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Wednesday, 19 April 1961

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and other Opposition members have put the views of the Australian Labour Party on public health very well and very forcefully. We support the bill, but we think it does not go far enough. We think it is a very small advance and we hope either this Government will do the right thing and do all that we wish to see done or we will do what we think ought to be done when we become the Government.

Mr Turnbull - About when will that be?

Mr CALWELL - It will be after the next election. The honorable member for Mallee will probably still be in the corner of the Mouse where he now sits but he will be supporting an Opposition. I do not think he will need to change his seat in the next Parliament, because that is where he sat once before. However, I do not wish to be diverted by any observation of the honorable member for Mallee.

I will not detain the House very long. There were one or two matters 1 thought ought to be mentioned in addition to those that have already been mentioned. We of the Labour Party have always contended that the health of the community is a matter of paramount importance, that medicines and hospital treatment should be made as cheap as possible and every benefit of science and of medical skill should be made available to every member of the community without charge and without discrimination. That is the objective. We will reach it gradually and, of course, it will have to be paid for, but we believe that the community will benefit when that desirable situation is reached.

I happen to have in my electorate the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. I have always had an unhappy feeling, as have all Opposition members and people outside the Parliament, that this Government did try to sell the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and that this Government would sell the laboratories if it could. The laboratories were established not by a Labour government but by a non-Labour government. We think that the Government is under pressure from a certain element in its own ranks - the ranting element dedicated to the doctrine of free enterprise, which would destroy the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories or reduce the efficiency of the organization and then sell it for a part of what it is worth.

Mr Snedden - There is no basis for that.

Mr CALWELL - I am glad to have the assurance of a back-bench member, the honorable member for Bruce, that there is no justification for believing the Government ever had any intention of selling the laboratories. A few years ago, every evidence was available that the sale was about to be made. Be all that as it may, this is the situation with the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to-day: The manufacture of penicillin in the laboratories is, according to my information, now suspended entirely. If that is so, the Government has much to answer for. If that is so, the Government should tell the House why such a step has been taken.

I am told, too, that penicillin is now being produced by private firms because they can make more profit out of it. If, at enhanced profit to themselves, private firms can make this penicillin which used to be made by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, there is no reason why the Commonwealth laboratories should not make this life-saving and most important drug - and make it in very great quantities. The story which I hear is that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories are losing money at an increasing rate. That could be. I see no reason why an institution of this sort which is benefiting the community greatly should not be put on a commercial basis and be expected to make profits as well as serve the public interest. I should like the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) to explain here what is happening to the laboratories to-day, or have an explanation made when this bill is before the Senate. If there is any justification for the suspicion that everything is not right in the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, an investigation ought to be made by the Public Accounts Committee, by any other authority of this Parliament or by the Department of Health itself, and the results of that investigation ought to be made known to the general public.

My suspicions as to what is happening are always aroused when I read the trade and financial columns of the capitalistic press. In to-day's Melbourne " Age ", I read the story of Sigma Company Limited, wholesale druggists and manufacturing chemists.

Mr Pollard - That company is a bushranger!

Mr CALWELL - I was going to describe it as a bandit, but out of respect for the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt), I shall settle for the term " bushranger ". This company increased its profit in the year ended 31st January last by £47,068- from £426,505 to £473,573. Its capital increased during the year by £174,880, and its group assets rose from £2,541,741 to £2,914,250. All this information was given in the directors' report. Then they served up this delectable morsel, which is reported by the newspaper in these terms -

Directors say that Japanese products being marketed by Sigma are showing handsome profits.

Of course they are. This company is making profits not only in its own factories, warehouses and ethical divisions, as they are termed, in Australia, but also from the importing of Japanese products into Australia - an activity which is putting Australians out of work. If this organization can make these profits, so can the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories make profits. I ask the Minister to investigate this matter and have the facts reported to the Senate, and to report them later to this House.

The only other thing that I have to say is that the Australian Labour Party is more convinced than ever that the repatriation hospitals throughout Australia ought to be used to care for returned soldiers of World War I. whether or not their illnesses are war-caused, as is the rule in the United States of America. Indeed, in the United States, all World War II. veterans are so catered for. We also ask that cancer be made an acceptable disability for repatriation purposes and that a more sympathetic attitude be taken in all these matters. We do not accuse the Government of lack of sympathy, but we ask it to be a little more progressive in its approach to these problems, because public opinion is swinging around very strongly in favour of greater acceptance by governments in Australia, and particularly the Commonwealth Government, of more responsibility for the welfare of people who are ill, whether their illnesses are war-caused or non-war-caused - whether the people are servicemen or exservicemen or whether they are civilians. People who are ill to-day ought to get the best possible treatment at the minimum possible charge so that in the long run the community will be healthier. If all this is valued on a cash basis, society as a whole will be found to have made a very wise investment in spending money in this way.

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