23rd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– By way of preface to a question addressed to the Minister for Customsand Excise I point out that my attention has been drawn to the difficulties which confront migrants from eastern European countries, namely Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who desire to send gift parcels to their friends and relatives in those countries. They, of course, would pay the postage and are prepared to prepay customs duty charged by the country of destination. Until now, they have been able to send parcels through Sweden, or, alternatively, through the address of an agent in Sydney. It is contended, however, that this agent makes an exorbitant charge for this service, a charge which amounts to a racket. Now that a Russian embassy has been installed in Australia, it is felt that this embassy may be prepared to act in the normal way in this matter. Will the Minister have inquiries made at the Russian Embassy to ascertain whether this is possible? The migrants concerned would be extremely grateful for anything that can be done to help them overcome their present difficulty.
– I recall that some four or five years ago a similar matter was raised in connexion with gift parcels sent by migrants in Australia to their relatives in Latvia. IfI remember correctly, exorbitant prices were being charged at that stage for gifts despatched from Australia. Indeed, one could almost describe them as a racket.
The prepayment of customs duties is demanded by the countries which those parcels enter, and I believe that the costs are very high indeed. I think that this matter should be looked at. I shall let the honorable senator know whether there is anything we can possibly do to make it easier and cheaper for migrants to send parcels to their relatives.
– I address one or two questions to the Minister for Civil Aviation because, I feel that the public would not quite get the full gist of the onesI asked last Tuesday and might be misled by the answers. Because of that I ask these questions now: Is it a fact that in 1952 Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited owed the Commonwealth approximately £800,000 in unpaid air navigation charges? Is it a fact that the Government accepted £337,000 as full payment lor these charges? Did the Government agree with the company in 1952 to freeze air navigation charges tor fifteen years at half the 1949 rate? Is this ore of the reasons why the Government is forced to sell liquor at airports to try to cover the losses that need not have occurred had it not agreed to help and support A.N.A.?
– The position in 1952 was that the Government introduced, at that time, its policy in relation to airlines, providing for the existence of two major operators, one government and the other private. When that policy was initiated, the Government introduced legislation which was passed by the Parliament and which provided for a reduction in the amount which had been outstanding by way of air charges and which was very much in dispute. Indeed, there was a threat of litigation about it. Notwithstanding that, the Government, in its review of the position, did decide that air navigation charges should be reduced. They were reduced by act of Parliament in that year, 1952. That matter had nothing at all to do with the provision of concessions at airports.
Broadcasting of Proceedings
– Mr. President, if I have your permission, I should like to direct a question to you. Has your attention ever fallen adversely upon the ugly forest of microphones and stanchions which rise to mar the appearance of this beautiful chamber? Would you consider conferring with Mr. Speaker and with the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee to ascertain whether the present hideous, if effective, microphones and stanchions could be replaced by more modern and practically invisible desk type microphones, which, I understand, are now available? Also, would you inquire as to whether the sound reinforcement system in the chamber could be improved? As I speak now, the handsome visage of the Minister for Shipping and Transport is completely bisected by an iron stanchion, and honorable senators across the chamber are truncated by this forest. I ask you, Sir, whether you believe that the general air of thoughtful and mature inquiry which should pervade this chamber would be better maintained if these ugly instruments were replaced by less conspicuous ones. I have been informed that there is no need to waste the existing microphones, as they could be used by the relevant authority in other positions.
– I shall take this matter up with Mr. Speaker. I have been considering for some lengthy time the untidy appearance of the chamber because of the microphones. The matter will be gone into carefully and the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee will give attention to it.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. How many officers of the Commonwealth Public Service, including those employed in the office of the High Commissioner, are engaged in the United Kingdom? In what departments are they engaged? Is a representative of the Public Service Board stationed in the United Kingdom?
– Although I think the answers to these questions are contained in the Budget Papers and the schedules attached to them, I ask Senator Benn to put the question on the noticepaper, upon which we shall get the answers for him.
– Mr. President, with your permission I should like to address a question to you. Would it be possible to raise the notice on the outside of the Senate entrance to the building which states that that portion of the roadway is for senators’ cars only? At present, the notice is so low that when one car is in position nobody can see the notice, and then people have the excuse of being able to say that they did not know that that part of the roadway belonged to us for parking purposes. I am making this question public in order to bring the matter to the attention of those people who are wrongfully using our parking places. The result is that we have to hunt around and get some other spot. If the notice were raised by perhaps two feet, it could be seen above the cars parked there.
– I shall be pleased to have the matter looked into.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Trade seen reports that a Greek shipping company wishes to enter the Australia-Continent trade? If he has, will he say whether the reports are correct? Does the company propose to charge lower freights than the conference lines shipping monopoly? Are the conference lines trying to exclude the Greek company from the Australian trade? If they are, how are they trying to effect this? What does the Government propose 10 do to ensure that we shall enjoy, in relation to shipping, some of the fair and free competition in which the Government professes to believe?
– I have not seen the newspaper reports to which the honorable senator has referred. As far as I know, there is nothing in the arrangement between the conference lines and the overseas shippers’ representatives which would prevent another overseas line from coming into the Australian trade and providing additional competition.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation inform me whether it is a fact that Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited had leases of territory at aerodromes and could not legally be charged landing fees until the leases had expired? Is it a fact that the Labour Government that was in office prior to December, 1949, was not prepared to take steps to enforce payments by that company because of the existence of the leases?
– In respect of some aerodromes, I think the position was as Senator Scott has described it.
Broadcasting of Proceedings
– I should like to ask a question of the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Has the Government any information concerning the number of listeners to parliamentary debates since television was introduced into this country? If it has, will the Minister seek the information and convey it to the Senate?
– I do not think that the Government has any information about the number of listeners to parliamentary debates. Newspaper reports published from time to time contain various estimates of the number, but I am not aware that those reports emanate from official circles. As Senator Brown knows, there is a statutory obligation upon the Australian Broadcasting Commission to broadcast parliamentary proceedings while the Parliament is sitting.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government concerning the matrimonial causes legislation that is now being debated in the Parliament. Has the Minister noticed that there has been a full attendance in the other place during the debate, which shows that individual members have a genuine interest in this non-party measure? In view of the widespread public interest in the measure, will he ask the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee to endeavour to arrange with the officers of the House of Representatives that, when the hill is being debated in the Senate, our proceedings will be broadcast, on the understanding that broadcasting facilities will be available to the House of Representatives on other days?
– I could not give support to Senator Wright’s proposal. It is a well established practice that the Senate has the air on Wednesdays and the other House on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Matrimonial Causes Bill was debated in the other House yesterday, when its proceedings were not being broadcast. The broadcasting facilities were made available to us. In those circumstances, I hardly think it would be equitable to do next week anything different from what has been done in the past. We will be on the air on Wednesday, as usual, and it may well be that that will be the day when the bill is before the Senate. That would be merely in accordance with the ordinary arrangements.
– I desire to ask the Leader of the Government a supplementary question. Does he not believe that the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee should exercise its judgment from time to time? If real objections were raised by the House of Representatives, obviously they could not be overridden. All that I am asking the Minister to do is to make representations to the committee to consider whether, having regard to the benefit of the public, it would be reasonable for the broadcasting facilities to be made available to this House during the whole of the debate on that bill.
– I can only reply that although Senator Wright might think the proposal would be reasonable, personally I do not think it is. If I do not think it is a reasonable request, I can hardly give support to it.
– I should like to ask the Leader of the Government a question arising out of the delay in answering questions on the notice-paper. For his information I point out that to-day is 19th November. On 8th October I had a question on the notice-paper consisting of four simple parts. The question is still on the notice-paper; it has not been answered. What is the reason for the delay? If they were intricate, involved sub-questions that necessitated a great deal of investigation and research I could understand the delay, but they are very simple queries that could be answered almost offhand. I should like to know from the Leader of the Government why it is that the answers to such simple queries are so long delayed.
– I, and I think all other Ministers, are conscious of the fact that there should be no delay in answering questions. When there is a delay, most of the Ministers in the Senate make representations to the departments concerned. When I have made those representations, my experience has been that the question that has been asked has been a difficult one to answer in that either a great deal of information had to be collated or some matter of policy was involved. All I can say to Senator Brown is that I will look at the question he asked on 8th October and will make special representations to the Department of Trade during the day. If he will repeat the question when the Senate meets tomorrow I will either have an answer for him or will be able to give him the reason for the delay.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services. Is it a fact that under the provisions of the Commonwealth social services legislation, the benefits paid to any pensioner cease immediately he is admitted to a mental hospital whether as a voluntary or certified patient? Is it also a fact that a pensioner who becomes a patient in a hospital for the chronically ill or a benevolent institution continues to receive some 30s. from his pension for personal spending each week? Does the Minister think that this distinction springs from the days when there was a less enlightened attitude towards mental illness? If he believes so, will he take action to correct this anomaly?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s first question is, “ Yes “, and the answer to his second question is also, “ Yes “. In regard to the third question I understand, having discussed this matter with the Minister for Social Services, that a constitutional difficulty is involved in respect of the patients. I have to be a bit careful what I say here, and it might be better if I were to obtain the information in writing from the Minister. However, I shall give the honorable senator the information I have in mind in spite of any fear of intimidation. I understand there is a constitutional difficulty to some degree in that a patient becomes completely under the control of the State in the event of mental illness. However, that is only a rough, off-the-cuff answer, and I shall obtain a fuller answer in writing.
– I wish to direct a Question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. By way of preface, may I express to the Minister my acknowledgment of his courtesy in making available to me the judgment of Mr. Justice Hudson, of the Victorian Supreme Court, delivered on 6th November, to which I referred in a question last week. It is revealed in that judgment that the owner of a motor car, which was illegally seized by the Department of Customs and Excise, failed to recover from his vendors compensation for want of title. Will the Minister consider the position of the Commonwealth with a view to giving, without restriction either as to time or technicalities just compensation for loss to the person whose vehicle was forfeited unlawfully, as the court held?
– As I understand the position, the case was proceeded with on the basis of only one of the grounds for seizure specified in the seizure notice. The notice was based on two grounds. The person concerned was unsuccessful in his action. The other ground was not contested. The whole matter is under active consideration at present. I will keep in mind what the honorable senator has said, but at this stage I cannot accept the statement that the car was illegally seized. It was seized upon two grounds, only one of which was contested.
– I preface my question to the Leader of the Government by stating that the West German Chancellor, Dr. Adenauer, when asked on the eve of his departure for London about West German investment in British Commonwealth countries, replied that West Germany would be making capital available to some of those countries. Is it not a fact that Australia needs additional finance for its development? Does the Leader of the Government believe that we should take advantage of this offer? If so, will he take up with his colleagues the desirability of approaching Dr. Adenauer for this purpose?
– We certainly need additional capital to finance our development, and if it were made available from West Germany either by way of private investment or public loan funds, it would be very welcome. I remind Senator Scott that the Treasurer recently returned from a trip overseas in which he made careful inquiries concerning the prospects of raising money in various European countries. The net result of his inquiries was given in the form of a statement in another place. While there is continuing and increasing interest in private investment in Australia, and British and continental firms are increasingly establishing industries here, it is difficult to find new sources of money for public purposes.
– My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services arises from the answer that he gave to Senator Hannan. In what way would the Constitution affect differently a person who enters a State mental institution and a person who enters a State benevolent home?
– I shall be happy to send the honorable senator a copy of the reply that is given to Senator Hannan’s question.
– My question, which . is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, arises from the fact that I have noticed, on walking home to my hotel after recent late sittings of the Parliament, that the public buildings appear to have all their lights burning. They appear to burn all night. Is this for security reasons? If not, is it an attempt to make Canberra look more beautiful at night, or does the practice stem from sheer carelessness? If the latter is the case, does it not involve a shocking waste of public money?
– Offhand, I cannot be sure of the reason, but I have been informed that all the cleaning of the offices is done at night, and therefore it is necessary to have a certain amount of light. However, I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Minister for the Interior.
– In addressing a question to the Minister for National Development, I refer to the reply that the Minister gave yesterday to a question asked by Senator Scott concerning the significant commercial and industrial development in Australia during the last few years. Has the attention of the Minister been directed to the report of a speech by Mr. Roger Randerson, published in to-day’s Sydney “ Daily Telegraph “, headed “ Illusion in 10 years’ progress “, stating that “ much of Australia’s supposed economic progress in the last 10 years has been little more than illusion “? Has the Minister any comment to make on that statement? If he disagrees with Mr. Randerson’s statement, will he consider having prepared and promulgated in the Senate, a detailed criticism of Mr. Randerson’s remarks?
– I have glanced through the report of what Mr. Randerson said at the symposium yesterday. I have not studied the report carefully, but having regard to Mr. Randerson’s standing, I would be hesitant to criticize what he had said without carefully looking at his statement and considering it in detail. My impression was that the point he was making was that, having regard to inflationary processes, the progress that Australia had made could not be conveyed with complete accuracy by statistics only. But I do not think for one moment that Mr. Randerson was denying that Australia has made extraordinary progress, as evidenced by physical things, such as new buildings that have been erected, the increase in population, and greater activity in so many directions.
– I preface a question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, by stating that, according to this morning’s press, Mr. Justice Cook, in a report to the New South Wales Parliament, had said that buyers of wool were forming pies. As the Minister is aware, a pie is formed when buyers band together, agree to have only one purchaser bidding for wool at a wool sale, and afterwards split between them the lots that that purchaser has bought. Mr. Justice Cook also stated that this practice was having an effect on the prices that growers were receiving for their wool. I understand that the New South Wales Parliament is taking action to prevent the forming of pies in that State. I now ask the Minister whether other States have taken, or propose to take, similar action. In view of the fact that wool is produced and sold in .each State of the Commonwealth, should not the Commonwealth Government take notice of Mr. Justice Cook’s findings and also take action, if that is considered necessary?
– I have not seen the particular press despatch referred to by the honorable senator. I know that, for some considerable time, numbers of people have been claiming that combines have been :formed from time to time by buyers of wool for the purpose of depressing the prices paid for wool. I think that most of those who, so far, have claimed that that has been a fact have been persons who wish to abolish the auction system of buying wool. I believe that other sections of the wool industry claim that these statements are either not true, or, at any rate, are certainly not proven. I myself do not know where the truth lies. I shall ask the Minister for Primary Industry to prepare a considered statement on this subject for the information of the honorable senator who has raised the question.
asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: -
The amount of charge payable for each flight is determined by multiplying the unit charge for the aircraft by a factor for the route over which the flight was made. The unit charge is based on the maximum all-up weight of the aircraft and route factors are related to the standard of facilities provided. The aggregate amount collected by way of air navigation charges over the past five years was £2,407,000.
In any consideration of air navigation costs and revenues, it should be borne in mind that the Commonwealth also obtains revenue from a tax on aviation fuels. Over the past five years revenue from this source amounted to approximately £6,300,000.
– I lay on the table of the Senate the following paper: -
Reports of the Australian Government, employers’ and workers’ delegates to the fortythird Session -of the International Labour Conference held at Geneva, June, 1959.
In the interests of economy I do not propose to move that the reports be printed but I advise honorable senators that copies will be available to them from the Parliamentary officers. Following established practice, the Senate will be informed at a later date of the action taken or proposed to be taken in respect of the conventions and recommendations adopted by the conference.
– I present the following report of the Public Accounts Committee -
Forty-third report - Expenditure from the Advance to the Treasurer for the financial year 1958-59 and move -
That the paper be printed.
This report of the committee examines certain items appearing in the statement of expenditure from the Advance to the Treasurer and other aspects of the accounts of the Commonwealth for 1958-59. It accords with the practice, adopted by the committee since its reconstitution in 1952, of submitting such reports to the Parliament on the accounts of each financial year. This year we have again reported both on items where expenditure has exceeded the Parliamentary appropriation and on notable cases where the appropriation for the year has, in fact, been substantially underspent.
We direct attention to the actions of three departments which infringed section 34 of the Audit Act by -spending in excess of the parliamentary appropriation without authority. In the case of .two of those departments we found that the infringements occurred because their procedures and controls were inadequate. In the third case the department was prepared to ignore the law.
We followed up criticisms of the Attorney-General’s Department made two years ago and found that an unsatisfactory situation which then existed had not been remedied properly. We have criticized both that department and the Public Service Board for an absence of positive action in the matter, and have suggested that the Public Service Board has the power and the duty under the Public Service Act to take action to remedy quickly any case of poor administration such as that revealed in the Attorney-General’s Department.
We direct attention to statements made to us that there is a shortage of competent financial officers in the Commonwealth Public Service. We suggest that there is ample scope for improved financial methods in some departments, and we propose that a full investigation be made of the financial organization and requirements of departments generally. These and the other matters upon which we have reported will be followed up by the Treasurer in accordance with the established arrangements between him and the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 13th November (vide page 1512), on motion by Senator Henty-
That the bill be now read a second time.
. : - In my contribution to this debate, I shall be impartial, not because the Minister has a party of official advisers who are efficient in answering criticism or tendering advice, but because it is my custom to be impartial. I do feel that this is an important debate and I shall pay tribute where tribute is due. After all, there are some good things that the Government has done through the activities of the Minister for Health, assisted by members of the Government. Let us remember that he would be a very poor sinner who was without some virtue at all.
It would not be unreasonable to suggest that during this session four people have, by and large, occupied the parliamentary stage. First there was the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), who was so bright that he left the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the dark, according to the Prime Minister’s own words. Judging from general conversation, he apparently left all members, on both the Government and the Opposition side, also in the dark. Then there was the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) who created a volcanic eruption of ill-will. Now we have the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who has laboured like an elephant and brought forth a mouse. I understand that there is to come to this chamber the creation of the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) which many say is a measure of extremely doubtful parentage.
The bill is to effect amendment of the National Health Act. In this act and under the constitutional authority established by referendum, the Government has great powers. If it so desired, and if it had a really substantial interest in the welfare of the people, not only on humanitarian grounds but also on the score of economic efficiency, it could increase those powers. After I have concluded, some Government supporters may criticize my remarks, if these remarks are worthy of critcism and not beneath their notice. They may suggest that what I propose would cost many, many millions of pounds. Incidentally, it would. But I do not know of the Government, or particularly of private industry, neglecting to spend money on caring for machines and machinery. I do not know of primary producers not tending their soil or looking after their stock. After all, none of these things would, by and large, be of any economic value unless we had healthy men and women to tend and care for the stock and the soil and to operate the machinery. Consequently, I think that this matter should be seen in the correct perspective, because a healthy people is an economic asset of unsurpassable value.
Section 9 of the principal act reads - (1.) The Governor-General may provide, or arrange for the provision of -
When we look back we see that very little has been done in this regard. I would pay to Sir Earle Page, the predecessor of the present Minister for Health, the tribute that despite the handicap of age and conservatism, and limitations imposed by his political outlook, he was at least a pioneer. He was a pioneer of the pensioner pharmaceutical and medical services. He introduced, for what they are worth, medical and hospital benefits, and the pharmaceutical benefit formulary, which has been of great value to the people. I come now to the present Minister. I do not want what I say to be considered in any way as a criticism of his person or character other than politically, because he is a doctor who is well qualified and who was, when in practice, regarded as being extremely capable and extremely popular. The only thing that can dim his popularity and take away from his capacity as a practitioner is his political activity, and that effect is in the process of accomplishment.
We find that section 9 then provides that provision may be made for -
The section continues - (2.) The Minister may disseminate information relating to health or the prevention of disease.
These are fairly wide powers, and I have no doubt that if the Government desired an increase in those powers, consistent with constitutional limitations, the Opposition would agree. The first matter to which the section refers, relates to the provision of aerial medical and dental services. The Government proposes to make a contribution of £71,300 for the aerial medical service, a service that has rightly won for Australia world-wide renown. But the present Government feels that by contributing £71,300 it will have met its obligations in their entirety! As for dental
Attention, whether aerial or otherwise, the. Government has done practically nothing. At no stage has it taken the lead in fluoridation of water supplies, which many eminent dentists have suggested would be worthwhile in the interests of the care of the teeth of children. In fact, in America fluoridation of water has over many years meant that children have grown up with good teeth. I believe that a survey was made recently by New South Wales dentists of many thousands of children. Of these, it was found that only 76 had what the dentists classed as really good teeth that were fit to enter in a good teeth competition. Yet the national government is doing nothing as regards this primary responsibility. After all, both medical and dental authorities will admit that good teeth are a preliminary - one of the preliminaries - of good health, but Government supporters do not even suggest giving consideration to free dental attention for children under 16. This was suggested by Labour in the last election campaign, and let no one on the Government benches suggest that we were rejected because we put up that scheme. There were many other matters, including a vicious misrepresentation by what was, by and large, an anti-Labour press, that were really contributing factors to the return of the Government.
– Do not kid yourself. The people did not trust you.
– I have made my statement. The honorable senator will have an opportunity of making his statement and of criticizing me in the process of time, if he happens to be competent so to do. The position is that the Government is doing nothing. Yet the Australian Dental Association will co-operate with the Government in this question of free dental attention. This service would in the process of time repay economically the expenditure incurred.
I think that the Government is entitled to credit for maintaining the Commonwealth Health Laboratories - thirteen in number - but that appears to be practically as far as the Government has gone with its diagnostic services. They happen to be in thirteen towns in Australia and, by and large, they assist only in a pathological sense. In other words, they render pathological investigation services to the practitioners in the towns, keep stores of serum, advise on quarantine, if necessary, and so on. That is how the Government has met the requirements of paragraph (b) of section 9. But these services were established long before the present Minister took office and probably long before most of the present members of the Government entered Parliament. Therefore, the only credit this Government can take is that due to it for the fact that this service has been maintained.
I come now to the question of research into and prevention of disease. Here again 1 shall be fair. The Government is entitled to full credit for the anti-poliomyelitis campaign upon which it embarked and which appears to be so eminently successful. The campaign, of course, is based upon scientific evidence obtained from overseas. I give full credit also to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory for the extraordinary good job it is doing in this connexion.
When we examine the Government’s policy towards research we find that whereas this Government provided £500,000 for the control of tick in New South Wales yet, for the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is comprised of representatives of the Commonwealth Department of Health, the various State Departments of Health, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and some others - a body of particularly competent men who could direct magnificent research, the amount provided is only £213,000. Imagine making such a contribution to finance the activities of a group of men who could direct magnificent research work in the interests of the people, and in the interests of ultimate economic productivity!
I come now to research into cardiovascular diseases. It was left to private individuals to establish the National Foundation of Heart Research. Almost 40 per cent, of the people die of cardiovascular disease, but no information is available as to the disability or suffering caused by this type of disease. It was left to private individuals to establish the National Foundation of Heart Research which is seeking between £1,000,000 and £1,500,000 for this purpose. The only interest this Government has in the foundation is that Professor Ennor willingly took an interest in its work at the request of the members of the foundation. No credit is due to this Parliament or to the Government for its establishment.
All the credit is due to individuals who are interested in this field and other fields of research. lt is not of much use for the Government to say it has not the power to go into these fields, lt can go into any field in cooperation with the States, as it did in connexion with tuberculosis. Incidentally, as 1 have stated before, all credit for the work done in connexion with tuberculosis is due to the Chifley Government; this Government has merely continued the campaign. Over the years, £53,000,000 has been spent on this work, and excellent results have been achieved.
We should consider this question of national health not only from the humanitarian point of view but from the point of view of the economic benefits achieved. The death rate from tuberculosis has been reduced from 25 to 5.8 per 100,000 of the population. Surely honorable senators will agree that each of the individual lives saved has an economic value of thousands of pounds to the community and the nation. Do honorable senators on the Government side ever consider the value of getting people back into industry much earlier than would have been possible but for this campaign? The tuberculosis campaign has cost £53,000,000 to date, but I venture the opinion that the economic value of the lives saved and of the earlier return of sufferers to industry would be well over £100,000,000. Further, I emphasize that much of the progress about which the Leader of the Government in the Senate boasts is due to those people who do this great work and render such good service in the interests of the country.
I come now to a disease which, although not a killer, certainly takes many people from industry. I refer to rheumatism. Very few hospitals are doing anything about it, and the National Government is not giving a lead. Those hospitals which have established special clinics for rheumatics have done an inestimable amount of good in many cases. Do not honorable senators think that the Commonwealth Government, and we as a parliament, have a responsibility, if not to take the lead, then at least to show the States the way?
I know that cancer poses a big problem and that possibly we have not sufficient money to embark upon a great research campaign to ascertain its causes, but certainly we could1 make our contribution to such a cause. But there are certain fields of research which the Government could enter. Industrial hygiene is one of them. At the moment the Commonwealth does little more than tinker with that problem. Then there is the matter mentioned so often by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin, the care of the aged, a medical science known as geriatrics. This Government is doing nothing about that.
Let us now consider other matters. Only to-day Senator Hannan asked about what happens to the pensions of those unfortunate people who are admitted to hospitals for the treatment of mental disease. I do not think that any government has ever done the fair thing by pensioners committed to mental hospitals, but at least, prior to the advent of the Liberal-Australian Country Party Government, which has been in office now for ten years and had the opportunity during all that time to correct this gross injustice, a contribution of between lOd. and ls. a day was made to provide them with some comforts. Certainly that could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a magnificent contribution but this Government has been so pinchpenny in its Shylockism that it even took that away.
Senator Henty, who represents the Minister for Health in this Senate, says that constitutional difficulties arise in that the patients are committed to the custodial care of the States. Apparently that constitutional difficulty did not exist when the payment of between lOd. and ls. was made. This Government is so mean that it will not even give to these institutions the ordinary payment of 8s. a day for hospital care of patients. It cannot be claimed that this is due to an oversight in drafting the act; the act specifically provides that mental hospitals and institutions are excluded from benefit. Does that suggest that this Government has any sense of national responsibility so far as health is concerned? However, I do pay tribute to Sir Earle Page who realized in 1954 that these unfortunate people were suffering a tremendous disability and who appointed Dr. Stoller, an authority in mental diseases, to report upon the matter.
– He is one of the best in the world.
– I agree that he is an eminent authority. Whether he is the best in the world is another matter. I do not deny that he might be. He was assisted by Mr. Arscott. The terms of reference were wide enough to enable them to render excellent advice to the government of the day. But neither it nor any government that has succeeded it has done much. Let us see whether the terms of reference were wide enough. They included the investigation of existing facilities which covered patient accommodation, recreational accommodation, ancillary accommodation, staff accommodation, administrative accommodation, and site, with particular reference to suitability for expansion. They also embraced investigations relating to patients, including numbers, type and ages, plans by the States for the future, capital expenditure involved, maintenance costs, administration, services for persons not certified, both governmental and private, staff, medical treatment, teaching facilities, ancillary services, preventive programme, and recommendations as to necessary charges. That was surely a wide field. What was the end result? The Commonwealth agreed to find fi 0,000,000 provided the States found £20,000,000, to meet the hospital building needs. Incidently, when the report was made 29,000 patients- were accommodated in buildings designed to hold 24,000 patients. There was over-crowding to the extent of 5,000 patients. Dr. Stoller reported that he thought that by 1965 there would be a shortage of 20,000 beds. His report was that no State had any reason to be proud of its efforts in this field. Victoria, of all the States, was the least badly off - to put it mildly - and Queensland came next. The rest were so bad that they could not be classified. He reported that there was overcrowding of patients, inefficient attention, an absence of ancillary services, no skilled services available, a minimum of research and so on. This Government, to meet the crying need of these unfortunate people, came forth cold-bloodedly with a financial offering of £10,000,000. At the end of nearly five years, £4,355,000 has been made available from that source. With the £2 provided by the States for every £1 provided by the Commonwealth, that means that approximately £13,000,000 has been spent. The cost per bed for mental patients is much less than that for general and acute medical and surgical cases. Let us put the cost at £4,000. Dr. Stoller put it at £3,000, but it would, of course, have increased since then. That means that we have provided for only 3,000 people, yet in 1954-55 there was over-crowding to the extent of 5,000 patients, with a prospect of the figure rising to about 20,000 in 1965.
How interested is the Minister for Health in this problem? Although £4,355,000 has been advanced, the Minister does not know how many extra beds have been provided for these people. He knows how much money has been advanced, but when he was asked a question about this matter recently, he could not say what the money had brought into being. That shows that the Government is not really interested in this problem. Supporters of the Government believe that if they can show that a certain amount has been spent, irrespective of the results of the expenditure, that is all they need when they address the people on this subject at the hustings.
There is work for the future. There is not a director of mental hygiene in the Commonwealth Department of Health, but one should be appointed. There is much work to be done in eliminating overcrowding, in improving medical standards, in training professional staff, in improving clinics, in early diagnosis and in research. How can we expect results from this Government when the latest report of the Director-General of Health that is available to members of Parliament and to the general public is that for the year ended 30th June, 1956? On 19th November, 1959, that is the latest information that is available to us. Does that not suggest that there is no pep in that department and no verve in the Minister? Is that sort of thing synonymous with progress in this field? I have been trying for about two months to get a later report of the Director-General. It may appear in a month or so because of my efforts. I think it is a scandal that we have to wait so long for information, particularly when it is proposed to spend £66,000,000 this year on medical, dental and other services associated with the Department of Health. The Bureau of Census and Statistics can give us information on other matters up to 30th June, 1958, but for a brochure from the Depart ment of Health we have to wait for three and a half years. Is it any wonder that the health services are not substantially efficient?
We find that the Government proposes to spend approximately £50,000,000 on medical and hospital benefits. The Government will not know, in detail, what it will be spent on. It does not even know the diseases for which it is catering. Why does not the Government face the issue properly? It has always accused Labour of being a leveller of people, but we never attempted levelling on the scale which this Government and its predecessors have attempted in the medical profession. Apart from higher contributions made in respect of visits to specialists’ surgeries, what do we find? In respect of a barium meal, the Government pays £1 17s. 6d. to a boy who has been out of his teaching hospital for two years, has bought a machine and has decided to have a go. It pays the same amount to the most able of the radiologists in the capital cities. In relation to electrocardiographs, the same amount is paid to a junior practitioner as to a senior specialist at a teaching hospital. Is not that levelling? A man who has been one year in practice receives the same contribution from the Commonwealth as the most senior and most competent surgeons in the land. Should not there be recognition of efficiency by a system of differing payments? That could result in a saving to the Government. The Government could suggest to the other States that they follow the lead of Queensland and establish a register of specialists. It is laid down by law in Queensland that a specialist must have received post-graduate training and hold a position at a public hospital. That is simple enough. The establishment of a register of specialists would eliminate any doubt as to who is a specialist, and this would overcome any difficulty concerning a differentiation in fees. I do not think any one would suggest that a junior is not entitled to the same fee as the most efficient man in the land. This conservative Government, whose supporters are always talking in terms of efficiency, is not discriminating between the more efficient and the less efficient practitioners. The adoption of the approach that I suggest could result in a real saving to the Government.
The Government has at no time been successful in stabilizing medical fees, f am not quarrelling with what doctors charge. 1 merely point out that the suggestion has been made that medical fees have not increased commensurately with the depreciation of the £1 during the regime of the Government which promised to put value back into the £1. Years ago, the consultation fee was 10s. 6d. lt has now gone up lo 17s. 6d. However, let us put the matter in perspective. Years ago, in general practice there were some cases for which you were not paid at all. For instance, you did not expect to be paid for treating pensioners. It is to the credit of Sir Earle Page not that the doctors are being paid now for giving medical attention to the pensioners, but that the pensioners are receiving medical services and do not feel that they are under any obligation as a result. A field of financial return has been provided for present-day doctors that was not available to their predecessors.
However, by and large, there is a system of economic blackmail in this field. People cannot afford not to be members of medical and hospital benefit funds because membership is a safeguard if medical catastrophe overtakes them or their dependants. Previously, if a man was unemployed or in receipt of low wages, a doctor either charged a modified fee or did not charge at all.
I am sure that if the Government looks fully into this matter, it will be convinced that a saving can be effected by a proper discrimination between the efficient and the not so efficient practitioner. Every one would regard it as an act of unsurpassed impudence if I approached Mr. Wright, the leading barrister in Hobart, and offered to him a brief at the fee that would be offered to the most junior counsel in Hobart, but that, in effect, is what this Government is doing to the senior and most competent members of the medical profession.
I turn now to the matter of medical and hospital benefit organizations, which the Minister has said repeatedly are popular. If by that he means that many people are members of the organizations, I point out that that is not a measure of popularity, because, by and large, the people have to join these funds as a safeguard against the possibility of a medical catastrophe overtaking them, which would involve them in financial duress. That is the reason they join the organizations. They pay, according to the table, anything from ls. to 4s. for hospital benefits, and 3s. a week for medical benefits. The sum of 7s. is no small contribution for a man on a low wage. It means a sacrifice, and it is only because of the freedom from worry which in some measure is provided that people join these funds.
The history of these funds has not been particularly savoury. When I use the word “ savoury “, I do not use it in a particularly nasty sense. The funds were not financially stable when they were first established, and by no stretch of imagination could the scheme be regarded as being actuarily sound. Honorable senators do not have to take my word for that. Some of the friendly societies had actuaries examine the position. The only organizations that could have possibly borne an epidemic in the early days of their existence were the friendly societies. Most of the other funds had no financial solidity at all. The only thing that gave them a measure of financial stability was that in the process of time they collected a large amount of surplus premiums and they were fortunate enough, in the early days of their existence, not to strike an epidemic. Had they met an epidemic in the early days, or had they not collected surplus premiums, they would have collapsed. The Queensland Government engaged its actuary, Mr. Rutherford, to look into the matter. If any one doubts my statement, I have a copy of “ Hansard “ here which discloses that Mr. Rutherford and the actuary for the friendly societies did examine the position of the funds. They both agreed that the funds were not actuarialy sound.
The Government’s policy was to ge every one to join a fund. The Government attempted to put the States under duress regarding the free hospital treatment they provided. Indeed, the Government was more concerned with the survival of the funds and the elimination of free hospital treatment than it was with the stability or financial solidity of the funds. It is no use honorable senators opposite saying that the Government did not intend to abolish free hospital treatment. Let us cast our minds back a few years. On 1st July, 1946, an agreement between the Chifley Government and the States came into effect, lt was agreed that the Commonwealth would make a contribution of 6s. provided the States did not charge for beds in public wards. Hospital costs were then 19s. lOd. a day per patient. In December, 1948, when hospital costs had risen to £1 10s. 6d. a day, the Chifley Government increased the contribution to 8s. a day. Then, unfortunately for the nation the Chifley Government was defeated on 1 0th December, 1949. Honorable senators opposite may disagree with that statement, but it was unfortunate for the nation that the Chifley Government was defeated. Just prior to its defeat it was considering increasing the amount.
Now, eleven years later, although the value of the £1 has decreased by almost half, this Government has still made no further increase in the amount it contributes to the States. The only way in which an increased contribution can be obtained is for a person to join a hospital benefits fund or for the States to eliminate free hospital treatment. Does not that suggest that there may be a measure of conscription here? I am not a lawyer. Senator Wright and Senator McKenna as barristers would be more competent to decide. The Government is not distributing the people’s money, other than that being paid to pensioners, on a universal basis.
The position is that, except in the case of pensioners, the Government will not make a universal contribution unless people are prepared to join a hospital benefits fund. The Commonwealth contribution is 8s., but it can be increased to as much as £1 in the case of those who are prepared to contribute to a hospital benefits fund. No extra payment is made to those people who are either too poor to join a medical fund, or who elect not to join one. There does appear to be a measure of gross discrimination, and I do not think it reflects any credit on the Government.
Regarding the abolition of free hospital treatment, I point out that, subsequent to Queensland retaining its free hospital scheme, Liberal members of Parliament said that they never at any time intended to interfere with the policy of any State Government. The position is that Sir Earle Page commenced negotiations with the Queensland Government in January, 1951 and by August, 1952, the Commonwealth Government had refrained from paying the 8s. a day subsidy, not only to patients in hospitals controlled by the Queensland Government but also to the Mater Public Hospital in Brisbane, and the Xavier and the Montrose homes for crippled children. It could not have been mere stupidity on the part of the Queensland Government in misunderstanding the position. The public institutions in Brisbane not controlled by the Government found themselves in the same position as the Queensland State Government. It was merely because the Queensland Government was strong enough to resist the attempt by Sir Earle Page to eliminate its free hospital scheme, that the scheme had been able to continue. The Government will again, if possible, attempt to eliminate free hospital treatment in Queensland. It is only because politically the Government is not game at the present time to abolish free hospital treatment in Queensland - because it fears the wrath of the people as it would be expressed through the ballot box at the next election - that free hospital treatment is being maintained.
I suggest that there are many fields of endeavour in which the Government should engage. To have rehabilitation remain under the control of the Minister for Social Services is an anachronism. It is a relic of years gone by. Rehabilitation is really a branch of medical science. It constitutes a reconditioning of physical and mental abnormality and helps a patient to face up to life to the extent that remedial therapy can bring that about. Yet rehabilitation is still under the control of the Minister for Social Services. If the Minister for Health was worth his salt, this would be a field which he could pioneer. He could make the Cabinet take notice of him by doing something constructive. Of course, I do not know how I would react if I were surrounded by six legal eagles who were more wedded to destruction by and large, and associated with demolition. They possibly would not listen to the Minister for Health although he could produce evidence to justify, on a health basis, that his portfolio should include the matter of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is based entirely on a knowledge of anatomy and the physiological conditions of the abnormality.
Therapy can correct abnormality and help a patient back to his normal life. I admit that there is a field for social care as well, but it is only an ancillary service. It is not the basic approach, and if the Minister were to think in terms of what this field of medical therapy can mean to people, and to the economy of the nation, then he would give serious consideration to having it placed under medical services and not isolated as it is now. I am not saying that the men and women in the Department of Social Services who engage in rehabilitation work assisting patients are not doing a magnificent job. They are doing really wonderful work. I have seen tangible evidence of it in the various States, but they are limited in their activities by the isolation of the facilities and the absence, not of competent medical staff, but of complete and competent medical staff. They are limited by the absence of the facilities that would go with a proper location, and a proper realization of the importance of this field of medical endeavour. The present Minister for Health has done nothing. He has been content to leave rehabilitation to the Minister for Social Services. Perhaps, on occasions, his department gives advice concerning the competence of individual doctors or others who visit the rehabilitation centres, but his failure to do more than that is unrealistic, and inconsistent with modern practice.
Many honorable senators realize just what rehabilitation has meant to their mates of the First World War and the Second World War in particular. Rehabilitation received an impetus in the First World War. The progress was accelerated by the last war, and the end result may be seen in the fact that to-day many sufferers are serving a useful purpose in the community, both for their own ends and in helping to maintain the economy of the country. Despite all this, rehabilitation is divorced by the Government from medical control. That suggests how unrealistic is the attitude of the Government.
There is a need for a new approach by the Department of Health. Australians, by and large, boast proudly that Australia is, if not the healthiest, one of the healthiest nations in the world. Do we really know whether that is so? No survey of national health has ever been made. More than £50,000,000 will be paid out this year in the form of hospital benefits, medical benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, pensioner medical benefits, pensioner pharmaceutical benefits, anti-tuberculosis measures and so on. With the exception of tuberculosis, we do not know what we are paying that money out for. A piece of paper comes in to the Government and another goes out, with a cheque, to the particular fund or instrumentality.
Health surveys are not new. Other nations have undertaken them. We pride ourselves on being amongst the most progressive of nations. We boast of being ninth or tenth among the trading countries. We speak in grandiose terms of war and peace. We talk of summit conferences and so on, but when it comes to dealing with something fundamental we do nothing. We keep our heads in the clouds of optimism and ignorance. Surely the time has come for a survey to be made of this nation’s health. It is idle for any one to say that that would not be practicable. Records of all kinds are available in the States and elsewhere. There are public hospital records, there are doctors’ history cards, there are private hospital records, in some cases there are medical and hospital fund records, and so on. I realize, of course, that the details of illnesses are not always available from such records.
– Is the honorable senator saying that there should be no pharmaceutical benefits scheme?
– No. Apparently the honorable senator was not listening, for I said that I regarded it as worth while. I praised Sir Earle Page for pioneering it. As I said earlier, it is a poor sinner who has not some virtue, so I have found it possible to pay tribute to the Government.
We boast that we are among the healthiest of nations, but we are ignorant of the real facts. I doubt whether that is the fault of the Department of Health. Probably a survey has not been undertaken because the Government has been too cheese-paring in providing finance. I realize that many of the officials of the Department of Health are brilliant men. All of them are competent and I feel sure that they would advise the Minister correctly, but the Government will not lay £1 on the table unless it can see. in the near future, a return of £1 10s. The Government does not realize that often a childhood disability which is not attended to results in invalidism in middle and old age. Attention to such a disability when a cure is possible represents an indirect economic return to the nation - quite apart from the avoidance of disability, suffering or sorrow. Sometimes we have to wait for our dividends to arrive. Good health may pay dividends, on occasions, after a long period. I know how competent are departmental officials, and I feel sure that they have offered the correct advice. I am equally sure that it has been neglected by the Government. If the present Minister for Health is to retain his popularity and his reputation as a capable practitioner, he must do some pioneering work. All that he has done is fuddle and muddle along, tinkering and tampering with measures that have already been pioneered. Not one piece of pioneering work can be attributed to the Minister. There are many other fields of medical endeavour with which I should be justified in dealing - if only on economic grounds. Let us remember that public health can, in the process of time, become public wealth.
I turn now to some of the contentious issues, and to the misleading information that has been tendered to, and by, various people. The Government has said, not once, but repeatedly, that every one - particularly those who were vitally concerned - knew about the proposed alterations in the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The principals are - to put them in the order adopted by the Minister - the doctors, the chemists and the public. Much as I esteem doctors - most competent judges would agree with me that they are the salt of the earth - and much as I appreciate chemists, I think that we have a parliamentary responsibility to place the people first. The adoption of that order by the Minister may, of course, have been purely accidental. In any event, I shall adopt it also for the sake of convenience.
The way in which the whole matter was introduced was indefinite and confusing. It was first mentioned in the course of the Budget Speech. Next, the Minister was indefinite as to whether charges would be made for prescriptions, or not. One part of the statement referred to a 5s. charge for drugs, but did not indicate whether the whole prescription was meant or whether it applied to two, three or four drugs, such as are embraced by many prescriptions. I commend the Minister for extending the list of pharmaceutical benefits, but no one should attempt to mislead the political representatives of the people, as appears to have been done. We were told that every one knew of the proposals. The Budget was introduced in August. The following appeared in October in the News Bulletin of the Queensland branch of the British Medical Association -
Proposed extension of pharmaceutical benefits. Without any prior consultation with organizations representing doctors or chemists, the Federal Government announced in the Treasurer’s Budget speech on11th August, 1959, that it was proposed to make two important changes in the present system under which pharmaceutical benefits are provided. The Treasurer stated that the list of drugs which may be prescribed had been extended, “so that doctors would have a choice extending virtually over the whole field of drugs and medicines”. It was also stated that a charge of 5s. would be made for each individual prescription, excepting those written under the Pensioner Medical Scheme.
Since then your Federal Council has been attempting to obtain details of the proposals. Even now, and after the Federal Council has had discussions with the Federal Minister for Health, Dr. Cameron, Federal Council has not received any official advice. It is understood, however, that doctors will be able to prescribe in terms of the existing P.M.S. formulary, the existing general pharmaceutical benefit list; any combination of drugs in the British Pharmacopoeia (with a number of minor exclusions) and in terms of a new children’s formulary to be drawn up.
The Minister was informed by Federal Council that it deplored the action of the Government in widening the scope of pharmaceutical benefits without reference to the profession and took strong exception to the scheme as interfering with the profession’s freedom. The Minister was asked to defer the implementation of the scheme pending examination by representatives of the Government, the pharmacists and the medical profession.
The Minister told Federal. Council that it was impossible to defer the matter and that a bill would be introduced into Federal Parliament in the very near future to authorize the alterations to the scheme.
Following further consideration by Federal Council, the Minister has been advised that the Federal Council maintains the principle that absolute freedom of prescribing by the medical profession is vital and that the Federal Council strongly requests that the Minister for Health amend his proposed extension of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme so that all prescriptions come into the scheme except those containing drugs in a list to be drawn up by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.
Branch Council has affirmed these two resolutions and has also passed the following resolutions: -
We recommend to Federal Council that in all negotiations with official bodies about these matters and in the dissemination of publicity on these subjects, the B.M.A. stress that they accept the Government’s policy of extending pharmaceutical benefits to the public provided that such extension does not interfere with our freedom of prescribing. At the same time the B.M.A. should stress that in adopting this policy, they are agreeable to the exclusion of drugs which are considered ot little therapeutic value by a competent professional committee.
That the Federal Council makes urgent representations to the Minister that, as an alternative, it should be allowed to assist the Government in finding another method by which the cost of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme can be stabilized, and the present undesirable element of discrimination between patients, as to eligibility for benefit, reduced.
That is the position regarding the doctors. I do not think 1 need go further in that respect. Not so many years ago, supporters of the present Government parties, which were then in Opposition, castigated Senator McKenna for what they claimed was limitation of the right of prescription. Yet, this Government is adopting that very practice on this occasion! The document I have read bears witness to the fact that the doctors maintain that there was never any prior consultation with them before this mess was created.
The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) has said that the chemists were consulted. Let us see about that. The Pharmaceutical Guild of Australia - and do not forget that it is interested in this matter, not only financially, but also from the point of view of the customers of the chemists - has been prepared to spend £40,000, not necessarily to protect the interests of the guild but to make the public aware of the position, and in an endeavour to persuade the Government to adopt a reasonable approach to the problem. The Government is seeking to make tax collectors of the chemists. In due course, I propose to move an amendment with the object of seeking the abolition of this proposed charge of 5s. for prescriptions. If that amendment is unsuccessful, I shall move a further amendment that those receiving social service benefits, whether for sickness or unemployment, under the Social Services Act, shall be exempt while they are in receipt of those benefits. Such exemption would not be unusual. The Government has specifically provided for it in. relation to medical and hospital benefits. Persons in receipt of social service benefits, are exempt in respect of medical and hospital benefits. Yet, in this case, from an unemployed or sick man the Government will cold-bloodedly take 5s. for the prescription of a drug, although it may be life-saving or necessary to the maintenance of his health.
If people are sick enough to warrant attention by a doctor, in Queensland at least, they may receive the treatment free, and also receive free medicine. This Government proposes to make sick people pay for the drugs that are provided. Incidentally, when the Government commenced this scheme, it suggested that it would represent something of tremendous value to the people. It has represented some value, and the people are appreciative. As a representative of the people, I pay thai tribute to the Government. However, at the same time that the Government confers a benefit it grizzles and snivels about spending the money that the benefit costs. That is what amazes me. The supporters of the Government parties plead for votes on the ground of their charitable and humanitarian approach, but in the next breath they grizzle and snivel at the cost of that approach.
The Government blames the doctors. Does it think that doctors issue prescriptions willy-nilly? If that is done, it is not by malintent, though there may be a measure of ignorance. But, of course, the Government could easily correct that position. It could instruct its departmental officials, as each new antibiotic or drug was prescribed under the scheme, to put out a pamphlet or a brochure, readily readable, setting out the indications of dosages and the contra-indications. But the Government does not do that, lt allows the drugs to go on the market. This is the practice in making available drugs to the public. After some months have passed, it receives a recommendation from the advisory committee. It takes more months for the Minister to adopt the recommendation, and it takes even more months for the matter to be gazetted after the information has been tendered. That is the humanitarian approach! Sometimes, there is a delay of as much as eight or twelve months, after advice has been tendered as to the efficiency of the drug, before it is made available to the people under the Government’s so-called charitable scheme and its avowed desire to helD humanity.
The Government, of course, is not very popular with the chemists, as I shall show by information in my possession. The prescribing fee of 3s., which is allowed for the compounding of some of these drugs, has remained the same since 1953, as has the fee of ls. 6d. for what are described as ready-prepared drugs or tablets. The Government says that there is no work for the chemists in that connexion. Does it not think that the chemist has to look at the prescription to make sure that the dosage is consistent with safety, that the drugs are embraced by the pharmaceutical formulary, that the number specified is correct, and that the number of repeats is consistent with the law? Does the Government not realize that if the prescription is for tablets, the chemist has to count the tablets; that if it is for a mixture, the mixture has to be poured out; that if it is for capsules, the capsules have to be counted and put in containers which have to be labelled and wrapped; and that the transaction has to be entered in the records? The chemists have to suffer endless and intolerable book work, which is popular only with public servants. I suggest that very few people outside the Public Service appreciate book work, other than reading. The chemists certainly do not appreciate the work involved in the number of entries that are required. There has been an extension of this book work over the years. It is burdensome.
Irrespective of the submissions made by the Pharmaceutical Guild, which represents all the pharmacists, including the friendly societies, regarding the cost of dispensing, this intolerant Government has done nothing. At least, a tribute to the fairness of the chemists, as witnessed by their co-operation in subsequent years, was paid to them by the Labour Government which accepted guild prices, determined after accounting investigation as the basis for dispensing. This Government, which is so wedded, as it says periodically, to paying for a man’s work, apparently is not prepared to pay for the work of the chemists.
Let us have a look at the position of the chemists. To start with, there is a divisor factor as regards drugs. The present Government was prepared to cheesepare even on that and to cut it down. It therefore was rather quick out of the starting blocks so far as the chemists are concerned. The Government agreed to vary the dispensing fee, consistent with changes in wages and overhead costs. Never at any time has it accepted guild prices. Yet those are prices that have been determined in States in which price fixing still operates. Do not honorable senators think that a government, if only to gain popularity, would try to keep prices down as low as possible? In an attempt to decide on a proper dispensing fee, the time taken in dispensing prescriptions has been taken into consideration. The private fees range from 6s. to 7s. 6d., 7s. 9d., 15s. and up to 36s., but whatever it is, the Government gives 3s., except for ready prepared drugs. There is no provision at all for an average. In some cases there is a higher fee for dispensing for pensioners under the pensioners’ pharmaceutical benefits scheme, whilst for those readily prepared items chemists get as little as ls. 6d.
The chemists did not come forward and seek a higher price without justification. First, they had an accountancy investigation of a cross section of firms in Victoria. In Sydney they employed reputable accountants to investigate what was done by a cross section of firms, both large and small. Those investigations showed that, by and large, the dispensing of medicines under the pharmaceutical benefits formula did not pay. Should some one claim later that there is a profit in the mark-up, I say now that even that has been cut down. Previously, where there was a mark-up of 50 per cent, to provide for wastage, the passing out of use of certain drugs, the changing habits of doctors and so on, this Government has insisted on a 33i per cent, mark-up. It would not consider anything else. Each time the Pharmaceutical Guild of Australia and the dispensaries, including the friendly societies’ dispensaries, sought a change they found themselves pushed against a brick wall. The Government was so intolerant that of a membership of nine on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, the Health Department has four representatives and the Pharmaceutical Guild of Australia four members, but the so-called independent chairman is a nominee of the Department of Health.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– This bill provides for an alteration of the National Health Act in four specific ways. Senator Dittmer, who led the debate on behalf of the Opposition, spoke for one hour, but for approximately 46 minutes of that hour he did not in any way touch upon the proposals contained in the bill. lt is true that we had from him a most interesting . discourse, covering a wide canvas and dealing with such matters as the area medical service and dental attention. His speech was interspersed with a bit of alliteration when he talked of dithering and ducking over the tick problem. He went on to refer to such matters as value in the .£1 and heart research, again interspersed with such terms as “ grizzling “ and “ snivelling “, and he followed that extraordinary contribution with a description of the way in which a chemist mixes his medicine and puts it in a bottle. It was all very interesting, and perhaps to some it is an absorbing subject, but it had no relationship to the bill before the Senate. Even that part of his speech that dealt with medical matters might more appropriately have been delivered when the Budget and the Estimates were under consideration.
If I understood the honorable senator aright he was, in some of his references, critical of the Government’s hospital and medical proposals as well as its enactments, and therefore, it is only fair that I should remind the Senate of what actually has been done by this Government in the broad field of health. The first thing that we should bear in mind is that the national health scheme was, in fact, established by this Government. Secondly, I point out that the Government pays about £25,000,000 a year in respect of hospital benefits which are an integral part of this legislation, and that another £17,000,000 is expended annually in connexion with the medical benefits scheme. The Government has, moreover, provided a free medical service for pensioners and, by arrangement with the States, it contributes large sums for free hospital benefits for pensioners. In addition, it pays a subsidy, on a £2 for £1 basis with the States, for the building of homes for the aged. Nor is that all. The Government spends millions of pounds each year in the treatment of tuberculosis in association with the States. I mention this fact because Senator Dittmer referred to it. The Commonwealth Government also provides millions of pounds of capital expenditure to cater for patients suffering from tuberculosis, as well as large sums for ordinary maintenance charges. As Senator Dittmer also made reference to the Stoller report and mental health, it is proper to record that this Government has provided £10,000,000, on a £1 for £1 basis with the States, for capital works for the hospital treatment of the mentally ill.
There has been a good deal of idle talk about the Chifley Government and its hospital service scheme, but the plain fact is that the Chifley-McKenna scheme failed because the people and the doctors and those associated with them would not have a bar of it.
– Not the people!
– Most of them. There is now in operation, under this Government, a voluntary scheme which is popular with the people because it is acceptable to the temperament and character of the Australian community. That scheme is an unqualified success, and even on Senator Dittmer’s own figures the Government is providing £50,000,000 a year for it.
I have here some figures showing that before this Government came into office in 1949 -nothing at all was paid by the previous government for pharmaceutical benefits, for a pensioner medical service, or for hospital benefits in respect of pensioners in public hospitals. I compare that situation with the fact that by 30th June, 1959, this Government had provided £20,972,000 for pharamaceutical benefits, including benefits for pensioners, £3,806,000 for pensioner medical services, and, by arrangement with the States, £1,649,000 for pensioners in public hospitals. I have felt constrained to ‘bring out these points because of the remarks of Senator Dittmer who whilst giving us an interesting dissertation as leader of the debate on behalf of the Opposition, said very little in relation to the bill, and when he - did refer to it, distorted what this Government had done and made very little reference to anything done by the previous government.
At the outset I pointed out that this bill contains four main propositions. First, it increases medical benefits in respect of 141 items; secondly, it widens the definition of hospitals to be recognized under the hospitals special account fund; thirdly, it greatly widens the list of pharmaceutical benefits; and, fourthly, it provides for a payment of 5s. for each prescription made up by a chemist. As the Opposition has presented no case that calls for an answer, I propose briefly to refer to those four propositions. I shall deal first with increased medical benefits. In this connexion the point to remember is that under these proposals as they apply to expensive surgery, major operations for instance, those who embrace the new scheme, which will come into operation from 1st January next, will be able, for the payment of the modest sum of 6d. a week for a family unit, or 3d. a week for a single person, to receive increased benefits from the Commonwealth Government and the fund amounting’ to 100 per cent, in certain circumstances. Whereas previously they could receive a maximum payment of £30 towards the cost of major surgery, they will be able to receive a maximum of £60. The new table will require an increase of about 6d. :i week in the weekly instalment.
Another important matter in relation to the medical benefits scheme, which will contain about 140 items, is that the provision for transferring persons over 65 years of age to the special account fund is to be eliminated. I think all will agree that this is a very good feature. When we come to deal with hospital funds, I shall have some comment to make on this important matter. Medical benefit fund officials have said that, contrary to expectations and popular belief that people over 65 years of age would be a heavy burden on funds and therefore should be dealt with by special arrangement with the Commonwealth under the special account system, experience has shown that they are not the burden expected. Therefore, we are able to encompass them in schemes in the normal way, and they will not necessarily be transferred to special accounts.
I want to make only one other point in relation to the proposal that the benefit will increase, in some instances, from £30 to £60. We should try to ensure that this gets the widest possible publicity. I speak as one who has had some experience of hospitals. It is regrettably true that often people do not become aware of their rights and privileges, and the benefits that may be acquired, until they are confronted by serious sicknesses. Then people enter hospital, thinking that they are on Table 4B, only to find that they have not been kept informed and up to date on the operation of tables. They find that they cannot get the benefits they expected to get. Now increased benefits and advantages will be available on a new table, and we as parliamentarians, as well as the Department of Health and officials of fund organizations, have a duty to give-the widest possible publicity to ensure that everybody who desires to embrace the new table may do so.
The bill will also clear up the vexing question of recognized hospitals. We all know that when the bill was brought down initially, there were heart-burnings and some suggestions of disadvantages to certain people who were in hospitals, or rather in institutions that approximated hospitals, which did not qualify for special account benefit. We all know that right across the face Of the continent are hospitals and other places where elderly people, particularly, may go, but where the service given falls short of normal hospital service. An aged member of my own family was in a hospital where, we were horrified to find, the service more or less stopped when night-time came and certain members of the staff went off duty. As soon as we found this out, we got that person, who was very dear to our hearts, away from that place. All over the Commonwealth there are places of that type which, no doubt because of the economics of the situation, cannot provide a 24-hour nursing and hospital service.
So a doubt arose as to the places that were covered by the legislation. The Government has looked at . this matter. I am speaking in the broad when I say that the wording is to be amended to clear up any doubt and to make more certain which institutions qualify for the special account benefit and which do not. The latter will still receive the Commonwealth benefit, and it will be possible for certain people to have an income of up to £11 in hospital benefit and social service benefit.
The bill clarifies an element of doubt in the situation where there are some longtermers and some short-termers. Some people get hospital services that fall short of what the Government regards as pure hospital services but qualify for a benefit under the act. The bill will widen the field in relation to pharmaceutical drugs. Under the general scheme the public has been entitled to receive free of charge a limited list of drugs. When medicines or drugs not included in the list were prescribed by doctors, the patient had to pay for them. We all know that the original idea of free life-saving drugs was the starting point. The figures are interesting. When the Government introduced this provision in 1951-52, the cost was £7,600,000. In 1955 it had risen to £10,700,000. In 1956 it was £11,800,000 and by 1958 it had increased to £15,000,000. I am told that by the time the next Budget is presented, the cost will have increased by no less than £3,000,000 in one year. Ever since the inception of the scheme there has been a demand for the inclusion in the list of more and more life-saving and other drugs. That is very understandable. It has been the experience in both New Zealand and Great Britain. The plain fact of the matter is that if the Government stood by and did nothing about the problem, free medicine would put completely out of balance all of the Government’s financial plans. In providing social and medical services, the Government must relate them to our economy. If the cost of free medicine is allowed to rise to astronomical heights, as it has done, as we can budget for only a certain amount something must suffer. I think we all appreciate that the biggest problem any government has is to frame its Budget on a fair and equitable basis having regard to its overall national problems. It cannot just let things run and find their own level. After all, it comes back to the old principle that if one has only 20s. one cannot possibly make 21s. out of it. The Government is limited to a Budget of £1,500,000,000, and it has to adjust its expenditure accordingly. That being so, some restraint has to be placed upon the rising cost of free medicine; some adjustment has to be made.
The Government proposes first to widen substantially the list of free drugs. It will now cover almost every item included in the comprehensive pensioner list. There will be certain exclusions to which I shall refer later. In addition, every person who has a prescription made up will be obliged to pay 5s. towards the cost. Before dealing with that point, I should like to revert to the proposed widening of the proposed pharmaceutical list. We all know that with the frequent taking of certain drugs there is a tendency to build up a resistance to their effect. I should like to hear a dissertation by Senator Dittmer on this because I am sure that he will agree in broad principle with what I say. If certain of the modern drugs are taken too frequently without any justification other than a desire to effect a quick cure, resistance to them could be built up in certain cases.
– It does not depend so much on the constant taking of the drugs. It depends upon the strength of the drugs and the sensitivity of the patient.
– That describes the position better than I could describe it. As there is the possibility of building up resistance in certain instances, it is essentia] that in widening the free list we should keep something back which can be used in extreme circumstances if we are to carry out our responsibility for the medical care of the people of Australia. The drug used to combat golden staph is one I have in mind. I should think that if a drug is included in the list of free drugs and prescribed indisciminately, it is possible that at a time when a patient’s condition becomes critical it will have lost some of its efficacy. Therefore, I submit that when we are widening the free list we should hold something back to guard against this building up of tolerance to drugs.
If I happen to have a common cold and a doctor seeks to prescribe one of the modern drugs, the first thing I ask him is whether there is any danger that if T use the drug to cure the common cold it will be efficacious subsequently if I should happen to suffer from pneumonia. T submit that it is essential that something be held back to meet the case of extreme emergency, to be sure of full efficacy when an illness becomes dangerous.
The fourth point to which I wish to refer is the proposal to charge 5s. for the dispensing of each prescription. I have already mentioned the experience in Great Britain in connexion with the free medical service. The imbalance in the economy caused by rapidly increased expenditure on free medicine became so great that the Government was forced to make drastic alterations in the scheme. Whereas we propose that a payment of 5s. shall be made for each prescription dispensed, I understand that in the United Kingdom the charge is ls. for each ingredient used in making up the prescription. In other words, if a prescription contains six or seven ingredients, the patient pays 6s. or 7s. for its dispensing. Irrespective of the arithmetic of the matter the principle is established. The people of Great Britain experienced the same trouble as we are encountering. They met their difficulty first, and we are following them. We are proposing that 5s. be paid for the dispensing of each prescription.
– But that charge will not apply to pensioners.
– The pensioner will still get medicine free of cost. As I pointed out earlier, this scheme commenced when the present Government attained office in 1949.
Whilst we all enjoyed Senator Dittmer’s contribution to the debate, the point that emerged is that he did not offer any real criticism of the bill. There does not appear to me to be a case for the Government to answer. The bill stands on its own merits. It contains four main proposals designed to serve the best interests of the Australian community and to ensure that not only will the present magnificent service to the people be continued but also even better health will be enjoyed by the community at large. I support the bill.
– The purpose of the bill is to amend the National Health Act in four main particulars. First it seeks to increase 140 items in the list of 1,000 medical benefits provided. I emphasize that it seeks to increase the benefits in connexion with only 140 out of 1,000 items. It also pro poses that the Government will double its contribution to these benefits. The Government has laid much stress on the fact that medical benefits are to be doubled. That is not the true position, and for several reasons. First, the increase relates to only 140 of 1,000 items. Further, there has been no word from the benefit organizations as to the extent to which they will increase their contributions. We do not know whether they propose to double their payments to contributors. Certainly I seenothing in the bill which will compel them to do so. We do not know what, benefit the community may get from the increased Government contribution and I see nothing in the bill that prevents medical practitioners from increasing their charges.
– And they will increase them!
– They might do so. Time alone will disclose that. The second proposal is to widen the definition of hospitals recognized under the special account system. The third is to extend substantially the list of pharmaceutical benefits. The fourth proposal is to charge 5s. for each prescription dispensed under the National Health Act. The Australian Labour Party, of course, will oppose that proposition. Senator Dittmer has indicated that he will move an amendment seeking to delete the proposed charge of 5s. That is the proposition in this bill to which we are mainly opposed.
Senator Dittmer read out a long screed from the British Medical Association to the effect that there had been no consultation with that body. I do not know whether the Minister for Health has had any consultation with the B.M.A. really, or whether the Government has received an assurance from the association that there will be no increase in charges. If the Minister has received such an assurance from the B.M.A. . I think it is time that the Senate was told about it, because naturally, when there is some public money available, some one wants to pick it up easily. It is conceivable that the members of the B.M.A. will increase their charges. Whether an increase would be justified, I do not know. But the fact is that there is no guarantee in the measure before us that there will be a flow of benefit to the people. The Government says that it is doubling its contributions to the provision of medical benefits. I believe that the Government should take action to protect the interests of the public by ensuring that if increases in medical fees are made, they will be fair and reasonable. After all, the taxpayers as a whole, have to provide this money, and action should be taken to ensure that they are not exploited in the interests of the professional men.
The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) stated in his Budget speech that direct taxation would be reduced by 5 per cent. Although the Government has made great play on that, what does a 5 per cent, decrease in direct taxation mean?
– One shilling in the £1.
– To an average person - one in receipt of an income of £1,500 a year, or less - it represents a reduction of tax of approximately 6d. per week. Yet under the proposals contained in this bill benefit organizations will increase the weekly payments by contributors by from 6d. to 9d. Therefore, in one fell swoop, the benefit that a family man will receive from the reduction of taxation will be wiped out, if he wants to maintain his membership, of a fund to protect his wife and children.
– The fund members will receive a much better coverage by payment of the additional amount.
– That may be so. I shall deal with that aspect of the matter later. I believe that the Government is being deceitful when it says to the people, in effect, “ We are going to reduce your tax by 6d. a week”, because an outside organization will be allowed to take that amount, or more, from them.
– The honorable senator should know that it is not compulsory for people to insure.
– This Government has adopted the policy of compelling the people to join an organization. It has adopted a dictatorial policy over the years. If one is not wealthy, he must join an organization in order to obtain benefits. If a family man wishes to protect’ the health of his family, bearing in mind the fact that medical costs have risen, he is compelled to belong to an organization.
– It is very cheap pro*tection. I am a member of a fund.
– I, also, am a member of a fund, into which I have paid 7s. a week ever since it started. I have never had a call on the organization.
– You are more fortunate than others have been.
– I do not know whether or not I have been more fortunate than others, but I do know that, under the Chifley Government, I could get hospital treatment.
– If you could get into a hospital.
– I got into a hospital when I wanted treatment. When the Minister is replying in due course, I should like him to tell me how many hospitals this Government has built and which people needing hospital treatment can get into. For evidence of the compulsion to which I have referred, we need only turn to clause 4 to see that proposed, new section 14 (2.) provides -
If, on the date on which the professional service was rendered, any contributions due and payable to the organization in respect of the contributor had not been paid and, by reason of the non-payment, the organization was entitled to refuse payment of fund benefits in respect of medical services rendered to the contributor, Commonwealth benefit is not payable in respect of the professional service unless-
This is the position: The people pay taxes in order to support a medical benefits scheme, but unless they belong to an organization they cannot receive the Government benefit. It is compulsory for a person to join an organization in order to receive a benefit that is provided from money raised in taxes. If there exists any greater degree of compulsion than that, I want to know what it is. After all, the people of this country should be entitled to receive the benefits provided by legislation, whether or not they belong to an organization.
– I feel that the honorable senator has a compulsion complex.
– Yes, I have developed a compulsion complex since I came into this Parliament. Day after day, I have seen the dictatorial attitude adopted by the Government. One develops that type of complex in those circumstances. I should like now to direct attention to some aspects of the principal act, particularly sections 17 and 19. Under section 17, a benefit in respect of an anaesthetist is payable only when a doctor administers the anaesthetic.
– A doctor is not always available to administer anaesthetic.
– That is quite right. In a city where there are a lot of doctors, there is usually a doctor available to administer anaesthetic, but in the back country there may be only one doctor available to perform an operation and the anaesthetic is administered by a nurse or the matron at the hospital. Although a charge is made, the unfortunate sick person cannot receive a benefit. That happens right throughout the north-west of Western Australia and also, I dare say, in the outback portions of New South Wales and Queensland.
– It is not permissible in Victoria.
– Victoria has been riding on the back of the rest of Australia for many years, and I suppose it will continue to do so for a while longer. The fact is that, by the exclusion contained in section 17, people who should receive a benefit do not receive it.
– That is not so. Under section 17, payments are made in respect of people in isolated places.
– According to the information I have received from people who live in the outback areas, they do not receive a benefit.
– They do.
– They do not. I have been in the outback areas and therefore I know a little about this subject. I should like now to refer to section 19, which completely excludes the part of Western Australia north of Carnarvon. No person in that part of Australia is entitled under the principal act to receive a medical benefit.
– But they are required to pay their taxes.
– The Government makes great play of the fact that as those people are in Zone A they receive a taxation rebate on £180. What the Government does not say is that, in various other ways, it takes that amount from them. A proportion of the money that those people pay in taxes goes towards the amount provided by the Government as medical benefits, but they cannot receive a medical benefit. Apart from the fact that sometimes one dentist is at Carnarvon for approximately six months of the year, there are no dental services available north of Northampton.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have been dealing with conditions that apply in the northwest of Western Australia. Senator Henty said that a payment would be made for anaesthetics in that area, but I want to assure the Senate that that is not so. Under section 19 the whole of that part of Australia is excluded from the operation of the medical benefits section of the National Health Act. It is virtually excluded from any other benefits because there are no hospital benefits organization agencies in the area. There is a chemist shop at Carnarvon where one can buy stamps, and in Derby one can buy stamps at Rowell’s store.
– You are referring to section 19?
– Our disputation was over section 17.
– Section 17 deals with anaesthetics.
– That is what we were discussing, but now you have jumped to section 19.
– The Government, in its legislation, has discriminated against an area which although it has only a small population is very large in size. I know that on occasions, representations have been made to the Minister for Health to waive this provision, but he has refused to do so.
In July 1958, the Labour Government in Western Australia agreed to pay the benefits that would accrue to the people living in this area out of its own funds, but the State is being penalized for that. We know that the Commonwealth Grants Commission takes into consideration the expenditure incurred by a State. On page 70 of the twenty-sixth report of the commission, paragraph 174, we find it stated -
The simple average of the net per capita expenditure on social services in the non-claimant
States was 402s. 4d. The adjustments in respect of expenditure on social services are arrived at in the following way. For each claimant State, the standard per capita expenditure is multiplied by the mean population. To the amount so obtained, a percentage is added for greater difficulties in providing comparable services in that State. The percentage allowances for South Australia and Western Australia are the same in this Report, as in the 25th Report, but the allowance for Tasmania has been raised to 15 per cent., compared with the allowance made in the 25th Report of 12 per cent, plus £30,000 (see paragraphs 73-91). The resultant amount for each claimant State is then compared with the actual expenditure of that State, and an adjustment is made for the difference.
The relevant calculations are then given, and for Western Australia, on a basis of 402s. 4d. a head the amount is £14,053,000. The allowance for greater difficulties at 12 per cent, amounts to £1,686,000. The actual expenditure is shown and the unfavourable adjustment amounts to £834,000. That is the burden that the people of Western Australia have to bear in order that the people living in the north-western area of that State can get the benefits which should be provided for them under this act, but which the Commonwealth Government will not apply to them, although they are paying taxes.
It is interesting to look at the services that are supplied. In fairness to the Minister for Health I should say -that not all of that £834,000 is related to health; some is related to the whole social services scale. The amount that the Western Australian Government is paying in respect of health is 134s. 4d. per head, the second highest health contribution in Australia. The average payment is 119s. 7d. The amount paid by Queensland is higher than that paid by Western Australia by 5s. 8d., being 140s. Those figures can be found on page 122 of the report to which I have just referred. It will be seen that the people in the northern portion of Western Australia are being harshly treated by the present Government.
It is known to the Senate that the Labour Party will, during the debate on this measure, move an amendment designed to disallow the charge of 5s. per prescription that is proposed in the bill. The Opposition thinks that the imposition of that charge is very harsh. However, an examination of the position in the north of Western Australia reveals that the people in that area are presently paying 10s. per prescription. It does not matter what they want; whether it be a packet of Aspros or anything else, the only place at which it can be obtained is the hospital because there are no chemists north of Carnarvon. The people have to pay a charge of 10s. for everything that they get. In case there is any doubt in the minds of honorable senators I emphasize that medical treatment in that part of the world is not free. The only service that I know of that is in any way free is the dental treatment that is given by the Victorian branch of the Royal Flying Doctor Service once a year. That service is given in an area covering Broome, Derby and Wyndham. The Commonwealth Government has power to deal with dental services, but it has done nothing in the area from Port Hedland to Carnarvon. It means that if something has to be done the doctor has to do it, and if he is not able to do it, it will not be done. The doctors in these towns are also attached to the Flying Doctor Service and they might be out on what we call the “ milk run “ around the stations. If a person wants attention he has to fly to Geraldton or Perth. I think it is time that the Commonwealth Government, before lauding this legislation, removed the anomalies and injustices that apply to people living in this part of the world, and gave them treatment similar to that given to other parts of Australia. If the Government is not prepared to apply its act to residents in this part of Australia, it should ensure that the Western Australian Government is adequately reimbursed for providing services which the Commonwealth Government refuses to provide.
I said previously that this is an act that compels people to do certain things. The element of compulsion operates in two ways. First of all it is compulsory for the persons who contribute the taxes to belong to a benefit fund in order to obtain the benefits provided by the act. It is no answer to say that a person does not have to join a fund, because unless he does so he will not even get the Commonwealth benefit other than the 8s. that was provided by the Chifley Government without a means test. It is compulsory in another direction. The Government is treading on very dangerous ground when, despite the provision of the Constitution which it induced the B.M.A. to use against the Chifley legislation, it compels a chemist to charge 5s. for a prescription - or lose his registration. The Constitution provides that there shall be no conscription of labour. At two places in the bill there is evidence, by implication at least, that the Government proposes to use conscripted labour. The issue may be contested. Some of the friendly societies are supporters of the Labour Party and they will probably take a test case to the High Court to establish whether or not chemists can be compelled to collect taxes on behalf of the Government. Labour has always been interested in the welfare of the people and it does not intend to allow this Government to get away with that sort of thing unchallenged.
I realize that the Minister is only representing his colleague here, but if he is able to do so 1 urge him to let the Senate know what arrangements have been made with the B.M.A. to ensure that medical fees will not be raised above a reasonable level. I realize that all of us endeavour constantly to improve our standards of living - not that there is very much wrong with the standard enjoyed by the medical profession - so there could be an argument for reasonable increases in medical charges. What I would like to know is whether any arrangements have been made with the B.M.A. to ensure that the additional sum of £11 5s., payable by the Commonwealth in respect of major operations, will not be swallowed up by higher medical fees.
I would also like the Minister to tell me whether any firm negotiations have been conducted with medical benefit organizations as to the amount that they will contribute to medical expenses. I have not yet ascertained, from my reading of the press, whether the medical benefit organizations have committed themselves in any way in the matter of increasing their contributions. All that I have seen have been statements to the effect that if the payments by the organizations are increased, the weekly contributions of subscribers will be raised from 6d. to 9d. The organizations may have a little more human kindness than we realize and may feel that a sufficiently heavy burden is already being placed upon contributors. They may decide not to increase their charges and to grant by way of extra benefit only the additional amount which the Commonwealth Government will provide. I would like the Minister to make a firm statement on that matter. I shall reserve what more I have to say until the bill is in committee.
– I intend to confine my remarks to a discussion of section 9 (i) (d) of the principal act. which states that the GovernorGeneral may provide or arrange the provision of -
Teaching, research and advisory services tor or in relation to the improvement of health or the prevention of disease.
I hope, in a constructive way, to put before the Government a proposition for dealing with research into dental health. In the last few years the Government and the people have begun to realize the need for public health measures, applied on a wide scale. Some of the measures which come to mind immediately are pensioner medical benefits, the pharmaceutical benefits, the subsidies for hospital benefits, and the antiT.B. and anti-polio campaigns - to mention only a few. But no public health measure can be successful if it does not make provision for better dental health. The dental health of the average person is of great importance to his general health. The effect of bad teeth upon general health is now being studied and recognized by leading medical authorities. In the older person the loss of an effective masticatory system by the use of antiquated or illfitting dentures so restricts his food intake as to jeopardize his health.
I submit that ours is a nation of dental cripples. The first step in the study and development of dental care, and dental health services, is an assessment of the dental needs of the people - a survey of the incidence and prevalence of dental diseases, especially caries and malocclusion in children. This is urgently necessary In Australia. There has, however, recently been an investigation of the kind in New South Wales. Senator Dittmer referred to it at an earlier stage. Barnard examined some 6,787 school children aged between six and fifteen years. His figures may be compared with those from New Zealand, which were reported by Fulton and published by the World Health Organization in 1951. Fulton examined 4,072 children between the ages of seven and fourteen.
The comparison reveals a significant difference in standards of dental health as between the two countries. Australian school children in that age group have five times as many unfilled, decayed teeth, half as many fillings, and seven times as many extractions as have New Zealand children. According to figures supplied by the Australian dental health authorities, not more than 20 per cent, of Australian school children receive State dental care, but in New Zealand the figure is 95 per cent. There must be a significant relationship between the higher percentage of care in New Zealand during childhood and the lower percentage of dental decay, extractions, and so on. Clearly, the teeth of Australian school children have been neglected for so long that seven times as many extractions are necessary.
Once a tooth has been attacked by disease the evidence remains to be observed in the mouth of the person as an untreated carious lesion - which is a decayed hollow tooth - as a dental filling, or as a space from which the tooth has been removed following lack of attention. Taking advantage of these facts, public health dentistry has developed an accurate, yet comparatively simple, procedure for measuring these conditions. This method of counting is known as D.M.F. “ D “ represents the number of diseased and untreated teeth, “ M “ represents the number of permanent teeth that are missing because they have been neglected and have had to be extracted, and “ F “ represents the teeth that have been filled. This method has been tested so thoroughly and found to be so practical that it has become the standard way of assaying dental health.
It is of interest to compare D.M.F. reports in regard to fourteen-year-old children of various countries. A report by Knutson, of Minnesota, in the United States of America, showed that 7.8 teeth per child were affected by disease in the three categories I have suggested.
– That is the aggregate of the three categories?
– That is right - diseased and untreated, missing, and filled. Grace, in Pennsylvania, made a similar survey which showed that 8.4 teeth per child were affected. Finn, in New York, made a similar survey, which showed that 8.6 teeth were affected.
– It all depends on the teeth.
– These were permanent teeth, in fourteen-year-old children. Those figures give an average of 8.5 teeth affected amongst American children.
In New Zealand, according to Fulton’s report, the figure jumps to ten teeth and then there is an alarming jump, according to Barnard’s report, to thirteen teeth in New South Wales. That means that thirteen teeth of the average fourteen-year-old child in New South Wales had been attacked by dental caries. This data reveals the magnitude of the dental caries problem in Australia. The average sixyearold child had had the one permanent tooth, that is, the first permanent molar, attacked, while the average seven-year-old child had had two and one-third permanent teeth attacked. In the eight years from the age of six to fourteen years, the attack by dental caries was at the rate of one and a half teeth per person per year. These figures are truly of epidemic proportions.
Another interesting set of figures, to prove the case that I am presenting to the Government, is based on the number of children with a caries-free mouth in each age group. When both the permanent and deciduous, or baby, teeth are considered, we find that only five of every 100 children in the six-year-old age group in Australia have healthy teeth. From that point, the position starts to deteriorate rapidly. Only 2.5 children in every 100 seven-year-olds have healthy mouths. The position deteriorates even more rapidly from then on. Among the eight-year-olds, only 0.6 of every 100 have healthy mouths; 0.96 of nine-year-olds; 1.6 of ten-year-olds; and 0.75 of twelve-year-olds or fewer than one in every 200. The proportion is much the same among the fourteen-year-olds while none of the fifteen-year-olds have caries-free mouths.
Although the D.M.F. rate that I have mentioned has shown us only the dental state of children, we may also get an idea, by comparing the different states of tooth health represented by the D.M.F. rate of the tremendous amount of work which has to be done in order to make our children dentally fit. As 1 have mentioned, “ D “ represents the diseased or carious teeth, “ M “ represents the teeth already extracted, or those needing immediate extraction, and “ F “ represents the number of teeth filled or successfully treated. If we take the D.M.F. rate as 100 per cent, and compare the Australian figures with the New Zealand figures, it will be seen that they indicate an alarming state of affairs. In Australia, the rate for diseased and untreated teeth is 41 per cent, of the 100 per cent. D.M.F. rate, as against only 10 per cent, in New Zealand. The missing rate in Australia shows the alarming proportion of 14 per cent., while in New Zealand it is only 3 per cent.
– There are dental clinics at practically all New Zealand schools.
– I am not advocating, at this point of time, the establishment of dental clinics. The filled rate in Australia is distressingly low at 44 per cent., while in New Zealand it i9 85 per cent.
It can be seen from the data that I have given that the dental condition of Australian children is much worse than it may appear at first sight. It will be remembered that the D.M.F. method showed only thirteen diseased teeth in the average fourteen-year-old child’s mouth. A comparison of the teeth of Australian children with those of New Zealand and the United States of America shows that whereas, in the American and New Zealand studies the data is grouped around the “ F “ or filled part of the D.M.F. rate, in the Australian study the data is grouped around the “ D “ or diseased and untreated part. Thus, in Australia, almost 50 per cent., of the teeth which have been attacked by caries in fourteen-year-old children need immediate dental care, while in New Zealand only 10 per cent, of the teeth already attacked need dental attention.
Public health dentists consider the number of missing permanent teeth, or tooth mortality, to be the most objective index of the effectiveness of a caries-control programme. Numerous D.M.F. surveys have shown that the number of missing teeth varies inversely with the number of filled teeth. It is not surprising that the mortality rate of teeth in Australia is so great. Mr. Spyros Halikis, a dentist in Western Australia, has studied the mortality rate of the six-year-old molar - the first permanent tooth in a child’s mouth. This survey was made in regard to the teeth of Western Australian children. His data includes only those teeth needing immediate extraction and does not include teeth already missing.
At the early age of six, or within from six to twelve months after the first appearance of the tooth in the mouth, eleven teeth had to be extracted from every 100 children in the six-year-old age group. After that, the number sky-rockets. At the age of seven, 38 of those first permanent molars had to be extracted for every 100 children; at the age of nine, 78; at ten, 97; at eleven, 109; at twelve, 122; at thirteen, 91; and at fourteen, also 91. It is appalling that, in children from the age of ten years to fourteen years, almost a quarter of the six-year-old molars had to be extracted, although the six-year-old molar is one of the most important teeth.
It is practically impossible to compare the dental health of Australian and American children because the percentage of carious teeth in American children is so low. I make only a couple of comparisons to impress on the Minister the importance of dental health. In the eightyearsold group in Australia, 69 teeth per 100 children need extraction, while in America the comparative figure is only 2.
The twelve-years-old group is, I think, the most enlightening category. In Australia, 122 teeth per 100 children in that category need extraction. In America the comparative figure is only eight. The immensity of the problem confronting us can be visualized only when we consider the future requirements in dental health. In the next ten years there will be in Australia approximately 5,000,000 prospective dental patients in the age group up to nineteen years of age. The largest increase will come in the age group from ten years to nineteen years. There are in Australia 3,515,418 youngsters under nineteen years of age. By the late 1960’s a fair assessment is that there will be approximately 5,000,000.
Having considered the comparative figures showing the dental health of the people of three countries, let us have a look at how much money these countries are spending. The cost to the Australian States of dental services, through the school dental service and dental hospitals, was £1,400,000 in 1956-57. On the basis of a population of 10,000,000, that works out at about 3s. a head. In New Zealand in the same year the cost was £A2,250,000. On a population basis of 2,000,000 people, this works out at £1 2s. 6d. a head. I do not think it is a coincidence that New Zealand spends seven times as much as we spend on dental health and that we have seven times as many teeth extracted, on an average, from every fourteen-years-old child.
In the United States of America, which has one of the best records for sound teeth, this year the House of Representatives has approved and sent to the Senate an appropriation bill that provides for an expenditure of 10,000,000 dollars for dental health activities in the current fiscal year. I emphasize that that amount of 10,000,000 dollars covers only research and dental health education of the people and that it is not for State health services. I suggest to the Minister that we take note of the fact that America is providing £5,000,000 purely for research and education of the people on the vital subject of dental health.
It is interesting to look also at the fact that the cost of dental health services in America rose from 482,000,000 dollars in 1929 to the terrific sum of 1,705,000,000 dollars in 1957. The money being spent per head of population in the United States of America, the £1 2s. 6d. a head being spent in New Zealand, and the 3s. a head being spent in Australia, can definitely be related to the state of dental health of the people. I hope that the Minister representing the Minister for Health in this chamber will direct the attention of his colleague to the figures I have cited and to the truly alarming state of the dental health of our greatest asset, our children. For that reason, I ask the Government to consult immediately with the States with a view to having an Australia-wide inquiry made by a competent person or by competent persons into the dental health of this nation, which T think I have shown is in a shocking state.
– As usual, we are dealing piecemeal with the social services provided by the Government. For years most members of the
Parliament have been in favour of one properly co-ordinated plan for social services, and governments from both sides ot the House have promised to legislate to that end. But we are still at the stage, as I said before, of dealing with our social services piecemeal. Any Government that had the grit and determination to prepare a proper, overall scheme would merit the approval of the people and would do something that would be of very great benefit to us all. I look forward to the day when there will be a government that will tackle this problem properly.
Most of us will congratulate the Government on the improvements in benefits that are referred to in the bill, but I agree with Senator Anderson’s statement that not enough publicity is given to the benefits that are available to people in the community under this measure. 1 would say to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) and to his department that there is a need for a very big job to be done in just letting the people know, because there are many people, particularly old people, who just do not know what they are entitled to receive. I realize that there may be difficulties in getting these matters before the people but a lot more can and should be done than is being done at the present time to advertise the benefits available. I agree also with Senator Anderson’s reference to the question of payment of special account benefit to certain institutions which, for some reason or other, are not classified as hospitals under the legislation, and whose inmates are thereby penalized. Recently, I had occasion to make representations on behalf of one of these institutions. The patients in it undoubtedly receive some Commonwealth aid, but they do not get all the aid available to hospital patients generally, because it is contended that the institution is a kind of home for aged persons rather than a hospital where they receive medical attention. In discussion with the head of the institution, I was informed that, as some very old people lived at this place, naturally it was necessary for it to have trained nursing staff. I was informed that a great deal had to be done in the way of nursing and medical attention for these very old people who had to go to this institution because they were not able to look after themselves and had no other people to look after them. Many of these old people are using their own limited resources to meet part of the expense of living at the home.
I heard Senator Paltridge pay tribute yesterday to those people who, by thrift, managed to amass a small competence to assist in their old age. He referred to them as the salt of the earth. If they are the salt of the earth, and if they go into a private institution, prepared to pay what they can from their own resources, I should like to see the Government be a little more generous to them. I understand that often a matter of interpretation is involved. I hope that when the Government is grading these institutions or deciding whether they are qualified for benefit, it will be more generous than it has been in the past. I know that there are some provisions in the bill by which at least some of these people who are receiving medical attention will receive assistance, and I thank the Government for going that far. But I hope it will go further still in the interests of the old people who have done a good job for this country, who are trying to make spin out to the end of their days what little money they have and who, I think, deserve that little bit of extra assistance.
Probably the Government would like to give these people the full cost of their maintenance in these homes. But, naturally, the Government says it is a question of money and I suppose the obvious thing would be to ask me where it is to get the extra money. I suggest that if we were to look at the pharmaceutical benefits scheme we could see some avenues from which we could get some extra money. In conversation with members of the chemists’ fraternity recently, I learned that a number of chemists feel that there are some necessary features of this pharmaceutical scheme. In correspondence to me, one chemist points to the fact that under the present scheme item 21 - cholera vaccine costing 3s. 8d. an ampoule - is supplied free of charge. When a person is receiving cholera vaccine in this country it is because he or she is going on a trip abroad. For the life of me, 1 cannot understand why a person who is able to afford a trip overseas is to be provided by a kindly government with free cholera vaccine costing 3s. 8d. an ampoule.
I am also told that one item supplied free is digitalis tablets. They cost 3s. 6d. a 100, and the dose is two or three tablets daily. That means that a month’s supply would cost 3s. 6d. Why is it necessary to supply that free? Anybody who could not pay 3s. 6d. a month for digitalis tablets would obviously be a person who would be entitled to get them free as the recipient of a pension of some kind or other. I think that the Government could very well have a look at some of these lower-priced prescriptions with a view to saving some money. I emphasize that I am not putting up this suggestion merely to save the Government money; I am submitting that the money could be used better in other directions where our social services are not as good as they ought to be. If we are going to provide money, let us apply it in sensible directions, not in giving to people free of charge things that are of such small cost that any normal person could easily supply them for himself.
– But digitalis is in general use.
– Yes, but the cost is only -3s. 6d. for 100 tablets. Any ordinary person could afford to pay that. Any one who could not afford to pay it could obviously get it as a pensioner, or in some similar manner.
– What is it used for?
– I understand it is used for heart complaints. I come now to item 60 - glyceryl trinitrate - for which the cost is 2s. for 100 tablets. Why is it necessary to supply free of charge something which costs only 2s. for 100 tablets? I am told of other things on the free list that cost so little that the amount is almost not worth bothering about. I refer to such things as hypodermic tablets, smallpox vaccine - that is on the free list - thyroid tablets and so on. As I say, I do not want to put any person who is in trouble in the position of being required to pay more than he can afford, but I do think that we could save some money there and apply it better in the other direction that I have suggested.
As I have said, there are other ways in which this money could be spent more profitably, and I ask the Government to conduct an investigation into the difference between the prices in Australia and those abroad of what we call the broad spectrum antibiotics. There is an amazing difference between the price which the Government of this country pays for them and that which is paid abroad for them; indeed the difference is so amazing that I feel that there must be a nigger in the woodpile. 1 ask the Government to investigate whether it is just a happy coincidence that the three or four manufacturers all happened to arrive at just the same price for the same antibiotics, a price which, unless I can be shown some good reason for it, is extortionate as paid in Australia when compared with the price paid abroad. I want the Government to find out whether there is a ring operating in connexion with the supply of broad spectrum antibiotics which is blackmailing and holding to ransom the Australian people, and which is responsible for the remarkable costs that are predicted for this particular scheme - costs which induced a Government member to say recently in his electorate that there would be a rise of from £18,500,000 to £30,000,000 in the cost if the present trend continues.
I therefore suggest to the Government that it would be advisable to have a look at this pharmaceutical benefits scheme before it gets out of hand. Why not have a look at some of the things which cost a trifling amount to see whether it is necessary to supply them free.
If a person has a prescription for one of these items which cost 2s. or 2s. 6d., is he to be required to pay 5s. for it each time he presents it to the chemist?
– I should like the Minister to answer that question. If it is prescribed by a doctor, and the actual cost is 2s. or 2s. 6d., will the patient have to pay 5s. for it? I think there are many people in this country very interested in the reply to that. Irrespective of whether it is paid, what is the administrative cost of all these prescriptions of particular items that cost so little that, as I say, they are hardly worth bothering about?
– The patient will be required to pay 5s. or the chemist’s price, whichever is the lower.
– I am very pleased indeed to hear that. I simply say, therefore, that I want the Government to have a look at this question of pharmaceutical benefits. 1 think that if the Government does look at them, if it deals with some of these particular drugs and the supplying of them on a very firm basis, it may be able to discover ways and means of reducing the prices at which they are being supplied to the Government at the present time.
The last thing I want to say is that there is reference in the Minister’s second-reading speech to negotiations which are being conducted with the chemists. I know that the chemists expressed themselves in a very forthrightly manner about this scheme. Mr. Scott, the federal president of the Federated Pharmaceutical Guild, said -
That is the chemists - think that eventually the scheme will break down, but we are still prepared to give it a go provided we are given sufficient safeguards.
He also said that the chemists were very dissatisfied with the personnel of the Minister’s standing committee which he said comprised four representatives of the guild, and four of the Government, with a departmental officer as chairman. He said that they were very unlucky when it came to the chairman’s casting vote, that they did not often happen to be on the winning side. He says that they have asked for an independent chairman and they have been refused one. I should like to ask the Minister whether he can give us any information as to the progress of the negotiations with the chemists and the reason why, on this particular board, there is not an impartial chairman - that is, supposing he admits that the chairman is not impartial. I am only quoting what has been said by the chemists.
I shall now leave the bill. I appreciate the improvements in benefits for which it makes provision, and I hope that something can be done for the old people in these homes which at present are ruled out because they do not happen to be hospitals in the ordinary sense of the word. I look forward to the day - I hope it will be in the not too far distant future - when in place of this piece-meal scheme we will have a proper scheme, as has been promised to us.
Senator TANGNEY (Western Australia) r3.6]. - The matter of public health is one that has exercised my mind ever since I have been a member of the Senate. 1 find that in this bill there are a great number of provisions with which we agree, but there are one or two points to which 1 should like to direct my attention at this juncture. At the beginning, I should like to refer, as Senator Branson did, to the matter of the dental care of school children in New Zealand and in Australia. Some years ago, 1 investigated this subject rather thoroughly in New Zealand, and I thought that the scheme there was an admirable one. It made use of young girls in the capacity of dental aides, who carried out quite a lot of elementary dental treatment of the children in the schools. As a result of the treatment the children received in the dental clinics, they lost their fear of dentists. Dental treatment . was taken by them more or less in their stride, along with the other attention they received at school. I think that that system has paid dividends over the years. It is not necessary for fully qualified dentists to be assigned to the tasks which, as I have said, are performed by girls, acting as dental aides. They carry out the elementary work, particularly in the case of young children. I think that Australia would derive good dividends from adopting the New Zealand practice. The question of dental health as a part of the health scheme is a very important one. which, I think, we will have to consider in the very near future. Reference has been made by Senator Cant and previous speakers to the lack of dental facilities in the outback areas of this country. In some areas, this service is being provided, but a great deal more can be done in this respect.
Although I am very pleased to see that this bill raises the medical benefits in connexion with surgical operations and so on, I would like to make certain, Mr. Deputy President, that the benefit of the increases will go to the people for whom it is intended. We have very vivid recollections of an occasion some years ago when the maternity benefit was increased. At that time - I say this with due deference to Senator Dittmer - many doctors decided to style themselves as specialists in maternal welfare, and the whole of the increased payment was immediately absorbed in higher medical fees. Two matrons, in charge of two of the largest maternity hospitals in Australia, told me that before the maternity allowance was increased from £5 to £15 for the first child, 90 per cent, of the mothers of Australia gave birth to their children normally, only 10 per cent, requiring specialized care. Immediately the allowance was increased, the number requiring specialized attention rose from 10 per cent, to 90 per cent. It was a very strange thing - I am speaking now of 1944 or 1945, when money had a different value from its value to-day - that the fee for this specialized attention was fixed at £15, which happened to be the precise amount to which the maternity benefit was raised.
This House directed its mind to solving the matter, and there was a bit of laughter from some honorable senators when I suggested a way in which it could be solved. I said that the benefit was intended to be used by the mother, to reimburse her the amount she spent on buying extra things before the birth and to enable her to get help in the home afterwards. We decided that, on production of a doctor’s certificate to the effect that she was pregnant, the prospective mother should be paid £5. Immediately that legislation was passed, what happened? The health of the women of Australia improved overnight! It was the greatest step forward in maternal welfare in this country. The rate of normal births rose immediately from 10 per cent, to 90 per cent. I think that that was really a marvellous achievement!
I am apprehensive that after the increases provided in this bill become effective, the same type of thing will occur as occurred previously - that is. that the additional payments will be absorbed by increased charges for services rendered, and that the patient will be left with exactly the same amount of liability as before the increases were granted. I should like the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) to inform me whether any safeguards are being provided to ensure that at least a proportion of the increase will go to the patients.
I come now to the question of the provision of assistance to aged persons in convalescent homes. I should like to see a higher standard maintained in some of these homes. I have seen some places, passing as convalescent homes, which are shocking. Admittedly, some of the leeway is being taken up by the provision of homes for aged folk. Some of the places that pass as convalescent homes are trying to get Government assistance, but I should hate any relatives of mine to have to spend their declining years in such a place, particularly if their health were not good. Some of the proprietors of these convalescent homes regard the elderly folk purely and simply as bread tickets, and they are not concerned about the health or the welfare of the people in the homes. I think that much tighter supervision should be maintained over convalescent homes, socalled, and homes for the aged. I know that this is primarily a matter for the State governments, but to the extent that the Commonwealth is concerned. I think that a high standard in these places should be insisted upon. As the Minister said in his second-reading speech, these homes are regarded as places in which elderly folk may spend their declining years. If any benefit is to go to them from the Commonwealth, I suggest that there should be a specification concerning the standard of accommodation that they shall provide. 1 am not saying that all of these homes are sub-standard, but many of them are, and I think that the standard of accommodation they provide should be very severely policed.
I turn now to pharmaceutical benefits. The Government’s proposals stagger me. Some years ago - Senator Sir Walter Cooper will recall the occasion, because he was a member of the Social Services Committee of that time - we had a great battle in trying to get a degree of co-operation between the Labour government of the day, the British Medical Association and the chemists. I say at once that the chemists did co-operate very well with us in relation to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. At the time, it was said that the main objection to the Labour government’s scheme was that it was not a complete scheme. The Minister of the day said that it was based on the formulary in the British Pharmacoepia, with the exception of a few drugs. He also said that, as advances were made, further items would be added to the formulary. The main objection to the Labour government’s scheme at the time was that it did not provide a 100 per cent, formulary, but the chemists have accepted this Government’s scheme. The scheme that those on the other side of the chamber now advocate is the scheme of the Labour government, for which they castigated us some twelve years ago. The Minister said, quite rightly, that not every prescription will be provided free, or for 5s.
– I did not say a word.
– I am referring to what the Minister said in his secondreading speech. Not every prescription will be free under this legislation because of the very things that we pointed out years ago. It takes a long time for some people to see the light. There is to be a payment of 5s. for every prescription. 1 do not object to that provision because, so far as I am personally concerned, I owe a great deal to doctors and chemists. I have never had anything but the greatest admiration for the work that doctors carry out, often in a voluntary capacity in hospitals, and for the great and valuable work done by them, which no one knows about, in the treatment of individual patients and their general approach to their profession. It is my belief that a good doctor must regard his profession as a vocation. For that reason, I fear that, at times, our legislation may cause some doctors to lose sight of the vocational aspect of their work, and view it only on the money angle. I would hate to think that that should happen in many cases. If that should come about, it might happen that we should see the gradual passing of the family doctor. Today, there is a great deal more specialization than there used to be. Patients are tested for this and tested for that, whereas previously the family doctor dealt with all kinds of ailments. In these days of specialization, a patient goes from one specialist to another, and he does not know when he will be finished with them.
I hope that the Government will be able to reach an agreement with the chemists so that the cost of prescriptions will not in all cases be raised to 5s. I realize that it is easier from a statistical point of view to deal with all prescriptions at the same rate, but I hope that the aim will be to give the best service possible to patients, including pensioners, at all times.
Finally, I wish to say a few words on the subject of mental health. A good deal has already been said on this subject although there is nothing in the bill dealing specifically with it. Some years ago, when we were inquiring into matters affecting hospitals we found that mental health was the Cinderella of medical services. A stigma seemed to attach to mental illness. Indeed, to be mentally ill was often regarded as worse than being guilty of some criminal action. Prisoners in gaol, especially in Hobart according to press reports, were treated better than were ordinary citizens who were patients in mental hospitals. The term “ mental asylum “ has a dreadful ring about it, and members of a family one of whose number was an inmate of a mental asylum felt that a stigma had been cast on the family with the result that in many cases the afflicted person was put away in an asylum, and in nine cases out of ten forgotten. That is why the amount in the original bill for mental hospitals was so low. Patients in such hospitals were regarded as being there for life, and so the cost of keeping them was lower than the cost of maintaining patients in other hospitals. The original arrangement was based on the average amount paid on behalf of patients in mental hospitals by members of their families. We have gone a long way forward since then. In Western Australia an experiment is being conducted. It has been in operation for only a short time, and therefore no conclusive results are yet available. Under the new arrangement patients enter a mental hospital during the day and go home at night. In that way it is hoped that they will gradually work their way back into normal living and again become ordinary useful citizens. By the use of drugs and the application of modern medical skills a number of mentally ill patients who were formerly regarded as completely hopeless cases are being restored to something approaching normality. It is not wise to talk in a superior fashion about the number of people in metal hospitals because people begin to wonder whether some of those who are outside should be inside, and some of those who are inside should be outside.
There was one word in the Minister’s second-reading speech which I had hoped never again to hear in connexion with the legislation which passes through this chamber. The word is “ indigent “ which appears on page 12 of the roneoed copies of the Minister’s second-reading speech supplied to honorable senators. The word is one that should be erased completely from our medical scheme. There was a time in Perth when patients who entered a public hospital in Murray-street had to pass a large notice board on which was printed the words, “ For the indigent sick “. I am glad to say that we were able to have it removed. In many cases people are not to blame for being indigent, and they certainly cannot help being sick at times. Why should we emphasize their poverty when they are sick? In my opinion it is wrong to do so. I dislike the use of the term “ indigent “ in the Minister’s speech.
Before I conclude I wish to say a few words on the subject of antibiotics. I do so because I wish to pay a tribute to the research chemists and others connecter! with the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. These people are doing an excellent job of which not one person in a hundred has any conception. These people arc carrying out most valuable work in a selfsacrificing way. During the war they supplied penicillin for troops serving in South-East Asia and for the whole of the Macarthur and Mountbatten commands. From the laboratories in Melbourne serum went as far afield as Egypt. These scientists have gone on working conscientiously, despite the fact that they are poorly paid. The community generally does not know the value of the services they render. 1 pay this tribute in the Senate to the selfsacrificing men and women scientists who. regardless of the government in office, work quietly and unostentatiously day by day and year after year in order that the health standards of the community may be improved.
.- I recall that in 1938, when the Lyons Government was in office the Senate had before it a bill dealing with national health and pensions. Practically every member of the Parliament spoke to that bill. I remember that when I rose to speak I was about the 83rd member to do so. Since then the membership of the Parliament has been enlarged. On that occasion I based my speech on the fact that the health of the people could not be preserved merely by taking something from a bottle. In this measure we are dealing with medicines and drugs of every description. There is no doubt that drugs play a big part in healing but they do not get down to the causes of disease. I should rather see millions of pounds spent in providing preventive medicine than on drugs and all kinds of pills and potions to cure disease. I understand that the Australian people have established almost a world record for the consumption of pills and potions. We are a great pill-swallowing people and have been so for many years. There seems to be on the part of many members of Parliament a movement to encourage the taking of pills. According to the Minister’s second-reading speech there has been a tremendous increase in the cost of drugs. In the first year of the operation of existing legislation the cost was approximately £7,600,000. Then he went on to show the increases that took place, and finally he said -
In the last financial year it was £21,000,000, and the projected cost for the next financial year is several millions higher still. It is obvious that at this rate, and still for a limited Tange of drugs, the cost of pharmaceutical benefits could soon exceed £30,000,000 a year and would dominate the entire national health service, leaving correspondingly less room for manoeuvre for improvements and operations in other direction.
That statement is enough to compel us to pause and look in some other direction to solve our sickness problems. We know that some of the highest in the land among medical men have made statements about these matters from time to time. I have here a statement by Dr. Alexis Carrel, the brilliant author who wrote, “ Man the Unknown “. He said that if people were provided with good food half of the presentday sicknesses would disappear. Sir John Orr, a very advanced medical man in England, said that if the people of England were properly fed their average stature would be increased, and such diseases as consumption and rickets would virtually disappear. Undoubtedly, over the last ten or twenty years there have been great improvements in England. I was over there four years ago and I know that rickets have disappeared as the result of parliament passing beneficial legislation and bringing to the people of that country the good food that is essential for their well-being.
We on this side of the Senate have always fought for improvements in that direction because we know that it is better that people should have pure food than that their bellies should be filled with all kinds of drugs. A past president of the British Medical Association in England some years ago said that 90 per cent, of the world’s sickness was due to faulty diet. I have said before in the Senate that some of the millions that are now being spent on drugs could be well used by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to investigate, and thoroughly analyse, the food that is being eaten to-day by the people. Many kinds of de-natured food are being eaten. The council could investigate even doctors’ medicines. I think it would be a splendid thing for Australia if we had men of science dealing with this matter of diet and trying to find the reason why people are sick.
I know from my own experience that a change of diet is often far better than taking medicine. My father-in-law was in New Guinea for a number of years with Sir William MacGregor. Sir William MacGregor was a doctor of medicine and he had a theory that if you could only get the organs functioning properly the body would cure itself. He had a medicine which people called “ Old Jock “. As a matter of fact “ Jock “ was his nickname, and that was why they called the medicine “ Old Jock “. It had four ingredients. One was for the liver, one for the kidneys, and one for the gall bladder, and he included iodine to make the heart push the other ingredients through the body. If it did not kill a person it cured him. On one occasion when I was going around in the course of my employment with Finney Isles, of Brisbane, a young man told me that his mother was suffering from rheumatism. I went home to my wife and I said to her, “ I will get him some ‘ Old Jock ‘ “. I went to the chemist and got him to make up “ Old Jock “. I took it to the young fellow and I said to him, “ Give this to your mother, and in a few days she will be well “. I saw him a week later and he said to me, “ You nearly killed my mother! She suffers with her heart, and when I gave the medicine to her she nearly died.” However, she lived many years after that and she never had a sign of rheumatism afterwards.
– Is “ Old Jock “ on the free list?
– I will give you some of it and it will clear your brain. After all much mental obfuscation is caused by a bad stomach. If I could get your stomach working properly, I have an idea that you would become mentally alert and you would not make such stupid interjections. 1 have one hundred and one things I would like to say, and I am sorry that we all want to get away. I am absolutely in earnest when I say that this Government - or any government for that matter - should spend money for the purpose of finding out the root causes of diseases. If we could only find out the real causes of rheumatism, arthritis and other illnesses that militate against workers doing their job, or any one doing his job, it would mean a saving of millions of pounds to the community. Instead of giving people antibiotics and all kinds of medicine, we should do what I am suggesting.
Dr. Gaha, who was here yesterday, addressed our caucus meeting some years ago, and gave us a lecture on these matters. Speaking as a doctor, he said that most of the medicines could be used to make boot polish or could be sunk in the sea. He told us that one day sixteen young boys and girls were brought to him by their mothers to have their tonsils removed. He refused to perform the operations, and the mothers then took the children to other doctors. What I am trying to suggest is that whilst I applaud the Government for doing its best for the thousands of people who are suffering, it should adopt new methods and new ideas about the health of the people. It should appropriate money so that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization could carry out investigations into the matters I have mentioned.
– I wish those children had been brought to me.
– I have a great admiration for Dr. Dittmer and if I am sick again, I will certainly go and see him.
The Government is taking money from the taxpayers and it prides itself on how it distributes that money. It is spending millions in distributing all kinds of drugs to the people. It prides itself on what it is doing. We in Queensland pride ourselves on the fact that we have free hospital bene fits. I was reading the other day a book entitled “From Witchcraft to World Health “ by S. and V. LeK. I was surprised to find that Queensland was not the first country to provide free medical benefits. This is what I read in the book -
By the tenth century A.D., every Moslem city had its own hospital. An important town like Bagdad had sixty hospitals with out-patients’ departments which distributed medicines. The hospitals were spacious, with wards for different ailments, and fountains pleasantly refreshing the atmosphere. Male and female nurses looked after the patients under the supervision of eminent physicians.
A very important factor of this well-organized hospital service was the absence of any charge for treatment, but so far removed was it from the cold charity of other lands that minstrels and dancers were employed to cheer patients during their convalescence: and on being discharged each patient was given five pieces of gold so that he could fully recover before returning to work.
The Government need not flatter itself that it is doing anything wonderful. The Moslems of 300 years ago were given free hospital treatment. Another interesting part of Leff’s book describes the physician of the Middle Ages. I hope that Senator Dittmer is listening. It reads -
During a plague visitation he adopted a special outfit designed to protect him as much as possible from contact with the patient. He was covered from head to foot in a dark, flowing gown, his hands and arms hidden inside long gloves; and from his hooded face there protruded a long beak containing protective perfumes and spices. This was the medieval doctor, and it makes one wonder who was more frightened nf the other: the doctor or the patient. All the physician could do for the sufferer was to com fort him and spray the room with pleasant per fumes - keeping a good distance, however, from the bed.
I have many more interesting things to say, but I shall not say them now, because J know that honorable senators are anxious to end the sitting.
– in reply - If Senator Brown says that what he has had to say has been of interest in connexion with this bill, I am afraid that he is speaking for himself only. The greatest possible tribute to this bill has been the fact that honorable senators opposite have referred to it very little indeed. I listened with great interest to what Senator Dittmer had to say on this subject. If any one should know something about it, he should.
However, I could not help thinking that if ever he became Minister for Health and had the responsibility of financing the many health benefits which he has mentioned, he might look at the task from a different viewpoint.
All the improvements that we wish to see will come eventually, as our population grows and our financial position improves. However, the framer of any budget must consider, not merely one aspect of expenditure, but all aspects. The great task in framing a budget is to allocate the money available among the many avenues of possible expenditure. One can make out a tremendously strong case in favour of spending more money on improving many valuable services to the community, but the art is to spread the money as evenly and as fairly as possible.
I was interested to hear Senator Dittmer refer to medical benefits societies, and allege that some of the societies were not. in the early stages, financially sound. 1 remind him that before registration was granted the finances of all those societies were investigated by a Government committee of which the Commonwealth Actuary was a member. The Commonwealth Actuary had to certify as to their financial capacity before they could commence operations. The honorable senator said that if there had been an epidemic, they could not have met the claims that would have been made upon them. It is equally true to say that a fire insurance company might go out of business if it received claims in respect of an unusually large number of fires in its first year of operations. As Sherlock Holmes was fond of saying to Dr. Watson, that is elementary. There is no question that the financial position of the benefit scoieties has improved out of sight, or that they have done a very wise thing in building up their reserves against the possibility of an epidemic. The Government has advocated that policy all along, but this is the first occasion on which I have heard a member of the Opposition support our view.
I do not want to canvass the arguments concerning free medicine and free hospital treatment, because they involve a fundamental difference in the policies of the Government and the Opposition. We believe that every scheme should be a self- help scheme, and that the people should always be asked to bear a proportion of the cost and accept a share of the responsibility. The whole scheme has worked very well and has attracted strong support from the people. I am quite satisfied that the average citizen wants the present state of affairs to continue.
I was interested in Senator Dittmer’s observations concerning prior consultation by the Government with the medical profession and the chemists. This proposal in respect of pharmaceutical benefits was first mooted in the Budget, and if the honorable senator will pause for a moment I think he will realize that, before the Budget is presented, one does not discuss its provisions with the medical profession, the pharmaceutical guild or any one else. The occasion of the Budget speech was the first opportunity that any one outside the Government would have had to learn of the new proposals. Consultation must, of course, follow a budget announcement in matters of that kind. Therefore, it would be true to say that there was no prior consultation with the doctors or the chemists.
– I suppose that you would receive advice?
– We would not seek it from the medical profession or the pharmaceutical guild, because we would not wish to disclose the contents of the Budget.
– Why did the Minister for Health say that there had been prior consultation? He need not have been lying; there could have been a lapse of memory.
– I think that he was speaking about the scheme generally. We have always followed the practice of having prior consultations on these matters. I turn now to one or two other points that were made by the honorable senator.
– According to you, the B.M.A. - the federal council and the branches - was confused about it, and misunderstood the position, but the individual, Dr. Cameron, was correct.
– I remind the honorable senator that he had a good hour in which to speak. He uttered more words in that time than I would have thought possible. I admire his fluency and I admire also the ability of “ Hansard “ to get it all down. He was not interrupted. The honorable senator chided the Government with doing nothing in the way of medical research.
– That is not correct.
– I am sorry, but 1 thought that he said that. I intended to refer to the sum of £500,000 which We gave to the John Curtin School of Research, but since we are on common ground I shall not discuss the subject further. He also said that we had made parsimonious contributions to the cost of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
– I did not say that they were parsimonious.
– I think you used the word “ niggardly “ or something of the sort.
– I said that you had not discharged your obligation to the service.
– If we have not done so, what did the Labour Government do? This year we are spending £71,000 in that direction, but in 1948 the Labour Government of the day spent only £7,000. We arc spending ten times as much. If we have not discharged our obligations, all I can say is that in 1948-49 Labour apparently did not know what was meant by the word. 1 wish to refer to one or two other points that Senator Dittmer has raised. He mentioned the amount that chemists receive in connexion with the dispensing of tablets, and stated that the work of measuring out tablets was not properly paid for. I have had a look at the relevant figures, and 1 think that the position is rather interesting. If a chemist buys tablets for 30s., he receives a margin of 334- per cent., or 10s. He also receives a dispensing fee of ls. 6d., so that the 30s. becomes 41s. 6d. In addition, he is entitled to a wastage allowance of about 10d., so that in all, he gets 42s. 4d. for counting out 30s. worth of tablets.
I know that the overhead of chemists is high. I think, however, that when the Government is paying out money that comes from the taxpayers it has the right to see, first of all, that the chemists are adequately rewarded, and secondly, that the taxpayers’ money is properly spent. I suggest that the honorable senator, in referring to the fee of ls. 6d. failed at that stage to mention the fact that there was also the addition of 33i per cent, and a wastage allowance.
– I did mention the mark-up of 33i per cent.
– I agree that the honorable senator mentioned it, but he did not do so at that stage. He referred to the fee of ls. 6d. and said how parsimonious and wrong it was to leave the fee at that amount. Then he spoke of other things for about ten minutes and came back to the matter of the fee. I wish to correct the wrong impression that he may have created. I want to put the record straight.
I turn to the remarks of Senator Cant. The honorable senator is very young in politics and apparently has a short memory. He said that the Government, in respect of the 5s. prescription charge, was asking the chemists to collect taxes for it. He said that no Labour government would ask the business community to collect taxes for it. As one who was interested in the introduction of sales tax by the Labour Party in 1930 or 1931, I know that that party asked the business community to collect sales tax for it. In the light of that experience, I thought that Senator Cant’s comment was interesting, but as I have said, he is rather new to the game.
The honorable senator also referred to the position of anaesthetists in the northwest of Western Australia and stated that in outback areas in which there was no doctor, and in which nurses and other people gave anaesthetics, no fee was made available under the Government’s health scheme. 1 pointed out to him that section 17 of the principal act covered this matter, but he came back and told me that I was wrong and did not know what I was talking about. If the honorable senator reads section 17 correctly and without bias, he will see that it provides that if an application is made in respect of a case such as that mentioned by him, the Director-General may authorize payment to be made.
Senator Cant also stated that increased benefits were being granted in respect of only 140 of the great number of operations that may be performed. The relevant provision of the bill states quite clearly that it refers to major operations. The 140 major operations to which it refers are by far the most expensive operations, and the object of the provision is to give to people who have to undertake an expensive operation a greater amount by way of medical benefit from a fund and from the Commonwealth Government.
As Senator Branson’s contribution will appear in “ Hansard “, I have no doubt that the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) will read it.
– The Minister despatched him pretty smartly.
– Yes, and I think I shall despatch Senator Tangney just as smartly by saying that I accept her apology for the failure of the Labour Party’s health scheme which, after all, was an unsuccessful attempt to nationalize health services.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 12 agreed to.
Clause 13 -
Sections eighty-five, eighty-six and eighty-seven of the Principal Act are repealed and the following sections inserted in their stead: -
” (2.) Except in relation to the supply of a pharmaceutical benefit upon a prescription that is marked, in accordance with the regulations, as a prescription in respect of a pensioner, an approved pharmaceutical chemist or an approved medical practitioner acting in accordance with his approval may, in respect of each supply by him of a pharmaceutical benefit (including each repeated supply) charge the person to whom the pharmaceutical benefit is supplied an amount not exceeding Five shillings.
– I move -
In sub-section (2.) of proposed section 87, after “ pensioner “ insert “ or to a recipient of unemployment or sickness benefit under the Social Services Act 1947-59.”
In fairness to the Government, I feel that the omission of those words from the clause is an oversight and not intentional, because the Government has always specifically made such provision in other cases, such as in regard to hospital and medical benefits. Subsequently, I shall move that the whole provision relating to the charge of 5s. for prescriptions be deleted. However, as I shall possibly fail to have that amendment approved, because of the inhumanity of man, particularly as exemplified by Government supporters, it is my responsibility to move the amendment that is now before the committee in anticipation of the defeat of the later amendment.
– The Government is unable to accept the amendment to provide for relief from payment of the 5s. fee. At present people in receipt of unemployment benefit are paid for many of their medical benefits. Under this clause, instead of paying, as they are paying now, 30s., £1, or 15s. for some drugs, they will obtain them for 5s. This will provide relief for these people, and the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
– I move -
Leave out proposed section 87.
I move that amendment because I feel that the basis of approach to this whole scheme was beneficence, with the aim of improving the health of the community and to lighten the financial burden. It has been claimed that the scheme has got out of hand in that costs have risen from £7,600,000 to a point where it is expected they will reach £21,000,000 a year. This is an attempt to meet, in some measure, the increasing cost. It has been suggested that the proposal will lessen the prescription of expensive antibiotics and sulphonamides, but if these are the correct drugs to use - and by and large it does appear that they are - they should be used. It has been suggested that their prescription is in no small measure responsible for the expected increase in cost to £21,000,000. But we should realize just how valuable economically these drugs are to the community. They are largely responsible for increased return from taxes, both direct and indirect, on the income earned by the physical and mental efforts of the community, which in turn produces our economic wealth. The Government has to face an overall responsibility. It has to consider from where production comes. These returns have increased so substantially that this year the Government visualizes the expenditure of £1,618,000,000. This increased expenditure on these drugs is a small tribute to pay to maintain the health of the community and its productivity.
The Government is asking an individual section to collect revenue. 1 shall not say that Labour never did that. Apparently some one else said so, for which Senator Henty somewhat nicely - he might think irately - castigated him. Chemists are being asked not to collect taxes to pass on to the Government but to collect fees that will lessen the amount of taxes that the Government must collect. This charge is, in effect, an indirect tax on the people, evenly applied, if not equitably in relation to income. The chemists are naturally averse to collecting this fee. It will create in customers a measure of antagonism and lessen the business of chemists. This, associated with the increasing spread of drugs in the formulary, will lessen the income of chemists, irrespective of what the Minister said in regard to dispensing fees. lt was suggested in all sincerity that the British Medical Association might be asked by the Minister for Health to collect the 5s. fee, but the members of the B.M.A. said that the B.M.A. would not do anything of the sort. The B.M.A is probably the strongest of all unions, and one to which I am proud to belong It knows its strength and knows when it is right. I think the chemists had a reasonable objection to becoming involved in government activity. The government departments refused to co-operate. It was suggested that stamps be purchased at post offices to the value of 5s., to be affixed to prescriptions. Information was then tendered to th2 Pharmaceutical Guild to the effect that the Post Office would not have a bar of it. It has been said that it is equitable to put the burden on the chemists of Australia, but they should not have to act as tax gatherers for the Government. It would result in a lessening of their income and an increase of their book work. For those reasons, and because of the burden on the community, the charge is unjustified. Increased productivity is brought about substantially by the use of these expensive but effective antibiotics and sulphonamides. Over recent years, it is estimated, the use of these drugs has probably saved Australia £90,000,000 in capital costs in the hospitals structure. As the Minister said not so long ago, let us have an overall picture. I suggest that he have a look at the position to see whether industry generally should not, in some measure, bear an increasing burden in respect of this government activity.
.- 1 support the amendment moved by Senator Dittmer for two reasons. I think the 5s. fee could be reduced, if not eliminated, if we took into consideration the fact that on the free list there are some items of such trifling cost that really it is not necessary for them to be on the free list at all. 1 think it is also unnecessary that the fee be so high, because I believe a ring is supply ing these broad spectrum antibiotics to the Government at the present time, which has forced up the price to extortionate levels. If the Government took action to get these antibiotics at reasonable prices, and if it cut out of the free list some of the unnecessary and trifling items, it would not be necessary to charge the full 5s., and it might be possible to eliminate a fee altogether.
– In view of the composition of the Senate, the amendment will probably not be carried, but I should like to ask the Minister about the position of chemists who supply, as many do in Western Australia, medicine and drugs over large areas well removed from their towns of residence. Postage is involved and the collection of the 5s. fee will be very awkward. Chemists who are in that position have approached me for information. They will be acting, in effect, as agents of the Government. They will sometimes have no contact with the patient, who very often cannot get in to collect medicine without using various methods of transport. A system of bookkeeping will have to be used. It is very awkward for the chemist. He is put into the position of being a revenue collector for the Government. He does not feel like leaving the business and seeking out persons, and it is doubtful whether or not he will collect the 5s. fee.
Has any consideration been given to the position of a chemist when a person puts a prescription on the counter and says, “ I just cannot pay for it now “? This may be an indication that he will not pay for it anyhow. What is the approach?
This must have received consideration and the department must have some answer. 1 think it would be fair to give us some idea of what the answer is.
– I shall reply first to Senator Cooke. The position he puts to me is no different from the position at the moment, except that this scheme will be much more beneficial to the chemist. At the present time if one of his customers rings up from outback and orders some drugs which at the present time are–
– They may be free, but the free list is only short. A tremendous number cost 15s., fi, 25s. or 30s. The chemist at present will enter the appropriate amount on his books and take the risk of being paid by the customer. Now he will put 5s. on his book for that customer and the Commonwealth will pay the balance. I have been in business for a few years, and I know that if 50 per cent, of my book debts were to be paid by the Commonwealth Government and 1 would be taking the risk in respect of only 50 per cent., I should feel that I was in a very happy position indeed. That is the actual proposal here.
The Government cannot accept Senator Dittmer’s suggestion because our health scheme is an integral part of our Budget. It has been found by every country in the world that if some responsibility to join in the scheme is not placed upon the people themselves costs grow out of hand before you know where you are.
I emphasize that this is not by any means a collection of taxes by the chemists. A great deal of the money which the chemists will be carrying on their books for customers who do not pay at once will be met by the payment of 5s. from the customer and the balance from the Commonwealth Government. I think it is quite a good deal for the chemists.
– I have refrained from intervening in this debate, having regard to the state of the notice-paper, but I propose to take only a few minutes to comment upon the proposed charge. For the second time, the Government is un doing a benefit that was made available to the people of Australia without charge. First, it cancelled free hospital treatment in public wards, and now it seeks to abolish what was introduced in its present form by this Government as a completely free scheme. The concept of pharmaceutical benefits was not that of this Government; it was initiated in 1945, and then became the subject of litigation which delayed its operation. We object to the abandonment of the principle that thi9 benefit should be supplied free because quintessentially this benefit is only for sick people. We affirm the principle that the community and not the sick person should bear the burden.
In this particular case, we look for the reason why the Government imposes this charge. On the one hand, as has already been stated from this side, the Government has opened out the uses to which the new expensive drugs may be applied, whereas, before, they were restricted to particular diseases and particular uses. The purpose of the concession was to cut down the time spent in hospitals, to reduce the need of hospital treatment at all, to get people back to work far more quickly and thereby add to productivity, and, let me say finally, to increase the revenues of the Government from all those sources.
But, not satisfied with making those expensive drugs available for those good community purposes, the Government wants it both ways. It wants the benefits for the country’s revenues, and now it imposes this relatively paltry charge of 5s. on the sick people of the community. I repeat that it is to be imposed on the sick people, the people who are in real difficulty, the people whom the community at large ought to be prepared to help.
My main purpose in rising was to refer to the circumstances in which these costs have increased. At the moment, I am looking at the memorandum circulated by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) at the time the Budget was promulgated. He makes some points that are worth repeating. He reviews the institution and the operation of the present scheme, and he points out that in the beginning of the scheme in 1951-52 penicillin sensitivity and resistance, although known, were not generally recognized by the medical profession. When he says that, he points to the grave danger that did occur in this country from the over-prescription of this type of specific. Immunity was developed by the organisms that penicillin and other drugs were intended to attack, and eventually that immunity developed to such a degree that these drugs ceased to be useful. The Minister for Health then went on to say in his memorandum -
The next five years saw a rapid advance in the development of new drugs, in particular the broadspectrum antibiotics.
He further said -
Broad-spectrum antibiotics were now in adequate supply, although strictly limited as to use and to a certain extent the medical profession was cautious in the use of these drugs. Generally these broad-spectrum antibiotics could only be prescribed as pharmaceutical benefits where it was established that the cheaper sulphonamides and penicillins were not effective.
So that from 1951 to 1957, these highly expensive and highly potent drugs were limited by the Government in many ways, and the medical profession was cautious. In the next paragraph of his memorandum, the Minister for Health said -
In July 1957, the broad-spectrum antibiotics were made available for staphylococcal infections without the necessity for first establishing sensitivity to the sulphonamides and penicillins. At this time it was realized that many organisms causing staphylococcal infections were resistant to penicillin. As more emphasis was placed on these resistant organisms, prescribing habits changed from penicillin and sulphonamides, both relatively inexpensive items, to the more expensive broad-spectrum antibiotics.
He then pointed out that, in addition, a precedent established in 1954 of providing palatable suspensions was extended to the other antibiotics.
So we have two developments. First, the giving of complete freedom to a doctor to prescribe these expensive drugs for minor injuries or conditions has led to the freest use of such drugs. In many cases, it is not unlike employing a sledge hammer to crack a peanut. There may be virtue in it to an extent, but the Government has brought much of the additional cost upon itself by giving the medical profession carte blanche to prescribe. The members of the medical profession have taken full advantage of that, and the Government now has to amend the legislation in consequence.
The second thing the Government did, as indicated in the paragraph I have just read, was to permit the use of flavourings. These are quite unnecessary medically and they are very expensive. One has only to turn to the figures to see the violent jump in cost from the time when these two things were done in 1957. Whereas the total cost for general benefits was £8,500,000 in 1956-57, it jumped to £11,500,000- an increase of £3,000,000- in the very next year. In the following year, it jumped to £16,500,000. And this for general benefits only! We are told now that it is to cost over £20,000,000 in the current year with a prospect of its reaching £30,000,000.
I merely rise to indicate that the Government, can blame itself very largely for bringing about these results. Just as, on the one hand, it is doing the unutterably stupid thing of subsidizing a completely uncontrolled medical service charge - a most shocking thing to do administratively for it involves the country in enormous costs which are to a large extent unnecessary - so, too, in this particular case it is involving the country in far greater expense than is necessary, certainly far greater expense than would be involved if the Government had the courage to insist upon the proper use of these drugs instead of lamely doing everything that the British Medical Association dictates to it.
In the further table on pharmaceutical benefits giving the average cost per prescription, I note that for the general benefits available to the general public under the general scheme, the average cost per prescription in 1951-52 was 20s. 7d. By 1958-59, it had risen to 25s. In the next column, headed “ Pensioner Benefits “, it is shown that the average cost per prescription was 4s. 4d. in 1951-52, and that it rose to 7s. 4d. in 1958-59. There is a startling difference between the two cases. In the one case, the cost ranged from 20s. 7d. to 25s., and in relation to pensioner benefits from 4s. 4d. to 7s. 4d. One would not expect a disparity of that order, and I invite the Minister to comment on the discrepancy between those costs. One would expect that the normal run of prescriptions for aged people and invalids would be at least comparable with thai for the general public, and that there would not be a disparity of this type.
That leads me to the conclusion either that the Government is paying too little to the chemists for pensioner benefits, oi that it is paying far too much to the chemists for the other benefits. In the limited contact I have had with members of the pharmaceutical profession, I have been assured by them that they are losing money in providing pensioner benefits - that they are really providing a benefit for the country.I have not yet met a chemist who has not claimed that he is losing money in that field. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the disparity is really remarkable. I invite him to comment on this matter and to explain the justification for the discrepancy.
– I thank Senator McKenna for raising one point that was mentioned by other honorable senators opposite, on which I had forgotten to comment. That point was that the Opposition feels that the medical profession may increase its fees. I am sure the fact that the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to control the fees of members of the medical profession is well known to all of us. The actual figures are interesting. They show that the medical profession, though uncontrolled, has played the game in this matter. During the last five years the average cost of medical services has risen by only 14 per cent. - from £1 8s. 6d. to £1 12s. 9d. I assure all honorable senators that the members of the medical profession have been co-operating properly and ethically in this field, as one would expect.
– Does the figure of £1 12s. 9d. refer to the cost per head?
– It refers to the average cost per service rendered. Senator McKenna referred also to the discrepancy between the average cost of a prescription under the general scheme and under the pensioner scheme. He said that there was a wide discrepancy. He concluded his remarks by saying that we are paying too much for one or too little for the other. I concede that the chemists argue along the same lines. They think that the recompense they receive in relation to pensioner benefits is too low. As one who has been engaged for many years in the grocery trade, I am reminded of the position in relation to sugar. Grocers have always had to sell sugar at a loss in order that they may sell at a profit the other commodities that they stock. So long as the quantity of sugar stocked is not disproportionate to the re mainder of the commodities stocked by a grocer, he can survive under that arrangement pretty well. I think the same line of reasoning applies to the chemists.
This matter is now one for conference between the Minister for Health and the Pharmaceutical Guild. Given common sense and goodwill, I feel that both sides will realize the position and that a compromise will be reached - as has always happened - to enable the scheme to function properly.
Before I conclude, I should like to challenge one statement by the honorable senator. He has said that the Government is imposing a miserable charge of 5s. on the sick people of Australia. He may care to look at the matter in that way. Personally, I like to look at it from the viewpoint that the price of prescriptions, including lifesaving drugs over an extended range, to the sick people of Australia is being reduced from 25s., 20s., or 15s., whatever it may be, to 5s.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Dinner’s amendment) be left out.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon.
A. D. Reid.) Ayes . . . . . . 23
Majority . . . . 3
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 13th November (vide page 1512), on motion by Senator Henry-
That the bill be now read a second time.
– We commend the Government of the day for having introduced this bill to amend the Therapeutic Substances Act as we also commended another government in an earlier day for having introduced in 1953 a bill to repeal the Therapeutic Substances Acts of 1937 and 1938.
The fact that this bill will make more readily available to the people those drugs which are in the British Pharmacopea makes the bill really worthwhile. We hope that on this occasion there will not be the dilatory approach to this subject that characterized the actions of the Government in the past in matters of this kind. The Minister has established a Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee which makes recommendations to him from time to time relating to drugs that should be placed on the free list. In the past, delay has occurred before the drugs recommended for inclusion on the list by the committee were made available to the people under the therapeutics benefits formula. If, as we hope, the introduction of this bill will facilitate the supply of new drugs to the people, we commend the Government for having introduced the measure. As I have said, the Opposition commended the government which introduced the principal act in 1953. That legislation resulted from a recommendation of the National Health and Medical Research Council. The Council recommended to the government of the day - an anti-Labour government - that, because of the limited power of the State governments, the Commonwealth should, in the interests of the people, legislate t) control the standard of drugs made available to the public. The act makes provision for testing and analysing drugs, and for the Government to control the packing and wrapping of drugs made available to the public. Apparently, there is some constitutional limit on the control of the manufacture of drugs, and, accordingly, in 1952 the National Health and Medical Research Council made recommendations in in endeavour to protect the public. As honorable senators are aware, the Council consists of representatives of the Commonwealth and of the States, as well as of various professional bodies and others, including laymen. The council made the following recommendations: - “ State governments develop legislation of a uniform pattern to provide for the licensing of the manufacture of drugs and medicines in each State. The Commonwealth should undertake to submit draft model legislation for this purpose for the consideration of the States.” “ There should be an expert Committee set up to advise the Commonwealth and the States on suitable standards for drugs, not yet in the British or other recognized Phamacopoeas and on such related matters which are incidental thereto.” “The Commonwealth Government should enact legislation to the limit of its constitutional powers relating to the standard of purity of drugs used as therapeutic substances.” “The Commonwealth and States should jointly within the limits of the respective constitutional powers, take the necessary legislative and administrative action with respect to the marketing and labelling of therapeutic substances.” “The States introduce a definition of therapeutic substances which shall be defined by the Governor-in-Council, the manufacture of which shall be licensed in accordance with our previous resolution and that such list will include the list proclaimed by the Commonwealth.”
Those recommendations were extremely valuable to the Commonwealth, and with some measure of speed the Government acted upon them and formulated regulations to provide for the establishment of three committees, namely the Therapeutic Substances Advisory Committee, the Biological Products Standards Committee, and the Therapeutic Substances Standards Committee. Both separately and collectively these committees can play a particularly effective part in protecting the public from drugs of inferior quality that may have a deleterious effect, if not a poisonous effect, on the health of the people. Consequently, we in this Senate have a great responsibility for ensuring that only drugs of the purest quality are made available to the public. It would indeed be criminal negligence on our part if, as the result of our failure to take proper precautions, drugs below the proper standard were made available - a possibility that is inherent in every drug. Unfortunately, with that dilatoriness that is so characteristic of this Government, the Therapeutic Substances Advisory Committee was not set up until 1956 and, since then, it has met on only one occasion. The second committee - the Biological Products Standards Committee - was appointed in 1958, but it has not met at all. The third committee - the Therapeutic Substances Standards Committee - has not yet been formed, and consequently has not met. This suggests that the Government is not particularly interested in the standardization of drugs for the protection of the people. We hope that the Government in exercising the powers vested in it by this legislation, and in the light of the recommendations made as long ago as 1952 by the National Health and Medical Research Council, will abandon its dilatory approach and do something worth while in the interests of the people whom it has the honour to serve.
– in reply - I desire to inform Senator Dittmer and other honorable senators that the Government has set up a national biological standards laboratory in Canberra which will be of the greatest value in this field.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 27th October (vide page 117), on motion by Senator Gorton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– It is in unfortunate circumstances that 1 rise to open the debate on behalf of the Opposition on this bill. Senator O’Byrne secured the adjournment of the debate, but owing to a bereavement in his family he is absent this afternoon. I am sure that honorable senators and all those connected with the Senate will join with me in extending to Senator O’Byrne our deepest sympathy on the loss of his dear mother.
In my opening remarks I should like to trace the history of the War Service Land Settlement Scheme. During World War II., the Rural Reconstruction Committee was appointed and given the job of ensuring that returned servicemen desirous of settling on the land should be given an opportunity to obtain farms. I understand that the committee estimated that between 70,000 and 80,000 men had left primary industry to serve their country, and that 70 per cent, of those men would want to return to the land after hostilities had ended.
After hostilities were concluded, settlement schemes were initiated in each of the States. The purpose of these schemes was to settle all eligible ex-servicemen on the land. The purpose was not only to rehabilitate these men who had given so much to this country, but also to increase our essential primary production. It was the nation’s responsibility to do this, because honorable senators realize that a debt ot gratitude was owed to those men because of the sufferings and privations they had endured during the war when they were fighting to preserve the safety and freedom of this country. The nation, I believe, should continue to accept its responsibility as long as it is possible for it to do so and as long as there is suitable land available. We have it in our power to carry out this scheme, and we owe it to the exservicemen to do so.
Although the scheme has not been 100 per cent, successful, honorable senators must realize that it has been a remarkable scheme, and I do admit that it was partially successful. It is true that the present Government has had much to do with carrving out the scheme, but it was the Chifley Government which first inaugurated it and so made it possible for this Government to carry it on. I believe that a major step was taken by the Labour Government when it decided to base the scheme on economic rather than political considerations. The Labour Party laid down the basic principle that the number of farms to be made available under the scheme would depend on the number of properties that could be developed as a paying proposition. The scheme depended upon the number of suitable properties that could be obtained rather than on the number of prospective settlers available. I feel thai that was the major plank in the whole scheme. It ensured that political considerations were set aside and only economic considerations were entertained.
Figures show that approximately 39,000 ex-servicemen were accepted as being suitable and eligible for settlement on the land. I understand that the number of applications received was in the vicinity of 50,000. Many of the eligible applicants were young men, and because of their youth they were sent to work on farms in order to become experienced farmers. In that way, they were able to gain valuable experience in the field of primary production. These men had part of their wages paid by the State Governments while they were gaining the experience necessary to fit them to manage farms of their own.
The War Service Land Settlement Scheme is now virtually coming to a finish although only about 25 per cent, of the eligible applicants have been placed on the land. The virtual closing of the scheme has been brought about because the States have said that there is no more suitable land available. There are considerable areas of land suitable for closer settlement, not merely by ex-servicemen, but also by civilians. We have vast areas in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and the southern portion of Western Australia. Much of that is Crown land which could be thrown open for development by settlers. I am not losing sight of the fact that suitable irrigation schemes would have to be initiated before successful settlement could take place. In the lower third of Western Australia, several millions of acres of land could be brought into profitable development if the Commonwealth Government were prepared to provide the necessary financial assistance. This land is available in assured rainfall areas, particularly in the area between Albany and Esperance, where the average rainfall is approximately 26 inches.
Most of the fertile and suitable land in South Australia, New South Wales and
Victoria was taken up many years ago by people who obtained that land at a very low cost. It has been held by the descendants of these people over the years. That was to the detriment of the nation, because vast areas were not, and are not, being used to their full productive capacity.
The population of Australia will go on increasing. In addition to the natural increase, we have afoot a vast immigration scheme. This will boost our numbers by several millions in the next few years. There will be a greater necessity than ever before to increase our food production. History proves that great revolutions have been promoted by the rousing of land hungry people who were casting envious eyes on vast areas that were not being used to their full productive capacity. We have seen it happen in France. We have seen it happen in Russia, and we are seeing it happen in China to-day.
The elementary material needs of mankind are food, clothing and shelter. Of these, food is of first importance. Australia was born into history as a great foodproducing continent. Her fertile fields not only fed the people of this land but helped materially to feed the people of the British Isles and Western Europe. The basic national problem which confronts us to-day is this: Is it to be food or famine? That is the basic problem, because it is the one which underlies all others. Without food, the challenge presented by an emergent Asia cannot be met. Without food, it will be impossible to contain communism within its borders. I feel that, without food, the economic problem cannot be solved. It is one thing to face the plague of inflation, to find the price of necessaries soaring to undreamed of heights. It is infinitely more serious not to be able to buy food at any price. Shortage of food, more than any other factor, can destroy every one of our institutions - social, political, economic and cultural.
That Australia, at this point of history, should find herself face to face with that reality is a grim commentary upon the outlook of the Australian people. The nature of the challenge is transparently clear. Australia is a great continent. The areas which have been opened up to settlement and cultivation have not yet been employed to the full. Great areas are still untouched by the plough. Our population is pitifully small. Mr. Deputy President, no physical factor makes necessary a shortage of food tor ourselves and those outside Australia who depend on Australia for food.
In ten years our population has increased by 2,000,000 and, as I have said previously, it should increase by more than 2,000,000 in the next decade, yet the number of persons working permanently on rural holdings fell from 401,000 in 1949 to 398,000 in 1957. This has happened nothwithstanding the fact that approximately 8,344 soldier settlers have been placed on farms under the war service land settlement scheme. Even when we make allowances for the effects of mechanization, it is obvious that a courageous land settlement policy is essential for Australia’s future - for the building up of our rural exports. A courageous policy would give a further stimulus to the demand for the products of every section of Australia’s manufacturing industries.
I daresay that the Senate is wondering what all this has to do with the bill. I am pointing out that Australia must embark upon an extensive land settlement scheme - if not a soldier settlement scheme, then a stronger civilian settlement scheme. It seems to me that this scheme is being partially wound up, not because of the lack of suitable land, but because of the price of land, which is now so inflated as to make the continuation of the scheme economically unsound. Both principal and agent States have found that, whereas in 1945 it cost £5,000 to £6,000 to settle an ex-serviceman generously on the land, to-day no soldier settler can be placed on the land in any State, with any hope of success, for less than £20,000 or £25,000. The result is that the Commonwealth and the respective States have not had an opportunity to place on the land many thousands of good men who could have made a splendid contribution to the rural life and productivity of this country.
In 1943 the Rural Industries Committee reported to Parliament that 23,000 farmers of various types would be required to provide enough food for an additional 1 ,000,000 people. The application of scientific developments in agriculture between 1943 and 1959 has probably made that estimate out of date. I believe, however, that Australia would have been immensely enriched if it had provided at that time for at least 25,000 soldier settlers to be placed on the land. It is no use the Commonwealth blaming the States. They must share the responsibility but, in the main, it rests with the Commonwealth. At this stage, I wish to quote from the 1957-58 report of the South Australian Department of Lands, under the heading “ War Service Land Settlement- World War II”. The report states -
For reasons which have been explained fully in previous reports, there is now little scope for purchase of further land for War Service Land Settlement, and most Crown lands considered suitable have been submitted for inclusion in the scheme. Because of the limited area of additional land purchased, and the progress made in the development of the land already accepted, the operations of the Department under the scheme are becoming less those of preparing land for settlement of ex-servicemen and more those of administration of holdings allotted.
The report continues -
The total area approved for the scheme is 724,517 acres of which 560,115 acres have now been allotted or allocated. A study of the statements will give some idea of the magnitude of the task involved in providing these holdings with house, sheds, fencing and water supply, with pasture establishment in the case of “ dry “ lands, and trees and vines on irrigation holdings, as well as the headworks in the three irrigation areas. … As there was obviously little likelihood of any substantial additional area of land being secured, interviews wilh the Land Board were arranged for all remaining applicants who had indicated that they still desired to be considered for holdings. This was done to ensure that the most suitable men would be selected for the limited number of holdings which could be provided from the remainder of the land available, and to enable the genuine applicants to be advised of their prospects.
It may be said, Mr. Acting Deputy President, that had the Commonwealth been more active in earlier years and placed more men on farms, we would to-day be over-producing wheat, eggs, meat, butter and other commodities. I do not accept that argument because I believe that our so-called over-production to-day, which means that much of our produce has to be exported at unprofitable prices, is the result of the inflation that has occurred in relation to costs during the last few years. Nevertheless, I believe that we must export in ever-increasing quantities in order to earn the overseas income that is necessary to provide for the imports that we need.
Although not all eligible ex-servicemen in South Australia have been settled on the land, I think it can truly be said that the vast majority of those who have been settled are now firmly established. The great problem in South Australia has been to find suitable land. It seems to me that, at some time or other, there has been a difference of opinion between the Commonwealth and the States- in regard to this matter. I refer to a cutting from the Adelaide “Advertiser” of Thursday, 12th November, 1959, headed “28 Soldier Settlement Blocks “. The article states -
Twenty-eight partially developed blocks were to be offered by the State to soldier settlers, the Minister of Lands (Mr. Hincks) said in the Assembly yesterday. The land had been rejected by the Commonwealth. Any ex-serviceman with suitable qualifications would receive “ every consideration “ in the allotment.
The article also states that from the inception of the scheme twelve years ago, to 31st October last, the Commonwealth had spent £16,159,759 on acquisition and development, and that 1,038 men had been settled. That statement seems to indicate that there has been some difference of opinion between the Commonwealth and the States. Where the difference has occurred, I cannot say, but if the South Australian Government was agreeable to dispose of those 28 blocks to soldier settlers, surely it must have known that the blocks were suitable for settlement purposes. The newspaper article to which I have just referred indicates that the Commonwealth had rejected that land. Whether the difficulty arises from the reluctance of both the Commonwealth and the State to accept full responsibility for the scheme, I do not know.
I wish to refer to another Adelaide “ Advertiser “ article in the issue of 30th October last, headed “ Keen to Go on with Land Plan “. It states -
The S.A. Government had been anxious to continue with war service land settlement in this State, the Premier (Sir Thomas Playford) said in the Assembly yesterday. . . . The R.S.L., which probably has the best information on this matter, has particularly commended S.A.’s activity as the best in the Commonwealth.
It seems that the States, particularly South Australia, of which I speak mainly, are keen to go on with the scheme. The Commonwealth Government should continue to assist the States in every possible way. 1 believe that the bill that we are now discussing will assist because it provides for the raising of loan moneys amounting to £7,000,000 for war service land settlement. It is expected that an additional £3,860,000 will be available from repayments of advances made to settlers from State and Commonwealth contributions to the excess of cost over valuations placed on holdings.
The war service land settlement scheme has been in progress for twelve or thirteen years. Persons who applied for assistance early in the scheme may have become despondent and taken other occupations, knowing that perhaps they would have to wait too long for an allocation. If, when they applied, they were aged between 25 and 30 years, they would be between 37 and 42 now. Some of them may not be prepared now to leave a position that may be lucrative to go on the land. It would be more economical for the Government to continue the scheme by applying it to civilian applicants, as the number of exservicemen applicants diminishes. The organization would not then be broken up, having to be brought into action again at some time in the future. A continuation of the scheme would mean increased agricultural production, which would be of great assistance to the Australian economy.
We of the Opposition do not oppose the bill. We urge the Government to do everything possible to continue with an extensive scheme of land settlement. It will be essential for some of our immigrants to be placed on the land. It is of no use to bring them here and let them congregate round the cities. With the growth in our population and the increasing demand for food, Australia would benefit by a definite strong policy of closer land settlement.
– I, too, support the bill. I welcome Senator Drury’s contribution to the debate. I feel sure that he will take the place of exSenator Critchley, who always spoke highly of the efforts being made to settle soldiers on the land in South Australia. Senator Critchley, without exception, used to compliment the South Australian Government in particular for its efforts in that direction. I assure Senator Drury that as long as he continues to speak in that vein, I shall have no hesitation in saying that I welcome his contribution. I think I should say, too, that we regret Senator O’Byrne’s inability to continue the debate. We regret the reason for his not being here to-day. I had not heard of it until Senator Drury spoke. 1 also am somewhat disappointed that this scheme virtually closed as at 30th June this year. I realize that such a scheme must conclude some time and that it has been operating since 1945, which is a long time. However, settlement has not been completed in South Australia, and I believe it should have been continued for at least another year or so in order that men who had been hoping for many years to get blocks of land might receive an allocation before the scheme closed. I think the Minister said that there were in South Australia soldiers who had not received an allocation. For that I am very sorry. Perhaps the Minister will tell me how many are in that category. I believe the number to be about 100 or a few more. This is not the fault of the ex-servicemen, many of whom worked in soldier settlement areas and hoped to get blocks there. They will be amongst the disappointed ones. They were classified as approved applicants and waited patiently for a block. Perhaps the Minister may say that it is not the fault of his Government that they did not receive a block. He may say that in South Australia there is no suitable land of the required standard. I acknowledge that that would be a powerful argument if it were true, but it is not the whole story, because there is in South Australia land that could and should have been accepted by the Commonwealth as part of South Australia’s contribution to the scheme.
I think the Commonwealth has been rather too conservative in its consideration of land recommended by the South Australian Land Board, and has rejected land that it might have accepted. I cite a particular instance. After long investigation, the Commonwealth decided that it could not accept land in the hundred of Jeffries, in the south-east of South Australia, which was quite capable of development. I inspected a great deal of this area on at least two occasions and formed the conclusion, from what I saw of the development of adjacent areas, that I would not have hesitated in accepting a block under the conditions applicable. If I may say so, I think a mistake was made in regard to that area, of which I have some knowledge. I believe a good living could have been made there, remembering that a basis of the scheme was that excessive cost of development might be written off. Any losses so written off would have been borne by the Commonwealth and State in the proportion of three-fifths to two-fifths. The Commonwealth could therefore have taken whatever risk was involved, although I do not think there was any. The area might have been on the border line, but the Commonwealth should have accepted that risk. It has been a little too conservative in setting a standard. I do not altogether blame the Commonwealth. I content myself with saying that an error of judgment was made and that the Commonwealth was a little too conservative in its anxiety to avoid the possibility of any loss. When I remind the Senate again that there was provision for the writing off, if necessary, of excessive cost of development, I think it will be clear that a risk could have been taken.
Several objections were raised by Commonwealth officers to this area, but the one with which I am chiefly concerned was that the rainfall was uncertain. I do not regard that objection as being justified. With the exception of this year, when rainfall was deficient all over the State, the area has not been shown to be subject to a rainfall deficiency. Water is now likely to be available from the river Murray to overcome any water shortage that may exist from time to time, as the South Australian Government is about to lay a pipeline that will serve that area. There is no doubt about the productive capacity of the area. This has been proved by previous settlement in surrounding areas. We believe that the settlement of soldiers on the land in South Australia has been done on the right lines up to date and I accept Senator Drury’s statement that most of these men have made good since their establishment on the land. We are very pleased with that, and I think the fact that the settlement has been successful should be noted as the debate proceeds.
The remarkable point about war service land settlement in South Australia is that most of it has been on what was hitherto virgin land. I do not think it would be true to say that of any other State. In the main, it has been virgin land which has been settled in South Australia, and in this way a splendid contribution has been made towards increasing Australia’s total production. I refer in particular to the development of the virgin land on the west coast of South Australia, at Kangaroo Island and in the River Murray Irrigation Area. Approximately 1,000 men have been settled on the land in South Australia in this way, and I feel that it can be said that a real attempt has been made to honour our obligations to our ex-servicemen. My only regret is that in my opinion the scheme was closed down prematurely in South Australia. Had it been kept going for another twelve or eighteen months, I am certain that most of the returned servicemen who are now willing to accept blocks
Would have been catered for. 1 support the bill and am pleased to note that, when concluding his second-reading speech, the Minister had this to say -
Naturally, settlers under the scheme, particularly those allotted holdings more recently, have been adversely affected by the lower prices being received for some of Australia’s primary produce. Such matters, outside the control of the settlers, are being watched closely, and measures are being taken as required to tide settlers over the difficult period of establishment.
I think the returned men concerned will be very glad to have the Minister’s assurance, just as I am glad to have it. He went on to say -
The farms have been designed along sound lines and, with a reasonable balance between prices for the produce sold and the average cost of production, settlers should be able to obtain a reasonable return for their labour and management and still build up equity in their farms- and that is important - to the degree necessary for them to take their places as members of the normal farming community.
Those are very good sentiments to offer. I sincerely hope that what the Minister says is true. I believe it is, I commend him for the bill and have pleasure in supporting it.
– I rise to support the bill which was described so clearly by the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton) when moving the second reading, as a bill to provide for the raising of loan moneys amounting to £7,000,000 for war service land settlement in the year 1959-60. He stated that this amount will be supplemented by £3,860,000 which is expected to be available from repayments of advances made to settlers from State and Commonwealth contributions to the excess of cost over valuations placed on holdings from the sales of surplus land, and so on.
Commonwealth expenditure out of capital funds for war service land settlement during the financial year 1959-60 is estimated to be £10,860,000, of which Tasmania is to receive £2,059,000. The total amount advanced by the Commonwealth to five of the Australian States since the scheme commenced in 1946, and up to 30th June, 1959, was £80,000,000. The States themselves have also contributed to the scheme, New South Wales contributing £43,000,000, Victoria £46,000,000 and Queensland £6,000,000. As honorable senators are aware, the amounts provided by the States are subsidized by the Commonwealth. At one time the subsidy was £1 for every £2 provided by the States. It is now £1 for every £1 contributed by the States.
Tasmania, like South Australia and Western Australia, is an agent State to which the Commonwealth supplies the whole of the money expended upon war service land settlement. I wish to speak of the scheme only so far as it affects Tasmania. I have not a good grasp of the position in the other States. All I know is what I have heard from honorable senators from time to time. But I have visited most of the projects in Tasmania and therefore have a personal knowledge of their progress and development.
Since the inception of the scheme in 1945-46, the Commonwealth has spent a total of 160,000,000 throughout Australia. Advance allowances of £25,000,000 bring the total to £185,000,000. That is a very fine effort, and both the Commonwealth and the States are to be commended for the good job they have made of war service land settlement.
To 30th June, 1959, Tasmania had received £13,250,000. I suppose she has received a little more since then and I should say that, with the proposed expenditure of £2,059,000 this year the total will be nearer to £16,000,000. As honorable senators know, the scheme was inaugurated by the Curtin Government in 1945-46 with the full support of the then Opposition, which is now the Government.
The only difficulty we had in the early days of the scheme was that originally it was based on the perpetual leasehold system. This did not meet with the approval of certain of the States. I think the States which disapproved were Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria. Both New South Wales and Queensland were in agreement with it, but, in 1950-51, the present Government agreed to the freeholding of the properties after a six-year period of occupation. I understand that the period ot occupation required in Western Australia and South Autralia is ten years. I think most of the difficulties encountered in the early days of the scheme were brought about by the changeover from the perpetual leasehold to the freehold principle. That caused many misunderstandings amongst the settlers.
As the Minister pointed out in his secondreading speech, the number of farms provided to 30th June, 1959, was 8,344, of which 450 were in Tasmania. Of that 450, there were 94 single unit farms. These single unit farms have proved most successful. Speaking from memory, I think that the lease was cancelled in only one case. Therefore, it can be said that the single units were 99 per cent, successful. Most of the difficulties have occurred in connexion with the projects. But it must be remembered that here, too, there have been many misunderstandings about the number of applicants. It was clearly laid down at the beginning that the scheme depended on the land available for settlement, not on the number of applicants. That should be kept well in mind. There are some applicants still waiting for blocks to be allotted to them, but I think that in the projects in hand there are sufficient blocks to satisfy all available applicants.
Originally, the scheme was solely a Commonwealth undertaking. A number of the States, Queensland and New South Wales in particular, protested against it on the ground that it infringed their sovereign rights, and eventually it was decided to introduce a scheme under which the Commonwealth would co-operate with the States. Of course, that brought its difficulties too, but, in my opinion, it strengthened the situation considerably later on. Most of the States chose projects on virgin land that had no possible chance of being developed with State finance or under State schemes. In Tasmania, it was on such projects that a tremendous amount of trouble was encountered. It was a matter of developing them by a process of trial and error. Some of the projects were particularly difficult undertakings. I refer to the King Island, Flinders Island, and Montague Swamp projects. However, the States were responsible for choosing the projects that they submitted to the Commonwealth for approval. They were also responsible for selecting the applicants and for the administration of the schemes. Those things should be borne in mind when we consider the difficulties that occurred.
Difficulties were experienced due to the shortage of machinery, wire netting, seeds and various materials that were needed, and also to lack of experience. Hold-ups were caused, not only by excessive wet weather, but by years of drought as well and much of the land had to be resown. But I should say that the scheme has been a magnificent one. It was conceived, I think, in very happy circumstances, and I believe that the cooperation of the Commonwealth and the States gave it a good start. It is not often that we all agree on any project, but I think that, as a result of the overcoming of difficulties and the carrying out of experiments, a very happy conclusion will be reached.
– Did the Country Party help too?
– I would say that it did. I think that all the political parties were behind this scheme. As Senator Drury said, the scheme has resulted in increased production, which has been of very great benefit to the States. In Tasmania, it has been responsible for bringing into production land that we had not thought it possible to develop. Of course, the idea was not to acquire land that was already in production, but to develop land that could not be developed under State schemes. The costs involved were very high, but it cannot be said that the farms are uneconomic propositions now. As far as the purchase of new land was concerned, the scheme finished in June, 1959. But that is not the end of the scheme, as some speakers in another place have said. I believe that it will take at least five years to finalize the scheme.
The major areas that have been developed in Tasmania are on King Island and
Flinders Island, and at Waterhouse, Mawbanna and Montague Swamp. Nearly all of these areas have been cleared and grassed, and they are now occupied. I trust that the Tasmanian Government will carry on the scheme as a closer settlement project, and that the land which the Commonwealth was unable to deal with during the finalization period will be developed. The State Government has already allotted £100,000 and 10,000 acres of land in the north-east of Tasmania for this purpose.
As I said before, the State Government will benefit from the mistakes made in the past and from the experience gained since the war service land settlement scheme was inaugurated. It has available the machinery and the trained personnel to implement the policy of closer settlement. 1 believe that those who have been administering the scheme now know, as a result of their experience, not only how to go about certain things, but also how not to do them. All of the properties that have been acquired for subdivision in Tasmania have been acquired amicably after conferences between the owners and officers of the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture. The properties have been taken over on terms as near as possible to those that were desired by the owners. I understand that in the other States - particularly New South Wales - land was taken over at the 1942 valuation. The approach that was adopted in Tasmania was not unreasonable or unfair. The Tasmanian law provides that no land can be compulsorily acquired without the approval of both Houses of the Tasmanian Parliament. This is a pretty fair brake on land being resumed at an unfair price. The allotment of blocks in Tasmania is based on a points system, which has a great advantage over the systems in other States - particularly New South Wales, where the ballot system is observed. I understand that Victoria operated a scheme on much the same lines as Tasmania, and that it was very successful. Most of the Tasmanian settlers chose their own blocks, and they were allotted on a system under which points were awarded in respect of the applicants’ war service, their state of health and suitability otherwise to undertake the venture.
As I have said before, the State Government was fully responsible for administra tion and for discharging most of the establishment costs. The rentals were based on the cost of establishment and development. Structures were valued on the basis of 1946 values, and provision was made for repayment on a 30-year basis. Payment for stock was on a five-year basis, and for plant on a ten-year basis. The settlers have the right to convert to freehold after being in occupation for six years.
After difficulties were experienced by settlers on King Island and Flinders Island, and at Mawbanna and Montague, the Tasmanian Government decided, six months ago, to appoint a committee comprising the deputy-director of war service land settlement for Victoria and Tasmania, an officer of the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture and a member of the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania. The committee was established for the purpose of inquiring into the position on King Island and Flinders Island and, after investigation, to furnish a report on which the question of adjustment could be discussed with the Commonwealth. The investigation has been proceeding for six months and the work is now almost finished. I should think that the inquiries will be completed within a few weeks, and that the matter will then take about six months to finalize. The Government is determined to rehabilitate the settlers in occupation, whatever the cost. It will mean, in my opinion, writing off a lot of expenditure amounting to probably £1,000,000 or £1,500,000. However, it would be cheaper in the long run to do so rather than to allow the farms to revert to their natural state. The main trouble is regrowth and pith rush which is prevalent on the island. These farms were made available to the settlers much too early, probably as the result of too much pushing by politicians, no doubt urged on by certain organizations which were declaring that the Government was not proceeding fast enough with the development of the scheme.
The settlers, after consultation, agreed to accept the basis of concessions and standards laid down by the committee appointed by the Minister for Primary Industry. The job of the committee, as I have said, is to examine each case on its merits, to define clearly and identify the various problems facing the settlers and then to report to the Minister. My own opinion is that the final position will be much more favorable to the settlers than they anticipated at the beginning. The investigation will cover projects only and not single unit farms.
The investigation is related specifically to development on the originally agreed basis. 1 think it is very important to remember that it relates to the state of the land before occupation by the settlers. It is not a case of revaluing the properties so much as writing off debts incurred prior to the assistance period for interest on stock, plant and working expenses. It also covers depreciation of plant used under rough conditions - coping with excess regrowth control - credit to working expenses account, allowances for superphosphate used and the re-establishment of settlers’ properties on an agreed and more generous basis. The new basis will sweep aside and remove once and for all the difficulties and differences that have threatened to wreck this splendid scheme of land settlement, upon the success of which depends the happiness of so many families, and the future welfare of King Island. I have very much pleasure in supporting the bill before the Senate.
– At the outset I should like to say that I agree entirely with what has been said by Senators Drury and Pearson as to the great desirability of pushing on with land development in the Commonwealth. I concede that, in the main, soldier settlement has been a great success in Tasmania. In anticipation of the scheme lapsing, the State Government, more than three years ago, set up a committee to investigate the possibility of introducing what was to be known .as the Closer Settlement Bill. I believe that the State Government brought in a good bill in which it tried to avoid the many pitfalls that were inherent in a lot of the administration of soldier settlement. The purpose of the bill was to carry on where soldier settlement left off.
The bill proposed to extend the same benefits to any young men who desired to go on to the land, but who did not have sufficient finance, or who did not already have sufficient land on which to make a living, as was provided by the soldier settlement legislation. It brought the benefits that had accrued to soldier settlers to people in this latter category. Of course, the application of this legislation was limited very greatly because of the restricted State finances available. However, I believe that the Tasmanian Government proposes to approach the Commonwealth Government, which holds the purse strings of the nation, in an attempt to obtain sufficient finance to carry on this project of closer settlement on a reasonably large scale. I think we all concede the great importance - if it is practicable - of pushing on with land development in the Commonwealth.
I have been very interested in what I have seen in New Zealand on the occasions I have visited that dominion. The New Zealand Government for many years has been pushing ahead with land development schemes which have resulted in bringing into production many acres of land that were hitherto regarded as of no use whatever for agricultural and pastoral purposes. I call to mind that in my young days Rotorua was merely a tourist resort. The countryside around it was covered by little more than bracken fern and presented a scene of desolation. To-day it is different altogether; and the same can be said of many other areas in the dominion of New Zealand.
While I appreciate that there are great difficulties, I suggest that if it is at all practicable to push on with a scheme of land development in this country, it behoves us to investigate every possibility in that direction. The reason I rose to speak on this matter is that I felt I would be remiss if I did not say something while this measure is going through the chamber about the great difficulties which are being encountered on King Island - to which Senator Wardlaw has referred - and Mawbanna.
– What about Flinders Island?
– I do not think Flinders Island is so bad. I believe that Flinders Island is better because a better job of development was done there than was done on King Island. I say without hesitation that 50 per cent, of the difficulties that are being encountered on King Island are due to the thorough mess that was made of the original development. Any one who has had anything to do with land development will realize, if he goes there, even at this stage, years after the settlers were originally settled, that they were given a most indifferent start, and that from that start - of course coupled with other factors - stems most of their trouble.
The original scrub was ploughed in and worked up in a very indifferent manner. 1 understand that it had one disc harrowing which was ineffective because the scrub present in the land prevented the disc from doing its work. Grass was sown, but with the grass came up the scrub and the pith rush. It is impossible to work most of the properties with mechanical implements, and it is impossible on a lot of the properties to cut meadow hay or to use the implements that are so necessary for successful grassland farming. In addition to that, the pasture itself is indifferent simply because it did not have the requisite preparation at the outset to give it a good start along the road.
– Is it fairly good land?
– I believe that it is land that is capable of being converted into good pasture country.
– Would it make first-class pastures?
– It would have, provided the necessary development work had been done at the outset. It was only in March last that a committee of the Tasmanian Farmers’ Federation visited the island and produced a very long report. The committee went into all the aspects surrounding soldier settlement on King Island.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– The major part of the trouble at King Island and Mawbanna was due to the fact that the settlers there has a most indifferent start. The land apportioned to them had been only partly developed - and very indifferently at that. A committee of the Tasmanian Farmers’ Federation - an independent committee - visited King Island and issued a most comprehensive and informative report on the condition of the soldier settlers there. In my opinion, every word of the report is correct, and I should like the Minister for Primary Production (Mr. Adermann) to take stock of its contents. The committee said: -
Clearing up of the half-burnt heaps of logs had not been completed on much of the scheme before working down and sowing, thus leaving an impossible task for settlers with their inadequate plant and resources.
Working down appears to have been lamentably short of requirements considering the very rough crabholey nature of the ground before and after its ploughing. There is a glaring need for not only thoroughness but time between operations to allow the root and trash filled ground time to rot and mellow down.
The committee went on to say that the scrub was ploughed in, but that sufficient time was not allowed for nature to do its work. The seed was sown on a most indifferent, immature seed bed, producing a poor pasture which permitted the regrowth of scrub and pith rush.
The settlers on those properties had to contend with an island economy. They had to pay more for everything than was paid on the mainland, and they received less for all their products than did mainland settlers. That is a most important factor. Such problems are inherent in island economies. For those reasons, it was not fair to put those settlers on the same basis, in the matter of financial commitments, as settlers on the mainland of Tasmania. For instance, it costs the island settler about £10 to freight a bullock for export. It costs more than two-fifths of its value to export a fat lamb. Those factors should be taken into consideration together with the increased cost of superphosphate and other requirements.
I should like now to refer the Senate to a report that was made on this subject by a select committee of the Tasmanian Legislative Council. The committee was appointed ten years ago. It was composed of experienced men who had witnessed the difficulties that had beset the soldier settler after the 1914-18 war. Three at least of the committee members were men who were experienced in the economics of primary production. After a most exhaustive inquiry, they recommended that each farm should be valued, with all its buildings and improvements, as from the end of the assistance period, on the basis of its then productive capacity, which would be determined upon a proper average of prices, and not upon prices ruling at the time of valuation. Once the property had been so valued, it should be let to the settler at a fair rent, based on the valuation. At the expiration of ten years from the date on which the settler first rented the property, he should have the right to buy it at the valuation referred to. If the property was then worth more than the valuation, this would be due to the settler’s own effort and he would be entitled to the benefit.
In other words, the committee suggested that the property should be given a reasonable valuation according to present-day conditions, and the settler given the opportunity to purchase it at the assessed price. The committee went on further to point out that this must be done sooner or later. It would cost both the State and Commonwealth Governments a considerable sum of money, but it would be very much better to do that than having these people walk off their farms, as many of them have done. Such farms have a very low re-sale value. I hope that due consideration will be given to what I would describe as the two running sores in the State of Tasmania, so far as soldier settlement is concerned.
I might also indicate some the difficulties that were experienced by soldier settlers in the district of Mawbanna. They were leased properties on valuations, the lowest valuation being £10,000 and the highest £17,000, but the State Valuer has since assessed their value at between £3,000 and £7,000. In other words, the settlers obtained these properties at grossly inflated values. They were settled - at both Mawbanna and King Island - when primary products were bringing very much higher prices than they are to-day. Despite all their efforts - some of them put some of their capital into the properties - they are now in difficulties. There has been a slump in prices. I say that a fresh assessment should be made of the financial commitments which they are expected to meet. If these people are unable to make a success of the venture, it will amount to a waste of public money and individual effort. I do hope that the Minister will note my remarks because there is a great deal of concern amongst responsible people in Tasmania about the position of the settlers in these two areas in particular, because of their commitments and the fact that they are receiving drastically lower prices for everything that they produce.
– I rise to support the bill. In doing so, I want to pay tribute to the Ministers who have been associated with the war service land settlement scheme. I also want to commend the officers who have worked under the Ministers in putting the scheme into effect. I pay special tribute to the members of the Rural Reconstruction Committee, of which we heard earlier in the debate. Those people played a very large part in ensuring that the scheme was soundly based. It is a great feather in their caps that the scheme which was originally introduced in 1949 has been so little altered over the years.
This evening, I wish to deal with the position in Western Australia, as I see it, because I know most about conditions that prevail in that State. I think that the scheme, over all, has been very successful in Western Australia. Over the years, the Commonwealth Government has spent approximately £32,000,000 on war service land settlement in Western Australia, and has settled 880 ex-servicemen on farms. Large estates have been subdivided, and we have also seen the development of project areas. In the district from which I come, there are three or four land settlement schemes which have been developed from large estates. The settlers, who were settled on the land in the early 1950’s, have sheep and wheat farms. To-day, they are in a very sound financial position.
Unfortunately, we in the west soon ran out of large developed estates, and the former Minister for Defence, Sir Phillip McBride, informed the Western Australian authorities that if virgin land was available it was to be used in preference to land which had already been developed. Thus began the project areas at Jerramongup, Gairdiner River, Denbarker and Ennealbar. More than 600,000 acres of virgin land either has been developed, or will be developed, into approximately 240 farms. Honorable senators who have been associated with the land will appreciate that even with the small-scale development being undertaken by individual farmers, many problems crop up. It takes years of hard work to bring the land to a developed, or reasonably developed, stage. When large project areas are being developed, such as those being developed in the south-west of Western Australia at the present time, the difficulties are magnified many times. We have had complaints from the exservicemen who have been settled there, the main complaint being that, in some cases, they have been settled on the land before it has been developed to the stage at which they are able to earn a reasonable living from it. That has been brought about, I think to some degree, by ex-servicemen’s organizations and other organizations interested in land settlement urging the land settlement board to place men on farms as soon as possible, to allow them to take advantage of the prices for primary products that have been ruling during the last few years. A number of soldier settlers has been very dissatisfied with the way in which their blocks have been developed at the time they have been allocated.
In 1957, a royal commission was appointed by the Western Australian Parliament to consider the whole subject of land settlement in Western Australia. Only recently, a committee of the Western Australian Parliament visited the project areas and, on returning to Perth, prepared a report which included the complaint that, in a number of cases, when ex-servicemen took over their farms the capacity of dams was below the required capacity. The committee also complained in its report that the acreages of developed land were far below those stated to be desirable when the farms were allocated to ex-servicemen.
I believe that the Commonwealth Government should not be in too great a hurry to terminate the war service land settlement scheme. I should like an assurance from the Minister that the complaints to which I have referred will be given due consideration and that the ex-servicemen concerned will be assured of a reasonable standard of living before the Federal Government vacates the field. In Western Australia, as in South Australia and Tasmania, during the years of operation of the war service land settlement scheme we have built up a large bank of machinery. We have men with the requisite know-how to undertake the development of large project areas, and we also have large tracts of land that are crying out for development. We have young men who want to be farmers, but because of lack of capital they cannot do so. 1 should like the Minister to consider the further utilization of the equipment and, if possible, to try to form some kind of civilian land settlement scheme. I would not expect such a scheme to be on as grand a scale as the present war service land settlement scheme, but if we are to develop this country of ours, I think that the best way to go about doing that is to encourage primary production. As our population increases we shall need larger quantities of food, and of course, increased primary production will play an important part in improving our balance of payments position overseas. I have much pleasure in supporting the bill.
– I rise for two main purposes. The first is to congratulate the Government on the success of the scheme, and the second is to express my regret that the scheme is terminating before all prospective soldier settlers have been settled on the land. I rise also because I feel that a New South Wales representative should have something to say to-night on this measure. The soldier settlement scheme and Commonwealth re-establishment loans have been of great benefit to men starting out on their own. I regret that this scheme has not been nearly completed in New South Wales. I have nothing but praise for the treatment that has, on the whole, been meted out to the men who have been fortunate enough to secure land under the scheme. Unfortunately there are far too many who, although holding certificates and being qualified to hold land, have not been fortunate enough to draw blocks in ballots. The New South Wales Government has now said that the scheme will be terminated.
It has been very pleasing to see that the mistakes of soldier settlement after World War I. were not repeated. Those of us who remember that earlier period saw the results and were not very happy with them. On that occasion, in New South Wales and in my own district in particular, the areas that were allotted to settlers were far too small. In many instances the land was unsuitable and sufficient financial assistance was not forthcoming to put the settlers on a good enough footing to ensure that their projects would meet with success.
After World War II., those mistakes were not repeated. Areas were made larger and the value of the assistance given varied from £13,000 to £16,000. This was in sharp contrast to the assistance given after World War I. In the central western districts of New South Wales, with which I am most familiar, and also in northern districts, those ex-soldiers who were fortunate enough to obtain blocks of land shortly after the scheme came into being, have been, in most cases, very successful indeed. In fact, some of those men are quite wealthy to-day, not only because of the sharp rise that took place in the value of primary produce but also because of the very hard work and good management that they put into their properties.
Only about a fortnight ago I inspected a soldier settlement block in a northern area of New South Wales, and it was certainly a pleasure to see. The fences were in very good condition, having been erected by the hard labour of the settler himself. He had very good sheds and his water supply was quite good. He had displayed what I thought was a very commendable spirit in leaving until last the erection of his permanent home. He did provide a residence that he hoped would not be permanent. Now he is in a position to build a good, comfortable home. When we find men with that spirit on the land, we see that the Government’s efforts have been appreciated, with the result that the country will benefit considerably in the future.
New South Wales, unfortunately, has lagged very far behind in this scheme. I cannot, in honesty, do other than blame the line that the State Government has followed during the decade that the scheme has been in operation. We must remember, first, that New South Wales decided to “ go it alone “ with whatever assistance she could get from the Commonwealth Government. Until a few years ago the New South Wales Government laid down that in providing compensation for land resumed it would pay only the 1946 values. This, of course, proved to be so unpopular that the Government opened its heart somewhat and decided that the value to be paid was the 1946 value plus 10 per cent. This gave rise to quite a lot of litigation, as was to be expected, and one case, in relation to the Ghoolendaadi estate, ended at the Privy
Council. While I am not suggesting that the Government could not get sufficient land in New South Wales for soldier settlement, had the Government been a little more generous in awarding compensation for land resumed, there would have been far greater success. I am not conversant with provisions in other States, but a settler in New South Wales must remain on his property for ten years before he may dispose of it on the open market. The land is held on perpetual lease.
– May the settler freehold it at any time?
– No. That is one of the factors that has caused a lot of dissatisfaction. We of the Australian Country Party have expressed opposition to it. We have advocated that a soldier settler should eventually have the right to freehold if he so desired.
– If you shifted to Victoria, it would be all right.
– We do not want to shift to Victoria. We have a far better State than Victoria is ever likely to be.
– Bigger, anyhow.
– And better. At the end of ten years, should a settler decide to dispose of his property, the amount owing to the State on the property has first to be liquidated, and, as the land is held on perpetual lease, naturally the amount that is paid for the property must be approved by the Minister for Lands. We have found recently that quite a number of settlers, after having been on properties for ten years, have disposed of them, in the main, on quite favorable terms.
– Very favorable terms, normally.
– Quite favorable terms. Other honorable senators may talk later on the subject, if they wish. T am not complaining about the conditions of soldier settlers in New South Wales, but I regret very much indeed that more of them were not settled. Just recently the State Leader of the Country Party, Mr. Charles Cutler, alleged that a State Minister had let the cat out of the bag by saying that New South Wales had not sufficient funds for public works and that for every man who was settled on the land at a cost of about £12,000 it was possible to keep eighteen men employed by the Public Works Department or the Railways Department for a year. That is possibly one reason for the attitude of the New South Wales Government, but I am afraid it has been adopted at the cost of men who should be settled now under the scheme. I do not wish to detain the Senate any longer. I congratulate the Commonwealth Government on what it has done towards settling soldiers under the scheme.
[8.291. - In reply - I should like to say, first, how pleasant it is to find that this bill ha«j been, in great measure, supported from both sides of the chamber. But in the course of the speeches of support coming from one side or the other, some comments were made to which I think I should endeavour to give an answer. Senator Drury, who made a very reasoned speech, if I may say so, was the first speaker in the resumed debate. I have very little objection of any kind to what he had to say, but one point stuck in my mind when he was speaking. I noted him as saying that it was no use blaming the States for anything which might at any time have gone wrong in this scheme of soldier settlement, or in the working out of the scheme of soldier settlement, and that the responsibility rested with the Commonwealth. That is probably true. I think there is little use or benefit in the Commonwealth blaming a State, or a State blaming the Commonwealth on this matter.
But since this is likely to be the last second-reading speech on a bill relating to war service land settlement, I should like, without endeavouring in any way to blame any State but purely because the matter has come up in other spheres, and for the purpose of objectively placing on record what has happened in connexion with soldier settlement, to give to the Senate a statement as to what has been factually and quietly the relationship in this matter between the Commonwealth on the one side and New South Wales on the other. I should like to do that because there has blown up a controversy on this matter which I think a factual statement could do much to put into proper perspective. Since
Senator Drury has raised this matter, I should like to put before the Senate a statement of what the position of the Commonwealth vis-a-vis New South Wales has been as regards war service land settlement.
I should like to say, first, that when this scheme was introduced into Australia some fifteen years ago negotiations were undertaken between the Commonwealth on the one side and various States, some of whom were principal States and some of whom were agent States, on the other side. New South Wales was what has come to be called a principal State.
During the course of those negotiations, which were carried on by the Rt. Hon. Sir William McKell on behalf of New South Wales, that State made its position perfectly clear to a previous government. The New South Wales Government said, in effect, “ We insist that, in order to protect our State rights in this matter, in order to be consistent with our theories of State sovereignty, we are to be the people who provide all the capital for the institution of war service land settlement in our State. You, the Commonwealth, are to have only the responsibility of training ex-servicemen, paying the cost of that training before and after they go on to the land, and of paying them living allowances after they have gone on to the land and until their land comes into production. You can have a further responsibility of paying half of any difference between the actual cost of developing a farm, bringing it into production, erecting buildings on it and putting the settler on it and the cost at which it is given to the settler. If it is given to the settler at £x less than it has cost to develop, then you, the Commonwealth, can pay half of £x. That is all the responsibility that we will allow you to have, and we, the State of New South Wales, insist that we will provide all the capital moneys needed for purchasing the land, for developing the land, and for giving it to the settler.” Victoria took up the same attitude. The Commonwealth agreed with that proposition, and that was the genesis of the war service land settlement scheme as it applied to the principal States of New South Wales and Victoria.
For seven years after the signing of that compact, New South Wales carried out to the letter the terms of the agreement on which it had insisted. The State Government provided some £4,000,000 to £4,500,000 each year for the purposes of war service land settlement out of its own resources, resources which it had attracted to itself by including in its loan programme a specific allotment for war service land settlement. There was no confusion, and there was no disagreement between the main parties.
But, in 1952-53, instead of providing, as it had done hitherto from its own resources, something between £4,000,000 and £4,500,000, the New South Wales Government cut its allocation for war service land settlement to £2,000,000 and the Commonwealth was concerned. It was concerned because, in its opinion, this drastic cut could lead only to great delay in the placing on the land of soldier settlers and to a great diminution in the number of soldier settlers who could be placed on the land. So the Commonwealth Government approached the New South Wales Government and said, “If you are having difficulty in living up to the agreement on which you insisted, if you no longer can make available the amount of money which, for the last seven years, you have made available under the agreement upon which you insisted, we should like to help because we should like to see soldiers placed on the land in the greatest possible numbers in the shortest possible time. In spite of what you insisted upon before, we will make available to you from Commonwealth resources £1 for every £2 which you make available from State resources. If you go back to the terms of the agreement upon which you insisted and make £4,000,000 available from State resources, the Commonwealth will make available an extra £2,000,000 so that you will have £6,000,000 with which to settle soldiers on the land in the shortest possible tmie.” The Commonwealth hoped that this would bring that settlement to early fruition. But it did not, because New South Wales, after accepting that proposition from the Commonwealth Government, cut the money made available by it still more. In the next two years, the allocation by New South Wales dropped and dropped. We then reached a stage at which the Commonwealth Government - still worried, still eager to get soldier settlers on the land in the greatest numbers in the shortest possible time - went to New South Wales and said, “ If you still find difficulty in supplying the amount that you used to supply under the agreement that you insisted on, we will make available, not £1 for every £2 that you make available, but £1 for every £1 that you make available, and we shall do that to try to get this thing brought to early fruition “.
In 1955-56, when the Commonwealth was making available £1 for every £2 allocated by New South Wales, that State made available only £3,250,000, and in the next year only £3,000,000, instead of the £4,000,000 or £4,500,000 it had made available before. At that stage we came in, as I have said, Sir, and indicated that we would make money available on a £l-for-£l basis, to try to get this thing done. The result was that in 1957-58 the amount supplied by New South Wales for this purpose dropped from £3,000,000 to £1,850,000, and in 1958-59, from £1,850,000 to £1,050,000- to a quarter of the amount that New South Wales had supplied before. New South Wales, in complete defiance of the agreement reached with the Commonwealth, was relying on the Commonwealth to raise that one-quarter to one-half on what the State had supplied before. It was clear, Sir, at that stage that the sole result of the Commonwealth Government entering this field, supplying more and more money to this principal State for this purpose, was that the State was diverting loan funds away from war service land settlement to some other purpose and relying on the Commonwealth Government to provide money which it had at first refused.
– And, at the same time, shedding crocodile tears.
– Yes, at the same time shedding crocodile tears. The Government of New South Wales, having at that time reduced its allocation to one-quarter of what it had agreed to supply, having in truth broken the original agreement, and having abrogated the responsibilities that it had insisted on assuming, foreshadowed the end of the scheme and blamed the Commonwealth Government for not supplying sufficient money to enable it to be carried on.
That is a factual statement of the position from the origination of this scheme until now. 1 think that at this stage of the debate - this is the last time that this matter will be talked about - the position should be put on record clearly and factually, so that he who runs may read and he who reads may judge.
Sir, 1 move on now to points raised by Senator Drury, by Senator Pearson, and perhaps by some other South Australian senator whom 1 hope I will not offend if I do not mention his name. They dealt with the position in South Australia. They were moved to speak of it, I think, by some remarks made in a guarded, or an unguarded moment, by the Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, when speaking to the returned servicemen’s league in South Australia.
– Not then.
– At any rate, the general tenor of those remarks was that the Commonwealth Government - I am now talking of the Commonwealth Government dealing with an agent State, not with a principal State - in its dealings with South Australia had been too conservative and had not agreed to finance all the propositions put up by South Australia. That is the view that was propounded in this Senate this afternoon - that the Commonwealth had been too conservative. I think I would not be unreasonable if I said that that is the view that Tom Playford sought to expound in South Australia - that we bad been too conservative, that we had not accepted what South Australia had put up to us as a proposition to settle soldiers on the land in South Australia, and consequently there are from 100 to 150 applicants in South Australia - I cannot give the exact figure, I regret to say - who will not be settled on the land under this present scheme.
In support of that contention, it was said that there was land in South Australia - perhaps with a rainfall on which one could not quite depend - in respect of which, in the view of one or two senators in this place, the Commonwealth Government could have said. “ Go ahead and develop that land; we will pay for it and you can put your ex-soldiers on to it”. They say that because the Commonwealth Government did not do that, it was too conservative.
T would like to say, dealing with this point, Sir, that the conservatism, or the lack of conservatism, of the Commonwealth Government is not the only thing to be taken into consideration in this matter. This is not only a matter between South Australia and the Commonwealth; it is a matter between South Australia, the Commonwealth Government and the settler. One of the major factors to be considered is the interest of the settler. I know that a great deal of the cost of the development of a farm can be written off, and that the Commonwealth can pay three-fifths and the State two-fifths of the cost of writing it off, but that would be of little benefit to a man if he went into an area of uncertain rainfall - a marginal area - and struck a drought, as so many people did after World War I. in the area in which I live. He could work and slave for six or eight years until he could not carry on any longer, because good seasons had not come. He would walk off his farm having wasted those years of his life. That is one consideration which must be taken into account.
But leaving that on one side, if these areas which were put up to the Commonwealth Government for development by the Government of South Australia were good areas, if they were areas on which it was reasonable to put a soldier settler and on which he could be expected to make a living with a reasonable capital expenditure, and if there were a difference of opinion on it - if the Commonwealth said that a man could not make a living from that land, and South Australia said that he could make a living from it - then South Australia should have settled him on that land. If the judgment of South Australia was correct, if Sir Thomas Playford’s judgment was correct, and it turned out that the man could make a living, the Commonwealth Government would have paid for the development of that land, just as if it had agreed at the very beginning to take over the land.
– The State has not done so.
– If there is any case in which the State has not gone ahead with a programme presented to the Commonwealth Government, it is because the State is not sure enough of the soundness of its judgment to stand up against the Commonwealth’s judgment. If it is sure enough. then it cannot lose because the Commonwealth Government will pay, if a State wants it, for what a State decides to do. That is the answer I give to the proposition advanced by the Premier of South Australia that the Commonwealth Government has been too conservative. If he had been sure of himself, he could have gone ahead and he could not have lost. The Commonwealth responsibility is to see that the man who goes on the land does not lose.
I move now to some remarks that I think Senator Lillico made about the development of King Island and Mawbanna. The development of those areas was carried out, as he knows, by the State authority and was merely financed by the federal authority. If the development was carried out in the inefficient way he suggested, then 1 hope he will use the influence he has in his own State, and 1 hope all other Tasmanian Senators will use the influence they have in their State, to bring to the attention of Tasmanians the inefficiency of the development by the authority.
I think that all I have left to say now is to comment briefly on suggestions which have come from both sides of the chamber that having completed what is, in effect, a highly successful war service land settlement scheme, the Commonwealth Government should now embark on a civilian land settlement scheme. Before I proceed to deal with that suggestion let me say that the war service land settlement scheme has been far more successful than the figures in the second-reading speech indicate. It is a scheme which certainly has resulted in only 8,344 people being settled on the land under the direct aegis of the scheme, but which has resulted in an extra 14,300 being settled on the land by the help of agricultural loans and an extra 2,800 being settled on the land in a single units scheme, making a total of approximately 25,000. With the completion of that project it is suggested that the Commonwealth Government should now embark on a civilian land settlement scheme. I wish to say only that the scheme we are discussing could be undertaken by virtue of the defence power of the Commonwealth. It is by virtue of the defence power that we are, in thi? bill, asking the Senate to allow us to borrow money for the purposes of this act. That power would not extend to a civilian settlement scheme.
However, I am sure that if the States, whose responsibility it is for a civilian settlement scheme entirely, were to approach the Commonwealth Government, the Commonwealth Government would, as always on these matters - and subject to all the considerations that enter into them - receive their approach, consult with them and see what could best be done for the interests of the States.
– What is wrong with the Commonwealth Government approaching the States?
– We are not, as we have been told to-day, the sole custodian of the purse of this country. On the contrary we, as a Commonwealth Government, are budgeting to spend more than we collect. Most of what we spend is now going to State governments for various projects for which they take the credit or, if the projects go wrong, for which they lay the blame on the Commonwealth.
Furthermore, if we were to endeavour to intrude ourselves into a scheme of this kind - I speak purely as a Victorian with a knowledge of Victorian psychology - we would be accused of infringing the sovereign rights of the States. So if there is some project of this kind - and I am sure it has not been worked out in detail - it is a project, the responsibility for which is purely a matter for the States. Let them, if they want to do so, get together and then approach the Commonwealth.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Gorton) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill has already been so much discussed, both in the Parliament and outside, thatI think there is no need for me to inform honorable senators of its purpose other than to say briefly that it is a bill to make uniform throughout Australia the law relating to divorce and matrimonial causes. The Government in introducing this bill decided that the time had come for the Commonwealth to exercise to the full a constitutional power that has been vested in the Parliament since the establishment of federation.
Till now, vital elements of family life and relations have been regulated by separate and diverse laws in each State and Territory. There will be great advantages in dealing with divorce and matrimonial causes on a uniform basis so that, in these respects, the family unit will be considered in an Australian and not only in a local setting. The high degree of mobility that now exists in our rapidly increasing population would of itself make this course desirable.
Commonwealth legislation since the end of World War II has gone a long way, especially in the case of wives, to eliminate the inconvenience of six or more separate domiciles. This bill goes even further and virtually establishes, for all purposes related to matrimonial causes, a common Australian domicile. In addition, it will lay down, in terms applicable to all Australians, uniform grounds of divorce and uniform provisions concerning divorce generally, so that it will in the future make no difference to the rights of spouses in this regard what part of Australia they live in.
I do not propose to go through the bill part by part. At this stage it will be enough, I hope, if I mention what seem to be the four main features of the bill from the point of view of its impact on Australian family life.
In the first place, the bill seeks to promote stability of marriage by making divorces difficult during the early years when a husband and wife are learning that adjustments and allowances are necessary on both sides in order to make a marriage endure. The bill does this by prohibiting the commencement of proceedings for divorce, other than on certain specified grounds, during the first three years of a marriage, except by leave of the court.
The second thing the bill seeks to do is to lay stress on reconciliation, and it attempts to save marriages even after proceedings for divorce have begun. This it does by providing for subsidies to be paid to approved marriage guidance organizations, by expressly laying upon courts the duty to give consideration to the possibility of reconciliation, and by giving to courts directions as to how they may carry out that duty.
The third main feature of the bill is that it seeks to ensure that, if in spite of all endeavours a divorce is granted, proper arrangements, having regard to the means and other circumstances of the parties, will be made both for the welfare of the unfortunate children of the marriage and also for the maintenance and other rights of a wife. New and adequate means of enforcing the payment of maintenance ordered to be paid are provided in the bill.
Fourthly, the bill specifies the grounds of divorce which will apply throughout Australia, some of which will necessarily be new in some States, but all of which are derived from grounds already existing in one or more States.
Honorable senators are well aware of the adjustments that must be made when people first enter the married state. These adjustments are difficult for some people, and early troubles in married life too often lead to divorce proceedings that could be avoided if only the parties had the patience to give each other a little more time for mutual growth in understanding. The bill tries to help the spouses by providing a compulsory cooling-off period. Clause 42 provides that, with certain exceptions, no proceedings for dissolution or judicial separation may be commenced within three years of marriage, except by leave of a court. The exceptions involve conduct which, it is considered, will almost necessarily preclude reconciliation. Leave to commence proceedings before the three years have elapsed may be given only in exceptional circumstances, where to refuse leave would impose exceptional hardship on the applicant, or where the case involves exceptional depravity on the part of the other party to the marriage. The bill requires the court, in considering an application for leave in one of these exceptional cases, to have regard to the interests of the children of the marriage, and to the possibility of a reconciliation between the parties before the expiration of the period Qf three years.
The bill places much emphasis on reconciliation, not only in the case I have just mentioned, but also in relation to matrimonial causes generally. The part that marriage guidance organizations are already playing in assisting to keep together marriages that are threatening to break up has been recognized by the bill, which makes provision for financial assistance to be given by the Commonwealth to marriage guidance organizations approved by the Attorney-General, so that they may continue and expand this useful and desirable work. I understand that marriage guidance organizations have already reported an increase in persons seeking their assistance since this bill was first introduced into the Parliament. On marriage guidance generally, I draw the attention of honorable senators to Part II. of the bill. Furthermore, the bill lays down that when a matrimonial cause has been instituted, it is the duty of the court - the statutory duty imposed as such - to give consideration from time to time to the possibility of a reconciliation between the parties. This is in Part III. of the bill, which sets out of the procedure to be followed to enable efforts towards reconciliation to be made if the court thinks there is a reasonable possibility of success.
I would specially refer to the provisions of the bill designed to safeguard the welfare of children of families in which the marriage of the parents is dissolved. Under the existing divorce system in Australia, the parents may obtain a divorce and the decree can be made absolute, and the arrangements for the children can be left for consideration later. Not infrequently, under this system, perhaps as the result of some very unequal bargaining between the parties, the arrangements made for the children are emphatically not satisfactory. Clause 70 of the bill provides that, where there are children under the age of sixteen, a decree nisi, no matter on what ground it was granted, may not become absolute until the court, by order, has declared that it is satisfied that proper arrangements in all the circumstances have been made for the welfare and, where appropriate, the advancement and education of the children. In a proper case and in special circumstances, such an order may be made even in respect of a child above the age of sixteen. The bill further provides that, in proceedings in respect of the custody, guardianship, welfare, advancement or education of children, the court shall regard their interests as the paramount consideration. This provision is to be found in clause 84.
I come now to the fourth main feature of the bill to which I wish to draw attention - the grounds on which divorce may be granted. In this regard I say at once that, though the bill provides some fourteen grounds, no useful conclusion can be drawn from the mere process of counting them and comparing them in number with the grounds that already exist in the respective States and Territories. The statistics published in the “ Year-Book “ show that, apart from desertion and adultery in all the States, non-compliance with an order for the restitution of conjugal rights in New South Wales, the ground of separation in West Australia and cruelty in South Australia, the number of divorces granted upon other grounds, in Australia as a whole, is really quite small. In other words, there are a good many minor grounds which in each State have been included to cover particular cases where it has been felt inequitable to deny matrimonial relief; but the inclusion of these grounds does not have any substantial influence on the divorce rate and affords no basis for a critique of the bill as a whole.
The settlement of the grounds on which marriage may be dissolved is the most important, and also the most difficult, aspect of making a uniform Australian divorce law. The task is all the more complex because nowhere in Australia is the field clear. On the contrary, the States have all had comprehensive divorce laws for something like a hundred years. Speaking in this chamber, which the Constitution designed as a House of States, and in which each State, regardless of size and population, is represented equally, I do not need to emphasize in detail the importance of the fact that every State has had experience in divorce law. Nowhere in Australia will it be better understood than in this chamber that in making a uniform law which will operate in every State, the experience of every State must be examined and given weight, and the experience of no State is lightly to be discarded. it is in this spirit that the Government has approached the task of deciding what grounds of divorce ought to be made universal in Australia. The principle behind each of the grounds which honorable senators will find in clause 28 of this bill has already been accepted in some parts of Australia. In this respect, the bill does not seek to go beyond already tried experience in this field of social legislation.
I shall make no attempt to canvass all the grounds in series. The time for that will come in the committee stage of this debate. I shall, however, touch briefly on three of the grounds - failure to comply with an order for restitution of conjugal rights, desertion, and what the bill calls “ the ground of separation “.
This bill permits proceedings for divorce founded on non-compliance with an order for the restitution of conjugal rights. Such a proceeding is at present permitted only in the State of New South Wales. The bill, however, permits divorce proceedings on this ground only where non-compliance has continued for the full space of one year. In New South Wales, by virtue of the established practice of the courts, the period of non-compliance is much shorter - three weeks, in fact.
Tn explaining the nature and purpose of the change introduced by this bill, I mention next that, whereas at present in Australia the period of desertion which forms a ground of divorce is almost universally three years, the bill fixes two years. This was the period recommended by the Law Council of Australia. The Government’s thought is that, bearing in mind the period of maladjustment which inevitably precedes an actual desertion, and the length of time
I hat court processes would take after the statutory period of desertion has run. the period of two years is just and sufficient. If the parties are not reconciled within the first two years. the possibility of reconcilation afterwards is. I would think, nil. The matrimonial offence of desertion is no different in character at the end of three years rather than two.
By the provision that only noncompliance for at least one year with an order for the restitution of conjugal rights will constitute a ground of divorce, this bill has restored a restitution suit to its original purpose, as a procedure in aid of reconciliation. Under present conditions, such a suit has been widely used in New South Wales as a mere preliminary to divorce, though even under present conditions there is clear evidence that it is used as an aid to reconciliation in a substantial number of cases. With the period of desertion reduced to two years, and the period of noncompliance with the restitution order increased to one year, there will be literally no point in using a restitution suit any longer as a short cut to divorce. These two changes are, therefore, complementary to each other, and should produce a balanced provision.
I come last to the ground upon which there has been, in another place, much controversy. It is ground (m) of clause 28, with which must be read clauses 35 and 36. This is the “ ground of separation “, which is based upon, though not identical with, a provision which was introduced into the law of Western Australia in 1945. The ground is -
By virtue of clause 36, the court is prohibited from granting a decree on that ground if it is satisfied that, by reason of the conduct of the petitioner, whether before or after the separation commenced, or for any other reason, it would, in the particular circumstances of the case, be harsh and oppressive to the respondent, or contrary to the public interest, to grant a decree. The court is also prohibited from granting a decree on this ground unless it is satisfied that the petitioner has made just and proper financial arrangements for the maintenance and benefit of the respondent. Furthermore, the court has a discretion to refuse a decree - I repeat, to refuse a decree - where the petitioner has, whether before or after the separation commenced, committed adultery. lt will be clear at once to honorable senators that this ground does not involve, as iiic ordinary grounds do, the commission of a matrimonial offence. The ground rests simply upon the fact that the parties have for years been separated, with no prospect of reconciliation, and that accordingly their marriage must in any real and vital sense be regarded as having definitively and irretrievably broken down. The Government’s view is that in such circumstances as these a paramount interest of the community is to allow the legal status which is the only surviving element of such a marriage to be dissolved, and to allow either or both of the parties the opportunity to form fresh and sound unions. The view which finds expression in this ground (m) is that there is no sense or community interest in condemning either or both of the spouses to irregular relationships which, in honour, cannot result in families.
Clause 28 (m) states the ground on which a petitioner may seek a divorce. But he will not be able to get a decree on the ground of separation if, in the judgment of the court, the granting of the decree would be harsh and oppressive to the respondent, offensive to public morals or otherwise contrary to the public interest, or do financial injustice to the respondent. These safeguards are built into the system by clause 36. They are there for the protection of a respondent who does not want divorce, and they should be fully effective in preventing true injustice.
The safeguards provided by clause 36 correspond in objective, though not in method of legal operation, to the absolute bars provided for in the corresponding Western Australian provision. The experience of that State, Sir, is most illuminating as a basis for judgment on ground (m) as qualified in clause 36. The ground of separation has in recent years been responsible for only about one-fourth of all the divorces granted in that State, and something like 95 per cent, of the cases seem to have been undefended. So far from the adoption of the principle of “ break-down of marriage “ having led to an increase in the number of divorces, both the aggregate and the rate have fallen steadily since 1947. Western Australian experience discloses no basis whatever for fearing that the new ground will undermine respect for marriage as an institution.
This bill represents a systematic attempt to make a new approach to the problem of divorce in contemporary society, not so much in respect of the grounds of divorce as in respect of the emphasis - throughout the whole bill - upon measures for promoting the stability of marriage.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 28th October (vide page 1223), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not oppose this bill which seeks to authorize the raising of loan moneys totalling £36,080,000 for financial assistance to the States for housing. The amount will be allocated as follows: - New South Wales, £12,350.000; Victoria. £10,300,000; Queensland, £3,480.000; South Australia. £5.000.000; Western Australia. £3.000,000; and Tasmania, £1,950,000. In 1956-57. 75 per cent, of the finance provided by the Commonwealth was applied to the housing programmes of the State housing commissions and 20 per cent, to the encouragement of building societies. In 1957-58, the proportions were altered, so that 65 per cent, was applied to the housing programmes of the States, and from 20 to 25 per cent, to the encouragement of the activities of building societies and other approved institutions.
The interesting point is that, although the money made available to building societies by the Commonwealth has increased, finance made available by other lending institutions has decreased. The Victorian figures are of interest in this respect. Two years ato. the Victorian banks lent £700,000 for housing purposes, but the amount has now decreased to £250.000. Two years ago, the private savings banks lent £1,700,000, and they now lend only £250.000. The State Savings Bank of Victoria is lending £1,000.000 less this year. That has been a notable tendency in home finance during the last ten years, particularly in regard to private lenders such as the private trading banks and insurance companies which, for many years, have been traditional lenders of money for home building. Apparently, those institutions have moved as far out of the housing field as they can possibly get. The amount lent by the banks has diminished substantially over the last few years.
– Over what period of years?
– Over the last ten years, but particularly over the last seven years. 1 may say that I am only speaking from memory. 1 know that when L mention figures from memory they go into “ Hansard “. Therefore, I shall not attempt to give exact figures because 1 may give the wrong ones. However, the reduction in finance made available for housing by financial institutions has been very substantial and possibly has amounted to £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 a year. That reduction, of course, has had a very important effect on the housing position.
I have for years accepted the position that the housing problem in Australia varies in intensity throughout the States. Nevertheless, the shortage of houses represents a national problem, and no authority in the Commonwealth has greater power to overcome that problem than has the national Parliament. We have in this country two main problems, namely, housing and unemployment. To my way of thinking, they are the fundamental national responsibilities, and in both of those respects this Government has failed seriously.
The Government contends that the housing lag at the present time is approximately 50,000 houses. I think most people will agree that that figure is substantially understated. From time to time, we have reports from the Department of National Development which suggest that the housing shortage will be overtaken in the next year or two. Such reports have been appearing consistently during the last four years, but we are no nearer a solution of the housing problem in New South Wales and Victoria, the two main States of the Commonwealth, than we were five years ago. Although a comparatively large number of houses will be completed in Australia this year, the fact remains that the demand for homes is constantly increasing. We should not bring to this country 125,000 migrants a year, as we are at present, unless we are prepared to provide them with facilities to purchase homes within a reasonable time of their arrival in this country.
Of course, migrants cannot purchase homes from their savings. They must have assistance from government agencies, so that they may obtain homes on the payment of small deposits. The rates of interest must be reasonable. Families that must pay high rents for shared accommodation find that the drain on their income is so substantial that the task of saving sufficient money to pay a deposit on a block of land is a very difficult one indeed. Once such families are settled in homes, they are able to save, in that the weekly repayments are a form of enforced saving. Money that is paid in rent is lost, but money that goes to pay off a home is compulsory saving. If people are able to pay a deposit on a home, after four or five years they have a reasonable degree of equity in it. They are in the process of acquiring a substantial asset.
The demand for housing is not likely to ease. Instead, it must automatically increase. Having regard to the number of young people of a certain age in Australia to-day, it has been estimated that there will be more marriages in 1964 than ever before. Governments have a very important obligation in this respect. It is not right that young people who marry should be forced to live in sub-standard conditions for three or four years after marriage. They should have the opportunity to get into homes of their own. They must start to build for their future, get families around them, buy the things that home comfort demands, and set themselves up as solid citizens. I do not think it is of any use for the Government to keep saying that it is solving the problem when all of our common sense and experience as senators tells us the contrary. We know the number of people who come to us seeking help from housing commissions and other agencies. This shows that the position is still desperate. I have read a report to the effect that the housing needs of Victoria rose from 11.000 to 16,000 in the past three years. The two major States in particular are growing rapidly, and the provision of housing must keep pace. A major assault on the problem is required in order to bring it closer to solution before the full impact of the great number of migrants and the 1964 marriages is felt. With 1,600 babies being born every day, there is a tremendous growth in our population. It is such that, to my mind, we shall never quite solve the housing problem. There will always be a little lag, but it must be reduced to reasonable proportions. 1 read in one of the Sydney morning newspapers to-day of two or three cases which, we know, are multiplied a thousand times in the great cities. Just before Christmas the New South Wales Housing Commission will be making available a large number of new homes, and the stories of two or three families involved were told. Mr. and Mrs. Gallagher have been married for six years and are living on the ground floor of a Surry Hills residential. Their accommodation is one bedroom, living room and tiny kitchen. The only play area for the children is a concrete yard, 9 feet by 20 feet, surrounded by towering factories. The three Gallagher children rarely see the sun. Mrs. Gallagher said that they had to light a fire under a copper boiler every time they wanted a bath, and that they shared a bathroom with the other people in the residential.
Living at Hargrave Park is a migrant couple who came from England five years ago. They have been living in a hut in the emergency housing settlement for the past five years. At last, after having been in Australia for that period, they are to receive a housing commission home. Another case cited is that of a couple with two children living in a tiny flat at Coogee. They will be moving into a housing commission home before Christmas. As I have said, these cases may be multiplied many thousands of times. An illustration of the shortage of houses is found in the fact that since the New South Wales Housing Commission began to make homes available on a deposit of £50, it has received applications at an average rate of 250 a week.
So we cannot ignore this social cancer in our midst. Those who are comfortably housed are likely to forget the situation that other people are facing. This Government carried on the impetus that the Labour Government had produced in 1949, and by 1952 it had reached the stage where the solution of our housing problem was almost in sight. The housing figures show that we are shaping very well in 1959. Looking back, we find that in the quarter ended 31st March, 1953, 15,900 houses were commenced. In 1954, in the same quarter, the number had risen to 18,600. Thereafter it fell to 17,000 and 16,000, but in the first quarter of this year 18,469 houses were commenced. This figure is a little lower than the figure for 1954.
Actually, until this year, 1952 was the year in which most houses were completed. 1 think the number was about 82,000. Unfortunately, commencements dropped during the period following the depression of 1952, brought on, as we know, by inflation and the flooding of the country with imported goods, which caused unemployment. The Government did not seem to rally for a long time and the rate of home building deteriorated quite substantially. Had we gradually effected an increase on the figures for 1952, our position would have been much happier now. In 1952, 4,000 flats were under construction. In 1953 there were only 1,500; in 1956, over 2,000; and in 1958, 4,000. So we see that we lost ground for a number of years because of maladjustment of the home building programme.
The Commonwealth should approach the problem as a great social problem of tremendous urgency. If the number of new houses commenced can be increased, the State governments will be able sooner to abolish sub-standard housing in capita] cities. Some homes, still tenanted in the inner parts of Melbourne and Sydney, are over 100 years old, which is many years beyond their usefulness. They are a menace to the health of the people who live in them, but their destruction will not be authorized by councils because of lack of other accommodation. This is a problem of the great cities that we have developed and of which we are otherwise so proud. There is no physical bar to our eliminating slums within the foreseeable future, but in order to do so we must have more houses built. There has been a very pronounced movement in the great cities towards the building of flats and multi-story home units close to cities.
It is true that the number of homes built for rental is inadequate. There are several reasons for this. Builders face a different situation from that faced 40 or 50 years ago. They must comply with conditions laid down by local authorities. Terrace building is a thing of the past. We cannot do what was done in those days in the area where I was born. Then terraces of houses were built, with frontages as small as 12 feet or 14 feet. The houses were without baths and were built for a pittance. In those days, apparently, they were an economic proposition for rental. If the only way to obtain houses for rental is by building houses of that type, it is a good thing that we have no houses for rental. Local authority building regulations require that a home must have a certain minimum area of land. Some local authorities lay down a minimum of 7,500 square feet. That, of course, is a substantial block of land upon which a very lovely home could be erected. Ten or fifteen years ago, some councils permitted the erection of houses on areas of 4,000 square feet, but I should not think that there would be one council now, in New South Wales anyway, that would give permission to build a house on less than 5,000 square feet. Most councils insist upon an area of 6,000 or 6,250 square feet. So the days of the old rental buildings are now gone and the important task to-day is to make easy the burden upon those who want to build, own and occupy their own homes.
The greatest problem to a young couple going into their home and accepting the responsibility of paying for it over 35 or 40 years is the fact that the interest payment represents such a substantial part of the rent. I suggest that this is where the Commonwealth could do much to help. An ordinary home costing £2,500, which, of course, would not be palatial - it would not even be of weatherboard construction-
– What proportion of that cost is represented in wages?
– At that point, about 27 per cent.
– Your estimate of about 27 per cent, is so loose as to be completely irresponsible.
– The point I am developing is that the interest charge at 5 per cent, on a home costing £2,500, with repayments spread over 30 years, would represent 54 per cent, of the rental. In other words, by the time the home is paid for at the end of 30 years, £2,660 will have been paid in interest. It is indeed a tremendous burden and one which we should do everything possible to reduce for those people who accept that responsibility, for there is no way in which they can get a house without accepting the responsibility of paying huge amounts of interest as part of the rentals.
After all, a home is part of the national asset. It is part of the national security. It plays a fundamental part in building character and in promoting stability of home life in this country and it should be made very easy indeed for people to become home-owners. In 1911, only 15 per cent, of the homes in the community were occupied by their owners, whereas, according to the latest figures, between 69 per cent, and 70 per cent, are occupied by their owners to-day. Therefore, it is important that the Government give every consideration to this matter, and I shall develop the point a little further when the bill is before the committee.
As I said in my opening remarks, housing and employment are two great problems. They are much too serious and too difficult for the individual States to handle under the present economic system without more help than they are getting from the Commonwealth. I emphasize to the Minister that although the Opposition will not vote against the bill, we feel that we must criticize it in order to keep before the Government at all times the urgency of the problems we have to face before this or any other government can be congratulated upon its administration.
– I hope I do Senator Armstrong justice if I say that the notes I have made indicate that he made four principal points in his speech. First, he dealt with the general housing shortage. Then he went on to discuss the source of funds for housing. Next he referred to slum clearance, and finally he referred to the effect of interest charges and the general high cost for housing. I, myself, want to make a contribution to the debate in order to give some indication of the effect of the Government’s policy of encouraging building societies, but before 1 enter that field i should like to reply briefly to the points Senator Armstrong made. lt is difficult to get in true perspective the extent of the housing shortage in Autralia. lt is difficult because statistics can be accurately taken only after a census; it is difficult because the statistical approach cannot always be a truly accurate measure of approach. It is difficult indeed for some one from New South Wales because, according to available statistics, the shortage in that State is greater than that in the rest of the States put together.
There is no doubt at all that very substantial progress is being made. There is little doubt that, for all practical purposes, the housing shortage is now restricted to New South Wales and Victoria. Adopting the statistical approach, with all its defects. I po;nt out that the latest estimate is <i total Australia-wide shortage of some 47,000 houses of which 34,000 represents the shortage in New South Wales and 1 1,800 the shortage in Victoria. On the one hand there are figures such as those quoted by Senator Armstrong, and newspaper reports such a* those read by him, and on the other hand we read only during the last week or so a front page and subsequent very high level discussion under the heading. “ Will the speed-up in home-building mean idle capacity soon ?” In other words, one of our leading financial magazines, published in Sydney is discussing seriously the question whether this building level of 85,000 houses a year might so quickly overtake the housing shortage as to result in a situation of surplus capacity in the building industry.
– The answer is “ No “.
– I hasten to say that I am not of any school that thinks that a building rate of 80.000 houses a year is going to overtake the housing shortage so quickly as to create difficulties because, as Senator Armstrong has mentioned, the demand commences to increase quite steeply in the early 1960’s. I myself very much hope that we shall at the least, maintain this rate of 85,000 per annum.
The next point that Senator Armstrong made was that traditional lenders are moving out of the housing field. Upon that point, 1 very strongly disagree with him. The truth is that Government investment in housing over recent years has been static and that all the increase that has occurred in housing has been the result of private investment.
– I referred to banking investment.
– I did not know that you restricted it to banking. 1 thought you were talking in terms of private investment. I. do not know how you can differentiate between banking investment and other private investment.
– I quoted the banks in my speech.
– I must have missed that. The total investment in housing in the last three years respectively has been £216,000,000, £241,000,000, and £265,000,000, Government investment being static and outside investment rising.
– The Custom Credit organization has become a big lender now.
– It may have done so. I do not know what is the significance of that remark. I do not know of any statistics that support the point of view that the banks have moved out of the field of housing loans. If there are any, they do not readily come to my mind. I do not recollect seeing a reference to that when I perused the housing statistics. I very much doubt the accuracy of that view.
Turning to slum clearance, I do not think that we can profitably debate that subject here, but I should like to mention what seems to me to be very interesting developments by the housing commissions in Victoria and New South Wales. In each case, the commission is erecting blocks of flats in industrial areas.
– That is being done in Surry Hills in Sydney.
– Yes. It seems to me to be a very interesting development indeed. Generally speaking, my view is that very appreciable progress has been made, that the housing problem has been solved for all practical purposes in all States other than New South Wales and Victoria, and that ranid progress is being made in those two States. 1 wanted to talk for a little while about the results that have been achieved by the use of the building societies under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, because honorable senators will remember that the giving of prominence to the work of building societies was the outstanding feature, or the new feature, of the new housing agreement that operated from 1956 onwards. You will remember that the arrangements set out in the legislation were that, through the Home Builders’ Account, building societies were to be given 20 per cent, of Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement monies in the first two years, and 30 per cent, in the next three years. This year, out of the total amount of housing money of £36,080,000, £10,834,000 is being made available to building societies and kindred approved institutions throughout Australia. Last year, £10,750,000 was made available.
I shall attempt to give quickly a bird’seye view of the results that have been achieved by the building society movement, State by State. In New South Wales, there was already a strong building society movement in existence when the agreement commenced to operate in 1956. The moneys that have been provided under the agreement have been directly responsible for the formation of 171 new co-operative terminating building societies. About 100 of those new societies will share this year’s allocation of £3,965,000 in New South Wales. The figures are interesting because the objective of the legislation was to strengthen and develop the building society movement.
In Victoria, also, there was a soundly based building society movement in 1956. Victoria came straight into the arrangement administratively, and in a cooperative spirit, and it laid down a five-year programme from 1 956 onwards for the distribution of money among the building societies. This year, the money is being distributed amongst 96 terminating building societies.
In Queensland, as honorable senators may remember, we had great difficulty in launching the scheme. There were no terminating building societies in Queensland in 1936. but the scene has changed. There is now a thriving building society movement in Queensland, based upon the foundation of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement moneys. In three years, three permanent building societies have been formed in that State, as well as 25 cooperative, terminating, mutual benefit societies.
– Have they been formed since 19567
– Yes. In South Australia, no new societies have been formed. What was done there was that the existing permanent societies received a substantial allocation of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement funds. In Western Australia and Tasmania there are peculiar circumstances that are hard to summarize but which have, in each of those States, resulted in what I consider to be a sound and a good development of the building society movement. So the provision of the funds has achieved the purpose of stimulating building societies.
Honorable senators will remember that the next principal feature of the new housing agreement was the creating of a revolving fund. It was created in this way: The Commonwealth lent to the States moneys which were repayable over a period of 53 years, and the building societies, in accordance with their normal procedures, lent moneys to their members over periods of from 25 to 30 years, so that their repayments to the States exceeded the amount which the States had to repay to the Commonwealth. Therefore, the States received into their hands moneys, in excess of their commitments to the Commonwealth, which they could re-lend.
I come now to the net result. We made a calculation that over 53 years the amounts available for lending to building societies would be approximately doubled - in other words, that the money would work twice as hard if applied by building societies than if it were invested by housing commissions in houses to let. I come to the progressive results. This is the third year of the agreement. The revolving fund becomes bigger as time goes on and the repayments accumulate. Up to the end of the three years, a total of £1.200.000 came into the hands of the States from the surplus created in the revolving fund and was available for re-lending to building societies and other approved institutions. So the facts are bearing out the theory. The revolving fund is now commencing to accumulate substantial amounts which will be re-lent for the benefit of the housing position generally.
Let me turn to another point which is not so good, but which requires examination. lt was never contemplated that the provision of money by governments for the building societies would take the place of private lending. The purpose of the legislation was to encourage and to augment additional private lending and to improve and strengthen the building society movement. Therefore, we always contemplated that what the Government did through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement would be a stimulus and would result in additional lending from private sources - from the people who had previously traditionally supported the building societies.
– Have you any figures which show what is represented by State landlordism in housing since the war?
– The only reference I can give the honorable senator on that is the total of Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement money less the deduction of the amount that goes into the home builder’s account. The total amount of Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement money has been re-invested in State landlordism.
J have some figures showing the position in New South Wales. In 1957-58 the cooperative building society . movement in New South Wales obtained £8,692,000. That figure increased to £10,7.25,000 in 1958-59. For the year ended 30th June, 1959, the co-operative societies of New South Wales obtained in round figures £2,000,000 more than they did during the previous year. But of that £2,000,000 an amount of £1,600,000 came from Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement moneys and £810,000 came from a development loan fund which was a special arrangement to help Dutch migrants settle in Australia. So if we couple those two items, the New South Wales building society movement received £400,000 less in 1958-59 from private sources than it did in the previous year. In Victoria the position is even more noticeable in that advances from private institutions fell from £3,625,000 in 1957-58 to £2,600,000 in 1958-59. The picture in Queensland is a much more encouraging one. In the first year of the operations of the scheme, 21 new societies were formed which raised £1,500,000 from private lending institutions,
We must not place too much importance upon these variations because the building societies obtain their money in fairly large parcels and variations from one year to another - for example the amount of £400,000 in New South Wales - is not of great consequence by contrast with the total of £10,700,000. However, I do make the point that the outside finance for building societies has not increased to the extent that we would have liked to see it increase; and therefore, one likes to direct attention to this matter in the desire to create an atmosphere in which those who are charged with the administration of the sums of money which private institutions have available, do not overlook the claims of building societies which really provide a most efficient administration, utilizing the money available to them to the maximum amount, and providing an excellent, all-round service to home-seekers.
– What percentage of the capital value did they lend, on the average, in New South Wales?
– In New South Wales they lent about 80 per cent. In New South Wales and Victoria there are at the present time some 2,000 building societies operating. Those building societies, on their record, have financed in those two States over 130,000 homes, and they have handled housing loans to the value of £235,000,000. So I believe it can be fairly said that the diversion of government funds to housing societies under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has been a marked success in getting homes built, in creating the revolving fund and in attracting additional funds to societies, but even so we would have liked to see better figures for New South Wales and Victoria last year.
There are two developments of interest in housing which I will recapitulate briefly because I think they are worthy of notice and worthy of repetition. The first one is that the Netherlands Government has obtained £1,335,000 from the United States Development Fund, and has arranged with Australian banks to match that sum - that is, to provide another £1,335,000 - and make that money available through building societies to assist in housing Dutch migrants in Australia. It is expected that all this money obtained for Dutch migrants will be distributed by the end of 1960, and it is pleasing and satisfactory indeed that the transaction is being handled through the building society movement.
– Has that been done at the instance of this Government or at the instance of the Netherlands Government?
– It has been done at the instance of the Netherlands Government.
– Is there not an Italian scheme, too?
– Influenced by that Netherlands Government move, an agency of the Italian Government has come forward with a similar scheme for the .housing of Italian migrants. That overseas agency is at present talking in terms of contributing £1,600,000, is asking Australian banks to provide the same amount and requesting Italian migrants - as was the case with Dutch migrants - to provide a reasonable deposit. We believe that that is an indication that the Italian fund will also be distributed through building societies. A representative of the agency was in Australia a few weeks ago, and we hope that his efforts will be successful.
I conclude on the note that 1958-59 was an exceptionally good year for housing. A record number of 84,158 houses and flats was completed. Investment in dwelling construction reached the record level of £265,000,000, being 10. per cent, higher than it was in the preceding year. We acknowledge the increased lending by private investment banks, life insurance companies and other bodies. We are glad to see the trend continuing, and would like lending authorities to give to the building society movement greater assistance than they are giving now.
– Housing is one of the most important elements of our Australian way of life. The creation of home-owners - the little capitalists of whom we heard so much in years gone by - will do more than anything else to combat Communist attempts to infiltrate this country. I wish to speak, in the main, about the co-operative housing societies. 1 should like to begin by paying a tribute to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) who has done so much to help the cooperative housing societies of Australia. He is looked upon by those who run them as having done more towards the actual housing of the people than any one else in Australia.
The co-operative housing societies offer the best way of ensuring growing homeownership. The percentage of the States’ allocation for housing which must be devoted to co-operative building has risen from 20 per cent, to 30 per cent. I ask the Minister to go even further and increase it to 80 per cent. The housing commissions of the various States are helping, but I believe that the Agricultural Bank home settlements - as we call them in Tasmania - will soon become slum areas. There is a certain uniformity of design, and the houses are not of a very good type. They must be built within a certain cost limit. Whatever they might cost, the same amount of money, if spent through the cooperative building societies, will produce at lower cost a better type of home which the occupants will be interested in maintaining. The occupant of a State housing commission home ‘has almost no equity in it at all. When payments are spread over a period of 51 or 52 year’s the occupant is really only paying rent, and even after a period of ten years, the equity held is still very small. This does not produce the pride of ownership that is exhibited by people who build through co-operative societies.
I may say that I know what I am talking about, because I am chairman of three co-operative housing societies in Tasmania. We have found that our loans can produce a first-class home at a very low cost to the Government. The Commonwealth loaned us £50,000 to finance our No. 1 society. That sum is providing 23 homes. Those who build them spend a certain amount of the money to provide variations from standard plans. They take pride in building a home that differs from the uniform design of other homes.
Eighty per cent, of the money allotted to the States should be given to these housing co-operatives because they are doing a better job than the housing commissions. The remaining 20 per cent, would be quite sufficient to help people who cannot provide the money needed for their homes. The country is prosperous and workers are receiving good wages. There is very little unemployment. This is surely a time when people so inclined should use their savings for the provision of a home. When we offered to build homes along the northwest coast as part of the activity of our No. 3 society, we could accommodate only twenty or 25 of the 120 applicants. In Tasmania the prospective home-owner has to provide only 10 per cent, of the cost. In our State one can build a good home for £3,000.
– Does that include the block?
– Yes, but most people buy their block and then spend £3,000 on the building. They are looking for something a little better than a housing commission home. Commission homes are built for about £2,700. We would like to see more of the allocation for housing diverted to the building societies. I would mention to the Minister that the societies with which I am associated are members of the Australian Co-operative Societies, Tasmanian branch. More of the money that is allocated to New South Wales and Victoria should be spent in country areas. I believe that, in New South Wales, for instance, too much housing is being concentrated in the Sydney metropolitan area. I appreciate that in the large cities it is easier to form building societies because of the larger numbers of applicants for advances than there are in country areas, but I should like to see housing finance decentralized, as it were. We in Tasmania have not such a great problem in this respect because our population is dispersed fairly evenly throughout the State.
It has always been maintained that finance for home-building should be provided at low rates of interest, and I agree that that should be so. In this respect, not sufficient regard is had to the fact that the Commonwealth Government provides money for housing at low rates of interest. As we know, the Commonwealth provides such finance at 4 per cent., which, having regard to current rates of interest, is exceptionally low. However, the Tasmanian Treasury, before passing on to the Agricultural Bank the money that it receives from the Commonwealth, imposes a charge of one-half of 1 per cent. In other words, the Tasmanian Treasury is making a profit from simply passing the money on.
– What would be said to a private broker who charged such a rate of interest?
– I do not know whether that is a high rate or not, but I suggest that the money could be paid by the Commonwealth Government direct to the Agricultural Bank free of any charge. Incidentally, one-half of 1 per cent, amounts to a considerable sum on an advance of £3,000, which is the maximum advance in Tasmania.
The Agricultural Bank, in turn, charges one-quarter of 1 per cent, for handing on the money to the co-operative building societies. There may be some justification for that charge, but I suggest that the money could quite well be made available to the building societies for one-half of 1 per cent, less than it is made available at present. The co-operative building societies in which I am interested lend that money to applicants for advances at 4i per cent., the rate at which they obtain the money from the Agricultural Bank. I may say that the societies charge what is called a management fee. If they wished, they could lend the money at 5i per cent., which is the ruling rate of interest. The societies cut down expenses by the use of voluntary help. They wish to help people to obtain homes because they regard home-ownership as very important.
Tn my opinion, the answer to the housing problem is to be found in the co-operative housing societies. Their activities encourage people to help themselves, and that is perhaps the most important thing of all. As I have said, the building of houses and flats by housing commissions provides immediate housing for certain people but is not really m the best interests of the country. The co-operative housing societies perform a most necessary function. I believe that if the Tasmanian Government backed the co-operative housing societies in my SLate they would be able to borrow funds from insurance companies and banks. That is done in some States, but not in Tasmania. The societies would thus be able to obtain hundreds of thousands of pounds with which to make advances.
– Tasmania should adopt the Victorian system.
– That is what we would like to do. However, I remind the honorable senator that housing co-operatives originated in Tasmania, but because of certain political influences they did not receive the help that should have been forthcoming.
– Co-operative housing societies have been in operation in New South Wales since 1932.
– I am not concerned with New South Wales. I am speaking of Tasmania at the present time. Once again, 1 wish to compliment the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) on the assistance that he has given to housing societies. He has done a wonderful job. 1 know that all over Australia there is great appreciation of the great work that he has done in helping the co-operative housing movement of this country.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amend ment or debate.
Debate resumed from 29th October (vide page 1279), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The bill now before the Senate seeks to provide financial assistance for the States pursuant to an arrangement reached at a recent Premiers’ Conference. The bill is a milestone in the very long and interesting history of Commonwealth and State financial relations. Despite the lateness of the hour, and the fact that we are reaching the end of the session, T feel that proper notice ought to be taken of that fact.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. 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.
Question resolved in the negative.
– Whilst I shall have regard to the circumstances that I have just outlined, I shall address myself to the matter with unusual brevity, I hope. Deakin, the famous Prime Minister, said immediately after federation that henceforth the States were financially bound to the chariot wheels of the Commonwealth. He put the position even more accurately than he probably thought, because in one way and another that has been the position from federation. I shall take a moment or two just to review the history. For the first ten years of federation, under the provisions of section 87 of the Constitution, the Commonwealth was required to pass over to the States three-quarters of the customs duties they collected in a year. That arrangement, of course, went on until, in 1911, an arrangement was made whereby the Commonwealth was to pay the States annually the sum of 25s. per head of their population. That was an arrangement that took no account of the changing value of money over the period, and the grant accordingly depreciated in value with the passage of time.
– Was that from customs revenue?
– No. The first arrangement was from 1901 to 1911, when three-quarters of the customs duties was given. That period was ten years only, expiring in 1911. The next arrangement was the per capita grant of 25s. That came out of the general revenues of the Commonwealth, not necessarily from customs duty at all. Although I believe customs duty was the main source of revenue for the Commonwealth at that time, it was not appropriated from that particular source of revenue.
The third major step came with the Financial Agreement of 1927-29, under which the Commonwealth accepted responsibility for State debts to a high degree. It made an annual subvention of £7,500,000 towards their interest bill, which it has done ever since and is doing at present, and made a very small annual contribution towards meeting the principal repayments on the debts.
The fourth item was the appointment of the Commonwealth Grants Commission in 1933. In the interim, from 1927 to 1933 there was the usual wrangling between the Commonwealth and States, without any principles or formula governing the matter. It was a most unhappy period for financial relationships. In 1933 came the very happy advent of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which was appointed to deal with applications from States for financial aid under section 96 of the Constitution. That brought some order into the financial field from then until now.
– Not restricting accessibility to any particular States?
– Not restricting accessibility to any particular States at all. It was availed of by two States, pursuant to the Constitution. In a moment I may indicate the later development of history when an invitation was extended by legislation to all States to have access to the Commonwealth Grants Commission. I shall come to that in a moment, if I may.
In 1942 we came to the next outstanding event, the introduction of uniform taxation. Associated with that, of course, was a system of income tax reimbursement that has applied from 1942, in one form or another, until now. I propose to review that history very briefly in a few minutes. The year 1944 provided one more highlight, when the Financial Agreement was amended, and the Commonwealth, without any legal responsibility in the matter, joined with the States in an arrangement whereby State deficits amounting to some £30,000,000 were refunded and there was an arrangement to pay them over a short period, which according to my recollection was 25 years. The Commonwealth voluntarily made a contribution to help towards the funding of that debt.
I should say that that brings the story up to date. I should like to return for a moment to 1942 and trace up to the present time, the history of income tax reimbursement grants. In 1942, when the war was at its worst, the Commonwealth introduced uniform taxation with its essential advantages for that particular period. By legislation of that year, one piece of which related to income tax and the other to entertainment tax, it was arranged that certain specified amounts, totalling £33,489,000, should be paid to the States, until after the expiration of a year from the time when the war concluded. It was a condition of a State’s getting anything, that the Treasurer had to be satisfied that during the year it had imposed no income tax. The States lost their entitlement to the grant if they imposed income tax. A similar pattern was followed in relation to entertainment tax, but the amount involved was very much less than was involved in income tax reimbursement. It amounted to £765,787- less than £1,000,000.
That arrangement ran its course. The grants hardly varied over the whole period of the war. They were influenced only by variations in the rate of collection of arrears of tax from past years from the States. Then we come to the immediate post-war period, when in 1946 an arrangement was hammered out that was generally acceptable to the States and the Commonwealth. Strangely enough, it was dealt with in Act No. 1 of 1946, which was assented to on 13th April, 1946. That is the act that evolved the formula that applied in the first instance to determine the amount of the grant and then devised another formula to determine the basis upon which distribution would be made to the States. The total amount of the grant was determined on a basis of variation in population. It was influenced upwards by half of the percentage increase in average earnings between one year and another. The distribution took place upon a basis that adverted to population, number of children, and other factors connected with the particular States.
– What do you mean by half the percentage increase in wages?
– I am dealing now with the upset amount of the total grant being distributed. The first element was determined - just as in the grant before us - on the variation in population. A per capita amount was determined, and the grant was increased according to the increase in population. That amount had to be increased by a percentage equal to half the percentage - if any - by which the average wages per person fluctuated from one year to the other. There was written into it at that time - I have adverted to this matter before - a gentlemen’s agreement that the States would not seek to vary the arrangement for some seven years unless there were a major change in functions and finance as between Commonwealth and State.
– Do you recall whether that was written into the act?
– Yes, it was written into section 10 of that act. The honorable senator might be interested, to know that clause 7 of the bill before us is expressed in almost identical terms.
– I thought there was a bit of piety.
– It is quite obviously a bit of piety, as we fully understood it was. The honorable senator will be able to trace the parentage of the relevant clause in the legislation we are now considering. It is well understood by everybody that it had no legal effect, that it was merely to record in writing in some way the fact that a gentleman’s agreement had been made.
Everybody thought that the matter would remain static for a considerable period, but in the very next year the base amount that had been determined pursuant to the formula the previous year had to be lifted. In the very next year, it was lifted from £40,000,000 to £45,000,000. Then, in 1948, there was a further variation, the important aspect of which was that the determination of the total amount of the grant had to be influenced not by half the percentage of the increase in average wages per person, but by the full percentage of the increase. From that day in 1948 until now, that legislation has governed the position.
– It has not governed the position.
– It is the legislation governing the determination of the income tax reimbursement grants. It may be said for the formula evolved in 1946 and varied from time to time up to 1948 that it expanded the grants from £45,000,000 in 1948 to £175,000,000 in 1958-59.
In recent years, concurrently with the income tax reimbursement grant, the practice has grown of the Commonwealth supplementing that grant. I think I am accurate in saying that, in quite a few recent years, that grant has averaged something in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000. Last year, the amount determined by the formula was £175,000,000, and the supplementary grant was £30,000,000.
This, of course, raises the whole complex question of Commonwealth and State financial arrangements, and I think it is pertinent that I should refer to the report of the Constitutional Review Committee lodged with the Parliament last year. Dealing with the Commonwealth and State financial arrangements, the report pointed out that most of the difficulties seemed to the committee to arise from arrangements made within the constitutional framework, as for example, in relation to the imposition of income taxation which, if the Commonwealth and the States were to agree, could probably be adjusted without the need for constitutional amendment. The committee concluded with this comment: -
Thus, although the Committee was prepared to deal fully with any constitutional aspects of the inter-governmental financial problem, it was unable to do so and it regretfully reports accordingly. The Committee believes that a conference of the political leaders of the Commonwealth and the States is needed to discover whether any substantial adjustment of the relative financial positions of the Commonwealth and the States could be achieved.
It would seem that something of that nature has, in fact, been effected, and it is rather interesting to note that the condition that has attached to the payment of income tax reimbursement grants up to this time, namely that the States should not impose any income tax themselves, is dropped entirely from the bill that is before us. I think that is very significant because, in my view, it indicates very plainly that the Commonwealth now regards uniform tax as being so firmly cemented into the pattern of Commonwealth and State relations that it does not even need to impose that condition.
The bill provides that for this year the sum of £244,500.000 shall be distributed to the States in accordance with the provisions of clause 5. That amount is £39,000,000 more than the States were given by way of income tax reimbursement, plus supplementary grant, last year. I am not including in these figures amounts paid on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. A new formula has been determined, interestingly enough, based upon population again and average wages. The base amount of £244,500,000 for this year is to be varied from year to year according to changes in population, and the amount is to be increased by one and onetenth times the percentage variation in average wages from one year to another.
It would seem that the formula contemplates the fact that prices and costs will rise more than wages will rise, because one would expect, if average wages were accepted as the measuring rod, that the grant would vary exactly in accordance with that variation. But there is one-tenth added to the total percentage.
– Why is the one-tenth called a betterment factor?
– I was not aware that it had been so called. I believe my mind did advert to it at one time. It is not in my consciousness at the minute. It seems to me to be some acknowledgment that wages do not rise in accordance with costs. The naming of it as a betterment factor is a matter that the Minister might like to address himself to in due course. I am certain the Senate would be interested to know what he has to say on the subject of that one-tenth.
– It is referred to on page 1 1 of the report of the June conference proceedings.
– I probably saw it when I read the report some time ago. I have some recollection of the matter. If the Minister is in a position to do so, I should like him, when replying, to address himself to the allocation of the total amount between the States. It is presented in the bill as an amount arbitrarily determined, varying from State to State. If the Minister is in a position to say something to us as to how that distribution is to be effected, I shall be glad to hear it. But I assumed, when I realized that steps were taken to persuade South Australia to drop out as an applicant to the Commonwealth Grants Commission, that it necessarily meant that the amount which it might normally expect from that source would be added to its share of this grant and also that pretty substantial amounts were lopped off Tasmania and Western Australia compared with what they had been getting from the Commonwealth Grants Commission and that there would be a further addition to the basic grant under this bill on that account. That amount would be of the order of £13,000,000. I say that to the honorable senator because last year the Commonwealth Grants Commission gave a total of £20,000,000 to the three applicant States. This year it has given approximately £7,500,000. The drop is sensational, and the reason is that the £13,000,000 is included in the basic grant under the bill we are now considering.
I merely say to the Minister that I realize that the amounts set out in clause 5 of the bill, showing the distribution between States, advert to that factor. In his secondreading speech he gave no explanation of how those amounts were determined and I would be grateful if he would give me some information on the matter. The grant is, in fact, £39,000,000 greater than the grant last year, but because the amounts formerly paid to three States will be reduced by £13,000,000, the overall benefit to the States this year may be expected to be £26,000,000.
The second-reading speech contains very interesting information regarding the per capita distribution of the grants. The highest grant per capita is that to Western Australia, the amount being £35 6s. 7d. The per capita grant to Tasmania - the next highest - is £31 16s. lid. For the other States, the amounts are: South Australia, £30 4s. 2d.; Queensland, £25 2s. 3d.; New South Wales, £22 2s. 9d.; and Victoria, £21 12s. lOd. So one sees a great variation from one State to another in the per capita distribution of this Commonwealth grant, the variation being from £21 12s. lOd. in the case of Victoria to £35 6s. 7d. in the case of Western Australia. The Commonwealth Grants Commission adverted to that subject in some very interesting comments that run from page 21 to page 23 of its report. For anybody who is interested, they are worth reading, although, I do not propose to advert to them now. I shall merely draw attention to one sentence on page 23.
Referring to this variation in the per capita assistance, the report states -
This is because their difficulties do not arise from temporary circumstances but from basic and largely permanent inequalities in respect of natural resources, capital costs of development and population structure, some illustrations of which have been given in the preceding section.
There would be also geographical factors, such as difficulties of terrain and matters of that kind. The subject is pursued in the very useful 26th report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission.
South Australia will cease to be an applicant State, lt is rather unfortunate that, in the first year during which it will not be making major applications to the Commonwealth Grants Commission, that State should have encountered unfortunate drought conditions, the effects of which were so graphically described to us last night, I think, by Senator Pearson. Let me be clear about the dropping out of South Australia. Because of the methods adopted by the Commonwealth Grants Commission. South Australia will remain in as an applicant for this year and next year, in order to get the benefit of the first part of the grant which normally is given by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, but it will receive no bulk sum based on the broad judgment of the commission for this financial year or next financial year.
Some interesting questions arise from the reduction of the number of applicant States from three to two. I shall not pursue that matter now. because it will arise tar more appropriately during our consideration of the next measure that will come before us, which deals with the position of the applicant States.
I have referred to the gentlemen’s agreement which we now find, I think, incorporated in clause 7 of this bill. It has no actual effect, but it focuses thought upon the idea that this arrangement should continue for six years - until the year 1965. Although the role of prophet is never a very safe one, I would not hesitate to make the prophecy that we shall see some change in the picture before the year 1965 is reached. I express the hope - I agree with Senator Wright that it is a pious hope - that that will be brought about by oil being fo”nd in at least one of the States. That really would revolutionize its financial and economic status and alter its position as a State needing assistance from the Commonwealth. I go further and say that I would like to see that change take place in every State. I mention this matter merely to indicate a situation that cannot be anticipated but that may arise. If it did, it would completely disrupt CommonwealthState financial relations. They could be disrupted also by a major constitutional change. I am hoping that we shall see some substantial constitutional changes in the years immediately ahead. It may well be that any major change affecting the finances of the economy of a State could cause a review of this system and throw the gentlemen’s agreement into the discard.
I think I have said enough regarding the contents of the bill. I now return to a theme that I developed in this place in 1950. The Senate is a States House. There could be no more important subject for this chamber than that of CommonwealthState financial relations. On that occasion, I argued that our responsibility in relation to this very interesting aspect of our activities here might be best discharged if the Senate had a permanent standing committee for the review of CommonwealthState financial relations. It is not a matter that one becomes familiar with easily. It entails a great deal of study and hard work in the first place, and then assiduous attention to keep track of all the moves, lt involves watching the elements and the trends of State budgets, and following the activities of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Unless the Senate takes a real, live and vital interest in that subject, opens it up for debate and consideration and constantly has it on the tapis, I think it will not be discharging properly one of its prime responsibilities.
I want to mention only one other matter before concluding. The report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission deals at some length with the great burden of State debt. I am not opening up the highly contentious subject that the Minister and I discussed recently. I merely direct the attention of honorable senators to page 126 of the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, wherein the commission draws attention to the cost of servicing the public debt of the Commonwealth and the States. There is repeated the pattern that I dealt with at length. I refer to the figures for the year 1957-58. It is noticeable that it cost the Commonwealth £66,000,000 to service its war .and other debts, that it is paying its annual principal commitments and the interest involved, and that the States are involved in a total payment in respect of their share of the debt of £95,700,000.
– To which year are you referring?
– The latest year, 1957-58.
– Have you adverted to the percentage that represents of the gross national product?
– Yes, I have adverted to that, but I am concerned at the moment only with the point that the total annual commitment of the States to service their debts is exceedingly high. I lead from that to the point I developed at length in this place quite recently. Their debt includes moneys collected by way of revenue by this Parliament, and by this Government, and passed over to the States in the form of a loan bearing interest. Some £30,000,000 of interest is involved in that procedure because some £600,000,000 of debt has been passed to the States. One reason for the enormous growth in the size of these debts is that the Commonwealth taxes the same people again to raise more revenue to help the States to pay interest on the money so loaned by the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Grants Commission, in its report, referred most interestingly and informatively to the burden of State debt. I merely touch upon the matter at this stage because I have dealt with it at length during the last week, and I merely throw it into the ring now in order to complete the picture I am presenting to the Senate on this important topic. I have said repeatedly in this place that there can be only an ad hoc approach, in my view, to the adjustment of the relations between the Commonwealth and the States. It is impossible to say what will happen in a country affected by seasonal fluctuations of every conceivable kind. We are vulnerable in our overseas markets. Our economy can be disrupted very easily, and in a bic continent like ours there are variations of conditions between one State and another. I think that the Commonwealth has to be prepared to make’ a very flexible approach to this problem. It needs to be generous, and ready to help the States without being lavish. There is much to commend the approach of the Commonwealth Grants Commission which endeavours to preserve broadly a uniform level of economic welfare throughout the Commonwealth.
I am happy to see that something like general agreement has been reached between the Commonwealth and the States because this subject is usually one which causes much acrimony. We can even be nonacrimonious with the Government on this occasion, and I conclude by saying that we support the bill.
– My remarks will be as brief as I can make them. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), in the address he has just delivered, traced the history of uniform taxation since 1942 through its various phases right up to the present time. We know, that during all these years there have been people, particularly members of State Parliaments, who have looked askance at the system which has been in operation since 1942, because they are fearful for State rights and think the present system may eventually result in a great concentration of power in the hands of the Commonwealth Government.
Be that as it may, looking at the records of the two conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers that were held, one in March and the other in June, I am sure it becomes apparent that the proposal of the Commonwealth Government to increase the basic amount to be paid to the States was eagerly seized upon by them. The other thing which is apparent to me is that uniform taxation, after seventeen years’ operation, has been given a fresh lease of life by the conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers - particularly the last one - and that indicates fairly clearly, as Senator McKenna has pointed out, that uniform taxation is definitely here to stay.
I admit that to keep re-hashing the Commonwealth and State financial set-up in regard to taxation is somewhat like flogging a dead horse. I agree entirely with the Prime Minister who said that there are naturally complaints about uniform taxation and that the sound general principle is that each government should raise its own taxes. I do not think that that statement is in conflict with the fact that because the taxing power of the Commonwealth is concentrated in one centralized government, a lot of people look upon that as a threat to the federal system under which we have operated since 1901. I am one of those people who believe that one of the worst fates which could befall this Commonwealth, which Senator McKenna has just pointed out is a land of large geographical proportions with varying conditions, would be to have a unitary system of government. In fact, I do not think that that would be a practical proposition. That is why thinking men, like H. S. Baker in the Tasmanian Parliament, and others, have been very fearful of this system of uniform taxation. Nevertheless, the States seem to have set the seal upon the permanence of the system and I think we can expect to see it set up permanently in the future.
The Prime Minister went on to point to the practical difficulties of referring taxing powers back to the State Parliaments. We all realize that there are definite practical difficulties in the way. He referred to the fact that there are companies situated in one State which draw their revenue from other States. He said that there was a great danger that they would be taxed at their place of residence and also at the source of their revenue. He recommended that company taxation continue to repose in the Commonwealth Parliament. He said that if any of the taxing powers were to revert to the States, the taxation of the incomes of individuals should be the only power to revert. However, it does seem to me that the States, in accepting the better financial arrangement they were offered, have sold their independence definitely and permanently to the Commonwealth Government.
One good thing that does seem to emerge from the new arrangement is that the influence of the Grants Commission on the claimant States will be considerably curtailed. I do not for one moment detract from the job that has been done by the commission over the years and I think that the Governments of the claimant States recognize that, overall the commission has done a splendid job. I am not in a position to suggest another formula under which the claimant States could be reimbursed for the disability they suffer under federation. Nevertheless, when referring to the applications of Queensland and Victoria to become claimant States, Mr. McEwen truly said that it was a position that they would not relish.
The greatest single factor affecting the financial administration of a claimant State is the attitude of the Grants Commission. When I was in the State Parliament, we were told repeatedly that we could not reduce a tax because we must raise so much under that head of taxation. If we fell short of that amount, we would receive an unfavourable adjustment from the Grants Commission. I call to mind that only two years ago, through the agency of the Legislative Council in Tasmania, we were able to raise the exemption for probate in the case of a widow by £1,000. I forget whether dependent children under 21 years of age were included. Before the State Government would accept the proposal, it insisted that probate on the higher ranges be increased so that in the aggregate probate would bring in the same amount, because if that were not done, we would be penalized by the Grants Commission. The same position applied with land tax and, indeed, with every form of taxation. I will admit that a few methods of taxing remain with the the States; but in deciding on the rate of tax, the attitude of the Grants Commission had always to be taken into consideration. If it was thought that we were falling behind the standard States, we would receive an unfavourable adjustment, and any alteration of tax rates that would place us in this position was ruled out.
Exactly the same position obtained with the expenditure of money. If it was thought that expenditure was increasing beyond the standard set by the standard States, something had to be done to curtail expenditure. This lent itself to downright irresponsibility in another direction. I have often heard it said, “ It is quite all right to go ahead with this;, we can expend this amount of money because the standard States do so, and if we expend it, we will not suffer an unfavourable balance on that account “.
– Metropolitan transport is an instance of that.
– That is so. At a considerable loss, the Hobart and Launceston tramway systems were taken over by the State Government because it was found that the State would not be penalized and the amount of the loss so incurred would be reimbursed by the Grants Commission. One feature that is just a little bit of silver lining in this proposal is that, because the basic grant has been increased and because the amount that the Grants Commission will reimburse to the claimant States at the moment has been reduced, the influences of the Grants Commission on State finances may be reduced. I agree with Senator McKenna that the economic division in the Commonwealth is changing so rapidly that it may well be that this agreement will not last the expected six years.
One thing that has rankled with members of the Tasmanian Parliament is that State finances have received an unfavorable adjustment because the Tasmanian Government reimbursed the Hydro-Electric Commission for the cost of extensions in country areas. For many years, Tasmania has received an unfavorable adjustment - last year it was £70,000 - because the State Government subsidized rural extensions. The reason given by the Grants Commission was that the standard States did not provide a similar subsidy. Because this was expenditure out of line with the expenditure of the standard States, Tasmania could not receive a favorable adjustment. The commission did not take into consideration that New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland did not have the potential to do as Tasmania was doing. That did not matter; all that mattered was that Tasmania was doing it and the other States were not doing it.
I say again, Mr. Deputy President, that I do not detract from the job that the Grants Commission has done and I admit that 1 am in no position to suggest an alternative. Nevertheless, the measuring rod that the commission puts over the claimant States, inasmuch as it gauges expenditure and taxation by the level in the standard States, has a dead hand effect.
Senator COOKE (Western Australia)
Opposition (Senator McKenna) in stating that such an important matter as Commonwealth and State financial arrangements should not be the subject of discussion at this closing stage of the session and at this late hour. I feel that my remarks must necessarily be brief. Senator Lillico, Senator Wright and the Leader of the Opposition have, from time to time, submitted to the Senate that we have a duty to protect State rights in financial arrangements between them and the Commonwealth, but we find that the Commonwealth Government is not prepared to take cognizance of such arguments nor, to a great extent, do the State governments want to endorse them. However, the Government has circumvented the efforts of the Senate over a period of years, and we now have very little say in the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States - and this is perhaps the most important relation between them.
During the regime of the Hawke Government in Western Australia, long submissions, requests, pleadings and arguments on the development of that State were submitted to the Commonwealth. The submissions of the Premier of Western Australia probably occupied more than one-sixth of the minutes of the Premiers’ Conferences. He, of course, had his measure of success. The Commonwealth Government has granted loans for the development of the north. A comprehensive water scheme was approved and, with some dilatoriness, was proceeded with.
I notice that the comments of Mr. Brand, who represented Western Australia at the last Commonwealth-State meeting, covered less than a half page of the report. If we look at his remarks we see the position that he had reached. He thought it quite impossible to make a submission to a conference of that nature, where the responsible Ministers and Premiers submitted their difficulties to the Commonwealth. He threw the whole of his hopes on the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Mr. Brand is recorded as saying -
Mr. Chairman, as you are well aware, for the reasons that have already been outlined - unfortunately not including density of population - Western Australia faces many budgetary problems.
There was no submission of those problems, or of a claim that the Commonwealth Government should meet. Mr. Brand went on -
I have not been Premier and Treasurer of Western Australia long enough to assess fully the position or to arrive at any decision as to how we might tackle those problems, but it is obvious that the prospect of Western Australia becoming a standard State in the near future is not very bright. However, I should like to feel that within the foreseeable future Western Australia will become a standard State, bearing in mind the large area of the Commonwealth that it represents and that in so doing it would contribute in a very real way towards making federation really mean something to each and every one of us.
Our immediate reaction to the Commonwealth’s proposals is one of uncertainty as to what they really mean in terms of benefit to Western Australia, The figures stated in the exposition of the new proposals show that for Western Australia the percentage share of the distribution has been reduced from 12.1 per cent, to 10.5 per cent., plus an unspecified addition from a special grant. In 1958-59 Western Australia received an amount of £27,300,000, whereas for 1959-60 the proposal is for £25,462,000, plus a special grant. Therefore, until the Commonwealth Grants Commission arrives at its conclusion in respect of the special grant for 1960, it is not possible for us to determine whether we are to share in the additional grants that are being made available by the Commonwealth to the States other than Western Australia and Tasmania. Because of this factor our judgment of the merits of the current proposals will need to be deferred. . . .
I would emphasize that we in Western Australia - no doubt this applies also to Tasmania - realize that if our special disabilities are to be fully assessed and conveyed to the Federal Treasury and we in turn compensated adequately in terms of £ s. d., the only medium must be through the panel of men who have so fairly treated our case in the past - the Commonwealth Giants Commission. I feel, therefore, that providing an assurance can be given by the Commonwealth that it is not the intention of the Commonwealth to hamstring the Commonwealth Grants Commission in any way, we should accept the proposition before us.
That was the total submission of the Premier of Western Australia in relation to this very important matter. In effect, it proves that he has reached a stage where he considers that there is no hope of successful negotiations between the Commonwealth and the States concerning their State disabilities. No case was submitted and the Premier was prepared to accept a reduction which was very much against Western Australia’s interests. He was not prepared to argue the case. There might have been a political affiliation which told him that it would not be wise to do so. In any event, he is pinning his hopes on the Commonwealth Grants Commission. We need not discuss whether he said what, according to Government supporters he meant to say, or not.
– It is a complete refutation of your suggestion to recall that Mr. Reece, the Premier of Tasmania, also accepted a percentage reduction.
– I am not quarrelling with that.
– You are merely trying to make political capital out of the matter.
– I am not. Honorable senators will see that Mr. Reece felt that he could not make out any better case, and would have to go to the Commonwealth Grants Commission. If the CommonwealthState relations are at such a stage that in an important matter such as this - which should be fully explored - certain States will not make out a case for governmenttogovernment negotiation , but prefer to throw the onus on the Commonwealth Grants Commission, then the Commonwealth Parliament is not doing the job that it should be doing.
– Mr. Brand’s attitude had been completely determined and tied by Mr. Hawke’s attitude at the preliminary conference. The honorable senator is degrading a high national issue.
– I am not. Every one will admit that between the Commonwealth Ministers and the senior Ministers of the State Government a position is determined in which the State has the disadvantage. Let us leave names and parties out of it. Unfortunately, the Senate never gets an opportunity to examine - to make any impact on - Commonwealth-State arrangements. These things are assessed on a mathematical basis, and according to a standard which provides that the Australian States should enjoy fair average quality advancement.
– We gave you £5,000,000 in one night.
– The honorable senator has provided nothing but interjections, and in so doing is showing his ignorance of the Standing Orders. The CommonwealthState financial relationships have made this Senate incapable of exercising its constitutional rights. This important issue becomes a minor issue in the Senate. We do not get an opportunity to consider other big issues. The Constitution provides ‘for the establishment of the Senate to ensure equitable treatment of the States by the Commonwealth. Upon looking at the Estimates and making inquiries of Ministers I found that no record is kept of Commonwealth expenditure on the Navy, the Army or the Air Force, or on postal services, as between State and State. That information cannot be obtained. Even though the Government magnanimously says to Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia, “ We will make a grant of £5,000,000 to you”, that does not offset the fact that that sum is a mere bagatelle in relation to the huge expenditure on defence in New South Wales and Victoria. Senator Wade, in his ignorance, says, “ We give Western Australia so much money “. I suggest that the honorable senator does not even give a reasonable contribution to this Parliament on behalf of the State that he represents.
– I rise to order, Mr. Acting Deputy President. I suggest that Senator Cooke should relate his remarks to the bill. We are discussing a bill which has to do with the provision of financial assistance for the States, with particular reference to moneys that are made by way of tax reimbursement and supplementary grants. For the purposes of this bill, those grants are to be made under the heading of financial assistance to the States. The bill has nothing to do with special grants or grants for specific purposes.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Anderson). - Yes. I ask Senator Cooke to link his remarks with the bill.
– I shall accede to your request, Mr. Acting Deputy President. I acknowledge that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) has been touched on a raw spot. Apparently, I was discussing a matter that he did not care to have discussed.
I shall now refer to an analysis of the grants position made by the Premier of
Western Australia and reported in the “West Australian” of 26th October last Before doing so, I indicate that Western Australia has suffered to the extent of approximately £2,000,000. The grant of £3,500,000 recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission will not be sufficient to cover the total deficiency that may result. Western Australia has suffered under the new arrangement, but is now committed to it. The report in the “West Australian” stated -
The commission indicated that W.A. must remain a claimant State for many years. The cold fact will come as no surprise to Premier Brand even though he expressed at the Premiers’ conference a desire that the State should emerge as a standard State within the foreseeable future. “ We should like to think that we have a certain claim on the finances of the Commonwealth as a right and not as a result of this benevolent commission “, he told the Premiers round the table. But, on the figures quoted, the new financial plan still leaves us heavily dependent on the benevolence of the commission.
It is beyond doubt that Western Australia must still depend on the benevolence of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. It is also beyond doubt that the Government prefers to have some States dependent on the benevolence of the Grants Commission and to use against the States the sovereign powers that the States have surrendered.
I agree with my Leader that an analysis should be made by the Commonwealth Parliament of Commonwealth and State financial arrangements as early as possible. I hope that when the Senate has an opportunity to discuss this matter, we shall be able to cover a broader field than I am able to cover to-night, and that in attempting to do so we shall not be restricted by points of order such as that which the Minister raised. I am amazed that the Minister should have tried to shelter behind a point of order, and I can only think that he did so to cover up a very bad argument.
– I rise to support the bill. First, I wish -to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) on his speech to-night. I found the subject-matter very interesting indeed, particularly his references to the taxes imposed by the Commonwealth in earlier years. I listened with interest to Senator Lillico’s speech. I could tell my friend, Senator Cooke, a long story about the benefits that the Commonwealth has given to Western Australia since I have been in this Parliament. I could remind him that such assistance has been worth many millions of pounds, assistance that was not available under previous governments, but I shall leave the matter there and return to the bill.
The Commonwealth, by an arrangement with the States, has been able to arrive at a formula which, it is intended, should operate for the next six years. Under the new arrangement, only Western Australia and Tasmania will be expected to seek financial assistance from the Commonwealth Grants Commission, but in exceptional circumstances Queensland and South Australia also may approach the commission. However, it is expected that such an approach will be unlikely. I believe that it is the wish of every State to be independent of assistance from the commission. Such assistance is designed to help States that are facing peculiar difficulties. It is pleasing that South Australia will not need assistance from the commission in future years.
I wish to refer to two very interesting documents that relate to the new formula. One is the report of the Premiers’ Conference at Canberra on 4th and 5th March last, when the whole question of Commonwealth and State financial relations was examined. I think that this conference was originally called so that uniform taxation could be discussed, with the possibility of doing away with it. On perusing the document, I find that when it was all boiled down, five of the States were opposed to resuming their income taxation powers. Other matters were discussed, including payroll tax and gift duty, and it was suggested that a further conference be called in June to discuss, among other things, tax reimbursement.
In June, the Commonwealth came up with the proposal that a new formula should be arrived at, so that the States and the Commonwealth would know where they stood in the ensuing six years. The formula was based on the proposition that the States having received some £205,000,000 under the existing formula, they would be entitled to a further £7,500,000. It was suggested that if an arrangement were made, the total figure could be increased to £220,000,000. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) said that if a satisfactory agreement could be obtained for a period of six years, the Commonwealth would come to the party with an extra £22,500,000, bringing the total amount available for the first year to £242,500,000. Mr. McEwen said -
Our proposal is that, taking the grant payable to any particular State in the base year 1959-60, this grant should be expressed in per capita terms by dividing it by the population of that State and the resultant per capita figure for the State should then be increased year by year by the increase in average wages for Australia as a whole as adjusted to take account of the “ betterment “ factor. The total grant for the State in any future year would then be the product of its per capita figure thus derived and the population of the State at the beginning of that year. I should add, perhaps, that the present adjusted population distribution, which takes account of sparsity of population, would be reflected, to a large extent, in the round figure percentage distribution which we are proposing for the base year.
The rounded percentages for 1959-60 to which I referred earlier applied to the proposed new grant of £242,500,000 payable in that year would give the following result for each State: -
Mr. McEwen said that the percentages, rounded off, would total more than 100, so he reduced the percentage of Western Australia from 12.10 to 10.5 and of Tasmania from 5.18 to 4.5, but told those States that they would be entitled to approach the Commonwealth Grants Commission for assistance. It is very interesting to note that during the discussion it was agreed that two States, Queensland and, I think, New South Wales, would be unfairly treated on this basis in the first year. They were given an additional £1,000,000 each, making a total distribution of £244,500,000 for the first year.
The formula adopted includes a betterment factor of 1.1 per cent. Western Australia, about which Senator Cooke complained so much, received £16,200,000 in tax reimbursement in. 1958-59. That was apart from grants made on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Under the new formula it will receive £25,462,000, together with the right to go to the Commonwealth Grants Commission for further assistance. The further assistance this year, as shown by the commission’s report, amounts to £3,500,000, which means that the State will receive a total of nearly £29,000,000, compared with last year’s £27,000,000, so we are £2,000,000 up on last year.
– That is not so.
– Western Australia is better off, in round figures, by about £2,000,000. The other States are also better off. An interesting feature is that this formula was worked out by the Tasmanian Government, which brought into the discussion a betterment clause. Notice would be taken, apparently, of increasing costs from year to year. I have taken out some figures in relation to Western Australia which are very interesting.
– Have you had them checked?
– 1 do not need to do that when I take them out. If we take the average Western Australian wage as £15, the federal basic wage increase of 15s. represents a 5 per cent, increase. The betterment adjustment of 1.1 per cent, brings this percentage to 5.5 per cent. The Western Australian grant under the present formula is £25,426,000, based on a per capita rate of £35 6s. 7d. If the Western Australian population increased this year by 30,000, the per capita tax reimbursement would be £35 6s. 7d. plus 5.5 per cent., or £1 19s. in round figures. This would total £37 5s. 7d. Assuming the first calculation was based on a population of 700,000, a population increase of 30,000 would result in next year’s grant being £37 5s. 7d., multiplied by 730,000.
– Make it £40 in round figures.
– No, that would be too far out. The figure is £37 5s. 7d. That calculation gives Western Australia’s tax reimbursement for next year. So we know in advance that next year’s grant will be £27,200,000 or a further increase of almost £2,000,000. I believe that this system will help the Commonwealth and the States because all will know where they are for the next five years. I believe also that the betterment factor which was recommended by Tasmania and accepted almost in toto by the Commonwealth will be of great benefit and help to the States because any increases in the cost of wages may now be taken into consideration.
I had much more to say on this subject because I have read the documents thoroughly and found them most interesting. I suggest to Senator Cooke that, before he makes any further contribution on this subject in this chamber, he will do well to study those documents. As I know that honorable senators are anxious for me to conclude, I content myself with informing all that I support the Government wholeheartedly on this measure.
– Mr. President, I wish to address myself to this bill. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Spooner) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.
Senate adjourned at 11.53 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 November 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1959/19591119_senate_23_s16/>.