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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1267

Mr STEWART (Lang) - Few, if any, sections of the community have welcomed this Budget. Employer organisations, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, pensioner organisations, health organisations and individuals all have voiced strong criticism. Some newspaper headings which have appeared since the Budget was announced described the Budget as: 'Overkill - 71 style': 'The Budget that Missed the Point'; A Political Non-event - This Year'; 'An Anti-Inflationary Budget - What a Laugh'; A Mini Budget Later to Correct Government's Economic Overkill'. The 1971 August issue of the official journal of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia heads its comments with 'Excessive Restraint on Private Sector Demand'. The Associated Chambers of Commerce certainly could not be regarded as a supporter of the Australian Labor Party but in this journal its states:

There will be widespread concern in business at the prospect of a severe credit squeeze later in the financial year due to the excessively large Budget domestic surplus combined with the maintenance of restrictive monetary policies foreshadowed by the Treasurer. Under such conditions, the impact of monetary restraints will fall hardest on the small and medium sized businesses which do not have the capacity to borrow overseas.

It further states:

In the present economic climate and in looking at the immediate prospects ahead, the Budget will be judged as unnecessarily severe and its strategy wrongly orientated.

For those reasons, amongst many more, the Opposition has moved an amendment to this tragic Budget. All honourable members on this side of the House are completely dissatisfied with the approach of the Government to our national problems. The strategy of this Budget will put undue strains on the economy. Already we have predictions of large scale unemployment and the figures are beginning to show that those predictions are correct. The Budget will cause an increase in costs and further pressures for wage and salary adjustments. Over 40 per cent of additional taxes will be gained in customs and excise duties and this will have a direct impact on the costs of goods to the community. Postal charges will have the same effect. All of the things I have mentioned will create severe pressures on commerce and industry. There will be economies in business expenses and in the enterprises generally. Staff will be dismissed and prices will rise. The ordinary people - the workers of Australia - will suffer by unemployment and a decline in their standard of living. The people on fixed incomes and the people who will be unemployed will suffer most.

I now turn to unemployment. The figures for unemployment and unfilled vacancies at the end of August show a disturbing trend whether expressed in absolute or seasonal terms. At present unemployment is greater than it was 12 months ago and the number of unfilled vacancies is fewer. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) in a recent statement said:

At the end of August there were 61,848 unemployed registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service. ... A year earlier there were 47,257. . . . Unfilled vacancies at the end of August totalled 34,673 compared with 42,538 at the end of August 1970.

This trend has been evident at least since the previous Budget was introduced. The tragedy is that the Government refuses to acknowledge this fact. It clings blindly to the prejudice that all that is wrong with the economy is the greed of the wage earner. Reality shows, however, that all the wage earner has been able to do is to hold his position and to gain a very small amount of increased productivity that our stagnant economy has achieved. The Government tries to show that because of the total unemployment decline from July to August conditions are on the improve. This is a travesty of the situation. In the same statement the Minister for Labour and National Service said:

The decrease in the number of registered unemployed - this is from July to August - was 2,455 or 4 per cent which compares with an average decrease of 5,000 or 10 per cent during. August in the last 3 years.

Total unemployment should now be declining in the expectation of Christmas trading, but it is not. Job vacancies are not rising as they should be. Figures show that on aggregate there has been more unemployment in non-metropolitan areas than in metropolitan areas in the last few years but in the past few months the increase has been in the metropolitan areas. Conditions in rural areas can be blamed for unemployment in non-metropolitan areas and a decline in business activity and confidence must be blamed for the increase in metropolitan areas. Throughout Australia nearly two-thirds of all male unemployed - 27,000 out of 41,000- are in the semiskilled or unskilled manual category. This points to a definite danger. I believe it is time the Minister for Labour and National Service had a look at the figures and placed the real facts before the Parliament.

In his first speech as Prime Minister of Australia and leader of the Liberal Party of Australia the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) boasted of a reduction in income tax by the previous Gorton Government. Five months later, in August of this year, not only did income tax rise by 2i per cent but also company tax. Increases have been placed on cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, petrol, distillate and aviation fuel. For the second time in 12 months postal and telegraph charges have been increased and the charges under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme have been increased by 100 per cent. They rose from SOc to $1 a prescription. In making these increases the Government has given absolutely no consideration to the person who is chronically ill and who may regularly need 2 or 3 prescriptions. Neither has the

Government given any consideration to the family man with a chronically ill child. Common justice demanded that special cases should have been given some concession. I suggest that a sliding scale in the payments for pharmaceutical prescriptions should have been introduced. An appropriate scale could be $1 for one prescription; $1.50 for 2 prescriptions; and $1.75 for 3 prescriptions if those prescriptions were produced to the chemist at the same time, lt would cost the Government very little to implement such a scale and it might provide some relief to people with above average chemist expenses.

The costs of hospital and medical funds are now almost beyond the reach of the average wage earner. Public ward coverage for a family will cost 82c a week or $42.72 a year; intermediate ward coverage will cost $1.28 a week or $67.72 a year; and private ward coverage will cost $1.52 a week or $79.20 a year. It must be remembered that to this expense must be added the cost of a medical benefits coverage - 80c a week or $41,60 a year. So the hospital coverage for an intermediate war, plus the medical benefits coverage will cost $2.08 a week or $109.32 a year. In many instances that amount must come out of the wages of people who are earning less than the minimum average weekly wage. Every pharmaceutical prescription on the free list will now cost $1 instead of 50c. Earlier this afternoon the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) gave some interesting facts on the price of drugs to the Commonwealth. In many instances the $1 chargs will more than recoup that cost of the drug that will be supplied by the chemist. This is a deplorable situation. We are dealing with the sick of our community and the families of our community and a better scheme for public health in Australia must be introduced.

I turn now to the subject of education. I appreciate that both sections of our dual education system are in urgent need of funds, classrooms, schools, teachers and teaching equipment. Several of my colleagues already have mentioned the needs of the Slate education systems throughout Australia and I am in full support of the arguments that they have advanced and of the efforts that they are making to get an emergency grant made by the Commonwealth to the State education systems. I should like to devote my time to the question of the extra assistance that is needed by Catholic schools in city and country areas. These schools are catering for children of parents who are not amongst the affluent members of our society. The type of school that I have in mind is \ primary school in my electorate. Secondary schools are also in a similar position but I shall quote only the one case. In this school, enrolments have increased from 483 pupils in 1969 to 607 at present. There are .15 classes but there are only 12 classrooms. More than 100 migrant children are attending special classes in education and to provide for these children there are 1 1 lay teachers as well as religious teachers. That parish has had to obtain from the bank $96,000 in order to provide the 3 extra classrooms that are required urgently. The system of per capita payment to independent schools was announced in the 1969-70 Budget. In August 1969 the then Minister for Education and Science sa'd: lt is our policy to seek to work out ways of assisting independent schools so that, relying on their own efforts and supported by governments, they will be able in the future to provide places for that proportion of the school population which in the past has sought education in independent schools. It is also important that the independent school system be able to develop in the future, not only in quantity but also in quality, more or less in line with the development of government schools.

I should like to remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Parliament generally that that statement was made only 2 months before the 1969 Federal elections. Since that election, no extra assistance has been granted to independent schools throughout Australia. The 1970-71 Budget has been and gone and the 1971-72 Budget has recently been presented and the rates of $35 per annum for each primary school pupil and $50 per annum for each secondary school pupil which were introduced in 1969 still remain the order of the day. Noone can argue that these rates have not been drastically reduced in value since they were first introduced in January 1970. Despite the promises of this Government, it has done nothing in the 1971-72 Budget to alleviate the problems of the Catholic schools throughout Australia. There are approximately 1,781 of these schools in Australia. Many of them are in a similar position to the one that I described which is in my electorate.

I ask: What would happen to the education system in Australia if only a quarter of these 1,781 schools were to be closed at the beginning of the 1972 school year? It is no wonder that the Catholic bishops of Australia issued a statement after a conference in Sydney in August this year. I "shall quote the statement in its entirety because it is a statement which has been made after due consideration by leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia. I am certain that it has been made as a warning not only to the Commonwealth Government but also to the governments of the Australian States. The education system must collapse if a proportion of the Catholic schools in Australia closed their doors after giving due notice to the States that such would be the case. The statement reads:

The bishops assembled in conference view with grave concern the Federal Budget's failure to make provision for increased subsidies for independent schools. The well known spiralling costs of education are due largely to increases in teachers' salaries which have come into operation in the past 12 months. As a consequence the healthy impact of Federal per capita grants operative from 1st January 1970, has been offset in very great measure.

In view of the Federal Government's proclaimed objective to keep the independent schools flourishing, it might have been expected that the very steep increases in costs incurred during 1970 and 1971 would have been matched by increased subsidies.

The Federal Government has before it the results of the nation-wide survey of educational needs, 1971-1974. Conservative estimates as to the needs of both government and independent schools over this 5 year period cannot but cause grave anxiety to all Australians. Certainly there is an urgent need for long range financial planning by both Commonwealth and states. Long range planning surely must include some provision for growth in subsidies to match inevitable growth in costs, apart from the growing needs due to increasing population and educational requirements.

The bishops are deeply concerned at the increasing financial burdens falling upon parents, many of whom, for conscientious reasons wish to enrol their children in independent schools.

The Commonwealth's increasing involvement in the whole educational field is well appreciated as well as the Government's efforts to bring relief in certain areas of the community's needs.

Likewise, it must be recognised that serious problems confront the Government by reason of a somewhat precarious national economy.

However, it surely is valid economics to provide increased subsidies in relation to increased costs in favour of those citizens whose voluntary contribution to the nation's welfare provides education for 22 per cent of Australian youth. Failure of this large scale voluntary effort in whole or in part could only result in vast increases in public expenditure for which the taxpayers will be called upon to foot the bill.

I suggest that that is a temperate statement and it is a statement that has been made after due consideration. I think it is one that deserves the due consideration of this Government. I have great pleasure in supporting the amendment that was moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) to this tragic Budget. (Quorum formed.)

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