Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 24 August 1972
Page: 683

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - I wish that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and the former Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), who has just spoken, and their colleagues could really understand why the people of Australia have lost faith in this Government. I think they sell the Australian people short if they think that they can buy back their support for a couple of dollars. I have no doubt that the assistance that was granted will be welcome, but that is not really what it is all about. Money is important - very important. Jobs are even more important. But that is not why the people are deserting the Government. They simply do not trust the Government any longer. They have no faith in it. They have no faith in its judgment, they have no faith in its integrity, they have no faith in its honesty and they have no faith in its motives. They have no faith in its capacity to handle any of the massive problems that face Australia today. This Budget only further confirms their view that the Government is unfit to govern. After its incredibly inept performance over the past 3 years the Government thought it could make them forget by giving them a bribe. What a shabby gesture. What does it take Australians for? Does it think that they have no pride? Does it think they are fools? Does it think that the Australian people cannot see what it is at?

The people want to know that the Government cares, not only about them but about everyone - about the poor, the black, the aged, the new arrivals, and about where they live, what they live in and how they live their lives. They want the Government to take them into its confidence, to trust them and to let them know how and why it makes its decisions. They are sick and tired of the cloak of secrecy that separates governments, the Public Service and the public whose lives so vitally are affected by their decisions. They want a government to stop treating them like children about what they read, what they view and what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. They are tired of a government that gets its policies from the gallup poll; that reacts to every test of leadership and statesmanship by playing on every prejudice and fear lying dormant in the community; that acts in every national or international crisis only in terms of the political advantage it can squeeze out of it - whether it be China, South Africa, Bangladesh or French nuclear tests, or whether it be poverty, industrial relations, racism or rural depression. They want a government with guts and they want leadership with backbone.

My greatest disappointment is the complete failure of this Budget to show any sense of direction. There are no national goals and there is no rational leadership. If the Government were going to increase expenditure by over SI, 000m, it could well have devoted a large portion of this and more to tackling the deep seated problems that face Australia in the 1970s. Australia can be a great country, not because of the yardsticks of the past, but by a vision of the future. Our greatness will not be achieved by military adventure but by our willingness to help the less fortunate both at home and abroad. It is absurd to suggest that we cannot abolish poverty in Australia if we have the wit and the will to apply ourselves to the task. For years we have been told that the poor will always be with us and that the abolition of poverty was a Utopian dream envisaged by an irresponsible Australian Labor Party. We shall never hear the question 'Where's the money coming from' again. The Australian people now know that when an election is nigh the money can be found, just as it could be found back in 1964 when we started our arms expenditure for the Vietnam war. Money in the pocket alone cannot solve the problem of poverty. People are poor in an affluent society if they lack adequate facilities and social amenities. We must have a Federal government that has a vision of what a great society it could create if only it were not so hog tied to outdated laissez-faire philosophies that oppose any form of planning as an instrument of socialism.

The problems of Australia are the problems of the cities and their immediate surrounds. Burgeoning populations are spilling over the edges. Inadequate, almost nonexistent urban planning by free enterprise governments, whose sympathies lie more with the developers than with those they are supposed to serve, has led to a chaotic urban bungle that is slowly destroying the fabric of family and social life within our society. Cars now choke the roads, spewing forth their poisonous fumes as public transport, through lack of finance, grinds to a halt. Suburbs spill over into one another and become one endless, mindless sprawl stretching for over 30 miles in nearly every direction. The result is that communities lose all identification and the people lose contact with one another. Disaffection, alienation, drugs, alcohol and delinquency are the final end products of such a society. Experience and experimentation elsewhere document the past, the present and the future.

In earlier times the inner city areas were peopled by those who worked in the city and the nearby industrial centres. As industry and commercial redevelopment gobbled up workers' homes in the inner city areas and young couples commenced their families, they were forced to leapfrog over the middle class belt that surrounds the city to the outer urban areas. Initially, the attraction was cheap land and the chance to own their own home. The poorer they are the further they have had to go to achieve this Australian dream. The Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Emu Plains and the Hawkesbury area now contain far flung commuter suburbs for Sydney. The result is that hundreds of thousands of workers now live in communities so far away from their work that they are forced to spend from 3 to 4 hours a day in uncomfortable travel. Is it any wonder that there is such pressure for a reduction in the working week? If a person lives in Darling Point it must be difficult for him to believe that thousands travel from Woy Woy, Springwood, Campbelltown or Richmond and back to the city every day.

My own area in the electorate of Robertson, known better as the Central Coast, is the perfect site for a great social adventure. For it is here that one sees a microcosm of most of the problems that face Australia today. A choked and polluted metropolis coupled with massive increases in the price of land have meant that many young people have moved to the outer urban areas of Sydney. They have even gone past Sydney to the Central Coast for the rare opportunities it offers to escape the visual ugliness and urban chaos of that exploding city. They find here a peace and tranquility, a natural scenic gen tleness, a rural and marine environment that have long since disappeared from Sydney. It is as idyllic for children as it is for parents. This recent migratory phenomenon of young commuting families to the Central Coast, that commenced with the electrification of the railway to Gosford some 7 or 8 years ago, is only part of the reason for the massive growth rate of the Central Coast. Since World War II and before, older generations have known of its uniqueness as a haven for their retirement. They discovered it long ago and they came in their thousands. Today one in every 3 adults in the Central Coast is over 60 years of age. There is no area in Australia with such a demographic mix.

It may be asked why, if it is such a paradise, I sound such warnings. Unless initiatives are taken soon by governments at all levels the opportunities to build and plan effectively will be lost forever. We shall recreate what we chose to escape. In 1968 the New South Wales State Planning Authority forecast a population of 500,000 by the year 2000. In 3 years since 1968 the population has risen from 74,370 to 89,057 in 1971- an increase of almost 20 per cent. Undoubtedly the SPA's forecast is proving accurate, but with what results? The past history of the Central Coast is a monument to indiscriminate ad hoc development. In earlier years councils, anxious to increase their rate revenue, allowed developers to rape the landscape. Subdivisions were permitted along the majority of the foreshores of the beaches and the lakes, permitting a privileged few to capture the most desired sites that should have been permanent public property. Dozens of different sized developments were permitted without any coherent plan and without any consideration of the facilities or amenities available. Hugh areas of land were carved up without proper roads, water, sewerage, telephones or recreational, educational, cultural or social amenities.

The Central Coast occupies a physical area roughly the same size as the Sydney region. Dozens of small communities, many of them village or hamlet-sized, were allowed to spring up at the whim of the developers without any consideration of the enormous cost of providing the infrastructure. A number of these communities exploded into sizable towns; others remained village sized. Virtually uncontrolled planning permitted many of these towns to merge into one another, recreating many of the worst features of the Sydney urban sprawl that the newcomers had hoped to escape - narrow, single-laned transport arteries; unsealed, unkerbed residential streets; unplanned, choked shopping centres; large, unsewered areas dependent on septic or effluent removal systems; and much of the area without water and telephones. To this can be added the visual ugliness of a multitude of advertising hoardings, massive destruction of trees, ribbon development shopping centres and the indiscriminate siting of a number of industrial complexes. There emerges a clear picture of a scene that must stand as an all-time memorial to ad hocism. ineffective town planning and laissez-faire free enterprise. The visual ugliness is obvious; the social shortcomings are less so.

When one in every 3 adults and one in every 4 citizens are over 60 years of age, when a large number of the remaining people are young families, when an area has over one million resident tourists per year, when it has the highest motor vehicle accident rate in New South Wales - caused by the Pacific Highway running through the area - and when it has a high incidence of marine accidents, then there is a great demand on its health facilities. When hospital accommodation of 218 beds is operating at 110 per cent capacity, then there exist the perfect ingredients for suffering and tragedy. Patients are being rejected from the hospitals when they should be admitted. They are being asked to leave prematurely to make way for others, and in some instances people cannot get in at all. Officers and officials of the hospitals are at their wit's end to know where to place patients and are now using holding wards, corridors and the casualty ward for patients who cannot be placed in the normal wards to which they are entitled. Local doctors are now reluctant to phone up unless a patient is critically ill, for they are aware of the dire circumstances that exist in relation to bed capacity.

The permanent population of the Central Coast is near 100,000, rising to 250,000 during the peak of the tourist season. Gosford and Woy Woy hospitals combined provide 218 beds. Whilst the State average is 5 per thousand - and it may be argued that this average is created by a number of hospitals not being fully utilised - it is conservatively estimated that a district must have a minimum of 3.5 beds per thousand. Gosford has the lowest rate in the State, namely, 2.18 per thousand - less than twothirds the minimum required. If the situation were normal, the bed ratio would be extremely bad; but in the Central Coast the situation is abnormal for the reasons I have outlined already. Seventeen per cent of the patients are geriatric, against a State average of 10 per cent. Normally 10 per cent take up about 40 per cent of the beds; here they constitute between 65 per cent and 70 per cent of the patients.

There is no alternative hospital to Gosford District Hospital between Hornsby and Belmont, as there is in other metropolitan areas where a patient can be fitted in somewhere else if he cannot be accommodated locally. To further emphasise the critical position, let me point out that the average stay of patients in Gosford Hospital is 6.2 days. Almost every other hospital in the State has an average of between 8 and 12 days.

However, even if a person is in the peak of physical condition and amongst the 20,000-odd people who have retired to the Central Coast, he is not necessarily guaranteed a full and varied retirement. On the contrary, the very nature of retirement to a new area entails leaving family ties and life-long friendships. Tragically, retirement is often followed shortly afterwards by the loss of one of the partners. Even if it is not, loneliness, boredom and a feeling of not being a useful member of the community are common ailments that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. An area suffering the development problems of the Central Coast is primarily concerned with the basic amenities I mentioned earlier. Councils in the past have been reluctant to provide the funds necessary for social amenities for the aged. Although the number of retired people is twice the national average, there is not one senior citizens centre. Older, more established communities can provide these centres in abundance. In the electorate of Barton - I see that my good friend the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) is in the House at the moment - there are 7 senior citizens centres.

The State Grants (Home Care) Act, which was passed in 1969, has used less than one-third of the moneys appropriated for these purposes. Because of the complexity of the Act and the numerous governmental bodies required to act to achieve a finished product, as of now there is not one single senior citizens centre in the Central Coast. After a continuous campaign lasting 3 years the Wyong and Gosford shire councils have allocated $75,000 from their 1973 estimates for the provision of these centres. Of this amount, $60,000 comes from the Wyong Shire Council. They have been forced to allocate resources from their budgets for social welfare when this should have been the responsibility of the Commonwealth. This same Act allows the Commonwealth to subsidise half the cost of a social worker. Could there be any area in Australia with a greater need for social workers than the Central Coast? Yet the Commonwealth provides not one cent in the Central Coast for this purpose. There is no assistance to cultural pursuits, sporting and recreational activities, or the special health needs for the rehabilitation and care of the aged.

The problems of the retired are matched by those of the tired - the employees. Due to the huge influx there have always been difficulties associated with finding work. Over 7,000 workers now travel by train to Sydney. Many thousands more go by private car. Most are anxious to find employment nearer to home rather than spend 4 hours per day commuting. They readily accept minimum wages rather than suffer the tedium and invasion of their leisure that travelling 60 to 70 miles by slow, cramped and expensive trains entails. Fares were recently jacked up 60 to 70 per cent by the Askin Liberal Government. A number of unscrupulous employers take advantage of this desire of workers for employment near their homes. Wages are often the bare minimum award wages and there is a ready queue of replacements should a worker get 'too uppity'. Any idea that the traditional employer's behaviour has softened over the ages is soon dispelled by some of the actions of Central Coast employers. There are some scandalous examples of workers being told to work overtime without pay or else.

In the Central Coast the phrase 'pool of unemployed' has a very real and sinister meaning. The situation has never been good, but since the 1971 Budget it has deteriorated rapidly. In 1970 the average number of people unemployed was 615. For the first 6 months of 1972 the figure was 859, an increase of 40 per cent. These figures do not include the many thousands of women who would like work if they could get it or the retired who would like a parttime job to supplement their meagre pensions if it were available. The central coast has the worst unemployment in the New South Wales country area, with the exeption of Dubbo, and unless something dramatic turns up it will worsen. A further 200 employees were laid off from the Gosford abattoirs the other day. What contribution has the Commonwealth made to decentralisation? Absolutely none. What contribution has the Commonwealth made to improving the transport system? Absolutely none. The problems of the area and of Australia generally are caused by the Government's apathy and indifference. They are just a few of the reasons why the Government has lost the support of the people of Australia.

In the last few minutes available to me 1 want to deal with another matter. I want to put forward an idea for public discussion that would be, I believe, a major contribution to world peace, to humanity, to Australia's relations with the rest of the world and to the morale and efficiency of our defence forces. I believe that we should consider the creation of a special unit within our armed forces for the sole purpose of dealing with civil disasters both at home and abroad. Regularly, the world witnesses major natural disasters that are terrifying in their intensity, rapacious in their destruction and heart-rending in terms of human misery and suffering. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and cyclones occur with regularity in countries near and far. The floods in what is now Bangladesh are estimated to have claimed half a million lives. In recent weeks the Philippine floods left approximately 400 dead and 2 million homeless and starving. A considerable amount of time and energy is now being expended by agencies of the United Nations in exploring ways of coordinating a plan to prevent disaster occurring, to provide emergency relief and to assist in reconstruction afterwards.

My proposal is that a special force be created by the Australian armed forces consisting of at least one battalion of our Army and sections of the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air Force and medical camps to be trained specifically for this type of international civil disaster. It should be available to fly to any trouble spot in the world at 48 hours notice. It should be a highly mobile unit consisting of Hercules transport, helicopters, small watercraft, road and bridge building engineers, fire fighting units, medical teams, communications experts and general rescue expertise for all types of natural disasters. It would have stockpiles of drugs, food, clothing and protective cover ready to accompany such an exercise. Such a unit could play a major contribution uplifting to Australia's reputation among the new developing nations.. It would be an angel of mercy exercise welcomed by all those who feel for the suffering when such great civil disasters occur. It would be-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

Suggest corrections