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Monday, 20 May 1957


The honorable member for Moore is in order.

Mr LESLIE - The honorable member for Grayndler may think this is a laughing matter, but we are now concerned about human beings. No hospital in Western Australia has ever gone broke, because the people in that State would not allow that to happen to any of their hospitals. The hospital on the board of which I was a member was built at a cost of £30,000, of which a paltry £8,000 had been provided by the Government and the remainder had been contributed by the people of the district.

I am dealing with this matter honestly and I am concerned about the fact that the hospital benefit is 8s. a day plus the amount that is payable from the insurance funds. The position of hospitals is now vastly different from their position in the days before the Commonwealth entered the picture. If the Chifley Government had based its scheme on different foundations, the hospitals would not now be in serious trouble. Opposition members constantly stress that it is the Government's responsibility to provide money to be spent without any guarantee that it will be used in the right direction. No honorable member does that in handling his own finances. He would not hand over an amount of money to somebody else merely because that person said that he needed it.

It is necessary for this picture to be placed clearly before the people so that they may understand exactly where the financial responsibility and the administrative responsibility rest. It is the States' responsibility to administer their hospitals. If they find that some project that they have in mind is more deserving than the provision of adequate hospital facilities they will decide to spend accordingly the money that is made available to them. Every one of us has a limit to our resources. There is no bottomless pit to them. We have to provide for our most urgent needs first. The responsibility rests on the States to decide what things they will have and how the money available will be spent.

During this debate an honorable member mentioned pensioners. Quite a lot has been said about the necessity for an increase of pensions. There is not anybody in the country who is not in sympathy with the suggestions that the aged, the invalid, the widowed and ex-serviceman who is required to live on a pension should receive something more. But sympathy will not provide them with an ounce of sugar on an ounce of tea. I tell Opposition members who constantly urge the Government to provide more money for pensions that there is only one way to do that and that is by increasing taxes. It is useless to express sympathy without facing facts. The Government could pay pensioners fabulous sums of money if it had the funds available but it has to find the money somewhere and it can only obtain it from the people.

If Opposition members wish pensioners to receive additional benefits from the Commonwealth Treasury there is no need for them to stress the needs of the pensioners to the Government. The Government has proved how interested it is in the pensioners and has done its best for them. People who want the pensioners to receive additional benefits should say to the taxpayers, " You write and tell the Treasurer that you think that pensioners should get more and that he should raise more money for that purpose and that the only way to do that is by increasing taxation ". They should tell the Treasurer that they are prepared to pay additional taxes in order to provide more money for pensioners. Sympathy will not fill an empty belly. But if the people who express this sympathy are prepared to provide the money out of their own pockets the answer to the problem will have been found. Let us face the difficulty honestly instead of trying to make party political propaganda out of the needs of less fortunate human beings.

Mr Curtin - What about the Government's surplus?

Mr LESLIE - The honorable member does not understand the position or, if he does understand it, he will not be honest with the people. The Government, in its budget for the current financial year, has undertaken to raise £108,000,000 more than it needs for its own use in order to provide the State governments with money for their works programmes. I will not argue the justice of that decision. I shall leave it there. But I should be interested to find out how many Opposition members have actively engaged in sponsoring government loans. Regardless of my own party political leanings, I and many members on my political side of the fence engaged actively in raising loans in the period when the Curtin and Chifley Governments were in office. I have halfadozen certificates signed by Mr. Chifley testifying to my activities in the national interest in inducing people to lend their money to the Government for urgently needed national development. That is the sort of activity to which no party barrier should exist. It should be regarded on a non-party basis.

Whenever the Commonwealth floats a loan, every member of Parliament, regardless of his political colour, should support the appeal of the Treasurer for finance in order to carry on the developmental work of this country. I like to see Labour supporters engage in that form of activity, as was done in earlier years by supporters of the anti-Labour parties.

Very soon, a meeting of the Australian Loan Council will be held in this chamber. I can only hope that the Premiers will realize that there is no bottomless well from which money can be drawn to be spent all over the place. I return to what I said earlier, and emphasize that I am just as jealous as are the States of their sovereign powers and of their right to develop their own areas in accordance with their local knowledge of the needs and circumstances. I believe that they are better informed of their needs than we in this chamber ever could be, but for goodness' sake let them face up to the facts!

I should like the Loan Council to examine the factors that are preventing the States from obtaining adequate money for developmental works. One of those factors is the much-condemned hire-purchase system of finance. Money is being diverted to hirepurchase finance which could be far better utilized in providing, as my friend, the honorable member for Batman, said, such things as hospital and educational facilities. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth cannot do anything to curb or restrain hire-purchase activities. It is the responsibility of the State Premiers, but they will not accept that responsibility. I suggest that, if the State Premiers, when they meet in the Loan Council, discuss the limiting factors in Australia's financial position with a view to introducing legislation to remove those factors, they will go a long way towards solving the problems that remain unsolved because the Premiers throw the responsibilty on to the Commonwealth Government.

I do not think there is any need for interference with hire-purchase deposits and interest rates, as has been done in other parts of the world. A small amendment of the law in some States and the passing of a new law in others to provide that the hirer - the vendor - of goods shall rely for his security only on the article hired, and that he may claim only arrears of payments should he be obliged to repossess an article, would go a long way towards overcoming the problem of hire-purchase finance.

Mr Ward - What about interest rates?

Mr LESLIE - The interest rate position would cure itself, because the hiring would have to be on a far more selective basis. Many people enter into hire-purchase agreements without understanding the tremendous obligation into which they enter, and ultimately they are faced with the need to return the goods or to make great sacrifices and continue to pay exorbitant rates of interest. If my suggestion were adopted, the hirer would know that, if he were to repossess goods, he could claim only the arrears of payment. He could not claim the balance owing under the agreement.

As I said, the position would cure itself, because the hirer would be more selective and the purchasers would be a little more careful about entering into a hire-purchase agreement. The hire-purchase people would be honest with the prospective purchaser and would say to him, " Can you afford this article? We do not want to take it from you after a month or two if you find you cannot continue the payments. We must tell you this, because we can claim only arrears of payments. We suggest that you have another look at it ". My proposal, if adopted, would provide a simple solution of the problem and would control the hire-purchase people. It is a matter which the States could well discuss.

I wish to support, as strongly as I can, the remarks that were made by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), regarding the development of the northwest of Western Australia, and also the Northern Territory and perhaps part of Queensland. The honorable member for Canning, other honorable members from Western Australia and I have waited on the Commonwealth Government at different times with various suggestions about action that should be taken by it to encourage the development of the north-west of Western Australia. I do not propose to go into detail about the need for such action; I think it is understood only too well by most honorable members and by the Government. Again the question of the limitation of power arises. It would be quite easy for the Commonwealth, if it had a bottomless well of money, to say to the Western Australian Government, to the Northern Territory Administration and to the Queensland Government, " Here is a sum of X million pounds. Develop these areas "!

An appeal has been made to the Government for tax concessions, particularly exemption from income tax, as an encouragement to develop these areas. I wholeheartedly support that appeal, but I believe that it is only a minor element in what is required to ensure the development of the areas. The Commonwealth and the States should have discussions with a view to establishing a development commission to develop these parts. I repeat that I support the appeal for exemption from income tax, but I do not think that it will go a fraction of the way towards meeting the requirements of this part of Australia.

Before I resume my seat, I wish to take a leaf from the book of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) and to make an appeal on behalf of a new venture that has been undertaken overseas. In Western Australia there is a unit which is responsible for the rehabilitation of paraplegics - people who have been paralysed by an injury to the spine and who are required to use wheel-chairs. Formerly such people were condemned to death within three to five years of the time of their injury; but, as has been demonstrated overseas and is now being demonstrated in Australia, medical science has discovered a way of helping them. Each year for quite a long period a form of Olympic sports for paraplegics has been conducted in England. Last year, eighteen countries participated, and this year 31 countries have notified their intention of participating in the sports, which are to be held at Stoke Mandeville, in England. I am hoping that an Australian team will participate. Western Australia has the only complete paraplegic unit. It is a complete team of trained paraplegics, and it is aimed, this year, to send a team to the sports which will take place in Italy. An appeal has been made to the Commonwealth for assistance, but that is not my purpose in mentioning the matter at this stage. By the kindness of the National Library a film showing paraplegics in sports will be screened for members this week. One of the scenes that should attract the attention of members is the paralyzed boys in Perth beating the Harlem Globe-trotters at basketball, by 26 points to 21. As honorable members will see from the picture, the game was " dinkum ". I mention that because I think it is something entirely new and I am sure every honorable member will be only too keen to see the film in order to learn what is being done in this country by medical authorities, by governments, and by voluntary institutions for the rehabilitation, and, indeed, the habilitation, of people who are not so fortunately situated in life as the rest of us.

I do not want honorable members to confuse this scheme with the spastic scheme. Generally speaking, a spastic is some one who has been crippled from infancy, but any one of us in this House could be a paraplegic to-morrow. Paraplegia is usually the result of an accident, generally in industry, and our aim is to place these people back in industry. Many of them are back on full-time work and one of the objects of these sports is to enable them to take their place in normal industry.

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