20th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. 3BL McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– “Will the Minister .representing the Minister for Supply inform the Senate whether representations have been made to the Australian Government by the South Australian Government about the manner in which the search for further deposits of uranium both in South Australia and in other parts of Australia may be promoted? Docs the Minister agree that the Royal Australian Air Force could, in the normal course of its training flights, assist, in this connexion ? Ff so, does the Government, intend to utilize that source of assistance?
– The information that the honorable senator seeks is not. immediately available. However., I shall direct the attention of the Minister for Supply to the honorable senator’s question, and obtain a considered reply foi’ him as early as possible.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Trade and Customs by pointing out that many sections of the community have expressed concern about the continued importation into Australia, and publication in this country .of undesirable literature. Will the Minister consider the advisability of convening a conference between representatives of the Commonwealth and the States with a view to the introduction of uniform legislation in order to prevent the importation into Australia and publication in this country of undesirable books and magazines?
– I have mentioned on several previous occasions when this subject has been raised that I understand the Prime Minister has suggested to the State Premiers that they should introduce uniform legislation with a view to correcting or eliminating the evils to which the honorable senator has referred. I think that the Senate will agree that it would be quite impracticable for the Commonwealth effectively to police the importation into Australia of undesirable publications. Much of the material on which they are based comes into Australia in the form of private mail. I do not think that any honorable senator would approve of the Commonwealth instituting a system of censorship on all private mail coming into the country. Apart from the impracticability of such a system, the expense would be colossal and I think that the cure would be worse than the disease. 1 think that it would he simple for the police of the various States to take action against newt vendors who offer or exhibit for sale literature of a type which offends against decency. Prosecutions in respect of such offences have been launched by the States and it would be a step in the direction of eliminating the evils t6 which the honorable senator has referred if the police were encouraged to take action in appropriate cases. As the result of negotiations which are taking place between the Commonwealth and the States I hope that more effective action will bo taken on these lines.
– Will the Minister for National Development inform the Senate of the cost of producing the recently released Atlas of Australian Resources’! Is it expected that the publication will involve the department, in any financial loss? How many copies of the publication have been or will be distributed free and to whom will the free distribution be made? What is the retail price of the publication to members of the public? Who are the distributors in Western Australia? Has the Atlas received any publicity .apart from the article in the last issue of the magazine N National Development ? Should it be found that the atlas does not sell as freely as was hoped by the department, will the Minister give consideration to its sale by the “ special book offer “ method which is used by a number of newspapers throughout the Common.wealth, and so ensure that the existence unci availability of this highly informative and educational publication is brought to the notice of the general public?
– I thank the honorable senator for describing the atlas as an informative and valuable publication. I suggest that I could answer the honorable senator’s question in more detail when the Senate is dealing with the Estimates. All the relevant information is available but I cannot produce it at the moment. The atlas to which the honorable senator referred has been in preparation for a number of years. Its sale is being arranged under contract with Angus and Robertson Limited of Sydney. I think that, under that contract, 10,000 copies of the atlas are to be printed and the company is to purchase a thousand copies of each issue. The company is also obliged >to further the sale of the remaining copies. The sale of all the copies printed would cover the whole cost of publication including the salaries of the men who were engaged in the preparation of the atlas in the Department of National Development. I think that about 1,600 copies of the atlas, which is a work of reference, have already been sold and from the opening sales it would appear that the whole output will be sold.
– Will the Minister for Shipping and Transport say whether it is true that tenders have been called for the purchase of thirteen vessels of the government-owned Papua and New Guinea shipping service? What was the price received by the Government for the seven ships of the same line sold by private treaty to Steamships Trading Company Limited in November of last year? Who are the controllers and directors of Steamships Trading Company Limited? Is the projected sale of an additional thirteen ships a part of a plan for the sale and ultimate destruction of the Commonwealth shipping fleet despite the assurance given by the Min ister, and repeated by the Prime Minister during the recent Senate election campaign, that the fleet would not be sold ?
– The small ships used in the islands trade come under the control of the Minister for Territories. My department deals only with shipping around the Australian coast under the control of the Australian Shipping Board. If the honorable senator will place his question on the notice-paper I shall obtain a reply for him.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport by directing his attention to the highly divergent rates of shipping freights that apply between Sydney and Singapore, and between Singapore and Europe. It costs as much to freight goods from Sydney to Singapore as it does to ship them three times as far from Singapore to the United Kingdom and Europe. Has the Minister for Shipping and Transport read a statement by the Australian Trade Commissioner’ for Malaya to the effect that the Australian export trade in Singapore is in jeopardy because of rising prices? As the highly excessive shipping freights form a substantial percentage of those prices, will the Minister consider a conference with representatives of the shipping lines with a view to a reduction in those excessive freights ?
– The honorable senator will appreciate that the Government does not control freight rates charged by the shipping services to which he has referred. The Government controls shipping operations only on the Australian coast. I am interested in the differential rates in respect of the services to which the honorable senator referred. I shall have inquiries made on the subject and furnish him with a reply as soon as possible.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs indicate to the Senate whether the Government intends to convene a Constitution convention at an early date to consider alterations of the present antiquated and outmoded distribution of constitutional powers ?
– This matter is continuously under consideration by the responsible Ministers and the legal advisers to the Commonwealth. I am not aware at the moment of any specific decision to call a conference to review the Constitution, but the honorable senator may rest assured that the matter is receiving the earnest attention of the Government.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Supply whether an approach will be made to the major oil companies in an endeavour to arrange with them to make available to motorists, in addition to the fuel now on sale, petrol of a higher octane rating? If the higher octane petrol would have to be sold at a slightly higher price as is now done in Great Britain, will the Minister endeavour to arrange with the States for this to be made possible so that motorists may exercise a choice as to the quality of the petrol they wish to use?
– I ask the honorable senator to put his question on thu notice-paper so that I may prepare a reply for him. Substantial changes will occur in the petrol industry when the refineries now under construction in Australia are completed, and I should not like to answer the question offhand-.
– Will the Minister for Shipping and Transport endeavour to have the railway facilities between Albury and Canberra greatly improved, not only for the benefit of members of this Parliament, but also with a view to inducing more tourists to use them?
– I shall have the question examined and let the honorable senator have a considered reply as soon as possible.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the Senate of- the stage reached by the Tariff Board in its inquiry concerning paper, and can he also indicate when the report of the board will be placed before the Parliament ?
– I am not in a position to state offhand the precise position regarding the application, but 1 shall have inquiries made and let the honorable senator know the result.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs say whether the attention of the Government has been drawn to a recent statement in the press by a Mr. Waugh that the United States of America may support an application by Japan to participate in the Colombo plan? If that statement is correct, can the Minister explain how the Government reconciles it with the statement last week by the Minister for External Affairs, who is the Leader of the Australian delegation to the United Nations, that it was unlikely that Japan would be admitted to the Colombo plan? Can he also inform the Senate of the view of the Australian Government in that connexion and also concerning the admission of Japan to membership of the Genera] Agreement on Tariffs and Trade?
Senator- O’SULLIVAN.- I have not seen the newspaper report to which the honorable senator has referred, but I have no doubt that when the question arises the Government will give full and careful consideration to it and will arrive at the correct conclusion.
– Last week I addressed to the Minister for Trade and Customs a question regarding the appointment of an Australian Ambassador to Ireland. Honorable senators may remember that on that occasion I did not receive a very courteous reply. I now ask the Minister whether it is not a fact that diplomatic circles overseas cannot understand why the Australian Government refuses to acknowledge the Republic of Ireland, to which have been accredited representatives of the United Kingdom, Canada, India, the United States of America, France, Portugal, Italy and other European countries. Will the Minister make a frank explanation to the Senate concerning the points of difference between the Australian Government and the Irish Government?
– The honorable senator’s question is based upon a complete misunderstanding of the position.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture seen a report to the effect that recently certain vessels, believed to be of Japanese origin, were sighted off Mackay, apparently engaged in gathering some of the resources of the Great Barrier Reef ? Can the Minister say whether this matter will be investigated in view of the recent declaration concerning the continental shelf?
– I shall refer the matter to my colleague, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who usually gives a prompt answer to such questions.
– Has the Minter for Trade and Customs read a report that was published in the Canberra, Times to the effect that denominational schools in the Australian Capital Territory are saving the Government at least £60,000 a year in salaries of teachers, irrespective of the capital cost of buildings and other expenses. As that amount possibly could be multiplied many hundreds of times throughout Australia when the work of denominational and private schools 33 taken into account, will the Minister for Trade and Customs refer to the Prime Minister the possibility of discussing with the State Premiers at the next conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, the question of making some payments to those schools? If that is not feasible, could some per capita payment be made to denominational and private schools as is done at present in the case of private hospitals?
– I have read the statement in the Canberra Times to which the honorable senator has referred. Senator Tangney probably understands clearly that education is entirely the responsibility of the States and that the State governments legislate for it accordingly. I doubt whether the Australian Government would be within its constitutional powers in granting assistance for education along the lines indicated, even if it wanted to do so, except perhaps in the case of Commonwealth territories, such as the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. I do not know the details of the Australian Government’s responsibilities in connexion with education in the Australian Capital Territory. I shall have inquiries made with regard to the Australian territories along the lines that the honorable senator has suggested, but I will not consider the matter in connexion with the States. Apart from the legal and constitutional aspects of the matter, I consider that it would be quite improper for the Australian Government to intrude into a province that is strictly under the jurisdiction of the States.
– Does the Minister for Trade and Customs recall the criticism that some honorable senators opposite made of a senior Commonwealth public servant who was reported as having interviewed on a Sunday in Canberra businessmen who required to see him on important departmental business? Is he aware that the Labour Premiers of Tasmania and Victoria met in Melbourne last Sunday to discuss what has been termed “ hi-jacking “ by Victoria of a well-known Tasmanian lottery? In view of the lead given by those two Labour Premiers, may it be taken in future that public servants who deem it necessary to conduct important public business on a Sunday will not be criticized by honorable senators opposite if they do so?
– Rather irresponsible criticism was voiced recently in the Senate about the hard work and onerous duties discharged by a Commonwealth public servant in circumstances of the kind to which the honorable senator has referred, but I do not think that anybody took such criticism seriously.
– In view of the recent statement by Sir Winston Churchill in which he intimated that he intended to call a meeting of the great powers with a view to easing international tension, is the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs in a position to inform the Senate whether the Government will give the fullest support possible to Sir Winston’s search for a solution of existing international difficulties? Or, does the Government intend to be influenced by the somewhat hysterical reception which was given by the American press to Sir Winston’s suggestion?
– I shall answer the question on behalf of the Attorney-General, who is absent because of illness. I am sure that the honorable senator, and, indeed, every other honorable senator, views with apprehension the practice whereby governments make public anouncements of policy based on newspaper reports. That is not the way a government should conduct its affairs. This matter will be considered fully and sanely, not on the basis of newspaper reports, but in the light of existing circumstances.
– I should like to know from the Minister for Trade and Customs when the Senate may expect to have presented to it the statement on the operations of import restrictions which we were told would be made to the Parliament in the near future.
– I am not aware of any promise to that effect having been made, but if the honorable senator would like to be supplied with details of the operation particular of import controls, I should be happy to give him a categorical answer.
– My question relates to a statement to the effect that the Prime Minister would make a statement during the current sessional period on the operation of import restrictions. I have been most eager to hear a comprehensive statement on this subject.
– I shall take up the matter with the Prime Minister. If he is in a position to make such a statement, I am sure that it will be made and will be tabled in the Senate.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The Minister for Social Services has furnished the following answers: -
Note. - These figures include applicants satisfied by transfers as well as homes built and purchased and mortgages discharged.
It will be noted that figures have been furnished in relation to the number of homes provided, not the number of homes built, as this information would appear to be of more value to the honorable senator. However, if he so desires, figures in relation to the number of homes built can be supplied.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers:-
Commonwealth to guarantee repayment of an. advance which the company proposes to obtain from the Commonwealth Bank for the purpose of purchasing two DC6 aircraft and spare parts, the amount involved being £1,500,000. In addition to the guarantee and as provided for in the agreement, the bank will, if it approves the advance, take security over the aircraft and spare parts. 2 and 3. No advance has yet been made by the bank to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works, upon notice -
– The Minister for Works has furnished the following answer : -
Because of ;i change over from day labour to tile contract system for the carrying out of works, the number of men employed by the department on day labour dropped from 10,302 at the 28th February, 1053, to 9,244 at the 31st August, 1953. Part of this reduction of 1,058 was made by not replacing the normal wastage of men from jobs and part by termination of services. The figure of 1,058 is an overall figure and exact details of the number of tradesmen included are not yet available. Except in Queensland, there has been no difficulty in ensuring that apprentices indentured to the department continue to receive full training. In Queensland a very successful drive for apprentices was carried out in the years during which a great shortage of tradesmen existed. A number of these lads have not yet completed their apprenticeship and the position following the reduction of labour strength is being very carefully studied by departmental officers in co-operation with the Queensland Apprenticeship Board. In cases where the department is unable to continue the training of . any apprentice, arrangements are made with the Queensland Apprenticeship Board to transfer the indentures. The board has been asked to arrange for the transfer of six apprentice carpenters at the earliest date.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Governorof the Commonwealth Bank has furnished the following information in answer to the honorable senator’s question: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The Minister for Social Services has supplied the following reply to the honorable senator’s question : -
Motion (by’ Senator McLeay) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for, an act to amend the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act 1940-1952.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
Senator McLEAY (South. Australia -
Minister for Shipping and Transport) [3.52]. - I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
Honorable senators will recall the amendment of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act in the latter part of 1952 to provide increased pension rates to mariners and certain classes of dependants consequent on, pension increases to corresponding classes of pensioners under the Repatriation Act. Since the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act came into operation in 1940, pension rates for seamen who suffered war injury have always been maintained at the same level as those for corresponding classes of ex-members of the forces provided under the Repatriation Act. As announced in the budget speech, the rates of war pensions for certain classes of pensioners under the Repatriation Act are being increased this year also.
It is the view of this Government that the principle of aligning the pension rates under the two acts should be preserved, and accordingly, the bill now introduced proposes that the general pension rates for Australian mariners and widows of Australian mariners should be increased on a basis similar to that provided for corresponding classes of pensioners for whom increases are being provided under the Repatriation Act. The general rate of pension is computed on the basis of percentage of incapacity of- the mariner. The general rate for a mariner whose incapacity is assessed at 100 per cent, will be increased by 5s. a fortnight under this bill. For example, a mariner whose rate of pay was 22s. 6d. day or less at the time of incurring war injury, and whose incapacity is assessed at 100 per cent, will receive £8 5s. a fortnight instead of £8 as at present. Rates for cases assessed at less than 100 per cent, will be adjusted according to the degree of incapacity.
The general pensions rates for widows of Australian mariners will be increased by 5s. a fortnight. Certain other increases in benefits for members and dependants under the Repatriation Act will be extended to mariners and will be expressed in the .Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Regulations. The rate of sustenance while the mariner is undergoing medical treatment will be increased to the same extent as the rates of pensions, and subsistence allowance while the mariner is travelling for treatment or pension purposes will be increased from 25s. to 30s. a day. The domestic allowance in addition to pension is paid to the widow and children of a deceased mariner, or the widow who has attained the age of 50 years or is permanently unemployable. The allowance at present is £3 4s. a fortnight. This is to be increased to £3 9s. a fortnight.
In the case of a widow with children, the domestic allowance previously ceased when the last child reached sixteen years of age. In April last, this was altered so that the allowance would continue as long as the child or one of the children was not in receipt of the adult wage and was undergoing training. The training would, in practically every case, be under the Soldiers’ Children Education Scheme, which benefit was extended to children of certain classes of mariners many years ago. In commending this bill to honorable senators, I again stress its main purpose, which is to bring general war pension rates for Australian mariners and for the widow.s of Australian mariners into line -with the increased rates being provided by the bill to amend the Repatriation Act.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the Sth October (vide page 468).
DEPARTMENT OF Health
Proposed vote, £1,2S1,000.
.- A feature of the great national health scheme is the distribution of free milk to school children throughout the Commonwealth, but the opinion has been expressed in the island State of Tasmania that the Australian. Government should consider whether the supply of free milk to children attending country schools is producing the desired results. No doubt the supply of milk to city children is justified, but in respect of country schools surely there is at least some room for doubt. It is believed that country school children receive sufficient milk in their homes. Many of them assist in the milking of cows at home before leaving for school, and they do not want milk at school. The result is a substantial waste of milk. I have seen dozens of bottles of milk at country schools unopened and many more with perhaps one mouthful out of them. There is general belief in Tasmania that country school children do not need free milk and I believe that the Commonwealth should discuss with the States the possibility of supplying some other nourishing and palatable drinks for the children. I have in mind pure fruit juices. I point out, too, that a drink which is nourishing and palatable in the summer, may not be so acceptable in the winter. Can honorable senators imagine children being asked to drink cold milk on days when the temperature of the atmosphere is down to say 40 degrees? Obviously milk is not very welcome in such circumstances. The Commonwealth should discuss with the States the practicability of installing heating systems so that children may have hot milk instead of cold milk in the winter. Some thought might be given also to giving city and town children a choice of fruit juice and milk in the summer, and hot cocoa made with milk in. the winter.
I draw attention also to the great inconvenience and expense involved in transporting whole1 milk hundreds of miles to be pasteurized and then back again, perhaps to the very centres where it was produced, for distribution to school children. An investigation might show that, this expense could be avoided in some measure. Most dietitians and medical men will readily agree that fresh milk is infinitely superior to pasteurized milk, provided, of- course, that the fresh milk is pure and free from dust and disease. Whilst pasteurization kills germs, it also removes certain valuable properties from the milk. However, as a layman,. I am not qualified to express definite opinions on such professional matters, and it may be that the advantages of pasteurization outweigh the disadvantages should there be a risk of contamination of fresh milk. I hope that the Commonwealth,, in conjunction with the States, which, of course, are partners to the free milk scheme, will give further consideration to my suggestion about the distribution of milk to country school children.
.- Senator Guy has given us an instance of wasteful expenditure. His statements are of interest to all honorable senators in view of the fact that the provision of free milk for school children costs approximately £2,000,000 a year. Most of us are not qualified to speak of the food value of milk for children, and as Senator Arnold pointed out last week, the Senate has been given no expert information about this matter. Senator Arnold said that when the free milk scheme was inaugurated, the Department of Health had a good opportunity to compile statistics showing the advantages of the distribution of free milk to school children. He regretted very much that this had not been done, and I join with him in deploring that omission. We should be greatly assisted if we had before us evidence from the medical profession of the benefits of providing milk for children-. Senator Anderson said that he was associated with a charitable organization that was providing milk for preschool children of needy families. That seems to be an important service. I have not investigated that field at all, but if there is tangible evidence that the provision of free milk to all needy children would be to the advantage of the nation, the duty of the Commonwealth is to extend that service. The days when such important services depended on charity are gone. There is no need now for the healthy upbringing of children to depend upon the work of charitable organizations. That is another aspect which the Department of Health should consider. It is important that medical evidence should be gathered concerning the advantage of providing milk not only for schoolchildren but also for children who do not attend school.
Earlier this afternoon, Senator Guy pointed out that pupils of many schools throughout the Commonwealth live on dairy farms and milk cows. Although they obtain adequate quantities of milk at home, they are supplied with additional milk when they go to school. On the other hand, there are many country children who do not milk cows and who, in fact, hardly ever see a milking cow. Yet they are not provided with milk under this scheme. I could mention several towns in Queensland where the school children are not given free milk by the Government, mainly because there is no dairying activity in the districts in which they live. Although they are not provided with milk under, this scheme, their parents are required to contribute to the funds from which milk is supplied to other schoolchildren in the Commonwealth.
– There is a good deal of goat’s milk used in the districts to which the honorable senator refers.
– That is correct, but it is not available in bottles for the children who attend school. That is my point. Nevertheless, the residents of such areas must pay, by means of high rates of sales tax and in other ways, to provide revenue with which the Australian Government pays for the distribution of milk to other school children. I suggest that if this scheme is to have any merit, it must extend to all the schoolchildren of Australia.
– Is not the administration of the scheme a matter for the State governments?
– I agree that it is. The easiest part of the scheme is that for which this Government is responsible. It merely writes out a cheque, so to speak, and thereby furnishes the funds with which the States do the work. The States are required to provide the distribution organization. In addition, they must secure the co-operation of the schoolteachers throughout Australia, which is no small matter, because the distribution of milk must be an extraneous duty from their point of view. I have not yet heard this Government express to the schoolteachers of Australia its thanks for the part they are playing in this scheme. Although I agree with Senator Wright that it is the responsibility of the States to attend to the distribution of the milk, it is not possible to deliver cold milk to the remote areas of Queensland and the other States without the use of refrigeration facilities. That is a matter to which the Government should give consideration.
The Commonwealth subsidizes the States in respect of hospital expenditure. The number of beds occupied in public hospitals is taken into account, and the hospital boards in the States are subsidized by the Commonwealth in respect of the expenditure incurred. I come from a State where no charge is made by hospitals which are under the control of the State Government. In addition, such hospitals do not charge patients for medicines, a service which also extends to outpatients. However, I understand that that practice applies only to Queensland, a fact which can be attributed to the foresight and good government of successive Queensland governments. In the other States, entirely different arrangements exist. Perhaps the Minister who represents the Minister for Health would be good enough to inform the Senate of the sums which have been paid to the States in respect of hospital subsidies.
Senator MATTNER (South Australia)- [4.6]. - I wish to make a plea for the cancer sufferer. It is common knowledge that cancer instils greater fear in people than does any other disease. The rate of mortality due to its depredations is appalling. Unfortunately, its spread is increasing in Australia. Those who suffer from it drain our reservoirs of effort and money. They feel that they are an incubus on the State and their relatives. Death is perhaps their only relief. A great deal has been said in this chamber recently concerning tuberculosis and its control, but I venture to state that cancer is the more frightening of the two. Naturally, I do not underestimate the severity of tuberculosis. Unfortunately, however, cancer is of very little political interest. Perhaps this is due to the fact that sufferers from the disease shrink from revealing their plight. Those who have been in contact with it, particularly as it affects young people - and I speak with a great deal of knowledge in this connexion - will agree that of all the diseases in the world today cancer is the one which is increasing at the most rapid rate. It seems to me that, in Australia, not as much research is being undertaken on this terrible disease as is being undertaken overseas. We all know that medical science is advancing and that different methods of treatment, such as radium treatment, have been evolved. High voltage X-rays are now possible. Because of the skill of our surgeons, extensive operations are being carried out with the help of antibiotics, aided by blood transfusions.
There is perhaps one thing that we, as laymen, can do to help in the fight against the disease, and that is to advocate, and endeavour to convince the authorities of the need for, the absolute necessity of early diagnosis. With more thorough examination, early diagnosis, and screening of patients, which must be done with great care, the rate of cure can be improved by at least 60 per cent. That figure is based on medical evidence. The claim that 60 per cent, of sufferers can be cured and again enabled to lead a normal life is not an exaggeration. Itis borne out by the latest medical statistics published on the subject. This result has been obtained in Switzerland and in the Scandinavian countries. In recent years, new methods have been devised for the early detection of lung and mouth cancer, and also general cases of cancer in women. Perhaps, cancer is the greatest scourge among Australian women. The Scandinavian countries, particularly Norway, have given a lead in the early diagnosis of cancer. They have established extensive post-graduate courses for general practitioners to enable them to diagnose cancer in its early stages. We should be well advised to establish similar courses in this country. The importance of the general practitioner in the treatment of cancer stems from the fact that the making of early diagnosis devolves upon him. The Government should consider the establishment of post-graduate courses for the treatment of cancer at the Australian National University.
The two primary requirements in this matter are, first, the provision of better education of the general practitioner on the subject, and, secondly, the maintenance of effective propaganda among the public. Development of methods of treatment is a matter for the medical profession itself. I emphasize that better facilities should be made available to general practitioners to assist them to make early diagnosis of the disease. In view of the fact that Norway, which is more sparsely populated than is Australia, has been able to provide such facilities, I can see no reason why this country should not do likewise. In Norway, general practitioners are paid by the Government to take courses of study dealing with pelvic cancer. Norway, since the occupation of that country by the Germans, has been relatively poor. Therefore, Australia should be able to emulate the example that it has set in this respect. We must recognize that diagnosis cannot be made effectively by examinations of patients in the home. Such examinations should be made in hospitals and special institutions. Tasmania has established diagnostic centres, mainly as a result of the generosity of the wellknown Australian philanthropist, Sir Edward Hallstrom. Members of the medical profession are among the most public-spirited citizens in the community, and they have devoted much effort and money in emphasizing the necessity for providing adequate assistance to sufferers from cancer. In this respect, I mention particularly Dr. R. P. Matters, who has performed valuable work in South Australia. But for nearly two years now, he has been awaiting an answer from the Department of Health in respect of a survey which he made relating to cancer. He holds a distinguished place in the medical profession. He is a Master of Science, a Doctor of Medicine, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and a Member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. I deplore the fact that the department is so remiss as to fail even to acknowledge communications which it receives from public-spirited members of the community, who offer valuable advice to it. The department should at least have the courtesy to reply to such representations. It has not even acknowledged receipt of information that Dr. Matters forwarded to it nearly two years ago. I believe that the Minister for Health will make further inquiries into the matter. Surely the scheme that Dr. Matters submitted to the department is worthy of official acknowledgment.
I urge the Government to establish a special department in the Australian National University for the purpose of studying the incidence of cancer and methods of treatment of the disease. If such action were taken, a member of the profession with the appropriate qualifications could readily be found to co-ordinate work of this kind in the various capital cities. Such a person could also help and direct general practitioners in their diagnosis and treatment of the disease. He could arrange for meetings of general practitioners to be held in Canberra for a few days each year for the purpose of discussing the latest methods of treatment. I repeat that Norway has shown us a good example in this respect. It should be the concern of the Government to do all in its power to reduce the mortality rate in respect of cancer. That objective could be achieved by improving diagnostic methods and persuading persons with minor symptoms to seek medical advice at the earliest possible moment. I urge the Government to take action in that direction. Whilst the cost involved would be small, the reward would be immense.
– Whilst I commend Senator Mattner for the remarks that he has made on the subject of cancer, I was not sur prised to hear him say that little progress is made by any public-spirited citizen who approaches the Department of Health with a view to persuading it to take progressive action in relation to the national health services. I believe that all honorable senators will agree - I know that the people are unanimous on this point - that more administrative confusion now exists in the Department of Health than has been the case in respect of any other department. I make full allowance for the fact that the department is undergoing a transition from what was an effective national health scheme to a scheme which is not as beneficial to the people as it might be. For instance, the approved list of drugs under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme is so restricted that many doctors find that patients cannot afford to pay for medicines not included in the formulary and, therefore, they supply to them several prescriptions in order to enable them to obtain the medicaments essential for the proper treatment of their complaint. Furthermore, big drug houses are putting up medicines to conform to the restricted formulary but only to a point which permits them to trade within the scheme. Such preparations are not fully efficient, but they meet, as nearly as possible within the limitations of the formulary, the requirements of the medical profession. Thus, doctors arc encouraged to prescribe additional medicines as well as proprietary preparations.
– How does the honorable senator know that that, is happening?
– What I say is correct, and the Government should make a check in respect of this matter.
– I ask the honorable senator to give specific instances.
– It is well known that large drug houses are following that practice, not because doctors or chemists wish them to do so, but simply in order to provide preparations that come within the limitations of the formulary. On previous occasions, I have given instances to prove the truth of what I am now saying.
I do not intend to waste any more time in discussing this question. I assure the Minister that I have sufficient evidence to justify what I have said, and I ask him to promise the committee that a full inquiry will be made into the matter that I have raised, and action taken to ensure that certain drugs are added to the formulary so that the mo3t efficient prescriptions can be provided within the formulary. I could not possibly hope to deal fully with this matter within a period of only fifteen minutes allowed to me at this stage.
I come now to administration cf hospitalization. On a number of occasions when the Minister has been asked to explain clearly the entitlements of members of the community he has been unable to do so. The proposed vote for publicity, under Division 83 - General Expenses - is £20,000, compared with an expenditure of £59,067 in the last financial year. The proposed vote for postage, telegrams, telephone services and cablegrams under this heading is £20,000, compared with an expenditure of £40,069 in the last financial year. Yet not one clear-cut statement about the operation of the scheme has been published. It is true that a propaganda booklet was issued, but the only reliable information that it contains could have been placed on a single page.
– Or a postage stamp.-
– It is obvious that the booklet was issued to disseminate propaganda to assist the Governnent at the next general election. Did the Government appropriate £39,067 to defray the cost of producing that booklet and then use a further £20,069 for its postage as propaganda? That makes a total of £59,136 spent on Government propaganda and charged against the vote for the Department of Health. Statements have been made that age pensioners are entitled to various benefits, but other members of the community are required to join private societies in order to become eligible for Commonwealth benefits to which they are justly entitled as taxpayers. Let us consider the case of a person who goes to a medical practitioner for attention and who, as a result of a superficial examination :s referred to a specialist. In many instances formerly, a person could receive all the medical attention he required from a general practitioner, but since the Page polyglot health scheme has been in operation many persons have been referred by general practitioners to radiologists and other specialists. Those persons are required to pay the specialists out of their own pocket, and then await recoupment by the department. This scheme does not serve the interests of people who cannot afford to pay for blood tests and other specialist services and wait for recoupment. I do not suggest that the Government intended that the present dangerous practice, which is growing, should result from the scheme that it introduced, but that trend has manifested itself since the scheme was introduced. I understand that under the system in operation in the United States of America, a panel of doctors considers the results of operations on workers for minor injuries or disease, and it is encumbent on a doctor who treats a worker to submit to the panel all the particulars of the case, including the result of an examination of an organ removed by operation. The object of that requirement is to obviate the patient undergoing dubious treatment at tremendous expense. The Australian health scheme is only half operating, and is not serving more than a quarter of the requirements of the Australian people. It is costing a phenomenal amount of money, and it is not providing people with the services to which they are entitled.
The costs of hospitalization have risen tremendously. It is true that a person in ill health receives attention, but he frequently finds that after his health has been restored he owes more for the attention that he has received than he would have had to pay for the entire treatment before this Government’s health scheme was introduced. This matter should be looked into urgently, because I believe that the administrative officers are as confused as are the people who are supposed to be entitled to benefits, about the provisions of the scheme. Commonwealth and State authorities, with the assistance of public contributions, are establishing tremendous capital assets. The public is entitled to a very much better scheme than the present one. In view of the fact that it is proposed to appropriate £20,000 for publicity, I ask the Minister to make a clear statement of the peoples’ rights in relation to health services, and to give consideration to people in poor circumstances who are required to pay heavy medical expenses and then await recoupment by the department. Many people have difficulty in obtaining the money with which to pay those bills. I should also like the Minister to furnish to the committee details of the expenditure of £59,067 on publicity and £40,069 on postage, telegrams, telephone services and cablegrams in the last financial year.
I come now to the particulars of salaries and allowances for the Department of Health. The proposed vote for the chief administrative officer, senior administrative officers, senior inspector, inspectors, national fitness officers, chief clerk, senior clerks, accountants, administrative assistant, secretary, clerks, and librarian is £123,820, compared with the expenditure of £99,165 in the last financial year under this heading. This is a large increase. The number of persons for whom provision is made for in the proposed vote is 134, compared with 106 in the last financial year. Again, the proposed vote for typists, assistants, machinists, health inspectors, nursing sisters, and foreman assistant is £63,555, compared with an expenditure of £48,570 in the last financial year. Apparently the additional expenditure of about £15,000 will be incurred as a result of the increase of staff from 84 in the last financial year to 104 in this financial year. There has been deducted from the proposed votes £51,556, being the amount estimated to remain unexpended for positions vacant or subject to approval by competent authority. This reduction compares with the reduction of £25,197 under this heading in the last financial year. However, the overall increase of expenditure on administration is about £20,000. I point out that despite the proposed increase of typing staff, the staff to prepare documents and other matters, the provision for postage in this financial year will be £20,069 less than the expenditure in the last financial year. Therefore I think that the Minister should explain how he considers the additional staff will provide better service to the public. What is the purpose of their appointment? What duties will they perform? I ask the Minister particularly to inform the committee clearly whether the Government intends to vary the operation of the scheme in order to permit persons to arrange for their own medical services, and be able to obtain Commonwealth benefits without being forced to join a society. I point out that persons who pay taxes are entitled to Commonwealth benefits. The National Welfare Fund, which was built up by the previous Labour Government, is being virtually destroyed by this Government. That fund was strengthened by Labour in order to protect the rights of the people. We expected that it would be sacrosanct, and that it would not be applied other than for the provision of social services to the people. Now that this Government has introduced its medical scheme, expenditure for that purpose is met from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. As a result of the maladministration of this Government, a person who has already paid a contribution for social services is required to join a profit-making society before he can obtain a benefit from the Commonwealth.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Reid).Order! The honor.a’ble senator’s time has expired.
– I am not so pessimistic as Senator Cooke. I believe that thu medical scheme that has been introduced by this Government will, if given a fair chance and fair criticism, provide a valuable service to the citizens of this country. However, I do not intend to speak at length on that aspect of the matter at the moment, because I understand that later in the sessional period we shall be afforded an opportunity to discuss the national health scheme. My principal purpose in rising was to commend the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) for introducing the scheme for the provision of milk free to school children. State medical officers have reported repeatedly on the condition of the teeth of the school children of this country. I point out that milk contains calcium, which increases the strength of teeth. I speak with some authority on this subject, because for a great number of years I was secretary of a voluntary organization that provided milk free to the children of workers in Western Australia who were in receipt of less than the basie wage. It did not function in a haphazard manner. The children were measured and weighed at regular intervals, and we enlisted the sympathy of the teachers, from whom we received considerable assistance. I support Senator Arnold’s suggestion that the committee should be furnished with details of the success of the Government’s scheme for the provision of. milk free to school children. I do not think that the Minister would have any difficulty in obtaining the required information - from the education authorities of the various States, and from the medical officers who make regular inspections of the children. There have been criticisms about alleged waste under the scheme. It is a colossal scheme, under which the Commonwealth provides the money and the States attend to the distribution of the milk. In a big scheme like this one naturally expects some waste, but I am sure that in the years to come the degree of waste will be reduced and eventually eliminated. In time our scheme will be as successful as have been similar schemes in other countries. In our sister dominion of New Zealand milk is distributed free to school children in both the mornings and afternoons of school days. Of course, New Zealand has the reputation of being the healthiest country in the Pacific. That fact may be due to its free distribution of milk. In Western Australia the distance of our northern towns and eastern goldfields from the capital presents a big difficulty to the State Education Department. But the children in the north-west of Western Australia now receive their free milk by air and are able to drink it by ten o’clock every morning.
– Is it whole milk?
– Yes. I agree with Senator Guy that pasteurized milk is no good for anybody. I never drink it if I can avoid it. It is denuded of everything of value. The peoples of Europe have lived on a diet of sour milk for ages. It was found, as a result of inquiries, that children who had come to Western Australia from Europe had been better nourished than the children who were born in Western Australia, and I am sure that that was due to the presence of oil in the diet of the European children and the fact that they had lived mainly on sour milk. Pasteurized milk will not go sour. Instead of going sour, it goes rotten. I agree with Senator Guy that whole milk should be distributed wherever possible. I also agree with him that in some districts fruit juices should be distributed. In such places as Carnarvon, Broome and Port Hedland, the children have a diet which is loaded with calcium because large quantities of bananas are produced in their areas and bananas, which contain a large percentage of calcium, are a part of their staple diet.
As Senator Benn said, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to schoolteachers for the introduction of the free milk scheme. If anything extra has to bo done people ask the teachers generally to do it. Whilst the teachers are tremendously public spirited and willing to help in every way I think that they are apt to be put upon. The teachers of Western Australia helped the State system of free milk distribution to be a tremendous success and are continuing to help the success of the national scheme. Halfpast ten in the morning is a good time for the distribution of the milk because the children have an early breakfast and by ten-thirty their interest in their lessons is exhausted. After drinking their milk, they have renewed vigour and are able to enter into the spirit of their lessons again. I commend the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) for having given this free milk scheme to the Commonwealth. I also commend the State Government for helping in the distribution of the milk and I commend the teachers for having done valuable work in connexion with the scheme.
However, I hope that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) will convey to the Minister for Health my disappointment at the fact that cortisone has not been included on the list of free drugs for the treatment of people who suffer from rheumatic disorders. Cortisone is most expensive. A survey of factories and shops has revealed that rheumatic conditions have caused a hig percentage of absenteeism amongst employees. I know of several people who have been treated with cortisone at a cost of £30 a week. Very few people can afford to pay that amount. But in view of the fact that rheumatic infections have been proved to be a cause of absenteeism and ill health throughout the Commonwealth it behoves the Government to make this drug more accessible to sufferers from that disease.
I compliment the Minister for Health on the fact that after I had asked questions in this chamber about the misuse of drugs in Australia he and the Minister for Trade and Customs (‘Senator O’sullivan) took steps to examine the position, which has now been rectified. It was found that Australia has been using more than its share of certain drugs and was breaking its agreement in connexion with international drug control. The Minister for Health and the Minister for Trade and Customs have now corrected the position and the drug heroin has been completely banned in Australia. By this action we have secured for the young people of Australia safety from that drug which has afflicted young people and older people in other parts of the world. I hope that when the Senate discusses the national health scheme, honorable senators will listen to the good points of the scheme and try to assist the Minister for Health to eliminate the anomalies which naturally appear in such n wide scheme.
– I had intended to ask the Government to take action for the cure and prevention of cancer, but Senator Mattner has now made a very eloquent appeal on behalf of cancer sufferers. In my opinion, cancer sufferers constitute the most helpless and needy section of the community. Some of them have abandoned all hope. Whilst a little has been done to prevent this disease an appeal such as Senator Mattner’s is long overdue and I trust that the Government will heed what the honorable senator said.
I desire to deal with the estimates for the Department of Health in respect of
Division No. 82 - Quarantine - b - General Expenses, Item No. 4 - Allowances for services of State officers and others. It is proposed that £79,000 shall be allocated for this purpose. This is double last year’s vote although the actual expenditure for 1952-53 was a little greater than the amount of the vote. Perhaps the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) who represents the Minister for Health in this chamber will inform the Senate why that increase is necessary. Are extra duties to be performed by State officers? Will some of the duties now performed by officers of the Quarantine Section be left to State officers ? It seems to me that the proposed increase is too great.
In Division No. 84 - Commonwealth Serum Laboratories - an amount of £265,000 has been provided for salaries and allowances and £358,000 has been provided for temporary and casual employees. I know that much of the work of many departments is of a temporary nature, but year after year, men have performed yeoman service for the Commonwealth and yet they are still classified as temporary officers. The amount of money being paid to temporary officers in some departments is no less and in many instances it is greater than the amount that was paid in previous years. Some of these temporary officers have years of service ahead of them and have rendered yeoman service in the past. Their practical knowledge has enabled them to perform valuable work for the department. I again appeal to tho Government to recognize the services of these people and endeavour to make a greater number of them permanent so as to relieve temporary officers of the constant worry and mental stress of knowing that it is always possible that their services may be terminated.
– I desire to speak on the hospital benefits which are paid by the Commonwealth to the States. Senator Benn has mentioned that in Queensland no payments are made by individuals to hospitals over and above the amount paid on their behalf by the Government. Queensland is the only State in the Commonwealth where that is so. As a general principle I think that govern ments should not be responsible for small payments made by individuals to hospitals or doctors. But I consider that the Government has a real responsibility in respect of large amounts. I should like to know whether the Department of Health has given any thought to the position of people who have had to remain in hospital for many months and have received a bill for hundreds of pounds.
I should also like to know whether the Minister representing the Minister for Health can inform the Senate of the number of additional beds that have been provided in hospitals during the last year or the last two years. Because a large number of people arc still coming to Australia it will be necessary to provide hospital beds for a rapidly expanding population. I should like to know what extra beds have been supplied from all sources for public and private hospitals. In my opinion private hospitals have provided :i sterling service. I think that the biggest private hospital in Australia is in Perth. I suppose that there is no” country in which a dual system of government, and privately owned hospitals has been developed to a greater extent than it has i.n Australia. A few years ago private hospitals could appeal to their supporters, and raise perhaps £30,000, or £40,000. which was sufficient to build a hospital. Nowadays, £40,000 would hardly pay the architect’s fees, and certainly would not be enough to lay down the foundations. It is most desirable that private hospitals should be able to continue their valuable service, and I am wondering whether the Government has given any thought to assisting them financially. They are run in the main by people who have devoted their lives to their work. It is not sufficient to say that the Government is providing extra hospital benefits. The problem cannot be solved by giving a few shillings a day. Many thousands of pounds are needed. I ask the Minister to give consideration to the points I have raised.
– This year’s vote for the Department of Health is about £211,000 more than the actual expenditure last year. That increase is approximately 20 per cent., which is a very substantial rise. I should like the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to explain to the committee the line of demarcation between the health services provided by the Commonwealth and those provided by the States. Queensland, for instance, has a most efficient Health Department. Its activities cover a very wide field, and it renders excellent service to the Queensland people. I should like to know whether the Commonwealth Department of Health is at cross-purposes with the State departments. Is it competing with the State departments in the same field at the expense of the Australian taxpayers? Does the proposed vote of £j ,281,000 cover health services rendered within the Australian Capital Territory alone, or does it include services rendered in. the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, the Northern Territory, and other Common wealth territories? We are being asked to vote a substantial sum of money for this department and I cannot see any provision for expenditure in the various States, except, of course, expenditure on quarantine services. Presumably, all administrative expenses are incurred in Canberra, and I assume also that the various health services are operated from Canberra. What do those health services cover? Is the Commonwealth getting value for its money, having regard to State activities in the same field? We are entitled to know these things. I find, too, that the instrumentalities of the Department of Health include Acoustic Laboratories, the Bureau of Dental Standards, the Division of Child Health, and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Where is that school? Is it in Canberra, north Queensland, .the Northern Territory, or in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea ? Large sums of money are involved in maintaining these services, and I should like ‘ some information about them. There is also a National Health Service, the cost of which in the current year is estimated at £123,000. I should like to hear a case in justification of this expenditure by the Commonwealth, particularly in view of the large sums of money that are provided by the States. . I recognize, of course, the necessity for a quarantine service under Commonwealth direction and control, but I find it difficult to accept the need for expenditure under some other heads which seem to be within the province of the States. It is up to those of us who represent the people to find out where this money is going and whether value is being obtained for it. Provision is made in the Estimates also for new staff in certain branches of the department. All government departments, of course, put pressure on their Ministers for additional staff. I do not know why, but that pressure is always present. That is a story with which we are all well acquainted. An official is given an office and a couple of chairs. Before long he has a secretary, two or three assistants and perhaps a messenger. He knows that if he can claim to be in charge of a substantial staff, his own position will be elevated accordingly. Again I ask why it has been necessary to increase the vote for the Department of Health by 20 per cent, and to what extent the activities of the department conflict with or overlap those of the States.
Senator CAMERON (Victoria) ‘4.58. - I rise to urge the abolition of the means test on free hospital treatment. The means test is not necessary. If free hospital treatment were available to all members of the community the nation would be much better off. Two or three serious epidemics have occurred in my lifetime. For instance, in 1919, there was the “ black “ influenza epidemic. At that time we did not worry whether a victim was rich or poor. Hospital treatment was organized for all who needed it. There was no inquisitorial examination of a person’s economic circumstances before he was admitted. Obviously hospitals could not handle an epidemic if such unnecessary inquiries were insisted upon. What is done in time of epidemic can be done in ordinary times. In fact, it is more important that it should be done in such times because it is then that epidemics are in the making. No means test is applied to members of the armed forces when hospital treatment is necessary. Whether a man is a general or an ordinary private he is given the treatment that is necessary. Even after members of the forces are discharged, they are on titled to free hospital treatment for illnesses resulting from their service with the forces. There are, unfortunately. some exceptions to that rule. I know of a man who was gassed in the 19.1 4-1S war. He was told that although he could get free medical treatment, he could not get free hospital treatment. He was not in a position to pay for that treatment.
There can be no real argument against the provision of free hospital treatment for all. There is no means test on child endowment or on the maternity bonus, so why have a means test on hospital treatment? A nation’s greatest asset is the health of its manhood and womanhood. I am not a medical man, but I have had considerable experience of conditions in the poorer industrial centres of various cities of the Commonwealth. I have seen young children suffering from all kinds of complaints which could quite easily have been treated in hospital. Because the parents could not afford to pay for hospital treatment, the children had to remain at home. Yesterday I had brought to my notice the case of a man, 59 years of age, who is suffering from partial paralysis of both hands. He receives an invalid pension of 15s. 9d. a week. Recently, when he stepped off a bus, he broke a leg in two places and was taken to hospital. His relatives came to my office on Monday morning and assured me that neither they nor the patient could afford to pay for the hospital treatment. The result is that his means will be inquired into by officers and when it is discovered that he has no money, he will probably get the treatment to which he is entitled, free of charge. But why should there be a means test at all? It cannot be justified from any stand-point. It is costly to administer and there would be no great difficulty in raising the revenue necessary to abolish it, although I know this would be a matter of great concern to honorable senators opposite. As I have pointed out, in times of national emergency we do not worry about a means test. All restrictions arc removed which, of course, is like locking the stable door after the horse has gonn. Nothing is saved or gained by the ‘ retention of the means test. If it were abolished, the community would be much healthier. In time of war, there would be fewer rejects on medical grounds by the armed forces, because there would be a much healthier civilian population from which to select recruits. Are not those engaged in essential production more important than those in the armed forces? The American philosopher, Emerson, has said that the cheapness of man is every day’s tragedy. It is only in time of danger that we appreciate the value of life.
I ask the Minister to consider seriously the provision of free hospital treatment without any inquisitorial examination of the patient concerning his financial position. It seems to me that, in framing this medical scheme, the Government and its officers have endeavoured to impose as many restrictions as possible in order to prevent people from receiving free treatment. The legislation contains many “ if s “ and “ buts “. If really free hospital treatment were provided in this country, the people would be better off both physically and financially.
– I wish to reply to some of the matters that have been raised during the debate. Senator Guy referred to the provision of ‘milk for school children in Tasmania and stated that, in his opinion, in certain country districts its provision is unnecessary. That, of course, is a matter for the State Government. The Commonwealth provides the milk but does not decide the districts to which it is to go. The honorable senator suggested that substitutes such as fruit juices in summer and cocoa, or some other hot drink, in winter, should be supplied. I undertake to bring the matter to the notice of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page).
asked whether the provision of free milk for school children has been beneficial. The Commonwealth has made no check in this connexion, but I understand that in the States, particularly New South “Wales and those in which the scheme has been operating for some years, medical officers attend the schools and compile statistics. The Commonwealth Department of Health will be only too pleased to obtain such statistics if they are available. As Senator Benn is aware, Queensland only came into the scheme on the 1st March this year, and for that reason it is probable that no such figures are available for that State. I point out that the Commonwealth does more than merely pay for the cost of the milk. It bears 50 per cent, of the costs incurred in providing equipment for distribution of the milk, and also 50 per cent, of any other reasonable incidental expenses, such as those connected with the administration of the scheme.
Senator Benn also sought information concerning payments to the States under the hospital benefits scheme. The following table sets out the position: -
Total expenditure in respect of public hospitals in 1952-53 was £4,920,561. The estimated expenditure for 1953-54 is £5,366,000. In respect of private hospitals, the total expenditure last year was £1,659,098 and the estimated expenditure for 1953-54 is £1,740,000. The total expenditure incurred in connexion with the payment of 4s. a day to recognized organizations throughout the Commonwealth was £643,581 last year, and it is estimated that expenditure thi* year will be £1,394,000.
I appreciate Senator Mattner’s remark - concerning cancer research. I shall bring his suggestions, including that concerning the establishment of a chair of cancer research at the Australian National University, to the notice of the Minister for Health. I point out, however, that the Commonwealth pays an annual lump sum in connexion with medical research. Last year, the amount expended was ?138,650, and it is estimated that expenditure this year will be ?129,500.
Senator Cooke referred to Division 83 B.6 ; which shows that the cost of publicity last year was ?59,067. Of that amount ?41,409 was incurred in printing 2,288,290 copies of the booklet on national health. Other expenditure in connexion with general advertising was responsible for the balance. The honorable senator also inquired about the position, under the new health scheme, of people who provide their own health services. These .people are not provided for under the scheme. They may, of course, join an approved society and thus become eligible for benefits. The honorable senator also wished to know why the proposed vote in respect of administrative salaries has been increased from ?228,000 last year to ?245,000 this year. That increase is mainly due ‘to the introduction of the medical benefits scheme on the 1st July, 1953.
Senator Robertson referred to the scheme for supplying milk to children, and I appreciate her remarks concerning the way in which the scheme is operating in Western Australia. I have no doubt that statistics will soon be available from medical authorities to show the benefits being received from the scheme. I shall bring to the notice of the Minister the honorable senator’s suggestion regarding cortisone. I. have noted her question to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) concerning the regulations governing the importation of certain drugs.
Senator Critchley wished to know the reason for the increase in the cost of quarantine services referred to in Division 82 B.4. This increase is due to the fact that the States are now reimbursed the actual cost of administering animal and plant quarantine, services. Formerly, they were paid a fixed amount which did not allow for actual costs.
Senator. Willesee inquired about the hospital accommodation position. The construction of hospitals is solely a State responsibility. However, the States have been most reluctant to increase hospital accommodation while the present number of beds constitutes such a drain on their financial resources. The introduction by this Government of the hospital insurance scheme has greatly increased hospital revenues, that- increase being .at least 10s. a day, which makes a total of at least 18s. a day which they receive from the Commonwealth. The result has been that the States are now prepared to plan additional hospital bed accommodation because they know that revenue for maintenance will be forthcoming. Senator Willesee also referred to the position of, patients who, as a result of prolonged illness, incurred medical and hospital bills amounting to hundreds of pounds. Under the new health scheme, the full cost of hospital treatment may be covered by insurance with an approved organization plus Commonwealth hospital benefit. Insured patients are now in a much better position to meet their hospital accounts than they were previously. In fact, such persons can meet the cost of the best private or public hospital treatment from the Commonwealth hospital benefit plus the benefit that they receive from the approved organization with which they are insured.
Senator Maher pointed out that the proposed expenditure of ?1,281,000 in respect of administrative, quarantine and health services represented an increase of 20 per cent, compared with actual expenditure incurred under these headings last year. He asked for details of this proposed expenditure. He also asked to be informed of the location of the organizations that are carrying out various functions within the department. The proposed provision is required to meet general administrative expenses. None of the functions or services to which the honorable senator referred is duplicated. Several of them are administered by the Sta.te on behalf of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories are situated in Melbourne and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine operates within the University of Sydney.
– Order! The Minisi”r’? time has expired.
– The Department of Health is administering one of the most important functions for which a government could be responsible, because health is the basis of the well-being of the community. The Government should engage mora actively in research for the purpose of combating cancer and tuberculosis. 1 regret to say that inadequate facilities are provided at hospitals in “Western Australia, for the treatment of tuberculosis. In repatriation hospitals tuberculosis patients are accommodated in wards in which patients suffering from other diseases are treated. The medical profession has emphasized that tuberculous patients require independent ward accommodation. It is most essential that sufferers from this disease should be relieved of all worry. Particularly, they should be assured that their families and dependants shall be adequately provided for financially while they are unable to earn income. Indeed, many persons who suffer from tuberculosis refuse to seek medical treatment because they are afraid thaiif they are made to undergo treatment in a hospital their dependants will not be provided for. I urge the Government tn give every assistance to dependants of victims of this dread disease.
I wholeheartedly support the scheme for the provision of free milk to school children. Milk is an indispensable food for growing children. Unfortunately, this scheme is not operating at 100 per cent, efficiency in Western Australia. I am aware that the State government administers this scheme on behalf of the Commonwealth. Having regard to the nutritive value of milk, steps should be taken to ensure that the milk shall not be contaminated in the course of delivery to the various schools. In Western Australia, the general practice is to deliver the milk in open motor or horse-drawn vehicles. As a general rule, the milk is deposited at school gateways. On many occasions, I have seen receptacles full of milk dumped on the footpath and, although the milk is not delivered until about 8 o’clock in the morning, the receptacles are left exposed to the weather for periods up to three hours before they are collected by school authorities. In hot weather. under such conditions, the milk often turns sour, or, at least, is rendered so unpalatable that the children refuse to drink it and much .of it is wasted. The State authorities should be instructed to police deliveries of milk to schools more strictly than they do at present. It is not unusual for excess deliveries to be made to schools. Numbers of children suffer from asthma and other complaints which render them allergic to milk. Such children do not participate in the distribution and, consequently, numerous bottles are left over. Later in the day these bottles are distributed among children who received their milk earlier. For instance, in a school with 300 children, as many as 50 may, for the reasons I have pointed out, decline to take any milk. I suggest that supplies to each school should be regulated in order to obviate wastage in this manner.
Senator ASHLEY (New South Wales) 5.34]. - The committee is being asked to vote “the sum of £1,281,000 for the Department of Health for the current financial year. However, this amount is only a part of the total expenditure proposed under the budget in respect of health which amounts to many millions of pounds. If honorable senators will refer to the special appropriations set out in Part I. of the Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure for the year ending the 30th June, 1954, they will see that it is proposed to make a special appropriation of £3,500,000 for the provision of medical benefits. It is also proposed to make a special appropriation of £2,035,000 to provide medical benefits for pensioners. The expenditure under that heading in the last financial year was £1,739,953. In this financial year it. is proposed to appropriate £S,500,000 for hospital benefits, compared with an expenditure of £7,223,241 in the last financial year. It is proposed to appropriate £850,000 for the provision of pharmaceutical benefits to pensioners in this financial year, compared with an expenditure of £728,658 under that heading in the last financial year. It is also proposed to appropriate £7,830,000 for the provision of pharmaceutical benefits, compared with an expenditure of £6,486,65.1 under that heading in the last financial year. Although those five proposed special appropriations total £22,715,000, there is not one line about them in the details supporting the proposed vote for the Department of Health in the bill now under consideration. That is outrageous. The Government proposes to expend that vast amount of money on medical, hospital and pharmaceutical benefits by regulation, without furnishing details of the proposed expenditure to the Parliament. As a national health scheme, in part, has been in operation for several years, and because the people are being heavily taxed, the details of the proposed expenditure should be made public. I asked a question recently in connexion with a booklet that was published, chiefly for propaganda purposes, during the recent Senate election campaign, and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) admitted that its publication had cost about £40,000.
– It was a very good booklet, too.
– Undoubtedly it served the purpose for which I believe that it was published. Although I asked the Minister to inform honorable senators of the cost of distribution of the booklet, lie has not done so. Many copies were distributed by airmail. I believe that the full cost of production and distribution of the booklet was about £100,000. Yet some honorable senators on the other side have asserted that the Government deserves credit for reducing expenditure. In 1950-51 social services contribution was merged with income tax, but the social services legislation was not repealed. I am particularly concerned with the basic-wage earner or a person without dependants in receipt of an income of £600 a year who is required to pay a social services contribution of £45 which is the same amount of social services contribution as he made when the funds were merged in 1950-51. In that year such a person was required to pay combined income tax and social services contribution of £51 13s. The special levy of 10 per cent, that was imposed in 1951-52 increased the amount payable by him to £56 .16s. In the following year the levy was abolished, and the amount of tax and contribution payable by him reverted to £51 13s. To-day, a single man in receipt of the basic wage is required to pay tax and contribution of approximately £1 a week, taking into account his contributions to hospital and medical benefits funds. I am concerned very greatly about the proposed special appropriation of £8,500,000 for the provision, of hospital benefits.
– A previous Labour government lost £7,000,000 on the sate of its ships.
– That is irrelevant to a national health scheme. One redeeming feature of this Government’s health scheme is that medical benefits have been provided for age and invalid pensioners. Although a huge expenditure is involved in relation to the provision of pharmaceutical benefits, the chemists stated1 recently that they were unable to continue to provide pharmaceutical services fe, age and invalid pensioners at an averageprice of 4s. Gd. for each prescription paid by the Government. They contended that they should be paid an average of about 10s. a prescription. How does the Minister reconcile the attitude of the chemists with the fact that the friendly societies have admitted that dispensing is a very lucrative part of their activities? Although special appropriations totalling £22,715,000 are proposed in relation to medical, hospital, and pharmaceutical benefits, under this Government’s national health scheme persons are required to join private organizations in order to qualify for Commonwealth benefits. I point out that whilst a sufferer from a chronic illness is compelled to join one of these organizations in order to be eligible Ito receive the Commonwealth subsidy, he is not eligible to receive benefits from the organization. These bodies are paying out millions of pounds each year on behalf of the Government. Some of them are composed of doctors. I refer particularly to the Medical Benefits Fan*! of Australia Limited, which is controlled by doctors.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– In addition to the huge sum of £22,715,000 which thu Government proposes to spend on national health services it will be necessary for those who take advantage of the Government health scheme to incur expenditure at the rate of 5s. a week as a contribution to medical benefits funds. Notwithstanding being committed to the payment of that amount the single man without dependants in receipt of the basic wage will have to pay at least £45 a year in taxation. If the man happens to suffer from, a chronic complaint such as asthma, arthritis or stomach ulcers he is not eligible for benefits from the fund he is compelled to subscribe to in order to obtain the government subsidy. I think that the Government should give these people an opportunity of deciding the type of health scheme they wish to have put into operation. The objectionable feature of the Government’s health scheme is that it is administered through medical benefits societies.
– Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I should like to say a few words on the subject of pharmaceutical benefits. I understood Senator Cooke to suggest that some of the drug houses had provided drugs of a sub-standard quality because of the limitation of the formulary.
– That was my interpretation of the honorable senator’s remarks. I wanted to refute that suggestion because I have not heard any complaint from the medical profession concerning the efficiency of the drugs that have been dispensed under the present formulary. , I think that the people heartily agreed with the limitation of the formulary. From the experience of other countries, particularly the United Kingdom, we know that a wide formulary has been responsible for an enormous amount of public expenditure which served no useful purpose. In fact, it produced a nation of medicine-taking people. For that reason alone, I suggest that the limitation provided under the present scheme was quite justified. I hope T have not done Senator Cooke an injustice.
– The honorable senator has thoroughly misunderstood me.
– I have no knowledge of any suggestion that the drugs that have been dispensed are not entirely satisfactory to the medical profession and the patients that have been treated.
– That does not prove that the drugs are not sub-standard.
– The interjection of Senator O’Flaherty indicates that he agrees with my interpretation of Senator Cooke’s remarks. I do not propose to discuss the hospital benefits scheme as a whole because legislation dealing with that scheme will shortly be debated in this chamber. I suggest that the Government can be proud of its record in connexion with hospital benefits. The previous Government failed abjectly in endeavouring to provide a medical scheme that was satisfactory to the people of Australia because it lacked the cooperation of the medical fraternity and the friendly societies. It is good that the Labour Government’s scheme was not put into operation because it involved the nationalization of medical services which the people did not want and for which no public demand had been made.
– What does the honorable senator know about it?
– I know as much as Senator Grant knows. I am as much in touch with reality as he is and his interjection is pointless.
Senator Mattner referred to the provision of facilities for dealing with the scourge of cancer. I am sure that all honorable senators were interested in his remarks for we all know how dreadful this scourge is and how high is the toll it takes of the people of Australia. I think that the suggestions of Senator Mattner in this respect could well be implemented. In South Australia a great deal of publicspirited work has been done in connexion with cancer and as a result of a recent public subscription a large sum of money will be expended on the purchase of a modern X-ray plant for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and another scourge, tuberculosis. I give credit to the previous Government for introducing measures which mitigated the circumstances of the people who suffer from tuberculosis.
– And which the present Government has curtailed.
– The present Government has not curtailed those measures, but has extended them. I know of one sufferer from tuberculosis for whom the legislation of this Parliament has provided the means which have supported him and his family while he has been treated for this dreadful disease. I should he glad if the amount of money allocated to this purpose were increased because it is possible to eradicate tuberculosis from the community. That is an objective for which honorable senators on both sides of the chamber should constantly strive.
Last year I spoke of the great value of the quarantine service. Honorable sena- tors know that our present rapid means of transport make it difficult to keep diseases* such as cholera and smallpox out of this country. I have seen the quarantine service at work and I know the extreme care that is exercised by the officers of that service not only in relation to human beings and animals but in relation to the prevention of plant disease.
As a primary producer, I know of the splendid work that has been done by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in the preparation of sera such as antitetanus serum, anti-diphtheria serum, whooping cough serum and certain classes cf veterinary vaccine. Most of the sheep stations in South Australia in the higher producing areas were afflicted with enterotoxaemia. but since a vaccine has been produced to counter this disease it has almost been eradicated from these areas. The vote for the serum laboratories is considerably higher this year than it was last year. I do not think that there is likely to be a reduction in this field of endeavour. As further progress is made with these vaccines greater results will be achieved. The vote is substantial, but I am certain the money will be well expended. “Without going into the details of the national health scheme, I believe it to be worthwhile and deserving of our fullest support.
– Senator Hannaford obviously did not understand my remarks this afternoon.
– That is not unusual.
– T agree. What 1 paid was that the restricted formulary was causing unnecessary expense to the nation. The standard of drugs is high whether the dispensing is done by pharmaceutical chemists or by the drug houses. The point I made was that a balanced prescription may include say five drugs, but two of them may not be in the restricted formulary. In such a case, if a patient has, say, a heart ailment, the doctor may prescribe a proprietary line containing the three ingredients, and write a’ separate prescription for the other two to be taken in conjunction with the proprietary line, whereas if the balanced prescription were written within the fomularly, the doctor would merely prescribe the proprietary line containing all five ingredients. The expense to the Commonwealth would be only slightly higher than that of the proprietary line containing only the three ingredients, and the medicine would be available to the patient free. The other point I made was that although a doctor may wish to write a prescription for an indigent patient that is outside the formulary, realizing that the patient is unable to pay for the medicine, he may prescribe another much more expensive medicine that is included in the formulary. This will increase the cost of the free life-saving drug scheme unnecessarily, and the more expensive medicine may not be any more effective than a much cheaper preparation not covered by the formulary. In addition, real harm may be done to the patient by the unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics. Those matters require investigation. It is generally conceded by chemists and doctors that such cases do arise. Surely it is only a matter of hard common sense. The unnecessary restriction of the formulary leads to the unnecessary prescribing of expensive life-saving medicines for minor ailments just because the patient will receive them free of charge, whereas a cheaper prescription would do equally as well or perhaps better. That is an unnecessary expense to the nation and of no benefit to the patient.
The Minister, in his reply, gave scant attention to the maters I raised, one of which was the increasing of the staff of the Department of Health. He said that that was a result of the introduction of the national health scheme. The schedule of salaries and allowances which must be read in conjunction with the proposed vote for the Department of Health, shows that under the heading “ Administrative “, in the category “ Deputy Directors, Senior Medical Officers, Medical, Dental and Veterinary Officers, Pharmacists “, there has been an increase from 42 officials last year to 43 this year. I should like to know to what job that extra official has been appointed. Will his function be to co-ordinate the national health scheme? It is only logical to assume that some deficiencies have become apparent in the working of the scheme, which after all was introduced originally as an experiment, and has now been operating for some time; but the staff increases shown in the Schedule appear to be excessive. In one category alone there is an increase from 106 to 134. What duties are these additional officials to perform? Will they correct the anomalies which we all know to exist in the scheme and about which the general public is complaining? We have not been informed on that point, but it is the information we want. Then we find that the number of typists, assistants, machinists, health inspectors, &c., has increased from 84 to 104. Whilst we all understand the need for staff increases as the national health scheme expands, the addition of twenty employees in the categories I have mentioned represents an addition of nearly 25 per cent. Surely the committee is entitled to know the reason for that substantial increase. Is a better service being given? The Minister has explained the activities of the veterinary section, but then we come to health services, and we find an increase of two in the category “ Clerk, Technical Officers, Typists, and Assistants “. I should like to know whether more checking has to be done by these people. Is there any check on prescriptions as they come through? Is there any research into the Government’s administration of the national health scheme ? Will a statement be made about any overlapping that may exist between the Commonwealth . and State health authorities?
Are steps being taken to check the practice that is being adopted by some medical practitioners of referring patients unnecessarily for specialist treatment merely because members of an approved society may recover a substantial proportion of their medical expenses? Very often a person with a simple ailment, or perhaps a broken bone is immediately referred by a doctor to a specialist. He is given blood tests, X-rays and so on. The Government, of course, has to pay a substantial proportion of such expenses in the ultimate analysis, although in most instances the patient could have been cured promptly by the general practitioner, and would have been cured by him had the health scheme not been in operation. I referred to this matter earlier to-day but I have not received a reply. I also referred to the treatment of age pensioners. I understand, although no report has been made to this chamber on the matter, that there have been negotiations between the British Medical Association and administrative officers of the department on an agreement for the treatment of age . pensioners. We have seen various statements in the press, and I believe a booklet has been issued about the scheme; but nobody appears to know the terms of the agreement. Could a copy of it be tabled in this chamber? A number of pensioners have complained to me about bills they have received for treatment. Some bills have been as high as £70 or £100. When such instances are brought to the notice of the department the pensioner is told to ignore them, but he is being pestered for payment all the time. Obviously, he is unable to pay such a large amount out of his pension. The Government should make a forthright statement that the pensioner has no liability and it should arrange for the payment of these accounts when necessary. I should like the Government also to clarify the position of members of the community who, because of age, chronic illness, or some other reason, are unaccepta”ble as members of approved societies. I invite honorable senators opposite to tell me of one society in this country that will accept such a person and offer to him the coverage that is available to other members of the community. Many people would like to know of such a society.
.- I shall refer to a matter that was raised by Senator Harris earlier to-day. 1 should like to know how much longer the Commonwealth is to continue to finance i lie distribution of free milk to school children in States where the method of distribution demanded by the State authorities is unreasonably expensive. I refer particularly to Tasmania. The Government of that State insists that the milk supplied to Tasmanian school children shall be pasteurized - at the Commonwealth’s expense, of course. I thought that the Tasmanian Minister for Health was responsible for the insistence on pasteurized milk, and I said so at a meeting in Hobart. However, the Minister subsequently wrote me a letter denying that he was responsible, and saying that he supported my view that it was ridiculous that milk should be railed long distances to Launceston and Hobart to be pasteurized and then back to the original areas for distribution. This expense is incurred merely because the Cosgrove Government has said that pasteurized milk must be used.
– Would that be on the advice of its medical officers?
– The Tasmanian Minister for Health has written to me and denied that he supports that decision. Furthermore, he has said that he supports the contention that good, fresh milk, supplied by approved dairies, would be far superior to milk supplied from a pasteurizing plant many miles away. The milk that is being provided has to be railed to the pasteurizing factory, pasteurized, and then sent back to the schools for distribution. I wish to know how much longer the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) intends to keep this scheme in operation. In the case of Tasmania, it is costing the taxpayers many thousands of pounds in freight charges. I know that the railway position in Tasmania is unsatisfactory. Because of the mismanagement and inefficiency of the Cosgrove Government, the Tasmanian railways are losing approximately £1,000,000 a year. Why then should the taxpayers be called upon to finance the transportation of milk by rail to and from milkproducing areas if it is not to bolster up the railway revenues of that Government? I was immensely heartened to receive the letter from the Tasmanian Minister for Health, to which I have referred, because it supports the attitude which I have taken in this connexion. I feel that that Minister knows more about this matter than does the Tasmanian Premier. It is apparent from the statements of the Premier, that it is he who is insisting that only pasteurized milk shall be used.
Honorable senators may be interested to know that the only companies which pasteurize milk in Tasmania were both in the hands of liquidators. The Tasmanian Government made vast capital advances to provide buildings to enable them to continue. It seems to me that it is attempting to protect those advances by insisting that the milk supplied to school children must be pasteurized.
– Pasteurized milk is supplied in all the States.
– If Senator Benn does not agree with my opinions in this matter, he should rise to his feet and say so. I am endeavouring, in all sincerity, to bring this matter to the notice of the Parliament, because I consider that the taxpayers are entitled to an investigation. I have the written opinion of the Tasmanian Minister for Health to the effect that he is not in agreement with the policy which is being carried out in connexion with this scheme by the government of which he is a member. He is a medical practitioner and should know the facts of the matter. I wish to know how much longer the taxpayers must provide revenue to meet the costs of distribution in Tasmania.
I believe that, generally, the free milk for school children scheme has been well worth while, and I commend the Minister for Health for introducing it. However, I agree with the contention of Senator Harris that the Australian Government should ensure that the cost of distribution of. the milk is kept within reasonable limits. We should endeavour to ensure that when it is possible for school children to receive good, fresh milk from approved dairies, which, in some instances, are almost alongside the schools, such milk is made available. I suggest that it would be foolish and inefficient to insist that that milk should be sent away by rail to pasteurizing factories and (hen returned for distribution, by which, time it would be two or three days old. It could not be contended that it then would be nearly as beneficial as would fresh milk.
– I listened with very sympathetic interest too Senator Mattner and Senator Hannaford making a plea on behalf of cancer sufferers. I know exactly how grave that scourge is. The honorable senators also mentioned tuberculosis. They referred to both diseases in the same speech. I wish to thank Senator Hannaford for his acknowledgment of the fact that the campaign to eradicate tuberculosis in this country was initiated i»_y a Labour government more than two years before this Government took office in 1949. The plan that is being carried out to-day is the one that was prepared hy Labour. All the principles then laid down, in complete co-operation with the States, are being given effect to to-day. I acknowledge that the tuberculosis allowances are now much higher than they were then. In the initial stages, we were getting the scheme going and were feeling our way in order to ascertain what a proper probing of the position would String to the surface. We did not know how many people might be involved.
– The honorable senator does not suggest that tuberculosis is a political matter, does he?
– At the moment, 1 am not attempting to make the matter a political one, but that is more than I can say for this Government’s Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). At the recent Senate election we heard the Prime Minister playing party politics with tuberculosis in no uncertain terms.
– The honorable senator is playing politics with it now.
– I remind Senator Scott that the Prime Minister then had the audacity to say -
What have we been doing? Children have been provided with free milk and immunization. By most liberal provisions, we are striking ‘ a great blow at tuberculosis.
Incidentally, I have heard more criticism of the Government’s free milk for school children scheme from honorable senators opposite to-night than I have heard from this side of the chamber, which is a very interesting commentary on the scheme. I therefore intend to make no further criticism of it.
Two years before this Government came to office, the Labour government of the day had made available free of charge the requisite agents for immunization against whooping cough and diphtheria. The claim made by the Prime Minister in that respect was completely false, as was his claim that a great blow was being struck at tuberculosis. It has been left, to Senator Hannaford to refer, for the first time in years in this chamber, to the fact that this great scheme was initiate.! by Labour.
One of the reasons why Labour concentrated upon a tuberculosis scheme instead of one to combat cancer, was because tuberculosis is the greatest killer of all and because its main activity is amongst young people of the community during their most fertile, child-bearing period. From the point of view of nation building, we considered it was better to launch a great attack upon that disease at that stage than to embark upon a similar programme in relation to cancer which, under ordinary conditions, attacks people in later life, when their child-bearing days are over. I am not denying that something should be done about cancer.
Had it not been for the interjection of Senator Scott I should by now have embarked on broad general criticism of the schemes in which some members of the Government express great pride. Let us consider the Government’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme, which is* restricted to certain life-saving and diseasepreventing drugs. That scheme verges as near to a national scandal as any scheme could.
– The honorable senator’s scheme did not work at all.
– Let us keep to this Government’s scheme at the moment. This very scheme was offered by the British Medical Association to the
Labour Government and was rejected because of the evils we knew would flow from it, and which are now apparent. First, there is the enormous cost, a fact to which Senator Cooke referred when he indicated that doctors, with these extremely expensive and powerful-acting drugs to dispense free of charge, employ them for everything. In other words, there is over-prescribing of dangerous drugs which should be reserved for emergencies only. Accordingly, vast costs are incurred. The Minister representing the Minister for Health in this chamber recently admitted that the first 7,000,000 prescriptions issued under this scheme had cost approximately £7,500,000, or more than £1 each. That is an outrageous cost. The other two ill-effects are upon the health of the community. When these highly potent drugs are used for every little cold, chill and minor ailment,” the body very speedily develops an immunity to their action. When a really serious disease occurs, the drugs have no effect, and in many instances the patients die. The wholesale pouring out of these antibiotics to the people of Australia is a most serious matter and is one of the matters on which I cite this scheme as verging upon a national scandal.
Some of these drugs, particularly the sulpha drugs, not only kill disease germs but also kill the natural flora of the body itself. They upset the whole balance of the body. I do not want anybody to take my word alone in this matter. I invite honorable senators to refer to the Medical Journal, which is produced by the doctors of Australia, and read the leading article of the issue of the 2Sth June last year. The amazing heading of that article is, “ Antibiotics Amok “, and in the course of it the writer claims that the doctors of Australia are running amok with these antibiotics. All the points that I have made to-night in condemning this practice are supported by that article. Not very long ago a pathetic pharmaceutical benefits bill was introduced into this chamber for the purpose of setting up committees to police these things. That was an admission on the part of the Government of all the defects that I have outlined. And what kind of committees was it proposed to set up? They were to consist of chemists only to deal with matters affecting chemists mainly, and of doctors only to deal with matters affecting doctors mainly. Not one single power, or sanction, was to-be entrusted to those committees. They were to exercise merely moral persuasion upon chemists, or doctors. The Government was merely setting up a front, because those committees had absolutely no power to do anything to anybody in their respective spheres. For those reasons, I repeat that the whole scheme verges upon a national scandal. I recommend the Government to treat the scheme as a start, but to open it out and permit doctors to prescribe far less potent drugs for minor ills. If the Government does that, it will do no disservice to the public, but it will save considerable expenditure.
– Are not those objections applicable to other schemes?
– I desire to criticize other schemes under the Government’s health and medical proposals. I refer now to the hospital benefits scheme. This Government, abhorring compulsion, pledged itself to remove all restrictive controls, but one of the first steps that it took was to coerce the State governments into introducing the means tes* in respect of patients in hospitals in which beds are divided in public, private and intermediate wards. The Government absolutely forced the States about in their hospital policies. I refer, next, to the provision whereby the additional Commonwealth hospital benefit i3 attracted only by a person who is insured. What about discriminating between the people ! The Government provides an additional benefit for a person who is insured,’ but no such benefit for a person who is not insured. That is complete discrimination between taxpayers, as by such action the Government practically compels persons to insure for health and hospital benefits. It has taken that action at a time when it pretends that it is reducing taxes. When one examines the proposed reductions of taxes payable by a single man, or a married man with a wife and one child, in receipt of an income of £600, one finds that the tax concessions to be granted this year are far less than the amount that such a person will be obliged to pay in order to insure himself and his dependants for hospital and medical benefits. It is quite wrong for the Government to say that it is letting the people off taxes when, at the same time, it is compelling them to expend an amount greater than the tax concession in order to insure for hospital and medical benefits. That is the confidence trick that the Government is putting over the people.
With a grand gesture, the Government says that it has struck 10,000 public servants off its pay-roll. At the same time, it is establishing medical benefits societies, which will act as its agents for the purpose of distributing such benefits to the doctors. It is increasing staffs to implement and handle all the claims that will be made for such benefits. The persons who subscribe for benefits will pay the salaries of the additional staff. The Government has handed over the conduct of its hospital and medical benefits scheme to various organizations, and this trend is only in line with its actions in other directions. It is completely in line with its action in dismissing employees of the transport pool and letting out work to private contractors; and it is exactly in line with its action in sacking linemen employed in the Postal Department and letting out Une contracts to private enterprise.
– Lt is getting the work done.
– It is not getting the work done. I pass now to the medical benefits scheme which is the most stupid scheme of all. The Government professes to set out all the services that the doctor may render to a patient, and in respect of those services it contributes amounts ranging from a minimum of 5s. to a maximum of £11 5s. Those amounts are paid regardless of the charge that a doctor may make. ‘ This scheme came into operation as from the 1st July last. If a doctor were charging £25 for one of those services the day before and decided to charge an extra £11 5s. the next day, who got the benefit, the patient or the doctor ? That is the great adminis- trative fault of that scheme. I have never heard of anything so stupid in my life as for a government to offer a subsidy in that way for a service which a doctor may charge anything from 25 to 100 guineas.
– Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– The committee is being asked to approve financial provision for the Department of Health which has the important responsibility of introducing one of the major social services that confounded the previous Government. That department is endeavouring, consistent with the financial position of the country, to establish medical services that will greatly improve the health of the community. I should have hoped that in a discussion of this kind the Minister in charge of the bill would have outlined in an introductory speech the proposals involved in these Estimates and also have given an indication of the Government’s intentions during the ensuing twelve months. I urge upon this chamber the wisdom of adopting the most useful suggestion made by Senator Seward that consideration of these Estimates would be greatly advantaged if the debate were initiated by an explanatory statement by the appropriate Minister of the proposals for the current financial year. I also suggest that our consideration of the Estimates would be much more effective if, before proceeding with our discussions of such matters, the responsible departmental officers, instead of sitting silently in the chamber, were called to the bar of the Senate to state the relevant facts. Subsequently, those officers could be questioned by, say, three representatives from each side of the chamber. If that course were followed, honorable senators would be informed exactly of the departmental outlook in respect of expenditure which we, as the people’s representatives, are invited to approve. I recommend that the Senate should adopt those two methods of procedure.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) failed dismally when he was Minister for Health in the Chifley Government, and his failure was emphatically condemned by the people of Australia. I recall the first speech that he made after I was elected to the Senate. On that occasion he had the impertinence to ridicule his successor, the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). One of the first resentments that I experienced after my election to this chamber was to hear the Leader of the Opposition express himself so impertinently in ridicule of his most brilliant successor. I recall with disappointment the mimicry in which the Leader of the Opposition indulged. I can imagine the burning resentment that he has experienced during the last three and a half years as his successor has produced the present sane and intelligent health and medical benefits scheme which is the envy of the Opposition. Those stalwarts opposite who, less than three weeks ago, endeavoured dishonestly to convey the impression that the policy of the Australian Labour party is to reduce taxes to a minimum, stood behind this exMinister for Health when he was attempting to nationalize health and medical services. Being a lawyer, he did not understand the objectives of such a scheme either from the viewpoint of the people who were to be the recipients of benefits or from that of the learned profession through whose efforts alone medical benefits can be made available to to the community. The Leader of the Opposition, when he was Minister for Health in the Chifley Government, failed because of those fundamental misconceptions. To-night, out of the same murky outlook we have heard criticism from Senator Ashley of the fact that the Estimates now before the committee do not include an amount of approximately £21,000,000, which it is proposed under the budget to provide for medical services. What criticism from the archangel of parliamentary procedure! Indeed the fact is that next month this Government will introduce legislation which will incorporate all of the underlying principles of our national health scheme. We will take a timely opportunity to displace the iniquitous basis that was established by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), who was Minister for Social Services in the previous Labour Government. That scheme was based on regulation. The committee should not bemuse itself out of a responsibility to approach this matter from the point of view of fundamental considerations because we, in this generation, are privileged to have the right to decide the form and mould in which this national social service shall be cast. There are those on the other side of the chamber who would prefer a completely government service, consisting of doctors, chemists, hospital attendants, and the whole group of magnificent people who administer to the sick members of the community with their skill and their devoted service, on the pay-roll of the Government and at the behest of the Treasurer of the day. That is the point of view of the Leader of the Opposition. Although I, also, am a mere lawyer, 1 take pride in the fact that the Minister for Health, who is a doctor of medicine, has evolved a scheme that is based upon the great principles on which trade union liberalism was founded in the last century, and the kind of mutual service that the friendly societies provided. The Minister has not the mercenary approach to this subject that is possessed by the present-day socialists. He believes that the work-a-day doctors will, in a spirit of mutual service minister to the social requirements of the community. It was that system that the dead hand of socialism, in the form of the previous administration, threatened to destroy, for the aggrandisement of the national exchequer. The Minister for Health has brought into our life a system whereby, in the first place, the Treasury will bear the cost of the provision of expensive drugs. The Leader of the Opposition displayed the effrontery of a novice, by criticizing the reputable profession of medicine. If his argument had one atom of sense in it, it involved an accusation against that profession of exploitation and improper practice. The Leader of the Opposition is the least qualified to express such an accusation and I doubt whether he would be unable to sustain it in relation to even 5 per cent, of the medical profession. True it is that since doctors have had available to them, by the vote of this Government, life saving drugs free of expense to use on all sections of the community to combat disease, there has been an increasing public expenditure on such drugs. But for the Leader of the Opposition in this House of the National Parliament gratuitously to make such an accusation of exploitation, betrays a trend of thought that does not do credit to him. That trend of thought is unworthy of anything but its own experience.
– I have used those measured terms deliberately. Many men and women in this country have spent their lifetime cultivating a knowledge of the usefulness of drugs, and they have built up businesses which those who subscribe to a certain line of political thought wish to make their plaything. The Government parties do not subscribe to that attitude. A group of professional people has provided pharmaceutical services to the pensioners-
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Reid).Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– The speech that was just delivered by Senator Wright did not add to the dignity of this chamber. He made a totally unwarranted personal attack against the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), who is an erstwhile respected Minister of the Crown. We are considering the proposed vote for the Department of Health. In an attempt to be theatrical, but without being genuine, Senator Wright evaded the issues involved. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. The scientists engaged there always perform wonderful work in the interests of the community, irrespective of the political colour of the Government. They perform work for the betterment of the community generally. They are above party politics, and they carry out their duties in the way that all national health services should be performed. I am sure that not many members of the committee are personally acquainted with the wonderful work that is performed, year in and year out, at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, by men and women who have devoted their lives to scientific research, and whose rates of pay are very much lower than those obtainable in other spheres. They derive great satisfaction from the valuable service that they do for mankind. Both during the war years and since, they have worked quietly and unobtrusively in the Melbourne laboratories on research work and the provision of life-saving serum. During a visit to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, I noticed that research work was being undertaken in connexion with hay fever and the common cold. Although I shall not try to rise to the heights of oratory to which Senator Wright raised himself, I ask honorable senators to consider the serious effects on our economy of the incidence of hay fever and the common cold in the community. I was astonished to learn recently that serum and drugs that are provided by the Commonwealth’ Serum Laboratories for the treatment of hay fever and the common cold are not available free to pensioners. If more expensive antibiotics are supplied free to pensioners, why should not drugs to combat these distressing, if not killing, complaints be supplied free also? I take this opportunity to congratulate personally the staff of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories on the wonderful work that they perform behind the scenes, and for their loyalty to successive governments and the public of Australia.
A hospital benefits scheme was inaugurated by the previous Labour Government and, following a change of government, certain aspects of the scheme were changed also. When the Appropriation Bill for 1952-53 was under consideration in this chamber last year, I deplored the fact that pensioners in public hospitals in Western Australia were being charged from £8 8s. to £9 9s. a week for treatment that was previously available free to them. Not only was it difficult for the hospitals to obtain payment of their accounts, but the fact that such accounts were rendered had a retarding influence on the recovery of the patients, particularly those who conscientiously desired to pay their way. I am glad to say that since I addressed myself to this subject last year, there has been a change of government in Western Australia, and accounts are no longer rendered to pensioners who are patients in public hospitals in Western Australia. I pay a tribute to ibc Minister for Health ‘in the present Western Australian Government who, in so short a time, has rectified the position to which I directed attention last year.
I should like to be able to think that all children who need milk are being supplied with this commodity free. However. I am aware that many children of Australian taxpayers in the far northwest of Western Australia and other outback areas are not receiving this benefit. If it is not possible to provide fresh milk to the children of the outback, I consider that they should be provided with powdered milk or fruit juice, because the children in those areas are in need of this nutritional benefit. I should be glad if the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) would inform the committee whether it would be practicable for such an arrangement to be made.
I come now to the blood transfusion service. As I have said repeatedly in this chamber, the blood transfusion work of the Australian Red Cross Society is one of the most important adjuncts of medical services in Australia, and it is performed primarily by the Australian Red Cross Society. It is not to the Government’s credit that the society should be almost beggared in providing this very important service. Street collections and gifts by way of charity have been necessary to keep the blood transfusion service going. A substantial annual grant should be made to the. Australian Red Cross Society so that it may be able to continue the blood transfusion service without fear of financial difficulty. I pay a tribute to the thousands of people, known and unknown, who are donors to the society’s transfusion service. I have been the receiver of a blood transfusion from unknown donors and I thank them personally and on behalf of the thousands of people who owe their lives to their generosity. I pay tribute also to the Australian Red Cross Society and its branches in every State for the important work that they have undertaken.
I regret’ that Senator Wright has made such a vehement attack upon the Leader of the Opposition. I do not know whether it was a case of professional jealousy. I was a member of this chamber when Senator McKenna was Minister in charge of health. It is pleasing to me to note that many of his ideas and many of the measures that he was responsible for putting on the statutebook have been so highly regarded by the Government that Senator Wright supports that they have been retained and, in some cases, developed. I refer particularly to the measures to deal with tuberculosis which flowed from the work of the Social Security Committee. Senator McKenna was closely associated with the administrative direction of that committee and always gave sympathetic attention to any suggestions that members of the committee put forward for a campaign against tuberculosis. The Government has been ungenerous in failing to recognize that work. Health should not be a matter of party politics. It is a national problem. Surely honorable senators can meet in this chamber as Australian citizens without trying to gain political advantage from the sufferings and ill health of the people. If we approached problems of national health with a national outlook and pooled our knowledge and resources in an endeavour to find a way to give the people the health service that they desire, we would achieve something worthwhile. The best foundation upon which to build Australian prosperity is a happy and healthy nation.
The activities of the Australian Government should be directed not so much to the curing of disease as to its prevention. In the prevention of disease, attention must be given to adequate housing and nutrition. If those and other important aspects of health were given full consideration, the Government would not be faced with huge commitments by way of payments to hospitals and chemists. ! do not ‘begrudge the money that doctors receive. I owe too much to them myself in health to harbour such feelings, but in that sphere of work, as in every other, there are some who make capital, in die other sense of the term, from the sufferings of their patients. I pay a tribute to the doctors with whom I have come in contact and all others associated with the medical profession who give so much of their time and energy for the betterment of the community. I also pay a ti’ i bute to the nurses. A doctor is only as good as his nurses who have to put his orders into practice. A doctor may sec hia patients for only a brief time but the nurses are with them constantly while they are in hospital and a doctor relies upon nurses to care for his patients. Their noble efforts cannot be measured in terms of money and those of us who have suffered illness know how much we are indebted to them. I pay a tribute to the nurses also for their self-sacrifice. Whatever they receive by way of salary is not much compared with the work they do for the community.
I remember when the measure providing for pharmaceutical benefits was introduced into the Parliament by the previous Labour Government. Quite a number of the benefits that this Government is continuing and extending were introduced against strong opposition from those who now sit on the Government side. So strong was their opposition that the Social Security Committee which was responsible for the inauguration of many of the benefits had to be disbanded. The Opposition of the time refused to take any further part in its deliberations as the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) knows, because he was an enthusiastic member of the committee. If that committee had been maintained after 1946, quite a number of the problems with which this Government and the preceding Labour Government were faced in matters of health might have been decided as a result of the joint deliberations of members of all parties from both Houses of the Parliament. I repeat that health should not be a party political matter, and I believe that in his heart Senator Wright would not disagree with me although he might try to gain political advantage from it. The stakes are too high. I remind honorable senators in all sincerity that illness is not a respecter of social class. If we are to do anything for the community we must work for a national health policy.
– The honorable senator’s time has expired.
. - The debate on this measure provides an opportunity to discuss in detail the important matters associated with the health of the people. The member of the community who is in good health is an asset to society, but persons who are ill, particularly those who are actively associated with industry, are a liability. Fundamentally the principal object of the Government should be to provide all possible preventive methods to enable the people to maintain their health and curative measures to assist those who are ill. I pay a tribute to Senator Mattner who referred to the scourge of cancer, which has reached such alarming proportions in the community. Methods of dealing with tuberculosis, another dreadful scourge, have been developed by this Government and by previous governments. Progress in that direction has been most marked in Tasmania. The principal criticism that I have to make is that the funds that are made available by the Australian Government are insufficient to meet the full cost of the campaign against tuberculosis.
I direct attention particularly to the pension that is payable to a person who has been incapacitated by tuberculosis. One such case was brought to my notice recently. A man who had been receiving treatment in a tuberculosis clinic was discharged because the disease was no longer active, but conditions in his home were unhealthy and the pension was insufficient to enable him to obtain proper nutritious food. As a result, he had to bc re-admitted to hospital four months after his discharge from the clinic, because the disease had become active again. I suggest to the Government that the pension that is payable to tuberculosis patients should be more liberal so that those who have been treated successfully will not suffer a relapse. It is a pity that work that is done at some expense to cure the disease is undone as a result of faulty after-care. Therefore, I ask the Government to consider more generous treatment for people who are discharged from hospital as inactive cases of tuberculosis, riley should be examined at regular intervals as a precaution against the disease flaring up again.
The free distribution of milk to children is associated with the health of the community because it is important in building up the resistance of children and enabling them to grow into healthy adults. I agree that arguments against the pasteurization of milk have some merit, but there are more factors in its favour. Recently, an agricultural journal published in Tasmania contained a warning that persons who advertised dairy cattle for sale must state that the cattle were free - of tuberculosis. Many had been advertising dairy cattle as tuberculosis tested. It had been found that some persons had discovered that their cattle were infected with tuberculosis and then had sold the affected beasts to other dairymen who believed that the cattle were free of tuberculosis. The disease is spread very rapidly by the medium of milk, but it can be made safe by pasteurization.
I join issue with Senator Henty, who has referred to the distribution of milk to school children in Tasmania. The State Government has done good work in that direction. Some anomalies in distribution may have arisen in outlying areas, but one of the companies that was responsible for the pasteurization and distribution of milk, a private company run for profit, although it failed to make a profit, was condemned by the health authorities for having unhygienic equipment. That is the reason why the milk has to be taken from the city where Senator Henty and I live to another centre where it can be pasteurized. It is all very well for Senator Henty to try to make political capital out of the activities of the State Govern- ment, but other factors must be considered. Children must be given a good start in life if they are to be strong and. healthy and able to resist disease as they grow older. Many families cannot afford to give their children an adequate milk diet. Wages have failed to keep pacewith rising prices and parents cannot afford to buy enough milk. The children should be given milk in the schools. Thefact that some children do not like milk is no reason for sabotaging the free milk distribution. I support the Government’s scheme of milk distribution and’ I am certain that it will be continued after the next election when a Labour - administration will be in power.
I have a particular interest in thesubject of cancer to which reference wasmade by Senator Mattner. Two cancer clinics are doing a very good job in Tasmania. As .Senator Mattner mentioned, they are being sponsored by that great, philanthropist, Sir Edward Hallstrom. I submitted myself for a cancer test at one of these clinics as I considered thatthat would be the best way to examine their operations. Prevention is better than cure and early diagnosis is thegreat secret of successful treatment of* cancer. The Government should widen the field of operations of cancer clinics - so as to make it possible for people to have a diagnosis made wherever they may be.
I wish also to speak about the careof aged people who are not in need of skilled medical attention. Because they are advanced in years many of thesepeople have found that they are not quite welcome in the homes of their - daughters or daughters-in-law. Thisenormous problem must be tackled by any government that considers itself tobe humane. I have come in contact with many pathetic cases of fine people who, having lived a useful life, cannot securemedical care because they are not ill enough to be admitted to a hospital. I think that the Government should givethe deepest thought to the care of thissection of the community. The establishment of homes for these people hasoccupied the minds of the State governments but they have been unable to- finance such projects. Consequently, it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth to supply money to the States for this purpose. The Government has provided an amount in the Estimates for the administration of the tuberculosis agreement. A similar agreement should be made between the Commonwealth and the States in respect of a matter such as this.
The only other subject that I wish to mention is the serum laboratories. I should like to pay a tribute to the work that the serum laboratories have done, particularly in the production of penicillin. The serum laboratories have produced this drug in such a quantity, at such a price and with such efficiency that they have brought untold benefits to sufferers throughout the community. I have had personal experience of rather extensive penicillin injections after a surgical operation and I. have seen what have been practically miracles of healing take place in the plastic surgery wards of repatriation hospitals after injections of this antibiotic drug.
– Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I think that the time is opportune to answer a. few of the questions that have been raised during this debate. Senator Paltridge dealt with the functions and accounts of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. The functions of the serum laboratories include the manufacture and distribution of products for use in human and veterinary medicine; educational training facilities for the serum laboratories and health laboratories staff; research into the diseases of humans and animals including diagnosis, treatment and prevention, which are studied under Australian conditions; and the rendering of advisory services in the field of public health. The proceeds of the sales of products of the serum laboratories are credited to a trust fund which is used for carrying on the purposes of the laboratories. The serum laboratories furnish manufacturing and trading accounts covering all transac tions to the Department of Health. Its accounts are audited by the Commonwealth Auditor-General. The request of the honorable senator for additional particulars to be provided in future estimates will be brought to the notice of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page).
asked about the large amount of money that was being spent on health, medical benefits, hospitalization and tuberculosis and which was not shown in the Estimates. The honorable senator said that only costs of an administrative nature were shown in the Estimates. This has been a feature of the Estimates for many years. It is well known that moneys for other expenditure that he mentioned are drawn from the National Welfare Fund. This expenditure is shown in the budget and is also mentioned in the budget speech. There is nothing new about this presentation of the Estimates.
– I did not suggest that it was new.
– The figures have been presented in this way for many years.
– The authorities try to make it difficult to understand them.
– They do not try to make it difficult. Honorable senators have plenty of time to examine the budget papers.
Reference was made to the posting of a certain publication by the Department of Health. That publication was distributed throughout the Commonwealth by the householder postal delivery scheme of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I understand that that is not a new scheme. Telephone directories are sent out in the same manner. The Department of Health has credited to the Postmaster-General’s Department the cost of delivering the publication.
Senator Hannaford mentioned the quality of drugs. A constant check is made of all drugs and any drugs that are found to be substandard are removed from the free list. I have been informed that a bill relating to therapeutic substances will be introduced next year.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) criticized the high cost of pharmaceutical benefits. The drugs supplied under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme are costly life-saving drugs. They have been the means of saving a considerable number of lives throughout Australia. In view of this fact, they are well worth the price that has been paid for them. Since the scheme commenced, £17,000,000 has been paid by the Commonwealth on account of pharmaceutical benefits. Payment has not been made in respect of drugs used by patients in the public wards of public hospitals, but such payments will be made during the present financial year. In most of the States the payments will be made retrospective to August, 1952. The use of these drugs has reduced the number of hours for which people have had to stay in hospital, because it has accelerated the speed of their recovery. Reckoned on the basis of man-hours alone, the use of life-saving drugs has saved huge sums of money. In addition, the average time of occupancy of hospital beds has been reduced considerably, thus making more beds available for seriously ill people. During 1951-52, 6,500,000 prescriptions were issued through approved chemists and doctors. In 1952-53 the number had increased to 6,750,000. The average cost per prescription in 1951-52 was £1 0s. 7d., but in the following year it was reduced to 18s.1d. Honorable senators will see, therefore, that a close watch has been kept on the use of these drugs. The reduction in the average cost of prescriptions was due to measures taken by the Department of Health. They were -
Restriction of certain of the costly drugs to the treatment of specified diseases, under regulation 14a of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act 1947-1952. Prescriptions for these drugs must be endorsed by the medical practitioner, “ Written in accordance with Regulation 14a”.
The Leader of the Opposition said that the committees had no power. I deny that absolutely. They have power to recommend the suspension of doctors, and one doctor has already been suspended for three months. The committees have worked willingly and well and have contributed much to the success of the scheme. The honorable senator also criticized the hospital benefits scheme but this too has proved wonderfully successful. I shall not go extensively into figures, but I do point out that £7,223,000 was expended in 1952-53, and the estimate for 1953-54 is £8,500,000. As honorable senators are aware, the Commonwealth benefit has been increased from 8s. a day to 12s. a day for members of registered organizations and pensioners. Until this scheme came into operation, nearly every hospital in Australia was in financial difficulties. They could not meet their commitments and were losing considerable sums of money.
– They are still losing.
– That is entirely untrue. Most hospitals to-day are showing a surplus. Certainly their financial basis is vastly different from what it was before the hospital benefits scheme was introduced.
– They still want more money.
– I do not doubt that, but most of them are showing a surplus. Any member of a hospital board will concede that hospital finances to-day are much healthier than they were a year or two ago. That can easily be checked by reference -to the balance-sheets of various public hospitals. It is true that the medical benefits scheme is fairly costly, but any worthwhile service of this kind must be costly. The scheme came into operation in July of this year and it is estimated that in the current financial year it will cost £3,500,000. I shall not say anything more about the scheme at this stage, because it has not been long enough in operation to gauge its success.
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired. Before calling on the next speaker, I draw attention to the fact that the committee is now discussing the estimated expenditure of the Department of Health. Honorable senators should not endeavour to make secondreading speeches at this stage.
– I do not criticize the administration of the Department of Health. Indeed, I congratulate the department on the magnificent job it has done in assisting not only this Government, but also previous governments, in the administration of important activities such as the hospital benefits scheme. I point out, however, that for many years prior to the advent of the Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments, the parties now in office had ample opportunity to bring down national health legislation, but they failed to do so until the way was shown by a Labour administration. Senator Wright spoke in a most impudent manner about one of the most capable men in this chamber, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), who has devoted a long study to health matters. Senator Wright has no ability other than the ability to spill a few flamboyant words, the meaning of which he himself does not know. Whilst it may be true that the Department of Health has co-operated with the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) so far as that right honorable gentleman has gone with his national health scheme, goodness knows just exactly how far he has gone. Few people in the Commonwealth really understand what it is all about. Senator Wright’s attack on the Leader of the Opposition resulted, of course, from his jealousy of that honorable gentleman’s ability. It must have been difficult indeed for Senator Wright to sit in his place listening to a man of intelligence and ability explain not his own policy but Labour’s policy on health matters. Only a person who has come in contact with suffering people, as Senator McKenna lias, can really understand their needs. I was amazed indeed that the Chairman of Committees permitted Senator Wright to make such an impudent speech.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! I ask the honorable ‘ senator to confine his. remarks to the proposed vote of the Department of Health.
– I rise to order. T have listened carefully to this debate. Reference has been made to such matters as cancer, free milk for school children, pharmaceutical benefits and the national health scheme generally. “Under standing orders 416 and 419, the committee is not in order in discussing matters which are contained in legislation now at the secondreading stage in the House of Representatives. I ask for your ruling on this matter.
– I rise to order. We are dealing with the estimates for the Department of Health. The purpose of providing this money is to enable the Department of Health to carry out certain specific health projects. Therefore, this surely is the perfect opportunity for honorable members to offer criticism of the work of that department. It is not merely a question of determining how many employees the department should have or how much it should expend on postage. This is an opportunity to review the activities of the department. If that cannot be done now, when can it be done?
– During the secondreading debate.
– The honorable senator claimed that honorable senators were anticipating matters that are now before the House of Representatives, but I point out that all the activities that have been discussed to-night, including pharmaceutical benefits, medical benefits, hospital benefits and so on, are the subject either of existing regulations or legislation. Therefore, any comments that honorable senators may make on these matters, have no relation whatever to legislation that may lie in the House of Representatives, and I hope, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that you will not be influenced by that argument. I submit that in the debate on the Estimates honorable senators should not be limited to discussing such trivial matters as expenditure on postage. Such a restriction has never before been attempted, and if followed on this occasion would set a very bad precedent.
– The discussion must be restricted to items in the schedule. When Senator Kendall raised his point of order, I was about to direct the attention of Senator Hendrickson to the fact that he must confine his remarks to the proposed expenditure for the Department of Health. The debate on the Estimates is no time for personal abuse or criticism of individuals. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) that the subjects which he mentioned may be discussed at this stage, but the debate must be related to the Estimates. There should be no personal criticism of individuals, no abuse, and no second-reading speeches.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman. I only wish you had been in the chair when Senator Wright was speaking. I have the honour to be one of the three foundation members of the hospital contributory scheme in Victoria. I would not ask any honorable senator, particularly Senator Wright, to believe that I know what doctors should or should not do. The Minister for .Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who represents the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) in this chamber, in my opinion is displaying considerable skill with the material at his disposal in replying to matters raised in this debate, but I do not expect him to appreciate all the ramifications of the medical profession. Nevertheless, I expect Senator Wright to have some idea of the etiquette of the profession to which he belongs.
It has been said during this debate that many of the modern diseases are not being catered for by the splendid new drugs that have been evolved during recent years. I refer particularly to phthisis, from which miners suffer. 1 know of many instances in which the use of modern drugs might be of great benefit, but I am unable to obtain any information from the Minister for Health or the Minister for Repatriation concerning their use. The only information which I have been able to ascertain has been supplied by officers of the Department of Health in Victoria. They have been most co-operative. All who take part in this debate must appreciate the importance of the bill with which the committee is dealing. To use this debate as an opportunity to make a cheap attack upon the Leader of the Opposition (Senator MeKenna). as Senator Wright did tonight, is unpardonable. I remind the honorable senator that there are members of the medical profession in the ranks of the Australian Labour party and that those members are always ready to advise other members in matters of this kind. I commend the bill, but I hope that many of the heads of expenditure with which it deals will not appear when next year’s appropriations are being considered by the Parliament because the beneficial use of modern drugs will have largely eradicated diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis.
– I wish to thank the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) for dealing with the points that I raised previously. In his reply, he correctly stated that I ha.d complained of the high cost of the pharmaceutical .benefits scheme. His answer to my criticism was that the cost is not so important when the emergency life-saving and disease-preventing drugs save lives. I make it clear that I did not suggest that any of those drugs should be eliminated from the list for free provision by doctors to patients. My complaint was that they are being used unnecessarily in over-great profusion. 1 backed that complaint not by my own observations, but by an article which appeared in the mouthpiece of the medical profession itself, the Medical Journal of Australia, of the 28th June, 1952. I refer any honorable senator who is interested to that publication.
With regard to hospital benefits, the -Minister claimed that, under the Government’s revised scheme, hospital revenues are very much better. That statement is completely true, and I do not contest it. Unquestionably, they are very much better. But it is interesting to appreciate at whose expense they have been restored. That is what the Minister overlooked. Let us consider the scheme that has been abandoned by this Government. Under that scheme, no charge was made to occupants of beds in public wards of public hospitals. The accommodation, medicine and medical attention were all completely free.
– But no beds were available.
– Let us deal with one matter at a time. The position then was that the patient paid nothing. If he had the wisdom to insure with a benefit society, when he fell ill he took the benefit and put it in his own pocket. Of course, he would need it, because he would have been cut off from his usual source of income. What is the position of the patient under the present scheme? He must put his hand in his pocket to insure with an approved organization, in order to become eligible for the additional benefit of 4s. a day. In due course, when he falls ill, not only does the whole of the benefit go to the hospital, but he is also obliged to put his hand further in his pocket in order to pay for the balance owing to the hospital. That is what happens in some .States. It is completely clear that hospital revenues have been restored at the expense of the sick people of Australia.
– What was the position before this scheme began to operate ?
– I explained the position a moment ago. They paid nothing.
– But some of the hospitals could not even pay the cost of their wages.
– I agree, and 1 shall tell the honorable senator why that was so. The fault lies completely at the door of the Government which she sup ports. Under Labour’s scheme, the hospital benefit was fixed, in .1948, at 8s. a day. This Government allowed that benefit to remain stationary, despite pleas from all State hospital administrations throughout 1950, 1951 and 1952 that it should be increased. The Government allowed inflation to run riot. The thing that wrecked hospital finances in this country was the absolutely uncontrolled inflation that sent hospital costs, including wages, which is the greatest item, soaring. The Government pegged the hospital benefit at 8s. a day. Ultimately, it gave hospitals the miserly increase of 4s. a day in an attempt to make up for years of inflation which it had encouraged.
– Is the honorable senator suggesting that the hospitals were financially sound in 1948 and 1949?
– I suggest that at the time hospital benefits were introduced by the Labour Government, the payment made in respect of each patient in the public ward of a public hospital was far more than the hospitals had ever been able to collect from the patients themselves. Therefore, under our scheme the hospitals were infinitely better off.
– That is not true.
– It is perfectly true. They were paid more money by the Commonwealth, after that scheme had been introduced, than they were able to collect themselves. In the State of Western Australia, from which the honorable senator comes, the amount collected by the hospitals approached closest to the Commonwealth benefit. Some of the States could collect only 4s. or 5s. a day. Western Australia was able to collect 5s. 9d. a day, which was the highest rate in the Commonwealth. The Labour Government paid 6s. a day to all States. It increased that amount to 8s. after two years, which was again far more than the hospitals could collect for themselves. It is, therefore, certain that under the Labour scheme the hospitals were better off than they would have been without it. It is equally clear that under the present system hospital finances have been restored largely at the expense of the sick people.
The Minister did not deal with the cost of the medical benefits scheme, beyond acknowledging that it will be great. It seems to me that a scheme that provides a service completely uncontrolled as far as prices are concerned, is opening up a bottomless pit of expense for this Government. Perhaps I shall draw attention to this matter again when the financial year has ended. I think that the Government will get a grievous shock when it finds how costly this scheme is.
I take the opportunity to advert to the speech made by Senator “Wright who, as a lawyer, might be expected to be able to recognize an issue and to know how to join issue. I have no doubt that he listened very carefully to my attack upon pharmaceutical benefits, medical benefits and hospital benefits. In his reply he did not attempt to answer one word of the attack I made upon the Government in connexion with those matters. There was, therefore, no joinder of issue. In view of that fact, one must accept the position that the honorable senator allowed those matters to go by default. He either has no answer or knows no answer to the attack I made on behalf of the Opposition. In a style which one must acknowledge as peculiarly his own, he embarked upon issues that were completely different from those referred to by me. I do not wish to pursue him into those fields, other than to refer to his claim that all the Australian Labour party’s schemes in connexion with health have tended to the socialization of medicine. I remind him of the constitutional position. Under the Constitution, nothing may be nationalized. Above all, when Labour put to the people a referendum dealing with social services benefits in 1948, and asked for power to provide medical services or benefits, it added the words, “but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription “.
– -At whose insistence were those words used?
– That is not the point. The point is that they were written in..
– It was at the insistence of the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies).
– I am perfectly willing to concede that point. I am concerned only with their effect, which, as the honorable senator knows, was completely to negative any possibility of socialization of doctors in regard to the provision of medical benefits.
– Did not the High Court of Australia say that the Labour scheme transgressed the law?
– Yes, in the course of a most extraordinary judgment, on a very fine point, a matter upon which the High Court was almost evenly divided. I do not think it worthwhile to embark upon a discussion of that matter now. However, I contend that to hold that the prescribing by a doctor, on a government form, constituted civil conscription, is sufficient to strain even the imagination of Senator Wright.
– A great deal has been said in this chamber to-night about the fact that party politics should not have intruded into this debate on pharmaceutical benefits. It seems to me that any tendency to exclude party politics from the debate was completely destroyed by Senator Wright. His contribution to the debate was one of the most extraordinary exhibitions of bitterness and venom thai: I have ever seen directed at the responsible leader of a political party. I do not think that he dealt with one aspect of the bill before the committee. The whole of his remarks were directed, with a fantastic degree of ham acting, which must have embarrassed his colleagues, to an attack upon the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). It seems to me that some time, in the not too distant past, the honorable senator was associated with university theatricals. Obviously, he did not progress beyond the stage reached by the merest beginner. Some of the words he used to-night, as Senator Hendrickson has said, appeared to hypnotize even himself. He became so entangled in trying to get his tongue around them that he lost sight of his objective altogether. Upon my election to this chamber, I was assured that the standard of debate in this place was very high and that I should not hear a vicious personal attack directed from either side of the chamber against an individual senator. I am obliged to think otherwise after witnessing Senator Wright’s exhibition this evening. If he, or any of his colleagues, continues to indulge in such exhibitions, I assure them that members of the Opposition will be able to play the game as roughly as they play it.
I endorse the remarks of Senator Mattner and Senator Hannaford in emphasizing the necessity for extending research activity into cancer and other incurable diseases. However, I regret that those honorable senators, in making their valuable contributions to the debate, did not go further and urge the Government to improve the existing pharmaceutical benefits scheme by enabling sufferers from cancer and other incurable diseases to qualify for benefit under that scheme. At present, approved societies may reject applications to insure for benefit from persons who suffer from such diseases, Such persons are virtually prohibited from participating in this scheme although they require help more than does any other section of the community. That is a definite weakness in the present scheme, and the Government should rectify it as soon as possible.
Government supporters have criticized the failure of the scheme that the Chifley Government sought to establish. However, as Senator Hendrickson has pointed out, non-Labour governments during the many years that they were in office did not even attempt to establish a national health scheme. The Chifley Government was the first Australian Government to promote such a scheme, and its proposals were far more comprehensive than the scheme which this Government has introduced. The eulogistic references which Senator Wright made to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) were as fantastic as that honorable senator’s criticism of the Leader of the Opposition. When the history of health legislation in this country is written, the numerous schemes that the Minister for Health has propounded and which have fallen by the wayside will require a chapter on their own. Much good could accrue from this debate to which honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have made valuable contributions. I again express regret that Senator Wright introduced a destructive note into the discussion.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Motion (by Senator Cooper) agreed to-
That consideration of other departments in the Second Schedule be postponed until after consideration of War and Repatriation Services.
War and Repatriation Services.
Proposed vote, £18,162,000.
– Widespread dissatisfaction has been caused by the inadequacy of the proposed increases of pensions to exservice personnel. It is generally agreed that one of the first responsibilities of a national government is to make adequate provision for the walfare of those members of the community who have fought in defence of the country. The purchasing power of war and service pensions has been substantially reduced as a result of inflation, and recipients of those pensions look to the Government to enable them to meet rising costs. Generally, ex-service personnel expected that under this budget the Government would increase rates of war and service pensions by at least 25 per cent. However, the proposed increases have caused widespread disappointment. Whereas in 1945 the rate of pension was 52 per cent, of the basic wage, to-day it is only 35 per cent, of that wage. War widows also are disappointed with the proposed paltry increase of the rate of their pension.
– Order ! The honorable senator will not be in order in discussing the matters to which he is referring as they are dealt with in the Repatriation Bill which appears on the notice-paper.
– I deplore the present serious lag in the provision of war service homes which has arisen because of the Government’s failure to make adequate funds available for the construction of such homes. The Government now refuses to make available finance to exservice personnel to purchase homes which have already been constructed. As a result, a greater strain has been thrown upon the War Service Homes Division in meeting the demand for homes. Many ex-servicemen have been waiting for periods up to eight years to be allotted a war service home.
– Why did not the Chifley Government build more war service homes when it was in office?
– The Chifley Government constructed the greatestnumber of war service homes that it was possible for any government to construct in the circumstances that existed during its term of office. That Government was confronted with more urgent problems in discharging the nation’s responsibilities to ex-service personnel. It was engaged in the implementation of the reconstruction training scheme. At the same time, building materials and man-power were not available in adequate quantities. However, to-day, in every State brickworks arc unable to market their output whilst many timber mills are being closed. Carpenters and other tradesmen are looking for work.
– Is that the fault of the War Service Homes Division?
– It is the fault of the Government which the honorable senator supports.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Reid).Order ! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Chairman having reported accordingly,
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Reid). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I take this opportunity to express my disapproval of the lengthy periods that some questions asked upon notice remain on the notice-paper. On the 9th September, I placed on the noticepaper a question relating to negotiations for a site for an artillery range in South Australia. The matter is of considerable importance to me, and interested parties have since asked me on several occasions when I expected to be able to furnish them with the information that I sought. I refer to Question No. 28 on to-day’s notice-paper, which has remained unanswered for five weeks. I should be glad if the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) would endeavour to obtain an answer for me as soon as possible.
– I assure Senator Critchley - although an assurance is hardly necessary - that no discourtesy towards him is intended in this matter. I shall convey his remarks to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis), and endeavour to obtain a reply to the question without further delay. I am sure that there is a good reason why the question has not yet been answered. I shall do all that I can to expedite the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Customs Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No. 85.
Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No. 87.
Defence Transition (Residual Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Property ) Regulations - Order - Inven - tions and designs.
Excise Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No. 86.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation - I. D. Odgers.
Interior - H. A. Johnson.
Postmaster-General’s - T. A. Birtwistle,
E. Bogner, S. J. Catravas, R. B. Farr, L. J. Gleeson, R. F. Hempel. R. M. Hislop, R. L. Hopkins, R. R. Hulbert, B. Ray, L. H. Say, J. R. Walklate, C. R. Wilhelm, J. D. Young.
Senate adjourned at 10.34 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 October 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1953/19531013_senate_20_s1/>.