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Tuesday, 6 March 1973
Page: 230

Mr LAMB (La Trobe) - I rise to support the motion that the Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the GovernorGeneral be agreed to. I would like to congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on being elected to your high office and ask you to extend my congratulations to Mr Speaker and the Chairman of Committees. Contrary to the suggestion from the Opposition that you should limit yourself to precedent set by your previous counterparts, may I warn you that to treat all precedent as gospel is the mark of the conservative, stunts initiative and limits man.oeureability. I realise that all the occupants of the Chair will treat regulations and Standing Orders with judicious respect, but I have no doubt that each of you will leave your individual stamp on this office and serve a term that will long be remembered for its objectivity, understanding and initiatives.

However, if your offices are to have full effect it will demand co-operation from the floor of this House. As one journalist has said recently:

To most of the public at large, Parliament unfortunately represents little more than an anachronistic gas' chamber where politicians make wordy speeches, throw around inane interjections and manipulate parish pumps.

But as the same journalist suggested:

Parliament is also a critical testing ground of philosophies, practices, personalities and parties and is the nerve centre of our political system.

If we are to complement your speakership then this Parliament must become the undisputed nerve centre of the political system. Inevitably there must be changes if Parliament is not to be irrelevant to the people.

A parliament is irrelevant when it becomes remote from the people, ignoring the swelling voice of change and supported by a voting system that is insensitive to change in electoral mood. It is irrelevant when it denies its responsibilities allowing economic decisions to be made in boardrooms and becomes subservient to minority pressure groups out of phase with public feeling. If this Parliament is to be the nerve centre of the political system it must honour that phrase which is the essence of democracy - 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'. Machinery must be developed that closes the gap between Parliament and people and is responsive to changes in public demands.

The previous Government has only itself to blame for what the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) described as a rise in political strikes in this country. When a government avoids its obligations it leaves a vacuum of responsibility that will be filled by extraparliamentary bodies urged on by frustration at the inactivity of the Government. The program outlined by the Governor-General demonstrates that this young Government will not allow responsibility vacuums to develop and be filled by extra-parliamentary groups in matters of social security, health, industrial relations and equality of opportunity. This Government has indicated it will no longer tolerate the differences in the equality of life and opportunities between black and white, between town and country, between men and women or between rich and poor.

Secondly, 1 would like to express to the electors of La Trobe my appreciation at being elected to represent them as part of a Labor Government in this Parliament and to acknowledge the reasons why they made their choice.

The people of La Trobe have realised that Australia faced a crisis - a threat to the quality of life that should be due to all Australians and would be restored only when more emphasis was given to community programs in schooling, housing and employment. The people have turned to Labor, as they did in 1929 when the electorate of La Trobe was then part of Flinders. In that election a Prime Minister lost his seat. In this election the Liberal Party lost an independent and outspoken member in Mr John Jess. Some in this House and his supporters of the Right will undoubtedly miss the previous honourable member for La Trobe, but such loss should be seen as counter balanced, if not overshadowed, by the loss of the advocate of the Left with his fiery, volatile rhetoric, the previous honourable member for Sturt. Mr Foster.

The speech of the Governor-General captures the seriousness of the crisis and meets it head on with a 3-year program designed to achieve basic changes in the administration and structure of Australian society. 1 wish to comment on the underlying theme of that speech for in the common denominator of the several parts of the pro gram lies the response and understanding of the crisis in the quality of life. In a- world that is experiencing accelerating change there is a clear failure of existing social and economic orders to meet the needs of modern society. Man's activities are increasing at a rate that is unprecedented. In the decade from 1960 to 1969, the world population increased by 600 million, 5 times the increase in the first decade of this century. The increase in the world's energy consumption in 1971 and 1972 considerably exceeded the total world energy consumption of a century earlier. This acceleration of change in our time is an elemental force. The thrust has deep sociological consequences and if we are to progress with change we need to mould a new economic and social system in this country and internationally.

People have become increasingly aware that they have become mere statistics in the bureaucratic machine which is a feature of both capitalist economies dominated by huge international corporations and communist and fascist economies dominated by totalitarian governments. The Governor-General's Speech should be seen in the context of 2 main forces - the accelerating rate of change and the increasing concentration of power and property in the hands of a few.

If people are to determine their own destinies, which is what democracy is all about, then democratic practice must coincide with economic reality. This will demand a degree of economic and social co-operation rather than competition that has not seen the like in this country before. In Australia, power and wealth are vested in property other than that used for consumption and unless this is shared more equitably, democracy and this ambituous program will never become a reality.

The accelerating rate of change is placing great demands on education already suffering from the impact of specialisation. The demarcation between technocrat and decision maker becomes increasingly blurred and the adviser and policy maker becomes one and the same. Whatever the profession, the level of education reached or the social role expected, everyone must be able to live in harmony with each other and the environment. Our present education concentrates too much on preparing a person for a job-slot or earning an income rather than fostering a community spirit of freedom and justice, tolerance and social responsibility. The main argument against educational programming of the individual is the same argument that I use against censorship, the banning of social drugs and enforcing conscription. Such conformism denies the cultivation of self-discipline and social responsibility as well as obstructing the capacity of the individual to live with the accelerating rate of change. The government education system has not been encouraged to gear itself to change. The previous Minister for Education and Science, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), said that the virtue of the independent school system was in the diversity of education it offered and this was the rationale for increasing Government aid to independent schools.

The Governor-General's Speech acknowledges the failure to provide such diversity to the majority of children by introducing legislation to establish a schools commission and a pre-schools commission. Among other directives, the proposed Schools Commission will be charged with the responsibility of assessing and achieving an increase in the quality of education as much as of the quantity available. As more than 75 per cent of children attend government schools, it would seem right that more emphasis be given to encouraging diversity in this sector of Australian education. To limit diversity to the independent sector only increases the divisions in society and perpetuates social and opportunity inequalities.

In my own electorate of La Trobe, the Fern Tree Gully High School has suffered because the experimental program there had received little encouragement. Experimentation leads to diversity and if successful experiments are to be capitalised on, and errors avoided rather than repeated, greater Commonwealth responsibility must be directed towards greater diversity and parent involvement in government schools. It is therefore pleasing to note that another of the terms of reference for the schools commission will be to have regard to the primary obligation of the Government to provide and maintain government schools systems of the highest standard open to all children. Perhaps then we will see more comprehensive schools, more co-educational schools and a breaking down of the zoning system that is worked for the benefit of the bureaucracy rather than to increase the choice available to those who use the government education system.

There are few conservation issues in recent times which have aroused so much interest as the flooding of the beautiful Lake Pedder which lies within a national park. The lake has become a symbol of what can happen when engineering projects are pursued relentlessly in the name of progress and without sufficient regard to the consequences upon the ecology and environment. To turn a phrase slightly: 'Oh Progress, what sins have been committed in thy name?' It is fitting that in the Speech, the Governor-General, as the Queen's representative, should echo the words of Prince Phillip when His Highness, as President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said that the Lake Pedder case marked the end of Australia's pioneering days and ushered in a new phase of conscious concern for the long term future of our national and human environment.

Perhaps it is too late to save the symbol, but it is essential we learn the lesson and not repeat any mistakes we might discover from an inquiry into the case of Lake Pedder. In my electorate of La Trobe there lie 2 gems in the Victorian environmental crown - the Upper Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges. These areas are Melbourne's largest and nearest picnic spots and recreation areas. Each weekend, thousands of Melbourne's 2J million people go there by car to seek relief from the tension, pollution and noise of the city. Now these beautiful ranges are threatened by quarrying, the suburban sprawl and pollution through lack of sewerage. In the drowning of Lake Pedder lies the precedent of legalised rape of a national park. The Federal Government must assume greater responsibility for the preservation of Australia's national parks such as the Fern Tree Gully National Park and Sherbrooke State Forest and the public must be reassured that the evils of the past will not happen again.

As technology becomes more capital intensive and as productivity increases it is inevitable that there well be a universally applied 35- hour week. The problem is not how to prevent that inevitability but how to use the increased leisure time for the fulfilment of all people. These national parks will become more important as increased leisure unlocks the opportunities to enjoy our environmental heritage. Because of the limits of our Australian Constitution the Federal Government will need the co-operation of all States if we are to protect the rights and national inheritance of future generations. The Department of the Environment and Conservation's proposals to develop a 'human progress' index will go some way to focus on the new values of society towards the environment. But 1 feel the Government will need to demand environmental impact statements for all major commercial and private projects as well as Government projects if the total objective is to be realised. No longer can Australia, or any nation, act in an irresponsible manner towards the environment, for a nationally committed error can become an international disaster. Over-fishing, the cumulative effects of pesticides, ocean dumping of mercury, oil and radioactive materials are now of international concern. Initiatives made in Australia will be to the benefit of all mankind.

One of the more important tasks for which this Government was given a mandate is to provide a comprehensive public health service available to all as the fundamental right of every citizen. To achieve this objective there will need to be a change in thinking by all those concerned with health services, away from professional and commercial profit and towards a government sponsored and private co-operative community service. It is wrong that residents of my electorate should have to travel IS miles or so through heavy traffic to attend a regional hospital. It is wrong that life should be endangered and the likelihood of complications increased because there is no regional hospital with full casualty department and full operating facilities to serve the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. But now, under this Government's program, this fast growing sector of Melbourne may soon experience the security of adequate health care. The proposed establishment of a National Hospital and Health Services Commission will survey and develop regional co-ordination of health care delivery so that no person will be jeopardised unduly by where he lives.

The range of health initiatives by this Government is wide, and as a pharmacist I am particularly pleased to refer to the Government's intentions to reduce the cost of pharmaceutical benefits as part of that scheme. The Governor-General's Speech includes a proposal for the expansion of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories into the production of non-biological pharmaceutical products and possibly to acquire a private firm to supplement CSL with new technical management and marketing skills and methods. The high cost of drugs means that this Government has a great and important responsibility to the public to ensure that maximum benefit is being obtained from each dollar spent on CSL. It will be our task to cut down the annual cost of drugs to the national health scheme, now standing at over $160m a year. We will use an expanded CSL as a pace-setter in the pharmaceutical industry to achieve this.

It is significant that the inquiry conducted by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Pharmaceutical Benefits revealed that the pharmaceutical drug manufacturing industry in Australia, which is overwhelmingly dominated by overseas multi-national corporations, is one of the most profitable industries in this country. Profits exceed 20 per cent on capital expended even without allowing for hidden profits. It has been estimated that the expanded CSL could save the taxpayer as much as $80m each year, or 18 per cent of the total cost of the present national health service bill of $420m. By entering into the manufacture of more important and commonly prescribed drugs, and incidentally those of greatest profitability, we can save the taxpayer almost 20c in each $1 he now outlays on the national health scheme.

There are 2 other influences that exert downward pressure on drug prices that should also be mentioned. Prices paid by the Department of Health to drug manufacturers are assessed on cost structures, but detailed information of local cost figures cannot be demanded from them. With CSL in the market as a public enterprise we will have access to this reliable, important costing data. Secondly, an important reduction in the price of penicillin could be achieved if CSL, which sets the market price for penicillin, did not have to load the price to recover its expenditure on research and unprofitable but essential life saving biological products. The House of Representatives Pharmaceutical Benefits Committee in its 1972 report, in which it recommended examining the expansion of CSL, also recommended that, in the public interest, the Commonwealth should meet the costs of these unprofitable, life saving activities of CSL.

The Director of CSL has said that with 12 months notice, $5m in capital and extra buildings and staff, CSL could enter competitively into the drug industry. As well as saving the taxpayer about $80m each year on expanded activities it would save $6m on the $15m annual cost of penicillin. To illustrate what I am saying, I ask leave to incorporate a table showing a comparison of Australian and United Kingdom prices received by drug manufacturers of selected items.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -


Mr LAMB - It should be noted that comparable cost data are available to the British Government and that the cost of penicillin in Australia is 2i times that in the United Kingdom. This enterprising move will not only help to reduce drug prices to the taxpayer but also contribute to making CSL once again a service to the public rather than an operation for commercial gain.

Sir, thereare some who will criticise the pace of Labor's program and its spread. But after 23 years, the magnitude of our problems, the rate at which they are growing and the agonising crawl in which institutions respond mean that we must make a start at solving all our problems. Our pace is also governed by the resources, manpower, expertise and funds available to us. It is an enterprising and ambitious program that attempts to encompass the problems that prevent a better quality of life for all people. No less will do.

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