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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (1:11 AM) . - I hope that the Minister will not accept the amendment. The only variation of the clause that I would suggest would be the insertion, at the beginning of sub-clause 4, of the words, " Except as may be prescribed ". That would allow the Minister to establish any necessary machinery to give effect to the clause. The Director-General of Health, Dr. Cumpston, gave a good deal of evidence to the committee on this subject. He told us, among other things, that he Was sick and tired of listening to the rubbish in relation to health that was broadcast over the commercial stations, including, probably, station 2CH. Newspapers in New South Wales do not apply standards in relation to the advertising of patent medicines, whereas the newspapers of Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania are debarred by law from advertising so-called cures for cancer, consumption, arthritis, rheumatism and certain other diseases, for the very good reason that there is no cure for them. I am satisfied that some so-called remedies for certain of these diseases, which are offered to the public at prices up to 7s. 6d. a bottle, are not worth 2d. a bottle. It is criminal to encourage people suffering from incurable diseases to spend their money on quack medicines in the hope that they may recover from their maladies. Some of the concoctions put on the market are worse than useless, and are a cruel imposition upon suffering people. I have in mind such preparations as "Bex", "Lantigen" and the like, some of which are claimed to be " curealls ". In point of scientific fact, they cure nothing. The joint parliamentary committee, and the Department of Public Health, desire that what is prescribed in the laws of three of the States shall become the law of the land in regard to broadcasting. The Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations has a code of ethics, the observance of which by the member stations is improving. I have no doubt that in most respects the conduct of those stations is not objectionable. The clause, in the form in which it is presented to the committee, proposes that the text of any advertisements must be passed by the Director-General of Health. What is wrong with that provision? If the Director-General of Health cannot fulfil that condition in Canberra, he may appoint a deputy to do it on his behalf in the States. The broadcasting station will have to bring along the text of the advertisement, and ask, " Is this claim in accordance with fact? " The DirectorGeneral or his deputy will ask himself, "Is this a cruel imposition upon the general public ? " No great volume of work will be involved in- the submission of advertisements by the broadcasting stations. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) argues that they may be stacked up for a month before being passed or rejected. No Director-General of Health or his deputy would take a month to discover a thing that is evil or that makes false or fictitious claims. I should hope that a lot of the stuff submitted would be held up permanently - that permission to advertise it would not be granted. The amendment throws responsibility on the Minister, not on the Director-General of Health. It provides -

The Minister, upon the recommendation of the Director-General of Health, may prohibit any advertisement relating to any medicine.

I do not think that the Minister should be placed in the position of having to say whether he will allow to be advertised rubbish that is labelled one thing to-day and something else to-morrow. He should not have to resist pressure by this or that interest. Fortunes are made out of the credulity of the public. Stuff called "Aspro" is advertised. It costs a few pence to manufacture, and is unloaded on the public at an exorbitant price. That is a matter which should be dealt with by the Prices Commission or some other authority. I am instancing what may be done with a certain drug that may have beneficial effects. A lot of the stuff sold to-day has no beneficial effect. The Minister for Health (Mr. Holloway) knows of a lot of stuff that is being peddled round the country, and unfortunates are encouraged to write letters to the press, which are published as a bait to catch other unwary persons. The magnitude of the task referred to by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), which would supposedly be the lot of the Director-General of Health, might very well be passed on to the broadcasting stations. After all, they are making money out of these advertisements. They are not advertising so-called medicines for the benefit of the public, nor are they necessarily anxious to cure people by means of such advertisements; they are merely doing that for which they are paid.

Mr Fadden - Does not that apply to all advertisements?

Mr CALWELL - It certainly applies to these. In Queensland, there is a law under which anything to which the Director-General of Health takes exception may not be advertised.

Mr Menzies - The law specifies those things.

Mr CALWELL - It does.

Mr Menzies - Why not specify them here?

Mr CALWELL - If the words " except as may be prescribed " were inserted, they could be specified in the regulation. It would be far better to do that than to oblige the Director-General of Health to make the specification in this legislation.

Mr Menzies - The rest of the subclause would then stand. The sensible course would be to specify the kind of thing that may not be advertised.

Mr CALWELL - I do not know whether the attempt should be made to specify everything. That would be very difficult. The joint parliamentary committee thought that the discretion of the Director-General of Health should be trusted. I suggest that the words " except as may be prescribed " be added, in order that the Minister may be able to say that Pepsodent, and a number of other tooth-pastes, as well as products of a like nature, shall not come under this general provision. Under the clause, the Director-General of Health would need to have a listening staff in order to ascertain what the stations were saying. If a product were advertised on one day, and he were to prohibit the advertisement, he would need to listen on other days in order to learn whether it was being advertised as something else. Neither the Minister nor the DirectorGeneral of Health should have the responsibility of policing the commercial stations in order to satisfy himself that they were obeying the law. The stations should be obliged to submit their script to him, and if it were not antagonistic to scientific fact, they should be allowed to publish it. There is not the slightest intention to interfere with proprietary lines of standard quality. The products of Parke-Davis, May and Baker, and other reputable firms could be advertised because they are generally accepted as being beneficial to health.

Mr Holt - This clause is not even in line with the recommendation of the joint parliamentary committee.

Mr CALWELL - I contend that it is.

Mr Holt - The committee says that all matter relating to a patent medicine shall be submitted to the DirectorGeneral. This provides that every advertisement relating to a patent medicine shall be submitted. It would be one thing to say to the DirectorGeneral, " We have a patent medicine ; here are the facts relating to it; has it your general approval ? " but another thing to say that every advertisement relating to that patent medicine must be submitted to him.

Mr CALWELL - In some of the States, one is not permitted to advertise certain things in the press. Therefore they should not be permitted to be advertised over the air. The principle is the same, except that discretionary power is given to the Director-General, and there is not wholesale prohibition of certain lines. I have not that fear of the Director-General or the British Medical Association which some honorable members have. I do not start off from the premise that everything that the British Medical Association does is necessarily wrong, or that everything which the commercial stations do is necessarily right, and should not, therefore, be subject to review. The clause passed the Senate after a long debate. The committee would be guilty of a retrograde act if it attempted in any way to alter the provision inserted by the Government at the suggestion of the joint parliamentary committee. We ought to try to protect public health against a lot of fake productions, which are on the market to-day, and have been offered for sale for many years. May I conclude with the story of a medical talk that was given over a Sydney station ; it was cited in evidence by the DirectorGeneral of Health? A man bought time on certain stations. Being a shrewd sort of business man, he had taken a flat in Macquarie-street, Sydney. In order to gull the public into purchasing his stuff, and while describing its alleged virtues, he was in the habit of saying: "I am sure that my Macquariestreet colleagues will support me in this contention". We want to stop that sort of thing, and the best way to stop it is to stand by the clause and make everything advertised on the air acceptable to the Director-General prior to the broadcast being made.

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