27th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
SenatorMVIULVIHlLL - I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. By way of preface ] refer to a statement in the Sydney Press this morning about an additional State forest in the Cullen Bullen area in western New South Wales. Has the Australian Forestry Council any plans other than to increase pine plantations? Are there any other types of forest plans that it is trying to implement?
– This question will need to be directed to the Minister for National Development who is responsible for the activities of the Australian Forestry Council.I do not want to answer specifically in regard to any programmes or plans for species other than pinus radiata; but if it will help the honourable senatorI can say that from my own experience before coming hereI know that attempts have always been made to do something about the regeneration or regrowth and proper utilisation of the Australian eucalyptus forests where it is possible to do so economically. The problem with the Australian eucalyptus forest is that its growth of timber per acre in most cases is so very low and over such a long time span that it tends to be less attractive. But there are some areas in which it looks as though it might be possible to do something. I know from my own experience privately before I came here, as I said, that that sort of interest is being taken by all those involved.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to a request by the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations that the Commonwealth Government reframe the 1971 census questionnaire so as to seek more private information. I ask the Minister for an assurance that the Government, bearing in mind the growing concern at the tendency of governments and the Press to pry into people’s private lives, will not accede to this request.
– There has been publicity that suggests that far more questions should be asked than is intended. The completion of the census document in itself is a formidable undertaking. Whilst I think we all accept the proposition that in the world in which we live it is necessary to have a whole series of questions posed for our good government and for the ultimate good of the community at large I think we also accept the point that the honourable senator makes, namely, that the document that seeks the information should not pry into the personal behaviour, habits and way of life of people any more than is necessary. I would like to regard the question as being on the notice paper and to have a reply given through the appropriate department. But I am sure that we are all as one in saying that we realise the necessity to obtain information for census purposes. No-one wants it to go one point further than the purposes for which the census was established.
– Can the Minister for Air advise when the evaluation team which is investigating the Phantom and F111 aircraft proposals will be returning to Australia? Is it presumed that when it returns it will report upon both proposals? After its return to Australia how long does the Minister expect it will be before the report will be available to the Parliament?
-BROCKM AN - The honourable senator yesterday asked me for some information on this matter. I was not able then to give him any details. 1 have checked the position and have learned that the evaluation team is hoping to come home on Sunday week.It then hopes to make a report to me and to the Minister for Defence. The Minister for Defence is hoping to have the information before Cabinet by about the middle of June.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Hewill recall that last December the Treasurer announced that ex-service pensioners would benefit from the distribution of surplus assets in the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. What progress has been made in the distribution of those assets? How many ex-servicemen have benefited? What were the conditions of their entitlement?
– The honourable senator’s question involves a good deal of mathematics. I will obtain the information he is seeking as quickly as I can and make it available to him.
– My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise refers to a statement regarding international drug trafficking in South Australia. I asked a question on this matter on Sth May and received on 13th May a reply which was in general terms and not specific to the question. I now ask the Minister: In view of the evidence obtained by the Department of Customs and Excise that drug trafficking activities are being diversified to other ports in Australia, has it been necessary to appoint more temporary or permanent officers in South Australia to stamp out the illicit drug traffic in that State? Are these officers located at new centres in South Australia? If so, at which ports or locations are they stationed?
– This is a request for specific information which I could not possibly give this mrorning. I will direct the question to the Minister for Customs and Excise and endeavour to obtain for the honourable senator the detailed answers he requires.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science been directed to a radio news bulletin this morning in which a Western Australian educationist, a Mr Schapper, has criticised the established education programmes as being unsuitable for Aboriginals? If so, has the Minister noted that educationist’s comment that mission schools should be abandoned and that special programmes should be devised to meet the particular education needs of Aboriginals? Will he confer with his colleague and ascertain details of any studies of education for Aboriginals and whether there is any merit in Mr Schapper’s claim?
– I regret that my attention has not been directed to the news release. I shall refer the honourable senator’s question to the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs as well as to the Minister for Education and Science.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Will the Minister consider allowing officers of the Fisheries Branch of the Department to make a submission to the royal commission on the Great Barrier Reef?
– This is obviously a decision for the Minister for Primary Industry. I shall take the matter up with him and obtain what information I can for the honourable senator.
– I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer: Will he assure the Senate that close attention is being given to the numerous effects on industry generally of the recent requirement of higher bank interest rates and other Government monetary policy? As this Government can claim great success over many years in its stated policy of full employment for our citizens, will the Government be alert to the possible flow of reactions to its recent monetary policy? Will the Government be alert to the adverse effect which will accelerate in the next few months and which is being felt at this time in the building and construction industry?
– I am happy to say the Government is constantly alert to the economic state of this country. It would be axiomatic that when a decision is taken by the Government which is calculated to assist in the stabilisation of the economy it would not be unaware of the reaction on the other side of the coin. The management of the economy of a great nation is a very delicate thing. As everybody knows, it is not a precise science. Government policy has been applied in the concept of taking steps to get a reaction against inflationary tendencies which may be occurring in the community. These steps are taken in the interests of the people in order to ensure that we have a balanced and stable economy. Government policy is stability in all things for all people, and particularly for the working community.
– Has die Minister representing the Minister for National Development seen a statement to the effect that Esso Standard Oil (Aust) Pty Ltd has contracted to sell 500,000 tons of liquid petroleum gas overseas? If the statement is correct can the Minister advise the price at which the LPG will be sold overseas? If he docs not know the price at which it will be sold overseas, is the Government prepared to issue an export licence for this LPG without disclosure of the price?
– I have not seen the statement. The honourable senator’s question contains an inquiry as to price and a question as to general Government policy. 1 will direct the question to the Minister for National Development and obtain an answer for the honourable senator.
– 1 ask the MinisterinCharge of Tourist Activities: In view of the strong connection between the completion of the last section of the Eyre Highway and the tourist industry, and having regard to the support by the Australian National Travel Association for the bituminising of the highway, will the Minister investigate to what extent this road is now used by Australian tourists and do what he can to support the early completion of the project area?
– 1 wish to assure the honourable senator that from the point of view of my interest in tourist activities the progress of this highway is constantly before my mind. I was hoping to see a film about it during my visit to Western Australia next week. At the moment I am subject to altered arrangements which will prevent that. I have seen recent films of the highway so far as it has been completed on the Western Australian border and that adds interest to the connection to South Australia.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, ls he aware that the Administrative Building in the Parliamentary Triangle has no fire escape facilities? Will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, take the appropriate action to provide fire escape facilities before a major disaster occurs with a possible serious loss of life?
– I would be extremely surprised if, having regard to the kind of situation that is in existence in the Australian Capital Territory at present with experts involved in the architecture, design and planning of the ACT and Commonwealth departments controlling these matters, the statement made by the honourable senator is factual. Nevertheless., as it is a matter of concern to him I shall do whatever I can to find out the information he requires and communicate it to him.
– I direct a question lo the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. Certain statements are being made in South Australia in regard to the Dartmouth-Chowilla issue in which the proposed Chowilla dam is being referred to as South Australia’s dam. 1 ask: Is it correct to say that any dam which is built on the River Murray below Albury, including a dam at Chowilla, cannot be claimed to belong to a particular State but that instead it would come under the control of the River Murray Commission, which consists of representatives of the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and Commonwealth governments?
– The honourable senator was good enough to tell me that he had this concern. The short answer to his question is yes. A State is free to build a dam on the River Murray below Albury, but the River Murray Commission could take over control of that dam. The Commission has power to control the operations of any storage on the River Murray. I think the honourable senator has asked a good question. What we should have in relation to this issue is factual information and not just pure conjecture.
(Question No. 277)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
In the cause of effective land conservation will the Treasurer consider the revision of section 75 of the Income Tax Assessment Act, to discourage the pointless bulldozing of virgin bushland for no other purpose than to seek tax remission.
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Deductions under section 75 of the Income Tax Assessment Act are specifically limited to persons who are actually engaged in primary production on land or who have embarked on a definite and continuous cycle of operations on the land designed to lead to primary production in their own right. In their immediate effect, such deductions do no more than reduce the net cost to the person in respect of the expenditure concerned. Even a person on the maximum marginal rate of tax would still have to bear approximately one-third of that expenditure.
It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to amend the law in a manner which would withdraw the concession in respect of particular areas of land but which would not, at the same time, deny the concessions to persons undertaking development of other areas where the same questions of land conservation may not arise or be less relevant.
(Question No. 281)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
What wage rates are being paid to indigenous people on the Bougainville mining project, including (a) the average adult wage;’ (b) the minimum wage; and (c) the maximum wage.
– The Minister for External Territories has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The wage rates for a 40-hour week for indigenous persons employed in various occupations on the Bougainville mining project are given in the table below. The working week for the project is 60 hours. Wage payments for 40 hours are at the rates stipulated in the table, and for 20 hours at overtime rates.
Besides the occupations shown in the above table indigenous officers are employed in staff positions on rates of salary as follows:
In the last pay period before the recent strike (namely the fortnight ended 10th March 1970) the actual wages paid to indigenous employees of Bougainville Copper Pty Ltd (including overtime and any other necessary wage adjustments) were as follows:
(Question No. 285)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for External Affairs Kas furnished the following reply:
Vietnamese civilians and to arange the repatriation of those wishing to return to South Vietnam. No consideration has been given to sending an Australian goodwill delegation and I do not think it would now be appropriate.
(Question No. 312)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following : reply:
(Question No. 343)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
Does the French Government intend commencing a new series of nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific area soon; if so, what action does the Commonwealth Government intend taking to ; prevent such tests being carried out.
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply:
France exploded the first nuclear device in its 1970 series of nuclear tests at its experimental site : in the Pacific on Friday 15th May, 1970. The Australian Government has made known to the French Government its opposition to such testing. I refer the Honourable Senator to the answer which the Minister for External Affairs gave to a question without notice in the House of Representatives on 7th April, 1970 (Hansard pp. 734-35). It is a matter of regret to the Government that the French authorities have disregarded Australia’s views and those of other countries in this part of the world. I also refer the Honourable Senator to the answer which the Minister for External Affairs gave to a question without notice in the House of Representatives on 8th April, 1970 (Hansard p. 814).
(Question No. 366)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Interior has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Australian Croatian Club Limited;
Canberra Lithuanian Australian Club;
Croatia-Deakin Soccer Club Incorporated;
Harmonie German Club Canberra Incorporated;
Hungarian Australian Club Limited;
Italo Australian Club Incorporated;
Polish Ex-Servicemen’s Association of Australia Incorporated.
– On 7th May, Senator Lawrie asked me the following question:
In view of the proposal for Fiji to be granted independence in October and in view of Australia’s substantial trade and business interests in that country as well as our interests in Nandi Airport, will the Government give early consideration to raising the status of our representation in Fiji?
I gave the following reply:
This, too, is a matter that would need to be referred to the Department of External Affairs. It is true that independence is to be granted to Fiji and I gather that it is to take effect from October.
Over the years we in Australia have built up a tremendous increase in our posts overseas for the promotion of international goodwill and indeed in the interests of our trade and commerce. I will have the matter examined to see whether there is a case at this time, concurrently with this move to independence, to upgrade or advance our representation in that country.
The Minister for External Affairs has now provided the following information:
The Australian mission in Fiji is designated a Commission because of Fiji’s status as a British Colony. When Fiji becomes independent on October 10th, a Commission would no longer be appropriate and, subject to the agreement of the Government of an independent Fiji and of the Australian Government, the Australian Commission would become a High Commission as is the case in other Commonwealth countries in which Australia is represented.
– On 19th of May Senator Willesee asked me whether I had taken note of the report of the parliamentary delegation with regard to the possibility of Australia joining in the Expo that is to be ‘held in the city of Montreal in July of this year. I gave an interim answer to the honourable senator. I now wish to inform the Senate that I did refer the report of the parliamentary delegation to the Australian Tourist Commission on 23rd September 1969 for its consideration and after consideration of the matter the Tourist Commission advised that it was not appropriate to participate in the Montreal Exposition mainly because the area is one from which comparatively few visitors are derived for Australia and also because the Commission was then mounting ‘the largest promotional and publicity exercise ever attempted in North America, concentrating in the United States.
(Question No. 283)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Interior has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Provided recent progress can be maintained, it is expected that the blow-out will be brought under control within the next two months.
(Question No. 337)
Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
What increases have taken place in the bond rate since 1949.
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The following table sets out the opening dates of Commonwealth public loans raised since 1949 in which changes were made in the interest rate offered on the longest term securities available in the loans, and the new rate of interest offered on each occasion -
– by leave - I have had this statement circulated. It is a very brief one and I think I should read it. As honourable senators are aware, it is the practice of my Department to seek, whereever possible, projects which might result in the local design, development or production of defence equipment. In line with this practice a preliminary design study was put in hand when the Royal Australian Air
Force issued a requirement for a close air support advanced trainer aircraft. The purpose of the study was to assess the feasibility of designing an aircraft that would not only satisfy the RAAF requirement but which would also achieve an overseas market. The study was therefore extended to include an assessment of market potential. It was decided that this preliminary design study would best ‘fie handled as a collaborative effort with a major overseas aircraft organisation. Accordingly arrangements were entered into with the British Aircraft Corporation for the study to proceed jointly between that Corporation in England and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd in Australia. I emphasise that the purpose of the exercise was not to design a specific aircraft but rather to study the feasibility of a particular design concept and the market it would attract.
It will be appreciated that the viability of such a proposal would be dependent upon not only a significant RAAF order but also a considerable penetration of the overseas market. I think I made reference to this angle several days ago. In the event, we have not been able to obtain sufficient assurances of overseas sales. Furthermore, there has been a re-thinking of the Australian requirements for close air support and advanced training and as a result it has been decided that continuation of work on the project could not be justified. However, I wish to emphasise to the Senate that much valuable experience has been gained by collaborating with a major overseas aircraft organisation on the design study. I am hopeful that this experience will stand the local industry in good stead when future opportunity for a collaborative effort presents itself. The study related to the advanced trainer only.
– Is this the N project?
– No, this was the advanced project.
– I seek leave to make a short statement.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The statement by the Minister for Supply (Senator Anderson) is a regrettable but predictable one. I say it is predictable because it reflects fairly accurately the Government’s attitude towards the Australian aircraft industry over a number of years. It has unfortunately been a shortsighted one. If we look very briefly at the history of the Australian aircraft industry over the last 25 or 30 years we find that we have allowed ourselves to slip out of the position of being the producer and manufacturer of aircraft into one in which we are simply a purchaser overseas. We must remember that years ago we could produce in this country aircraft such as the Wackett trainers, Wirraways, Boomerangs and Beauforts when the expertise in this country was considerably less than it is today. This indicates the Government’s attitude. The Minister said that the basic problem was the lack of significant orders in Australia and also the need to penetrate the overseas market. I would suggest to him that the penetration of the overseas market is of secondary consideration. This is evidenced by the Minister’s reply to a question about the Australian aircraft industry which was asked by Senator Turnbull recently. The Minister said:
It has to be remembered always that Australia’s requirements are very small in the general sense and, therefore, the sheer economics would not justify the building of an aircraft for the Services ….
– That is taken out of the context of the reply.
– I think the Minister was saying that essentially a domestic market was needed to justify investment in building our own aircraft. I think this is right. The Swedes found exactly the same problem. The Saab corporation, with which most of us are familiar, found this very problem. Although its penetration of the overseas market is extremely small, it has one of the most advanced aircraft industries of any small nation. The Swedes were not concerned about whether they could sell their aeroplanes on the ovserseas market. They decided it was necessary to have their own aircraft industry. Under the current Viggen programme an order of 300 aircraft has been guaranteed by the Swedish Air Force. This is what makes the Swedish aircraft industry function. It is not worried about whether it can sell aircraft on the overseas market. I suggest that this is an attitude which the Government overlooks.
It is not concerned about guaranteeing orders for the Australian aircraft industry.
The final comment I make concerns the last paragraph in the Minister’s statement in which he refers to the experience that has been gained by collaborating with a major overseas aircraft corporation. He said:
I am hopeful that this experience will stand the local industry in good stead when future opportunity for a collaborative effort presents itself.
I suggest that unless there is a dramatic change in the Government’s attitude towards the Australian aircraft industry, this future opportunity will never present itself.
– I bring up the report of the Joint Committee of the Australian Capital Territory on the milk industry in the Australian Capital Territory.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I ask for leave to move a motion to take note of the report.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I move:
That the Senate take note of the report.
Our reference required us to inquire into all aspects of the milk industry, particularly the economics of the industry as they affect all sectors. It must be remembered, however, that little of the milk consumed in the Australian Capital Territory is produced in this area, and therefore there is no control from here over the price paid to the producer. In our report we begin with a recommendation that an independent milk authority be established in the Australian Capital Territory. I believe that the authority should be one person. In respect of the report overall I want to remind all sectors of the industry, from the producer right through to the consumer, that to make gains conditions. For instance, in order to reduce they must be prepared to find some altered the price or even to hold it constant in times of inflation, economies must be made and the burden, if any, must be shared equally if the industry is to be a success and if those participating in it are to receive a fair return for their contribution.
I believe that our recommendations, which are 27 in number, are based on this outlook and that they are fully supported by the sworn evidence received in the 27 submissions to the Committee. We held 12 public hearings and 12 deliberative meetings and spent many hours weighing and sif ting the evidence. We were greatly assisted by the technical advice given by Mr Ian Macfarlane, investigating officer of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. His work was of very great assistance to the Committee, as was also the dedicated and unremitting work of our clerk, Mr Allmond
Our recommendations go on to state that we believe that consideration should be given to reducing the price of milk to the consumer in the Australian Capital Territory by lc a pint. We recommend also that discounts in price be allowed to householders for quantity purchases. Discounts are not available at present. We recommend further that a system of one-brand zoning be introduced to rationalise the vending sector of the industry. In our report we state that we found that the vending sector of the industry in Canberra was in a state of disarray. We recommend that everything possible should be done to make milk vending attractive as a full time occupation and that the allocation of new milk runs be administered by the milk authority. We believe that the period during which milk can be delivered to the consumers in Canberra should be restricted to the evening. Delivery now goes on from approximately 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., which adds unnecessarily to the cost, particularly to the processors. We believe also that milk deliveries can readily be restricted to 6 days a week. This also would help the full time vending operator.
Finally, in dealing with the recommendations that I want to spell out to the Senate in this brief resume of our report I state that we recommend that a system of tokens be adopted to facilitate payment for milk. This system does away with many accounting procedures and the collecting of cash, and also it does away with the petty thieving of milk money that is left out overnight. We found that this system is in operation in parts of New Zealand and is working very satisfactorily. Our inquiries have satisfied us that the Australian Capital Territory can be assured of a continuing supply of reasonably priced high quality milk, whatever the population may be in the years that lie ahead. 1 know that 1 have the full support of all members of the Committee when I express the hope that the report will be widely read and reasonably approached. 1 believe the report is clear and the recommendations possible of implementation. I trust that all those who have to play a part in the implementation of the report will be quick to act and be inspired with a spirit of co-operation to give a fair trial to what may be something new or different from what they have been accustomed to. I am confident that in time consumers will be able to say that their Committee of this national Parliament has done a job of lasting benefit to them and to those who follow them in this wonderful national capital.
Debate (on motion by Senator Milliner) adjourned.
– I present the third report of the Printing Committee.
Report - by leave - adopted.
Motion (by Senator Anderson) agreed to:
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday, 2nd June, at 2 p.m.
Consideration resumed from 21 May (vide page 1746).
Clause 9. Reconsideration.
[10.42] - I ask for leave of the Committee to have clause 9 reconsidered in order to restate the question on Senator McClelland’s amendment.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. The question is: That in clause 9 the words proposed to be inserted be inserted.
– Leave has been given by the Committee but I think I should explain this matter. Last night the Senate voted on the amendment to clause 9 proposed by Senator McClelland. I will not go into all the circumstances of the matter but I agreed that the matter should be recommitted so that the Senate could vote again. Similar action has been taken on other occasions. Standing order 209 provides that a motion of recommittal can be put, in any event, but I agreed with the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson) when we discussed the matter last night that there should be a recommittal. Anyway, the Committee has just given leave for that to be done.
– This is all news to me as the Leader of a Party in this House. I have not been consulted about the recommittal and I think that is discourtesy in the worst form. I protest very seriously about it. If there is to a be a recommittal of any matter I am entitled to be consulted and advised of the circumstances necessitating that action.
– Senator Gair has said that there is discourtesy. I felt that I was rising out of courtesy. Leave had just been given by the Committee; but, notwithstanding that, I thought that the Committee ought to be informed that in the vote on this matter the amendment was carried by 1 vote and, as I understand the position, it would have been an even vote but for the fact that the President was not present in circumstances in which apparently there was some misunderstanding. I was requested to agree to the recommittal of the clause, and my party has agreed to that. The Leader of the Government (Senator Anderson), if he wants to explain the circumstances further, can do so. But it was open to members of the Democratic Labor Party to refuse leave if they thought fit. However, leave was granted. That is the position as far as I am concerned.
– Mr Chairman
– I ask for leave to make a statement.
– I did not move a motion for recommittal, so I am not closing the debate. I want to say something at this time-
– You are saying it a bit late.
– Maybe. If the honourable senator does not want to hear this, I will not say it.
– It is all the same to me at this stage. This decision was not made this morning because the nightwatchman told me as I was leaving the building last night that there would be a recommittal.
– The fact of the matter is that, as Senator Murphy has said, there is provision for recommittal. I think he provision really has 2 legs. It can be done at the adoption of report stage or at the third reading stage. I do not want to dwell on the circumstances of how this happened. But I would be distressed to think that there was some suggestion that Senator Gair, the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party, was subjected to discourtesy in this matter, because it related to circumstances in which the President was involved and in which the Opposition also was involved, in an indirect way.
– My colleagues and I voted in that division; so we are involved.
– Yes, I know that; but the point Senator Gair is making is that there was discourtesy in our not informing him. On reflection and with hindsight, I concede that it could be put that way.
– You do not think we are worthy of consultation on these things that affect the Senate.
- Senator Gair is being a little difficult. I am saying that with hindsight I recognise that the point he makes has some validity. But I am sure that he will appreciate, as I think we all do, the tremendous pressure we were under here last night. So I express my regret that this situation has arisen.
– I “eel that I should say something. Last night Senator Anderson did mention to me infernally that there was a possibility of this aking place. At that stage, apparently, the natter was under discussion in another quarter. This morning I was a little late and I did not have an opportunity even informally to convey even that informal information, if I was entitled to do so, to any other member of my party. I just mention this to Senator Gair who said that this was a matter that should have been disclosed to the Senate. In those circumstances I knew very informally that there was a possibility of this happening, but beyond that no other member of my party would have known anything at all about it formally.
– As I have said, with hindsight I am sorry that it happened that way.
– Thank you very much. I appreciate that the parties should be informed-
– You are not even the leader of a party.
– I do not care whether I am the leader of a party or not. Every senator is entitled to be informed. I do not have that stupid attitude that a person has to be in a party so that he can have his mouth shut and not have any conscience of his own. The honourable senator may be happy to take that attitude, but I am not. That is why I resigned from the Australia Party. The point is that I too heard rumours - but only rumours - that it might be done. No-one said a word about it. We did not even hear what the Mininster said. All right, the Minister wants to recommit. 1 do not know why he wants to recommit. Now he says that there are certain factors. Does this mean that every time the Government is defeated we will have a recommittal?
– We lost 4 divisions yesterday and there was no suggestion of recommittal.
– The way the Government is going it will lose a lot more.
– That is not my criterion for obtaining votes.
– Never mind about that. The problem is this: What happens if we lose a division because someone is where he should not be? We do not even know the circumstances officially as to why this has to be done. Why cannot the circumstances be made official? If the Minister does not want to make them official he does not have to, but if the Opposition is defeated and then says that one of its members through a misunderstanding was not present, will the Government recommit the Bill? Would not that be reasonable?
– It depends on the circumstances.
– Well, what are the circumstances? The honourable senator says that it depends on the circumstances but we are not told what the circumstances are. I think it is just a case of the Government high hatting and doing what it wants to do. It thinks it has a chance of winning back the clause so it asks for a recommittal.
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator McClelland’s amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator Bull)
Clause agreed to.
Section 21 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-sections (1.) and (2.) and inserting in their stead the following sub-sections: - “ (1.) Where, in respect of medical expenses incurred by a contributor, he has received or established his right to receive a payment by way of compensation or damages (including a payment in settlement of a claim for compensation or damages) under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory, and the amount of that payment is not less ‘than the aggregate of the amount of Commonwealth benefit and the amount of fund benefit that would be payable in respect of those medical expenses if he had not received or established his right to receive that payment, Commonwealth benefit is not payable in respect of those medical expenses. “ (2.) Where, in respect of medical expenses incurred by a contributor, he has received or established his right to receive a payment of the kind referred to in the last preceding sub-section, but the amount of that payment is less than the aggregate referred to in that sub-section. Commonwealth benefit is not payable in respect of those medical expenses except to the extent of such amount as the Director-General determines, but not exceeding the amount by which that aggregate exceeds the sum of the amount of fund benefit payable in respect of those medical expenses and the amount of the payment of the kind referred to in the last preceding sub-section that he has received or established his right to receive.”.
– I draw the Committee’s attention to request No. 8 for an amendment to clause 16 in my name. If request for amendment No. 8 is carried request No. 7, which is consequential, will flow. With the permission of the Committee I would like my request for amendment No. 7 and request for amendment No. 8 to be taken together.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I move:
At end of clause add the following paragraphs: “ (b) by omitting from sub-section (3.) the words ‘ may, in his discretion,’ and inserting in their stead the word ‘ shall ‘; and (c) by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section: - (6.) There shall be a right of appeal on the determination of the Minister under the last preceding sub-section by a contributor to the jurisdiction which determined or would have otherwise heard his claim for compensation or damage.’.”.
In the event of that amendment being carried there is a consequential amendment in the following terms:
After “ amended “ insert “ (a) - “.
Clause 16 relates to section 21 of the principal Act which is concerned with compensation payments. Section 21 of the original Act is” found on page 20.
In amplification of the submissions which the Opposition makes on this matter I wish to refer, firstly, to proposed new subsection (1.) of section 21. Section 21 of the principal Act relates to Commonwealth benefit not being payable where the contributor is entitled to compensation or damages. Proposed new sub-section (1.) of section 21 states:
Where, in respect of medical expenses incurred by a contributor, he has received or established his right to receive a payment by way of compensation or damages (including a payment in settlement of a claim for compensation or damages) under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory, and the amount of that payment is not less than the aggregate of the amount of Commonwealth benefit and the amount of fund benefit that would be payable in respect of those medical expenses if he had not received or established his right to receive that payment, Commonwealth benefit is not payable in respect of those medical expenses.
In other words, proposed new sub-section (1.) of section 21 will provide that where a contributor has received, or has established his right to receive, payment by way of compensation or damages under a Commonwealth or State law and the amount involved is not less than the total of the Commonwealth benefit and fund benefit which would be payable in respect of medical expenses if he had not established his right to such compensation or damages, then the Commonwealth benefit is not payable in respect of such medical expenses. Proposed new sub-section (2.) of section 21 states:
Where, in respect of medical expenses incurred by a contributor, he has received or established his right to receive a payment of the kind referred to in the last preceding sub-section-
That is, compensation or damages - but the amount of that payment is less than the aggregate referred to in that sub-section-
That is, Commonwealth benefit and fund benefit -
Commonwealth benefit is not payable in respect of those medical expenses except to the extent of such amount as the Director-General determines, but not exceeding the amount by which that aggregate exceeds the sum of the amount of fund benefit payable in respect of those medical expenses and the amount of the payment of the kind referred to in the last preceding sub-section that he has received or established his right to receive.
In other words, if the compensation awarded is less than what would normally be the amount of the Commonwealth benefit and the fund benefit, the Commonwealth will bridge the gap, as it were, between the award and the aggregate of the Commonwealth benefit and the fund benefit. Subsection (3.) of section 21 of the principal Act states:
Where, at the time at which payment of Commonwealth benefit is claimed, it appears to the Director-General that the contributor may be entitled to receive a payment of the kind referred to in sub-section (1.)- but he has not established his right, either by way of settlement of the action or a court determination, to the payment of compensation or damages - the Commonwealth benefit is not payable, of course - the Director-General has a discretion to authorise provisional payment of an amount of Commonwealth benefit not exceeding the amount which but for this section would be payable. In other words, when a contributor makes a claim for Commonwealth benefit and, before he has established his right to compensation or damages, it appears to the Director-General that the contributor may be entitled to receive compensation or damages, the Commonwealth benefit is not payable but the Director-General has a discretion vested in him to authorise the provisional payment of an amount not exceeding the Commonwealth benefit which would normally be payable and when compensation is awarded, either by way of a court determination or settlement of the action, the contributor is liable to repay to the Commonwealth any amount by which the provisional payment exceeds the amount which is payable under proposed new sub-section (1.).
I am given to understand that in some cases persons with compensation claims pending have been deprived of the provisional payment of Commonwealth benefit and the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) in another place who, as we all know, is a medical practitioner, advises me that he himself has had several of these cases. When I was a member of the St. George Hospital Board in Sydney some people who had a claim pending for compensation came to me and told me that they could not receive the
Commonwealth benefit pending the settlement or determination of their claim. Naturally, until such time as the claim is determined the hospital or the member of the medical fraternity involved has to carry the financial burden of the amount of the fee outstanding. We say in our amendment that it should be mandatory for the DirectorGeneral to authorise provisional payments of the amount of Commonwealth benefit that would normally be payable. The provision, of course, still exists in the Bill whereby allowance is made for a person who receives a benefit while a compensation claim is pending or while settlement of the action is pending to refund the amount of that benefit upon the ultimate determination of the claim.
We say this provision is quite reasonable and therefore we say that because that section is included the request for the amendment making it mandatory for the Director-General .to authorise provisional payment of the Commonwealth benefit which is now proposed by the Opposition will considerably improve the legislation. It will relieve the person involved of a great deal of financial concern and it will ease the burden on the hospitals and the medical fraternity which now have to wait a considerable time in some cases for settlement of their account Paragraph (c) of our proposed amendment adds at the end of clause 21 a new paragraph, paragraph (6.). It reads:
There shall be a right of appeal on the determination of the Minister under the last preceding sub-section by a contributor to the jurisdiction which determined or would have otherwise heard his claim for compensation or damage.
– What do you mean by that? If his claim was before a judge and jury in New South Wales, would this have to go to a judge and jury or merely to the district court jurisdiction?
– It depends. Just let me amplify the argument and then I will go back to the honourable senator’s point. I intend to amplify the situation. Our amendment seeks a right of appeal on the determination of the Minister under subsection (5.). It states:
For the purposes of this section-
That is section 21 - the Minister may determine that the whole or a specified part of a payment in settlement of a claim for compensation or damages shall be regarded as being in respect of medical expenses incurred by a contributor.
Let us assume a worker has a claim before a supreme court, a compensation commission or a district court for, say, $20,000 and the ultimate determination either by the court that has the jurisdiction or by way of settlement is $10,000. Some of it is for medical expenses, some for pain and suffering and some for all the other ancillary matters that are taken into account in the assessment by the tribunal of the amount awarded. But the Minister, after that determination is made, or after the settlement has been made, according to sub-section (5.) may determine that the whole or a specified part of a payment in settlement of a claim for compensation or damages shall be regarded as being in respect of medical expenses incurred by a contributor. It could well be that if a worker makes a claim for $10,000 and he is awarded, we will say, $5,000 by a court the Minister then may determine that the whole of the $5,000 relates to medical expenses incurred by the patient. Should that happen, bearing in mind section 21 (1.), he would then not have any right to Commonwealth benefit. We suggest that this is an arbitrary power that at present is vested in the Minister and that there should be provision in the Act, when the Minister determines such a condition, giving the right of appeal to the worker against the Minister’s arbitrary determination.
– Do you know why it is the Minister in sub-section (5.) whereas in the earlier sub-sections it is the DirectorGeneral?
– No, I do not know. If the Minister could help in that regard, Senator Greenwood and I would appreciate it.
– It might be because the original decision was the Director-General’s and it would be an appeal from Caesar to Caesar.
– It might be. There is a query at the moment as to why sub-section (3.) relates to the DirectorGeneral and sub-section (5.) relates to the Minister. It could well be that it is an appeal from Caesar to Caesar. In any event, we say that there should be vested in the person affected a right of appeal against the
Minister’s arbitrary determination and that that right of appeal should lie with the court of jurisdiction which determined the original application or, if the award was effected by way of settlement, with the jurisdiction which but for the settlement would have heard the action. We believe that the proposed amendments are fair and reasonable. They are just. They give a worker a right of appeal against an arbitrary determination of the Minister. Our amendments do not allow the DirectorGeneral’ the exercise of a discretion in determining whether or not he shall authorise provisional payments of the Commonwealth benefit. In any event there is still provision in the section, if an award is made, for the amount of Commonwealth benefit to be repayable under the preceding sections. We suggest that these amendments would further improve the national health scheme. I put them forward on behalf of the Opposition.
[11.13] - I am endeavouring to get a reply to one or two points which have been raised, but I have not yet been able to do so. At this point of time, as Senator McClelland said, the Bill provides that where a contributor has established his right to receive a payment by way of compensation or damages the Commonwealth medical benefit is payable only to the extent that the compensation payment is less than the combined Commonwealth and fund benefits for the services. However, section 21 (3.), to which the proposed amendment 8 (b) relates, gives the Director-General the power to make a provisional payment of Commonwealth benefit in those cases where it is possible that there will be, although the contributor has not established his entitlement to, payment of compensation in third party insurance or workers compensation cases. The sub-section provides that, if the compensation actually received is high enough to reduce the amount of Commonwealth benefit that should be paid, below the amount paid provisionally, the difference must be repaid to the Commonwealth.
The effect of the amendment would be to force the payment of Commonwealth benefit in all possible compensation cases where the contributor lodges a claim before the case has been settled. When the Minister commented on this in another place he pointed out that the present Act allows the Director-General to investigate and to make an assessment of the situation. It permits him to use ‘his judgment as to whether payment of compensation is probable as to the amount that will be probably be paid. This achives much greater accuracy in the amount of the benefits provisionally paid. If the Commonwealth benefit was paid in all cases as proposed, there would be difficulty in recovering the amount overpaid to the contributor, not to mention the inconvenience also caused to the contributor.
– Why would there be difficulty? There would be a fund to which resort could be had.
– I am quite certain it would be difficult to recover the amount overpaid to the contributor.
– But the contributor would be entitled to the benefits, anyway, because by definition he is a contributor.
– He would be entitled to the particular benefits. But I think we go further. Paragraph (c) refers to the power of the Minister for Health to determine how much of a payment made in settlement of a cl’aim under workers’ compensation or third party insurance is attributable to medical expenses. I think this is a very important point, for the amendment proposes an appeal to the court that either heard the case or would have heard the case if it had not been settled out of court. The practice of the various courts varies. In some cases the amount attributable to medical expenses is specified, whereas in other cases a lump sum is awarded. In other cases, of course, as is recognised, there is settlement out of court. I believe that the effect of this amendment would be indirectly to force the courts to make an assessment of medical expenses in each case heard and, if the contributor decided, also for those cases which are settled out of court. The Government feels that the amendment really would serve little purpose and that it is not acceptable because of this, as the court could use only the same criteria which the Minister would use in making his determination. We believe that as the Act stands, this is the way in which the particular benefit can best be assessed.
– I must say that I feel that there is a lot of merit in what the amendment proposes. As I understood what the Minister said, she felt that the main ground of opposition to the amendment is or could be that it will require the Director-General of Health to make a payment of benefit in every case where an applicant asks for the benefit to oe paid and that applicant has a claim for compensation pending in the courts. I appreciate that that is the result of this amendment. But on the other hand I sense that a person who is a contributor and who has incurred medical and hospital bills is entitled to have, simply because he is a contributor, payment made to him of whatever benefits he is entitled to under the scheme to which he has become a member. The only factor which would militate against that right, which I am sure we all would recognise as the undoubted right of the contributor, is the fact that he has a compensation claim in regard to damages for injuries he has suffered in a motor car accident or in some other way in which he has experienced personal injuries. Naturally, he would be taking this action in the courts only because he believes that the fault of the wrongdoer is such that he is entitled to recover damages from that wrongdoer.
The scheme of the legislation at the present time is that where the injured plaintiff has suffered his injury because of the fault of another person, the fault of that other person should oblige him not only to pay damages to the plaintiff, but also to indemnify or recompense a fund for moneys which it had to pay out. I think that is quite fair so long as we have this concept of fault underlying all this litigation. But why should that offset the right of a contributor, who by virtue of membership of a fund and by virtue of this Act is entitled to have fund and Commonwealth benefits paid to him when he has suffered expense, to receive what is his just entitlement. Obviously, when the matter in respect of which he is litigating comes to trial or is settled, he will receive a lump sum from the defendant or the defendant’s insurance. Out of that sum he - or if it is a settlement, the insurer himself - will pay an amount which will be recompense of whatever fund and Commonwealth benefits have been paid. In certain circumstances there may be difficulties in recovery, particularly if the plaintiff spends, fairly soon after he receives his money, what otherwise would be available to recompense the fund or, alternatively, where he fails in his action or receives such a small amount that the Director-General has not got access to sufficient funds in order to enable recompense to be made.
In those circumstances, who should bear the loss? Should it be the fund or should it be the individual? I suppose that is a matter of judgment in terms of social policy. I for my part would prefer to feel that the funds would bear the loss rather than the individual because, after all, basic to it is the concept that the individual has joined one of the funds. He is entitled to fund and Commonwealth benefits, and that should underlie, I think, the whole approach. He should be entitled to that which he has insured to get and which the Commonwealth has supplemented. If in a particular case when he is suing for damages he does not get as much as he believes he should get, or he does not get as much as the Director-General believed he might get, and therefore it is a question of whether the fund is to suffer the loss or the individual is to be out of pocket, then providing he is a contributor, I think it is the fund or the Commonwealth which should be out of pocket, rather than the individual. I have taken some time to explain-
– It is the Commonwealth benefit which is involved in the amendment.
– I am indebted to Senator McClelland. I appreciate that it is the Commonwealth benefit with which we are concerned here, and whilst I have been using the expression ‘fund benefit’, it is possible to use it by way of general application. But essentially what we are concerned with here is whether or not he gets that Commonwealth supplement, that Commonwealth benefit. I would have felt that underlying what I have said is the concept that it should be the Commonwealth or the fund which loses, rather than the individual. I have taken time to express that view because I think it is important to appreciate what is involved in the amendment. It does seem hard, therefore, as the Minister put it, that the Director-General shall in all of these cases make this payment. It would seem more consistent with the general run of things that he should have a discretion. But when one considers that this is a benefit to which the contributor is entitled, I should have thought that automatically it ought to follow that the payment is made, and thereafter claims can be made by the Director-General to get money back. Therefore, my whole inclination is to support this amendment because I think it has merit.
The second part of the amendment, I should have thought, also gives a right which ought to be available. So often one sees, in these cases where a settlement occurs in a personal injury claim, that a lump sum is payable by the defendant or the defendant’s insurer to the plaintiff. That lump sum is inclusive not only of the actual compensation amount but also of any hospital and medical bills, loss of wages and workers’ compensation payments.
– Suffering and everything else.
– That is included in the compensation claim. The lump sum also includes court costs. If it is a lump sum payment under the sections which we are considering the Minister has the power to say that a certain proportion of that shall be applicable to medical expenses. I would be interested to know also why it is the Minister rather than the DirectorGeneral who makes the determination. Nevertheless, a determination having been made, it is quite apparent that the Minister can make an error. He could have some view which further examination proved to be a wrong view or a view based on inadequate facts which led him to a conclusion which cannot be supported.
Under the present system what redress has a contributor, or the insurer who might have taken the obligation on behalf of the contributor, who is required to make this repayment to the Director-General when it is quite obvious that the Minister is in error in making the decision? The right of appeal is given from what is a ministerial determination and I should think that there were few cases in which an appeal ought not automatically lie to somebody. I am not sure in my own mind that the wording of this amendment is as apt to confer an appropriate right of appeal as I would have liked to see it, but I certainly agree with the principle which it embodies.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [11.26] - I do not wish to delay the Committee, but perhaps I could make one point clear. I was asked why in one case there was reference to the Minister whereas in other places there was reference to the DirectorGeneral. I am sorry that I did not reply to that point. I cannot see that there is any particular reason for this distinction. This had been decided on and was drafted into the Bill, but I cannot give any particular reason for it being the Minister in one case and the Director-General in another. In reply to Senator Greenwood I make the point that we must be conscious of the fact that the person whom we are discussing is entitled to compensation, perhaps under a third party insurance policy, and if he does not get the compensation then the fund pays its benefit. So the clause does not mean that the person would not be assisted, because if he does not get the compensation he receives the fund benefit. There is another point on which I am seeking information so that I may answer it later.
– It is terribly amusing really to listen to the Government - I will not say the Minister, because she is only representing the Government - suggesting that this Bill is for the people, that the Government is interested in what is given for the people, that the Bill is for the patients and everything is for the patients, and that the Bill is being rushed through for the patients.
– You are unduly cynical, senator. It is for the patients and you know it.
– Yes, that is true, but here is a clause which is for the benefit of patients and the Minister opposes it. If it is not for the benefit of the patient, who does it benefit?
– It is for the benefit of a lot of people.
– Yes, but the point is that these people may have to wait 2 or 3 years for their compensation.
– Five years.
– Even 5 years. It is sickening that the Minister should oppose an amendment presumably because it has been introduced by the Opposition. If the Government does have consideration for a person who has been a patient it will support the amendment.
– I support the amendment moved by Senator McClelland. Senator Greenwood gave a very good analysis of the way in which these matters operate. The Minister has expressed the problem quite well by saying that this provision deals only with those people who have claims for damages or compensation and that while they have a claim they do not receive the benefit which is payable unless the Director-General in his discretion decides that they should receive it. When the matter has been resolved one way or the other, in one case a person will receive the fund benefit but in another case he will not receive it. There may be some intermediate positions also. Let us consider the consequences of what the Minister says.
Consider the situation of a contributor who would be entitled to the payment but for the fact that he is taking action or commencing proceedings which will, if he is successful, relieve the Commonwealth from the payment of moneys. Because of that fact we have operating a system where in most cases, the patient does not receive the money, and because he does not receive it the doctors do not get it and the hospitals do not get it. This is not a satisfactory situation. On the face of it this is a scheme for the contributors to be paid what they are entitled to. The scheme would be much more reasonable in its operation if the moneys were paid, because the moneys would be payable if it were not for the fact that such a claim exists. We think that this is an extremely important amendment. The first part of it is far more important than the later part. The part which would require the payment is the really important aspect of the amendment, as it seems to me, because we should have a scheme which operates in such a way that the benefit would be paid. Then we would need some proper provisions to secure that the Commonwealth could be repaid in the event of a successful chirn being made.
In order to ensure that the patient is not injured financially because of his having made a claim, some provision for appeal needs to be provided. Suppose there was a case where a claim was made for some S5.000 of which $1,000 was for medical expenses and there is difficulty over the claim and liability might be awkward for some reason. Suppose that the person who makes the claim decides to settle for a quarter of that amount - $1,250 - because of the nature of the claim and because the defendant has said that he has a strong case and is not prepared to pay more than onequarter of the claim. Why should the patient be left in the situation where, out of that quarter, he has to pay $1,000 in medical expenses when, in reality - this is a hypothetical case - he had a claim made up of $1,000 for medical expenses and $4,000 for pain and suffering and so forth. That would be a serious injury financially done to a contributor merely because he had a claim. Why should this happen to a contributor? He would say that if it were not for that aspect he would have been entitled, so why should he not be entitled to the $1,000 to which otherwise he would have been entitled as a contributor to the scheme. We think that in justice this ought to be cleared up.
The proposal by Senator McClelland is that the word ‘shall’ be substituted for ‘may in his discretion’, which would require the payment and enable those who dealt with insured persons to be paid promptly and perhaps even to be able to moderate their charges, instead of, as is sometimes inevitable, having to mark up their charges to make up for the fact that they will have to wait for years before being paid. In the long run it might be found that this would help the Commonwealth. This aspect should not be overlooked. There should be some kind of provision for appeal. Senator McClelland has put forward this suggestion and it is a reasonable proposition. The Government may be able to suggest some better way of providing for an appeal. The substance of Senator McClelland’s proposal is that there should be some kind of appeal. In the absence of a better suggestion being made I should think that the amendment in both aspects should be supported.
– It is not my desire to engage in tedious repetition on this proposed amendment, but I would like to indicate that the case submitted by Senator McClelland of the Opposition, who has moved the proposed amendment and has been supported by Senator Greenwood and Senator Murphy, is so strong that the members of the Democratic Labor Party find no difficulty in supporting it. We consider that an excellent case has been made out for amendment and the attitude of the Government to me is incomprehensible. A person who meets with an accident and is confined to hospital incurs medical expenses. If he does not make a claim on the individual or company responsible for his accident he receives medical benefits. If he makes a claim his medical benefits are withheld for an indefinite period. His case may not be heard in the courts for a considerable time. That is not an unusual position today.
– And then he might lose the action.
– I am coming to that. Even if he is successful, the delay should not mean that the patient, the contributor to the medical scheme, has to wait without any aid at all from the fund to which he is a contributor. That is an injustice. If he fails in his claim, he belatedly receives the medical benefits, with the approval of the Director-General of Health. What is compensation? Why is compensation paid? It covers several factors. Compensation is paid for suffering, economic loss and loss of wages. Many factors are allowed for in awarding compensation.
Sentaor Murphy - Including personal injury.
– A man might suffer a permanent physical disability as a result of his accident. It is true that an element of the claim will be for medical and hospital expenses. Some system should be devised so that an adjustment can be made, if necessary, without holding up payment to the patient and the contributor - he is both in the case I am outlining - of the benefits to which he is justly and legally entitled. I would go further and say that if there is any claim for reimbursement to the Commonwealth for any moneys paid out, the claim should be made on the defendants in the action and not on the patient. The
Commonwealth should look to the defendants in the action for reimbursement of payments to the patient, the contributor. I support the proposed amendment.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [11.38] - Senator Turnbull is not in the chamber at the moment but I wish to reply to a point he raised. He referred to long delays in payments. This is recognised. I would just like to point out that this provision has been in the Act since 1953. There have been cases, as we well recognise, in which there have been long delays. If any hardship is caused, the Commonwealth has a right to make payments. This is done to overcome any hardship that exists.
Amendment and request agreed to.
Clause agreed to with an amendment and subject to a request.
Section 23 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (1.) all the words after the word “ contributor “ (second occurring).
– I move:
Leave out ‘the clause, insert the following new clause: “ 17. Section 23 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (1.) and inserting in its stead the following sub-section: - (1.) Commonwealth benefit is payable to any person for medical treatment of a nature covered by the First Schedule.’.”.
Section 23 (1.) of the principal Act provides that a Commonwealth benefit is payable to a registered medical benefit organisation that conducts a medical benefit fund to which payments are made by the contributor concerned. In short, our amendment proposes that a Commonwealth benefit be paid to any person receiving medical treatment of the type referred to in the First Schedule of the Bill. This proposed amendment stems from the philosophical attitude of the Labor movement towards voluntary health insurance and the assertion of the Commonwealth that a Commonwealth benefit is payable only to a contributor to a voluntary health insurance fund. As has been said during the debate on the second reading of this Bill and also at the Committee stage, the Australian Labor Party believes that the Commonwealth by that attitude is asserting that public money should be used as a coercive measure to get people who are not members of a fund to become contributors to a fund. In other words, the people who join a fund receive a Commonwealth benefit. Those who do not join a fund receive no Commonwealth benefit and, of course, no fund benefit. The people who do not join a fund pay taxation but receive no Commonwealth medical benefit. We say that every person who requires medical treatment is entitled to receive at least the Commonwealth benefit as set out in the Schedule.
If a person decides to join a fund, that is his own business, but everyone who pays taxes into the public purse is entitled to receive the amount of Commonwealth benefit that would be paid to a member of a voluntary health insurance scheme. We say that the Government should not coerce people into joining medical and hospital benefits funds by literally saying: ‘If you do not join the fund, you do not get any Commonwealth benefit.’ This is the system of so called voluntary health insurance. We think it would be better described as coercive insurance. It certainly is not our system. It is not the system of the Labor movement. It is the system of the present Government. We believe that it is wrong in principle that people who are not members of funds are ipso facto deprived of Commonwealth benefits. Many citizens could well be penalised by the present provision. I have therefore proposed that section 23 (1.) be amended to provide that the Commonwealth benefit is payable to any person for medical treatment of a nature covered by the First Schedule.
– As I understand the amendment, it means that if a person is not insured he will still be entitled to the Commonwealth benefit. I am sorry, but I have to oppose this amendment because it cuts right through the roots of the voluntary health insurance scheme. We have a voluntary scheme and we have to put up with it. If people want the other scheme, it is a matter of changing over. But at the moment we have a voluntary scheme. One of the points about this provision in the Act is that it does help to make sure that people insure themselves. If we did not have this provision in the legislation, people would not need to insure at all. This amendment cuts- right through the roots of the scheme. Therefore, I oppose it.
[11.46] - As Senator McClelland said, this amendment would make Commonwealth benefits available to everyone in the community, whether insured with a registered organisation or* not. The honourable senator says very rightly that the amendment is in line with the Labor Party’s philosophy. I say quite strongly that it is completely at variance with the Government’s philosophy on which the national health scheme is based. That philosophy is that in the scheme there should be an incentive to encourage people to help themselves by insuring against the cost of illness. We believe that it is important that people be encouraged to insure themselves. This is the philosophy of our Party, as opposed to the philosophy of the Australian Labor Party which has been enunciated by the Opposition. So, this amendment is completely unacceptable to the Government. I hope that the Committee, in considering it, will appreciate the 2 philosophies, which are at variance here.
– This is an extraordinary debate. We hear philosophies being espoused. We have just heard the Minister speak of the philosophy of the Liberal Party. Before that we heard Senator Turnbull speak about the voluntary scheme. If ever there was a proposition of which the Liberal Party and Senator Dr Turnbull should be in favour, it is this proposition. It is not a voluntary scheme when the Government starts to impose penalties on people if they do not join it. This is a subtle form of civil conscription.
The section of the Constitution that permits the provision of health benefits of this kind says that the Parliament shall have power to make laws for:
The provision of maternity allowances, widows’’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorise any form of civil conscription). . . .
It is sometimes thought that that - I am speaking of the spirit of it - applies only to the doctors. It does not apply only to the doctors or the dentists. It applies to everyone. Why should persons in this community be forced to do something - that is what it amounts to if a sufficient financial penalty is imposed - as a condition of receiving one of the benefits?
We members of the Australian Labor Party say that it is the philosophy of democracy and our philosophy that there should not be civil conscription, and that we are opposed to compelling people, under a financial penalty, to join one of these funds. That is what this provision in the legislation amounts to. It says: ‘Here is a benefit which is available to citizens generally and which is payable out of the taxation that is levied on everyone, and you will not receive it unless you join one of these funds’. How does that accord with Liberal philosophy? How does it accord with the approach that people should not be forced to join associations when the legislation says that if a person does not join one of these funds he just will not receive the benefit that is payable generally by the Commonwealth and payable to enable him to meet his medical and hospital bills? So, I suggest for the consideration of Senator Turnbull and the rest of the Committee that they reconsider the matter.
If this kind of subtle approach can be made to force people to join such organisations, one can imagine what would be done if the financial inducement or the financial penalty were increased. Imagine what would happen if this subtle approach were used in many other ways under this legislation. Imagine what would happen if the Government started using financial penalties in respect of the medical profession, the dental profession or others. If it is acceptable that people should be denied a benefit to which they should be entitled unless they join some kind of private organisation, how can it be said that this is a voluntary scheme? It is not a voluntary scheme. The people are being compelled, by virtue of this provision, to join such a scheme or else be denied benefits that they should receive. We say that the ordinary citizen ought to have the opportunity to decide whether he will join one of these organisations, and that if he chooses not to do so because he does not think the benefits to him under the scheme are worth while he should not be denied the Commonwealth benefit.
– Senator Murphy says that this is an extraordinary debate. I agree with him after hearing his argument. I have heard it said that lawyers can argue that black is white. Senator Murphy proved that just a few moments ago. We believe that a person should make a conscious choice as to whether he wishes to join a health benefits scheme and that this is his individual right. This is not civil conscription. If a person - one of the wealthy people to whom Senator McClelland referred in the second reading debate - decides that he is prepared to carry the cost of illness himself because he is well able to afford to do so, he should be permitted to do so. But the Australian Labor Party is now proposing that the taxpayers of Australia should compensate him by paying him the Commonwealth benefit. That seems to be in conflict with the Labor philosophy rather than in conflict with Liberal philosophy. We believe that a person has the right to decide whether he will join the scheme. If he makes a conscious choice not to join the scheme, that is his business and his right. I strongly oppose the idea that wealthy people should be paid the Commonwealth benefit which is paid for by the taxpayers of Australia.
– I enter this debate because of what has been said over the years, and subscribed to by the medical profession, about the Australian Labor Party’s health policy, namely, that the Labor Party intended, if it won government, to introduce a compulsory scheme. The scheme that the Labor Party proposed to introduce was one of imposing taxation which would be graduated according to the ability to pay. The Government’s so-called voluntary scheme has no regard for the ability to pay. A person pays a flat amount, whatever he wants to insure for. This provision in the legislation makes it compulsory. Do not let us argue that a person has a choice. In this country there may be a few millionaires who have a choice, but the general Australian citizen has no choice but to belong to one of these funds if he is to receive adequate medical treatment in the event of suffering ill health.
– He has to pay S88 a year.
– I have to pay more than that and I receive less benefit than a person receives in the honourable senator’s State. In addition, the Government says that a person has to belong to a fund and it persists with a multitude of funds, all of which are taking part of the contributors’ money for their operation and administration. This is the sort of scheme that the Government wants to force the Australian people to join in order that they may receive the Commonwealth benefit. The funds of this Government belong to the people. They do not belong to the Government. They should be distributed equally amongst the people. To say that people will receive a Commonwealth benefit only if they join a voluntary scheme is the worst form of compulsion because the people are forced to take out of their pockets money which in many cases they can ill afford to pay, in order to attract a Commonwealth benefit.
The Minister probably will reply that the Government has set up a scheme whereby people within our community will not have to pay into a medical benefits scheme. When you consider a wage of $42.50 it is apparent that it is impossible for people to pay into a scheme. But let us take it one step further to $43. A man on that wage with 4 or 5 children still has to insure with the fund to get benefits. Is the Government saying that because he receives 50c a week more than the other man he can afford to join one of the funds to protect himself and his dependants and to get a Commonwealth benefit? It is wrong for the Government, whether it has a Labor Party philosophy or a Liberal Party philosophy, to set a means test upon the payment of a Commonwealth benefit to which all citizens of Australia should be entitled. For that reason I support the amendment moved by Senator McClelland.
– This debate is taking place on an amendment moved by Senator McClelland but apparently it has become a vehicle for an expression of the philosophy of the particular parties on their respective health schemes. What has been said by Senator Murphy and Senator Cant is a complete misrepresentation of the position. If a person has a house and desires to insure it so that he will be covered if any damage occurs to it, is he being compelled to insure? Of course he is not. He is merely facing the situation where he has an asset of value which he desires to protect and voluntarily he is prepared to insure it.
The Government says that a person’s health should be regarded in the same way, as a matter of patient responsibility. The Government has said that if you are prepared to insure to look after yourself a government supplement in the form of a Commonwealth benefit will be payable. That is the voluntary principle. It enshrines, or seeks to enshrine, patient responsibility. That is something which we wish to encourage. What, on the other hand, does the Labor Party say? The Labor Party says: ‘Government will look after you. All you have to do is to pay your taxes. If you pay your taxes government will give you all the Commonwealth benefits, all the health services, all the medical services, all the hospitalisation you require’. I appreciate the attraction of that but a system which develops along that line denies patient responsibility. It gives the individual no place. It merely makes him dependent upon the almighty government, and that is something which our Party has set itself against in all the years that it has been in existence. Let the Labor Party say that that is the scheme it will introduce. Let it say that everyone wilt get benefits if they pay their taxes. What will be the result? Taxes will be increased.
We heard - I think it is absolutely amazing to hear this from Senator Murphy and Senator Cant - that this is a compulsory scheme and something which is characterised by civil conscription. It is precisely the opposite. It is the Labor Party which has a compulsory scheme. The Labor Party says: ‘Whether you like it or not, the Government will provide you with health services and you have to pay the taxes to pay for them. Of course, part of Labor’s scheme announced during die last election campaign was that taxes would be increased to pay for the health scheme. If health schemes develop, as inevitably they must, and become totally financed by the Government, the cost to the community will be enormous and so the cost to the taxpayer will be enormous.
It is a far better system to have a voluntary insurance scheme as we have because, first of all, it puts the responsibility where I believe it should be placed - on the individual himself. That is the way to build a self-reliant nation, a nation in which individuals know how to take care of themselves. Secondly, it is advantageous because it permits an area of choice. The patient can make up his own mind what doctor he will go to and what services he wants. Above all, he can make up his own mind whether he will insure. That is the core of what I see as the difference between the 2 philosophies. This amendment, which I think Senator McClelland said was introduced merely to toe a vehicle for a discussion of philosophy, should be rejected.
– I join with Senator Cant in refuting the one-eyed thinking that seems to be apparent on the Government side. Even if we accept the Government’s argument that it is the Government’s scheme, should it not rest on fundamental democracy? I draw this parallel: Every time the trade union movement seeks a wage increase it goes to the arbitration court and economists and so on are brought into court and unionists are grilled. It is a case of cards on the table. There is a discussion of what a person can live on. Compare that with occasions when there are negotiations with fund directors. Does anyone know what takes place when the Minister of the day meets Mr Turner and the other people who run the funds?
The Government prates about democracy and consumer protection. If anyone needs protection it is the people who are forced to join these funds. We never find out about the operations of the funds. Perhaps I should qualify that and say that sometimes after persistent questions in the House we find out something about the operations of the funds, but that is the only time that we do. If we accept the thesis that Senator Greenwood put forward that it is the Government’s scheme, that it has to work and that the Government is interested in the subscribers, why do we never find out anything about the funds? Did the subscribers have a vote when the funds decided to go into the high rental section of Sydney with their palace-type offices? We do not have a say in that kind of thing. The Government’s attitude is that the subscriber has to pay up and be contented. It is not for him to reason why. That is the Crimean War complex that the Government is trying to foist on us.
We have a choice. We have the amendment sponsored by Senator McClelland which tries to reform what has gone on over the past 5 years. Senator Greenwood in one of his asides to me in the Senate the other night said: ‘Of course there are things that the Government should have done’. That is the very thing that we are talking about. If we endorse what the Government is launching, will it be a perpetuation of the exploitation by bureaucracy which has gone on for the past 5 years? So far the Government has not done anything to stop it.
Later in the debate the Minister may be able to say: ‘There will be some pretty severe iron clad control of operations’, but the Government never says to us clearly that each time the funds amass a certain amount of reserves there will be a corresponding automatic increase in benefits or a reducion in premiums. I am trying to develop a system in the arbitration field to provide escalation provisions, cost of living adjustments or something along that line. The Government has not come forward with anything along that line and that is why we have great mistrust of it. As I said yesterday, when the banks started to charge a little more for cheque services Mr Turner said that it was an excuse to increase costs, but the funds will not disclose the amount of their massive aggregate reserves and nothing that the Government has said so far indicates that it has learned from the past. I sum up in this way: Like the Bourbons of old, the Government has learned nothing and has forgotten nothing.
– If this were not such a serious subject it would be rather amusing to hear members of the Labor Party applying the word ‘compulsion’ to what is proposed in the Bill. The Labor Party is the greatest advocate of culpulsion of all time. Where is the freedom and liberty of the subject in union activities? Senator Murphy used the word ‘coercion’. He equated coercion with compulsion whereas the most that could be said for this is that there is an inducement of an additional Commonwealth benefit applying to those who come voluntarily into a scheme. Inducement is the correct word to use. Surely it is sound government to induce people to insure for their own benefit in a health scheme. The Australian Labor Party gives no option whatever. It uses the ultimate of compulsion through the taxation machinery for a compulsory contribution whether the individual wants to be in the scheme or not.
– Senator Greenwood said that the debate on the proposed amendment had become a battle of philosophies. He went on to add petrol to the flame. He did not do very much to mollify it. A lot of words have been used to describe this amendment, but surely it is simple. Under the present scheme there is a condition precedent that if one does not join an insurance fund one gets nothing. I have always doubted the morality of the situation in which a Commonwealth Government says: ‘If you do this, if you can afford to do it or if you choose to do it, then you have an option - an option of getting nothing or getting something from the Government’s coffers’. Do not let us start talking about coercion and compulsion and twisting them around. Senator Prowse, our friend from the Australian Country Party, dealt with Liberal Party and Labor Party philosophies. I am glad he did not deal with the Country Party philosophy because I have not heard it. I think its philosophy is to tag along. The Country Party is the party of perpetual alibi. If the Liberal Party does something the Country Party says: ‘It is not us. We are the junior Party’. If the Australian Labor Party is the government the Country Party says: ‘It is not us because we are not the government’. The Country Party has the best of both worlds. Senator McClelland has moved a basic amendment on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. This question of coercion was raised on Wednesday night. Senator Greenwood chose to repeat his second reading speech. I have no alternative but to answer with the words I used in my second reading speech.
– I shortened mine immeasurably.
– I will shorten mine immeasurably, too. That is the one good thing Senator Greenwood has done since he has been here. He has set an example and it is one which I will follow. The Australian Labor Party has taken this attitude because of a couple of very salient features. While 117 different schemes collect money and distribute it, it is obviously expensive. This situation has been criticised by everybody who has looked at it. By substituting the taxation department with a graduated system of taxation the Government will use the accepted way which exists in all fields of social service and place taxes on the shoulders of those best able to carry the burden.
As I pointed out at the second reading stage, if 2 people are living side by side and paying $100 a year each under this condition precedent which the Government has insisted on, that is, signing up with an insurance company, and if one person is paying 60c in the $1 in tax on a large income, at the end of the financial year the Government will say to him: ‘We are prepared to rebate $60. The Commonwealth will forgo that amount of income. We will give you back $60.’ We do not know the circumstances of the man living next door. He may have a larger family. He is paying 10c because he has a small income. At the end of the year the Government says to him: ‘We will forgo only $10.’ The net result is that the wealthy man pays $40 for his protection but the poor man pays $90. How can honourable senators opposite expect the Australian Labor Party not to complain about this and tell the people of Australia that if it becomes the Government this arrangement shall cease. Let us not talk about coercion in the field of health.
Senator Greenwood, as is the way with the Government, tries to make out - inferentially at least - that the whole of the health service of Australia is paid for by the premiums people pay to these insurance companies, health benefit funds, health societies, or whoever collect this money. This is not true. Only a part of the service is paid for in this way. The Government does not hesitate then to go into the coercive field. It does not hesitate to go into the field of compulsion and say that the rest of the cost of the health service will be taken from taxation revenue. The Government does not do this when it is collecting for other social services such as child endowment, age pensions and the rest. We do not want the Government to do this because, obviously, it can put the burden where it belongs by a graduated system of taxation. How can the Government argue against our proposed amendment when there are 117 bodies collecting money? In its legislation the Government is saying quite deliberately that the wealthy shall pay less than the poor for health protection.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [12.11] As I said earlier, I completely oppose the amendment. I think I should answer one or two points which have been raised. Some comment has been made about the area of need. This Government has already stated that in areas of need the contributor pays less because the Government subsidises the benefit. I refer to the free general practitioner service and the free medicine and free hospitalisation for pensioners. Assistance is being given in these areas. I would appreciate your indulgence, Mr Chairman, to reply to Senator Mulvihill. He said that he had asked a question about reserve funds and he had not received an answer. I have already replied to him in this debate.
– I have mixed feelings on this suggested amendment. I am sympathetic as always to the indigent or the family man who might find difficulty in contributing to a medical benefit society. I cannot reconcile the Opposition’s desire to pay a Commonwealth benefit to a person who is not in the category of the indigent or the hard pressed family man and who has the capacity to contribute to the scheme but does not. Why is he entitled to a Commonwealth grant?
– He is a taxpayer, Senator.
– Of course he is a taxpayer. I know many people who do not and will not contribute to a medical benefits scheme.
– Are any figures available as to the percentage of the population which belongs to a fund?
– Yes, but they are not available to me at the moment any more than they are to the honourable senator. That is what has caused me mixed feelings about this amendment. After all, this is a voluntary scheme. No-one is compelled to join it.
– Economic necessity compels them.
– Give me a go. You do not want to monopolise in all things, do you? People who are provident enough and responsible enough to provide for the emergency of ill health and hospitalisation should not be discouraged from joining a fund by any act of this Parliament. That is the point. In the old days the friendly society was the protective association or organisation of which people became members, to provide for medical advice and financial aid in the case of sickness. That is what the responsible married man did.
– They gave a better service than this gives.
– I am not making a comparison of service. The fact remains that if a man was responsible and his family started to increase he felt that he had to have security., insurance or protection if he could afford it. He felt that he had a responsibility to his wife and family and himself to have some insurance in the event of sickness, particularly his own sickness, he being the breadwinner. He feared that he might get sick. As a result, he felt that it was necessary to have a friendly society behind him. While dealing with friendly societies and the voluntary hospital and medical benefits scheme I think I should point out to Senator Mulvihill, who is continually saying that he contributes to a fund but he has not drawn anything from it, the the spirit which permeated the friendly societies was that the young who are blessed with good health should contribute towards aiding those who are not so fortunate.
– When you were sick then you got back a better percentage than you do now.
– That is questionable. I am not going to interrupt my speech to argue about that aspect because I do not have the relevant statistics in front of me. I would be wasting time if I were to argue about it. I am talking about the principle of the matter.
– Why bring it in?
– If only the honourable senator would listen. I know that he experiences difficulty in understanding, but if only he would listen. I was a member of a friendly society, as were so many other people. What prompted me to join a friendly society? I felt that I had a responsibility to my wife and family to do so, because in the event of my illness they would get something from the friendly society. The same spirit is behind the present medical and hospital benefits scheme. It is one of mutual aid. The present scheme should appeal to any decent ‘Labor man because it involves mutual assistance. It is said that a lot of people cannot afford to join this scheme. As I have already said, I think a man with a big family and in receipt of a low income would experience difficulty in budgeting for his contribution to a medical and hospital benefits scheme. I feel sympathetic towards such a person. But if I am going to help him in the way suggested I am also going to aid people who are just too mean to contribute to a medical and hospital benefits scheme. These people have the capacity to contribute but they do not do so because they are prepared to take a risk. ‘Even though these people may be taxpayers I do not feel inclined to hand out Commonwealth benefits to them when thenconduct is neither more nor less than irresponsible. The present funds are more or less mutual benefit societies, bodies or organisations. I think we should ensure that the indigent and the poor are not disregarded in time of sickness. When they are required to seek hospital attention they should not be burdened with intolerable expenses. However, I cannot vote in favour of the amendment for the simple reason that I cannot bring myself to aid people who will not do something towards looking after their own interests.
– I call Senator Dittmer. I am sorry, I should have said that the call is for Senator Webster because he is on the alternate side of the chamber to Senator Gair. I call Senator Webster.
– Mr Chairman, should I not have the call?
– Order! Senator Webster has the call. Senator Dittmer, you are aware of the procedure. You know that the practice of the Chair is to call an honourable senator from one side of the chamber and then to call an honourable senator from the other side of the chamber. In those circumstances, Senator Webster has the call.
– The Committee is debating the Opposition’s 17th amendment, as I understand it.
– The Opposition’s ninth amendment.
Order! I heard an interjection regarding the Chair favouring the Government by allowing 2 honourable senators who are not in favour of the amendment to speak after one another. I do not know the view that an honourable senator is ‘going to express when he rises in his place. I do not know whether he will be in favour of the proposal of the Government or that of the Opposition. I want honourable senators to understand that when I am the occupant of the Chair I try to be impartial. I try to follow a system whereby I am not conscious of the views an honourable senator is going to express when he rises in his place. I call Senator Webster.
– I rise to lend my weight in support of the Government’s proposal and to oppose the amendment which has been moved on behalf of the Opposition. I think the words which were used by Senator Greenwood are most applicable to the attitude which I adopt in relation to the provision of a free health scheme and the placing of some responsibility on individuals to take an interest in their own welfare. Indeed, I think that some Opposition senators have adopted a two-sided attitude in relation to this matter. I think it would be interesting in retrospect to look at the words which were used opposite, particularly by Senator Murphy when he spoke on this matter. He expressed abhorrence at the fact that a person should be called upon to join a particular fund or take certain action. If we take it that he is expressing purely Australian Labor Party philosophy then I think it is most regrettable that he should use the words that he did in relation to this matter; because I take it that the position of the Labor Party in relation to the forcing of individuals to join a trade union is the attitude which it adopts in general. We have seen what has happened when some poor individual wishes to have some freedom of choice in relation to membership of a trade union. Certainly the Government is, in this case, allowing individuals complete freedom of choice in regard to whether they wish to join a hospital or medical benefits fund and the type of fund they wish to join. 1 think we must examine very closely the words which Senator Murphy used. Senator Murphy has expressed his abhorrence to this type of attitude. He has presented a case for some freedom of selection. What tommyrot the Labor ‘Party is expressing in this chamber today. Indeed, it would support the proposition of a strike throughout the whole of the community if in fact some poor devil, regardless of whether he happened to be earning say only $42 a week, refused to join a union. Such a person would be forced to join a union and to pay his fees. No regard would be had to his actual income.
– He gets the benefits.
- Senator Hendrickson is trying to interrupt me. It is quite clear in this instance that the Government Parties believe that there should be some freedom of choice of insurance. If an individual wishes to insure himself he is encouraged by the Government to do so. I believe that this philosophy should apply.
– Mr Temporary Chairman, I quite understand the method you adopt in the selection of speakers. It would appear that you select them alternately from the left and right regardless of whether their views of the proposal are in the affirmative or the negative. But surely you would have realised that Senator Webster would oppose the amendment, Mr Temporary Chairman. I appreciate your tolerance in this debate, but I cannot - with due deference to you - understand your attitude as it is a departure from your usual efficiency as a chairman not only in this chamber but on the other occasions outside the chamber when you hold that position. But you have allowed honourable senators to ramble all over the place during this debate, Mr Temporary Chairman.
– Order! There has been a dispute about compulsory membership of the present health scheme. The attitudes adopted by the various political parties towards whether joining should be compulsory or voluntary are of relevance to the debate. Under those circumstances I have allowed some latitude to honourable senators. I do not think that honourable senators should be allowed to roam all over the place, but I think that they should be permitted to reflect upon statements made and give illustrations.
– I am unable to appreciate your remarks, Mr Temporary Chairman. I am only giving my point of view. I think the only one who has been pertinent in his remarks concerning the amendment is Senator McClelland, who moved the amendment. I shall confine my remarks to the amendment. I think everyone should do the same. The Government is in a hurry to get the legislation through the Parliament and if honourable senators do not confine their remarks to the subject matter which is before the Committee this legislation will never get through in the time desired. Senator McClelland has suggested that a sum of money be collected from the taxpayers in the form of consolidated revenue for health services. He said that its distribution was a question of basic justice and that it should not go to a particular section of the community. I can understand the idea of the Government in trying to induce, compel or coerce - whichever word is preferred - people to join voluntary health funds. But the position is this: Here we have this Consolidated Revenue to be distributed for the purpose of health services. All that Senator McClelland has suggested by way of amendment is that there should be an equitable approach to the distribution of this particular sum of money. He said that it is the basic right of every individual in the community to share in this distribution, and with that I agree, and philosophically I do not think anyone is justified in disagreeing.
– I hope honourable senators will excuse me if I do not enter into the controversy between the two philosophies. I would like to correct a statement that was made on 2 occasions. It is that there are too many medical benefit funds. There was some objection to this. May I point out that there was overwhelming evidence given to the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs that it was the smaller funds that gave the better benefits. So if one wanted to cut out any funds one should cut out the 2 or 3 bigger ones and then where would one be? By discriminating against the smaller funds and reducing the numbers one would have cut out the ones that give the better benefits. I only wanted to clear that point up.
– As the mover of the amendment I just want to add one or two words to what I enunciated earlier in support of the amendment having regard to some of the arguments that have been proposed by Government supporters and because of the doubt Senator Gair finds himself in as to why he cannot support this proposed amendment. During the course of his remarks Senator Gair referred to the people who have the capacity to contribute to the voluntary health insurance scheme but who decided not to do so, who take the risk on their own health and who have the financial capacity to be able to afford to take the risks. He posed the question: Why should those people be entitled to a Commonwealth benefit? But let us take those people divorced from the ordinary humble members of the community who are not in a financial position, whatever may be the reason, to contribute to voluntary health insurance. Let us look at the people to whom Senator Gair refers - the people who have, as he says, the capacity to contribute to the scheme but who decide not to do so.
First of all, as Senator Mulvihill interjected when Senator Gair was speaking, these people pay taxation and when they incur medical expenses they are able to write off as a taxation deduction a substantial part of the medical expenses incurred. If they can afford to take the risk so far as health insurance of themselves and their families is concerned they are paying taxation at a pretty high rate, much higher than the ordinary family man in the Australian community. But if this amendment is carried and if those people get the Commonwealth benefit the amount that they receive from the Commonwealth by way of Commonwealth benefit will reduce the amount that they are able to write off as a deduction. In that respect I suggest there will be very little lost to the Commonwealth so far as that category of person is concerned. But what is the situation of - for want of a better term - the more humble man in the community, the man who cannot afford the $1.80 a week or whatever the amount is to insure his family?
– He would have to find something under your scheme.
– He would contribute by way of taxation and under our scheme the amount he would be paying by way of taxation would be less than the amount that he will be required to pay as increased contributions under this legislation now before the Parliament. To the man with the smaller income, the man who is in need but who does not qualify under the minimum wage standards that we will be discussing later during the course of this debate, this provision can mean a great deal - and not only to him but also to his children. He is a man who cannot indulge in mutual aid, to use Senator Gair’s term, because he does not have the wherewithal to indulge in it and it is that type of person that this amendment is setting out to assist. Of course there are some people in the community who are mean, as Senator Gair said. There are some people who can pay but who do not pay. There are some who decide to take the risk. But bearing in mind the circumstances I have set out and looking at the situation from the point of view of the humble man in the community, this amendment will mean a great deal and certainly it will give the underprivileged man, the ordinary working man in the community and the family man his just entitlement; he will receive something back for the amount that he contributes to the public purse by way of taxation.
Just let me deal with one or two matters raised by Senator Webster. He spoke about complete freedom of choice in a voluntary health insurance scheme. But, of course, voluntary health insurance as understood by the Government refers to people and not to property. What is the situation in regard to property? The Government insists on compulsory third party insurance for people who have motor vehicles, it insists on compulsory taxation for all sections of the community, it insists on compulsory registration for all youths under 20 years of age who the Government wants to conscript for service in this war in Vietnam and all the banks insist that any person who goes to them for a loan to build or buy a home must insure the property before the loan is arranged or negotiated. So we have compulsory insurance there for the ordinary man. I suggest that it is sheer tripe for Government supporters to put up such fallacious arguments. This amendment proposed by the Opposition is designed to assist those who are entitled to receive some benefit from the Commonwealth because they contribute to the public purse by way of taxation. We believe that if this amendment is carried it will be of great assistance to a very large number of people in the Australian community who are entitled to receive some benefit from the Commonwealth even though they might not be members of voluntary health insurance funds.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [12.38] - I would like to make one point because Senator McClelland who has just resumed his seat has been completely misleading. He well knows the point I am about to make because I have made it before in this chamber but he obviously wanted to forget it so that he might put up a different case. I would remind the Senate that for persons who are receiving up to $42.50 we pay the full benefits without their paying any insurance. Persons receiving up to $45.50 are subsidised to the extent of one-third of the contribution for full benefits and the Commonwealth pays two-thirds for persons receiving up to $48.50. Then I would remind the honourable senator again, as I did a moment ago, of the benefits that pensioners receive. Without any cost to themselves, they receive free general practitioner services and free medicines and hospital treatment. So it is quite wrong of the honourable senator to say that in these areas people are not being given any assistance at all because they are being given assistance and I believe it is right that they should.
– I have entered this debate to try to get some clarity on the clause we are discussing. I think we are on clause 17 by which the Government seeks to amend section 23 of the principal Act. The clause states:
Section 23 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (1.) all the words after the word ‘contributor’ (Second occurring).
If the Government’s amendment is carried, the section will then read:
Commonwealth benefit is payable to the registered medical benefits organisation to the medical benefits fund of which the contributor pays his contributions or, if a contributor.
It stops there.
– That was amended in 1969.
– Apparently there has been some amendment. The Opposition says that the Bill will provide for a contribution only to those who are members of a particular fund. I want to add my impression of Senator Gair’s speech. I think he possibly put a valid point in relation to the method of deciding who should or should not receive the benefit. Surely we do not want to go back to the days of the friendly societies which were destroyed because medical costs rose so steeply that no-one could afford to contribute to the societies.
– The friendly societies were not destroyed.
– They became parties to the national health scheme. The friendly societies gave hospital and medical assistance and made some monetary contribution each week. It got beyond the capacity of the average individual to pay the cost of medical benefits. The cost of medicine rose so exorbitantly that the weekly contributions were beyond the capacity of the average employees, especially low margin workers. For that reason the Government found it necessary, as with many other sections of the community, to subsidise medical costs. That is the purpose of the scheme. The subsidy for medical costs was not a direct subsidy. It was not a subsidy for the treatment. There was the qualification that a person had to do something else in order to get the subsidy. It was not a subsidy paid on the application of a means test. A person had to register with a medical benefits organisation in order to get the subsidy. Therefore the Government subsidised not only the hospital costs but also the persons who made provision to cover practically all their costs.
Recently figures were published showing the percentage who are not members of medical benefits funds. The people concerned would be low margin workers. The more highly paid members of our society are members of funds because there is a saving not only by way of assistance in time of sickness or injury but also by way of a taxation rebate. That is a good reason for these people to contribute. Those who are not in the funds represent in the main, the low margin workers. They find difficulty in keeping up the weekly payments. They hope that a crisis will not occur and that they will not get sick. The Minister referred to workers under a certain wage level. That wage level was unrealistic. It would be far below the average wage in Australia. The Minister said that under the Government’s proposal these people would get greater assistance.
We are not subsidising medical benefits in the same way as we are subsidising farming communities - by superphosphate bounties and the like. By paying a bounty, we protect the wealth of the company that may own the farm. We do not impose a means test on the farmer who gets the bounty. We do not make it a condition of these bounties that the persons concerned have to subscribe to something else. We have an entirely different criterion for this medical benefits subsidy. We place an embargo on it. The patient has to be registered, compulsorily, with a medical benefits fund. That is what the Opposition is complaining about and what the Opposition seeks to avoid.
While there is justification for not giving the subsidy to the wealthy, the very system that we have in operation means that it is given to the wealthy. We know of nothing, other than the introduction of the means test, which would prevent the wealthy from receiving it. The conditions imposed are not applicable to bounties. In that respect the Government’s policy is one of direct subsidy. Regardless of whether individuals have made provision, the Commonwealth benefit should be paid. It should be paid irrespective of other arrangements that the individual has made to cover the rest of the amount that is payable. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve. If the desire of the Democratic Labor Party is to assist the less privileged in our society - those with families who face hardship - it must on reflection accept the amendment despite the fact that we cannot deny that there may be a wealthy person, not covered at present, who will get benefits.
– I could imagine occasions more appropriate for the discussion of party philosophies on health than the discussion of an amendment such as this. I merely point out that, although a very moving plea has been made by the Australian Labor Party for Commonwealth benefits to be available without contribution, when it moved its amendment to the second reading of the Bill, setting out what ALP policy was, it was said that the Opposition stood for a national health insurance scheme financed from graduating contributions.
– That is right.
– I now understand that you are saying that people should be eligible without contributing.
– You cannot get anything without contribution.
– What you get from here will be paid through the Commonwealth. As the Minister said, we have to make arrangements for the really indigent people in the community to have their contributions paid for them. She has given an example of the extent to which that is done. 1 do not think any Government should be expected to do more than provide for the people who cannot pay their own contributions. They should be assisted. They are being assisted. The suggestion that the wealthy people in this community like our nickel millionaires or our air pilots should have a Commonwealth benefit paid for them without any contribution at all means, I think, imposing a burden upon the ordinary taxpayer because that wealthy person would get a contribution without paying for it and the other people would have to put in the money.
– I think that the supporters of the Government are confused about the interpretation of this amendment. That is the difficulty that is presenting itself today. Quite frankly, I do not think honourable senators opposite know what we mean.
– What do you mean?
– I will tell you. Before 1 do that, some honourable senators opposite have injected into the discussion - why I will never know - suggestions about trade unions. Honourable senators opposite have said that trade unions are compulsory organisations. I remind honourable senators opposite that every piece of arbitration legislation and every set of trade union rules makes provision that a member can resign his membership of the union.
– That is a good joke. What happens to him after he resigns?
– Do you dispute what I say? That is in every set of rules in the Commonwealth. Honourable senators opposite should not try to inject into the discussion something about trade unions because obviously they know nothing whatever about them. The amendment seeks to provide that the person who has paid, through his income tax, should receive the Commonwealth benefit. If I am in a fund I can claim substantially the amount which the doctor charges. If I am not in a fund, I pay the full amount which the doctor charges. But I have already paid, by way of income tax, the basic Commonwealth benefit. How can the Commonwealth get the money to pay these benefits, other than by taxation? So I, as an individual who elects not to join a fund, am paying twice. I have already paid through my income tax and I have to pay the amount which the doctor charges. Is that fair? Honourable senators opposite have suggested, or have tried to create the impression, that by this amendment we seek to provide that everybody must receive the total benefit, whether he is a member of a fund or not. That is not correct, and I wish to put the record straight. A person who elects not to join a contributory fund has already paid the basic Commonwealth benefit by way of income tax.
– I did not intend to participate in the discussion, but having listened to Senator Milliner I .think that he might have included me as one of those honourable senators who he thought were confused about the Opposition’s proposed amendment and were joining in certain conjectures regarding it. I think it is crystal clear what the Opposition wants. Its political philosophy is such that it wants a national health scheme. That is the first point. That is what the Opposition wants. It does not want the scheme that the Government is presently proposing. The second point is that the Opposition wants a scheme in which no responsibility is placed on the citizens of this country.
– ‘Who said that? You are saying that.
– Opposition senators are saying this. This is what they are proposing. It is not conjecture. It is crystal clear what the Opposition wants. Anything that is conducted in any community where there is no responsibility soon gets to a state of decadence. I believe that it is not asking too much of anybody to make a weekly contribution towards this health scheme for the protection and welfare of his family. But the Opposition says that this is unfair, that it is undemocratic. Senator Milliner referred to trade unions. The very reason why workers join trade unions - and I shall deal with the question of compulsion in a moment - is consideration for the welfare of themselves and their fellow workers, and also for their own families, because of industrial aspects.
So when we start talking about the welfare of individuals in this country, we get to this cloudy area as to whether or not responsibility should be associated with a scheme. The Labor Party accepts that there should be responsibility, but then it goes one step further. It also wants compulsion. It has been said that a person can resign from a trade union. Perhaps he can, but when he does so he automatically signs his death warrant with regard to that source of employment. Do not let honourable senators opposite deny that this happens, because in my own State of South Australia workers have refused to join a union - perhaps for the very reasons which the Opposition is putting forward this morning with regard to the health scheme - and the moment they have done so they have been blocked from employment in that area. This happens. So I repeat that we believe it is crystal clear what the Opposition wants by this amendment. I am sure that the Australian community is perfectly willing to make a small contribution that will give all people, including their children, protection against sickness and ensure the security and welfare of families. I oppose the amendment.
– We have sat in this chamber this morning and listened to a discourse on the political philosophies of the various parties. Might I analyse it in this way: With all respect to the doubts which Senator Gair has expressed, he does not consider that the amendment moved by Senator McClelland should be accepted because people who can afford not to become members of a fund and do not Join a fund should not be entitled to a Commonwealth benefit. My interpretation of what honourable senators on the Government side have said is substantially this: They believe that there should be a measure of responsibility from the citizens in order to qualify for the receipt of the Commonwealth benefit. In other words, they are saying that people who can afford to stay outside a fund should not receive the Commonwealth benefit.
In the face of the enunciation of political philosophies,I should have expected that there would be some consistency from the Government and the Australian Democratic Labor Party. We have ranged over a wide area in this debate. Some honourable senators have referred to the trade union movement and others have spoken about subsidies paid to rural producers. I wonder what the Government and DLP have to say about providing State aid to wealthy schools? Do they object to subsidising schools like the Geelong Grammar School and several other schools that do not require Commonwealth assistance? Honourable senators on the Government side also subscribe to this policy. So where is the consistency in this matter? Where are the political philosophies? All the political philosophies go down the drain on these occasions. At least, the Australian Labor Party is consistent in its policy. It believes in granting state aid on the basis of need. But the Government and the DLP do not agree with this policy. They think that every school should receive State aid, without any qualifications being applied. If honourable senators opposite are going to speak about their political philosophies, let them be consistent. Let them come out and say: ‘People cannot get Commonwealth benefit if they can afford to stay outside the scheme’.
Many people outside the scheme are not people who can afford to be outside it; they are people who are outside it because of economic necessity. But the Government objects to paying the Commonwealth benefit to those people who stay outside the scheme because they are able to do so, despite the argument on taxation put by Senator McClelland and despite the DLP’s argument that the Commonwealth should not pay a benefit to those people because they can afford to stay outside the scheme or will not accept the responsibility for joining a scheme which is designed to induce people to join it. Let us be consistent about the matter. The next time the
Government proposes something on State aid, let us see honourablesenators opposite being consistent and saying: ‘We will not give any aid to schools that do not need it.’ Even in politics there is a little bit of honesty. The Labor Party believes that there is a little bit of honesty in politics. But the political philosophies which have been enunciated in this chamber today are not honest. They have been conceived to support a philosophy on a certain basis today, but on another occasion when something is brought before the Senate it will be a different matter. I said the other day that the lawyers were like acrobats. I do not know what the people who are opposing this amendment are like - that would be difficult to explain.
That the request (Senator McClelland’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator T. L. Bull)
Majority . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative. Clause agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.
Clause 18 agreed to.
Clause 19 (Specialist Recognition Advisory Committee).
– This clause relates to the proposed new section 29a. which provides for the establishment of Specialist Recognition Advisory Committees. When this clause was first drafted it was intended that there be a Specialist Recognition Appeal Commitree consisting of 4 medical practitioners appointed by the Minister from among 6 medical practitioners nominated by the Australian Medical Association. It was my Parly’s intention in another place to move an amendment to the clause to provide that each committee consist of 6 medical practitioners in each State, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. It was thought advisable that those 6 medical practitioners be appointed by the Minister from nominations supplied by each of the following bodies: Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Royal Australasian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association. It was also thought advisable that nominations be supplied by the Minister for Health for each State or Territory. Where the Committee was to deliberate on the recognition of specialist dentists a nomination of the Australian Dental Association was to take the place of the nomination of the Australian Medical Association.
In another place the Government sought an amendment to clause 19 and that amendment was agreed to and is now embodied in the Bill. It will form part of the new section 29a. It will be observed that each Committee to be appointed shall consist of 5 medical practitioners appointed by the Minister. The proposed new section 29c (1.) states that the Minister shall request the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Australian Council of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners to nominate a panel of not less than 3 medical practitioners for consideration for appointment to the Committee.
It was agreed by my Party in the House of Representatives that the Government amendment encompassed practically everything envisaged in the amendment that we had proposed to move. This matter arose principally because of the standards involved in the Schedule that has been drawn. The Schedule appears at the back of the Bill. There is involved, as it were, a demarcation dispute as to whether a doctor is a general practitioner or specialist for certain services provided for in the legislation. Although the Opposition does not intend to move an amendment to this clause, we suggest to the Government that the State Departments of Health should be considered for inclusion in the Advisory Committees. After all, the States employ most of the specialists, because the specialists work in public hospitals that are controlled and administered by the States. We therefore feel that on a matter of this nature - the establishment of Specialist Recognition Advisory Committees and Appeal Committees - it is important that the States should have representation.
There is an area of overlapping in that general practitioners and surgeons each do the same services in some fields. The attitude of my Party is that the blame for any anomalies or ambiguities should be sheeted home to the Australian Medical Association.I am advised by a colleague in another place, who is a specialist in his own sphere, that there is no provision for the recognition of specialist psychiatrists on the Committees, arid that according to the Schedule attendance by psychiatrists will be treated as being attendance by specialists. For a subsequent attendance by a psychiatrist a patient is entitled to the refund of 54 in New South Wales my home State. I am advised that the length of time involved in a second or subsequent attendance by a psychiatrist can well be1 hour, or even longer, and that the average cost to a patient is about $15. I understand that in the Schedule the refund is only $4 and that the Schedule specifies an excess of only $1.50. That means that. the patient would have to meet an amount of about $10, the difference between the refund he would receive and the fee charged.
It appears that this is not consistent with the policy statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) that Commonwealth medical benefits and fund benefits will be increased so that the difference between the benefit entitlement and the common fee charged by doctors will not at any time exceed $5, even for the most complicated and costly surgical procedures. We suggest that this matter be studied by the Government and that in any further consideration of Specialist Recognition Advisory Committees or Appeal Committees the Government should consider the inclusion of representatives of the State Departments of Health.
– -I wish to raise 3 points on which I would be grateful for assistance from the Minister. I would like an indication of why it is felt desirable that members of the Specialist Recognition Advisory Committees and Appeal Committees should hold office during the Minister’s pleasure. I have raised that query because in my own mind the situation is objectionable in which a person is charged with carrying out a function and carries out that function only for so long as he docs it apparently to the satisfaction of the Minister who appoints him. I appreciate that there are circumstances in which it may be proper to have appointments terminated at will, but I would like .to hear from the Minister what the reason is for having that provision in the proposed new sections 29a and 29b.
The second point on which I seek advice - and this concerns the proposed new sections 29e and 29d - is whether it is the effect of the legislation, as she and her advisers understand it, and whether it is the intention of the Government, that the Director-General when advice is received from a Committee shall act in accordance with that advice,’ or whether there is still some residual power whereby the DirectorGeneral might ignore or not accept the advice of a Committee offered in determining whether a person is a specialist or consultant physician in a particular specialty.
– This is in proposed section 29d (4.) is it?
– Yes, in proposed section 29d (4.) and proposed section 29e (5.), I think it is. Thirdly, what is the Government’s reason for proposed section 29f? I notice that the Bill envisages that these committees may be assisted by a medical practitioner if the Minister gives his approval to a request by the committees concerned for such a practitioner to assist them in their determination of questions on which they themselves have no particular knowledge.
– Whereabouts is this?
– I am referring to the background to proposed section 29p, which says that when such a practitioner is appointed with the Minister’s approval he shall be paid such professional fee in respect of his services as the Minister determines’. I consider that it would be far better if the scale of fees that a person is to be paid for such services could be laid down beforehand rather than for it to be in the discretionary area, as the Bill envisages. At this time I simply ask the Minister whether she could elaborate the reasons behind those proposals in this clause.
[2.12] - Senator Greenwood referred to the use of the term ‘during the Minister’s pleasure’. I am informed that this is purely a drafting phrase and that it appears in other pieces of legislation. There’ is no sinister idea or motive at all. It is a phrase very commonly used in legislation.
– Could the Minister . indicate the other pieces of legislation?
– I will endeavour to obtain that information. I was asked about the DirectorGeneral acting on advice. I inform Senator Greenwood that the advice is not binding to the Director-General, but he usually acts on the advice. that is given to him.
Senator Greenwood also referred to proposed section 29f.- I am informed that if this provision was not included there would not be the authority for the Minister to pay these fees. This provision gives him the authority to pay the fees to the people concerned. Senator McClelland raised a point about the common fee. The common fee for specialists collectively was a question of fact as ascertained by the Australian Medical Association. Psychiatrists form a small section of the overall number of specialists. Psychiatrists may charge more that the common fee; but proportionately they are small in number and therefore do not affect the common fee.
– I thank the Minister for the answer she has just given to me, but I ask her this question: Will the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) give consideration to the matter 1 raised about the States having representation on the Specialist Recognition Advisory Committees and the Specialist Recognition Appeal Committees, to which 1 directed my attention earlier in the Committee stage?
– I desire to come back to the question 1 asked the Minister before. I appreciate the assistance she has given, but 1 still believe that it leaves further questions open. I would be grateful if she could explain why a member of a committee should be in the position of having his appointment terminable at will.
– To what provision is the honourable senator referring?
– At the present time 1 am referring to clause 19 and, within that clause, to proposed section 29a (4.) and proposed section 29b (3.). 1 raise the question why the position should be as it is expressed there and not on the basis that a member of a committee shall be appointed for a term of, say, 3, 4 or 5 years and be eligible for re-appointment. To my mind, that is a much more satisfactory way of dealing with a situation such as this, lt gives a security of tenure and it preserves what I would have expected to be one of the objectives in setting up these committees; and that is the independence of the members of the committees and their ability to express, as they would see it, their judgment on a particular issue. That leads on to the next point.
From my reading of proposed section 29d (4.), 1 have the impression that the Director-General, whilst being obliged to make a determination as to whether a person was a specialist or not, could do so without accepting the recommendation of the committee that bad been set up. lt appears to me that, if these committees are set up and they consist of the individuals who will comprise them, they are eminently suited to make the determination. 1 believe that it would be unfortunate if the situation arose on some occasion in the future that the Director-General did not accept the recommendation of a committee - that, for all that the person was satisfactory to his colleagues, he proved to be unsatisfactory to the Director-General - and that person was left without redress. I would be grateful if the Minister could expound those 2 matters. Why does the Government desire the position in each case to be the way in which the legislation is currently being proposed?
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [2.17] - First of all. Senator McClelland asked that consideration be given to the inclusion of a certain body when these matters are reviewed. His recommendation in that respect will be passed on to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). As honourable senators know, this matter is reviewed from time to time. 1 am quite certain that Senator McClelland’s recommendation will be looked at when it is reviewed. 1 will make the Minister aware of it. I was asked in what other pieces of legislation the term during the Minister’s pleasure’ appears. I point out that when a member of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee is appointed by the Minister he holds office during the Minister’s pleasure. At this moment I cannot quickly indicate any other pieces of legislation, but if 1 can obtain that information I shall certainly see that it is given to honourable senators.
Senator McClelland also referred to the participation of the States on the committees. 1 think he spoke about the State health departments. Where there is a State register of specialists- the; Commonwealth will rely on that register. State registration is therefore considered unnecessary. Senator Greenwood referred to whether the appointment should be for a fixed term or during the Minister’s pleasure. I am informed that provision can be made for appointment either during the Ministers pleasure or for a fixed term. In this case it was considered that ‘during the Minister’s pleasure’ was the more flexible and more workable way. This was thought to be advisable, lt can be one or the other, and in this case the decision was made in favour of “during the Minister’s pleasure’.
– Does the Minister know what areas of flexibility were desired to be preserved?
– The point is that it Si not known how long the appointees may wish to serve. This is a flexible arrangement. This provision was decided upon instead of making appointments for a fixed term.
– Some very important questions are raised here. When a society embarks upon some new province it is usual to give a great deal of discretion to those who are charged with the administration of that new province. So it has been here in the administration of health benefits. Out of necessity in the past very much has been left to the Minister, the Director-General and those administering the Act. They have been given very great power to determine matters which affect the rights of other people, which affect the benefits which other people might get, which affect the professional standing even of those in the medical field.
As we become more familiar with what has to be done in this new province, so the area of discretion should be lessened and increasingly the determinations which are made should be according to the rule of law. What was left to the Minister to determine in his discretion, what might be left to the Director-General to determine in his discretion, increasingly should become a simple matter of right. Either you are entitled to something if you conform to certain requirements or you arc not. This is the way in which the whole of civilisation moves, or certainly should move. We would want it to move in that direction. We should be most careful that it happens in this area also. It is only too clear from our experience that if you establish certain precedents here which are in favour of greater discretion in the hands of administrative authorities, they will be used as precedents for more extensions. I think the time has come when we should endeavour to establish something better than administrative discretions.
The point to which Senator Greenwood adverted is extremely important. Should not the determination of whether a man is to be recognised as a specialist be a matter to be decided in some regular way and according to some standards and not left in the area where an advisory body can make a report? Even then apparently the Director-General need not be bound by that report. Some of the rights which are arising under this legislation can be extremely important rights and they should not be left in the area of discretion. They were left there necessarily at the beginning - we can understand that - but as the new provinces have settled down the time has come for us to take this out of the enactment and put in something which will preserve the rule of law. By that I mean preserving the rights of citizens whether they be contributors, patients or professional men in the various disciplines covered by the Bill.
Unless someone has anything further to put on this I suggest for the consideration of the Committee - it appears that we will not get through this Bill this afternoon - that this clause be postponed so that we can have a further look at it. I move:
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [2.24] - I did not advert to a point raised by Senator Greenwood, not through discourtesy but through forgetfulness. He asked whether the Director-General is bound to accept the recommendations of the advisory committee. The DirectorGeneral is not bound to accept it but usually he does. I have noted the point raised by Senator Murphy. I do not know for how long he wants to postpone this clause.
– On the practicalities of our timetable I do not think we will get the Bill through this afternoon.
– I am still hopeful.
– Then I suggest that the clause be postponed until after the other clauses are dealt with, but I must say that I do not share the Minister’s optimism.
– I have no objection to the clause being postponed until after the other clauses have been dealt with.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed new clause 19a.
– I move:
After clause 19, insert the following new clause: “19a. Section 32 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end of sub-section (1.) the words ‘and the conditions of the agreement shall be reviewed at least once every two years’.”.
Section 32 of the principal Act relates to an agreement made between the Minister and the Australian Medical Association in connection with medical practitioners practising under the pensioner medical service. In our view that section is completely inadequate. It provides for services of a general practitioner nature to be made available to people who are eligible for medical attention under the pensioner medical service, but not for services of . a specialist nature. At present the Minister may, on behalf of the Commonwealth, under section 32 (1.) enter into an agreement with the AMA in respect of the provision by medical practitioners of medical services for pensioners and their dependants. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) in another place said that since 1965 the fees payable under the pensioner medical service had been reviewed every 2 years on the basis of the economic factors involved. I point out that section 32(3.) provides:
An agreement entered into under this section may be varied or terminated by agreement of the parties.
In short we say that the conditions of the agreement shall be reviewed at least once every 2 years. From a perusal of the Hansard record of the debate when this matter was before the House of Representatives - I point out that it received very cursory attention because of the Government’s desire to get the matter through - the Minister, as well as saying that since 1965 the fees payable under the pensioner medical service had been reviewed every 2 years, stated that there had been 3 reviews since 1965.
– By consent of the parties.
– Of course. There have been 3 reviews since 1965. He said also that pensioner medical service surgery consultations have increased by 208% and that fees for domiciliary visits have increased by 213% compared with an increase of 88% in the consumer price index and an increase of 200% in average weekly earnings over the same period. If Senator Sir Magnus Cormack every 2 years wants these reviews, which have taken place by agreement between the parties, there can be no objection to this amendment which provides that the conditions of the agreement shall be reviewed at least every 2 years. The
Minister for Health has said that because the agreement has been reviewed every 2 years it is satisfactory to him. The Government does not necessarily want to be tied down to any fixed review. I point out that the Labor Party’s amendment says that the review shall be at least every 2 years. As the Labor Party put forward in an earlier amendment which was ‘narrowly defeated today, it is quite unfair for medical practitioners to be asked to place themselves in a position where no specified regular determination is made.
It has been claimed that, some dissatisfaction exists about the return for services rendered. In addition it has been claimed that there is a degree of over utilisation of the Service by pensioner patients and, in some cases, participating doctors. They are not my words. They are the words presented to members of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs. The Opposition thinks the scheme should be reviewed every 2 years if not from the point of view of doctors and a consideration of extensions of the scheme so far as roping in other services are concerned, then because of the problems posed for the various Stales. The Slate public hospitals provide free specialist services to eligible pensioners and their dependants at suitable cost to the States, lt has been rumoured that 1 State government could consider imposing an additional charge on people receiving treatment in public hospitals, if this happened what would be the situation of the pensioner medical service?
The pensioner community totals, roughly, 10% of the Australian population, lit evidence before the Senate Select Committee Dr Selle, Chairman of the Hospitals Commission of New South Wales, had this to say:
However, in the public hospital sphere, it-
That is the Commonwealth - makes no payment for outpatient benefits and pensioners comprise at least 20% to 23% of the 4 million outpatients attendances per annum at public hospitals.
The Australian Labor Party considers this is an important matter from the point of view of the medicos who are eligible to practise under the Pensioner Medical Service. It is important from the point of view of trying to obtain an extension of the service for pensioners. It is important for the States so far as State finances are concerned. The amendment is in the interests of all sections of the community.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) [2.34] - I rise with some diffidence because it seems to me that the terms of the amendment moved by Senator McClelland were in an area of legal definition. As a bush lawyer who has learned by bitter experience not to stray into the area of professionals I am left in an attitude of some disquiet or apprehension or lack of wisdom. In terms of wisdom, when one is young, everything is easy because one is totally certain. When one becomes old one is certain of only one thing, that is, that there is an end and it is nearer. What does disturb me is that Senator McClellend related a statement made by the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) in another place that the problem of fees can be determined by mutual consent of the parties at any time they desire. This amendment provides that the determinations shall be made at least every 2 years. It seems to me in my rather lay agricultural mind that if the power exists at the present moment for determinations to be made at the instigation of either party there is no need to impose a statutory obligation on either party to come to determination except by mutual interest. If in the existing circumstances there is a means by which either party to the agreement can raise the matter of whether some further examination should be made - in terms of remuneration, for example - I fail to see why this has to be imposed by statute. We are protecting the interests of the taxpayers and the Government. Under the terms of the statute the initiative lies with the Minister at the present time. I fail to see why an additional statutory requirement should be imposed at least every 2 years. 1 oppose the amendment.
– It sounds very interesting and intriguing that a review of pensioner medical service fees is to take place. It depends what honourable senators call a review. If you want a monologue I suppose you could call it a review. If you want a dialogue that is is no review because when the Minister for Health and the Australian Medical Association have come together agreement has never been reached. On each occasion the AMA has come back to the branches and said: ‘This is the best we could do’, which I suppose is reasonable. The point is that the AMA accept a compromise. It cannot get arbitration. Whilst I support this proposed amendment I do not think it goes far enough. Provision should be made for an arbitrator. I understand that certain legal difficulties exist in having an arbitrator. The Government does not even agree to its own arbitration and that makes another difficulty. As I said before, the chemists having won the arbitration, the Government said that it did not agree with the arbitrator. This is a complex problem and I do not know how it is going to be overcome. One would think the Government would listen to a case presented by the medical profession which is the only profession subsidising the national social services bill. No one else in private enterprise helps pensioners.
– They get a pretty big income from it, do they not?
– I am not aware whether there are other people with bigger incomes who could also help. Perhaps the lawyers .could. The honourable senator would not know because he would not earn a bigger income. Those who do have bigger incomes, such as members of the legal profession, do not subsidise social services except through taxes, in the main.
– What about the small fees, poor prisoners’ defence, and things like that?
-The lawyers tell me they do aid in social services, so I withdraw. But some sectors of the community do not. The doctors are expected to give a subsidised service. The common fee varies from State to State but on .the average it would be $3. The doctor obtains $1.85. I have not been in the pensioner group for some time. I think the figure is $1.85. There is no denial of that, so I will say that it is $1.85. The normal fee is $3. The Government’s argument is that once upon a time the doctors were not paid for their services, which is nonsense. There are many honest pensioners. In fact, my colleagues and I in the medical profession were much better off in the old days before the introduction of the national health scheme because, although we had bad debts of 30%, we adopted the old principle of slugging the rich to pay for the poor, which has always been accepted by the medical profession.
-You are still slugging the rich.
– Opposition senators will probably argue that we are slugging everybody, lt is only a matter of opinion.
– It is a matter of fact.
– I do not mind the honourable senator saying that, lt is a question of what he thinks about his general practitioner. However, here we have a subsidy of $1.85 for pensioners when the normal fee is $3. I can provide statistics to show that, because of inflation, doctors were far better off in 1952 in relation to pensioner patients than they are at present. lt was far better in 1952 to have pensioners, as a liability, if I can use that term, than if is to have them at present. The Government argues that the pensioners did not pay their medical expenses. I do not agree. Many of them in those days paid their medical expenses. Anyway, we were better off having them as a liability in those days than we are operating under the present system.
– Oh no!
– If the honourable senator does not believe me he should take a look at the statistics in relation to the incomes of doctors. If he were to compare the income of doctors, say, 20 years ago with the income of doctors at present I think he would find that they were much better off then than they are at present.
– We told the doctors that if they relumed a Labor government to office they would be much better off.
– ls that so? I return to the point that the medical profession is not achieving anything at present by having reviews: It was only as a result of the courtesy of the Government that the AMA was able to have an interview - I do not know whether I should use that term - with the Minister for Health. The Government said: ‘We will give you a little rise to keep you quiet’ or something like that. All the medical profession asks for is that it be written into the statute book that there shall be a meeting at least once every 2 years.
– Now we are all crying.
– Nobody will die as a result of this happening.
– I said ‘crying’.
– I thought the honourable senator was going to die. There is no reason why this provision should not be written into the statute book. In this way we would be able to make sure that at least every 2 years we have an interview with the Minister. We could have a Minister who will say: ‘I do not think it is worth discussing’.
– Do not worry, because there will not be a change of government.
– ^-Perhaps I should remind the honourable senator that there was nearly a change of government recently, lt could happen at any time. So many of you are interjecting at this stage that I cannot understand any of the interjections.
– Order! Senator Turnbull should address his remarks to the chair.
– Senator Sir Magnus Cormack said something about Hippocrates. I think that there should be some justice in this matter. I think that there should be a time limit in regard to a review of the fees. The cost of living has gone up by over 6% in the last 2 years. The common fee may be $X at present. Honourable senators should not forget that by the time this legislation becomes effective it could be $X plus 6% or 7%. The attitude which some honourable senators adopt is rather naive. I think they are rather foolish. I challenge any honourable senator to tell his general practitioner what he thinks about him what some honourable senators have said about general practitioners today. Would any honourable senator say to his general practitioner: ‘You are a robber? Of course not. All honourable senators have the highest regard for their own general practitioners. But when they are in this chamber honourable senators act like schoolboys and say: ‘Let us, as a body, run them down’. However, when honourable senatators talk to general practitioners as individuals they accept them and have great trust and confidence in them. Those are the same people that honourable senators are saying do not deserve a review of the conditions governing their treatment of pensioners. The general practitioners are helping to keep the nation’s bill for social services at a minimum level.
– The honourable senator will be flattering the lawyers next.
– No. I found that
I was getting out of my depth in that regard I shall leave it to Senator Byrne to do so. I support the amendment.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [2.46] - Senator Turnbull inquired about the average annual receipts of each doctor in regard to the pensioner medical service. The figure I have is in regard to the overall position in Australia. The average such receipts for each doctor work out at $2,665, which would mean that some doctors receive greater amounts than others. This is the average figure prior to the fees being increased. In fact, the latest figures would be greater. 1 would like to reply to Senator Turnbull in relation to the amendment which has been moved. The Government does not support the amendment. We consider the amendment to be unnecessary. I think that Senator Sir Magnus Cormack spoke very well on this aspect. The points he raised were appropriate. I wish to reply too to a few remarks which were made regarding the occasions on which the Government has met the Australian Medical Association. I notice that, when referring to the comments which the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) made in the other place, honourable senators have left out a few words. 1 think that these words give a. rather different impression. They were ‘I think we should be reminded that the practice of the Government has been to keep the provisions of the pensioner medical service under continuous review’. This is important.
– What will the Government do about it?
– rf the honourable senator will wait a moment or two I will tell him. The Minister went on ‘I think we should look to see what has been done in the past. In 1965, as a result of an agreement between the Government and the AMA the Government undertook to have a biennial review of fees paid under the pensioner medical service. Since 1965 fees under the pensioner medical service have been reviewed’ . . . Senator McClelland read that - but he omitted to read out the further comment which the Minister made at the same time. The Minister added ‘and increased every 2 years in accordance with this agreement’. I think this is a rather important point. The increase has been on the basis of economic indicators. So these fees have been increased on this basis since 1965. The important point is that there have been 3 reviews under the 2-year arrangement and on each occasion the pensioner medical service fees have been increased. On each occasion the increase has been considerably more than the increase in the consumer price index for the same period. The Minister said in the other place about a week ago that it is proposed to negotiate with the AMA an arrangement for updating the common fees on which the medical benefit schedules are based. The Minister went on to say that in his opinion it appeared to be appropriate for the same procedure worked out in respect of updating the common fees to be applied, when appropriate, to the pensioner medical service fees. I believe that when one takes into account the background of this matter and the points the Minister for Health dealt with one will appreciate that this amendment is entirely unnecessary. The Government opposes the amendment.
– I draw the conclusion from what the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) has said concerning what has happened over the years that one of the real problems in the operation of the present health scheme is that medical fees are continually increasing. The reason why medical fees have been increasing to such an extent as to cause trouble with relation to the scheme can be gleaned from one of the things the Minister has just said. She said that the increases in fees were greater than the increases in the consumer price index. Why did this happen? Honourable senators might think that that happened because the doctors were demanding to be put into a better position, but the reality of it is that that happened because of the pressure on the doctors of the income tax schedules which the Government has constantly promised to do something about but has not. if this were corrected so that not only doctors but people in other walks of life and every worker in this country had an adjustment the Government . would solve a lot of the heavy inflationary problems which are causing the trouble with this health scheme. It is the Government’s neglect in the other fields which is causing the problems in this scheme.
– What has this to do with the clause?
– This applies to the clause because it is apparent that there must be adjustments in the agreement from time to time. As .the sub-section stands it means nothing. Senator Sir . Magnus Cormack dealt with it but I think he may have given a misleading impression to the Senate because the indication was that any of the parties could vary the agreement. This is not so. The present sub-section states:
An agreement entered into under this section may be varied or terminated by agreement of the parties.
The Government might as well have left it out because any agreement can be varied or terminated by the agreement of the parties. It rather suggests the kind of interpretation that Senator Sir Magnus Cormack was giving to it but that is not what the sub-section means, lt means nothing. The proposal by Senator McClelland is that the agreement ought to be reviewed at. least once every 2 years. Why should it not be reviewed? If the Minister says they will get together and do this, what then is the objection to putting it into the Act and saying at least there will be a review of it. We would not then have the spectacle we had some time ago of trouble between the doctors and the Government with all sorts of nonsense going on for weeks, with doubt as to whether the Minister would see the doctors or would not. Why should there not be a provision in the Act that the conditions be reviewed? It does not require them to be changed. There still has to be an agreement. Why should not provision be made for this kind of coming together at least once every 2 years to consider the important matters, including the scope of the medical services to be rendered and the terms and conditions and so forth on which the payment is to be made.
I am amazed that the Government would resist the amendment. There seems to be an attitude that anything that is put up ought to be resisted and here, I would think, is one of the mildest amendments possible. If any criticism were to be made of it, it would be as to its moderation. Instead we have the argument put by Senator Turnbull that the proper course might be to put a time limit on the agreement so that a new agreement would have to be negotiated. But all we are suggesting is the mild proposition that there be a review at least once every 2 years. The Government is not forced to change. It does not have to negotiate a new agreement; all it has to do is review it. Could anything more reasonable be put forward in this chamber? Yet the Government says it could not accept the proposal. Why could it not accept it?
– I rise to support the . amendment moved by Senator McClelland. First of all, I want to have a look at section 32 (1.) of the Act which provides that the Minister may, on behalf of the Commonwealth, enter into an agreement with the Australian Medical Association. Can the Minister give the Senate any assurance that the Australian Medical Association represents the medical profession. If the AMA does not represent the medical profession, is it entitled to come to an agreement with the Minister on the terms and conditions that shall apply to pensioners?
– Do you say they do not represent it?
– They do not represent it. The Minister knows, what has been going on ever since Christmas. She knows of the wrangling that has been going on between the AMA and the general practitioners. The general practitioners have said that the AMA does not represent them or has misrepresented them and one of my colleagues in another place, who’ is a medical man, has stated clearly that the AMA does not represent the medical profession. Why should the AMA in these circumstances be permitted to come to an agreement that I suspect would be binding upon those medical practitioners who give services to pensioners when the’ terms and conditions are not agreed upon by a party which represents them? I think the Minister has to take note of that position. I am informed by some of the medical practitioners that the conference that is to be held very shortly will change the whole set up of the AMA. lt may be that after that the AMA will represent the medical profession but at the present time I say that on information that is available to the public the AMA does not represent the medical profession. If the Minister’s advisers axe telling her that it does, I think they are giving her the wrong advice.
The amendment proposed by Senator McClelland states: and the conditions of the agreement shall be reviewed at least once every 2 years.
I listened to what the Minister had to say in reply a little while ago. She would have convinced the Senate, I think, that there are reviews of the fees payable to medical practitioners for these services. But the agreement does not only concern fees. It concerns all the other associated services that the medical profession gives to the pensioners. I ask the Minister: Has there been any review of the services? If there have been reviews of the services, at what intervals have they been reviewed? I think it is quite unreasonable of the Government, even insofar as fees are concerned, to resist the inclusion of the words that Senator McClelland wants to add. The Government already admits that there are reviews of the fees. The words do not bind the Government not to review them for 2 years but it says that they must be reviewed at least once every 2 years. It may be that they would not require any adjustment within the 2-year period. It would not be necessary for them to be reviewed but at the end of 2 years they must be reviewed. It does not necessarily follow that there will be any adjustment. But they will be reviewed in the light of changes in the cost of living and then they will be adjusted, if necessary, at the end of that time.
I think that there are 2 propositions here. The first is the unreasonableness of the Government to accept a statutory provision for the review of the conditions of the agreement which go further than fees, and secondly there is the provision as to who is to negotiate with the Minister on behalf of the medical profession. I want to say further that the pensioners under this scheme are not entitled to specialist treatment; they are entitled only to general practitioner services and it is the general practitioners who are dissatisfied with the representation of the AMA. So it is quite clear that, insofar as the services that the
Government intends to provide and has been providing for the pensioners are concerned, the body of medical practitioners who perform those services and who are parties to this agreement will not be represented by. the AMA because, as I understand the position, the. general practitioners have repudiated the AMA as a representative body of general practitioners. 1 think serious consideration has to be given to this at this point of time. I commend the amendment to the Senate.
– The Democratic Labor Party supports the amendment. The arrangement between the medical profession and the Government is purely a contractual arrangement. Under the terms of it the 2 parties may renegotiate an agreement apparently when they agree to do so. There is no way, by legislation or by any discipline at all, in which people can be compelled to come to an agreement. They can be compelled to meet and to negotiate, but what emerges from such meeting or negotiation is not a matter that can be the subject, successfully anyhow, of an attempted imposition of discipline. Nevertheless, 1 think it very wise that there be embodied in the Bill the principle that the parties shall be required to attempt to renegotiate the contract or at least to review the contract at a slated interval of time.
– Do you think that is what the amendment says?
– That is what it appears to say.
– I know that is its intention, but have a look at it.
– Presuming that the intention that is of its terms - they may have to be more precisely studies - one of the difficulties that has accompanied the presentation and passage of this Bill is that it is presented in an atmosphere of gradual deterioration from the point of view of availability to the public of health services under the principal Act over the years. There has been a deterioration until frustration, concern and disappointment have arisen. That finally has resulted in the presentation of this complete health review embodied in the Bill. It is always wise that there should bc continuous scrutiny of any legislation so that great gaps will not open between the original intention of the Bill and its actual accomplishment as the years go by. Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin, the Minister in charge of the Bill, has said that de facto - as a matter of fact - there are meetings and there are periodic reviews of the agreement as a matter of arrangement between the interested parties.
– There are biennial reviews.
– That is so, biennial reviews, and sometimes they have succeeded in having alterations made in schedules and things of that character. That is quite acceptable and quite desirable, but is there any reason why we should not buttress the Act by an explicit statutory provision that if, for any reason, the parties are not prepared even to meet to negotiate, much less actually to accomplish an agreement, they should come together, whatever the outcome of that might be? If de facto these things are happening, I can see no valid objection to the de facto situation being written into the statute. For that reason we think this would be a salutary provision and would not be out of consonance with the existing practice. If it were written into the statute, it would be a matter of course and not a matter of practice. We would come to the same conclusion.
I was interested in Senator Cant’s comments on the body to be accepted as the negotiating body, particularly in this concept of the pensioner medical service, in view of the fact that that service is not only substantially but exclusively provided by general practitioners. A specialist service is not available under the pensioner medical service. Therefore is the Australian Medical Association at the moment and in the present context of the differences within sections of the Association and between it and other organisations representing other general practitioners, any longer the body with whom negotiations should most appropriately be carried out? I can appreciate the difficulty of the Government. It is the same type of difficulty that arises in negotiations with primary industries. It is difficult ultimately to discover the representative body, if there is a representative body, and more particularly if there is to be a sole representative body, representing the interests of those who are involved in the situation.
On a number of occasions during this debate mention has been made of ophthalmologists and others who, as a matter of practice, in the individual representations that we have received, have stated that apparently the AMA does not speak for the whole of the medical practitioners over the whole spectrum of the various categories of practice. As this concerns a particular category of practice, perhaps something will have to be reviewed by the Government as to the consultative body with whom negotiations are to be carried on because I have little doubt that when the AMA was accepted as a negotiating body it was possibly before the emergence of these more specialised groups within the medical profession and those who are concerned particularly with general practice.
It could well be that in future the AMA may not be accepted by such segments within the medical profession. If that is so, considerable difficulty could perhaps be experienced in leaving the periodic negotiation to the chance and the goodwill of the 2 parties. Statutory imposition may then be more and more necessary in the developing context of the distribution of interests within the medical fraternity. I hope that does not happen. For all those reasons, I think there is justification for the amendment that has been presented and justification for our support of it. I should like to hear Senator Greenwood enlarge on the comment he made as to whether the intention, which seems to be implicit in this proposal, is actually carried into operation by the words.
– I rise to oppose the amendment although, from what Senator Byrne has said, the result of it is ordained. I think that, firstly, the text of the amendment does not achieve what I think Senator Byrne has expressed himself as committed to and, secondly, it is unnecessary. The Minister for Health has said - and the record must be as the Minister has said otherwise there would be a challenge to it - that the pensioner medical service is kept under continuous review. These are his words:
In fact since 1963, as a result of an agreement between the Government and the Australian Medical Association, we have undertaken a biennial review of fees paid under the pensioner medical service.
They have in fact been increased every 2 years since 196S. Therefore there is in practice at present not only a continuous review but a record which shows that every 2 years there has been an increase in the fees. What is the intention of those who moved this amendment? Their intention is that what in fact is happening should be put into the record. I agree that, if that be the viewpoint, there is very little that can be said against it. On the other hand, is this the type of thing to be put into legislation? If that is so, every piece of legislation which comes before the Senate should have in it a clause that the Minister shall keep the provisions of the legislation under constant review or that he shall look at the provisions of the legislation once every 2 years. Of course it can be clone and of course there is no objection which can reasonably be put as to why that should not be so. But that is part of the function of government. If a government does not review these things and does not keep them under constant surveillance, then that government will soon find there is criticism levelled at it.
– The Government is nol the master of its own destinies in this matter. There is another party which is not subject to the same discipline.
– I am very grateful to Senator Byrne for raising that matter. That is the very reason why I think the amendment, in its present terms, is objectionable. How will the clause read if the amendment is accepted? lt will read:
The Minister may. on behalf of the Commonwealth, enter into an agreement with the Australian Medical Association for and in respect of provision by medical practitioners of medical services for pensioners :ind their dependants. . . .
And adding the words of the amendment: and the conditions of the agreement shall be reviewed at least once every 2 years.
In fact, what is provided for is an agreement: That is, a concensus arrived at by 2 parties. Then there is inserted a provision - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack raised this earlier - which simply says: and the conditions of the agreement shall be reviewed at least once every 2 years.
That means, as I see it, that somebody - presumably the Government, because the legislation is directed to government - shall review these conditions once every 2 years. There is no obligation upon the Australian
Medical Association to review them. Indeed, there is a certain arrogance if the Government having entered into an agreement with the Australian Medical Association the legislature tells the Government: You can review these conditions at least once every 2 years’, and presumably, ‘If the Government feels there should be a change you are to go and tell the AMA that these conditions are no longer satisfactory’. But in fact the Government cannot do that because once the agreement is made it can be varied only by mutual consent. Therefore, I sense that what this amendment in actual terms is saying is that the Government shall review the conditions once every 2 years, but to what effect? As I would see it, to no effect at all unless the AMA is prepared to agree, and I would think-
– You cannot compel it to agree; you can compel it tq negotiate.
– You can compel it - an unfortunate word in the context - to negotiate, but you cannot compel it to agree. When you have a working arrangement, as is unchallenged in the light of what the Minister has said, which has been operating for the last 5 years, why should there be brought into the legislation something which is designed only to compel negotiations? Indeed, it may not compel negotiations because the Government can discharge its obligation here just by having a look at the terms and conditions nml saying: ‘We are going to go no further’. Indeed, 1 sense I have contributed to a lot of talk over a long period of time on something which I do not think warrants it. I am surprised that the Opposition has taken this amendment to this point, because I cannot see that it adds anything to the existing scheme which is working satisfactorily.
Senator POYSER (Victoria) [3. 1 2 1- This debate has centred mainly on the question of whether the negotiations that take place between the Australian Medical Association and the Government relate only to fees. This is not the intention of the amendment at all. The conditions of the agreement are the important thing from the Opposition’s point of view. The agreement covers the whole scope of the pensioner medical service. We have the situation now in which the Government is saying: ‘Look, we have met 3 times in the last 5 years, and each time we have met . the members of the AMA have received an increase in fees’. This is not the key to the thing at all. The key to the thing is that the agreement between the AMA and the Government has to be based on conditions associated with the pensioner medical service. I have had examples - and I have asked questions in this chamber concerning this - where members of the AMA have refused point blank to see any more patients in connection with their illness simply because the members of the AMA believe that it is unprofitable to see pensioners at the rates which presently apply. I believe that this is a terrible thing for doctors to do. But I have had examples of this which have prompted me to ask questions in the Parliament.
Apparently the agreement is based on the fact that a doctor can refuse to see a pensioner patient, if he refers that pensioner to another doctor. What kind of an agreement is this when a doctor who disagrees with the amount of fees being paid by the Commonwealth Government can pass a pensioner patient to another doctor and to another until at last a doctor agrees to see the patient? This is, in effect, one of the conditions of the present agreement. This is the type of thing that has to be ironed out between the Government and the AMA, to ensure that it cannot happen to pensioner patients.
The Government has placed emphasis on the fact that doctors have received an increase in fees on each occasion on which there has been a review. That is only one of the reasons why we want a provision, such as that contained in our amendment, included in the Act. We want a provision that will impose a statutory obligation on people to meet and to talk about things associated with the pensioner medical service, other than the question of the monetary gains or losses which they may be receiving from the service. This is why it is so important that a statutory obligation should be imposed upon these people at least to talk to try to find some agreement to overcome any anomalies that may exist. The present situation is fairly obvious. If the AMA in its wisdom decides, under the present system, not to become a party to negotiations, because there is to be a discussion of matters other than fees, those negotiations could never take place. The AMA could remove itself entirely from this area of review and it could demand or ask for reviews to be made on its terms, not on ours. We believe that the review should cover every aspect of the pensioner medical service, which pensioners have every right to receive under this Act.
– I understand that the purpose of debate is to listen to other people’s ideas. If you do not belong to a major party, those ideas will infiltrate, but if you belong to a major party, of course, you cannot accept them. Senator Cant raised a very interesting point, which was taken further by Senator Byrne. It was, of course, that the Australian Medical Association does not represent general practitioners. That fact has become very obvious in the last few weeks. Senator Byrne also pointed out that the AMA is fragmenting into different societies. I still intend to support the amendment, because I think it is essential that this provision should be written into the legislation, but I also foreshadow another amendment to section 32(1.) of the Act, which I will hand to the Minister in a moment and which does not have to be circularised, as I was told yesterday. The need to move this amendment occurred to me when listening to the debate.
– You can think about it in your office, which every honourable senator is entitled to do.
– When was I in my office to think about it? What a stupid little interjection from a petty little man.
– You have got your advisers, too. They have been surrounding you for the last 5 days. Do not give us this piteous nonsense.
– I have been sitting in this chamber during this debate. In the last 2 days I think I have been out of this chamber for 1 hour, at the most, in the aggregate. Anyhow, that is not the point. Section 32(1.) states:
The Minister may, on behalf of the Commonwealth, enter into an agreement with the Australian Medical Association. . . .
I foreshadow that as an amendment I shall move that the words ‘Australian Medical Association’ be deleted and that the words The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the General Practitioners
Society in Australia be substituted. These are the only 2 bodies that consist of general practitioners, and the treatment of pensioners is strictly in the hands of general practitioners. The fact that specialists, including ophthalmologists, radiologists, orthopaedists and so on. attend meetings of the AMA and decide what general practitioners should do is one of the main bones of contention in the present dispute between general practitioners and the Australian Medical Association.If we include in the Act the bodies that deal with general practitioners - and. therefore, with the only people who deal with pensioners - this will result in a much better attitude being adopted towards the treatment of pensioners.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has been trying to obtain an improvement in the service which is rendered to pensioners. We had a committee which made many recommendations which were designed to improve the service rendered to pensioners by general practitioners. J think Senator Poyser pointed out that it is not just a question of money: it is also a question of improving the service. SoI hope that the Opposition’s amendment will be carried, and after that is done I will move a further amendment to make the negotiating body those practitioners who deal with pensioners. This would allow those practitioners to decide what should be done regarding the pensioner medical service, rather than the AMA which has not the authority to do so.
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Senator
McClelland’s amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator Bull)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
In the Senate
Motion (by Senator Dame Annabelic Rankin) proposed:
That the Committee have leave to sit again.
– IfI may speak shortly on this motion, may I request that before the matter comes on again some steps be taken to get the legislation and the proposals into a form in which they will be easier for us to follow? It is quite difficult to piece together the existing legislation and the proposals that have been made by the Government. If perhaps we could have something which showed that the effect of the amendment would be it would be of great help in enabling everyone to understand. As we will be having a break of some 9 or 10 days, may I suggest that something be done in the interim to make it easier for us all?
– I support the remarks just made by my Leader, Senator Murphy. As the Opposition senator responsible for moving the amendments that we have proposed during the passage of this legislation it has been extremely difficult to follow what is intended by the Bill and to relate it to the principal Act. I say that with great respect to the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) who represents the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) in this place. As the Minister well knows, amendments to the Bill were moved in another place before the measure was presented here. The Bill which was presented in this place was in the same form as that which originally was presented in the lower House, despite the amendments which were made in the other place. In addition other Acts, such as the Social Services Act, are referred to in theBill and one needs to look at them in order to follow the legislation. In its present form (he measure is very cumbersome and difficult to follow. I join with Senator Murphy in urging the Minister to see whether it is possible to present this kind of detail in a form which is much easier to follow when the legislation next comes before the Senate.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [3.29] -I shall take this matter up with the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes).I cannot make any promises as I do not know what can be clone, but I shall certainly put these suggestions before the Minister and see what can be done. Something has been done already to make the Bill a little easier to follow, but I. understand that honourable senators want us to go further than the arrangements that have been made already.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator DrakeBrocknian) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
With the concurrence of honourable senators I incorporate in Hansard my second reading speech. It is as follows:
In introducing this legislation to create an Australian Industry Development Corporation the Government believes - indeed is firmly convinced - that it has taken a significantly new and important initiative for the development of Australia, and for greater Australian ownership of our industries and resources. That there is a need for positive and effective action by Government in these fields is patently dear. No one could doubt that there is throughout the. community a strong national desire that means could be found to devise and put into effect a consistent policy which would be directed towards both maximising our industrial development and maximising Australian participation in it. That there are great opportunities for industrial development is equally evident. We have in Australia a solidly established industrial base - an industrial sector ready, willing, and with the technological capacity to expand in the more sophisticated spheres of manufacturing and production for world markets. We have also, in our vast new mineral wealth, an abundance of some of the most competitively priced industrial raw materials in the world.
The opportunities are there, to be grasped. There is every reason to believe that a bright industrial future lies ahead. We must not fail to do everything possible to ensure that as much as possible of the fruits of this development will accrue to Australian and not foreign hands. We must ensure that Australians themselves will have a very real stake in the ownership and control of this country’s industrial destiny. The instrument which the Government has devised to assist Australian private enterprise in attaining these objectives is a novel one, and in many ways unique. It is tailored to the needs, and the opportunities, and the circumstances of our economy. It is designed to fit in with and complement the role of existing institutions, and above all, to be entirely in keeping with the principles and practices of our free enterprise society. The objectives which I have set will not be pursued by means of regulation or control, as done in other countries. The Government is firmly determined to preserve entirely in Australia the free enterprise system. It will not institute regulatory or restrictive measures which hamper business and deter investment and development.
Instead, it is the intention of this Bill to set up a new facility, which will have the role of fostering the objectives I have spoken of by its capacity to offer a new and unique service to Australian companies which come to it for the special kind of assistance it is designed to provide. The Australian Industry Development Corporation will have no. authority whatever for regulation or coercion. ‘ It will have no power to participate in a development except where its assistance is sought. But it will be in a position to assist an Australian company, which seeks its services, to undertake an important industrial venture and to secure in it more Australian and less foreign ownership in the development than would otherwise have been the case. Its assistance will be available to Australian companies, whether operating alone or in conjunction with foreign partners, in industrial projects of importance to the economy of Australia and the Australian balance of payments. It will assist only commercially viable ventures, or ventures which have the clear potential and prospect of commercial viability. In every case, it will have the aim of maximising development and maximising the degree of Australian participation in the ownership and control.
The desire to secure greater Australian ownership of industries and resources is by no means a matter merely of national sentiment. It is a matter of hard economic realities, and the realities of commercial life. The interests of great industrial companies from overseas, investing and operating in Australia, may frequently coincide with our own interests. But it is increasingly clear that they do not always so coincide, and that decisions taken in the boardroom of a foreign industrial giant can often conflict with what is best for Australian development. The facts of foreign ownership in the great mineral ventures, and in many of our important manufacturing industries are well known. Foreign ownership of the order of 50% to 75% is common in major areas of the manufacturing sector, and in some cases the percentage is much higher than this.
The side effects of excessive foreign ownership are not always conducive to development and expansion of industrial enterprises in Australia, to the stage where they would be competitive with overseas parent companies in the markets of the world. Indeed, there are known to be many hundreds of cases where, by franchise limitations, companies in Australia which are subsidiaries of overseas companies are restricted in whole or in part as to where they are permitted to export their products. There are again cases where a subsidiary company may not sell in nearby markets at a price below that at which a distant parent could market there.
Mineral discoveries are providing a wonderful new source of foreign exchange earnings, from the export of raw materials in their natural form or after some primary processing. These resources are of course, more vast than Australian secondary industries could themselves use, and the export of basic minerals means the benefit of cheap industrial inputs for overseas industry and of valuable export earnings for Australia. There should, however, be increasing opportunity for upgraded and manufactured products originating from our own natural resources to find a worthwhile and growing acceptance in the markets of the world. The result would be. greatly enhanced earnings of foreign exchange. Where a mineral or mineral processing venture is predominantly foreign owned, and indeed wherever an effective Australian voice is lacking in the Boardroom, it is by no means evident that the full potential for upgrading and manufacture within Australia will be realised. Elsewhere in the Australian industrial sector - in the production of more highly fabricated manufactured products - the familiar pattern is that industry is not lacking in technological capacity but has not the size of industrial unit and size of market to achieve the economies of scale for production on a world competitive basis.
Whether in mineral-based industry or in other manufacturing we must aim to achieve in Australia a new industrial structure with undertakings of world standards of efficiency and competitiveness, able to prosper and grow without recourse to unduly high tariff protection. If we can do this we will achieve the best in industrial development - with a lower cost structure at home and a new strength, in our balance of payments from a growing contribution by the industrial sector to our export earnings. But developments such as I have envisaged here call for massive capital investment. It is in general beyond the capacity of Australian companies to finance such expansion from their own internal resources, or even from funds which they may be able to borrow in Australia in competition with foreign companies backed by the credit of powerful’ overseas parents. The annual inflow of capital from abroad, attracted here by the remarkable investment opportunities, has in recent years passed the $ 1,000m mark: Though running at more modest levels in the current year. it was. in each of the past 2 years, at a level of about $ 1,200m a year, double that of 4 or 5 years ago.
This capital is contributing importantly to the financing of development. It is a valuable supplement to scarce local capital resources. But it of course, brings with it commitments as well as benefits. And it is a simple truism that, where funds come in from abroad in equity form, they create a commitment in servicing the investment to which there is no end. The cost of servicing overseas investment in Australia is a growing liability in the balance of payments. In the past few years there has been a noticeable quickening in the pace. The earnings of foreign investors in Australia are growing faster than the capacity of export earnings to meet these commitments. The returns on equity investment - either remitted or retained and thereby creating further commitments for the future - are a major element in these figures. Five years ago, in 1964-65, income earned by overseas companies from direct private investment in Australia amounted to $250m of 9.7% of export earnings. By last year, 1968-69, the figure had grown to $493m, or 15.3% of export earnings. I emphasise that the figures I am quoting refer only to income payable overseas on direct private investment by overseas companies in their subsidiaries or branches in Australia. The figures exclude entirely dividends payable on portfolio investment. They exclude interest on loans from overseas financial institutions. They exclude royalties payable under franchise arrangements, and any other forms of property income payable overseas. The figures relate only to remitted or accrued dividends and profits from direct equity investment in Australian subsidiaries or branches, plus some small amounts for interest on inter-company loans or advances as between parent and subsidiary company.
While over this span of 4 years from 1964-65 to 1968-69 annual export earnings rose by 25%, the annual income actually remitted overseas in respect of direct private investment increased by more than 50%. The total overseas earnings on this investment, including the undistributed portion of the income, rose by nearly 100%. It cannot be a matter of indifference when direct investment income payable abroad doubles itself to around S500m a year in the interval of only 4 years. Australia faces the dilemma that we need this investment from abroad, and will continue to need it as far ahead as one can ses, to achieve the pace of development we require. It is no part of the Government’s intention, in establishing the Australian Industry Development Corporation, to place any barrier whatever against the free flow of investment from overseas into industrial development in Australia. Indeed, it is the more probable that the role of the Corporation will enhance rather than diminish the scope for overseas participation in Australian development. Of course, in projects in which the AIDC becomes associated there will always be the objective of achieving the kind of development that will directly benefit the balance of payments and our capacity to pay for the capital or other imports which we must obtain from abroad. While we must continue to obtain capital from overseas, it is no more than ordinary prudence that we take steps to obtain it and use it to best national advantage.
The Australian Industry Development Corporation will constitute a positive means of seeking more of our requirements of overseas capital in the form of loans, ultimately repayable, rather than in the form of overseas ownership of Australian industry and resources. The Corporation will have the necessary stature, and capital structure, to become an effective borrower in capital markets overseas to assist in the financing of industrial development - and thereby to assist in Australian ownership of that development. The Corporation will raise money in international markets just as large industrial companies from overseas do, to finance their operations in Australia and in other countries. The funds which the Corporation obtains in this way will thus be available to back Australian, rather than foreign, equity participation in Australian projects,
The Corporation’s functions and role are so structured as to enable it to provide a unique service to Australian companies: It will be in a position to give assistance to a project in whatever manner the circumstances of the development requires, lt will be able to participate both in the equity and fixed interest financing, of a venture. according io how best- the objectives of maximum development and maximum Australian ownership can be secured. It will, in effect, have the special role of a development and investment company with the primary function of fostering the policy objectives as set out in the Bill. It will fulfil this role firstly by its capacity to tap overseas sources of finance for Australian companies which, with very few exceptions, would be quite unable to go to world capital markets and borrow in their own right. Secondly, it will fulfil its role through its capacity to invest by way of equity or loan - or by a mixture of both - in or alongside an Australian company which is undertaking an important industrial development or expansion. Especially in the field of manufacturing, the Corporation’s capacity to participate directly in projects - whenever its participation is sought - will be an important and even key ingredient in its role.
In a mining venture, involving long-term sale contracts for raw materials, it may frequently be found that a significant Australian participation can be secured as long as the prospective Australian partner can contribute his share of the equity. The loan finance for the venture may all be obtained, against the security of the sale contracts, by the ordinary processes of assembling institutional loans of the scale required. On the other hand, in the higher industrial processes where, for example, the upgrading of mineral resources or the production of metals are involved, it is a familiar pattern that world production is centred in relatively few groups of associated international companies. In these areas of industry, it may often be” the case that Australian participation can be secured only by finding a niche for Australian production in the world-wide, integrated, production and marketing plans of these powerful units with their established market links. With the strength which Australia has in its abundance of rich natural resources, it can be expected that the Australian Industry Development . Corporation - giving . to attractive potential development the additional attraction and image of its own participation in an investment project - will enhance the opportunities for participation by Australian companies in great new industrial ventures in partnership with international companies.
The investment role envisaged for the Corporation, and its primary functions of maximising industrial development and Australian ownership whilst obtaining the necessary development finance principally from overseas, distinguish it completely from any existing institution or commercial business in Australia. The Government gave support and assistance to the banking community in the formation of the Australian Resources Development Bank and is continuing to give it financial assistance and support through the role of the Reserve Bank. The Resources Development Bank, in its structure and activities, was tailored to a specific need and the Bank has shown an excellent record of achievement, in its short history, in serving that need. The Australian Resources Development Bank took as its central and primary objective to marshal capital, within Australia, for the purpose of - and on the scale required to enable the Australian trading banks to expand their lending to - ventures in the extraction and primary processing into marketable form of basic raw materials.
The Bank was not constituted to assist manufacturing development; nor to obtain development funds principally from overseas; nor to maximise industrial development, and Australian ownership and control of ventures. It was riot constituted for the purpose of achieving development and Australian ownership objectives through its own direct participation ‘ in projects by equity and loan investment.
The Australian Resources Development Bank is a commercial venture, owned and directed by the trading banks and meeting their borrowing needs over and above the deposits placed with them in the normal course of banking business. It serves an important function in extending the banking system’s services to providing larger and longer-term loans, to a sector of industry. It is no criticism of this specialised institution to say that it does not serve a purpose, or a particular development or ownership objective, which it was not set up to serve. On the other hand, it would be entirely foreign to the philosophy and the policies of the .Government to require the Resources Bank to abandon its private commercial banking role - and to adopt instead the investment role and national objectives and functions of the AIDC. It is, of course, true that in some countries, such as for example in Japan, the banks do have a very substantial and widespread participation in the ownership of major industry, lt would be a dramatic departure from traditional practice in Australia, and foreign to Austraiian thinking on the function and role of banks, if this were to occur here. Neither the Government, nor 1 am sure the trading banks themselves, would wish to see in Australia that kind of involvement between the ownership and control of banks, and ownership and control in industry.
The Government believes that a separate and differently constituted body is required to perform the functions which arc to be carried out by the Australian Industry Development Corporation. The AIDC will work alongside the Resources Development Bank, and other institutions, each performing its own specialised role. The AIDC, as the Bill makes clear, will not seek to duplicate the services available from existing institutions or business firms, whether of a financial or other kind. Indeed, it is enjoined as far as possible to make use of existing facilities and services. The Corporation, and the ventures in which it takes part, will no doubt make extensive use of professional services in the assessment of projects. It must obviously call on the services of merchant banking houses, making use of their special skills and widespread connections, in the raising of project finance. But, through its own special role and functions, the Corporation will fill a gap in the facilities available to help Australian industry to achieve its full potential for development, and to enable Australians to gain and preserve their rightful share in the control and ownership of their industries and resources.
Let me now turn to the objectives and policies of the Corporation as they are set out in the Bill. Honourable senators will see that the functions of the Corporation have been so drawn as to give it the task of encouraging the establishment, development or advancement of industry in Australia concerned with manufacture, processing and extraction. The Corporation’s role is one of assistance. Assistance to Australian companies, engaged in the industries I mentioned, that seek the help of the AIDC. In this assistance role, the Corporation will be working towards promoting interstate and international trade, aiming to expand exports and to improve our longterm balance of payments position. These provisions will be found in clause 6, which is drafted to give the Corporation both a wide horizon and a firm constitutional base on which to operate. To implement these objectives the Corporation must be given the necessary powers. Clause 7 expresses these in terms of powers to borrow, lend, invest, participate in the formation of companies, etc. Without these powers the Corporation could not achieve its objectives. There must of course be no doubt that the Corporation can do the very matters that are specified in clause 7 (1) and (2). Clause 7 in addition, enables the Corporation to borrow up to 5 times its capital and reserves.
Honourable senators will recall that I said that the principal sources of finance for the Corporation’s activities were meant to be the overseas money markets. The Corporation is therefore directed to borrow moneys principally from overseas. Overseas money markets have consistently been a much higher cost source of finance than the domestic markets. Any accusation levelled at the Corporation that it is providing unfair competition for existing financial institutions, is therefore nonsense. The Corporation is, however, not altogether excluded from borrowing on the domestic market. But, the level df any borrowing it does within Australia is strictly subject to the control of the Reserve Bank. In fixing borrowing levels for the Corporation, the Reserve Bank must apply the same principles as are applied under the borrowing guidelines to overseas owned companies borrowing in Australia. It is clear of course that we could not have a situation where firms wholly owned overseas had some access to the Austraiian money markets while the Corporation was altogether excluded from borrowing in the Australian market.
One of the principal objectives of the Corporation is to assist in the provision of financial resources to secure participation by Australians in the ownership of Australian industry. In clause 8 (1). therefore, honourable senators will find a directive to the Corporation to pursue a. policy directed to that end. In the pursuit of its functions the Corporation is to work ‘ towards maximum practicable Australian ownership of industry. Clearly, it will not be within the Corporation’s role to assist projects where Australian equity participation is going to be minimal. This is of course not to say that the Corporation can only assist ventures that promise dominant Australian ownership. Clause 8 (2.) gives some very essential operating criteria for the Corporation. Not only must it, in the performance of its functions, operate on sound business principles, it must also satisfy itself that a venture to be assisted will operate efficiently and profitably. There is no ground at all, therefore, for any concern that the Corporation will entertain assistance to ventures whose soundness or profitability is in doubt.
In sub-clause 3 of clause 8 we find two important safeguards against the possibility that the Corporation could either be used to control the direction in which industry wishes to develop or to control industry itself, by virtue of large shareholdings. The sub-clause makes it clear that the Corporation cannot go around imposing itself on anyone, whether by the provision of loan moneys or by the subscription of equity capital. In addition, the Corporation is firmly directed to steer clear from acquiring or holding controlling interests in companies it assists. Who, therefore, would have anything whatever to fear from the operations of AIDC? Cast in a completely freeenterprise mould, and with adequate safeguards, it will be ready to take its place among the financial institutions of Australia, without any fear whatsoever that it will either duplicate the functions of others to any unnecessary extent, or that it could become a monolithic, industry controlling, giant.
Just to make quite sure that there is no doubt about AIDC’s duty to turn over its business rather than to become an investor with large permanent holdings, in industries, clause 8 (4.) was inserted in the Bill. This clause obliges the Corporation regularly to review its shareholdings acquired in its assistance role, and where practicable to try and dispose of any shares that are no longer necessary for the proper performance of its functions. To make certain that the Corporation pursues this objective the Board is required by clause 37(1.) to furnish- annual reports to the Government.
Honourable senators will agree that a very good balance is struck between the wide objectives, functions and powers on the one hand and the restrictions on powers and the firm policy directives on the other. The Corporation, as I have said, will be quite independent from Government. Not only is its structure, as drafted in the Bill, carefully aimed at complete independence from Government, but, in clause 9, the Bill specifically provides for such independence. This independence brings with it the need for the Corporation to1 be completely selfgenerating. It is not part of this Bill to set up a Corporation that will continually be coming back to Government for additional funds.
AIDC will therefore be established with a capital of SI 00m paid initially to $25m. In time, it can call on a further $25m. Once the Corporation establishes itself . as a borrower - when it has borrowed at least §200m - it can call on the remaining $50m, in 2 instalments of $25m each. These provisions can be found in clauses 24 to 29 of the Bill.
The capital the Government will be providing, is, however, not intended itself to be a source of lending moneys but rather it is provided to give lenders security and to give AIDC stature, and image, as a borrower. A provision to that effect will be found in clause 24 (8.). It is intended, in keeping with the AIDC’s desired independence from Government, that the capital of the Corporation not immediately required for the purposes of the Corporation may be invested for the purposes of producing income. This income, as well as meeting the Corporation’s running expenses, is also intended to provide the Corporation with the necessary capital growth to expand its borrowing operations in the future by expanding its capital base, without further resort to Government for funds.
It is beyond question, of course, that the Corporation’s whole capital of SI 00m must be available, subject to appropriate notice being given in respect of each instalment, to provide the necessary security for the Corporation’s borrowings. It is accordingly provided. With its capital mainly as a base for borrowing, the Corporation will be able to lend moneys it has raised to projects if it is loan finance that the project needs. Alternatively it may apply the funds in a mix of loan and equity investment, if this is required by the project to avoid too heavy a burden of debt finance in its early stages of operation. Again, in appropriate cases, the Corporation may provide assistance by way of equity participation only.
It is important to remember that the Corporation, as a borrower of substance, can take full advantage of the fund-raising techniques available to the giants in international borrowing. AIDC for instance may make it a feature of a loan, that a proportion can be converted into a shareholding in the venture being assisted within or after, a certain time. This technique, referred to as an equity sweetener’ can materially assist both in obtaining funds from overseas and in reducing interest rates that would otherwise be payable. It is recognised that the Corporation will be borrowing in overseas markets, where interest rates may be higher than those ruling at home, especially when compared with finance from Australian banking institutions. This is consistent with the Corporation’s contemplated role of only providing assistance when such assistance cannot be obtained from alternative sources. It will therefore be supplementing scarce domestic resources with resources from overseas.
The Corporation has not been provided with a Government guarantee. A IDC’s size and its stature will be sufficient guarantee to the overseas lenders, especially as it has a large capital base that can be readily called upon, in addition to having of course the normal security deriving from sound and potentially- profitable projects that it will assist. This point has been widely canvassed in overseas finance and investment circles, and the Government has been assured unequivocally that the Corporation, with a sufficient capital basis, and as a body established by Government, could become a successful borrower overseas.
Clauses 10 to 23 deal with the management of the Corporation. In drafting this part of the Bill great care has been taken to reach the point where there is the most favourable balance between a completely independent Board of the Corporation on the one hand and an assurance to the Government that the Board, consisting of the most competent people available, would work in the best interests of the Corporation’s charter, objectives and policies. AIDC will be controlled, therefore, by an independent Board of Directors, consisting in the main of part-time directors drawn from private enterprise. . To ensure the necessary expertise among directors, clause 12 (1.) specifies certain qualifications for appointment Clause 13 (3.) makes stringent demands for qualifications in the case of directors appointed as full-time directors.
The Board, in its operations, will have the fullest freedom in its own administrative and financial arrangements, to enable it to conduct its affairs for all practical purposes as if it were a private enterprise company. This very independence and freedom however, calls for some safeguard. Although directors may be appointed for fixed terms of years, they should in very exceptional circumstances be capable of being removed from the Board, either by the Board itself, by a sufficient majority, or, upon the recommendation of the Government, on the ground that it is not in the best interests of the Corporation that the Director should continue in office. Clause 19 (2.) (d) and (e) provides accordingly. To ensure, however, that the Government’s powers are only exercised in exceptional circumstances, the reasons for the recommendation by the Government must be laid before the Parliament. In addition of course the annual reports and accounts of AIDC must be presented to the Government and laid before the Parliament.
Again, to provide a proper balance in a situation where the Government has entrusted the pursuit of certain policy objectives to an independent body, clause 37 (7.) and (8.) provides for the case where the Government is not satisfied that the Board is operating in accordance with those policy objectives. The sub-clauses provide, therefore, that if, on receiving an annual report from the Corporation the Government considers that the Board is not operating in accordance with the policy principles laid down in the Act, the Government can meet with, and inform the Board to that effect. In that event, and to ensure that the Government uses its powers responsibly, and openly, the reasons for the Government’s action must be laid before the Parliament.
One matter needs to be mentioned, which, although falling outside the scope of this Bill, is very relevant to the present proposals. To give the maximum amount of flexibility to the AIDCs operations and to other Australian borrowers wishing to attract capital from overseas in loan form and on the best terms, the amending legislation on the taxation of interest on convertible notes, foreshadowed last September by the Government, is at present being reviewed. It must be made clear, however that there will be no concession applying to the Corporation that would not be equally available to any other company. It is in this context that it is relevant, also, to point at clause 27 of the Bill, which makes the Corporation subject to normal taxation, and, in addition, removes exemptions and special treatment of its securities under Commonwealth and Territory law that might otherwise have applied to the Corporation.
In conclusion: To some extent all countries of the free world, even the largest ones, are faced with the need to determine what part foreign corporations will play in their development. Australia is no exception, and the time has come for us to do something about it. Most countries that have dealt with the problem have attempted to find the answer through some form of restriction or regulation on foreign investment or ownership. We, Mr President, have rejected this negative approach as contrary to our philosophies. We have sought to find a positive way of solving the problem, designed to meet our own special needs and circumstances.
Of course it would have been easier to do nothing at all. It’ always is. This, however, would have meant ignoring the future and ignoring the fact that moderate actions today could prevent the need for far more drastic action later. We believe that it would not be responsible for a Government to adopt that course.’ Having decided that a new institution should be created, with specific responsibilities in this field, we have been very careful to build into its charter quite clear safeguards to ensure that the institutions can work without interference with other legitimate interests.
The Australian Industry Development Corporation will not be a tool of Government. It will only assist where assistance is sought. It will act only at the request, or with the consent of the companies concerned in a project. Nor will the Corporation interfere with the’ operations of existing institutionsin Australia or overseas. Where the Corporation can, it will use other institutions. Where there are gaps, it will complement the activities of others. The Corporation will operate on the basis of commercial judgment, directed by a Board that will consist in the main of experienced businessmen.
AIDC will not be a bank. Its structure, its nature, its sources of funds, its charter objectives all preclude it from acting like a bank, in the framework of the banking system, as in the case of the Australian Resources Development Bank. Equally, AIDC will not act as a merchant bank. On the contrary, it will use merchant banks wherever it can, to achieve its ends. AIDC will therefore have its specific role to play. It can, and will, add to the facilities already available without harming their interests. AIDC will provide a facility through which an important contribution can be made to the problems inherent in achieving the development we need, and want. AIDC will make this contribution in a way designed to enhance our long term balance of payments position. At the same time it will assist in retaining a maximum Australian voice in the direction of our development and maximum Australian participation in the fruits of that development. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Murphy) adjourned.
Message received from the House of Representatives intimating that it had considered the message of the Senate requesting the House to make an amendment in this Bill and that the House had made the requested amendment.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a third time.
Bill’ received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a first time. Debate (on motion by Senator Poyser) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator DrakeBrockman) read a first time.
Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western
Australia - Minister for Air) [3.36] - I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time. With the concurrence of honourable senators I incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard. It is as follows:
The main purpose of this Bill is to revise the Second Schedule to the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1952-1968. Honourable senators will be aware that two levels of electorate allowance are paid to members of the House of Representatives - $2,750 per annum to a member whose electorate is classified as city and $3,350 per annum to a member whose electorate is classified as country. The Second Schedule to the Act lists electorates for which the lower, or city, rate is paid. The higher, or country, rate is paid in respect of all other electorates.
Changes in the Schedule are necessary because of the redistribution of electorates. Some existing electorates have been abolished and new city electorates have been created. The classification of existing electorates has also been reviewed following adoption of the new electorate boundaries and changes in the character of some electorates since 1956. The new Second Schedule takes into account these changes. There is no change in the basic rates of electorate allowances for members of the House of Representatives - that is $2,750 for members representing city electorates and $3,350 for members representing country electorates.
Other suggestions have been received from members of the House of Representatives about the division of electorates into two classifications - city and country; and about the classification of individual electorates and the amounts of electorate allowances. It has been decided not to make a change from the basic two classification pattern, that is city and country electorates, established by the Committee of Enquiry into Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament in 1955 and continued by the Committee of Enquiry in 1959. Senators receive electorate allowances of $2,650 or $100less than members representing city electorates. The Government has decided that the rate of electorate allowance for senators should be equal to the rate payable to members of the House of Representatives representing city electorates. Clause 4(a) of the Bill will give effect to this change.
Sections 4 and 5 of the present Act each contain provisions setting the limits of time during which both allowances in the nature of salary, and electoral allowances are payable to senators and members. The opportunity has been taken to clarify these provisions in two respects. In the first place, clause 3 of the Bill proposes the insertion of a new section which specifies that, for the purposes of paying allowances, ‘the day of election’ is polling day, or, when there is no poll, the day the result is declared. This practice has been followed for many years in the payment of parliamentary allowances. The Bill therefore gives expression to existing practice.
Secondly, under the present Act, parliamentary allowances of a sitting member of the House of Representatives who stands for re-election but is unsuccessful cease with the election of his successor. Last year’s redistribution has drawn attention to interpretation of the term ‘successor’ and to the possibility of doubt arising in cases of changes in boundaries as to the identity of each successor to members of the House of Representatives of the previous Parliament. Any possibility of doubt is avoided by redrafting the provision to ensure that a member of the House of Representatives will be paid his allowance until the day before the day of his re-election or. if he is not re-elected, the day before polling day. Clause 5 of the Bill covers this matter. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Murphy) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wright) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Honourable senators will recall the announcement by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) last October of the Government’s intention to establish an Institute of Marine Science at Townsville in Queensland. This Bill provides for the establishment of such an Institute, to be known as the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and makes formal provision for the detailed planning of its functions and powers. Australia is excellently situated to make a significant contribution in the field of marine science. As an island continent, with a vast and varied coastline extending from the tropics far into the temperate zone, the opportunity for study, exploration, exploitation and conservation of our marine resources is large. Our shores are washed by no less than 3 of the great oceans - the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans - while the Great Barrier Reef and our extensive exposure to the Southern Ocean offer opportunities that are unique.
While some valuable work in marine science is already being carried out in Australia, this is, in relation to the needs of Australia, too limited an effort. The Government has accordingly decided to establish the Australian Institute of Marine Science at Townsville to provide a national centre that will conduct research itself and give encouragement to valuable studies conducted elsewhere.
The Institute should become a centre of excellence and earn for itself and Australia a world reputation in the field of marine science. As the Bill provides, the Institute will be concerned both with biological and physical aspects of marine science and the reference in clause 7 (2.) of the Bill to certain specific matters will not limit the Institute’s activities. I would expect the work and interests of the Institute to extend as time goes on, over a very wide range of possibilities. For example, the study of the geology of the sea floor; the potential of the sea as a source of food and pharmacological products; the need for and means of conserving our marine environment; the effect upon that environment of the activities of man, in his attempts to win new treasures from the sea and of predators, among which I would anticipate that the Crown of Thorns starfish would be a continuing subject of study until the problems it has created may have been solved.
Honourable senators will note that the Bill provides for the appointment of an Interim Council to make recommendations on the functions and powers of the Institute and it is the intention of the Minister for Education and Science (Mr N. H. Bowen) to appoint Dr M. F. Day of CSIRO as Chairman and the following scientists as members of the Interim Council: Professor C. Burdon-Jones of the University College of Townsville; Dr N. H. Fisher of the Commonwealth Bureau of Mineral Resources: Professor Dorothy Hill, Department of Geology and Mineralogy, University of Queensland; Mr Walter Ives, Secretary of the Department of Primary Industry: Dr D. F. McMichael, Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the State of New South Wales; and Professor R. J. Walsh, representing the Australian Academy of Science.
As soon as the Interim Council has completed its work, the Minister for education and Science will place its recommendations before the Government so that a further Bill may be introduced prescribing in detail the functions and powers of the Institute and its constitution. I have great pleasure in commending this Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Willesee) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wright) read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time. The Universities (Financial Assistance) Act 1966-69, which appropriated Commonwealth grants to the States in connection with universities during the 1967-69 triennium, made provision for building programmes at universities including student residences: A condition of the payment of the grants in respect of student residences was that the Commonwealth grant would be limited to a matching of actual expenditure from State funds during the triennium; that is up to 31st December 1969.
In respect of 2 halls of residence - the Women’s Hall of Residence at the University of Tasmania and a hall of residence to be known as Roberts Hall at Monash University - unavoidable delays in planning meant that the amounts of State funds expended on these projects up to 31st December 1969 were insufficient to attract the full Commonwealth grant. In each case, the State government is prepared to continue with its matching expenditure up to an amount not exceeding the amount planned, for the 1967-69 triennium and the Commonwealth Government has therefore decided to introduce this Bill to provide authority for the payment of appropriate balances of the Commonwealth grants that were provided for the triennium 1967-69. The amounts involved are $47,241 in respect of the Women’s Hall of Residence at the University of Tasmania and $454,930 in respect of Roberts Hall at Monash University. The Bill therefore provides for the completionof the capital programme for student residences that was planned for the triennium 1967-69. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Willesee) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator DrakeBrockman) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time. With the concurrence of honourable senators, I incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
The purpose of this Bill is to enable the Australian Canned Fruits Board to pay to canners from the Canned Fruit Excise Fund a proportion of the excise paid by them in the period 1st January 1969 to 27th March 1969. The excise is imposed on specified varieties of canned deciduous fruits and mixtures thereof entered for home consumption and is the income source of the Canned Fruit Excise Fund. The Australian Canned Fruits Board utilises the Fund in carrying out its functions in relation to the export marketing of canned fruit. The Board used this Fund principally in the payment of market development allowances, up to the 31st December 1968, to assist exports of canned fruits to difficult markets. Another important use was to finance promotion Ventures in various overseas markets.
After a recommendation from the Board, the rate of excise was reduced about 12 months ago from 30c per dozen 29 oz cans to 5c per dozen 29 oz cans. The main factor in this decision was that following an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the United States of America the payment of market development allowances from the Fund on export of Australian canned peaches to major export countries was discontinued from 1st January 1969.
When these payments were discontinued the Australian Canned Fruits Board immediately asked the Government to reduce the rate of excise. In the event, measures to effect this reduction could not, for administrative reasons, be concluded until the end of March 1969 and consequently collections at the high rate continued for about 3 months after the payment of market development allowances ceased. The Board, as a result, has substantial moneys lying idle in the Fund and has recommended that a large portion of these moneys, representing the excess over its current requirements, be returned to the original contributors of excise over the period 1st January 1969 to 27th March 1969. The Board has decided to increase its expenditure in 1970 on promotion from the Excise Fund and the refund will be at a level which will enable sufficient moneys to be retained for this purpose. Under the existing wording of the Act it is not permissible for the Board to make refunds of moneys paid. The present Bill is to enable this to be done. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Willesee) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator DrakeBrockman) read a first time.
With the concurrence of honourable senators, I incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
It is the purpose of this Bill to obtain the approval of Parliament to an increase in Australia’s quota with the International Monetary Fund and to seek authority to make the necessary payments out of Consolidated Revenue. The proposed increase in Australia’s quota is part of a general review of fund quotas which was undertaken last year by the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund. The recommendations of the Board in this matter are contained in a report entitled Increases in Quotas of Members - Fifth General Review’ and copies of the report have been circulated for the information of honourable senators. The main proposal in the report is that Fund members should be enabled to increase their quotas from an amount of about $US2 1,300m to approximately $US28,900m. That represents roughly a 36% increase in the quotas of Fund members.
Under the articles of agreement of the Fund, any proposal to adjust members’ quotas requires the approval of governors representing at least 85% of the total voting power of member countries. As Australian governor in the Fund, the Treasurer (Mr Bury) recorded Australia’s votes in favour of the resolution proposing the increase in fund quotas mentioned above. This resolution, which has now been accepted by the required majority, is also reproduced in the paper circulated to honourable senators.
By way of background, 1 would remind the Senate that the international monetary system has been operating under conditions of strain in recent times. There have been crises of confidence in particular currencies and three major currencies - the pound sterling, the French franc, and the German mark - as well as a number of minor currencies, have been the subject of exchange rate adjustments over the course of the past2½ years. There have been sharp changes in the volume and direction of shortterm capital flows. This has put pressure on the reserves of individual countries and has contributed, to some degree, to the rising level of interest rates on short-termmoney in America, Europe and Japan. A large number of countries found themselves in balance of payments difficulties during the period in question, and, in 1968, there were record drawings on the International Monetary Fund. During 1969, there was not only evidence of a loss of confidence in particular currencies, but there were also signs of a more general loss of confidence in the international monetary system itself. This made itself apparent most clearly in a move out of currencies into gold and in speculation on a rise in the price of gold.
Towards the end of 1969, the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund met in Washington and it was the general consensus of opinion among governors then that one of the factors leading to pressures on the balance of payments of member countries and to losses of confidence in particular currencies was a growing lack of international liquidity among member countries as a whole. There was statistical evidence of this in the decline in the relationship between world reserves and world trade. In 1952, gold and foreign exchange had been equivalent to some 77% of world imports. By 1968, this proportion had fallen to 33%. It was against this background that governors gave general support last October to 2 approaches to the international liquidity problem.
The first approach was through an increase in ‘unconditional’ reserve assets by activating the proposal for. special drawing rights. The special drawing rights scheme came into operation on 1st January 1970. Under this scheme, a total amount of $US9.5 billion in special drawing rights will be allocated to member countries of the Fund over the next 3 years and will con-‘ stitute an addition to the first-line reserves of those countries. A Bill was put before the
Parliament on this subject in December 1968 and parliamentary approval was obtained then to Australian participation in the scheme. Australia has since received a first allocation of SA75m for the calendar year 1970 and should receive additional allocations of about $A60m in each of the succeeding years, 1971 and 1972.
The second approach to the problem of increasing international liquidity has been that of increasing the ‘conditional’ reserve assets of member countries in the Fund by increasing their quotas - or ordinary drawing rights - with the Fund. The fifth general review of quotas has resulted in a proposal for an increase of SUS7.6 billion in total quotas of Fund members. In normal circumstances, this general level of quotas will not be reviewed for another 5 years. Meanwhile, Fund members, to the extent that they take up the offer, will have their second-line reserves strengthened by up to $US7.6 billion.
What are the implications of the quota increase proposals for Australia? In the first place, it has been the consistent policy of Australia to support the activities of the International Monetary Fund. This has been basically because we agreed with the objectives of the Fund which included promoting exchange rate stability, eliminating restrictions on current transfers, and generally promoting international monetary cooperation. It has suited Australia’s interests to have a strong international financial institution, such as the Fund, to ensure that the more powerful industrial countries of the world observe certain basic rules of behaviour in their trading and financial relations with others. It is compatible with these interests that we should support a proposal for an increase in Fund quotas which aims at maintaining the international monetary system in effective working order and which underpins the role of the Fund in that system.
Indeed, the first sighs are that the action taken by the International Monetary Fund has had just that kind of effect. There has been some progress towards a better state of equilibrium in the world balance of payments situation. The United Kingdom and France have moved out of deficit and Germany has experienced some loss of reserves. A number of factors have contributed to this unproved situation, including realignment of exchange rates and adjustment of internal policies by the countries concerned. But the Fund decisions on special drawing rights and the quota review have done much to restore confidence in currencies and to provide a favourable climate for the readjustment process. In particular, the move out of currencies into gold has been checked and perhaps reversed. On the whole, we are beginning the 1970s in a much more favourable position so far as the international monetary system is concerned than seemed likely in the last years of the 1960s.
In the second place, however, Australia has a more direct interest in the quota review. We have always been subject to fairly substantial fluctuations in our own balance of payments position. It is of special value to us, therefore, that the Fund should stand ready to provide us with additional amounts of temporary finance in time of need. Australia’s quota with the Fund is at present $US500m ($A446m). The Bill before the Senate provides for this quota to be increased to $US665m ($A594m). We would be required to make a gold subscription of $US41m in order to qualify for this $US165m increase in our quota. This gold subscription would be met out of our own gold holdings or through the purchase of gold with foreign exchange. There would be a fall in our gold and/ or foreign exchange holdings but there would be an equivalent increase in our ‘gold tranche’ position with the Fund. This ‘gold tranche’ can be drawn upon by Australia at any time so the transaction would, in balance of payments terms, amount to no more than a transfer from one kind of reserve asset to another. There would be a charge on the Budget of around $A37m to meet this gold subscription and this would need to be provided in the financial year 1970-71. The rest of the increase in the Australian quota of $ US 165m would be subscribed in the form of a non-negotiable note denominated in Australian currency and lodged to the credit of the Fund at the Reserve Bank. This would involve no charge on the Budget.
In brief, for a subscription of $US41m ($A37m), returnable in the event of the winding up of the Fund, we would obtain an increase in our Fund drawing rights of $US41m, available automatically, and of $US165m, available in case of balance of payments need. Our present reserve position is a strong one. We have first-line reserves consisting of gold, foreign exchange, gold tranche position with the Fund and special drawing rights of around SA 1,400m. Our second-line reserves, consisting of our four credit tranches with the Fund, amount to $A446m. The increase in our quota with the Fund, though it cannot become effective before 30th October 1970, would have the effect of raising this to S A 594m. making a total first and second line reserves position of near enough to $A2,000m. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cant) adjourned.
PORT AUGUSTA TO WHYALLA RAILWAY BILL 1970
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wright) read a first time.
– As honourable senators will know. 1 shall not be here during the remainder of the present sittings and therefore I want to take this opportunity to acquaint the Senate with the fact that during the forthcoming recess the Parliament will lose, by retirement, the services of Mr J. E. Meredith, the officer of the Joint House Department who holds the position of Chief Engineer. Mr Meredith came to the Parliament in 1952: so that for the past 1.8 years he has had responsibility for the efficient functioning of the great variety of electrical and mechanical services with which this building is equipped. Those of you who have ever taken the trouble to inspect the plant rooms, boilers and service areas will not need to be reminded that a surprising amount of engineering equipment is needed to keep this building comfortable for its inhabitants and to provide senators and members with services essential for their work. The responsibility for keeping this equipment in first class order, and for maintaining the high standard of mechanical, electrical and building services that we have enjoyed and come to expect, has been one which Mr Meredith has carried with efficiency and with distinction.
Many senators, no doubt, in the course of time, have had the need to seek the advice or assistance of Mr Meredith, and they will know that he is a highly competent person in his profession and that he combines this with a friendly and obliging manner that made it always a pleasure to approach him. Before entering the Parliamentary Service Mr Meredith had some 12 years service with the Department of Works in Victoria; so that altogether he has served (he Commonwealth for just over 30 years. His services to the Parliament were recognised by Her Majesty the Queen recently when he was appointed by Her a Member of the Order of the British Empire. I am sure the Senate would wish me to convey to Mr Meredith its appreciation of the excellent service he has rendered to the Parliament and its wish that he and his wife should enjoy a long and happy retirement.
Motion (by Senator Wright) proposed:
That the Senate Jo now adjourn.
– I propose to raise an objection. In the last 2 days we have been assured repeatedly by the Government that the National Health Bill had to be passed before 1st lune. Every time we pleaded for an adjournment so that discussion could take place on the merits of the Bill; the answer we were given was no. In fact, 2 amendments for that specific purpose were defeated on the ground that the Government wanted the Senate to continue the discussion in order to gel the Bill passed. We did continue the discussion. There is.no need for the Senate to adjourn now. I feel that I should have the support of all Government senators in opposing the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, so. that we can continue to deal with the National Health Bill.
There is another reason for opposing the motion, and that is that already the Press has reported a suggestion from the Government - J think it came from the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes)- that’ it is the Senate that is holding up this vital Bill, which supposedly .will benefit the people of Australia. In, I think, 2 newspapers this morning there was the suggestion that the Government is somewhat annoyed that the Bill has been delayed and that its provisions cannot be introduced by 1st June. It is not our wish to rush the Bill through; it is the Government’s wish to do that. If the Government does not intend to go on with it today, let us hear no more about it being the Senate which is delaying the Bill and preventing the people of Australia getting the benefits that might accrue from it. I point out to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson) that it is the Government he supports which has said repeatedly that we must sit and that we must get the Bill through. The Government of which he is a member now should support me and say: ‘We will carry on today and deal with the Bill’.
– I will be very brief. On Wednesday the Australian Democratic Labor Party moved that this Bill should be postponed so that the Government would be in a position to learn the decisions of the assembly of the Australian Medical Association. Our proposal was defeated with both the Government and the Australian Labor Party voting against it. I congratulate the Government on its second-thought good sense in having taken action in the past 2 days which means that the proposal put forward by the DLP on Wednesday, and defeated then, will now be able to be put into effect.
– I too will be very brief. I do not know whether the Government has any views on this. Firstly, what Senator McManus has said is not quite correct. I stated the other day on behalf of the Australian Labor Party that we did not support the motion for the adjournment of the debate, not because of the suggestion he now puts forward but because of his suggestion that the Parliament should cease to handle an important Bill and hand it to the Australian Medical Association, an outside body, which I understand was not meeting in an emergent meeting but having its normal meeting. It knew for some time that this was going on.
Already the Australian Labor Party has tried, through what we did a couple of days ago on the question of committees, to give the public and outside bodies every chance to make their voices heard in this Parliament, but at the same time they should realise that machinery must move here as it does in their own organisations, and when they know that these things are coming forward they should make their views known in plenty of time for them to be heeded. What the Senate has done over the past three or four days is perfectly legitimate. Perhaps some people might have wished that we had not done it but the fact is that this is what a house of review is for. We have put forward several amendments to the National Health Bill.
What is the practical side of this situation? The practical side is that if we sat here until midnight and all day Saturday and Sunday - if the Government wants that it can say so - and we passed the amendments, we would have achieved nothing unless the House of Representatives was sitting. Let us be a little realistic about these things. If it were possible to go on, that would be a different matter. The fact is, however, that we would not achieve anything. The Bill now cannot go through this place and become law because of the amendments to it. There is some difference in our opposing an adjournment to hand the business of the Parliament to an outside body and the Senate taking its normal rights in amending legislation, thereby producing some delay.
– I will not delay the Senate for very long. I want to say only that it was the Government’s wish to get this legislation and to bring it into effect by 1st June. The Senate in its wisdom streamlined its procedures in a very significant way during the last few days in order to get the maximum debating time in the Committee stage to achieve that purpose. The will of the Senate has been expressed. It has been the will of the Senate to pass certain requests and certain amendments. Senator Turnbull knows the procedures as well as all of us do. Now the requests and amendments must go by way of message to the other place, the other place must consider them and, having considered them, send a message back to this place.
The facts of life are as Senator Willesee has said and as I said. I think yesterday. In fact 1 said it in direct response to something Senator Turnbull had said. Because of the requests and the amendments which have been carried the Bill has to go back to the other place. I suggest that in the debate honourable senators express their points of view and, having expressed their points of view, we then have votes on them so that we can get the Bill to the other place as quickly as we can. In the event we have not been able to get it there by this afternoon. The other place is lifting at 4 o’clock. The Parliament will not re-assemble until the week after next.
We have exercised our function as a Senate to make requests and to make amendments, and we have made progress. Had we not made this progress we would be in more difficulty when we resumed. That is a fact of political life and there can be no recriminations about it. 1 am sorry that this point of view has been expressed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.56 p.m. to Tuesday, 2 June, al 2 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 22 May 1970, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1970/19700522_senate_27_s44/>.