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Wednesday, 3 April 1946

Mr CHAMBERS (Adelaide) .- The Leader' of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) made a speech which was full of legal definitions and opinions. I shall not attempt to deal with these proposals from the legal point of view, but shall debate them more from the point of view of. the layman. I was surprised to hear the right honorable gentleman say that the Government was proposing to hold the referendum on the date of the general elections for the specific purpose of clouding the issue. The record of this Government is such that there are no issues to cloud on election day. Right up to the time when the Leader of the Opposition began his speech, I believed that every member of the Opposition would support the Government's proposals for the alteration of the Constitution, and I was greatly disappointed when I" learned that they did not propose to do so. The choice before ihe Government was to hold a' referendum before the date of the general election, on that date, or after that date. The people have been very heavily taxed during the war, and have been called upon to make all kinds of sacrifices. Therefore, I believe that, from considerations of economy alone, the Government is justified in holding the referendum on the day of the general elections, thus saving many thousands of pounds. The complaints of the Leader of the Opposition will cut no ice with die public.

The right honorable gentleman admitted that there was some doubt concerning the validity of certain social service legislation, and he mentioned maternity allowances, widows' pensions, and child endowment. He went on to say that those provisions had never been challenged ; but who is to know that at some time in the future the AuditorGeneral may not question the expenditure of money under those headings? He then expressed the fear that if. as the result of an affirmative vote at the referendum, the Commonwealth Parliament passed legislation for the provision of a national health service, with dental care, &c, this might not be in the best interests of the' country. I point out, that when war broke out in 1939. the Government called up many thousands of persons for service in the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and enlisted thousands of women in the various auxiliary services. All of them were medically examined and X-rayed. They also received dental treatment. If we could obtain statistics, I believe we should find that approximately 1,000,000 Australians received free medical and dental services during the war. That was necessary to make men and women fit to go out and fight for their country, or to serve it in other ways necessitated by the war. Is it not equally important that the population should have medical and dental services in time of peace? If the Government's proposal is agreed to at the referendum, the nation will benefit and our people will be healthier.

Mr Bowden - Does the honorable member really believe that?

Mr CHAMBERS - Yes. The economic situation in Australia, and perhaps in other parts of the world, is such that it is impossible for basic-wage earners to pay for all the medical and dental treatment that they and their families need. I speak specifically of a profession with which I was once associated. I know that a member pf this Parliament was charged an amount of 50 guineas for dental treatment for himself and his child; another man, earning £4 17s. 6d. a week, was charged £58 for dental treatment ; a third, whose child underwent orthodontic treatment for only half an hour weekly for about six months, received a bill for £110.

Mr Adermann - The honorable member's charges were excessive.

Mr CHAMBERS - They were not my charges. No dentist has the right or the authority to make such charges. The people of Australia cannot afford to have essential medical and dental treatment if they are liable to such large fees. Did not the medical profession and the dental profession give -sincere and thorough service to service men and women during the war ?

Mr Bowden - No.

Mr CHAMBERS - Ask any soldier, sailor or airman, andhe will tell you that he was given the very best medical and dental service during the war. If that can be done in war-time, why can it not be done in time of peace, when doctors and dentists can work under better conditions ?

Mr TURNBULL (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - Servicemen did not get civility.

Mr CHAMBERS - They did. I know as much about the matter as the honorable member, because I enlisted in the dental service during the war. It is unfair to the profession to make such charges. Servicemen were treated so well by doctors and dentists that, after six months of war, parades of men requiring treatment had increased by 50 per cent. The men were anxious to have good treatment, and they knew that they would receive it. The records will prove that.

Mr TURNBULL (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - What was the honorable member's rank?

Mr CHAMBERS - I was not a brigadier. I was a lowly captain. We did the work irrespective of our rank. If doctors and dentists gave satisfactory service during the war on salaries, is it not logical to believe that they would give the same service in peace-time under similar conditions ?

Mr Bowden - No.

Mr CHAMBERS - That is a reflection on the professions, and their members willnot be grateful to the honorable member for making such an assertion. I am confident that the people will agree to the Government's proposal regarding social services.

On the second proposal, relating to orderly marketing, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) spoke of all the legal obstacles that might arise.

Dr Evatt - He conjured them up.

Mr CHAMBERS - Yes. I am prepared to accept the. legal opinion of the Attorney-General in preference to that of the Leader of the Opposition. However, the right honorable gentleman admitted that orderly marketing would be a great asset to Australia. Primary producers know that the National Security Regulations enabled them to secure better prices during the war than previously, and many of them have approached members of this Parliament to ask that orderly marketing be continued in the post-war period. Honorable members on this side of the House have received numerous requests, and I am sure that honorable members opposite must have received them too. The views of the producers provide a satisfactory answer to any objections that can be raised. They know that they were better off during the six years of war than they were at any time previously, and they admit that this was due to the operation of orderly marketing. It is strange that, whenever war occurs, we find it necessary, for the benefit of growers, consumers and the nation as a whole, to provide for such controls by means of regulations. Orderly marketing was necessary in time of war. Is it not equally necessary in time of peace?

Mr Bowden - What does the honorable member mean by orderly marketing - Government control?

Mr.CHAMBERS.- I mean the method that operated during the war. That would satisfy primary producers. They are concerned about the best method of assuring high prices for their goods.

Mr Bowden - They had inexhaustible markets during the war.

Mr CHAMBERS - It is all very well to talk about markets during the war. There were just as many mouths to feed and just as many bodies to clothe prior to the war as there were during the war, but methods of distribution in peace-time were such that a percentage of the population was over-clad and over-fed whilst a high percentage starved, or eked out a meagre existence on the dole. This Government will not stand for a repetition of such a state of affairs. That is why honorable members opposite are fearful that the Government will be returned to power at the general election. They do not want these proposals of the Government to come into effect. They want preference to be given to the same sections of the community as have had preference under anti-Labour governments down the years - the sections which took things away from the workers and never gave them back. An organization in South Australia , used to employ 3,000 men in order to complete a contract quickly, and would then "sack" 2,500 of them. It was able to keep down wages and lengthen hours of work because men clamoured at its factory gates in hundreds all day and every day for employment. Honorable members opposite want that to happen again.

Mr Bowden - The honorable member is talking rubbish.

Mr CHAMBERS - Rubbish or no rubbish, such things have happened all down the years. As the Attorney-General said, all we ask is a fair deal for the people of Australia.

Sitting suspended from 5.11 to 8 p.m.

Mr CHAMBERS - I turn to the " bill for an act to alter the Constitution by empowering the Parliament to make laws with respect to terms and conditions of. employment in industry." The Leader of the Opposition, in a manner that did him little credit, castigated the Government for having included in clause 2 the provision that alteration of the Constitution in the way proposed shall not " authorize any form of industrial conscription ". How the " boys " would smile when they read that, he said. Yet it was he who first found it necessary to incorporate in legislation the words " industrial conscription", for, in moving the second reading of the National Security Bill 1939, he said-

Sub-clause 7 contains a new provision which was not in the war precautions legislation. It reads - " Nothing in this section shall authorize -

(a)   theimposition of any form of compulsory naval, military, or air force service, or any form of industrial conscription."

I wonder whether the " boys " smiled on that occasion. As the Menzies Government realized the need for a provision against industrial conscription in the National Security Act, so this Government desires to make it clear in concise terms that, in giving power to this Parliament to control terms and conditions of employmentin industry, the people would not be giving it power to impose industrial conscription. The Government desires when the referendum is held to protect the people from being hoodwinked by misrepresentation of the sort that the Opposition indulged in at the last referendum. What objection can there be to power over employment being given to the Commonwealth Parliament? Given that power this Parliament will be able to regulate wages, working hours, and holidays, on a uniform basis for the whole of Australia. The time is ripe for an end to be brought to interstate jealousies and the difficulties arising from varying wages and hours in the different States. My own State, South Australia, has profited in the last twelve months as the result of the operation of certain conditions in another State, but I speak nationally and have no regard for State boundaries, those imaginary lines that have retarded this country's progress. This is the National Parliament, and it should have the right to dictate a uniform set of industrial conditions for the nation. I think the people will agree with me. They will realize that they must ensure that the Commonwealth Parliament shall have the power to legislate for social services, orderly marketing, and terms and conditions of employment in industry. Given those powers, whatever party be in power will be able to legislate in the best interests of the people. I do not speak politically. If the Menzies Government were still in power and asked the electors to vote " Yes " on the three questions that this Government intends to put before them, I would support it. Hence, I hope that the Opposition will forget party issuesand ask the electors to carry these three bills unanimously on election day.

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