27th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. Sir William Aston) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr KEITH JOHNSON presented from 427 residents of the State of Victoria a petition showing that because of the uncontrolled shooting for commercial purposes the population of kangaroos, particularly the big red species, is now so low that they may become extinct. It is an indisputable fact that no species can withstand hunting on such a scale when there is no provision being made for its future.
The petitioners pray that the export of kangaroo products bc banned immediately and that the Commonwealth Government take steps to bring control of wild life under its jurisdiction. Only a complete cessation of killing for commercial purposes can save surviving kangaroos.
Mr CHIPP presented from certain residents of the State of Victoria a petition showing that because of the uncontrolled shooting for commercial purposes the population of kangaroos, particularly the big red species, is now so low that they may become extinct, lt is an indisputable fact that no species can withstand hunting on such a scale when there is no provision being made for its future.
The petitioners pray that the export of kangaroo products be banned immediately and that the Commonwealth Government take steps to bring control of wild life under its jurisdiction. Only a complete cessation of killing for commercial purposes can save surviving kangaroos.
Mr MARTIN presented from certain citizens of the Commonwealth a petition showing that the Commonwealth Parliament has acted to remove some inadequacies in the Australian education system; a major inadequacy at present in Australian education is the lack of equal education opportunity for all; more than 500.000 children suffer from serious lack of equal opportunity; Australia cannot afford to waste the talents of one sixth of its school children; only the Commonwealth has the financial resources for special programmes to remove inadequacies; and nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States have shown that the chief impetus for change and the finance for improvement come from the national Government.
The petitioners pray that the House of Representatives make legal provision for a joint Commonwealth-State inquiry into inequalities in Australian education to obtain evidence on which to base long term national programmes for the elimination of inequalities; the immediate financing of special programmes for low income earners, migrants, Aborigines, rural and inner suburban dwellers and handicapped children; and the provision of pre-school opportunities for all children from culturally different or socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Petition received and read.
Mr LES JOHNSON presented from certain citizens of the State of New South Wales a petition showing that due to higher living cost, persons on social service pensions are finding it extremely difficult to live in even the most frugal way. They therefore call upon the Commonwealth Government to increase the base pension rate to 30% of average weekly male earnings plus supplementary assistance in accordance with ACTU policy and by so doing give a reasonably moderate pension. The average weekly earnings for adult male unit wage and salary earner means the figures issued from time to time by the Commonwealth Statistician and published quarterly.
The petitioners pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will take immediate steps to bring about the wishes expressed in their petition so that our citizens receiving the social service pensions may live their lives in dignity.
Petition received and read.
– I give notice that on General Business Thursday No. 10 1 will move:
That this House takes note of the petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the Australian Government take positive action as soon as possible to re-establish confidence in the Commonwealth arbitration system and to ensure that consideration of salaries and conditions for professional engineers be dealt with in an expeditious manner, which was presented to the House and ordered to be printed on 13th May 1970.
– I wish to inform the House that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr McMahon) is leaving Australia today to lead the Australian delegation at a conference of Asian and Pacific countries on the Cambodian situation - a conference which is being held in Djakarta on 16th and 17th May. Mr McMahon is expected to return to Australia on 18th May, and during his absence the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is acting as Minister for External Affairs.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Immigration. As the Minister assisting the Treasurer he is no doubt aware that one of the principal effects of the Government’s anti-inflationary measures will be to reduce the number of approvals for home construction. I ask: In view of the expected decrease in housing approvals, has the Minister modified his stated target of 175,000 immigrants for the year 1970? If he has not reduced this target, will the effect of a migrant inflow of this order tend to increase the demand for housing, thus having itself an inflationary effect? Has the Minister issued instructions to his departmental officers to warn prospective migrants that the Government has a conscious policy of reducing the housing available to them?
– I do not particularly recall all the facets of the question posed to me by the honourable gentleman but, as I recall it, in the first instance he queried whether against the recent monetary restraint policy initiated by the Commonwealth Government we would consider a reduction in the total migrant intake. Of course, there would be no possibility of such consideration now or in the foreseeable future. If the honourable gentleman had taken the pains to see some of the statements that have been made recently by employer groups he would have recognised the critical need at this stage of Australia’s history for a larger and increasingly larger migrant intake. Rather than reduce the present objective of 175,000 I can confidently predict that this year we will bring to Australia 184,000 new settlers and that this will be a record year in Australian migration history.
So far as the general implication in the honourable gentleman’s question relative to the economic effects of migration is concerned, I would have thought that there would be no doubt on either side of this House in respect of the long term effect of migration that migration has had and continues to have a quite massive effect upon the Australian economy. This economy would not have enjoyed the buoyancy which it has seen in recent years without the effect of that contribution. We realise the importance of housing to migrants but the honourable gentleman will well appreciate the overall exigencies which must guide Government policy.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral consider asking ‘Four Corners’ to use 4 symbols to indicate which parts of each programme are: (1) factual reporting; (2) biased reporting: (3) faked reporting; and (4) straight out lies?
– I think the funny aspect of this matter is that great doubt exists in my mind whether we would find somebody capable of seeing through the eyes of everybody or listening through the ears of everybody with respect to such programmes.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. Two days ago, the right honourable gentleman told my Deputy that he had not yet had time to study the speech which the honourable member for Farrer made, while he was overseas, after the papers between the Commonwealth and the States on the territorial seas and continental shelf legislation had been tabled and were under discussion. The right honourable gentleman also said that, after he had studied the speech, he would ‘seek to in some detail show why’ he held the opinion that there had been no breach of faith or commitment to the States. I ask: Has he now studied the speech by the honourable member for Farrer? If so, when will he be seeking the opportunity to prove his opinion?
– Yes. Mr Speaker, I have, necessarily intermittently, studied the speech, because of other matters pressing in. But certainly I have been working on expressing the views that we have - interpretations we have - of the papers that are on the table and I would hope to be able to make those views public in the House tomorrow.
– -Has the Minister for Shipping and Transport received from the Government of Western Australia a request for special loan funds to re-equip the State Shipping Service of Western Australia with lighter attached to ship vessels - so called LASH boats - involving an estimated saving of $3.5m per annum? If so, what is the present position? Will the Minister ensure an early answer to the request?
– The honourable gentleman and other honourable members from Western Australia have been seeing me in the last few weeks regarding an approach made from the Government of Western Australia to the Commonwealth Government in relation to the operations of the Western Australian Coastal Shipping Commission. As the honourable member will know, the Coastal Shipping Commission over the last few years has been operating at a very considerable loss. While the State was operating within the protection of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, the loss has been largely borne by the Commonwealth. To the extent to which the Commission is phasing out, this Joan is still underwritten by the Commonwealth. Nonetheless, the State is concerned at the very high order of losses that have been incurred and is conscious of the needs to provide an adequate service for the people who live in the isolated communities of north west Western Australia. The Commonwealth Government has received an approach from the Government of Western Australia regarding the re-equipment of the Western Australian Coastal Shipping Commission with new types of vessels and in particular those called the LASH ships or lighter aboard ships. The difficulties in operating these ships are such that there is, as I understand it at the moment, only one trade in the world currently served by a similar vessel and the nature of the operation consequently in terms of its efficiency and economy cannot be firmly established.
The Commonwealth Government is still considering the approach made by the Western Australian Government but I have indicated to that Government that if it seeks to look overseas for charter vessels of some type which might be readily available - possibly Scandia ships - it might be possible for it to introduce a more modern type of vessel to provide a service which would be more economic than that which is at present provided by conventional ships. This would enable a more accurate assessment of the lighter aboard ship system than would the immediate purchase of these ships, thus introducing them without a full opportunity completely to assess their economics. The decision, of course, remains basically one for the Western Australian Government, but in terms of the approach to the Commonwealth the matter is still under active consideration as to what response should be given by the Commonwealth. When I am in a position to further advise the honourable member I will do so.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army. Is it correct that Western Australian servicemen returning from Vietnam for demobilisation are landed in Australia at Sydney, New South Wales, and then are given only a rail fare from Sydney to Perth and other centres? If so, will the Minister negotiate with the Treasury to have this position corrected to provide an air fare in view of the distance and time involved in travelling to Western Australia.
– The position as stated by the honourable member is largely correct and is in accord with the previous practice of transporting servicemen on return at Government expense by rail to Western Australia. The time taken, of course, is not considered as time spent on leave and the period of time engendered by the travel is added to the time allowed for leave. The honourable member asked me specifically whether I will discuss this matter with the Treasurer. I cannot answer for the Treasurer’s opinion but I would be pleased to discuss the matter with him.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Repatriation. When Budget consideration is being given to repatriation benefits, will he give special attention to the urgent need for the funeral grant to be increased from $50, as it is at present, to at least $150?
– The honourable member can rest assured that this matter will be receiving a top priority from myself and my Department when we are considering submissions for the Budget.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the statement by the United States Secretary of Defence, Mr Laird, that America’s combat role in Vietnam will be ended in June next year? Does this mean that all Australian troops will be out of Vietnam by the same date?
– I have not seen the statement referred to. Perhaps it is a newspaper report. I do not know from which source the honourable member got that information.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. It relates to aid to Asian countries. I refer to a reported statement made by the right honourable gentleman in Japan indicating a partnership between that country and Australia in the giving of aid to countries in the Asian region. Is it also true that substantial changes have already been made in our aid policy with a bias towards our trade advantages rather than our foreign policy objectives? Does the right honourable gentleman think that a statement ought soon to be made to clarify the Government’s policy on these matters?
– In reply to the last part of the question I would not think it was necessary to make a statement to clarify the Government’s policy because I would have thought that it was well known, but if the honourable member believes he would like to have a statement made I would be glad to take it up with the Minister for External Affairs. I think that the use of Australian aid - the way in which Australian aid is given - is perhaps as beneficial to the countries receiving it as is the giving of aid from any other country and perhaps more beneficial. It is not oriented towards our trade and indeed it is not aid which is sought by us to be repaid which is the case in so many other countries. I thought these matters were indeed well known and that our interest in them had been shown just recently by the announcement by the Minister for External Affairs of the increase in the aid which was being provided to Indonesia. In reply to the first part of the honourable member’s question, one of the matters which I took up in conversation with the Prime Minister of Japan was that I thought it might well be worth examining whether there did turn up in some of the countries in our region in which we are both well developed countries some programme in which there could be cooperation between the 2 countries. I do not know whether this will in fact eventuate but I do think it is worth examining because both Japan and ourselves are, if 1 may put it this way, the most developed countries in this particular region. We both have a significant interest in the region and for the purpose of building up the region itself, which is of importance to both of us, both from the point of view of its economic stability and its political stability, this could be of advantage. Also forms of cooperation between our country and Japan could in certain circumstances be of advantage. This is something merely put forward for examination but as to the general matter of foreign aid, I think what we are doing is fairly well known.
– I ask the Treasurer a question related to his recent public statements that the annual rate of inflation of 4%, as indicated by the March figures, is intolerable. To enable the aims and effectiveness of the Government’s economic policies to be measured will the Treasurer indicate what rate of inflation he would consider tolerable? Does he believe that a reduction to that level will be achieved by present economic policies, including the increase in bank and now hire purchase interest rates? If this is his belief, when does he expect that level to be reached? As the Treasurer’s recent statements invariably link the inflationary trend with present high levels of employment, is it an aim or at least an expected consequence of present policies that levels of employment should be reduced? If so, what level of unemployment would he consider tolerable?
– First of all 1 would point out that the statement to which the honourable member referred was in relation to the rate of increase in retail prices, which for the March quarter was running at the annual rate of about 4%. I would not regard a movement in prices per se as necessarily a proper measure of inflation but I did point out that this was the largest increase in any March quarter since 1953 and was a reflection of events which had happened somewhat earlier. Even at this stage there is undoubtedly a train of causation which may well bring about even higher prices notwithstanding anything else that may happen. As to the general effect of the economic measures about which the honourable member also asked me, I would say first of all that the seasonal pattern in Australia is that of tight liquidity in the last quarter of the year - April, May and June - the period we are about half way through at the moment. It so happens that for the past 2 years this normal seasonal movement has been overlaid by a large inflow of money from overseas. This year this inflow is running at a much lower level and is not affecting the situation in the same way. Therefore it is to be expected that there will be a very illiquid situation in the last quarter of the financial year. After that period there is normally a bit of a flat period, in July and August, and then the process tends to reverse itself.
Most prudent financial controllers of institutions engaged in various kinds of activity which depend upon borrowed funds do allow in their calculations for the fact that normally this is a very tight money season. As for the duration of it, the normal process is that it eases after the turn.
Referring now to economic measures, these are to be distinguished in 2 parts. One measure taken recently was the increase in interest rates by the banking system. Also, of course, there has been an increase in interest rates arising from the excessive demand for money. The various demands for money from different sectors have built up a pressure which reinforces one sector after another. We have reached a point where Australia docs not turn out sufficient goods and services to match the increasing money supply. It is essential to bring supply and demand factors more into balance. While this position lasts we have a potential inflationary situation continually building up.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether he is aware that a great many people mistakenly believe that if the National Health Bill becomes law they will never have to pay, in any circumstances, more than $5 for even the most complicated operation. Will he make it perfectly clear that this could apply only where the doctor concerned charged for the particular operation or service the common fee which is set out in the Schedule to the Bill? Will he make it perfectly clear that unless the legislation was based on the principle of a common fee the taxpayer would be called upon to make up the difference between $5 and whatever amount, however unreasonable, the doctor saw fit to charge? Finally, will he make it clear that the fixing of a common fee will not prevent anyone from consulting any doctor he chooses providing he is willing to pay in addition to $5 the difference between the common fee and that charged by the doctor?
– It has been made perfectly clear by the Government, commencing with the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister for the last election, that its new health benefits plan and the benefits proposed under it are related to the common fee principle - that is, the fees most commonly charged by doctors. Not only did the Prime Minister make that point; I made it, clearly, in my statement to the House on 4th March and in my second reading speech on the National Health Bill. The statement was specifically made that medical benefits would be established at a level which provided for a high level of contributor return and contributor satisfaction where the doctor charged the most common fee. I think it is perfectly clear that right from the beginning the Government has made this known, however it might have been interpreted elsewhere.
In answer to the second part of the honourable member’s question, it is a fact that payment of benefits by the Government or the benefit organisations to provide for coverage against any amount that might be charged by individual doctors would be financially ruinous. This would be a quite impossible basis for a responsible government to adopt for a benefits system. 1 think it is also worthy of note that in my statement to the House on 4th March on this matter I made it perfectly clear that the success of our health benefits plan will very much depend on the cooperation of the medical profession in adhering to the list of most common fees. I have also said that I see no reason why this should not be done, because the most common fees on which the health benefits plan is based are, after all, the fees which doctors are most commonly charging at the present time. There is no reason why they should not continue to do so. In relation to the last part of the honourable gentleman’s question, I point out that patients will indeed continue to have complete freedom in choosing their own doctor. This has always been and always will be a keystone in the Government’s policy and its approach to health.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Primary Industry. Is it a fact that fishing vessels of 2 foreign nations have been openly operating within the Tasmanian coastal waters during recent weeks? Is the Commonwealth in a position to do more than talk about these problems? Is it able to allocate one or more patrol vessels to keep Tasmanian coastal waters clear of marauding foreign fishing vessels?
– During my absence reports apparently were given of foreign vessels operating both off Cape Patton in Victoria and off the Tasmanian coast. The identity of these vessels is not known and they have not been located. This is partly due to the fact that reports of these vessels have been very slow in getting to official sources so that action can be taken to see whether they can be located and identified. In the case of the vessels off Cape Patton, fishermen apparently saw an unidentified fishing vessel there on 30th April, I think it was. It was not reported to the Victorian fishing authorities until 4th May. By that time there was no information about where the vessel was located or where to look for it. I believe that there was also some delay in reporting the vessel off the Tasmanian coast. I would welcome it very much if fishermen would notify the authorities as quickly as possible whenever they sight unidentified vessels so that measures can be taken either with aircraft or patrol vessels to find out just who they are and what they are doing. But I would like to point out to the honourable member that in relation to certain waters around Australia we do have a fishing agreement with Japan that enable her long line tuna vessels to fish within the exclusive fishing zone. It may have been one of these Japanese long line tuna vessels operating in the area. T want to emphasise again that if fishermen do see these foreign vessels they should report the sighting to the authorities as quickly as possible so that action can be taken.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Services and Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs. Has he heard of the criticism in the Australian Medical Association gazette by Dr Clair Isbester to the effect that a campaign in the Northern Territory to improve the feeding of Aboriginal babies might increase their death rate? Can he say what is the situation regarding this advice in the Health Nursing Section of the Northern Territory Medical Service?
– My attention has been directed to this matter. Dr Clair Isbester is a doctor of considerable standing and her views have to be taken into consideration. I have had a look at the material which she was criticising. The position is that there has been concern expressed in certain quarters that Aboriginal women wean their babies too late. This was particularly so because, whether by reason of the nutritional factors affecting the mother or through other causes, the protein content of Aboriginal milk was inclined to decline rather more rapidly than that of European mothers. However there is a countervailing consideration that particularly where there is a fly borne infection the food can become contaminated and there is something to be said for postponing weaning in this regard. I have looked very carefully at the illustrated cards which were produced and circulated in this campaign and I am inclined to think myself - this is a layman’s opinion - that there may be something in what Dr Isbester has said. Therefore last night 1 took the step of asking my colleagues, the Minister for Health and the Minister for the Interior, to have a look at this matter to see what could or should be done in regard to it. I think there is a phrase which is normally used: Who should decide when doctors disagree? It has been used in this House in a different context. In this matter I am sure that a proper medical inquiry will establish the truth, and I am not able at this present moment to say what is right and what is wrong.
– I ask the Minister for Health a question supplementary to that asked him by the Government Whip. In particular, my question flows from his answer concerning common fees. Why has he not answered the questions I have had on the notice paper since 4th March and 7th April? These are questions No. 116 and 563 on this very subject of common fees in which I have asked how the Department has surveyed them and what it has found out as a result of these surveys. In particular I ask the Minister how he can justify his failure to answer these matters which are so germane to the Bill which is to be guillotined through the House today.
– I have not specifically counted the number of questions, many of them of a highly detailed nature involving many hundreds of hours of work on the part of senior departmental officers, that the Leader of the Opposition has placed on the notice paper in respect of my Department. My Department just does not have the resources in relation to the priorities it has to answer his questions in the time scale which he evidently expects. If he could indicate to me those of the hundreds of questions he asks to which he attaches priority, I am prepared on that basis to ask my officers to give priority to those, but I cannot countenance a situation in which all of the senior officers of my Department are to be taken off everything affecting the health of this country to answer questions many of which are placed on the notice paper clearly for political purposes.
– My question is also directed to the Minister for Health and is on the same subject of common fees. What action is his Department able to take to overcome the problem that the people of Tasmania and Western Australia will have as a result of the announced intention of the specialists in those States to increase their fees to bring them up to the extraordinary levels of specialists in Victoria and New South Wales? What action can his Department take to ensure that the common fee charged now by specialists will not be increased so that customers who can afford to pay more than $5 will not have to pay something extra?
– I do not think that I need to add to what I said in answer to the question asked by the honourable member for Henty. The common fees which are in the Schedule attached to the Bill and on which our health benefits plan is based are the fees most commonly charged by doctors for the particular procedures listed in the schedule, whether they are procedures undertaken by specialists or general practitioners. The Australian Medical Association has provided the Government with the information that these are the most common fees charged by doctors, and the Government has accepted that position. As I said earlier I see no reason why, in circumstances where these are the fees most commonly charged and have been defined as common fees, doctors should not continue to charge those fees until such time as there is a revision of fees. One expects that fees will be revised at intervals and that some method of up-dating them will be worked out by the Government and the Australian Medical Association.
-I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. Has the Minister’s attention been directed to a judgment of the Superior Court of California issued on 5th February last whereby 1,500 plaintiffs living near the Los Angeles International Airport recovered damages up to $6,000 each for damage caused by jet aircraft noise? Did the judgment relate to the fact that the aircraft flight movements were somewhat less than 60,000 a year? Is it true that in the environs of Sydney airport there are many thousands of house dwellers? Is it also true that the jet movements from that airport are well in excess of 60,000 a year? Will the Government have a survey taken on the effect on properties in the Sydney airport area of jet aircraft noise, particularly their diminution in value, bearing in mind the cost to the Government if these owners institute legal action on a similar basis to that in California? Can the Minister explain why the Director-General of Civil Aviation was able to recommend a second airport for Melbourne at Tullamarine in 1 959 and yet 1 1 years later no similar decision has been made in favour of the Sydney region?
– I will deal with the latter part of the question first. The situation in Melbourne is quite different from that in Sydney. The Essendon Airport in Melbourne had reached saturation point and it was necessary to find a new area for the major airport to service the city and the State. On those grounds a decision was made some years ago to establish the new airport at Tullamarine and that, as honourable members know, has been done. The situation in Sydney is quite different. It will be quite some years, probably not until the end of the 1980s, before the Sydney airport site of Mascot will reach saturation point. Even so, it will be in a position to continue to handle traffic after that date. An investigation on almost the same time scale has been undertaken, and is continuing, to find an additional site to service Sydney when Mascot reaches saturation point. As I say, it is understood that the operations at Mascot will continue for an indefinite time in the future but the airport will be supplemented by an additional site which has yet to be located. This investigation is proceeding by a special committee and it is expected it will be some time yet before a final recommendation is made.
In relation to the point on aircraft noise, I have not seen the report referred to but no doubt my colleague in another place has. I draw the attention to the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith to the fact that the Government was concerned with the problem of noise, particularly in Sydney but also in other areas in Australia, and as a result a select committee of this House was set up in the last Parliament. It has been re-established in this Parliament and the matters that have been referred to by the honourable member are ones which would come within the competence of that committee to consider and on which to make recommendations in its report at a later date.
– Can the Prime Minister give some guidance to the House on the amount of time and attention required of senior departmental officers in answering questions on notice? ls the Prime Minister aware that thus far in this session some 1.060 questions have appeared on notice, often in dozens at a time from the Leader of the Opposition and senior members of the Opposition? Would it be possible to frustrate the work of Government departments if all these questions were to be treated with serious priority? Finally, could this tactic of the Opposition deny other honourable members access to information they may require urgently? .
– Yes. Mr Speaker. This has engaged my attention and the attention of others who are concerned with the running of the Houses of Parliament. It is not an easy matter to decide, lt is not an easy matter on which one can come to a fina4 conclusion. On the one hand it is essential that in a House of Parliament all honourable members should be able to ask questions to examine a government, to seek to find out what is happening and, indeed, to get information. On the other hand, if this is carried too far - that is to say, if it is abused - then undoubtedly it could tie up large numbers of members of the top echelon of the Public Service who have other work to do. It is obvious it could be carried to that length. When you have a situation which we have had when 130 questions are placed on the notice paper by 1 member in a day, many of those questions requiring much research, either it will take a very long time for those questions to be answered or it will tie up people who have other significant work to do.
T go back to what I had to say at the beginning. It is a matter of common sense and self discipline among al) honourable members. There can be no attempt to stop people asking questions to elicit information. That should be understood. But it should also be understood that if thousands of questions are placed on a notice paper then it will take a very long time to answer them, and that is what would happen, or it will tie up large numbers of public servants who have other things to. do. The problem which the honourable member for Evans has raised is quite definitely there and this is not a statement made by me as Prime Minister or by me as spokesman for the Government because I think some members of the Opposition also understand this. The problem is there: the solution is one of common sense and self discipline.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, refers to the shipping services operating in the north of Australia, particularly in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Arnhem Land and the Northern Territory. ] presume the Minister has received a letter from John Burke Ltd, of which I have a copy. I ask the Minister: Why was a foreign shipping company using a foreign vessel given this service? Why was John Burke Limited not asked if it could service this area, an area in which it has been operating for many years, in view of the fact that the company at that moment was negotiating to buy more Australian built ships? If this permission cannot be revoked will the Minister assure the House that the foreign ship and company will utilise Australian seamen and Australian workers for the manning and working of the vessel?
– I think it needs to be recognised that while John Burke Ltd in the past had an Australian identity, today it is a fully owned subsidiary of an overseas company. The John Burke company has played a notable and worthwhile part in the development of shipping services for northern Australia. At the same time it is significant that as a result of remarkable developments in the north there is a considerable increase in cargo flow and consequently new vessels are necessary. It is essential that there be an adequate cargo capacity; alternatively, overseas vessels will need to be introduced either under short term permit or by licence to carry the cargoes. In order to provide more job opportunities and to provide cheaper cargo flow, an approach was made through the Commonwealth Government by Australian Territory Liner Services to import 2 vessels, to replace these 2 vessels by 2 Australianbuilt vessels, to crew the 2 vessels wilh Australians, and to supplement services to north Queensland and to northern Australian ports.
As a result of discussions between John Burke Ltd and Australian Territory Liner Services an agreement has been reached which, I believe, will be to the satisfaction of both John Burke Ltd and shippers of cargo throughout northern Australia. It will ensure not only that there will be more adequate capacity for the future but also adequate job opportunities for Australians and adequate building requirements for Australian shipyards. At the same time I think it needs to be recognised by those who sail on these vessels that if adequate job opportunities are to be provided for them it is necessary that they act responsibly and, if necessary, that management acts responsibly. In the past the situation regarding ships trading on the Australian coast has not been particularly happy and Australian coasting operations have been at an extraordinarily high cost. Ships generally have not been capable of competing with other forms of transport, with the result that freight charges and casts to outlying communities have been far higher than one might regard as being reasonably necessary. I believe that the services that are to be provided by John Burke Ltd and Australian Territory Liner Services will complement each other very satisfactorily and that the product of the agreement between the 2 companies will be eminently satisfactory to all Australians.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– I present the report by the Tariff Board on linoleum (Dumping and Subsidies Act). This report does not call for any legislative action.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– by leave - Mr Speaker, on the 7th May last, in an answer to a question by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner),I indicated preparedness to ask the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to hold a public inquiry in relation to frequency modulation broadcasting in Australia and that I would announce the terms of reference within a few days. I now advise honourable members that I have made a request to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board in the following terms:
The Minister, pursuant to his powers under Section 18 (2) of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942-1969, directs the Australian Broadcasting Board to hold an inquiry in accordance with the provisions of Division 3 of Part 11 of the Act into the desirability or otherwise of introducing frequency modulation broadcasting into the Com monwealth. The inquiry should embrace all the technical and economic factors involved having regard particularly to any existing shortcomings in the broadcasting services, and to the experience of overseas countries which are making use of frequency modulation services. As soon as possible after the conclusion of the inquiry, the Board shall make a report and recommendation to the Minister.
While the report will be made to me it is my intention to make the report available to honourable members and the public subsequent to its receipt by me.
– by leave- Mr Speaker, the Opposition has no objection to the inquiry which the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) has announced. As a matter of fact, I am informed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) that we requested an inquiry along the lines that the Minister has approved at some time during the last Parliament. On 7th May of this year, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) asked the Postmaster-General: . . whether he would be prepared to appoint a select committee of this House, an ad hoc committee of independent persons or the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to conduct a public inquiry into the feasibility and desirability of introducing a system of frequency modulation broadcasting into Australia and to report to him on the matter and through him to Parliament and the public.
My Leader has just handed me a copy of the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives. This shows that on 6th June 1968 a ministerial statement was presented by the Postmaster-General on this subject. To the motion ‘That the House take note of the paper’, the Leader of the Opposition moved by way of amendment:
That the following words be added to the motion: ‘and that in the opinion of this House a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into all aspects of frequency modulation broadcasting’.
This amendment was moved on 6th June 1968. The Postmaster-General has agreed now to appoint an inquiry in response to the request made on 7th May by the honourable member for Bradfield.
I remember that, on a number of occasions, the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) has spoken on the subject of frequency modulation broadcasting. Those who know anything about frequency modulation broadcasting will appreciate that it does give a far better presentation of sound than the techniques that are being used in radio at the moment. The Opposition approves of the appointment of this inquiry and hopes that it will not be long before the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will present its reports and recommendations to the PostmasterGeneral. There is only one other comment that I wish to make. In the final part of his speech, the Postmaster-General said:
While the report will be made to me it is my intention to make the report available lo honourable members and the public subsequent to its receipt by me.
I would like the Minister to give an assurance to the House that, when he does make the report public, he will make arrangements also for public debate to take place in this Parliament on that report.
NAVAL BASE AT COCKBURN SOUND Sir WILFRID KENT HUGHES (Chisholm) fi 1.0] - I hope that in future ministerial statements will not be made on private members days. It takes up the time of members who might want to discuss important matters. I move:
Judging by the question asked yesterday by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) it would seem that for once both the Government side of the House and the Opposition are in agreement with regard to one particular item of defence on a very vital matter. I do not doubt that the reasons for the agreement may be somewhat different, although that yet remains to be seen. The subject of building up Cockburn Sound as a naval base was mentioned almost incidentally in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech when he said:
Investigation into the construction of a causeway to the naval facilities to be built in Western Australia has begun, and construction on the development of Learmonth airfield in Western Australia will shortly start.
Investigations have been proceeding for a very long time and I feel that by now we should be in a position to get on with the job of the construction of the naval base itself. I speak subject to correction here but I understand that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) in his policy speech also made pointed reference to the importance of Cockburn Sound as a naval base, and in the second last defence statement made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in this House there was a small reference, shall we say, to the question of the defences of the western coast of Australia. For this reason, in view of the fact that we seem to be in agreement on both sides of the House, even if it is for different reasons, someone might say: Why waste the time of the House by moving this motion today? My reasons are, firstly, that I feel that it has not been given sufficient priority in the light of the international situation that exists. Secondly, I rather feel that the Opposition desires the building of this base on account of its policy of Fortress Australia, as against the Government’s point of view which I believe is a very much wider perspective.
The question of filling the vacuum that will be left in the Indian Ocean by the withdrawal of the British fleet east of Suez in 1971 is a matter of great strategic and tactical importance to the whole of the Western world. It is not only a question of Australian defence. It is also a question of the defence of our main sea trade route to Europe, which may well be the only sea trade route if disturbances occur which block the Panama Canal as effectively as the Suez Canal has been blocked and closed for years past. The route via the Cape of Good Hope is the only allweather route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian and Southern O Jeans and therefore the action taken for the protection of this route is of vital importance to us, not only from the point of view of trade but also from the point of view of defence. In that respect Cockburn Sound becomes part of the linking of the defence system with the Simonstown base in South Africa.
We should not on this occasion allow the discussion to be side-tracked on the racist questions and other things of that nature. Let us have a look at this matter from the strategic point of view whatever government there is in South Africa and let us hope that it is a friendly governmnent towards us for a long time to come. In southern Africa from a strategic point of view the Cape route is the back door of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and unless the Western world is going to wake up to the fact that this is of vital importance to the whole of it and not only to Australia, the position will be very dangerous. Already resolutions have been passed in the United Nations about the supply of arms to Africa. We have had the British Labor Government abrogating the Simonstown agreement, and as a result the shopping for hardware and the building up of munitions and defence requirements in South Africa have been considerably handicapped. With regard to the Australian position no Australian would for one moment suggest that we alone can attempt to fill the vacuum that will be left with regard to the protection of the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, if we expect other nations to come in and help us with the protection or to partly fill the vacuum, or to supply sufficient force to deter other people from using the Indian Ocean as a means of world conquest, then we have to play our part and stand our share of the cost of the defence.
In that respect the aerodromes at Pearce and Learmonth and the building up of the naval base at Cockburn Sound are of vital importance. We have been investigating this for a long time and now we propose to build a causeway, but I do not think that is good enough. I do not for one moment suggest that as a result of giving this a higher priority the defence expenditure on behalf of the Navy, or any other defence expenditure, should be curtailed. We have a long shopping list to fill in the gaps on the defence pantry shelves and it will’ take some time before we receive the goods. Therefore, as I say, I do not want priority given at the expense of what has already been stated in the defence programme, but I do feel that we should take for granted that we will have to take on the burden of this extra expense by expediting the building up of a naval base at Cockburn Sound.
When we look around the world today all of us would like to feel that peaceful co-operation amongst the greater nations of the world was an established fact. Anybody who has been lucky enough to survive 1 world war let alone 2 longs for the day when peaceful co-operation amongst the great nations of the world will lead to a peaceful progress in the interests of all mankind. But today when we look around the world and find that brush/ire wars or wars of liberation are conceived in the dark processes of the Kremlin in Moscow and behind the Gates of Heavenly Peace - a modern misnomer in Peking - and are then born in a hospital branded ‘peaceful cooperation’ in order to deceive other people as to the strategy and tactics used for world conquest, unfortunately we still have to expend large sums of money on defence that could bc better expended on social services, both here and in other countries in this region. We must keep up our guard and we must take our share of ensuring that the Indian Ocean, particularly in this case, is not left as a vacuum to be filled by others. The Russian experts have been very definite in their statements for the last 4 or 5 years on why they are building up their naval forces and why they have built up the mercantile marine from being the twenty-first in the early 1950s to about the fifth biggest in the world.
When we survey the position, particularly that of the armed Services in America, we cannot sit down and feel quite happy that such a position will exist here that we have not to take any notice of what is happening around us. As I have said, I hope that it will not be advocated that this naval base be built merely from the point of view of Fortress Australia. Some honourable members opposite and some on this side of the House were in Fortress Singapore. Having been in one fortress I do not want a similar experience again.
The building of a naval base at Cockburn Sound has become of vital importance not only to Australia but to the Western democracies as a link in establishing a position in the Indian Ocean which will not lead to people thinking that they can dominate or overcome it. Not since Vasco de Gama sailed into the Indian Ocean have the Russians had a presence there, but in 1968 they had a small naval squadron touring around the northern parts of the Indian Ocean. The Russians have been trying to negotiate with India for rights to naval bases, particularly in the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, which would enable them to control the eastern approaches to the Indian Ocean via the Straits of Malacca. The Russians have tried to negotiate with Pakistan for another island off the Persian Gulf. Although the Suez Canal has been closed the Russians now control most of the northern littoral of Africa. They have been very active in Sudan where there have been more casualties in the fighting between Arabs and Africans than in the fighting between the Arabs and the Israelis, the Arabs in the former case being supported by Russia in a war about which we do not hear very much. The Russians have naval bases and facilities in the Yemen and Somalia on both sides of the entrance to the Red Sea. They now have facilities on the west coast of Nigeria as a result of the civil war with Biafra.
They have been steadily coming down the east coast of Africa. For the last few months their fishing fleets - we know the purpose of some of their fishing fleets - have been based on the port of Mauritius, from which they have now received a contract for oceanographic surveys in the Mozambique Channel between Malagassy and South Africa. It is obvious to anybody interested in the international sphere that the Cape route is the Gibraltar of the international situation and that the Communist strategy is firstly to take over the rice bowl of South East Asia and then control the Cape. Part of the attack on South African sport is designed to denigrate and undermine South Africa in the eyes of the world, lt is all part of the greater strategy.
– What rot.
– The honourable member would not understand because he has not bothered to ascertain what is happening.
– I know more about it than the honourable member for Chisholm.
– The honourable member is not quite sure whether he is Cohen or coming. He may say that it is rot, but he has not bothered to examine Australia’s security. I do not want to introduce racism into the debate.
– The honourable member has just done so.
– Well, why does the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) accuse the Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen) and me of being racist because wc go to see what is happening in South Africa, but say nothing about he honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) and a Labor Party senator visiting South
Africa as guests of the Speaker of the South African Parliament? The honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) should not be so silly. We are talking now about Australia’s future security and filling the vacuum in the Indian Ocean. So the matter of Cockburn Sound becomes a very great importance. In 1967-68 after the closing of the Suez Canal, 12,367 foreign ships sailed via the Cape route. Many others did not bother to call at South African ports. Britain led with almost 3,000, followed by the Netherlands with 1,173. Japan and America with slightly more than 700, Liberia and Norway with a little more than 600, then followed Germany, Greece, France and Sweden. Following Britain’s abrogation of the Simonstown agreement it is interesting to note what warships have been using the Cape route. When I was in Simonstown I saw a British frigate flying the White Ensign in for repairs and revictualling, yet Britain . has abrogated the agreement and refused to honour it, apparently because she thinks ships can sail over the Kalahari Desert. Since the closing of the Suez Canal in July 1967 a total of 121 British warships and 40 British fleet auxiliaries have made use of the Simonstown naval harbour. In the same period 47 British warships and 84 British fleet auxiliaries made use of other South African ports. In addition, 27 warships and 15 fleet auxiliaries of other nations made use of ports in that period.
This is why I submit that Cockburn Sound becomes of vital importance with regard to the Indian Ocean and the southern seas, and therefore with regard to the security of Australia in the link-up with Simonstown in South Africa. For those who have not studied the subject might I recommend that they obtain from the Library a document entitled The Changing Strategic Naval Balance USSR v. USA’, prepared at the request of the United States House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and incorporated in the Congressional Record of December 1968. In that document will be found many references of vital importance to Australia. The first appears on page 22 and reads:
Reference already has been made to the need for American sca power in the Indian Ocean. Indeed, throughout the southern hemisphere there is developing a need for mobile sea and air forces with a role of protecting friends and allies of the
United States. The expanding commitments for the 1970s cannot be met with naval forces created for commitments in 1940 and the 1950s.
I understand that the Minister for the Navy has seen this document and has referred to it on two or three public occasions. If anybody wants to understand the position I can recommend this as a short but most interesting document. It is prepared by former Commanders-in-Chief in the Pacific, such as Admiral Fleet and many other Service Chiefs. The authorities who prepared the document are listed. At page 33 the document reads:
The Indian Ocean presents a broad spectrum of opportunities for the use of naval power to achieve political goals. Bordering the Indian Ocean are a number of nations that are potential targets of Soviet aggression. The aggressor state has the advantage in that many of the countries around the rim of the Indian Ocean are in ferment. The East African countries, for example, arc vulnerable to Soviet military pressure and subversion.
If the USSR deploys a strike naval squadron in the Indian Ocean, including helicopter carriers and naval infantry, the options available to the Soviets will multiply unless there is a powerful free world countering force.
That is why the proposed base at Cockburn Sound is vital for the maintenance of a free world countering force should it become necessary.
I regard the second half the motion as being not particularly important but I feel it would be of great advantage in exercising some police authority on this southern route if Britain would base one or two of its aircraft carriers on Cockburn Sound for three or four years. That would allow us some time to procure for the Royal Australian Navy the modern, fast, helicopter carrying and vertical take off and landing aircraft carriers which are not as vulnerable as the bigger ships but are just as effective for countering submarines. When we consider the rate at which Russia has been building up its submarine force, and the number of up to date ships in the navy of the USSR as compared with out of date ships in the navy of the USA, the potential is there. We hope that the potential never will be used but in this world there are human passions, human hates and human fears. We have seen plenty of violence and visciousness over the last 3 years both inside and outside our own country. Unless there is a counter force 1 feel that we are going to be in grave danger.
Therefore my hope in moving this motion has been that this matter will be discussed freely from the point of view of the importance of west coast defence. Having a naval base there, not only for our own use but for the use of our allies, will help to fill the vacuum that will be created in the Indian Ocean. As I said before, everyone who has the peace and progress of the world at heart yearns for peaceful coexistence or peaceful co-operation. But at present all the signs and portents in the international sky are that this slogan is being used as a cloak to cover strategic moves for world conquest. We live in a human world in which force and fraud prosper if they are not contained. In 1942, Australia, under a Labor Prime Minister and a Labor Government, appealed loudly to the United States for help against an aggressor. I think we all agreed with that appeal. But today the Australian Labor Party denies to South Vietnam that same right of appeal. As I said, I have been in a so-called fortress and I do not want to be in another. Therefore Australia must play her part in the world today and share the burden of defence in the Indian Ocean. The Cockburn Sound base is vital not only for Australia but for the western world.
– Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion and reserve the right to speak later in the debate.
– Of all the aspects of government considered in this Parliament, before all else comes the security of this country from external threat. Defence is fundamental and this motion urges the Government to give the highest priority to consideration of naval defence on the western seaboard and in the Indian Ocean. We are all proud to see Australia growing. With growth comes increasing interdependence economically and increasing responsibility to play our part in the world, particularly in South East Asia, economically, diplomatically and even on occasions militarily, because this is a world in which armed might is still the most powerful factor in the conduct of great affairs between nations. The Government parties are convinced that an understanding of the realities of politics, intentions and warfare in the world and, of particular concern to us. events in South East Asia, leaves no doubt of our need and our duty to arm ourselves and contribute forces where necessary, to the stability of the South East Asian region.
In the past many Australian Labor Party speakers have shown genuine interest in our defence but that is not the position today. Many have been the debates on these matters. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has made clear the view of the Government - views which I wholeheartedly support - in excellent statements in February last year and in his policy speech last October. I do not propose to develop these matters now but will do so on a future occasion. This proposed naval dockyard facility at Cockburn Sound will add to that defence capacity. I think it is appropriate to refer to basic important statements which the Prime Minister made in his policy speech. He said:
Adequate defence is the rock on which national security stands. Without it, debate on internal matters could be academic. Over the years ahead wc shall maintain and increase our defence capacity.
Later he said:
We shall strengthen the Navy wilh the types of ship the Navy advise us that they most require, including the new light destroyers and the fast combat support ships asked for by that Service.
Later, and perhaps most relevantly, he said:
We believe that broad considerations of Australia’s geo-political position and national development point to the conclusion that naval support facilities in Western Australia will also be required in the future
Our fleet numbers will increase and will have to take an increasing interest in the Indian Ocean as the British withdraw. Therefore we have decided that we should begin the planned development of a naval base at Cockburn Sound.
The first step, as recommended in the study made by our consultants, is the construction of a causeway linking Garden Island (Garden Island, Western Australia) to the mainland. We shall at once proceed to the detailed design of this causeway and will begin construction next financial year. Thereafter the naval facilities will be progressively installed over a period.
I want now to give a brief description of the locality and environs of Cockburn Sound. I hope that all honourable members who visit Perth from time to time will not fail to inspect this area at the earliest opportunity. Cockburn Sound starts in the south at Point Peron which is only 30 miles south of the Perth General Post Office and 19 miles south of Fremantle. It extends for 14 miles north and south of the coastline from the southern edge of the Perth metropolitan area to Point Peron. It is an area of water which is protected in the south, west and largely in the south west, the direction of the prevailing breeze, by Garden Island. This is a small island running north and south which is under Commonwealth control. Between Garden Island and Point Peron there is a gap of about li miles. The Government proposes to build the causeway at this point, thus enclosing to the south and to the east a huge area of water which, I am advised, is one of the few natural deep water ports in the world. I am giving these facts because they illustrate the area where it is proposed to build this base. There is a significant quantity of heavy and light industry in the area such as an oil refinery, an alumina plant, a BHP rolling mill, a nickel refinery, a fertiliser works and a number of associated and separate light industries. Of course, in this is the western end of the great standard guage railway. Those industries, I might be permitted to say, are there as the result of the actions of Liberal-Country Party governments in Western Australia. The site of this base is at present a growing and significant commercial port which ships wet and dry bulk cargoes. Thus the facilities suggested by the Government will be in line with its stated policy of linking defence and national development together where possible.
Nearby there is the residential area of Rockingham, which is an old established area and indeed is the fastest growing zone in the Perth metropolitan area. As at June of last year its population was 15,000 and it is estimated to have a population of 20,000 at the end of next month. The State Government has committed itself to providi ng a great deal of public expenditure in this area. It has promised services to industries, a primary school to be completed for 1971 and a high school for 1972, and also a hospital for that time. A major banking group is investing $150m in housing to provide accommodation for 12.000 families So there is also great private expenditure.
The responsibilities giving rise to this base which the Australian governments must recognise are the responsibilities of strategic and tactical defence in the Ind:an Ocean. There has been a great deal of debate in this House in relation to the activities of the Russian navy in that ocean. It has been shown that it has the capacity to keep fleets in the Indian Ocean for lengthy periods. It has shown its interest in this region in many ways, not only in naval terms but in its activity in the countries of South East Asia; it is expanding its diplomatic and economic interests. Although the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has at present long supply lines in different countries, the growing interest indicates to us that it is doing its best to minimise this difficulty. The United Kingdom withdrawal from that area is occurring at the moment, and it is surely not in the interests of this country that another major power should be substituted for the Un;ted Kingdom. Of course, our influence on those events is limited. We cannot stop the Russians from building up their forces in the Indian Ocean, if that is their desire, but on the other hand it is not for us to ignore such activity because the USSR has shown a belligerent attitude to this country for some years.
The Indian Ocean is of great strategic Interest to Australia. I refer to the statement made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) recently when he said:
We must take into account other Indian Ocean activities in our defence policies and planning.
Western Australia has 2,000 miles of coastline. It is also 2,000 miles from Cockburn Sound to Sydney Harbour. The setting up of a large naval base is fundamental to the interests of Australia. I would like to deal with this expansion with some detail. There has been a committee investigating the plans of naval bases around the coastline of Australia. It has been meeting for some time and I would seek that committee’s conclusions and recommendations at the earliest possible date. I would also request the Minister for Defence to urge that committee to give top priority to making an early decision so that an urgent start can be made on implementing these plans. May I offer congratulations to the Government for taking, in terms of the policy speech promises, this first step on the road towards a 2-ocean navy. Just what ‘2-ocean Navy’ means is, of course, a question of definition. I draw attention to the points that this is the first naval base on the west coast of Australia which is subject to the great distance to which I referred. Having this base on the west coast will save perhaps 4,000 or 5,000 miles, in distance from Sydney Harbour to the west coast and back again. It would also save time and cost and will increase the capacity of each naval ship in the Indian Ocean area.
Of course, this area provides a superior anchorage and it may be used as a base for men on leave. As I have said, this is a step forward. 1 understand that initially it is contemplated that the base may hold 4 frigates and 3 submarines. In that connection, I woul’d press the Government for a steady growth of this base so that it will become a significant naval base sooner than the 10 years which has been suggested. I would also press for the stationing of more vessels at Cockburn Sound than appears to be contemplated. I suggest that more fast combat ships should be stationed there and that there should be an increase of perhaps 3 or 4 vessels in the submarine fleet for this purpose. I believe this action should be urgently pursued, as should the designing of the light destroyers. A sense of urgency needs to be imposed by the Government to ensure their earliest possible construction. Arising out of naval power in the west, is the whole question of the evaluation of air power in our defence forces. A decision has to be made as to how much of our air power is . to be connected with the sea and how much is to be land based. The maritime power in the Indian Ocean to be exerted by Australia is by both sea and air. HMAS Melbourne’, as we know, will be out of service in 19S0. This emphasises the need for an evaluation as to what type of ships and what type of naval air capacity will be necessary and what form it will take. No doubt the Government is considering this matter but I hope it wilt come to an early conclusion about the need for air strike capacity. Perhaps it will decide to build carriers which could take the Harrier aircraft.
As I said, the whole question of strategic and tactical air strike capacity is raised. Of course, a responsible Government must fix priorities in relation to the vast sums of money involved in building a defence force in order to get the best return for money. I ask for a full and thorough evaluation but, nevertheless, I hope the Government will achieve an early result and come to an early decision. Naval forces and naval bases are a long time in the making. These should be planned and built wi.h some continuing sense of urgency and determination. In conclusion, I would like to say that thinking people in Western Australia welcome the establishment of this base at Cockburn Sound. It has been widely felt that not enough consideration has been given to defence in Western Australia. This project and the upgrading of the Learmonth airfield to an operational base by lengthening, widening and deepening the airstrip will go far in alleviating their concern. In the past they have felt cut off from Australian defence efforts and have even felt isolated. This proposal, urgently dealt with, will help defend and re-establish our nation. The sooner it is done the better.
– When considering the importance of a debate of this nature, I find it rather remarkable that I am the third honourable member on the Government side to speak when there has hot been a single speaker from the Opposition side. 1 take it that by its actions in relation to this debate, which is extremely important in view of the position in which we find ourselves in the world today, tho Opposition is not interested in a naval base in Western Australia. As is well known by the members of the House and the people of Australia, the Australian Labor Party has the opportunity of being represented in debate by every second speaker. I am the third speaker on this matter and still the Opposition has not taken the opportunity to speak. I draw my own conclusions from that situation.
As we turn into the 1970s, in my book, we will find ourselves in a most unfortunate situation in the world. I would have thought from the experience of the world that at this stage of its history people throughout the world would be prepared to stay at home in their own territories and develop their own countries and cease to endeavour to capture territory belonging to other people. But what do we find? At this stage both in the Far Bast and in the Middle East we find a very dangerous situation indeed. This debate today is very relevant to the very unfortunate situation in which we find ourselves. Therefore the development of a naval base on the Indian Ocean at Cockburn Sound is of major importance not only to this country, not only to Western Australia and the Indian Ocean but to the free world generally. I believe that this is recognised not only by the people of Western Australia but also by the people of Australia, and I would hope and believe that it is also recognised by friendly powers overseas.
This important base which we hope will be developed in the near future will be situated in a very good harbour indeed. Cockburn Sound is a tremendous place from the point of view of a waterway. I claim to know something of the activities within this area. The Garden Island site is a natural port. It is well protected. There is deep water running up to Garden Island itself. With the development of the causeway between the mainland and Garden Island, it certainly will have access then to the mainland, and that is the first stage of this development. No doubt the naval authorities will be working in co-operation with the authority of the port of Fremantle, because they have already drawn up extensive plans looking well into the future in developing a naval base in that area. 1 think that the authorities responsible for the port of Fremantle are looking into the future and endeavouring to make plans now so that there will not be a disruption at some future time due to lack of access to this very important base and the harbour facilities which will be required in the future in the State of Western Australia.
With the rapid development that is taking place in that area, it is obvious that this natural harbour at Garden Island has the potential for a major shipping port in the years to come. The Western Australian authorities have endeavoured to lay down plans and advise the Government of that State on future planning as they see it at this point. I would hope, as I said and as I repeat, that the Commonwealth will work in full co-operation with the State authorities. One may ask whose responsibility it is to establish the base. I say that it is Australia’s responsibility in the first place to make available suitable bases. I have no doubt that our allies would come to our assistance if necessary and would use the facilities supplied by Australia.
This base is of major importance to this area. Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate the number of ships that would come into this area is to look at the trading activities in this area. The port of Fremantle has for a number of years been the largest bunkering port in the southern hemisphere. With the closing of the Suez Canal the situation will perhaps change to some extent because South Africa will be receiving a tremendous amount of shipping tonnage at its various ports. Large tonnages would now be bunkering at South Africa and, because of the distance between the 2 areas, also in Western Australia. So here in the Indian Ocean we have the 2 largest bunkering centres in the southern hemisphere. There is tremendous activity in Western Australia at the moment, as we all know, but it is being increased for various reasons best known to many other people as well as to ourselves. So it is of major importance that some development take place at Cockburn Sound.
As is so often mentioned, Great Britain intends to withdraw from east of Suez, It will return its troops to the British mainland as we all know. But 1 have no doubt whatsoever - and 1 say I have no doubt because of discussions which 1 had back in 1968 at Westminster with leaders of the British Government and Opposition - that Britain has no intention of turning her back on this area of the world when this area of the world, including Australia and New Zealand is in trouble. I would think it would be reasonable to assume that under these circumstances, with Britain’s experience in the naval world, she could greatly assist this country and New Zealand if in fact her assistance were needed. This is where I return to the responsibility of this country to build and maintain necessary bases if we expect - and in fact we would expect - the British and others to be with us in any time of crisis. 1 have no doubt whatsoever, regardless of what might be said in relation to the withdrawal of Britain from east of Suez, that Britain will be here in strength if required, but we cannot expect Britain to be here in the Indian Ocean or anywhere else if we are unable to supply her with the necessary bases and resources for that support.
Cockburn Sound is a natural harbour. It is a large harbour and is well protected. It has available to it the necessary land area and other resources which will be developed and which are being developed very rapidly. For example, there are steel mills around this area and in other parts of the Stale of Western Australia. There is no other part of the world today that has greater natural resources than does the State of Western Australia. They are tremendous and we are only just starting to find out how much we have in this country, lt would be a sorry day for Australia in future years if our balance of payments did not have the advantage of the wealth of the western seaboard of this country. This is the area in which the great mineral, agricultural and industrial wealth is to be developed in this country, because in that area we have everything. The natural resources are there and development is taking place very rapidly. To go with that development I believe that for the protection of the people of this country there should be a naval base and other facilities in that area. 1 have every confidence that the Government will look at this matter in the way it should be looked at and will go ahead at the earliest opportunity with the development of this naval base at Cockburn Sound. I have every confidence that the base is being placed in the right area, lt is being placed in an area that has a natural harbour that affords good protection and in an area which has plenty of room. I have every confidence that our allies will come to our assistance if necessary and will stand by us if necessary. I repeat that it is the responsibility of this country to supply the bases necessary for the use of those resources which no doubt will be available from other parts of the world.
– I support the motion moved by the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes). I feel - perhaps nol quite as strongly as other honourable members - that what we are hearing in this debate is the Australian Labor Party’s defence policy. That policy could, not have been more effectively put than it has been by the defence spokesman for the Labor Party who is not in the chamber at the present time. That policy has been and continues to be nil. When analysed it shows confusion and the most amazing lack of consideration that I have ever heard propounded by any Labor Opposition in this country for some considerable time.
– Like the Fill.
– Possibly like the Fill. Going back into the pas[, 1 remember listening to some of the defence spokesmen for the Opposition, in particular the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) assuring us when he came back from one of his many travels - I think it was through Mongolia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - that Australia could defend itself, that if the Australian militia were recruited it could put men around the periphery of Australia and that it could withstand the might of any attacking force. The statement received headlines in the Press. That seemed to be the thinking of the Labor Party. I remember hearing the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard), who speaks with such authority on behalf of the Labor Party, speaking about the Fill the delivery of which, I agree, seems to have been delayed. I am not putting the case for the Government in support of it but I am putting the argument that the Deputy Leader of . the Opposition used at that particular time. As I understood it, he said that Australia did not need a strategic aircraft. When pressed by the radio interviewer he said: ‘We have got the Mirage. We could use the Mirage.’ Even if we have a fortress Australia policy and even if we decide that the defence of this country should be governed by such a policy, I think it is wise to attack the enemy or at least to endeavour to put the enemy out of action at a greater range than that covered by a fighter aircraft. The supremo of the Labor Party’s defence forces would be waiting for the enemy to arrive off the shores of Australia before he would take any action. I am reminded of Sir Walter Raleigh who said: ‘Let us finish our game of bowls and then we will press down to the beach and put the ball into the muzzle of the gun and assail the Spanish flotilla.’ Surely that is not a reasonable defence policy for Australia.
I do not wish to take the matter further but I would like to refer to the point which has been made clear by the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his statement on the Fill this week. The Minister gave reasons why Australia required a strategic aircraft. T support them wholeheartedly. If someone decides to attack
Australia or her allies, or the areas which are essential to Australia’s trade and defence, unless those people know that we have the ability and the equipment to offer some threat to their own homeland or cities they w 11 not be particularly impressed by anything that Australia may say with respect to alliances, defence or anything else. There is nothing like showing that you have the muscle to stop somebody threatening you. I suggest to the Government as well as to the Opposition that if Australia is going to enter into treaties, if it is going to have diplomatic arrangements with countries, and if it is going to have regional security agreements, the best thing it can have is the capability to do the things it Says it will do.
I support most wholeheartedly the proposition that the priority of the Cockburn Sound base should be raised. I am critical, because I feel that the committees have had a considerable amount of time in which to consider establishing a naval base on the western shores of Australia. We have known for a considerable t me that the United Kingdom was going to withdraw from Singapore. We have had a considerable time in which to work out the options that may or may not be available to us in Singapore. Although Singapore has a friendly government and has good relations w th . Australia at the present moment and although we and our allies will be able to use the base at Singapore, we have no assurance that this will operate forever. There could be changes of government and changes of policy. It is essential for the Australian Government to decide that we must have a base at Cockburn Sound and that the base must be a fairly substantial one.
As other honourable members have said, whether we like it or not - I am not suggesting that Australia alone can or should do much about it - the Soviet Union ;s building up its Indian Ocean fleet. As the honourable member for Chisholm said, Russia has bases on the Red Sea, it has moved into the Mediterranean Sea and from the Mediterranean into the Indian Ocean. From the Indian Ocean it may well move further afield. Russia now has one of the strongest naval forces in the world. It is carrying out a propaganda war by showing to the small nations that its ships are there while the British ships are withdrawing. The United Kingdom formerly maintained a peaceful situation in the Indian Ocean in conjunction with other countries. But the United Kingdom is withdrawing and now the Soviet Union is there. The Soviet Union will endeavour to gain bases in countries with which it can establish relationships, it will use the might of the Soviet fleet to bring about trade and diplomatic relations with those countries. These things must be of concern to Australia. If, as a counter to this, Australia is prepared to say only that it will build a causeway which may ultimately become a naval base, I do not think that that would be particularly effective. We in Australia have to look at defence much more strongly and substantially than we have in the past. Honourable members on both sides of the House have been thinking that we have time unlimited. They think that by stating that Australia is getting an oceanographic ship or some other ship this will terrify anybody who may be a threat to us at this time.
After all. we have to realise that if Singapore was not available to Australia or to any friendly navy that may come to our aid or be prepared to play a part in the defence of the Indian Ocean area, the only alternative base where ships could receive major servicing and repairs would be around on the east coast of Australia. In any situation in the Indian Ocean where major repairs have to be undertaken the ships would have to be taken out of that area completely and sailed around the coast of Australia to Garden Island. We would then hope to goodness that the industrial situation there would be adequate for them to obtain some maintenance. If we hope that our allies or friends which have substantial naval forces will come to our aid, surely to goodness we have to show that we are prepared to make some sacrifice of expenditure in building a base in the area where we ask them to take some interest.
– As it is now 2 hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House the debate on the motion is interrupted.
Motion (by Mr Killen) agreed to:
That the lime for discussion of the notice be extended to 12.45 p.m. today.
– As I was saying, if we were in a situation where we wished that our strong and powerful friends or whoever else it may be would come to our aid, in the event of Singapore not being available, surely it would be indicative of our concern for our own defence and for the role that we may have to play in the future that we had constructed an efficient naval base at Cockburn Sound on the western coast ot Australia. The honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) very capably discussed the fact that a defence base on the west coat of Australia also has great advantage to Western Australia. It should be understood - and I do not know that is is by some people - that a naval base is not just a harbour to garage the car, to put the ships of the fleet and where there are a few night clubs at which the sailors and others can make up for lost time; it is a great industrial complex. I think it is a great facility that will be of advantage to Western Australia at this time. 1 have not gone into the cost but whatever the cost I think it would be worth it. It is an old adage but I and, I think, most of the people of Australia would like to be protected, not liberated, and there is a great difference. This is my defence policy and 1 put it in those words. However, let me say that in respect to a naval base - take Singapore for example - it is not only necessary to have an engineering complex and a great store complex; it is also necessary to have many facilities which are above and beyond just the naval establishment which is there. It gives great incentive to employment. It gives more incentive to development and it is something which everybody should support on the question of decentralisation. Therefore I would suggest that the Government should encourage tha committee to bring forward a report. 1 think it should come out with a much firmer statement leading to more development than just saying the causeway will be built. lt has been suggested by the honourable member for Curtin that the so-called naval base may garage only 3 or 4 frigates and 4 submarines. This is not a very effective force. I think when we talk about a 2-ocean navy we have to start thinking much further ahead than we have done in the past in respect to our defence forces. Furthermore, the establishment of a naval base in the Indian Ocean could be a great asset from the other viewpoint. We have been told that we will not get the Fill for some considerable time. The Minister for Defence was quite honest in saying that there could be other problems associated with it of which we do not know as yet. But if we do not have a strategic aircraft, if we cannot obtain a replacement with the required range or if something else should go wrong, it is an asset for us to have a naval base from which carriers can operate. If we do not have the strategic capacity in the air force the only alternative is to have our air capacity operating from a carrier. The carrier can move out of the base, it can bring the aircraft it carries within range of any target and it can in certain circumstances be the only alternative to a strategic aircraft.
It should be remembered that the Phantom aircraft in certain conditions can fly off a carrier. I am not saying the Phantom could fly off the ‘Melbourne’. However, if we desired to increase the range of the aircraft we could bring a carrier nearer to the target and we would have a very effective strike aircraft which could take off in those circumstances. So, Mr Deputy Speaker, I feel at this stage there is a requirement, from the defence and other viewpoints advanced by honourable members who have spoken, for the Government to raise the priority of Cockburn Sound. I appreciate the opportunity that has been given to me by the non-existent defence policy of the Opposition to discuss the motion moved by the honourable member for Chisholm because 20 minutes ago I had no idea I would be given this opportunity. But as I said earlier, it does not concern me that there is silence from the Opposition because for many years we have known that, apart from getting an occasional clue on defence from what it may read in topical tabs in the newspaper or hear on ‘Four Corners’, it has not had any constructive defence policy. It has not made a constructive contribution to a defence debate in the 10 years I have been here. I support the motion moved by the honourable member for Chisholm.
– Will you vote for it?
– Most certainly I will vote for it at any stage. As I have said, when the red badge of courage is worn by Opposition members and when I see them voting for something that may be of embarrassment to their great and glorious leader, I will be prepared to take off my hat to them and salute them. They always encourage honourable members on this side of the House to vote in this way.
Mr GRAHAM (North Sydney) [12.71- I rise to support the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) and to take part in this debate on the motion he moved, lt is:
That the construction of the naval base at Cockburn Sound should receive high priority on the defence programme and that negotiations should be undertaken with the British Government to base 2 aircraft carriers on Cockburn Sound after 1970.
To give continuity to the debate and to follow on the comments of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) I would like to make some comments on the references he has made to the lack of a Labor Party defence policy. I think the honourable member for La Trobe looks at Labor’s defence policy in terms of the Government’s appreciation of the threat to Australia. If he were to appreciate that in the view, of the Opposition in this Parliament there is no substantial threat to the welfare, survival and development of Australia it might be easier for him to understand Labor’s position. I believe it is fair to say, and I believe that members of the Australian Labor Party will in due course confirm what I am saying, that it is their view that the Communists in Moscow and Peking constitute no threat to the survival and the development of the Commonwealth of Australia. That is their view and it is upon that basis (hat their concept of a defence policy has evolved. They do not see any need at all to encourage Asian nations to believe that Australia in 1970 can be relied upon to be a willing supporter if they are invaded. The Labor Party not only does not encourage Asian countries to adopt this point of view but has gone to great lengths to make it quite clear that it is part of its defence policy that Australian forces should not be in countries like Malaysia and Indo-China, for their very presence in those countries, whether actually involved in operations or not, constitutes an aggressive military attitude and an expression of policy by the Commonwealth of Australia. For that reason the Labor Party disapproves of there being Australian forces overseas.
The Cockburn Sound concept, which has been very clearly defined by my honourable and gallant friend from Chisholm is part of the maritime strategic defence plan for the Indian Ocean. It can be argued by those people who see no threat at all presented to Australia’s future by the Communists in Moscow and in Peking that the Commonwealth of Australia, in creating a great naval base over a period of a decade in the south western corner of Australia, is making an aggressive act that will encourage the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and mainland China to adopt a public attitude that will identify us with aggression. Fundamentally the Labor Party must admit that its entire approach to these matters is based upon the assumption that the Communists in Moscow and in Peking constitute no threat at all to Australia’s survival.
– That is a most interesting misuse and mis-stating of Labor policy.
– With all respect, I am talking about the basis upon which the Labor Party’s defence policy has evolved. Is it true that the Labor Party does see no measure of threat to the survival and development of Australia arising from a consideration of what the Communists in Moscow and in Peking have been doing between 1948 and 1970? Can the honourable member answer that question for me yea or nay?
– I cannot answer it now, but if you come around later-
– This is fundamental to the whole approach of the Labor Party. Does it see any threat emerging from the Communists in Peking or Moscow? It is apparent for all to understand that the USSR is in the process of becoming what we would describe as a maritime superpower. It is becoming a maritime superpower because it will seek to impress the potential enemy as well as the potential friend. Those who have been friends of the USSR, those who have lived close to the USSR and those who have in common with the USSR, the particular type of government which is known in that country are aware that they may not change their own approach to their citizens and they may not change their own policies without influence being reflected back upon them from
Moscow. Anybody who has any doubts about this matter should talk to Mr Dubcek in Ankara and get the clear story from him.
If the development of the maritime super-power is going to show itself in the Indian Ocean we must ask ourselves why this is being done. Should the Commonwealth of Australia seek to create a political environment in which we will be able to stand in the eyes of the world and be recognised as being conscious of the fact that the maritime super-power is coming into our area? It is a simple enough matter. We do not do it as a reaction of terror: we do not do it because we hold the view that we are going to be attacked in the immediate future; we do it because it is necessary for us to have a posture which will earn respect. The people in Kuala Lumpur, in Bangkok and in Djakarta know that if we have a record in the past it is a record worthy of respect. The honourable and gallant gentleman for Chisholm, with other members in this House of Representatives, is a living manifestation of this. I say to the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen), who is smiling, that in the days when he was extremely young this threat existed, and I will forgive him for his lack of familiarity with the subject matter.
If we see this position and consider the terms of the motion related to the maritime problem - to the aircraft carrier - we have some interesting considerations to examine. It is many years since aircraft carriers have been built. The only aircraft carriers that have been built in recent times are the giant aircraft carriers built by the United States of America and a number of smaller strategic carriers built by the Republic of France and in the United Kingdom. If Australia were to seek, at this stage, to go to the markets of the world to procure for itself aircraft carriers, apart from the light fleet carriers which we possess, it is inevitable that we would have to purchase ships that have been sailing the seas of the world for a long time. Therefore, we look at the Royal Navy and ponder the thought that there will be some improvement in our posture if old ships are established in Cockburn Sound. I have some serious doubts as to the validity of this, but I mention that so far as the Asian nations are concerned the presence of forces which the United
Kingdom Government is going to withdraw in the next few years, if it had any significance in the past, would be of significance in the immediate future if those forces were related to the Indian Ocean and were based in or able to operate from Cockburn Sound.
As I have pointed out, this entire consideration rests fundamentally upon the assessment of the threat to and the assessment of Australia’s future. The Australian Labor Party, in almost all of the speeches it has made over recent years, being in opposition has found itself appealing to the Australian people for votes and has encouraged, probably in the view that this would be the most successful political gesture of all, the development of what is a pacifist outlook. I see no reason to believe that one must deride a pacifist simply because he is absolutely convinced that he must never adopt a posture which could be described as aggressive. The only danger in this is that it may destory the moral fibre of our country and make it more subject to the political pressures that will emerge from the presence of the maritime super-power in the oceans around Australia.
As I said, I do not believe that the Australian Labor Party generally has adopted this point of view - and not only in recent years. This has been true of the Australian Labor Party for 30 or 40 years. It always has been composed of people who adopt an attitude of pacificism and of encouragement of those - who see no real reason for the acceptance of a threat from overseas. This was true in 1939. As the honourable member for Chisholm said earlier, it was not until 1942 when the then Labor Government was confronted with a situation of terror that the then Prime Minister of Australia who was a very frightened man - indeed, one has only to hear the recording of that voice making its appeal to the United States of America to recognise terror in a very real form; it was there-
– He naturally was terrified because of the way in which the Menzies Government had left our defences.
– It is quite wrong to say that he was terrified because of the actions of the Menzies Government. He was terrified because he thought that the carriers of Admiral Nagumo would come along the coast off Sydney and blow him to bits in Canberra. That is why he was terrified. That goes for the rest of the Labor Party at the same time. The honourable members for Stirling (Mr Webb), Fremantle (Mr Beazley), Swan (Mr Bennett) and Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) no doubt will have comments to make about the significance of the defence posture to Western Australia. They must relate it to a threat to Western Australia. The threat that is emerging is the growth of this maritime super power - the USSR - and the growth of its forces in the oceans near Western Australia. This is the essence of the whole consideration this morning and illustrates the vital importance to Western Australia of the strategic relationship with the Cape of Good Hope.
I do not believe for one moment that my friend, the honourable member for Fremantle, will rise in his place in this House and say that there is no strategic significance whatsoever in the naval base at Simonstown. I do not believe for one second that he would assert that the planning for defence against the maritime super power, the USSR, ought to be on a basis that ignored reality. I do not believe that for one moment. I believe that he is quite capable of recognising the strategic facts of life. But he is bound by the fact that fundamentally the majority of his associates and the majority of people in the Australian Labor Party assert, have asserted and, in fact, virtually are governed by the concept that no real threat to the future of Australia is presented from the Communists in Moscow and in Peking.
– Would the honourable member have a defence pact with South Africa?
– I am asking the honourable member for Robertson whether he does or does not believe that any real threat to the future of Australia exists from the Communists in Moscow and in Peking.
– Answer my question.
– The answer to my question is that the honourable member does not really believe that any threat exists. Surely it would be reasonable for him to answer this point. The honourable member asks me whether I would have a military pact with South Africa. I say this to him: If South Africa were prepared to cooperate in certain particular strategic environments with Australia, Australia would be, as is the Government of the United Kingdom at this time, prepared to acknowledge that co-operation. Whether there would be a need for a pact, as the honourable member has put it, is dependent upon the environment in which a threat is seen to develop. Let me assure the honourable member for Robertson that if Australia were attacked he would be among the first to do what the late Prime Minister did in 1942. As my colleague from Chisholm put it so vividly, he screamed for the help that he denied to the poor unfortunate people of Saigon. That is the truth. When the honourable member is confronted with this form of terror, if ever he is - and I trust that he will live long enough to know the experience when he doos undergo it, he will never forget it. I support the honourable member for Chisholm and look forward to the participation in the debate of those distinguished and gallant members who sit opposite.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, 1 want to begin by indulging myself to express a measure of surprise with the performance of the Opposition in this debate. I want to light up that expression of surprise in this way: If the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) had gone to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard), at the beginning of this debate and said: ‘We propose to arrange for 6 Government speakers to speak and we do not expect any Opposition speaker’, the most stirring of protests would have been aroused. No doubt exists about that.
Five Government members have spoken in this debate. 1 have become the sixth member on this side of the House to speak. The Government takes the view as I take the view - I took this view when I was a private member - that there should not be needless intrusion by Ministers into private members day debates. I suspected that that was the view of the Opposition. But, after today, after 6 Government supporters have spoken on a matter, I am left to express astonishment. Not 1 Labor member from Western
Australia has spoken. I hope that every person in a Western Australian electorate will heed that point. lt is all very fine for my friend, the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), to rouse himself and to ask a question about the future of Cockburn Sound. I would have suspected that if my friend had his heart in the job he would have been clamouring at the Whip’s desk in order to speak. I suppose that, if the truth be known, when the arrangements for this debate were drawn up the list read: Government speaker, Opposition speaker; Government speaker, Opposition speaker. This is a superb illustration of the contention, long made by the Leader of the House, that it is utterly impossible to keep an arrangement with the Opposition.
My friend, the honourable gentleman who is Opposition Whip - the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) - is, 1 suspect, blushing with a sense of well-disguised shame at the performance. And well he might blush. It is not only his ecclesiastical instincts which assert themselves. He realises that this is precisely the situation that has been created. An extraordinary performance! Never before in 15 years in this place have I seen 6 Government speakers follow one another on any private members matter without an Opposition speaker debating that matter, lt is an extraordinary situation.
The second thing that I want to say is that the House and, I believe, the country should be indebted to the honourable and gallant member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) for having introduced this motion. Very few people who have ever sat in this Parliament can command the exceptional record of service to this country that the honourable member for Chisholm commands with service in 2 world wars, and a life-time of parliamentary service blended with a most distinguished service to this country. In general terms the honourable member’s motion is unexceptionable. The Government would take the view that what the honourable member has said by way of according a high priority io the construction of Cockburn Sound does indeed represent Government policy.
– And ours.
– I am delighted that the honourable member has now broken his temporary Trappist silence to say that it represents his policy. Not being given, of course, to engaging in any form of insult myself, I sat there and I heard the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) say when I asked quietly and with the distinctive note of politeness that marks all my ways: ‘Are not you going to say something?’ He said: We are waiting for the Minister.’ What an incredible bleat. I concede to my honourable friend that he wields every imaginary weapon in politics in search of political support but I am surprised that he is now prepared to resort to flattery of me. Really and truly, this is the high water mark of his achievement.
As to the motion regarding the construction of Cockburn Sound, the Government does accord a high priority to its construction. At the moment there is a design study taking place regarding the construction of the causeway. May I say something about the causeway. It is not, if I may with respect to the honourable member for Chisholm, simply a case of constructing the facility. I visited, in company with the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Cockburn Sound site earlier this year. Plainly what must be constructed first is the causeway. 1 would like the House and the people of Australia to know that I have set under way studies to see what can be done to expedite the construction of the causeway. I make no commitments about that at all. I can only give an expression of good faith as far as activity is concerned to see what can be done to speed up the design study and the construction of the causeway. But beyond that I have asked my Department to see what can be done to construct such facilities as may be provided simultaneously with the construction of the causeway. This is a matter for technical judgment. I would suspect, speaking in the field of engineering as a complete layman, that it would be possible for some site construction to be carried out simultaneously. I do not know if that is possible but there may be valid technical objections to this.
As far as the facilities themselves are concerned, this is in turn governed by an interdepartmental study now well under way regarding dockyard facilities throughout Australia. The cost of defences would be conceded by all, no matter what our views might be, to be simply enormous and the construction of naval facilities, as the hon ourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) said, is technical and complex. Beyond that, it is extremely costly. It is not - if I may borrow the language which my friend used - simply a case of saying: ‘here is a bay’, or to use my honourable friend’s picturesque language: ‘this is a place where we can put the car’. It is essential to have all the infrastructure, the backup facilities and the industrial facilities.
The first step is the construction of the causeway and the second is the construction of facilities. The facilities that will be required will depend entirely on what the report on dockyard facilities produces, and in turn an assessment of that report. They are the two things. I hope that the report will be available early next month. It was my expectation - and I do not disguise my own disappointment - that the report could have been available by the end of this month, but I am now informed that for valid reasons it will not be available until early next month, and of course the Government-
– I take a point of order. I understand that this debate, unless a vote is taken, will be adjourned at a quarter to one. Therefore I ask, through you, Sir: Will the Minister who believes in this proposition, or says he does, sit down and allow the House to vote on it?
– Order! There is no point of order.
– I do not take exception to hard blows in this House at all, or elsewhere for that matter, but I think that this is an extraordinary performance by the honourable member for Eden -Monaro to now seek to delay what I am saying on this matter by taking such an incredibly childish point of order. Let me say this. The Australian Labor Party has had ample opportunity to speak on this debate. For that matter it has had ample opportunity to have a vote on the motion.
– We will vote.
– The honourable member is hoist with his own petard. He has had the opportunity for the last hour and a half lo move that the question be put. Every procedural device has been available to him. What has the honourable member done? He has sat there, as I say, in a simulated Trappist-
Motion (by Mr Whitlam) negatived:
That the question be now put.
– I thought I would expose him.
– I only hope that the country will long remember this day. AsI was saying before I was so petulantly interrupted, there have been 6 Government speakers. Every opportunity has been given to my friend. He could have followed the honourable member for Chisholm. He then could have followed the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland), but he sat there sopping wet with his own satisfaction. He could have followed the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett). Indeed, the honourable member for Canning with customary courtesy truncated his speech and sat down. Indeed I would have suspected what was in his mind when he sat down was: ‘Well, I must give the Leader of the Opposition an opportunity to state his point of view’. If it was not the case, if charity did not pervade his being in that form, no doubt he said in his own mind: ‘Well, I must give the defence spokesman for the Opposition an opportunity to state his view’. But no. he did not avail himself of that opportunity. Then the honourable member for La Trobe spoke. Goodness knows, he is possessed of an infinite sense of charity. It was only a matter of the Leader of the Opposition or of any Labor spokesman saying ‘Would you mind sitting down and giving me a go’- to put it in homely language - and the honourable member for La Trobe most obligingly would have sat down.
– On a point of order. Will the Minister now, instead of asking members to speak, give them an opportunity to vote?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hallett)There is no point of order. I call the Minister. No, I call the Leader of the Opposition.
– I wish to move the suspension of Standing Orders to permit the debate on this matter to proceed for another half hour.
-Order! The Minister is still on his feet speaking in the debate.
– But, Mr Deputy Speaker, you called me and I wish to move this because there are 8 minutes that the Minister has and 7 minutes for the debate. The Minister is talking the matter out to avoid a vote.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will be seated. The Minister sat down because there was a point of order. The Minister is still speaking in the debate and he cannot be interrupted.
– I have no wish to reflect in any way on the Chair. I did sit down because a point of order was being taken. It was a matter of courtesy on my part. I only hope that a little of it rubs off. There is no doubt about it - chagrin can certainly manifest itself in an infinite variety of ways. Chagrin! If ever I have seen a childish churlish display of chagrin I have seen it today. The honourable and learned gentleman should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, after having been met with courtesy all round the chamber - the dominant quality of Government supporters.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, am I entitled to move that the Minister be not further heard, so that the House may vote on this matter?
– What does the honourable member for Eden-Monaro intend to move?
– I rise to order. Is it in order for the Opposition, which has stated consistently since the beginning of this debate, that it has been waiting for the Minister for the Navy to speak, now to seek to prevent him from speaking?
– The Minister is speaking so that the time allotted for the debate will expire.
– Speaking to the point of order, I point out that the honourable member for Eden-Monaro has asked a question to which you, Mr Deputy Speaker, have not yet replied. Is the reply yes or no?
-I think the honourable member for Eden-Monaro asked whether he could move that the Minister be not further heard. Is that right?
– That is right.
– Yes. The honourable member may do that.
– So that a vote may be taken on this most important matter I move:
– The question is:
That the Minister be not further heard.
Those in favour say aye; those against say no. I think the noes have it.
– The Minister said aye.
-I said nothing of the sort.
– Is a division required?
– Yes. We want a vote on the motion and the only way to get it is to have the Minister sit down. He is talking the matter out.
That the Minister for the Navy be not further heard.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr J. M. Hallett)
Majority . . . . 7
Every Member shall vote in accordance with his voice (either ‘Aye’ or ‘No’) and his vote shall be so recorded.
Many of us heard the Minister for the Navy vote ‘Aye’ on this question.
Question so resolved in the negative.
– Order! The time allotted for the discussion of General Business has now expired. The resumption of the debate will be made an Order of the Day for General Business on the next day of sitting.
Suspension of Standing Orders
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the debate on Notice No. 1 being continued for a further 30 minutes.
I move that motion so that the House may vote on this matter which has been on the notice paper since the House first sat. It is a matter upon which I want to express the view of the Opposition. Mr Deputy Speaker, as a distingushed member for Western Australia you would know that members of my Party, since 1961, have been insisting on the need for naval and maritime facilities on the Indian Ocean. My predecessor included that proposition in his policy speeches in that year, in 1963 and in 1966, and last October I undertook on behalf of my Party to co-operate with the Western Australian Government in providing general maritime facilities at Cockburn Sound. We have foreborne until this stage to speak on the matter because we wanted to know the Government’s attitude on the two-fold proposition put by the honourable and gallant member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes). The Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen) expressed support - I apprehend that every honourable member in the House would now express it - for the proposition that a high priority on the defence programme should be given to the proposed naval base at Cockburn Sound.
– I raise a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition is speaking to the motion he has moved. In effect he is seeking to make the speech that he could have made to the substantive motion proposed by our colleague the honourable member for Chisholm. I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition is now going far beyond stating the reasons for his motion and in fact is seeking to debate the substantive issue, opportunities for which have been ‘ open to the Opposition throughout this morning, but which they have not so far taken.
The Leader of the Opposition may only give the reasons for moving the motion.
– You will pardon me, Sir, for pointing out that the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was not in the House at any time this morning and made no effort to speak to that motion. The second clause of the motion proposed by the honourable member for Chisholm, namely that negotiations should be undertaken with the British Government to base 2 aircraft carriers at Cockburn Sound after 1970, is one upon which the Minister for Navy has not expressed a view. Nor is the Minister for Defence prepared to express a point of view on it. The elaborate pro cedures which were adopted this morning to leave the Minister 19 minutes in which to make his 20 minute speech-
– I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I move: ‘That the matter be now put’.
-Order! There is no substance to the point of order.
– I was pointing out why the procedure was adopted of leaving the Minister for the Navy only 19 minutes - the period remaining for this debate - in which to make his 20 minute speech. It was to avoid the Government declaring its attitude on negotiations with the British Government to station 2 aircraft carriers in Cockburn Sound. The Government would not support this proposition. The time for debate had to be spun out so that no vote could be taken. A vote on this issue would have shown that the whole Ministry, not only a destroyer like the Minister for the Navy but a battleship like the Minister for Defence - indeed the whole Cabinet - and a superannuated tug like the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) would all-
-Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to stick to the point.
– The whole Ministry would have voted against this proposition, leaving the honourable members for Chisholm, Cook (Mr Dobie), Curtin (Mr Garland), Canning (Mr Hallett), La Trobe (Mr Jess), and North Sydney (Mr Graham) alone in favour of the proposition. The Opposition will co-operate in taking a vote on this matter. It is known by all honourable members that the Government would be gravely embarrassed if this motion were carried. Every device has been adopted to avoid a vote on this motion. Accordingly I am facilitating an opportunity for the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay), who is trying to interject, the ex-naval man - he is ex so many other occupations; he has been everything by starts and nothing long - to declare his attitude on this matter. Does he think negotiations should be undertaken with the British Government to station 2 aircraft carriers in Cockburn Sound or not? The Minister for the Navy did not state his attitude. Every other Minister was out of the House. This procedure has been adopted to avoid a debate on a matter which would expose yet another division within the Liberal Party.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, a point of order needs to be taken at this stage. The Leader of the Opposition has moved a motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. He is taking the opportunity to do 3 things. Firstly he proposes to talk until 1 o’clock so that-
– No, I have finished speaking.
-Order! As the Leader of the Opposition has finished speaking 1 want to know whether there is seconder to the motion.
– And you will not speak to it either?
– No. I second the motion. [ do not wish to speak.
– The motion for the suspension of Standing Orders will be opposed by honourable members on this side of the House, ft will be opposed because there was the expectation-
-Order! The question before the Chair is that the motion be agreed to. All of that opinion say ‘Aye’.
Opposition members - Aye.
– To the contrary. ‘No’.
Government members - No.
-I think the noes have it. Is a division required?
Opposition members - Divide!
– Mr Deputy Speaker, under the Standing Orders I am entitled to be called to speak to the substantive motion. You have no right to put the question.
-Order! The Minister could not speak before I stated the motion. The question has now been proposed.
– I rise for the call, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-I call the Minister.
– The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, by pursuing this course, proposes to do 2 things–
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The motion for the suspension of Standing Orders has been put. You have made a decision. The Opposition has asked for a division on your interpretation of the vote and therefore the Minister is not entitled to speak.
– Perhaps it is my fault but the question had to be proposed before the Minister could be heard. That is the reason I put it as I did. The Minister was on his feet.
– J rise to a point of order. The vote has been taken and you have declared the result of the vote. In that circumstance, we have now asked for a division. At this stage it is up to you, with due respect to your high office, to order that the bells be rung so that the division can be taken. You cannot permit a debate to be commenced after the taking of a division has started.
– There is no substance in the point of order.
Sitting suspended from 1.1 to 2 p.m.
– The motion that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) is to extend the time which would be allowed for notice No. I General Business today, which is a motion to be moved by my friend and colleague, the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes). In the debate this morning, from memory, there were either 4 or 5 speakers from this side of the House.
– There were 5 speakers plus the Minister.
– J am informed that there were 5 speakers from the Government side plus the Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen). Subsequent to that the Leader of the Opposition moved his motion, lt was nol unexpected because this morning there was a little bit of tactical play on the Opposition side, and I have no doubt that there was tactical play on our side of the House. The end result of it was that nobody on the Opposition side spoke to the motion then before the House. The motion by the Leader of the Opposition to- suspend Standing Orders is an attempt by” the Opposition to recover its ground and has the immediate impact of having prevented notice No. 2 standing in the name of my friend and colleague, the Government Whip, the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox), from coming on. He would be moving for a select committee. My understand is that the select committee has the support of both sides of the House, and it was expected that we would have had 15 minutes from 12.45 to 1 p.m. in which to discuss this matter. That time was to be equally divided between the honourable member for Henty and the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson).
– That still stands.
– The Leader of the Opposition says that that still stands. The arrangement might still stand, but by moving his motion he has eliminated the time slot that was available for it, that is, from 12.45 to1 p.m. Not onlydid he do that, but by pursuing this course he is running the risk of eating very deeply into the time allotted for the committee stage of the National Health Bill. The other impact of this attempt on the part of the Opposition to recover its position, which it abdicated this morning, is to defer the introduction of 3 Bills for which notice was given yesterday.
My reaction to all this is that these things should not occur. We should not put off the introduction of these 3 Bills merely because of the action of the Opposition and in particular the Leader of the Opposition. When we get these divi sions over - and no doubt there will be divisions - if there is enough time I will move the appropriate motion to allow an extra 15 minutes for General Business to consider notice No. 2 so that the honourable member for Henty and the honourable member for Dawson can have the authority of the House for a select committee. I will then not introduce the Bills that were on the notice paper so that the committee stage of the National Health Bill can be resumed by at least 2.30. It may be a minute or two earlier, depending on how much time is taken by the Opposition on divisions. That is the programme I propose. I now move:
That the question be put.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That the motion (Mr Whitlam’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 7
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I ask for leave to move for the suspension of so much of the Standing Orders as would prevent general business Notice No. 2 from being considered up till 2.20 p.m.
– I rise to a point of order. Is it in order for the Minister to move the suspension of Standing Orders while a measure which the Minister has declared to be urgent is still before the House?
– Yes. The motion may be moved at any time. Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon -
It is barely 200 years since Europeans first set foot on the east coast of Australia. Since that time more than 30 species of birds and animals which were unique to Australia have already been exterminated and others are at present under threat of extermination. When a species has been eliminated it is gone for all time. There is no way in which it can be brought back. Australia’s wildlife is a national asset. It belongs to all the people of Australia, not only to those who may reside in any particular State. It is probably even more correct to say that Australia’s wildlife really belongs to all mankind and that it is held by the Australian people on trust. It would be an international tragedy as well as a national tragedy if the threat to the existence of our unique wildlife were not eliminated. By moving the motion I do not intend that the Commonwealth should take over from the States those matters which are constitutionally theirs to administer, butI sincerely believe that an effective conservation policy will depend for its success on the close co-ordination of policies of neighbouring States. If such a policy is in existence at present it is not particularly noticeable.
As a national Parliament we are charged with the responsibility of preserving our national heritage. We can no longer afford to let things drift along as they have been doing. The Australian public is not propared to let things drift along. That is evident from the number of petitions which have been presented to this Parliament in relation to kangaroos. The function at a select committee, among other things, would be to ascertain the facts in relation to the population of kangaroos and other forms of wildlife. Systematic surveying of Australian wildlife is non-existent. Each State and each Territory has its national parks, reserves and sanctuaries. I have been told by people who should be in a position to know what they are talking about that no State system is as comprehensive as it ought to be. For various reasons very few of the reserves have adequate management plans to ensure that what is meant to be preserved is in fact being preserved. I have been told that in some cases the tenure of the reserves is very insecure.
Practically no effective research has been carried out on the effects of pollution and of the widespread use of insecticides on Australia’s wildlife. Such research can be done only at national level. Our wildlife is being threatened by commercial exploitation. I have reliable information that some persons engaged in the kangaroo meat trade believe that it is only a matter of time before governments will take effective action at least to reduce drastically the present rate of slaughter. These people are making the most of the opportunities that they have at the present time; in other words, they are getting what they can while they can. As I see it, a Commonwealth wildlife conservation authority could provide expert collaboration and assistance for the States’ wildlife programmes and it could include an advisory panel of State representatives. The authority could provide State grants for conservation projects which are considered to be of national importance. I would hope that when it is established it would not be merely a hoven for wellmeaning academics but that it would have the teeth to ensure that what ought to bc done will be done. The committee should be composed of people who will at all times be vigilant and who will be prepared to act promptly and fearlessly. I express the hope that the States will give their blessing to the select committee of this House which is proposed to be appointed and that they will do everything in their power to co-operate with it so that its findings will result in a set of rules and a national conservation policy of which the Australian nation can be proud.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion and reserve my right to speak on it later.
– The Opposition welcomes the motion and will facilitate a vote on it as soon as the Government wishes that action. As the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) has stated, this is a positive move, lt is a move which, from the terms of reference, has been well thought out. It is something which can achieve Only good. I hope, however, that in the interim the Government will give consideration to some of the problems which have been put forward on this matter. The select committee may take a number of years before it reaches a decision. For example, included in the terms of reference is provision for a survey of the mammals of the sea. That is going to be a pretty tall order, lt could take a long time. Most of the petitions that the honourable member for Henty and other honourable members have raised in this Parliament have been concerned with the kangaroo. There can be no doubt that a farcical position exists in Australia today. The Government through its export powers could give consideration to this point, because under the present laws the kangaroo is more valuable to Australia than the merino ram. It is against the law of this land to export a live kangaroo, except to an approved zoo, yet this country now allows the export of a merino ram to anyone.
This is a farcical situation. It is not against the law to kill that same kangaroo, put his carcass into a tin and export it. This country of ours attaches such great importance and value to the kangaroo that it cannot be exported .live to friendly nations, yet it can be exported in a tin. So there are strong grounds for supporting this motion. I hope the select committee will put balance into this situation because, speaking as one who is familiar with most of the cattle and sheep country of northern Australia, I am fully aware of the pest proportions of the kangaroo, particularly, and the wallaby in the higher rainfall areas. Those people who are from the semi-arid areas know that, for example, after a spring rain when cattle may have been suffering from drought kangaroos can come in like a plague and devour most of the sweetest grasses. They can cause irreparable damage to perennial pastures, such as in the broken Mitchell grass country. They can do more damage to pastures than sheep, and sheep do more damage than cattle. I raise this point only because there has to be balance in our approach.
It is not just a question of stopping the shooting of the kangaroo. It is not just a question of control in that respect. We have to recognise that there is also a conservation problem. How this is recognised and how it is controlled is a matter for the select committee. It is possible we may have to introduce measures such as West Australia is adopting. That State has zones in which shooting can and cannot occur. The kangaroo cannot be controlled like mickey bulls. No-one can suggest that the kangaroo can be castrated so that it cannot breed, as mickey bulls can be. This is a problem which has to be faced and there are 2 extreme views on it. It is a question of marrying these two views, of being able to define zones or parks or whatever it might be and having humane reasons also brought forward. I am concerned with the serious anomaly that is evident in not allowing live kangaroos to be exported. If it is good enough to shoot them in some of the worst acts of cruelty one can find, particularly by the amateur shooters as opposed to professional shooters, surely it is good enough to allow them to be exported live to friendly areas. I cannot see the propriety of not allowing live kangaroos to be exported to friendly nations when they can be exported in a tin or ruthlessly shot.
It should be borne in mind that the kangaroo should have some rights in this country of ours. It is on our coat of arms; it is something which we should honour. After all, it was here before the white person arrived. I suppose if the kangaroo could speak it could say: ‘This is my country’, just as the Aboriginal can say: ‘This is my country’. As history shows, our treatment of natural fauna has not been too kind. With that thought I would say that the Opposition supports the establishment of the select committee which should keep in mind the balance I have mentioned; conservation on the one hand and the fact that there is a pest problem on the other.
– I very much appreciate the motion that is being discussed now. As the Opposition is in favour of it, it will be carried. I was rather shocked at the logic of the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) who said that we can export a merino ram but we cannot export a kangaroo. I am not doubting the truth of it. But he said we can export the kangaroo in a tin. Before the ban was lifted on the export of merino rams the merino ram could be exported in a tin, too. This is really a matter of whether they are alive and able to breed or dead. I have 3 minutes in which to speak and I would like to say I am wholeheartedly behind the motion. I wish to speak now about birds. In the Mallee electorate which I represent, the area just outside Kerang is the habitat and breeding ground of the ibis. The ibis goes all over Australia and it is a great natural asset because it rids the swamps and other places of various things such as fluke and crickets and minute organisms which harass the primary producer. These things are not in the best interests of primary production and they are eaten by the ibis. I believe the committee must work in conjunction with the States and if it does it will do much for the benefit of Australia. lt has my strong support.
– I rise to support the motion that has been moved by the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) and supported by the honourable members for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and Mallee (Mr Turnbull). I think on a motion as wide ranging as this is in relation to the protection of our natural fauna, all honourable members in this House will support the motion that has been moved by the honourable member for Henty. I think one should say that in this House he has taken a leading part in moving for the protection of the fauna of this country, particularly the kangaroo. In this respect credit should be given him not only by honourable members in this House but also by those persons outside the Parliament who have a very great interest in this matter. I also want to point out that it is not merely a question of what has been done by the honourable member for Henty. For example, members in another place have taken a very great interest in this subject. As a result of the agitation of honourable members in this House, honourable senators in another place and of people outside the Parliament, a move has now been made to set up a select committee which will provide, we hope, a measure of protection in the future. Future generations will not thank us when they remember that some of the most valuable fauna of this country are now extinct because we were not prepared to accept the responsibility for providing the kind of protection that is necessary to preserve what are, after all, our natural assets.
I support this motion. 1 believe it is an extremely important one and it is the first occasion on which a select committee has been proposed. I have no doubt that it will receive the unanimous support of this Parliament. 1 have said on other occasions that I believe there should have been some kind of protection instituted in this country a long time ago. I read some figures recently - whether they can be substantiated I am not in a position to say with absolute certainty - which show that over the last 40 years 40 million kangaroos have been exterminated in this country. I think I can say without it being disputed that we are now exporting between 800,000 and 1- million kangaroo skins each year to the United States of America without any treatment at all. So having these factors in mind I believe that the honourable member for Henty and others who have taken a very keen interest in this matter should be commended for having brought this motion before the Parliament. In conclusion, I merely want to say that I regret that there is still in this country a desire by some people to organise mass shootings of kangaroos. This, somehow or other, is regarded as sport, but I oppose it. The Opposition supports the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Consideration resumed from 13 May (vide page 2105).
Section 73 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (1.) and inserting in its stead the following sub-section: “(1.) The Minister may, after considering the report of the Committee, grant, subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as he thinks fit, or refuse, the application and, if he grants the application, he shall register the organisation accordingly.”.
– I move:
The amendment proposes to place some obligations on the Minister for Health in relation to the way in which he carries out certain business. Where a report is made to the Minister in respect of an application for registration by an organisation in a State or Territory as a health insurance scheme, the Minister has certain powers. Under the provisions of the Act, the Minister may, by his fiat, without any reference to Parliament, grant, reject or subject an application to such conditions as he thinks are necessary. Our proposal is that he ought to do this by regulation. We feel that it should be incumbent on a Minister always to refer to Parliament decisions that he makes so that they can be available for public scrutiny, otherwise government will be conducted in secret. I am in no way casting a reflection on the present Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) or members of his Department. We feel that this is an important principle to establish and that as much as possible ali business handled by a government should be processed through the Parliament so that it can. where it is wished, be subjected to critical scrutiny.
The amendment seeks also the deletion of sub-section (4.) of section 73 of the principal Act and the insertion of a new sub-section (4 ) which provides that a register containing the details of organisations which seek registration and which eventually are approved by the Minister shall be open for public inspection. These health insurance organisations are propped up quite generously by public money - money from the taxpayers - provided by the Government. The public, therefore, has a vested interest. Whether or not they want to use the register is another matter, but any member of the public should be able to review the conditions and the details that are written into the register. I know of instances where information has been sought, even by members of the Health Committee, but it has not been forthcoming. People have written to some of the health insurance organisations asking for information about the regulations that have been established for the conduct pf the affairs of these organisations, but the organisations have refused to give that information. We want to be in a position where all of the details relating to these organisations are available to us. We feel that this is not unreasonable.
The amendment provides also that where the Minister takes action under sub-section (6.) of section 73 of the principal Act on the advice of the Registration Committee he shall do so by regulation. The reasons I put forward earlier stand in respect of this amendment. I do not think there is any need to delay the deliberations of the Committee further. Essentially what we believe is that there should be an obligation always accepted by the Government that matters decided by it should be processed through the Parliament wherever possible. We believe that these are clear cases where it is possible and, therefore, these things should be done by regulation. The regulation would be laid on the table and members, either on their own initiative or on the advice of certain anomalies and deficiencies by ‘ interested members of the public, could act to raise the matter for debate.
Finally, we believe that the register should be open for public inspection. The organisations are, after all, fairly substantially public property, first, because of the large amount of public money which props them up and, secondly, because they are providing a public service, albeit a somewhat inefficient one.
– The first part of this amendment, as explained, relates to the approval or refusal of an application by an organisation for registration. The amendment proposes that the Minister shall give his decision on the application by regulation. It was not quite clear to me what is sought to be achieved by this proposal. Provision is made in clause 53 of the Bill for an appeal to a State supreme court against any decision of the Minister not to grant registration. In any case the registration - of organisations is part of the normal administrative process and, in the view of the Government, in this case legislative processes are not appropriate. The processes associated with the amendment of regulations could delay unnecessarily the approval of an organisation which applied for registration.
The proposed amendment to sub-section (4.) of section 73 of the principal Act would make the register of organisations, which is presently open only to persons authorised in writing by the Minister, open for public inspection. The effect of the proposed amendment would be to make public knowledge the terms and conditions under which the registration was granted to an organisation. This would serve no useful purpose as there is a requirement in the Act that particulars of registered organisations will be gazetted each year in accordance with section 81. Proposed new section 76a, which is contained, in clause 27 of the Bill, provides for the tabling of an annual report setting out details of the financial operations of each individual fund.
The same comments apply to those parts of the amendment which relate to the registration of organisations. It is, in the view of the Government, cumbersome and pointless to require the use of the legislative process to implement a purely administrative decision to revoke or vary any or all of
The terms and conditions under which regis tration is granted to an organisation. On these grounds, the Government opposes the amendment.
– 1 strongly support the amendments, having personally had trouble with these health insurance funds. When I became a member of this House in October last year I received, as no doubt did other honourable members, an invitation from the Hospitals Contribution Fund to become a member of that organisation. I received a letter asking me to write to the organisation if I wanted to know anything more about it. 1 duly did so and asked who the directors were and whether 1 could look at its articles of association. I was told that 1 was not going to be a member but a contributor and I was not entitled to know what 1 sought; that- this information was not available to anybody excepting organisations which, in turn, were affiliated with the Hospitals Contribution Fund. The next step 1 look was to try to get the information through the research services of the Parliamentary Library. T quote from its report:
As discussed previously, there is some difficulty in establishing the names of directors of health funds. This exercise was attempted in the past in the Library through an attempt to collect the annual reports of the various funds. Some funds, however, have not yet replied to a request tor the supply of their latest annual report, while the reports of other funds which have been supplied do not contain the names of the directors of the organisation.
The Legislative Research Service of the Parliamentary Library did supply the names of certain directors of whom they were able to get hold by some method or another. I know that a considerable overlapping occurs between directors of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia and the membership of the Branch Council of the Australian Medical Association. Of the 24 members of the Medical Benefits Fund in New South Wales, 13 also are members of the Australian Medical Association, lt is not surprising that the AMA in many ways has become a pressure group not for doctors but for the self-perpetuation of directors of these funds.
Let me be quite clear there. Some years ago. the Hospitals Contributions Fund and the Medical Benefits Fund organisations combined in New South Wales. They felt that it would be more efficient and more effective from the administrative point of view for the 2 major funds to combine. I assume that it would be better from an economic point of view. Those funds split up some 2 years later. The reason why they split up was not that the amalgamation did nol work out. The reason was that both Mr Cade and Mr Turner wanted to be the boss of the combined organisation. Since both of them could not be the boss al the same time, they decided to split the combined funds so that each could be the boss of one of them. lt is preposterous that we are forcing in effect every Australian to contribute to a medical benefit fund and a hospital contribution fund. Unless a- person does this, he is not entitled to any of the benefits, so called, from this Government. Members of the public are not told that they may join a fund. They are told: ‘Unless you join this fund, you will not get any money that has been set aside from taxation for the purpose of hospital and medical services’. So, people must join these funds.
These funds should not be called, as I have heard them, mutual funds for our mutual benefit. I suggest that the only nui rual benefit is that of the directors of those funds. One cannot even challenge the funds on their membership. We cannot have a go at them on this question because we are not told what is in this register that we are discussing. There is no public inspection of the register. No attempt is made to let any member of the public know who the directors are.
We heard in the House earlier that one of the directors of the Hospital Contributions Fund appointed by Mr Turner was P. G. Huxley. This was in return for the appointment of Mr Turner to the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. Huxley is now in gaol. He is appealing against his sentence. 1 think it is ridiculous that the directors of this and other funds are not appointed even by a constituent organisation. lt appears that they are appointed by the boss of the organisation concerned.
I realise that the Government does not want any interference with, this procedure. Let us be quite clear on this point: I would say that, during the election campaign last year, the medical benefits funds and hospital benefits funds put more money into the propaganda machine of the Liberal Party than any other organisation, including even the oil companies. I certainly would claim that slush funds were set up by ali these organisations. No attempt is made to let us know how the money in those funds is spent. No attempt is made to tell contributors how much of the money contributed to a fund goes towards political propaganda. After . all, whether we have voluntary health insurance or universal health insurance is now a political issue in this country.
It has been said that people will lose their jobs if the proposals of the Labor Party are put into effect. The only people who would be affected adversely by Labor’s alternative health scheme are the directors of those funds. Specifically, those who would bc affected are the people who run those funds, the managing directors and directors of them. We are not given any assistance to investigate the position of these men or to investigate whether they are carrying out their specific functions, even by perusal of their articles of association because we are not allowed to know what those articles of association are. I think that this is a ridiculous proposition. I would indeed be interested to hear the Minister indicate on what possible democratic basis he could advocate that sort of proposition.
- Mr Chairman, I wish to add something quickly to those remarks from the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). I suggest that the statement by the Minister for Health in reply to what I said earlier was a preposterous evasion. Two things are clear as to the intent of what we are proposing. One thing is that the Government must be more clearly answerable to the public through its elected parliamentary representatives and through the Parliament by doing these things that are the subject of discussion through regulations and so bringing them before the Parliament. It does not matter a damn whether this procedure is cumbersome, untidy or inconvenient or whether it is of nuisance value to the Government. What is in the public interest should prevail.
That is my first point. The Government ought to accept this obligation. We do not know what it is doing as far as Australia’s health service*, are concerned. At the
Federal level, where there is a public involvement, altogether too little information has been made available for an informed public debate. If one looks at nursing, one finds that it is almost impossible to formulate a proper assessment of the needs of the community. If one asks the Minister for Health a question in relation to hospital services or, to give a more explicit example, the allocation of funds for hospital services operated by the States outside the Commonwealth subsidy, until quite recently the argument was that details could not be provided. Some sort of airy figure has been plucked out of the atmosphere now by the Minister as an indication of the general magnitude of the assistance from the Federal Government. We have never had any precise accounting as to how this figure was arrived at.
The point that I am trying to get to is this: Too much of public health administration in the Australian community, most especially at the Federal level, proceeds under a cloak of secrecy. All we are trying to do is to tear some of this secrecy away. As an extension of this attempt, we are suggesting that the register in which these details are recorded ought to be available for public inspection. The honourable member for Prospect has given his own experience in this matter. If people, whether they are students, post-graduate students, academics doing research work or just interested parties doing research work into the operations of these schemes, w-sh 1 to obtain information, they ought to be able to go to and to obtain this information easily from a public register. This ought to be public property. Sharp variations between the concessions given to one organisation and the concessions given to another organisation ought not to occur. These variations very well might not exist. We do not know at this time. We do not know whether some greater favours are being provided for organisation ‘A’ over organisation ‘B’. That is why we are asking that this register be available for public inspection.
It is so much eyewash to talk about the right of appeal provided later on in the Bill with respect to an organisation that is refused registration. This is all very well for the organisation concerned. The Government is quite generous in its concern for these organisations about which we are talking. We are talking about public rights, not privileges, which have been consolidated by Government legislation for these private health organisations. The basic principle ought to be accepted by this Parliament that we are answerable as much as it is humanly possible to be for these things. In spite of whether it is inconvenient or whether it is of nuisance value to be required to provide this information, we do have an obligation to make as much information available to the public regarding what is handled in the administration of the affairs of the company.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 26 agreed to.
Section 76 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following sections are inserted in its stead: -
“76a.- (1.) The Director-General shall, as soon as practicable after the thirtieth day of June in each year, commencing with the year One thousand nine hundred and seventy-one, furnish to the Minister a report on the operations of registered organisations during the year ending on that date. “(2.) The report shall include, in respect of each medical benefits fund or hospital benefits fund conducted by the registered organisation during the year to which the report relates, the following information in respect of the fund or, if the fund includes a special account, in respect of the pan of the fund other than the special account: -
- Mr Chairman, shortly I will move circulated amendment (21). Before so doing, I wish to add my protest to those of my colleagues on this side of the Committee regarding the way in which this Bill is being rushed through the Parliament. It seems to me to be quite hypocritical for the Government to say that this Bill must be put through in a very great hurry. We waited around for 4½ months after the last election. The Parliament sat for 1 day only during that time. All that time, we could have been attending to the legislative business of this country. The Parliament was kept in recess except for that 1 day sitting for the whole of those4½ months. I do not think that the Government is really justified in saying that this Bill has to be pushed through in a great hurry.
I also wish to add that all these amendments that the Opposition has put forward to this legislation are not prejudicial in any way to what the Labor Party will do when it forms the government of Australia. All we are trying to do with these amendments is to make a bad Bill not quite so bad. We are trying to get rid of some of the worst features of the legislation. These amendments do not relate in any way to the health programme of the Australian Labor Party.
Mr Chairman, I move:
In proposed section 76a, sub-section (2.) omit paragraph (h), insert the following paragraphs: “(h) names of all shareholders in the fund and the equity held by each in that fund and the names of all directors of that fund;
The purpose of my amendment is similar to the purpose referred to by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) in speaking to the last amendment. It relates to section 76a of the principal Act which provides that the Director-General will furnish the Minister with a report on the operations of registered organisations. It relates to the details that the organisations should disclose to the Minister. The last paragraph in my amendment is (k), which reads: such other information as the Parliament requires to be included.
In other words, I have changed the wording from ‘Minister’ to ‘Parliament’ so that members of Parliament who are representing the people can have access to information about the way these funds operate and to the annual financial statements of these voluntary health insurance funds.
The purpose of my amendment relates to experiences I have had in my own State of South Australia which are similar to those mentioned by the honourable member for Prospect. I was concerned about the middle of last year at the way some of the funds were operating, because as honourable members know there was a great deal of publicity about the excessive administration costs of these voluntary health funds and also the excessive amount of reserves that they were accumulating. So I set out to find out from one fund, the fund to which I contribute in Adelaide. I can say the name of it. It is the Mutual Hospital Association Ltd. I would like to make it quite clear that I am not alleging any malpractice or any misappropriation of funds on the part of this particular organisation in South Australia. However, the circumstances are that because of the way in which this Act operates in such a secret manner the opportunity would be there for unscrupulous operators to use funds without any public supervision. So I inquired of the fund whether I would be able to get hold of its annual financial statement and I was rushed in to the secretary who told me no, the financial statement was not available to contributors of the fund. I said: ‘Is it made available to anybody?’ I was informed: Yes, it is made available to shareholders.’
Not being a shareholder I was not able to get a copy of the statement. So I inquired whether I would be able to buy one or two shares in the fund. I was told this was not possible either, because the shares were not tradeable. I was not able to find out the market value of the shares. I was not allowed to find out who the directors of the fund were. All I know is that the directors are elected by the shareholders and not by the contributors. I was informed that in 1937 before the implementation of the Basle Page scheme for health insurance 300 prominent families in Adelaide set this fund up.
– In South Australia?
– I was told that 300 families in South Australia had set the fund up and they became the shareholders and acquired some sort of equity in the fund. This ownership and managerial control of this Association has operated in South Australia since 1937.
– Was the Minister in it?
– I do not know whether the Minister’s family is one of the 300 prominent families in South Australia. However, it is a pretty notorious fact that the 300 prominent families in South Australia have a fair bit of hegemony over the affairs of that State. The point that I make is the secrecy surrounding the fund. For all we know each family may have one 20c share in the Association which enables it not just to control the share capital in the Association but also to control the whole of the contributors’ funds. This means that they can control what happens to the reserves of each individual organisation. As we know the reserve funds of these voluntary health insurance funds were excessive. I was quite unable to find out who the shareholders were and what their equity was in each fund. I think it is something that we ought to know.
That Association ran a particularly vitriolitic campaign against the Australian Labor Party at the last federal election. It would not reveal the funds to me, but every now and then it leaked to the Press a one line item out of its financial statement. I do not know very much about accountancy but I do know that if you release a smail enough amount of information you can make black appear to be white. This ought to be done in a much more open fashion. I do not suggest, as I said, that the directors of this organisation are making a profit out of it. I realise that it is a non-profit organisation. However, the directors of it have access to the reserves. They can decide where the reserve funds of each health insurance fund can be directed. For instance, supposing I happened to be a director of this Association and I also happened to be a director of some bank or some hire purchase company. I could say: We have a few reserves to spare. My own finance company is not going too well. We will invest some of the reserves of this health insurance fund in my finance company’. I repeat that I am not alleging that this has occurred but we must have public oversight to see that such a thing does not occur. This is a very important reason why we must know what is being done with the public’s money.
It is an extraordinary situation that the public is virtually being compelled to belong to these insurance funds, as the honourmember for Prospect pointed out. The Government maintains that this is not compulsory insurance, but if we do not subscribe to these insurance funds we do not get the Commonwealth benefit for which we subscribe taxes. I cannot see any reason why the Government should not accept this amendment. All we ask is that the funds make available the names of the shareholders of each fund; the directors; the equity they hold; where the reserves of each fund are to be invested: and if companies in which reserves are invested have common interlocking directorships with health insurance funds, this should be stated in the annual report which should be given to the Parliament. I cannot see why this Government should not accept this amendment. It does not involve an appropriation of money. It does not involve complicated administration. There is no extra expenditure. It does not involve any tribunals and there would be practically no filling in of forms. I strongly hope that the Government will accept this amendment.
– This amendment is directed to the new section 76A contained in clause 27. The section provides for the Minister to table each year before each House of Parliament a report of the Director-General on the operations of registered organisations. The new sub-section (2.) lists 7 heads of information that are to be included in the report of the Director-General. The list is not exhaustive and paragraph (h) enables the Minister to require additional information to be included. So it is contemplated that if it appears desirable in the light of experience the Minister will require additional information. In considering this amendment - and I think it is important to put the matter in perspective - it is relevant to keep in mind the various types of organisations that are registered under the National Health Act. Numerically the main group of organisations are those registered under State law as friendly societies. A second important group includes the larger organisations registered under State law as guaranee companies. Other State law exists, such as legislation applicable to co-operative societies, charities and benefit associations, which applies to organisations which are not friendly societies or guarantee companies. <
It follows that the majority of organisations and certainly all the larger ones, are to a greater or lesser extent subjected to dual control; that is, by both the Commonwealth under the National Health Act and a particular State or States under appropriate State legislation. I feel that the legal provisions relating to all of those organisations are adequate for their general control and the protection of contributors. At the same time it is realised that the Commonwealth’s interest is a vital one and it is for this reason that the Bill provides additional measures directed to organisations’ activities. From what I have said it is also apparent that the amendment would probably not have application to all organisations but only to the larger funds which are guarantee companies under State law. For instance, the information sought in the amendment would not appear to be relevant in respect of friendly societies whose financial transactions, reserve investments, etc., are closely supervised under the powers conferred by State friendly societies Acts.
– But it is quite relevant.
– Let me finish. At this point of time the Government would prefer not to commit itself to the additional information that is to be included in the report to be tabled in Parliament. Some of the information sought in the proposed amendment could be relevant to an examination of an individual organisation’s affairs but until the Government has had an opportunity to consider the overall effects of including such information in the report as is sought by the amendment, I would prefer to have the Bill not made more specific at this stage. On those grounds, although not rejecting the objective sought by the amendment, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
Mir DALY (Grayndler) [3.1]- lt would be wrong of me to speak to this amendment without joining the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) and other members of the Opposition in expressing our complete dissatisfaction with the time allotted for the discussion of this legislation. We have less than 80 minutes in which to discuss clauses 22 to 41. which deal with medical funds and their ramifications. [Quorum formed.] lt is to be regretted that the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan), who drew attention to the state of the Committee, did not point out that although the Government has seen fit to declare this measure an urgent one and to apply a time limit on its discussion, very few members of the Liberal Party have been present in the chamber today. I express my contempt for the Government’s attitude in limiting to 80 minutes discussion on this important aspect of the legislation. 1 rise mainly to expose the methods adopted by the Government in dealing with the medical benefits funds. The Government is party to the covering up of things that should be brought to the light of day. The vague explanation given by the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) for the Government’s refusal to accept the amendment is in keeping with the Bill generally, which is quite vague. The purpose of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingston is to afford some protection to the public against the ramifications and activities of the health benefits organisations. We on this side of the chamber want to do away with the secrecy and maladministration associated with some of these organisations. Far from supporting us, the Minister apparently endorses what the funds are doing. For example, nobody knows how directors are elected to the funds. The Minister has told us that he will not divulge the kind of additional information that he will require from the funds when they table their reports but the fact is that he will not ask for additional information.
Our amendment seeks to make it mandatory that certain information be supplied. Why should people not know the. names of shareholders in the funds and the extent of their shareholdings? Why should people not know how reserves have been spent or invested? Why should they not have details of the direct or indirect interest of fund directors in organisations in which fund reserves have been invested? Why should people not have other information which the Parliament may from time to time require? Why should people not know why Huxley, who is serving 20 years for embezzling S5.5m, was a director of the Hospital Contribution Fund of New South Wales? Will the Minister tell us whether he condones the appointment of a man like Huxley to the HCF by Mr Turner, Director of the HCF, simply, I understand, because Huxley nominated Mr Turner for membership of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales? Why should all this information not be written into the legislation for all to see?
Looking at the list of directors of the Hospital Contribution Fund, I find that some are known to me and a number are reputable people, but some have evidently been selected for no other reason than that they are friends of Mr Turner and have been able to nominate him for membership of some organisations. The list of directors is studded with the names of dozens of doctors. Funds such as these are operated to protect the doctors from bad debts rather than to protect the public against high doctors’ fees. T invite the Minister to study the lists of directors of these funds, which include the names of people such as Huxley. I invite him to study the names of the numerous doctors on those lists and to tell the Parliament why we are not entitled to know how these people are elected. People who, over a period of time, contribute millions of dollars, have no say in the election of directors. They do not know who is eligible for election or why people are elected. Nobody knows how much these directors are paid.
A couple of years ago we had the situation of the Hospital Contribution Fund paying for large advertisements in newspapers to argue its case in opposition to the action proposed at that time by the New South Wales Minister for Health. Those advertisements were paid for by contributors’ funds at a time when contribution rates were being increased. I would not like to see contributions’ funds used to attack the Minister in this place simply because he was not doing something with which the funds agreed. By refusing to write into the legislation the proposal which the honourable member for Kingston has put forward the Minister is leaving himself open to the type of treatment that has been meted out by the funds to other Ministers for Health.
Why should. the public not know why contributors’ funds have been spent on the purchase of private aircraft for the use of fund directors? Why should we not know what expenses are paid to directors and others who attend’ conferences in Australia and other countries? Why should funds not be required to provide this information to the Parliament? When all is said and done, we are not dealing with chicken feed. The latest figures show that the funds have reserves of about $78m. Contributors’ funds run into millions of dollars and they should be subject to the fullest measure of parliamentary supervision so that we may be sure that members of the public are not being exploited.
The Government believes in conscription. *1** conscripts men to fight; it conscripts people into the medical benefits funds. A person must contribute to a fund before he may obtain the Commonwealth benefit. Notwithstanding this, the Government seeks to deny contributors the knowledge they desire about those who run the funds. The health scheme is clouded in mystery. It is in a shambles. The Minister would have adopted a much fairer attitude if he had accepted the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingston, which seeks not only the provision of information already required to be provided by the funds but also additional information. I do not think the public will be satisfied with the present set-up. These funds have had too much of a go with the public’s money and the public has been getting too little from the funds. I subscribe to the Opposition’s view that the whole system of funds should be examined with a view to creating one great national fund. If this were done the people would know where their money was going, administrative costs would be kept to a minimum and the activities of the directors and others associated with the fund would be clear for all to see.
It is true that in a later clause of the Bill there is provision for changes in the rules of registered organisations. Why does the Government not legislate so that at least some officers of the funds are elected by the vote of contributors? No other organisation in the country would tolerate this kind of treatment of its members, yet here, where millions of dollars of contributors’ money are involved, all you do is register the rules of the organisation. In that way apparently you satisfy all and sundry. Why get half the information from them? Why not seek what we should have? Why not investigate the full ramifications in this Parliament instead of outside? This is not possible unless the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingston is incorporated in the legislation. I will vote in this Parliament to protect people from the like of Huxley being appointed to hospital benefit funds at the whim of directors. We should subscribe to a pol icy of elective control of these organisations by contributor representatives and we should have all available information from them in the Parliament. I support the amendment. The Minister might well accept it instead of giving the shallow excuse that he had for not accepting it.
– I join with my colleagues, in registering an emphatic protest about the guillotining of this legislation. After all the Bill covers 177 pages and is accompanied by a memorandum of 119 pages. This Committee is expected to deal with all this in less than 6 hours 20 minutes. At one stage of this debate, under the guillotine arrangements 13 clauses are to be dealt with in less than 1 hour. Honourable members have just observed the serious matters involved. My colleague the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) outlined a matter which requires the diligent attention of the Committee.
We are fortunate in having with us the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun), an eminent doctor, who is obsessed with public interest and who is intent on having inserted in the legislation provisions which will safeguard the interests of contributors. What is it that the honourable member for Kingston has proposed and which apparently the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) is going to reject? It seems that it does not matter what virtue there is in amendments moved by honourable members from the Opposition side of the House. The Minister, like the Sphinx, is unmoved. He is not prepared to be accommodating in any way whatsoever even though the Opposition has taken the trouble to talk to representatives of the hospital and medical funds and to the medical profession. As a sequel to those long and protracted negotiations and hard application to the problem, the Opposition has presented carefully considered amendments. Apparently not one of them is to receive consideration.
I ask the Committee and those people who may be listening to this debate to look carefully at the amendment which this Government is now rejecting. The honourable member for Kingston has proposed that when the Director-General brings down his annual report about the operations of hospital and medical benefit funds he should include in it information about the names of al] shareholders in funds, the equity held by each of them in the funds and the names of the directors. Why is it that the Minister for Health and the Government which he represents want to withhold that information? We want to know the details of investments made by the funds. Where does their money go to? After all. the money belongs to the contributors.
The honourable member for Kingston also proposed that the Director-General require from the funds information which can be made available to the Parliament about the details of direct or indirect shareholding interests in other organisations which are held by directors, and also of organisations in which the funds’ reserves have been invested. If the directors have shareholdings in organisations and the funds invest in them also then we want to know the details of those transactions. Why is it that the Minister wants to withhold this kind of information?
I refer the Committee to the warnings given by the Commonwealth Committee of Enquiry into Health Insurance, the expert committee appointed by the Government and headed by Mr Justice Nimmo, which analysed the investments of a representative group of organisations. At page 51 of the Nimmo Committee’s report it is stated that these organisations had reserves of $52m. That is the kind of money we are dealing with. The Nimmo Committee analysed the manner in which that money was dispersed by way of investment. Of that sum 3.6% or $1.9m was invested in shares. Do not the public and the contributors have a right to know what companies are receiving the benefit of these investments? The Nimmo Committee reported that 10.9% or S5.8m was invested in debentures: 8.2% or S4.3m was invested in mortgages: and 1.4% or $740,000 was invested in miscellaneous investments. The average yield from all this was only 5%. Anybody would concede that that is a relatively low return today. Obviously they were not investing in Poseidon or any of the rip roaring stocks that have recently engaged attention in the lucrative market.
Order! The time allotted for consideration of clauses 27 to 41 has now expired. The immediate question is: That the amendment to clause 27 moved by the honourable member for Kingston be agreed to.
– The question now is: That clauses 27 to 41 be agreed to.
– 1 raise a point of order. Does this mean that 2 other amendments, one standing in the name of the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy) and the other in my name, are not even to be moved let alone discussed?
– What a disgrace! What a farce!
– Order! The Time allotted has expired.
– The Opposition is voting against the question that clauses 27 to 41 be agreed to.
– Does the Opposition want a division?
– Yes. This is farcical. We have 2 proposed amendments which so far have not been put before the Committee. This is a vital Bil). Surely we are going to have some intensive consideration of these. Otherwise we are wasting our time in coming here.
– Order! The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat. Ring the bells.
Question put. The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority .. .. 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 42. (I.) Section 82k, 82s and 82t of the Principal Act are repealed and the following sections inserted in their stead: - “82r. . . . 82s.- (1.) Where-
– by leave -I move:
In proposed section 82s. at the end of sub-section (1.) add the words “plus any specified excess detailed in the schedules”.
In proposed section 82s, at the end of sub-section (2.) add the words “but in no case will a contributor receive less than an amount equal to the daily cost of public ward treatment in a public hospital in his State for each day he is charged for hospital treatment”.
In proposed section 82t, sub-section (2.) at the end of paragraph (e) add the words “plus any specified excess detailed in the Schedules”.
In proposed section 82t, sub-section (2.), at the end of paragraph (f) add the words “plus twothirds of any specified excess detailed in the Schedules”.
In proposed section 82t, sub-section (2.), at the end of paragraph (g) add the words “plus onethird of any specified excess detailed in the Schedules”.
After proposed section 82t insert the following proposed section: “82ta. For the purposes of sections eighty-two s and eighty-twot a person entitled to the benefits proposed under these sections shall not be debarred from those benefits merely because he failed to apply for them by registering as a contributor provided he does so within two years of the first date on which he otherwise qualified for medical or hospital benefit.”.
The first 5 of the 6 amendments relate to the subsidy to low income earners for hospital and medical benefits. The approach of the Government to the subsidy For low income earners in respect of hospital and medical benefits is not that approach which the Labor Party would adopt. In our approach, as we made quite clear, we would identify the poverty line and would make an allowance for each dependant. Accordingly the people who fall within that category and who were to benefit from subsidised insurance in our universal health insurance scheme, as distinct from the present inefficient scheme operated by the Government, would pay nothing at all. It is quite irrational to establish that someone lives-
– Order! I point out to the honourable member for Oxley that again the effect of the 6 amendments that he has moved would beto increase the amount of the appropriation required. Therefore I rule that the amendments are out of order.
– I move:
That the clause be postponed.
I continue to indicate what the effect would have been had we been allowed to move our amendments and had they been upheld as being valid. In doing so I indicate what our attitude is to this provision. Our feeling is that once it has been established that low income earners live within an area, which is identified as one of want or of poverty, it is irrational then to say that they are to be charged for health protection. These are the people who, more than most people in the community, need the benefits of a comprehensive range of health services. They are deprived from benefiting in this way to some extent if charges are to be imposed on them. In fact, there will be charges imposed On these people even where the income earner receives less than $42.50 a week - this is the minimum wage - because there is still an excess amount which hasto be met.
This is an obligation on the person who would be covered. I could give some examples from the Nimmo Committee’s recommendations, which were not adopted by the Government. We do not uphold the report of the Nimmo Committee as an outstanding examplar of what ought to be done in health insurance. We draw attention to it only because it was a rather vigorous broadside blasting the deficiencies in some areas of the Government’s health insurance scheme, while at the same time restricting itself the recommendations consistent with the operation of the present scheme.
Under these recommendations, a person with more than 2 children, on the minimum wage would be allowed an additional $4 a week per child- and would obtain cover for health insurance. This would mean that a person with 6 children and earning $58.50 a week would be receiving some cover if those recommendations had been upheld. In actual fact, a person without dependants and receiving $48.50 a week will get no benefit at all. This is somewhat anomalous. On the basis put forward by the Nimmo Committee there was a clear case of want for a man, a wife and 6 children trying to exist on $58.50 a week. They will receive no concessions at all. But a married man with a wife alone and no dependants on $42.50 a week will be getting full protection under the subsidised scheme. A person receiving between $42.50 and $45.50 a week will pay only one-third of the cost of the insurance. A person, earning between $45.50 and $48.50 a week will pay two-thirds of the cost. This is anomalous. It means that child-bearing and child-rearing are recognised as offences by the Government. Accordingly those guilty of this are penalised with a monetary imposition or a monetary fine.
Let me deal with some of the financial aspects of the Government’s proposal. A person in New South Wales earning between $42.50 and $45.50 a week will pay 63c a week on the adjusted scale for hospital and medical insurance. Those earning between $45.50 and $48.50 will pay $1.26 a week. Let us take as an example the case of a man supporting a wife and 6 children. If he is earning only $46 a week, which is not very much money to be supporting 7 dependants as well as himself, he would have to pay $1.26 a week, because he would be paying two-thirds of the insurance rate. If he has to pay on top of that rent at $16 a week, which is extremely cheap rent in relation to the market standards at the present time, and a food bill of $22 a week, which is a rather Spartan diet for a large family, he will be paying $39 a week out of his weekly income of $46. This leaves only $7 with which to provide extras, such as clothing, transport, school books for the children and so on. This works out at 85c for each person in the household. This is an absolutely ridiculous situation. It is quite unreasonable of the Government to expect that a person in these circumstances will be able to surrender this extra $1.26 a week to try to cover himself and his family with health insurance when he knows very well that in any event he will still have to meet some of the expense.
He will have to meet the excess charges under this present scheme. If he is unfortunate enough to go to a doctor who does not adhere to the common fee concept, he will be paying more than the excess charge which is struck in the schedule attached to the Bill. This is particularly true in New South Wales because thousands of doctors who are members of the General Practitioners Society in that State have declared that they will not adhere to the common fee concept, that they will charge more. This to me is not a reasonable proposition at all and in no meaningful way ameliorates the problem of people on low incomes relative to the size of the family. It is an established fact that poor people do pay more in our society. They are exploited. They are regarded as bad risks solely because they have a low income and a limited surplus, if any, to provide for an extra purchase, whether it is a motor car, which becomes essential in our society for so many workers, or whether it is a television set. We cannot blame people who live in a depressed environment for trying to escape in the television tube to get away from the depression which their environment fosters.
Again, one does not blame a man for going away and drinking at night. I can well understand this situation if it is one way of drugging his senses against the depression and frustrations of living in an environment of want. These are well established social factors. Sociological surveys have established that these are causes for people reacting in a way which traditionally is condemned by the complacent, conceited middle class in our society. It is not condemned by all middle class people because there is a growing radical strain within the middle class which is expressing concern about these people living in want. But for goodness sake, that growing radical, informed middle class group is not responsible for defining this legislation now before us.
I want to mention one other point quickly. God knows that we have to move quickly in this House with the application of the guillotine or else we will get our debating heads cut off. We have already missed out on moving 2 amendments that we wanted to move which were of fair significance to this measure. We are given 6 hours in which to debate the whole Bill. The Government Parties have been squabbling over it for weeks in their Party room. They have had more time than the national Parliament has had to decide this.
The effect of our other amendment is that a person shall not be debarred from the benefits of the subsidised scheme solely because he failed to apply for them by registering as a contributor provided that he does so within 2 years of incurring the expense for which he is seeking benefit. AgainI refer to what I said earlier. A lot of these people who live in this area of low income do not have the benefits of much education and find it difficult to equip themselves to handle the challenges of daily living. Frequently they miss out on registering claims not only for medical benefits but for other benefits in society. They ought not to be deprived because of the failure of our system which allows them to exist in this vulnerable fashion. This is why we have moved this amendment too.
That the clause be postponed.
Question resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 43 to 46 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Proposed new clause 46a.
– I move:
That the following new clause be inserted in the Bill: “46a. Section 101 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section (2b) the following sub-section: - (2c.) Parliament shall be advised of the names and qualifications of those persons appointed under the foregoing provisions.’.”.
This is asking that we in this Parliament be informed of the personnel and the qualifications of the people who are appointed to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. The main function of this Committee is to advise the Minister for Health on those items which shall be included as subsidised prescriptions or as free medicine for pensioners. There are one or two other categories such as free doctors’ bag supplies and certain hospital items. The important group of course is the general pharmaceutical benefits which are available to anyone on a doctor’s prescription if that prescription is in accordance with the Act and those benefits available to pensioners.
When the Labor Party introduced a medical scheme with a schedule it was thrown out on various technicalities, including the fact that the High Court of Australia ruled that it was conscription to require doctors to use a government form. Shortly after, of course, the Earle Page scheme came in. It purported to provide life saving and disease preventing drugs on prescription free, but not the wide range that the Labor Government had proposed. Since then the Government has made a magnaminous gesture by saying that it will cover 90% of the cost of doctors’ prescriptions provided that the patient pays the first 50c of each prescription. That 90% has proved to be wrong. It is probably nearer to 85% of prescriptions that are now covered under the pharmaceutical benefits laws.
The point to whichI want particularly to address myself is the conditions under which these drugs are made available. First of all, there is a maximum quantity which may be put on any one prescription, and this maximum quantity is set in a way that no Minister for Health has ever made clear. Well over 12 months ago I suggested to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) that a full 5-day course of antibiotics should be available on 1 prescription, as was recommended in the prescribers journal provided to every doctor by the Government. I am glad to say that this provision has been implemented after a delay of many months. But if we look at the sort of drugs that are available in a far bigger supply - a supply that will last for a month with perhaps a repeat for another couple of months - in many cases we will find that they are the cheaper drugs. The expensive ones are limited. The more expensive of these are further restricted as to which disease they will be approved for, and the written authority of the State Director of the Commonwealth Department of Health is required before some of these drugs can be made available. With some more expensive ones the doctor even has to make extensive clinical notes available just to indicate why this drug should be made available free. I am not saying that there is not a case for doctors to justify in some way expensive prescribing. What I am saying is that if this sort of policing is to go on it will create genuine hardship in some cases.
Because of the short time that is available to us in this guillotined debate I can refer to only 1 case. It is the case of a child whose life was at stake because there was only 1 antibiotic available for a case of pneumonia. The child specialist in charge of the case, who was qualified and registered in the State of Queensland, had to make out a case for prescribing this drug. Without being given any reasons for the decision and without having any right of appeal against it, he was refused permission to prescribe it as a pharmaceutical benefit. The parents of the child, who could ill afford to pay for the drug and who really should have had their child in a public hospital if the specialist had been available there, had to pay several hundred dollars for this one drug to treat this fairly long and critical illness. The child was saved and I have no doubt that the parents are very thankful that this happened and were willing to pay this money. But why should they have had to pay it?
There should be some way by which people can have access to this Committee and see on what criteria it decides that a drug is put on the subsidised list. They should be able to see the Director of the
Department of Health in the State and ascertain his criteria for denying people this drug as a free drug. It should be on the basis of the trust that occurs everywhere else in the medical profession that the people concerned in the case consult with each other. It should not be done by means of forms sent through the post with a oneway decision coming to the doctor attending the patient.
There are precedents for this. For instance, some States have a consultant service available to doctors over the telephone for obstetric emergencies. The State finances this and makes this sort of two-way consultation available free. That is the sort of thing that should occur if one intervenes between a doctor with his clinical judgment and the patient. There should be no form filling and posting. There should be immediate consultation so that this can be done. The doctor should not be put to the expense of making trunk line calls in a case of this kind, to pinpoint specifically the reason for listing drugs by the Pharmaceutical Benefist Advisory Committee; their names and qualifications should be published.
Because of the guillotine I can talk about only 1 drug, phenylbutazone. That drug has been on and off the various lists over the years in a way that makes one wonder whether the Committee members really know their clinical work. On the first occasion that butazolidin was removed from the pharmaceutical benefits list the then Minister for Health said, in answer to a question, that it was a very dangerous drug. We know that it is dangerous and ought to be used carefully and with discretion. The drug was not banned. No new restrictions we’re placed on the prescribing of it. The only restriction was that a patient who needed the drug had to pay the full cost instead of the 5s for what was the arbitrarily set maximum quantity. Subsequently, while the same Minister for Health was in office, the drug was put back onto the free list for pensioners only. If that Minister was genuine and if his advisers were genuine in giving him that reason one can only assume that it does not matter how dangerous a drug is for a pensioner; it matters only for the patient who has to pay for it. He must pay the full price in order to safeguard himself from the dangers, of that drug.
This is no way in which to run a good quality, sound medical profession. The public should know who the members of the Advisory Committee are. They should be prepared to stand and be counted and discuss their decisions just as any other advisory committee does. We do not find engineers hiding behind anonymous panels. We do not have any other professional people doing this. The names of the directors-general of health are made public. We on this side of the House maintain that all such advisers should be prepared to stand and be counted. It has been said that they must be protected from the brainwashing of the drug firms. This is not so. All of us in the medical profession are subjected to this brainwashing. What is more, most of the big drug firms know the names of the members anyway.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) out of his own mouth gave a very good reason why it is undesirable for Ministers to give reasons. The honourable member picked upon and used a case where, I presume, a predecessor of mine who had perhaps not been told the reasons by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, in a spirit of helpfulness ventured a reason for a decision. That can lead to the sort of interpretations put by the honourable gentleman. This is a very difficult field, as the honourable member knows. Quite often there are as many opinions as there are medical practitioners or people who believe they know about it. That is not the main reason why the Government rejects the amendment. In view of the functions and responsibilities of the Advisory Committee it is essential that the members appointed by the Minister have appropriate academic qualifications, wide experience, and be of high standing in their profession.
The honourable member for Capricornia said that the clinical knowledge of the members of the Advisory Committee was suspect. I am not in a position to tell him who the members are but I can say to him that at least 3 of the most eminent consultant physicians in Australia are on the Committee. These are the people whose clinical knowledge the honourable member says is suspect. The present members so appointed are men cf great distinction and reputation in their respective fields. They serve on the Committee at considerable inconvenience and financial sacrifice. The recommendations of the Committee can involve very serious financial and other implications to persons and companies. If the members* names were published it could be expected that they would be subjected to all the pressures that could be brought to bear by interested parties, including attacks generated in the mass media by professionals in the public relations field.
The honourable gentleman said that all medical practitioners are subjected to the attentions of the drug companies and detailers. That is so. But that would bc nothing compared to the attention which would be directed to the people on the Advisory Committee who the drug companies know only too well are the people who really make the decisions which affect their bread and butter in a big way. The amendment could result in a situation in which men in the medical, pharmacological and pharmaceutical fields with the necessary attainments and professional standing would not be willing to serve on the Committee. For that reason the Government does not propose to accept the amendment.
– I remain unconvinced by the remarks of the Minister for Health. After all, there are many other people in public life who are subjected to a good deal of pressure, not the least being the parliamentarians. If people are in a position to make decisions affecting the whole populace, as is the case here, those people should be publicly responsible for the decisions they make. It is common knowledge in the profession that many of the pharmaceutical companies are well aware of some of the personnel on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. Let us look first of all at the kind of people who are on this yet another secret society attached to he health scheme. They are the people who recommend proposals to the Minister for his ultimate decision. The matter does not come before the Parliament; it is solely in the hands of the Minister. The members decide what kind of drugs will be on the pharmaceutical benefits list, which ones stay on, which ones are removed, or which new ones may be admitted from time to time. This is a matter that affects the health of not thousands but literally millions of people in our community. It is a pretty important business.
The personnel of the Committee comprises a pharmacist from the Commonwealth Department of Health appointed by the Director-General, 6 medical practitioners appointed by the Minister from among 10 medical practictioners nominated by the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association, and a pharmaceutical chemist appointed by the Minister from among 3 pharmaceutical chemists nominated by the Federal Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia. These are the sorts of people that make up that body. I have not heard of any suggestion by the medical organisation that the names of these people should not become known. As a matter of fact I have received a lot of complaints, not only from patients but also from the medical fraternity, concerning the decisions made by this eminent body. Many of us have been aware of doctors in our own community prescribing a particular drug of obvious benefit to a patient and knowing that that drug was not on the benefit list. 1. can recall instances where that has gone on for months and even a year or more.
We have often been asked to respect the professional status of the doctor. We are reminded of the kind of qualifications the doctor has. What kind of recognition is there for a doctor who is convinced out of his own experience over a period of time dealing with many cases that a particular drug is the one that will give relief to and maybe even restore the health of his patient. From time to time we are reminded that people are not just all of a kind. There are probably as many different kinds of people as there are people. Yet in the long run we are confronted with standardised decisions, which are meant to apply to the large bulk of people rather than allowing the practitioner who knows and studies his patient and who has had his patient under his or her care for a long time to make his own diagnosis and prescription. He can be vetoed by decisions of this kind. If we are to have public advisory bodies such as this the Opposition suggests they should be known to people other than just the pharmaceutical industry. No doubt it brings its pressures on these people for the inclusion of drugs manufactured by its organisations. lt should be appropriate that the doctors, the patients and the millions of people in the community who are affected by these decisions should have the opportunity of making their submissions to a public inquiry. We do this with many other things. We do not seem to have any quibble about public inquiries when we are dealing with public mental health or education. But in this field we have this problem. One other aspect I would like to mention while 1 am on my feet is the apparent infrequency of meetings of a body such as this. I would like the Minister to correct me if I am wrong but, as I understand it, it meets about twice a year. One of my colleagues has just assured me that it is 3 times. Many doctors have complained to me that many people undergo a great deal of inconvenience, to say nothing of pain and suffering, while the advice of a body of this kind is awaited, despite the testimony there might be from many doctors that a certain drug seems eminently suitable for a patient under their care. I finalise my remarks now. Quite frankly I have been vetoed out of this debate on 3 occasions already when I have had amendments to move and have not been allowed to move them.
The honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan), who is interjecting, need not worry. I will not let the opportunity go by without making my protest against the farcical situation in the deliberations on this Bill. One arm of the Government, the Country Party, has not had one speaker for the duration of the Committee stage of this important Bill. The Liberal Party has had 2 speakers. One was the honourable member for McMillan who, I understand, walked out of the House in utter frustration and the other was the Minister for Health. What kind of a way is this to conduct the business of a national parliament when it is deciding and discussing a matter of momentous importance to the whole community? It is all very well for the Government to spend months consulting with doctors. How about consulting with the representatives of the mass of the people who come to this Parliament? Are we not entitled to be heard? We are in contact with and hear from our constituents. We know their grievances with the national health scheme but no opportunity of any consequence is given for us to debate this matter. We have had far more discussion outside the Parliament in our own Party rooms than we ever looked like having in this Parliament. It is an absolute disgrace. This Bill has not been considered. The amendments that we intended to propose have not even been moved. There are many questions which arise out of this Bill, even basic definitions. Yet they cannot be entertained because we have 6 hours in which to debate the whole of the Bill. I lodge my firm protest against this farcical situation.
– I would like to discuss this Bill from the point of view of the quality of medical care and what it is we are seeking to do when we have a committee looking into the drugs that should be available under the national health scheme. Quite clearly the aim is to ensure that the drugs prescribed are the best available and, also, that some of the drugs, once accepted to be dangerous, or useless, whichever is probably more likely, are removed and no longer prescribed. I do not see this as a matter of opinion. I would even hesitate to say it should be based on clinical hunch or clinical judgement formed over a number of years without the backing of some clinical research. I say that because it is very easy for a busy doctor treating patients and not having very much time to pause and think or to analyse the results to remember the dramatic successes and completely forget the disasters. This has been shown often in many things ranging from recipes for treat:ng simple ailments up to the most complicated surgical procedures. The practitioner in that particular situation is convinced because he can recall certain dramatic events, particularly when a patient is saved, that his procedure is correct. But when one analyses the total of the results one reaches a different conclusion. I am not suggesting that this committee works solely on hunch. From what has been indicated the members of it might be the very sort of people I would want to have on it, but I think there is no harm in this sort of information being known.
I do not really feel that pressure from the drug firms would alter the situation one iota, if they are in fact the best people for the job, because their opinion should be based upon the sort of research work which the Americans are prepared to accept with their Food and Drugs Administration which goes into a very detailed analysis of all these aspects before anything is released for use by doctors and health authorities in America. After all1 it was the care of this body that prevented the thalidamide disasters there when, I am afraid, almost every other country in the world failed. I am a little unhappy the mechanics we have set up are not clear and explicit enough to ensure that we do not fall into the sort of error that occurred then. Perhaps our committee depends largely on what happens overseas. I suspect that is true because we spend singularly little on any sort of research, in including clinical research, and the correlation of data to allow proper judgment. I would not suggest that our proposal solve the problem anyway, but it is one small step towards bringing the whole deliberative mechanism out of the darkness so that it can be seen and criticised if need be. Perhaps better suggestions could be made as to how this committee could function. I hope I am making it clear that the aim of ensuring the highest possible standards requires a certain measure of public scrutiny, not secrecy. I am not trying to cast any doubts on the quality of the men involved. But they should be known. I think I am right in saying that the British have a counterpart committee and its members are known. They are in the main academics, and their results have to stand up to criticism by other academics. I think this is the way it should be. For this reason I think our suggestion needs some support. I am also prepared to concede that there may be a lot more suggestions which could be made to improve the standards of its function.
– 1 desire initially to stale my shock at the fact that this Government has seen fit to deal with a measure such as this in the manner that it has. The Leader of the House sees fit to rise and restrict the time allowed for the debate. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) may laugh. Perhaps he should pay more regard to the psychiatric benefits that may (low from this Bill. I say quite clearly that members opposite allowed the Australian Medical Association a darned sight more time to consider this Bill than they have allowed us. I say to honourable members opposite, particularly to the one who has been interjecting-
– Order! This subject matter has been mentioned on more than one occasion during the Committee stage. Strictly speaking it is not relevant to the clause under discussion. 1 ask the honourable member for Sturt to speak to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Capricornia.
– I thought I might get away from that briefly merely as a preamble to my discussion of what you, Mr Chairman, insist is the only subject before the Chair. But surely you would agree that honourable members ought to have some right to refer to what has happened in this chamber as a result of the absolute restrictions that have been imposed on us and which limit us to the narrow field covered by the amendment. What docs the amendment, to which you have seen fit to draw my attention, propose? I ask honourable members opposite who are interjecting to see whether they can answer in their own minds what is contained in the amendment. The amendment merely calls for some recognition of those who are engaged in an important area of medicine and health which this Bill overlooks and ignores. It is a pity that the Bill is not as representative of the health needs of the nation as it is of the boards of directors who are concerned with investment and what can flow to them from the Bill. Can anybody suggest that the Bill is representative of the health needs of the community? Certainly not! What, then, is wrong with the proposal contained in this amendment?
This debate has proceeded for some considerable time but most honourable members are not conversant with the way in which the Bill may affect people, because the Government has not spelt it out in simple terms. I can see flowing from this legislation all sorts of problems. However, I anticipate being dragged back to the amendment so T had better make some reference to it. It is a pretty shabby state of affairs when a man has to keep looking at a very small section of the Bill which is worthy of utter and utmost condemnation.
I>r Forbes - These are the rules of this Hou&e.
– The Minister for Health interjects and refers to the matter of rules. He breaks one by interjecting. If I may digress, the same as he has been allowed to do, let me say that the rules have been manipulated and, indeed - I do not like saying it - almost prostituted by members of the Government in relation to the whole of this measure. The Bill is not representative of even the type of thing that the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) put before the people of Australia prior to 25th October, and that was bad enough. The amendment, of course, proposes the appointment of 6 pharmaceutical chemists nominated by the Federal Pharmaceutical Services Guild of Australia as members of the Pharmaceutical Services Federal Committee of Inquiry. This is a very simple proposition. Members opposite say that every cocky, wheat grower or anybody who scrapes the earth shall be represented on all sorts of committees and bodies but in respect of the health of the nation, particularly as it applies to medicine, they say that doctors shall not be so represented. This is quite stupid to my way of thinking. However, if the power behind the throne of government has been so severe and has caused honourable members opposite so much worry over the last few months, the last few weeks and the last few hours until finally it put them in a spirit bottle yesterday or earlier this week by requiring amendments, that is all right, lt is no more than we can expect. At the same time the Bill is completely unrepresentative of the health needs of the community generally. The Liberal Party sees fit to refer to this as a national health scheme. How hypocritical! It is not a health scheme and it is not likely to be while honourable members opposite look at it as they have done right up to now.
– There is another amendment to consider.
– He has another 4 minutes to speak.
– And I will use them if I want to. Honourable members opposite are worrying about 4 minutes. They gave the AMA hours yet they give us only minutes. How hypocritical they are! This Bill ought to be tackled on the basis that it is to serve the interests of the people and not the AMA. Honourable members opposite know that as well as I do but the have not the courage to break away from their Party and say what is in their minds. I have heard them muttering in the corridors from time to time. Most of them have not the courage to stand in this chamber and represent the people as perhaps they would like to represent them.
– Mr Chairman, I rise on a point of order.
– You need not sustain the point of order because I have concluded my contribution.
– -1 should like to raise 2 points, one of which relates to section 101 of the principal Act. Under that section the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee is appointed to make recommendations to the Minister for Health. I should like the Minister to let us know whether he always acts on the reports of this Committee or whether, in fact, the question of cost is often the main question that concerns him. In other words, the Committee may well recommend that certain drugs should be made available as pharmaceutical benefits because, first, they are expensive and, secondly, they are essential for the treatment of certain conditions. But does the Minister take notice of that recommendation? I hope he will give us the courtesy of a reply. 1 know that he has not been able to reply to other questions that we have raised earlier during our discussions in the Committee stage. I notice that the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) has returned to the chamber. I ask the Minister how people are appointed to directorships of the Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia. I remember that the honourable member for Bennelong was at some stage a director of that organisation.
– I did represent the Mater Hospital of North Sydney, which appointed me.
-I would appreciate it if at some later stage the honourable member would tell the Minister how people are elected or appointed.
– They are not nominated by Mr Turner, as has been suggested here.
– If Mr Turner does not nominate these people who does nominate them? Who nominated Huxley and in what capacity was he nominated to that Fund?
– I take it, Mr Chairman, that we are considering proposed new clauses 46b and 46c.
– At present we are considering proposed new clause 46a which has been moved by the honourable member for Capricornia.
– If I have read the guillotine motion properly the debate on these particular clauses concludes at 4. IS p.m. So am I entitled to discuss the other proposed new clauses at this time?
– I rise on a point of order. Mr Chairman. Is it not time that you gave the call to this side of the chamber? I rose and wanted to speak to clause 46.
– Order! In reply to the question asked by the honourable member for Maribyrnong, the position is that when the time set for discussion of these particular clauses expires those amendments that have not been moved cannot be moved.
– That is why I should like to move them in about half a minute. Then the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) can speak.
– Order! We are still discussing the amendment moved by the honourable member for Capricornia. I call the honourable member for McMillan.
- Mr Chairman, I understand that we arc speaking to section 101 in the principal Act in which it has been proposed by-
– Order! I inform the honourable member for McMillan that the Committee is discussing new clause 46a which it is proposed be inserted.
– Yes. But the new clause to be inserted reads: 46a. Section 101 of the Pricipal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section (2b.) the following sub-section: (2c.) Parliament shall be advised of the names and qualifications of those persons appointed under the foregoing provisions.
We have had a demonstration this afternoon of the complete wasting of the time of the Committee by the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) and the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster). By interjection across the Committee I tried to ask whether they-
– I rise to a point of order. If we have the rights, shocking as they might be, that the Leader of the House described to us yesterday, why can we be accused by this person-
– Order! No point of order arises.
– Why can he rise in his place and say that we are wasting time? He has wasted 6 minutes.
– Order! The honourable member for Sturt will resume his seat.
– Let him go. There is plenty of time. There is still 4 minutes. The honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) has seen fit to move this amendment knowing perfectly well that, under the ethics of the game, these people are not anxious to have publicity. He and the other medical mcn on the Opposition side know perfectly well that the rules under which doctors work state that they do not want publicity. Doctors do not want to be publicised.
We on this side of the Committee are perfectly satisfied, even if the Opposition is not, with the procedure by which the AMA, which was spoken of in such disrespectful terms by the honourable member for Sturt, nominates 10 medical practitioners of whom 6 become members of the committee and by which the Pharmacy Guild of Australia gives the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) a list of 3 persons from whom he chooses 1 to be the member who should work on this committee which gives the Minister advice. Surely it is not necessary to blazon these names publicly so that these persons can be plagued by every Tom, Dick and Harry who thinks that some vague drug should be put onto the list. These committee members would have people chasing them up and down the streets wanting some drug to be put on the list as a special benefit. It would not be right for this amendment to be carried.
I cannot really understand why a group of doctors, who have suddenly found themselves in this place, have been put up deliberately right through the Committee stage to move amendments. Presumably it is to get them some publicity and to show that they were active in harassing the Government and in putting up suggestions as to what the Government should do. Some of these amendments have been quite futile. In the early stages of the debate, I said that the amendments put up by the Opposition were frivolous. I say that again. This afternoon the honourable member for Oxley moved 6 amendments together which he knew could not be accepted. He knows the rules of this House even if some of the newcomers, like the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster), do not. We have the Standing Orders under which the Parliament works. When he has .been here a little longer the honourable member for Sturt might find out about them. But I doubt that because I do not think he has the capacity to find out.
– I know already how restrictive they can be.
– Anyway, the honourable member will not be here that long. But, Sir-
– I take a point of order, Mr Chairman. I ask you: If this is not a deliberate attempt to waste the time of the Committee-
– Order! No point of order arises.
– The honourable member for McMillan does not know what he is talking about.
– He is waffling on-
– Order! The honourable member for Hughes will resume his seat.
– I rise to a point of order. Mr Chairman, the honourable member for McMillan has referred to the amendments put up by us as being frivolous. I certainly object to that statement, especially as the honourable member is being completely frivolous about the whole proposition.
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– There is nothing unparliamentary about the word ‘frivolous’. I mean, the whole place has been in uproar quite often because of the frivolity that we get from the other side. This is one of the things that we are putting up with lately. As for the honourable member for Hughes saying that I did not know what I was talking about, I point out that it has just been demonstrated quite clearly that he had not the vaguest idea what-
– Order! The time allotted for the Committee stage up to clause 54 has expired. The question is: ‘That proposed new clause 46a be inserted.
– Mr Chairman, I merely wish to register a protest. We have 2 amendments which have not been put before the Committee.
– Order! No point of order may be taken on this subject.
– All I wish to do is get this on record.
– Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clauses 47 to 55 agreed to.
– I refer to the Commonwealth benefits as shown in the Schedule. I take item No. 6360 which is ‘Metacarpophalangeal joint of thumb’. This deals with the dislocation of a thumb. The Commonwealth benefit for this is $6 for a general practitioner service and $8.10 for a specialist service. For the information of honourable members who are interjecting, I repeat that I am dealing with Item No. 6360 which appears in the First Schedule, the Second Schedule and in the other schedules. I am taking the case of the position in New South Wales according to the Second Schedule which relates to treatment and the First Schedule which gives the first Commonwealth benefit.
Under Item No. 6360 the general practitioner would receive $6 by way of Commonwealth benefit, from the fund $4 and from the patient $2.50, making a total of $12.50. For this same item, the specialist would get $8.10 by way of Commonwealth benefit, $5.40 from the fund and $3 from the patient, making a total of $16.50. The specialist would benefit therefore to the extent of $4 and the patient would pay 50c more for the treatment if he went to a specialist. In this case, it means that the status of the general practitioner is damaged. His value is written down and denigrated. He is brought into a secondary position because naturally a patient with a dislocated thumb would seek the service worth $4 more for which he pays only an extra 50c. If honourable members check this through the schedules they will find that what I am saying is right.
I believe that the care of the health of the people of Australia is in the hands of the general practitioner who must be available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day - that is, at all hours, including very early in the morning - and who sometimes receives no pay whatsoever for his services. If a GP is called to a public ward at 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning he receives no payment for his services. This worries me. I am backed up in what I am saying by reports from Canada that the differential rebates arc not working and will need to be got rid of.
Therefore, I have taken this case of the dislocated thumb which is one of the group of 25 services quoted by the Australian Medical Association. The special rebate for specialists ought to be withdrawn. The AMA itself has said that this group of 25 can be paid for at the same rate for the general practitioner and for the specialist. I am asking the Minister for Health to look at this matter quickly. 1 am asking for this on the basis of the claims for review of this situation which will come to the Minister from the doctors in my electorate.
The danger in the situation which the differential rebate brings about is that the status of the general practitioner is written down. His capacity to give service also is reduced. Obviously the patient will seek the specialist service if he has to pay the same amount of money or only 50c more for that service. I make this plea on behalf of the general practitioner. He is an important person. He is dedicated in the first place to the health of the community. He is dedicated to every member of a family from shortly after conception to the grave. He is on call. The specialist is not on call. He is there for special cases, the patient must go to his surgery. The general practitioner is there all the time and this is the man whom I want to see looked after in this Bill. I ask the Minister, firstly, to give effect to the AMA request that the 25 services are brought out of the differential rebate stage; secondly, that to review the whole question of differential rebates so that the general practitioner will not be written down in any way. 1 am absolutely firm on this and I shall continue to ask the Minister and the Government to do this as quickly as is possible.
– We now have 15 minutes left in this debate to discuss 142 pages of Schedules after having had a very short visit from the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate) for the first time for some weeks to this House. There are large numbers of inconsistencies in these Schedules. In his second reading speech the Minister referred to 300 items that appeared as specialist and general practitioner items; 1 have counted 1,036 such items.
– With 2 rebates.
– With specialist and general practitioner, S and G respectively.
– You counted 1,000?
– It is 1,036. That is 518 separate items each with specialist and general practitioner rebates. The Minister probably got it all mixed up because he does not read his own Schedules. For example, he is not aware of the dislocation rebates for a specialist and general practitioner to which the honourable member for Macarthur referred: If in fact it is a dislocation with some complication there is a different charge and again there is a different rebate for specialist and general practitioner. In this case there would be 4 different items and not just 2. This is probably one of the very minor points as far as the Minister’s lack of knowledge on this particular piece of legislation is concerned.
A point I would like to refer to in passing is the ridiculous way in which refunds in respect of anaesthetists are dealt with. This is referred to on page 38 in Part 3. lt is still related in the old fashioned way to gaseous and non-gaseous. There is no provision at all for major advances in the speciality of anaesthetics and I think in some ways the worst feature is that it relates what anaesthetists are entitled to receive to the question of whether a surgeon is a general practitioner or a specialist. If I were an anaesthetist 1 would certainly prefer to be an anaesthetist for a specialist surgeon. It would be an easier job to be an anaesthetist for a specialist surgeon than for a general practitioner surgeon. Under this legislation I would be entitled to a bigger amount of money from the Commonwealth Government for being an anaesthetist for a specialist surgeon than for a general practitioner surgeon, because the common fee for anaesthetics is related to the basic Commonwealth medical benefit for the surgery, and as there is a greater Commonwealth benefit for an operation done by a specialist I am therefore entitled to a bigger refund if I am giving an anaesthetic for a specialist.
Further, the fee charged for an anaesthetic ought surely to be related to the degree of difficulty of the anaesthetic, to the physical state of the patient and the time involved, and not to the degree of difficulty of the operation itself. I can well imagine that for an anaesthetist giving an anaesthetic for an appendicectomy on a very old person with all kinds of complications is a much more difficult procedure involving much more skill than giving an anaesthetic to a young person having an involved operation in the sense of the operation taking time, for example, plastic surgery for which the refund is much greater than for an anaesthetic.
Previously I have given examples of the vast differences in the cost of prostatectomy operations depending on whether they are done in Melbourne or Devonport. There is the difference between $100 and $200 depending on which side of Bass Strait the operation is performed. There arc 136 pages of these examples. We have not been given the opportunity to go through them in any detail. I do not propose to go through them in any great detail now but I certainly hope that the Minister and hi.s advisers will have some go at this at some stage and make it fair for the patient.
It is clear to me that again the Minister has given in to pressure by the medical benefit funds. The medical benefit funds have suggested the table of common fees. He gave this as a reply earlier in this debate when he obviously did not understand the question about psychiatrists’ charges. When I asked him how he got the charges he said that they came from the medical benefit funds. The medical benefit funds just got an average charge for all specialties but did not pick out those for psychiatry. Psychiatrists were put down as ‘Specialty-Special consultation, $4’. This clearly indicates that an editorial in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ was perfectly correct when it stated:
What started off as a serious exercise in social engineering with the avowed purpose of removing the financial penalty that occurs through ill-health, has become a battleground of pressure groups with the public left forgotten on the side lines. Where does the patient rank in the policymaking now?
The Minister for Health, Dr Forbes, who is nol even a member of the inner Cabinet, apparently interprets his position to be that of an adjudicator between pressure groups that have been institutionalised by Government machinery - listening to the health funds here, tut-tutting at the Australian Medical Association there, speaking sternly to hospitals everywhere.
He is the embodiment of what is wrong with the Liberal Government of today.
Somewhere along the way the guiding principles of Liberalism have been subordinated to defending the policies and values that have been handed down from another era.
At all costs (to the public) nothing must be done or said to antagonise the organised and vocal pressure groups.
In Australia only the silent majority is defranchised.
That is what the ‘Australian Financial Review’ said about the Minister and about the Liberal Government, and 1 heartily concur. As many members in this debate have pointed out, we have had the shocking spectacle of the Minister trying to implement a policy pronounced by his leader during the election campaign last October. He has had 6 months or so of meetings with the pressure groups mentioned and today and yesterday the Government has used the guillotine to railroad the whole lot through in 6 hours.
– I only have a few minutes to say what I want to say. In the first place I agree entirely with what the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate) said. I appeal to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) to take a very early opportunity to have a further look at the Schedule which we are discussing at the present time. It is much too late, of course, to make amendments now or attempt to make amendments in relation to this Schedule. In my opinion there is ample room in this Schedule for many amendments to be made for the benefit of the people of Australia. The Schedule, as it is at present, is entirely wrong and will do, in my opinion, inestemable damage to the general practitioners of Australia. It was quite clear to me in the time that I had to look at thus Bill that the Government has relied on the advice of the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association, which Council is at present dominated by the specialists of Australia.
It is also clear to me that notwithstanding the amount of work that has been put into this Bill by general practitioners very little consideration has been given to representation that they have made. Notwithstanding that, I believe that the medical care of the people of Australia is dependent very largely upon the medical general practitioner of Australia. Because of this 1 believe that the Government has not given proper consideration to the representations of the general practitioners in Australia. There is no need for the kind of differential we see in the Schedule. The benefits which the people will derive from this Bill are very great and the Government is to be commended for this, but those benefits should be related to the procedure, not the kind of medical man who performs the procedure. So I mink there is a great need to amend the Schedule. If that cannot be done the Minister should accept the recommendation of the Australian Medical Association that the benefits for all those procedures normally undertaken by a general practitioner should be fixed at the lower level. All those procedures which are generally undertaken by a specialist should be fixed at the higher level. There should be no differentia] - one rate for the general practitioner and another for the specialist. This is not necessary in the 2 categories I have mentioned. Of course, some consideration might have to be given to the case of specially qualified general practitioners who carry out procedures usually undertaken by specialists. You may find this happening in a group practice. In the middle group of procedures, where about 50% are carried out by general practitioners and 50% or a little more by specialists, there may be some reason for having a differential.
This matter should be examined closely and the differential reduced to the absolute minimum because in my opinion it is not necessary to discriminate in this way. To do so will have a very serious effect on the status of general practitioners in Australia. I place these words of warning on record because I believe this differential to be an error in what is otherwise a magnificent piece of legislation which will be of great benefit to the people of Australia. I hope that this matter will be further examined by the Minister and that the anomaly to which I have referred will be rectified. It would be a sad day for Australia if we were to lose the kind of medical care that can be provided by the general practitioner. This is much more than a matter of medicine in its true sense. I am talking about the family doctor who can guide people in their medical needs. This matter goes far beyond the kind of procedure that can be listed in the Schedule. I support the remarks of the honourable member for Macarthur who pointed to the difficulties that have arisen in other countries where the concept of the general practitioner has been lost. Canada, for instance, has seen the error of its ways and is now seeking to encourage the general practitioner. In my view the one fault of this Bill is that it places too much emphasis on the specialist and gives too little encouragement to the general practitioner. I do not think the general practitioner’s representations have been given proper consideration.
– It is a victory for the knife.
– That is so. I have nothing against the specialist. We need him for certain more highly skilled procedures, but this does not mean-
– What about the public?
– The public receives a benefit. Members of the public would benefit more from my suggestion than they will under the Schedule as it now stands. There is no need to have a differential between the benefit paid for a procedure performed by a general practitioner and that paid for the same procedure performed by a specialist. This matter can be rectified. The Government has given an undertaking that it will follow closely the operations of the legislation. The Minister has power to vary the Schedule by regulation. I sincerely hope that he will take an early opportunity to do so.
– Order! The time allotted for the remainder of the Committee stage has expired.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
Motion (by Dr Forbes) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– The way in which the Committee stage of this extremely important Bill was handled is clear evidence that the way in which the Parliament has functioned for so long has been superseded by the needs of modern times. The Opposition was not given adequate opportunities to discuss the amendments which it proposed. Because the guillotine was applied we were not permitted to move several amendments which we had indicated we wished to move. I can readily appreciate that the Government wants this legislation passed.
We are not responsible for the delay in passing this legislation which the Australian public had been assured would be introduced as one of the first legislative items when the House resumed after the general election. The delay has been caused by internal problems within the Liberal Party. Obviously Australians should look hard at the way in which Parliament operates. This wind blown chamber has been superseded. We need more effective tools with which to work. We need better staff. We need better advisers. Above all we need a set of standing committees-
-Order! The honourable member is now getting outside the ambit of a debate on the motion for the third reading. This debate is limited to the contents of the Bill and its Schedule.
– I agree. I was only making the point that we need standing committees. This is the only way to facilitate the work of Parliament. The Bill! will only prop up in the short term the structure of health insurance in the community. It will not rectify the problems that exist. No effective measures have been taken to overcome the waste caused by unnecesary competition and the proliferation of private health insurance schemes. Nor have adequate safeguards been built in to ensure the efficient operation of these schemes. Even the amendment which proposes to give to the Minister power - not in precise terms - to restrict management costs to a proportion of contribution income is fairly widely drafted. This is simply because it is not possible to do otherwise owing to the greater inefficiency of some funds compared to the overall inefficiency of the system and the resulting high administrative costs which those funds will incur. In the long run it is the contributor who will have to pay for the extremely expensive nature of this scheme - a condition which is being perpetuated. The Minister will be well aware of this because the Nimmo Committee’s report, with which he is conversant, reads:
From the contributor’s point of view the greatest weakness in the medical benefits scheme is the varying and unpredictable gap between fees charged and rebates received.
Referring to this gap the Committee continued:
They are reflected in an extreme way-
– I rise to order. I submit that the honourable member is getting well away from the limitations of debate on the third reading.
-Order! The Nimmo Committee’s report is relevant to the Bill.
– The Nimmo Committee added that the fundamental deficiency in the medical benefit scheme was the absence of an appropriate relationship between doctors’ fees and medical benefits available. We are sure that the common fee will be the nostrum in this case. This Bill has been the great confidence trick of the century on the part of the Government. Most people did not understand the careful but deceptive way in which the Government worded its election promise, namely, that the rebate would be related to the common fee. For instance, there were statements in the Press indicating that even experienced journalists were under such an impression.
-Order! The time allotted for the remaining stage of the Bill has expired. The question now is: That the Bill be now read a third time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate with a request.
Debate resumed from 14 April (vide page 1050), on motion by Dr Forbes:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This measure proposes an amendment to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Act lo allow the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to import rubella vaccine. This is a thoroughly commendable proposal and the Opposition will support it. The amendments relate to section 9b of the principal Act. I would like to pose some questions to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). They relate to the method of operation of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, especially the relationship of the proposed amendment to the established practice. Under a sub-section of section 19 of the Act the Laboratories are required to carry out research work and the production and stockpiling of certain drugs used. They are required to do this at the direction of the Minister, presumably in the event of some sort of national emergency. The Laboratories are remunerated for this service at a price which is struck by the Minister. I am not quite sure how he strikes this price, but this is one of the points which I would like him to discuss. Section 22 gives the Minister power to determine the price at which this organisation wilt bc remunerated for this service. Will this also apply in the case of rubella vaccine which is stockpiled? I expect that a certain amount of it, anyway, will be stockpiled.
I ask that question because I think that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories operate at a disadvantage. A fairly onerous demand is placed upon them by the terms of the Act. On 11th May 1961, Dr Cameron, the then Minister for Health, stated in this House:
In accordance with the usual approach adopted in business activities of this nature, the commission will adopt a policy aimed at obtaining sufficient revenue from the sale of products to cover the expenditure of the commission plus a reasonable return on the capital invested. In other words, the commission will follow accepted business lines in relation to this aspect of its activities.
In actual1 practice, however, it is not possible in any fair sense of the word for the Laboratories to operate on what generally would be conceived to be a sound commercial basis. The reason for this is that the operations of the Laboratories consist of 2 parts. Firstly there is a commercial enterprise, a certain amount of the output of which is sold on the open market. Such products are sold on a commercial basis.
The other section of activity and production is not commercial and cannot be commercial in any conception of that word. This section of activity is carried out at the direction of the Minister for Health and involves work which no commercial enterprise would undertake. For this section of activity the organisation has to have a certain amount of productive capacity installed in the plant. It has to use labour and technical know-how, to provide storage and all the apparatus necessary for storing biological drugs, and to stockpile them as part of what can be interpreted as a public health service. This section of activity is quite distinct from that of a commercial enterprise. Quite clearly, activity of this sort involves diseconomies for the main organisation and cannot be regarded as part of a commercial enterprise.
There is another practice related to this which I would like to bring to the notice of the Minister so that he may deal with all these points to a certain extent. If so far he has not proposed some change in the practice, he might give consideration to changing it later. If a loss is sustained in what I have described as the public health service sector of the work of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories it is absorbed in any overall profit made, assuming there is one. In effect the consumers of the commercial output of the Laboratories, the Australian taxpayers, are asked to subsidise the public health section of its work.
To my mind this is unfair. Consumers of the products of the commercial sector are people who suffer from some form of ill health. Drugs are expensive enough now without requiring these people to make more than a fair surrender of their living standards to purchase drugs and in order to generate a surplus to cover losses on the public health sector. If there is an overall loss then the lesser of the losses on the 2 sectors is the one covered by the Government. If there is a loss on the public health side - the stockpiling and research side dictated by the Government - that is covered by aGovernment refund.
Consistent with what I said earlier, this means that the taxpayers or consumers are to some extent still subsidising the activities of the public sector. This is unreasonable and defeats the commercial objectives which Dr Cameron enunciated so precisely in 1961 when the Laboratories were established as a Commission. Honourable members who were in the House at that time - I was not one of them but I remember the debate - will recollect that it was the Government’s argument that it wanted to give the Laboratories independence and put them on this viable commercial footing so that its existence would be self justifying.
If the Minister perpetuates this practice then it would seem that the importation of rubella would come under that sub-section of section 19 and that there will be some sort of stockpiling. The Minister should discuss this today and tell us whether there are any proposals in view on the Government side to overcome this practice. The immediate thing that comes to my mind is that the Government ought to become a consumer client of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for such services as stockpiling and research which are now carried out under its direction. It should pay what could be regarded as a commercial price for these services so that the organisation can fulfil the objective for which it was created under the legislation of 1961. It should do that or somehow the accounts of the organisation ought to be clearly identified in 2 separate parts so that a more reasonable demand could be made on the organisation to carry this public health service responsibility and not to impose the charge unfairly upon the public. 1 am not aware at this juncture of any instance where this may or may not have happened - that is, where the Government has bad to cover losses. In fact, one of the criticisms which has been made of the annual reports of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories is that they do not make a detailed breakdown of the financial involvement of the organisation for the year. In any event, the Minister might be able to enlighten us in that regard.
However, this does not obviate the argument which I am putting forward, that there is provision within the Act to have consumers prop up the public health service sector of the activity of the Serum Laboratories and this should not be so. It should not be a charge on unhealthy people, lt should be a charge which is equitably borne by the community. This in turn could be done through the Government adequately remunerating the Serum Laboratories for carrying out this work. The Laboratories do in fact have to carry an extra cost structure because of this work. In 1965-66 the Commission installed production capacity to meet what was then termed defence and national emergency demands for a number of key products. This means that productive capacity was built into the Laboratories to produce a surplus beyond current demands so that a stock pile could be made. This, of course, is a cost burden which a normal commercial enterprise would not be prepared to bear. Therefore it is unfair to require of the Serum Laboratories a commercial result at the end of each year, lt just cannot be done with this sort of practice unless the consumers of the products are to be exploited by this organisation charging too much.
There are some practical problems which 1 would like to raise with the Minister because they need to be explained. The Treasury has admitted that unless there is in fact a break up of capital it would be difficult to determine any measurement for a reasonable return on funds as is required for the commercial obligation imposed on the Serum Laboratories. The Treasury has confessed that this in fact is a problem at the present time. If we are lo operate under statutory authority, this is something which ought to be defined in precise terms. Section 21 of the Act which covers the Serum Laboratories states that it shall be the objective of the Laboratories, inter aiia, to pursue a policy directed towards securing revenue from the sale of those products sufficient to meet all its expenditure (including expenditure in undertaking research) in connection with those products that is properly chargeable to revenue, and to permit the payment to the Commonwealth of a reasonable return on the capital of the Commission’. On the admission of the Treasury, it is just not possible for an assessment to be made of what is a reasonable return. Officers of the Minister’s own Department were unable to define the meaning of a ‘reasonable return’ when they were witnesses before the Public Accounts Committee in 1968 or 1969. The report was produced in Parliament in 1969, in any event.
The Laboratories operate on additional peculiar conditions. Section 33 provides for repayments of capital aud amounts from profits as determined by the Treasurer. This seems a rather ad hoc approach to the operation of what is supposed to be a commercial enterprise. It is in conflict with the philosophy which was enunciated in 1961 by Dr Cameron and which the Government has upheld ever since. Section 34 places no limit on the amount the Commission can borrow. There is no requirement that the Minister for Health must consent to its borrowing, and no provision is made regarding the rate of interest which ought to be accepted on funds borrowed. In the case of other statutory bodies, such as the Australian National Airlines Commission and the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, provision is specifically made on these points. This is not done in the Act covering the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, lt would seem a desirable objective in administration to try to have some sort of consistency of practice ibr statutory bodies such as these.
The actual operations of the Commonwealth Scrum Laboratories are being hamstrung by the Act which controls their operations. I will quote from the Public Accounts Committee report to which I referred a few minutes ago. The Chairman of the Commission, Mr Davis, referred to the relationship between various sections of the Act. He said:
This seems to me to be a key criticism of the whole operations of the Laboratories. The remarks achieve special significance because the Chairman is a former serving member of this House from the Government’s ranks. He has made this criticism which, even on a moderate interpretation, must be accepted as a trenchant criticism of the hamstringing of the activities of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. Of course, what he is pointing out here is the point that I have been making, that the Serum Laboratories cannot fulfil the obligations imposed upon them through the philosophy written into the Act controlling the Laboratories in 1961, a philosophy enunciated by Dr Cameron in his second reading speech on the occasion in which he introduced that Act.
Section 19 is restricting and interfering with the operation of the Laboratories. If the Labor Party were in government, as it will be after the next election, we would in fact expand the activities of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. We would not restrict its activities to the production of biological drugs. We would encourage its expansion into the production of synthetic drugs. We would not continue to fetter it by limiting it to the 2% maximum portion of the- total commercial market which it is now allowed to obtain through its production. We believe this change is necessary. It is quite a reasonable sort of proposition because of the tremendous amount of money which is involved in public expenditure on drugs under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme alone.
It seems quite clear that the large drug manufacturers in Australia exploit to a significant extent the Australian consumer market with excessive prices. By expanding the area of operation of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories we could combat this with fair competition which would not be party to the cartel-like arrangements which are inherent in the activity of the drug manufacturers in the Australian market at the present time. I can give some indication of the magnitude of the expenditure on drugs and why we are justified in making this suggestion. I pointed out that in 1968-69 there was the greatest increase in absolute terms in national health spending for pharmaceutical benefits. The increase was $13. 2m. The total cost of the scheme was S138m. It was only $66m in 1960-61. In other words, there has been an increase of 109% in the cost of these drugs in that period. The population increased by only 17% in the same period.
I will readily concede that one must expect drug costs to increase at a much faster rate than is the case for other normally accepted cost of living indices because of the complex and extremely expensive nature of research and development of pharmaceutical drugs. But one has the clear suspicion, nonetheless, that the increase which has occurred is much greater than could be justified. As the Commonwealth carries about 80% of the total cost of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme - that is of the $138m which I quoted - it has a vested interest, and indeed a moral obligation, on behalf of taxpayers to ensure that the best rates are obtained for it when it is purchasing drugs. In 1968 a survey by Health Economics Services Ltd indicated that 141 drug companies were operating in Australia. However, 24 of them, representing about 17% of the total, cornered more than 50% of the market, which indicates the opportunity for cartel-like arrangements to exploit consumers on the Australian market.
Again it was the honourable member for Hughes who participated in an earlier debate on the National Health Bill and who pointed out in about 1965 that one of the reasons, amongst many others which he quoted, why drugs were so expensive to the consumers was that we had 1 salesman for every 5 or 6 doctors. Following on this the Commonwealth Department of Health was forced to admit in its annual report for the year 1965-66 that this was in fact so. I do not know whether there has been any remedy for the situation. If there has been, I do not know when it was effected and I do not know whether there has been any regression since it was effected. But in any event this alone shows how money has been wasted in a ridiculous situation where for many years, until the honourable member for Hughes exposed this as a rather scandalous practice, there was 1 salesman for every 5 or 6 doctors. Under normal competitive arrangements the drug companies could not survive with such a low ratio of doctors to salesmen. This suggests very strongly that there are cartel arrangements which preclude competitive advantages for consumers on the Australian market.
Finally, as further evidence of just how remunerative the pharmaceutical drug industry is in Australia 1 would quote a 1964 Equity Court case in which it was disclosed that Sterling Drug Company lnc. of the United States sold its products to its Australian subsidiary, Bayer Pharma Pty Ltd, at 50% profit, and Bayer Pharma Pty Ltd in turn sold the drugs it had purchased from its parent company at a further profit margin, 1 would expect, of around 50% or 60% as a minimum. So we get some insight into how the Australian public is being exploited by the activities of drug companies, which seem to have a buccaneer’s licence to operate in the Australian community. As a taxpayer, 1 am concerned that the Government is also being exploited. 1 am sure, in spite of what the Minister might say, that he is caused a great deal of concern from time to time by the cartelarranged activities of drug companies in Australia, because the more they extract from us for a given quantity of drugs over what they should be charging us, the less they are allowing the pharmaceutical benefits scheme to be expanded for the benefits of the Australian community. lt can be complained that doctors might over-prescribe. I have my doubts about whether this is always true. I think that this is over-emphasised. But in any event the degree of stress that this places on the scheme is extremely minute compared with the tremendous cost stress which is placed on the scheme by the drug companies in Australia. This is why we of the Opposition would extend the activities of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to producing biological drugs and a wide range of synthetics and would also allow them to compete on the Australian market on fair terms with the private drug manufacturers. If the private drug manufacturers proved that on fair terms, not on dumping terms, they could out-compete the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, we would be prepared to accept this. We would be foolish to do otherwise. I am a Socialist, but I do not blindly believe that something that is inefficient has to be imposed on the public, because from an economist’s point of view this represents an unfair tax on the public and a fetter on improvement in their living standards. It is my firm belief, until the contrary is proved, that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories can be used as an extremely beneficial and effective instrument in improving the effectiveness of the pharmaceutical benefits, scheme operating in Australia by establishing a more reasonable price level for drugs.
I advert finally to the point which is really the substantial matter I want to raise with the Minister, because he is not even slightly socialistic in his tendencies and therefore would be unmoved by my argument for an expansion of the activities of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. However, 1 do ask him serio.usly to consider those points I have raised in relation to sections 19, 21 and 22, especially section 1.9. If the Government has in mind any arrangements whereby it will demand that the activities of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories be placed on a commercial basis, I would suggest that the Laboratories be not placed, as they are currently, at a disadvantage, by having to carry under section 19 of the Act this research, production and stockpiling requirement for what is in reality a public health service.
– The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) asked a number of questions which I will attempt to answer. First of all, he referred to the relationship between the determination of prices under section 22 of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Act and the functions of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission under section 19. Under section 22 the Minister for Health determines the prices for products supplied to the Commonwealth. Such prices are determined after consultation with the Commission and having regard to a reasonable cost to the Laboratories in regard to such products. I make the point that In my experience that is a pretty frequent occurrence in the life of the Minister. Not only does it relate to the determination of prices of new products such as rubella vaccine handled by the Laboratories, which is the purpose of this Act, but there is constant revision of prices for existing products which the Laboratories are providing to the Commonwealth to see that the prices paid for them by the Commonwealth are appropriate in today’s circumstances.
But I stress that this is determined in consultation with the Laboratories, and anybody who knows our ex-colleague, Frank Davis, w ill know that he is not the sort of person who as Chairman of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission would do anything but drive a pretty hard bargain in the interests of his conception of what responsibility the organisation he heads should hold. But the point I want to make is that usually the Laboratories make no loss on this at all. They get a reasonable price to cover their cost for handling these products on behalf of the Commonwealth. In cases where reserve stocks are held by the Laboratories under the provisions of section 19 or research is carried out into non-prescribed products, the Commission is entitled to be reimbursed under section 38 for whichever is least: The loss in relation to reserve stocks, research in relation to non-prescribed products, or the overall loss of the Laboratories. I do not consider that this is an unreasonable approach. In relation to rubella vaccine, it is envisaged that sufficient stocks will be held only to meet requirements for immunisation campaigns and accordingly no determination in relation to the holdings of reserve stocks is envisaged in that case.
Section 21, which was also referred to by the honourable member, refers to the following of a commercial policy in relation to prescribed products under section 19 (a) of the Act. This policy does not extend to non-prescribed product research or reserve stocks held under section 19 (b) and, as indicated earlier, provision is made for a Commonwealth payment to the Commission in a loss situation. The honourable member referred to a number of other matters covering the capitalisation of the Commission and so on which he had taken from comments made by the Public Accounts Committee and comments made by both the Treasury and my Department to the Public Accounts Committee. All I can say in answering him in respect of (hose questions is that the sorts of considerations raised by the Public Accounts Committee have been under consideration by my Department for some time and are currently being considered by the Government. I am not in a position to say what, if any, changes the Government might make in respect of them until such time as that is completed. With respect to the latter part of the honourable gentleman’s remark, with which he openly admitted that he did not expect me to agree, he said that it would be the function of the Labor Party when it came to office to use the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to drive the private drug firms in Australia out of business. He is quite right; I do not agree with him. I would like to correct a misstatement that he made in respect of the policy applied by the Government to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and their commercial activities. No percentage limitation is imposed on the output of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in relation to those of other pharmaceutical companies.
– It is in the House record that the Government restricts it to 2% of the market.
– I am saying that no percentage limitation is imposed by the Government on the output of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in relation to those of other pharmaceutical companies. From recollection, that figure does represent about . the proportion of the market that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories have. I am at a loss to understand the honourable gentleman’s economics when he talks of a situation in which 24 drug firms in Australia have 50% of the market. He speaks of that as a cartel situation. It is a long time since I did any formal economic training, but that was certainly not the state of affairs which was described to me in those days as a cartel situation. I believe the drug industry in Australia to be highly competitive.
When the honourable member for Oxley spoke of the intention of the Labor Party when it comes into office to extend the activities of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in the commercial field with the objective of driving prices down, he did say that he would not do this if it could be proved that cheaper prices for drugs were not achieved. The only way in which I can envisage that that could be proved would be by undertaking the operation and seeing whether it is or is not. There is going to be an enormous waste of the taxpayers’ money in attempting to prove what I believe any fairminded person - somebody not prejudiced in advance by these considerations - would know to be the ultimate result. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories have an essential function in the public health field in Australia but expansion beyond the production of biological products is a matter which the Government is not prepared to consider at this stage. The Government does not believe that it would be in the interests of either the pharmaceutical benefits scheme or anything else in relation to the supply of drugs in Australia.
Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) - I claim to have been misrepresented on 2 scores. First of all, I did not say that the Labor Party would set about destroying the private drug companies. I merely said that we would compete against them and we believed that we would out-compete them. The other thing that the Minister said that was not correct - although he may be right - was that there is no restriction on the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. On 10th December 1965 the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) - I do not know what portfolio he administered then - said, as has been said by other Ministers in this House-
-Order! The honourable member must say where he has been misrepresented.
-I said that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories were restricted to 2% of the market. The Minister said that I was wrong and that this was untrue. The former Minister said:
The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission holds only about 2% of the commercial market andI can give the honourable member-
Meaning the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn) - an assurance that the proportion of the expanding commercial market will be held at approximately that level in future.
I should be glad to receive the assurance of the Minister for Health that this is no longer the policy. It seems rather strange-
-Order! The honourable member may not proceed to debate the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Dr Forbes) read a third time.
Bill presented by Mr Anthony, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill will give effect to the Government’s intention to make available up to $25m over a period of 4 years for implementation of the marginal dairy farms reconstruction scheme. Tabled with the Bill is an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Western Australia which will come into force immediately this Bill is enacted by Parliament. The way in which the Bill and the agreement have been drawn makes it desirable that they be read in conjunction with each other. The scheme as outlined in this Bill had its origin when the Australian Dairy Industry Council in October 1966 submitted a number of proposals to the Commonwealth Government in connection with the renewal of the industry stabilisation plan for the 5 years from 1st July 1967. The Dairy Industry Council recommended that, in addition to maintaining the already existing measures of Government support to the industry, the Federal Government should provide funds for distribution in conjunction with State governments, as combined grants and loans to provide for the reconstruction of dairy farm units which were uneconomic because of size.
The Government accepted this industry recommendation and formulated the present reconstruction plan. In its essential features, this plan is in line with the recommendation by the Industry Council. The world situation in dairying shows an overwhelming pattern of production surpluses. Butter stocks in the 10 major producing countries have risen for the fifth year in succession. The European Economic Community alone has a butter surplus of around 300,000 tons or little short of half the world’s annual trade in butter. The Six have accumulated this surplus through beggar-my-neighbour policies such as high export subsidies, despite continued representations by Australia and other countries for moderation.
Britain remains the major market for Australian dairy products. But the British market is limited by quotas, requiring restraint to be exercised by Australia, New Zealand and other suppliers. Even that trade is in jeopardy should Britain join the European Economic Community without first ensuring that there are adequate safeguards for its traditional suppliers. The quotas may have resulted in a reasonably stable price for butter on the British market, but returns from that market can scarcely be called remunerative. In Australia itself, the consumption of fats and oils per person has been declining. The consumption of butterfat per person has been falling even faster. Consumption of fluid milk per head is static in most States. Competition from margarine and other spreads would create chaotic conditions but for State-imposed restrictions.
The sum total of a limited home market and an over-supplied world market means that, despite the continuation of the Government subvention of $27m per annum for butter and cheese, the equalised return to producers declined from 47.1c per lb butterfat in 1964-65 to an estimated 41.3c for the current year. Over the same period costs have risen by 16i% according to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics index of prices paid by farmers. The net farm income of producers in the dairying industry has suffered severely.
In attempting to counteract this situation, farmers have made strenuous efforts to improve productivity. No matter how measured, the results are striking. In real terms production per cow or per acre or per man or per dollar have all gone up. The structure of the dairy industry has changed substantially over the last 10 or 15 years. It is clear that the producer bas accepted the productivity challenge posed by rising costs and advancing technology. Farmers who have been able to find capital to invest or reinvest in their farms and those who have been in the fore-front of productivity improvements have been able to maintain or even better their income position. However there are a substantial number of dairy farmers who due to inadequate farm size or capital limitation or to a variety of other intractable problems, have not been able to keep pace with the changes that are going on in the industry. The economic examination of the dairy industry conducted by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in 1964 shows that the average net farm income throughout the industry in Australia over the period surveyed - 1961-62 to 1963-64 - was $2,400. At the time, some 55% of all dairy farmers earned a net farm income of less than $2,000 per annum. In the manufacturing sector of the industry, that is among those producers who do not have access to the higher priced fluid milk market, the situation was even worse. There is no evidence of improvement in this position in the period since the survey was carried out.
The industry’s problems are aggravated by the fact that there are concentrations of low income producers in certain dairying regions, notably in south-eastern Queensland, northern New South Wales and the south-west of Western Australia, and to a lesser extent, in the south-east of South Australia. There is thus a regional problem as well as an industry problem. The whole economy of these regions is adversely affected. In south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales, the size of farms established late last century or early this century is no longer sufficient under today’s conditions. In Western Australia, development has been retarded also by the high cost of clearing land.
Dairy farmers with small holdings have no cushion of wealth to protect themselves from the impact of the drastic changes through which the industry is going, nor in most cases can they offer sufficient security to enable the farmer to borrow for farm development. Even with the greatest of effort, their holdings are no longer big enough to maintain an adequate standard of living acceptable in the Australian community. Farmers are being forced out of the industry and in many cases, these men have had to sell at sacrifice prices. Faced with this situation there are a number of courses open to the Government and the industry. One way would be to allow economic strangulation to take further toll of marginal dairy farmers. This course would be intolerable. Another way that some have advocated is to give more subsidy, but this would merely produce a situation where more of the increase in subsidy would go to those whose incomes are already adequate and very little to those producers who really need assistance. The third way is to adopt arrangements specifically designed to alleviate the marginal farm problem.
The States where regional low income problems exist have not been idle. In 1956 Western Australia introduced a dairy farm improvement scheme, followed later by its dairy farm consolidation plan which is still operating. Since the inception of these arrangements, the Western Australian Government has provided rather more than $lm to assist producers in that State. Similarly New South Wales in 1963 introduced a farm build-up scheme. That scheme is available to all rural industries in New South Wales. In respect of dairy farms, the Government of that State has spent about S1.6m for the amalgamation of properties. Queensland also has a number of measures in force which more or less directly benefit the dairy industry, although there is not any dairy reconstruction plan as such operated by that State Government, nor by any State Government other than the 2 that I have mentioned.
The scheme now offered by the Commonwealth is obviously of much greater magnitude with correspondingly greater potential for dealing with the low income problem that exists in the dairy industry. The objectives of the Commonwealth scheme are twofold: To enable low income dairy farmers who voluntarily wish to do so, to leave the industry and to receive a fair price for their land and improvements; and, after the writing-off of redundant assets, to make the land and useful improvements available to other farmers so as to build up their properties to a viable family farm level and, where possible, diversifying the pattern of land use. The States have been asked to work with the Commonwealth in the implementation of the scheme with moneys provided by the Commonwealth.
Essentially, the Bill now before the House empowers the making of agreements with States for the operation of the scheme. The Bill specifies certain features that are to be incorporated in any such agreement. First and foremost, there is the need to define a marginal dairy farm for the purposes of the scheme. Here the Bill and the agreement apply simultaneously. Taking them together, a marginal dairy farm is denned as having the following characteristics:
These then are the 4 characteristics that define a marginal dairy farm. For the purposes of the scheme, a marginal dairy farm is a rural property running more than 20 lactating cows, and with not less than half the gross income derived from the production of milk or cream valued at the manufactured price, but being one that has an overall production insufficient to provide a reasonable level of income. 1 have already mentioned that in requiring that such a farm have at least half its gross income coming from the sale of milk or cream the Government has laid down that this will be milk or cream valued al the manufacturing price. There is very good reason for this requirement. The scheme is designed essentially to assist the low income farmer in the manufacturing sector of the dairy industry. It is this sector which has been most severely hit by the combination of the low level of export prices for dairy products and rising costs. By contrast, the effects of the cost price squeeze have tended to be alleviated for the whole milk sector by the adjustment of milk prices from time to time. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics survey shows that the average Australian net farm income in the manufacturing sector was S2.001. In the whole milk sector it was just on $3,000. In every State other than Queensland, there is a significantly higher proportion of low income farmers in the manufacturing sector than in the whole milk sector. This is only to be expected when it is recognised that milk going to the fluid milk market is paid at approximately twice the price of milk for manufacturing purposes.
The adverse situation of farmers in the manufacturing sector is made even worse by the policy that operates in New South Wales whereby, in order to try to maintain their quota entitlements, dairy farmers in the milk zone are virtually compelled to produce excess milk for which the only outlet is manufactured dairy products. This excess milk swells the oversupply situation for butterfat, to the detriment of producers outside the milk zone. The contrasting fortunes of the two sectors of the industry have meant that the small farmer in the fluid milk sector who wanted to quit the industry has, as a general rule, been able to do so without loss. Entitlement io quota in the New South Wales milk zone gives the quota holder an unearned premium wilh a market value at present of $80 to $150 per gallon depending upon location. In other words, a relatively small quota, say 30 gallons, will produce a premium well in excess of a year’s net farm income for an average dairy farmer outside of the milk zone, in the manufacturing sector, by contrast, departure from the industry has commonly involved serious financial loss.
There is, however, 1 important po:nt that must be stressed. Low income producers within the fluid milk sector are eligible to participate in the marginal dairy farms reconstruction scheme. The possession of a milk quota does not exclude them from participation, nor does mere geographical location. Such dairy farmers will b; subject to exactly the same tests of eligibility as farmers in the manufacturing sector. The only other condition that an applicant must meet who wishes voluntarily to offer his land under the scheme is that he should have been operating the holding for a period of not less than 2 years. In other words he must be a bona fide dairy farmer. The agreement provides that in exceptional cases, such as illness or disability, this condition could be waived. The agreement also provides that if experience shows that some other qualifying period is warranted, the present stipulation can be altered by mutual ministerial consent.
The next feature mentioned in the Bill is that the agreement must include provision that the outgoing man will receive current market value for his land and structural improvements. The State instrumentality which operates the scheme will not be required to buy the moveable plant or the herd. The outgoing farmer will be able to sell his livestock, machinery and plant on his own account. By ensuring that the man who wishes voluntarily to leave the industry will receive current market value, the scheme will protect him against having to sell his farm at a sacrifice. The outgoing man will thus receive fair value for the capital and effort he has invested over the years.
It has been suggested to me that there should also be included a retraining scheme for the farmers who decide to leave the industry. At present the Commonwealth offers rural retraining for national servicemen. There is sound justification for providing this facility for young men whose careers have been interrupted by the need to undertake service in the defence forces. It is by no means clear that such an additional benefit should be offered to men who are changing civilian employment. Australians, and particularly Australian farmers, have always taken some measure of pride in their ability to turn their hands to whatever is necessary. At the same time the Government is currently giving attention to the question of vocational training, especially in regard to industrial trade training, and I am willing to look at this question again as experience accrues in the operation of the marginal dairy farms reconstruction scheme.
A further feature stipulated in the Bill is that land will not be disposed of for use primarily for dairying unless it is to be so used as part of a rural property that constitutes an economic unit. In the agreement, the minimum level specified for an economic unit exceeds the maximum level for a marginal dairy farm by some significant amount - in the case of Western Australia, 25%. The purpose of this differential is to avoid the risk of bult up farms falling back into the marginal category under the continuing cost-price trends that are pressing on the dairy industry. The maximum level for a marginal dairy farm in Western Aus tralia is, as I have already said, the equivalent of 12,000 lb of butterfat on average per annum. So an economic unit in that State for the purposes of the scheme will be one that produces annually the equivalent of at least 15,000 lb of butterfat.
The Bill and the Agreement also make provision that, where necessary, the State instrumentality may acquire farms which are larger than a marginal farm, but only if both the State Minister and Commonwealth Minister are satisfied that good reason prevails. I would like to make this matter clear. Where a farm fulfils the definition of a marginal dairy farm, the State instrumentality will have full authority to acquire it should it be offered. Where a farm is producing more than the maximum level set in the State concerned for a marginal dairy farm but less than the minimum of an economic unit, the State instrumentality will be able to acquire it provided the Commonwealth and State Ministers give consent. Where the property is already above the base level for an economic unit, it can be acquired, again with the consent of the State and Commonwealth Ministers, but this consent would be given only in most exceptional circumstances. There is one important observation to be made in this connection. The Agreement sets out clearly that the State authority is not compelled to acquire any particular marginal dairy farm. Since the day to day and case by case responsibilities will be entrusted to the State authorities, they have to be given discretion in respect of the acquisition of marginal dairy farms. The State might wish, for example, to have a suitable purchaser or lessor in prospect.
I now turn to a most important matter. In making the land available for build-up purposes, the disposal will be made so as to encourage the most practicable and economic use of land with a view to achieving, so far as is consistent with such land use, the diversification of production. The Commonwealth has stated from the inception of its proposals for a dairy farm reconstruction scheme that the twin aims are amalgamation and diversification. There will be instances where the most practicable and economic use of land will be for it to continue in dairying. There will be other cases where it makes sense to divert the land to other forms of rural production altogether. There will be cases where the built-up farms will be suited to mixed farming. There will be other instances, such as in hill country, where probably the best thing that could be done with the land would be to turn it to forestry. The Bill and the Agreement are so drawn that all of these possibilities are catered for.
Another feature of the Bill is that in disposing of land, the man whose property is being built-up will be able to obtain that land at current market value taking into account the nature of the proposed land use and the system of tenure. It is intended that the farmer who obtains built-up land will only need to pay for those structural improvements that are useful to him. Redundant assets will be written off at Commonwealth expense less any residual value. This requirement that the in-coming farmer will not need to pay for redundant assets is a unique characteristic of the marginal dairy farms reconstruction scheme. By writing off these superfluous assets, the possibility of the in-coming man being saddled with a useless burden of debt is avoided. As far as the land and the useful assets are concerned, the farmer who takes them up will have the opportunity to pay for them over a spread period. The exact terms and conditions on which repayment will be made will be a matter that in each State the State authority will determine. It will be appreciated that there are two aspects to the scheme. There is a CommonwealthState relationship and there is the relationship between the State or State authority and the producers.
I have already covered most of the matters of consequence on the latter aspect. To summarise, a marginal dairy farmer wishing to leave the industry will offer his land to the Authority in his State and if approved will receive payment in full as soon as the transaction is completed. The authority will then make the land available in whole or part to another farmer together with those improvements that the farmer indicates will be useful. The land and useful improvements will be sold to him at a price based on current market values in relation to the proposed use of the land. Before making the land available, the authority will ensure that after amalgamation the built-up property will form an economic unit. The man whose property is built-up will receive time to pay, the terms in respect of repayments being those specified by the State authority. The authority will also ensure that, as long as the farmer whose land is built-up owes money to the authority, there will be an undertaking given against fragmentation of the property.
The ability of the State to extend credit on reasonable terms is dependant on the extent to which the State has to make repayment to the Commonwealth. The Bill lays down that, of the financial assistance to be made available by the Commonwealth, the State will only have to repay half, and that over a period of up to 25 years. In the Agreement there is an option that the State can postpone making repayment of capital to the Commonwealth for an initial period of up to 2 years if it so desires. Thus, by the time repayments are to be made to the Commonwealth, the State can itself be receiving moneys from farmers whose properties have been built-up. In effect the Commonwealth is asking States to cooperate, at no cost to themselves, for the benefit of farmers and of the dairy industry as a whole.
Interest will bc charged on that half of the money that is repayable to the Commonwealth. A fixed rate of 6% per annum will apply on the funds repayable in respect of drawings and advances made during the four years of the current agreement. This rate is less than the long term bond rate of interest at the present time. Setting a lower rate of interest for the Scheme is consistent with the action taken by the Government to avoid the recent increase in bank interest rates from being applied to rural producers. The particular rate of interest that producers on built-up farms will be charged by the State authority is a matter for each State separately to determine. The Commonwealth’s offer is thus a generous one. The State will only have to repvy half of the money and that over a lengthy period and at a favourable rate of interest. The grant portion will be more than sufficient to cover the write-off of redundant assets and any reduction in the value of land because of change in the pattern of land use.
Also, in both the Bill and the Agreement, the Commonwealth has given the States an assurance against any overall loss falling on State revenue as a result of circumstances beyond the control of the State, and which turn out to be disadvantageous compared with past experience and normal expectation as to factors that affect farmers’ incomes. In return, the State would agree to operate the scheme in such a way that, taking into account its experience with other schemes of an analogous nature, and the normal expectations that I have just mentioned, the amounts recovered could be reasonably expected to equal the State’s costs of administration and payment of interest and capital to the Commonwealth. This is an equitable bargain between the Commonwealth and States. It means that should the industry suffer a serious setback through forces beyond the control of the State, the State can expect to be protected against any overall loss falling on it by virtue of its co-operation in the Scheme.
The total sum that the Commonwealth, is prepared to make available over a 4 year period is $2Sm. This sum is not divided up beforehand among States in any set amounts, nor could this be done, since, as I have already stressed, the scheme is a voluntary one. It is thus most difficult for the Commonwealth or any State to predict the rate at which farmers will come forward to offer their land. Instead, the Commonwealth will make the money available as needed by the States up to the total that Parliament is asked to appropriate, namely $25m. The Commonwealth will also make an advance or advances as needed, to any State that requests that this be done, in order that the State will always have funds in hand to operate the Scheme.
The existing schemes in New South Wales and Western Australia have helped relieve the low income problem in those States. In recognition of this, the Commonwealth is willing to make available supplementary grants to these 2 States from within the total appropriation. Western Australia has requested a grant of $35,000 a year to supplement the moneys that the State is providing through its Dairy Farm Consolidation Plan and this annual sum is written into the Agreement. In the case of New South Wales, if that State seeks a supplementary grant it could make possible the writing off of redundant assets, a feature not presently incorporated in the State scheme. The Commonwealth and State schemes would then be virtually identical as far as the build-up of dairy farms is concerned. The low income problem is not confined however to New South Wales and Western Australia. It is a problem that affects all States. While speaking of the financial assistance which the Commonwealth will accord to the States to operate this scheme, I want to make it quite plain, beyond any doubt, that the period of 4 years for which the $25m is available will be a common period applying to all States, commencing from the first date on which an agreement is signed with any cooperating State. Let me illustrate what I have just said. Should this Bill be enacted into law and receive royal assent on, say, 30th June 1970, and the agreement with Western Australia be signed the same day, then the 4 years will end on 30th June 1974, and no further money will be available to any State out of the present $25m after 30th June 1974, unless it relates to expenditure by a State within that period.
Clearly the task will not be finished by that date and at an appropriate time the. Government will consider, in the light of the experience gained in the first few years, what further action it should take. In addition, it is no secret that the Government has received and is considering representations for the wider application of the principles underlying the dairy reconstruction scheme, in order to assist other rural industries that are in difficulties. However, it would be unrealistic for the Government to make any decision on these further representations until the Commonwealth has been assured of the co-operation of the States in the reconstruction of the dairy industry.
– How many have agreed so far?
– Only Western Australia. The arrangements embodied in this Bill and the accompanying agreement represent the full extent of the Commonwealth’s offer. At the moment, States other than Western Australia have not yet given their co-operation. In fairness, 1 must say that the Premiers have indicated their support for the principles of the marginal dairy farms reconstruction scheme. What is needed however, is more than in principle support. During the 2 years that the scheme has been under negotiation, over 5,000 dairy farmers have ceased to operate. There is no valid reason, particularly in the light of the assurance that the States have received against the possibility of losses due to factors beyond their control, why the benefits of the scheme should be delayed or denied to the low income sector.
Mr Speaker, this scheme is one that has been sought . by the industry. More than half the dairy farmers in Australia could be eligible to participate. It will improve the health of the industry as a whole. At the same time it will directly assist that sector of the industry whose living standards have been and still are unacceptably low in relation to the high standard of living enjoyed by most people in Australia. It will help alleviate regional and social problems. Above all, this scheme will add strength to the family farms that are the backbone of the dairy industry. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
– I present the Agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of Western Australia in relation to marginal dairy farms reconstruction scheme 1970. Copies are being distributed to honourable members.
-by leave - In the course of the debate in this House on the Parliamentary Counsel Bill 1970 reference was made by certain honourable members to the need, from time to time, for private members to be able to obtain the assistance of a draftsman. This matter was subsequently raised in the course of the debate on the Bill in the Senate, and I accordingly arranged for the Minister representing me in that place to make a statement outlining the policy I propose to adopt in relation to the provision of drafting assistance to private members. I wish now to inform the House of that policy. Consistently with the practice of my predecessors I will be sympathetically disposed to the giving of drafting assistance to private members. However, the present shortage of draftsmen is such that I could give no undertaking that all requests for assistance will be met. Each request will have to be considered in the light of the commitments for drafting required by the Government.
Where a draftsman is made available to a private member, his dealings with the private member will be regarded as confidential between him and the member. This means that the draftsman will not communicate drafts or other particulars to the Government without the permission of the private member concerned. I shall not attach a condition that the draftsman furnish a copy of his drafts to the AttorneyGeneral or to any other Minister or officer. Nor will the officer be under an obligation to report to a Minister concerning his work for the private member. However, I can imagine circumstances in which the officer would genuinely find himself in a position in which it would be inconsistent with his duty to serve the Government for him to continue to provide assistance to a private member. In those circumstances, the officer would cease to provide further assistance for the private member.
– by leave - On behalf of the Opposition I welcome the statement which the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) has made following the first Bill which he introduced. This will be a notable advance in the working of the Parliament. The officers appointed under the Parliamentary Counsel Bil] will now, in a real sense, be not only Government draftsmen but parliamentary draftsmen. On my side we are most gratified that the Attorney-General has so fully and promptly responded to the suggestion made in the second reading stage of the Bill.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 5 May (vide page 1603). on motion by Mr McEwen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– On anyone’s standards this must be conceded to be a very interesting and very important Bill. Even if one can see beyond the sectional interests that may be involved - and one may feel genuinely that they have served a very useful purpose in the past - one has to concede that this Bill represents a very important development in the provision of finance for Australian industry. I would like to congratulate the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) on the work that has gone into making this Bill possible and also to congratulate those who have been responsible for drawing it up.
Australia has a serious economic problem that arises out of our balance of payments position. It is a problem that sooner or later we will have to grapple with and which will present us with considerably more difficulty than we have faced in recent years. We also have constitutional difficulties which on the whole have not assisted Australian economic development and have not assisted our surmounting of those problems when they have arisen. I think this Bill goes some of the way towards establishing an institution that can help us with the economic problems, andI congratulate those who have been responsible for drawing it up because I think they have shown an appreciation of the constitutional difficulties that an institution of this kind faces. I think the Bill is well designed in relation to those constitutional difficulties.
The Bill is described as one to establish the Australian Industry Development Corporation. It is really a Bill to assist the development of commerce between the States and between Australia and other nations. It is a Bill that has an economic purpose but it operates within a constitutional field thatI would define in that manner. Firstly as to the problem: The Minister for Trade and Industry did not, in my opinion understate the significance of the problem. I hope that his statement of the problem - I think I can make mine stronger and I propose to do so - will not escape the attention of those who have lived in affluence and apathy for far too long; who have been inclined to believe that this lucky country can go on being lucky in all circumstances and under all conditions. That is hardly a viewpoint that I would expect the economic and political pachyderms who inhabit the benches opposite to accept readily. I think they of all people should be prepared to do something now to help to alleviate the difficulties that may well come and may well help to induce some of those political and economic problems about which they would be very unhappy and which would lead to their principles being the first to go if those problems become as intense as they may well do.
In defining the problem the Minister in his second reading speech said:
It is, however, a basic feature of our developing economy that, as the gross national product increases, so do our import requirements to sustain our industries and meet consumer needs. We face a growing burden of income remitted abroad. Income remitted overseas by companies in Australia has in 5 years risen from 8.3% to 10.5% of our export earnings. In addition, income being earned by overseas investors and ploughed back in further investment in Australia has more than doubled in 5 years. This means a building up of commitments for further income to be paid abroad in the future. And, where the investment is in equity form, there is no end to the commitment.
That is a strong enough statement and in statistical terms the strongest part of it is that income remitted overseas by Australian companies is rising quite rapidly. It has risen from 8.3% to 10.5% of our export earnings in a short period of 5 years. But if anything the problem is more serious than that. The problem may be seen in any examination of the balance of payments situation. I would like to refer the House to a recent statement of the balance of payments problem by Sir John Crawford, with the concurrence of honourable memAs the statement is in up-to-date terms, bers I incorporate it in Hansard, lt reads:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 May 1970, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1970/19700514_reps_27_hor67/>.