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Tuesday, 9 September 1958
Page: 977

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- I realize that the committee will shortly adjourn for dinner, but there is one matter to which I should like to refer. Many honorable members on this side of the chamber wish to take advantage of the opportunity to point out the deficiencies of the Government so far as social services are concerned. It is a matter of great regret that they are unable to have adequate time to put their various points to the committee. When we see that the Budget provides for an expenditure of about £1,400,000,000, of which only £3,900,000 is allocated for increased social services, the Government's unsatisfactory and unfortunate attitude to the under-privileged people of the community will be readily understood:

One matter to which I should like to refer concerns pensioners, who have suffered to a very marked degree.. It is a matter that should interest honorable members on both sides of the chamber. It relates to the ambulance service. Although this matter has been mentioned here on past occasions, it is regrettable that, along with other social service reforms, it has escaped the attentionof the Government. It is, of course, typical of the sorry social services record of Liberal and Australian Country party governments in both Federal and State spheres. It is a matter for great regret that very little provision is being made in the Budget along the lines I have suggested. The ambulance service to which I have referred is only one of the many things which have again escaped the Government's attention.

Most honorable members have had some experience of ambulance services. Often they must have seen members of the ambulance brigades holding out collection boxes, selling lucky numbers and doing all softs of things in an endeavour to raise sufficient money to buy new ambulance vehicles and to maintain efficient general service to the community. It is appalling to think that the Commonwealth Government, which has some responsibility for the welfare of pensioners, is completely unconcerned about the fact that our ambulance brigades, which render such great service to the pensioners, are receiving no government assistance whatever so far as the transportation of pensioners is concerned.

During the year ended 30th June last, 49,000 pensioners received benefit from the ambulance service in New South Wales. In addition to that, 8,173 people who are described as persons who are not pensioners - they are probably down-and-outs who receive no benefits under our social services legislation - enjoyed the benefit of our ambulance services. The New South Wales ambulance service estimates that approximately £122,000 was expended on transporting pensioners to and from hospitals and in generally serving their needs in time of accident or sickness. The latest figures available for the Commonwealth are those relating to the year 1955, and they disclose that in that year 83,000 pensioners were either transported or assisted.

I submit that it is only reasonable to argue that the Commonwealth Govern, ment could well help the ambulance services of Australia. The fee charged for ambulance service varies from district to district and from State to State. In some places it is in the vicinity of £1 ls., and in others in the vicinity of £2 2s., and it is only reasonable to suggest that the Commonwealth should do something to help the various brigades. It could even invoke the provisions of section 96 of the Constitution, if necessary. Another avenue open would be to introduce legislation similar to that introduced by the Chifley Government which was responsible for the eradication of that dreaded scourge, tuberculosis, in Australia.

I make this suggestion to the committee recognizing that the ability of the ambulance brigades to render an efficient total service to the whole of the community is seriously impaired by their straitened financial position, which is brought about partly by the failure of this Government to contribute anything. I admit that it may be argued that the State governments could do something in the matter, but financial assistance in the direction I have indicated is really a legitimate responsibility of the Commonwealth Government, in that pensioners are a Commonwealth responsibility, and the ambulance brigades transported approximately 83,000 pensioners in 1955. It is probable that an even greater number were transported in 1958. I know that in my own area last year 4,500 pensioners were transported by the ambulance, and that is only one of the eight brigades operating in the Sydney area.

This is a serious problem. Although it has been mentioned before, I sincerely hope the Government will take note of my plea on this occasion and endeavour, by some manner or means, to alleviate the position of our ambulance brigades, so that they may continue to render efficient service not only to pensioners but to the whole of the community.

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