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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
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Mr NICHOLLS (Bonython) - 1 have listened attentively to speeches submitted in this debate by members of the Opposition and the kindest remark that I can make is that I sympathise with their endeavour. As a member for the past 9 years in Opposition when previous Budgets were debated, I cannot recall a more half-hearted, futile attempt to criticise the Government's Budget. Although I understand the ideology which motivates conservatives' action, it is always disheartening to them when socialist parties present a Budget. So, as a socialist, I wish honourable members opposite well and, for the future advancement of Australia, may they have many more years on the Opposition benches.

I rise to support the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and to oppose the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). The Treasurer (Mr Crean) deserves the congratulations of this House for submitting a positive and constructive Budget in the interest of Australians generally. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition seeks to achieve nothing but cheap, political kudos at the expense of Australia's future. The Leader of the Opposition advocated a 90-day freeze on all incomes and prices in Australia. He urged the Australian Government to convene a national conference with State governments, unions and employer organisations to reach an agreed program to fight inflation, the conference first to agree on an income and prices freeze and then on guidelines for the control of future wage and price increases. This is the man whose Party, as the Liberal-Country Party coalition Government, administered the affairs of the Australian Parliament for the past 23 years. In 1944, the Curtin Labor Government put to the Australian people a referendum seeking Federal powers to control prices, and it was the Liberal Party attitude on that occasion to campaign for a 'No' vote. It was the Liberal-Country Party's action, when in Government, to sit idly by when the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission removed the quarterly cost of living adjustment. These same people, when in Government, continually blamed the inflationary trend on wage increases anc), on all occasions when the Commission discussed national wage cases, the Government of the day had legal representation at the hearing to oppose the submissions of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Similarly at that time when the Australian Labor Party was in Opposition, it introduced in this House countless urgency motions seeking the Federal powers by referendum or to approach the 6 States, which on many occasions were controlled by Liberal governments, to concede the powers whereby the Australian Government could establish a Federal price control system.

It is true my own State, South Australia, has a limited price control system, but only the Australian Government can effectively legislate price control. On each occasion when these matters were discussed, our opponents opposite, by the use of their numbers, defeated our attempts to grapple with the inflationary problem. Now we see the Leader of the Opposition calling for talks between the Federal and State governments, unions and employers, to combat inflation. This conference would identify the harms and evils of inflation and set an agreed program for restraint of income and prices with the national conference to consider guidelines for moderated price and wage advances in the future. He further advocated that, throughout the period of guidelines application, it would be desirable to have a prices notification system. Companies with a turnover of more than a determined figure would be required to notify price increases.

The Whitlam Labor Government has already placed on the statute book legislation for a prices justification tribunal. This Parliament has also established an all-Party Parliamentary Committee on Prices representative of this House to the Senate, to inquire urgently into price movements. My own personal view is that, while this machinery will provide important information to the Parliament on price movements, it will have little overall effect on the general gallop of prices in this country. The only positive alternative is to clothe the Australian Parliament with the Federal powers to initiate a Federal price control system. I would hope that this Labor Government would give serious consideration to the proposition that, at the first opportunity when a national election is held, the people of Australia be asked by referendum to alter the Australian Constitution to enable legislation of this nature to be given effect.

Now, Mr Speaker, I will take the opportunity to speak during this Budget debate on 2 matters that are of important interest to me and which affect all Australians generally, namely the fiasco of the present health discussions and the criticisms by a minority of the people of the Labor Government's policy on education. Since the announcement of the

Government's proposal to introduce in 1974 a national health scheme to replace the present unfair, inefficient voluntary health scheme of the previous Tory governments, the doctors, together with other people who have a direct commercial interest, have unleashed a tirade of abuse, for the express purpose of creating confusion and doubt within the community as to the benefits and protections which would be enjoyed under a national health scheme. I can recall this same atmosphere when the Chifley Labor Government in 1947 introduced and passed legislation for a free national health scheme. On that occasion the same interest which is loudly denouncing Labor's health policy - namely the Australian Medical Association - took an injunction against the legislation to the High Court of Australia.


Mr McLeay - -What happened then?


Mr NICHOLLS - If the honourable member will be a little patient, I will tell him. The Court, on that occasion, ruled in favor of the AMA and its decision, in so ruling, was that it was unconstitutional to require doctors to write in triplicate a medical prescription. The High Court judges claimed that to compel doctors to perform this act was industrial conscription. The national Press has widely publicised the doctors' case how much work they are required to do, the long hours worked, the low financial remuneration, plus the high cost of maintaining their clinics. I took particular interest in a Press article, which recently appeared in a South Australian newspaper, highlighting the case of the poor doctor trying to make an honest dollar. The article was headed: '$30,000 per annum, $120 per week'. This doctor, a central Adelaide general practitioner, is an unapologetic $30,000 a year man.


Mr Cooke - How many hours a week does he work?


Mr NICHOLLS - If the honourable member will be a little patient I will come to that in a minute. He earned $29,000 in the financial year 1971-72. When he adds the figure for the year to last June 30th, he expects his income will be $32,000. Such a sum would appear to brand the doctor as one of the money-grabbing ogres in the public - politician - doctors battle. But appearances, claims the newspaper, can be deceptive. This doctor's income takes on a different complexion when the surgery on practice expenses and taxation is performed. He claims practice and other costs reduced his 1971-72 income to $14,000 and income tax, which included a heavy provisional tax slug, took another $8,000, leaving him with a net income of $6,000. The same newspaper article went on to say:

I expect this year to be better' he said. "The figure should be $9,000 . . .'

That would be a 50 per cent increase on the previous year. Recently the South Australian State Government legislated a process order. Before the order patients paid $3 for a consultation when the most common fee was $3.40. The charge for home visits was $5 when the most common fee was $5.25. Now this doctor has boosted his fees by much more than the 15 per cent laid down by the State Government. Consultation charges are now $3.80 and home visits cost $6, but he is still within the Government's legal limit of $3.90 for a consultation and $6.05 for a home visit. That article reported that the doctor said:

I did not want to increase my fees at all, and I would not have if Mr Dunstan had not stuck his nose in.'

This doctor, by newspaper reports, bought his one-man practice 5i years ago for $4,500. The newspaper article states:

My capital has gone down the drain now,' he -said. 'I could not sell this practice today even if I wanted to - not with the threat of a national scheme next year."

The newspaper further states that this doctor is not in a typical practice as it is known today. It is a one-man outfit when the plural practice prevails. He does not employ locums. He does not demand appointments and 60 per cent of his patients are pensioners. The pensioner emphasis means lower fees and more routine work, demanding regular visits to nursing homes and a mountain of paper work. The doctor claims that 8,500 patients' visits a year are as much as he can handle. But because of pressure he finds himself doing 10,000 with some assistance. He works as much as 60 hours a week, between seeing patients and driving. Another 10 hours is spent in filling out forms, writing letters and keeping records. He is on call 24 hours a day. He claims he cannot afford the $40a-month retainer for the night emergency service, plus the $10 fee for a locum call. He drives a Honda Civic, his wife a Valiant Galant. Both cars are leased because they get a full tax deduction. They own their own home in an inner eastern suburb, and he claims he has had 9 weeks' holiday in 5i years. He says in order to take a holiday he could not now pay the $300 a week locums demand - this is understandable; he is only getting $120 himself - and he condemns doctors who close down their practices while they go away on holidays. This doctor does not want any part of a nationalised medical scheme. He fled Britain to escape one. He is bitter about politicians, claiming they continually mislead the public by giving doctors' gross incomes instead of their net earnings. He sums up his professional philosophy this way:

In my own practice, I am my own boss, I can use my own judgment. And I do not want to work with politicians who do not tell the truth.'

I am indebted to my good' friend and colleague the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) who made a magnificent speech in an adjournment debate during the last session. As usual this member who is always meticulous in his research obtained the facts from the reports submitted each year to this Parliament by the Commissioner of Taxation on people who evade tax. On that occasion the honourable member for Hunter drew the attention of the House to a doctor who in 2 years understated his income by $260,000 and a nurse receptionist who understated her income by $38,098 for the year 1966-67. Another doctor is mentioned in the taxation report as having evaded taxation of $29,368 for 1969-70. Other doctors are mentioned in the reports and various amounts of evasion are set out. The point I would like to make is that these amounts are in addition to the actual amounts that each of these members of the medical profession claimed as income.

I have mentioned these cases, not from the viewpoint of who is right or who is telling the truth because the facts speak for themselves. I do so because from the first time the Federal Labor Leader announced Labor's policy to introduce a national health scheme - for which subsequently the people of Australia by their vote gave a mandate - the Australian Medical Association, individual doctors, representatives of hospital benefit funds and the Press have launched a campaign to vilify and abuse the scheme for the express purpose of creating an area of confusion amongst the Australian people as to the true purpose of our health scheme. Notwithstanding those critics, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) will next year introduce Labor's health policy and it will in the main provide the fundamental principle that health care is a basic right to be provided according to need and not rationed according to wealth; that 4 out of 5 people will pay less for health insurance coverage than they do now; that as patients they will be guaranteed a free choice of doctors; their doctors will be paid for each service they perform and will continue as private practitioners. Under the present scheme people have to pay a flat amount whatever they earn. This is most unfair as it means that those earning more pay less for their health care after claiming tax concessions. We will also automatically cover unemployed people, certain pensioners and large families on low incomes. Hospital care will be free in public wards of hospitals, but if they want to have private ward or private hospital treatment, or wish to have their own doctors treat them in hospital, they can do so. Part of the cost of this extra service will be paid by the Commonwealth, as at present, and they can insure privately - as now - to recover the dfference. These contributions will be tax deductible.

Now I come to the question of education, and on this issue I am proud to be a member of the Australian Labor Party. For the last 23 years children have been neglected in obtaining a reasonable education standard, other than students whose parents were in a financial position to pay, or whose parents were prepared to go without the luxuries of life. In the forefront of Labor's election campaign last December, a better deal in education was a major plank of our election platform, and I am certain that this issue was a major factor in the Australian people electing the Whitlam Labor Government. On that occasion among the promises on education made to the elector, we stated we would establish an Australian Schools Commission to determine the needs of students in government and non-government primary, secondary and technical schools. From the 1974 academic year, fees will be abolished at Universities, colleges of advanced education and technical colleges.

Within weeks of his appointment to the portfolio of Australian Minister for Education, Mr Kim Beazley had established the machinery for setting up an Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, from which this Parliament has already received a report. Now 8 months after the election, the Labor Government in its first Budget to this Parliament, has earmarked a total of $843m to be spent on education during the 1973-74 year, or almost double the amount provided in the previous Liberal-Country Party coalition

Government's budget. In effect, education spending in Australia will get a $404m boost. From 1 January 1974, the Australian Government will assume full financial responsibility for tertiary education at universities, colleges of advanced education, State teachers' colleges and other approved teachers' colleges, including the abolition of fees at all these institutions and at technical colleges. In addition, from the beginning of 1974, a non-competitive means tested living allowance will be offered to all full-time unbonded Australian students admitted to approved courses in tertiary and approved post-secondary institutions. The allowances will be higher than those available under existing scholarship schemes.

But it is in the field of primary and secondary education, I believe, that the greatest need of assistance is required. Previous Liberal-Country Party governments have deliberately used this important section of our youths' education for political advantage, and I refer to the various legislative Acts of science laboratories, school libraries, and sectional handouts, all announced just prior to election days for the past 23 years. So it is like a breath of cool wind on a very hot day to hear the Minister for Education stating that legislation will be introduced during this session of Parliament to establish the Australian Schools Commission. Mr Beazley has also announced to this House that the major recommendations of the Interim Committee of the Schools Commission has been accepted by the Australian Government and will mean new programs from 1974, aimed at improving the quality of education, and promoting the accessibility to education. Both government and non-government schools will receive substantial additional funds to meet general recurrent costs and for new and replacement buildings and equipment. The Minister for Education stated that special programs will promote rapid development in areas of particular need, such as school libraries, teacher development and education of the handicapped, and education in socially disadvantaged localities.

Educational strategies and techniques must of course change to meet changing needs and the Government will support programs recommended by the Committee to foster innovation and development in primary and secondary education. He further states that the special programs for socially disadvantaged schools represents an important departure from Australian traditions in public education. Supplementary funds will be made available to schools identified as being disadvantaged on the basis of certain characteristics of their cachment areas, so that they can respond to the particular educational difficulties faced by a group of relatively poor children.

The Government's needs policy requires that special attention and resources be devoted to the education of those groups of children who, in the past, have had least public money spent on their education, because they leave school earlier and gain no benefit from expensive tertiary education facilities. If the revolution in accessibility to education is to be achieved, we must discriminate in favour of those children in greatest need. So, it is the Labor Government which will provide for all students, irrespective of whether their parents are in a financial position to afford to educate them. Provided that they have the talent, the fullest opportunity will be available to each of them to obtain the education to which they are entitled and which they will be able to receive under this Government.







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