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Thursday, 2 June 1949

Mr O'CONNOR (West Sydney) . - The House is debating two appropriation measures and two Supply bills, and the Opposition has taken advantage of the debate to try to make of it something in the nature of an unofficial censure motion on the Government. Honorable members opposite have alleged that all the sins of commission and omission in this country are the fault of the Government. In postulating that theory they have left themselves wide open to criti cism, because if a government is responsible for the defects of a country it must also be responsible for the economic conditions that prevail in the country, and should receive credit for the good that flows from those conditions. But according to the burden of the song sung by the Opposition during this debate, anything that is good in this country reflects no credit on the Government. Honorable members opposite have concentrated on a number of alleged shortcomings and deficiencies; they have magnified incidentals and ignored fundamentals. They have attempted to paint a picture of the economic conditions in other parts of the world. We have heard one theory that the United States of America is economically ideal. They have also attempted to paint an adverse picture of the position in Great Britain, intending to draw a parallel with the Australian Government because the Government of the United Kingdom is also a Labour Government. I am certain that a statement that appeared on the financial page of the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday of last week will at least give some cause for concern to honorable members opposite, and provide a true test of the comparative worth of the Government of this country. Honorable members opposite never cease their encomiums of the United States of America, because that country is the home of private enterprise and individualism.

Mr MCBRIDE - The United States of America has helped the rest of the world out of its difficulties.

Mr O'CONNOR - -Honorable members opposite, who are at all times trying to present a contrast between the United States of America and other countries, ignore completely what has happened in America. The article in the Sydney Morning Herald, to which I have justreferred, said, among other things, that the experts whose duty it was to pay attention to economic trends were hoping that the present economic trend in the United States of America would be held short of a major catastrophe. We have seen what has happened in the United States of America as a result of the economic trend there. The story of that country is briefly that, after World War I. it emerged as a world power, and that after World War II. its position was consolidated, not merely as a world power but as the predominant world power. If it is within the bounds of government action to tate steps that affect a country's economy, surely the United States of America has the resources to make its people the most fortunate in the world. But that is not so, for America has unsettled economic conditions, and many of its people are far from happy. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) stated that a policy of full employment meant nothing unless it followed certain principles. I made a similar statement some years ago, and therefore I agree that unless full employment is accompanied by certain conditions it is riot worth much to the workers or the people. However, I believe that the honorable member's statement is not applicable to Australia at the present time because the Government does not merely boast of the effect of its policy of full employment, but it has also ensured that that policy is attended by benefits to the workers that they have never before enjoyed. That is itself one of the tests of the value of this Government.

Mr Rankin - We are unable to achieve sufficient production.

Mr O'CONNOR - .Australia is not different from any other country in the world as far as production shortages are concerned, but I shall deal with that matter later. The question of the fall in world prices for export goods is of some concern to us, as to other countries. The honorable member for Fawkner, in attempting to prove that the economic condition of the United States of America was sound, tried to chide the Australian Government for not selling more wool to America. We cannot sell our goods to countries that are not willing to buy them. About twelve months ago the United States Senate adopted a measure that was intended to impose a heavy tariff on the import of fine wool from Australia, and only the President's veto prevented that measure from becoming law. We could sell more wool to the United States and earn more dollars if that country were willing to take it, but because of a prohibition on the unlimited importation of wool into America-

Mr Holt - I did not mention wool at any stage of my speech.

Mr O'CONNOR - If I am not mistaken, the honorable member did mention wool.

Mr MCBRIDE - There is no prohibition against the importation of wool to the United States.

Mr O'CONNOR - About twelve months ago the American Senate tried to raise the tariff on wool and its action was vetoed by the President. It is not merely a question of desiring to sell goods, but also of what can be obtained in exchange for them, and whether the best markets are willing to accept them. When considering Australia's economic position we are apt to forget that the Australian Government is only one of seven governments in Australia. All of the six State governments possess sovereign powers and some of them have far greater powers than are vested in the Australian Government. It must be borne in mind always that no matter what government is in power in the federal sphere it is limited by a written constitution, and all its acts are contestable before the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council. The Australian Government's powers are clearly defined in the Constitution, and any government that acts outside the Constitution may find itself haled before the High Court of Australia or the Privy Council and have its actions declared unconstitutional.

Mr McBride - There are 48 States in the United States of America.

Mr O'CONNOR - I am talking about Australia, and if the honorable member can deny my assertions about the Government's constitutional position I shall be pleased to hear it. When considering the economic condition of this country, it is as well to remember that some time last year a referendum was held and also to recall the attitude that was then taken up by the Opposition in relation to it. I believe that, even if nothing else could be said for this Government, it at least has always been forthright and honest in its approach to problems. The relations between the Commonwealth and States were made perfectly clear by the Prime Minister, not once but several times. He told the people what would happen if the Government's referendum proposals were defeated, but the Opposition, seeking a political advantage, ignored the effect which the defeat of the proposals would have upon Australia's economy, and advised the people to vote "No". The defeat of the proposals was one of the worst blows that any Government ' has suffered. As a matter of fact, now that the States have had restored to them the powers which the Commonwealth exercised during the war, they are not very happy about it. A few weeks ago, there was a conference in Western Australia of State Premiers, and the suggestion was put forward that another referendum should be held on the proposal that greater powers should be granted to the Commonwealth. The States, in the short period that they have been exercising the powers relinquished by the Commonwealth, have found that they can be exercised effectively only on a Commonwealth-wide basis, and now they are quite willing to hand the powers back to the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, the opportunity has passed. Prominent among the many sins of omission and commission which lie at the door of the Opposition is the fact that it advised the people to reject the Government's referendum proposals. The policy of the Labour Government, in submitting the proposals, has been abundantly vindicated by events.

During this debate, the Opposition has been critical of many things, but it has studiously refrained from criticizing the British Medical Association for its attitude towards the Government's pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Why members of the Opposition should have remained silent on this issue is probably best known to themselves, but the fact remains that the scheme has been rendered ineffective by the refusal of the Federal Council of the British Association to cooperate. The members of the council call themselves medical practitioners and scientists, but they persist in playing politics, and in using their position to mislead the people, and to obstruct legislation. The result is that the people are being denied social services benefits. It seems to be impossible to pin down the council. The Government has found that as soon as one difficulty is removed spokesmen for the British Medical Association discover another. They claim that if the Government were to allocate money for the building of hospitals and the provision of medical facilities it would make a greater contribution to public health than by insisting upon a national medical scheme. They ignore the fact that even if the Government were to allocate £50,000,000 for the building of hospitals it would be physically impossible, because of prevailing industrial conditions, to do very much about providing the hospitals, so that those who now have to go without hospital treatment for lack of facilities, would be no better off. It should not be overlooked that the middle class is losing most by the delay in the introduction of a national medical scheme. Members of the middle class, who are expected to pay all their own medical costs when they or members of their family fall sick, are sometimes reduced to penury by having to meet medical expenses after a protracted illness. Under the Government's proposals, such people would obtain relief, but that makes no appeal to the Opposition. The Federal Council of the British Medical Association is withholding from the people the medical service to which they are entitled. The Government has displayed monumental patience in its negotiations with the British Medical Association. The negotiations have been protracted and wearisome, but the patience of the Government has never been exhausted. On every occasion, it was the British Medical Association that slammed the door. The Federal Council of the British Medical Association, when it has not been telling the Government to build more hospitals, has been arguing about the pharmaceutical formulary. I maintain that the formulary is the concern of the Government, not of the British Medical Association, and the decision of the Government is based on the experience of other countries where national medical schemes are in operation. A few months ago, the Leader of the Opposition in New Zealand, Mr. Holland, visited Australia and, when asked for his opinion on the free medical scheme in New Zealand, replied that its weakness lay in the fact that those controlling it seemed to be more concerned with quality than quantity. In New Zealand, there is au open formulary under the medical scheme, and the Australian formulary has been drawn up in the light of the experience gained in that country. The statement of Mr. Holland, whose political outlook is the same as that of the Opposition in this Parliament, supports the attitude of the Australian Government in regard to the formulary.

The Labour Government in Australia has a record of achievement for which there is no need to apologize. During the last eight years, the country has enjoyed prosperity of a kind never known before. We have witnessed remarkable developments in not only our secondary but also our primary industries. To-day the people of this country are enjoying unprecedented prosperity. As 1 said in my opening remarks, the conditions obtaining in any country must in a large measure be credited, or debited, to the government of that country. It is axiomatic that conditions in a country do not exist merely accidentally. Our present prosperity is direct evidence of the vigorous policy being implemented by the National Government. This Government has envisaged not merely the development of any State, or part of a State, but the development of the nation as a whole. At the same time, due to its wise administration. Australia's prestige has never stood higher in the eyes of the world. Most Australians are proud of the part that this country is playing in the international sphere. Although we are a nation of only about 7,000.000 people, our representatives and spokesmen abroad are held in the highest esteem. That is not. accidental; Australia has done some-' thing tangible to earn that esteem. Thus, the Government's policy is being vindicated, not only by the prosperity which Australians themselves enjoy, but also by the fact that Australia now occupies a position in the international sphere which no other country with so small a population has previously achieved.

Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 P-m.

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