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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 891

Mr MORRIS (Shortland) - It was a change to listen to the quiet presentation of the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards) which contrasted with the continual cacophony of cackling and caterwauling that we have heard from the cockies' corner in recent weeks. I seem to have heard some of his words before. The honourable member spoke about combating inflation, about the real value of money and about putting value back into money and purchasing power. I recall when I was first out of high school in 1949 that those were the words being put forward as the aims of the organisation led by Sir Robert Menzies, as he is now. It seems strange that the newly arrived member is now proposing the same kind of things that were proposed in 1949. Whom does the honourable member think he is fooling? If he wants to do something about prices why has he not appealed to his colleague in the State sphere. Sir Robert Askin, -who has the power but not the inclination? He has the power to do something about fixing and controlling prices but he certainly does not want the responsibility that that action would entail.

Mr Edwards - I have spoken to the Premier, and our offer is genuine.

Mr MORRIS - I thought that the honourable member might have taken the opportunity here to issue a challenge to his State colleague to take up his power to institute price control in New South Wales. This Government will bring more real purchasing power to the mass of Australians. The Budget presented to this House by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on 21 August is an historic document. It represents the first part of a 3 part program of a reappraisal of Australia's needs and priorities, a move towards improving the lot of the lesser endowed, the underprivileged, the deprived and the needy at the expense - for want of a better term - of the 'fat cats' of the Australian community. For too long the lesser privileged citizens of this nation have had to bear an inequitable share of the cost of providing the necessary facilities and services of today's society. For too long the economic structure of this nation has had to operate under a hesitant, stop-start system of financial management which was influenced in the main by how best the interests of the supporters of the Liberal-Country Party coalition Government could be served.

As a newcomer to this place I have found it quite strange to watch the antics of honourable members opposite, particularly members of the Australian Country Party who protesteth most strongly at a rearrangement of financial priorities which will bring social and economic justice to millions of Australians. They scream at being asked to share an equitable portion of the cost of our national services, at having to pay the same level of charges as urban users of telephones and postal facilities. At a time when the rural sector of the economy is enjoying record prices for most of its products, the 'rural rump' who have ridden on the back of their weak, divisive Liberal Party colleagues for almost a quarter of a century, wail like jackals because now they are being asked to stand on their own 2 feet. For too long the industrial sector of this nation has had to carry the burden of sectional non-directive subsidisation of rural interests and the propping up of some obviously uneconomic primary industry activities. But they have not the political courage to come out and oppose the positive benefits that this Budget will bring to the majority of Australians. Will they express their opposition to the massive increase in funds to be made available for the education of Australian youth? Will they oppose the increases in age, invalid and widow pensions and the allowances to repatriation pensioners?

Mr Fisher - We agree with you.

Mr MORRIS - I thought the honourable member said that they were not able to. Will they oppose the abolition of the means test for pensions for persons 75 years of age and oyer? What we have heard to date from honourable members opposite has been simply an exercise in hypocrisy. In 1972 the Australian Labor Party presented to the electors of Australia well thought out and well expounded policies for the development of this country in the best interests of Australia and Australians as a whole and this Government was given a clear mandate to implement those policies. Despite the bleatings of honourable members opposite, those policies will be implemented.

One of the greatest areas of neglect of the previous governments of the past 23 years has been in the sphere of local government. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in presenting the policy speech of the Australian Labor Party at Blacktown on 13 November 1972, said:

We will give local government full access to the Loan Council and Grants Commission - not only because the burdens borne by taxpayers as ratepayers must be reduced, but because the inequalities between regions must be attacked by the national Government acting with and through local government.

Already major steps to fulfil that promise have been taken. Over the years since World War II, there had been a consistent expansion in the needs of local government authorities accompanied by a steadfast refusal of the Federal Government of the day to assist in meeting those needs. The development of the concept of regionalisation in local government is one of the major advances made by this Government. A basic drawback of local government has been the multiplicity of local authorities of varying sizes in terms' of area, population and income. The provision of financial assistance to councils on the basis of regional submissions presented by recognised regional bodies will progressively uplift the quality of services available to ratepayers in the. less privileged areas and help to equalise rate levels. In Australia we have approximately 900 local government authorities. In 1969-70 their total expenditure, excluding the operating expenses of business undertakings, amounted to about $720m. This was expended as follows: Approximately 63 per cent to capital items, 26 per cent to current goods and services, and 11 per cent to interest on debt. [Quorum formed] I thank the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) for his courtesy in bringing an audience into the chamber. I hope that there will not be a continuation of the cacophony from cockies' corner. The source of the funds used was: Local taxes and fines, 53 per cent; operating surpluses of business undertakings before deducting depreciation, 15 per cent; State government grants, 13 per cent; increased indebtedness, 19 per cent.

Since World War II we have seen in Australia a massive increase in local government debt. It is only when its growth is compared with the level of State and Australian Government debt that the magnitude of the increase becomes apparent.

In the period 1948-49 to 1970 Australian government debt was virtually eliminated: Debt of the States increased four times to $3, 885m whilst local government debt increased tenfold to $1,6 19m equivalent to a debt of $132 for each Australian. This Government is to be congratulated on its recognition of the problems and difficulties of local government in Australia and the speed with which it is acting to assist in overcoming those problems and difficulties. The whole status of local government is being uplifted. It will be taking up its proper role as the third level of government in this nation. Already councils are forming into regional groups in anticipation of recognition on a regional basis.

I turn now to another matter in the Budget. Among the numerous advances in the field of health care and social welfare provided for is the amount of $7,675,000 in grants for the school dental scheme in 1973-74. This is in accord with the announcement made earlier this year by the Government of its intention to develop an Australia-wide school dental scheme. In co-operation with the State governments it is anticipated that by 1980 all primary and pre-school children will be covered by the scheme and later it will be extended to provide for all secondary school children under fi 5 years of age. At present it would be unusual to find a child in Australia who did not need some form of dental care. The moneys provided in the Budget will allow for the development of the first stage of a planned program. That will result in a much needed improvement in the dental health of the children of this country, a matter which has hitherto been sadly neglected by previous governments. It is proposed that the present school dental scheme which is operating in several states, will be progressively extended. The service wai offer free dental care and treatment to each child at least once a year and dental health education would be provided to ail school children. Treatment will he generally provided at school dental clinics of either fixed or mobile design and the services will be staffed basically by school dental therapists working under the general direction and control of dentists. Already 26 student dental therapists have been sent to New Zealand for training. Whilst the state health authorities will he responsible for the actual implementation and administration of the service, the Australian Government will be responsible for providing overall leadership and coordination of the scheme.

I think every member of this. House will be aware of the heavy financial impact that befalls the family man should one of his children require dental treatment under present conditions. Indeed, charges for dental services are so high that often much needed preventive dental care is not availed of because of the cost, with the result that when ultimately the trip to the dentist has to be taken, permanent damage to teeth has occurred which could have been avoided. Then it becomes a double extraction - an extraction of teeth and an extraction from the patient's pocket to meet what can only often be described as prohibitive charges by dentists. We hope that the Australian school dental service will save a lot of children's teeth as well as a lot of taxpayers' dollars, because at the present level of dental charges many parents just cannot afford to send their children to the dentist for preventive dental care.

Included in the vote of $1,675,000 for the New South Wales Government is an amount of just over $lm to provide for the construction of a training school for dental therapists in the Sydney suburb of Westmead. This school, which will train 30 therapists a year is expected to take its first - batch of students in September, 1974. In addition to this approval has been granted for the commencement of the planning of a further 2 training schools in New South Wales, one to be located at Sylvania and the other at Shellharbour. I am particularly pleased that temporary facilities for a dental therapists training school to be located at Royal Newcastle Hospital have been approved. The cost of alterations to existing facilities and provision of necessary equipment is in the vicinity of $80,000 and it is expected that the first intake of students for the 2-year course will be in January 1974.

This is great news to the people of the Newcastle region, irrespective of the electorate in which they reside, and the dental therapists trained at this school will do much to alleviate the tremendous need that exists in the region at present.

Earlier today we heard the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) talking about promises not fulfilled, but no party in government has had a more scandalous record of unfulfilled promises than have the Liberal and Country Parties. He mentioned the many things that had been done by the governments of which he had been a member, but what about the greatest unfulfilled promise of all - the 1949 promise of abolition of the means test for pension purposes? What happened to that promise? What did he do about it when he was in a position to do something? He probably did what he did today - talked and rambled and avoided concerning himself with the 1949 promise to assist the aged people. It has taken 24 years and a change in government to see the first steps taken towards a complete abolition of the means test. This Government is honouring its promises, but even it, fast moving and capable as it is, cannot in a short 39 weeks overcome the 23 years of shortcomings, of selective neglect and stopstart government that this country has experienced. At last this country is being managed in a manner that will benefit the great majority of Australian citizens.

People have been misled by the false cry that there is something different about country people. If there is the Country Party has made it so and convinced itself that it is so by its own deeds as partners in a coalition government of obsolescence. As I said earlier, we have heard all the caterwauling and cacophony opposite, particularly about the proposed equalisation of telephone rental charges and postal charges. But I ask: Why should metropolitan telephone subscribers have to pay more for the same service than their country cousins do. Already there is a distortion in telephone charges that operates against urban clients of the telephone service. The Opposition would like to see even greater distortion in postal charges in favour of rural subscribers. The fallacious argument put forward by the Country Party that rural telephone subscribers have less access to other subscribers for a local call than do metropolitan subscribers will not stand examination. If there were a case to subsidise rural telephone services then it should have been financed by all taxpayers from Consolidated Revenue when the Opposition was in government, not by other telephone subscribers.

What greater proof does one need of the ineptitude and inadequacy of 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government than simply to listen to the plaintive cries of those who now sit in Opposition. In a period of record prices for primary products and after 23 years of their own administration it would appear from their comments that the rural sector of Australian industry is about to collapse, so whom are they fooling? The metropolitan customers of the Post Office are very happy that charges are being equalised and that they will enjoy the privilege of paying the same rates as country subscribers. The Budget is a blueprint for real growth, equity and justice for the people of Australia. I commend it to the House.

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