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Thursday, 18 September 1958

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Health) .- I do not think that we have heard the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) at his best to-night. He made a long speech, rather repetitive I thought at times, and he began it by a personal attack on the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). Now, if there is one thing that characterizes a weak case, that is it. I thought, as he went on, that he did not make his case any stronger. He began, as I say, by making a personal attack on the Minister. That carries conviction to no one. The next thing he had to say was that the Menzies Government had very little regard for the welfare State. It is very easy to make doctrinaire statements of that kind. Let us look at what the present Government has done about the welfare State or, to put it in other terms, what it has done for the social services of this country. The Government has a great record of social services. In the financial year 1948-49, expenditure from the National Welfare Fund was approximately £81,000,000; in 1950-51 it was £115,000,000. I am citing round figures. In 1952-53, it was £166,000,000, in 1954- 55, £189,000,000, and in 1956-57 it was £223,000,000. In 1957-58, it was £247,000,000 and, in the present financial year, it will be nearly £274,000,000. It is a little idle to say that a government that provides finance of this order for the social services of a country out of a Budget which, in this financial year, totals approximately £1,500,000,000, has no interest in the welfare State. I do not think, Sir, that any one who looks fairly and squarely at the position will be deceived by the statements made by the honorable member for EdenMonaro and other Opposition members.

The honorable member for Eden-Monaro then went on to make some very complicated statements about the value of money to-day compared with what its value used to be, about whether the pension is worth as much to-day as it used to be worth, and so on. That, of course, is a kind of financial legerdemain, but it does not carry much conviction with it - especially for the pensioners. If we are going to get onto that basis, Sir, let me just point out to the honorable gentleman that the present weekly pension rate, related to the C series index - which is the only real measuring stick to which we can relate it - has a value of 9s. Hd. in excess of the value of the pension when Labour went out of office.

Mr Calwell - What nonsense!

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - These are the cold facts in relation to the basis on which the honorable member for EdenMonaro put the matter.

Let me say something about what this Government has done, Sir, because the honorable gentleman seemed to think that it had not done much. Let me just recount for his benefit what has happened to age and invalid pensions while this Government has been in office. In 1950. they were increased by 7s. 6d. a week. In 1951, there was an increase of 10s. a week. In 1952, there was another increase of 7s. 6d. a week. In 1953, these pensions were increased by 2s. 6d. a week. In 1955, there was an increase of 10s. a week, and in 1957, there was another increase of 7s. 6d. a week. These are facts, Sir, and it is quite idle for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to say that a government with a record like this pays no attention to social welfare. The honorable gentleman then made a most extraordinary statement, Mr. Speaker, when he went on to say that this Government had not introduced one new social service.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - One new major social service.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable member now says that this Government has not introduced one new major social service. I want to direct his attention, and that of the House, to a number of new major social services. The first is the Pensioner Medical Service. If that is not a major social service. Sir, then I do not know the meaning of the words " major social service ".

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is it not administered by the Department of Health?

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - It is provided by the Government, and the honorable member said that the Government had not provided one new major social service. This, I venture to say, is not only a major social service, but also a pioneer social service, and an example to many other countries.

Mr Howse - And a major success.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - And a major success. This Government has provided not merely a medical service, but a domiciliary medical service for pensioners in their own homes. No longer do they have to trudge their weary way to the outpatients' departments of hospitals. No longer do they have to rely on the charity of their relations or their medical attendants. They are provided by this Government with a first-class medical service. That is one new major social service. Let me recall some others for the benefit of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. One has been mentioned already in this chamber this evening - that provided under the Aged Persons Homes Act. The honorable member must know very well that something like £3,000,000 has been spent under the authority of that act, and £3,000,000 provides a lot of comforts for old people in the way of accommodation. The honorable member has only to move about the country a little to see the immense benefits that have been given to old people under this very fine scheme, which is another new major social service provided by this Government.

Let me remind the honorable gentleman of one or two other new major social services, Sir. When this Government came to office, there was no national health scheme. The honorable gentleman's party had endeavoured to introduce such a scheme, and its futile attempts to do so represented one of the main reasons for its dismissal from office. The present Government, Sir, has introduced one of the finest national health schemes in the world - a social service of the best type. And if that is not a major social service, Sir, again, I do not know the meaning of the words. Let me remind the honorable member for EdenMonaro of yet another new major social service introduced by this Government - the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme - under which benefits are now provided on a very wide scale to all members of the community.

So the claim that this Government has ignored the welfare state and introduced no new social services, major or minor, simply does not bear examination for one moment. I attribute the remarks made bv the honorable gentleman to the extreme poverty of Labour's case. In fact. Labour has had nothing but a sort of little running stream of criticisms and grumbles to offer from time to time. When Labour was in office, it introduced no social services of this kind.

Let me now remind the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and his party of one or two other things, Sir. This Government has created an atmosphere in which social services can be effective. In fact, by budgeting for a deficit of £110,000,000 in the current financial year, it has virtually provided £110,000,000 of additional spending money for the community in order to ensure the country's prosperity. And it is only in a prosperous and expanding economy that social services can be of real value. This Government, Sir, not only has tackled the problem in the particular, as I have just recounted, but has tackled the whole problem of maintaining and expanding a progressive economy in which social services can have their real value. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro can juggle with figures as much as he likes, and say that the £1 does not buy as much to-day as it used to buy. The plain fact is that, in terms of living standards, every one in this country, including the pensioners, is a great deal better off than when this Government came to office.

I see a great many pensioners during the course of each year, Sir, and I see the conditions in which they live. I would say that, although one can perhaps never be satisfied that enough has been done for them, far more has been done by this Government, at any rate - and in a far more understanding way - than by any previous government. The present Government, in the first place, has understood that only in a prosperous country can social services be of real value; and, in the second place, the Government has tackled the problem by providing social services in the best possible way. It has provided those that are most needed and has not just made a sort of blanket provision on a hit or miss basis, which was all that Labour ever thought of.

This Government has really examined the problem carefully. It asks the question: " Do old people need better homes to live in? " If the answer is " Yes ", it provides the finance necessary to enable aged people to have better homes. It asks: "Do the pensioners need a medical service? " If the answer is " Yes ", it provides such a service. This Government has approached social services on an intellectual plane in a way that the Australian Labour party will never approach them, and in a way that Labour never thought of when it was in office. Labour has never really comprehended what social services or welfare mean. It is hidebound by doctrinaire considerations, and it has taken a Liberal party and Australian Country party Government to give Australia the kind of social services that it needs, by interpreting the needs of the people and meeting them.

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