30th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Perhaps it should be addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer, but initially I will direct it to Senator Withers. Did the Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, recently seek approval from the Federal Government to borrow overseas large sums of money for the purpose of developing Western Australia’s mineral and industrial potential? If so, have any negotiations taken place between Federal Treasury officials and Western Australian Government Treasury officials in pursuance of that request? Does the Government reject the principle of large overseas borrowings in order to develop Australia’s mineral resources and would a State government wishing to make such borrowings receive favourable cosideration from the Australian Government?
-The only knowledge I have is that I think I saw newspaper reports some weeks ago alleging that the Premier of Western Australia was going to put certain propositions to the Government. I have no knowledge of whether he did put those propositions to the Government, but I will seek the information for the Leader of the Opposition. As to the balance of the question, it relates to a matter of Government policy and if the Government decides on a policy line, that will eventually be announced in the Parliament.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Education and relates to training courses for translators and interpreters. Does the Minister agree that there is a need for the provision of these services in a number of centres where the concerns of ethnic and migrant communities are involved? Is any reconsideration being given to decisions which apparently have been taken which terminated some of the training courses for translators and interpreters? Can the Minister give me any information in this area which not only will assist ethnic communities but also will provide an opportunity for people who have special skills in interpreting and translating?
– The Government would agree and I would agree that it is most important that there should be adequate training of interpreters and translators and that there should be opportunities for their employment once they are trained. The present difficulty arises out of the failure of the previous Government to make forward planning for financing the training courses which my Department was undertaking. The background is that in 1975 courses were set up at 3 institutions. They were the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the Canberra College of Advanced Education and the University of New South Wales. Those courses were funded initially by the then Department of Labor and Immigration on the understanding that the funding would be picked up in the education triennium and funded forward. There was an abandonment of the triennium and, therefore, no funding. On top of that, the present Government put a restriction on the availability of funds. I am happy to say to the honourable senator that the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has found the necessary money. Notwithstanding the intricacies of financial arrangements, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of the Prime Minister have agreed that that money can be transferred to my Department. My Department will finance the courses. The courses will go on. We will put them in the triennium.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Can the Minister inform the Parliament whether it is a fact that the Prime Minister- or more correctly, the Right Honourable the Prime Minister- is duplicating all communications, including cables and general correspondence, etc., and conveying copies to his property, Nareen, for storage and reference purposes? Is all or some of the material being transferred by the expensive telex method? Has the Prime Minister also established an elaborate security system on his property? In view of the fact that the Prime Minister is constantly reminding the Australian people that 1976 is the year of financial restraint, can the Minister inform the Senate of (a) the weekly cost of transferring the correspondence and (b) the weekly cost of the security system?
– I have never been to the Prime Minister’s property but I imagine that he has an electric fence on that property to keep all kinds of rubbish out of the place. All one can do is direct that the long question asking for a lot of detail- I would imagine totally unproven as to its fact and intent- to the Prime Minister.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory. I have been advised that on several occasions in the last week the Australian Broadcasting Commission has referred to further cuts being made in Government expenditure in the Northern Territory and has listed various projects. I believe that the information comes from an unnamed source. As the Minister for the Northern Territory has previously indicated the amount of cuts for this financial year and the deferment of further amounts to the next financial year, will the Minister comment on those news items, having in mind that there is considerable apprehension in the Northern Territory community with many firms in the building industry retrenching staff because of their uncertainty for the future?
– I imagine that the honourable senator refers to an item of news on the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is my understanding that the ABC did broadcast a statement or statements listing for deferral a number of specific projects in the authorised works program for the Northern Territory. The source of the statements is unknown. Certainly they were not authorised by the Minister although some deferrals of projects- not cancellation of projects but some deferrals- had been foreshadowed in a statement made by the Minister on 4 February. I have been advised that the civil works program in the Northern Territory has been discussed by my colleagues, the Minister for Construction and the Minister for the Northern Territory, and that recommendations will soon be put to the Government. However, the honourable senator may be assured that when the information is to hand and the Minister is aware of the facts he will make a statement. I will see that that statement is made also in this place.
– My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that today a list of some 45 drugs to be deleted from the pharmaceutical benefits list, including all the long acting antihistamines, has been circulated to doctors and pharmacists in this country and that the frequency of the publication of the list of benefits is to be reduced? Will the Minister inform the Senate of the names of the drugs that are to be deleted and the reasons for their removal from the list? Also, what will be the saving to the Government as a result of their removal from the list and what will be the saving to the Government as a result of the cut in the frequency of the printing of that pharmaceutical benefits list?
– I am not aware whether the original premise of the question is accurate. I have no information or the subject, but I will obtain an answer for the honourable senator.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, concerns the alarming spread of water hyacinth in the tributaries of the Darling River in New South Wales. This is presenting a serious threat to the River Murray in South Australia, following sustained flooding in the upper reaches. Can the Minister say whether large scale efforts are planned to eradicate this monster weed?
- Senator McLaren asked this question last week. You are a week behind.
– I know. I also happen to be interested in this matter. Will the Government examine the need to provide financial and technological assistance to the Government of New South Wales or to some other authority in order to see that this work proceeds without delay?
– I am interested in this matter and I understand that there is sustained interest in it in the Senate. We are talking about the part of the world where I was born and where I lived for a long time. Historically, massive floods out of Queensland from time to time have caused all sorts of problems down that river system such as Bathurst bur and Noogoora bur. The water hyacinth problem, I have to admit quite freely, probably is generated in the high country of New South Wales. It is a serious problem. It is something which ought to be taken up as the honourable senator suggests. I certainly shall direct my attention to the matter. I do not want to spend the rest of my life chopping out water hyacinth.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It follows other questions in relation to reductions in staff ceilings throughtout the Commonwealth
Public Service. No doubt the Minister has seen statements by a number of important organisations that industrial action will be taken if any retrenchments occur. Is it clear now that it is the Government’s intention that where the staff is to be reduced this will be done on the basis of the criterion the Minister reported last week, which was that the reduction has to be achieved by retirement, wastage, etc; or will the reduction occur, as the unions expect, through a number of retrenchments? If it is clear that no such retrenchments will occur will the Minister make a clear statement? If the position about sackings is unclear, will the Minister advocate what seems necessary, and that is the calling of a top level conference of all the staff associations with a responsible group in order to achieve some sort of consultation and arrangement in respect of this important matter?
-The honourable senator asked me a similar question the other day. I undertook to get an answer for him in detail from the Minister for Defence. I regret to inform the honourable senator and the Senate that so far that reply has not arrived. I put a signal through the system stating that I wanted an urgent reply to the question. When that reply comes in I shall pass it on to Senator Bishop. As to the other matters which the honourable senator raised today, I shall make certain that my colleague in the other place, who is handling this matter, is alerted to the points raised by Senator Bishop relating to possible industrial action and his suggestion as to consultation. I shall see that he gets that information quite early.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education. I refer to a recent newspaper report indicating that 4 recently qualified Aboriginal teachers had been unable to obtain teaching employment. Can the Minister give the Senate any information on this matter? If not, will he have an investigation made at the earliest possible time?
– Some few days ago I saw a report in the New South Wales Press to the effect that 4 Aboriginal teachers had not been able to get teaching employment. Because it is vitally important that all such teachers should, if possible, be placed since there is a scarcity of them, with their special knowlege, I sought some information. As I understand it they were trained at the Armidale Teachers College under Aboriginal study grants. Therefore, the knowledge of them was not with the Education Department of New South Wales as they were not bonded to that Department and they had no contractual responsibilities to that Department. They did not make application until January, as I understand the position. Therefore, they were very late in placement. I understand that one of these Aborigines is now returning to further study and does not seek employment. I am advised that the New South Wales Department of Education has written to three of them inviting them to come and have a talk. We will keep our eyes on the matter and endeavour to get a satisfactory solution.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I ask: Has the Government any means of checking a statement made by the leader of the UDT that 60 000 people have been killed in East Timor? Can the Government confirm or deny the accuracy of that report? What means of communication has the Government with East Timor? Further, following the seizure of a radio in Darwin on 24 January of this year, was an application made by a Mr Neilley in Darwin for a radio licence in order that he might receive messages from East Timor? If so, what has happened to that application? Is it within the Minister’s discretion to grant or refuse such an application?
-I will seek information from my colleague in the other place as to whether 60 000 people were killed and also as to the other matters raised within a foreign affairs context. I imagine that the application for a radio licence would be a matter that would fall within the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I do not know whether my colleague who represents that portfolio in this chamber could add anything to the matter. I certainly know nothing about the radio aspect.
– Was such an application made following the seizure of the radio?
-I do not know anything about that matter, but I imagine that the question of whether a radio ought to be permitted to operate would come under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, which is not administered by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. As the honourable senator is interested in that, I will also ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications whether he can give an answer to the second part of the question.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and refers to media reports today that the New South Wales branch of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Staff Association has decided to have a 24-hour strike each Monday for a month in protest against cuts in the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s budget and the alleged consequential sacking of ABC employees. As an officer of an ABC staff association or union claimed on radio this morning that the position of ABC employees is being misrepresented by the media, can the Minister tell us the facts so that the Senate may know whether this is an unfortunate case of the biter being bitten?
– I did see this morning’s newspaper reports to the effect that a decision had been taken by a meeting of the New South Wales branch, I think, of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Staff Association to have some form of 24-hour strike on each Monday for a month. I understand that the branch has alleged that this is in protest against Government cuts, which it alleges will result in sackings within the ABC. I did see some reference to the fact that it may spread to Tasmania and Victoria. I am aware that last week branches of the ABC Staff Association in other States held meetings and decided not to strike.
I do not want to say anything that will exacerbate the situation because quite clearly it is a matter which is between the Commission, an independent body, and its staff, but I think it ought to be said that 2 points need clarification. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has said that it will reach the staff ceilings agreed to with the Government, that is 7200 employees, by June of this year without any retrenchments of permanent staff but by simple wastage and the non-filling of vacancies. There has been a reference to the termination of the services of some 220 employees. I understand that there is a number of employees on short-term temporary employment within the ABC, many of whose short-term contracts will finish soon. When the contracts are finished presumably they will be terminated. I repeat that the Commission has said to the Staff Association, as I understand it, that there will be no sackings of permanent employees.
While I am on my feet let me also say this: It is being said that the Commonwealth Government has imposed a cutback of, I think, some $8.4m upon the Australian Broadcasting Commission. That is simply not true. What is true is that the Commission asked the Government for an amount of, I think, $7.3m in excess of the Budget allocation and this was refused. The cutback is in the order of $1.3m. The sum of $8.4m is derived from assuming that the Commission would have gained $7.3m whereas it has actually lost $ 1.3m. The simple fact is that the total cutback in the Budget is in the order of $ 1.3m. As I understand it, the ABC has said that it can absorb that cutback within its budget without any sackings of permanent staff.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Education, really is supplementary to the question asked by Senator Davidson which concerned the outflow of people who have been trained as interpreters and translators. I want to deal with the other side of the coin, that is, the recognition professionally of the finished product. Perhaps the Minister can elucidate upon this point for me: During the hearings of Senate Estimates Committee E last year, the then Secretary of the Department of Labor and Immigration, Mr McKenzie, indicated that the then Government was creating an authority of nine persons more or less to ensure and protect the professional recognition of translators and interpreters. In the Government’s reallocation of responsibilities, will these people be given professional protection. If not, they could face a situation similar to that faced by some of the dilutee engineers after World War II. What is to happen in this regard?
-I acknowledge, both to Senator Davidson and to Senator Mulvihill the absolute importance of having properly qualified interpreters and translators available. I acknowledge also the need for the establishment of standards and within those standards the protection of those people in terms of recognition and remuneration. I am unaware how far the matter has proceeded. I am unaware of the demarcation dispute between departments. I am aware that my colleague, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, breathes down my neck hourly in relation to the need to get these people and to get them on the job. I will undertake to talk with him and, indeed, with Mr Street, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, if the matter overlaps into his Department and obtain a clear answer for the honourable senator.
- Mr President, I wish to direct a supplementary question to the Minister for Education. Will he also examine the record of proceedings of Senate Estimates Committee E last year, which met under a very competent chairman? If he does so, he will find that very important evidence was given before that Committee which will help him in this matter.
-I would be delighted to do so.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry yet received the updated report of the Australian Industry Development Corporation relating to the canned deciduous fruits industry? If the answer is no, will the Minister take urgent action to have the updated report made available as soon as possible and, immediately it becomes available, arrange for discussions with industry representatives as soon as possible?
-I shall do what the honourable senator requests. I have not yet seen the report but I understand the problem. I shall pursue the matter.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Administrative Services. I remind him that last Tuesday I directed a question to him about ministerial Press releases and that he said he hoped to be able to make a statement on the matter or about the new method of distribution of Press releases within a day or two. I now ask him whether he is aware that media and community organisations which at present obtain information about governmental activities from the Australian Government Liaison Service are being told that that service which is provided to them is to end on Friday as part of the Government’s overall economic measures? As the Australian Government Liaison Service staff and equipment in most cases are being transferred to other parts of the Public Service, I ask: What is anticipated will be the amount of economic saving involved? Further, have disadvantaged media and community groups, including those functioning in outlying rural areas, been made aware that the Government intends to place a charge on Government information, such as Press statements, which it is intended will be made available to them through the publications and inquiry centres established in the various State capitals?
-The cost savings will be quite significant. I am trying to recall the figures. I think the new service will be run at less than a quarter of the cost of the previous service. It is not so much a matter of denying people government information. Literally thousands of people were on various lists. One wonders how much of the mail that floods into the offices of senators and members is read. There is also the problem that during the period of the previous Government this material was sent to people whether or not they requested it. There was a propensity for the previous Government to build up a media propaganda machine, which was costing an enormous sum of money, basically to promote the Government’s activities at the taxpayers’ expense. We were concerned about this when in Opposition. I remember my colleague Senator Young, who was then the shadow Minister for the Media, making a statement about this at the time. We considered it to be an abuse of taxpayers’ funds to use the service to promote government activities in a propaganda sense. Press statements will certainly be made available to the media for normal distribution. I do not know where the senator gets some of his information from. I suggest that he wait, and a full statement will be given. I think the taxpayers will be delighted to see that not only is the Government saving money but also, and more importantly, taxpayers’ money is not being used for Party political purposes.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, relates to a report in today’s newspapers that a Mr Eddie Zannaniri has applied to enter Australia to study at a university. Is this the same Mr Zannaniri who, as Vice-President of the General Union of Palestinian Students, visited Australia in May 1975? Did he appear on Monday Conference on 26 May 1975 as an advocate and apologist for the terrorist organisation, the Palestine Liberation Organisation? Is it a fact that his application to come here is being sought by his fiancee who is an assistant of a Mr William Hartley who has extreme views on the Middle East? Is it further true that the application has been actively supported by Mr Gough Whitlam, the Leader of the Opposition in another place? Will the Minister assure the Senate that Australia is not about to encourage immigration by terrorists of any kind and that Mr Zannaniri ‘s application will be subjected to the closest possible scrutiny?
-The question contained a number of points. The only information I have about the story which was reported in the Press this morning is that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has received a final report from his Department on the application and he will make a decision about that application shortly. With regard to the part of the question which related to the sponsorship or support of the application of the person mentioned by the honourable senator, it is not customary for the Department to release that sort of information. Therefore, I am unable to respond to that part of his question. As to the more general comment with regard to encouragement or support for applications from people in that category that the honourable senator mentioned, I suggest that this would be a matter more properly dealt with by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs himself.
-Is the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications aware that Specialty Greetings Pty Ltd, the largest manufacturer of greeting cards in Australia, announced a record profit of 61.6 per cent for the half year ending 3 1 December 1975? How does the Minister reconcile this with his claim, when in Opposition, that the increase in tariffs announced by the Australian Postal Commission last September would kill the traditional exchange of Christmas greetings?
– I am unaware of the interesting facts that Senator McAuliffe has brought to my attention. Perhaps the majority of the cards bought by the public were condolence cards, the necessity for which arose out of the bad form of government at that time. One needs to know what would touch the heart strings of people to get them to meet the cost of an 18c postage stamp to send a greeting. Greetings can embrace bad news as well as good news. The simple fact of the matter is that if one looks at the figures for seasonal mail, particularly at Christmas, one will realise that the volume fell sharply as a result of the previous Government’s disastrous postal rates. If the honourable senator wishes to know the precise details, which I have here, I will be happy to give them to him. If he seeks further information about the greeting card company, I ask him to put the question on notice and 1 will obtain such information for him.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. I refer to regulations introduced last year permitting the Government to appoint, I think, up to 30 judges to the new Family Court of Australia. I ask: How many judges of the Family Court is the Government intending to appoint in the present financial year? Is the number to be appointed considered adequate to cope with the great volume of new business which is being generated in that court now under the new Act?
– I think there is provision under the regulations for up to 30 judges to be appointed to the Family Court. I am not sure how many Family Court judges have been appointed but in recent times they have been proliferating at a great rate. They are naturally all appointed for life. The Government, whilst not wishing to create a great number of judges in this area, nevertheless will make those appointments which are necessary to ensure that the Act which was passed by the Parliament can be administered satisfactorily. I know that the Attorney-General has the matter under scrutiny but I think, to give the exact answer for which the honourable senator is looking, the matter should be referred to the Minister. I will do so.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I ask: In view of a statement by a member of the Australian Dairy Produce Board that opening prices for butterfat next July could be as low as 42c a lb for Victorian dairy farmers, what assistance does the Government intend to provide to keep these farmers financially viable?
-I understand that a severe problem is developing in relation to butterfat, skim milk and other dairy products in the manufacturing area. I know that the Minister is examining this problem. I shall direct the honourable senator’s question to the Minister in order to obtain further information for the honourable senator.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. On Tuesday I asked a question of the Minister relating to the amnesty for illegal migrants and its effect on visitors who are legally in the country. The Minister agreed to make inquiries. As I hope that the Minister may now have further information about this matter and it is a question of considerable interest and importance to many citizens and visitors I repeat the question I asked on Tuesday:
Does the amnesty recently granted to prohibited or illegal immigrants cover persons who are in Australia legally as visitors and who wish to settle in this country? If not. why not?
– I have the answer now that I suggested I would obtain quickly for the honourable senator. Briefly it states that the amnesty was decided upon by the Government to remedy the particular situation of the large number of over-stayed visitors who were in Australia at 31 December 1975. Persons who entered Australia legally as visitors, whose temporary stay in Australia is covered by a current temporary entry permit and who wish to settle in Australia are not, by definition, eligible under the amnesty provisions. The current visitor policy includes scope to consider change of status applications from any bona fide visitors whose circumstances change after arrival in Australia. Sympathetic consideration is given to applications where the persons concerned would have qualified for migrant visas had these been sought overseas instead of visitors visas. There is also scope to consider other visitor cases against normal migrant entry criteria according to individual merit. The presence of strong humanitarian consideratons would of course be taken fully into account in deciding any such applications for resident status.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation: How does the Minister for Repatriation or his Government reconcile his statement of 4 February 1976, namely, ‘the Government remains committed to preserving the welfare of veterans and their dependants ‘, with the announced decision on the same date to deprive the same veterans and dependants of $3. 6m in pension payments this financial year?
– I believe the amount that is referred to by the honourable senator relates to the delay of the increase in repatriation pension benefits until the first pay period in May. If that is the basis of the question, that is in accordance with our stated policy of increasing pension benefits at 6-monthly intervals in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. It is not, in our terms, a matter of removing or not maintaining benefits that already exist: our policy is to introduce increased benefits as from 6 months after the last increase which was in November. That will be May of this year. In those terms I believe that the basis of the honourable senator’s question is not quite accurate.
– I wish to ask the Minister a supplementary question. Is this not a consequence of the announced reduction of $4m for repatriation purposes for the remainder of the financial year, of which $3.6m is accounted for by pension payments?
– As I stated, if the basis of the whole of the question related to the May increase, that was my answer. If there is a further reduction in the amount for expenditure in the Department this year, I will obtain an answer on the remainder of the honourable senator’s question.
-Is the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications yet able to say when or whether pushbutton telephones will be made available in Australia?
– To my great concern, no; but I will direct the question to my colleague and obtain an answer.
-I ask the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development whether he recalls answering a question from Senator Mulvihill concerning assistance to conservation bodies seeking to place evidence before environmental inquiries? Will the Minister indicate whether the Friends of the Earth organisation is receiving sufficient assistance to allow it to present a full submission to the Ranger environmental inquiry?
-The general nature of the honourable senator’s inquiry was made known to me earlier this morning and I sought some information. I understand that Friends of the Earth is a group which was given financial assistance in 1974-75 in the sum of $3,000 to undertake a study of the ecological ramifications of uranium mining in the Northern Territory. That report, I understand, is nearing completion. It may in fact be completed, but I have not seen a copy. In 1975-76 a grant was made to the organisation in the sum of $ 10,000. The purpose of that grant was to enable the organisation to act administratively- it was called an administrative support grant- and the disposition of the funds is in the hands of the organisation. I am not aware how it has applied the money and, as far as I understand, no inquiry has been made.
Late last year a request was made for assistance to present a submission to the inquiry being conducted by Mr Justice Fox. The then Minister, Mr Berinson, felt that it was not appropriate for that grant to be made because to do so would open up the way for other organisations to make requests for similar grants. As a matter of principle, it was felt not desirable to make the grant. In the event, it was not made. I am not aware of any subsequent grant having been made since the change in government but I should have thought that the principle adopted by Mr Berinson is worthy of general application, and only where it can be seen that there is no general submission being made ought particular grants for particular bodies be contemplated.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Is it a fact that approximately one week prior to the 13 December election the Australian Broadcasting Control Board issued a direction to commercial radio and television stations that all decisions regarding the publication of election news items should be made by news editors and that management was to take no part therein? If so, by what right and for what reason was that direction given?
-At the outset, let me say that I am unaware of the substance of what Senator Rae has said. I am unaware that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board issued such a direction. Nor am I aware of any section of the legislation which would give the Board power to make that specific direction. It is true that the Board has general powers one of which is to ensure that during the period between the issue of the writ and the return of the writ all political comment shall be authorised so that a person shall be responsible within a particular medium for that authorisation.
I am totally unaware of what authority the Control Board would have, if it sought to exercise such authority itself to determine that a news editor and not the management would take responsibility. In any case, it would seem to me that legally the management, the ownership of the station, in the end result must be responsible for its servants. Therefore if the Board took such action it would be against the general principle and, I think, the terms of legislation. If the honourable senator seeks further information on this matter I will be happy to make an inquiry. As he has assented to that, I will do so.
– I address my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. As the softwood industry in the lower south-east of South Australia is the greatest employer of labour in the towns of Mt Gambier, Millicent, Mt Burr, Nangwarry, Tarpeena and Penola, and as many jobs could be placed in jeopardy if the Softwoods Forestry Agreements Act is not renewed when it expires on June 30 this year, can the Leader of the Government in the Senate say what the intentions of the Government are in respect of the renewal of this agreement?
-I can well understand the honourable senator’s interest in this subject, for a number of reasons. I have no special information on this matter. As it concerns a CommonwealthState agreement, it will be a question to be discussed between the Prime Minister and the Premiers. I will seek from the Prime Minister information as to whether there are any negotiations in progress.
-Is the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications aware that the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s coverage of the Hobart Tattoo which is to be held next month has been withdrawn at this late stage, leaving the organisers without coverage at the moment? Can he ascertain the true reasons behind the refusal as technical difficulties’ have been given as only part of the reason?
-As to whether I am aware of a decision by the Australian Broadcasting Commission not to cover the Hobart Tattoo, the answer is no, I am not. Of course, it is entirely a matter for the Australian Broadcasting Commission to make a decision in terms of its programs. As the Opposition reminded us constantly when it was in government, the Commission is an independent statutory corporation and within the terms of its legislation it has total power over programming. If such a decision was made it was a decision of the Commission. I am not aware of the reason for the decision being made but I am willing to seek the information from the Commission and, indeed, to transmit to the Commission the concern of the honourable senator that such a decision should have been made.
– Does the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Affairs acknowledge that the establishment of a new university in the Albury-Wodonga decentralisation project is regarded by the AlburyWodonga Development Corporation and by the local community as vital to the success of the scheme? Is it a fact that, because of the policy of the Government to cut back on public spending, it is now proposed to suspend the provision of a university for that region? Will not such a decision, expected to be made by the Universities Commission, seriously undermine confidence in the entire Albury-Wodonga complex, delay private investment initiative and harm the concept of decentralisation?
– I know there has been some anticipation- I think probably there is some anticipation still- in the Albury-Wodonga development area that a university will be established there. Notwithstanding that anticipation, a number of considerations are operating against the establishment of that university. But I think the previous Government acknowledged, as certainly we acknowledge, that the decision as to whether a university is to be established is a matter for the Universities Commission and in due course the Universities Commission will present a report on this matter. If the result were that a university was not to be established, I do not think the consequences which were outlined by the honourable senator would ensue. After all, a college of advanced education is situated at Wagga Wagga and is growing in repute and stature. It is close to the Albury-Wodonga area.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for the Capital Territory say whether it is correct, as has been alleged, that the present Government has drastically reduced funds available for Commissioner for Housing loans in the Australian Capital Territory? If this is not true, can the Minister indicate what the position in fact is?
-The truth of the matter is that following Labor’s last Budget, funds for Commissioner for Housing loans were exhausted. In actual fact, the money that the Labor Party had applied for this purpose was totally insufficient for the 1975-76 year. Due largely to the representations of the honourable senator and his colleague in another place, the present Government has decided that this situation should be remedied in some way. It was clear that many people in the Australian Capital Territory were being disadvantaged. Following careful examination of the matter it was decided recently to make available an additional $3m for Commissioner for Housing loans in the Australian Capital Territory. The Government did this, despite the current economic difficulties, in recognition of the importance of these funds to the Australian Capital Territory at this time. To ensure that these funds assist also the housing construction industry it was decided that such loans should be directed towards new construction. It was emphasised that if Labor’s policy had been continued no money at all would have been available now for such loans this year.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, by remarking that I am fully aware that at times it is imperative that each of the 3 services carry out exercises by night. However, is the Minister aware that a number of residents in the area close to the Amberley Royal Australian Air Force base have complained of excessive noise from low flying aircraft flying during the night in exercise Summer Rain this week? Can the Minister advise the Senate whether the exercise called for flying on 2 nights, namely, from 3 p.m. to 1 1 p.m. on Tuesday, and from 11.30 p.m. on Wednesday until 7.30 a.m. this morning. Does the Minister agree in principle that, if possible, the Royal Australian Air Force should comply with the curfew restrictions placed on commercial aircraft in Australia? Finally, will the Minister take up this matter with the Minister for Defence to ensure that any complaints from people in the Amberley district in relation to exercise Summer Rain are taken into consideration when future exercises are planned?
-I shall certainly take up the matter with my colleague in the other place. I am not aware that there have been complaints about excessive noise. Nobody has written to me to complain about it. Whether they have written directly to the Minister for Defence I know not. As to the hours within which the exercises are conducted, I think that that is matter for Service decision. I have always had an interest in aircraft noise because I am continually fascinated as I fly into airports to see the construction of new houses around airports. For instance, I recall that when we first started flying into Tullamarine there were virtually no houses, but now they seem to be creeping towards the airport. I imagine that in a year or two we will get an enormous number of complaints about aircraft noise from residents at Tullamarine.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation. I ask: Has the Minister any details on the reports relating to the closing of an extension of the Daw Park Repatriation Hospital in Adelaide? The extension is known as Birralee. My concern is for the patients and also for the staff of this institution. Is any information available as to where these people will be placed?
– I have no information with regard to the closure of the hospital referred to by the honourable senator but I shall obtain a reply from the Minister.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer and relates to the question I asked yesterday regarding the costs and effects of the Government’s 40 per cent investment allowance policy in a particular area. The Minister pointed out that my question was based on an estimate published in a newspaper which itself may be incorrect. In view of that, I ask: Does the Government have its own estimates relevant to this question? If so, will the Minister present them to the Senate? If not, is the Government flying blind on this issue without any idea of the consequences or costs of its policy?
-I sent the question the honourable member asked me yesterday through to the Treasury for a more definite answer, but it has been my experience with the Treasury that it is not noted for giving money away. I think the honourable senator will find that when the facts are available they will dispel his doubts.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Science. In view of the great importance of the cattle industry to the Northern Territory, can the Minister inform the Senate what research the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is undertaking in the Northern Territory to assist the agricultural and pastoral industries? Can the Minister also indicate what other work the CSIRO might be undertaking in the Northern Territory?
– The honourable senator has asked a quite extensive question relating to research carried out by CSIRO in the Territory which he represents. I have been to Alice Springs to look at the work being done there by the various branches of CSIRO and it would take quite some time to indicate all the programs that are being carried out. The Division of Land Resources Management and the Division of Tropical Agronomy are in Alice Springs, as well as other divisions that are related to ecological matters. Certainly the entomology group has been carrying out most important work in the releasing of dung beetles, which I think eventually will be one of the most important programs for the eradication of the buffalo fly infestation in the Territory. Various other programs relating to virus disease in livestock are being carried out. I shall get the honourable senator a complete list of the work that is being done, if that would suit him.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. In the light of the statement by the Minister on 24 February 1976 to the effect that certain provisions of the Trade Practices Act are in conflict with the Government’s economic program, will the Minister explain which of the provisions of the Act are not completely consonant with the Government’s current economic objectives? When did the Minister realise that certain provisions fell into this category? Why were these faults not identified by the then Opposition during the passage of the Trade Practices legislation?
– It is difficult to give the sort of answer which the honourable senator seeks through his inquiry as the question relates essentially to newspaper reports about the state of the Minister’s mind. There are many things which could be said but they may not be relevant to those matters about which the honourable senator is seeking information. I suggest to the honourable senator that if he rephrases his question and places it on the notice paper, he will get a considered reply, which is what I think the question really warrants.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral. Has the Australian Law Reform Commission been requested to report on problems involved in the operation of varying laws in Australia relating to defamation? Has the Commission reported on such a reference? Have negotiations between the Commonwealth and the States been undertaken on this matter? If so, can the Minister report on the progress of those negotiations?
-My understanding is that the matter has not been referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission. It has been discussed at meetings of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in times past. But I will refer the inquiry to the Attorney-General. I am sure that he can give a considered reply.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Industry and Commerce in his capacity as Minister representing the Treasurer. The Minister will recall that last Thursday in the Senate he promised to obtain further information for me in respect of subscriptions to the Australian Savings Bonds, series 1, He will be aware also that on the evening following my question the Treasurer admitted that the bonds had attracted ‘some large subscriptions from institutions and professional investors.’ Is the Minister yet in a position to provide the Senate with the promised information, particularly the role played by ‘professional investors ‘?
-The figures that I have are not finalised. I can quote out of my head for the honourable senator the approximate ones, but I am waiting for more definite information which is what the honourable senator was looking for. About $756m was attracted by series 1 of the savings bonds. The average subcription was approximately $6,600, I think, and about 125 000 people subscribed. It does not look as if many bonds were taken up by what might be called the fairly dubious method of investment by institutions and large organisations. It is essential to wait until the figures finally come in and to see from a closer examination of the whole situation what the position is. That is being done. The Treasurer, I think the honourable senator will also remember, made some comments about the need to check whether the issue had been taken up by larger groups rather than smaller groups. The basic evidence would indicate that this did not happen, but there is a need to check further. I am sorry that this has taken longer than perhaps the honourable senator would like, but it does take time to get these things.
– No proposal is before the Government at present to introduce a pension of the nature mentioned by the honourable senator. To introduce something of that nature would be a matter of policy or a matter for a budget proposal. If that were the case an appropriate announcement would be made. But, at this stage, there is no proposal of that kind before the Government.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs inform the Senate whether the Commonwealth Employment Service keeps any record of what proportion of the unemployed are migrants from non-English speaking countries and of how disadvantaged they are in seeking employment because of language difficulties? Is the counter staff at Commonwealth Employment Service offices advising migrants of the existence of free English classes which are available to them?
– I shall refer the specific question from the honourable senator to the Minister. I hope that migrants are being advised of the availability of English courses wherever any government agency comes into contact with people who are able to take advantage of them. With regard to the statistical matter, I shall refer it to the Department and have an answer for the honourable senator.
-I briefly add to the storehouse of knowledge of Senator McAuliffe on greeting cards and postage rates. I am advised that during December 1975 the 6 capital cities central mail exchange handled 233.9 million articles. This was a drop in traffic of 1 5.7 per cent from the previous December when 277.5 million articles were handled. I can conclude only that the greeting cards were hand delivered.
– I have some information which answers a question from Senator Davidson with regard to the Birralee Repatriation Hospital in South Australia. I think it may be advisable to put that information on the record today. The honourable senator asked about staff and other matters, lt is correct that the Government is considering the closure of this repatriation hospital because its present operation is uneconomic. An additional 10 nursing staff are required to lift the bed capacity to an economic level. Recruitment problems of staff are severe. If the hospitals were closed all staff would be offered positions at Daw Park where they can be absorbed without difficulty. Every effort will be made to accommodate patients in private nursing homes as an interim measure and at the Repatriation General Hospital, Daw Park. There are many difficulties in the hospital we are discussing. Staff difficulties and staff recruitment have limited the capacity of the hospital to 28 patients and the average daily bed occupancy is only 25. The difficulties which are mentioned are matters which are being considered by the Government. The staff will be offered the positions I have mentioned.
-Yesterday Senator McAuliffe asked me a question on aerial reconnaissance of tropical cyclones. I realise his interest in the Queensland area. When I replied to the honourable senator I indicated that I would provide him with some further information. I am informed that aerial reconnaissance of tropical cyclones requires specially instrumented and strengthened aircraft. An indicative cost of a squadron of such aircraft is about $15m capital and $5m recurrent per annum in order to keep the squadron running. One squadron would be required for the Queensland coast and additional squadrons would be needed if the same coverage were to be given to the north-west coast and to the Darwin area. Only the United States of America operates aircraft on a regular basis to detect and measure the intensity of tropical cyclones.
The possibility of employing cyclone reconnaissance aircraft has been examined in a number of studies. It has been shown that in the Australian situation the large cost of providing the service would not be commensurate with the estimated improvement in the warning system. The detection and tracking of tropical cyclones off the Australian coast will be improved when the Japanese geosynchronous meteorological satellite is launched in 1977. Australia is cooperating with the Japanese in the project and will install a turn around ranging station in Australia. It will be one of 3 such stations which will control the position of the satellite. Receiving equipment will be installed to provide Australia with far more frequent satellite coverage than is available for present weather conditions. At the present time there is no method of accurately predicting the movement of tropical cyclones, but I can assure Senator McAuliffe that the Bureau of Meteorology constantly reviews its operational procedures, participates in international conferences and carries out research so as to keep abreast of methods and technology.
- Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to ask the Minister for Science a question concerning the information he has just given.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I thank the Minister for Science for the information he has so speedily gathered and provided to me. Apparently he feels that the cost of introducing aerial reconnaissance is prohibitive. I ask: How does he think that cost compares with the estimated cost of the damage that has been caused by cyclones in Australia during in, say, the last 5 years?
– I think the honourable senator would know that there are very few nations in the world that have available to them the sums of money of which I am speaking. The comment that I had made to the honourable senator was that this matter had been looked at and it was felt that the cost was not commensurate with the estimated improvement in the type of reporting. The honourable senator’s question suggests that the use of reconnaissance aircraft would cure the problem and would avoid the damage that is done by cyclones; which is of course an erroneous base upon which to commence.
– Pursuant to section 28 of the Legislative Drafting Institute Act 1974, 1 present the first annual report of the Legislative Drafting Institute for the period from 9 December 1 974 to 30 June 1975.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Greenwood) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr Deputy President, copies of my second reading speech have been circulated. It is the same as the second reading speech which was delivered in the House of Representatives. I am prepared to read it if any honourable senator so desires; but, for the reasons I have given, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows)-
Immediately following the introduction of this Bill, I shall be introducing a Bill to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1 904- 1975. The subject matter of the 2 Bills is related and I propose to refer to both Bills in this speech. Honourable senators will recall that similar though not identical bills were passed by the House of Representatives in October last year. These Bills were introduced following the announcement of the decision to appoint Mr Justice A. E. Woodward, O.B.E. as head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The Government has previously announced its decision to proceed with this appointment and the passage of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill is necessary in order that the appointment may proceed.
The Australian Security Intelligence Oranizanon Bill will ensure that the appointment of a judge as Director-General of Security does not affect his tenure of office as a judge, or the salary, allowances and other rights and privileges that he has by virtue of his judicial office. Service of a judge in this position is to count as judicial service for all purposes. This proposal is similar to other provisions in legislation establishing a statutory office where it is intended to appoint a person holding judicial office to that statutory office. A similar provision was contained in the Judiciary (Diplomatic Representation) Act 1942 which provided for the appointment of Sir Owen Dixon, then a justice of the High Court of Australia, to be Australian Minister to the United States. Section 13 of the Law Reform Commission Act 1973 similarly enables a judge to be appointed as a commissioner and to retain his judicial status and the rights which attach to that status.
A judge appointed as Director-General is to receive such additional salary and annual allowance as are necessary to bring his salary and annual allowance to the level payable to the Chief Judge of the Australian Industrial Court. Mr Justice Woodward now receives such additional remuneration by virtue of his office as President of the Trade Practices Tribunal. Provision is made for the salary of the DirectorGeneral to be determined by the Remuneration Tribunal in the situation where he is not a judge. The second Bill, the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, provides for an increase of one in the number of judges in the Australian Industrial Court so that the Court will consist of a Chief Judge and ten other judges. This will allow the court to operate if necessary at its present strength during the period of Mr Justice Woodward ‘s appointment with ASIO.
Debate (on motion by Senator Button) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Greenwood) read a first time.
– I move:
The purposes of this Bill are explained in the speech delivered in support of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill 1976. 1 commend this Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Button) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 25 February on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition intends to oppose the National Health Bill 1976, the first Bill which has passed to the Senate from another place in this Thirtieth Parliament. If our opposition to the Bill in the second reading stage does not succeed, as a review of the numbers would make it seem likely, we will then oppose in the Committee stage the clauses which we believe should be dropped from the Bill. We intend to oppose the second reading of this Bill because we believe that in the light of the present economic circumstances and because of the Government’s stated adherence to the needs principle in social security we must keep the Government honest and must ensure that it keeps to its self-proclaimed standards. We believe also that it would be better if the Bill were withdrawn by the Minister and further consideration given to the implications that this legislation will have upon those in need in the community.
The Bill seeks to amend the National Health Act by increasing from $1.50 to $2 the patient’s contribution for pharmaceutical benefits and to remove the pharmaceutical concession enjoyed by some beneficiaries under the subsidised health scheme. In fact, the Bill will terminate the subsidised health plan benefits. The Bill also seeks to bring to an end certain Commonwealth health benefits rendered redundant by Medibank. This latter provision we do not oppose. I point out in passing that when we were in government we tried to do much the same thing. We were prevented from doing this by the then Liberal-National Country Party Opposition. Clauses 4 and 7 of the then legislation covered some of these items. We did not understand the opposition to this proposal then and we do not understand the Government’s change of heart now.
Our main objection to the Bill concerns what we consider to be the false sense of priorities of the Government. We, like Government supporters and like most members in the Parliament, agree with the principle that benefits in the fields of social security and health should go to those in need. We are aware of the difficulties the Government has created for itself in seeking to cut government expenditure by a large sum to give the appearance of its being a thrifty, responsible and cautious Government, but we do not believe that this is the way to go about it. We think it is ironical that the first Bill we should deal with in the Senate in this session concerns the cutting of certain benefits to those in need. It is obvious that in this Bill the Government, in its desperate search for cost cutting measures, has cut right across its proclaimed principle that it and the people of this country should care for its citizens who need care and should care for the less fortunate members of our community. We believe that this legislation may cause considerable hardship to such people.
Our objections to the Bill lie in the provisions of clauses 12, 13 and 14 which seek to increase to $2 the contribution by patients for pharmaceutical benefits and to remove the concession previously available under the subsidised health plan. In the last year- I am the first to admit for reasons of economy- we increased patient contribution from $ 1 to $ 1 .50 for benefits available under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. We regretted the necessity to do so. We cannot see the necessity, in such a short time, to add a further 50 per cent increase, thus increasing the contribution by 100 per cent in less than one year.
We accept the principle, and we believe that most supporters of the Government now accept the principle, that financial obstacles should not be placed in the way of citizens seeking adequate medical care. We believe that the added anxiety caused by the cost of medical care, in this case by the cost of pharmaceutical needs, can be a barrier to the prompt and adequate recovery of people from illness. We believe that the 50c increase so soon is out of proportion to inflationary trends and out of proportion to any increase in the cost of drugs and has added a burden, not to most of us here who are relatively healthy and on an adequate income -
– Speak for yourself.
-With the exception, 1 gather, of Senator Button. It has added a burden to people with repeated illness, chronic illness and especially to people with many children who may have chronic illness. An example which comes to mind most is the family with asthmatic children. Frequently more than one child has asthma. They need, at least at certain times of the year, constant medication and some have associated respiratory diseases. The burden of this legislation may well present a considerable economic strain to such a family. For a family which is on the subsidised health benefit the increase will be very considerable. To reply to this argument as did the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) in another place that such people can go to an outpatients clinic and there obtain medical benefits free or get their drugs at a reduced fee in some States is, I believe, completely unrealistic. For example in the area in which I practised the nearest outpatients clinic was from 10 to 25 miles away. There was virtually no public transport. Many places, particularly on the mainland, are in a much worse situation. The cost and the inconvenience of gelling patients lo such a clinic create an impossible situation for the parents or the mother of such a family. The cost of getting the other children cared for while the mother attends a clinic adds to the burden and creates a situation which we believe should not exist in this country. The subsidised health benefit plan has always been unsatisfactory. It was unsatisfactory from the day it was introduced. We suggest that this time of economic difficulty is not the time to throw the thing out holus-bolus. Although the plan was inadequate and it was relatively costly to administer- although I have no way of checking the figures that were quoted in the Minister’s second reading speech- it would surely be more appropriate to find a substitute plan, to find a better method to help the people who were helped by this scheme, to find a plan which people would accept and which would be easily accessible to them rather than to throw the thing out and replace it with nothing, no matter what the economic circumstances.
People who are beneficiaries under this plan will have their prescription costs increased considerablyfrom some 75c to $2 per item. Fortunately for these people Medibank now covers their hospital costs. But as many doctors in this country refuse to bulk bill, when these people become ill they will have, unless they are in hospital, a gap to make up in their payment to their doctor plus $2 per item on prescriptions. This again, in the case of a large family or in the case of a low income earner, may be a considerable burden.
As the Minister pointed out in her second reading speech, the people who are eligible for these benefits are low income families, people on unemployment and sickness benefits and other special benefits and migrants during their first 2 months in Australia in the settling down period. It was my experience- probably because the migrants were informed about the scheme as soon as they arrived in Australia- that particularly the migrant group seemed to know about this scheme and benefited from this scheme, perhaps in greater proportion than some other groups. We ask: Do we really need to burden the migrants, some of the unemployed and sick and some of the people on special benefits with extra costs in economic times such as we are experiencing now? Are our priorities right in doing this? Will the $2m saved by the removal of this benefit be worth the effort?
The subsidised health plan did not work well for many reasons. It was a bureaucratically awkward scheme. It did not reach a sufficiently high proportion of those it was meant to benefit. Primarily this was because it was a hurriedly conceived scheme, conceived at a time when the inadequacies of the previous Government’s health insurance scheme in Australia were becoming obvious. We had had the Nimmo report and the controversy between the Australian Medical Association, the then Government and the voluntary health funds. Barriers were thrown up very quickly against the Labor Party’s proposals for an adequate national health insurance scheme. We, when in government, were investigating means of overcoming the difficulties of the scheme and, the difficulties that those people who were eligible for the benefits were obviously finding. We were trying to get a better scheme whereby people would know that such a scheme existed. We believe that until such investigations are carried out and until a better scheme is introduced, it is wrong to throw out this scheme and it is wrong to leave the gap which will be left by this scheme.
I believe that the effects on the people in Australia of increases in pharmaceutical costs which will be caused by this legislation will be considerable and will lead to difficulties. I and most of us who have had experience in this field believe that the whole pharmaceutical benefits scheme needs careful scrutiny. When in Government we had commenced this scrutiny and were carefully looking at the scheme. It is obvious that the present Government is doing this also. I give the Government credit for doing so. The announcement of the modification in the pharmaceutical benefits available to patients is obviously a start towards reforming this scheme. I certainly would be the first to admit that there are items on the pharmaceutical benefits list that should not be there. I believe that there are probably items that should be there. I believe that the actual cost of many of the items is so low- in fact below the patient contributions- that except for pensioners and other needy people in the community they could be removed from the scheme, thereby relieving the scheme of some administrative burden and administrative costs. I believe there are items provided under the scheme that are of dubious medical value.
– Could you give us an example Senator Grimes? I am interested.
– I have not prepared a list of examples. I will prepare a list for Senator Baume. There are some items I would like on thescheme when I think of Senator Baume. There is no simple answer to the listing or non listing of drugs. The pharmaceutical benefits scheme has had one benefit in that it has been an influence in restraining price increases in drugs in Australia. We must be careful lest simplistic answers, like the de-listing and listing of drugs cause some escalation in prices.
Our attitude, I think, has always been clear. We believe in lifting the financial barriers to health care in this country. We regretted the increase in prescription charges last year. We cannot see the need for further increases so soon. We believe in an integrated health and social security service and, therefore, we recognise the inadequacies of the subsidised health plan and accept that its high administrative costs were a difficulty. But we do not believe that such a service, inadequate as it is, should be withdrawn without the substitution of a better plan. We also believe that times of economic difficulty are not the appropriate times for cutting out benefits aimed at the needy. For that reason we will oppose the second reading and will ask the Government to withdraw the Bill and to reconsider it. As 1 said in my opening remarks, failing that course of action we will oppose the offending clauses at the Committee stage.
-The Senate is debating the National Health Bill which is, in fact, part of the Government’s program for economic recovery in this country. It is interesting that the Opposition intends to oppose the Bill while agreeing to many of the clauses. I would have thought it more appropriate for it to support the second reading and to confine its opposition to those parts of the Committee examination which it found difficult or offensive. I should like to congratulate Senator Grimes on his first appearance leading for the Opposition, to say how well he speaks in Opposition and that we hope he will long continue to hold the position to which he has now been translated.
The Bill before us has been made necessary by the economic disarray which we find in Australia. It has been necessary for our Government to examine closely all expenditure and to seek means by which we can cut expenditure to minimise the damage to Australia’s economy which is a direct consequence of 3 years’ government by Senator Grimes ‘ Party. Had his Government not ignored the effects of its policies on the economy this Bill and the removal of certain benefits would not have been necessary. It is a pity that we have to examine the removal of certain benefits and propose an increase in the cost of certain pharmaceutical products. But we are looking at savings of more than $8m in the remainder of this financial year and of $36m in a full year.
The main clause of the Bill to which I intend to direct myself is clause 12 which, as Senator Grimes has indicated, concerns the increase in the fee payable by a citizen for part of the pharmaceutical benefit, the fee going up from $1.50 to $2. That clause of the Bill will amend section 84 of the principal Act which deals with this particular matter. Senator Grimes has said that he cannot see any purpose in a further increase in the pharmaceutical prescription fee. Inflation is running at between 1 3 per cent and 1 5 per cent at present and since the increase which the Labor Government proposed last year we have had a considerable further inflationary upward pressure in one year, and 15 per cent of $1.50 is approximately 20c. We can already see that part of that increase merely allows for the inflation which the Labor Party brought to this country by its policies.
I want to examine some of the history of the costing of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
When the Labor Government first came to office Mr Whitlam appointed a task force which was instructed to examine the continuing expenditure policies of the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. Item 9 on page 79 of that review concerned an examination of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. At that time the Labor Party’s advisers drew attention to some of the dangers in the pharmaceutical benefits scheme as they saw them. They drew attention to what they considered to be the dangers of over-prescription. They recommended, among other things, the possibility of a higher charge being made for certain drugs which might be prescribed under the scheme. There is no doubt that the Government’s review committee examined the possibility of making higher charges on the public for drugs available under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. It seems to me that the Labor Party is not objecting to the principle that people should pay for drugs, though it did object when the principle was introduced. The Opposition is objecting only to the quantum. I think that Senator Grimes is nodding his head in agreement. So, the Labor Party is merely arguing about the amount which is being proposed.
Honourable senators might care to examine what the effect of the charge has been over the years. I remind the Senate that until 1959- that is to say, for the first 19 years of operation of the scheme- there was no charge at all for drugs prescribed under the scheme. In 1959 a charge for drugs prescribed under the scheme was introduced. During the period that the charge was 50c the cost of drugs went up gradually. During the last year in which 50c was the amount payable- that is, 1970-71- the average cost of a prescription was, in fact, $2.21. Since that time the average cost of a prescription has risen progressively. There have been several jumps in the contribution which the patient or the citizen is expected to make. In 1971-72, for example, when the charge to the member of the public was $1, the average cost of a prescription had gone up to $2.45. In 1974-75 the cost had risen to about $2.80. It was at that stage, in September 1975, that the Labor Government proposed an increase in the patient contribution to $1.50. But since September 1975 the cost of drugs has risen again. The latest figures which I have been able to obtain- they include the December quarter but do not include rises in the cost of prescriptions in the January-February period of this year- show that the average cost of a prescription is now $3.17. That is to say, there has already been a rise of almost 50c per prescription since September 1975.
The fact is that there is a steady rise in the cost per prescription in keeping with the inflation which we have inherited from a spendthrift and reckless Labor government. This rise is not due to increased profits for drug companies. It is in fact associated with the implementation of some of the findings of the Scott Committee with which, I am sure, honourable senators opposite are familar, since they had the Committee report before them for so long; took so long to act upon it and, in fact, did so little when they did act. There was an increase in the cost of drugs due to adjustments made as a result of the acceptance of some of the findings of the Scott Committee. I say again that the increase in the cost per prescription has been about 50c since September 1975. The only unsatisfactory feature that occurs to me is that the percentage of each prescription cost which is being paid by the citizen has increased steadily. It has increased as a result of measures taken by Liberal-National Country Party and Labor governments. The Labor Government’s move last September to increase the prescription cost to $1.50 significantly increased the percentage of the prescription cost borne by the citizen. I think we should keep in mind that there is developing a trend whereby the patient is now responsible for about 60 per cent of the cost of an average prescription.
The second reading speech of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) made it clear that eligible pensioners will continue to be able to obtain their drugs free of charge. The only problem I foresee in this area is one to which Senator Grimes adverted, that is, if the list of pharmaceutical benefits is pruned considerably special hardship may fall upon pensioners. The reason for this is that certain drugs which appear on the general list and which may have cost less than $2 may be removed now as part of a cost saving program and will not be available to pensioners unless the drugs appear in some form on the list of benefits. I am sure our Government will be interested in looking at this. It might be necessary to examine the list of drugs available to pensioners and perhaps to bring back a group of drugs to be made available to pensioners only. I certainly do not know if what Senator Grimes said is correct, but if a further list of drugs is to be removed from today or from next week we would want to know whether this would disadvantage the pensioner population. If they are to continue to be able to obtain drugs free of charge then I hope the list is adequately comprehensive.
In my period of study overseas- following the time when Senator Grimes was a student of mine- I worked in the United States of America and, as I am sure Senator Grimes will agree, I was appalled at the complete lack of benefits for people in need in the hospital where I worked. In fact, I can remember purchasing Digoxen to give to a patient who needed the drug. But equally, when I worked in the United Kingdom and when I worked in some of the outpatient departments in our hospitals, I was appalled by the waste of drugs which occurs when they are free at the point of distribution. We have to seek a middle road- I am sure that there is a bipartisan approach here- whereby people make some contribution to the cost of drugs to help cost effectiveness.
– Who writes the prescriptions though, Senator?
– I think Senator Grimes has raised a very worthwhile point. Part of the problem of over-prescribing does rest with the medical profession, of which we are both members. I have never moved away from that position. Part of the problem involves educating our profession to an awareness of drug costs as well as an awareness of the needs of their patients. One makes many marginal decisions on whether or not to order a drug. To know whether or not a drug should be given requires the exercise of considerable delicacy.
I am concerned that 2 things should occur: First of all, I am concerned that the review of the whole pharmaceutical benefits scheme which was promised in another place should go ahead. I was delighted to see the Minister for Health in another place promise that such an inquiry was to be instituted. I hope that that inquiry will consider both the administrative costs of the pharmaceutical benefit scheme and the possible savings in administration. I am not convinced at all that we are making maximum use of the pharmacists. They possess considerable expertise which may help us in controlling some of the administration costs. Secondly, I hope we will review the whole question of the benefits made available to Australian citizens under the scheme and of how these benefits can be extended and protected. After all, administrative costs- I believe $1.3m was the amount- were a factor considered in making the decision to withdraw the special pharmaceutical benefit for those on subsidised health benefit costs. If the previous Labor Government took a decision that it was administratively feasible to use the pharmacists in its Medibank scheme we may find there are ways in which we can achieve administrative savings and not have to affect the benefits available or to increase prices.
The other thing that I am concerned to know is that there will be continuing consultation between all the provider groups as well as the consumer groups when this kind of decision has to be reviewed in the future or if further decisions have to be made. I have always taken the view that the providers, whether they be the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association, State Ministers of Health or the Pharmacy Guild, have a lot of expertise which can be brought to bear on the question of the costs of a scheme like the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. In the end, the financial welfare of the patient is often their own welfare. For example, they may have views on the implications of the removal under this Bill of some of the benefits, removals which I consider are mainly machinery matters.
It has been necessary for the Government to look at all areas of expenditure. We face a financial crisis in this country which will have the gravest implications for every citizen if adequate measures are not taken to control the level of government spending and to slow the rate of inflation. It is unfortunate that in this review the welfare area has had to be considered at all. I believe that the Government has moved carefully in proposing the provisions which appear in this BDI. I believe that those provisions are not unreasonable. I believe that, combined with the Minister’s assurance that there is going to be a thorough review of the whole scheme and with an understanding that all affected groups will be consulted, these measures will serve to help the Government’s attempt to control inflation and they will help it in its long term objective of assisting those in need in a nation with a stable and secure economy.
Sitting suspended from 12.42 to 2.1S p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, the Senate was discussing the National Health Bill and the amendments proposed to the National Health Act by the Government. The objections of the Opposition to the amendments proposed by the Bill have already been well covered by my colleague, Senator Grimes. I express my own concern that the Government does have a commitment to assist the disadvantaged. As a result of the amendments proposed by this legislation, the disadvantaged will be further disadvantaged. The patient contribution to the cost of a prescription, for instance, is to increase from $ 1 .50 to $2. This will be a burden on those who can least afford it. It is all very well to say that the Australian Labor Government started the process by increasing by 50c the then $1 charge in 1974. There was a great deal of discussion in our Party committee at that time whether we were in actual fact doing the right thing. I believe it has been proved subsequently that we were wrong.
To me, this does not take away from the fact that there is no value at all to the low income earner to be able to attend a medical practitioner with the knowledge that he can obtain medical treatment free when he leaves that surgery with a pile of prescriptions in his hand in respect of which he must pay $2 each. Senator Baume made the point- I think in response to an interjection from Senator Grimes- that it is not the patient who over prescribes; it is the doctor. A patient cannot write out a prescription; a doctor can. The medical profession must accept some responsibility in this area as also, I believe, must the drug manufacturers. We hear Senator Baume say that the cost of drugs is rising. In which area does he mean the cost of drugs is rising? Does he mean at the consumer level or at the manufacturing level? Is he referring to the level of profits being extracted by drug manufacturers? I believe- and I have no evidence to the contrarythat the drug manufacturers that operate in this country are making tremendous profits. I believe also that most pharmaceutical chemists are making reasonable profits.
– There is evidence to the contrary, Senator, and it has been quoted.
– I am concerned, Senator Missen, that I can go to a doctor and be prescribed a certain ointment. Unlike Senator Grimes I can give the Senate the name of that ointment. It is neosporin. I can get from a doctor a prescription for neosporin for my child’s ailments. I can get that ointment on a prescription at a cost of $4.60. But I can go to the same chemist without a prescription and, provided that I inform the chemist that I am buying the same article in the same sized tube for my dog, I can get it for $3.40. There is some definite imbalance in the system. I would suggest that this is an area in which a comprehensive investigation is needed.
– Look after dogs but not children.
– It is rather like food manufacturers always stressing that they will state on the label of their products the ingredients used but saying that the only thing that prevents them is that there could be pilfering of the actual trade recipes. Yet those manufacturers will consistently label accurately the contents of tins of dog and cat food, but they will not label the ingredients of most of the foods that are transmitted to human beings. Much the same situation applies in the area of drugs. How many times has this happened to those who go into a pharmacy with a prescription? If one happens to have an honest chemist, that chemist will say: Really, there is no value in this prescription, because I can sell the product to you for less than I would charge to supply it on prescription. It is a patent medicine’. Alternatively, how many times does the chemist simply take down from a shelf a tube of ointment or a bottle of medicine, apply a label to it and sell it to the customer on script? It is a patent medicine. It is available. We do not need to go to the doctor to get that medicine, except that we need to know what it is that we require. I am concerned that those people who rely on these pharmaceutical benefits are the ones who will be disadvantaged even further. I know that the scheme is not successful. I know that only 10 per cent of the people who are eligible actually use it.
– Which benefit is this?
– I am talking about the pharmaceutical benefit.
– I think you mean the subsidised health benefits?
– Yes. I am now going on to the subsidised health benefits. Only about 10 per cent of those who are eligible use the scheme. But that does not mean that these benefits should be taken away from the 10 per cent who do utilise the service. That does not mean that we should lay an additional charge on those people who require this assistance most. This is similar in effect to what we understand will happen to the Australian Legal Aid Office. The people who require this assistance may not necessarily know that this is there, so because it is not going to be utilised much the people who do use the service will be penalised.
– You have no basis for saying that.
– No, not at this time, because the Government has not come out with a strong and definite policy on what will happen to the Australian Legal Aid Office. I am hopeful that, when the Government does decide to move on it, you, Senator Missen, may remember some of the comments that you made in this chamber last year.
– I remember them very well.
– I hope that you may act on them. But there are other considerations to be taken into account in respect of this legislation. How many of the staff at present working in the
Department of Social Security of the Department of Health who are already engaged specifically in the area of the subsidised health benefits plan and administering the $2 and the $5 payments that will apply when the National Health Act is amended, will find themselves retrenched or transferred, or subsequently in some way either have to accept a downgrading from their present levels or ultimately become unemployed? Has the Government considered the amount of money to be saved by that action? I have no doubt that Senator Baume ‘s figures would be correct. He said this action would save $8m to the the end of this financial year and $30m in a full year. If a great number of people working in these departments are to become unemployed and are therefore to receive unemployment benefits and the other assistance provided to those who are unemployed, is there any advantage in simply putting forward an amending Bill in respect of legislation which has not been successful since the outset? Might I suggest that the Bill be withdrawn in its entirety, be reconsidered and be replaced by proposals that will work for the benefit of those people in our society who need this assistance.
– This Bill, the purpose of which is to amend the National Health Act, has 3 aspects. We have heard references made to these aspects. These measures have been rendered necessary in the interests of the economy and as a result of the introduction of Medibank. This is one Bill of many which will not be popular with every section of the community. But at this time we must consider good and strong management decisions which cannot be expected always to win a popularity poll.
Senator Coleman, who has just resumed her seat, referred to the fact that the Labor Party had to increase the basic pharmaceutical prescription fee from $1 to $1.50. I would suggest that that action was taken bearing in mind the economic circumstances at that time, and for that reason it was necessary. Had that type of action not been contemplated and put into effect the economy would have been in a much worse state as a result. I would be one who would object, as the Opposition objects, when any of these increases in charges come about. We all recognise that what has been said by Senator Coleman is quite true to a degree. We have to make a judgment on these things. We have to take decisions which, at the present time, may not be palatable to all of us. The average price for a non-pensioner prescription is now in the area of $3.20. The increase in these charges has gone on over a period of years. I note that 10 years ago we were paying out something like $50m for prescriptions in this category. At the present time the estimate happens to be something in excess of $ 100m. During that time the population has increased by 20 per cent so the thought in everyone’s mind seems to be: Why have costs for these prescriptions increased by over 100 per cent when, in effect, the population has increased by 20 per cent? This seems to indicate that there could be some overprescribing which would cause this increase.
I suggest that perhaps the increase in the patient’s contribution to a pharmacist may well make doctors hesitate a little rather than giving four or five prescriptions, which is not uncommon. At the present time the charge is $1.50 each. Perhaps doctors will scratch their heads and work out a way by which the patient can be looked after by giving him fewer prescriptions. I disagree with Senator Coleman’s assertion that the patient has nothing to do with the demand for prescriptions. I have many medical friends who, quite frequently, are requested by a patient to write quite a large number of repeat prescriptions. On occasions these people go into the surgery with, in effect, a shopping list and expect the doctor to pay regard to their requests. I am not saying that is a general attitude but I believe it does occur. I am concerned about the patient contribution reaching a level of something like 62 per cent. I suggest to the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) that when economic circumstances improve this aspect must be reviewed with the objective of at least paying regard to the high cost to the patient.
Another problem which worries me involves the patient with chronic illness. At the moment he seems to be somewhat disadvantaged although provision exists whereby if a doctor considers it is in the patient’s interest, the doctor may obtain an authority from the Director of Health in any State to enable him to prescribe increased maximum quantities and to give repeat prescriptions which will provide one month’s treatment or 2 repeats for a patient at a cost of $2 for each month’s supply. In some cases repeats for up to 6 months’ supply can be written on one prescription. Nevertheless, a chronically ill patient has a need for certain drugs to be prescribed, perhaps for the rest of his life. I think this is another area where the Minister ought to be directing his attention. I hope that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) who is in charge of the Bill will convey this message, which is that we ought to have regard for people who are chronically ill and that we ought to keep in mind- I realise there is no easy answer to this matter- the possibility of having a talk with the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) to see whether some taxation measures can be adopted so that these people can be given the benefit of added tax deductions.
This morning Senator Grimes, during question time, referred to the deletion of certain items from the pharmaceutical benefits list. There was quite an impressive list. I have managed to get a copy of the list. The reason these drugs are taken off the list is that the Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee examines the list from time to time, lt examines whether drugs can be substituted for others, not to the detriment of the patient. Therefore, some drugs have been excluded because alternative drugs are still available to ensure that the patient can be given proper treatment. There are other reasons. As Senator Grimes would know, some drugs have unpleasant side effects. The patient is affected detrimentally if he continues to take them. That is another reason that some drugs have been excluded. Others were excluded at the request of the manufacturer who believed that there was not a demand for the type of drug concerned.
The second point of this Bill relates to the removal of pharmaceutical benefits under the subsidised health benefits plan. We have heard Senator Baume refer to this matter. It is purely and simply a matter of economy. At the present time it is costing the Government $1.3m in the Department of Social Security alone to administer this benefit. Currently I think it amounts to $700,000. It is estimated that the benefit will amount to about $920,000 for the 1975-76 full year. Of course this $1.3m is the cost of only administration in the Department of Social Security. Other expenses are to be considered. They have not been referred to in the Bill and are associated with the Department of Health. I imagine that that could well be a matter of $250,000 in addition to the sum which I have already mentioned. In effect, a considerable amount is to be paid out for a relatively small benefit. When we consider the figures which I have referred to earlier, this year we see that we will be paying out $104m for prescriptions as a whole. The amount of $920,000 represents less than 1 per cent so I do not think too many people will be disadvantaged as a result. I guess that public hospitals will still function. I imagine that people will have some recourse to treatment or prescriptions through that source. Under the Bill it is intended that the Commonwealth hospital benefit will terminate from 1 April 1976. I shall spell out what is intended. The Minister stated:
The benefits which will cease to be payable-
That is from 1 April- are: $2 a day payable under sub-section 46 ( 1 ) of the Act for patients who are contributors to registered hospital benefits organisations; 80c a day, payable under sub-section 53 ( 1 ) of the Act, for uninsured patients in approved hospitals; $5 a day, payable under section 54 (1) of the Act for pensioners who receive free treatment in public hospitals; and $2 a day payable under section 55A of the Act, where an approved hospital does not raise a charge for a patient.
I think that this aspect was explained quite well by the Minister for Health in his second reading speech when he said that the extra cost to the contributors to these organisations will be very small. In fact, there will be a minimal increase, estimated to be about 10c or 12c a week, in the family contribution. So I believe that that part of the Bill will not have a very detrimental effect.
With those few remarks and bearing in mind that I have made a couple of suggestions to the Minister about what we ought to be looking at in the future with respect to arresting this large contribution for the patient, which is nearly twothirds of the cost, and also with respect to the position of the patients in Australia who are chronically ill- I remind the Minister that I suggested also that we ought to be looking at some taxation benefit for those people- I support the Bill.
-In rising to speak to this Bill I must say that Senator Jessop has reminded me forcibly of the argument that was put forward by the coalition Parties when postal charges were increased. At that time we were told that we were making the poor old pensioners suffer, that they would not be able to communicate with their loved ones, that all sorts of dire possibilities were in front of them, that they were going to be isolated- shocking things were going to happen to them- because we were increasing the price of stamps to make the postal department pay its way as a business. But when it comes to charges for pharmaceuticals we are told that the poor old pensioners can go to the nearest public hospital. It must be remembered that people in this category are not all elderly pensionersit includes women with small childrenand the public hospital may be a long way away. I think that this makes the argument of honourable senators opposite about postal charges look even more foolish than it looked at that time.
Speaking about pensioners, I must say that this Bill confuses me in some ways. Under the existing legislation such pensioners as those receiving the supporting mother’s benefit were entitled to subsidies. They had to pay 75c of the $1.50 cost of a prescription. I am not sure whether people in that category are still entitled to half the cost of a prescription under this Bill or whether they will have to pay the full $2. If we put them in the position of having to pay $2 it seems to me that we will have very effectively reduced their income by that amount. Many people, particularly women with small children in the household, go to their doctor with some regularity and are given many prescriptions. Their incomes will be very effectively cut by the cost of those prescriptions.
In talking to pharmacists about this Bill I have found that a point that several of them have made to me over and over is that a vast majority of the prescriptions they handle do not cost $2 to make up, yet people are going to be fronting up with prescriptions for which they will have to pay $2. How many times is an ordinary person going to front up to a chemist with a prescription for a liquid APC which, off the shelf, is going to cost him a lot less than $2 and for which he will have to hand over $2 in order to get a bottle with a label on it? If one really wants to rubbish a system this is a great way of going about it because people will say: ‘That is nonsense. I could not be bothered with it’, and will tear up the prescription instead of paying the $2 to have it made up. So fewer people will use the system and it will be shown to be less and less useful to the community. The next time we turn around no benefit will be available to people in this respect, but the pharmaceutical companies will continue to make the nice profits they now make. One cannot help wondering how parents who have three or four children who all go down at the same time with measles or influenza will be able to afford to front up to a chemist and pay $16 for, say, 8 disprin prescriptions that are very ordinary remedies for common diseases. It seems to me that we have moved from the area of helping people who are sick and are determined to make everything pay. It seems that the cost of the scheme is more important than the idea behind it.
Another point brought to my attention by certain chemists is that if costs are really a problem in this area of pharmaceuticals the Government could do something to reduce those costs by assisting pharmaceutical companies to bring about some rationalisation in certain areas or suggesting that they do so. They pointed out that in the area of drugs of great use, such as Valium, which modern-day doctors are very prone to use, and penicillin, there are very many different brands of such ordinary pharmaceutical products and that because there are so many different brands of exactly the same product but in different packets the costs have gone up. Because the detailers who work for the pharmaceutical companies lobby the doctors to use their particular product chemists are forced to carry many different brands of those products and so costs go up. Penicillin is penicillin is penicillin. Why, in an area that means life or death to people, do we have to be caught up in having different packets, different tubes, different colouring? Why can we not get down to the saving of people’s lives and suffering?
The statement made by Senator Baume this morning about the waste at the point of distribution fascinates me. Evidently it is the patient’s fault if a lazy doctor writes out 6 different prescriptions because he thinks that his patient might have one of the symptoms with which one of those prescriptions would deal Evidently it is the patient’s fault if wastage goes on and we are forced to pay out of government funds for all those prescriptions. I thought the patients, who sometimes have a good idea of what is wrong with them and who even now get asked by their doctor what seems to be the matter with them, went to their doctors because they had the expertise to deal with their problems. Now we have been told that it is the patient ‘s fault and that, because he is foolish enough to accept what the doctor hands him at that point irrespective of whether he needs it or not, we have a wastage in the system.
Senator Jessop suggested that if doctors knew that the patients had to pay for the medicines they received the doctors perhaps would be more concerned about the type and cost of the medicines they prescribed for their patients. I can remember it being pointed out in debates on the national health scheme that many doctors knew that more expensive medication than they were giving their patients would go a long way towards alleviating the condition the patients suffered and in some cases towards saving their lives or prolonging their lives but that they did not prescribe those medications because they knew that their patients could not afford them. Are we going back to the position where the doctor will first of all have to assess the patient’s income and then decide what he will prescribe and whether that patient will either live or get over whatever complaint he has more quickly or with more comfort.
It was suggested that if doctors were to prescribe for 6-month periods or in greater bulk on their prescription forms that would overcome some of the financial burden. It also would mean that a doctor would have to make some inquiries as to his patient’s financial position before he makes such a judgment. The question was asked:
Where is the dignity in that? We thought we were having a health scheme under which people could go about their affairs with dignity and could front up as human beings who were ill and be treated for their illness and not as human beings who had money and were given first class treatment or human beings who did not have money and therefore had to be content with second class treatment. The whole idea behind a national health scheme is to provide all people, irrespective of where they live or how much they earn, with a decent and proper health scheme which carries with it dignity and care. Those are the areas in which I feel this Government should take great care.
It is obvious from all that has been said in the debate both here and in another place that the Bill in some ways is very confusing and in some ways is not dealing with what it set out to deal with. The position will not get better; it will get worse. I think that the Bill, redrafted to cover the very real areas of need that have been pointed up by speakers from both sides of the Senate, would be of great advantage to the people of Australia. There is time to do that. It is not as though this is a matter that has to be dealt with urgently in the next 2 days. The scheme will continue as it is now. For the sake of 25c a prescription, I really feel that, even in the current economic climate, the Government could manage to stagger along covering that cost, if it exists, and could introduce a Bill which dealt with the real problems that have been raised.
The problem in some ways is that we do not seem to be dealing with an area that has some urgency attached to it. We do not seem to be dealing with an area in which we care about the recipients of the benefits. All we seem to be doing is using this scheme to raise money. Again we get back to the old profit motive. It is a case of never mind about the people who need the scheme urgently; never mind about the people who literally cannot afford to be sick and literally have a great burden thrust upon them. I met a young man the other evening. He is in his thirties and he works 130 hours a week in order to pay off costs incurred because a child was born retarded. The child cost that young man and his wife $28,000 in its first year. This sort of thing happens to people and people cannot guard against it. Not even the private health funds would guard people in situations like that. In this area there are people who cannot help the position in which they find themselves; there are people who have a child or a family of children with chronic complaints; and there are grown-ups who have chronic complaints and who, through no fault of their own, do not have the income to deal with the costs involved. This is not the son of area which governments should use to reduce deficits. It is the area in which governments should look at what people need and should look after them.
– In supporting this Bill which amends the National Health Act, I want to make 3 points briefly. I begin my remarks by making the general point that the Bill must be seen as part of the Government’s overall economic program on which it has a clear commitment to the Australian community and to the voters who put the Government into power last December. The Government is undertaking essential economies, of which this Bill represents part, to ensure that we set the basis for subsequent real economic growth from which might be provided greater benefits for all in the community. This is our ultimate aim. I believe that Senator Melzer made some telling points towards the end of her speech. I assure her we on this side of the Senate recognise that those problems exist and that any measures taken by any government, of course, must be under continuing scrutiny. So where the disadvantaged are affected and further disadvantaged, measures should be taken to alleviate that position. The action taken in introducing this Bill is part of the Government’s overall program to re-establish real economic growth in Australia and ultimately to provide greater benefits, particularly for those in the community who need them most.
In some respects perhaps it is regrettable that some of the measures that have to be taken are essential at this stage. Perhaps it is difficult in the social welfare or health areas that such measures have to be considered and taken. But, as I have already said, I believe that the impact must be carefully scrutinised at all times by all of us in the Parliament. I might add that the fact that such measures are necessary is a mark of the extent of the crisis which Australia faces as a result of policies pursued in recent years and which we are charged to overcome. If we as a community are to continue to provide a high standard of health care delivery, the resources that we have- and we must recognise that these resources are limitedmust be managed as efficiently as possible in the interests of the community as a whole. For example, in the Australian Capital Territory we have what I believe to be a very effective system of health care. But I also believe that it is recognised here that the resources that we have and that we will marshal for use in the Australian Capital Territory must be managed in the most effective way in the interests of the community. It is a well known fact that inefficient government has its most adverse impact on those who can do least about it and who can do least to help themselves. The aged, the handicapped and the poor are amongst those people. It is ultimately those people whom we wish to assist most and whom we believe measures such as those included in this Bill will assist ultimately.
The second point, which deals with a more specific aspect of the Bill, relates to increases in the general patient contribution for pharmaceutical benefits. I do not want to traverse again the ground that I believe was covered very ably by Senator Baume earlier. I believe that he made the points that it was necessary to make in that respect and that the proposed increase in the pharmaceutical benefits prescription rate is appropriate. I emphasise, as the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) pointed out, that, as in the past, eligible pensioners will not be charged for their pharmaceutical benefits. Also, other speakers have made the point that the problem in this respect frequently lies in over prescribing. But I submit that that is not a matter that can be dealt with in a Bill such as this.
I would like to deal, thirdly, with the provisions in the Bill relating to Commonwealth hospital benefits. Again as the Minister pointed out, most savings in this respect will be made under section 46 of the Act relating to patients who contribute to registered hospital benefits organisations. The Minister said in her second reading speech:
Registered hospital benefits organisations will be requested to provide additional hospital insurance benefits to cover the increased cost of hospital treatment arising from the termination of these benefits. At this time it is estimated that the extra cost to contributors of these organisations will be small- in the region of 10c to 12c per week family contribution.
In conclusion, I emphasise that the measures proposed in this Bill to amend the National Health Act must be kept under scrutiny to ensure that hardship does not ensue for the disadvantaged in the community such as pensioners. In this respect I refer particularly to measures in the Bill which provide for the removal of the pharmaceutical benefits concession for beneficiaries under the subsidised health benefits plan. However, I believe that the Bill indicates the Government’s determination to overcome the economic crisis so that ultimately we as a Government will be in a better position to provide more extensive health and social security benefits for the community as a whole and particularly for the disadvantaged. I support the Bill.
– I open by referring to a statement by the previous speaker, Senator Knight. He said, to paraphrase his words, that the effects flowing from this Bill will benefit disadvantaged people. I am still perplexed about how that will happen. I do not speak, as have many people who have spoken in the debate on this Bill in this House and in the other House, as a medical practitioner, a pharmacist or someone in a paramedical field. I speak as a person who is concerned that one of the effects of this Bill will be to place a financial burden on people who can ill-afford such a burden. Last hight I said that I was in this chamber to do a number of things, one of which was to fight for disadvantaged people. That is why I am speaking on this Bill this afternoon.
In my opinion a shameful and shabby deal has been introduced into the Senate today. A number of people in the community are becoming confused because of what is happening in the social welfare field in Australia. I must admit that I have joined the ranks of the confused. I find it difficult to reconcile two different statements. I will read parts of these statements to show where my confusion exists. Perhaps the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) can show me later where I have gone wrong or why I have not been able to follow these 2 statements. The first statement was provided by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on 4 February this year. He said, amongst other things, that the Government aimed to cut the cost of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme by $34m in a full year. He said that this would be done mainly by raising the patient contribution for benefit drugs and removing certain items from the pharmaceutical benefits list. Later on in the same statement he said that the savings planned by the Government would cut $7m from the cost for the remainder of the financial year.
Senator Guilfoyle, in her second reading speech, said:
The increase in the patient contribution is one of the means by which the increasing expenditure of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme can be reduced. This increase, together with the removal of the concession for subsidised health benefits plan beneficiaries, will result in a saving of $5. 6m in this financial year, and S24m in a full year.
My confusion arises from the difference between the $24m and the $34m and between the $5.6m and the $7m. I realise that some other different benefits could be involved. Perhaps the Minister could explain this to me later.
The increase from $1.50 to $2 for prescription fees will disadvantage the person who is on a low income, the person who has a large family, the person who is chronically ill or the person who has chronically ill people in his family. It will not matter much for the person on a high income. He can shoulder the 50c increase quite readily. Some people in this community cannot. The Commission of Inquiry into Poverty showed that severe pockets of poverty existed in Australia. Even in the normal wage earning community 3 per cent of the people receive under $80 a week and 6.8 per cent receive under $100 a week. These people, especially if they have large families, will be disadvantaged.
It has been said that people can go to public hospital outpatient clinics if they are amongst those people who cannot afford the $2 for a prescription fee. I think this has dangers. It means that people will take economy measures to go to these outpatient clinics and therefore bypass their own doctor who probably knows their medical history better than any other doctor. It also means that people will have travelling problems. This will happen not only in the country areas, but it will be most marked in the country areas. If a person wanted to go from the inner city suburb in which I live in Brisbane to the nearest outpatient clinic he would incur at least $2 in fares just for himself. He would have to take 4 different buses and, as I said, incur a total of $2 in fares. This would be greater than the $1.50 he used to have to pay for one script. It seems to me that some people will shun health care as they did before the previous Government introduced Medibank. With the subsidised health medical benefits scheme the low income earners and the disadvantaged will suffer. It seems to me that the Government is intent that the disadvantaged will shoulder the burden of the Government’s economy measures. One of the previous speakers in this debate said that inflation had risen by 13 per cent to 15 per cent for the year and that because of this it is quite right that the Government should increase the fee from $1.50 to $2. One of the speakers on this side suggested that he should check his arithmetic. If he has not checked his arithmetic let me tell him it is an increase of 33 V5 per cent, which is more than double the rate of the increase due to inflationary pressures. It seems to me that if the Government can see faults in the current system it should not just wipe the system willy-nilly but should try to find out how it can help the people who will be disadvantaged by these increases.
In conclusion, I would like to mention that while this cost cutting exercise is going on we learn that the Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, has hired a full time Press officer to tell his rural electorate of Wannon what his Government is doing. This Press officer will cost the Government about $22,000 a year. I suggest that if the Government is going to hire a Press officer to tell the electorate what the Government is doing, it should get this officer out to tell the disadvantaged people what it is doing to them.
– Order ! I draw the attention of honourable senators to the presence in the Gallery of a delegation from the National Assembly of France, led by its Vice-President, Monsieur Edouard Schloesing. The delegation is visiting Australia at the invitation of the Commonwealth Parliament, and since arriving in Sydney last Thursday has visited Hobart, Melbourne, Alice Springs, Newman, Port Hedland and Adelaide. On behalf of honourable senators, I welcome the members of the delegation and trust that their visit is being both enjoyable and rewarding. Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
– in reply- I thank members of the Senate who have contributed to the debate on the amendments which have been introduced by the Government to the National Health Act. I will confine my remarks to points on which I believe some response is required. It will be recognised that the Bill deals principally with 3 points- the increase of 50c in the patient contribution; the removal of the 75c concession for persons on subsidised benefits, this not applying to eligible pensioners; and the redundant provisions of the National Health Act. There was quite a deal of discussion on the subsidised health benefits part of the scheme. The Opposition was critical of the Government for not having done something to find a more effective plan to deal with this area which is recognised by all as being administratively costly and as having some disadvantages. Members of the Opposition had 3 years in government in which they could have devised a more effective plan for the subsidised health benefits. They did take some action in relation to this matter but they confined that action to increasing the cost to the patient by 50 per cent from 50c to 75c. The discussion that we have heard from honourable senators opposite with regard to devising a more appropriate way of implementing a subsidised health benefit plan still lacks a constructive approach from the members of the now Opposition.
Concern has been expressed about drugs costing less than $2. I think it is appropriate that I should clear the minds of honourable senators. Drugs costing less than $2 will remain on the pharmaceutical benefits list for pensioners. All honourable senators are assured that eligible pensioners and repatriation beneficiaries will not be disadvantaged by reasonof the increase in the charge to the general patient or the abolition of the subsidised health benefit plan.
Reference was made to members of the staff who are employed in the subsidised health benefits section. Concern was expressed about redundancy. The main administrative savings will be in the area of staff employed by the Department of Social Security on means testing for the low income families. The staff will be redeployed in other areas of work within the Department. I believe it has been freely pointed out and acknowledged by the Opposition that the numbers of staff involved in this work were out of proportion to the benefit which actually reached those people who took advantage of the subsidy.
The abolition of the $2 a day Commonwealth hospital benefit was also raised in this debate. I advise honourable senators that the administrative savings in relation to this benefit would be minimal, as the main administrative costs are associated with the inspection of private health insurance funds on our behalf. As we also audit Special Account payments by the funds, which will continue, the same staff will do all of this work.
Senator Baume referred to the administrative costs of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. He suggested that there should be a review of these costs. In 1975 the Department of Health and the Public Service Board, jointly, with an independent firm of management consultants, carried out an efficiency study of the administration of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme within the Department of Health. The efficiency review team made recommendations for improving the administration and reducing the costs of administration. The Department of Health is proceeding with the implementation of those recommendations.
I should like to refer to Senator Baume ‘s comments on the review of items on the list of pharmaceutical benefits. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) asked the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee recently to review the benefits list to see whether some items might be deleted without impairing the general range of benefits available, in the light of the Government’s current need to reduce the costs under the scheme. The Committee has made recommendations to the Minister for Health for the deletion of some items and changes to the listing of some other items. These will take effect from 1 April 1976. The changes were recommended by the Committee on medical grounds. Alternative drugs are still available as benefits. In many cases, the alternative drugs are much lower in price than those which are being deleted. I expect that we will have some further comments with regard to this when further information is released. I am sure all honourable senators are awaiting the release of that information and the application of the recommendations of the Committee from 1 April.
The Government is deeply appreciative of the suggestions that have been made by honourable senators for improvements to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. I am sure that the Minister for Health would welcome constructive comments in relation to improving or restructuring, the administration of the scheme. It is acknowledged that it is a very costly benefit scheme- costly in terms of administration and costly in terms of the part of the revenue of this country which is directed to a scheme to assist people in health care.
Senator Melzer raised the question of prescriptions for the general public which have a government dispensed price of less than $2. 1 think this question is freely asked and one about which there is some confusion. Under the provisions of the National Health Act such prescriptions for non;pensioners are deemed not to be prescriptions for pharmaceutical benefits. The Government does not have control of prices charged by chemists for the dispensing of prescriptions other than for pharmaceutical benefits. In practice, the chemist could be expected to charge one of the following prices: He could charge the government dispensed price which would be between $1.50 and $2, he could charge the same amount as the patient contribution, which would be $2; he could charge the Pharmacy Guild recommended dispensing rates, which would result in a charge greater than $2; or, if the preparation did not require a doctor’s prescription, he could charge retail rates.
It is often suggested that because there is now a $2 fee this will have some effect on the prescribing that is undertaken by doctors. I do not propose to embark upon that sort of discussion in this debate. I think it is fair to say that if a commodity costs well under $2 some of the courses that have been outlined could appropriately be undertaken. Senator Colston raised a further question about the amounts set out in the second reading speech and those which were contained in a statement released on 4 February. I have not had the opportunity to examine the statement released on 4 February. Removal of the concession for the subsidised health benefits plan will result in the savings of $5.6m this financial year and $24m in a full year. I take it that the figures which Senator Colston said were released by the Minister on 4 February relate to all the amendments that are being made to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and not only to those which relate directly to the subsidised health benefits plan.
This Bill is required by the Government today because of the application of the new charges from next week. Before proceeding to the Committee stage of the debate, I simply say that the Minister will welcome comments constructively presented from honourable senators and members. He has given an undertaking that he will have constant consultation with all bodies involved in this matter. In other words, when reviewing the present pharmaceutical benefits scheme, he expects to hold consultations with all groups of people in the community who are directly involved in it- consumers, producers, those who dispense such items and any other groups which have an active interest and who participate in the operation of the scheme. I suggest now that we move into the Committee stage and deal with the Bill expeditiously.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 1 1- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clauses 12 to 14- by leave- taken together.
– Clauses 12, 13 and 14 are the ones which the Opposition intends to oppose. These clauses have the effect of adding 50c to the existing prescription charge of $ 1 .50, making it $2, and removing the health benefit prescription subsidy. We are opposing them because we think this action at this time is inappropriate and is inconsistent with the Government’s stated policy, that policy being that social welfare benefits of this type should go to people in need. These clauses are taking benefits away from people who need them.
Certainly in the Budget last year we raised the prescription charge from $1 to $1.50. As a government we regretted doing that and some of us individually regretted that it had to be done. I should like to add that I think the figures which Senator Baume cited earlier supported our contention that a further rise of 50c means that there has been a rise in prescription charges of 100 per cent in less than a year. We fail to see how that can be justified in view of any of the inflation figures or cost increase figures that have been made available. As the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) said, we recognise that there are deficiencies in the subsidised health benefit plan. It was suggested that in the 3 years that we were in government we should have done something about it. I have said that we planned and were investigating changes.
I should also like to point out that we had two terms of 1 8 months with a 3 months gap in the middle for a double dissolution. We made so many other changes in social reform that not even a government of which I was a supporter could do everything. The point is that we did not throw the whole thing out. We did not suddenly say that it is inefficient, which we admit it is. and that it does not cover all the people that it should cover, which we also admit. We did not say: Right, we will throw the whole thing out and disadvantage that group of people, those new migrants and those people on unemployment benefits, sickness benefits and other special benefits’. We did not disadvantage them by throwing the whole thing out and substituting nothing in its place.
I believe some honourable senators have been taking the wrong attitude to our argument on this legislation. Senator Jessop suggested that we use economic policy to discipline the doctors of this country to write fewer prescriptions. The effect of that economic policy, first of all, would not be to discipline the doctors and, secondly, would disadvantage that group of patients who are completely innocent but who need medicines and other prescriptions to overcome their illnesses. Senator Knight’s statement that it is regrettable that the Government has to use measures like this to encourage economic growth is incredible. How bumping up of prescription fees from $ 1.50 to $2 and how disadvantaging a group of people, who are getting special concessions, by bumping up their prescription fees from 75c to $2, will encourage economic growth in this country is beyond me.
We question the necessity for these cuts. We question the whole Government policy of cutting Government expenditure the way it is doing. We certainly question why, and we certainly regret that the Government in the first piece of legislation to come into this place in this Parliament should indulge in making cuts in Government spending which affect this group of people. To suggest that these people will not be affected because they can go to the outpatients’ clinics of public hospitals and receive free medicine is nonsense and heartless. It is an absolutely heartless attitude to adopt to people who live 20 miles or 30 miles from a public hospital. It is a cruel attitude to adopt to a mother who has five or six children, whose husband is at work, who has not got a car and who has to use public transport or a taxi to get to a public hospital and to find people to look after her children while she is at the hospital. It is just as heartless an attitude to adopt if a woman has a car, because she still has to make arrangements for her children to be cared for while she is at the hospital. We think that this is inappropriate legislation. We think that it is an inappropriate thing to do, even within the context of the Government’s policy of cutting Government spending. We believe that it is completely contrary to the Government’s policy of looking after those in need. I hate to upset my friends in the National Country Party, but when we consider the amount of money saved under this proposal and the amount of money that will be spent on the superphosphate bounty, which also bears no relation to the Government’s stated concept of helping those in need, we think that this is a ludicrous piece of legislation. Therefore, we will oppose these 3 clauses.
– Order! I want to clarify the position relating to the clauses before the Committee. Senator Grimes in leading for the Opposition asked that we consider clauses 12, 13 and 14 together. Is it the wish of the Committee that we take those 3 clauses together? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
- Mr Chairman, I want to solicit help from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in trying to understand clause 14 of the Bill. I have referred to the principal Act to try to see what we are endeavouring to do by this Bill. Clause 14 of the Bill states:
Section 99 of the principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (2A) the word ‘appropriate’ (wherever occurring) . . .
I have looked through the various amendments that have been made to the Act, but section 99 in my copy of the Act does not contain the word appropriate’. Have I the correct Act or the correct Bill?
– I will have sub-section (2A) of section 99 of the Act checked. If we could defer this query for one moment perhaps we could deal with other questions which other honourable senators might raise.
- Mr Chairman, I must admit that I am still confused about the cost savings. May I repeat something that I said earlier. The statement issued on behalf of the Minister for Health ( Mr Hunt) on 4 February last stated:
The Minister for Health, Mr Hunt, said today that the Government aimed to cut the cost of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme by $34m in a full year. This would be done mainly by raising the patient contribution for benefit drugs and removing certain hems from the pharmaceutical benefits list.
The statement later said that the planned cut for this year, that is for the remainder of this financial year, would be $7m. In her second reading speech the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) said:
The increase in the patient contribution is one of the means by which the increasing expenditure of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme can be reduced. This increase, together with the removal of the concession for subsidised health benefits plan beneficiaries, will result in a saving of $5.6m in this financial year, and $24m in a full year.
I think that I am starting to see light. This means that because certain items will be removed from the pharmaceutical benefits list there will be a saving of about $ 1 Om or $ 1 1 m on those items.
– Perhaps I could deal with the point which Senator Colston has just raised while I am waiting for the other query to be checked. What the honourable senator has now suggested is the answer to the question which perhaps I did not fully answer previously. The figures in the second reading speech which the honourable senator has quoted refer to the increase in the patient contribution and to the removal of the concession under the subsidised health benefits plan. But those figures do not include the amounts which will relate to those items which are removed from the pharmaceutical benefits list. So the discrepancy between the higher figure that the honourable senator quoted in the speech of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on 4 February and the figures shown in the second reading speech relates to the drugs which will be removed from the list. Does that answer the honourable senators question regarding the 2 different sets of figures?
-I will now deal with the matter which was raised by Senator Cavanagh. It would seem that the honourable senator does not have the amendments which are in the original Act. Sub-section (2a) of section 99 of the Act, in paragraph (a), reads: . . the Commonwealth price of the pharmaceutical benefit does not, at the time of the supply, exceed the appropriate maximum amount.
Paragraph (b) of the same sub-section, in the last sentence, includes the words ‘the appropriate maximum amount’. Those amendments were added to the original Act at some other time. Apparently the copy of the Act which Senator Cavanagh has does not show those later amendments to it.
– I see that those words are in the bound volume.
– Then the honourable senator has the information he sought.
– I will not traverse the issues that have already been covered. The position has been put very clearly. All that has been said about this Bill has been put very succinctly. I think that logic is certainly on this side of the chamber with regard to this particular piece of legislation. I propose to vote against the provisions in these clauses because I believe that the Government is acting in some haste to get them through when certain questions still remain to be answered. I do not see why the disadvantaged of this community should bear the brunt of Government attempts to reduce disproportionately the rate of inflation. I also feel that there are many people in the State of Tasmania, from which I come, who, if they have a number of children, will not be able to go to a public hospital, wait around and then obtain their prescriptions from that hospital. This will be the case particularly in a very populous area of the State which has been affected by the fall of the Tasman Bridge. I think that it would be better for the Government to delay consideration of this Bill until all the facts are to hand.
I for one am waiting for some information which has not yet come to hand. I would have liked to have heard from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) what practical steps the Department of Health is taking to reduce the bureaucratic expenses that are involved in servicing the benefit. These expenses amount to almost half the cost of the benefit. If the Government is seeking to reduce spending it should let honourable senators know precisely what it intends to do, rather than abolishing altogether the benefits of which at least some of the low income families and groups have availed themselves. I propose to vote against the clauses.
Question clauses stand as printed.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator Drake-Brockman)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 15 agreed to.
Clause 16 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 25 February, on motion by Senator Knight:
That the following Address-in-Reply be agreed to:
To His Excellency the Governor-General
May it Please Your Excellency-
We, the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
Upon which Senator Harradine had moved by way of amendment:
That the following words be added to the AddressinReply, viz.: “and the Senate is of the opinion that your advisers, having declared their intention of taking particular care over the special circumstances of the less populous States, should obtain the approval of those States prior to the implementation of your advisers’ new approach to Federalism”
– Last evening before the Senate adjourned I was bringing to the attention of the Senate matters pertaining to the Aboriginal community known as Aurukun and to its concern regarding the mining venture which has been proposed in a Bill presented to the Queensland Parliament. Whilst speaking on this matter last evening I received some interjections from the other side of the chamber. I do not know that the interjections were terribly helpful to the people of Aurukun, nor do I feel that they were terribly helpful to me. So I shall endeavour during the rest of my remarks to ignore the inane interjections that one usually hears when talking on very important matters in this chamber. As I was saying last evening, I have received from some quarters criticism that I have been interfering or, supposedly, stirring the Aboriginal people in relation to this mining venture at Aurukun. I should like to read a letter that was written to me by the members of the Aboriginal Council at Aurukun dated 8 December 1975. The letter was addressed to Senator N. Bonner, Parliament House, Canberra, and stated:
We are not happy about plans for mining at Aurukun. We are insulted because we have not been spoken to first.
We want you to come to Aurukun for at least a couple of days and explain things to us and listen to what we have to say. We want you to come with the other people who are talking about mining Aurukun. We have written to them as well. Please tell us soon when you can come.
That letter was signed by 4 Aboriginal councillors at Aurukun. I answered the letter from my office in Brisbane by telegram addressed to the Chairman and Councillors of the Aurukun Aboriginal Community, via Thursday Island. The message read:
Your letter received and understood. I give you my solemn promise that I will attend meeting as proposed at Aurukun as soon as arranged by your Councillors. Please telegram arrangements my home address 3 Short Street, Ipswich, directly they are finalised. I am gravely concerned and am insisting that fellow Aborigines Aurukun be totally consulted re proposed bauxite mining project. Best wishes and kind regards . . . Neville T. Bonner, Senator for Queensland.
So, as to the criticism that I am a self-appointed spokesman, certainly I am acting on behalf of my constituents, who contacted me and asked me to come to their community to discuss these matters with them.
Having received that message and answered it, I then contacted the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Honourable Ian Viner, and invited him to come to Queensland because I was concerned about what was happening in relation to the mining venture at Aurukun. The Minister replied to me and drew up an itinerary for a visit. I accompanied him through Queensland and we made Aurukun one of the main points on the itinerary. The Minister, his secretary, the Queensland Director of Aboriginal Affairs and I stayed overnight at Aurukun. I understand from the people there and from the members of the Presbyterian Church that it was the first time in history that a Minister, either State or Federal, had ever spent a night and a day on the Aurukun Aboriginal Reserve or on any of the isolated reserves in Queensland. I want to pay tribute to the Minister because he took the time to do that. In my opinion and in the opinion of many of the people in Queensland, he had one of the longest, most informative and most fruitful meetings with a group of Aboriginal people that it has ever been my pleasure to attend. We sat under the trees at the Aurukun Mission surrounded by some 500 or 600 Aboriginal people- men, women and children. The meeting went for something like 3% hours, during which time the people spoke to the Minister and told him, as they had told me on other occasions, of their concern about what is going to happen to their community. They spoke of the lack, of consultation and the lack of concern for them that has been apparent in other quarters.
Other criticisms need to be answered, and in that regard I wish to refer to the editorial which appeared in the Courier-Mail on 27 January 1976. It stated:
Queensland Young Liberals, after hearing Senator Neville Bonner, have joined the growing list of people and organisations dissatisfied with the State Government s treatment of Aurukun Aborigines over bauxite mining in the area.
Others include the Presbyterian Church of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Council, the State Opposition, the Australian Conservation Council, Dean George, Mr F. G. Brennan Q.C., and Mr Frank Purcell, of Melbourne, the Aurukun people’s legal adviser (and a Liberal Federal election candidate).
These organisations and people are not irresponsible. Most can speak with some authority on the matter. The State Government should pause before implementing its mining legislation and consult the Aborigines and their representatives about the future of the Aurukun reserve.
So I am not alone in speaking on these matters. I am not alone in trying to bring justice to people who are crying out for assistance and guidance on this matter. I also have with me, and I think it is worth mentioning at this point of time, a newspaper article indicating that 300 Aurukun Aborigines have petitioned the Queensland Parliament. The article states:
A petition signed by 300 adults from the Aurukun Mission, opposing any mining at Aurukun, will be presented to the Speaker of State Parliament (Mr Houghton).
The Rev. J. R. Sweet, director of the Presbyterian Church’s Aboriginal and Overseas Mission section, said last night almost all adults at Aurukun must have signed the petition.
It is important that these matters be brought to the attention not only of my colleagues here in the Senate but also, through them, of the people of Australia. What is happening to the people of Aurukun is nothing short of a shoddy deal.
Let us consider what the people are asking for. They are asking for simple things. They are not asking for a whole range of things that will break the rnining company or take money out of the coffers of the State Government. All they are asking for is true, meaningful consultation about what the project is going to mean to the people of Aurukun. What is it going to mean to them in a number of ways? If the mining goes on and a town is built in close proximity to the Aboriginal community of Aurukun and there is a work force of some 1 500 people, who I imagine in a mining venture of this kind would be mostly males, what protection is going to be given to the Aboriginal community? There may be some smiles and smirks when I ask about protection; but I am 53 years of age and I have been around the ridges. I have worked with men on all types of labouring work and I am conscious that when a number of men live in an isolated area such as this one they tend to wander. The concern of the Aboriginal people in this community is whether the mining workers are going to wander into the community. If that does happen, what will be the results and what authority will the people of the community have to deal with it?
I am not saying that all miners are unscrupulous, but in any community there is always an element of unscrupulous people. If there are some of these unscrupulous men and they go on to the Aboriginal community, which is a group of 700 unsophisticated simple-living people, with flagons of wine and with certain thoughts in their minds and they do take advantage of some of the young men and perhaps some of the young women, what protection are the Aboriginal people going to have from that kind of behaviour? No one has told them what they can do about it. There is the community council, which has a certain amount of authority delegated to it by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs through the Director. The community has its own Aboriginal police force; but what authority has it got, except over its own people in the community? If this sort of behaviour occurred and the police arrested one or two men and put them in their local gaol and the councillors sat in judgment on them, would that judgment carry weight? Would it be recognised by the white law, or would someone be able to say: ‘No, you cannot do that. He is a white man. You cannot put him in your gaol. You can put your own people in your gaol, but you cannot put him in. We will let him go. He is a white man. He comes from the mining town’? These are some of the matters that are raised.
In relation to employment, the Second Schedule to the Queensland legislation provides that the mining company will employ ‘employable Aborigines’ from the Aurukun community. What is an ‘employable Aborigine’? What is an employable person’? That is not defined at all. I look at it this way: If the employment officer from the mining company visited the community with thoughts of employing some Aborigines, he might say: ‘Look, councillors, I want 3 bulldozer drivers, 3 endloader drivers, 2 mechanics, and 1 plumber’. The councillors would look at him blankly and say: ‘We have never driven bulldozers. Nobody has taught us how to drive bulldozers. What do you mean “drive a bulldozer”?’ The employment officer would go away, feeling good, and report to the management: ‘I went to the Aurukun community. I offered to employ 12 blokes. They have no employable Aborigines’. So, the responsibility of that company, according to the Act, has been carried out.
– He can please himself, anyway.
-That is true. He can. But if he went to the Aboriginal community and said: I want 3 stockmen, 4 men to put up a fence, and another 2 men to dig ditches, and to use a shovel’, he will get them; there will be no trouble about that. Again, his responsibilities will have been carried out. But to what benefit of the Aboriginal people is this?
The Aboriginal councillors and the Aboriginal community are saying that these are the things that they want to talk about. They want some kind of training schemes to be established for their young men. They have pointed out to us that dozens of young men from the age of 17 years to 25 years are strong and intelligent but unfortunately are untrained for these fields of employment. They ask: ‘What about them? You are going to employ 1500 people, but how many Aborigines will you employ? What are you going to do for them?’
Another point that they have raised is that, according to the legislation, the Aboriginal people of Queensland will receive 3 per cent of the net profits from this mining venture. I am told that it will be at least 3 years before there will be any profits whatsoever. But I have talked to other people around the traps who are more conversant with and know a little more about the mining industry. They said to me: ‘Look, when you talk about net profits of a company like this, it could be 30 years before you get a razoo ‘.
Again, the Aboriginal people are saying: ‘Why should it be 3 per cent of the net profits? Why cannot we be paid on a royalty basis?’ Other people have said to me: ‘You cannot do that; you would be setting a precedent’. But this is not so at all because royalties are paid. The Queensland Government will certainly receive its royalties. But not the Aborigines, not the original owners; they are not entitled to royalties, I am told. They can get only 3 per cent of the net profits, perhaps after 3 years. But according to this Bill and according to the Queensland Government, that 3. per cent profit will not go to the Aurukun people. It is to go into a welfare fund. They will get a percentage of that 3 per cent of the net profits.
There may be some who wonder why I have brought this matter up. I want this matter aired in this Federal Parliament and before the Senate because I believe that the Aurukun people, to use a common Australian expression, have been sold a pup. I, for one, will continue to press in every way that I can and in any way that I can for some assistance for these people and to see that the Aboriginal people of Aurukun at least are given justice in their claims in relation to this mining venture.
I have spoken at length on this matter because I have lived with it now for some six or eight months. I have talked with the people. I have listened to the people. I want to see that something is done. The Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Honourable Ian Viner, has told me that he is sympathetic about the problems faced by the people of Aurukun. I feel quite confident that he will be taking steps himself to do something about this matter.
I wish to speak about another matter today. I refer to the problems that are now being faced in my State of Queensland by the Queensland people. Later in the year, these problems will become worse. I have had consultations on this matter and also a letter seeking my support from the office of the Queensland Minister for local Government and Main Roads, the honourable Russ Hinze. He will be pressing for assistance from the Federal Government, or for further assistance, in relation to the devastation that has been caused to roads in many areas of Queensland.
For the benefit of some people from southern States who do not know much about Queensland, I should point out that it is a big State. It is a State with perhaps the greatest degree of decentralisation of any Australian State. I say that with some pride. It takes almost 2 hours flying in a DC9 aircraft to travel from Brisbane to Cairns and one is not at the top of Queensland even then. It takes some 2 hours to fly, again in a DC9, from Brisbane to Mt Isa, and one is still not at the border. Queensland is quite a big State.
Dealing with decentralisation, I point out that at .the eastern seaboard one can start from Brisbane and travel through Nambour, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Proserpine, Bowen, Townsville, Ingham, Tully, Innisfail and then arrive at Cairns. Honourable senators will realise from what I have said what I mean when speaking about decentralisation. That is the situation on the eastern seaboard where sugar, secondary industry, beef, and grain are the major industries.
– What about peanuts?
– I will come to that. If we look at central western Queensland we see Monto, Theodore, Emerald, Springsure, Barcaldine, Longreach, Winton, Blackwater and Moura. Again, that illustrates the degree of decentralisation in Queensland. That area produces beef, wool, grain and minerals. Turning to the north-western parts of Queensland one can travel from Mt Isa through Cloncurry, Hughenden, Normanton, and Georgetown and one will find the production of minerals, coal and the like, sheep, wool, beef and, yes, around Normanton fish and prawns. There are a few prawns around here too, but they are of a different type. From Brisbane we go out to south western Queensland, passing through Ipswich and Toowoomba to Warwick, Stanthorpe, Inglewood, Goondiwindi, Oakey, Dalby, Cunnamulla, and Charleville. In this area we find secondary industry, grain growing, sheep, beef and fruit. So my claim that Queensland is one of the most decentralised States in the Commonwealth is not far wrong.
What concerns us at the moment is that we live in a State where we are subjected to torrential rains during the monsoon season. We are subjected to a cyclonic season. We have had cyclones in Townsville and down to Bundaberg more recently. There has been flooding in the western parts of Queensland at Goondiwindi, Inglewood, Warwick, Stanthorpe, Cunnamulla and other places. Honourable senators can understand the kinds of things that happen to our roads and bridges during these times of natural disasters. We suffer from rain, storms, cyclones and what have you. I know that the Minister, the Honourable Russ Hinze, will be seeking extra finance from the Federal Government to assist these areas of Queensland.
Many of our shire councils will be in terrible financial difficulties in bringing their roads back to at least a trafficable condition. I had a look at some of the devastation which was caused to some of the bridges. The one at Warwick, all that was left standing was the concrete structure and both ends. Everything for at least a quarter of a mile was completely washed out. I would say that that local government authority would be looking for $50,000 or $60,000 to repair that one bridge, let alone all the other small culverts, bridges, potholes and washouts which have occurred on the hundreds of miles of road within that shire.
– Would a structure of that kind be a municipal responsibility?
-No, it probably would be the responsibility for the Department of Main Roads. But there are many roads which would be a municipal responsibility, it is these roads which are concerning me at the moment. The bridge comes under the responsibility of the Department of Main Roads but the people of Warwick who use it want it fixed as quickly as that can possibly be done. Naturally, the Minister for Local Government and Main Roads in Queensland is concerned. I know that. He told me in his letter that he will be seeking extra financial help for Queensland. I know that a lot of assistance is being asked for by my State and by New South Wales because of the devastation caused by the recent floods and heavy rains in those areas. I know that the Federal Government has to do something about the economy. I know that there will be some cutbacks. There will have to be some suffering. But I make a plea on behalf of my State and on behalf of the Minister: When the Minister makes his approach please give him a sympathetic hearing in support of our programs for Queensland.
-In rising in this Address-in-Reply debate I am very conscious that this is the second time in less than 2 years that I have risen in such a debate. I must say that I preferred the position from which I made my speech last time. It was on the other side of the Senate. In congratulating the new honourable senators I issue a gentle warning to them. Nothing in politics and in this place is sure any more. They may think that they are here for 3 years. But so did we when we occupied those benches across the way. Once upon a time in this country governments were sure of the term they would serve. Governments were elected and Parliaments served a term of 3 years. A government fell only when it lost the numbers. A prime minister was removed from office only when he did not have the numbers, or when he did not have Supply or, usually, when he had neither. But that was a long time ago. Evidently it was another system. It is not a system under which we operate in Australia any longer.
Somebody said to me during the election campaign in December: ‘How will you know who has won the elections? You used to know because the Party which had the numbers in the House of Representatives formed the Government. But in this instance the Party of which the Prime Minister was a member in the House of Representatives had the numbers and had Supply, yet the Government was removed.’ I think new honourable senators should ponder those questions long and well and they should ponder the length of their stay in this place. Those of us who have watched this Government and who remember the 23 years during which it sat on all the initiatives and new ideas which came up in Australia look with some trepidation to the future. We looked at that future when we were out on the election trail. We knew better than most what would happen. We tried to tell people what would happen. It is a great temptation now to say: ‘I told you so’. Of course, 43 per cent of the population believed us and are fighting back. They are saying: ‘Well, you lost the battle but you have not lost the war. ‘ But defeat in these circumstances can be more exasperating than usual, taking into account the things which led up to 11 November and 13 December and then looking at the electoral figures from the last election.
In Victoria, in the House of Representatives election, the Australian Labor Party got 42 per cent of the vote and it holds 10 seats. The Liberal Party got 42.3 per cent of the vote and it holds 1 9 seats. The National Country Party of Australia got 8.8 per cent of the vote and it holds 5 seats. So much for democracy and so much for the redistribution Bill which was not passed because the then Opposition in the Senate would not pass it.
– You have the reason, though, why they would not pass it.
– Of course, we know why they would not pass it. We knew at the time why they would not pass it. But it was a great lesson in democracy to have that Bill refused. We have one Party with 42 per cent of the vote holding 10 seats while a party with 0.3 per cent more of the vote holds 9 more seats. Then, the National Country Party with 8.8 per cent of the vote holds 5 seats. No wonder it wanted all the sheep and cows counted, too. I suppose this Government should not have surprised us. We should not have been surprised that it won office by subterfuge, by shabby tactics, by confusion, by whispering campaigns and by manipulating people.
We should not have been surprised, but we were. There should have been enough evidence in the Bills which were knocked back and in the amendments which were moved for us to know. We should have told the people of Australia more strongly and more often that if they valued democracy and a way of life they should look very closely at whatever moves the people who now form the Government take.
The people in Australia are good people. They believe, as they believed in 1972 and 1974, that Australia can be a good country and that profit is not the only standard by which people should live. They were confused. They were worried by smear campaigns and by stories that are still circulating. It is like asking: ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ It is very hard to combat that situation. It is very hard for ordinary people to take in. But the sad reality of it all is hitting home now. Cuts are being made in areas of expenditure that have made the quality of life in Australia better. I shall refer to the cuts that are being made in just some of the schemes that are dear to my heart because they have done something for that depressed area of Australia’s population- the women of Australia.
A scheme was introduced by the Labor Government known as the NEAT scheme- the National Employment and Training Scheme. It is a scheme that was designed to provide training for varying types of people- not only women. There was another scheme that was designed to deal just with getting women back into the workforce. We realised that with changes in technology and with areas of manufacture going out of business there were men who had to be retrained in order to earn their living and that there were people coming out of school with certain skills and who could not get jobs although there were jobs in the community waiting to be done. We realised that they would have to be retrained before they could take them. So we brought in the NEAT scheme, which was a scheme under which people went back to school and trained in another area.
It gave some hope not only to women who had been out of the workforce and who wanted to go back and be retrained but also to women who knew that they were going to have the responsibility of raising their families. Some of them were women who were on their own and who were going to have the responsibility of raising their family and some of them were women who knew that, because of the type of man to whom they were married, they would always have to accept part of the responsibility of looking after their families. To so many of these women for so long the earning of some money was better than earning no money at all. So they took any job. No matter what were their capabilities or what skills were lying dormant in them they had to do any sort of job they could get. They had to work in shops, scrub floors, do ironing and do other people’s housekeeping.
But all of that is very tentative and they knew that it was not really going to provide the sort of life that they wanted for their families. The NEAT scheme was a scheme that gave them the chance to go back and use the inherent skills they had to be trained in some sort of profession and take their place in the world in the knowledge that no matter what happened to their husbands they would be able to cope. The ones who were on their own knew that no matter what turned up they would be much better equipped to cope than they had been before. There were even single women who were keeping their children and who wanted to go on keeping their children without having to do what perhaps their mothers had done and go out and shop for a husband. They wanted to equip themselves to be able to look after their children no matter whether they spent the rest of their lives on their own. Now the NEAT scheme has been cut. So many of these women cannot possibly go on in that area existing on some $24 a week. So what do they do? They go back to the old world of taking any money or any job or of stretching out whatever educational scheme they are in and, instead of getting on with the job and doing it in 2 years or 3 years, they stretch it out to 5 years by paddling along doing part time jobs and doing courses part time or they give up their studies altogether.
Remarks were made during the course of the last few weeks about the fact that we paid supporting mothers and single mothers a pension. It was said in some areas that a Federal pension could make many young women permanently dependent on welfare. At the same time a statement was made along the lines that more emphasis must be placed upon training single mothers to re-enter the workforce. That is indicative of the patchwork thinking- the bits here and there- of the sort of government that we had for 23 years. It did not take anything through to its final conclusion. It patched it up; it put a bandaid over it. The Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot emphasise the need to train single mothers and get them back into the workforce and at the same time expect them to live on nothing, without any assistance from anybody, while they do it.
The poor old Children ‘s Commission has been bashed from one end of this country to another and from one side of this House to another. It was set up to deal with the problems of children. Children whose mothers work have problems, children whose mothers are engaged in outside activities have problems and children who have no mother but who have a father looking after them have problems. Somebody has to take note of them and somebody has to do something about them. At the moment we are in a state of limbo. Many schemes have been approved. We know that some of them did not get down to the basis of full time child care. We know that many of them have been caught up in the establishment of kindergartens. I, as a woman, say that a lot of that has to deal with the fact that there are so many men in positions where money is paid out to kindergartens. There are so many men in government, including local government, who truly and honestly believe- they are not bad men- that in establishing kindergartens one is providing child care, whereas we know that that is a tiny part of educating a child in some ways and that it does not get down to the root of child care, of after school and before school care when mothers and fathers have to go to work, of care for children whose mothers and fathers have taken ill, have gone away or have had accidents.
What happens to those children at the moment? Neighbours look after them. It is all very well the health departments in the various States telling us that unless one provides a toilet that is 2 feet high and there are windows that are 4 feet off the ground one cannot open a child care facility but the point is that for years people around the corner and down the street have minded children and for years those children have managed to deal with toilets that are a little higher than those at home and they do not seem to have come off the worse for it. What we have to get down to in that area is looking at the people who need the care- that is the children. The Government can be very pious about where the children are minded, why is it encouraging their mothers back into the workforce? The whole manufacturing and industrial section of this country would come to a standstill if those women stayed at home. So the children are allowed to be minded in all sorts of conditions over which nobody has any control at the moment.
To demonstrate how many women are engaged in the workforce at the moment I would like to quote from a document entitled Girls, School and Society, which was a report to the Schools Commission, in which it is said:
A quarter of a million women with dependent children aged 12 or under were in the labour force in 1 973 -
We know the figures have gone up since then- and about 12S 000 women with dependent children under 6 were in the labour force. Of these last 2 groups half were working full time.
The Government is standing around waiting for things to happen. It says that it must consider priorities. It says that we have to consider the economic growth of the country. Those. children are the economic growth of the country. They are the future of this country. What is the point of a wealthy country sitting back in luxury while its children are deserted, while its children are ignored, while its children are not cared for and while its future is not cared for.
One area that brought a new light to the field of education was the introduction of innovations grants. Too many people in this country think that life will finish in December 1976, whereas the world will go on to 1986, 2006 and even further. We cannot stay in systems that were designed, in many cases, for 1936. So many new ideas have been brought forward in the field of education. There are new ways of teaching people. Television has come into the world. In many instances people have stopped reading newspapers and rely on television to inform them on current affairs. Sometimes we deplore it but it is not the fault of the television system; it is the fault of what we put on it. Men can now walk on the moon. Education has to take in those things. It seemed to me that the innovations grants gave a chance for new ideas, fresh thinking, in areas that are crying out for a new look without the need to go into an enormous expenditure, without the need to go into complex plans, without the need to set up a commission, without someone sitting down and planning for 4 years and then abandoning his plans. They gave people working in the area a chance to try out new ideas. It gave a chance for parents who had an idea about how to cope with a problem to try out that idea. It gave a chance for teachers to implement a new way of getting through to children who were in difficult circumstances. It gave a chance to bring into being plans to keep children as school, perhaps after normal school hours, rather than have them watching television or running around in the streets. It gave people a chance to teach them practical skills that they did not have a chance to learn in their ordinary school curriculum.
I know that the scheme was intensely disliked by the State departments of education. I can imagine State departments disliking intensely anything coming in that could upset their nice quiet routine. But I am very sad that that is the area that this Government found it necessary to cut in education. I believe this takes us all back to where we were before. Nobody thought that there was a new light coming. I have to admit that this Government got all its priorities right in its first month. It did the important things. We finished up with 4 national anthems, 2 sets of honours, a butler at the Lodge, costly revamping of a very expensive VIP aircraft and a new runway and the reintroduction of the superphosphate bounty. But what did the Government chop in the first week? Wage indexation, to which the Government was committed, went by the board. We saw miserable things like the elimination of funeral benefits for pensioners. Do honourable senators really forget how their mothers and fathers felt about being buried decently? Do they forget about the terrible fear in people throughout the community, especially in people who have always been short of money, that they might finish up without a decent burial? That little bit of money provided by way of funeral benefits gave them just that much hope. The same cuts were applied in relation to deaf aids. With the infinitesimal amount of money involved, why make cuts in that area? There may even have been a case for saying that that was one of the provisions that the Government should have made available for everybody and not just for those who could afford such aids. We have seen what has happened in relation to pharmaceutical benefits about which we have talked today. Legal aid, which was to bring to people some hope of equality under the law, has also been cut. So often people have been told: ‘If you have any sort of case, if you really think that you have not been truly dealt with, take the matter to court’. Over and over again honourable senators have heard that said to people or they have said it to people themselves. To obtain redress under the law and to go to court is just a great giggle for so many people. How in the world can they ever afford the costs of going to court? It sounds so simple but it is so difficult.
Of course, legal aid schemes have operated in the States, including my State of Victoria. There was the sort of legal aid scheme under which $4,000 or some such similar amount could be spent within a year on legal aid. When that was spent, no more funds were available. Some legal aid scheme that was. The Labor Government introduced a scheme that would have given people a chance to go to somebody to find out the truth, to ask, ‘Can they do that to me; what are my rights under the law?’ It is easy to say that the law exists in books. But it is difficult for lawyers to read it, let alone for lay men to read it. But we know that the Australian Legal Aid Service has been told that this Government does not see it has any part to play in the legal aid services of this country.
I turn to the situation in regard to Aborigines. I have sat with my friend Neville Bonner in Aboriginal camps and I have cried with him over the conditions that Aborigines live in in his State of Queensland. I wish that he would talk more loudly and more often about how Aborigines are treated in his State. How well will Aborigines fair under this Government? Araluen is just one little place. But are we going to keep the Aboriginal colleges which gave Aboriginal kids a chance to move out into the world and to do something? Are we to leave the Aborigines living in tin humpies without water, sanitation or anything else as honourable senators opposite left them for 23 years? Will they take up their cause now and do something for them? Will the Government give back the lands they want and which we took, the lands which we get sentimental about but which they have a right to get sentimental about because it has been theirs for centuries? For 23 years honourable senators opposite ignored the Aborigines. They left them living in the most repulsive conditions. The Labor Government tried to do a little. It did only a little. Already, the grant for Aborigines has been slashed. What is the hope for the future? What is to come?
We have seen cuts in little things like bus services in Canberra. The Government is dealing with a national debt and thinks that the problem can be solved by cutting bus services after 10 p.m. in Canberra and by not running buses on Saturdays and Sundays. I wonder which part of the community that affects. It does not affect the tall poppies. It will not affect us. It will affect all the little people in Canberra.
– Not the Ministers, either.
– It will not affect the Ministers, either. We see even miserable cuts such as removing the common room for the drivers up at the Lodge. What is to come? Government supporters keep on talking about tax indexation. But they talked also about wage indexation, which they seek to abolish. So what hope do we have to see tax indexation introduced.
I am waiting with interest to see what the Government does about equal pay for women. That was one of the first things about which my Government did something when it was first elected in 1972. It introduced equal pay for women. Sure, it is not the be all and end all because under equal pay some people are more equal than others. Women become machinists and men become technicians. We know that. But it was a start. Some allegations were made during the last Federal election campaign, and never denied, that confidential talks had taken place with employers who employed large numbers of women and that certain things had been said about terminating equal pay. It was said that undertakings had been given in secret that equal pay would be terminated in the Arbitration Court and if that did not work legislation would be passed to give effect to this. Of course, it was felt by honourable senators opposite that they would have the numbers in both Houses of Parliament to do this. I say to them: You just try to knock back equal pay and take us back to the days when women received 60 per cent of the male wage. Some women were lucky to receive 40 per cent of the male wage. There is no way this will happen. The textile industry has adapted and revamped itself to accept this. Women in the textile industry will not go back to receiving 60 per cent of the male rate and neither will the rest of the women in Australia even countenance the idea. We did not come out from the shade for fun. We came out to work and we expect to get paid for that work.
All of these things, summed up, make me feel that we now have a Government which thought for 3 years that the ordinary people of this country got too large a cut of the cake, that if profits were to fall and the ordinary people were to have their expectations expanded, it was no good. I wonder why? I quote from an article that appeared in the National Times for the week 24-29 November 1975. It states:
Early in November, when Australians were still speculating about an early election, an attorney for the American corporation, Westinghouse, was uncannily accurate in his forecast of the turn of events.
In an interview with Nucleonics Week, a McGraw Hill publication, William Jentes discussed the problems Westinghouse was having in meeting its uranium contracts.
The shortage is near term,’ he told the weekly. ‘We don’t have enough to meet our commitments . . . Maybe if the Labor Government is thrown out in Australia in five weeks so that we can get uranium we thought we had, we may be able to supply it . . .
That was said 5 weeks and 3 days before 13 December, the election date, and 5 days before
Kerr, acted. How was that American in the know when we poor fools here in Australia went on blithely sitting on the largest lump of energy the world has ever known, thinking that we could go on sitting there building a free lovely world in which all people would have a chance without people trying to take it away from us? I would like to refer to another statement which is a little closer to home. The former Liberal member of Parliament, Mr St John, said in his submission to the Australian Ownership Council:
It is true to say that by the adroit use of their money and power and their connections in high places; … by their lavish hospitality; by favours shown in the right places; by playing off one State Premier, anxious for ‘development’, against another; by what has been called the ‘subversion of the elites’ (the managerial and professional classes, the bankers and financiers) by sharing out some of the ‘goodies’, (the directorates, the local consultancies and minority shareholdings); by contributions to party funds; and (let’s face it) by thinking big and applying their undoubted managerial, technical and marketing skills- by these and many other means the MNCs - the multinational companies- can and do attain not only economic dominance, but very great political influence as well. This has undoubtedly happened in Australia.
We know that it happened in Australia. That statement very aptly sums up the bloodless coup we went through on 11 November 1975. Why? Because ordinary people in Australia at last were getting close to living decent lives, with decent wages, with an education system that was starting to educate them and not turn them out as factory fodder, and with a health scheme which meant that people did not lie awake at 2 o’clock in the morning wondering how on earth they were going to pay the medical bills and wondering whether it might not be better if people who were ill died. We were getting back to decent civilised living, playing our part and taking our part of the goods that belong to us because they are Australian. The repercussions of the coup on 1 1 November will be felt for a long time. As I said before, the battle may be over but the war goes on.
Debate (on motion by Senator Carrick) adjourned.
The following answer to a question upon notice was circulated:
The Minister has supplied the following reply:
Senate adjourned at 4.38 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 26 February 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1976/19760226_senate_30_s67/>.