25th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Assent to the following bills reported: -
Customs Tariff Bill 1964.
Customs Tariff (Canada Preference) Bill 1964.
Customs Tariff (New Zealand Preference) Bill (No. 1 ) 1964.
Customs Tariff (Papua and New Guinea
Preference) Bill 1964. Customs Tariff Bill (No. 2) 1964.
Customs Tariff (Canada Preference) Bill (No.
Customs Tariff (New Zealand Preference) Bill (No. 2) 1964.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, ls it a fact that the Army is unlikely to establish a train fire range in the Adelaide hills? Is he aware that in a letter to the district clerk of Mount Barker, Mr. A. G. Bowyer, the Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, indicated that he doubted whether the Army would consider further a proposal to establish a train fire range in the Adelaide hills? Is the Minister aware also that land-owners in the Mount Pleasant district, who have heard of this letter, were elated at the interpretation that the Army was unlikely to carry out the proposal? Would the Minister say whether this interpretation is a true one so that land-owners will be relieved of the anxiety of any possible take-over of land necessary for the range?
– As the honorable senator has said, some anxiety has been expressed by residents about this Army installation. The matter was raised in the Senate a little while ago. It was brought to the attention of the Minister and is now under consideration. I understand that two other sites are being examined at present but I anr not aware that any final decision has been made. I assure the honorable senator that the Minister is well aware of the position in South Australia, and of the anxiety that has been expressed by people in the areas to which the honorable senator referred.
– Has the Minister for National Development any information for the Senate about the piping of oil from the Moonie oil fields to tanks on the coast, and the transfer of that oil to refineries in the south? Because of the build-up of oil stocks and the possible filling of the oil tanks, could there be a slowing down of the piping of oil from Moonie because of the non-finalization of a contract between the oil companies and the Australian Oil and Gas Corporation Limited?
I saw the newspaper report concerning this matter and I made an examination of the position. There has been some discussion about the various agreements between the Australian Oil and Gas Corporation Limited and the purchasers. The agreements cover transactions which are a bit out of the ordinary. My information is (hat most of the companies have now signed the agreement and that there is no ground for apprehension that the transaction previously reported to the Senate will not go through in the ordinary way.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. If the Minister has not already done so, will he cause an examination of the evidence, and the remarks of Mr. Justice Myers of the New South Wales Supreme Court, in the case of Bayer Pharma Proprietary Limited versus Henry H. York and Company Proprietary Limited, to be made with a view to the Commonwealth’s taking a lead to curtail dishonest advertising of medicines?
– 1 am not sure that this matter comes within my province as Commonwealth Minister for Health but I shall have an examination made of the issues raised by the honorable senator. If the Department of Health can make a contribution to the prohibition of misleading advertising it will be happy to do so.
– My question to the Minister for Civil Aviation refers to the proposed new runway at the Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) airport. I ask: In view of the statement alleged to have been made by a Qantas spokesman that a 10,000feet runway would be necessary, is the Department of Civil Aviation satisfied that the proposed runway of 9,000 feet will be ample to accommodate the aircraft expected to use it in the immediate future?
– I welcome the opportunity to tell the Senate that the civil aviation authorities in Australia have every confidence that the proposed lengths of the runways at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) airport will be adequate. The total length of the north-south runway will be 8,500 feet, including an over-run of 500 feet. The honorable senator, particularly, will remember that this proposed work was referred to the Public Works Committee, which heard evidence from a number of persons, including both technical and operational executives of Qantas Empire Airways
Limited. Despite what has been attributed to Mr. Turner, the manager of Qantas, reference to the report of the Public Works Committee will show that his opinion is in conflict with the opinion of his own operational and technical officers. It has been said that the runways will be of sufficient length and strength to cater for the Concorde, a supersonic aircraft still very much on the drawing board. I suggest that it is completely unreal if the subsonic aircraft of to-day can be catered for by the runways being provided at the airport and if those runways will in fact cater for the first of the planned supersonic aircraft, to talk of extending the north-south runway now. to 10,000 feet. Expenditure on such an extension would surely not be a very wise usage of public money.
The north-south runway is to bc extended 3,500 feet into the bay. It would be possible, without any technical trouble- at all, to extend the runway further when or if that became necessary. That is one of the purposes of extending it into Botany Bay. The short answer to the honorable senator’s question is that the proposed runways at Kingsford-Smith airport are adjudged to be quite adequate to look after any reasonable demand that will be made on them for the next few years at least.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. What response has been made to the appeals for big business to register its calculating machines and similar machines so that it may receive from this big-hearted, free-enterprise Government full financial compensation to overcome any financial disabilities that the change to decimal currency may cause? In view of the anxiety of the Government to meet any losses incurred by its friends in big business, can we bc told what compensation the Government contemplates to meet the 20 per cent, increase in the cost of living that has to be faced by the average housewife?
– One frequently wonders on what side of politics the honorable senator is. His concern for what he has described as the wealthy friends of the Government is touching. If, in fact, he is genuinely inquiring as to the progress that has been made by the Decimal Currency Board in the registration of machines and computers, I shall have great pleasure in finding out for him and in letting him know that, together with the other announced intentions of the Government in respect of compensation.
– Can the Minister for National Development give the Senate any information regarding rice growing on the Ord River? I understand that some of the farmers there will make very large profits this year. If that is the case, will the Minister give the Senate some indication as to whether or not the Government will sponsor the greater Ord scheme?
Surely in the last days of the session Senator Scott would not ask me to deviate from the time-honoured procedure of not dealing with matters of policy in reply to a question without notice. My information is that good initial crops of cotton, for instance, have been harvested in the Ord River area and that those crops are being marketed at satisfactory prices. In regard to the last part of the question, the only comfort I can give to the honorable senator is that the matter will not pass unnoticed when the application of the Western Australian Government for funds is under consideration.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Treasurer been directed to an article in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “ of Friday last which suggested that an approach had been made by Sir Thomas Playford for a special grant for the provision of beef roads in the north of South Australia? Has any such approach been made to the Commonwealth Government by either the Premier or the Government of South Australia? If such an approach has been made, is the Minister in a position to inform me about the attitude of the Commonwealth Government?
– I am not personally aware of an approach having been made to the Commonwealth Government in recent times. The honorable senator will recall that some time ago - speaking from memory, I should say it was probably a year ago - the Premier of South Australia did make a general request. However, I do not recall the detail. I repeat that I do not know of anything that has happened in recent times, but I shall make inquiries and if there is any information I can give to the honorable senator I shall be pleased to make it available.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer, by pointing out that in this morning’s “ Sydney Morning Herald “ Dr. Coombs, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, is reported as having said to the First National Instalment Credit Conference -
It seems likely that plans for larger private expenditure and some restraints on the growth of liquidity should add to the demand for loans.
Is the Government aware of the restraints on the growth of liquidity to which Dr. Coombs has referred? Can any information on this matter be given to the Senate?
– I should think that Dr. Coombs, speaking to that audience in his capacity as Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, would have had in mind the recent call-up of bank funds to the statutory reserve deposit account as an indication to the general public that caution and care should be exercised in the use of borrowed moneys. As I recall the facts, Dr. Coombs was addressing a meeting of hire-purchase people. No doubt he thought that that was a particularly appropriate time at which to make a further remark of this nature.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is it the intention of the Department of Civil Aviation to insist on the removal of the rubbish tip from near the KingsfordSmith airport to a site close to the residential suburbs of Daceyville and Pagewood? Is the Minister aware that residents of these two suburbs have lodged a strong protest with my colleague, the honorable member for Watson, about this proposal? Will the Minister consider selecting another site for the tip which would not be to the detriment of people living in residential areas?
– I thought I had made it perfectly clear over the last week or two that the intention of the Department of Civil Aviation was to remove the factor which attracted seagulls to the Sydney airport. With that end in view, the department had taken steps, and is continuing to take steps, to see that food waste is not dumped on these lips where it has been shown beyond doubt that this attracts seagulls to the area. I made it perfectly clear when I made this statement that it was not the intention of the department to prevent the dumping of hard rubbish, but let me make it plain that if any practice is continued which will have the effect of attracting seagulls to this area then firm action will be taken to bring such practice to an immediate halt. The concern of my department is the safety of civil aviation in this country, and as this practice is regarded as presenting a hazard we are interested to see that it docs not continue.
– -Is it a fact that the Minister for Health has given instructions, through his department, for two preparations for the treatment of eye disorders to be withdrawn from the market? If so, what has promoted his action? Have these preparations been widely distributed throughout Australia? What method is used for notifying all chemists stocking them of the instructions banning their sale?
– We have not given any such instructions withdrawing the two preparations referred to by the honorable senator - 1 think he is referring to Optrex and Murine - for the very simple reason that neither preparation is listed as a pharmaceutical benefit under the National Health Act and, therefore, we have no jurisdiction to ban their sale. The State departments of health are responsible for controlling the distribution of these preparations within their own territories, and I am quite sure that these departments, being alive to their responsibilities, are facing up to this issue immediately. So far as the Australian Capital Territory is concerned, where we have a responsibility and a direct jurisdiction, no cases of inflammation from unsterile eye-drops have been reported. I go further and assure the Senate that measures are under way to ensure that only sterile batches of these preparations are available in the Australian Capital Territory.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is it a fact that two officers of the Department of Civil Aviation have undertaken the investigation of a light aircraft crash last Friday at Rutherford on the outskirts of Maitland, New South Wales? ls it also a fact that there have been recent incidents of interference with small aircraft at the aerodrome at Rutherford? Can the Minister say whether his departmental officers, investigating the crash, have uncovered any evidence which would warrant an allegation of sabotage? If so, can the Minister give any indication of what action his department might take in the matter?
– Nothing that has yet reached me has indicated an attempt at sabotage. I am waiting for further reports at the moment. Nothing that has so far come to me from my departmental officers indicates attempted sabotage nor, as far as I have been informed, was there any prior indication of attempted sabotage in this area.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, although it might also concern the Minister representing the Minister for Supply. Is the Port Augusta to Woomera road in South Australia unsatisfactory for transporting the valuable items of specialized equipment and space vehicles required at Woomera? Is the 80-mile section of the road which is not bituminized impassable after heavy rains on some occasions each year? Did transportation over this road of the equipment required in the important Black Knight project present hazards to the departmental or manufacturing operators? Will the Government consider providing the necessary finance to construct a suitable road in view of its importance to the Woomera range space programmes and Australia’s existing advantageous position in the European Launcher Development Organization?
– I am unable to answer a large portion of the question which relates to the transport of equipment, presumably under the control of the
Department of Supply or some other department. 1 do not know that this road is outside the ambit of the agreement under which the Commonwealth makes grants to the States for the construction of roads. Of course, there are from time to time cases which are regarded as of a special nature because of the excessive or preponderant use of roads by Government vehicles. I do not know whether this road comes within that category. I will discuss the question with the Minister for Shipping and Transport and see whether there is anything further 1 can add.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. In view of the latest report of the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is under the control of the Minister for Health, showing that there are 32 public health advisory committees of the council investigating the vast majority of health problems throughout Australia, will the Minister consider the formation of another committee to investigate on a national level the problem of mental retardation?
– The mere reference to 32 sub-committees is frightening. I sometimes wonder where it is going to end. With 32 sub-committees at the present time, 1 believe that the council is carrying a bigger load that was ever intended. As I said recently in this place - and I think that Senator Fitzgerald made a contribution to the debate when this matter was being discussed on another occasion - mental health is a matter that concerns us all, but primarily, down through the years it has been the responsibility of the States. When the honorable senator suggests that the National Health and Medical Research Council might institute another sub-committee, I remind him that the State Governments have some most effective research being carried on in the field of mental health. To mention only one instance, I refer to the work that Dr. Cunningham Dax is doing. There are men in other States also working in this field. These people are well able to cope with the problem. I would be surprised if any real purpose would be served by adding to the work that these men are already doing.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs a question. Did Mr. Harriman, the United State Assistant Secretary of State, at the Anzus Council meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, last year, state that the Pacific area referred to in the Anzus Treaty would include Borneo if an attack were made on Australian troops in that area? Did the Australian Prime Minister ask the President of the United States of America, the late Mr. John Kennedy, to re-affirm this interpretation? Did the late President advise that the United States of America was not handing out blank cheques for Australia to despatch troops to various hot-spots and thus invite attack without prior consultation with America? Was America consulted before Australian troops were sent to Borneo? If so, did America approve of this decision?
– These matters obviously need to be answered by the Minister for External Affairs. Since I merely represent the Minister in this chamber, I have not the full details at my fingertips, but I am sure that if any such consultation took place between the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of the United States of America, the kind of language suggested by Senator Cavanagh would not have been used by the President to the Prime Minister.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. What consideration has been given by the Department of Civil Aviation to the establishment of a satellite jet port at Hay in New South Wales?
-Because of a recent query in this regard, I happen to have some information about it which I would not have had otherwise. It is the practice of the officers of the Department of Civil Aviation to examine continually what are known within the department as possible long-term projects. During an examination of possible long-term projects, undertaken in the Hay district about a year ago, a property, or a number of properties, was examined with this matter in mind. Had the property been selected at that time the project would not have been developed for a great number of years, possibly 20 or 30 years. As the honorable senator will appreciate, it is necessary for civil aviation to keep in front of developments in this respect. However, 1 am informed that, after examination, the proposition at Hay was dismissed, even as a long-term project.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health and refers to the question asked by Senator O’Byrne regarding the preparations Murine and Optrex. Does the Minister’s reply indicate that he has no responsibility or jurisdiction over patent medicines which are not listed as pharmaceutical benefits but which could adversely affect the health of the whole community and not just the people of the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory?
– Senator Tangney has the correct interpretation of the reply I gave to Senator O’Byrne. My department has a very lively responsibility on all preparations that are listed for the national health scheme and we have the National Biological Standards Laboratory which does a great deal of research and testing of those preparations. Outside that field we have no jurisdiction whatsoever. The various State Governments have the machinery and the power to prohibit distribution and to take whatever action may be required in State spheres. The Department of Health has an interest in these things, of course, and I will cite one example. I refer to the poisons register that we are preparing and which will be of great value to the States. The department is always willing and eager to make any contribution which will assist the States in these matters.
– I ask the Minis ter for Health whether Mr. Harrop, spokesman for the Hospital Contribution Fund of New South Wales, is correct in saying that the Minister is standing in the way of the fund’s plan to extend its benefits to contributors? Can the Minister add to his already published reply to Mr. Harrop?
– The answer is: “No, I am not standing in the way of the Hospital Contribution Fund of New South Wales extending its contributions to its members “. The Government, I myself, the honorable senator and I think all contributors would welcome extensions of benefits in every fund. But as I said in my statement the simple facts arc that until this fund is in a position to present to me its audited balance sheet for its first nine months of operations - and I remind you it came into being on 1st October or 1st November, 1963,I think -I hesitate, quite properly, to say that this fund is in a position to carry the-
– It is not nine months since last October.
– It is only six or seven months, if you like. That makes my case even stronger. I hesitate to increase the burden on the fund, which is already a fairly heavy one, by the granting of additional benefits towards which the contributors make no extra contribution.
(Question No. 48.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answers: - 1 and 2. Clause 22 (b) of the Pastoral Industry
Award provides that of every five stands used at shearing operations and in shearing operations where four stands only are used, one at least shall be given to or reserved for a learner. I understand that no complaints have been made to the Commonwealth arbitration inspectorate in recent years about breaches of this clause. The whole question of this alleged prospective shortage of shearers is at present under study by my department.
(Question No. 52.)
SenatorWILLESEE asked the Minister representing the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
Will the £250 housing bonus be availableto purchasers of units under strata titles?
Arc strata titles legal in all States, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory?
If the answerto 1. is in the affirmative, does the Minister intend to cause strata titles to be available in the Territories, if this system is not already law there?
There is express legislation facilitating the issue of strata titles in each of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. 1 understand that Queensland intends to introduce a bill for this purpose. In South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory there is no facilitating legislation, but there is no bar to the creation of strata titles by conveyancing methods which have long been used in England and are there known as “ flying freehold “. In the Australian Capital Territory, there is no legislation to facilitate the issue of strata titles.
This is a matter outside my prerogative.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answers: -
(Question No. 106.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice -
Senator Sir WILLIAM SPOONER.The Minister for Trade and Industry has supplied the following answers: -
In answer to questions 1 and 2, the Commonwealth Statistician has advised that the values of imports of components for use as original equipment in the assembly or manufacture of motor vehicles were as follows: -
(Question No. 114.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Did the Minister state, as reported in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 1st April, 1964, that his department had recently gained the approval of employees and trade unions to change the apprenticeship system in the building and construction trades? If so, (a) which building trade unions have so approved of this change, and (b) was the approval given by branches of unions or by federal bodies?
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answer: -
The report relates to some observations I made in a telecast in Brisbane. They had to do with the conclusions come to at the national conference on training for skill in the building trades held in November Inst. Details are contained in a lengthy statement which is being sentto the honorable senator.
In addition to the A.C.T.U., the trade unions which were represented at the conference were -
Building Workers’ Industrial Union of Australia.
Operative Painters’ and Decorators’ Union of Australia.
Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees’ Union of Australia.
Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.
Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners of South Australia.
Operative Plasterers’ Federation of Australia.
They were all represented at the federal level, except the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners of South Australia.
(Question No. 115.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Since the introduction of the subsidized country apprenticeship training scheme - (a) how many employers in Western Australia are in receipt of the £3 per week subsidy for exceeding their normal intake of apprentices in the metal trades sphere; and (b) how many country apprentices engaged in the metal trades are in receipt of the £2 12s. 6d. per week living away from home allowance subsidy for first year apprentices and how many are receiving the £1 per week living away from home allowance subsidy for second year apprentices?
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answers: -
(Question No. 137.)
Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
(Question No. 143.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Did the Minister slate, as reported in the “ Daily Telegraph “ of 6th May, 1964, that the unions had not reported back to him or his department on the proposal to change the apprenticeship system in the building and construction trades? If so, does this mean that the Minister was incorrectly reported in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 1st April, 1964 (vide Question No. 114)?
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answer: -
As my reply to Question No. 114 makes clear, the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ report relates to Building Industry National Conference discussions last November. The “ Daily Telegraph “ report was concerned with my reply to a question asked me on 5th May, 1964, on the proposed Commonwealth supplementary training scheme, and reported on page 1487 of “ Hansard “.
(Question No. 146.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answers: -
(Question No. 147.)
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows: -
(Question No. 157.)
asked the Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research, upon notice -
What consideration has been given to the proposal made by Senator Dittmer in the Senate on 25th September, 1963, that a comparatively large marine biological research station be established on the Great Barrier Reef?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows: -
The question of the establishment of a comparatively large marine biological research station raised by Senator Dittmer on the 25th September, 1953, during the course of the 1963-64 expenditure debate, has been considered by both the Government and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organizationon a number of occasions. The last was early in 1962 when a request for a significant Government contribution towards the further development of an already existing establishment was considered. At that lime it was felt that the development of this existing station, or for that matter the establishment of an entirely new Commonwealth station to conduct biological research in the area of the Barrier Reef, was not warranted in view of the need to direct finance towards other scientific research which is comributing to the development of our industrial and agricultural economy. Neither could the proposal be given high priority in relation to other studies of Australian fauna and flora. There arc no changed circumstances to warrant a review of this decision at the present time.
– On 6th May, Sena tor Branson asked a question concerning the suitability of packaged television stations to service some of the more remote areas of Western Australia with television. During the course of my reply, i indicated that I would bring his question before the notice of my colleague, the PostmasterGeneral. On 14th May the honorable senator repeated and amplified the question and I indicated that an effort would be made to have an answer available before Parliament went into recess. Through an oversight of mine the question had not previously been referred to the PostmasterGeneral, and I regret that Senator Branson will not have his answer before the parliamentary recess. However, the PostmasterGeneral has indicated that he will furnish Senator Branson with the information he seeks by way of a written reply.
– I present the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works relating to the following proposed works: -
Construction of Stage Two of the Land Research and Regional Survey Laboratories far the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization at Black Mountain, Australian Capital Territory.
I ask for leave to make a short statement.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The recommendations are five in number and, with the concurrence of the Senate, I shall read them -
Motion (by Senator Sir William Spooner) agreed to -
Thai the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till to-morrow at 10.30 a.m.
[3.53]. - I move -
That Standing Order No. 68 be suspended up till and including Thursday, 2.1st May, to enable new business to be commenced after 10.30 p.m.
As the Senate will probably have to sit on Thursday, I ask for the suspension of Standing Order No. 68 for to-night, tomorrow night and, possibly, Thursday night, although I think that it would be taking a pessimistic view of the position to assume that we shall have to sit on Thursday night.
I do not think I need to discuss the motion at any length. It is one that is familiar to us. The programme that is before the Senate during this last week of the sessional period is not as heavy as it has been on previous occasions at the end of a sessional period. We have, in fact, three main bills to consider - the National Health Bill, the Homes Savings Grant Bill and the States Grants (Science Laboratories and Technical Training) Bill. I would be hopeful that we should not find ourselves unduly strained to deal with those and the other bills, totalling, I think, about seventeen. Most of them are small bills that are not contested. It is necessary, Mr. President, to suspend this standing order in order to give the Government flexibility to bring in bills and re-arrange its programme.
– On behalf of the Opposition I oppose the motion. I do so for all the reasons that I have from time to time, from this place, put before the Senate over a number of years. The situation on this occasion is a little easier and it enables me to be briefer than usual.
At the moment, in the view of the Opposition, there has been no casus belli in the Government’s behaviour since the present session began. We have gone along on a completely even keel.
– It is too good to be true.
– The Minister suggests that it is too good to be true. It is only because I see the ending of this halcyon period of peace that I shall not say anything at all at this stage on the subject o(“ the motion. I do not share the optimism of the Leader of the Government regarding the bills on the notice-paper and their disposal by Thursday of this week. In the view that I take, there are four major bills. They are the National Health Bill, which is not only important but is also very voluminous; the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act Amendment Bill, which is quite important; the novel States Grants (Science Laboratories and Technical Training) Bill; and the Homes Savings Grant Bill. They arc four major measures. The Senate should be given adequate time to deal with them. They should not bc pushed on after senators have sat for very long hours. We do not want a return to legislation by exhaustion, which we have witnessed at the end of a session on more than one occasion. Apart from those four bills, there are fourteen others. Seven of them are already on the notice-paper and seven have yet to come from another place. I concede that they are not major bills. Some are bracketed together. There is one group of three, another group of three, and a group of four. So the debates on those bills will focus on fewer than fourteen motions.
We object to being asked to consider after 10.30 p.m., and perhaps for unlimited periods, new legislation which may have been introduced on the same day. We object to being forced into debate without a reasonable time for mature consideration. Only a few moments ago the Opposition expressed its concurrence in a motion that we meet at 10.30 a.m. to-morrow. We have met very readily the wish of the Government to have more time. We are making available quite a few hours that normally would not be available to the Government and we are doing that so that we may get ahead with the work. I thought that that response on the part of the Opposition might have softened the hard heart of the Leader of the Government and that he might have been disposed not to persevere with this motion. However, he docs persevere with it. I can only say on behalf of the Opposition that it looks as though we are facing the usual endofsession rush and scramble which exhausts senators and which does no credit to this chamber. It .does not redound to the credit of the Senate, which is a House of review, that it should be in unseemly haste to rush business through. So far as every member of the Opposition is concerned, all of next week is available if need be. We arc in no hurry to conclude the sittings. Wc do not want to prolong them, but we do insist upon adequate opportunity for debate, particularly on the major bills to which I have referred. We do not want to see a process of legislation by exhaustion. Accordingly, we shall oppose the motion.
– I raise a protest against the motion. The contents of the Homes Savings Grant Bill, the States Grants (Science Laboratories and Technical Training) Bill and the National Health Bill are all matters that were dealt wilh by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in his policy speech last November. An assurance was given to the people at that time that these matters would bc dealt with in the first term of the new Parliament, if the Government were returned. After the election three months went past before the new Parliament met. We have been coming here now since 25th February, yet in the dying hours of this sessional period these most controversial bills are brought down. In addition, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir William Spooner) seeks the leave of (he Senate to introduce new business alter 10.30 p.m. That is imposing too much on honorable senators. What is more, it is a negation, of democracy to introduce controversial measures of this nature and to require them to be dealt with in such a short time. A procedure of this kind does not give senators an opportunity to express their views on important legislation. lt is not good enough, having asked the Minister when we are to rise and having these controversial matters before us, to be told, “ When you stop talking. “ The Minister is saying to honorable senators, in effect: “ Here is a controversial measure. It is up to you when you leave this place. If you want to keep on talking about this measure, you will have to stay here longer.” For my part, I am prepared to stay here as long as the Senate wants to stay in order to consider legislation of this type.
There are at the present time on the notice-paper eighteen items of business, and other matters are to come before the Senate from another place. There is no question of the Government’s running out of business to place before the Senate. It is an imposition and is extremely undemocratic to act as the Minister proposes, and I voice my protest against it.
Senator Sir WILLIAM SPOONER (New South Wales - Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for National Development) [4.2]. - in reply - Never did a sessional period of the Parliament end without the Leader of the Government in the Senate proposing a motion somewhat similar in terms to the motion that I have proposed, and never did a sessional period end without the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate stating the view that we have heard from Senator McKenna. This is a simple situation. Everybody in the Senate knows that the Government must have this facility, no matter how late the Senate sits or how early it rises. If we were to rise at 10.30 p.m. or 11 p.m., we would still want the Standing Orders to be suspended so that we could bring in bills that arrived from the other place or so that we could go on with bills that were partly dealt with.
Question put -
That the motion (Senator Sir William Spooner’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 3
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 14th May (vide page 1 153), on motion by Senator Wade -
That the bill be now read a second lime.
– I rise to state the attitude of the Opposition to this bill, which was introduced in this place last week. At the moment I am suffering from influenza and do not feel that I am a very good exponent of health legislation. The many defects of the main portion of the bill and the Schedule make me feel infinitely worse than I would otherwise feel. Whilst the Opposition welcomes some of the proposals contained in the measure, it believes that on the whole the bill leaves undone a great deal of what should be done for the welfare of the community. Therefore, on behalf of the Opposition,I move the following amendment: -
Leave out all words after “That” insert: - “ the Senate is of opinion that the Bill fails to meet the urgent needs of the people of Australia as it does not provide for a full national health plan embracing adequate medical and hospital services available to all and particularly does not (a) extend medical services to all persons, (b) ensure free hospitalization in public wards, (c) abolish the five shillings prescription fee, and (d) end the exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers.”.
The Opposition believes that the Government, because of its failure to deal with the four matters mentioned in the amendment, has fallen down in its responsibility to provide an adequate health service for the community.
Doubtless the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) will ask what the Australian Labour Party did when it was in office to provide an adequate health service. Some of the proposals raised in the amendment were considered by the Labour Government during the early post-war years. Much more would have been done if that Government had been able to obtain the same degree of co-operation that the doctors have extended to this Government since it assumed office. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Social Security in 1944. I remember quite well that, after a great deal of consultation with members of the British Medical Association, agreement was reached on certain aspects of a national health scheme. The delegates from the British Medical
Association left us at 4 p.m. on a Friday to report to the federal council of the association, with the intention of returning to us at 10 a.m. on the following Monday with the agreement signed. They have not been seen since. There had been give and take during the course of our discussions and we had agreed upon a workable arrangement. We waited all of Monday for them to return. Finally, Mr. Barnard, the chairman of the committee, got in touch with the delegates in Sydney. They said that they were no longer interested.
The greatest opposition which the Australian Labour Party experienced in its attempt to provide a free medical and pharmaceutical benefits scheme revolved, first, around the proposed formulary which it was stated was too restrictive - the doctors wanted a free and open go - and, secondly, around the proposal for prescriptions to be prepared in duplicate. Since then the doctors have accepted without demur a formulary which is not as extensive as that proposed by Labour. Moreover, the doctors prepare prescriptions in duplicate or triplicate, as the case may be, as required by this Government. So the doctors’ objections to Labours proposals can only be regarded as having been political. Immediately there was a change of government, their objections vanished, with the result that pharmaceutical benefits legislation was introduced.
The national health scheme has been in operation for ten years. Probably we do well after a decade to look back to see what has been achieved, particularly in the light of the Government’s promise when it introduced the relevant legislation. Under the present scheme it is necessary for people to belong to a medical benefits fund in order to get a refund of 90 per cent, of their medical expenses, the suggestion being that it was good for the souls of all Australians that they themselves should be responsible for at least 10 per cent. I say at least 10 per cent, because, as we all know, whenever a maximum is prescribed it tends to become the minimum. Never since this Government’s national health scheme was introduced has the patient received a refund of 90 per cent, of his doctor’s fees. We claim that this is not voluntary at all. Of course, in principle a person does not have to join a medical benefits society, but he simply cannot afford not to do so under the present set-up. To be able to pay his medical bills a person must belong to a society. Only this morning I received a letter from a Perth woman who has been confronted with bills for £175 for medical services and £8 10s. for a burial fee in respect of her still-born child. Because she could not pay these accounts the bailiffs have been around taking an inventory of her few possessions in order to determine what could be done to recoup the £175 she owes in hospital fees and the £8 10s. for the burial fee. That is a terrible state of affairs. The last line of her letter expresses a thought upon which the Senate could well ponder. It is as follows: -
Populate or perish! I say, “ Populate and perish.”
Her letter is dated 13th May. It is one instance of how difficult it is for people to pay all their medical expenses. The Minister says: “ Well, of course, we cannot guarantee, even though we are going to pay an extra benefit, that the patient will get back 90 per cent, or even any specific percentage of his total bill. It will depend on what the doctors’ fees are. We cannot, nor can the Australian Medical Association, determine what doctors’ fees shall be. We cannot compel doctors to fix their charges. The A.M.A. - which has taken the place of the British Medical Association - has asked its State members to do the best they can to keep the position on an even keel, but if they do not, it is just too bad.”
We talk about stabilization of wheat, wool and gold prices, but when it comes to a consideration of the most valuable commodity in the community - ‘the health of the people - we cannot arrange any stabilization of doctors’ fees, medical fees or hospital fees. At the last general election one of the Government’s promises was that Commonwealth medical benefits would be increased by 33.V per cent. If I were a gambling woman I would bet that 99 people out of every 100 in the community thought that that promise meant that the whole of their medical benefits would be increased by 33J- per cent. They did not realize that the promise related only to the Commonwealth benefit and that it meant that the hospital benefit would be increased from 6s. to 8s. Incidentally, that is the first increase in the Commonwealth benefit since this Government came into office fifteen years ago. When the Chifley Government went out of office the benefit was 6s. a day, and this remained for fifteen years despite the fact that the value of money has fallen so considerably in the interim.
In introducing this bill the Government now says, in effect: “ We are going to give you an increase of 33J per cent. We are going to raise the amount of the Commonwealth benefit from 6s. to 8s. when you visit your doctor, and we will increase to 25s. the amount you receive for visiting a specialist.” That sounds good until one realizes by how much medical fees have increased in the last fifteen years. Of course the fees charged by doctors vary in each State. In the majority of States the fee for a surgery consultation is £1 ls. and for a doctor’s visit to a patient’s home it is £1 10s. A doctor calls at a person’s home when a person simply cannot get to the surgery. A person is more seriously ill if he cannot get to the surgery, so the majority of benefits are paid to those people who attend the doctors’ surgeries. People often attend the surgeries, not because they are well enough to do so, but because they cannot afford not to do so. It is difficult for people with big incomes to realize how every shilling must count to a family on a low income. If it is going to cost an extra 9s. to have the doctor call, then you try to see him at his surgery because, in addition to what you pay the doctor, you are also faced with paying 5s. for a prescription. All these things have to be taken into account. This bill does not purport to stabilize the proportion of the hospital account that will be met from the government benefit and from the benefit payable to the member of an approved fund.
I have no quarrel with membership of a health benefit fund. I agree with the Government that a person has a responsibility to insure himself against accident and illness. However, I object to these health benefit organizations which seem to be making a pretty good thing out of it. They are erecting big buildings instead of increasing the benefits payable to their members. At present there is a conflict between the Minister for Health and one of the medical benefit societies in New South Wales, but I shall leave it to my
New South Wales colleagues to deal with that matter. However, this society says it can afford to pay additional benefits to its members if the Minister approves of the proposal. For the life of me I cannot see why increased benefits cannot be paid, because so much has already gone into bricks and mortar. These organizations have already enjoyed a big ‘build-up of profits. I regard it as immoral for an organization to make huge profits out of the illness of people in the community, lt is wrong in principle for any national health scheme to enable one section of the community to profit from the illness of other sections of the community. If there is to be a benefit fund to which people contribute, then it should be a national health fund. The Government could very well establish this out of revenue and taxation. All the tenets of good taxation law are broken through this membership of health funds. No matter what a person’s income, he pays a flat rate, lt is much more difficult for a family man to pay 8s. 6d. a fortnight from his wages than it is for a wealthy man to pay a similar amount, which he does not even miss. It costs only that much for a decent cigar yet, by paying that amount, a wealthy man’s family can secure the same benefits as can members of a family on the basic wage. The Australian Labour Party’s proposal was for a national health service financed from taxation. This would be much more equitable, no matter how much we as individuals dislike paying out taxation. I maintain that the money people pay into a fund to enable them to remain financial when they are in hospital is a form of taxation. It is., however, not paid to an organization which is directly responsible to the people. It is paid to an organization which is directly responsible to its shareholders for whom it must make a profit. Under the present bill, in some cases, a person will not be able to recoup more than 50 per cent, or 60 per cent, of the fee he pays to a doctor. I have no quarrel with doctors. I owe them a great deal. I have the greatest respect for most of them. Of course, as with every section of the community, there are good and bad. There are doctors who enter the profession with the desire to make money out of it at the expense of the patients. I recall visiting a house where there were two war-widow pensioners and one age pensioner when the doctor called. He was very cheerful and said to the age pensioner, “ Hello. I always like to see you.” He said to one of the war-widow pensioners: “ You are not looking too well. lt is about time you haJ that prescription of yours made up again. You must be running out of tablets by now.” The doctor received three payments for that more or less social visit that he made when he was passing by. Actually, his little social visit to say, “ How are you? “ could have been much more beneficial to the morale of the patient than the bottle of pills which he prescribed. Some people arc making a welter of that kind of thing. We have been told that this bill has been introduced to stop such practices.
When the Government originally introduced the legislation to provide for a prescription fee of 5s. it was stated that the idea was to prevent people from getting too much medicine, but they could not get the medicine except on a prescription. The fact was not that people were getting too much medicine, but that too much medicine was being prescribed for them. Very often medicines are prescribed which are not needed. A second prescription could be given at the time of the patient’s visit to the doctor but it is not. He is told to come back within a week or so and then he is given another prescription. Anybody can receive a prescription from a doctor. I have gone with a request from a pensioner for a prescription and handed it over to the nurse; the type of medicine required has been noted and I have been given the prescription. A charge for the doctor’s service has been made to the Commonwealth Government. I say that what is required is not so much to restrict the actual benefits that are given to patients, but to police certain sections of the health facilities that are made available through government agencies, whether through the national health scheme, the repatriation scheme, or any other pensioner scheme. It is not always the patient who is the offender if there is too much prescribing or too much money being spent on this scheme. It is quite often due to the doctors, who have done pretty well out of this scheme over the last ten years. I do not regard money spent on an adequate health scheme as being an expense. Australia cannot alford to have people ill.
My contention is that the Government is not doing enough in (he realm of preventive medicine. This bill is not designed to keep people healthy, lt is designed to try to cure them after they have become ill.
– To mend broken bones.
– Yes. lt is amazing the loss that is caused to the community through sickness, particularly every-day sicknesses such as the common cold, which I happen to have at the present time. The second point on which we are a; issue with the Govern;ne:.t is the treatment of friendly societies. The majority of the people who belong to friendly societies have been members for many years. They are the people whom the Government says it is trying to help. People belong to friendly societies in order to be independent and to provide additional insurance for their families during sickness and so on. Because people have belonged to friendly societies they have paid ls. instead of 5s. for a prescription. Those who joined friendly societies after 23rd April will have to pay the full prescription fee. The Government could well have a look at that matter. The 4s. which the patient does not pay to the friendly society is in the way of insurance which he has taken out wilh the friendly society to cover the cost of medicine which he might have lo buy because of illness in his family.
Many friendly societies were established in days before there was talk of a national health scheme. I know that the people on the gold-fields of Western Australia could not have existed without the friendly societies because of the climatic conditions, the very hard nature of the livelihood and the health hazards associated with mining, such as dust in the lungs and so on. Ail these hardships have made it necessary for the people to receive some assistance with their medical expenses. The assistance has been given to them through the friendly societies.
I have received, as I think have all other honorable senators, a letter from the
Friendly Societies Association of Kalgoorlie. It states that the bill will affect - . . approximately 85 per cent, of the population of the Eastern Goldfields covered by the three Dispensing Funds, which have been in existence for over 60 years, namely the Friendly Societies Association of Kalgoorlie, the Boulder United Friendly Societies, and the Goldfields Dispensary Fund, the latter covering any person ineligible for or not desirous of joining a Friendly Society.
The letter goes on to state -
Limiting membership to those contributors who were already on the lists at 23rd April, will mean, that any newcomer to the district cannot obtain the main benefit conferred by membership of the Funds, namely the rebate of the 5s. dispensing fee, as applied to National Health Scheme prescriptions. It also means that the dependants of contributors to the Funds at that date will bc unable to continue as members should the contributor die, become divorced, or should the dependant become 16 years of agc; the lack of new members will cause the eventual closure of the Dispensing Funds.
We would also point out that local Dispensing Funds have covered dependent male children up to 16 years of age and dependent females up to 18 years, as well as all full time students who are totally dependent up to 21. The amendment will lim:t coverage of children of both sexes up to 16 years of age; this, when the Government proposes to extend Child Endowment to full time students up to 21 years, would appear to be an anomaly.
I would like the Minister to note that the community about which 1 am speaking is a very isolated one. The letter continues -
This is a very isolated community, lacking many of the amenities and facilities of large cities and, what is more important, economically on the downgrade due to the fact that the prosperity of the major industry, mining, is definitely on the decline. For instance, last year saw the virtual end of two other Goldfields Towns, Coolgardie and Gwalia, as the mine at each place is now closed down. In any event it is extremely unlikely that any further Friendly Society Dispensary will open or that the lists would ever expand.
Therefore I ask the Minister to consider the specific case of these friendly society dispensaries in isolated regions. They are also to be found in the coal-field communities, but I think the necessity for them is greater on the gold-fields than in the coal-field communities. When the pensioner medical service came into operation and, up to 1955, all pensioners were in the one class, and they had their entitlement certificates for the health scheme. That was a great boon. I give the Government credit for that scheme. Under the Labour Government, pensioners had had the right to free hospitalization in any case. But when the Labour Govern ment’s scheme for free hospitalization was destroyed, the introduction of the pensioner medical service was a great boon for them. At the end of 1955, the Government made a change, and pensioners were divided into two classes - those who were in receipt of income up to £2 a week, to which they might have contributed themselves over the years through superannuation funds, and those who had no income.
If a pensioner had an income of £2 a week - I think £2 0s. Id. was the actual amount - he or she could not get a medical entitlement card. For many pensioners - up to 90 per cent, of them at least - the medical entitlement card was the most valuable part of social services. It gave them security against medical expenses for illnesses when such expenses and illnesses were likely to be at their greatest. Quite a number of pensioners have said to mc: “ How do I get rid of this income of a couple of pounds a week? I would rather have my medical entitlement card.”
In this bill, the same principle is being applied by the Government to another phase of its health legislation in regard to the membership of the friendly societies. This principle drives a wedge between those persons who were members of friendly societies before 23rd April and those who become members after that date. This bill becomes so complex that its administration will require the services of Perry Mason or Boyd, Q.C., every time some one tries to work out what it means. I cannot see any ordinary mortal being able to interpret the measure very easily.
I know that a great deal of pressure has been exerted on the Minister for Health by the guild chemists. I understand the proportion of friendly society dispensaries to pharmaceutical guild chemists is only in the region of about 3 per cent. Surely to goodness the fact that the friendly societies give their service and insurance to their members - and have been doing so over many years - should tell against the weight of pressure that has been exerted by the chemists on the Minister in this matter.
That thought prompts me to refer to the terrific cost of the scheme to the Government - a cost out of all proportion to the benefits received - because of the price of the drugs. Prices of drugs have risen greatly over the past ten years. As I say, I do not think the high cost to the Government is due wholly to over-prescribing. I believe it is due in part to the fact that the drugs are now so expensive. Honorable senators will recall, and the Minister himself will remember the circumstances with satisfaction, that the matter was raised in this chamber recently, and within a very short time some drug houses found a way of saving the Government about £2,250,000. Honorable senators had voiced the criticism that the rates of profit of drug houses were much too great. I well remember an all-night sitting in this chamber a couple of years ago. After we had been 23 hours in the saddle, the bill to bring to an end the work of our Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, as they were known, was eventually passed. The drug houses of Australia - not the actual firm of that name, but the manufacturing chemists - then took over the work. One of the main functions of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories had been to keep prices of drugs on an even keel.
Immediately the bill was passed, the prices of drugs which, up to that time, had been provided by the Serum Laboratories, rose steeply. It became an open season in Australia for wholesale druggists. They came to Australia from America and other countries, established branches, and made terrific profits out of the health of the people. Many years ago Senator Arnold and I were members of the Social Security Committee which was investigating some of the many patent medicines. Honestly, the position would have been comical if it had nol been so serious. We found that some patent medicines were just coloured water, and the ingredients would not have cost more than 3d. but they were being retailed to the public at 14s. and 15s. a bottle. It was a very serious matter to find out just how much the public was being exploited in this way.
I was interested to hear the remarks of the Minister this afternoon in regard to patent medicines which do not come within the formula - those which are not regarded as being national health benefits. I think there is a terrific field there which can only be attacked on a Commonwealth level. The volume of advertising of patent medicines, and the amount of money that is spent on advertising them on television, and in the press and magazines generally are absolutely staggering. Drug houses are spending a terrific sum on advertising, and they must be getting that money from somewhere. lt comes from the people who buy their products. After the costs of advertising and other overhead expenses are deducted the actual value of the product is very much lower than that charged to the public. Some of the claims put forward about these patent medicines are fantastic. It seems they can cure everything from warts to twins. Nobody appears to take them seriously except the people who pay out for them. Only by a process of trial and error do those people find that they have been duped.
I know the Government is busy, but any government should be interested in setting a standard for all types of medicines. I think something should be done to ensure that there is truth in advertising on television and in the press and magazines, particularly those magazines which are of greatest interest to women. Surely there is some way of catching up with some of these terrific claims that are made for some of this quackery. Quite recently a prosecution was launched in the United States of America in respect of this type of practice and some of the druggists were fined very heavily for having published misleading advertisements about their product.
This high cost of producing drugs, which involves large advertising expenses, is passed on not only to the people but also to the Government and users of other products which have been tested and tried and are quite good. When I took a prescription along to a chemist on one occasion I was told: “ Next time you come in, if you have not a prescription do not worry; you can get (he tablets in this other bottle. It is not a health benefit at all. It will cost you Ss. for a double-size bottle, but it will cost you 10s. to get the tablets prescribed by the doctor, because they have to be taken out of one bottle and put into another and a label has to be put on it.” That practice is going on not with just one chemist. I deal with a quite honest chemist; there are quite a number of honest chemists. My argument is not with the actual chemist, but with the wholesalers because of the terrific profits they are making at the expense of ttaa people.
Then I come to another aspect of the amendment which 1 have moved. Surely free hospitalization in public wards of public hospitals is possible. When this Government first came into office free hospitalization in public wards was being provided, and I think that the system still obtains in Queensland. Hospitalization in a public ward now is much more expensive than was hospitalization in the most exclusive private nursing home fifteen or twenty years ago. We do not think that anybody should be called upon to do something for nothing. We do not think that the honorary doctor system in hospitals should be abused in any way, and I would like to pay a tribute to those doctors who, under the honorary system, have done so much to advance the welfare of the community. But I am quite certain that many doctors would like to see a system operating under which they could send a person to a hospital without worrying about whether he could pay the charges, or without worrying about whether he was a financial member of a hospital benefit fund and had the requisite period of membership or whether he had let his membership lapse, through unemployment. These may appear to be small problems, just touching the fringe of hospital benefits, but they arc very real problems.
– It would not be a small thing to provide free hospitalization across the face of Australia.
– I am not not saying that we should provide completely free hospitalization. I am saying that we should provide free hospitalization in public wards, just as the Labour Government was providing when the Menzies Government came into office. It was possible to do that then. Let us remember that whatever is humanly possible is also financially possibly.
As I said earlier. Australia cannot afford to neglect the health of its people. Good health in the Australian people is a much greater asset than the output of the primary producers and every one else put together. We recall how loud the primary producers were in their outcries last week when legislation affecting their welfare was before the Parliament. We say that any legislation on this subject is a much greater thing than any sectional measure which comes before the Parliament, because it affects all the people in the community. 1 was staggered, looking at the schedule to the bill, to see the terrific number of ills to which the flesh is heir. I began to realize then that 1 am a healthy person and that I owe a great deal of thanks to the Almighty because I do not need any of the benefits listed in the Schedule. The list is more formidable. We should all be grateful that we do not suffer from many of the 1,714 different illnesses for which benefits are specified. However, I should like to know how close the fund and government benefits that arc provided come to giving the 90 per cent, cover which the Government suggests should be given by virtue of membership of a hospital or medical benefit fund.
It is useless to say to people, “ If you do not want to belong to a hospital or medical benefit fund, you do not have to do so “. Under the present system, people must belong to a benefit fund or a friendly society. The average working man cannot afford not to do so; he must take that way of insuring against sickness. If he does not do so and sickness strikes, he may be in the same position as the person who wrote the letter to which I have referred. She received a medical bill for £175. Because she could not pay the bill a bailiff came to her home and assessed the value of her goods and chattels. She had brought up nine “children. In her letter she says -
That old saying, “ Populate or perish “, should read “ Populate and perish “.
How true that is. Apparently, having a large family, her husband could not afford to belong to a hospital benefit fund. I think it is time the Government decided to have another look at the anomalies in the national health scheme.
– Was the bill for hospital or medical fees?
– Both. The woman’s husband was unemployed and was behind with his rent. She says -
I have been doing my best to keep ahead and do the best 1 can in feeding the family.
She then says that when her tenth child died her husband arranged to have it buried in the still-born section of a cemetery, at a cost of £8 10s., which she could not pay at the time. Then a bailiff came in to take an inventory of the family’s assets. The woman says, “ How they expect me to have assets and expensive furniture, I do not know”. The letter continues, referring to the baby’s death, as follows: -
What is one supposed to do in the case of a baby’s death? Am I supposed to leave it at the morgue or bury it in the backyard? I also had an operation. … I think the doctors are hampered by red tape. The Government hospitals used to be free, which I think maternity hospitals should be. My bill was £175. 1 will show Senator Wright this letter later so that he will see this is not just a figment of my imagination.
– Was that a bill for £175 for a maternity case?
– Apparently. This woman was in hospital for ten weeks, and apparently there were complications. The letter goes on - 1 also attend the Royal Perth Hospital, but by the time T pay my fares into town and pay 10s. out-patient’s fee, after being assessed every week you attend there, plus the long wait sometimes from 2.30 in the afternoon till 6 o’clock at night. . . . lt is then that she says that the old saying “ Populate or perish “ should read “ Populate and perish “.
– Where was this?
– In Western Australia, which is under a Liberal government. 1 have said before, and I say again now, that the health of the people is too important a subject to be dealt with on party political lines. Senator Sir Walter Cooper - I am sorry he is not here at the moment to bear me out - knows that the Social Security Committee which operated some years ago approached health problems and other problems on a completely non-party basis. That was why the Liberal Party got rid of the committee. It found that its members often supported things in either House which the party had opposed in the party room, and that, put it in an invidious position. The non-Labour members of that committee - Mr. Rupert Ryan, Senator Foll and Senator Cooper, as he then was - all wholeheartedly approved of and voted for free hospitalization in public wards of public hospitals, but when this Government came into office that system was destroyed. I think the Minister should have another look at the present health scheme to see whether it could be made a truly national health scheme. As I said before, we do not oppose the bill as a whole. We are grateful for what it gives. We will support anything which will improve the health of the community, and we think the bill will do that, to some extent.
I think there should be some way of ensuring that doctors keep their fees at a reasonable level. We would hate to see them starve - not that I have seen many starving doctors lately. I would like to conclude by referring to what happened when the Labour Party brought in the extra maternity allowance of £15 for the first child, back in 1946 or 1947. Up to that time 90 per cent, of the mothers of Australia had had their babies in the public wards of public hospitals, and there were no complications. They were attended by a family doctor, and that was that. However, when the Government announced that it would pay the additional maternity allowance, so that mothers might get a few extras for themselves, almost overnight 90 per cent, of the mothers, instead of having normal births, apparently needed specialist attention. Up went the fee by £15 - the exact amount of the bonus. It became such a scandal that the matron of the Crown-street Women’s Hospital and the matron of the King Edward Hospital in Western Australia wrote to me. I went to see them and they both told me the same story. They said that the mothers were not getting any extra benefit. This is something that the Minister is afraid could happen now. Senator McKenna was Minister for Health at that time and he will remember the discussion I had with him. We discussed how we could overcome the position. The only way was to allow the mother, if she needed this extra money, to get it in weekly instalments of, say, 25s. a week, a month before the expected birth of the child. She would then be able to spend the money before she went to hospital.
There was a furore in the Senate when I put up that proposition but notwithstanding all the discoveries of medical science, nothing did more to improve the health of mothers in the community than that provision. Instead of 90 per cent, allegedly requiring specialist attention the number dropped to about 10 per cent, when the amount was no longer available in a lump sum. ft could be obtained in a lump sum if required, but if the mother wanted to spend it before the birth of her child she could do so.
What I have said just shows that at that time a number of medical practitioners were willing to take the extra benefit that the Government was giving to mothers and use it by adding it on to their fees. This is what the Minister must have had in mind when he had these conferences with the Australian Medical Association. It is his desire to see that any extra benefits conferred are not taken away by increased fees but, of course, he has been able to tell us only that there is a reasonable chance of this happening. As I have said before, no one can compel the doctors to stabilize their fees. Stabilization is a word that has been thrown around this chamber on a number of occasions during the last month.
Therefore, Mr. Deputy President, while the Labour Party expresses opposition to some aspects of the bill it will support it. At the same time it would like to sec the Government, just for a change, support the amendment that has been moved and on which a division will be called for at the end of the second reading debate.
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak at a later stage.
– This bill proposes to amend the National Health Act in a number of special ways. For the purposes of this debate I point out that it will amend the act in relation to two specific matters. In response to the motion that the bill be read a second time the Opposition has moved an amendment. Senator Tangney said that the Opposition opposed some aspects of the bill but that it would not vote against it. Then she produced an amendment which completely confuses me. The amendment seeks to leave out all the words after “ that “ and then, as a generalization, refers to certain things that the Opposition would like to see done.
I hope I remain in this Senate long enough to see the day when a motion which seeks to leave out all words after “ that “ is carried. 1 will be interested to see what will happen. If, on a motion that the Senate read a bill a second time, an amendment is carried which eliminates the words “ the bill be now read a second time”, I would be interested to see how the bill would proceed. I submit, with respect, that the Opposition is, in fact, opposing the bill.
– You could try to improve it.
– How can we improve it if it is not read a second time? lt would have to be resubmitted in some other form. For the purposes of this debate it would be far better for the Opposition to oppose the bill.
The amendment that has been moved is in the nature of a generalization and proceeds to introduce certain matters. Although the bill proposes to do a number of specific things to the main act: it would seem that this debate is to take the form of full-scale debate on the whole ramifications of the National Health Act. We arc not to have a debate - at the second reading stage at any rate - on the matters contained in the bill, but instead we are to have a fully-developed debate on all aspects of health. ft is interesting to consider some of the propositions in the amendment. lt commences - the Senate is of opinion that the bill fails to meet the urgent needs of the people of Australia as it does not provide for a full national health plan embracing adequate medical and hospital services available to all and particularly docs not (a) extend medical services to all persons. . .
Frankly, I do not know what that means. Does it refer to free medical services for all people? That would be an interesting exercise. We would be going back to the position the Australian Labour Party was in when it was in power and wanted to nationalize medicine. It is an old, old dream which goes back to the old days of socialist doctrine. The amendment continues -
What was the position in regard to free hospitalization when Labour was in power? It is all right to speak of free hospitalization but, in fact, what the Government in power prior to 1949 did was to say to the States, “ We will give you so much a day provided you provide free hospitalization “. The amount the Government was prepared to give was only a proportion of the amount that it cost the States to keep the doors of their hospitals open. As against that, to-day we have a hospitalization scheme under which free hospitalization is provided for all pensioners who have a pensioner’s card. The Commonwealth Government pays to the States 36s. per bed per day for all pensioners. In addition other people can insure themselves by contributing voluntarily to hospital benefit schemes. Tables are available and people can contribute to an insurance scheme which will provide them with hospitalization and give them a certain amount of money to cover the extra expenses to which they might be committed. The amendment continues -
We had an interesting exercise by Senator Tangney on that aspect of the amendment, but since the point is completely germane to the bill I shall leave it until I am discussing the main features of the bill itself. Finally the amendment provides - (el) end the exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers.
That is a very sweeping statement. Until the Opposition submits a case supporting that allegation - I presume it intends to do so in this debate - it is hardly open for me to make any comment. There has been tremendous progress in medical science in the last few years. That involves tremendous research. It involves the time of scientists and specialists. In a particular field of research, a drug manufacturer could conceivably spend millions of pounds on trying to find a cure for some disease or aspect of a disease, only to find, upon obtaining what he thought was the cure, that the drug produced all manner of side effects, with the result that all the research was nullified. On the other hand, he might find that somewhere else in the world a similar drug, medicine or antibiotic, having the same curative properties and costing half as much, had been developed. One should not talk too loosely about exploitation by drug manufacturers. Whether or not we like it - obviously, the Opposition docs not like it - drug manufacturers have given this world of ours in this day and age cures which we never dreamed of in the past. They have to do the research, and research is not done without cost.
– Why did the Minister have to negotiate with them to try to cut down the price of drugs?
– Because that is the normal procedure of any Minister. That goes on every day of the week. The fact that that happens will not support an argument - an argument that has not yet been produced - that there is exploitation. All that I am saying at this stage is that the Opposition should be very careful, in its final submission, to document its case pretty fully.
In essence, the amendment opposes the bill. The Opposition cannot escape that. If the amendment is carried, there cannot be a second reading of the bill. If the Opposition opposes the bill, it says, in effect, that it does not support the proposed increases of about 33i per cent, in benefits to contributors without extra contributions to their medical benefits funds. I should be interested to hear that argument challenged. I do not think that there is any answer to it.
As this is to be an open debate, I want to say something about the substance of the bill and then to refer to an aspect of health that concerns me. I shall not be opposing the bill. I shall support it to the hilt. I shall not be voting for the Opposition’s amendment. The bill proposes to amend the act in two main respects. First, it provides for increased Commonwealth benefits to contributors to registered medical funds, and secondly, it provides that the rebate of the 5s. pharmaceutical fee is to be limited to present members of friendly societies. There are some small, incidental amendments of a machinery nature which need not enter into our consideration for the purposes of this debate.
It is fair to say that 7,600,000 persons are members of various funds associated with the national health scheme. Apart from these, pensioners receive free medical treatment and medicines without being required to pay the 5s. prescription fee, and ex-service personnel with repatriation eligibility cards receive free repatriation benefits. Taking all of this into account, almost the whole of the Australian community is covered in one form or another for medical and hospital treatment. It is true that 76 per cent, of the people are persons who are contributors to voluntary medical or hospital benefits schemes. Self-help appeals to the Australian citizen. Conscription in any form is abhorrent to him. Tt is not in the character of the Australian people to have a conscripted way of life. This applies as forcibly to medical and hospital treatment as to any other aspect of life. I think it is fair to say that the Australian community accepts the voluntary medical and hospital insurance scheme as something that suits our temperament and way of life.
– Is it really voluntary?
– Yes, it is completely voluntary. There can be no argument about that, if I understand the meaning of the word “ voluntary “. It is as free as the air. Any one who does not want to belong to a fund need not do so. The health scheme contains all of the ingredients which are necessary for success. An essential ingredient is that the subscriber is free to choose his own doctor. This line of freedom extends throughout the system. An insurance scheme which has a government supplement takes away the fear of financial disaster should sickness occur. The substance of this bill is the proposed increase in the government supplement, although that matter is not necessarily all that the Opposition will debate.
The Minister has dealt in detail with the proposed increases. About 1,000 separate medical procedures are specified in the schedule of medical benefits which forms part of the bill. Therefore, it would be wise for me to say only that, in the broad, without the need for extra insurance premiums to be paid by the contributor - this should be emphasized - the pattern is that Commonwealth benefits will be increased by approximately 33 J per cent. The overall effect of the proposed increases will be to enable voluntary contributors to recover - in the broad - about 90 per cent, of their medical expenses. This is a complex field - nobody will appreciate this more than does Senator Dittmer - in which there arc many variations of treatment and many variations of doctors’ fees, and in which each State has sovereign rights. To achieve the situation that, in the broad, people will be able to recover about 90 per cent, of their medical expenses - -
– Not all of them.
– I have been qualifying my statements in this respect for almost the past five minutes, but now the honorable senator says, “ Not all of them “. I am looking at the picture in the broad.
To simplify the position for Senator Tangney, I say that on the average it will be possible to recover approximately 90 per cent, of medical expenses. The Minister gave us some examples which pointed to variations in charges. One which he selected and one which we all would recognize was appendicectomy. It would not be an understatement to say that doctors’ fees for this operation vary from, perhaps, ten guineas to 60 guineas. From the records available to the Minister, 47 different fees have been charged for this operation. The point is made that a fair average fee is 25 guineas.
– For what?
– For an appendicectomy. For this service the new Commonwealth benefit will be £10 and the fund benefit generally payable will be £12 10s., a total of £22 10s. I am not a mathematician, but I am told that that amounts to a total refund of 85 per cent. I do not want to particularize the cost of various operations. It is sufficient to say that across the whole field of medical services the insurer will be able to recover, under the provisions of this bill, approximately 90 per cent, of the fees charged. That percentage will obtain only while the medical profession avoids an escalation of its fees. Senator Tangney made the point that if there is an acute escalation of doctors’ fees, the percentage recoverable must vary accordingly. We must acknowledge that to be so. The ability of the contributor to obtain a refund of approximately 90 per cent, of the fees paid depends to a tremendous degree upon the stability of medical fees. That is elementary, and it was acknowledged by the Minister in his second-reading speech.
I should think that the members of the Australian Medical Association arc aware of this. They have stated that there is. and that there will continue to be, a high degree of stability in medical fees. I am not so simple as to suggest that a group of medical practitioners in a certain area or State would not decide, in the light of economic change, to vary their fees. The possibility of that happening is one of the facts of life. But I suggest that if and when that situation arose the Executive, the Minister for Health and the Department of Health would have to look at it and deal with it in an ad hoc manner. It is reasonable to say that, because we pin our faith to a free economy and a way of life which is based on freedoms, those freedoms remain with every section of the community and that we must shape our laws against that background. Members of the medical profession are not different from members of any other profession. They reserve their rights. The Government has based this legislation on the assumption that there will continue to be stability in relation to medical fees. I suggest that, if stability ceased to exist in other economic fields, we would have to take corrective legislative action. The same would apply in this field.
I want to say a few words in relation to the second aspect of the bill and then to deal with a broad aspect of health and hospitalization. The second main purpose of the bill is to restrict arrangements for reducing or rebating the 5s. pharmaceutical benefits fee to existing members of friendly societies, lt must be apparent to honorable senators and indeed to the community at large that there is still need for some for.m of restraint upon the issue of prescriptions. I suggest that if honorable senators were to look in the shaving cabinets in their bathrooms they would find a lot of bottles of medicine or pills that had not been completely used. If honorable senators were honest with themselves they would agree that failure to use completely medicaments that have been prescribed has become a way of life. Quite apart from the value of the medicine, there is a psychological advantage in getting a specific, some pills or a bandage. Whilst I do not doubt that such things do good, the fact that one has taken medicine is a factor in his recovery.
– Then it has served its purpose, has it not?
– I am not criticizing people for doing this. Experience in the United Kingdom has shown that with the introduction of free medicine the cost of the national health scheme rose out of all proportion. I think a strong argument can be advanced in favour of imposing some restraint upon people being able to go to the chemist to obtain free medicine.
– But you cannot do that. You have to get your doctor to prescribe it.
– Well, yes. There are some limitations, and I think you touched upon them in your speech. Repeats and so forth enter into the picture. It is an historical fact that there has arisen in the community a state of affairs in which people have been encouraged to join friendly societies simply for the benefit to be derived from a rebate of fees. To do that, of course, affects the purpose of the charge of 5s. for prescriptions. The bill is designed to peg the position in relation to the friendly societies as it was in April. That is a reasonable proposal. It should attract the support of all honorable senators.
I come now to another matter. I think that we should fairly soon examine another aspect of our health legislation. This relates to nursing homes on the one hand and to hospitals on the other. I have a reasonably intimate knowledge of this problem. If a pensioner is in a convalescent or nursing home under Division 5 of the Act he attracts £1 a day. Assuming he receives a pension of £5 15s. a week, the nursing home at which he is an inmate receives an absolute maximum of £12 15s. a week. Of course, there are nursing homes and nursing homes. Whilst it may well be that a walking convalescent patient could be accommodated in a nursing home for this sum - that is when the patient can feed, dress and look after himself - when a pensioner patient becomes sick, although not to the degree that he can be admitted to a hospital, and requires intense and detailed nursing care, the nursing homes cannot afford to keep him.
– Some do not try.
– I accept that. But let us consider those homes that are trying to do the job but which cannot afford to keep these patients for £12 15s. a week. Even with the best will in the world many of these nursing homes cannot afford to keep pensioners who become terminal cases, some of whom are suffering from senility. The Senate might say, “ If they are that bad, why not put them into hospital? “ However, this is where a problem arises. We cannot afford to fill our surgical and general hospitals with these terminal cases. The big hospitals, which cater for every field of medicine on the surgical, orthopaedic and gynaecological side, must retain beds for emergencies. If these pensioner patients to whom I have referred are being accommodated in the general hospitals the stage is reached where the general hospitals lose, in part, their proper function. These cases need more nursing - believe it or not - than surgical cases. If a person enters hospital for an appendix operation he may be very sick for five or six days, during which time he needs concentrated nursing, but after that he is able to do things for himself. He can at least clean his teeth, wash himself and attend to his toilet, and by the time he is ready for discharge his nursing requirement is practically nil. However, when a hospital is occupied largely by elderly people with fractured hips, cardiac conditions and suffering from senility, tremendous demands are imposed upon the hospitals. These patients remain in hospital for a long time. The average stay for a surgery case might be about three weeks; it certainly would not be three months.
– It is much shorter than three months for the acute medical and surgical case.
– Yes. Because private hospitals cannot afford to keep the pensioner patients they are being attracted to the general hospitals where they are causing a big problem. Might I suggest a solution to the problem? 1 would be the first to recognize that we could not expect the Commonwealth Department of Health to say to every nursing home, “ All right, if you say you are a hospital we will classify you and give you 36s. a day for your patient “. That would cost the Australian taxpayer more than they could afford to pay and obvious injustices would arise. However, when a patient in a nursing home is genuinely sick, needs to be confined to bed, and requires medical attention and specialized drugs, our act should provide for that individual case to be classified so that he attracts 36s. a day. If a nursing home of 30 beds had 20 walking cases it would receive £1 a day for each of them; and if it had ten really sick cases requiring nursing, those cases could be classified and attract 36s. a day each. This would go a long way to enabling nursing homes to retain many of these patients. At present the act provides, by section 82g, that where a person is a member of fund it is possible for him to be reclassified. The Commonwealth Department of Health can do this.
However, these persons to whom I have been referring are generally not in a fund because they have been encouraged not to remain in a fund. They have been told that they can get 36s. a day in a public hospital. The fact is that many of them cease to be fund members. I think it would be good if we had provision whereby these pensioner patients could be classified in special cases. This would relieve the terrific burden on general and surgical hospitals and their medical and nursing staffs. We would be easing the burden of worry on these patients and their relatives and we would be enabling these nursing homes to provide a service which they cannot afford at present. As Senator Tangney said, some nursing homes do make a profit. They are very bad. We all know that. The good nursing homes would be prepared to provide a bay or wing in which to treat these cases. Very often they have a matron, a trained staff and visiting doctors, but they cannot afford to provide these services for £1 a day. I suggest that the Minister examine this aspect.
I have perhaps spoken too long, but I conclude by saying that I support the bill which, at no cost to the contributor, guarantees the contributor approximately 90 per cent, of his medical fees. This is important and valuable. Whilst I recognize that this percentage wi’l vary because doctors’ fees are not fixed, nevertheless, it is a progressive step and it is in conformity with part of the policy speech which was given by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). I believe that the spirit and character of the Australian people is such that they will appreciate a free hospital and medical benefit scheme. They will appreciate the action of the Government in this instance in making a greater Commonwealth contribution which will render the scheme even more effective than it was before.
Senator DITTMER (Queensland) [5.361. I rise to support the amendment. Before proceeding to develop my case I would like to deal briefly with the remarks nf Senator Anderson who is, as we all know, something of an authority on gcner.il health matters and particularly on hospital matters. I listened with great interest to him. as I always do. but T thought he was more convincing in the part of his speech that preceded his final remarks. His heart did not seem to be in the first two-thirds of his speech because he knew that there was really no justification for the Government’s action. I think he has been in association with the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) in this regard.
I shall refer to some of the matters mentioned by Senator Anderson. He mentioned the percentage of people covered by the scheme in one way or another. As we know, a certain percentage over 70 per cent, are covered for medical benefits and a certain percentage over 70 per cent, are covered for hospital benefits. Other people are covered by pensioner medical and hospital schemes, by repatriation schemes and other forms of coverage. The honorable senator arrived at the conclusion that for practical purposes 100 per cent, of Australian people are covered. Frankly, I do not know exactly the percentage, but I am prepared to accept the authoritative approach of the editor of the “ Australian Medical Journal “ who, not so long ago, said that after investigation it was reasonable to assume that 12 to 15 per cent, of the Australian people are not covered. 1 certainly do not pose as an authority in this field, but knowing Senator Anderson so well, J think he will not mind mv correcting him. He would not pose in the light of the opinion of the editor of the “ Australian Medical Journal “ as an authority on this matter.
When we think in terms of 12 to 15 per cent, of the Australian public not being covered, it is not unreasonable to assume that in that percentage a very small proportion could be classified as wealthy people who could afford to pay foi hospital and medical care. I humbly suggest it is more reasonable to assume that this percentage includes, in no small measure, people who cannot afford to contribute to medical or hospital benefit funds. I refer to those people who are in the direst need of financial protection. The Government will do nothing for them. It makes no provision for their care in hospital beds for which a charge is made by the States. The States will gouge the money out of them if it is at all possible. For example, take the case outlined in some detail by Senator Tangney. In Western Australia the hospital authorities are chasing a poor unfortunate women, suffering after the loss of her baby, to the extent of sending a bailiff to collect the £175 which she, with nine children, could ill afford to pay.
Senator Anderson also said that in his home - I belive it applies in many homes - there is a surplus of pills and medicine. But surely we cannot blame the unfortunate recipient of pills or medicine if he happens to be cured before he has exhausted the supply that was prescribed for him by the doctor. I know the purpose which actuated the Minister and his associates in determining a maximum quantity of pills. They imposed the limit because there was a certain degree of wastage and the tendency was for the doctors to prescribe the maximum number. It has been suggested that if it was left to the doctors they might prescribe the number that they thought was adequate to cure the particular condition from which a person was suffering.
– Could that bc done?
– If my friend will permit me to develop my case I shall come to that. The doctors suggest that many of the patients now know there is a maximum number of capsules, pills or tablets that can be prescribed. There may also be a maximum quantity of medicine. When the patients pay the 5s. prescription fee they demand the maximum quantity that is available. Patients are not fools, and in the process of time they find out the maximum that is available. If there are 40 sulphonamides available and a patient is given only 30, he says to the doctor, “ Why don’t you give me 40? I am entitled to 40 “. The patient perhaps does not care if ten are wasted. It has been suggested to me - and I pass it on to the Minister se that he can consider it with his advisers - that patients in many cases are now asking for the maximum quantity available under the 5s. prescription fee.
The reason advanced by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in 1959 for the prescription fee of 5s., which was incorporated in the legislation and made effective in March, 1960, was that it would act as a deterrent. I cannot see how it can act as a deterrent because the patient has no real say in whether or not he is to get a prescription. lt is for the doctor to decide whether he will write it out. Then, and only then, can the patient take the prescription to a chemist and have it dispensed. Consequently, I think that when the Government says that the 5s. fee is to act as a deterrent it is only an attempt to delude the public. 1 know that other countries have introduced a similar charge, but I think that the action by this Government in imposing a 5s. prescription fee was merely a snide way of collecting more taxation from the people. The Government collected £8,000,000 last year from contributions under the pharmaceutical benefits formulary. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– by leave - At the last federal elections the Government promised that it would, if re-elected, provide scholarships to secondary school students throughout Australia. The scholarships were to be 10,000 in number and were to be tenable during the last two years of normal schooling. They were to carry two benefits - a payment of £100 a year to the parent or guardian for the maintenance of the child and a payment of up to £100 a year towards the cost of school fees and books. They were to be free of any means test. They were to be tenable at any school chosen by the scholarship winner whether or not the student had previously been attending that school. And they were to be awarded competitively.
Arrangements have now been made as to the methods of awarding these scholarships which will, in all cases, carry the benefits specified above. Detailed information as to dates of, and methods of, application will be announced later in each State. The fees which will be paid will cover, with the exception of charges for board and lodging, fees of all kinds which are normally charged to all students attending a particular school, and the books which will be paid for are books which all children in the relevant form at the relevant school are required by the curricula to have.
Because State education systems vary widely in many ways, including curricula, methods of examination, and the number of years spent in secondary education, it is necessary to allot to each State a proportion of the total number of scholarships available. The number allotted for competition within any State will be in proportion to that State’s population as certified by the Commonwealth Statistician. As a result the number of scholarships available for annual competition in each State will be -
The Commonwealth requirement as to the award of these scholarships is that they should only be awarded, in each State, on. relative merit as revealed in a test common to all competitors in that State. We also require that such examination should be marked, not by individual schools, but externally. This requirement, because of the variation in State systems, necessitated specific arrangements being made with each State and 1 should like to pay a tribute to the genuine co-operation of Stale Education Ministers and their departments in working out such arrangements. I am warmly appreciative of their help.
The scholarships will be awarded in the various States by the following method: -
In Queensland they will be awarded on the results obtained in the 1964 Junior Public examination and will be tenable for the two years culminating in the Senior Public examination. In Western Australia they will be awarded on the results obtained in the 1964 Junior Certificate examination and will be tenable for the two years culminating in the Leaving Certificate. In Tasmania they will be awarded on results obtained in a special examination similar to the present Senior Bursaries examination. This examination will be held at the end of the fourth year of secondary education, will be conducted by the Bursaries Board, and will be an external examination commonto allcompetitors. Although the Tasmanian secondary school course officially finishes after the fifth year, these scholarships will be tenable during a fifth and sixth year. The Tasmanian Education Department is encouraging students to stay at school for a sixth year - that is, to take their matriculation over two years - and more and more students arc in fact doing so. The awarding of scholarships at the end of the fourth year to be tenable for a fifth and sixth year is therefore in conformity with the desires of both the Commonwealth and the Tasmanian Education Department.
In South Australia the scholarships will be awarded as the result of two external, but equivalent, examinations. Secondary school students will sit for the Intermediate examination, which is externally set and marked and common to all secondary school students. Results will be based on seven subjects in the Intermediate Certificate examination. The conditions will be those which have applied this year, in that State, for the award of Intermediate exhibitions. Technical high school students will also sit for an examination, externally set and marked and common to all technical high school students. This is a departure in the case of the South Australian Department of Education. The South Australian Department of Education will correlate the results of the two examinations in recommending secondary scholarship winners.
In Victoria a situation exists where, of the secondary school students in the relevant year, only some 40 per cent, sit for a common external examination. The remaining students sit for internal examinations set and marked by their respective schools and varying in content and approach. This system did not meet the Commonwealth requirement for the selection of scholarship winners by an examination externally set and marked and common to all competitors. Yet the Victorian Education Department and, I think, educators in Victoria generally did not want a type of external examination which in their view might lead to “ cramming “ and which they feared, by its very existence, might impinge the curricula and the methods of teaching which they thought appropriate. Accordingly at the suggestion of the Victorian Education Minister, and with the concurrence of the Commonwealth, the Australian Council for Educational Research is devising a special, and in some ways an experimental, examination. This examination will be externally set and marked and will be common to all competitors, but it will be of a type which will not interfere with the requirements of the Victorian Education Department. It will be taken by students at the end of the fourth - Intermediate - year of secondary schooling, will include students at technical schools and will be tenable for the two years culminating in matriculation. This new examination will be of a kind designed to test the student’s ability in general, one which will require hard factual knowledge, yet one which will not be closely tied to any one course of study. The results will, I am sure, be watched with interest by all those concerned with education throughout Australia.
In New South Wales a special problem exists. Secondary study in that State is in process of changing from a five-year to a six-year course. As a result there will be, at the end of 1964, no students who will have before them two years of secondary schooling to complete their course. Students will have either one year’s further study, if they have completed four years of the old five-year course, or three years’ further study if they have completed three years of the new six-year course. Two-year scholarships cannot therefore be awarded at the end of this year. The New South Wales Education Department is, however, to conduct, at the end of 1964, a special examination for students who have completed four years of the old five-year course and who, therefore, have one year of secondary education in front of them. Scholarship winners will be selected on the results of that examination and scholarships will be tenable during 1965. At the end of 1965 and future years, scholarships in New South Wales will be awarded on the results obtained in the new school certificate examination which will be held after four years of secondary schooling. These scholarships will be tenable for the final two years of schooling. Details of the special examination, which are being worked out by the New South Wales Department of Education, will be announced as soon as possible. Students at technical high schools will be eligible to sit for these examinations.
In all cases, and in all States, continued holding of the scholarships will be subject to satisfactory progress of the students. The
Commonwealth will raise no objection to the holding of other scholarships concurrently with Commonwealth scholarships, with the exception that Commonwealth scholarships will not be tenable concurrently with another scholarship which involves a bond of any kind. So far I have dealt with arrangements for the scholarships, covering the last two years of secondary schooling - scholarships which the Government promised at the last elections. But the Commonwealth has also been giving consideration to the position of students who, in States other than New South Wales, at the end of 1963 had two years of secondary schooling before them. It was impossible to introduce a system of scholarships as from the end of 1963, when the Government first mooted the scheme, but the Government has been disturbed that many students who, at the end of 1963 had two years of schooling before them, and who might reasonably have expected to receive some assistance from the new proposals, might have been placed in the position of receiving no assistance whatever.
We have therefore decided to award, at the end of 1964, one-year scholarships in each State, equal in number to, and in addition to, the number of two-year scholarships to be awarded in that State. These will be awarded at the end of the second last year of secondary schooling and will be tenable during the school year 1965. This is strictly a “ one time “ exercise to meet a particular situation. The States are now working out the details of how they believe they can best do this and I shall announce the arrangements made with each State as soon as they are complete. For the information of the Senate, I think that they are in fact complete in five States. Although students from technical schools will, in States where high schools and technical schools do similar courses, be competing for these scholarships, the scholarships themselves are the secondary school scholarships promised by the Government. They do not impinge upon 2,500 technical scholarships, the methods of awarding which are yet to be worked out. All States agree with the Commonwealth that discussion of those scholarships should wait until the report of the Committee on Tertiary Education is presented.
I conclude by once more saying how stimulating it has been to work with State Education Departments for the attaining of a commonly desired end. I believe that parents and children alike will be able to see, in the operation of this scheme, that individual merit is the only criterion for success. I believe that many children of ability will be encouraged by this scheme to stay at school for a longer period than they might otherwise have done, to their own benefit and that of the nation. And I think that it is one more step, among the many taken by this Government, to ensure a career open without hindrance to the talents.
I present the following paper: -
Commonwealth Secondary School ScholarshipsMinisterial statement.
Motion (by Senator Gorton) - by leave - proposed -
That the Senate take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 1244).
– When time, in its inevitableness, compelled the interruption of my speech this afternoon I was cold-bloodedly dissecting Senator Anderson, or should I say that I was coolly and calculatingly analysing Senator Anderson’s speech. He is something of a real authority on hospital matters and he has a measure of substance as an authority on medical matters. To-day there was an extraordinary contrast between portions of his speech. In the first portion he was hesitant and fumbling because, with his knowledge, he was not sympathetic towards the Government. However, in the latter part of his speech there was no hesitancy at all. He knew definitely where he was going and he made a really worthwhile contribution to the debate - one with which I entirely agree. In that portion of his speech he dealt with the peculiar difficulties of nursing homes associated with difficult patients. He said that it was almost impossible, with the £1 a day that is allowed to-day, to provide efficient care for these patients. Their medical condition is such that that sum would not be adequate to compensate those engaged in looking after them. He then pointed to a further difficulty - that these patients have to be transferred to ordinary hospitals, thus placing an increasing burden on them because the patients occupy beds for comparatively long periods. I think the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) should seriously consider the proposition put up by Senator Anderson, a proposition in which I thoroughly concur. I was so placid this afternoon that many honorable senators considered that it was most remarkable.
– So plastic?
– 1 said “ placid “. 1 am usually malleable and can adjust myself to any sensible ideas that are put forward. We now have before us legislation of a fragmentary nature - legislation of bits and pieces. Every now and then the Minister for Health, whoever he may be, alters the national health scheme. At present we have a particularly courteous and, I think, efficient Minister, but, unfortunately for him, his hands are tied and his mind is enchained by his political associates in this chamber and in the other place, through their associations with other people outside. I know that the present Minister, having regard to his normal approach to human problems, would not otherwise have approached the National Health Act and the amendments to it .with which we are at present dealing in the way that he has done. As Senator Ormonde has just reminded me - he is always extraordinarily helpful to me - the Minister is a prisoner. He is a prisoner of his environmental circumstances. He knows that and he would be the first to admit it in private. I do not expect him to admit it publicly here, because he is possessed of an inherent loyalty to his political colleagues and consequently has to make the best of the case he has to put before us and the public.
This measure is called the National Health Bill, but the national health scheme with which it deals is not national in scope. It might have a nation-wide approach to the problem, but it does not apply to all the citizens of this country. It does not provide adequately for the preservation of health or for a preventive approach to disease and disability. This scheme happens to be something that, through the years, the Government, with its intense flair for limelighting, has been able to sell to the public. When we compare our health scheme with the schemes that other countries have for the care of their sick, what do we find? Do not take my word for what I am about to say. Analyse the various speeches made and the articles prepared by Professor Downing, Ritchie Professor of Economic Research at the University of Melbourne. He has carefully analysed the expenditure on health by various countries. We claim proudly and repeatedly that Australia is among the most progressive nations in the world, but what is the position in fact? When it comes to expenditure on social services generally, we find that Australia is one of the lowest countries in the list from the point of view of tax expenditure and one of the most demanding - at least whilst successive Menzies Governments have been in control of the treasury bench - from the point of view of the individuals who can least afford to provide for the preservation of health and the prevention of disease. These are the people who make a worth while contribution to the economic productivity of this country. I know that the British national health service has weaknesses for medical personnel, for the Administration and for the patients, but no British Government has dared to throw it out. lt is claimed that Labour introduced it, but the Churchill Conservative Government foreshadowed its introduction in 1944.
It was only subsequent to the defeat of that Government that the Attlee Government introduced the British national health scheme. Despite the fact that the scheme was introduced by the Attlee Government none of the Eden, Macmillan or Home governments suggested its abolition nor its radical alteration. When we compare the medical schemes of New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the United States with that of the present Commonwealth Government we find that the only country which demands a higher contribution than that demanded by the Australian Government is the United States of America. In view of that fact the Government has every reason to be ashamed of itself. 1 hope that it will consider this matter before a further amendment is made to the act.
There are three participants in the medical and hospital benefit schemes. 1 do not propose to deal with the hospital benefits because they are not dealt wilh in the act and I shall endeavour to confine my remarks to the matters contained in this bill, although in passing I might make a few remarks about some of the things that have been omitted. They have not been omitted unintentionally. Their omission has been so regular in the past that it is evident that he real intention of the Government is to continue to carry on its scheme in the way in which it is being carried on at present. The three participants in the medical benefit scheme are the medical benefit soCieties the members of those societies and the Government. Of these three, the one that pays the least is the Government. Members of the societies pay more than 36 per cent., medical benefit funds pay more than 37 per cent, and the Government pays 26 per cent. Notwithstanding this, supporters of this Government, which is so antagonistic to the people, boast of what the Government is doing.
Never at any stage has the Government attempted to carry out the scheme as Sir Earle Page in his greatness envisaged it should be carried out. When Sir Earle introduced the scheme the Labour Party did not agree that he was making the correct type of approach to the problem, but I pay credit to him and say that he did visualize that the Government’s contribution, plus the payments made by the various medical funds, should approach 90 per cent, of the payments made for medical attention, However, never in the history of the scheme have the payments made by the Government and the fund represented more than 65 per cent of medical fees and, at present, the payments represent just under 64 per cent. The contributor, having already made his weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual contribution to the fund to which he is contributing has, in addition, to find more than one-third of his medical expenses.
Never has the Government made any real endeavour to stabilize medical fees. - On many occasions since I came into this august chamber I have pleaded with the Government to do so. Many eminent doctors recognize that the only way to preserve or carry on a medical scheme of this type is to have a stabilization of fees. What did the Minister say in his second-reading speech about this matter? I am so extraordinarily fond of him that 1 would hate to misquote his words. Let me read his exact words from the speech he made. He said -
The Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association has also kept me informed of the progress it has made in its discussions with its Stale branches regarding the stabilization of doctors’ fees . . .
How condescending of a body representative of one of the groups which is making a fortune out of this set-up! It has kept the Minister informed. I am not going to deal in detail with the amounts distributed through the various funds. They are tabled in the directors’ reports. I concede that in some measure the amounts paid out by funds have been of assistance to people in lightening their financial burden on occasions when serious illness has struck the family. But there are three groups that have benefited substantially from this scheme. I do not wish to be recreant to the group that I represent. A tremendous number of eminent doctors will agree with what I am about to say. Those who have benefited from the scheme are, first, the doctors, secondly the chemists, and thirdly the wholesalers and’ manufacturers of drugs. All those people should accept some responsibility. There should be a stabilization of fees. The Opposition realizes that neither the Minister nor the Government has power to fix medical fees, but unless there is stabilization over a period of three years, as I suggested some considerable time ago, the contributors cannot know where they are going and neither can the Government know where it is going.
Do not let us forget that there are many general practitioners to-day who should have every reason to be grateful that they are almost certain to be paid their accounts. It is all very well to say that some years ago a doctor charged 10s. 6d. or 12s. 6d. a visit and that as a result of the depreciation of the £1 which has occurred under successive Menzies Governments, the equivalent to-day is £1 lis. 6d. In the days when the general practitioner charged 10s. 6d. a visit he did not charge pensioners. I do not know of any doctor who charged pensioners. I know of very few who charged unemployed and I know that many doctors made no charge to a man with a large family or a man who was earning a comparatively low wage. All that has gone overboard under the present system. The doctor is paid to-day for attending pensioners. Payments made by the Repatriation Department arc a comparatively big feature in the structure of medical practice. Then, as has been admitted, more than 70 per cent, of people are able to recover, through medical and hospital benefit funds, the fees charged by medical practitioners. In the light of this, it is not unreasonable that the Government should adopt reasonably stern measures in order to bring about a stabilization of medical fees, particularly when the Australian Medical Association itself has admitted that such stabilization is justifiable.
Those in charge of the various medical benefits funds have become almost terrified because of the changes that have occurred in medical fees during recent years, but the Government has done little or nothing about the matter. I concede that it may have done a little, but it has done nothing that is effective. The Government announced its intention to increase benefits, with all the bally-hoo that is so characteristic of it. We saw that again to-night, in a great gesture regarding scholarships. The Government is completely irresponsible, judged in the light of modern demands for scientific training and the amount of money being made available for science laboratories and equipment. Again seeking to delude the public, prior to 30th November the Government said that there would bc an increase of 33£ per cent, in benefits. Although it is clear now that the increase applies only to Commonwealth benefits, contributors thought in terms of a one-third increase in combined benefits. They were more than one-third down on actual expenditure, and they thought that a one-third increase would allow them to approach the stage where they would recover 90 per cent, of their medical fees. But such is not to be the case. There is to be an increase of 2s., from 6s. to 8s., in the Commonwealth benefits for general practitioner visits, irrespective of whether the patient visits the general practitioner’s surgery or the general practitioner visits the patient’s home. This is completely irresponsible, because those persons who are most in need of assistance are those who must be attended at home.
Very often a breadwinner is lying ill at home, thoroughly miserable. His rehabilitation is delayed and his cure, perhaps, is prevented by the fact that he is not earning so as to provide for his family, but the Government makes no attempt to increase the benefit payable in respect of visits to the home.
There will bc an increase of 5s., from fi to 25s., for specialist attention in cases where a patient has been referred by another doctor. What does the Government think will be the position in twelve months or two years? The contributors will be just as badly off. The Government proposes to continue its pernicious practice of discrimination between Australian citizens. It will deny benefits to those persons who do not contribute to a medical benefit fund but who have to pay taxation. They will not receive anything in this distribution of the general revenue. The Government tries to insist on their joining particular funds. It determines the way in which they will provide for financial aspects of their illness. This is the Minister’s responsibility, even if he personally is opposed to this practice. Figures relating to the scheme have been made readily and rapidly available, through the Minister, by the Director-General of Health. I complimented the Minister previously upon making the 1962-63 figures rapidly available. Under the administration of his predecessor, we had to wait nearly two years for figures, and even then they went back so far as to be almost lost in the wilderness of the forgotten. The Minister stated, in his second-reading speech - 1 give these figures because they represent proof of the strong public support for the voluntary insurance scheme which this Government initiated and has fostered. This public support . . .
The Minister must have said that with tongue in cheek, or with tongue in both cheeks if he could swing it across rapidly enough -
The poor unfortunate people, by and large, cannot afford to be other than in the scheme. They dare not be out of it. They realize that medical care is an expensive phenomenon in the life of the average person. Mothers and fathers have to sacrifice, scrimp and save to contribute about 10s. a week to benefit funds so that they will be able to get something to help to meet the cost of their hospital expenses and about two-thirds of the cost of medical care. Yet the Minister has the temerity, and subsequent speakers from the Government parties will have the impudence, to stand up and tell the people glibly that this scheme has great public support and that there is intense goodwill towards it. We on this side know the people. We mix amongst them and we represent them. But for certain associates of the Government, we would be on the other side of the chamber and in control of the treasury bench. We know how the people have to sacrifice to join these funds and we know how they have to save to meet the various bills that are submitted to them. At a later stage, the Minister stated -
We believe that this freedom and protection are well worth preserving.
What freedom? It is freedom for the people to deny themselves. That is all that it seems to be. They are not really preserving anything for themselves. They are only lightening their burden, but not very substantially. In many instances, they can ill-afford to contribute the extra amount that they have to find to meet their medical bills.
We cannot see very much good in what the Government is doing. It is not even game enough to ensure that the benefits in the case of a general practitioner’s services and in the case of services by a specialist to whom a patient is referred by another doctor will preserve a measure of equity for the unfortunate contributors to medical benefit funds. There is no suggestion that the Government will do away with its pernicious discrimination between citizens, all of whom contribute to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. To those who are not contributors to funds, but who are taxpayers, the Government says, “ Because we have not been able to force you into a medical benefit fund we will make no contribution to you at all.” The persons who can afford to pay their medical bills unaided would be only a very small proportion of the 12 or 15 per cent, of the population who are not provided for by various aspects of the scheme. In this way the Government does something which is completely irresponsible as regards the rights of individual Australians.
Towards the end of his second-reading speech the Minister stated -
The funds have indicated that they do not intend to introduce new fund benefits tables for some months until the effect of the payment of Commonwealth benefits at higher rates has been assessed. The extent to which the new tables will be introduced and what extra contributions and benefits will be provided for in these tables is a matter for the funds themselves to consider in the first instance.
Is there not any responsibility on the Government? Are there no rights for contributors? These contributors have very little say in the control of the organzations to which they have the honour or the obligation to contribute. But the Government is to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the funds. The latest report of the Director-General of Health shows that at 30th June, 1963, 78 medical benefit funds and 110 hospital benefit funds were registered in Australia. Is the Government to have a difference of approach as between them? Is there to be competition for contributors, such as we witnessed last year and are now in the process of witnessing, between the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales and the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia? Incidentally, I just do not know whether the Government is denying the right of the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales to run a medical benefits fund, but there seems to be an inordinate delay in giving this fund the necessary approval to establish a medical benefits fund in conjunction with its hospital benefits fund. Perhaps that is a matter of difficulty in discrimination and determination. Perhaps the organization does not measure up to the Government’s requirements. That is for the Minister to say, if he will so condescend, when he rises to his feet. There does seem to me to be an inordinate delay. I do not know the difficulties that the department is experiencing in assessing the possibility of the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales being able to meet the demands of contributors for medical benefits.
The Government seems to adopt a peculiar approach to all these things. We have repeatedly pleaded with the Federal Government to follow the lead of Queensland and, in co-operation with the States, to establish a register of specialists. I have not been able to obtain a dissection of the distribution of medical expenses as between general practitioners and specialists - as between what one might term general medical care and specialist care. It is not as though this suggestion has not been made before; it has been made repeatedly. If we had such a dissection we would be able to deal with the discriminatory approach to payments made to practitioners who allegedly, or perhaps in reality, are more competent in particular fields. It has always been claimed that the Australian Labour Party is a great leveller, that its members want to place everybody on the one level. But, with the exception of a discriminatory approach to payments as between specialists and general practitioners, the Government does not adopt a differential approach to payment for medical services. When it comes to payment for specialist services, the Federal Government pays to a doctor who has completed one year’s residence in hospital and who happens to have a portable X-ray unit the same amount as is paid to the most experienced radiologist in Collins-street in Melbourne, Macquarie-street in Sydney, or Wickham-terrace in Brisbane. I had better not forget to mention North-terrace in Adelaide, St. George’s-terrace in Perth, or Hobart. Otherwise, I shall be charged with being parochial. I have never been parochial other than when I have sought to get a measure of financial justice for my own State. But of course I have not been successful.
– Ha! Ha!
– Never mind about that. There has been gross discrimination against my magnificent State. Only a magnificent State could tolerate the ineffective Government of that State. Everybody knows that it is an anti-Labour Government.
– That is not much of a recommendation.
– That shows just how magnificent a State it is. The people of that State have put up with the Nicklinization of the electoral boundaries just as the people of your State of South Australia have put up with the Playfordization of their boundaries. In Queensland it has been a process of Nicklinization, and I think it is an improvement on what has happened in South
Australia. Sir Thomas Playford has been able to survive even though 56 per cent, of the voters have voted against him.
– They will soon fix that up.
– Yes, they will fix that up. I plead with the Minister for Health to adopt a more sympathetic approach to the rights of people who suffer from ill health. Nothing contributes to ill health more than do ineffective housing, lack of proper food and insufficient care. These things are to be found in the poorer sections of the community. The people in these sections are the least able to make a financial contribution to their own wellbeing, but that seems to be of little or no concern to the Government. The Government says that the fact that 7,686,000 people in Australia are covered by the medical benefits scheme shows that these people welcome the existence of the medical benefit funds. I say that it is nothing but compulsion. I plead with the Minister to consider the rights of the contributors. Surely he realizes that the Government has a great responsibility to hearken to the cries of these people in relation to the distribution of financial returns to various doctors. Surely he realizes that a greater return should go to the more competent.
Everybody realizes that members of the medical profession follow an arduous calling. Everybody realizes that a doctor must spend six years at a university, that it is compulsory for him to spend one year in hospital residence, that he must then complete another two or three years in residence, and that he must subsequently do post-graduate training. Everybody accepts the fact that doctors are entitled to a return that is commensurate with their talents, the years they spend in study and the disabilities of their calling. However, one section is not entitled to receive unreasonably more than another section. The Minister for Health has a responsibility to investigate this matter, to ensure that payments are distributed equitably, and that the financial burden is not placed on the shoulders of those who cannot bear it.
Time will not permit me to deal with the machinery clauses of the bill. They are legalistic and legislative. They may be important. They are inevitable. Now let us look at another facet of the bill. I refer to the provision which deals with pharmaceutical benefits. In this provision we can see the grasping hand of a certain group of people. In 1959, a charge of 5s. for each prescription was introduced. I number many of the members of the pharmaceutical guild amongst my friends, but they do not realize just how their views have changed. They said in 1959 that a 5s. charge for each prescription was not justified. At that time the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), with the backing of the Government, saw fit to introduce this charge with a view to levying a financial toll which last year amounted to £8,000,000. On certain prescriptions, of course a charge of 100 per cent, was levied. But now in this bill we see evidence of the influence of a section of the community which is trying, through the mechanism of government, to stand over another comparatively small section. It was conceded in 1959 that certain people should enjoy a rebate of this 5s. toll because they had paid for a measure of insurance. Since then quite a number of prescriptions have been dispensed and the pharmaceutical guild has realized that the friendly societies have been making some headway. Of course, it has not been sufficient to remove the bonanza from the chemists. But the guild has seen fit to persuade the Government not t allow this state of affairs to continue. Here again the Government has adopted a discriminatory approach, because people who were members of the friendly societies prior to 24th April will continue to enjoy benefits for their children be they born or unborn. So they will be able to enjoy the benefit for years. But people who will have joined the friendly societies after 24th April will not be able to enjoy a rebate of this 5s. levy. Why does the Government not do the sensible, decent and responsible thing?
– Why does it not resign?
– I did not think of that. As my friend suggests, why does not the Government resign? Perhaps that would be the easier solution. But the Government would not be so decent as to do that. Why docs it not do the sensible, decent and responsible thing and abolish the 5s. levy? Speakers in the other place and here, including the Minister for Health when introducing the bill, have suggested that the Government must provide some deterrent to the wholesale issue of prescriptions. They have been reared in an atmosphere of money and luxury and in their mind the only deterrent is one that can be assessed in terms of pounds shillings and pence. Their idea is that if a financial toll is imposed people will not get medicines. Was it intended that if a person went to a doctor and the doctor, after forming his diagnosis, had written out a prescription, the person would deny himself the medicine because of the 5s. charge? Surely members opposite are not as coldblooded and calculating as that. Is it their belief that that is a deterrent? lt a patient did say tohis doctor, “ Well, doctor, 1 cannot get the medicine because it is going to cost me 5s. and I am not prepared to pay it,” the doctor - and the great majority of doctors are extraordinarily decent men - would probably say, “ If that is your approach then I suggest you go to a public hospital or to another doctor because in my wisdom 1 think you should have this particular medicine and it is no use your coming to me unless you go and get this prescription dispensed.” How could this 5s. charge act as a deterrent? I know that the Minister, or another member who follows me, will say: “ In other countries they have a charge. In Britain they introduced a charge of ls. sterling and now it is 2s. sterling or the equivalent of 2s. 6d. here.” If we take into account the effect of wages on the financial structure of each country, 2s. sterling is probably the equivalent of 3s. 6d. here. However, I do not think it acts as a deterrent .and 1 do not think anyone would suggest that it would be a deterrent. No one in his right mind could think of it as being a deterrent. This was only a means of gouging out of the unfortunate public an additional £8,000,000 last year.
The bill proposes that there will bc a cleavage between the members of friendly societies who were members prior to 24lh April and those now joining. They will be in separate groups. This seems to me to be particularly poor. I do not propose to deal at length with the question of the bonanza in drugs, not only for the chemists but for the manufacturers and, to some extent, the wholesalers. My distinguished colleague, Senator Ormonde, will quote from a distinguished authority who last year wrote a feature article on this subject which was printed in a number of Australian papers.
– Don’t you think that physicians themselves are contributors to this position?
– No. 1 do not think so at all. I think there is a minimum of over-prescribing. I cannot see any reason why a doctor should give an expensive prescription just for the sake of pleasing a patient. Patients are much more wide awake to-day than they were before my time. Do you mean over-prescribing by intention or prescribing something that was unnecessary; or are you suggesting that the physicians just do not know?
– Just slovenly physicians.
– Some may not have been as well versed as others in the utilization of the anti-biotics for particular conditions, but I should think that they would be in the minority. Time would not permit my going into a discussion on the justification of the utilization of drugs, not only to lessen morbidity and mortality and, of course, disability, but to shorten the time of invalidity so that a man could return to his job sooner and so, consequently, make a substantial contribution to increased productivity and to the gross national income. As you know, I have repeatedly asked the Government to try to evaluate the pharmaceutical benefits scheme in relation to the economic life of this country. The United States of America is making such an endeavour and. in some measure, is obtaining success. I know it will not be easy, but it should be done. This is not merely a matter of £48,000.000 being thrown away of which £8,000,000 comes directly from the people’s pockets. This is a matter of assisting industry and the nation, increasing the amount available by way of taxation, and increasing productivity. I hope that is the answer that Senator Cormack asked for. I hope I have not avoided giving the right answer. If I have done so, he should say so.
I know that a lot of attacks have been launched on the manufacturing drug houses, to some extent with justification. In some instances their profits have been enormous and not justifiable. Senator Anderson mentioned the cost of research. There has been a measure of exaggeration associated with that, but no mention has been made of the extraordinarily expensive advertising programmes that the drug houses indulge in nor of the high pressure salesmanship. It was said by a speaker in another place - and it has been admitted - that through price reductions, following Labour agitation and the screams of the public, there was a saving of £2,700,000 last year in the charges for the more expensive drugs. The position has arisen now where the manufacturing druggists are cold-bloodedly analysing the distribution of costs. It is rather interesting to examine this. They claim, quite justifiably, that they have been attacked - again justifiably - because of the difference between the overseas prices for drugs and the Australian prices for drugs. They are compiling a break-up of the cost structure, and that is their right. They have gone into the distribution of costs as affecting pharmaceutical benefits. They admit there is a difference between the prices under the national health scheme in England and the prices here. I admit that in England there is a wider coverage - a coverage that this Government is not prepared to grant in Australia because of its miserable approach. The drug houses have dissected the costs as between dispensing fees, the retail pharmacist’s margin, the wholesaler’s margin and the basic cost of the drug. We find that in the United Kingdom dispensing costs are ls. 84-d. and in Australia 3s., or 75 per cent, more than in the United Kingdom. I am now quoting Australian currency. The chemists’ mark-up on cost of drugs purchased ranges from I2i to 25 per cent. - an average of 17 per cent. - in the United Kingdom, whereas in Australia, because of the cold-blooded neglect of the public’s interest, it is 33i per cent, or 90 per cent, more than in the United Kingdom. The wholesalers’ discount on cost of drugs purchased in the United Kingdom is 14 per cent, as against 22 per cent, in Australia. In other words, it is 55 per cent, more here than in the United Kingdom. Let us, as an example, consider a prescription costing 16s. 8d. in both the United Kingdom and Australia.
– Are you quoting sterling figures or Australian?
– I am giving all these amounts in Australian currency. I am not silly enough to do otherwise and 1 knew that you would not be silly enough to be deceived in that way. 1 respect your intelligence too much to attempt such a thing. I would not try to put that over. My inherent sense of fairness would not let me. Let us assume that the retail dispensed price in both places is 16s. 8d. From this we deduct the chemists’s dispensing fee which in the United Kingdom is ls. 8d. and in Australia 3s. This brings the total down to 14s. I I id. in the United Kingdom and 13s. 8d. in Australia. Take from this the chemists’ mark up of 2s. lid. in the United Kingdom and 3s. 4-id. in Australia, and we reduce the amounts to 12s. lOd. in the United Kingdom and 10s. 3id. in Australia, from which have to be taken the wholesale discounts. Very often the retail pharmacist gets the discount, because he deals directly with the drug manufacturing house. In the United Kingdom this is ls. 10½d. and in Australia it is 2s. 3id. So the price from the manufacturer is 1 Is., or 66 per cent, of the total, in the United Kingdom, and in Australia it is 8s. or 48 per cent, of the total.
In these circumstances, I think we are justified, not in humbly requesting but in demanding that the Government conduct a full inquiry into the structure of drug prices, from the manufacturer to the unfortunate patient. This should be done in the public interest through a select committee or by whatever means the Government sees fit to use. I do not excuse the manufacturing drug houses, which have made extraordinary profits. I take no notice of their pleas based on the cost of research. I think these are not justified. It is appalling to see the amount of so-called literature printed on art paper that is distributed by the drug houses. They say that without this literature they would not sell their drugs. When an antibiotic drug was introduced in the United States of America, the samples alone in the first delivery filled one long train.
In the few minutes remaining to me I want to deal with some of the deficiencies of the health scheme, although I have already touched on them in general. It is not a national scheme and it is not really a health scheme. There is no provision for dental care, particularly for the young. Authorities have been telling the Government for years of the appalling incidence of dental caries, particularly in children. In that respect, Australia is one of the worst of the so-called modern countries of the world. Recently, Professor M!artin, Professor of Preventive Dentistry in Sydney, said the incidence of dental caries was increasing faster than the dentists could attend to the children. There are two reasons for this. One is that there are not sufficient dentists and the other is that parents cannot afford to pay for dental treatment. Yet the Government has no intention - and never did have - of doing anything about this problem. A little country like New Zealand has been able to provide free dental attention for everybody up to eighteen years of age, but Australia, which claims to be one of the twelve greatest trading nations of the world, cannot provide dental care for its children. Surely the Government could do that through a national health scheme.
There is no mention in the act of menial care, and no suggestion of contributions to the States for the mentally ill, although the Government certainly is providing £1 for every £2 provided by the States for capital expenditure in this field. The Government provides hearing aids for those under 21 years but there is no suggestion in the bill that provision will be made for spectacles. After all, defective sight can be just as disabling as and perhaps more dangerous than defective hearing. Can the Government justify its failure to provide spectacles for those under eighteen years when if provides hearing aids free for those under 21 years? There is no suggestion that the Government will pay a contribution towards the fee charged by an optometrist for prescribing spectacles or that a patient sent to an ophthalmologist by an optometrist will be entitled to the same benefit as a patient referred to a specialist by a general practitioner. Optometrists are universitytrained now and should know when a case should be referred just as well as docs a general practitioner. I make no claim lo justify a right by optometrists lo refer patients with defective eyesight to doctors other than those in the speciality with which optometrists have some association - that is, ophthalmology.
What about ancillary services such as physio-therapy and home nursing? The Minister for Health is too good a man to go down in history, shamed by the neglect so characteristic of his predecessors. He still has time to do something decent and honorable in the interests of the people. They will be grateful for anything he does, and the nation will be greater. There will be increased production because of improved health. The Minister, will bring jo’y and benefit to every family if. through the Government he extends to the people the consideration to which all Australians are entitled.
.- One would deduce from the speech of Senator Dittmer that he is opposed to the whole national health scheme. In the course of his speech he referred to the ministerial statement on Commonwealth secondary school scholarships which was made in this chamber to-night by the Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research (Senator Gorton), and even that did not seem to please the honorable senator. He is hard to please, yet when one meets him personally he seems a most affable man. I level at him the same accusation as he levelled at the Minister for Health (Senator Wade). I say that his mind is in chains and that he is compelled to give expression to the outworn shibboleths that the Australian Labour Party has trotted out for many years and which have been rejected by the people for the past fourteen years.
Senator Dittmer continues to interject, Mr. President. We listened to him for more than an hour and I would say that now that he has sat down, honorable senators do not want to listen to him any further. The honorable senator spoke about the health scheme in New Zealand. I have been there often and I think he was treading on very dangerous ground. Governments can and do spend a lot of money on certain things. It is a notorious feature of governments that they spend money in some directions but do not achieve results that are in any way commensurate with the expenditure. I think that can be rightly said about allegedly free benefits, which actually are uncommonly expensive. 1 think that could apply to the New Zealand scheme.
The measure before the Senate has two purposes. It seems to give expression to one of the electoral promises made by the leader of the Government parties at the last elections. In his policy speech, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said -
In view of the medical profession’s assurance regarding stabilization of fees-
Every one hopes that will be carried out - we will increase Commonwealth medical benefits by 33i per cent.
That is exactly what this bill sets out to do-
This means that the gap which has to be met by the patient will be reduced by at least 20 per cent. AH contributors to medical benefits insurance funds will be entitled to this increase, without being required to make any increase in their weekly contribution to the fund.
This bill sets out to give effect to that portion of the Prime Minister’s policy speech. It was a policy which was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the Australian people. The Government parties in the House of Representatives were returned with one of the greatest majorities since they assumed office fourteen years ago.
The Labour Party has moved an amendment which states -
Leave out all words after “ That “…
I take it the word “ That “ refers to the Minister’s motion that the bill be now read a second time. The Labour Party wants to have inserted in the motion the amendment which has been circulated to every honorable senator. Surely that means, if effect, that the Opposition is opposing this measure and is opposed to the proposed increase in benefits which undoubtedly will accrue to the contributors to funds under the Commonwealth Government’s national health scheme. If this amendment were sent to the House of Representatives, and if by some miracle the House of Representatives were to agree to it, many months would elapse before it could be put into operation and the people concerned would be deprived of the benefits which this bill will grant to them.
The amendment goes on -
Whilst it was not specifically mentioned by either Senator Dittmer or Senator Tangney, surely that must mean nothing but the nationalization of medical services in Australia. There is no other way in which such a proposal could be put into operation.
Years ago 1 knew a man in Tasmania who was a rabid Labour man. That is not to his discredit at all. He was a keen advocate of the nationalization of the medical services of the Commonwealth. He went to New Zealand 25 or 30 years ago. When I was over there four or five years ago I looked him up. In fact, T spent a day or two with him. He said to me, “ I am not a Labour man any longer. 1 no longer favour nationalization of the medical services of. this country.” 1 said, “ Why not? “ He replied, “ I have had experience of it. If you are a country dweller and you need a doctor urgently, you will die because you cannot get one.” 1 recall that at the same time there was a furore in the newspapers in New Zealand. A man was suffering from a certain complaint which needed urgent medical attention, but the doctor to whom he was assigned was not available for some reason or other. The man could not get another doctor and he died. I do not know what the upshot of it was because I left New Zealand shortly afterwards, but many people and some of the newspapers look it as a reflection on the nationalized medical scheme that operated in New Zealand.
If this country were to spend the same proportion of money that New Zealand is spending on medical, dental and pharmaceutical services, coupled wilh all (he other expenditure, I question whether there would be any money for national development or whether there would be much money for defence. In fact, 1 question whether the taxpayers could stand up to the taxation that would have to be imposed. At the time I was in New Zealand 57 per cent, of the total income of the New Zealand Government was spent on these allegedly free benefits. 1 think it has increased beyond 57 per cent, since then. It amused me to read, when the Budget was introduced, that a lot of the New Zealand newspapers were highly critical of the government because it did not reduce taxation. 1. said to some of the newspaper representatives, “ There is one way in which the Government can reduce taxation “. They asked, “ How? “ I said, “ Cut out some of these allegedly free benefits, because if the
Government does not touch them, only about 40 per cent, of the whole ambit of government expenditure is left on which to concentrate in order to bring about a reduction in taxation “.
Time and again conferences have been held and committees, whose proceedings were publicized in the newspapers, have been appointed to try to devise ways and means by which this ever-mounting expenditure could be curtailed. The money expended on medicine doubled. Then it doubled again until it was claimed that New Zealanders had become the greatest medicine drinkers on earth. 1 forget the amount of money per head of population that was spent on medicine, but it was claimed that they could not spend much more money on medicine if they washed the windows with it.
– They could not wash windows with pills.
– In my layman’s opinion, what I would prescribe as the tabletization of medical prescriptions is not a good departure, so far as the medical profession is concerned. That is the position that existed in New Zealand and, as far as I am aware, still exists to-day.
The amendment continues -
The Minister for Health (Senator Wade) in his second-reading speech pointed out that a similar charge has been introduced in Great Britain. He could have gone further and said that years ago, when Mr. Aneurin Bevan was Minister for Health in Great Britain, a charge of 5s. per visit or per consultation was made. So there is nothing new in regard to it. It is an expedient that has been tried by other countries where there is nationalization of pharmaceutical benefits and medical services to try to curb the evermounting costs of those services to the taxpayers. It seems to me to be a reasonable proposition that if a charge is made, such as the 5s. prescription fee - and I think it must be admitted that time has shown that it has been effective in this direction - it is necessary to do so in order to try to curb thi ever-increasing costs of medicine. 1 repeat, this bill is in two parts. It increases the benefits, and it gives effect to that portion of the Prime Minister’s policy speech which promised to confer a benefit on those people who are prepared to help themselves in this community. That is what I think is commendable about the whole of the Commonwealth Government’s national health scheme. It is a fact of history that once a government becomes a giver and once it demands nothing in return and resorts to taxing the industrious section of the community in order to meet the cost, its policy marks a decadent trend. It always has done so because it always places the brunt of the burden on the industrious section of the community. What some people fail to understand is that there is certainly a limit to which you can go in asking the people who, it is said, can afford to pay, to foot the bill. It seems to me to be a right and proper proposition that at least part of the contribution should be borne by those whom it is proposed to assist.
I say this about the New Zealand scheme: With all its faults, with all its deficiencies, the basis of it is - unless it has been altered - a tax of ls. 6d. in the £1 on all incomes. Regardless of what the income is, a tax of ls. 6d. in the £1 is the basis of the sheme. Of course, there is a lot more added to it. There has to be. But even the New Zealand Labour Party government, with all its socialist nationalization theories, recognizes that it is a fair and reasonable proposition that everybody should be asked to contribute to the scheme in operation there.
We have heard a good deal about the scheme from the two previous speakers. In my opinion, the crux of the Government’s health scheme is aptly described in the Minister’s second-reading speech -
In these first tcn years of the scheme the number of persons covered by it increased from 1,425,000 to 7,686,000. These figures do not include persons who do not insure because they are covered by the pensioner medical service, repatriation medical services and other forms of Government assistance. I give these figures because they represent proof of the strong public support for the voluntary-
And it is voluntary -
– It is not really voluntary.
– Just a minute.
I give these figures because they represent proof of the strong public support for the voluntary insurance scheme which this Government initiated and has fostered.
Senator Tangney says it really is not voluntary.
– You must insure to get the benefit.
– The Opposition says that people cannot afford to be outside the scheme. I know of no better commendation of this health scheme than that statement. It is rightly said that the people are convinced, after ten years’ trial, that some real and lasting benefit comes out of this scheme, otherwise they would not contribute. I say without any hesitation that the statement by Senator Tangney and by Senator Dittmer that people cannot afford to be outside the scheme is the greatest commendation I have heard of the Commonwealth Government’s health scheme.
– No, it is not.
– I have heard good news in regard to the health scheme when the Opposition says that people cannot afford to be outside it.
– The people would have no benefit at all if they stayed outside the scheme.
– If they are contributing - and they do contribute, generally, because some 7,000,000 people are receiving benefits from it - it must be that they are not being sold a pup, because the people of this country are not fools. They know perfectly well that if they contribute to the scheme they will get a really worth while, substantial benefit from it. The many people to whom I have spoken in regard to the scheme are certainly of that opinion.
Mr. President, the Labour Party has gone to the people over the last fourteen years with a policy of free hospitalization, free medical services - I think I am correct in saying that - and free pharmaceutical services. I understand that those things were in the forefront of its policy at the last election. Over the past fourteen years this Government has been returned.
– For other reasons.
– This Government that instituted this scheme we are discussing to-night-
– The Government was returned, not on its policy, but on splinter party preferences.
– That statement is very arguable indeed. Because of the preferential system of voting, the argument Senator Sandford puts forward falls to the ground. In the final analysis the people have preferred this Government to any other government. In addition, I think I am correct in saying that Gallup polls have shown more than once-
– They can be wrong, too.
– They can be wrong although they claim they never have been. But Gallup polls have shown more than once-
– Do you claim you have never been wrong?
– Some people say I have been wrong all my life. Gallup polls have shown more than once that the people do not favour the extraordinary expenditure that would be necessary to introduce medical services and all the other services on the same scale as operates in New Zealand. 1 support the bill. 1 believe that over the years the Government has done a good job in trying to iron out all the difficulties inherent in a contributory scheme such as this. The bill is, I feel, another milestone - I hope and believe it is not the last one - on the road to conferring real and lasting benefit on the people of this country.
– This measure proposes certain amendments to the National Health Act. One of its principal purposes is to increase by one-third the Government’s contribution towards the cost of medical services - for example, by an increase of 2s. in the present Commonwealth payment of 6s. for a visit to a general practitioner. Another purpose of the measure seems to be to prohibit friendly societies from granting to future members some of those benefits which their members at present enjoy. Indeed, in a certain respect, it seems to take away from the existing membership of friendly societies a right that they already enjoy. Senator Lillico spoke about the New Zealand health scheme and the cost of its operation. The New Zealand scheme was laid down by .a Labour administration but it has been adopted by the anti-Labour government which has been in office in New Zealand some time.
We are not discussing the New Zealand scheme this evening. We are dealing with the proposals in the bill. Insofar as benefits will accrue to the people of Australia, the Opposition welcomes them. Frankly, we say that the national health scheme, as it is commonly called, is lopheavy. It is not understandable to the ordinary man and woman in the community and it does not cater adequately for the real needs of people who from time to time unfortunately become ill or who have some chronic illness. As Senator Tangney said in moving the amendment, in the opinion of the Opposition this is not a voluntary scheme, because if a family man wants to cover himself and his family against the cost of sickness and hospitalization he must, in order to get any benefit from the Commonwealth, apart from any benefit from the funds, contribute to a benefit fund. It is in that respect that we say that a gun is held at his head. The Government says, “Join a fund or get nothing”, lt was in that context that Senator Tangney said that an ordinary worker cannot afford lo remain out of the scheme.
Another objection that I want, to voice on behalf of the Opposition is that the scheme, as it functions at present, does not cater for all sections of the Australian community. From the interim report of the DirectorGeneral of Health for the financial year 1962-63 we find that, as at 30th June, 1962, 73 per cent, of the population was covered by membership of hospital benefits schemes, while at (he same time 68 per cent, of the population were covered by membership of medical benefit schemes. I know that the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) in his second-reading speech has said that these figures do not take into account the number of pensioners involved under the pensioner medical service, or the number of repatriation cases. I suggest that the number of pensioners and repatriation cases not covered by the scheme does not amount to 3,750,000 or 4,000,000, which is approximately the number of Australians not covered by the National Health Act. We say that many people are deprived of any benefit under this act because they cannot afford to pay weekly contributions to a medical benefit fund or a hospital benefit fund - either that or they have no faith in the scheme as it exists at present.
My main objection to the scheme as it exists now and as it will exist under this legislation when it is enacted is three-fold. Firstly, as I have said, it does not cater for all sections of the Australian people in the event of sickness or hospitalization. My second objection is that the refunds paid are not in keeping with the charges imposed by medical practitioners and hospitals in Australia. My third objection is that exorbitant profits have been made and are still being made by drug companies which have been set up in this country - deliberately, I suggest - to exploit the Australian taxpayer through the national health scheme. The scheme does not cater for all sections of the Australian community and it does nol, as Senator Dittmer said, cater for dental or optical treatment or, I think, for the treatment of mental illness. Because these facets of medicine are of basic importance to the welfare and health of the Australian community, I suggest that the scheme falls far short of being national in character.
We hear every day of surveys of the Incidence of dental caries in pupils being taken in Australian schools. Unfortunately I have not the figures before me at present, but the last figures 1 saw concerning New South Wales were quite alarming. As Senator Dittmer rightly said, no doubt this has occurred because there is no dental coverage for children under the scheme or because there are insufficient dentists to do the work. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are paid out by working class people in dental fees for their children. Despite the fact that they are insured for medical and hospital benefits and are paying for this insurance at the rate of from 10s. to 12s. a week, people cannot claim from any organization any benefit for dental treatment. In this respect, particularly, the scheme is sadly lacking.
In the 1962-63 report of the DirectorGeneral of Health we find that 727,950 pensioners were enrolled and a total of 830,950 pensioners and dependants were covered by the pensioner medical service. This represents some 88 per cent, of the pensioners, but the fact is that some 12 per cent, are not covered by this scheme. According to my mathematical calculations, about 100,000 people who are drawing pensions are not covered by the National Health Act.
– They are not getting a full pension.
– They are not getting the full pension and are not qualified under this act because of the pensioner medical entitlement card system which has been in existence since 1955. Of course, they have the right, as the honorable senator said, to pay into a fund and to qualify in that way. The Opposition suggests that it is time that something was done to protect these people by giving them something more than the £2 they arc allowed as income in addition to the pension that is paid to them at present.
Let us consider the ordinary man in the street who gets sick and has either to visit a doctor or call a doctor to his home. What is the situation? When the scheme was first introduced in July, 1953, the rebate was supposed to amount to some 90 per cent, of the fee charged by a doctor. Senator Anderson said - I speak subject to correction - that, on the average, 90 per cent, of the fee would be rebated.
– That is what I said.
– Yes. I think I interrupted at the time and suggested that he was a poor mathematician when he was dealing with an appendicectomy case because, on my calculation, the rebate in the case to which he referred amounted to 85 per cent, and not 90 per cent. Take the case of the ordinary man, woman or child who either has to go to a doctor or call a doctor to the home. Most doctors in the City of Sydney, from which I come, charge 25s. for a consultation and 30s. or 35s. for a visit. The bill we are considering will lift the total amount to be paid by way of rebate from 16s. to 18s. in each case. The sicker a man is the poorer he will be financially under this scheme. If he is in bed running a temperature and cannot go to the doctor, but has to bring the doctor to his house, he will still get only 18s. although he will be charged a fee of either 30s. or 35s. In the case of a consultation for which the fee is 25s. he will still receive only 18s. under the provisions of this bill. Earlier this year I think the Minister said that 72 per cent, of all medical services are for general practitioner consultation or visits, so the gap between the rebate and the cost is not going to be substantially reduced in such cases.
During 1962-63 Commonwealth benefits amounting to £11,500,000 were paid for 23,500,000 services. On that basis out of 23,500,000 services only about 16,500,000 people will receive a rebate of more than 60 per cent, in the case of a visit by a doctor to the home, or a rebate of 72 per cent, in the case of a visit by a patient to a doctor’s surgery. On this very point let me quote from a letter that appeared in the “Sydney Morning Herald” of 8th February, 1964. It is signed by Mr D. Thomson, the New South Wales secretary of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association. Amongst other things Mr. Thomson had the following to say in his letter:-
My association has submitted actual instances to Senator Wade to prove that where operations are involved the rebates are often well below 50 per cent, of the doctors’ fees.
The Minister stated that there were 1,641,000 services in 1962-63 where patients received a 90 per cent, rebate on doctors’ accounts. What the Minister did not disclose, however, is that there were 21,789,000 services in- the same period where the patients received less - and mostly far less - than 90 per cent, of the doctors’ accounts. These figures are recorded in the annual report of the Director-General of Health.
In the same newspaper on the same day an editorial appeared concerning the bill that is now under discussion. The “ Sydney Morning Herald “ editorial stated -
First, obviously, that it- will be an improvement . . .
The “ it “ of course, refers to the proposed benefits under the national health scheme. The editorial continued -
That, to put it mildly, is not wonderful. It remains a long way short of the elusive nearly 90 per cent, which is presumably still the objective. The position looks even worse when one contemplates the proportion of the cost refunded after a general practitioner visits one’s home. A normal fee is 35s.; 1 think I suggested an amount of from 30s. to 35s. The editorial continues -
So much for the percentage rebate. Those are the views, not only of the Opposition but also of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ which, at the last general election, supported the Government’s policy. Now let me quote again from the same newspaper, but of a different date. I refer to an article in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 6th February under the heading “ Health Plan Refunds ‘ A Tragedy ‘ “. The article contains statements attributed to Mr. D. O’Connor, the chairman of the Hospitals Association of New South Wales. Mr. O’Connor was reported as having said that refunds received under present hospital and medical insurance programmes were tragically low. The writer of the article went on -
He told a board meeting of the association it was a tragedy that average working people should receive only 13s. for every £1 they paid to a genera] practitioner. “ They pay insurance fees all the year and then when it is necessary to see a doctor they still have to pay 7s. or more,” he said. “That was not the spirit in which these insurance schemes were originally introduced when 90 per cent, was visualized as the benefit return. “ As far as I know this return has not been implemented anywhere in Australia.”
That is the expression of opinion of another person who is constantly in contact with the problems facing the people of Australia and, more particularly, the people of New South Wales who are contributors to the hospital and medical benefit schemes. I agree with Mr. O’Connor’s statement that the present position is just not good enough and that 2s., in a total amount of 6s., to be paid by way of Commonwealth contribution, will not be of any tangible assistance to those who, from time to time, become ill. I suggest, too, that this problem is having an effect on doctor-patient relationships. From time to time, and on occasions in the Senate, the Minister has lauded the relationship between patient and family doctor. He said that it has been and is good. I would agree with the Minister that it has been good and I should like to be able to agree that it is still good. Unfortunately, as a result of prevailing practices in the medical world at present, the family doctor, as he was once known, seems to be dying out. Let me rely in that regard on a comment recently attributed to Professor C. R. B. Blackburn. Professor of Medicine at Sydney University. Earlier this year, he addressed the Royal New South Wales College of Nursing seminar on “ To-morrow’s Nurse “. The following is an extract from the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 5th February, 1964 -
Doctor-patient relationships were changing, mostly for the worse. Professor C. R. B. Blackburn told a nursing seminar yesterday. He said he feared the same thing was happening with nurse-patient relationships. The changes, he said, were due to the “big changes “ in medico-social patterns with the advent of voluntary health insurance, hospitals becoming more complex, and doctors tending towards group practice. Nurses were tending to “ living out “ and spending less time at hospitals.
In the area in which I live, whereas some ten years ago one could ring the family doctor and say that one’s child was ill and the doctor would come, to-day one rings the surgery and the receptionist says that Dr. A, Dr. B or Dr. C is there to-day and that the doctor available will be calling. This is one of the practices that has been creeping in in recent times. I regret that I cannot wholeheartedly agree wilh the Minister’s statement that the good relationship between doctor and patient still exists as it did in days gone by.
I have dealt with two aspects to which 1 referred originally, namely, that the scheme does not cater for all sections of the community, and that the percentage rebate is inadequate, having regard to the fee charged by the medical practitioner. Now let me deal with the third aspect, namely, the exorbitant charges being made by drug companies under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Last year, according lo the Director-General of Health, an amount of £40,833,000 was expended by the Commonwealth on pharmaceutical benefits. Senator Anderson seemed to doubt whether there was exploitation by the drug companies. On 25th September last, in reply to a question in regard to this matter that I placed on the notice-paper, the Minister stated -
There are a number of instances of prices which appear to be higher than can be reasonably explained. The Government’s views on drug prices have already been made clear, namely that wc are well aware of the situation and that something would have to be done about it.
That was in September of last year. Admittedly, since then something has been done about it, but at least until September, 1963, in the view of the Minister for Health, the prices charged by drug houses operating in Australia for drugs under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme was far too high. I know that the Government has been in negotiation with the drug companies in Australia for the purpose of achieving reductions in the prices of certain drugs. I am subject to correction when I say that a reduction of about £2,000,000 has been effected to date. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but when one appreciates that the cost of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme rose last year by about £3,700,000, the reduction of about £2,000,000 that has been achieved is insufficient. I think it is fair to say that every one believes that the drug companies are making large profits. Certainly that is the view of the ordinary man and woman in the community. It is understandable when one appreciates that this reduction was achieved on a negotiation basis and that these companies are in the field for the purpose of making big profits Of some 114 drug companies operating in Australia at present, 66 are completely controlled by overseas interests.
Let me refer to an article in the “ Daily Mirror” of 1st October, 1962, written by the medical writer for that newspaper.
– A very reliable paper!
– Whether or not it is reliable, the journalist has identified himself by stating that he is the medical writer for the newspaper. The article is headed, “ Doctor finds drugs bungle “ and states -
Bungled manufacturing had resulted in worthless drugs being sold in Sydney, a Bexley doctor said today. Some tablets supposed to bc phenobarbitone had been tested and found to be completely devoid of phenobarbitone. They had been hawked around chemists at 6d. a 100 compared with ls. 7d. a 100 for tablets made by a reputable firm. This had happened because the bulk mixture had not been properly mixed and the drug had been clumped in a few tablets while the others had none of the drug at all . . .
Doctors had become very wary of back yard drug manufacturers who often used terrific sales pressure lo market their products . . .
The article went on to state that it had become impossible for doctors these days to keep in touch with all the latest trends in drug manufacture. Only to-day, in a question directed by my colleague, Senator Willesee, to the Minister for Health, concerning a judgment recently handed down in the New South Wales Supreme Court, was an inference concerning misleading advertising engaged in by drug companies. I refer to a report in “ Nation “ of the equity action between Bayer Pharma Proprietary Limited and Henry H. York and Company Proprietary Limited, which reads -
Bayer Pharma, the American-owned company, had sought an injunction to prevent Henry H. York from using the name Bayer and a device known as the Bayer Leverkusen cross on pharmaceuticals sold by it . . . These were some of the opinions expressed by Mr. Justice Myers about Bayer Pharma: “ On any view the plaintiff’s aspirin tablets are falsely advertised as original or genuine Bayer’s aspirin. They are also falsely advertised as dissolving in two seconds.”
Bayer Pharma s claims to have sold its aspirins outside Australia, in such phrases as “ used by millions all over the world “ are “ necessarily untrue “. “ The purpose of the advertising could only be to attract to the plaintiff the benefit of the reputation of foreign manufacturers.”
Further on the report states -
Turning to the plaintiff’s dealings in ethical products - those supplied to chemists only and resold by them on prescription - the judge referred to a list of forty-six products supplied by defendant’s counsel, and records that Bayer Pharma’s counsel admitted that about these products “for the most part incorrect statements” had been made by the plaintiff.
The plaintiff had also claimed to have laboratories in England, America and Sydney, but had none in England or America.
The claim that Bayer Pharma’s products were made to the same specifications as the German products was a “ false representation “. “ If therefore the advertisements and descriptions of the plaintiff’s goods meant what Mr. Bluett (former managing director of Bayer Pharma) and the plaintiff’s counsel said they meant, they were as false and fraudulent as they could have been.” “ The misrepresentations I have found proved amounted to fraudulent trading.” “ To warn readers against products that may appear to bc chemically identical with ‘ the original product ‘, ‘ the original aspirin now known as Bayer’s Aspirin ‘ was plain effrontery.”
That gives some indication of what has been going on in this country.
– Was the quality queried by the learned justice?
– I am just quoting what I have read in the article. If you care to peruse the article, it is here for you to do so.
– I have read it.
– I have been trying to answer Senator Anderson’s statement that there has not necessarily been exploitation of the Australian people by the drug companies, and I intend to pursue the matter further.
– I think I said that the case had not been made out.
– I accept the honorable senator’s correction. I agree that he maintained that the case had not been made out. What I am setting out to do is to state the Opposition’s case. In that regard I am relying on the judgment of Mr. Justice Myers in the case to which I have referred. In a further effort to support the case that was put forward so ably by Senator Tangney, I wish to refer to a question that was addressed by Senator Cohen to the Minister for Health, and to the Minister’s answer. On 22nd April, 1964, Senator Cohen asked a question about a one-third reduction in the price of a group of drugs in this financial year. In his reply, as reported at page 800 of “ Hansard “, the Minister said -
I cannot say, specifically, whether this is the third cut in the price of these drugs in this financial year. I will have to check the dales to be specific on that and I will do so and advise the honorable senator. He further asks what margin of profit remains to the manufacturer after this third, and substantial, cut in price which, as he states, will bring about considerable reductions in our national health bill. Quite frankly 1 do not know, and I do not want to know.
Even though the Minister does not want to know, I am sure that the average man and average woman in the community want to know the profits made by these drug companies which I suggest have deliberately come to Australia to exploit the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. If the Minister does not want to know, the Opposition certainly wants to know.
– Why did you not quote the full answer?
– I shall quote the full answer. The Minister went on to say -
This is a private enterprise country anil we do not probe people as to what margin of profit they are making. In this field we arc most anxious to buy our drugs from the manufacturers al prices that will stand comparison on world markets, having regard to factors of distribution, distance and so on, which may affect the price in this country.
– That is all 1 want. Thank you very much.
– If you want me to go further, I shall do so.
– No, I do not. That is sufficient.
– I am relying on your statement that you do not know and do not want to know the profits of these companies. I have had taken out for me by the Library staff a list of the net incomes of some of the drug companies that are operating in Australia. With one exception - Drug Houses of Australia Limited - all the companies I shall mention are completely owned by overseas interests. Tn the last financial year Abbott Australian Holdings Proprietary Limited made a net profit of £200,000 and Boots Pure Drug Company (Australia) Proprietary Limited a net profit of: £145,000. Drug Houses of Australia Limited, which is the company not owned by overseas interests, made a net profit of £1,070,000. The net profits of the other companies listed were as follows: - Eli Lilly (Australia) Proprietary Limited, £205,000; Glaxo-Allenbury’s (Australia) Proprietary Limited, £40,000; Johnson and Johnson Proprietary Limited. £500,00”); Merck, Sharp and Dohme (Australia) Proprietary Limited. £400.000; Reckitt and Colman Proprietary Limited, £500.000; Smith Kline and French Laboratories (Australia) Proprietary Limited, £348.000; Sterling Pharmaceuticals Proprietary Limited, £200,000; Vick Products Proprietary Limited, £148.000; WarnerLambert Proprietary Limited, £210,000; and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Proprietary Limited, £214,000.
It is very disturbing to note that, while the drug companies have been making such profits - as Senator Dittmer rightly said, after writing off 66 per cent, for advertising - certain statements have appeared in the annual reports of the Commonwealth Scrum Laboratories Commission. In the commission’s report for 1961-62 this statement appears -
The Laboratories are the only basic manufacturers of crystalline insulin in Australia and maintain a plant capable of producing Australia’s requirement of insulin and a surplus for export.
Furthermore, Australia has one of the most readily available supplies of pancreas glands in the world for the manufacture of insulin!
Despite these facts imports of insulin continue to increase, and in the last financial year imported insulin represented nearly 70% of Australia’s usage. Marketing efforts and price concessions by the Laboratories in an endeavour to induce secondary manufacturers to use the Australian raw insulins proved fruitless. The Commission regard this of the utmost importance and consider that an application for tariff protection in the near future may be necessary.
– Who is being exploited there?
– Just let me finish. In its report for 1962-63, the commission stated -
The insulin plant, capable of producing the Australian requirement and surplus for export, remained inoperative as imports of insulin continued.
I do not know whether any of the drug companies are importing insulin. If they are, the machinery of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission should be put into full-time operation to manufacture this product. If machinery is there and is inoperative, I suggest that it also could be used to great advantage in the manufacture of other products that are made by the commercial houses. I believe the drug companies are exploiting the Australian public through the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. We of the Opposition say that the worker who pays 10s. or 12s. a week insurance, is not getting a fair percentage return in rebate for the amount that he takes out of his take-home pay every week to cover himself, his wife and family in the event of any family illness or hospitalization occurring. The schemes’ refunds are published in such a way that they result in a lack of understanding and ambiguity in the minds of members of the public. As I said earlier, it is not right to prohibit friendly societies from granting to their future members those benefits which their existing members already enjoy. Nor is it right to take away benefits from existing members of friendly societies. I believe that the national health scheme and the Government proposals in this bill are defective in many respects and that the Senate should support the amendment moved by Senator Tangney on behalf of the Opposition.
– I rise to say just a few words in support of the bill; not to traverse all the benefits under this scheme which have been well traversed by my colleagues on this side of the chamber. I propose to devote most of my remarks to one aspect which I do not think has been stressed in this debate. I oppose the amendment of the Opposition because if it were successful it would mean only one thing. There would have to be a compulsory scheme; and a compulsory scheme means death to the general practitioner.
This Government has introduced a health scheme which is attractive to every one. lt is attractive to the patient, the doctors - both specialists and general practitioners - the Australian Medical Association and the Government itself. It is vitally important that the scheme should be acceptable, not only to the people and the Government, but to the doctors. Senator McClelland said that the scheme does not cater for the needs of all sections of the people. The greatest need for all sections of the people is to have good general practitioners. That is the aspect which I consider has not been stressed and which must be the main aspect of any scheme. Senator McClelland in touching on this idea said that nowadays when one rings for a doctor he is told that doctors A, B, and C are on duty that day. There is a trend for doctors to get together in teams - I call it an intermediate stage - in Australia, because the general practitioner has been having a difficult time trying to keep up with the complexity of medicine as it is to-day and has found himself at the beck and call of his patients with no time to study. This is laudable. It still keeps the old doctor-patient relationship which is so necessary. To-day there is a trend more towards doctors specializing because of the complexity of modern medicine. If, in the teams of doctors to which I have referred there are individuals willing to specialize in certain aspects of medicine and to apply that specialized knowledge to the patient, this is of advantage and is a means of preserving the relationship that we are anxious to maintain.
It is necessary to examine what is happening in other countries where compulsory schemes have been introduced. I should like to draw attention, first, to what has happened in the United Kingdom. Under the compulsory scheme there the general practitioner is paid a capitation fee for the number of patients he has on his books. It does net matter whether he visits them once or 50 times a year, he is paid the same amount. Human nature being what it is, people tend to go to the doctor for every mild or imaginary complaint that they have. This exhausts the doctor and wears him out. The doctor has to attend to these patients and in so doing does not have time to attend to his reading. He cannot read his medical magazines or keep up with his study. Even more important is the fact that he does not have the right to put his patients into hospital and look after them. That is where the patientdoctor relationship begins to break down under the compulsory scheme in England.
– A doctor has not that right here.
– Yes he has. He can take his patient to a hospital and look after him because our scheme assists that patient with the charges. In England that is not so. If a patient is able to get into a hospital in England - and in most cases he has to wait months, and sometimes even years - he is looked after by the doctor who is employed in the hospital. This, in addition to taking away the incentive the doctor has to take an interest in his patient, deprives him of the incentive to improve his methods, to try to keep his patients together, and possibly to attract more patients. Senator Tangney said that doctors go into this profession in order to make money. I think that was a dreadful thing to say. They do not go into it to make money. Naturally if they are ambitious - and we want our young doctors to be ambitious - they want people to seek them out. There are many less arduous ways in which they could use their intelligence and ability if they wished to make money. Not only do they have to study for six years without remuneration but, if they want to specialize, they continue for years without very great reward. Ultimately, when fully trained, they are hauled out of their beds at all hours of the day and night at the beck and call of the public. It is a dedicated profession and one into which people do not go to make money.
Senator Hannaford__ They shorten their expectation of life.
– They certainly do. 1 stress that doctors are not encouraged, under the English scheme, to become general practitioners. The patients themselves do not have a freedom of choice, nor can they change their doctor. If they are listed on one general practitioner’s list and they wish to change doctors they must go through a tremendous amount of red tape and delay before they are able to register with another doctor. If, after a long time, they can get into a hospital, they suffer from a lack of privacy and they do not experience the same approach that they would have from their own doctor, who may have taken an interest in them for years. Do not let us imagine that the compulsory scheme in England is any less expensive to the people. The Opposition to-day has suggested that it is arduous for a single person to contribute 2s. or a married person 4s. a week to the scheme. It is significant that in Australia, where the economy is as buoyant as this Government has been able to make it and maintain it, people are able to afford it and are doing so. However, in England there is a compulsory contribution of shillings a week to the health scheme. Tt is not cheaper; in fact, it is more expensive than that which is here and it does not have the benefits of our scheme.
I think we need to look at what happens in other countries which have compulsory schemes. I refer now to the position in Russia. There because it is socialized - and, after all, a compulsory scheme is what the socialists want - almost the only people who are taking on medicine are women who are willing to be dedicated to the sick and who are willing to take the very small remuneration offered to them in that country. Practically no men are taking up the cause of medicine there. Again, the masses have to suffer the discomfort of mass attention. The extraordinary thing is that the V.I.P.s in Russia - the party leaders and the scientists who are considered important - do not have to go through the normal channels to have medical attention. Their doctors are paid to keep them well. The extraordinary thing is that in a society which is not supposed to differentiate between classes, the Russians have established a privileged class whose doctors are treated differently from those who attend other people.
The Australian scheme is acceptable to everybody. It is flexible. Provision is made for the changing needs of the people. The Government is willing to increase benefits to bridge the gap between benefits and medical fees. We have been told to-day that the Government has done nothing to try to fix doctors’ fees, but that is not true. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Health referred to his negotiations with the Australian Medical Association and to the willingness of the association to meet his request to try to fix the fees so that the value of the benefits will be greater. Senator Tangney said that if people became unemployed and ceased to make payments to their benefit organizations, they were not given the benefits to which they otherwise would be entitled. That is not true. A person who is in arrears but is receiving the unemployment benefit is entitled to the benefits under the national health scheme to which he would normally be entitled if his contributions were up to date. I think I have said enough to show that we must do everything possible to try to maintain in Australia a scheme which will encourage young people to study medicine and allow them to achieve their ambition to become medical practitioners and improve their knowledge. I for one say that this voluntary health scheme is the only one which will ensure that young people continue to go into the profession.
I want to refer now to the payment of the so-called 5s. deterrent for pharmaceutical prescriptions. In doing so, I praise the friendly societies for the work they have done in the past. They have filled a need and have assisted people to help themselves to obtain drugs for the treatment of illness at prices they can afford. But now that the Government has introduced its national health scheme to assist in the provision of pharmaceutical benefits, I think it only fair that chemists and friendly societies should be treated alike. I am not referring to those people who joined friendly societies in the past - they will not be deprived of their pharmaceutical benefits - but to those intending to join friendly societies. They must pay, as anybody does who goes to a chemist, the 5s. fee for a prescription. This fee has proved to be a deterrent to unnecessary prescriptions, although the Opposition does not think so.
I have just a few words to say about the comment by Senator McClelland on what he called the exorbitant charges of the drug companies. The honorable senator quoted profits that these companies had made but he gave no idea of the capital investment on which the profits were declared. Without such a declaration, the figures he mentioned are meaningless. We do not know what investment these companies have made to gain what might be quite modest profits. Senator Tangney complained of the amount spent on advertising. I think it is probably a good thing that there is advertising, they are trying to compete with somebody. This causes them to keep their research up to date so that the drugs they supply are up to standard and in line with new discoveries. I support the national health scheme as it is, and have pleasure in supporting the bill and opposing the amendment.
– I had intended to make a speech on health but as it is late 1 will content myself with dealing with a few principles and telling the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) what is wrong with the national health scheme. I am surprised that supporters of the Government are happy about the scheme. If that is their feeling, they are the only people in Australia who are happy with it. Anybody who reads the newspapers must realize that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the scheme. I admit straight away that probably no government could satisfy the sick or do everything that the sick in the community might want. I know there are difficulties, but on the management side of this scheme there is room for improvement.
Only this week, the Minister for Health had to reply to one of the directors of a hospital benefits fund concerning a dispute between the two major health benefit organizations in New South Wales. Two years ago, the medical profession and a hospital contributions fund organization joined together. I was at a function when the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) opened a building for those organizations. It was an extraordinary meeting. We congratulated the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health. Both societies were established in a beautiful building. To-day, the combined organization of the two funds has fallen apart. I am speaking of New South Wales. Only the other day the chairman of one organization said this Government was standing in the way of his organization giving increased benefits to contributors. I am not saying that. I am repeating what the head of the organization said.
– What about the other organization? Does it say that about its competitor?
– No, but there is a running fight. I cannot understand honorable senators on the Government side talking about the defence of free enterprise in relation to medicine. To talk about free enterprise in relation to a health scheme is archaic. The “ Sydney Morning Herald “, probably the most conservative organ in Australia, complains of the competing interests of the health organizations. It should be obvious to all people that you cannot have competition in matters of health. There can be rivalry between doctors in relation to medical education and practice. There-is rivalry in that sort of enterprise, and as a result of ambition you get the best people at the top. But health is not the sort of enterprise where two organizations should compete with one another. Yet that is what is happening. So how can anybody say that everything is all right with the national health scheme?
– They are nonprofit organizations.
– They are, but that does not improve the position. I agree that the doctors of Sydney are mostly dedicated men but they are now engaged in a business. They are involved in health insurance, and they are not necessarily the right people to run an insurance organization. There is a lesson to be learned from what 1 am saying. I have no complaints about the hospital schemes. My own experience and that of my friends is that when you go into hospital and pay the full rate or almost the full rate, you get good service and receive almost a total refund of charges. If that can be done for treatment in hospitals, why cannot it be done in connexion with the medical services? The difference is this: The people running a hospital benefits fund - which is a nonprofitmaking organization, as Senator Hannaford has said - have no interest other than in running the fund. All of the money that comes back is paid out to the contributors. That is not happening in relation to the Australian Medical Association. I need not exaggerate the position at all to suggest to honorable senators that on an average people do not get back one-third of the money that they pay to doctors for any sort of an operation. When you look at the schedule attached to the bill the position becomes farcical. The Opposition, of course, believe the answer is a nationalized health plan. We do not see anything wrong with the resources of the nation being put behind a national health plan which will as far as possible guarantee the health of the community.
I shall refer to a few items contained in the schedule. This is a miserable approach. 1 am not being personal to the Minister. This is on a government level. For professional attendance by a general medical practitioner the Government makes a donation of 8s.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin). - 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.
– For professional attendance by a specialist in the practice of his speciality where the patient is referred by another medical practitioner, the Government makes a donation of £1 5s. I think that the amount is laughable. When you go to a specialist you can feel fortified because you know that the Government is giving you £1 5s. towards your visit which will cost nothing less than £5 5s. What sort of a health scheme is it that refunds £1 5s. for a visit to a specialist? So it is right through the schedule. For a cardiac by-pass, which is relatively rare, where a heart-lung machine is used, the Government pays £20. For the ordinary run-of-the-mill illnesses which require attendance on a Macquarie-street specialist, the contribution of the Government is 8s., 12s. 6d., £2 10s., £1 10s., 12s. and so on. Having regard to the high cost of medicine, those amounts are miserable. Why has this happened? I believe it has happened principally because of the high cost of drugs in Australia. To pay the high cost of drugs the Government has to skimp the contributors.
I want to refer to the cynicism I have heard in this chamber about the 5s. prescription fee being a deterrent to stop people from going to doctors or chemists unnecessarily. That has not been my experience. My experience has been that you cannot drive people to doctors. You certainly cannot drive young people to doctors when they should go. They will not go and they do not go. It is possible that older people, who nurse their illnesses, do go to doctors, but I think it is wrong to speak generally of people being in a rush to go to doctors. T4at is not the situation at all.
I have here a most astonishing statement made by a director of a hospital scheme. He said that there should be a ban on rebates because if full rebates were given hospitals would be crowded. He went on to say -
We have nothing to hide, and we have been amused at recent publicity.
He said that if people were to get extra rebates - and we are not asking that they should get more than the amount for which they contribute - they would be filling the hospitals. That is a cynical approach to public health which I do not think is a good approach. Is it any wonder that the public everywhere is unhappy about the situation? The important thing in a debate like this is not the cost of the national health scheme at the top level but to nfid out how these matters affect the ordinary people in the community. Only the other duy I received a letter from a woman stating -
While expecting my baby last year 1 attended the doctor’s surgery 14 times and subsequently received a bill for 14 guineas.
She was the wife of an ordinary working man. The letter continues -
Imagine my surprise when a refund of £5 12s. was paid instead of £11 4s. expected (16s. by 14 visits).
That is what the Government and the fund pays. The letter goes on - lt appears that benefits arc limited by the Commonwealth to the amount payable for seven consultations.
According to this woman, the Government has decided that any woman in the period of her nine months pregnancy should go to see her doctor only seven times. The letter continues -
Women are asked by their doctors to attend monthly for six months, fortnightly for two months, and weekly until the baby is born.
That is the complaint of one woman, and 1 suppose what has happened to her has happened to many other women.
In 1951 the health scheme cost £2,900,000, and in 1963 it cost £41,300,000. That is a big increase. It is too late to open up the subject to-night, but when we look at the machinations of the drug houses - and 1 say this quite seriously - we see where a lot of the high cost comes from. Senator Dittmer and other honorable senators have stated that pills are given to patients and not used. This practice is rampant. A few months ago 1 visited a private hospital. The matron of the hospital told me that as each new patient came in, although she could supply the patient with medicines, such as for heart conditions and so on, she had to go back to the chemist for new supplies because she could not use old stocks. The old stocks which could have been used by incoming patients had to be thrown out. I know that the solution to the problem is not easy, but the Government ought to have a look at it because it is possible that the Government is paying the drug companies twice as much as it should for the medicines that it receives.
I have said before, and it remains true, that under the British Pharmacopoeia, which used to be the system under which the doctors prescribed, the cost of drugs was cut four times. Under the new system, wilh the ethical houses operating, there has been an increase of four times the cost. 1 do not know the answer to this problem, but I think the Government should have a look at it.
I want to deal with a few principles. Why does the Australian Labour Party think that the Government’s health plan is wrong? lt is because the plan treats the poor the same as it treats the rich. Everybody is charged the same amount. We disagree with that, and that is where some of the general dissatisfaction arises. We think it is unjust that where people who have long illnesses are concerned the scheme virtually cuts out at the end of 84 days. If you are unfortunate enough to have somebody in your family who is sick for longer than 84 days, you have to find the money to meet the additional cost. The plan which the Australian Labour Party had in 1949 was simple, easily understandable and would have been workable.
– Would the principles of that plan be your principles to-day?
– The plan provided that the Government would meet 50 per cent, of the cost and the patient would meet the other 50 per cent, by way of insurance. That was a simple proposition. We had in mind an adjunct to the scheme by which doctors had to agree to fix the prices. The subsidy depended on doctors agreeing to fix costs. This Government is in a jam to-day because the cost or the money value of the industry or services it is subsidizing is not controlled or known. That is why the Government, whatever it does in this instance, is going to bc caught up. This is so because the medical profession believes in free enterprise and it is virtually impossible for the Government to control medical fees. The doctors themselves say so. If you talk to the doctors personally they will tell you of their own worries about the health plan. Doctors in one district will agree to control their prices r.nd those in another will not agree. One State agrees and the other State will not. Under the Labour Party’s scheme the doctors had to agree or they could not be in it. The Labour Party’s scheme was free from complications, at any rate. Everybody would have known what he was up for.
T think Senator Dittmer said this scheme had a lot of loose ends. I believe that is reasonably true. I think the Minister for Health is worried about the scheme and I do not think he is satisfied that the right thing has been done. In answer to a question I asked him to-day, the Minister said he is not prepared to agree to the proposition to increase the benefits payable by the Hospital Contribution Fund of New South Wales unless he first ascertains that it is financially capable of carrying out its contracts. That is probably a reasonable altitude for the Minister to adopt. The only thing I question about it is that I think that matter should not be delayed too long.
Regarding the continuing dispute between the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Limited and the Hospital Contribution Fund, which insures the biggest number of people - at any rate, it is the biggest scheme - I think the Government should do somethink very quickly to resolve the difficulties. The Government should do something about giving contributors some sort of control over those organizations. Contributors do not have any say whatsoever in the running of either of them. The Medical Benefits Fund is not really the Australian Medical Association. That title gives the impression that it is the doctors themselves who are running the organization. That is not strictly true. The organizers only use the title. The Australian Medical Association only has one, or at the most two, representatives on the committee controlling the Medical Benefits Fund. I think the Government should look at that matter. No system can stand up to the continual friction, accounts of which are published in the newspapers, between the two organizations. They are competing bitterly with one another. I had experience of this competition myself recently, and this is not second-hand information. It is my personal experience. Six months ago I decided to stay on table J in the Hospitals Contribution Fund. Twice I received letters from the Medical Benefits Fund to see why I did not join that organization. The other day I had to collect a refund from the Medical Benefits Fund and before the organization sent me the amount, it wrote a letter reminding me that I should stay in that scheme. In all, 1 had three letters from it asking me to stay with it. I do not think that sort of competition should be permitted. It is very bad. It must cost a lot of money which the contributors - and finally the Government - have to pay.
I believe the Minister has done a very good job in relation to these thtings. I think he is overworked. He is always ready to give information and do all he can to help any one, but he has to deal with people who are ill, people who are afraid of illness and people who cannot afford the high cost of being sick to-day. Hospitalization is a tremendous drain on anybody’s finances, particularly those people who have to have specialist attention.
Generally, I think the Government seems to lean towards giving heavier subsidies to the smaller number of people who undergo the more important operations, whereas I think it should direct most of its energies to relieving the financial pressure on the middle classes. The Government has done its best for the pensioners, who, of course, have their privations, but I am not talking about them now. I am referring to the average worker, the average wage earner. The cost of being sick is tremendous to that class and I think the Government ought to use all its energies in order to relieve them of this burden. It should do more to help in cases where a man, his wife or members of his family go to visit the local doctor without needing specialist treatment. I am interested to know that the Government is doing something about changing the system whereby a person who became ill could go to a specialist only after seeing a general practitioner. There is something wrong with a system under which a sick person, who goes to a specialist, is then told, “ You cannot come here at this stage; you must be referred by a general practitioner “.
– The medical profession is responsible for that. It has always adhered to that principle.
– I think it is wrong. I do not think anybody should have to pay twice for medical attention. I agree with the statement by Senator Buttfield that something ought to be done to maintain the general practitioner. The general practitioner is an important part of the medical set-up. I do not know what can be done about the position. That problem probably remains with the doctors themselves. We are moving into a specialist world, and the general practitioner is going to finish up at Poverty Point.
– Your suggestion would cause him to be by-passed and the patient would go straight to a specialist.
– I do not say that. After all, the average person who gets sick does not need to have specialist treatment. ] am talking about helping the general public who have to see a doctor but not necessarily a specialist. In that way you would, of course, be helping the general practitioner.
– What is a specialist?
– I cannot develop the argument. 1 do suggest to the Minister that he and the Government should take firm action about the drug companies. He agrees that there is a problem over drug companies and he has told us how he has repeatedly negotiated with them to get a reduction in their charges. He knows that drug prices should come down. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said something like th:-t, but up to this day there is no specific information about which company is cutting its costs and cutting its prices. An authority told me the other day that the amount charged to the pharmaceutical fund in Australia for the anti-histomine group of drugs is £8.750,000. In England, the charge for thai same group is £1,750,000. That is a big dffierence, and I think that matter needs investigation by the Government.
.- in reply- The main purpose of this bill is to make available £4.000,000 of Government money to help to bridge the gap between doctor’s fees charged to patients and refunds that come from benefit funds. The legislation honours a promise made by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) during the last general election campaign. We have sought the first opportunity of implementing it, and we hope that the measure will become effective on 1st June, 1964. Strangely enough, the object of the amendment which is before the House is completely to defeat our proposition. The Opposition can put any construction it likes on the intention of its amendment, but the simple fact is that, if the amendment is carried, the Senate will deny the people of Australia an additional £4.000.000 a year to meet their medical charges. I suggest that those who will make a decision on this matter shortly should think very seriously before they act in such a way as to brand themselves for all times as individuals who took a stand to prevent £4,000,000 from being made available to meet the medical expenses of the people of Australia.
Every speaker for the Opposition has mentioned cases of hardship which he knows exist under the present system. We, as a Goverment, know that hardships exist and have determined to make some contribution towards relieving them: but I am afraid that honorable senators opposite, who claim that hardships exist, are about to cast a vote for a continuance of those hardships. We. on the other hand, are offering £4,000.000 by way of relief. It is a most amazing situation.
I now come to the amendment itself, because I feel obliged to pass some comments on it. It is as follows: -
This Senate is of the opinion that the bill fails to meet the urgent needs of the people of Australia as it does not provide for a full national health plan embracing adequate medical and hospital services available to all and, particularly, docs not (a) extend medical services to all persons, (b) ensure free hospitalization in public wards, (c) abolish the 5s. prescription fee, and (d) end the exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers.
I turn first to (a), “ extend medical services to all persons “. 1 think it was Senator Anderson who said he did not understand what that means. I listened attentively lo every speech made by members of the Opposition in this debate, but not one honorable senator on the opposite side of this House has told me what those words mean. There has been no reference at all to what is meant by a failure to extend medical benefits lo all persons. What are we, as a Government, doing in this field? Our first responsibility as a Government is to provide a medical service for the needy and the indigent. That is exactly what we have done for some years. We provide, as honorable senators well know, a free pensioner medical service, covering both surgery visits and domiciliary visits. In order to make it quite clear that domiciliary visits are available, we pay a travelling allowance in some circumstances. I suggest that that is an adequate and a splendid medical service for the indigent and needy.
We move now from the indigent and needy to the man in the street. The amendment implies that there is no medical service available for the man in the street, or that we do not make an adequate contribution to providing a medical service for the man in the street. For ls. 6d. a week a single man can insure himself and thus have the advantage of benefits adequate to meet most of his medical bills. I am not saying that 90 per cent, of the cost would be met in every case, because I know that it would not, but I do say that the legislation we have placed before the Senate will go a long way towards bridging the gap that has been widening over the years. If some honorable senator opposite tells me that a man cannot find ls. 6d. a week for this purpose, I will remind him that the average wage in Australia to-day is something like £22 per week or better. I suggest that that disposes of the argument that we do nothing to provide an adequate medical service for the people of Australia generally. This Government has been concerned at the ever-widening gap between doctors’ charges and the benefits that patients receive both from the funds and from the Government.
– It has been developing over eleven years.
– It has not been receding, lt has been developing over eleven years, Senator McKenna says. There is a great deal of truth in that, but, on the other hand, I ask you to concede that it would be futile for this or any other government to undertake to bridge the gap between doctors’ charges and the benefits which are available. We have no jurisdiction over doctors’ fees. I repeat that we seek no such jurisdiction. We are a free enterprise Government. We believe that the professions generally are comprised of responsible people who accept their responsibilities to the community. There has been, and there always will be, a very great difference between the fees charged by individual doctors. I am not arguing that a doctor of great knowledge and experience has not the right to put a premium on his services. Neither do I deny the right of the individual to avail himself of those services, but when he does so he knows he must expect to pay a premium. By means of this bill we are going a long way towards bridging the gap between the benefits and the most common charges in this field in Australia to-day, but the Opposition, by this amendment, says: “ No. We will not go along with this.” Where are they going?
Some honorable senator on the other side of the House cynically said, “The twoshilling increase of the payment for a surgery visit is peanuts “. Of course it is, but I suggest to honorable senators opposite that in the general scheme of medical care it is not the £1 ls. or 25s. involved in a visit to a doctor’s surgery that creates hardship for families; it is the cost of a major operation. This is the field to which we have directed our attention.
– What about the chronically ill?
– That is another matter altogether. If you remind me, I will say something about that later on. We were not prepared to lift our scale of benefits until we had from the Australian Medical Association an undertaking that it would stabilize its fees. It has given that undertaking and I have not the slightest doubt that the members of the association, as honest and responsible men, will honour the undertaking.
– What is the term of that undertaking?
– There is no term to it.
– Then it would not be a breach of the undertaking if the Australian Medical Association raised fees in a week’s time.
– Yes, it would. On that issue, let me say that this is an agreement of honour. If the Australian Medical Association - by some mischance or by design - turns its back on this agreement, then the fate of this scheme will be very largely its responsibility. Members of the association know that they have an obligation towards this scheme. They believe that the basic principles of the scheme are ideal for the Australian people and they know that if they endanger those principles or injure the scheme they will have to be held responsible. It is in the field of surgery that we have concentrated our efforts to try to relieve hardship. The Australian
Medical Association has presented to us a schedule, which it has been compiling for some time, of anomalies which have become apparent in the last ten years.
I think it is fair to say that you must have regard to the history of the scheme before you can make an analysis of it. The Australian Medical Association pointed out some anomalies. The Government said that if the association gave an assurance not to increase its fees the Government would adjust the anomalies. I gave one classic example in my second-reading speech when I pointed out that the contribution for one item was to be lifted from £11 5s. to £30. That sort of relief is very necessary. An account for an item of that type would create real hardship in families where people were dependent upon the benefits they receive.
I turn, now, to that portion of the amendment which suggests that the Government should ensure free hospitalization in public wards. Those are the words the Opposition has used. I ask the Opposition very bluntly: Do you mean what you say? Do you mean that you will provide free hospitalization? I take it that you do mean what you say but it may be that there are one or two interpretations which can be placed upon that statement. First I take the literal one - the one which the Opposition invited the people of Australia to embrace on 30th November when it said that it would provide free hospitalization.
– It operates in Queensland now.
– It operates in public wards. I do not think that the Opposition have ever thought this thing through. Does it know that there are 58,840 beds in public wards in Australia? Does it know that there are 1 1 ,770 beds in private hospitals and that the cost of maintenance averages some £5 16s. 2d. per day? If the Opposition says that it is going to provide free hospitalization in public wards, a very simple mathematical calculation will reveal that the cost of providing free beds in public hospitals will amount to £122,627,000 and the cost of providing hospitalization in private hospitals will amount to £24,957,000 making a total of £147,684,000 a year. That is what you mean when you say you will provide free hospitalization.
– In public wards. Why do you introduce private hospital figures?
– I do not think that the Opposition meant by free hospitalization, senators opposite have said that they embrace the Chifley scheme. All those who have spoken in this debate, and those who have spoken on previous occasions, have lauded the Chifley scheme as being the ideal solution to the hospital problem. They have said that it was a free scheme. I take honorable senators back to the Premiers’ Conference of 16th and 17th August, 1949, when the present Leader of the Opposition, Senator McKenna, was the Minister for Health in the Chifley Government. Let me hasten to assure honorable senators opposite that any reference to money payments or particular amounts does not enter into any argument at all because I concede right now that money values have changed very considerably since 1949. The point I make is that in this report I find what the Opposition meant by free hospitalization. In this report are quoted the principles, upon which the Labour Party would found a medical benefits scheme to-day. The occasion was one on which the State Premiers led by Mr. McGirr, the then Labour Premier of New South Wales, were urging the Commonwealth Government to increase its daily contribution towards hospital costs. The present Labour Leader had this to say -
I do not deny that hospital costs have risen and are rising, but in order to get this matter in its right perspective we must consider the basis upon which hospital benefits were introduced. The intention was to give relief to the patient, not to make a contribution to State budgets.
That actually is identical with the philosophy of the present Government to-day. The Leader of the Opposition went on - and this is the point I wish to emphasize -
The Commonwealth does not claim that it has provided free hospital treatment throughout Australia.
I emphasize that the Leader of the Opposition said that the Commonwealth did not claim that it had provided free hospitalization throughout Australia. He went on -
It recognizes that the major part of hospital costs is borne by the States.
In 1949 the Leader of the Opposition said that his government did not claim to provide free hospitalization, but in this amendment the Opposition is chiding the Government for not providing free hospitalization. I go a little further. I want to point out what the Opposition had to say about the type of hospitalization it was providing at that time. I quote from Mr. Chifley to indicate the policy, or the principles, upon which the scheme was founded. He said -
When we first set out on this scheme we asked ourselves, “ How much are the States getting from their public ward patients? “
Mark you, they are the operative words. He continued -
Our idea is to recoup the States to that extent, and thus to allow public ward patients to receive free hospital treatment.
He went on -
I am convinced that the States could not today obtain more than 8s. a bed from their public ward patients. 1 ask honorable senators to forget the 8s., it is the principle about which I am talking. Mr. Chifley continued-
Therefore, the Commonwealth does not feel justified in going beyond 8s. a day, as that amount meets the principle of the Commonwealth making up to the Slates what the patients would have paid.
Finally, as an interesting sidelight I quote Mr. Hollway, the then Premier of Victoria. He said -
Although the Commonwealth may claim that it has provided free hospital treatment, it has done so very largely at the expense of the States. In Melbourne the average cost for in-patients in public hospitals is £38 14s. The Commonwealth’s contribution represents £7 12s.,-
Forget the actual figures and work out the percentage of contribution that was made by the Commonwealth. Finally may I quote no less a person than that great Labour leader, Mr. McGirr, who had this to say during the conference -
This scheme makes the position worse than it was before.
– For whom?
– For the States. Members of the Opposition stand in their places to-day and say: “ You should have a free hospital scheme. It should be based on the principles that prevailed when Mr. Chifley’s scheme was in operation.”
Let me bring the position up to date. The principles the Labour Party enunciated then were that the Government should make a contribution towards the States equivalent to the sum that could be collected from the patient. Let us con sider first the pensioners. The total income of a pensioner to-day is £5 15s. a week. The maximum that he could afford to pay would, therefore, be £5 15s. If the Opposition is to follow its own principles - and I guess it would - that is the utmost that it could pay by way. of a contribution to a hospital for a pensioner. But the present Government provides 36s. a day or £12 12s. a week towards the hospital treatment of pensioners. That is the first point I make. Accepting the principles of the Labour Party and the principles of the Government, there is a vast disparity between the contribution that the Opposition would make if it introduced a scheme and that which the present Government is making under its scheme. I could develop this point further by reminding honorable senators opposite that for 3s. a week a person can insure himself against public ward treatment to the extent of £21 a week. If the principles of the Opposition were adopted what public ward patient to-day could afford to pay £21 a week? What would the Opposition substitute for the voluntary insurance scheme of the Government? There is no comparison between the benefits of the two schemes. The Opposition seeks further, by its amendment, to abolish the 5s. prescription fee. In this connexion honorable senators opposite invariably cite the virtues of the United Kingdom Government scheme. They tell us that under that scheme everything is free. They suggest to us that there is no real deterrent value in the 5s. prescription fee. The Opposition suggests to us that our logic is not sound when we say that the patient has a responsibility to make some contribution towards the cost of his pharmaceutical prescriptions. The Opposition says that we should abolish the 5s. charge, in which case the Commonwealth would be involved in no great cost. May I cite again no less a person than Dr. Stanley Sutton, writing in the British Medical Association Journal of 9th May, 1 964. Referring to the national health scheme in the United Kingdom, he stated -
Another aspect which I have not seen mentioned is the likelihood of all prescription charges being dropped after October of this year. If recent utterances by politicians are to be taken at their face value . . .
The reference probably is to a coming election -
This is most interesting. These are not my figures. They are taken by Dr. Sutton from the Liverpool Executive Council. They show that in 1951, when prescriptions were free, utilization was 7.68 per cent, a head. In 1962 it had fallen by about 31 per cent, to 5.3 per cent. Honorable senators opposite have rather ridiculed the application by the United Kingdom Government of a charge of ls., later increased to 2s., on prescriptions that had been dispensed freely. Honorable senators opposite suggested that this idea was a medium of tax collection. They ridiculed the idea that it had some deterrent value. We, in this responsible position of government, know full well that the 5s. charge is a deterrent. We want to keep the scheme within manageable cost without impairing its efficiency in any way whatsoever.
While I am on the United Kingdom scheme, which so many honorable senators have espoused to-day, saying that it is free and that it provides everything from wigs to spectacles, may I remind the Senate that there is nothing free about it. The taxation burden in the United Kingdom compares most unfavorably with that in Australia. For instance, a single person in the United Kingdom on £800 a year pays £163 in tax. In other words he receives £ 1 6 a week and pays £3 a week in tax. In this country, which so many Opposition senators are so anxious to decry, a single man on £800 a year pays £63 in tax.
– What about a person on £1.000 a year in Australia, which is the equivalent of £800 a year in the United Kingdom?
– I shall find out for the honorable senator if he wants the information, but I have a limited time at my disposal. Under the United Kingdom national health scheme, the single man - and the married man, too, for that matter - pays 2s. 8d. a week, and their employers pay 7id. When honorable senators opposite in public places advocate a free scheme which is on all fours with the
United Kingdom scheme, I invite them to tell the people the whole story, and to say that if the people want a scheme on that scale that is what the cost will bc. I suggest, with great respect, that the Austraiian people are wise enough to know that what the Opposition propounds would cost a lot more than the scheme that they have to-day, and it is questionable whether it would be more effective.
Finally, I want to refer to part (d) of the amendment which relates to the ending of exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers. I hold no brief whatsoever for drug manufacturers, but I suggest that the Opposition has made a very sweeping statement. “ Exploitation “ is a brutal word. I have sought for some confirmation of this allegation in the amendment. I suggest that not one honorable senator opposite has supported this contention with one skerrick of evidence. It was said that I, as Minister, had reduced the cost of drugs by some £2,700,000 in the past twelve months. That is so, but that is not an admission of exploitation, because so many other factors are involved. Manufacturers are becoming more efficient and they have better production methods. It is true that in some cases there is room for reduction. I concede that. We are moving to that end. All that we ask for is that the Australian manufacturer or the Australian druggist indicate to the Government that the charge that he is making for his preparation is comparable with the price on world markets - no more and no less. Be it said to the credit of these people that by negotiation they are meeting us when they can. The end chapter has not been written by a long chalk. To those who, as in the other place, advocate a public inquiry in this field, let me say that the methods we are adopting are proving very effective. Incidentally, they started long before the Opposition began to ask questions in the Parliament. I do not blame Opposition senators for jumping on the band waggon and trying to get a bit of credit. I myself would probably do the same. But they should not run away with the idea that their questions prompted these negotiations. W j have been working on this for some time.
I want to make a quick reference lo the point raised by Senator Anderson in relation to approvals of nursing homes. This is a problem that we face daily. It is not a financial problem. 1 remind the honorable senator that whether the place is a nursing home or a hospital, our contribution to the patient is £1 a day; it does not vary. Let us not be accused of being discriminatory because of the financial implications. Such is not the case. I believe that we have a very real responsibility to maintain a standard of service to the public in these nursing homes. I know that they vary. Some proprietors are dedicated persons, doing their utmost toprovide a service that is comparable with that provided by hospitals, which meets the requirements of persons who may be terminal cases or chronic cases and who need nursing attention. All that I can say to Senator Anderson is that the last word has not been written on this subject. It is exercising our attention at the present time. At this point of time 1 do not believe that we can have a mid-way figure in relation to these approvals, because that automatically would be the maximum and the minimum. I believe that we shall plan some method of distinguishing those persons who are giving the very best service that they can give for their fellow man and are extending themselves to that end. from those who are more interested in making profits than in giving a service. There is no easy solution to the problem. I can assure Senator Anderson that we are facing up to it and that we shall do our utmost to resolve it.
Again I remind those honorable senators who may contemplate supporting this amendment that it would defeat a measure which is designed to bring increased benefits to the Australian people in the meeting of medical costs. I invite honorable senators opposite to think very carefully before opposing our proposals in this field.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Tangney’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 17 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clauses 18 to 21 - by leave - taken together.
– The Opposition believes that it is against clause 18 that the main part of the hostility which this bill has aroused is directed. Clause 18 reads - (I.) After section seventy-three of the Principal Act, the following section is inserted: - “73a. - (1.) The conditions that the Minister may impose under the last preceding section include the following conditions: -
That provision really means that the friendly societies will not be entitled to grant a refund to people who become members after 23rd April. The Australian Labour Party objects to the provision because it differentiates between members of a friendly society. 1 spoke on this matter at some length this afternoon, and I do not intend at this hour to canvass the arguments I then advanced. It is invidious for the Government, which has been described to-day by Government senators as being a free enterprise government that encourages people to be independent, to introduce what is more or less a means test in this section of the legislation. Members of the friendly societies have insured themselves against charges for medicine, but new members are to be deprived of that right.
This afternoon I read an extract from a letter which I received from friendly societies in the Kalgoorlie area. The difficulties referred to were typical of those experienced in outback areas. The friendly societies feel that the only additional benefit which they can offer to their members is that of refunding part of the charge of 5s. for individual prescriptions. They feel that they will suffer unduly if they are no longer permitted to offer that additional benefit. Could not the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) extend some consideration to friendly societies in outback areas in order to avoid the situation that will arise? Of course, in making that suggestion I am really qualifying my own argument about creating a class within a class. Nevertheless, I believe that special consideration should be given to these societies which are so eager to help themselves in this way. Friendly societies in these remote areas face all kinds of difficulties. They believe that their days will be numbered if one of the main benefits that they can offer to their members is taken away by this legislation.
– I refer to proposed section 91 (3.)(c), for which provision is made in clause 20 and which deals with the rights of members of a friendly society and their children. I draw attention to the fact that, previously, children of members of friendly societies could enjoy the provisions of the act up to the age of seventeen years. This bill has the effect of reducing that age to sixteen years. I take the strongest exception to that decision of the Government and I oppose it. I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that I, and all Sou:h Australian senators on this side of the House, have received a whole sheaf of telegrams from the friendly societies and their South Australian council asking that their opposition to this proposal be expressed in the Senate.
I am taking this opportunity to comply with that request. I have at least a dozen telegrams from the South Australian friendly societies expressing utmost opposition to the proposal to reduce the age from seventeen years to sixteen years. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will give some consideration to the views of the people concerned not only in South Australia, but, I believe, throughout Australia. About 280,000’ people are covered by the friendly societies in South Australia and if to that number were added the figures for all other States the total number concerned would be considerable. I hope that the Minister will give sound reasons for taking this action and that he will indicate whether the objections that have been conveyed to us by the friendly societies have also reached him.
– I support the remarks of Senators Tangney and Toohey on this particular matter. It ill behoves the Government to preclude children of seventeen years of age from the benefits of the act and to set the limit at sixteen years. In other legislation which we considered not long ago, child endowment was extended to student children between the ages of sixteen and twenty years. I think some grave injustice is being done to existing members of friendly societies by restricting this benefit to children up to the age of sixteen years. I strongly urge the Government to take cognizance of the existing legislation relating to friendly societies and to the benefit’s that they provide to members. I refer to section 91 (3.) (a) of the principal act. Because such a large section of the population will be affected by this amendment I urge the Minister to consider the requests of Senators Tangney and Toohey.
– I, too, have received a batch of communications from friendly societies in South Australia protesting at the Government’s proposed amendments to the act. Protests have been made against the restriction of friendly society rebates, particularly in respect of children over sixteen years of age. Apparently, for some time, private chemists have agitated against friendly societies who have been taking business away from them. The Minister has spoken of the need for voluntary insurance by people to safeguard themselves against sickness and to enable them to receive pharmaceutical benefits. Surely membership of a friendly society is a form of insurance that people have voluntarily undertaken. If they pay a weekly or annual contribution and are unable to obtain any relief that is not fair and reasonable, lt seems that the Government is acting contrary to its claim that people should take out voluntary insurance. This possibly arises because pressure has been brought to bear by private chemists. We claim that there is no justification for the imposition of a 5s. prescription charge but if there is to be an equality of dispensing services, surely that could be achieved by deleting the prescription fee altogether. J think that every South Australian senator, and possibly every South Australian member in another place, has received telegrams from every lodge in South Australia expressing concern about the proposal to reduce the age limit for rebates from seventeen years to sixteen years. T agree with Senator Toohey that the Minister should give a good explanation of why, since the present provision has been operating so well, it is necessary to reduce the age limit. The South Australian lodges represent many thousands of members - possibly hundreds of thousands.
– They represent 280.000.
– If these lodges represent 280.000 members, they express opposition to the proposals by a considerable number of South Australians. No sufficient reason has been given as to why the benefits should be reduced and why the age limit for rebates should be reduced from seventeen to sixteen years.
– I support my colleagues but wish to address my comments to what I think the Minister will probably say. I am aware, of course, that chemists as an organized body have been making representations to the Minister. I believe he consulted with them in South Australia. Whilst there is surely some complaint by small chemists who are suffering from competition from people who run supermarts, it would seem to me that the disability chemists suffer through lost sales occasioned by the 5s. fee is a problem brought about by the Governments policy on the prescription charge. If there is an argument for assistance to chemists so disabled - and I am aware of at least one in my area - the problem ought to have been met by a review of the need to strike a 5s. charge. I believe that in South Australia there is a better organization of lodges than in any other State. Because of this there is obviously a great public interest in the Government’s policy. These representations have come from two bodies with conflicting interests, and the Government might have thought twice before agreeing to the suggestions it accepted. The disabilities should have been remedied, in my opinion, by striking out completely the practice of charging a 5s. fee. In any case, the Government should have authorized an economic study of the affairs of the chemists who claimed that their interests were being affected. That seems to me to be reasonable. If a few people in an important profession which provides a community service are affected by Government policy, a special case might be made out for consideration. However, the remedy would have been for the Government to review its policy on prescriptions.
– I welcome this opportunity of replying to some points that were made by Senator Tangney. Time would not permit me to reply to her in the secondreading stage, but I listened to her with interest and realized that she spoke with some knowledge of certain isolated areas, particularly Kalgoorlie. Some reference has been made to the business tensions that have existed between the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia and the friendly societies. I want to make it quite plain that this legislation was not designed to resolve that position. Tt was designed to preserve the 5s. deterrent, of which the Opposition has been so critical. I say to the Opposition that we believe this provision for a deterrent is a valuable adjunct to the national health scheme.
When the provision was introduced in I960, following the 1959 legislation, it is quite true that a concession was given to the friendly societies. This concession showed that the Government recognized that the friendly societies had built up a very valuable service to their members over the years. With the passing of time, these organizations have developed their pharmaceutical business, always within the letter of the law - do not have any false ideas about that - and the progress they have made has naturally attracted competitors from similar fields. The real reason for this legislation was an intimation that was brought to the Government’s notice that at least one very large hospital benefits fund intended to enter this field also. I do not intend to develop the issues that would have arisen if it had done so. Honorable senators will understand that this would have set a pattern that would have been followed by all the competitors in this field. We were thus faced with a complete breakdown of the deterrent.
– Would not people have had to insure in order to get the rebate? They would be paying in advance for protection.
– That is fair enough, but we wanted to maintain the 5s. deterrent. For that, reason, we said this was a position we could not allow to develop. The first reaction of the Government was that it should allow rebates in every form. The friendly societies then quite properly stated a case, which had to be considered very carefully. They said, in effect, that for generations they had provided a service to their members, who had paid subscriptions in return for the benefits provided. The friendly societies said that at least the existing benefits to their present members should be maintained. After a good deal of consideration, the Government conceded that the friendly societies had a very good case, and supported it. The Government decided it would retain for the friendly societies the benefits given to their present members.
Some reference has been made to the fact that we have written into the legislation an age limit of sixteen years for dependent children. Let me make this point clear: In all of the discussions I had with the friendly societies - and I had many - the age limit question was never raised.
– They did not know you were going to alter the provision. .
– If the honorable senator will allow me to make my speech I will tell him what happened. The question was never raised. So far as I know, there was no reason for the omission. Other matters were discussed fully and this matter was apparently taken for granted by both sides. For my part, the intention was that the limit should be sixteen years, because that is the age limit imposed on dependent children of people who have pensioner entitlement cards.
It is true that when the bill was drawn up and presented to the Parliament, the friendly societies made representations to me and to the Opposition in no uncertain terms, but their requirements are so diverse that it is almost an impossibility to write them into the legislation. I have a telegram which urges me to include student children up to 24 years of age. I have another which asks for the inclusion of children up to seventeen years. I know of my own knowledge that some organizations at least have a limit of sixteen years. I have another telegram calling for recognition of dependent children as permanent members in their own right. So it goes on. I know that Opposition members have similar telegrams.
Finally, after discussing this matter on several occasions, we settled for sixteen years, because it is virtually impossible to write into the legislation the diverse requirements of the societies and the States. I remind honorable senators that the whole purpose of this clause is to preserve the 5s. deterrent. I suggest that- the Government has gone as far as it can possibly go in preserving the rights of the people concerned. While the societies have never suggested to me on any one occasion that they have embraced this legislation, by and large they consider it gives them a measure of justice.
– I had not intended to join in this discussion because I spoke before, but as I listened to the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) intently, as I usually do, I found that he let one cat out of the bag regarding the rebate. He said that a major hospital benefits fund had intended to introduce a provision for rebates. I cannot see what is wrong with that. It seems to be the wish of the Government thai the people should provide for their own protection by way of insurance. This hospital benefits fund, if the legislation had remained unchanged, would have had to satisfy the Government that it would observe the conditions required by the national health scheme. What would have been wrong with people paying a small sum of money and thus insuring their whole families who might get a number of prescriptions? There would be a lot of clerical work involved, but surely a major hospital fund could give consideration to all the difficulties associated wtih such a set-up.
As one cat has been let out of the bag, how many other cats are contained in the bill? Would there have been any difficulty in the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia establishing a similar set-up and so providing for rebates? The deterrent would still have existed. The people might not have had to pay 5s. for each individual prescription, but at least they would have had to provide weekly, monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or yearly payments in order lo eliminate the 5s. prescription fee. 1 think that the Minister argued speciously on this particular issue. He conceded that the people in the friendly societies had provided by way of insurance payments for the elimination of the 5s. prescription fee and for the establishment of the rebate set-up. If the practice was worth while in 1959, and was permitted to continue to 24th April, 1964, why did the Government permit it to continue? All of a sudden, following pressure from representatives of the pharmaceutical guild, the government says that the practice shall not continue beyond 24th April, 1964. Is there any justifiable reason why the Government should deny a small section of the Australian community that to which it previously said they were entitled?
– I do not want to delay the Senate for very long, but I feel I must join issue with the Minister when he says there is ambiguity in respect of the requirements of the friendly societies. He mentioned that they had asked for a host of things and as a consequence it was not possible to arrive at any definite conclusions as to what they really wanted in regard to the question of agc. I inform the Minister that 1 have received a dozen telegrams. I have tcn of them on my desk at the moment. Of the ten, nine specifically refer to the reduction of the age limit from seventeen to sixteen years. The other telegram refers to objections to the proposed amendment of the National Health Act. While the Minister may feel that perhaps in respect of the telegrams or the representations that have been made to him from various sources there may bc room for misunderstanding, I repeat that there is no misunderstanding on my part and on the part of my colleagues who have received similar telegrams. The telegrams state definitely that the objection is to the reduction of the age from seventeen to sixteen years. I make that point so that there will be no confusion in this matter.
– I remind Senator Dittmer that I let no political cat out of the bag when I spoke of a major hospital fund.
– You did not let it out to me. You let it out to some other honorable senator.
– The honorable senator should contain himself in patience. Apparently he did not listen to my secondreading speech because in it I indicated that there was a major hospital fund which was going to enter this field. I say again that if that situation had developed there would have been a complete breakdown of what we regard as our deterrent. The honorable senator has criticized the deterrent and has rightly reminded me that had we permitted this situation to develop, for a small weekly contribution a person could insure himself to cover the 5s. prescription fee. He said that it is somewhat of a paradox that as a government we encourage self-help and support family insurance schemes, but in this particular instance we appear to do a somersault. I remind him that in our medical fund requirements we have an in-built deterrent. The legislation provides that the patient shall not receive more than 90 per cent, of the charges. That leaves 10 per cent. Of course, it can be argued that in the retention of the 5s. deterrent we are demanding more than 10 per cent., but when I point out that the average cost of a prescription in Australia to-day is of the order of 19s. 2d. or 19s. 3d., I think it will be seen that anything less than a 5s. prescription fee would not be a deterrent, and anything more would be burdensome. For that reason we are determined to maintain the 5s. prescription fee.
Senator Toohey has referred to some telegrams that he has received. I have no knowledge of what the telegrams contained.
– I can show them to you.
– I accept your interpretation without question. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that you have correctly referred to them. I have received telegrams in similar terms from these people. I have received telegrams which make reference to the other points that have been raised. I want to assure you that this decision was not taken lightly. We have set out to do what we can to maintain a measure of justice to all the people concerned in this scheme. Originally the demand was that all of the benefits that are available to members of friendly societies and dispensaries should be retained in their entirety. Now, apparently, it has been modified somewhat. I remind the honorable senator that quite recently I received a delegation on this issue on behalf of the friendly societies, and in the course of discussion they said that an age limit was not acceptable. They demanded that we retain the individual arrangements that the various societies had for their members. That is a situation that we just cannot write into the legislation. Finally, I say that we believe that sixteen years is a fair compromise and will not bring hardship of any consequence upon anybody.
– There is a point in connexion with this matter that, frankly, I do not understand. I would like it cleared up by the Minister. I advert to the question of the seventeen years age limit, which was referred to by Senator Toohey. As I understood him, the implication was that the present National Health Act provides for a limit of seventeen years of age. When we look at clause 20 of the bill before us, which is the clause we are discussing, we find that it pro poses to repeal section 91 of the present act. Section 91 (3.) (a) reads - in the case of a friendly society dispensary which is a friendly society - to the members of that friendly society, and to their respective spouses and children, only;
There is no reference to age at all. The age limit of seventeen years must have operated by virtue of a regulation. Clearly Senator Toohey is suggesting that the friendly societies want the limit of seventeen years retained. I ask how the age limit of seventeen years can be included in the new bill in view of the fact that it is not mentioned in the act.
– Senator Anderson has raised the very point to which I adverted in my initial remarks in the committee stage. I also found some ambiguity over this matter. Section 91 (3.) (a) states that the approval granted to a friendly society dispensary is an approval to supply pharmaceutical benefits at those premises - in the case of a friendly society dispensary which is a friendly society - to the members of that friendly society, and to their respective spouses and children only. . . .
Like Senator Toohey, I was under the impression that this did relate to a person aged seventeen years and under. I remind the Minister for Health again of those student children between the ages of sixteen and 21 who will be attending schools, universities and colleges. Those students place a heavy financial burden on working class parents. The burden borne by members of friendly soceties would be eased greatly if this provision in the existing act were retained. I join with Senator Anderson in wondering whether the act was intended in the first instance to relate to people only seventeen years of age and under. Perhaps it was intended to extend the provision to student children. I ask the Minister to give me the information.
Wednesday, 20 May 1964
– The original act did not set down an age limit at all. Children were defined as dependent children of the parents. I remind honorable senators again that we decided, when formulating this amending bill which brings in new provisions, that the age limit of sixteen years should be inconformity with the dependent children of people with pensioner entitlement cards. An age limit of seventeen years was never set down in the original act. We are not following that. We are merely writing into the act that the limit will be sixteen years. Subsequent discusions that I have had, and information that 1 have received about which I have spoken to-night, indicate that we need to have an age limit, and not a variety of benefits and provisions which we just could not administer.
Question put -
That the clauses stand as printed.
The committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator G. C. McKellar.)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
At the end of clause 21, insert the following new clause: - “21a. Section ninety-nine of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section (1.) the following sub-section: - (1a.) For the purposes of the last preceding sub-section the Governor-General may appoint a committee to inquire into and report upon the prices charged by the manufacturers of drugs and medicinal preparations.’.”.
Mr. Chairman, this is another statement of the matter brought out this afternoon in my second-reading speech on this bill. In view of the lateness of the hour, 1 do not intend to deal with the subject as fully as I would like, as I realize there is a lot of work still to be done. 1 feel the committee should be impressed by the facts and figures presented to it by Senator McClelland. Those facts and figures should be sufficient to prove to us that terrific profits are being made by manufacturers of drugs. Nobody objects to a reasonable profit being made by those who do perform a service to the community or those who carry out the necessary research work, and so on. The main research is done, not so much by the companies as by the individual scientists, and they are among the most poorly paid members of the whole community. Some of the big profits made by the drug trade should be devoted to increasing the salaries of the research scientists engaged in this important work.
I also know that many of the drug houses and more reputable firms do carry out research work and so on. The Opposition has no quarrel with them, and they should receive adequate remuneration for their efforts. Our objection is directed to the terrific profits made by those who do not undertake the actual research and who, in many cases, do not even provide the wherewithal for that work to be done. They simply act as wholesale suppliers of these drugs to the Government or to the public and they are able to make terrific profits, in some cases amounting to 200 per cent. I am asking the committee to accept the reasons which we have given for requesting the Government to agree to the appointment of a committee of inquiry. We are asking for something definite.
– Iri my speech in the second-reading debate I made some remarks along the lines of what is sought by the amendment moved by Senator Tangney. The “ Hansard “ staff now has the document from which I quoted. All [ can say, without reference to the document, is that according to the research that was undertaken, the ordinary dividends paid by these companies range from 12 per cent, in one case to 73.6 per cent, in another.
– What was the document from which you quoted?
– It was a document setting out the profits of the drug companies.
– What was its authenticity?
– Unfortunately, I do not have it with me, but it was taken from a report on 800 major companies in Australia, provided by the “ Australian Financial Review”. It sets out the capital of the companies, the net incomes and net profits. I took eight companies at random, and the highest profit amounted to about 76 per cent. This matter is very important to the average man in the street, who believes - I think with some justification - that in many instances the drug firms are exploiting the Australian community. Therefore I can see nothing wrong with the amendment moved by Senator Tangney. If the drug manufacturers have nothing to hide, they should be prepared to come forward and present their evidence to a committee of inquiry. We should let the Australian people know once and for al! what the facts are. America had to face up to a similar situation not long ago. I believe it was in 1960 that the American Senate set up the Kefauver committee, which found, after taking a considerable volume of evidence, that extraordinary profits were being made by some companies. It found, among other things, that the gross profit on drug operations was no less than 67.9 per cent., and that fully three-quarters of that profit was used either to promote the sale of products or retained as profit. Within the last twelve months, certain drug companies operating in the United States of America have been charged with monopolizing the production and sale of antibiotic drugs there.
I believe that the wants of the Australian people would be satisfied by a committee being set up, evidence being taken and findings being made public as to the real extent and nature of the profits of these companies. I have much pleasure in supporting the amendment.
– There is one very powerful reason why the amendment is not acceptable to the Government, and that is the time factor involved. If it were accepted, the amendment would result in the setting up of a committee of inquiry. My limited experience of such matters leads me to believe that that inquiry would be a timeconsuming operation. I remind honorable senators that under our present policy we can claim some measure of success. In the last financial year, our policy resulted in savings of £2,700,000. That is not an insignificant amount. The last word has not been said on these savings. Negotiations are going on all the time. If we were to abandon our present scheme in favour of the suggested committee of inquiry, the affluxion of time might be very costly for the Government. The Government is determined to have a situation that no one can criticize. We believe in the right of an individual company to make a fair margin of profit. This is a free enterprise government.
– What is a fair margin of profit?
– We could argue all night about that. My idea might not be the same as yours. The yardstick we use in all these negotiations is the price we pay, having regard to the price on the world market. Whether we believe in a 5 per cent, profit or a 20 per cent, profit, t’..at is the yardstick we use. There has been talk about exploitation by the drug houses, but I remind honorable senators that this year one rather famous drug house reported in the press that it had reduced its dividend to 5 per cent. as a result of negotiations that had been taking place between it and the Department of Health, which, of course, was seeking a reduction of prices. I suggest that the present method is giving pretty good results, and that there would be nothing to gain by agreeing to the amendment.
– I intervene only to repudiate the reason given by the Minister for not accepting the amendment. He said there was a grave reason why he would not accept it and 1 immediately thought he was going to claim that what was suggested was unconstitutional, but that was not so. He said the reason was the time factor. The committee would take time to pursue its inquiries, and that might interfere with the negotiations now taking place with the drug houses. I suggest that if he wants to speed up his negotiations with the drug houses, the Minister should accept the amendment. Let him arm himself with power to appoint a committee to inquire into the profits of the drug houses.
– I think I already have that power.
– I would be very interested if the Minister could point it out. I am not aware of it. I do not dispute what he says, but, if he is armed with that power, what is he waiting for? If he has not the power, he should write it into the legislation. Surely that would be the greatest persuasion for the drug houses to agree to his terms. If the Minister has this power, he should indicate where it is. If it is there, we propose that he should use it. If he wants to save time, he should bring to the notice of the drug houses the extent of that power, using the mildest possible terms, and he would find his negotiations accelerated. The Minister’s suggestion that the proposed committee might take time to act shows that he was not aware of his own powers when he put that suggestion forward. Now that he has made the discovery that he has power, I would like it to be given some publicity. I do not think it would be necessary to do anything other than to display the power, and to look serious when he did so. If he instituted one inquiry, then he would not need to have any more. He would get a settlement on his terms.
I am most interested to see what this debate has provoked now that the Minister is prepared to point to where he has the power. If he has the power, why does he not exercise it or at least draw public attention to it?
– I have the power referred to under section 136 of the National Health Act, and . I am well aware of the fact that I have that power. When I read the section to the Senate it will substantiate my remarks and support my argument as far as the time factor is concerned. Section 136 reads as follows: - (1.) In addition to the committees for the establishment of which express provision is made in the preceding provisions of this Act, the Minister may establish such other committees as he thinks fit for the purposes of this Act.
There is not the slightest doubt that I have the power. There is not the slightest doubt that a number of people know that I have the power.
– Would that be a committee with power to inquire and report?
– Yes. The position is wide open. The wording of the section gives me power to appoint a committee for any purposes for which I think fit. To suggest that one is so naive in the administration of his department that one does not know how to negotiate makes me rather want to smile. I suggest that the figures speak for themselves. We have embarked on a policy of negotiation which has been successful.
I do not believe in wielding the big stick unless I have to. Standing over people and demanding that they do this or that, and telling them that if they do not do it they are in for what we called the “ high jump “ when we were kiddies, does not suit my book at all. I would rather people accept their responsibilities from a national point of view and make some contribution to preserve the principles of a scheme that is so much in line with our philosophies.
– I rise to support the amendment because the only reason against it advanced by the Minister has been shown to be baseless. He said that the acceptance of this amendment would in some way delay what the Government intends to do. He suggested as a secondary reason that there is already power in the act to set up a committee. He referred to section 136 which is in general terms, whereas under the amendment a committee may be set up to inquire into and report upon a particular matter. Section 136 provides a simple, general power to establish such other committees as the Minister thinks fit for the purposes of the act.
– What are the other committees that have been mentioned?
– That is apart from any other committees that may be mentioned in the act. Section1 36 (1.) provides -
In addition to the committees for the establishment of which express provision is made in the preceding provisions of this Act, the Minister may establish such other committees as he thinks fit for the purposes of this act.
It is important to observe that the bill seeks to amend the act permanently and that Senator Tangney has moved an amendment which would be of a permanent nature. Her amendment should not be met by the agreement that for some temporary reason there may be some delay in performing what the Government intends to do. We are considering permanent legislation.
In any event, what the Minister is saying is completely without foundation because the power which is sought to be given is a discretionary one. It does not have to be exercised. If it is exercised it may be exercised from time to time and it may be exercised wholly or partially. It may be in relation to the price charged by the manufacturer of some drugs or medicinal preparation and it need not involve any delay whatever. There is nothing in this amendment which would in any way circumscribe the power of the Minister. It is not suggested that he would be prevented in any way from exercising his other powers under the act until the committee made a report. It would seem that there is really no foundation for this Minister’s opposition to the amendment. If he has advanced all that can be advanced in opposition to it then it seems to me that the amendment should be accepted.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Tangney’s amendment) be inserted.
The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 4
Question resolved in the negative.
Remainder of the bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wade) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 12.32 a.m. to 1.7 a.m.
Debate resumed from 14th May (vide page 1 166), on motion by Senator Sir William Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– If I were to say what 1 thought about being called upon to debate a bill of this nature at this hour of the morning, after a day that commenced at about 9 a.m., I should be unparliamentary, probably unprintable and certainly reflecting on a resolution of the Senate. In the circumstances, I propose to keep my thoughts to myself. Coming to the bill, since I must, I move -
At end of motion add: - “ but the Senate is of opinion that the Government should: - (a) take the lead in the search for oil in Australian territories; (b) seek the co-operation of the governments of the States in a joint governmental search for oil; (c) greatly expand the activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources in mapping, geological and geophysical surveys and in drilling for oil; develop research in (he production of oil from coal and shale; and (d) implement a planned development of the nation’s fuel resources.”.
In recounting the history of aid for oil search in this country, I go back to the time when this Government took office. There was then a provision in the Income Tax Act that allowed persons who contributed to the share capital of mining companies, including those which were mining or prospecting for oil, a deduction of onethird of the amounts that they paid. As far as I recall, that was the only concession that had been made by the National Parliament. Then we came, after very much pressure on the part of the Opposition, in which I played quite a prominent part, to the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act 1957, which was amended in a few particulars in the following year, 1958. That authorized the payment by the Government of onehalf of the cost of an approved drilling operation for the purpose of obtaining stratigraphic information in connexion with the search for petroleum in Australia. Stratigraphic drilling, of course, is offstructure drilling, directed not to the finding of oil itself, but to the gaining of knowledge of the geological structure of the country so that some further steps may be taken in the search for oil with complete knowledge of the layers of the earth that intervene. The acts of those days provided that any approved operation commenced after 3rd September, 1957, and completed not later than June, 1961, was eligible for the subsidy. We supported those bills. Whilst we further pressed the Government to develop a crash programme in the search for oil, we realized that that legislation was a start, insignificant though it was, and costing the country only £500,000 per annum. That was the amount provided for the purposes of the legislation.
Then we came to the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act of 4th November, 1959, which was amended in 1961. The 1959 act greatly widened the scope of oil search operations eligible for subsidy. Those who are interested will find particulars of operations that were eligible for subsidy in section 9 of the 1959 act. That list was further extended by the amending 1961 act. These acts extended the subsidy to operations commenced on or after 1st May, 1959, and completed by a specified date, not later than 30th June, 1965. So in relation to operations already commenced the act will expire on 30th June, lt will remain in effect until 30th June, 1965, in respect of operations commenced prior to 30th June and not completed by that date. The financial year ahead is merely a spillover period for the purposes of that legislation.
The legislation provided for a subsidy of one-half of the cost of an approved operation, except that an off-structure drilling operation attracted a subsidy of up to twothirds of the cost, and a bore hole survey of a water bore could attract a subsidy equal to the whole of the cost. The legislation provided for a refund of subsidy to the Government where certain subsidized operations led to the discovery of petroleum, but not for any participation by the Government in the rewards that would flow from any discovery of oil. It provided merely for a refund of subsidy in respect of the testing procedures.
– If oil were found, they would make a refund to the Government?
– Yes. The agreement which the Minister was authorized to enter into in relation to the subsidy could provide, in the event of oil being yielded, for a refund of the subsidy in relation to particular drilling operations only.
– Did you mention that earlier?
– 1 did. I am merely putting it in different terms. The bills also provided as an alternative basis for the payment of subsidy the footage drilled instead of the cost of a particular operation. Opposition members opposed both the 1959 and the 1961 measures. Wc staled our viewpoint in an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bills which is very similar to the motion I have just proposed. 1 recall that in 1959 1 summed up what I then said in these terms -
I would sum up the position by saying that there has been a betrayal of the vital interests of Australia in a matter that could involve our very existence as a nation, lt demands a substantially greater degree of Government activity. We of the Opposition shall take the step of voting against this hill as a protest against the Government’s inaction and as an instruction, so far as an Opposition can give an instruction, to make a more competent and vigorous approach to oil discovery in Australia.
That was the basis of the opposition that we expressed when voting on the 1959 and 1961 bills. 1 now come to the bill before us. It proposes to extend the operation of the existing act from 30th June, 1965, to 30th June, 1968. The Government has announced its intention to continue the subsidy until it believes that the number and size of oil discoveries give adequate incentive. The second point in the legislation is that the areas to which the subsidy can apply in relation to approved operations are to be extended to include the sea-bed and the sub-soil of the continental shelf of Australia and its territories. They become areas which will attract the oil search subsidy. The bill seeks to make this provision retrospective to 4th November, 1959, the date upon which the 1959 act came into operation. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for National Development (Senator Sir William Spooner) did not indicate the need for making this particular provision retrospective, but upon application being made to him he was good enough to arrange for the secretary of his department to supply me with information about what had gone on in the interim and about what we are now asked to validate. Approximately 22 projects in off-shore operations were approved for subsidy in the years from 1960 lo 1964. They involved a total subsidy of £544.3 1 1 . The Opposition offers no objection to this particular provision.
I say quite frankly that as an Australian I am pleased to see Australia asserting a claim to jurisdiction over the continental shelf. We realize that the first step towards ultimately establishing a right is to assert a claim. We can continue to assert the claim, as we did in relation to fisheries in extra-territorial waters. It may not be recognized in the international sphere as being a firmly based claim, but it is one which is growing in popularity with the nations. Some day a code in relation to continental shelves will be worked out. lt would be unrealistic to think that the many sedimentary basins in Australia end very neatly at the coast-line, lt is quite certain that some of them spill over into the continental shelf.
– Has not America made claims to the continental shelf?
– Yes. Very many nations make such a claim, but very few recognize the claims unless they are made by themselves. It is not yet a well established right in the international sphere.
– Has not America’s claim been recognized?
– No. I think it is quite true to say that the nations generally have not accepted this as a principle, but all those who have continental shelves are disposed to assert their right.
– The States have their rights to the continental shelf.
– As Senator O’Byrne reminds me, the States, too, have a claim to portion of the continental shelf.
– Up to three miles.
– Yes, they can claim up to a distance of three miles within territorial waters. For what it is worth. my recollection is that the Constitution purports to confer upon the Commonwealth power over extra-territorial waters.
– Only in relation to fisheries.
– That is correct. I thank the honorable senator. The third thing which the bill seeks to do is to exclude from the payment of subsidy two classes of rather little used operations. The first covers bore hole surveys, which were included when it was thought that water bores might yield geological information which would be of value in the search for oil. As the Minister indicated in his second-reading speech, the oil exploration companies have shown no interest in this work, and it is for that reason that the provision of subsidy has been discontinued. The other class of operation is detailed structure drilling. The explanation given by the Minister for excluding that operation from the payment of subsidy is that there have been very few applications for subsidy for that type of work. He said -
It is generally a low-cost operation and, where necessary, can be undertaken by any interested exploration company at its own expense. The bill deletes detailed structure drilling from the operations for which subsidy is payable.
We raise no objection to that.
The fourth thing which the bill seeks to do is to enable rates of subsidy to be determined by regulation but so as not to exceed the rate fixed by the bill, namely, one-half of the cost of an approved operation. From my reading of the bill and a comparison of it with the 1959 act as amended by the 1961 act, it seems to me that the limit of subsidy for any operation will be one-half of the cost. That seems to me to exclude stratigraphic drilling from the high place previously held - namely, the payment of a subsidy equal to two-thirds of the cost. I should like the Minister to tell me in due course whether I have correctly instructed myself on that point. The reason for my doubt is the Minister’s own statement in his second-reading speech when he referred to a higher level of subsidy for off-structure drilling. He said -
The bill amends the definitions to combine the stratigraphic drilling and off-structure drilling of the present act into the one category of stratigraphic drilling, which will be subsidized at relatively higher rates than test drilling, as off-structure drilling has been.
I should like the Minister to tell me whether one-half of the cost is the limit for all types of operation. When he referred to the payment of higher rates for stratigraphic drilling than for other types of drilling, did he intend that stratigraphic drilling should take top place and that the subsidy for the others would come down to less than one-half of the cost? It would seem that that would be so.
– In or on certain areas.
– But not any area.
– No, I do not think so.
– It would seem to apply to any area that is approved. I take it that the only provision now relating to rate of subsidy is that it shall not exceed one-half of the cost wherever it takes place and whatever the type of the operation. That is as I read the amendment before us. I might refer to the clause in question - clause 4 - which reads as follows: -
Section nine of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (1.)
Section 9 (I.) determined the rates of subsidy that were payable. They are completely repealed by this bill and a new subsection (1.) is inserted as follows: -
Subject to this section, an agreement shall provide that the subsidy in respect of the approved operation to which the agreement applies shall be an amount equal to such part (not exceeding onehalf) of the costs incurred by the person with whom the agreement is made in and in connexion with the approved operation as is prescribed in relation to a prescribed class of operations in which the approved operation is included.
If there is any higher rate of subsidy than one-half in this bill then I have not discovered it and I shall be interested to know what the Minister has to say about this in due course. The final provision in the bill is to authorize the Minister to include in a subsidy agreement a provision authorizing him to vary upwards or downwards the rate of subsidy. This is in lieu of the existing power only to reduce the subsidy under section 10(b). The Minister explained this provision in the speech he circulated and I draw attention to it to justify my lack of opposition to it. He said -
In agreements that have been made to date, and in the act, there is no provision for an upward revision of the approved limiting amount of subsidy. This limit is based on a cost estimate which in itself may be based on average conditions whereas, in unknown areas, there is no standard of reference. The bill, therefore, provides that in these circumstances unforeseeable costs reasonably incurred may be subsidized.
I have no quarrel with that provision. 1 mention that paragraph as a justification for the absence of any opposition or criticism from this side. Up to the 30th June - a period of about seven-and-one-third years - a total amount of about £13,500,000 has been paid. On page 2 of the “ Status of the Search for Petroleum “ paper which was circulated, we see that in 1963 the total was £10,800,000. lt is certain that about £2,000,000 more would have been spent in this year, ft is rather interesting to see the developing expenditure, first, by the oil companies. In 1959 they spent £5,800,000 and in 1963 they claimed to have spent £16,000,000. The total expenditure by the oil companies during that five-year period was £47,000,000. The subsidy expenditure in 1959 was £600,000, but it increased to £5,000,000 in 1963. The total over the five-year period was £10,800,000. The Commonwealth and State Governments between them have contributed to oil search over the period an amount of £7,400,000, ranging from £700,000 in 1959 to £2,500,000 in 1963. The total of all activity in oil search ranged from £7,100.000 in 1959 to £23,500,000 in 1963. The total expenditure over the five years was £65,200,000. This is not an extraordinary amount when one considers the enormous reward to be gained and the enormous importance of oil, not merely to our economy and our balance of payments position b”it to our very existence as a nation. It is not a startling figure, but I can see that there has been a steady and quite substantial increase in expenditure year by year. We must consider the results. Fortunately one commercial field is in actual production - the field at Moonie. Several other oil discoveries have been made. They were described by the Minister in his second-reading speech or in the document he annexed to it. There have been discoveries of natural gas.
One can be delighted that oil has been discovered. The actual discovery of oil of high grade exploded the long-held theory that the Australian structures were of such age and vintage that it was inconceivable that oil could be found in them. It is a colossal job to undertake oil search over the sedimentary basins of Australia which comprise almost 1,500,000 square mile. A great many holes would need to be sunk before one could say that there was not oil underneath a great portion of that area. 1 regret that the discoveries have not been more substantial. However, they are encouraging and 1 think that oil search has now reached a stage where those interested would not lack momentum in carrying on, whether with or without subsidy. I do not think that even the discontinuance of subsidy would affect the industry. The operators who anticipated a continuance of subsidy now have to have their expectations realized or there might be a temporary hiatus because their predetermined planning might have to bc completely recast. It may be that it would involve a further approach to the share market.
– What do you mean by that?
– Without subsidy the companies in the field - and I am thinking particularly of the Australian companies - might have to make a fresh approach to the market for capital. Having regard to what I. have seen of the state of oil shares at the moment, I should not think that they would look forward to that with much anticipatory pleasure because, from my casual look, oil shares seem to be, if not depressed, at least static.
– What encouragement docs the Government give to people who want (o subscribe to oil-drilling companies?
– I have already described it.
– 1 do not think you have.
– I have described it in relation to the subsidy. 1 have only to say, in addition, that the income tax concessions which were granted in, I think, 1960 or 1961, added to the other concessions that had operated since about 1950. There were very considerable, as well as very complicated taxation concessions that were given in either 1960 or 1961. Both these elements are decided inducements.
– Thank you.
– Why should the honorable senator think I would not be willing to acknowledge that? There is no question about it. 1 return to the point I made before which is that I do not think any oil exploration company would relish the prospect of going on the market for large additional sums of capital at the moment. I repeat that statement in case the honorable senator thinks he has shaken my belief in its accuracy, and for no other reason.
– Would you suggest that the Government could give any other encouragement? If so, what is the encouragement?
– As the Opposition has indicated in its amendment, we would like to see the Government really get into oil search itself in the Territories, where it cannot claim a lack of complete constitutional power and where it is not cluttered by any State governments. In the Territories, its power is absolute and complete, and prospects there are as bright as they are anywhere else in Australia. In Papua and east New Guinea and in the Northern Territory there is a wide scope for the Commonwealth to lead in this development.
Wilh a substance as vital lo Australia as oil, it should be the prime duty of the Government to use its utmost endeavours. I think it is proper for the Government to see that Australian oil is not exploited by overseas companies, for their own advantage, in all the processes associated with it. The Government should see that the people of Australia themselves - the whole 1 1 ,000,000 of them - have an interest in this discovery themselves. That is the basic thought that underlies the Opposition’s approach. We believe this should have been done from the beginning. The activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources should have been expanded.
I recognize that the bait of a subsidy has brought tremendous know-how to Australia. There is no question about that. We have reached the stage when the know-how is here. We have many Australian companies with the necessary know-how. There are teams of all types - quite expert teams - in Australia to-day, ready to undertake the various kinds of services required, and those that we lack could be readily attracted. There was no difficulty about getting such teams in the past. When I last spoke on this subject we had seismic crews lying idle around Australia, looking for work and opportunities. The burden of my lament was that not enough work had been discovered to SOO them on to areas that showed some promise. I have no doubt at all that in the present stage of oil development, we could attract all the know-how and brains we want. Certainly we would have to pay for them, but this situation is so full of significance to Australia that the Opposition would support any crash programme, intelligently and competently directed technically, that would exhaust the potential areas as soon as possible. At present we have a reserve of our own that will barely cope with the annual increase in the demand for oil. There is no oil we can rely on apart from that. Turning to our balance of payments, we were faced with imports valued at £114,800,000 in the year 1962-63, when we were able to export only £24,300,000 worth.
– Does that take into consideration the cost of freight?
– I am taking the figures form the “ Overseas Trade Bulletin No. 60 “ of the Commonwealth Statistician. I do not think they include freight, but I do not know. Considering the size of the figures, I would be inclined to say that they do not include freight.
– Freight might account for a very large proportion.
– Would the honorable senator allow me to make my speech?
– I am only trying to help the Leader of the Opposition.
– I realize that, but I do not need any help.
– Can you tell me what was the cost of freight?
– If the honorable senator will close the large aperture in his face and open the two small ones at the sides of his head, we will get along better. The type of activity we want to see increased on the part of the Commonwealth Government is that which I have described. The next activity the Opposition wants to see increased is co-operation between the Commonwealth and State Governments in a joint governmental search for oil. If the Commonwealth gave the proper lead in this matter at the right time we could build an asset - that is, if oil is here, lt behoves us to ascertain that as soon as possible. If that were done, we could build an asset that would have a colossal influence upon both Commonwealth and State budgets, lt is a crime against the nation to allow a vital world commodity like oil - if it is in Australia - to pass away from the control of the people of Australia.
– Would the honorable senator say this of gold and steel?
– I am talking at the moment of oil. Oil is infinitely more important than gold. 1 do not decry the importance of steel but I say there is no commodity more important than oil. The very existence of the nation in a crisis would depend upon oil. Without it. we would be completely immobilized and defenceless and could be taken almost without a shot being fired.
– Steel is needed also in those circumstances.
– I realize the importance of steel, but our armed forces would lose all mobility without oil. Apart from what we have at Moonie and some small supplies from Gippsland, every gallon has to come in crude or refined form over the sealanes. and we know how vulnerable 1hey are with the new type of submarine that has been developed. So the lack of indigenous oil is a threat constantly poised al the very heart of Australia, and it is in that light that we of the Opposition look at this matter. The other facts - the balance of payments and so on - are relatively least important.
So we describe quite plainly in our amendment the type of activity we think the Government should be undertaking. Frankly, we deplore the way the Government has vacated the oil field in favour of overseas companies. We deplore its departure from the field of refining through the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. It might have been handy if the Government had preserved that interest in the recent negotiations between the oil companies and the proprietors of the Moonie oil field, where the haggling has gone on over the sale of the production of that deposit.
I say on behalf of the Opposition that if the various refineries in Australia arc not prepared to see it as their national responsibility to absorb and refine every gallon that comes out of the ground in Australia as a number one priority, this Government will have the support of the Opposition in taking the most drastic steps to ensure that that be done at a fair price. The Government could control that position quite easily wilh its power to impose customs duties and that sort of thing. It is completely within the power of the Commonwealth Government to ensure that every gallon of oil found in Australia is refined here. I can promise the support of the Opposition in any steps the Government takes to ensure that every drop of indigenous oil is accepted by the refineries.
There is the other question, which was conceded by (he Minister for National Development in this place last Thursday, when he indicated that for a long time he had been asking the various oil refineries to produce more refined spirit and refined products and less residual oils which are competing, he admitted, unfairly with coal. That is a position that should not have been permitted to continue for such a long time. It should have been resolved very smartly. 1 am happy that in the light of what the Minister said the other day we now know that he appreciates the position. He acknowledges the unfair competition that residual oils are providing for coal, and he has told us that he is making recommendations to Cabinet but that he cannot, of course, forecast what the result of his approach will be. 1 wish him success in his approach. I hope he will be able to tell us that the position which he has been trying to rectify for a long time will not be permitted to continue any further.
I come towards the end of my remarks by making a quick reference to coal, to which my mind has been directed by the Minister’s answer to a question last Thursday. Coal, of course, is one of our great natural resources, lt is one that provides a great deal of employment. The coal industry during the last decade or two, has improved productivity and lias gone into the export trade. It has improved by and large in every way and has lowered its costs. Coal is the type of resource that we cannot afford to neglect. It ought to he developed. The Government recognized this more than two years ago when it appointed the Coal Utilization Research Advisory Committee. 1 am shocked lo find that it made its report to the Government in March, 1962. The report did not come before the Senate until the dying days of that year - I think it was on 7th December, 1962 - nine months after the report was submitted.
In the course of that report the committee made sundry recommendations, lt recommended the setting up of a body to determine research and also the setting up of national laboratories. Not a word was heard of those recommendations during the whole of 1963. The item remained upon the business-paper of the Senate. It was never listed for debate. 1 recall a number ot senators from New South Wales, particularly Senator Murphy, asking questions about what was being done to implement the recommendations of the advisory committee, the Government having already announced that it had accepted the two main recommendations, lt was only towards (he end of 1963, on the eve of an election, and with prompting from this side of the chamber, that the Government sent lbc Secretary of the Department of National Development to interview the various State governments. It was only in April, 1964, more than two years after the original recommendations were made, the Minister in the meantime having announced that the Government would first consult the Premiers, that a conference with the Premiers was held. There was a delay of two years in doing no more than getting the Premiers together to consider the adoption of the recommendations that were accepted by the Minister and the Government in a statement made in this place in December, 1962, and only now beginning to be implemented.
Coal is a vital commodity. As the report indicated back in March, 1962, it may be a very long time before we will reach the stage of extracting oil from coal, having regard to costs and other factors involved. The committee found that it was possible to reduce coal to its essential gases; that there were many by-product’s that could be won from it; and that there were many worthwhile avenues of research. There is the reserve material for this country in the event of a crisis. We at least have coal. We have not, as yet, sufficient quantities of oil.
– What about shale oil at Glen Davis? You could give us a run-down on that for an hour or so.
– I could, but I will not. I content myself with the comment that it was a disgrace for the Government to close down Glen Davis, which was a very good pilot testing place. It was a part of the policy to hand over such undertakings to private enterprise. Petrol was being won from shale, certainly at the high cost of 6s. a gallon, but it was worth while perservering with it, having regard to the total dependence of this country at that time upon imported oil. I say it was a disgrace that Glen Davis was closed, lt certainly was a betrayal of the interests of this country when the Government did not accept the offer of the Kwinana people to combine with Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and to give the Government a half interest in the undertaking in Western Australia. It would have been very useful for the Government to have gained a little knowhow and understanding of how the oil industry works.
Our view is that there ought to be a national fuel policy. We have put” that argument forward many times. It was the subject of a special debate in another place quite recently. There is no plan lo co-ordinate the thermal and the hydroelectric power, to consider the uses of coal, water and nuclear power, and to coordinate their uses to ensure that the raw materials upon which we are dependent are co-ordinated. We say that there should be a complete plan for the co-ordinated use of fuel. They are the reasons, amongst others, why, at this early hour of the morning, we have moved the amendment.
– I am bound to make the confession that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), who has been complaining about moving an amendment in the early hours of the morning, seemed to me like a fourminute miler, so far as quality, capacity and stamina were concerned.
– Running on anger.
– I thought that might have been the case. I could not follow the meanderings of the Leader of the Opposition all the way, nor do 1 intend to pursue them in relation to the motion that he have moved. But I wish to make a couple of comments because I was impressed with one phrase which the honorable senator mentioned from time to time. It was that we should have a crash programme. If there is anything that disturbs me it is when people start to talk about crash programmes. Crash programmes seem to me to end as they are described - they crash. If there is anything in Australia that requires the most careful and calculated movement in relation to exploration, it is the search for oil. I feel that the Government should be congratulated on the methods which it has adopted in aiding the search for oil in Australia. In addition, I consider that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir William Spooner) should be congratulated personally on the care with which he has controlled the whole programme of oil search in this country. The Minister’s second-reading speech makes it quite clear how successful this programme has been. It is true, as Senator McKenna mentions, that we have discovered only one oilfield. But the essence of this matter is that we have to pursue the discovery of further oilfields by the use of greatly expanded activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources in mapping, geological and geophysical surveys and in drilling for oil - the very expression that is used by Senator McKenna in his amendment. You cannot proceed with the drilling for oil any faster than you can map the areas in which drilling is to take place.
The search for oil in Australia has developed real momentum since Senator Sir William Spooner, as Minister for National Development, brought out the French experts to ascertain what was really the basic problem in Australia. It was after the submission of the recommendations of those experts that, I think, substantially the first oilfield here was brought in. I do not think we can proceed any faster than according to the best professional advice that can be obtained from people who are, I suppose, the most experienced oil searchers in the world.
There are a couple of other points mentioned by Senator McKenna to which I think some attention should be given. I join issue with him in relation to his regret that the Commonwealth disposed of its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries
Ltd. That matter was dealt with in the Senate ten or twelve years ago. I have a clear recollection of this, because when we disposed of our assets in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Ltd. to British Petroleum we were disposing of a minor interest in a small distillery in Altona, Victoria, in order to avoid the problem of having to invest, governmentally, about £50,000,000 in order to take up a share in the activities of the company which it was forecasting in Australia. At that time we did not have nearly enough money to spare to invest in operations of that kind. There are other operations in which the Government should invest rather than put money into shows of that nature.
I also join issue with Senator McKenna over his references to refining. It is assumed quite glibly that refining is just a matter of pushing in crude oil at one end and taking the fractions out at the other end of the refinery. The whole business is a most carefully calculated scientific operation in which particular oils have to be used to achieve particular fractions.
– And it is expensive, too.
– It is expensive. I understand that one of the problems over oil from Moonie is the high percentage of arsenic in it. This oil cannot be put into stream containing oils from other sources.
This is one of the problems which will have to be overcome when refining commences in the Brisbane area.
After this quick canter over the remarks made by Senator McKenna, I wish to make some comments on the amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill. The second proposal in the amendment says that the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should -
Seek the co-operation of the governments of the States in a joint governmental search for oil.
At this stage I feel the Senate must become interested in a matter which honorable senators will see in the bill. Clause 3 reads, in part. - (2.) Section three of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following subsection: - “ (2.) In this Act, unless the contrary intention appears, a reference to Australia shall be read as including a reference to the sea-bed and subsoil of the continental shelf contiguous to any part of the coasts of Australia and of the continental shelf contiguous to any part of the coasts of a Territory to which this Act extends.”
It seems to me that this is a new doctrine which is enunciated in this bill. I make my reasons clear for this statement. Senator McKenna mentioned that he was grateful that the Commonwealth Government, it seemed, by intent, retained its jurisdiction over the edge of the continental shelf. I introduced the subject of the continental shelf on an occasion in this chamber twelve years ago. I prophesied then that this matter would involve Australia in endless trouble over the years. Here we have an instance of the fulfilment of this prophecy. lt is well known to honorable senators that the proclamation over the edge of the continental shelf is one that has been used by a great number of countries. As mentioned by Senator McKenna, Pakistan is one. Chile and Peru have done so. The Indonesians make proclamations that they have jurisdiction over a great number of areas which have nothing to do with continental shelves at all. The Argentine proclaims jurisdiction over an area 300 miles out into the Atlantic. The Peruvians claim jurisdiction over an area 200 miles out into the Pacific. J think the United States of America, which was mentioned by Senator McKenna, proclaims that it has jurisdiction over the continental shelf by what is known as the Truman Proclamation of 1946. But the Americans were careful to . add that they only proclaimed jurisdiction over the continental shelf and opened it lo any peoples who wished to enter into the area. The proviso was subject to the conservancy laws of the United States. While I am speaking about the United States, I intend to relate it to this provision which I have read to the Senate, namely, that the Commonwealth Government, has enunciated a pre-emptive doctrine. It seems to me all-important, and not only to the Commonwealth. It is assuming a power and is assuming a definition which it has never done before. I think the Commonwealth extends its jurisdiction in the sea-bed and the subsoil of the continental shelf contiguous to any parts of the coast of Australia. But more importantly, it seems to me that it is assuming a power over the marginal areas of the sea shore - in other words, what have been regarded in the past as territorial areas belonging to and owned by the sovereign States.
The concept has always been to insist that the Commonwealth’s territorial jurisdiction begins at the end of the States’ territorial sovereignty. It seems to be embedded in proposed section 3 (2.) of the act that the Commonwealth assumes jurisdiction from the edge of the low water mark to the continental shelf. To me, it seems to be a pre-emptive doctrine to dispossess the States of what they always assumed to be theirs - at least the territorial waters 3 miles from the coast, or, as I understand it, in accordance with the judgment of the International Court, from headland to headland. Speaking from memory, I think the State of Victoria some years ago, by proclamation or claim published in the Government “ Gazette “, claimed in relation to the Otway oil basin the land from Cape Northumberland to Cape Otway or Cape Schanck, which took it far out into the western approaches of Bass Strait.
I was interested enough to go to the Library and take from the shelves the United States reports of the Supreme Court, and I turned up the judgment given in relation to this matter against the State of California. The case was argued on 13th March and 14th March, 1947, and was decided on the 23rd June of that year. I wish to read from this judgment for the information of the Senate because it seems to me that the Commonwealth is now basing some of its new doctrine on the judgment of this court. Honorable senators will recollect that the State of California claimed jurisdiction over territorial waters for a distance of 3 miles. The judgment of the Supreme Court said this -
Congress has neither explicitly nor by implication stripped the Attorney-General of the power to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court in this Federal-State controversy, pursuant to his broad authority … to protect the Government’s interests through the courts. California is not the owner of the three-mile marginal belt along its coast: and the Federal Government rather than the State has paramount rights in and power over that belt, an incident to which is full dominion over the resources of the soil under that water area, including oil.
There is no substantial support in history for the view that the thirteen original colonics separately acquired ownership of the three-mile belt beyond the low-water mark or the soil under it, even if they did acquire elements of the sovereignty of the English Crown by their revolution against it.
That seems to be, perhaps, the basis of what I conceive to be the Commonwealth’s pre-emptive doctrine in relation to the problem of where its jurisdiction lies in relation to oil which may be beneath the sea bed. The caveat - that is what it amounts to - entered by the Commonwealth Government by means of this bill seems to me immediately to establish a situation of uncertainty among those who wish to venture capital on .boring for oil under the sea bed. I would be grateful if the Minister would enlarge on this aspect when the bill is in committee. I believe a clear decision and a clear announcement should be made in order to avoid any misunderstanding among those who are at present applicants to the States for the right to bore for oil under the sea bed. They should be assured that there is no cloud over the titles they obtain from the States. It seems to me that there must be a concurrent issue of licences or a concurrent statement by both parties claiming jurisdiction in this matter to those who wish to invest capital in the search for oil on the continental shelf. It is early in the morning and honorable senators are weary, so I do not intend to pursue this matter further, except to give this warning: This new pre-emptive doctrine as to the ownership of the sea bed to the edge of the continental shelf involves an immense difficulty, and I imagine that the Commonwealth will have its authority tested in the courts in time to come. I cannot imagine - as the ex -Chief Justice mentioned in another instance - that we can legislate ourselves into powers that we do not possess.
– The bill before the Senate is to continue the payment of subsidy on a reduced number of operations connected with the search for oil. The amendment moved by Senator McKenna to the motion for the second reading of the bill provides, in paragraph (a), that the Government should take the lead in the search for oil in Australia and its Territories. It is interesting to note that the act provides now that where a subsidy is payable it shall be equal to one-half the cost. That is mandatory, but the bill will amend that to provide that the subsidy shall not exceed one-half the cost. That means that the payment will be at the discretion of the Minister for National Development (Senator Sir William Spooner) - the subsidy may be whatever he determines, provided it is not more than half of the cost. I do not think, in view of the way in which the Minister has operated in the past, that the subsidy will be reduced, but there is no guarantee to the oil search companies that there will not be a reduction in the subsidy paid. There has been quite a lot of talk about the assistance given by the Government to the oil search industry. If we examine the figures, we find that assistance given to the industry by the Government by way of subsidy amounts to approximately 14 per cent, of the cost. Approximately £100,000,000 has been spent on oil search in Australia and the Government’s contribution has been in the vicinity of £14,000,000. The figure is actually a little less than that, but that is near enough.
– Are you taking that from the beginning of oil search in Australia?
– I am taking it from the figures provided to me aud from the answers by the Minister to questions, as they appear in “ Hansard “ over the past year. The Government’s share in oil search in this way is small enough at the present time, and I must emphasize again that it is within the discretion of the Minister to reduce it further. We on this side of the chamber are of the opinion that, instead of having a discretion to reduce assistance to the oil search industry, the Government should become more active in the search for oil.
Another matter we want to examine is that of the areas held by the various oil search companies. They are very large. In Western Australia, for instance, practically the whole of that State’s sedimentary basins are held by one company. In all this large area it has only two oil rigs operating, one in the north and one down in the Perth basin.
– Could you give us some indication of the cost of oil search - the amount of money spent on oil search in Western Australia?
– I am not going into the costs. I think they are set out sufficiently. A sum of £23,000,000 was spent on oil search in Australia last year. It is true that quite recently what is known as the “ farmout “ policy has been operating, and Wapet has farmed out two small areas in Western Australia. Nevertheless, the areas held by the company are, in my opinion, too large for it to be able properly to search for oil over the whole of them. In his secondreading speech the Minister said that the sedimentary basins of Australia and PapuaNew Guinea totalled 1,460,000 square miles. From the Ministers answers to questions, as they appear in “ Hansard “, we find that the oil search companies are holding areas amounting to 2,612,039 square miles. The sedimentary basins total 1,460,000 square miles. This means that 1,152,039 square miles of country that does not cover sedimentary basins is held. One wonders what is the purpose of holding this large area - more than one-third of Australia - which is not covered by sedimentary basins. Why is it being held by the oil search companies? 1 would like the Minister, when replying to the debate, to give some reply to that question, if he can. A break-up of lbc holdings in these areas appears in the Senate “ Hansard “ at page 435. The total area held by overseas companies in their own names amounts te 722,250 square miles.
The total area held jointly by Australian and overseas companies under various types of agreements amounts to 798.973 square miles and the area held by Australian companies in their own names amounts to 1,090,816 square miles. The grand total, as I mentioned earlier, is 2,612,039 square miles.
The proposition that the oil search companies are holding too great an area to be able to explore properly for oil is admitted by the Minister in his secondreading speech. In the first paragraph which appears on page 1 1 64 of ‘* Hansard “ he said -
The results obtained are certainly encouraging, but the point has nol been reached where enough discoveries are being make, either to give a promise of establishing in the early future sufficient reserves for our own needs, or to provide sufficient stimulus to ensure (hal exploration is carried on continuously and vigorously.
That, to mc, is an admission that the Government believes that the search for oil is not quickening. The Opposition believes that the way to quicken this search is for the Government to do more work itself. Wc believe also that the Government should have reserved some of the sedimentary basins lo enable the Crown to search for oil in its own right. It seems to mc that all the likely places where oil will be found - particularly if we study the French report - have been tied up by overseas companies, Australian companies, or overseas companies in combination with Australian companies. There would need to be some breaking up of the present arrangement if the Government was to engage in oil search itself. That could be done under paragraph (b) of the amendment moved by the Opposition, by seeking co-operation between the States for oil search. Even so, the Minister has stated that all oil lying beneath the ground is vested in the Crown. That statement was made in answer to a question asked in another place. The Minister went on to say -
The holding of a lease confers upon the holder the right lo exploit and develop the oil subject to the payment to the Crown of a royalty on all oil sold.
It would seem from that statement that the Government would be entitled to royalties in respect of the sale of Moonie oil. We must accept the statement of the Minister as being correct. The Minister then went on to say -
The Commonwealth Government does not expect to participate directly in any oil production as a result of ils expenditure on oil exploration by way of subsidy and otherwise. Its aim is to stimulate petroleum exploration and encourage expenditure by private enterprise. Agreements for payment of subsidy for drilling operations under the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act 1959-1961 make provision for repayment of subsidy granted in respect of a drilling operation, if the operation so subsidized discovers oil in quantities which, in the opinion of the Minister, are of commercial significance.
The act certainly makes provision for the repayment of a subsidy if a commercial oil-field is found, but it is within the discretion of the Minister whether the subsidy is repaid or not. Public money is being used to subsidize the search for oil but even though a commercial oil-field is found it does not necessarily follow that the subsidy will bc repayable. As 1 have just said, it is completely in the discretion of the Minister.
Wc on this side of the Chamber have said often that if public money is invested in a venture of this nature, and that venture eventually proves to be successful, the public should become a shareholder in the profits that flow from it. At the very least, the amount of public money invested in the industry should be repaid plus an interest rate. That is done when the Commonwealth lends money to the States. When the
Commonwealth Government makes advances to a State to carry out important developmental work, part of that money - in many cases all of it - has to be paid back over a number of years, plus interest at a long-term bond rate. The Opposition sees no reason why there should be any difference in respect of the oil industry. In view of the increasing reliance of Australian industry on oil and its by-products, the Opposition is of the opinion that the Government should be taking a very much greater interest in the search for oil.
I wish to direct attention to what has occurred since oil has been found. I noticed a report in the press the other day that the storage bins of Moonie oil in Brisbane are full, and that unless something is done in the very near future the production of Moonie oil will cease because there is nowhere to store the crude oil that is being produced. Worse than that was the fiasco that occurred over the sale of Moonie oil. We were all very jubilant that a commercial deposit of oil had been found in Australia, but then we found that the oil cartels were to take their pound of flesh. Having been granted a subsidy to assist them in the search for oil they then wanted to have their pound of flesh in respect of the price of it.
Constantly, honorable senators on this side of the chamber, and honorable members in another place, have asked questions about the dispute over the price to be paid for Moonie oil. Just as constantly we have been told that there was no dispute over the price of the oil but that the difference of opinion was over something else. On 5th March the Minister told us that the Shell Company and Union-Kern A.O.G. were in agreement on the price to be paid for Moonie oil. That was not correct, because twelve days afterwards, on 17th March, the Minister said, in answer to a question, that there was not agreement in respect of the price. Originally, the Moonie people wanted 3 dollars 5 cents a barrel, and the Shell Company offered 2 dollars 65 cents. From that point, negotiations between the parties proceeded for several weeks. Eventually, the price was fixed at 2 dollars 83 cents. While this haggling was going on, we in the Senate were informed that there was no dispute as to the price to be paid.
On 17th March the Minister told us that the dispute arose because Union-Kern A.O.G. did not want an escalator clause in the agreement. One would have been led to believe that this was the first time that the question of an escalator clause had arisen, but the “ Hansard “ record of 26th February shows that there was a dispute then as to the inclusion of an escalator clause in the agreement. What would be the effect of an escalator clause in an agreement with the oil cartels operating in Australia, which own and control most of the world’s oil reserves? The people who dictate the world price of oil would be able to play down the price of oil on the world market and thereby reduce the price of Moonie oil.
During these negotiations, what part was the Government playing? It is true that the Minister called several conferences of the parties, but it does not seem as though any particular pressure was put on these people to come to an agreement. In the circumstances, we believe that the Government made a mistake when it sold the rigs that were purchased by the Labour Government. These should have been retained for the use of Commonwealth departments in exploring for oil in the interests of the Australian people. The activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources should be expanded to give us more information on prospective oil discoveries. Oil is perhaps the most important commodity that Australia lacks to-day. The provision of it causes a very servere drain on our overseas reserves. It is vital to our defence commitments, and under this Government we are getting more defence commitments every day. Any delay in the supply of oil to Australia could leave the Government lamenting in relation to fulfilment of its commitments. Oil is vital to transport by rail, air and road. All forms of transport will stop if we cannot provide continuing oil supplies.
Some pleasure seems to be taken in the fact that there was an expenditure of £5,000,000 last year, not as a direct contribution to oil search by the Government but as a subsidy. We spend millions of pounds every year in subsidizing less important industries. I do not say that they are not important, but to me it seems that they are less important than the oil industry is. We go on doing this from year to year, making an annual appropriation. We could be doing much more in this field, and if we did the result would, perhaps, be better for us.
Senator Cormack seemed to bc of opinion that there was some co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth in respect of off-shore drilling on the continental shelf. He later said that there might be litigation about this in the future, lt is interesting to note that the proposed new sub-section 3 (2.) is to be back-dated to 1959. It would appear that the Government has been spending some money on oil search subsidies, the expenditure of which it now seeks to validate.
Clause 2 of the bill states that the legislation shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent. Proposed new sub-section 3 (I.) will come into operation on the date of proclamation. Proposed new sub-section 3 (2.) will come into operation in 1959. Proposed new sub-section 9 (1.) and proposed new subsection 9a (1.) will come into operation on the date of proclamation. The only provisions that will come into operation upon the Royal Assent are those contained in clauses 6 and 7 of the bill. This seems to be a very loose way of drafting legislation, particularly as, apart from clearing up some loose ends in respect of the payment of subsidy, all that the bill proposes is to continue until 1968 a subsidy that has been payable since 1959.
Senator McKenna’s amendment is in line with the policy of the Australian Labour Party in respect of oil search. It is a most progressive policy, aimed at determining whether oil exists in commercial quantities which are sufficient for Australia’s needs. The amendment should be supported.
– Mr. Deputy President, it is rather a shame that at this early hour of the morning we should be discussing such an important bill. We have listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), and Senator Cant of Western Australia, say what they believe the Government should do to promote the vital search for oil in Australia. The Leader of the Opposition moved an amendment, which was supported by Senator Cant, which set out live different respects in which he believed the Government should promote the search for oil. Let me remind Senator McKenna and Senator Cant at 2.37 a.m. that when the Australian Labour Party was in office it had an opportunity to promote the search for oil in Australia and its Territories.
– We had a war on our hands.
– You did not have any war on your hands at the time. The Labour Party was so keen about the search for oil that in 1947 it bought a rig. For two years the Labour Party had its stalwarts within the industry endeavouring to put the rig together. Unfortunately, when this Government assumed office the rig was not working. The greater part of it was still in its case in Melbourne. Now honorable senators opposite have the audacity to say what the Labour Party would do to promote the search for oil in this country. Just how ridiculous can you get?
– I can tell you what wc hope to do in twenty minutes’ time.
– I listened to Senator Cant for nearly an hour and to Senator McKenna for nearly an hour. Under the Standing Orders, the honorable senator might well have to listen to me for almost an hour or even an hour and a half. Even if the honorable senator falls asleep, I shall still be talking. I have never heard so much drivel as I have heard from Opposition speakers within the last couple of hours. I have never heard so much rot spoken. The amendment moved by Senator McKenna commenced wilh these words - but the Senate is of opinion that the Government should: -
That is terrific.
– Too right it is. Why do you nol vole in favour of it?
– What a terrific lead the Labour Party gave in 1949! It had an oil rig which was rusting in its case in Melbourne. According to Senator McKenna and Senator Cant, all one has to do to find oil in Australia is to buy a rig. It does not matter to them whether the rig is in the case or in the field. They think that all you have to do is to establish a socialistic enterprise and buy a rig and then you will find oil. Just how stupid can you become?
Of course, 1 do not want to cast any reflections on the Leader of the Opposition. It hurts me to hear Opposition senators talk like that because, as Senator Cant has said, the search for oil is of vital importance to Australia. But you cannot find oil by owning a rig which is wrapped in greaseproof paper and left in Melbourne. It must be got out into the field. What did this Government do when it assumed office?
– It sold the rig.
– That is right. That was the first step. Who bought it? The honorable senator should learn a little about this matter. If my memory serves me correctly, the rig, which was a National 100, was sold to West Australian Petroleum Limited, which started to drill for oil in Western Australia.
– In 1953.
– That is right. What did that organization do?
– It kept the rig in its case for four years.
– In order to find oil you must have a drill boring. You cannot find oil if you leave the rig in greaseproof paper in Melbourne for three years, as the Labour Parly did.
– What did the Wapet organization do for four years?
– From the time that the Labour Party purchased the rig it was in greaseproof paper in Melbourne. It was never taken out of the case and assembled. That is what was done by this great socialistic party which wanted to find oil. When we assumed office we sold the rig to the Wapet organization, which put down a bore at Rough Range in Western Australia. That was the first bore to strike oil in significant quantities in Australia.
– What happened to the oil?
– Oil was found at Rough Range in 1953. The organization in question did not find sufficient oil to be able to carry on, notwithstanding that it put down another seven or eight wells. This Government said: “ We are so confident there is oil in Australia that we will come to the party and subsidize oil drilling to the extent of 50 per cent, of the cost of stratigraphic holes on approved sites “.
– That was in 1959, ten years after you assumed office.
– This is interesting. This is one of the few occasions on which the Leader of the Opposition has dared to interject. He says that happened ten years after we came to office.
– That is right.
– We assumed office in 1949. If I remember correctly, the first oil drilling subsidy legislation was introduced in 1956.
– It was introduced in 1957. You are not accurate even on that point.
– You are not accurate. I said it was introduced in 1956 and you said it was 1957.
– You introduced the half-the-cost subsidy in 1959.
– I believe quite sincerely that it was in 1956.
– No, it was not.
– The Opposition has been in opposition for so long that a year or two does not matter. It may have been 1956; it may have been 1957; it certainly was not later than 1958 or 1959. The facts are that we subsidized oil drilling in Australia - and I believe we did so shortly after the failure of Wapet to find oil in commercial quantities at Rough Range, Western Australia. The Government, in its keen desire to encourage oil exploration, has done what no other government in the Western world has dared to do.
– Given away its oil resources.
– That is a completely stupid interjection and it is not fitting from you. The Government said, “ We will subsidize oil drilling and seismograph work to the extent of 50 per cent, of cost by Australian companies within Australia or its territories”. Not satisfied with this, and because it is vital that we find oil in Australia, the Government said, “ We will give complete taxation concessions to those people who subscribe to Australian oil search companies searching for oil within
Australia”. I ask the Opposition to name one country of the Western world that can compete with these concessions to aid oil search.
– No. I do not think so. France cannot match Australia in this regard. I have studied mining acts of all countries in the Western world and no country can match Australia’s encouragement of oil search within its territories. I believe this is one of the reasons why this Government and the companies interested in oil search have been able to find a commercial oil field in Australia at Moonie. Not only have we found oil there, but we now have a pipeline from the Moonie oilfield to Gladstone, where a refinery is to be installed.
– You are about 400 miles out. The pipeline goes to Brisbane.
– Aluminium is at Gladstone.
– I should have said that the oil pipeline is from Moonie to Brisbane. We also know that the Australian associated group has discovered gas in large quantities in several holes not far from Moonie. Gas has also been discovered in the north-eastern corner of South Australia, at Gidgealpa, and at Mereenie, in the south-east section of the Northern Territory. I believe that, as a nation, we are on the fringe of discovering new sources of power in Australia that will contribute largely to our total power requirements. This is extremely important. I desire now to mention two provisions in the act that are being changed in the interests of the oil industry. One is that the higher subsidy of 40 per cent, will now apply to stratigraphic drilling on unknown or little-known geological sections. In the existing legislation a subsidy of 30 per cent, applies to this type of structure, but because it is of little-known significance the subsidy is to be increased to 40 per cent. On top of this it is proposed to extend the scope of test drilling by not requiring a structure before drilling. For example, a structure could wedge out into insignificance so far as the Bureau of Mineral Resources or the Government is concerned and it would not normally qualify for a subsidy. As it is the only way that one can prove whether or not there is oil present, this type of drill hole will in future qualify for the subsidy. So, we are extending our operations in this particular field. It is interesting to note the amount of subsidy that has been paid for oil drilling in Australia. The total amount expended this year for oil search will be about £23,000,000, of which the Commonwealth Government will contribute about £5,000,000.
I believe that this is one of the most important bills to have come before the Parliament. I am sorry to have delayed the Senate. As Senator Cant said, the total cost of crude oil to Australia is about £115,000,000, to which must be added a further £30,000,000 or £35,000,000 for freight. This enables one to realize the terrific cost of oil to Australia - about £150,000,000 a year. This is increasing at the rate of 10 to 15 per cent, per annum. If we were not refining oil in Australia and were bringing in refined motor spirits, the cost would be not £150,000,000 per annum, but over £200,000,000 per annum to which freight costs would have to be added. Since it has been in office the Government has aided the construction of major oil refining installations in many of Australia’s capital cities. If one examines Australia’s refining ability prior to this Government’s taking office, he discovers that there was only one oil refinery and that was at Corio in Victoria. It belonged, I think, to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited.
This refined a small proportion of Australia’s requirements. The Leader of the Opposition will remember the outcry by the Opposition when the Commonwealth’s shares in C.O.R. were sold. It was said by members of the Opposition that this was the one company which could refine within Australia the oil that would be essential in time of war. When we went into the details, we were astounded to find that in 1942 and 1943 the refinery was closed down. That blew the Opposition’s objections sky high.
In the past fifteen years, this Government has played an ever-increasing part in encouraging oil exploration in Australia. It has done this, first, by providing adequate subsidies, which have not been surpassed in other countries and. secondly, by encouraging the investment of capital in
Australian oil search companies. This is one of the reasons why we have found a commercial oil field in Australia and will continue to find commercial fields. In the past decade, we have been able to prove through the Government’s policies that there is oil in commercial quantities in Australia. I believe that in the next decade we will prove we have sufficient oil in Australia to meet our requirements.
13.0 a.m.]. - The Government cannot accept the Opposition’s amendment. Indeed, I maintain that in the course of this debate the Opposition has not advanced any logical reason why the Government should accept it. The first point in the amendment by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) is that the Government should take the lead in the search for oil in Australian Territories. There is no doubt that the Government has already taken the lead. 1 submit the point of view that has been put to me very frequently, that no country in the world offers conditions more favorable to the search for oil than those offered in the States and the Territories of Australia.
The next proposal in the amendment is that the Government should seek the cooperation of the Governments of the States in a joint governmental search for oil. I doubt whether we could get any more cooperation than we are getting from the State Governments in this programme. 1 doubt very much whether the State Governments accord any other activity of the Commonwealth Government more praise than they give to its activities in the search for oil. If the reference to “ a joint governmental search for oil “ means the crash programme to which reference has been made to-night by the Opposition, I venture to suggest that no State Government would join with the Commonwealth Government in such a programme, because the State Governments have too much commonsense. They know that is not the way to go about the task.
The third point of the amendment is that the Government should expand the activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources. That is being done as circumstances permit and as is necessary. The Opposition’s amendment also suggests that the Government should develop research in the production of oil from coal and shale. Whoever drafted the amendment could not have read the report of the Coal Utilization Research Advisory Committee. We have had that proposition investigated and considered and we have the report of a high-level expert committee.
The final proposal, that the Government should implement a planned development of the nation’s fuel resources, reminds me of that blessed word Mesopotamia. Nobody has the vaguest idea of what is contemplated or of what is to be done in practical terms. The Leader of the Opposition failed to live up to his usual standard of debate in this chamber, greatly to my surprise. He attempted to substitute dramatic statements for logic. He talked about the betrayal of Australian interests. I think I do him justice when I say I do not believe he thinks the Commonwealth Government is betraying Australia’s interests in the way it is going about the search for oil. The truth of the matter is that there has been a dramatic change in the atmosphere in Australia on this most important matter since there was a change of government. I always take a great deal of pride and satisfaction in finding in the newspapers special columns devoted to progress drilling reports from the various holes which are in the course of being drilled. This has now become a staple item of news in the financial columns of the newspapers, giving evidence of the stability of the search for oil.
I do not think there is any need to reply in detail to the points made in the debate, nor have I a recollection of any specific points on which the Leader of the Opposition desired information. At one stage he asked questions about drilling operations and the difference between stratigraphic, off-structure and test drilling, but I noted that he answered those inquiries himself. I do not think there is any need for me to add more.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be added (Senator McKenna’s amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I refer to clause 4, and ask the Minister: Is one-half of the cost now the complete maximum for any operation under the bill? Under section 9, sub-section (1.) of the act that is being amended, there is provision for the grant of two-thirds of the cost of stratigraphic drilling or off-structure drilling. Do I understand now that the maximum for that operation, and any other type of operation, will be one-half of the cost and that two-thirds has been deleted?
Senator Sir WILLIAM SPOONER (New South Wales - Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for National Development) [3.9 a.m.]. - The answer is, “ Yes “. The practical position is that power is given under the bill to subsidize to 50 per cent. of the maximum cost of any operation. The main purpose of the bill, apart from extending its operations for three years, is to put in a better form the various drilling operations that can be subsidized. There were four or five drilling operations which could be subsidized in varying circumstances. These drilling operations are now reduced to two. The reduction to two has come about, not only from experience, but also from a good deal of talk within the industry. The previous arrangements created much difficulty. Under those arrangements the maximum for off-structure drilling was 661 per cent. It was not used a great deal. It was difficult to define where the stratigraphic drilling ended and where the offstructure drilling commenced. We now have two categories under the present arrangements, one of which will be subsidized to the extent of 40 per cent. and the other subsidized to the extent of 30 per cent. - both within the maximum limit of 50 per cent. of the cost. The 40 per cent. category covers what might be called higher risk operations.
– Once again Senator Cormack has raised a question of great significance. It concerns the continental shelf. I would like to know from the Minister if the States have been acquainted with the provisions of the bill in this regard and, if so, what are their views. Do they regard this bill as trespassing upon their rights in respect of the continental shelf? It seems to me that we have reached the stage where the questions of the continental shelf and the territorial waters of Australia are to present perplexing problems. There ought to be some clarification of the position. A definite statement should be made of what is asserted by the Commonwealth, on the one hand, in relation to the States, and, on the other hand, in the international sphere in relation to other nations in respect of the continental shelf and the territorial waters of Australia.
Senator Sir WILLIAM SPOONER (New South Wales - Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for National Development) [3.12 a.m.]. - I answer Senator Murphy in this way: This is a bill to pay subsidies. It is not a bill which is defining the rights of the Government in respect of the territorial waters. All that the bill says, in effect, is, “ We have been paying subsidies on these off-shore drilling operations since 1959, confident in the belief that the definition in the act providing for the payment of subsidies in Australia and New Guinea was correct. Some one has created some doubt as lo whether the definition does cover off-shore drilling, so the legal department says it should bc cleared up to make certain that there is no doubt about it and to make it go back to 1959.”
That is the purpose of the bill. It is an increasingly important purpose because recent work has shown increasing significance in off-shore oil search exploration. Senator Murphy has raised a point regarding the rights of the States and the Commonwealth in respect of the continental shelf and the territorial waters. On this matter the Ministers for Mines in the various States are anxious to avoid getting into the situation of having litigation introduced and thus holding up the search for oil. 1 have had conferences with the Ministers for Mines and the AttorneysGeneral. I made a press statement about it some months ago. An arrangement has been reached between the Ministers for Mines and the Attorneys-General where.under legislation will be brought down which will, as it were, put the Commonwealth in the legal position of being able to do the exploration work, and the Commonwealth, for its part, will put the administration in the hands of the States. We will get what I am told will be a good legal set-up, and it will also be a good administrative set of arrangements.
We look forward to seeing a draft bill which will need to be considered by all governments. In the meantime we have made that position known publicly. The oil exploration companies know that that sort of agreement has been reached. One of the things that will emerge in the bill is an arrangement whereunder the Commonwealth will validate all the leases and tenements that have been granted by State Governments up to this stage.
– The bill proposes to pay subsidies. As I mentioned in my speech in the second-reading debate, leases are held to the extent of an area of 1,150,000 square miles, which is an area greater than onethird of Australia. They do not cover the sedimentary basins only. I wonder whether the Minister would advise us why these areas are held and whether any agreement that takes place in relation to them will attract the subsidy provided by the bill.
Senator Sir WILLIAM SPOONER (New South Wales - Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for National Development) [3.17 a.m.]. - lt is always difficult to follow figures through; particularly when they are referred to in a debate and you have not seen them previously. I listened to what Senator Cant had to say. He referred to some figures which seemed to indicate greater lease areas.
– They were figures given in answer to a question.
– It seemed to me you referred to figures for a greater lease area, then you referred lo the total area of the sedimentary basins. If that is right, the answer is that the States have given tenements over great areas offshore. If we look at a map of Australia and see the tenements that have been granted, practically the whole of the coastline of Australia is subject to some kind of tenement given by one of the State Governments or by the Northern Territory Administration. That is not included in the area of the sedimentary basins. There is a total area of tenements which looks a little confusing, lt is greater than the total area of the sedimentary basins. I think leases for over 1,500,000 square miles have been granted off-shore.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir William Spooner) read a third lime.
Motion (by Senator Sir William Spooner) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– It is with a certain amount of reluctance that I rise to speak at this hour. I remind Opposition senators who are moving out of the chamber that when I speak I usually have something of importance to say. This is quite an important matter that I want to deal with. I will not detain the Senate for more than a few minutes. It is a matter which is of great importance to a group of people in Western Australia, in Australia generally, and in particular in South Australia. I refer to people who are known as ex-Latvians who have arrived in this country as migrants. As a matter of fact, I refer to people right throughout Australia who have come from Latvia.
I refer to a questionnaire which has been distributed by the University of Adelaide. This circular, which appears quite innocent to a person who has never suffered persecution, has struck terror - into the hearts of citizens who have suffered under the tyranny of the inhuman doctrine of communism in the countries from which they came. The questionnaire was addressed to Latvian migrants at their home addresses.
These people, who came to Australia seeking a refuge from persecution, were horrified to think that they had been selected to give information. To them, the request had the mark of coming from an official source. They felt that if they did not reply to the questionnaire their names would be placed on a black list, because it was sent out to selected people. They also thought that if they did answer, they would be marked people. To an Australian who has never suffered under the police state, what I am saying might sound childish. But I assure you that for one who suffered under the iron rule of a dictatorship and an oppressor this fear is a very real one.
I think I should come to the substance of it by reading the questionnaire preamble and certain questions that were put. It is dated the 6th April, 1964, and I will read the translation of the Latvian message, which comes from an official of the Latvian society in Adelaide. I will not mention names because I think it is quite invidious, and can involve innocent people -
Dear Sir or Madam. A survey regarding the life of Latvian immigrants in South Australia during the period 1945 to 1960, has been undertaken by- an undergraduate of the University of Adelaide and therefore I do beg the Latvians
Of Adelaide to give the information required in the questionnaire. The undergraduate– has undertaken this work by the request of the Faculty of History of the Adelaide University and I do urge you to help her by answering the required questions. All information will be treated confidentially and will not be revealed to any one. If there is a feeling that some of the questions cannot be answered then same could be delayed and the rest of the questions should be answered fully. The questionnaire should be returned, not later than by April 18, 1964,-
The people concerned were only given twelve days to reply to this- because the time is very limited.
The letter was signed by a Latvian official. At the foot of this letter to the Latvians named is a letter from the University of Adelaide dated 6th April, which states: -
Dear Sir or Madam.
I hope you will co-operate with the undergraduate in her study of the way of life and the assimilation of Latvians. Names and personal information will be confidential; but there may be useful and interesting general conclusions about the numbers in the Latvian community, their education, employment, and general experience of Australian life, which it may be possible to publish. We would be most grateful for your help in completing and returning the enclosed questionnaire.
This is signed by a professor of the Adelaide University. The real problem is that some of the questions in the 36 that are asked would be enough to strike terror to the heart of any immigrant who has relatives or friends still in Latvia and against whom there could be reprisals. The questionnaire is very cleverly done. There are 38 questions, and probably 30 of them are quite innocuous. But has any member of this Senate ever had a questionnaire sent to him in which he was asked to submit his name and the name of his wife? Invariably questionnaires are anonymous. Generally when you answer a questionnaire you do not have to put your name to it. This one is headed “ Inquiry among immigrants from Latvia “, and on the right-hand side there is space for answers by both the husband and wife. The Latvians are asked to give their names and other particulars. Why should it ask for names? The questionnaire then continues -
How did you come to leave Latvia? Did you leave under an exchange scheme, as a forced labourer or as a political refugee from Communism?
Imagine answering those questions if you still had relatives back in Latvia. The questionnaire continues -
How did you come - under IRO organization? Were you liberated from the Nazis by British, American or French troops, or did you fly into Allied occupied territory when Soviet forces began to advance from the east?
In other words, “ Were you a refugee from Nazism or from communism? “ 1 will not weary the Senate by reading much more of this questionnaire, but I think it is pertinent to quote a few more of the questions. It asks the Latvians to give their occupation and to say who have been their employers since they have been in Australia. In other words, “ Can we keep a tab on you since you arrived here? “ Other questions are, “Are you in constant touch with Latvia? “, and so on. This may seem innocuous to a person who has never suffered persecution, but it smacks of officialdom when it comes from a university. These people might feel that their loved ones at home could be persecuted if they gave all the particulars asked for. Then there are questions about year of marriage and the country in which it took place, the native country of the wife and the profession of the wife. A further question is, “ Are you naturalized? “ We know that the main aim of the Communists is to stop people from becoming naturalized as Australian nationality gives them a certain amount of security. The questionnaire then asks whether the children are naturalized or in process of naturalization. It asks for details of undertakings which employ them, whether they belong to sporting, musical and other associations and, if so, whether the members of these associations are mainly Latvians. I ask Senator Gorton whether he knows of this questionnaire and whether he will use whatever power he possesses to ensure that other questionnaires of this kind are not sent out, containing this form of intimidation and making these people feel that they will be blacklisted if they do not answer or will still be blacklisted if they do. I remind the Senate that in questionnaires I have seen one is not asked to disclose one’s identity when answering. Will the Minister assure these people that they do not have to answer this type of correspondence, that there is no compulsion about it and that if they do answer they are in a free country and do not have to fear persecution?
– I will take up only a few minutes of the time of the Senate in dealing with the inuendoes in what Senator Branson said. If there is any intimidation in a questionnaire, wherever it comes from, I think the Security Service should hold a full investigation and that the intimidation should be stamped out. The honorable senator made an attack on a questionnaire sent out apparently with the approval of the University of Adelaide, which is run under the Playford Government, in South Australia. He implied that it would have the effect of intimidation. In a genuine attempt to survey the assimilation of new Australians, whether Latvians or of any other race, I can think of no more appropriate question to ask than what employment a migrant has had over a period, in order to find out whether he has settled into continuous employment or is not acceptable to employers in this country. I do not see why a questionnaire should not ask what progress the children are making and I do not think it is strange that a questionnaire should ask one to identify oneself by name. In this questionnaire, some one is apparently making a survey of Latvians in Australia for the purpose of writing a paper on their assimilation in this country.
Apparently this is a voluntary questionnaire, according to the notice accompanying it, which tells the Latvians that if they are not desirous of answering a question they have freedom to refuse to answer. However, if there is some intimidation involved, in that the persons concerned might believe they would be blacklisted if they did not answer or that their answers might have some repercussions on relatives still living overseas, I think the proper course would be to establish an inquiry. If it could be claimed that there is a possibility of pressure being put on these refugees by the questionnaire, I would join with Senator Branson, but he mentioned nothing in the questionnaire that one would not expect to find in it, coming from the source from which it came.
– I want to say a few words about the matter raised by Senator Branson and to suggest what he might have done. The matter concerns the University of Adelaide. He should first have attempted to check with the university the submissions that were made to him. If he did not want to do that, he could have passed the matter on to a South Australian senator. The raising of this kind of matter on a motion for the adjournment of the House is basically alarmist. I think that, listening to Senator Branson, we all got the idea that some of the questions in the questionnaire were very badly framed and that their meanings could be misinterpreted, but to me they seem to be perfectly natural questions to ask. I am always interested in whether new arrivals in this country are going to be naturalized. We have argued this matter and I think it has been agreed that they should be naturalized.
It may be that, on examination, Senator Branson’s remarks have some substance and there may bc some force at work which should not be applied to this section of the community. My objection is, in the first place, to the raising of this question in the Senate by a senator who does not reside in South Australia. I think that is improper. He should have made inquiries through his own efforts, or through a South Australian senator.
– I raised this matter on behalf of the relatives of these people in Western Australia.
– As you sit next to a senator from South Australia who had connexion with this university, I would have thought you would have asked him or somebody else to make an inquiry. He would have been happy to check with the university and get the facts. The honorable senator would then have had a case to give to the Senate. What he has said may be true, but I think it is improper to raise the matter in this form without checking the facts.
– I take exception to honorable senators opposite telling my colleague from Western Australia that he had no right to bring this matter up in this chamber and that a senator from Western Australia should look after Western Australian interests, not those of South Australia. We from Western Australia - and I believe all honorable senators - take a national outlook and endeavour to look after the interests of people living in any part of Australia. Senator Branson told the Senate tha”, a questionnaire had been sent out from the University of Adelaide asking for details regarding Latvians now residing in Australia, inquiring where they came from, why they came to Australia and did not go to other countries, who put them out of Latvia, whether the Communist regime or the Nazi regime, and so on. Let me put it to the Senate in this way: If a person in the University of Adelaide wants to find out details from any Latvian who happens to be residing in Australia why should the first question he puts be, “ What is your surname and/ or your Christian names? “ Why should he do that when he is sending the document addressed to the individual concerned? That is not done in usual circumstances. No doubt that is why the honorable senator has brought the matter up. I believe that an inquiry should be made as to the authenticity of the particular document because I do not believe that we in Australia should be endeavouring to incriminate Latvians or any other people living in our country.
.- The first thing I want to do is to endorse what Senator Scott has just said. In my view any honorable senator who believes that people that he represents are being frightened, or in any way disturbed, not only has a right to raise the matter in the Senate, but has a duty to do so and he is not carrying out his duty if he does not do so. I think it is extremely unfortunate that an honorable senator who does that should be attacked for doing it.
– He should be attacked if he does it without checking his facts.
– You do not know whether he has checked them or not.
– He did not give any references.
– If you care at some later stage to say he put his argument on that basis, that is a different matter; but to say that he has no right to come here and raise matters of this kind is something that should be resented.
– I said he had no right to raise them without checking his facts.
– How do you know that he did not check his facts? You would object to being told you were doing wrong if you brought up something about people whom you were representing. You can make a speech in the way you like but you must allow other honorable senators to make their speeches in the way they like. Even if the honorable senator is mistaken he has the right to bring up a matter which he believes is frightening or hurting some people whom he represents.
The next point I want to make is that something that is done by a university, or a faculty within a university, is not something which comes within the control of this Government or of any Minister of this Government. However, if I heard the honorable senator correctly, he did not attack the University of Adelaide, nor did he attack the motives of the university.
– What did he say?
– It appears to me that he said that a questionnaire had been sent out asking Latvians their names, their addresses and various questions as to whether they were refugees from communism or fascism in the countries from which they came.
– It was information on which they could be blacklisted.
– Tt was information that could be used for the purpose of blacklisting. From the questions which the honorable senator read out, I believe that that could be so; but that is not to say that there was any intention on the part of the university to use the information in that way. The honorable senator went on, if 1 heard him correctly, to base his complaint on the fact that certain information, including names and addresses, was asked for, in a way which would not disturb any Australian citizen but which could greatly disturb people from Europe who may well have suffered, first, the ravages of fascism or the incursion into their country of the Nazis and, secondly, the ravages of communism and had noticed in each case that the only difference was that one lot of people wore a different coloured shirt from the others. People coming to a new country from that sort of persecution and background might well have a fear of officialdom.
– You are putting up an argument that Senator Branson did not use.
– Although he did not use that argument 1 think it is tenable. With that background of the fear of officialdom, these people might be most disturbed at being asked for this sort of information from a source which they might well have thought was official and had to be answered. All I can say in regard lo that is that I doubt very much whether there were any wrong motives at all.
– I did not say that.
– I do not say you did. I would doubt very much whether there was any wrong motive at all on the part of the university or the faculty of the university, but I would have no doubt in my mind that people of this kind who had suffered the experiences to which 1 have referred could well be frightened by such an inquiry. I believe it would be well if people dealing with migrant groups in Australia, and asking them questions with official content, did not ask them for their names and addresses on the same questionnaire. As strongly and forcibly as it is possible, I wish to say that there is no compulsion on any citizen of this country to answer any questionnaire sent out by any authority other than such an organization as the Bureau of Census and Statistics. I would hope that this can be made clear to all such groups. If the raising of this matter in the Senate by Senator Branson will help to make the position clear then 1 think he has done a public duty.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I believe that I have been misrepresented by Senator Gorton who said that I attacked Senator Branson. I did not attack Senator Branson for making his submissions to the Senate. 1 attacked him for making a statement which, before he made it, should have been investigated in a preliminary way by him. He gave the impression that this preliminary investigation had not been carried out.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.43 a.m. (Wednesday).
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 May 1964, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1964/19640519_senate_25_s25/>.