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Monday, 20 May 1957

Mr LESLIE (Moore) .- I congratulate the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) for commenting on the fact that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is present in the House to listen to the debate on the bill that he has brought down to secure supply until the budget is introduced. The honorable member should have gone on to refer to the fact that, of all the Treasurers this Commonwealth has known, the present Treasurer has consistently and persistently been present in this chamber when financial matters have been under discussion and has given heed to the discussions that have taken place.

The honorable member for Batman had much to say about hospitals and hospital finance. I commend him on the very worthy nature of the appeal that he has made, but I wish that he, with the good intentions that he has, would direct his energies in the proper quarters and explain clearly the position in relation to finance as between Commonwealth and State Governments. The honorable member knows, as does the honorable member for

Grayndler (Mr. Daly), that the State governments are extremely jealous of what they consider are their sovereign rights. The administration of health matters is the responsibility of the State governments. I have not heard of one State government that is prepared to hand over any of its sovereign powers in that respect.

Mr Bird - I did not suggest that State governments should hand over any powers.

Mr LESLIE - No, of course, the honorable member would not suggest that; but that is the key to the situation. In effect, what the honorable member has said, and what I am sometimes in misguided moments inclined to say to the Commonwealth Government is, " Never mind about who will spend the money or how it will be spent; just pay it over and we will spend it". That is exactly what is being suggested in this instance. I do not suggest that the States should relinquish any of their sovereign powers. In fact, I believe in the decentralization of government. However, I suggest that the State governments should accept their responsibilities and that when they come to the Commonwealth for assistance, as they have every right to do, they should come in an attitude which is clearly indicative to the public of the relationship which exists between the Commonwealth and the States. Instead of constantly slashing at the Commonwealth for failing to hand over money, in the spending of which the States will have the complete say, and instead of constantly accusing the Commonwealth of being irresponsible in its financial administration, the States should say clearly that it is their responsibility to spend the money according to their rights; and they should say to the Commonwealth, " Here are our plans and our proposals ".

The honorable member for Batman referred to the fact that hospitals are living from crisis to crisis and leading a handtomouth existence. I am prepared to say, from my close personal experience in the administration of hospitals, that, dire as their circumstances may be to-day, they are in a far better financial situation than they were before the Commonwealth came to their assistance.

Mr Cope - That is not right.

Mr LESLIE - That is right. From 1928, I was chairman of the board of a country hospital that was six months in arrears in the payment of the salaries of its nurses. When the board met each month, it had to consider not whether it could afford to buy new kitchen equipment but whether it could afford the ls. 6d. for the cardboard gadget that held a cork and tin fitment for plugging up holes in saucers. That was our position then.

Mr Daly - Did you take the fees?

Mr LESLIE - We worked in an honorary capacity; and a little bit of honorary work from the honorable member and some of his colleagues these days could get us out of some of our troubles. Our hospitals were in a shocking plight at that time. I am speaking about the position in Western Australia. The Western Australian Government realized its responsibilities and imposed a State hospitals tax. It gave certain free treatment to people, but it imposed a straight-out tax, similar to a pay-roll tax.

Mr Cope - Were you in the State Parliament?

Mr LESLIE - No, but I had the responsibility of trying to run a hospital. From that day onwards, our hospital troubles began to disappear. We progressed for a few years. Then the Chifley hospitals scheme was introduced. At that time I was a member of the State Government and I pointed out then, as I point out to-day, that that scheme was based on entirely wrong premises.

Mr Daly - That is not right.

Mr LESLIE - What Mr. Chifley did was to collate the average collections made by hospitals from patients for the time they were in hospital. He did not take into consideration the cost of running a hospital. The average collection for each day a patient was in hospital was 6s. so the Chifley Government said, " That is the amount we will pay to the hospitals ". I argued at that time that it was entirely wrong to base the payments under the scheme on the amount collected from patients in hospitals in those days. At that time, we were just getting over a very dire economic period. In Western Australia, the payments were made by the Australian Government subject to the State Government repealing its hospital tax. I argued that the proper basis on which to make the payments was not on the amount being paid by the patient but on the average daily cost of each patient. Some of the hospitals did quite well under the scheme, but others did not do so well.

Our hospital costs, at that time, were in the vicinity of 15s. a day, and the hospital received only 6s. a day from the Chifley Government. Protest as we did, we could not get the Chifley Government to alter the formula which had been accepted in Western Australia by a Labour government. Consequently, it is useless for the Labour party to criticize the method of assisting hospitals, because it was their scheme. The honorable member for Batman had the grace to point out that this Government doubled the Chifley Government's hospital benefits payments to a rate of 12s. a day.

Mr Daly - I rise to order. As the honorable member has candidly admitted that under his chairmanship a hospital went broke, is he entitled to make misleading statements in connexion with a scheme instituted by the Chifley Labour Government?

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