking to gain power to direct and channel Australia’s ocean trade without accepting the responsibility of providing overseas merchant shipping to ensure that Austra’ian goods reach their overseas markets at the most efficient price.
It is also seeking this power without having to accept the’ responsibility of enforcing legal control over overseas merchant shipping operations.
There is the nub of the whole matter. The Government, as usual, is lagging behind modern realities. It believes that it can still hold the rein and that it can have the Federal Exporters Oversea Transport Committee on the one hand and the respective overseas shipping conference negotiating on the other and that it can act as the intermediary. It has deluded itself into believing that the mere registration of the. agreements and its policing of them will serve to meet Australia’s transport problems. It can do nothing of the sort. Australia will bleed to death, in the near future, unless we stem this outflow of foreign exchange. We have to face up to the problem as any other country has done.
It is ridiculous that a country such as Australia, with a national line operating some thirty-eight ships, showing a profit and being efficiently administered, could not at least enter the trade and use the operations of the ANL as a measuring stick to determine the efficiency or the rate of exploitation being imposed on Australia by overseas combines. More than that, let us take the case of the United States. The very conference system that is so beloved of this Government has been rejected with contempt by the United States. It is quite amazing that this Government which poses as the champion of untrammelled private enterprise should enter into a protective arrangement of this nature.
What Australia wants today as never before is the utmost competition, even if the Government is not prepared to consider the establishment of an overseas national shipping line. If the Government is not prepared to go as far as that, at the very least the overseas export and’ import trade of Australia should be thrown open to world competition. Competition there is on the shipping freight markets of the world today. That competition, Sir, takes many forms. In the case of the container revolution also, there are further problems. But who, might I ask, is to get the benefit of the container revolution? A report presented to the Government of the United Kingdom, shows the fantastic economies respecting certain forms of containerisation. No indication has been given yet as to how much of those economies will be passed on to the Australian consumer or the Australian primary producer.
Regarding the present position perhaps I might quote from a speech delivered by the Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry, Sir Alan Westerman, at Auckland on 27th July 1967. Sir Alan Westerman said that the shipping industry: . . has not only remained labour intensive but has not really attempted to improve productivity by modern techniques so that time had almost passed it by.
What a damning indictment. Sir Alan Westerman continued :
We have all been the worse for it. For example, over the last 10 years freights from Australia to our major market area - the UK/Continent - have increased by up to 50% with a regular pattern of increases every couple of years. The export price index of our major exports carried in those vessels increased by only 2% in the same period. In short the export freight increases have largely come out of the pockets of the producers. As such they have aggravated the cost problems of exporters in an increasingly competitive export situation, and have decreased their returns. Import freight increases have affected the costs of our industries and shrunk the consumer dollar.
In the same address, Sir Alan Westerman said:
I have a strong suspicion that in some cases we will be looking for answers as the first ship comes through the heads and for some time thereafter.
He was referring of course to container shipping. Sir Alan Westerman made it abundantly clear that the Department of Trade and Industry did not own or run a container shipping line and was not likely to do so. My time is running out, but before it does I want to challenge the Minister for Shipping and Transport to produce the recommendation for the entry into overseas trade by the Australian National Line made by Sir John Williams.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
- Mr Chairman, I wish to say a few words on the estimates of each of the departments in the group now under discussion. First of all, I wish to make a remark regarding the speech by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). The honourable member said that the estimates of each of these departments should be considered separately. I agree with him wholeheartedly. But the practical side of the matter is such that we cannot implement his suggestion. I have worked this matter out on the basis that five members from each side of the House would speak. The estimates of thirtytwo Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities have to be dealt with. Leaving aside the time taken for questions without notice and interruptions that we have always in our debates, I find that it would take the Committee 5 weeks at least to deal with those thirty-two departments and instrumentalities. I say advisedly that it would take 5 weeks to complete the debate on the Estimates.
– We would have to sit longer.
– That is true. If we adopted the suggestion of the honourable member for Mackellar and other ideas for occupying the attention of the House, we would need to sit all the year round. It is generally accepted that we are sitting for reasonably long periods. Some people who examine the records say that this Parliament sat longer a good few years ago than it does now. Of course, this is true. But let me say this: when a government has been in office for 18 years it surely does not want as long for the introduction of legislation as it did when it came into office as a fresh government wanting to change the legislation of the previous government. Therefore, the argument that the Parliament does not sit long enough has not much foundation.
Coming right to the matter before the Committee, I believe that it is not practical to discuss the estimates of each Commonwealth department or instrumentality separately, no matter how much we might like to do so. We have not the time. For the purpose of the consideration of the Estimates, departmentes have always been taken in groups. As a rule the guillotine has been used. This Government has avoided as much as possible the use of that device to curtail debate. If we can complete the consideration of these estimates in a way that is suitable to all honourable members without the closure being applied it is ever so much more satisfactory.
I wish to say one or two words about the Commonwealth Railways. I have been an advocate for a long time of the construction of a railway line, in conjunction of course with the Government of New South Wales, between Canberra and Yass. In these days when our population is increasing rapidly, cheap methods of travel are important. Air travel is fairly costly and people with children often find it better to travel by train. We all know how many visitors come to Canberra in the school holidays. I believe that the number would probably treble if we had a good rail service from Yass to this city. As part of a connecting rail link would have to be provided by the Commonwealth Railways, this matter may properly be discussed during the consideration of the estimates for the Department of Shipping and Transport.
Many honourable members, including the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) and I, used to travel to Canberra by train some years ago. The sleeping cars were brought right into Canberra. At present, however, if one leaves Melbourne for Canberra on a Monday night, one has to get out of one’s sleeper at Goulburn and complete the journey to Canberra sitting up in another carriage. I cannot understand the reason for this. I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth) to see whether a sleeping car on the train that leaves Melbourne on Monday night can be brought right into Canberra. I know that if this were done a number of people would choose to travel by this train. Sleeping cars on the train that leaves Melbourne on Sunday night are brought right into Canberra. This is a matter partly for the Commonwealth Railways, which controls the line from Queanbeyan to Canberra. I ask the Minister to discuss the matter with the New South Wales Commissioner for Railways and to point out to him that more passengers will travel if carriages on the Monday night train arc brought right to Canberra. I do not know how many passengers on the Sunday night train travel through to Canberra in the carriage that is brought on here, but I do know that if a carriage on the Monday night train were brought right to Canberra, a certain number of people would choose to travel by that means. I realise that a rail link between Yass and Canberra would now be very costly to construct. One has only to look at the line between here and Goulburn to see what a lot of tunnelling and other works would be needed and to understand how great the cost would be. even in these days of modern equipment.
I now move on to discuss roads briefly. In discussions such as this I have always pointed out the benefits of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act. Members of the Australian Country Party are particularly pleased with it, because 40% of the funds distributed to the States under the terms of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement must be spent on rural roads. When I first became a member of this Parliament, the proportion was 35%. Some years before that, it was even less. We have now got it up to 40%, and this is one of the important factors in decentralisation. As the Minister will recall, just before the adoption of the present 5-year Agreement, which has resulted in a remarkable increase in the allocation of Commonwealth Aid Roads funds, there was a meeting of accredited representatives of shire councils and other rural bodies from all over Australia, at which the proposed new Agreement was discussed. In the five years ending on 30th June 1969, a total of $750m will be distributed under the Agreement, compared with $500m in the previous five years. This is a wonderful increase. A new basis was adopted with the coming into operation of the current agreement on 1st July 1964. Previously, the allocation of Commonwealth Aid Roads funds depended on the proceeds of the petrol tax. Shire councils and local government bodies generally, not knowing how much the petrol tax would raise in say, 3, 4 or 5 years, were not able to budget satisfactorily. So the Government decided that it would make a definite allocation of S750m over five years so that each year local government organisations would know how much they would receive.
Let me illustrate the increase in the available funds by reference to some figures. I want to say, however, that I am not trying to win any points against the Australian Labor Party, which was in office in 1948-49, the period to which I refer. These figures show that the allocation of Commonwealth Aid Roads funds has increased more than costs have done. In 1948-49, petrol tax collections totalled $35,032,000, of which the States received in Commonwealth Aid Roads funds $13,816,000, while $21,216,000 was retained in the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Under the present Agreement, the average annual allocation is SI 50m for five years, compared with the allocation of $13,816,000 in 1948-49. Not by the wildest stretch of imagination can costs be said to have risen so much as to make $13,816,000 in 1948-49 equivalent to anything like $150m in the present financial year. So I believe that the increase in Commonwealth Aid Roads funds is something with which we all should be very pleased. I travel about the country a great deal, and I know that since I entered this Parliament a good many years ago our roads have improved at least 60%.
– Of course they have.
– That is true, and I hear honourable members agreeing with me.
– There is still plenty of room for improvement.
– I do not know of anything that is perfect. There is always room for improvement. So I want to mention one or two things that can be done to improve our roads. The worst feature that I find is that some country roads are far too narrow. Narrow roads are more likely to cause accidents than anything else. If one gets off the bitumen on to the side of a road in wet weather one is likely to skid. I know that many motorists are of the opinion that if the driver keeps one front wheel and one back wheel on the bitumen his car will not skid. Twelve or 18 months ago I saw a lady motorist spin right round. She told me afterwards that one front wheel and one back wheel had been on the bitumen and that she had not expected any trouble. But it did not make any difference. Keeping one front wheel and one back wheel on the bitumen will not make the difference between safety and danger because if the surface off the bitumen is soft a car can still spin round, particularly in wet weather. For this reason, at every opportunity that
I get, I appeal for the widening of bitumen surfaces. The Country Roads Board in Victoria is now extending good road surfaces that are not wide enough, and is doing this very effectively. I believe that this is one of the best measures that can be taken to prevent accidents. When two vehicles pass on narrow roads each has to get off on to the side or one is forced right off the road. In these circumstances, accidents are bound to happen.
I wish to direct the attention of the House and of people all over the country to one matter in particular. Many motorists do not take enough interest in the condition of their vehicles. When one is driving at night and sees bright headlights approaching, one normally dips one’s lights and expects that this will be an indication to the driver of the oncoming car that he should dip his lights. But apparently many motorists put the bulbs in the wrong sockets or there is some maladjustment and the result is that when they dip their lights the right hand one still throws a high, bright beam and the left hand one throws a very dim beam. So the effect on the driver of an approaching car is just as bad as if the lights were not dipped at all. It would appear that these cars have bulbs in the wrong sockets. If they had them in the right sockets, both lights would be dipped and accidents would be avoided. This is causing a lot of mirth among honourable members but one honourable member from New South Wales seems to know something about this subject. He says that this happens only in Victoria. As far as 1 know the people driving on Victorian roads who have cars with the defects I have mentioned might be New South Welshmen. I sometimes find it is very hard to get people to dip their lights. The only way that one can do this is to dip your own lights continuously. Bright lights shining in your eyes cause accidents. I could speak about this subject for quite a long time. However, I would like to say one or two words about the Department of Civil Aviation.
One of the great facilities in Australia is air transport. The distance from Melbourne to Mildura is approximately 370 miles. We have a reasonable air service to Mildura. However, we would like a better one. Anything that the Minister can do to improve air services to country areas would be doing a great service to the future of this country.
I believe that civil aviation should provide a great service in every way. Any extra tax on an air passenger service will impair that service. It is necessary that we should be watchful and vigilant and that we get good air services to country towns so that people can travel to them in 2 or 3 hours instead of taking all day by train. Therefore, I ask the Minister to watch this very carefully and see that all rural areas are given in a practical way the same opportunities that are given to cities or to big towns in country districts.
– We are debating the estimates of the departments which basically control the Commonwealth’s contribution to transport which, I think, together with water and immigration, is among the most important things which contribute to the development of Australia. It is unfortunate that the Commonwealth to a large extent has refrained from engaging in the field of transport, other than civil aviation. In that field in every State of Australia we find that the Commonwealth has been spending vast sums of money - this is quite proper and I am not criticising the expenditure of this money - on facilities for civil aviation. There has been no criticism of this in Parliament or outside. It is considered, properly I think, that the Commonwealth has the necessary resources, and should use those resources in order to develop the best and most efficient possible air service that this country can provide.
Nevertheless, there are other transport services within Australia. One is the railways. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) mentioned earlier that the railways are starving for funds to such an extent that in many places services which should and could be better are antiquated and out of date. These services are extremely uncomfortable at the passenger level. Since the standardisation of the Melbourne to Sydney line and the re-equipment of that line I think it is true to say that there has been a great increase in its usage. Intrastate transport, probably, is not properly the responsibility of the Commonwealth but I think our founding fathers when they drew up the Constitution felt that it should not be solely the responsibility of the States. They made provision for the setting up of an interstate commission which could deal with problems relating to transport. This commission has never actually functioned in this country. The services which are provided are not good enough. The costs to the States make it impossible for them to provide such services. Thus, if the Commonwealth refrains from taking action in this area, nothing can be done.
An important area of transport problems has developed especially since World War II in the major cities of Australia and also in other cities which are close to these major ones. The commuter services which provide transport for people who travel to and from work within and close to major cities are of very great importance to the industries of this country and to the development of this country. If people continue to be forced to use motor cars to go to work in the major cities then road accidents will increase. In the Melbourne metropolitan area within the last 15 years the number of people going to their employment in their own motor vehicles has increased from 12% to 25%. This means that each year there are four or five times as many vehicles using roads which were never designed to cope with this type of transport problem. Even the city rail, tram and other services have deteriorated rather than improved.
New outlets are not available for public transport facilities. Therefore we are spending vast sums of money in providing freeways which, I believe, could better be spent in improving the internal public transport facilities of cities and the moneys which we have available for roads could be better spent in providing communications between provincial cities. We are a vast country and if we are unable to get our goods to and from the markets or are unable to move people in reasonable comfort from point to point, the whole structure of the country suffers. The problems of commuter services are serious and worthy of consideration at the Commonwealth level.
– How did they work on Saturday?
– The services were very good going to Melbourne but were very poor going home because there was a different sort of spirit then. The people in Richmond have only to walk home. At least some of them did not have to use their cars so there was a very good transport service.
– How did you get on?
– I will not answer that on the grounds that I might incriminate myself. As I was saying, the problem of transport is a very serious one. It is a problem which, I think, should be taken up on a far more serious level than it has been taken up in the past. We have had projects carried out at the expense largely of the Commonwealth. There is the standardisation of the Sydney-Melbourne line and I would hope at some time in the future this would be continued to Geelong so that that area can benefit from a direct communication with these cities. Also, there is a standardisation project in Western Australia at the moment. Further, there is a project to connect Sydney and Adelaide directly by a standard gauge link. All of these projects are of very great importance.
I believe, however, that some degree of national planning on this subject would be in the best interests of Australia. I believe that it would be proper in this place if transport services were to be under the control of a single Minister. At the moment we have one Minister for Civil Aviation and another Minister covering most other fields of transport. There is a lack of co-ordination in this particular field which should not exist. Also, I believe that a top level conference on transport should be held in this country so that the requirements and how they can best be met can be examined by the Commonwealth Government. It could also decide what means will be required to finance the provision of the type of transport system which I believe every person in this place who has any thoughts for the development of Australia would desire to exist. If the railways, for instance, on a State basis had a Commonwealth contribution per passenger mile travelled similar to that given to aviation they would be very rich bodies indeed. Because of the extremely costly nature of civil aviation operations, I think it would be impossible for any airline or group of airlines, unassisted, to provide the essential services now provided with the aid of the Commonwealth at a high level of expenditure, as shown in these estimates.
Another matter I want to refer to briefly is road safety, which has been canvassed rather heavily in this debate and which is extremely important. The only way in which we can completely prevent road accidents is to stop people from driving motor vehicles. I think this is common logic and something with which everyone would agree. But I believe that some effort must bc made to reduce the number of people using roads which are unsuitable for the vehicles they want to drive on them. 1 understand that the Hume Highway is undergoing reconstruction work, but there are many other country highways that 1 know of in Victoria - and no doubt there are others in other States, some better and some worse - which arc so narrow that if two transport vehicles pass one another they both have to leave the bitumen surface. This is not a safe practice, because anyone who drives along such roads knows that in parts the edges of the bitumen will very quickly throw a vehicle off the road.
The Geelong-Melbourne road is an example of what can be achieved. Although it is only a very short road it is a dual highway and is very safe. There have been very few serious accidents on that road except those caused by people making tragic mistakes or by pure ill fortune. A man was killed on that road a couple of years ago when his vehicle was hit head on by another car the driver of which had died of a heart attack. Such a happening could not have been prevented. There was another accident last week of which I do not know the full circumstances except that someone was driving down the wrong side of the highway and three people were killed.
I contend that the Commonwealth should conduct more research into the subject of road safety. There could be a wider publicity campaign. I believe the main requirement at the national level is to reduce the use of cars in heavily built up areas by providing better public transport facilities. I hope the Government will consider meeting State transport ministers with a view to establishing some top-level authority which can examine the overall transport situation, including the possibility of financing the redevelopment of commuter services within the major cities. I hope some consideration will be given to the establishment of the interstate commission envisaged in the Constitution which has not, to my knowledge, ever operated in this country.
– I thank honourable members for the interesting contributions they have made covering a wide range of topics in the debate on the estimates for my Department. Broadly speaking, these contributions can be grouped under three headings, and I want to reply briefly to some fairly controversial matters that were raised under these headings. The first heading is shipping, the second roads, the third road safety. As to shipping. I want to correct, first of all, a misstatement that has been made more than once by honourable members opposite, lt has been repeated time and again and I think it is important to have the situation put in its correct perspective. An argument that has been used for the establishment of a Commonwealth overseas shipping line is that the Commonwealth steamships line that was established in 1916 operated at a profit. I do not want to question the decision which led to the acquisition of some secondhand ships and the operation of them at that time in overseas trade. I think it was probably a wise decision in the particular circumstances of that time. But let me put on record the straight fact that this shipping line did not operate at a profit. Let me give honourable members the figures.
From 1917, when the Line started operating, to 1921 it showed operating profits. Those were profits derived without allowing for depreciation or overhead charges. In 1922 and 1923 it showed a loss of £1.5m. When depreciation and overhead charges were brought into account over the whole period of operation from 1917 to 1923 there was a loss of £388,666, which was not a very great loss. When the Line was brought into being, there was a world shortage of shipping due to World War I. It was probably a very wise decision and it probably resulted in Australian exporters paying lower freight rates. But from 1923 onwards the Line continued to operate at a heavy loss until eventually it was sold.
When world shipping had returned to normal the Line was not able to reduce freight rates. It was not able to operate at a profit at freight rates which were being charged by its competitors who were operating at a profit. From 1923 the Commonwealth Shipping Board took over the line. When it was finally wound up, the total loss shown for the operation of the Shipping Board was £2,444,084, which was a considerable sum of money in those days. That added to the loss during the first 6 years made a total loss of £2.8m. Whatever other strength is attached to the fact that historically there was once an Australian shipping line, let it not be argued that it was a profitable venture.
Honourable members opposite press for the establishment of an Australian overseas shipping line on the assumption that it will reduce freight rates. I can assure honourable members that the Commonwealth Government has been looking at all the existing opportunities to engage in the overseas trade. If there is a favourable opportunity it will be accepted. But it will not mean reduced freight rates, because we are trying to get into the business at the freight rates which are at present being charged by the conference lines. The most that honourable members and the country could expect if we were able to engage in the overseas trade would be for us to engage in it as a member of a conference or at least to charge conference rates. If we could operate and clear our expenses on that basis we would be doing very well. But what is of more value is that we would have a ship or ships operating which could be used as an indicator to show what the trends in freight rates were. This would enable us to see whether claims for increased freight rates were valid or not. That would be the great advantage of being in a shipping conference with an Australian flag ship.
But do not let honourable members or the nation delude themselves info believing that many opportunities, if any, exist at the present time for Australian flag ships to operate in the overseas trade at either reduced freight rates to the consumer or a high rate of profit to the Australian line. It is just not on. If the line did not operate at a profit, the deficiency would have to be met by either the shippers who would have to pay higher freight charges or the Australian taxpayers, and I do not suppose that either section of the community would face that situation with great enthusiasm simply for the honour and glory of having Australian flag ships operating overseas.
The honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) asked a question about a second ship to service navigation facilities
In northern Australia and the Territories. It was originally intended, as he suggested, to have two ships built - one by Walkers Limited and the other by the Phoenix Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Pty Ltd. The Phoenix contract has been cancelled. The honourable member would have noticed, in the Auditor-General’s Report, that in respect of the ship ‘Noel Buxton’ we had a considerable amount of trouble with modifications to the design as well as with the generators. So we have refrained from placing a second order until the bugs have been ironed out of the first ship and until we see whether modifications to design and specifications are necessary. It is still intended to get another ship in the service as soon as practicable. I think that answers the query that the honourable gentleman raised.
I turn now to the question of roads, a matter which was raised by several honourable members. The provision of money for specific roads is a matter that the Commonwealth could not lightly undertake. The honourable member for Grey (Mr Jessop) made quite a persuasive argument why the Commonwealth should undertake to meet the cost of sealing the Eyre Highway to the South Australian-Western Australian border. The situation is that $l60m is being made available this year by the Commonwealth Government to the State governments. I have forgotten the exact proportions which South Australia and Western Australia will get but, in the formula which fixes the distribution of amounts, allowance is made for States with large areas. No restrictions are placed on the priorities the South Australian Government accords to roads except that 40% has to be spent on rural roads. The same restriction applies to Western Australia. The Western Australian Government has decided to accord a high enough priority to the Eyre Highway to enable it to be sealed to the border. The South Australian Government has decided that it is not willing to give a high enough priority to the Eyre Highway, so the last 300 miles to the border will be left unsealed.
Surely it is a little odd that, having refused to give this road a high enough priority out of its own funds, it should now say to the Commonwealth Government: ‘Please treat this road as a special project.’ I do not blame the Western Australian Government for supporting the South Australian Government’s request because the road in Western Australia is sealed to the border and Western Australia has nothing to lose by supporting the South Australian request which, if granted, would result in the completion of the road. However the State Government is not willing to give this road a high enough priority out of its own funds and it is asking the Commonwealth Government to support the proposal as a special request. Yet what is so special about it? True, South Australia has a large area of State roads to look after, and these should all be ticketed in order of priority and importance and funds should be applied accordingly. This is why we give State governments quite large sums of money. 1 am sorry to tell the honourable member for Grey that I do not see any immediate prospect of the sealing of the Eyre Highway being financed by the Commonwealth Government, if the State Government is not willing to use the normal Commonwealth grant for that purpose. Indeed, honourable members who know how politics work should see a large danger in the Commonwealth assuming responsibility for any particular road because if it did that it would be the beginning of a deluge of requests based on one pretext or another. Where an area of State responsibility is involved, it is desirable to leave it with the State.
While on the subject of roads perhaps I could say a few words about road safety. We have heard some excellent speeches on this subject which causes us all very grave disquiet. Honourable members spoke very sincerely about the problem of over 3,000 deaths and over 80.090 injuries a year. I could add to that kind of statistics by saying that road accidents are responsible for half of the paraplegics in Australia and that one-third of all hospital beds in Australia are occupied by people injured on the roads. Merely to state the problem, of course, does not solve it. Honourable members have suggested that the Commonwealth should provide much more money for research. Maybe we could achieve something more if we did more research; but in support of this claim the honourable members used arguments which I did not find quite logical. For example, research by the
Stanford Research Institute of California was quoted on the effect of engineering on roads. That is research which has been done and its results are available to all State governments. Another honourable member quoted research that had been done in England into the effect of alcoholism on the judgment of drivers. He mentioned the well known experiments with bus drivers who were asked to judge whether they could drive a bus between two posts. That is research that has been done, and I do not imagine that there would be a marked difference between English bus drivers and Australian bus drivers or English car drivers and Australian car drivers. I do not think anyone in Australia would imagine that we ought to do that research over again. Its results are available. The question is how to apply them. In this field, of course, the State governments have complete authority and I am happy to say that they are now doing a tremendous amount more about road safety than they have done in the past.
The question of penalties for driving offences such as driving under the influence of alcohol is undergoing close study and some very interesting experiments are being undertaken. But we have to fit in with the mood of the community. Until the community can be educated to the fact that the drunken driver or the driver who has taken too much alcohol is a danger and that therefore it is in the community interest to deal very harshly indeed with him we will not achieve success because we will get reactions. We all know that when a magistrate takes a driver’s licence away from him, if driving is his livelihood or if there are special circumstances under which he can plead that he should be allowed to drive under limited conditions, he can go to the court, tell his story and get his licence back. The community believes this is right. So until the community as a whole is prepared to pay the cost of much more strict law enforcement for driving offences, until the community as a whole is prepared to pay higher taxes for a higher standard of road engineering and all those things, we are not going to make very great progress towards solving the problem of road accidents. Until the community is prepared to pay the cost of driver education and pedestrian education - this is progressing all the time, although perhaps not as fast as the idealist would like - we will just go along making whatever improvements can be made from day to day.
Public education is tremendously important and the Commonwealth Government has not been idle in this field. We expend $234,000 a year in the best way we can trying to promote safe driving practices. We give another $116,000 a year to the States. Small though that amount may be, until somebody can show us how the work can be made more effective, it is hardly worthwhile increasing this sum. But we do give a total of $350,000. It was increased by $50,000 last year, and the same amount of increase is maintained this year. We spend this money in trying to educate the public to the truth of the road safety slogan: ‘Road safety starts with you’. That you’ means every single Australian.
There are one or two minor matters I would like to mention. The honourable for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) referred to railway timetables for Canberra services. This subject has been mentioned frequently of late. The fact that there is not a more suitable timetable is not the result of a decision of the Commonwealth Railways. The New South Wales Railways operates these trains over most of the distance involved. The New South Wales Railways decides what the timetable will be and what trains it can run profitably and for the best business return. The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner recently has been engaged in discussions with the New South Wales Commissioner of Railways in an endeavour to have the service from and to Canberra upgraded. I can assure the honourable member for Mallee that if the New South Wales Commissioner of Railways can be persuaded by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to be a little more adventurous we believe there might be a viable and financial addition to the service. I think I have covered most of the major points raised by honourable members during this debate. I thank them for the constructive contributions that they have made.
– Firstly I would like to thank honourable members for the constructive comments made during this debate about the Department of Civil Aviation and civil aviation generally.
Mostly, those comments were most helpful. I want to reply briefly to one or two matters of relative importance which were raised by honourable members.
The question of concession fares for charter flights, principally for migrants and relatives of migrants travelling from Australia to Europe, was raised by the honourable member for Bonython (Mr Nicholls). It was also mentioned by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Haworth). I outlined in this House the Government’s policy on this subject and 1 also made a public statement. That policy has been in operation since 1959 but it has been reviewed from time to time. The policy to which we subscribe is the policy agreed to by the International Air Transport Association and by a majority of members of that Association. It is also supported by most of the countries who are part of IATA. But I might mention that certain concessions have been introduced as a result of proposals put forward by Australia. These relaxations relate to concession fares for groups. This would cover migrants and relatives of migrants. Substantial concessions are now available. However, as I mentioned recently, at present we are making a full review of the entire situation to see whether some further improvements can be made in this held. This does not concern migrants and the relatives of migrants only. They represent only one section of the community which is concerned. We have in mind the value of such concessions for tourists. I hope to be able to make an announcement about the result of our review within the next few weeks.
The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) referred to air services to remote areas and to the new commuter service being introduced in some areas to fill gaps left, in some cases, by the withdrawal of airline services. He asked a question about peak periods in the year when problems could arise because small aircraft would be providing the service. This is a matter which we will have to watch carefully. In most areas there will be a combination of airline services and commuter services and I think that peak periods will be catered for. We will be watching this situation when the peak demand arises during school holidays, and certainly during the Christmas holiday period. The honourable member also asked for information about the present position of the development of the Brisbane airport. There has been a continuous programme of development over the last couple of years. Some substantial improvements have been made, particularly on the operational side. Those improvements include the additional facilities, runways, taxiways, aprons and so on and a number of new buildings which have been erected at the airport. In addition the Department has in hand the early planning stages for the new terminal complex there, which will be quite a major project. At this stage I cannot give any idea of the actual programme, except to say that the early testing work has now been completed and the Department is in the early stages of the design work, which will take some considerable time. However I will keep the honourable member posted, in view of his particular interest in this very important development in the area.
I might mention, for the honourable member’s information - in fact I wrote to him yesterday - the question of the restoration of services in the Channel country which had been withdrawn by TransAustralia Airlines only a month or so ago. Following the representations made by the honourable member and by the local authorities in that area- the airline has now agreed to restore those very important services. The airline has now commenced again the services which had been withdrawn.
The honourable member posed a problem in relation to the ownership of aerodromes by local authorities, the question of costs, the irregularity of service and the type of service provided in these localities, particularly in outback areas. This problem is being watched very closely. The Commonwealth’s contribution in this field is very substantial. Its mission is to extend and ensure the success of local ownership schemes extensively throughout Australia. However, some problems apply in some localities but not in others. If difficulties arise in certain areas this scheme will be reviewed to see whether some sort of equalisation can be brought about throughout the areas in the States. The points raised by the honourable member will be taken into consideration.
The honourable member for East Sydney (Mr Devine) was not quite so constructive in his approach to the subject. He raised a doubt as to the reliability of the pilots on the new commuter service. I can give the Committee an assurance that the same high standards laid down in the Department’s regulations will be maintained on this service. The commuter operators are fully aware of the conditions laid down in the regulations. I can give an assurance that the situation will be policed very carefully. The honourable member made a rather unusual reference to the standards of commercial pilots in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I could not quite follow what he meant by this. But I can give an assurance that the same standards apply there. The regulations applying in relation to the mainland also apply in relation to the Territory. If the honourable member has in mind a particular instance that has been brought to his attention he should discuss the matter with me personally and we can arrange an investigation. I know that quite a few honourable members are fully aware of the high standard of aviation that is being maintained and the service that is being provided by the commercial operators in the Territory. Some of the most difficult flying country in the world is covered. The service is being maintained under difficult conditions and is not equalled by services of this type in any other country in the world today. The honourable member should be paying a tribute to the pilots in the Territory, rather than being critical of them without justification.
The last reference made by the honourable member was to the effect that some pilots were reluctant to report incidents for fear of action being taken against them. The position is exactly the reverse. The pilots of commercial or private aircraft are obliged by law to report all incidents. Commercial pilots are fully aware of that obligation. In fact they must record incidents in their records. If by any chance there is some contrary belief in the mind of a pilot whom the honourable member knows, the honourable member should disabuse the pilot’s mind of that belief and inform him that he is not doing his job and will be penalised if he does not report incidents.
The honourable member also referred to the problem of safety in non-controlled areas. Again, the regulations are laid down very clearly and the private pilots are required to know the position. All commercial pilots know the position quite well and they adhere to the regulations. Of course, it is not possible to have the same type of supervision in non-controlled areas as it is in the controlled areas. The position in relation to visual control is understood by all qualified pilots. A pilot who did not understand that position would not be qualified.
The honourable member for St George (Mr Bosman) referred to the international facilities at Brisbane Aerodrome. I know that he was stressing a point in relation to the general situation there, but I think I should draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that facilities are now provided for international services at Brisbane which are available for regular use. The facilities at the overseas terminal building have been improved, and because of the lengthening and strengthening of the runways, taxiways and aprons we are able to cater for the largest commercial aircraft in operation at the present time. Also, there is planning for the new aircraft that will come into operation within the next decade.
The honourable member for Lalor (Mr Lee) made reference to the board of inquiry and the technical investigations that followed the Winton accident. He queried the time and expense involved in these investigations. I point out - and I am sure he appreciates - that about halfway through the technical investigation we obtained some information which led to modifications being made to all similar types of Viscount aircraft in Australia and throughout the world, because we immediately pass such information on through the International Civil Aviation Organisation. As a result, action was taken to prevent a similar situation arising in another aircraft in the future. The result of that technical investigation was very satisfactory indeed from the point of view of safety of operations. I am unable to comment on the board of inquiry at the moment because the matter is sub judice. The board has not completed its report and I do not know when that report will be received.
The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) made several suggestions in relation to air services in country areas. He also referred to the proposed passenger service charge. At present we are examining proposals in relation to that charge and I hope to be in a position within the very near future to bring the matter before the Government for approval. I can assure the honourable member that the points he raised will be taken into consideration before the final decision is made and that consideration will also be given to the constructive points he raised in relation to air services in country areas.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Department of Health
Proposed expenditure, $22,112,000.
– The estimates that we are now discussing mainly concern the Department of Health. I have a number of propositions to put before the Committee which sum up the position that the Labor Party takes in respect of the existing hospital and medical benefits scheme. We submit that this scheme has very serious defects. These defects consist of many details which may be summed up in several main categories, but we have insufficient time to examine them in detail. The first thing that is now quite clear is that the cost of the hospital and medical benefits scheme in Australia is unusually high and is rising rapidly.
In 1965-66 $304m was spent by public authorities in Australia on health and welfare. In the same year private citizens paid $124m to hospital and medical benefit funds. In that year a total of $428m was spent for this purpose. Of course the public authorities obtained the money they spent from the public and in addition the public paid $124m directly to the hospital and medical benefit funds. In addition, they probably paid about another $28m direct to doctors. So health and welfare probably cost the Australian public about $456m in 1965-66, which was about $39 for each man, woman and child in Australia. I suggest that for a nation which is probably one of the healthiest in the world this is a fantastic figure. It may well be true that Australia’s hospital and medical benefit scheme is the most expensive in the world. At any rate, I challenge the Minister to show that any other country has hospital and medical expenses greater than in Australia. I am quite sure that a better and more comprehensive scheme could be provided at less cost.
It is the objective of the Australian Labor Party to provide a better and more comprehensive scheme at less cost. This is one of the fields of development in Australia where improvement can be achieved at less cost. It is not necessary to argue that more money must be provided for health. It is the view of the Labor Party that a better and more comprehensive scheme can be provided at less cost. Many developments can be provided with no increase in cost. For example, payment of claims for amounts paid to opticians could be achieved without any increase in cost. There should be the right of referral from an optician to an ophthalmologist and the optician should be in the same position as a general medical practitioner in this respect. It is claimed also that if the discrimination against opticians by a number of medical benefit funds is removed a better service can be provided without any increase in cost. This detail is an example of the way in which benefits could be improved without much increase of cost.
There are three influences on the cost of medical services in Australia. First is the high administrative cost of the astonishingly large number of hospital and medical benefit funds. At 30th June 1966 there were 111 hospital benefit funds and 80 medical benefit funds, a total of 191 funds. This does not mean that there were 191 different organisations because some organisations conduct a medical fund and a hospital fund. Nevertheless there were 191 separate funds, separately administered, and there are well over 100 separate organisations with a multiplicity of staffs all doing the same kind of thing. In 1965-66 the administrative expenses of these organisations amounted to $8.5m. The second way in which additional excess costs are imposed in the present scheme is by an accumulation of reserves by the fund organisations. By June 1965 the total reserves of the organisations were $72.9m and about $6.5m was added in 1965-66. It is only when there is a scheme like this with a large number of organisations of different sizes that this system of reserves is necessary in case of, they say, some epidemic or other unusual need. If we had a different system it would not be necessary for these reserves to exist. Another cause of excess costs is that controls on the schemes by the Government are almost non-existent. The Government merely foots the bill for pharmaceutical prescriptions and doctors’ fees, but particularly in respect of pharmaceutical expenses which are rising dangerously there is no effective control at all.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– When the sitting was suspended I was saying that it may well be that Australia now has one of the most expensive hospital and medical benefits schemes in the world. If this is not so the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) may be able to tell us in what country there is a more expensive scheme; I could not find one. Not only is the cost per head very excessive but also the cost of members’ contributions to hospital and medical benefits organisations is increasing by more than 10% a year. The cost of some other parts of the scheme is increasing at an even greater rate. If prices generally or even some prices of important things - prices of things as important as medical and hospital services - were to rise by more than 10% a year could the situation be tolerated for long? Obviously it could not. So how can such a situation be tolerated in a hospital and medical benefits scheme? Can we long tolerate such a scheme with prices rising by more than 10% a year?
To sum up, we can fairly say that the Australian medical and hospital benefits scheme is about the dearest in the world and its cost is rising more rapidly than is the cost of any other scheme. The cost of the scheme is rising at a faster rate than is perhaps anything else in Australia, certainly anything of significance. Another basic defect of the scheme is that it is not comprehensive. About 15% of Australians generally are not covered at all by the scheme and not more than 40% of the people could possibly be adequately covered. Even for contributors the scheme fails when it is most needed. There is poor or nonexistent cover for people with pre-existing or chronic complaint’s and for those whose claims exceed the maximum set down by the funds. Those whose need is greatest receive the least benefit in relation to costs. Again, the proportion of medical costs paid to contributors tends to fall slightly as expenditure rises.
Another basic defect of the scheme is that it is unfair as between individuals and as between people in the various States. If we assume the average hospital charges and medical cost’s and that the contributor insures to obtain services appropriate to his income or social class, we may say that the following is the position:
The relationship which these contributions bear to income is as follows:
The unfairness of the scheme is that it costs lower income earners as much or more to insure for health and medical benefits than they pay in income tax. The higher your income the lower is the cost of your health cover in proportion to the taxes you pay. Today hospital and health insurance costs the lower income contributors more than they pay in total taxes. For persons in the higher income bracket their health cover costs as little as 0.05% of the amount they pay in taxes. The basic inequality of this flat rate charge, upon which the Government is relying increasingly in other fields as well, is further aggravated when it is realised that the amount paid as contributions to health and medical benefits schemes is accepted as a deduction for income tax purposes. When the value of health insurance as a tax deduction is taken into account we find that those on the higher incomes, who, as a result, can afford to pay and do pay higher contributions, end up paying less than do those on the lower incomes. This fact is borne out by the following table:
So, because of the value of these payments as a tax deduction, the actual amount paid by a person on an income of $20,000 a year is little more than half the amount paid by a person on the lower incomes. The final point illustrating the inequality of the scheme is the inequality between States. Weekly family contributions in 1966 for maximum medical insurance in the various States were:
We find that in no two States in Australia is the aggregate cost of hospital and medical contributions the same and that it varies from $1.35 in Tasmania to $1.87 in Victoria, where the cost is the highest.
Nobody can call this a national medical and hospital benefits scheme. It is a piecemeal system that has grown as though there has been some remarkable effect on its genes causing it to become a mammoth in some respects and totally under-developed in others. The defects are such that a new approach to its planning is needed. This is evident to all; the general public is convinced of the need. The only thing that remains is for the serious defects I have mentioned to be related to development in the future. Conscious of the high and excessive cost of this scheme and conscious of its inequality, the Australian Labor Party will, in the course of the next few months, present a complete alternative plan. The significant feature of that plan will be the provision of an adequate and comprehensive scheme at less cost than the present scheme.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– As we all expected, the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) used only one theme in his speech. He criticised the health scheme and, without being specific, suggested that the present scheme should be replaced by a completely Socialist health scheme. As all honourable members know well, this has been Labor’s policy for very many years. Without offering any proof, the honourable member said that ours is the most expensive health scheme in the world, that the costs are high and are rising and that Labor wants a better scheme with less cost. He did not tell us how Labor would do this. He criticised the high administrative costs of the hospital and medical benefit funds, the accumulated reserves and the Government’s lack of absolute control of the funds. Implicit in the whole of his speech was the suggestion that we should have a Socialist scheme.
In the remainder of his speech he spoke about the unfair treatment of some individuals in some States. He said that the contribution of people with low incomes was the same as the contribution of people with high incomes. I was tempted to suggest that people with low incomes pay the same price for a loaf of broad as people with high incomes do. Contributors to medical funds are paying for a service. The rate of contribution is the same for all people and no distinction is made between individuals. A person with a low income who wishes to insure his life with the Australian Mutual Provident Society or with any other insurance corporation pays the same premium as a person with a high income does. The premium is related to the amount of the policy and the condition of health of the insured: The honourable member throughout his speech advocated that we have a Socialist health scheme, but I believe that the people do not want such a scheme. This has been proved in the past. Generally speaking, the scheme we have has been shown to be a very good scheme. I know it can be improved in some respects, but after all it has not been in operation for a very long period. Many authorities throughout the world have said that it is the best scheme of its kind. lt is true that Australians are amongst the healthiest people in the world. It is interesting to note that the death rate in Australia is 8.5 per 1,000 and that in the United States it is 9.3 per 1,000 and in the United Kingdom 12 per 1,000. The infant mortality rate in Australia is 19.5 per 1,000 and in the United States it is 25.3 and in the United Kingdom 22.2. This Government has been in office for less than 18 years, but it has developed this magnificent scheme into a worthwhile scheme. The Government’s reports cannot disclose the precise figures, but I saw an article in a newspaper today which said that 89% or 90% of the people are taking advantage of the national health insurance scheme. This is to the credit of the Government and, if I may say so, to the credit of Ministers for Health including the present Minister for Health (Dr Forbes), who is now at the table. It is a credit to the Directors-General of Health and especially to General Refshauge, whom I know well. He was in the Army when I was the Minister for the Army. He is doing a magnificent job and I pay him a tribute. Labor has always had only one idea and that is to socialise al! forms of medicine and health services. It spent endless time trying to establish such a scheme when it was in office but failed to produce any health scheme at all.
– It produced one but the doctors would not co-operate.
– Yes, Labor could not win the co-operation of the doctors. The position can be appreciated when we examine the figures for 1949, the last year that Labor was in office. In that year Labor’ spent $ 12.4m on health. Last year this Government spent more than $278m. The increase is staggering. We can see the progress that has been made by this Government when we look at what has been done since 1950. As I say, the Government’s scheme has been operating for only a relatively short period, but it has been growing consistently. Probably the most important features of the scheme are the pensioner medical service with free hospital treatment in public wards and free pharmaceutical benefits. These are the fringe benefits for people who cannot afford to pay for their own health services. In my opinion this is a magnificent advantage for the people of Australia.
The pensioner medical service now has no fewer than 1,043,000 people enrolled in it. This, from the small population that we have, is a staggering enrolment. The total services given by doctors to people enrolled in the pensioner medical service numbered 8,187,000 in the last year. This averaged eight services per person at a total cost of $14,351,000. Free hospitalisation cost $18,731,000 and free pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners cost $29,280,000. The honourable member for Yarra argued that we should differentiate between the contribution to medical benefit funds of people with low incomes and people with high incomes. The total cost of pharmaceutical benefits was $104,283,000, and this money was provided by the taxpayers, whose taxes varied according to their incomes. The honourable member, therefore, should not say that everyone pays the same amount. The taxpayers provided the money for pharmaceutical benefits and for the fringe benefits that are available to the age and invalid pensioners.
– And the Commonwealth also contributes to the hospital and medical benefits schemes.
– That is quite right. We can well imagine what the bill for medicine would have been if pharmaceutical benefits were completely free, as Labor suggests they should be. The cost would be staggering and our economy could not possibly bear it. The honourable member did not quote, as he might have quoted, the costs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom of these benefits. The cost would stagger him. I do not have the figures here, but if he looks at them he will see how high the cost of a Socialist health scheme is. An important feature of our scheme of pharmaceutical benefits is that persons other than pensioners pay 50c on each prescription. This is a partial deterrent at least and prevents the sheer waste that is evident in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and other countries that have Socialist schemes.
I have been rushing through these aspects of our health scheme so that I could deal with three other matters. As I said at the beginning of my speech, some improvements to the scheme are needed. The Government will certainly need to keep its eye on some points. I am glad that the Minister for Health is here. No doubt he is fully aware of the three matters that I shall raise and will agree that they need examining. One is the value, purely on an insurance basis, of the contribution of insurers in both medical and hospital benefits schemes. There is some disquiet amongst some people in the community who believe that they are not getting value on the basis of insurance. They get value for their contributions when they are ill and because of this no person, whether single or married, can afford to be out of the scheme. But some people feel that they are not getting full value for their contributions and that the value of their contributions, in any event, is diminishing. Membership of a fund is good for large families and young families and for older people, who derive a substantial benefit for their contribution. But the young, perhaps those who have just reached middle age and perhaps the young married couples who have no children may not benefit to the same extent because they have very little need of medical or hospital assistance, and they may well thank God for that. They will feel - and some of them perhaps will say - that they will carry this risk at that stage of their lives themselves rather than make the contribution that they would be called upon to make by the medical benefits scheme. This would be a serious thing. Perhaps there is some way round it.
The Government is doing this in a straight fashion and is stating a set sum of insurance for a set benefit in all cases. But the Government may need to face the revision of its contribution, or look at a scheme providing for the granting of a discount, perhaps on a no-claim basis such as operates in other avenues of insurance. This is a form of insurance. If people have no claims on doctors or hospitals for a given number of years, as an encouragement to them to continue in those schemes they might be given some form of benefit perhaps on a no-claim basis over that period. I put that idea as a suggestion to the Minister.
– In other words, the honourable member wishes to reduce the assets that have been built up?
– It is not that. It is a matter of providing an equity in the scheme.
I wish to deal now with the question of the chronically ill whom the honourable member for Yarra mentioned briefly. This is a matter that I think needs some thought and some investigation. I speak particularly of the chronically ill who really need more than a nursing home. That is to say, they really need hospitalisation. Today those people - mostly elderly and mostly not on pensions - have nowhere to go. There are very few hospitals, private or otherwise, in Australia where those people can go. They have belonged to and have paid their contributions to a hospital or medical benefits fund for a great number of years. When they fall chronically ill they find that the only place to which they can go is a private hospital. Then they find, perhaps, that the private hospital is not a private hospital in the real sense but a convalescent home or nursing home. They find also that it is defranchised in a way which means that the hospital and medical benefits schemes do not make any contribution to their nursing care.
Only today I had a letter from the Minister for Health on this subject. This letter shows that it is the type of patient accommodated that causes the disfranchisement of some of these very well run hospitals. It may be because they are caring for the chronically ill. I have a specific case and I agree that the Minister has had to deal with the matter in the way that he has. It is the case of a man who was reasonably well off but who has found that he just cannot afford the big sum that is required to give him the necessary medical and hospital treatment that he needs. His case is a chronic case. He cannot find anywhere else to go. He cannot afford to pay for his hospitalisation. He is denied the payment of benefits although he has contributed to a benefits scheme for years. I know that the Government pays $2 per day in these cases. Some way around this problem must exist. I do not think that the Government can allow it to exist any longer.
The only other matter I wish to mention relates to the fact that recently a great outcry has occurred because doctors have dared to increase their charges. A further outcry was heard because doctors objected to a large increase in the number of people that they were asked to treat under the pensioner medical service. This was brought about by the relaxation of the means test by the Government. 1 deplore the attacks on the doctors, calculated to discredit them, by Press, radio, television, trade unions and some politicians on both sides. I heard one this afternoon on this side of the Committee. Can any honourable member tell me by what right the Government adds to the numbers treated under the pensioner medical service without first having agreement with the doctors - not after, but before - because doctors will not allow people to do without their services whether or not they are paid. It is not the money that they want. They need recognition. When it comes to that, we find that doctors have provided over eight million services for which they have charged less than half their normal fee. This just goes to show the contribution that doctors are making in this country.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Mr Chairman, in the last 15 or so years a very great increase has taken place in assistance in the field of health and social services to the aged, the less fortunate and the disabled in the community. The Commonwealth, through such schemes as the pensioner medical service, the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, the Aged Persons Homes Act, the Homes Nursing Subsidiary Act, hospital benefits, tax concessions and in other ways, has given great assistance to these people, as have State governments and local governments throughout Australia. A far greater understanding exists in the community today of the problems of aged and disabled people and those who are less fortunate.
Earlier this year I raised the question of total care of aged people under the Aged Persons Homes Act. My remarks were made on 13th April and are recorded on page 1273 of Hansard. I do not intend to go into any great detail on the matters that I raised then except to touch upon those matters in principle. The main matter that I raised was that in all the activity going on in this field of national welfare there seemed to be some compartmentation and that governments were filling direct needs for direct purposes at different times for different purposes. There may be a need to take a further look at this matter.
The scheme that I did bring to the notice of the Parliament was the one that is being undertaken at the Royal Newcastle Hospital under the direction of its medical director, Dr Gibson. It is a domiciliary care scheme. This is based upon a geriatric unit within the hospital, with all the clinical facilities of that hospital. In addition there is a day hospital or a retraining or a rehabilitation centre attached to the hospital with its physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and other experts. But the whole purpose of the domiciliary care scheme is to allow people who become chronically ill or ill when they reached old age to go back to their homes, to their friends, and to the community and the neighbourhood that they know.
This domiciliary care section has attached to it not only the district nursing service and the social worker attached to the hospital as well as the director of the geriatric section, but also a housekeeper service, the general practitioner - the family doctor is tied in with it - as well as equipment loaned to assist somebody who may have suffered some disablement through an illness that came on with age, such as a broken hip or arthritis. This enables patients to have a special bed, or ramps could be put onto their houses, for instance, so that they could live as far as possible a normal life with their friends in their own community. I think that this humanitarian aspect of the scheme is well worthy of the consideration of honourable members.
Apart from that, as I mentioned before, the costs of this scheme are extremely reasonable. I think that they have been very well documented now. The cost of the domiciliary care scheme at the Royal Newcastle Hospital for an average of 650 patients attending each week came out at $2.30 per week per patient. I am led to believe that the Repatriation Department has accepted this scheme to look after its domiciliary patients under the Repatriation Act in the Newcastle area. Under this scheme, a very great proportion of elderly patients who have come to that hospital are able to go back to their homes. I believe that the proportion is about 70% or 75%, compared with areas in which no such scheme exists and in which most patients who enter hospitals end up in terminal institutions or else in convalescent or nursing homes. From the financial standpoint of this Government, the $2.30 a week per patient that the Newcastle domiciliary scheme costs should be compared with the subsidy of $14 per week per patient for patients in terminal institutions or nursing homes. 1 believe that one of the important factors is the ability to treat people individually with continual medical assessment of each patient all the time and to draw on the full range of facilities provided by a complete team of medical experts in various branches of medicine.
Earlier this year, Sir, I suggested that an interdepartmental committee representative of the Commonwealth Departments of Health and Social Services should be appointed to examine this subject. I repeat my plea for the appointment of such a committee. At the same time, I suggested that this matter be considered by the Health Ministers of the Commonwealth and the States at their six-monthly conferences. I suggested also a meeting of the Commonwealth and State Ministers responsible for social services and social welfare to consider a suitable scheme, and I hope that such a meeting will take place and that ultimately a meeting between all the Commonwealth and State Ministers in the fields of both health and social welfare will be convened. When we look at the involvement of governments in this national welfare field, we find that some five or six departments are financing not only the administration of overall schemes but also the individual elements in schemes, whether they be based on treatment provided by district nursing services, on the treatment of patients in hospitals or on the treatment of persons living at home. A multiplicity of departments is involved with a multiplicity of funding methods and a wide variety of schemes to assist people who are classed as aged, less fortunate or disabled. I believe that we should now be trying to bring all these elements together m one integrated scheme. The time is perhaps right for us to consider whether the Commonwealth should take direct responsibility for assisting the aged people of Australia and solving their problems, using the States and local government authorities as its agents and itself co-ordinating all activities in this general field.
I should like to give the Committee some examples of what is happening in my own electorate. At this point, I pay a tribute to one of my colleagues in the New South Wales Parliament, Mr E. H. Humphries, who represents the State electorate of Gosford and who has done a tremendous job in assisting aged people and seeing that health services are provided for them in the Gosford and Woy Woy areas. In Gosford, as in the Hornsby district, a very peculiar situation has developed. The Hornsby and District Hospital is recognised throughout New South Wales as one of the finest district hospitals of its type, but it is at present unable to obtain funds from the New South Wales Hospitals Commission to establish a geriatric unit and a rehabilitation centre. This hospital serves a population of about 160,000 persons, some 10,000 of whom are aged. Yet it has only 19 beds for aged females. The district that the hospital serves has two very fine villages for aged people - the Mowll Memorial Village and the Nuffield Garden Village, each of which has a 30-bed infirmary and has recently received a grant to expand the infirmary facilities from 30 beds to 90 beds. These two villages provide accommodation for about 700 or 800 aged persons. The Commonwealth intends to make grants totalling some $400,000 to enable these institutions to provide the additional hospital facilities. Yet the Hornsby and District Hospital, which has a full range of clinical facilities and which is called on by both these villages when an inmate becomes critically ill, is unable to obtain the funds that it needs for the expansion of its services.
The population of the Gosford district is smaller than that of Hornsby, totalling some 50,000 to 60,000 persons, and the demand on the local hospital is growing very rapidly. This presents it with difficulties, but it is hoped that, using provisions such as exist in the Aged Persons Homes Act, additional infirmary facilities for aged people can be provided. My colleague, Mr Humphries, has done an excellent job in co-ordinating the provision of health services in the district, which has a far higher proportion of aged people than there is in the Hornsby district.
What may perhaps be described as constitutional difficulties keep cropping up, Sir. These involve the questions of where the responsibility lies, who should be providing the necessary funds and how they should be made available. I once again appeal to this Government to consider these matters in relation to the total care of the aged, disabled and less fortunate persons in this community and to take the initial step of having them considered by the regular conferences between representatives of the States and the Commonwealth which already take place in the field of health and which, I hope, will be held in the field of social welfare and, ultimately, in the combined field. By this means we would be better able to define where responsibility lies and who can solve these problems to the best advantage of those who are less fortunate, disabled or elderly.
- Mr Chairman, I propose to spend the few minutes at my disposal in this debate discussing the decrease in value of the hospital and medical benefits provided by this Government’s national health scheme. I fully appreciate that under a scheme such as we have today any government will inevitably find itself in a very awkward situation when it has no authority to determine what the various charges for hospital or medical treatment will be from time to time. I appreciate that the situation becomes even more difficult when the respective charges differ in the various States, particularly when there is no certainty about how long the rates will remain unchanged. While the present methods of determining charges and the present so called health scheme continue, no government could formulate an acceptable and reasonable rate of subsidy or benefit and be safe in the knowledge that that rate would still be acceptable and reasonable over the following few months, weeks or even days. For instance, the whole situation could be completely changed almost immediately by an increase in hospital charges imposed by one State government, as we have seen happen so often.
Looking at this aspect of the situation and realising what the difficulties are, we see at once that it is obvious that everyone would be better served if State hospitals were brought under Commonwealth con trol. I fail to see how, while the present situation exists, a health scheme such as we have today would have any chance of operating efficiently and providing sufficiently for the needs of the community.
But even so, while appreciating the present difficulties they cannot be accepted as a valid excuse for the fact that the Government has permitted the situation in relation to hospital and medical benefits to deteriorate in a very serious, even an alarming manner. In fact, the difficulties provide all the more reason why the Government should have taken steps to overcome them. The scheme to my mind - I had some earlier experience with it - was never any good. However, the Government has allowed it to become worse by failing to make regular adjustments to the subsidies in relation to hospital and medical charges. As a result of this failure we find that the benefit funds have increased the amount of membership contribution to a stage where a very considerable burden has been placed upon the average family man wishing to provide himself and his family with sufficient insurance against sickness.
In addition, the situation is rapidly being reached in which those people who are looked upon by the funds as being good risks - that is young, single men - are likely to decide to take the odds against requiring hospital and medical benefits. If they decide not to become members of the funds it will mean a further increase in contributions by those who are looked upon by the funds as being bad risks - that is married people with families who quite naturally and frequently require medical attention. Such people consequently make frequent calls on the fund. These bad risk people today, while they cannot actually afford to pay the contributions, cannot on the other hand afford to take the risk of being caught without sickness insurance. They are what could be termed as captive contributors. They must be in the fund even if it causes some hardship to meet the payment of contributions. They are the people who keep this scheme of the Government’s afloat.
As I said, the Government has allowed the position to become worse by failing to make the necessary adjustments to subsidies and benefits as charges have increased. When the scheme first commenced, the amount paid by the Commonwealth in respect of visits either at home or at the surgery for general practitioner treatment was 60c. Today we find that it is only 80c. There has been only the one adjustment and that was on 1st June 1964. The amount the patient has to pay for a visit in Australia averages 80c after the fund benefits have been paid. In 1955 the subsidy paid for a member of a registered hospital fund for hospitalisation was 12s or $1.20 per day. In 1958 this was increased to $2 per day and it has remained at that figure ever since. There has been no increase during the past 9 years despite the fact that there have been quite steep rises in the charges for hospitalisation. Let us examine and compare the hospital charges and the fund contributions in 1958 with the charges and contributions today. In doing this I will use Western Australian figures with which I am more familiar. In 1958 the charges at the Government hospital at Kalgoorlie were 36s or $3.60 per day for a bed in a public ward; $4.80 per day for a four bed ward; $6 per day in a two bed ward and $7.20 in a private ward. Today the charges for those respective wards are $10, which is an increase of $6.40 in a public ward; $13.50, which represents an increase of $8.70 in a four bed ward; the same charge in a two bed ward and $18 or an increase of $8 per day in a private ward. Yet, despite those very steep increases, which no doubt are fairly general right throughout Australia, the Government refuses or failed to grant any assistance to the people obliged to pay those charges. It has simply left it to the funds to increase their benefits which in turn, of course, has meant that the contributions have also been increased.
When the charge for a bed in a public ward was $3.60 per day in 1958 a contributor to the fund in Western Australia paid only 3s 6d or 35c per week to cover himself and his family for hospitalisation in a public ward and medical care. However, today, because of increased charges, he is obliged to pay $1.45 per week to obtain the same coverage. In 1958 the Commonwealth subsidy equalled 334% of the charge in a public ward. But it has gradually dwindled until today it is only 20% of the charge which in itself is positive proof that the Government has failed to make the necessary adjustments to ensure the retention of the subsidy value. If a person for some reason is obliged to insure himself or the members of his family for medical attention and also for admission to a private ward because of the nature of a sickness, he would have to pay $2.35 per week in fund contributions. I believe that $2.35 per week is a pretty fair slice out of the pay packet of a great many people. Of course, even after paying $1.45 or $2.35 as the case may be, he is still nowhere near completely protected or insured. He is all right providing he or members of his family do not take sick. However, if there should be an operation or specialist treatment and hospitalisation then, of course, he is obliged to meet the difference between the Commonwealth and the fund benefits and the actual charges that are made. These are pretty considerable in many instances. Worse still, there is a very bad feature of the scheme as I see it. If the -sickness be such as to cause a long spell in hospital, then there is every likelihood that the limit placed on the number of days on which full benefit can be claimed will be exceeded and as a result the benefit paid will either be substantially reduced or even cease completely. If this should happen in the case of a private ward patient the person concerned could have to pay at the rate of $126 per week, for every week he is in hospital after the limit is exhausted.
We are supposed to enjoy a national health scheme which should operate in such a way as to be a benefit and insurance against the costs and worries of sickness. It is nothing of the sort. Certainly it does have some insurance value. It ensures that the medical and hospital people will collect the bulk of their accounts. So those people, of course, have very little worry in that regard. However, it is a different picture when we come to the people who require help and protection against the costs of sickness. Their position is gradually becoming worse. If we can rake the Government’s past action as a guide, it is prepared to allow the worries of these people to increase. The subsidy towards hospitalisation, jus: to return to the value of 1958, would have to be increased by at least $1.30 per week. This in turn should allow the funds to make a reduction in their contributions which would allow the ship to come back on an even keel. The weight now on the contributor would be shifted to the Commonwealth. Any increase in hospital and medical charges without a substantial increase in subsidy will wreck the whole scheme. There is a limit to what the contributors can stand. Also, there is a limit to how long the funds can survive if they have a heavy preponderance of poor risk contributors. This will certainly be the case if the present trend is allowed to continue.
The Australian Labor Party states quite clearly that in its view the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is the fundamental right of every citizen of this country. We will always stand by that view. We must always have a situation in which everyone can obtain the best hospital and medical attention irrespective of their position in society. We must, in the interests of the nation, ensure that all of our people enjoy the best of health where it is humanly possible to provide it. But I am afraid that this happy condition will not be achieved under the present scheme.
Last year’s report of the Department of Health shows that the average claimant for benefit stays only 8.72 days in hospital. This is the lowest average stay in any year since the inception of this scheme. The average stay in hospital appears to be gradually reducing each year. Surely this figure of 8.72 days cannot support an argument that there should be a limit on the days for which a contributor can claim, and the extension by the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia, as announced in today’s newspapers is long overdue. The scheme should be such as to give total and not just partial coverage, not only for hospital treatment but also for medical treatment.
The report also shows that some 80% of the population are covered for hospital benefits and some 76% for medical treatment. The Government seems to regard these figures as representing a great achievement, but what we should look at, of course, are those who have no coverage. Are they in the main people who are not interested enough or not prepared to join funds, or are they largely people who just cannot afford to pay a dollar or more a week to obtain some partial protection? This is something we should ascertain, because if the latter proposition is correct then surely we should be concerned to ensure that these people can obtain proper coverage and protection. Protection must be available to everyone and not just to those who can afford to buy the insurance. The fact is that despite the present system of hospital and medical benefit funds and the other health insurance schemes the cost of sickness to 4 family man can be, and in fact in most cases must be, quite frightening. If the Government does not act in the near future to provide further assistance towards meeting the cost of hospital and medical treatment, or if it does not clamp down in some way on increased charges, it will find its health scheme collapsing around its ears. The scheme has been in operation for about IS years and it is difficult to understand how any government can be satisfied, as this Government is, to let the scheme just muddle along and gradually lose any value it may have had at the beginning.
During the debate on the Treasury estimates I spent some time directing attention to the need to include as deductions for tax purposes the cost of transporting people to hospitals and doctors to receive treatment. I also suggested that those costs should be recognised under the National Health Act. I do not intend to repeat what I said then as to why this is necessary, because I am sure the Minister is well aware of the situation, so I content myself by saying that such transportation costs can be a fairly substantial part of the overall medical and hospital costs in certain parts of Australia, and I ask the Minister to give this matter early and favourable consideration.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I want to direct some remarks to the Committee on quite a number of different aspects of the Department of Health. It would appear from the speeches made by honourable members opposite that they are mostly concerned with national health benefits. This is perhaps understandable, because they are trying desperately to sell to the people of Australia the concept of a nationalised or socialised health service. When we take the trouble to examine the facts, however, we see immediately how inaccurate are the statements made by members of the Opposition. We heard the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F.
Cairns), for instance, telling us of the exorbitant cost of administration of the present national health scheme in Australia. When we make some inquiries we find that about 12% of total expenditure is devoted to administration. This does not cover simply the running of the central office but the whole of the nationwide activities of the Department in providing health services for the whole of the people of Australia. About 12% is written off for administration, but in the average life insurance undertaking it would be expected that the proportion used in administration of this kind would be in the region of 21%. It seems, therefore, that a reasonable job is being done in keeping these admittedly high costs under some kind of scrutiny and control.
It is obvious that the Opposition has confined its thinking to the rather narrow considerations of the purely technical aspects of the administration of the National Health Scheme. Opposition speakers have not paid any attention to the wide range of activities of this Department, which go far beyond this simple administrative operation into the wide realms of public health, therapeutic substances, the quarantine services so valuable to our security, the various national fitness com.paigns, the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the Institute of Child Health and so many more important activities that one could mention.
I would like to pay a tribute to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) for some of the things which he does and which are far outside the duties cast upon him as the Minister in charge of the Department of Health. Recently I had cause to write to him about a particularly distressing case of a young married man suffering from the dreadful disease of multiple sclerosis. I received in reply a letter that I was proud to pass on to my young friend. It was full of human compassion and concern. It inquired whether I or the young man had read certain books which the Minister personally recommended as being helpful. He went out of his way to tell of organisations from which this young man could obtain assistance to help him put up with, or at least face, the enormous difficulties ahead of him in the future. This, I believe, is an example of the human side of the Minister’s activities that is all too little known or appreciated by the people at large.
There is another matter about which I must freely admit 1 have been openly critical on many occasions. When announcements have been made that certain patent or proprietary medicines have been taken off the so-called free list I have found it difficult to understand why. When asked for the reason the Minister has usually given a reply to the effect that there is an expert professional body responsible for reviewing this list from time to time. Fair enough; but recently, became J have come directly into contact with the asthmatic societies and particularly those caring for children with asthma, I have had reason to make some inquiries about a particular medicine called tedral, which is a compound of three different medicaments. I found that behind the apparent arbitrariness of the decision to remove this medicine from the free list there was an enormous amount of examination, research and investigation of the effects of the several components of this composite drug. Recommendations have been made that would enable doctors to be much more selective in their prescription of the medicine and would alert them to the fact that one component of the drug could be habit forming in young children.
I believe that the work performed by the body which conducts these examinations is far from being widely understood, and I suggest to the Minister that when drugs are removed from the list in future some literature on the subject could be prepared for distribution amongst doctors. I know that every member of this Parliament receives letters from people saying that over the last few years they have received tremendous relief from this or that drug and that the wretched Commonwealth Government has suddenly decided to deprive them of it. But the reasons for the removal of these drugs are positive and constructive, and I am sure that doctors would be most appreciative if they could be given the benefit of the research carried out. It would help them by reducing the amount of reading they would have to do and put them a step ahead in the acquisition of knowledge needed to prescribe therapeutic substances for their patients.
Now I want to turn to a matter that has already been mentioned by one or two of my colleagues. I refer to this strange field, this weak spot if you like, of the provision of health services for chronically ill aged persons. The policy of the Government on geriatric hospitals has been clearly stated to the House on many occasions. Hospitals, in the eyes of the Commonwealth Government, are places where people go for short periods. We have had quoted to us a figure of 7 or 8 days average bed occupancy per patient in our hospitals. But when a patient has a demanding ailment, in terms of nursing care, it may require constant attention to his every physical as well as medical need. However, the institution that caters for cases which persist for a long time does not appear on the list of hospitals. It is described as a nursing home’ and, as a result, its income derived from the Commonwealth fund is thereby limited.
At the request of the Association of Voluntary Geriatric Agencies in New South Wales, the Old People’s Welfare Council of New South Wales conducted a survey of the cost involved in the conduct of nursing homes for geriatric patients. The survey revealed that the average running costs of the voluntary organisations, which are the bulk of those organisations caring for this type of patient, was $4.02 per day per patient and that the average income of the organisations was roughly the same. These organisations all stressed the fact that for financial reasons they were not able to provide some of the ancillary services that are so invaluable to old patients and which help to get them back on their feet, active and able once again. I refer to such services as physiotherapy and occupational therapy. If they had to provide these services then an additional charge would have to be levied, and very often the patients would not be able to provide for the extra expenditure. Following this survey the Old People’s Welfare Council is seeking an additional 50c a day. Surely this is worth considering for those voluntary agencies which are providing or wish to provide the ancillary services such as occupational therapy and physiotherapy.
Since the survey I have just mentioned was taken an award has been made which has altered the wage structure of the staffs of hospitals. The domestic staffs have had an average increase of $1 a day and there have been overall wage increases for hospital employees. These will increase hospital costs considerably and take them beyond the figures I have mentioned. In other words they will be out of the line ball situation and into the red. This is an area which I believe to be an urgent area for consideration. There is no doubt that these nursing homes are facing a desperate situation. I have one or two excellent nursing homes of this kind in my own electorate. I instance the Bethel Convalescent Hospital for elderly ladies in Ashfield. This is run by the Baptist Church and a better nursing home could not be found anywhere. Its bookkeeping and stewardship are fine. I believe the organisation is completely genuine when it says it is facing a desperate situation. The unhappy result of all this is that if a private hospital accepts patients who are of this longer term nature then immediately a scrutiny is directed to it to determine whether it should not be, shall we say, financially demoted - I do not mean that in any derogatory sense - into the role of a nursing home. Once this is done a tremendous burden is placed upon the hospital administration. What is the administration to do in all conscience with old persons, some of them with no remaining relatives alive and with only their pension to rely upon? They may have an ununited femur or be suffering various results of a stroke which render them physically impotent. I suggest to the Minister that the Commonwealth will have to look at the possibility of subsidising geriatric hospitals as hospitals in the not far distant future.
In the last few moments at my disposal I want to mention an ancillary situation. It is my considered judgment that in Australia at the moment we are facing a dangerous position regarding the nursing profession. It is my desire to see a national plan - I am not saying a Commonwealth scheme as such - for the provision of uniformity in nursing standards and in salaries and conditions applying to nurses in Australia. I have close and first-hand knowledge of the way in which women of great experience are being tempted to leave the nursing profession and to go into less exacting jobs that offer them more free time and higher weekly salaries. This is a situation that the nation cannot afford to contemplate. Recently I was looking through advertisements in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’. As an indication of the situation, I mention that I saw advertised the position of a female bookkeeper at a salary of $50 a week, a clerk-typist at $44 a week with a review after 3 months, and a clinical sister, general trained, at $39.61 a week increasing to $48.98, for the Rydalmere Hospital. The University of New South Wales School of Hospital Administration was seeking a young stenographer and offered a commencing salary of $2,338 a year, which is $45 a week. At the same time hospitals throughout the country are employing trained sisters who commence work on a salary of $42.50 a week for the first year, $44 for the second year, $46 for the third year and $48.50 for the fourth year, gradually increasing until after 15 years service they can expect to receive $54 a week as a very senior trained sister. In the same paper was being advertised a position for a senior hairdresser at $60 a week with half a day a week off. A female accountancy student was being sought with a guaranteed minimum salary of $60 a week. The position of nurses is not good enough. It needs looking at seriously as a national problem because it is at the moment one of the factors that is telling against a rise in overall standards of medical care in Australia. I believe that at present the wages and working conditions of our nurses need a careful and sympathetic scrutiny.
– It is quite true, as the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) has said, that when the estimates of the Department of Health come up for discussion the debate seems to dwell on national . health benefits. We seem to forget the numerous other items that come under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). When one examines the Department’s annual report one notices at least twenty different items about which one could very profitably talk. However, I am going to do what I have just implied we should not do - that is to dwell on health benefits. I am provoked to do this because of what the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) said tonight in opening the discussion on these estimates. I listened to his criticism that the national health scheme is wasteful and inefficient. One has become accustomed to sweeping statements by the Opposition in this House. Allegations of this character are easily made. It is equally easy to claim that the alleged wastefulness and inefficiency would be removed overnight if the health services were socialised.
What the honourable member for Yarra was actually saying was that hospital administrators, hospital employees, members of the medical profession, chemists, dentists, optometrists and members of the nursing profession should all become members of the Public Service. My own impression, from what I have seen in Australia and England, is that as soon as services are controlled by Labor organisations or are socialised they become enormously expensive and less effective. They become atrophied by bureaucracy in a way that is all too familiar. The national health service in Australia is remarkably free of criticism by the taxpayers, in spite of what has been said this evening, compared with the system in operation in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom service was mentioned a few moments ago by way of interjection. The United Kingdom system was inaugurated by a Labour Government and is today controlled by a Labour Government. I remember very well Enoch Powell, who was a Minister for Health in a recent United Kingdom Conservative Government, referring to the British health system which he had inherited from the Labour Government and which he had to administer. He said:
One of the most striking features of the National Health Service is the continual deafening chorus of complaints which rises day and night from every part of it. The Universal exchequer financing of the service endows everyone, providing as well as using it, with a vested interested in denigrating it.
When 1 was last in England some years ago doctors, nurses and chemists were all calling for some alternative system to what was in operation at that time. The customers also felt that the service fell short of their needs. Financial resources always seemed to fall far short of the requirements. The interesting fact is that while the British system was introduced originally under a Socialist Government in order to provide a free service, the late Hugh Gaitskell, a Labour member, just 16 years ago introduced the first health service charge as the only way of keeping the cost of the service within bounds. In other words, in spite of the fact that this Was a Socialist system, he was the person who introduced the first health service charge. Successive governments have followed up that move by increasing the service charges with the result that today there is still a deafening chorus of complaints. The service is still by no means free, if such a term can be applied to anything that one receives from a government.
The national health service in Australia is, in my opinion, comparatively free from criticism as we know it. But I do not suggest that there is no room for improvement. It would be really foolish to say anything like that. In fact, I have made my suggestions from time to time - I hope I have done so in a constructive way - for improvements to the present system. I will even make a few suggestions tonight and make them in the same constructive manner. Any health service must be flexible and the Australian service is capable of embracing changes thrown up by a modern and affluent society such as we live in today. One of the difficulties that the Commonwealth Minister for Health has to contend with - and he probably realises this - is that unlike the United Kingdom system, which is controlled by one Ministry of Health, in Australia there are the Commonwealth Department of Health and six State Departments which are all part of the Commonwealth and which all have sovereign powers.
I am prompted to make one suggestion in the limited time that is available to me. It concerns our system of hospital benefits. The Victorian Minister for Health said recently that hospitals in Victoria were losing $3. 6m a year because of uninsured patients who would not or could not pay their bills. He also said that 15% of the population of Victoria was not insured and that 85% was not adequately covered. I do not agree with him entirely when he says that 15% of the population of Victoria is not insured. I think the figure is much smaller. But the Victorian Minister may be correct in saying that 85% is not adequately covered. I suppose that problem exists in every State. I think it is general throughout the Commonwealth. I understand that the Victorian Government is trying to correct the position and has embarked on a campaign to encourage employers to permit pay envelope deductions for health insurance payments.
Hospital and medical charges increased three times as fast in 1966 as did the average male earnings. Weekly payments to fund societies for maximum coverage rose from 90c to Si. 70. So far as benefit societies are concerned, costs must be in proportion to the coverage gain; otherwise societies will not function. It is as simple as that. One of the reasons why people have inadequate insurance covers is the fact that the tables of insurance are becoming too expensive. In fact too much consideration has been given, I believe, by the Commonwealth Department of Health to the administrative costs of the smaller fund societies. It is on the expenses of the very small society, unfortunately, that the contribution tables are assessed and approval given to the benefits societies to make their charges. The large societies are willing and are able to reduce their charges but are not permitted to do so because the small societies would be unable to compete.
In Australia there are, as has been said earlier tonight in this debate, 112 hospital benefit and medical benefit organisations. Six major benefit organisations cover 60% of the insured persons and 106 organisations cover less than 40%. These figures speak for themselves. They indicate the problem immediately. It is economical to have 106 small organisations deciding the rate of larger contributions when the major organisations are prepared to charge less for an insurance cover?
I think that the Minister is well aware of this problem. For my part I am aware that it would be difficult by legislative fiat to nominate particular benefit organisations to survive and others to be disbanded. But this, I believe, is just begging the question. It seems to me to be ironic that in Australia we should have a strong tendency to concentrate in areas where more competition would be beneficial - I have the airline system in mind - and a strong tendency to fragmentation in areas where, as in the health insurance business, some greater concentration would be to the national advantage. My view is that the Minister should not back away from this problem, and will not do so. It is a difficult one and has been in existence over a decade. This is something that he inherited. But anything that is firmly established becomes increasingly difficult to change the longer it remains in operation. Nevertheless, persistent efforts over a period of time could very well produce amalgams and groupings that would have great administrative advantages and could even, perhaps, leave the existing nominal organisations intact. Rationalisation is never impossible but does call for skill, imagination and a great deal of organisation. I raise this matter because the Victorian Minister for Health has instituted a campaign to encourage more people to join benefit organisations and to encourage existing members to increase their contributions. Whilst I commend the thought that prompts the Victorian Government to take this action I cannot see that this alone is the solution to the problem if costs are allowed to get out of proportion to the coverage gained.
I listened to the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) and the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) speaking tonight about geriatric homes. I feel that this is one of the unfortunate weaknesses that we have at the present time in the national health service. I am very pleased that they raised this question, because I do not believe that convalescent homes can be run for profit and still supply an efficient service to the retired members of the community without some subsidy from the Government. Time will not permit me to examine this problem but I am aware that the Minister knows quite a lot about it, because a year or two ago, together with Sir Keith Wilson, the then honourable member for Sturt, I discussed very fully with the Minister the subject raised tonight by the honourable member for Bennelong and the honourable member for Evans. This matter is really a problem and I am glad that it was raised tonight. 1 conclude with this thought: The Government does not feel the need to apologise for the fact that our health system is a successful compromise between extremes. I know that some countries still look with envy at the national health services of other countries like Australia. Notwithstanding what has been said tonight in criticism, I think we can be very proud that we have a system in this country that we can afford to pay for. This system has met with a tremendous amount of success, although unfortunately, it has some faults. However, I feel that these faults will be remedied in time.
– I do not agree with the final statement by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Haworth) that our health services are adequate or meet the needs of the Australian community. There are many people in Australia in need of medical treatment in or out of hospital who are afraid to seek that treatment because they cannot afford the financial burdens involved. The cost of medical treatment in Australia is too high for the average person to bear. The cost of health insurance is becoming such that most people cannot afford it. The stage has also been reached where health insurance is loaded against persons on low incomes.
I have received a publication from the Geelong Hospital, and in that publication is an article on hospital finances and, specifically, compulsory insurance. It is pointed out in that article that for $70 a year a person can fully insure himself at the higher rate of hospital insurance. It states that a person earning $2,000 a year who takes out health insurance at a cost of $70 a year will receive a tax rebate of $13.51, so will actually pay $56.49 for that insurance. But a person earning $10,000 a year who takes out health insurance at a cost of $70 a year will receive a tax rebate of $36.19, so will actually pay $33.81 for that insurance. This is a converse situation in which the persons able to pay most in fact pay the least. I do not know what the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) would be able to do about this. Possibly it is a matter that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) could more properly deal with.
I do not wish to dwell on the subject of insurance, as I think it is at best a compromise made by a government which is not prepared to accept its responsibilities in this field and is trying to cover up this fact by providing something for someone sometime. The announcement of the extension of some benefit schemes to cover periods in hospital beyond the previously limited period of 13 weeks will be welcomed by the critically ill-
– If they can afford the insurance.
– That is true; if they can afford the premiums. Unfortunately, a lot of people who are even getting the maximum insurance return are still faced with substantial hospital bills that they cannot afford to meet, lt is not unusual for a person to join a hospital benefits scheme and find that he is not then eligible for admittance to a hospital ward or that because of his illness he has to be admitted in such a way that his insurance coverage will not meet the hospital charge, and he is thus left with a substantial bill. I know of a case in my own electorate where the wife of a constituent lapsed into a coma and that constituent ran out of hospital insurance cover. He was not a person on the breadline by any means, because his income was such that he could never qualify for a bed in a public ward, but he had to face the situation of meeting costs in excess of SI 00 a week while his wife was ill for a period which was completely indeterminate. After payment of hospital benefits ceased the Commonwealth grant of $5 a day continued and he was left to meet the difference. Even a man on a very good salary would be very quickly in debt after such an illness. I do not think that a person who is unfortunate enough to become ill should expect this type of treatment.
I wish to speak on geriatric services and specifically the services provided by the Grace McKellar House, which is in my electorate. This institution has developed a fairly extensive series of services and I think it could honestly claim to be one of the best in Australia. The Minister for Health inspected it when he was in Geelong du ring the Corio by-election, and I imagine the secretary of this particular institution would have taken the opportunity to discuss the institution’s problems with the Minister. The Grace McKellar House has approximately 180 beds, a number far from adequate for the population of Geelong. Unfortunately, and for reasons I do not know, Geelong was slow in establishing a geriatric establishment and the Grace McKellar House was built at a time when the costs of establishing such an institution were very high. There is a need for at least another 160 beds in the Geelong area, but because of the cost factor there is no hope or anticipation that this number will be provided. The Grace McKellar House has adopted a system which it calls a day hospital, whereby it collects patients and takes them to centres where they are given physiotherapy treatment or other treatment during the day, and then they are returned to their homes. These people receive practically the same level of treatment as inmates of the Grace McKellar House itself. Persons with various disabilities can benefit greatly from this treatment. I understand from people concerned - and I have seen the results myself - that this service is extremely successful. Although the Minister for Health has been approached on the subject I understand that there is no indication that the Commonwealth is prepared to share in the costs of this service. I think the States are making some grants towards this service. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to the Commonwealth’s sharing in the cost of this service to enable people to receive treatment and remain in their homes.
The subsidy for nursing homes, introduced about 4 years ago and fixed at $2 a day, has not been adjusted since its introduction. It is a source of concern that this subsidy may go the way of other government subsidies for health services that have been introduced over the years. I instance the subsidy of 80c a day in respect of hospital beds, which has not been adjusted since 1948. The subsidy of $1.80 introduced in 1953 for hospital benefits payments has not been altered since that date. Those subsidies are not today worth as much as they were worth when they were introduced and the Government has done nothing to relieve the hospitals of the increasing load which they have been forced to bear as a result of the declining value of the subsidies.
As part of its social services programme the Commonwealth provides free hospitalisation for pensioners but it does not meet the full cost of this service. While the Commonwealth claims the kudos for this service and issues the entitlement cards to the pensioners, it pays to the hospitals considerably less than the cost of treating these people. It is the Commonwealth’s responsibility to come to the party on these matters and, where its payments have fallen behind rising costs, to meet those rising costs. The hospitals are in serious trouble. Everybody knows that. They are in favour, quite properly, of a national health scheme. They are being forced to do things which are not in the best interests of health and which the hospitals themselves know are not in the best interests of the people, but the hospitals are forced to do these things in order to make ends meet. Some hospitals have reached the stage of not being able to engage fully trained sisters for night shifts because they simply cannot afford to pay penalty rates. For some time hospitals have been forced to employ in their casualty wards the most junior resident doctors. People involved in accidents are being examined by the most inexperienced doctors. There arc cases on record of people losing the use of limbs or being otherwise disadvantaged because a doctor has wrongly diagnosed the extent of their injuries. I do not blame these doctors. They are like everybody else; they learn by experience. Only the most experienced doctors should be employed in casualty sections, but because of their lagging finances the hospitals are not able to do this. 1 am opposed to the suggestion that membership of hospital benefits funds should be compulsory. As I have pointed out, it costs up to $70 a year to obtain adequate cover and too many people in the community cannot afford this expenditure. Such people are entitled to treatment in hospitals if they become sick. We are often told how much the hospital service costs, but very little is ever said about the economic benefits flowing to the nation from people being kept in a state of wellbeing. I wonder whether anybody has ever worked out the value to the nation of one person trained in a profession or trade being saved at an early age for employment as a result of proper hospital or medical treatment. I suggest that a fitter who, in his 30s, through proper hospital treatment, is able to continue in employment, would be worth about $100,000 to the economy of the country in the remaining part of his life. In Britain some years ago when complaints were being made about the cost of drugs being used under the national health service, figures were produced by the medical profession to show that the cost of drugs being used to save the lives of people and to return them to employment was nowhere near what the cost would have been to the nation had those people not received adequate treatment and not been able to remain in useful employment. This is a reasonable way to look at the cost of a medical service. I think it is quite reasonable to have regard to the benefits which a medical service provides for the nation and the people rather than the disabilities that may flow because such a service takes a few cents or a few dollars out of our pockets each year.
– Tonight I wish to refer to the aged sick and chronically ill. These are the people who deserve our consideration. Their position has improved considerably since this Government introduced the Aged Persons Homes Act. They would be in a most difficult position had the Government not introduced the scheme of homes for the aged. In my electorate there are perhaps the best of these homes. It has been said that except in California nowhere in the world are there homes comparable to the Nuffield Homes and the Mowll Memorial Village, in which many people are housed under most modern conditions. The homes are individually serviced and it is the aim of the directors to see that once persons enter Mowll Memorial Village or the Nuffield Homes they are cared for until they pass on. This is the ultimate aim, but with a population of between 500 and 600 people and a hospital complex catering for only 35 people, at times during the year the directors unfortunately are forced to provide outside hospital care for some of the aged inmates. This happens only in the winter months when aged people are apt to be taken seriously ill. If more charitable organisations were to accept the Government’s challenge to build and service homes for the aged a lot would be done to assist the plight of the aged sick and chronically ill.
In view of the headlines ‘Let Them Die’ which appeared in last week’s Press it is unfortunate to recall that aged people who are taken ill cannot always be hospitalised. Where people have met with a serious accident or require an urgent operation it is the duty of hospitals to cure them and to get them back to their homes. The provision of adequate hospital care presents a challenge to each and every one of us. Instead of being subjected to carping criticism the Government is to be congratulated for introducing the aged persons homes scheme, through which it has provided beds and small units for many aged persons who would otherwise have been accommodated in public hospitals. We all remember how the aged and chronically ill who could not be accommodated in hospitals or nursing homes were obliged, unfortunately, to seek accommodation in mental hospitals. I hope this is not happening now. I think we have overcome the difficulties that led to the aged and chronically ill being placed in mental hospitals.
Sir Keith Wilson dedicated his life to the study of the needs of the aged and chronically ill and he did much to alleviate their suffering. He devoted at least 20 years of his parliamentary service to a study of social services and he took a great interest in the aged. When he spoke here last year he said that the cost of a patient in a public hospital was about $100 a week, in a private hospital about $70 a week and in a nursing home about $30 a week. It will be seen that it is uneconomical to place an aged person not requiring medical attention in a hospital. The cost to the community of such a person in a nursing home is about $30 a week but in a public hospital it is about $100 a week. Our aim at all times should be to provide for the needs of the aged and the chronically ill. At most times, they do not require medical attention. We should strive to have more homes built for them and we should encourage church and similar organisations to build homes that will attract the Government subsidy of $2 for $1. In this way we will be providing material help for the community.
During the debate on these estimates last year and I think during this debate some honourable members have said that the services at hospitals should be rationalised. I am Deputy Chairman of a fairly big hospital; it has 153 beds. The rationalisation of hospital services is the last development that I would like to see. Honourable members have suggested that sterilisation services, laundry and food services and pathology and x-ray services should be rationalised. These services would be available at one central hospital. Specimens would be sent there for testing and food and so on would be brought from this central complex. I cannot imagine anything worse. I know of country hospitals not very far from the metropolis that must depend on hospitals in Sydney for their pathology and similar services. Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 weeks for the results to come back to the country hospital. I would not be very happy to see these services rationalised. Some honourable members opposite have said that they would like the health scheme to be nationalised. I say: God forbid’. Variations to the nationalised scheme in England are now being publicly debated there. It has been suggested that fees be charged for prescriptions, that a means test be introduced and that the age at which females receive a pension be lifted from 60 to 65 years.
– Who is suggesting this?
– The Government but it is being discussed publicly in England at present.
– England has a Labour Government has it not?
– Yes. In some countries with nationalised health schemes other than England, members of the medical profession have gone on strike. They object to the conditions under which they work and the remuneration they receive. I should be very sorry if such a scheme were introduced in Australia. We are apt to take for granted that we have the ultimate in medical and hospital benefits schemes. I do not subscribe to that view, and it is wrong that we should hold it. We should never become complacent about the merits of our scheme. Good as it is, it still can be improved. The Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd announced today that it intends to increase the period in hospital for which it will pay benefits. The smaller benefit funds have been criticised. However, every case should be judged on its merits. I put a case to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) on behalf of the United Ancient Order of Druids. It does not advertise and does not seek to take contributors away from other funds. Because of its soundness and financial stability, it wanted to pay benefits in excess of those to which the Government had agreed. If this small fund, after examination by an actuary, can prove that it has the financial strength to pay additional benefits,
It should be allowed to do so. I have often stated that a small enterprise efficiently run can always outdo the bigger enterprise because of overhead expenses. If honourable members examine some of these smaller funds they will find that they are quite sound. In my electorate I have the Governor Phillip Hospital for geriatrics which, I suppose, is one of the most outstanding places of its kind in Australia. I have the Catholic homes for geriatrics at Rooty Hill. There are the Elizabeth Home for Hungarians and the Mowll and Nuffield villages that I have already discussed. The great difficulty that I find as a director of a hospital is the shortage of trained staff - nurses, technologists and people to work in pathology and X-ray departments. We have had to go to the extent of advertising for these technicians in England. We have not been successful.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Clark) - Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Mr Deputy Chairman, one of the problems in discussing health policy in Australia is the lack of reliable official information. This is only partly the result of the capacities of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). In large part, it stems from the Government’s laisser-faire attitude to health policy in this country. The Government sees its role as largely a passive one - of subsidising a hotch-potch of private medicine, voluntary insurance, private and public hospitals, State and local interests. The Minister is content to authorise the payment of bills which others present, with occasional intervention when abuses become too blatant. Its research is limited very largely to the narrow medical field with little recognition of the importance of economic research and planning of health services.
Last year the Commonwealth itself spent $278m on health expenditure through the Department of Health alone. Governments, either directly or indirectly, find about 60% of health costs. Yet the Commonwealth Department of Health lacks the proper economic research staff to evaluate the efficiency of this spending. This is not the fault of the very capable and dedicated staff which the Minister has. In fact, he gets better than he deserves, but there is not sufficient staff. In a letter to me of 3rd April this year, the Minister said:
Some research is undertaken in the field of health economics. There are five officers employed in the Research Section of my Department . . .’
The Canadian Research and Statistical Division, by contrast, has eighty such officers. The Minister did add that economic research is sometimes undertaken by others in the Department. Despite this reservation it is quite clear that the Department of Health does not and cannot conduct comprehensive research in health economics in Australia - the subject on which the Minister for Health has chosen to lecture this House on at least two occasions in the last 6 months.
The absurdity of the situation is no more clearly illustrated than by the inability of successive Ministers for Health to provide official figures on total health costs in Australia. In 1965, the former - and the next - member for Hughes, Mr L. R. Johnson, asked the Minister for Health for the total health expenditure in Australia. The Minister replied:
In the absence of details … the total expenditure on health in Australia . . . cannot be provided’.
Early this year I was bold enough to say that health costs in Australia were relatively higher than those in the United Kingdom whose scheme is so widely criticised as inefficient and costly. In a comic performance in the House in March, the Minister disputed my contention and charged me with loose use of facts. It turned out in subsequent correspondence that the Minister did not know the facts. In the letter to which I have referred the Minister said:
I have no ‘official’ figures available of the estimated annual total expenditure on health in Australia. However, the draft WHO report, ‘The Cost and Sources of Health Services’, quotes $7 15.7m as the estimated annual expenditure on health services in Australia in 1960-61. This amount represented 4.9% of the gross national product for that year.
Following this revealing reply I put a question on the notice paper asking for figures from other countries, including the United Kingdom. The Acting Minister for Health, the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz), would not disclose publicly what these figures were but was prepared to confirm the figures for Australia which I have quoted. The Acting Minister, however, did write to me on 11th May a letter which stated that the United Kingdom spent 4.2% of its gross national product on health at that time - that is, less than Australia. This description of events does reveal several important facts. The least important is the unreliability and deviousness of the Minister for Health in matters of health economics. The more important facts are first the lack of proper economic research and evaluation of health expenditure in Australia. The Commonwealth Government cannot even provide an ‘official’ figure of health costs. The second fact is that our health facilities are costly and very costly indeed in terms of the benefits they provide. The Australian Labor Party does not and would not propose a health service similar to the United Kingdom system. With all the defects of the United Kingdom system, however, total health costs are lower in the United Kingdom than in Australia. This year, total health expenditure will exceed $ 1,000m and will probably top $1,1 00m, of which over $600m will be provided by governments. In my speech on the Budget, and on many other occasions, I have pointed out that a great deal of excess cost is due to the lack of a balanced national hospital system and the inefficiency and cost which inevitably results from voluntary insurance. When the Minister for Health can say with complete indifference that it is no concern of his if the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales buys an aeroplane, can we really expect an efficient health system?
One other important cause of high health costs in Australia is drug costs, particularly in the ethical field. In the last 6 years, Commonwealth payments for pharmaceutical benefits have risen from $59m to $104m, an increase of almost 80%. In his annual report the Director-General of Health, speaking of pharmaceutical benefits, said:
I have to again report an upward trend in costs … the levels of prescribing for . . . new drugs were not compensated for by corresponding declines in the use of the older drugs in the particular groups. Prescribing at the government’s expense is, as I have said before, simply prescribing at the community’s .expense. One of the major problems in administration of the Scheme is the assessment of whether the cost to the community of pharmacological treatment is being inflated by the use of high priced drugs where less expensive drugs would be more effective. This complex problem is the subject of a continuous study in my department and it is our objective, in co-operation with the medical profession, to reduce it as far as it is reasonable and practicable to do so.
We wish the Director-General every success. There is certainly room for improvement in a country whose expenditure on medicines is amongst the highest, if not the highest, in the world. Research undertaken by the Institute of Applied Economic Research at the University of Melbourne shows that in 1960-61, the latest year for which comparable figures are available, expenditure of $167m on medicines in Australia represented 1.4% of our national income compared with 0.7% in the United Kingdom, 0.8% in Sweden, 1.3% in Canada and 1.1% in the United States. Not only is expenditure very high but it is growing very rapidly as the Director-General concedes. Between 1960- 61 and 1963-64 total expenditure on medicines rose by just over 20% to over $200m in the latter year. This year expenditure on medicines in Australia will be in the vicinity of $250m. Only a small part of this could be attributed to local research costs. A survey conducted by the Australian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association showed that 46 pharmaceutical companies spent less than $l.Sm on local research in 1964-65 - about 1% of sales.
The report of the Director-General reveals that the total cost of pharmaceutical benefits under the national health scheme in 1966-67 was $104m. Over $40m, or about 40%, went in remuneration to chemists. This represented 64% mark up on manufacturers costs. In Britain the comparable mark up for drugs sold under the national health scheme is 31%. I quote from the ‘Australian Journal of Pharmacy’, July 1967. The University survey to which I referred pointed out that the cost of distribution of all medicine in 1963-64 represented 46% of the total retail price. The costs of distribution took $80m out of the total expenditure of $2 15m. These distribution costs are very high indeed. In general, chemists in Australia operate on a margin of about 40% on all lines compared with only 25% in Britain.
Several factors account for the high cost of distribution. The public has in general welcomed the change in the nature of grocery retailing. But legislation in various States restricts the expansion of chain store chemists. The retailing of pharmaceutical goods is rife with restrictive practices which penalise the consumer. The growth of friendly societies is restrained. In New South Wales recently the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia showed concern when a large chain store chemist proposed dropping the 49% prescription fee on the supply of contraceptive pills. The result of this ‘unethical’ behaviour by the chain store was that the Guild was forced to cut the retail price by 20%. The removal of restrictive practices and the introduction of more competition would bring even greater benefits to the consumer and to the taxpayer, who pays so much of the drug bill. The high costs of distribution are in part the result of the large number of chemists in the community. We probably have the world’s highest ratio. In 1964-65 there were 9,085 registered medical practitioners in private practice and 5,375 pharmaceutical chemists approved under the National Health Act. So each chemist serviced only 1.7 doctors, ls it any wonder that distribution costs are high and are kept high to give a return to each chemist? in the case of ethical drugs, which are the most important and fastest growing item, even the consumer is not greatly concerned with the price when the national health service meets all but the first 50c on any prescription which in large measure the doctor who prescribes is not concerned with price. The demand for these ethical drugs is greatly influenced by expensive and persistent advertising which is directed not at consumers but at prescribing doctors. Competition results in the promotion of numerous brands, intensive detailing and publicity in professional journals and through the mail. The doctor who prescribes but does not pay is subject to considerable promotion pressure. If doctors prescribed by generic name rather than the proprietary or brand name of the drug, the whole reason for promotion would be lost. Without brand names there could be no advertising war.
Undoubtedly there are benefits to be achieved by brand name prescribing.
Quality and precision in drugs, however, can be just as well if not better assured by thorough public drug testing and evaluation. Honourable members have been given examples of the lower prices resulting from generic prescribing. There is a marked variation between prices charged by various drug houses for the sale of their products to some large buyers, such as hospitals, and the prices paid to pharmacists under the national health service. One explanation is that the scale of institutional buying allows reductions due to packing and bulk purchase. In some instances also, manufacturers regard their sales to hospitals as a form of promotion: They will get young doctors used to prescribing certain drugs.
The method of prescribing, however, is clearly of importance. Figures were prepared several years ago in Australia comparing the prices of certain drugs to hospitals using generic names in their ordering and prices of the same drugs sold by chemists under various brand names. The price to hospitals of 1,000 prednisone 5-milligramme tablets was $9.42. Chemists selling the same quantity under brand names charged between $80 and $120. Tetracycline capsules cost hospitals $15.40 for 100. Chemists sold the same quantities of the drug for $26.90. For Ariane and related drugs the prices paid to chemists under the national health service were in general about 300% higher than those paid by hospitals for the same drug. The Kefauver inquiry into the drug industry in the United States, whose report the drug lobbies have been trying to discredit, spending enormous sums in the process, revealed even more spectacular examples of excessive costs resulting from prescribing by proprietary or brand names rather than by generic names. The drug reserpine was available to the public at $5 per thousand or $65 per thousand; prices of penicillin G tablets ranged from $2 to $40 per thousand tablets; and prices of secobarbital ranged from $10 to $30 per thousand. In each case the lower price was the result of generic prescribing and the higher price the result of prescribing by brand name. The companies in the United States benefiting from brand name prescribing as revealed by the Kefauver report are well known companies that have flocked to Australia to profit from the drug bonanza under our national health service. In 1964, two-thirds of the ethical market in Australia was held by American firms and their subsidiaries and the rest was largely occupied by Swiss, German and British firms. The Kefauver report also showed the great benefits which accrued when bulk buying by the United States armed forces introduced some price competition in the market.
In Australia there is insufficient price competition in the drug field. In a large area of the ethical field there is no price competition at all. Almost all competition is in the promotion field and is directed at the doctor to persuade him to prescribe a certain brand. It is time we set about reversing the situation through competitive tendering for drugs and more generic prescribing. About 70% of all expenditure in the ethical field is under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The Commonwealth is in a strong position to force substantial economies and savings in our drug bill. Through negotiation it has secured some price reductions. But it is time it used its power in the market to really force price reductions. For a government that says that it believes in competition it shows little concern with the lack of price competition in large areas of our drug market. Advances in drugs have brought great advances in health standards throughout the world. That is not disputed. But it is clear that in Australia we are being forced to pay too much.
I have shown before the wastes in our health system which inevitably result from voluntary insurance and the duplication and inefficient running of our hospital services. In the drug field - at both the manufacture and distribution level - costs are excessive. This is inevitable when a government subsidises private costs which it cannot control. The public gets the worst, not the best, of both worlds - inadequate private services and high public costs. This excessive cost is the direct result of the Government’s timid and laisser-faire attitude to health in this country. It cannot avoid responsibility by trying to hide behind the provisions of the Constitution. Can we expect a fundamental examination of our health services when the Government cannot provide an estimate of health costs in this country? In terms of its benefits, ours is an extremely expensive health system - if it can be called a system.
We can - and a Labor government would - build an alternative public health service within the limits of present health expenditures in Australia. The drug field is a good area in which to start making some economies.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, little did I realise, when I entered my name to take part in this debate, that I would have the doubtful honour of following the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). We have just heard him indulge in a voluble display in the course of which he mentioned various items of correspondence that he has had with the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). I am sure that the Minister will effectively answer him later. I propose to content myself with briefly pointing out one or two significant features of the progress that has been made in the national health scheme, particularly during the financial year 1966-67. The expenditure on pharmaceutical benefits rose by $4.3m to $72m. In addition, expenditure on pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners increased by $5.2m and . expenditure on hospital benefits generally rose to $44.6m, an increase of $Sm. Expenditure on medical benefits also increased, rising by $2.5m to $44m. I believe that Australia can be proud of the record that has been established since the inception of its health plan. At a World Health Conference held in Dublin in October last year, Australia was proclaimed by overseas health insurance experts as the world leader in voluntary government subsidised health services. This information was brought back by Sir Ronald Grieve, Chairman of the Voluntary Health Insurance Council of Australia, on his return to Australia. That Conference was attended by representatives from the United States of America, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland.
This Government’s primary concern has always been to maintain and develop an efficient system that will bring medical and hospital treatment within the means of every person in the community, enabling all to receive the best possible services that doctors and hospitals can provide. We have established an efficient national health service that we can afford, and it is encouraging to hear from overseas comments as favourable as the one that I have just mentioned. Nevertheless, however good a scheme may ‘be, there is always room for improvement. I believe that it is necessary for the Government to provide for future widening of the present scheme to introduce further benefits that will make it even more comprehensive. The Minister has indicated that the Government intends to introduce legislation to enable pensioners to hire hearing aids from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. This is an excellent idea, but I believe that the proposed legislation should be widened to provide for some assistance to pensioners who wish to consult private suppliers who have been rendering them invaluable service for many years.
In my opinion it is bad to restrict people’s freedom of choice and I sincerely hope that the Minister will explore this aspect thoroughly to see that the right of the pensioner to consult a private supplier is preserved. Although I realise that the costs would have to be carefully considered, I am also of the opinion that the health scheme should also be expanded to include some dental and optometric benefits for pensioners. I feel that this could be done at a relatively low cost. I am sure that with judicious thought and careful planning by departmental experts some economic solution to this problem could be achieved. I am convinced that our voluntary contribution scheme is the only satisfactory way to approach the question of national health. Thu system guarantees the freedom of the patient to consult a doctor of their choice. Our scheme is ideal compared with a completely nationalised scheme as it tends to offset the inclination to abuse the medical service by seeking treatment for trivial complaints that would not be considered if a small fee had to be paid for this service.
Honourable members opposite have often referred to the growing number of health insurance funds. I would like to remind those honourable members of the facts concerning these funds. They will recall that the Minister referred to this in his speech in the House recently, and I want to reemphasise what he said. In the early 1950s, as a result of the government policy to support voluntary health insurance, an energetic drive was made by the Minister for Health at that time, culminating in the approval of 1ZJ funds by 1954 under the National Health?” Act as hospital benefits funds and 80 funds were recognised as medical benefits funds. Of course, many of these funds were approved for both hospital and medical benefits. The Minister went on to point out that the number has been reduced to 109 hospital and 78 medical funds. Allowing for those providing both benefits, there are 19 fewer than in 1954. I think this adequately refutes Opposition comments in this regard. The Minister also reminded honourable members that 76% of the population are covered by medical benefits and 80% are covered by hospital benefits. In addition, 1,043,000 pensioners are receiving free medical, hospital and pharmaceutical benefits. Also, Navy, Army and Air Force personnel receive free medical and hospital treatment which is entirely apart from the voluntary insurance scheme.
I would now like to say a word or two about a possible Commonwealth subsidy for aerial ambulance transport. In my electorate there are a large number of people living in the more remote parts who are forced to use aerial ambulance transport in emergencies. In one town in particular the general practitioner does very little surgery, if any, and refers most of this work to Adelaide which necessitates frequent use of such transport. The cost of this ambulance service to a patient is $140. A local ambulance fund has been established in this district and I believe that it has approximately an 80% membership from the townspeople and that the membership fee is approximately $10 per annum. Membership of this fund reduces the cost of the ambulance to $40 but it is still quite an imposition on the patient, considering the other costs that are involved in a journey to the city. This, I feel, is worthy of full investigation by the Department in order to assess the cost of inclusion of this service in the health scheme. I believe that people in the closely settled areas take medical services for granted. If some financial benefit were given to people in remote parts it would alleviate their position considerably. These people are certainly providing invaluable work in these areas and are contributing in no small way to the development of the country.
The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) and, of course, the Leader of the Opposition and one or two other honourable members opposite have referred to a completely socialised health system. I would like to lend a little weight to what the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Haworth) and the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) have said in regard to the United Kingdom health service that provides for all services and is not a contributory scheme. This has been in existence for over 20 years and is providing a continual drain on the UK economy. I recall that at Manchester, Dr Brian Livesley, in a reported forecast in November last year, stated that the UK hospital services were in danger of collapsing within 2 years unless urgent action was taken. He said that hospitals are turning even urgent cases away due to lack of accommodation. Vital equipment is either lacking or breaking down. He claimed that 500,000 people had to wait up to 7 years for operations and that the service generally is suffering badly from a shortage of doctors, nurses, drugs and technicians. The British Medical Association officials substantiated that Dr Livesley’s report was a fair summary of conditions and did not exaggerate the situation in any way. When we compare our scheme with this I think that we all must agree that the Australian Government’s scheme is far superior and we should be thankful that we have such an efficient medical service for the benefit of our people.
– A few weeks ago I received a letter from the Town Clerk of the Bankstown Municipal Council. Enclosed with that letter was a report that had been submitted to the Council by the municipal health surveyor drawing the attention of aldermen of the Council to the dreadful state of sewerage connections in the municipality. Perhaps some honourable members will be wondering what sewerage has to do with health. To illustrate this I would like to quote a portion of the health surveyor’s report. This will perhaps give the Committee some idea of what I am aiming to show. The report states:
As previously stated the situation which exists in Bankstown does not apply to all parts of the country. In Canberra, there is virtually no sanitary service- the sewerage service is provided al the same lime as the roads, kerb and gutter and drainage- that is, before the houses or factories are built.
This is not extravagance but is an intelligent approach to an important basic health problem fully justifying the capital expenditure.
In other matters the Commonwealth and State Governments have not been reluctant to expend funds on worthwhile health projects - the supply and distribution of Sabin Vaccine is a current example of Commonwealth and State co-operation in dealing with the control of a particular disease.
It seems that the likelihood of the lack of sewerage being the cause for the spread of many diseases has escaped both governments; the MWS & D Board, set up under State legislation, has the ability to carry out the work but lacks the finance. I believe that both Federal and State Departments of Health have a duty to see that the position is remedied.
There is no doubt that if typhoid or some other such dreaded disease broke out in plague proportions the whole of the resources of both Governments would be used to combat this outbreak. It is necessary that the thinking of the politicians be changed so that Bankstown residents receive the same health protection as Canberra residents. If Bathurst and Orange were without sewerage, the furore which would be created could well be imagined, but the number of people in Bankstown without sewerage is approximately equal to the combined populations of these two cities - moreover, there are thousands of people working in the unsewered factory areas who reside outside of the Municipality but who are just as vitally affected.
This major problem does not seem to raise a ripple in parliamentary circles. The lack of rain for several months in country areas or the presence of floods for several days can be expected to produce a quick government response with financial aid, but in Bankstown a situation which amounts to a national emergency is present day in and day out, year in and year out. Unlike drought or floods, the problem can be cured by one payment; the construction of sewerage is not a recurring cost.
I appreciate that the State Government is primarily responsible for the provision of finance to allow municipalities within the area covered by the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board to provide sewerage connections within their own municipalities. Nevertheless I make an appeal tonight to the Minister for Health to convene a conference of State and Federal Ministers for Health to discuss this important problem. Anyone who has lived in an unsewered area knows the great difference between living in such an area and living in an area which is sewered. Unsewered areas can breed disease. This is an important matter that should receive the attention not only of State and Federal Treasurers but also of State and Federal Ministers for Health. I make this appeal on behalf of the Bankstown Municipal Council which, of course, is not the only local government authority in metropolitan Sydney which does not enjoy the benefit of full sewerage services.
Perhaps I should give the Committee some basic facts about the Bankstown municipality. It is between 10 and 15 miles from the centre of Sydney. It is the largest municipality in New South Wales. Its population is about 170,000, and Tasmania, I remind the Committee, has a population of only 380,000. As at 30th June 1967 there were 8,831 sanitary services being provided in the Bankstown municipality for 35,000 to 40,000 residents of the municipality plus 5,000 workers who come into the area daily.
No government, State or Federal, can be satisfied with the existing state of affairs. This is the year 1967. We are in the space age. We are beaming television programmes around the world by means of satellites. We are buying Fill bombers for $9.9m each and we cannot find the money to provide an absolutely essential health service in metropolitan Sydney. Here we have a municipality 10 miles from Sydney in which there is a grave lack of sewerage services. The State Liberal Government claims that it is the fault of the Federal Government which is not giving the State enough money to provide these services. The Commonwealth, after all, receives most of the tax revenue that is collected in Australia. Under the previous State Labor Government Bankstown municipality was being reasonably well treated with sewerage connections. In the 12 months ended 30tb June 1963 a total of 4,288 services were provided, in June 1964 the figure was 4,813 and in June 1965 it was 4,282.
– The State Government did not’ do that.
– The Liberal Government was elected in May 1965-
– That has nothing to do with it. The Water Board is autonomous.
– And in the year ended 30th June 1966 the number of sanitary services decreased by 2,814. I claim that it was Labor planning that enabled this decrease to come about, because in the year ended 30th June 1967 the number of sanitary services decreased by only 1,011. Now the Bankstown municipality claims that it has no prospects for future sewerage connections in that area. The honourable member for Mitchell has interjected to say that it is not the State Government’s responsibility. The State Government provides a certain amount of money to the Water and Sewerage Board and also allows it to raise finance by way of loans. The State Government cannot give funds to the Water and Sewerage Board unless it receives sufficient money from this Commonwealth Government which collects so much of the tax revenues throughout Australia. No matter how much the honourable member for Mitchell cries about it, it is the responsibility of the State Liberal Government to provide these services.
The health of the citizens of Sydney deserves to be protected much more effectively than it is at the present time. I have given figures to show that under a Labor Government the sanitary services were being decreased by as much as 5,000 a year, while under the Liberal Government the reduction in these services is down to 1,000 a year. I believe it is up to the Ministers for Health, if it cannot be done by the Treasurers, to see that these absolutely essential health services are provided. I again ask the Minister to convene a conference with the State Health Ministers to discuss this urgent problem. As I said earlier, we are in the space age, and it is deplorable that these services are not available. The responsibility rests squarely upon the Liberal Government here in Canberra and the Liberal Government in New South Wales.
– That is all wrong.
– The honourable member for Cowper interjects regularly during these debates. He has been interjecting for some time now. He can tell everybody else where they are wrong, but I have not heard him contribute to a debate during the present session. He has not given us the benefit of any of his own knowledge or experience, yet he can sit here and interject all the time. I would like to see him get up and give us some of his own ideas instead of merely interjecting.
I wanted also to speak of an injustice that persists under the national health scheme. I refer to the treatment that has been meted out to optometrists throughout Australia during the whole time the national health scheme has been in operation. The Australian Optometrical Association has tried for years to have this anomaly corrected. Optometrists apparently are not regarded by the Government and by the Australian Medical Association as professional men although they have had many years of training at university level. They are people who concentrate on the treatment of the eyes and they are highly regarded in the community. They have thousands of clients who come to them to have their eyes tested and to have glass provided where necessary. The Australian Optometrical Association has three complaints about the national health scheme. First, no fund benefit is granted by some funds for glasses unless they have been prescribed by an ophthalmologist or a medical specialist. If a contributor to a fund goes to an optometrist and that optometrist provides glasses, the fund may reject a claim made for a benefit evidently because the optometrist is not regarded as being skilled enough to provide the glasses.
Then there is a further anomaly. An optometrist may during a routine eye examination detect a disease of the eye requiring medical treatment. He may refer the client to an ophthalmologist, in which case the benefit granted to the contributor by the fund will be the ordinary amount given for general medical treatment and not the amount given for specialist treatment. But the optometrist may, after discovering the disease, send the client back to his local doctor who would then refer him to the specialist. In such a case he would receive from the fund the benefit provided for specialist treatment. But then, of course, the Commonwealth has to provide Commonwealth benefit in respect of not only the visit to the ophthalmologist but also the visit to the general practitioner.
The other complaint of the optometrists is that there is no provision under the national health scheme for Commonwealth as well as fund benefit to be provided in respect of treatment of the eyes and provision of glasses by optometrists. These are their three complaints and I think they are legitimate complaints. I believe the optometrists are justified in making them. Perhaps I should quote a passage from the Bulletin’ of the Australian Optometrical Association for August 1967:
At the National Conference of the Australian Country Party (New South Wales’) in June 1966, the following resolutions were passed:
That Conference requests die Government to amend the National Health Act from 1st July 1966 to provide that when an optometrist refers a patient direct to a medical specialist, such referral shall attract a Commonwealth benefit to that patient.’
That the Federal Budget for 1966-67 shall outline a plan to be inaugurated not later than 1st July 1967 for a supplementary eye service under the voluntary health insurance scheme and Commonwealth matching benefits to cover 90% of the professional fee for eyesight examination, and refraction by opthalmologists and/of optometrists.
I cannot help but think that the pressure applied by the Australian Medical Associa-tion is sufficient to prevent the Minister from granting the requests made by the optometrists. My argument is strengthened by the fact that the Minister still has been unable to get the AMA to agree to treat those pensioners who became eligible to participate in the pensioner medical scheme as the result of the relaxation of the means test some months ago. Optometrists have been well and truly trained. They are entitled to be recognised as specialists in eye examination and in the provision of spectacles. I hate to imagine what the Minister and the Government would do if an industrial union were doing the same to another industrial union by way of demarcation as the Australian Medical Association is doing to optometrists throughout Australia.
– What about the postal workers?
– -If the honourable member for Cowper lets me know when he is going to talk then I shall listen to him. I conclude by saying that optometrists throughout Australia have thousands of customers who are well and truly satisfied with the service they receive. Optometrists should be treated far more justly by the Minister than they have been treated in the past.
-] take the opportunity in what may possibly be the closing moments of the debate on the estimates of the Department of Health to express views on one or two items. Particularly do I want to mention an item referred to by several of my colleagues earlier in the debate - the provision of appropriate hospitalisation for aged people. All of us should recognise that aged people need a variety of types of accommodation in their later years. Firstly, they need housing, and then as disease or frailty occurs they need hospitalisation. Many of us believe that what has been done under our social services legislation is admirable. It provides, in effect, for the first stage of the care. Various State medical authorities have examined the problem of hospitalisation. In recent years there has been a definite trend in Western Australia towards recognising high class hospitals, known as C class hospitals in Western Australia, and there has been proliferation of these hospitals, some of very high standard, but sometimes some of them come under criticism.
The authorities in Western Australia have started to persuade charitable bodies and churches not just to wildly establish C class hospitals but to recognise, under their guidance, the need for geriatric services and the advisability of having homes for the frail aged who are not actually hospital bed patients but who appreciate the privacy of their own room with a matron available in emergencies and a staff to see that adequate feeding is possible and assistance with personal washing is available. Homes for thi frail aged are being soundly planned by the Department of Health in Western Australia. I question whether in respect of these homes State financial assistance alone should apply or whether there should not be, as I would advocate, another partnership between the Commonwealth and the State and the charitable body concerned. We have had to point out to the State authorities that in their advocacy of the establishment of homes for the frail aged they are, in effect, asking the churches and charitable bodies to forgo the contribution of $2 per day per patient which is made by the Commonwealth provided the building is of a satisfactory standard. The State authorities are offering, as the best they can offer, a contribution of $1 per day per patient. The real problem for the organisations involved is whether this limited income, plus the availability of a good percentage of the pension of the elderly patient, is adequate upon which to budget for a home for the frail aged.
I appeal to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) to recognise that the Commonwealth should provide the $2 for $1 subsidy in instances in which the State Department of Health is genuinely grappling with the problem of the aged and instituting a sound scheme for geriatric care by providing homes for the frail aged through charitable organisations. Buildings are expensive and the Commonwealth should recognise homes for the frail aged in much the same way as it recognises nursing homes which are already subsidised. I make my appeal because I feel this is a most constructive development that is proceeding in Western Australia - a development which could well extend around the Commonwealth. Nothing would please me more than to see the Commonwealth Government making its own assessment of the value of this new scheme which is emerging. I know that our organisation in Western Australia, and hundreds of other organisations, would regard it as most constructive if the Commonwealth agreed to support this commendable scheme for assisting elderly people. I should like to expand on this subject, but I think the point has been made. I would be grateful if the Minister for Health would have carefully evaluated the scheme I have mentioned. I am sure the authorities in Western Australia will be presenting the scheme to him in greater detail.
When the Department of Health estimates were debated last year I remember commenting on the excellent and challenging annual report prepared by the Department. The Department is certainly doing its best in the interests of the people of Australia. In the annual report is an excellent summary of what is being done and of the cost thereof. Our health services are absorbing a greater proportion of Commonwealth expenditure year by year as our population grows. The pensioner medical service was mentioned by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart), and other members who have taken part in this debate. The Government should be commended for what it has done with the pensioner medical service and for what it proposes to do for the 41,000 pensioners who are covered by the latest liberalisation of the means test. Unfortunately those pensioners are not yet enjoying the benefit of the pensioner medical service because the Australian Medical Association has not yet agreed to the proposal to admit them to the service. There has been a further deferment of the proposal, and in this situation the Government has seen fit to extend the hospital services while it waits on the provision of the medical service by the medical profession. The fact that this action has been taken ought to be recognised by the Australian Medical Association. The people to whom 1 refer are getting a part benefit while those formerly included in the pensioner medical service receive a full benefit. This is not fair and, in my opinion, the Australian Medical Association is guilty of victimisation of this unfortunate group. There has been reference to 41,000 pensioners being involved. I have been. given to understand that the number would be substantially less than that figure. 1 hope that the genuine comment made during this debate will register with our friends of the Medical Association. We pay tribute to what the doctors do for these elderly people. But when we see the volume of this service, when we see the number of doctors participating in it and when we take cognisance of the return that they get for the service so rendered, we think it is a fair thing to appeal to them to clear this obstacle away once and for all. We have to be realistic. I think the Minister would nod his approval that if this is not done we cannot expect to continue to liberalise the means test and expect in future that the pensioner medical service will be automatic. We would come to the point where we would have to say: This far and no further. I have deliberately taken the opportunity of expressing my views on this subject in the hope that the message will go out as widely as possible and have the desirable influence that I am sure the Government wishes to exert upon the Association.
The report of the Commonwealth Auditor-General, recently tabled in the Parliament, refered to two types of committee of inquiry: One under which doctors whose claims have been considered excessive are subject to inquiry by the State committees which have been established, and the other which deals with chemists whose claims have come under question. I want to express my personal conviction that these committees of inquiry are operating reasonably satisfactorily in every State, lt is correct that the Commonwealth Auditor-General should refer to these matters because in some cases restitution has been required. In other cases repayments have been recommended by the committees of inquiry. A professional man. whether he be a doctor or a chemist, would not appreciate having to appear before a committee of inquiry or having to answer questions raised by correspondence. It is quite proper that claims should be brought back to an average and that excessive claims should be adjusted or questions about them satisfactorily answered. 1 feel we owe it to the taxpaying public to draw attention to the fact that the committees exist for the express purpose of making investigations. If the position worsens, Mr Chairman, perhaps we would be justified in giving more publicity to these inquiries. At the moment they do not receive much publicity unless the doctor or chemist being investigated is found guilty and restitution is demanded. I felt that, in the context of the report which I have in my hand. I was justified in at least mentioning this matter to that extent.
I turn now to the question of national fitness which is referred to at page 54 in this report. National fitness has attracted my attention over the years because prior to coming into this Parliament I was associated with the National Fitness Council of Western Australia. I have been pleased to maintain that connection as I have been re-elected from time to time by the Government of Western Australia. The National Fitness Council is not merely concerned with the physical fitness of young people. There has been distinct interest in sporting bodies and in the associated youth committees. There is embraced in this field almost every type of youth organisation that one could suggest. I want to comment on this concept of an Australian fitness campaign which has been promulgated or extended by the Council.
We find in this report a reference to the co-operation in this campaign by one of the large financial institutions in Australia, an insurance company, whose name is mentioned. Virtually a million copies of this physical fitness book have been provided by that company at the request of the Government. This physical fitness campaign has extended throughout Australia. It was promoted by the Minister for Health, commended by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), and other important leaders in the various communities have been pleased to lend their support.
The concept of this campaign, I believe, goes beyond physical fitness. Many of the associated youth committees and organisations will be pleased to interpret this to the young people of Australia as going beyond physical fitness and into the realm of the fitness of mind and spirit so that the concept of a better Australia may be conveyed to your young people while we are talking to them about fitness of body.
Finally there is in the report a reference, at page 86, to the Lady Gowrie child centres. The Minister and his Department inherited the administration of these centres some years ago. I want to make the point that these Lady Gowrie child centres are the key to a lot of the child leader training conducted in each State. Having been constructed years ago the buildings, which at that time were outstanding and such a very good example of training facilities, have now become outdated. There is a responsibility, which i have conveyed to the Minister once before, to have the buildings in certain areas reassessed as to whether they should be virtually reconstructed. I believe we should maintain the standard rather than allow them to become outdated. Therefore I make another appeal, through the vehicle of this debate, for the Department to reassess the standard of these Lady Gowrie child centres.
– Mr Chairman, I would like to thank honourable members for the approach they adopted to this debate tonight. I found the discussion most interesting and most instructive. I am sure honourable members will forgive me if I do not answer in detail at this late hour all the points that they raised. I do assure them that, in cases where they made genuine inquiries about a particular point or made a constructive point, I will reply to them by letter or in subsequent discussion.
I cannot let this occasion pass without mentioning two matters which were raised in this debate. One was referred to in a destructive spirit by both the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns). I understand that the honourable member for Yarra is allegedly the shadow Minister for Health. In this field I must say that he is very, very shadowy indeed. The other point to which I wish to refer was made in a more constructive sense by honourable members on this side of the House. I want to say something about the meteoric and brief entrance into this chamber of the Leader of the Opposition. He peddled a theme on health which was exactly the same as that peddled by the honourable member for Yarra. This theme has been developing in the Opposition ranks in recent months.
Looking back over the 17 years during which they have been in opposition, honourable members opposite are conscious that the Australian people have a very healthy distrust of the cost of Labor’s Socialist proposals. As a result of this honourable members opposite are attempting to delude the Australian people into believing that in the field of health, Labor’s proposals, whatever they may be - and I am not quite sure what they are but I refer to those that have been published, despite the denials tonight by the Leader of the Opposition - look very much like a fully regimented Socialist national health scheme. Until such time as details are provided to the contrary I must accept that that is what the Labor Party proposes. What the Labor Parry is trying to suggest, in order to combat the distrust of the Australian people over the costs that would be laid on them, is that their proposals in the field of health - whatever these may be - could be paid for by savings from the present national health scheme. The Opposition has not been very specific as to how these savings can be achieved. The honourable member for Yarra and the Leader of the Opposition stood here and stated categorically what I say quite clearly is a lie - that this is the most costly scheme in the world. This is demonstrably untrue, but presumably the Opposition work on the assumption that by stating this often enough people will believe it. By any criteria that one can adopt the cost of the Australian national health scheme - which is administered by this Government - is nowhere near the most costly in the world.
– I rise to order, Mr Chairman. Is the Minister in order in categorising a remark made by the Leader of the Opposition as a lie?
-(Mr Lucock)- Order! In regard to the point of order raised by the honourable member for Scullin, the comment made by the Minister for Health was that the statement that was made by the Leader of the Opposition and by the member for Yarra was demonstrably a lie. Perhaps I should suggest that the Minister phrase his statement in a different manner.
– Of course it is a lie.
– Order! The honourable member for Evans will remain silent. The statement made by the Minister for Health was a comment on a statement made by two members of the Opposition. I might suggest that the Minister rephrase his comment.
– I rise to order. The point I am raising is that if a thing is a lie then obviously it has been wilfully and knowingly conveyed and the person who conveys it is obviously a liar, otherwise-
– Order! The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat. I have already given my ruling in regard to the statement made by the Minister.
– Mr Chairman, I want to-
– Order! The honourable member for Scullin will resume his seat.
– Mr Chairman, although you have not required me to do so by your ruling, I withdraw that word, and say the statement made by the honourable member for Yarra and the Leader of the Opposition that this is the most costly scheme in the world is demonstrably untrue - or incorrect, whichever way one looks at it - but it is not right. What the Opposition is trying to suggest is that out of what it describes as this enormously costly scheme it will pay for the proposals on health that were framed at the Adelaide conference of the Labor Party and thereby have a completely Socialist scheme in Australia. The Opposition says it will finance this scheme out of savings from the $278m, which is the cost to the Commonwealth Government of the national health scheme at the present moment. I do not know how it will do (his. It has only vaguely hinted on what it will do. I will deal with that aspect in a moment.
The Opposition says that from the savings out of the $278m these benefits will be conferred on the Australian people. How is it going to do that? One should not forget that the amount of $278m includes benefits that not even the Opposition would attempt to disturb. They include -the tuberculosis scheme, the contributions to the States for mental health, the national fitness contribution, contributions to the Lady Gowrie child centres, contributions for health in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory and a whole host of things which do not come into what the Opposition is talking about when it speaks technically of a national health scheme.
What does the Opposition suggest should be done to make these savings? As I said, the Opposition has not framed its suggestions in any specific form. But the Leader of the Opposition mentioned a number. He said the Opposition will reduce the number of benefit organisations by abolishing voluntary health insurance. He said that family health insurance is wasteful. What will we have in its stead? Will we have compulsory health insurance? That is the system in operation in Britain and it has not worked. The Opposition says it will abolish the number of benefit organisations. When I spoke on the Budget I asked which benefit organisations the Opposition would abolish. I would like to know that, and I am sure that other honourable, gentlemen on this side of the chamber would also like to know it. I think the benefit organisations would like to know which organisations will be singled out for abolition.
Will it be the friendly society organisations - the small, close organisations which provide greater benefits to their contributors and which are run more efficiently than any of the other organisations? Will the organisations that are subsidised by the employers and which constitute the great majority of benefit organisations be abolished? Will the Opposition abolish the Oddfellows or the Druids - which was mentioned by the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin)? Let us know, and let us know precisely how it will make these substantial savings by this abolition. Is it going to do it by preventing a huge organisation like the Hospitals Contribution Fund acquiring an aeroplane? That was suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. I hope he was not serious but he sounded serious to me. I do not know whether the HCF is justified in having an aeroplane for the administration of its business, but I do know that this is a responsible organisation and I do know that my Department looks carefully into the level of administrative costs of all of these benefit organisations. We believe, as a matter of principle, that provided the benefit organisations keep within the ceiling it should be left to them to decide how to disburse the percentage of money devoted to administration.
I suppose that the Labor Party would have people snooping around the benefiorganisations asking: ‘How many vehicles have you got? How many people do you employ? How many square feet of space do you have for each employee? How much counter space do you have? How many forms do you use?’ We on this side do not believe that savings are achieved, that efficient administration is achieved and .hat a service to the public is achieved by this type of approach. But this is the sort of thing which, it is suggested, will provide these colossal savings, out of the sum of $278m, to finance the Labor Party’s proposals. The Leader of the Opposition said that the main saving will be achieved from the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. It is true that a substantial proportion of the $278m spent on national health is spent on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The Government is not ashamed of this. It is not ashamed of its pharmaceutical benefits scheme. I recently visited a number of countries and wherever I went the type of pharmaceutical benefits scheme that we have in Australia was praised. People in those countries which I visited urged that on no account should we change the scheme in “essentials.
I think the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) put his finger on the very great benefits that come from this scheme. He disagrees with his leader in this respect. The honourable member has been in the Parliament for only a few months yet already he is disagreeing with his leader. He pointed out that every penny spent on a scheme such as this, provided it is properly administered, is worthwhile in terms of savings in time lost from work. You save on your health costs by keeping people out of hospital and out of nursing homes and by reducing their visits to doctors. How would the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) save on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme? How would he provide, out of the $103m, or whatever the sum is, all the things which the Labor Party has promised? He made only one or two specific recommendations tonight. He will save the money by squeezing the chemists of Australia. He has put himself on the record: He will save large amounts of money by squeezing the chemists all around Australia.
The only other way he can save this money is by solving in some way the problem of substituting generic prescribing for brand name prescribing. This is a problem which, as far as I am aware, no other country has been able to solve. No other country has been able to achieve this in its pharmaceutical benefits scheme, but somehow the Leader of the Opposition will do it. I would make this point to the Committee: Because of the nature of our pharmaceutical benefits scheme the problem of generic and brand name prescribing is not nearly as great in Australia as it is in countries where there is a total pharmaceutical benefits scheme, as in Britain, where anything can be listed under the scheme, or in countries where there is no pharmaceutical benefits scheme, such as the United States and Canada. I am not saying that this is no problem at all, but because we have control in this country over listing the problem is greatly reduced. We go to a great deal of trouble to negotiate with the drug manufacturers in respect of the prices at which their products are listed. Once having undertaken these negotiations and having listed one brand name for a product at what we believe to be an appropriate price, taking into account the price at which it is sold in England and other considerations, we are in a position to say to other manufacturers of the product: ‘We will not list your drug unless, you bring it down to this price*. In other words, what I am saying is that the consideration of the cost of brand name prescribing as compared with generic prescribing, which was a feature of the Kefauver Commission in the United States, referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, does not apply to nearly the same extent in Australia because of the existence of our type of pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Yet somehow the Leader of the Opposition will make these savings and provide all these benefits in the health field. AH I can say at this time of night is: Who is he kidding?
Many honourable members on this side of the Committee have made most constructive comments about the complex and growing problem of caring for the aged and the chronically ill in our community. I compliment them on doing this. This is a complex problem. It is a growing problem. It is a problem to which a considerable amount of attention is being given. It is obviously a matter of concern for thoughtful people. That description embraces almost all of my colleagues on this side. As far as I am aware the subject was not raised tonight by any honourable member opposite but it was referred to by practically every honourable member from this side who participated in the debate. This problem is receiving a great deal of attention from the Government. Its complexities spring partly from the divided responsibilities of the Commonwealth and the States in this field - not specifically in the health field but also in the field of social services. I think most honourable members will agree that here there is a large degree of State responsibility, particularly in the health field. Nevertheless, a considerable amount has been achieved over the years.
In pointing to what we have to do in the future I do not think we should blind ourselves to the initiatives that have been taken and to what has been achieved in the past. I have only to mention the nursing home benefits, a very large proportion of which go to the chronically ill and particularly to the aged. I mention the special accounts provision introduced by this Government to cope with this problem. There is the gradual extension of maximum benefits under the hospital benefits scheme, which I referred to in question time this morning and which will continue, I am quite determined, to the point where there are no maximum benefit limits. I honestly believe this situation will be reached sooner rather than later. I mention the pensioner medical service to which compliments have been paid tonight, ft has been introduced virtually entirely by this Government and has made a tremendous contribution towards dealing with the problem of the older people in our community. I make the point, which has already been made tonight, that more than 1,100,000 people are eligible for benefits under this scheme. I mention the amendments to the
Aged Persons Homes Act whereby subsidies are paid in respect of the establishment of infirmaries, for which nursing home benefits also are paid. I mention the whole range of benefits provided which might more appropriately be dealt with by my colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair). There is our home nursing subsidy. This was introduced many years ago with great acclaim. It has been almost forgotten now, but it is part of the total problem. This subsidy assists the home nursing service to look after the aged in their own homes. I think we tend to forget that some of these things exist.
I do not suggest for a moment that we have achieved everything that should have been achieved. There is a lol more we can do. There is a lot more we will do. All I want to do is assure those honourable gentlemen who have raised this matter that it is constantly receiving the attention of the Government. I am sure that new initiatives will develop as time goes on. Of one thing I am absolutely certain, and I think the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Bridges-Maxwell) made this point: Whatever we do, we must not adopt the approach of honourable gentlemen opposite, who suggest that everything in this field should be provided by the State. This leaves no room for private initiative, for local initiative and for the initiative of people of goodwill, of the churches, of non-profit making institutions and of others who must continue to play a part in, the broad spectrum of the care of the aged and chronically ill in our community. Certainly the approach of this Government will constantly bear in mind the vital importance of these organisations in the field of geriatric care. This is not to say there is not a proper role for hospitals and a proper role for the State. Each plays a vital part. 1 thank honourable members for the constructive way in which they have debated this subject.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Motion (by Dr Forbes) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I want to take the opportunity during this debate to raise a matter that affects ten former employees of the Commonwealth Department of Works in my electorate. They were carpenters and had between them a total of some 70 years service with the Department of Works. They were dismissed from the employment of the Department during the winter recess of the Parliament. The employees were working as members of the Department of Works at the Amberley air base, which is near Ipswich. I raise this matter primarily to complain about the way in which the dismissal notices were issued. There was a certain element of stealth, if I can use that word in this context, in the issue of the notices. A couple of men were advised that they had better prepare themselves for dismissal, notices were issued and they were dismissed. Then a couple more were treated in the same way and this gradual movement eventually overtook ten of the men.
In the meantime, I protested quite strongly to the Minister for Works (Mr Kelly) in quite a number of telegrams. I sent him at least ten telegrams. This had some effect; at least the dismissals ceased. But they ceased only temporarily, because 1 now have had information passed on te me from the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia, which is the union covering workers in this category of trade, advising that confidential information has been given to the men left on the job that there will be further substantial dismissals of employees from the Department of Works at Amberley, that these people had better look around for alternative work and that the dismissals could take place within the next month. I notice the Minister for Works has extended to me the courtesy of being present in the House. I hope that a little later he will rise and tell me that this is totally incorrect and that the eleven employees remaining can look forward, if not to permanent employment, at least to a fairly lengthy period of service as carpenters with the Department of Works at Amberley. It would be most gratifying if he could advise that this is the course that will be followed.
Let us look at the situation of the men who were dismissed. When I commenced my speech I mentioned that, in round figures, the ten men had a total of 70 years employment between them. That period of service is no longer than the age of this century at this time. The dismissals affected eight wives and sixteen children, a total of twenty-four dependants. One man was a widower and the other was single. Four of them were ex-servicemen. All of these people received retrenchment notices. One man had 14 years service, another 13 years, another 1 1 years, several 8 years and so on. They all had lengthy periods of service with the Department of Works. They were all men in their middle ages or a little olcerAfter such a lengthy period of service and at that age they had settled down in the expectation that they would finish their time in the work force of this Department. In fact, on several occasions information had been conveyed to them by inference at least, if not directly, that this was a permanent form of employment for them. But suddenly the guillotine dropped and chopped them out of the work force. This is a most unhappy arrangement.
I asked the Minister: How were the priorities determined in dismissing these men? As I mentioned, four of them were ex-servicemen and some of them had 14 years, 1 3 years, 1 1 years and 8 years service. This is lengthy service. Of those who remained some were not ex-servicemen and several did not have service as long as that of the men who were dismissed. How were the priorities for issuing dismissal notices determined? The Minister referred me to the section of the Public Service Act that relates to the termination of employment. He said that the priorities were effected in proper accord with the requirements of the Act. But the Act really does not give any priorities or set out any values that should be applied in these cases. In one part it says:
A relatively less efficient employee shall be discharged before a relatively more efficient employee.
What does this mean? This is a wide open gateway of escape for the Government. The services of a man in Ihe armed forces during the war amount to nothing, in effect, because, if someone in authority in the Department of Works decides that employee A is less efficient than employee B, employee A is dismissed. What right of appeal has employee A? How difficult is it to exercise this right of appeal? This seems a rather arbitrary regulation in the hands of a bureaucrat.
I know most of these men personally and have known them at this base for a long time. Most of them, if not all of them, are highly efficient and would be as efficient as any of the men who were left in the work force. 1 put this to the Minister: Surely if these men with 14 years, 13 years, 11 years and 8 years service were not efficient, this would have been discovered a long time ago and they would have been phased out of the work force long before this. The Minister has yet to give a satisfactory explanation of these dismissals. The only consoling words we have been able to obtain from him on this matter are that contracts have been let for day work on various projects at the Amberley air base near Ipswich and that the dismissed workers should be able to obtain employment there. However, as 1 pointed out to the Minister in letters that I have written to him, the fact is that the contractors come mainly from Brisbane and not from Ipswich and most of those contractors who are employing day labour are bringing their day labour from Brisbane with them. There have been a couple of exceptions and several of the dismissed employees have been able to obtain employment with these contractors. They have been in the minority. They have been the exception and not the rule.
Additionally, what adds to the difficulty of obtaining employment with the contractor is that in fact he is passing on his work to sub-contractors and the subcontractors are coming from Brisbane and not from Ipswich. So, while it is true to say that contracts worth some millions of dollars have been let and will be let in the future for construction work at Amberley, it is more accurate to say that this means little to the people of Ipswich and to the economy of that town because overwhelmingly this money is to go to contractors, sub-contractors and employees from the city of Brisbane.
I would like at this time also to inject this thought into my speech for the benefit of the Minister. It would have been far more advantageous to the Department of Works, when undertaking this work, to specify that it should be carried out by day labour and not by sub-contract labour.
One of the most disgusting things that I have noticed in the development of subcontracting work is the way in which men literally work their guts out to get a miserable return in terms of the hours of labour. I remember that not long after I moved to my present address - only a few years ago - the house a few doors away from my house was being built by sub-contract labour. Admittedly this was in winter when the hours of daylight were short, but carpenters and painters engaged on the job were at the house before the sun rose and worked until dark, trying to make a little extra money and rushing through the job. In the big contract let in relation to the work undertaken at Amberley - this contract is worth many millions of dollars - we find that work is being rushed and that in many cases the craftsmanship is not as high as it should be. These sub-contractors are not interested in putting the full value of their craftsmanship into the job. They want to get the job done as quickly as possible. They want to receive their returns as quickly as possible. The action of the Government in sub-contracting this work has had quite a deleterious effect on the standard of this work. Standards will suffer. The public will not receive the sort of return for the expenditure of its money that it should get.
Let me come back to the injustice of the dismissal of these men. The question that I pose - this has never been adequately answered - is in relation to the way in which the order of dismissal was determined and effected in this case. Again, I ask the Minister: Is it a fact that further dismissals will take place? If not, can the Minister guarantee that the men remaining in the work force at Amberley can look forward to a lengthy period of employment in that work force? Will he reconsider re-employing these dismissed men on the remaining work to be carried out at Amberley? This work can be carried out by the Commonwealth Department of Works employing full time day labour on the construction work.
- Mr Speaker, I thank the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) for doing me the courtesy of advising me that he intended to raise this matter during the adjournment debate tonight. I do not think I will detain the House very long in dealing with the matters that he raised. It is true that it is the policy of the Government to carry out most of its construction work by contract. Indeed, I would be very disappointed if that was not so.
– We think and indeed we know that by so doing we are not only obtaining cheaper building costs but also getting buildings of a very good standard. Very close supervision of the work carried out is conducted by the Department of Works. So, when the honourable member complains that the policy of the Government is to use contract labour rather than day labour for large contract jobs, he is right in respect of the facts; but I am afraid that I do not agree with his deductions.
It is true as the honourable member for Oxley said that ten day labour employees - carpenters - have been dismissed from the day labour establishment at Amberley in Queensland. It is true that this has been done in six steps. This was done deliberately. The honourable member said that this was done by stealth. It was done in this way after a proper consideration of the adverse effect of dismissing ten employees suddenly. The Department, as I see it, deliberately put them on to the labour market in steps. There were six steps between June and August. Two of the people dismissed, I understand, have obtained work already at Amberley on the R.A.A.F. establishment there. One other dismissed employee could have obtained work there if he had wished by applying for it. The honourable member for Oxley expressed concern about the future of the remaining men employed in the day labour force in the Amberley district on this work. My information is that the position at Amberley shows that the Department of Works establishment there is quite static. There is no expectation of any future dismissals.
– Did the Minister check that today?
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a brief comment on the doctrine, as one might say, behind the remarks of the Minister for Works (Mr Kelly). He said, in effect, that he would be disappointed if his Department were using day labour and not using contract labour. This means to me a vote of no confidence by the Minister in his own Department. He is saying in effect that public enterprise or public departments are incapable of handling this type of work with the same measure of efficiency as the private citizen or the private contractor. I believe that this is a piece of doctrinaire nonsense. There are no absolutes about the matter. It will depend a good deal upon the sort of system in use.
In the aviation field public and private enterprise operate side by side. Both public and private enterprise are competing in this field. The public enterprise, as far .is one can tell, is operating as effectively and efficiently as any other enterprise. In international aviation the Government’s own airline operates in competition with other airlines of the world and is as efficient as they are. I believe that the remarks of the Minister for Works contain an implied insult to every public servant in Australia and an implied criticism of every public department. It is a vote of no confidence by the Minister in himself and in his own Department of Works. Not only do I believe this criticism, but also I know that it is true. I look at the Ministry and I look at honourable members opposite from whom the members of the Ministry arc drawn. I have no doubt at all that there is every reason why we should have no confidence in the Ministry. I have no doubt also that the Public Service will survive the administration and maladministration of people such as those sitting opposite me. I simply remind honourable members that this is another doctrinaire approach to the problem of government, management and administration to which, in the end, we find no satisfactory solution.
– Mr Speaker, I wish to direct the attention of the House to some recent manifestations of the peculiar attitude of the Australian Labor Party towards its official policy as enshrined in the recent publication put out after the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party in Adelaide. Honourable members will remember that this is a book which is embellished - if that is the right word - by a large scale photograph of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) on its cover page to the exclusion of anything else. Presumably that photograph is intended to denote the steadfast adherence of the Leader and his parliamentary followers - or so called followers - to the various facets of the policy of the Australian Labor Party as published in this book. One is entitled to expect that if a political party attaches any real significance to the official decisions of its governing body on matters of policy it would not be disposed to field as one of its parliamentary candidates in an important by-election a person who has publicly and deliberately flouted, and who continues publicly and deliberately to flout, any one or more of those decisions.
If, therefore, I suggest, one finds an endorsed Australian Labor Party candidate who has done and is doing just that, one is entitled to assume that the particular policy decisions from which that candidate is allowed to diverge are of no real significance in the political philosophy of the Party to which he belongs. In such a situation, the public is entitled to assume that the policy statements are no more than a cynical exercise in political chicanery and opportunism. I propose to demonstrate to the House that the Australian Labor Party’s candidate in the Capricornia by-election has demonstrated himself to be nothing less than a political apostate, and his apostasy is publicly condoned by the Parliamentary Labor Party, by its Leader and by its Deputy Leader, who have been supporting him throughout his campaign in Capricornia, as we all know. Neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has publicly questioned Dr Everingham’s political beliefs insofar as they differ from the Party’s official policy. The Labor candidate in Capricornia has quite falsely, I suggest, represented himself as supporting the Labor Party’s official policy in all respects. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I shall show.
We have heard that Dr Everingham was invited to comment on the official documents put out in advance of the Twentyfirst National Congress of the Communist Party of Australia. I have with me an official publication of the Communist Party containing the documents and Dr Everingham’s comments. I want to make the point that these official documents relating to the National Congress of the Party had as their main theme the advocacy of a united front between the Communist Party and the Australian Labor Party. Dr Everingham gave his considered comments in writing, using phrases such as ‘towards unity of the left’, meaning thereby unity between the Australian Labor Party and the Communist Party of Australia, and towards a coalition of the left’. In this Communist Party publication there are phrases such as ‘a growing, though nonofficial, unity in action on the left’ and ‘the new stage in the division within the Labor Party . . . continues to develop*. The point about Dr Everingham’s comments, which have already received publicity, is that they are important not only for what they say but also for what they do not say. Let me first of all deal with what they do say. On being approached, he replied to the Communist Party, thanking it for being good enough to give him the opportunity to comment on its policy proposals, in these terms:
I am grateful for the invitation to comment on your June 1967 Congress documents. I commend your Party’s initiative in calling for wider discussion with other socialists.
Here is the assumption, Mr Speaker, that he, as a member of the Labor Party, has some common bond - the common bond of Socialism - with members of the Communist Party of Australia. But the matter goes further than that, because the Labor candidate in Capricornia - this man who is sailing under false colours - has specifically advocated an addition to the platform of the Communist Party which, if adopted, he suggested, would be ‘the largest single step in achieving a united labor movement’, that is to say, in achieving union between Communists and members of the Australian Labor Party in the political field. This is why Dr Everingham’s comments are important for what they say. In making them, he was, I suggest, clearly flouting the considered decisions of Federal Conferences of the Labor Party. I now refer to the booklet entitled ‘Australian Labor Party - Platform, Constitution and Rules’, which is the latest statement of that Party’s policy. At page 48, it specifically exhorts and, indeed, commands members of the Party in these terms: no Labor Party Branch or member can co-operate with the Communist Party.
What has Dr Everingham done in making his comments on the policy of the Communist Party but give the most significant form of co-operation to that Party? The official policy of the Labor Party, dealing with the Communist Party, goes on to state:
We therefore declare that the ALP, through its branches, affiliations and members, must carry on an increasing campaign directed at destroying the influence of the Communist Party wherever such exists throughout Australia.
Does anybody seriously suggest that Dr Everingham has matched up to that statement of ALP policy? The contrary obviously is true.
Why are Dr Everingham’s comments important for what they do not say? I shall now read the Communist Party’s proposals, as set out at page 7 of this lengthy document, where there is a specific statement to this effect:
The present day ‘US alliance’ is contrary to Australia’s vital interests.
Although Dr Everingham made specific suggestions about other matters that appeal on the same page of this Communist Party document, he allowed the statement that I have just read to pass without comment. The clear implication is that Dr Everingham supported a proposition put out by the Communist Party of Australia that the present United States alliance is contrary to Australia’s interests. All I ask the House is how does the Parliamentary Labor Party square that with the official statement in its platform to the effect that the alliance with the United States is of crucial importance in the foreign policy of Australia. Where does Dr Everingham stand on this?
– You tell us.
– 1 thought I might get some enlightenment although one would not ordinarily expect enlightenment from the honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Curtin); Whenever he speaks it is like a sandstorm blowing over the great Gobi Desert. Why do the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and their so-called followers on the Opposition benches remain silent in the face of a situation in which a member of the Australian Labor Party is masquerading as supporting Australian Labor Party policy when this person’s considered public utterances demonstrate that he is utterly opposed to Labor’s policy in important respects, lt is not as if the member of the Labor Party who is a candidate for the Capricornia byelection is repentant. He is an unrepentant apostate. As recently as 25th September be was on record in the ‘Age’ as having said:
I have no regrets about what 1 have written. 1 suppose even some Labor people disagree with some of the views I have written. Sometimes I wonder if 1 have been wise-
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– 1 do not intend to comment on the remarks that have been made by the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes) because quite obviously Dr Everingham will be able to do that very shortly himself. The matter I wish to raise and which has come to my attention during the last few days concerns the Postmaster-General’s Department. I am in no way critical of the Department and I am sure that the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) will be happy to hear this. A few days ago I was approached by a pensioner couple who had gone to Queensland for their holidays and had rented their home to tenants. Acting on the advice from the Department they had been given the alternative of either retaining their telephone in their name or transferring it to the tenants who were on a short term lease. It had been quite properly pointed out to them by the Department that if the phone were left in their name they would be responsible for the calls made. Consequently they agreed to transfer the phone from their names to the names of their temporary tenants. During their absence the tenants felt that retention of the telephone was not economically justified and asked the Post Office to discontinue the service. The instrument was duly removed upon request to the Geelong office of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Now, because of this, this couple will have to pay for a new installation fee although all of the wiring is still in the house. They have been out of the house for less than 6 months.
The Department’s action is quite within the regulations, as I understand them. I understand that the officers of the Department have no discretion at all in the matter. [ put it to the Minister, and I think it is worthy of consideration, that where people leave a house temporarily there should be some means by which they can protect their interest in the telephone installed in that house, lt is necessary for many aged persons to have a phone. If they become sick at night they may need to call a doctor. The difficulty that the owner of the property faces in having to pay a fresh installation fee because of an unwitting act on the part of a tenant, and 1 understand that it was unwitting in this instance, is serious enough for the Government to consider, in the case of temporary letting of premises, allowing the control of the telephone to be retained by the owner of the property. I do not intend to continue with this proposition. 1 hope the Postmaster-General will give the matter the consideration that 1 think it deserves.
-! would not have entered this debate - I certainly did not intend to do so - if it had not been for the plaintive plea from the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Curtin) when the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes) was referring to Capricornia. Honourable members will remember the words that came out rather like a bleat from somebody asking for help: ‘You tell us where the candidate stands.’ I can understand this. Actually I thought it was most heartrending to watch the faces of some members of the Australian Labor Party who obviously are concerned as to where their party is headed at this time. I do not wish to malign those honourable members who I know feel strongly on these matters. The honourable member for Parkes quoted from a recent booklet. It is not apparent from the outside, but on turning to the inside we find that the booklet contains the platform, constitution and rules of the Australian Labor Party. I presume that members of the Labor Party could not sell the booklet if it had the name of the party on the front; so they intend to flog it with the photograph of their new leader on the front. I suppose that is fair enough.
Honourable members on this side of the House often wonder if the new Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam)’ in fact wants to be associated with the Labor Party. We sometimes wonder whether, if the coin had come down the other way, he might have been Prime Minister now. I do not know.
Who does know what fate has in store? Honourable members on this side are interested to know - and I believe that certain honourable members opposite also are wondering - why there is this dead silence from the leader of their party, and from the Deputy Leader (Mr Barnard) in the face of criticism that has been levelled by people both inside and outside the Parliament. Not a word has come from them. I do not expect the honourable member for East Sydney (Mr Devine), who is trying to interject, to offer very much constructive comment. Honourable members on this side ask ourselves where the Opposition stands. The Leader of the Opposition is being presented as the handsome Adonis of the Labor Party. Honourable members on this side know that certain members of the Labor Party cannot tolerate him. We can understand how they feel when they have to flog this booklet around their electorates. The people of Australia are entitled to know what the Leader of this once great Party believes.
Honourable members opposite are tender about anybody suggesting an association between members of the Labor Party and Communists. Honourable members on this side know that honourable members opposite take points of order against us when we raise the question. I do not actually press this but in my mind there is confusion as to why, when we mention any association with the Communist Party, we are ruled out of order but when the Leader of the Opposition mentions it here, in the Press, on television or anywhere else nothing is done. I would like to quote a few statements made by the Leader of the Labor Party about associations between members of that Party and Communists. I think this is most important, Mr Speaker. If the honourable gentleman should be called before the chair in the House and named for doing what he has done, I certainly would not disagree with that action. When he was addressing the Victorian Labor Party conference on 9th June 1967 the Leader of the Opposition said:
The Victorian Executive included an influential handful of men who had flouted ALP policy on unity tickets, organised or led political strikes in defiance of the ACTU, disregarded and repudiated Party and ACTU policy on the manning of ships to Vietnam, and organised demonstrations against the Trades Hall Council Executive. It is disgraceful that these men should be on the ALP Executive which can appear to influence federal policies and selections.
The executive may well have included the honourable member for Wills, and I think that is something it must answer for. Then we go a little further back, to 7th July 1965, when the Leader of the Opposition said in a television interview in Melbourne:
Collaboration between ALP members and Communists in trade union elections had severely harmed public confidence in the Australian Labor Party.
Then on 31st July 1965 the Melbourne Age’ reported:
Mr Whitlam walked out of the ALP Federal Executive in Sydney and threatened to resign his position. He told the Executive that he would resign if the party’s Federal Conference took no action against collaboration between ALP and Communist unionists in Victoria. Referring to the Victorian Railways Union election, Mr Whitlam said it was a most blatant unity ticket offence in Victoria.
Everybody said: ‘Here is our hero.’ He was going to resign. He was going to do this and that. But be has done absolutely nothing except have his photograph taken by Athol Smith or whoever is the society photographer in Sydney at the moment, and he is now putting himself up as the leader of a new Labor Party.
– You are afraid of him.
– I am not afraid of him. 1 hope he stays in his present position as long as he can, but 1 ask the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) this question: Did the candidate for Capricornia write the article? Does anybody in the Labor Party say he did not? Was it in a Communist journal? Just tell us. And if these things are true, is the leader of the Labor Party, who said he would resign if members of the Labor Party, specifically in Victoria, cooperated with Communists, going to walk out on this occasion when the facts are blatantly before the people of Capricornia? Undoubtedly he has a duty to the people of Australia to say where he stands. He attacked the Victorian executive on another occasion. I know this hurts, and I do not say it to offend the honourable member for Wills, whom I like and admire for his tenacity, if not for his brain power. The honourable gentleman said that if the cooperation between the trades unions’ defence committee and the Communists in the Vic torian executive was eliminated, and if they fought as bard against the Communists as they fought against the Democratic Labor Party there would be a better standard of candidate and of member both in the Federal House and in the State House in Victoria. 1 say to honourable members opposite: ‘You cannot have your cake and eat it. You cannot be a hero one day and a coward the next and expect to fool the people all the time. A man is not a great leader because he goes to a 60-guinea tailor and because he can wear a set of tails and appear to advantage in a photograph on the front of a magazine. The people of Australia may or may not be looking for a Labor Party whose leader can come forward and meet the people. I am sure they are not looking for a Labor Party that is a facade for a leader who is not prepared to honour his obligations, who has said he would resign but has not resigned, who is not prepared to say anything in respect of Capricornia. I can realise now why there is confusion in the mind of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Curtin) when he, with us, pleads to be told where this man stands.’
– Mr Speaker-
– Come on, Willie.
-Order! I remind honourable members that interjections are out of order.
– Mr Speaker, I rise to order. How did the honourable member for Mackellar get back in?
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– Who let him out tonight?
– It is his night off.
-Order! The honourable member for East Sydney will refrain from interjecting. I wonder how long it is since he joined the Country Party. He is out of his seat.
– While I am sitting here I am in favour of selling wheat to China.
-Order! I warn the honourable member for East Sydney.
– Perhaps the House has not yet realised the full seriousness of the charge which has been made by the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes). All over the world at the present moment the Communist Party has a new strategy or, should I say, a refurbished strategy that it used some decades ago. That strategy is to pretend to be right wing, almost; to go inside the Labor Party; to use the Labor Party, whether it be in Britain or in Australia, as a stalking horse; to infect the Labor Party with Communism and to use it, if I may employ Lenin’s phrase, as a transmission belt in order to get the doctrines and practices of the Communist Party across to the masses. This is part of a world strategy, and we have seen it in the electorate of Capricornia where the endorsed Labor candidate has made it part of his platform. It is part of his platform to try to bring the Communist Party and the Labor Party together. This will increase the Communist infection which exists at present in the Labor Party and which has been shown by the action of leading executives in Victoria and New South Wales in co-operating with the Chinese Communists. But this is not quite the most serious point about it. The most serious point about it is the action of the person who leads the Labor Party in this House.
– He does lead the Labor Party. He is the ideal person from the Communist point of view to carry out this kind of plan for the Communist element. Here is a man who is pliable and who is without political principles. We can see this, because he is going up to Capricornia to endorse as a Labor candidate a person who is doing those things which he, the Leader of the Opposition, said he would find intolerable in the Labor Party. He said he would resign if those things were not taken out of the Labor Party platform. Yet he is going up there to endorse them in Capricornia. I am reminded of something which the Leader of the Opposition said on television in Melbourne in March 1965 - some two years ago: 1 am considerably to the left of Mr Calwell. I am much more in accord ideologically with Dr Cairns than with Mr Calwell.
This is what he said at a time when he thought that his succession to Mr Calwell might be in jeopardy. In other words, here is a man who is quite pliable, who in order to advance his own political fortunes will go to the left or the right as the case may be. The Werriwa weathercock, because that is what he is, is a most dangerous man to have in politics, because he is the kind of man who fits in with the Communist strategy - a Communist strategy which is not just an Australian strategy but which is a world wide strategy at this present moment. For this reason I would say that what we are seeing in Capricornia is much more significant than the House has yet realised. Here we have these things: We have a Communist Party which is endeavouring as part of its world wide strategy to increase its infection in the Labour Party - a Labor Party riddled with Communism - and to increase-
– Mr Speaker, 1 ask for the withdrawal of the statement that the honourable member for Mackellar has just made. It was the statement that you threw him out of the House for the other night.
-Order! What is the honourable member’s point of order?
– My point of order is that the honourable member said that the Labor Party is riddled with Communism. You took action-
-Order! The honourable member cannot debate the subject matter of his point of order. What transpired on Thursday night is not now the question before the Chair. I assume that the honourable member has taken a point of order and has asked for the withdrawal of words.
-I inform the House that honourable members cannot require the withdrawal of remarks about a parliamentary political party. There must be a distinct reflection on an individual member or individual members. There is no point of order involved. I call the honourable member for Mackellar.
– Mr Speaker, I seek your guidance here. Where is this going to end? I would be just as justified in saying that the Liberal Party is riddled with homosexuals and rapists-
-Order! Is the honourable member for Oxley raising a point of order or is he endeavouring to debate the question? If he wishes to raise a point of order I ask him to do so.
– I ask your guidance. How are we going to achieve a responsible and reasonable standard of moral conduct-
-Order! The honourable member is debating the question matter and he will resume his seat.
– Mr Speaker, may I raise a point of order or speak to the point of order before the Chair?
– The honourable member may raise a point of order; there is no point of order before the Chair.
– My point of order is this: The statement that the Labor Party is riddled with Communism has relevance to every member of the Labor Party individually aid collectively. It applies to each and every member. I can claim that the statement applies to me. The honourable member for Oxley can claim that it applies to him. Therefore it is a personal reflection upon and against each member of the Labor Party and as such I ask that the statement by the honourable member for Mackellar be withdrawn.
– 1 had already given a ruling on this matter prior to the honourable member coming into the chamber. I reiterate that as a general rule expressions which are unparliamentary when applied to individual members are not always so considered when applied to a whole party. This has been the ruling in this House from time to time and in my opinion there is no reason to vary the past practices of the House. I call the honourable member for Mackellar.
– Mr Speaker, I was saying-
– The place is becoming a pig sty.
-Order! The honourable member for Wilmot is reflecting on the Chair. He will withdraw that remark.
– I will withdraw it.
– And apologise.
– And apologise.
– Thank you. L call the honourable member for Mackellar.
– The statement that the Labor Party is riddled with Communism has a very proper relevance-
– Mr Speaker, I move:
-Order! The honourable member for Mackellar will resume his seat. The honourable member for Oxley has moved that the honourable member for Mackellar be not further heard. That motion is out of order and I call the honourable member for Mackellar.
– Mr Speaker, 1 raise a point of order. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith used a most offensive expression in relation to the honourable member for Mackellar and I ask for its immediate withdrawal.
-I did not hear the remark. I understand that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith has used an unparliamentary expression in relation to the honourable member for Mackellar. If that is so, I ask the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith to withdraw the expression and to apologise.
– What offensive remark could be applied to the honourable member for Mackellar?
-Order! The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith will come to order. I have said that I did not hear the expression. If he made an offensive remark-
– What was it?
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. He will know whether he made an unparliamentary remark or not. If he did so. I would ask him to withdraw it.
– No, I did not make it.
– You are a liar.
-Order! The honourable member for Evans will withdraw that remark.
– I will withdraw my remark, but I heard the offensive remark.
-Order! The honourable member will merely withdraw his remark.
– It was the honourable member for Oxley who made the other remark.
-Order! The honourable member for Mitchell will resume his seat. He has not been called. I call the honourable member for Denison.
– I clearly heard the remark made by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. I ask that he withdraw it.
-Order! That question is finished with at this stage. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith has denied making the remark. Not having heard it myself, I must rely on his integrity.
– Mr Speaker, it would not be possible to allow this incident to pass without drawing attention to the lack of moral fibre that exists on the other side of the House.
-Order! The time of the honourable member for Mackellar has expired. The question is: ‘That the House do now adjourn*.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) agreed to:
That the honourable member for Mackellar be granted an extension of time.
– I shall not detain the House for long-
– That is the fellow who gagged me in the repatriation debate.
-Order! The honourable member for Wills will resume his seat.
– The phrase that I have used - that the Labor Party is riddled with Communism - has a very proper relevance and should concern every honourable member opposite. If honourable members opposite are not protesting as they should be protesting against the evident co-operation of certain members of the Labour Party with the Communist Party, then they are not fit to sit in this House because they are sitting here under false pretences.
Motion (by Mr Curtin) negatived:
That the honourable member for Mackellar be not further heard.
– This matter should concern every honourable member opposite. Either he is sitting dumb in his place-
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I submit to you that if you permit the sort of statement that the honourable member for Mackellar has now repeated twice you are permitting a statement that is offensive to each and every member of the Labor Party.
– How would the honourable member know that? How can he judge whether a statement is offensive to the Labor Party?
-Order! The honourable member will state his point of order.
– If you will consider this matter for a moment, Mr Speaker, you will recognise that such a statement made about a party as a whole is offensive to every member of it. Therefore each member has a right to ask for its withdrawal. I think that the ruling you gave last week was the correct ruling. I therefore ask you to reconsider the present ruling because I am sure the logic of it is plain for all to see.
-Order! I have already ruled on this point of order on two occasions. I see no reason to vary the rulings 1 have made previously. The verbiage being used by the honourable member for Mackellar may be undesirable but this does not make it unparliamentary.
– Mr Speaker, on the same point of order, would you kindly do as one of your predecessors did and prepare a list of unparliamentary-
-Order! The honourable member for Lang is canvassing the decision of the Chair. I call the honourable member for Mackellar.
– This matter should concern every honourable member opposite. Either every honourable member opposite will rise in their places and disown, as a co-operator with Communists, the Australian Labor Party candidate in the Capricornia by-election - because that is what their candidate is - or else they will sit here dumb and dishonoured because he has violated the professed platform of the Party. I call on honourable members opposite to say where they stand in this matter. Do they support the candidature of a co-operator with Communists or not?
Mr Speaker, a long time ago, when I was growing out of boyhood, I was told that all things come in threes. It seems that this is what is happening tonight. We have had three members of the Liberal Party speaking from the same prepared brief to assassinate the character of the Australian Labor Party candidate in the Capricornia by-election.
– Is it true?
– The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) tried the same tactics. There are people who know our candidate a little better than I do. I refer to the Anglican bishops. One of them lives next door to his brother-in-law. I refer to the statement of the Anglican bishop who said that Dr Everingham had higher moral standards than a lot of professed Christians. If honourable members opposite want to examine members of the Australian Labor Party I suggest that they also look at some of the members of the Liberal Party and see whether some of the statements that can be made about them should be used collectively to cover all members of the Liberal Party, not just one or two members. I can readily understand the surprise of members of the Liberal Party when they hold up the booklet containing the platform and policies of the Australian Labor Party. They were surprised that immediately after the Labor Party Conference in Adelaide this booklet was readily available to members of the Liberal Party and any other Australian who wanted to obtain a copy. It can be obtained free of charge. It does not have to be flogged around the country.
We are wondering how long it will be before members of the Labor Party will be able to obtain a copy of the report of the Liberal Party conference held in Canberra a fortnight ago. We are% waiting for a copy of this report. We did not even see a Press report of what happened at that Conference. There were no interviews. We were not able to read such a report, although the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) was able to read, uncensored, what the Leader of the Australian Labor Party had said at the Victorian ALP Conference. The honourable member was able to do that quite readily. We have not been able to say what happened at the Liberal Party Conference. The Labor Party has nothing to hide in this regard. I heard the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes) give his interpretation of the statements made and letters written by Dr Everingham. I would hate this same gentleman, with all of his legal learning, to give me his interpretation of some passages from the Bible. 1 am quite sure that that would be very interesting indeed. I am sure that he would be able to read Liberal Party policy in every passage of it or, if it suited his purpose, to read the Communist Party policy and platform in the same passages. I believe that the Australian Labor Party candidate in Capricornia, Dr Everingham, has proved himself to the people over the 11 years that he has been in practise as a physician in Rockhampton. He has proved that he might have firm ideas on certain subjects. The people of Capricornia, and the people of Rockhampton particularly, who know him personally are quite able to judge him on these standards. I am quite certain that they will give their answer on Saturday and I am also certain that we will have another doctor in the House, which reminds me that to be certified one has to have two doctors. If the Liberal doctor will come back I think we can make adequate arrangements for certain members of this House.
– The honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) said that if a statement were attributed to a member of the Liberal Party it could be attributed to all members of the Liberal Party. I ask him to reflect upon this because the converse could well apply. This, Sir, is not the real reason why I rose to speak tonight. A number of issues have been brought up by the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes), the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). The critical issue that is involved is the question of where the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) stands today in relation to where he stood when he destroyed the previous Leader of the Opposition on the subject of unity tickets. Since be has become Leader of the Opposition he has remained fantastically silent on this issue. He has not raised it. In fact, tonight we have the spectacle of . the Australian Labor Party leaderless on what is a critical issue in its life.
The honourable member for La Trobe has cited tonight the very firm principles upon which the Leader of the Opposition, when he was Deputy Leader, said he would like to see the Labor Party become the Government and on which he said he was destined to become Prime Minister. Where is he tonight? What has he said on these issues? What has he said on the most monstrous unity ticket that has come out in recent years in Australia, on the question of the petition to Hong Kong and members of the Australian Labor Party executive signing on the same line as Communists, as was brought forward by the honourable member for Mackellar last week in this House? There is not one word from him. Where does he stand upon this? Where does he stand on the questions that have been brought up in relation to Dr Everingham, the ALP candidate in Capricornia? These are not smears against this man. There is one thing that comes from the left wing of the Labor Party, which seems rather strange. It is a refusal to have analysed the question of attitudes of their members, although they say they are liberals with a little T and that they believe in freedoms. These questions are material in relation to a candidate for public office. If I may say so, there is one thing that is lacking to a large extent in Australian public life. It is that the attitudes and beliefs of individuals standing for public office are not questioned as fully as they are in other countries. When they are questioned, from where do the cries come? They come from the left wing of the Labor Party, the so-called upholders in other contexts of civil liberties.
These, Sir, are questions that need to be answered: Where is the Leader of the Opposition and where does he stand? Where is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard), and where does he stand on these issues? Where does the Labor Party stand? Does the Labor Party adopt and accept these statements on matters that have been raised in relation to its candidate for Capricornia? Does it adopt and accept the statements and attitudes expressed in the petition sent to the Governor of Hong Kong and signed by members of the Australian Labor Party executive not only in Victoria but also in New South Wales? These are critical issues that need to be examined by the people of Australia.
– Mr Speaker-
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley has already spoken in the debate.
– How many members on the Government side are going to be allowed to speak? There is nothing in the Standing Orders to say-
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. He has already spoken in the debate.
– The honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) rose to his feet a few moments ago and expostulated that certain statements were made on this side of the House - particularly a statement that the Labor Party is riddled with Communism - to which he took offence and which he thought were unreasonable. I would therefore take it that these statements could not be substantiated. When it is said that the ALP is riddled with Communism what does that mean? If one said that the wall opposite was riddled with bullets and on examination one found that 5% of the wall had bullet holes in it, then I think one could rightly say that it had been riddled with bullets. It is said that the Labor Party is ruled by an executive of forty-seven - I think it now is. When six of those, or 121%, sign their names on a document - and I take it they knew what they signed - that is clearly and expressly the statement of Communist policy with regard to Chinese tactics in Hong Kong, and endorse this document as leaders of their movement - as leaders of the ALP and the trade unions that play a definitive role in the political and industrial life of the ALP - if that figure of 12£% is not a figure that illustrates the ALP is riddled with Communism then I fail to understand the meaning of words.
The honourable member for Wide Bay then brought the Bishop of Rockhampton into the story. The Bishop of Rockhampton is a good man and a very worthwhile and generous bishop-
– He is a Christian.
– He is a Christian and he is a man of high moral character for whom I have the highest admiration. He is a man who is also used to being forced into a situation on many occasions where he must say the best he can about someone. I take it that on many occasions when he makes a funeral oration if he cannot say a man was a Christian then he says that he was a good fellow, that he behaved himself well and that he had a high moral character. But the statement that is alleged to have been made by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) was not the Treasurer’s statement at all, but one the Treasurer quoted, and that is a very different thing altogether. What the Treasurer was drawing attention to was that in this nation one of the things we value is the power of discernment between right and wrong. That is what enables us to discern what is wrong with Communism. That is the kind of thing that gives moral values to the community, that makes it proof against the expediency of Communism. The Christian religious background of this country is one of these things which in many other countries under fire - and I have recently been to Poland and seen this myself - steels the nation against the inroads of Communism and enables people to remain free at heart even when their bodies are subject. Yet here is a man - Dr Everingham - standing for public office who has written an article in a Communist journal that advises and advocates the way in which Communism could make inroads in Australia. How did he advocate that the Communists come to that kind of temporisation with religion, that back-pedalling of their open, avowed, fundamental and absolutely essential orthodox attack on religion as avowed atheistic materialists? He said to the Communists: Back pedal on religion for a while and you will make more headway in the ALP and elsewhere in Australia. It is of no use raising this one at this stage or until you have got people further along the line.’ In other words: ‘Go quiet on religion for the time being!’ To illustrate that he was not speaking in a biased capacity because of his own religious convictions, he added: ‘I speak not as a Christian at all, but as a self-confessed atheist’. That was the context in which Mr McMahon quite rightly and deliberately quoted Dr Everingham.
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honourable member in order in referring to ‘Mr McMahon’ ?
– Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Evans should refer to the right honourable member for Lowe by his portfolio.
– I am referring to the right honourable the Treasurer. The only thing I would add is that it seems to me that this evening a very accurate statement has been made, just ason a previous occasion the honourable member for McKellar (Mr Wentworth), myself and others drew attention to a statement that was clearly evident. It was requested that the evidence be placed on the table - the request was rejected by honourable members opposite - showing that there was a riddling of the ALP with Communism. Honourable members opposite, instead of being prepared to stand up and take some action about it, tonight have attempted to turn this chamber into a bear garden. They have attempted to throw the whole place into confusion, simply to throw a smoke screen about a documented, deliberate and very carefully phrased statement that certainly requires the attention of the House and of every honourable member opposite. I believe it requires the attention of the nation, because if the ALP is to stand on the platform that it has printed and which is so freely available, as the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) said, it should declare whether it is an honest document. Is the ALP against unity tickets? Is the ALP going to throw out of its membership people who openly and avowedly espouse the cause of Communism and who are deliberately doing the things that Communists want done? Is the ALP going to do that or not? That is the question.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.23 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
The Crown Lands Ordinance recently passed by the Northern Territory Legislative Council retains provision for resumption for cultivation purposes with the exception that there should be no resumption for these purposes if:
Trans-Australia Airlines Routes (Question No. 379)
asked the Minister for Civil
Aviation, upon notice:
On what dates and for what routes has TransAustralia Airlines sought and been granted or refused a licence since his answer to me on 31st March 1966 (Hansard, page 888)?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Details of licence applications made by TransAustralia Airlines and decisions announced thereon since 31st March 1966, are as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Housing, upon notice:
How many applications from serving members of the Forces were (a) lodged in 1966-67 and (b) outstanding at 30th June 1967 in each State?
– The Minister for Housing has supplied the following answers to the honourable member’s questions:
Applications lodged with State housing authorities for houses built with advances received under the 1956-1966 Housing Agreement and with other moneys were:
Some of these applications could he for dwellings provided by other than State housing authorities.
Agreement in 1966-67, and the amounts expected to be advanced in 1967-68, are:
Purchases under the Home Builders’ Account were mostly of new dwellings.
South Australia provides concessional rentals in necessitous cases, but not according to any given formula.
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
Where can agricultural land in the Northern Territory be purchased by Australian farmers wishing to own farms of less than 1,500 acres?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
There are 257 current agricultural leases of less than 1,500 acres. Whether these are available for purchase could only be determined by approaching the lessees concerned. There is also some agricultural land held under freehold in the area between Darwin and Adelaide River. I do not know whether this land is available for purchase.
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Ter ritories, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Northern Territory: Agricultural Development (Question No. 504)
asked the Minister for
Territories, upon notice:
Is he able to say what are the names of the persons, and give their respective qualifications and experience in tropical agriculture and conservation techniques in high rainfall areas, who have -
recommended the spending of millions of dollars by United States financiers in large scale agricultural development at Tipperary in the Northern Territory,
influenced the Federal Government to make available huge areas of land for agricultural purposes to the management of Tipperary, and
discussed with the technical departments of the Commonwealth Public Service or the Minister, the agriculture, conservation and economic aspects of large scale agricultural development at Tipperary?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
With respect to the proposed land legislation for the Northern Territory, can he say what action is being taken -
to introduce essential conservation practices to prevent gross exploitation of arable lands if the proposed legislation legalising cultivation of pastoral lands is enacted, and
to make those land owners, who cause erosion by following technically unsound conservation practices, financially liable for rehabilitating the damaged land resources?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
At my invitation a State soil conservation service has carried out a very detailed survey throughout the Territory to advise on soil conservation legislation, the organisation required to administer soil conservation and an appropriate conservation programme. On the basis of the reports already received, new legislation is being prepared. The legislation will include provisions for the liability of land holders: The longer term programme for soil conservation in the Territory will be based on the final report which has not yet been received.
asked the Minister for Terri tories, upon notice:
If the management of the Tipperary Land Development Scheme sponsored by Sir William Gunn and operating under the proposed land legislation is unsuccessful with arable operations through inexperience or other conditions, may it then revert to extensive cattle operations and legally prevent, until early next century, other attempts at agricultural development on the only known large area of potentially arable land in the Northern Territory with a reliable rainfall in excess of 45 inches?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Northern Territory: Land Legislation (Question No. 507)
asked the Minister for
Territories, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
What are the legal provisions applicable to holders of pastoral leases in the Northern Territory producing cash crops for export, in particular grain sorghum, which is classified as a prohibited export subject to special sales licencing?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Under legislation recently passed by the Northern Territory Legislative Council, which has received assent, provision is made for holders of pastoral leases to have the right to use the whole or any part of the leased land for agricultural development. This includes production of cash crops including grain sorghum.
Northern Territory legislative provisions relating to leasing do not confer powers to licence or prohibit exports. These are matters for Commonwealth legislation.
Civil Aviation (Question No. 558)
asked the Minister for Civil
Aviation, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1. (a) All aircraft engaged in IFR operations are required to be fitted with red anticollision lights. Such lights shall be visible in all directions and both 30° above and 30° below the horizontal.
Depending upon the geometry of the aircraft this requirement can be met in some cases by one light and in other cases, two lights will be necessary.
Flight plans must be submitted and aircraft must report their arrival at any aerodrome when engaged in charter operations.
asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
How many times in the past twelve months have pilots flying commercial aircraft put in 225 reports complaining that the aircraft’s destination forecast did not call for an alternative landing field, whereas on arrival the weather was such as to require an alternative?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
An examination of incident records reveals that thirteen such reports were submitted in the period 1st September 1966, to 31st August 1967. Bearing in mind the vast number of forecasts issued in this period, it is considered that this reflects a satisfactory situation with regard to the level of accuracy in such forecasting.
Civil Aviation (Question No. 563)
asked the Minister for Civil
Aviation, upon notice-
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows -
Over the period 6th September 1966 to 5th September 1967 air services were terminated to country centres as indicated in the table below. The other information listed in the question is also shown in this table.
Towards the end of the period under discussion Ansett-ANA notified an intention to withdraw airline services from the Queensland ports of Kingaroy, Gympie, Theodore and Alpha and also from the route from Brisbane to Mungindi and Moree, New South Wales. A partial withdrawal from Gayndah, Queensland was also notified by this operator.
With the exception of Mungindi and Moree the Department has already authorised the operation of commuter services to these ports. An application for the operation of commuter services to Moree and Mungindi would be favourably considered subject to compliance with departmental operational requirements.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1 and 2. I am unable to state precisely how many British flag ships entered the port of Haiphong this year as many British flag ships using that port are under the control of or under charter to Mainland China and/or North Vietnam, The movements of these ships are unknown to the British authorities. For the same reason it is not possible to give information on the nature and quantity of cargo delivered into the port. As Britain exercises strategic control over exports to Communist countries, no strategic cargoes could have been exported to North Vietnam from Britain.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Preliminary figures have been released and these are set out below:
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
Will he consider the prohibition of cigarette advertising on radio and television as recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The National Health and Medical Research Council at its 63rd Session, November 1966, following upon a proposal from the I c>66 Conference of Commonwealth and State Health Ministers recommended the establishment of an ad hoc Smoking Survey Sub-Committee with the following terms of reference:
To consider and submit proposals to the Medical Statistics Committee for a survey of smoking habits and attitudes in Australia.’
The matter was again discussed at the Conference of Commonwealth and State Health Ministers held in Perth in April 1967. At that meeting the Conference agreed that no further action to restrict cigarette advertising be taken, at least until the results of the survey into smoking habits and attitudes in Australia currently being carried out by the Smoking Survey Sub-Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council are known.
I am informed that it is anticipated that all data for the survey will have been collected by the end of 1968. At this stage, however, it is not known with any reasonable accuracy when the report of the survey will be available.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
What changes in (a) the beneficial ownership of the shares in television companies and (b) the memoranda or articles of association of television companies has the Postmaster-General (i) been asked to approve and (ii) approved since his reply to me on 28th September 1966 (Hansard, page 1405).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The attached statement contains details of the applications made since 1st September 1966, for approval of changes in the beneficial ownership of shares in companies holding licences for commercial television stations and in the memorandum and articles of association of licensee companies.
Migrant Hostels (Question No. 570)
asked the Minister for
Labour and National Service, upon notice:
At what centres and on what dates have migrant hostels been (a) closed down, (b) reconstructed or replaced, (c) constructed or (d) placed on order since his predecessor’s answer tome on 12th November 1957 (Hansard, page 2086)?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The programme of providing modern blocks of family accommodation on existing hostel sites will continue during the current financial year as follows:
New South Wales- Villawood, East Hills.
Victoria - Altona, Maribyrnong.
Queensland - Wacol.
Western Australia - Graylands.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 September 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1967/19670927_reps_26_hor56/>.