20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he rnmembers using these words in the policy speech which he made in 1949.
-Order I Questions on policy are not in order.
– This is not a matter of policy, Mr. Speaker. The right honorable gentleman said -
As for the Government airlines . . . wo shall put them on to a true competitive basis with no preferences either in cheap capital or dollar expenditure.
Does the Prime Minister still stand by that statement? If the answer to that question is in the affirmative, will he resist all attempts by big business to gain control of the national asset known as Trans-Australia Airlines.
– As you pointed out, Mr. Speaker, the honorable member’s question ‘ relates purely to a matter of policy. In any event I fear that the honorable member has quoted only a part of my statement. Read as a whole, the statement contained in the policy speech stands completely.
– By way of explanation of a question which I address to the Postmaster-General I wish to draw attention to the difficulties and inconvenience which the lack of telephone facilities is causing people in rapidly expanding areas such as the Housing Commission centres in country electorates. In some areas of the division of Mitchell there are no telephones in private homes aud no public telephone facilities. In view of the benefits which city and suburban residents already enjoy in this regard, will the Postmaster-General consider establishing a priority for the provision of public telephone facilities in country and outer suburban areas as a first move in the solution of this difficult problem?
– The question of establishing priorities for city, suburban or country areas is not altogether a simple one. My department endeavour! to assess the claims of each area on their merits. In some city areas manufacturing industries of great importance are being carried on and telephone connexionsare essential in those areas. Various remote country areas such as those mentioned by the honorable member have very high claims for priority. In rapidly developing suburban areas of Sydney. Melbourne and other cities, necessary facilities are not being installed rapidly enough. However, it is of no use to erect public telephone boxes in area? where no cable has been laid and this is an undertaking of very considerable magnitude. In so far as it is able to do so my department treats each area according to its circumstances.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral state what the Government’s policy is in respect of duplex telephones 1 Does it intend to have this system applied to automatic - exchanges in cities other than the capital cities in each State? Where necessary, does the Government intend to amend the regulations to compel existing subscribers to allow a duplex telephone to be connected with existing lines? Is the Minister aware that in the great industrial city of Newcastle and its environs almost chaotic conditions exist because the telephone network there is unable to cope with the many thousands of outstanding applications for telephones? Will he give urgent consideration to extending the duplex system to the Newcastle district?
– The PostmasterGeneral’s department requires all new subscribers who are attached to an automatic network to sign an undertaking that they will share their line under the duplex system. The line, of course, would remain an entirely private line, under the duplex system. So far as existing subscribers are concerned the regulations were amended some time ago to permit the department to attach a duplex line to any line in respect of which it considers that the calling rate is so low that the subscriber will not be adversely affected, but very few such connexions have been made. Although the duplex system is an excellent one, the machinery, technical equipment and everything else associated with its operation are not readily available in all areas. We are extending the system as much as and as fast as we can, and the claims of Newcastle will not be overlooked.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether it is true that, due to retrenchments in his department, no further orders for telephones and equipment will be placed during the current financial year with Australian manufacturers, many of whom will be forced to disband trained organizations specially established to aid the Postal Department when it was unable to secure supplies from overseas? If so. will the honorable gentleman reconsider the matter with a v:ew to placing orders with Australian manufacturers to ensure that adequate supplies of telephones and other equipment shall always he obtainable for defence needs and normal peacetime requirements?
– There mav have been a reduction of orders from various manufacturers both at home and abroad. but there has not been a complete cessation of orders as the honorable member has suggested. We are cutting down on orders for some goods of which we have adequate supplies, but at the same time, we are increasing orders for certain components that are scarce. In this way we are endeavouring to achieve a balance in our orders.
– Within the last few days an announcement has been made thai the export of butter from Australia has been prohibited during recent months. Will the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture state whether the prohibition is being enforced by way of customs regulation, customs by-law, or a ministerial direction to the Australian Dairy Produce Board not to export butter?
– No ministerial direction was issued to the Australian Dairy Produce Board on the matter. The board exercises its own judgment on the advisability of permitting the export of butter when there is a shortage of that commodity in Australia. During the last two or three months there has been an acute shortage of butter in certain States and the prohibition has been imposed by the hoard in order to protect the interests of Australian consumers.
– And quite right, too.
– The prohibition was lifted about a fortnight ago in all States except New South Wales and, [ think. South Auétralia. where supplies are still not sufficient to meet demands. I assure the honorable member that in this matter the board has acted solely on its own initiative.
– In view of the serious inconvenience that is being caused to canneries by the shortage of tinplate this year, particularly those in the Murray irrigation areas and the Barossa Valley ir. South Australia, can the Minister for Supply indicate whether larger and more continuous supplies will soon become available to that branch of primary production ?
– There is a shortage of tinplate in Australia and I am afraid that it is likely to continue for some years because consumption is steadily increasing, world supply is restricted and supplies from Australian manufacturers will not be available before 1958. The Government is concerned with the plight of all users of tinplate and in particular with that of the food-packing industries. Our only sources of supply are Great Britain and the United States of America. Tinplate is available from Japan in small quantities, but the price is so outrageous that the Government has not felt able to advise buyers to pay it. The quantities imported this year have been greater than those imported last year. At present, an officer of my department is in Great Britain endeavouring to negotiate for increased supplies. The Port Talbot mills in “Wales are now capable of producing greater quantities of tinplate than heretofore. We hope to share in that increased production. “We have suffered a considerable setback in. the allocation of American supplies and we have endeavoured to take care of the position next year by making a contract with the American mills for the supply of considerably larger quantities. The officer to whom I have referred will visit the United States on his way back from Great Britain and he will consult with the American authorities with the object of safeguarding the issue of export licences for these larger quantities.We have been extremely active in this matter one way or another and we shall continue that activity. That fact, however, does not lessen the responsibility of Australian users to exercise a considerable degree of economy in their use of tinplate. The honorable member may rest assured that we shall do what we can do to ensure that canners in the Murray irrigation areas and the Barossa valley share in any additional supplies of tinplate that we are able to obtain.
– In view of the amazing statement by the Minister for Supply that the production of tinplate in Australia cannot be expected before 1958, will he now say whether the Government intends to make any arrangements to overcome this serious handicap to Australian industry? “Will he make a statement on this subject to the House at an early date?
– I cannot see that thereis anything amazing about my statement. It is hoped that the establishment of a rolling mill at Port Kembla on which the employees of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited have been working for years, will be completed by 1958. If there had been fewer stoppages of work on the coalfields, its completion could have been expected much sooner.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. Many persons in the community are now buying Christmas presents, including children’s toys and the like, on the lay-by system for delivery prior to the Christmas season. Will these articles be subject to the new sales tax rates imposed under the budget?’ If not, will the right honorable gentleman protect the people by taking action to prevent retailers from basing their prices on the new sales tax rates and passing on the additional charge?
– All wholesale purchases made since the notification of the legislation with regard to sales tax are subject to the tax.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation. By way of explanation and for your benefit, Mr. Speaker, I say that the information that I seek is statistical, and I believe that the Minister should be in a position to supply it now because there is legislation before the House in connexion with the matter.
– Order! If the honorable member is seeking figures I think that the notice-paper is the best place for his question.
– I believe that the Minister will have these figures available because they are necessary in connexion with current legislative proposals. In any case I suggest that if he has not the figures he should say so. I ask him : What is the number of war pensioners receiving special rate pensions who will be effected by the legislation at present before the House? What is the number of amputee pensioners in receipt of pensions under the first six items of the fifth Schedule equivalent to a special rate pension? What is the total number of war pensioners receiving repatriation pensions ?
– I am pleased to be able to say that I am able to supply-
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! I think that there must be an understanding about questions such as this one. When the new Standing Orders were before the House I endeavoured to have accepted the principle that is applied in the House of Commons in regard to a certain class of questions known as private notice questions. The House refused to accept that principle. Therefore, all questions asked and answered in the House must be questions without notice. In future, when calling for questions, I propose to ask for “ questions without notice “, and any other question asked at that time I shall rule out of order. This ruling shall apply from next Tuesday.
– The honorable member for Moore submitted an inquiry to me about this information. The answers to his questions have been supplied by the Repatriation Department and are as follows : -
the total number of war pensionersreceiving repatriation pensions is -
The total number of pensions in force is 507,400.
– Supplementary to the question that the honorable member for Moore has asked, are we to take it from the figures that the Minister for the Army realizes that 160,000 base rate war pensioners will not receive any increase in pension under the budget proposals?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is “ No “. The figures are answers to the specific questions asked by the honorable member for Moore.
– In explanation of my question which is directed to the PostmasterGeneral, I inform him that during last week-end on two occasions I heard a most appealing advertisement broadcast from a commercial radio station. The advertisement requested girls to apply for positions as telephonists in the Postal Department. It set out the conditions of employment, one of which was that the girls would be paid full salary while being taught the work of a telephonist. Is it a fact that in accordance with the Government’s plan to reduce the Public Service by 10,000, more than 100 telephonists in Victoria were dismissed? Also, is the wastage of telephonists very great because of marriage and other reasons, and does the Minister think that by dismissing experienced telephonists and re-employing inexperienced girls the telephone service will be made more efficient ?
– To say that the department is dismissing experienced telephonists is completely absurd. There is, in fact, a serious shortage of telephonists, and efforts are being made constantly to recruit new staff. As the honorable member has said, there is a considerable wastage of female staff through marriage and resignations from the service and for other reasons. Replacements are needed all the time. The training of a telephonist takes a considerable period, and is paid for by the department. The honorable member is completely astray in seeking to relate dismissals in the Postal Department to telephonists and other such highly trained employees. If his suggestion is that linemen who are now being dismissed should be trained as telephonists I shall examine the proposal.
– Will the Prime Minister institute an investigation into the method that has been adopted by certain Commonwealth departments in implementing the Public Service retrenchment scheme, with a view to ensuring the observance of the instruction that preference in employment shall be given to ex-service men and women in accordance with the terms of the Reestablishment and Employment Act?
– I shall be most willing to investigate the matter, which f regard as quite important. If the honorable member could assist me by providing details of specific instances that have come to his notice, my investigation would be made considerably easier.
– Other honorable members, too ?
– As plans for the Royal visit to Australia have now to he recast because of the decision that Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh shall come to this country hi place of Their Majesties the King and Queen, will the Government consider including the Northern Territory in the t.our which will now be on a much more extensive scale?
– I am not able to say t.hat the tour will be more extensive. Detailed discussions, with which my colleague the Vice-President of the Executive Council will be familiar, are proceeding, and I shall, if necessary, direct the Minister’s attention to the proposal that has been made by the honorable member for the Northern Territory.
– Some weeks ago [. asked the Minister for Immigration a question concerning the Kapooka and Uranquinty immigrant camps and he informed me that the matter was under consideration. In view of the interest in this subject and the hope that immigrants will still be kept in the districts in which the camps are situated, can he give me any further information on the matter ?
– It has been decided at the very strong request of the Department of the Army, that the whole of the camp establishment at Kapooka shall be made available for Army purposes. It was intended to return the entire establishment at the Uranquinty camp to the Air Force, but in view of the need to keep a certain body of labour available in the Wagga district and adjacent districts, I discussed the matter with the Minister for Air. We believe that it will now be practicable to retain a section of that camp for the accommodation of immigrants. As soon as I am in a position to give details of the final decision I shall do so.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral yet in a position to advise the House when a decision will be made about the granting of additional commercial broadcasting licences? I relate my question particularly to the application which has been made by interests in the Manning River Valley for a licence.
– We have on our books about 1,400 applications from persons in various parts of Australia who want commercial broadcasting licences. The maximum number that we can grant at the present time is, I think, three or four, and, therefore, the matter will take a considerable time to determine.
– In view of the poor radio reception in the Berrima district on the southern tablelands, and on the south coast of New South Wales, will the Postmaster-General inform me whether any progress has been made with applications for licences to operate a commercial broadcasting station in the Berrima district and a national regional station at Moruya, which, I understand was decided upon when the proposed erection of a national regional station at Kiama was abandoned?
– The claims oi applicants in the Berrima and south coast districts of New South Wales for commercial broadcasting licences are being considered, together with those of many other applicants that I have listed. It is recognized that those are very bad reception areas. For that reason, some little time ago the Australian Broadcasting Control Board recommended, and 1 approved, the erection of a very powerful national station at Moruya to cater for the requirements of the whole of the south coast area.
– Can the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization inform we whether it is a fact that, in order to promote the spread of myxamatosis among rabbits the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is adding to the mosquito population of Australia? Et it also a fact that encephalitis is being spread in this country by mosquitoes? Will the right honorable gentleman ask his department to give immediate consideration to engaging in a vigorous campaign to clean up. the dangerous mosquito menace in the Murray Valley and in other areas in Australia and so concentrate on the preservation of human life rather than on the destruction of rabbits.
– I am not sure that I understand the purport of the question that the honorable member for Darling has asked. If he believes that there is any connexion between mosquitoes and. encephalitis—-
– The mosquitoes are spreading myxomatosis and encephalitis.
– The honorable gentleman believes that mosquitoes are spreading encephalitis. That opinion, I underhand, is not in accordance with the views of our most prominent authorities on that subject. However, the matter is highly technical, and I shall regard his question as having been placed on the notice-paper, and obtain a considered reply for him.
– by leave - Recently the honorable member for Robertson asked whether the names of the three senior scientists who had voluntarily subjected themselves to inoculation with the myxomatosis virus could be made public. I have had some difficulty in persuading the three scientists to agree to the publication of their names, but they have now done so. They are Sir Macfarlane Burnett, Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Research; Dr. Clunies Ross, Chairman of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization; and Professor F. J. Fenner, Profesor of Microbiology at the Australian National University. These three highly placed scientists and professional men subjected themselves voluntarily to inoculation with very large doses of the myxomatosis virus, in an effort to establish that the virus has no effect upon human beings. The experiment proved, as they had expected, that the virus hat no effect upon human beings. The dose with which they were inoculated hat been described to me as being 100 time? larger than that which a mosquito can inject into a human being after feeding upon a rabbit that is infected with myxomatosis. The natural inference, both scientific and popular, is that if mosquitoes feed upon infected rabbits and subsequently bite human beings, thenis no danger that, as a result of the contact, the human being will contracmyxomatisis or any other disease.
– Does the Minister “for External Affairs consider that Australia should recommend the further liquidation of British interests in the Middle East? If he does not hold that view, will he, a? soon as possible, make a statement to th, House in which the views of the Australian Government on recent developments in the Middle East will be clearly set out?
– I think that it would b.suicidal for us to concur in any liquidation of British interests in the Middle East.
– Who has suggested it?
– I do not say that such a suggestion has been made here, but there are people who believe that British interests should be liquidated in the Middle East. Those persons are not in this House, of course, but individuals who should know better have been airing such views in certain places lately. I refer particularly to Dr. John Burton.
-Order ! The Minister may not introduce the name of an individual outside the House in an answer to a question.
– I do not believe that the position in the Middle East generally can be dealt with satisfactorily in a reply to a question. I think that all Australians are deeply concerned at the recent events in the Middle East. The time is not yet quite appropriate for a statement to be made on that matter, but I understand that in view of its abnormal interest to Australia as a whole as well as to Great Britain and the rest of the free world, the Prime Minister will make a statement at the earliest appropriate moment about the point of view of the Australian Government on those developments.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Air, and I point out, by way of explanation, that before the outbreak of World War II. the then Minister for Defence, the late Sir Archdale Parkhill, proposed to establish a seaplane base at Rose Bay. At the following general election he was defeated by a “ spender “. Will the Minister inform me whether it is proposed to transfer the marine section of the seaplane base at Rathmines to Sydney? Is he aware that many persons who are employed at the seaplane base at Rathmines are living in and around the lake area? Does he not think that the proposal to transfer that base, or even a part of it, to Sydney, should be reconsidered ?
– The Royal Australian Air Force some time ago offloaded all its Catalina seaplanes. Consequently the Department of Aitdoes not intend to maintain tho Catalina seaplane base at Rathmines. There was a section at Rathmines that was engaged upon the repair of air-sea rescue craft, and it has been shifted to Neutral Bay. We have no intention of reconsidering our decision.
– It has recently come to my attention that what appears to be a genuine case of financial hardship is incurred when an. age or invalid pensioner becomes ill and has to be transferred by ambulance to hospital. Will theMinister for Social Services consider making some arrangement with State governments with the object of eliminating; such hardship?
– I shall be very pleased to consider the proposal and ascertain whether my department can do anything about the matter.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the shipping expert whom the Government brought from theUnited Kingdom has yet completed hia investigation of the chaotic conditions in Australian ports? When his report is completed, will it be made available to the House?
– The report has not been completed yet. When it is received,, it will be necessary for the Cabinet to study it first but I am anticipating that complete publicity will be given to it and! to the recommendations on it.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the fact that rural production in Australia is seriously declining notwithstanding the high ruling international pricesfor primary products? In view of thisparadox, will the right honorable gentleman consult the chairman of the Universities Commission with a view toestablishing faculties of rural economics at our universities for the purpose of carrying out continuous research and’ surveys of a dispassionate and impartial’ character so that governments and individuals may be fully informed of the causes of this extraordinary decline of production in the face of world prices that are far above normal levels?
– I shall examine the suggestion that the honorable member has made, but no doubt he is aware that for some time the Bureau of Agricultural Economics has been doing very valuable work on the problems to which he has referred. Indeed, I think I can say withjustice that the results of the investigations that have been made by the bureau have been of increasing authority and have become widely recognized for their value.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Defence Production by pointing out that the previous Government established an industrial undertaking in a former explosive area at St. Mary’s in New South Wales. Is the Minister aware of the rumour current in St. Mary’s that a powder-filling explosive undertaking is again to be established in that area? In view of the fact that that rumour is having a bad effect on commercial expansion at St. Mary’s that the workers are apprehensive about the possible termination of their employment, and that many inducements were offered to industrialists to establish undertakings at St. Mary’s to assist in the experiment of industrial decentralization, will the Minister assure the House that existing conditions there will not be disturbed? Will the Minister also make a personal’ inspection of the area at the first convenient opportunity?
– As honorable members are aware, St. Mary’s was used as an explosive-filling area during the last war. It is perfectly true that we are having surveys made at St. Mary’s. If circumstances warrant - as it is probable that they will - an area at St. Mary’s may be again used for that purpose. However, I assure the honorable member that if any action along those lines is taken most sympathetic consideration will be given to the industrial workers at St. Mary’s. I shall certainly go to St. Mary’s and acquaint myself with the facts associated with it.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
– I move -
That, in this Resolution - “life assurance company” means a company the sole or principalbusiness of which is life assurance; “ mutual income “, in relation to a life assurance company (other than a mutual life assurance company), mean -
Imposition of Income Tax and Social Services Contribution.
Rates of Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Payable by Persons other than Companies.
– (1.) That where, in the case of a person other than a company or in the case of a company in the capacity of a trustee, the taxable income or any part thereof is derived from property, and the total taxable income exceeds Four hundred pounds, the rates of income tax and social services contribution be -
Limitation of Tax and Contribution Payable by Aged Persons.
– (1.) That this paragraph apply to a taxpayer who -
Additional Tax and Contribution payable by Persons other than Companies.
Minimum Tax and Contribution.
Rates of Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Payable by a Company.
Additional Tax and Contribution on Certain Companies.
– (1.) That there be imposed upon the taxable income of a company income tax and social services contribution at the additional rate of Two shillings for every pound of the taxable income. (2.) That this paragraph do not apply to -
A mount of Advance Payments by Companies.
Elimination of Pence.
– (1.) That the provisions of this para graph apply in relation to -
Tax and Contribution where Amount to be Collected or Refunded would not exceed Two Shillings.
– (1.) That, notwithstanding anything contained in the preceding provisions of this Resolution, where a person has, in accordance with section two hundred and twenty-one h of the Assessment Act, forwarded to the Commissioner a tax stamps sheet or group certificate’ issued to him in respect of deductions made in a year from his salary or wages, and the difference between the available deductions and the income fax and social services contribution which would,apart from this sub-paragraph, be payable by that person in respect of the taxable income derivedby him in that year is not more than Two shillings, the income tax and social services contribution payable by that person in respect of that taxable income be an amount equal to the available deductions. (2.) That the last preceding sub-paragraph do not apply -
Levy of Income Tax and Social Services Contribution.
Provisional Tax and Contribution.
Rates of Tax and Contribution for Financial Year ended 30th June, 1051, by Reference to an Average Income.
Basic Rates op Tax and Contribution.
The rate of income tax and social services contribution for every £1 of each part of the taxable income specified in the first column of the following table is the rate set out in the second column of that table opposite to the reference to that part of the taxable income: -
Rates of Tax and Contribution by ReferENCE to an average income. Ill the case of a taxpayer to whose income Division 16 of Part III. of the Assessment Act applies, the rates of income tax and social services contribution are - (tt) for every £1 of that part of the taxable income which does not exceed £4,000-
rate of Tax and Contribution by Reference to a Notional Income.
For every £1 of the taxable income of a Taxpayer deriving a notional income, as specified by sub-section (1.) of section eighty-six of the Assessment Act, the rate of income tax and social services contribution is the rate ascertained by dividing the tax and contribution which would be payable under the First Schedule upon a taxable income equal to his notional income by a number equal to the number of whole pounds in that notional income.
Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by a Trustee.
For every £1 of the taxable income in respect of which a trustee is liable, in pursuance of either section ninety-eight or section ninetynine of the Assessment Act, to be assessed and to pay tax and contribution, the rate of income tax and social services contribution is the rate which would be payable under the First, Second or Third Schedule, as the case requires, if one individual were liable to be assessed and to pay tax and contribution on that taxable income.
Further Rates of Tax and Contribution in Respect of Taxable Income Derived from Property.
The further rate of income tax and social services contribution for every £1 of each part of the taxable income derived from property specified in the first column of the following table is the rate set out in the second column of that table opposite to the reference to that part of that taxable income: -
Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by a Company other than a Company in the Capacity of Trustee.
This motion embodies the Government’s proposals for adjusting the incidence of income tax and social services contribution on both individuals and companies in respect of the financial year 1951-52. The motion also provides for the exemption from income tax and social services contribution of taxpayers of pensionable age in the lower income groups. Furthermore, it is proposed to modify the operation of the averaging provisions which are applied in determining the tax liability of primary producers. The rates of tax payable by individuals as proposed by this motion remain unchanged from the existing rates. Individuals will, however, be called upon to pay additional tax of 10 per centum of the tax calculated in accordance with those rates. Although the rates and the 10 per cent, additional tax proposed by the motion apply to the income derived by individuals during the year ending the 30th June, 1952, the increased instalment deductions from the earnings of employees will not come into operation until the 1st November, 1951. This is due to the time required by the Commissioner of Taxation for the compilation, printing and distribution of the new instalment scales. In the case of persons deriving income other than salary or wages, the provisional tax and contribution payable in respect of income for the year ending the 30th June, 1952, will be appropriately increased.
The proposed 10 per cent, increase is estimated to yield £38,000,000 in a full year. Collections in the financial year 1951-52 will, however, be increased by only £25,000,000, as instalment deductions at the higher rate will not be made for the full year and because all assessments embodying the increased provisional tax will not be issued within the financial year. Schedules have been circulated amongst honorable members comparing, for taxpayers with varying family responsibilities, the tax payable under this motion with that payable on income derived during the year ended the 30th ‘June, 1951, and with peak war-time taxation. These schedules indicate that even with the additional tax the total amount payable will still be considerably below peak war-time taxation. A further comparison with the taxes payable in the United Kingdom and New Zealand has been circulated. This emphasizes that the level of taxation on individual incomes in those countries is higher than that now proposed by this motion.
The Government has been concerned with the anomalous position of aged persona who receive superannuation or similar income subject to taxation, but which is no more, and is frequently less, than the age pension upon which no tax is payable. In order to remove this anomaly, provision is made in the motion for the exemption from tax of aged taxpayers in the lower income groups. Under paragraph 8 of the motion, men who have attained the age of 65 years and women who have attained the age of 60 years on or before the last day of the year of income will be wholly free from tax if their net income for that year does not exceed £234. The concession will be allowed only to those persons who have been residents of Australia during the whole of the year of income. At the same time, a married couple who both satisfy the conditions of age and residence will be granted complete exemption from tax if their combined net income does not exceed £46S annually. To ensure equitable treatment to those taxpayers in the specified age group whose net incomes just exceed £234 - or in the case of married couples £468 - it is proposed to graduate the liability so that the basic tax payable shall not be greater than one-half of the excess of the net income over £234, or, in the case of married couples, £468.
A further important change proposed in the motion relates to the averaging of the incomes of primary producers. Under the present law the taxable income of a primary producer is subject to tax at the rate appropriate to a taxable income equal to the average of his taxable incomes over the last five years, including that of the year of income subject to assessment. The averaging provisions have been embodied in Commonwealth income tax law for the past 30 years. For the first sixteen years they applied to the incomes of all taxpayers. Sine? the 1st July, 1937, they have applied to the incomes of primary producers only. They were abolished in respect of other taxpayers upon the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Taxation 1932-34. The royal commission recommended the retention of the averaging provisions for primary producers because their incomes are subject to fluctuation on account of seasonal conditions. Th, royal commission observed, however - in theory the assessment of tax at an average rate appears to fee attractive but it is not entirely satisfactory in its incidence. The taxpayer whose income is increasing pays less and he whose income is decreasing pay* more than be would if he were assessed al the rate applicable to his income of the year preceding the year of assessment. Assessment at an average rate, therefore, benefits the taxpayer who is in the better position to pay and penalizes the taxpayer whose means to do so have been impaired.
At the time at which the royal commission prepared its report the total tax liability of primary producers on their 1931-32 incomes was less than £400.000. The effect of averaging upon the liability of primary producers in any one year, therefore, was not significant. In these circumstances the disadvantage? of averaging to which the commission drew attention - that is, that the system benefits taxpayers when they are in the better position to pay and penalizes them when their means to ‘pay have been impaired - did not have serious consequences. Reference to the national income estimates which I circulated with the budget shows that farm incomes have risen from £44,000,000 in 1938-39 to £4S5,000,000 in 1949-50, and to the astronomical figure of £S09,000,000 in 1950-51. As a consequence of this spectacular rise in the incomes of primary producers the undue benefits that have accrued to these taxpayers as a result of the averaging provisions are out of all just proportion to the general incidence of taxation imposed on other taxpayers. Another feature is the enormous cost to revenue which the averaging system has involved.
If the averaging provisions remained unchanged the beneficiaries of that system would receive a further benefit of £62,000,000 in the coming year when assessments on the 1950-51 income are made. It is estimated that approximately 690,000,000 of this amount would accrue to ‘primary producers with incomes over 4,000. On the other hand it must be realized that when prices and incomes decline the tax disadvantage which the present averaging provisions would impose on primary producers would be of such magnitude that the tax burden then imposed would almost certainly be found to be beyond the capacity of most primary producers.
The Government has given careful attention to this problem, and by the terms of the motion proposes a modification of the system which will result in a more equitable tax burden on primary producers in future years. Under the proposed plan only the first £4,000 of taxable income will be subject to tax at the rate determined by the average income, hut in no case will this average rate applied to the first £4,000 of the taxable income exceed the rate on a taxable income of £4,000.
In the first place, I want to make it clear that the proposed modification will not in any way affect the primary producer whose taxable income and average income for the year ended the 30th June, 1951, and subsequent years does not exceed £4,000. The average provisions will continue to apply unchanged to this group of taxpayers. The total number of primary producers is estimated to be 300,000. Of this total number, 262,500 are within the range whose taxable incomes do not exceed £4,000. The modification of the averaging system will thus apply only to 37,500 primary producers out of 300,000 and of the 37,500 about 9,500 would not be affected to any appreciable extent.
Where both the taxable income and the average income are in excess of £4,000; the effect of the proposal is to require the primary producer to pay the same amount of tax as a taxpayer who is not a primary producer but who derives the same amount of income. Where the taxable income exceeds £4,000, but the average income is £4,000, or less, the first £4,000 of taxable income will be taxed at the rate applicable to the average income. The balance of the -taxable income will bear tax of the difference between the tax on the taxable income without averaging, and the tax on £4,000 without averaging. Where the taxable income is £4,000 or less, but the average income exceeds £4,000, the rate of tax payable on the taxable income will be limited to the rate of tax on a taxable income equal to £4,000.
It is proposed that the modified averaging provisions should apply to income derived during the year ended the 30tb June, 1951, or the substituted accounting period.
– It will not be retrospective at all. The rates of tax are fixed, and apply to income for the previous year.
– Well, is not that retrospective ?
– No. The procedure will be the same as always, but a modification has been made in respect of the principle that is applied. This variation or modification is necessary in dealing with the astronomical incomes of last year. As I have already pointed out. the proposed modification will affect only those primary producers whose incomes exceed £4,000. These constitute only about 12^ per cent, of the total number of primary producers. If the averaging provisions remained unchanged they would, when all assessments, were issued on 1950-51 incomes, receive a further benefit of about £50,000,000.
– It is robbery.
– The honorable member must withdraw that expression.
– It is the only appropriate one.
– The honorable member must withdraw it unconditionally.
– I withdraw the statement.
– The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) is in a new role as champion; of those who are reaping such an undue advantage at the expense of the: class which he claims to represent. The proposed modification will reduce the benefit, by £35,000,000, but will still leave to primary producers with incomes of over £4,000 ‘a benefit of £15,000,000. The benefit of £12,000,000 accruing to incomes under £4,000 will remain intact.
The- modification will impose no rea hardship on the primary producers concerned who will still have these disposable incomes -
It will thus be seen that in respect of primary producers with incomes between £4,000 and £6,000 the effect of the proposal is to leave the taxpayer an average disposable income of £4,242. Primary producers with incomes over £6,000 on the other hand will retain, after payment of their tax liability, an average disposable income of £6,190. This modification is considered to be an equitable adjustment to revenue, having regard to the tax burden which is borne by the general body of taxpayers. Furthermore, the modification provides a safeguard against the adverse effects of the averaging system which must inevitably result when incomes decline.
The effect of the proposed modification on 1951-52 collections will be an increase of £47,000,000, of which £22,500,000 will be in respect of the liability on 1950-51 incomes and the balance of £24,500,000 for provisional tax in respect of 1951-52 incomes. Further, of the total estimated receipts of £47,000,000 in 1951-52 from the modification of the averaging system, primary producers with incomes of between £4,000 and £6,000 will pay only £3,500,000. The balance of £43,500,000 will come from those with incomes in excess of £6,000.
When the wool sales deductions were introduced last year I received innumerable protests and complaints from wool producers about what they claimed to be the inequity of the plan. However, it. is now clear that the great majority of wool producers realize that the wool sales deductions were an undisguised blessing as the deductions will enable primary producers to meet their current tax liabilities without imposing hardship upon them.
– That is why the Government lost the division of Hume.
– That was not why we lost Hume. We lost Hume because a lot of unfair and stupid promises were made about repealing the act and refunding the tax concerned.
I am confident that primary producerswill come to appreciate the proposed modification when declining prices reduce their incomes to more normal levels. As I have indicated, the present averaging provisions would then impose an intolerable tax burden, as out of a much reduced income primary producers would be required to meet a disproportionately heavy tax bill. As illustrating the burden which would fall on primary producers under these conditions I have had a typical case examined- that of a primary producer whose taxable income and average income both exceed £4,000 at the present time.
It has been assumed, for purposes of illustration, that the taxpayer s income in 1951- 52 will be one-third lower than it was in 1950-51, and further that his income in 1952-53 will fall’ still further to the more normal but still profitable level of 1947-4S. On these reasonable assumptions a taxpayer whose taxable income in 1950-51 was £16,930 would derive in 1952- 53 a taxable income of £3,686, with an average income of £8,682. Without some modification of the averaging provisions such a taxpayer would be required to pay in tax £2,174 on his 1952-53 income of £3,686, leaving him only £1,512 with which to meet all other commitments. As a result of the proposed modification of the averaging provisions a taxpayer in that category will be required to pay in tax not £2,174, but £1,488, out of his £3,680 income- that is to say, he will retain not £1,512 but £2,198 of his income. Looked at in another way, the primary producer would, in the circumstances I have described, and supposing the present averaging provisions still applied, be required to pay £755 more tax out of his £3,686 income than would a taxpayer not subject to average who received the same income. The undesirable situation to which I have drawn attention can be avoided only by some curtailment of the averaging provisions such as that contemplated by the present proposal. Provision will he made in the Income Tax Assessment Bill for a primary producer to exercise an* irrevocable election to withdraw from the operation of the averaging provisions in respect of the year of income ending the 30th June, 1952, or any succeeding year.
It is proposed by the motion to increase the rates of tax payable by companies and to require companies to make an advance payment on account of their accruing tax liabilities. It is proposed also to effect a measure of simplification in the taxing of public companies by eliminating both the super tax and the undistributed income tax. The proposed simplification stems from the recommen dations of the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation, which has drawn attention to the complicated nature of the present law relating to companies. At this stage, I wish to pay a special tribute to that committee and to express on behalf of the Government its appreciation of the valuable assistance that that body has rendered. Evidence of the value of the committee’s work is to be found in the simplified income tax legislation that was enacted last year. The committee is unremitting in its endeavours to improve the taxing system in operation in this country. Some of its recommendations arebeing implemented in this motion and effect will be given to other recommendations in the Income Tax Assessment Bill which I shall introduce later. These amendments do not indicate the full extent of the committee’s activities; there are’ many other aspects of taxation upon which it has reported. In subsequent legislation we propose to give effect to further recommendations made by the committee to simplify our taxing laws and to remove anomalies and injustices from the taxing system.
At present public companies may be called upon to pay as primary tax 5s. in the £1 on the first £5,000 of taxable income, and 6s. on the balance, ls. in the £1 as super tax on the income in excess of £5,000, and as undistributed income tax a further 2s. in the £1. The present super tax and undistributed income tax were introduced as war-time measures. Super tax was complementary to war-time company tax and has been continued although the latter- tax ceased as from June, 1946. The committee has recommended as a simplifying measure that the present primary rates and super tax be unified and that the unified rate be increased to absorb the present tax on undistributed profits. In support of the latter recommendation, the committee has advanced the opinion that. taxation should be imposed upon the profit earned by a public company and not additionally upon some portion of that profit which the company may decide to retain for expansion. The Government has adopted the committee’s recommendation that the rates of tax payable by public companies be amalgamated, and the three separate levies at present imposed on public companies, namely, primary tax, super tax and the undistributed income tax, will be replaced by a primary rate of 7s. in the £1. A special rate of’ 6s. in the £1’ is proposed for the taxable income of mutual life assurance companies and the mutual income of life assurance companies. That rate will preserve the relative advantage that these companies have enjoyed in Commonwealth .taxation since the introduction of uniform income tax.
It will be recalled that, in my speech on the introduction of the budget last year I stated that measures were under consideration to withdraw some part of abnormal business profits as part of an organized and balanced plan to control the inflationary forces. An excess profits tax was considered by the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation, but was not recommended. The committee expressed the view that any measure to tax excess profits would be fundamentally unsound and any formula adopted would not operate equitably as between taxpayers. Such a proposal, in the committee’s view, would lead to anomalies and complications for all company taxpayers; to injustices, particularly on small and new companies; and to considerable complexities and difficulties in administration. In the light of the committee’s reports the Government proposes that public companies shall make an additional contribution to revenue through a special levy of 2s. in the £1. The special levy will not be imposed upon mutual life assurance companies or on the mutual income of life assurance companies. Co-operative companies and non-profit companies, such as clubs, associations, lodges, and societies, will also he free from the special levy. Co-operative companies are not comparable with public companies, because of the restrictions imposed on the holding, transfer and sale pf shares. Non-profit companies are prohibited from making distributions to members and thus differ substantially from ordinary public companies.
Since the budget was presented there has been some press criticism on the score that the public company rates bear heavily on small public companies when compared with large public companies. I have given this criticism my very careful consideration, but I feel that the comparisons that have been made in the press are not soundly based. My examination has shown that it is not practicable in hypothetical cases to compare the taxes foi. one year in isolation from other years. The many factors that enter into the taxation of public companies require the comparison to be made over a period of years. I am quite convinced that, if we examine actual cases, it will be found that small public companies are not being harshly treated by comparison with large public companies. At present, private companies pay the same primary rates as do public companies, namely, 5s. in the £3 on the first £5,000 and 6s. on .the excess. Further, they are liable to an additional tax on undistributed profits which is calculated by reference to each individual shareholder’s taxable income. It is proposed to retain the present rate of 5s. in the £1 on the first £5,000 of taxable income, as any increase in this rate would, it is considered, place an unduly heavy burden on small private companies. On the excess of their taxable income over £5,000 private companies will, however, be subject to .the same primary rate of tax as public companies, namely, 7s. in the £1. Private companies were not at any time considered as suitable subjects for an excess profits tax since the graduated individual tax which will now be increased by 10 per cent, in terms of the motion applies both to dividends distributed and to profits retained by those companies. Consequently it it not proposed to subject private companies to the special levy of 2s. in the £1. An important change in company taxation relates to the proposed advance payment which will be an amount equal to 10 per cent, of the tax payable ort income derived during the year ended the 30th June. 1951. In the past, companies have been enabled to hold large sums of money representing tax on profits for periods of twelve months or more, and have therefore enjoyed a considerable advantage over other taxpayers who are required to meet taxation obligations out of current income. The advance payment will be credited to the company against its tax liability on income derived during the current financial year.
The changes proposed for companies for the financial year 1951-52 will apply to the assessments based on income derived by them during the year ended the 30th June, 1951. These changes are estimated to increase collections in the current financial year by £10,900,000 in the case of public companies and £5,900,000 in the case of private companies. In addition, public and private companies will be making a contribution of £11,200,000 towards their tax liability for the financial year 1952-53 through the advance payment. A memorandum explanatory of this motion and other taxation proposals is being printed and will be circulated among honorable members within a few days. This memorandum will also contain the schedules to which I have referred.
In imposing the additional taxes proposed by the motion, the Government believes that in the present economic conditions, some sacrifices must be made by all classes of taxpayers to restore stability and confidence in the economy. However distasteful the remedy may appear it is infinitely to be preferred to the evils of unchecked inflation which ultimately must wreck all the foundation? upon which normal business is based. [ commend the motion to the favorable consideration of honorable members.
Bill presented by Sir ARTHUR Fadden, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The main income tax proposals of the Government are contained in the motion which I have introduced and explained. The assessment bill which I now present is, to some extent, a complementary measure. One of the more important of the amendments is clause 15. Under this clause it is proposed to grant primary producers the right to withdraw from the system of averaging of incomes. The operation of that system has already been fully described and need not be repeated here. By exercising this right to withdraw from the averaging system any primary producer may ensure that, in a year of reduced income, he will pay no more income tax than any other taxpayer deriving an equivalent income. This provision accedes, in effect, to the claims made by some primary producers’ organizations that their members should be safeguarded against the operation of the averaging system in periods of declining incomes. The right to withdraw from the averaging system will commence to apply to incomes derived during the current income year ending the 30th June, 1952, and, once exercised, will be irrevocable.
I turn now to the important and controversial subject of taxation of private companies. The provisions of the Income Tax and Social Services Assessment Act 1936-50 relating to these companies represent, perhaps, the most complicated sections of our taxation laws. These complications have their origin, first, in an endeavour to afford equitable taxation treatment to private companies and, secondly, in the legislative action that must be taken to defeat efforts that are constantly being made to avoid a just measure of taxation of the companies and their shareholders.
The simplification of the plan of private company taxation is by no means an easy task if equitable treatment of the companies is to be preserved and, at the same time, schemes for tax avoidance are to be defeated. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation has undertaken this task, and I am hopeful that in due course I shall be in a position to submit legislation to implement recommendations of the committee to overcome complications and deficiencies of the present legislation. At this juncture, however, I submit for the approval of the House a new definition of “ private company “ to distinguish such companies from public companies.
The distinction is important for two reasons. First, the rates of primary tax on public companies amount to 9s. in the £1 compared with the ‘ private company primary rate of 5s. in the £1 on the first £5,000 of taxable income and 7s. in the £1 on the balance of taxable income. Secondly, public companies will no longer be subject to an undistributed income tax. On the other hand, private companies which do not make a sufficient distribution of .their incomes to their shareholders will continue to be liable to undistributed income tax. Basically, the plan of private company taxation is designed to ensure that the mere act of incorporation shall not lessen or increase the income tax obligations of an individual or of a small group of individuals.
The present definition, broadly, classifies a company consisting of twenty or less shareholders as a private company. It also provides that a company which is capable of being controlled by seven or less persons shall be treated as a private company. In determining the number of persons who are capable of controlling a company, the definition places full dependence on the voting rights attached to shares. Some companies, which are essentially private companies in character, have placed themselves technically outside the scope of the present definition, thereby avoiding the incidence of private company taxation. This result has been achieved by the expedient of increasing the number of shareholders to 21 or slightly more, and arranging the voting power so that, ostensibly, it will be exercisable by eight or more persons. Meanwhile, the real ownership and control of the . company continues to be vested in seven or less persons.
The definition, which I now propose, continues, in substance, the provisions of the present definition. It goes further, however, and classifies as private companies those companies which are beneficially owned by or in the interests of relatively few individuals. The new definition gives effect to a recommendation made by the committee. If, for example, more than one-half of the share capital is held by or on behalf of seven or less persons, the company is to bo classified as a private company. Another provision in the proposed definition relates to the ownership of company share capital by members of family groups. For this purpose, a person and his near relatives and his nominees and the nominees of relatives are being regarded as one person. If three-quarters or more of .the share capital of such a company
Sir Arthur Fadden. is held by seven or less persons, the company will be regarded as a private company for income tax purposes. The new definition also provides that a company that is capable of being controlled, by any means whatsoever, by seven or less persons, shall be classified as a private company. At the same time, companies in which the public is substantially interested, including subsidiaries of public companies will continue to be excluded from the definition of private company.
It is recognized that there may be special circumstances in some cases where it would be unreasonable to tax a company as a private company. Where such circumstances exist, a company is entitled to state its case to the Commissioner of Taxation and, if dissatisfied with the Commissioner’s decision, the company may take its claim to a Taxation Board of Review for further adjudication. The definition which I propose represents a fair and effective basis for distinguishing private companies from public companies.
It will bring within the scope of private company taxation all those companies which, by various devices, have technically avoided that form of taxation. I recognize, however, that there are nonprivate companies which are bona fide constituted and which may come within the compass of the new definition. I am giving companies full notice of the altered definition as I propose that it shall not become effective until the end of the current income year, namely, the 30th June, 1952.
There is another aspect of private company taxation which merits immediate attention. I refer to the proportion of distributable income which a private company may retain, free from undistributed income tax. The amount which may be so retained is calculated according to a graduated scale commencing at 50 per cent, of the first £1,000 of distributable income, and ending at 10 per cent, of the excess of distributable income over £10,000. The purpose of this graduated scale is to ensure, as far as is practicable, that private companies and their shareholders will not be required to pay more income tax than partners deriving equivalent incomes. Experience has shown, however, that some private companies have been subdivided into two or more smaller companies in order to take undue advantage of this allowance. By this practice of subdivision, these private companies have gained a greater freedom from undistributed income tax than they would have been entitled to if the subdivision had not been arranged. This practice has been examined by the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation which has recommended remedial action.
The remedy proposed will apply to all those private companies which consist substantially of the same shareholders. In these cases of inter-related private companies, the distributable incomes of all the companies will be totalled to determine the appropriate amount which will be free from undistributed income tax. The amount so determined will be allocated proportionately to the inter-related companies. The provisions to achieve this end are complicated, both in the legislation and in practical application. Nevertheless those provisions are necessary if this method of avoiding tax is to be defeated. The new provisions will commence to apply to distributable incomes derived during the current income year ending the 30th June, 1952.
The bill also contains several other amendments to which I shall refer briefly. It is proposed to exempt the pay and allowances of members of the Navy, Army, Air and auxiliary forces serving in operational areas in and around Korea and Malaya. This exemption will apply to pay and allowances earned since the commencement of operations in those areas in June, 1950. The annual cost to revenue of this exemption is estimated at £200,000. This bill also gives effect to several other recommendations made by the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation. Amongst these is the exemption as from the 1st July, 1951, of income from scholarships, bursaries and similar educational allowances. The exemption will apply where students are receiving fulltime education, at a university, school or college. This exemption will bring Australia substantially into line with the United Kingdom and New Zealand. It will also ensure that the whole of the amounts paid hy way of scholarships will be available for the purpose for which these scholarships are provided. It is also proposed to allow deductions for gifts’ to community hospitals. These are hospitals which are usually conducted by religious and philanthropic organizations and are not carried on for the profit or personal gain of individuals. Gifts to public hospitals have been allowed as income tax concessions for many years. The view taken by the committee is that community hospitals are essentially institutions established and conducted for the benefit of the public. It is anomalous to allow gifts to public hospitals and, at the same time, to deny the deduction where gifts are made to community hospitals. The extension of the concession will remove this anomaly. Deductions will be allowed for gifts made to community hospitals as from the 1st July, 1951. The concession will apply also to gifts to public funds for the establishment or maintenance of these hospitals.
The committee has also recommended that the standard deduction allowed to employers for the cost of food provided for their employees should be increased from 15s. to 20s. a week for each employee. This recommendation will he implemented by administrative action, and will not require legislative approval. For the current year of income which commenced on the 1st July, 1951, the Commissioner of Taxation will allow 20s. as the standard deduction. I should mention, however, that it is quite compé- tent for a taxpayer to demonstrate to the Commissioner that the allowance of 20s. a week is inadequate in his particular case. “Where an employer keeps re-, cords of the actual cost of keep provided for his employees, a deduction of. that actual cost will be allowed as a deduction. Whilst, as I have said, the deduction allowed to employers for the cost of their employees’ keep can be increased’ administratively, amendments of’ the income tax law will be necessary to provide a corresponding increase of 5s. a week for the purpose of deducting tax instalments from the employees’ earnings. This increase will not apply, however, where the award under which the employee is working specifies the value of board provided for him.
Another recommendation of the committee affects primary producers who have adopted cost price as the basis of valuing live-stock on hand. The present income tax law prescribes maximum and minimum values at which the natural increases of live-stock may be brought to account. In the case of lambs, for example, the primary producer may select a cost price not less than 4s. and not more than 20s. a head. The committee considers that these maximum values, which were prescribed in 1936, fall short of present values, and the abolition of the ceiling is recommended. It is proposed to adopt this recommendation, and, as from the 1st July, 1951, primary producers will be afforded the opportunity to bring the cost price of natural increase more in line with prevailing costs.
Before concluding, I should mention that provision is being made for the exchange of official information between the Commonwealth Commissioner of Taxation and the land tax authorities in the States. This arrangement will obviate duplication of inquiries and effect general savings in administration. I emphasize that all officials to whom information is communicated are under strict obligation to preserve secrecy regarding the affairs of taxpayers.
There are other provisions in the bill, but they are of a technical nature and it is not necessary to refer to them now. They may he left for consideration at the committee stage. An amendment has not been included in this bill to give effect to the Government’s decision to discontinue the special initial depreciation allowance on plant on and from the 1st July, 1951. That amendment is not essential at this stage as it does not affect the general budgetary proposals for this financial year. Industrialists have been given notice, however, of the Government’s attitude towards this special concession. As is customary with income tax measures, a memorandum explaining all of the provisions in detail is being prepared. I hope to be in a position to make this memorandum available to honorable members during next week.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Land Tax Assessment Aci 1910-1950.
Bill presented, and read a first time. Second Reading.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the bill is to enlarge section 39 of the principal act in order to avoid considerable work which would otherwise be necessary without an adequate revenue return. That section provides that all land owned by a company shall be deemed to be owned by the shareholders of the company as joint owners in the proportions of their interests in the paid-up capital of the company. Thus, the value of a shareholder’s deemed interest in the unimproved value of the company’s land is added to the unimproved value of his own land in order to determine his liability to tax under the act. The shareholder’s liability under section 39 does not; however, exclude the primary liability of the company as the actual owner of the land. The shareholder is taxed as a secondary taxpayer and receives a deduction of such amount as is necessary to prevent double taxation.
Under the proviso to sub-section (2.) of the section a shareholder’s individual interest of £100, or less, in the unimproved value of the land owned by any one company is not assessed. The proviso further enacts that where the aggregate of all the shareholder’s interests, after the exclusion of the interests already mentioned, does not amount to £500, the value of the aggregate interests shall” also he excluded from his assessment. This provision was inserted in the act in 1927 for the purpose of eliminating what past experience had shown was unprofitable administrative work involved in calculating and assessing the value of the shareholder’s interest for negligible amounts of tax. The considerable increase of land values that has taken place in recent years has necessarily increased the value, of a shareholder’s interest in the unimproved value of the company’s land. The purpose of the bill, therefore, is to liberalize the provisions of section 39 in order that share interests of a greater value than hitherto may be disregarded in making land tax assessments against taxpayers whose holdings include shares in companies. The present amounts of £100 and £500 respectively are regarded as being inadequate for the purpose intended in the light of the present unimproved values of land. The bill accordingly provides for the exclusion of shareholders’ individual interests in the unimproved value of land owned by companies which do not amount to more than £200, as against £100 at present, and of aggregate interests where the total value does not amount to £1,000, as against £500. However, as I have previously indicated, this will not affect the company’s primary liability to pay tax, at the appropriate rate, upon the unimproved value of the land owned by it.
Debate (ou motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 26th September (vide page 112), on motion by Mr. Townley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I compliment the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) upon the clarity and thoroughness with which he dealt with the proposals contained in the bill in his second-reading speech. However, [ am unable to say that the bill gives the maximum amount of satisfaction. A perusal of it leaves one with mixed feelings. “Whilst it is good in parts it is also disappointing in some respects. In addition, I am gravely concerned about matters with which it omits to deal. Broadly, the measure deals first with pensions and increases of pensions. It also provides for- some amelioration of the means test and for improvements in the rehabilitation activities of the department. It contains an amendment, which I believe to be wise, to give discretionary power to the Director-General of Social ‘ Services in certain cases.
Perhaps I should refresh the minds of honorable members concerning some of the proposals contained in the measure. In accordance with the times in which we live, provision is made for alterations of pensions. Age and invalid pensions are to be increased by 10s. a week; the allowance payable to the wife of a pensioner is to be increased by 6s. a week, from 24s. to 30s. ; and the allowance payable in respect of one child is to be increased from 9s. to lis. 6d. a week. The bill also provides for increases of widows’ pensions. The class A widows’ pension is to be increased by 10s. a week from £2 15s. to £3 5s., and pensions in classes B, C and D are to be increased by Ss. I warmly congratulate the Minister upon the improvement that is to be effected in respect of blind pensioners, whose permissible income is to be increased by £2 a week to £10, thus allowing such pensioners to have a permissible income of £13 a week in addition to the pension of £3 a week. Should the wife of a blind pensioner also receive a pension, the total permissible income of a man and his wife will be increased to £16 a week. The income ceiling for the purpose of determining eligibility for a war pension is also to be raised, and some slight provision is made in the bill for the liberalization of the means test which is applicable to certain classes of pension. I find, for instance, that the property limitation to which age and invalid pensioners are subject, apart from those who own the homes in which they live, and some personal effects, is to be increased from £750 to £1,000. The property limitation applicable to class A widows is to be increased from £1,000 to £1,250, and in respect of class B widows and class D widows from £750 to £1,000. .
– That increase of £250 is not enough.
– I agree with the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) that it is insufficient. I point out that the increase is less than £250. The pension has been increased by 10s. a week, and the existing procedure provides for a deduction of £2 to be made for every £10 by which the value of the property exceeds £450. Therefore, the additional 10s. will increase the property limit from £750 to £S80, so that the actual gain to the pensioner is not £250, or £500 in respect- of husband and wife who are in receipt of pensions., but is actually £120 and £240 respectively.
A funeral allowance will be payable in respect of a person who at the time of his death was receiving an allowance under the Tuberculosis Act. At present, the allowance of £10 is not payable upon the death of such a person. A most important discretionary power is given in this bill to the Director-General of Social Services. In future he may disregard the value, in whole or in part, of a pensioner’s property if he considers’ that special circumstances justify such action. That provision, I contend, is a most important and satisfactory amendment of the Social Services Consolidation Act. Doubtless every honorable member can cite the instance of at least one pensioner who owns property which is let to another person and who, under existing conditions, is unable to secure repossession of it. The income that he derives from- such property weighs heavily against him when he applies for a pension. By the proposed amendment, the circumstances of individual cases may be taken into consideration and if it is clear that a pensioner is making every possible effort to secure repossession of his property, the Director-General of Social Services may’ exercise his discretionary power to approve the payment of a pension to him.
I’ particularly express my appreciation of the extra attention that has been given to the rehabilitation of physically handicapped persons. The relevant provision in the bill will certainly enable much more effective work to be done in that respect than has been possible in the past. For instance, the period of training will be extended from two to three years. Provision is also made for the treatment and the vocational training of persons over sixteen and under 21 years of age. The income qualification to which the parents of an invalid child over sixteen and under- 21 years of agc have been subject is to be liberalized, whilst additional payments are to be made to persons who are undergoing vocational, training. The livingawayfromhome allowance for trainees has been increased, and special provision is made to enable persons who are”1 undergoing training, or receiving medical treatment, to be accompanied by an attendant: whose expenses will be a- charge upon the- Department of Social Services. Broadly speaking, therefore, I can say that the bill, in some respect’s, makes excellent amendments of the existing act, by increasing pensions, providing additional services, and, generally, tending to improve the conditions of those persons who come within the scope of the act at the present time. However, many features of the bill can be made the subjects of criticism, and later, I shall offer suggestions for. improving them. Subsequently, I intend to move an amendment in an endeavour to give effect to my views.
In order to demonstrate some of the points that I propose to make, I shall give a brief resume of the history of socia-l services in Australia. The system began in 1909, when the Commonwealth assumed responsibility for the payment of age pensions, which had previously been provided by some of the States. From the 1st July, 1909, the payment of pensions for aged persons became the responsibility of the Commonwealth. On the loth December of that year, the social services field was widened by the introduction of invalid pensions. A further advance was made on the 10th October, 1912, by the introduction of maternity allowances. At that stage, as the result of the acceptation by .the community of three distinct social services obligations,
Australia was recognized as leading the world in social legislation and social matters generally.
After 1912, the activities of the Australian people in respect of those persons who were regarded as being entitled to receive special consideration from society, were suspended. Between 1912 and 1941, this country, which had begun so excellently in meeting social problems, made no advance whatsoever. It was not until 1941 that the scope of social services was again extended. On the- 1st July of that year, not because of any political promises which had been made at the previous general election, but because- of a problem which arose in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in connexion with the basie wage, the government: of the day introduced a bill to provide for .the payment of endowment in respect of members of a family under the age of sixteen years other than the first child. In 1941, we thus had our fourth instalment of social legislation. But since then the conditions of those citizens who, through no fault of their own, have been deprived of the opportunity to secure a minimum income by their own efforts have improved considerably.
At this stage one properly should pay tribute to the work of the late Mr. John Curtin and particularly to that of the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, which did much to liberalize social services in Australia. Both of those gentlemen believed very strongly that society had a duty to provide a reasonable standard of living for those Australians who, for various reasons, were unable to support themselves without assistance. Under their leadership, great improvements were made. Widows’ pensions were introduced in June, 1942. Funeral benefits for invalid and age pensioners were, made available in July, 1943. Allowances for the wives of invalid pensioners were added to the list of benefits at the same time. Unemployment and sickness benefits were introduced in July, 1945, and widows’ pensions were extended in July, 1947, to what are known as Class D widows. As a result of the social legislation that was enacted between 1.942 and 1947, Australia reestablished its world leadership in the field of social services. That legislation provided for a better distribution of the national income and placed our people beyond the reach of extreme privation and starvation. The principle that underlies the progress that has been made is that, as conditions generally improve, society should extend to its least fortunate members a greater measure of protection against economic ills. It is an interesting fact that, as society has improved its economic standards, the proportion of the. national income that is set aside for the assistance of persons who are in straitened circumstances has been progressively increased. I lay stress upon that fact because I contend that the Government failed to adhere to that principle when it prepared the bill that the House is now considering.
The Minister for Social Services declared on more than one occasion during his second-reading speech that the proposed increase of 10s. a week for age and invalid pensioners would be the largest single increase in the history of Australian pensions. I do not disagree with that statement; it is a matter of fact. However, I submit that the proposed increase will not represent the greatest increase of purchasing power that has been granted to pensioners since the establishment of our social services system. In fact, if we take into consideration the present level of the basic wage, we realize that the proposed 10s. a week increase will not even raise the purchasing power of an invalid or age pensioner to the level that it reached when an increase of 7s. 6d. a week was granted last year. In other words, nothwithstanding the amount of the contemplated increase, the pension will not regain its former value. The peculiar conditions of the last twelve months have had a disastrous effect upon the value of pensions. As the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has pointed out, retail prices have increased by 19 per cent, during the last year. Costs of foodstuffs and basic raw materials have increased by 27 per cent., and the basic wage has risen by 37 per cent, in the same period. If the standards of those who are engaged in productive work and the maintenance of the essential services of the nation have improved substantially, then it is the duty of this Parliament to ensure that the standards of those members of the community who receive a minimum income do not, at the worst, depreciate. The truth is that, although a pension increase of 10s. a week may at first appear to be generous, the real value of such an increase in terms of purchasing power will be by no means sufficient to provide pensioners with a standard of living equivalent to that which they had after they received an increase of 7s. 6d. a. week last November.
A tendency to improve the standards of pensioners has been evident throughout the history of social services legislation in Australia. The ninth report of the Director-General of Social Services includes a statement which shows the maximum fortnightly amounts that have been payable to age and invalid pensioners on the last day of each financial year since the 30th June, 1910. A comparison of those figures with the basic wage for the six capital cities over the same period shows that the proportion of the pension to the basic wage has risen progressively. The sum of 10s. a week that was paid to pensioners in 1910 represented 20 per cent, of the basic wage for the six capital cities. In later years, the proportion was increased successively to 30 per cent., 34 per cent, and 35 per cent, of the basic wage. The proposed 10s. a week increase will not increase the proportion but, in fact, will reduce it to 31.7 per cent, of the basic wage. The Minister and his supporters can truthfully claim that it will be the largest single increase ever given to pensioners, but the sorry fact is that it will not be sufficient to offset the decreased purchasing power of money and that the position of pensioners in the economic field will not keep pace either with the improvement of the general standard of living or with the increase of the basic wage.
– Is not 10s. a week the amount of the increase that the Labour party promised to give to the pensioners if it were returned to office?
– We certainly promised to give the pensioners a substantial increase in accordance with price increases and the raising of the basic wage. Unfortunately, we were not given the opportunity to take that action and the pensioners will not receive an increase that would be just and fair in present circumstances.
One of my chief objections to this bill is that it does not provide for any amelioration of the means test. Under the existing legislation the permissible additional income of an age pensioner is 30s. a week, and £3 a week for a married couple, both pensioners. Their combined pension is £5 a week. The permissible income of 30s. a week for a pensioner has been constant for a considerable time, and it is obvious that the purchasing power of that amount has deteriorated as prices have risen. If the Government does not increase the amount of permissible income, the standard of living of age and invalid pensioners will be still further substantially reduced. I shall cite figures to show honorable members how the failure of the Government to increase rim amount of a pensioner’s permissible income has rapidly dragged down hit standards. It is obvious that a very grave disservice and injustice has been perpetrated upon the pensioners. In 1948 the rate of age and invalid pensions wai £2 2s. 6d. a week, or £4 5s. a week for a married couple, both pensioners. Their combined permissible income was £3 8 week. Therefore their total possible income was £7 5s. a week. At the beginning of 1948 the basic wage, as computed on the basis of prices in the six capita] cities, was £6 4s. a week. At the end of that year it was £6 12s. a week. Therefore, at the beginning of 1948 they received a margin of £1 ls. a week above the basic wage but by the end of that yeal that margin had decreased to 13s. a week.
In November last year the’ rate of pension was raised to £2 10s. a week, thai is, £5 a week for a married couple, both pensioners. Their combined permissible income was £3 a week. Therefore, then combined possible income was £8 a week, or 18s. a week more than the basic wage, which was then £7 2s. a week.
Sitting suspended from 12-lfB to 2.16 p.m.
– Under this hill, the pension will be increased from £2 10s. a week to £3 a week. A husband and wife who are both in receipt of the pension will receive £6 a week, and their permissible income will be £3 a week, making a total of £9 a week. But the basic wage has risen to £9 9s. a week. Therefore, because there has been no increase of the permissible income, the total weekly amount that a pensioner and his wife will be permitted to receive without affecting their pensions’ will be 9s. less than the basic wage. There is every indication that the basic wage will soon be increased by approximately 8s. a week. If that happens, there will be a further deterioration of the position of pensioners.
It is wrong and unjust to provide thai increases of pensions shall become effective from the first pensions pay-day after the passing of this bill. Pensions are not adjusted quarterly in accordance with prices fluctuations. When a pension rate has been fixed by the Parliament, it remains in operation for some period of time, probably twelve months. At the present time, prices and costs are increasing, and the purchasing power of a pension of £3 a week will be substantially reduced during the next twelve months. [ suggest to the Government that, in order to treat pensioners with justice, provision should be made for increased pensions to be paid as from the first pensions pay-day after the 30th June.
The bill does not make provision for an increase of the child endowment that is paid in respect of a first child. During the last general election campaign, the Australian Labour party made it quite clear that, if it were returned to power, it would increase the rate of that endowment ‘from 5s. a week to 10s. a week. On more than one occasion all honorable members have expressed the opinion that Australia’s best immigrants are children born in this country. They have also stressed the necessity to develop the family unit. There is no better way in which we could give expression to those ideas than by making a slight redistribution of the national income, in order to ensure that families in which there are children under the age of sixteen years shall receive adequate financial assistance so that the children may enjoy the standard of living to which we believe they are. entitled, receive a good education and have’ an opportunity to develop their personalities. I believe it to be essential to increase the endowment that is paid in respect of a first child.
Another objection that I have to the bill is that it neglects entirely a very important section of our social services. E refer to unemployment and sickness benefits. These benefits came into operation on the 1st July, 1945. It was provided then that if a wage-earner lost his employment through either lack of work or sickness or accident, he should receive, if he were a single man, unemployment benefit or sickness benefit at the rate of £1 5s. a week, or, if he were a married man, benefit at that rate plus an allowance of £1 a week in respect of his wife. It was further provided that if he had children under the age of sixteen years, he should receive an allowance of 5s. a week in respect of the first child.
In 1945 the unemployment or sickness benefit payable to a married man in respect of himself and his wife was fixed at £2 5s. a week. This measure does not make provision for an increase of that rate, which has remained static for six years. On the 1st July, 1945, the average basic wage for the six capital cities was £4 16s. a week, but. to-day it is £9 9s. a week. Although the basic wage has almost doubled since 1945, no increase has been made of unemployment benefit or sickness benefit. Persons in receipt of those benefits constitute a substantia] section of the community. At page 30 of the ninth report of the DirectorGeneral of Social Services for the year ended the 30th June, 1950, it is stated that in that year unemployment and sickness benefits were paid in 274,698 cases. The figures show that there were 161,101 cases of unemployment, 63,842 cases of sickness and 49,755 special cases. More remarkable still are the figures that indicate the average duration of benefits. They are the best test of whether the amount that is allowed properly fulfils the purpose of this social service. In the table that relates to the year 1950, which is somewhat similar in its percentages to those for the previous years, it is seen that the unemployed received an average benefit of £7 9s., whilst sickness benefits averaged out at £12 8s., and special benefits at £8 5s. An average of £12 8s. represents five weeks of sickness for a married man with one child. For a worker who was not married or for one who had no children it would represent sickness for a longer period. 1 think that every one will agree that the payments are totally inadequate when present-day living costs are taken into consideration.
In the reconsideration and adjustment of the rates of social services it is essential to consider the conditions that exist at the present moment. It must be borne in mind that the Philadelphia Charter of 1944. which provides that it is the duty of all governments which are parties to the charter to ensure that minimum incomes shall be available to all people, irrespective of their physical or economic condition, is not one to which lip service only should be paid. “Whole-hearted service, by means of legislation designed to remove the disabilities of destitution or poverty, should be paid to that provision. If this bill is re-drafted upon the lines that I suggest should be followed its obvious defects will be avoided and the incomes of certain people will be raised to standards more in accordance with the times. Above all, this House will be afforded an opportunity to fix rates which, during the next twelve months and while the present inflationary tendencies continue, will give to pensioners and to those who receive other social services benefits an income more in keeping with the standard of living which the Australian Labour party believes the recipients of social services should enjoy.
I propose to move an amendment that will indicate the opinion of the Opposition concerning the alterations that are necessary in order to make this measure accord with the spirit of the times and the economic conditions of the moment. I move -
That all words after “That” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide for -
the operation of the act from the first pension day in July, 1951 : (l>) the payment of child endowment for the first child at the rate of 10s. a week;
a substantial increase of unemployment and sickness benefits; and further amelioration of the means test.”
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak later.
.Honorable members on this side of the House appreciate the congratulations that were tendered to the Government by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) upon its introduction of this bill. It is not usual for the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to receive congratulations from a member of the Australian Labour party, nor is it usual for members of that party to congratulate members of the Liberal party on anything that they do. The fact that that is unusual, therefore, makes the remarks of the honorable member doubly welcome. He has congratulated the Government because it has granted generous increases of pensions rates and. because it proposes by means of this measure to ease the means test and to give to the Director-General of Social Services discretionary power when dealing with cases of great hardship.
The honorable member has pointed out that Australia leads the world in social services benefits. The age pension was introduced by a Liberal government. Over a period of years the payment of that pension has been supported by Labour governments, and certain small increases of it have been made from time to time. During the regime of the Menzies Government the largest increases in the history of the pension have been granted. Last year the pension was increased by 7s. 6d. a week, and it is to be increased by 10s. a week under the present budget proposals. Only one reduction of the pension has ever been made, and that was made by the Scullin Government during the depression.
– A reduction was also made by the Lyons Government a few months afterwards.
– In order to he fair, I do not criticize the Scullin Government for having bowed to circumstances, which, I believe, were forced upon it by the emergency of the time. I consider, however, that it is important to remember that the provision for age pensions was originally made by a Liberal government and that all the substantial increases of the pension have been made by subsequent Liberal governments.
The criticism which the honorable member for Bendigo has made of this bill appears to be based upon a complete misconception of the basic wage. The only criticism of substance made by the honorable member was that the age pension does not at the present time bear the same ratio to the basic wage as it did in the past. First, let us examine what the basic wage is. It is the sum of money which the appropriate tribunal considers to be the minimum amount that should be paid by an industry to the persons employed in that industry. It is related to the minimum needs of a family unit. That does not now, of course, mean the needs of a man, wife and any particular number of children. lt is based upon the capacity of industry to pay, and upon the reasonable amount that an industry should be called on to pay to its employees. But in all respects it is an amount that should be sufficient for a family unit, which is something more than a man and his wife. To suggest, therefore, that the age pension, which at the best can be received by only two people in one family, should be equal to the basic wage,’ which is designed to provide for a family unit of husband, wife and one or more children, is fantastic. Such a proposition would, if applied, cause an untenable situation to arise.
The honorable member for Bendigo has moved that the age pension increase shall be retrospective to the 1st July last. The honorable member should know that income and expenditure have both .to be provided for in’ the budget. It is quite impossible to expend moneys that have not been provided for in the budget, which provides that certain amounts shall be collected in taxes and shall be expended on social services and other government commitments. So the honorable member’s amendment, if adopted, would obviously throw out of gear all the budgetary calculations, because carrying it out would mean the incurring of a large amount of additional expenditure without the provision of any means to meet that expenditure.
– What about the large surplus that has been budgeted for?
– The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) implies that we should use the estimated surplus to meet the increased expenditure that would be incurred by the adoption of the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Bendigo. That is, of course, what he would like us to do, because he wants to see a continuance of the present inflationary position in this country. As everybody knows, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has budgeted for a surplus as a direct means by which the Government can stabilize prices and curb inflation.
I have a suggestion to make to which I hope the Government will agree. I suggest that the increase of pensions should be made retrospective to the first pay-day after the introduction of the budget. Whoever prepared the calculations for the budget must have calculated either up to date of presentation of the budget or to some date near thereto. It is probable that this measure will be delayed for a considerable time, because the Opposition has moved that the whole bill be withdrawn. Because of the probable lengthy delay in the passage of the measure that will result from the debate on the amendment, the old people, who are grateful for the increase of pension that is to be granted under the bill, will have to wait for it while day after day and possibly week after week in this House and in another place talk will go on and on. The only object of the amendment is to delay the passage of the bill and keep the old people from receiving the increase. The amendment is totally impracticable and its adoption, as I have said before, would throw the whole of the budgetary position out of line. However, I suggest to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) that he agree to make the increase retrospective to the date on which the figures were calculated for budgetary purposes - which, I suggest, was the first pay-day after the introduction of .the budget or some little time later. The adoption of that suggestion would not cause any administrative difficulties.
The honorable member for Bendigo expressed gratitude for the introduction of the bill. I shall now deal with its actual provisions. It provides that married pensioners shall receive a pension of £3 a week each, and that each may earn 30s. a week. Thus in future the combined income of married pensioners can be £9 a week. So there is one reason why the honorable member for Bendigo can point out that Australia leads the world in social services. In addition to an income of £9 a week, which, of course, includes their pensions, married pensioners may also own their own homes and furniture without in any way affecting their pensions. They may also have insurance policies worth some thousands of pounds at maturity, with a surrender value of £750. They may own capital up to £1,000 and still be entitled to some part of the pension, although not the full amount.
One of the most valuable provisions of the bill is that which, as was pointed out by the honorable member for Bendigo, gives a discretionary power to the Director-General of Social Services in cases of extreme hardship. It has always been the case that no matter what l.ne of demarkation is drawn there are odd cases of extreme hardship which cannot be covered by legislation. The DirectorGeneral, having been given a discretionary power by the bill, will be able to correct some of the cases of extreme hardship that have occurred in the past.
It has been suggested to me that I wear a means test upon my coat. However, notwithstanding the fact that I have continually raised in this House and in another place when I was there, the iniquity of the means test I shall once again deal with that subject now. I found the most pleasing parts of the Minister’s second-reading speech were those in which he said -
The Government believes that age pensions and some other benefits should be financed by means of a contributory scheme, under which these payments would be made as a right,, without a means test. . . . The work of evolving a contributory scheme … is long and exacting. Officers of my department have for some time past been carrying out a very thorough and comprehensive review of a.H social services legislation with a view to the formulation of a plan which . . . would place Australian social services on a new and much more satisfactory basis.
So honorable members will appreciate that the Government is fully seised of the necessity and urgency of abolishing the means test. It is now proceeding with the preparation of a plan to achieve that objective even in face of the obvious difficulties of the task. In the meantime the Government has eased the means test by increasing the permissible amount of capital that a pensioner may possess from £750 to £1,000. This will enable thousands of people who are not now entitled to pensions and cannot he because their capital exceeds the sum of £750, to receive a part pension.
– What good is that?
– I consider that allowing thousands of old people, whose only asset is perhaps £1,000 in a savings bank, to receive a part pension, is very worthwhile. I have received letters from age pensioners expressing appreciation and satisfaction with that proposed alteration.
I propose now to discuss the Government’s promise to abolish the means tet when it is possible to do so. Nothing could be more detrimental to the economy of the country than the means test, which punishes people for working and saving. At the present time, all parts of the world are troubled by currency inflation. It i? common ground that the remedy for inflation is greater production or less spending. It is generally agreed that the cause of inflation is too few goods and too much money. The remedy is obviously to have more goods or less money, and we get more goods only by producing more. There are in Australia 347,000 age pensioners, many of whom are very willing to supplement their incomes so that they may have something better than a minimum standard of living, but if they attempt to do so they are penalized because of the means test. If only 10 per cent, of the number were able to providesome additional comfort for themselves by working they would make a tremendous addition to our available labour force. At the present time, a pensioner cannot do one day’s work at the bash wage without being deprived of a part of his pension. The maximum permissible earning under (he act is 30s. a week, and the basic wage to-day is a little more than 34s. a day. It is clear, therefore, that action should be taken as soon as possible to get rid of the means test.
Let us now look at the other side of the remedy for inflation. I refer to the need for less spending, or, in other words, increased saving. How can we expect any one to save to-day when the result of saving is deprivation of social benefits? The law, which has been in operation now for over 30 years, provides that those who are wicked enough to save cannot qualify for maximum social benefits. It may interest honorable members to know that a person would have to invest savings to the amount of £10,000 in government bonds at 3£ per cent, to receive an income equivalent to the age pension receivable by a married couple. What working man or farmer or professional man can ever hope to save £10,000 under modern conditions? How foolish it would be from an economic point of view for a man to save. If he saves more than £.1,000 he will deprive himself of a part of the age pension to which he would otherwise be entitled, and he would have to save £10,000, and invest it at the rate of 3£ per cent., in order to receive an income equal to the combined age pensions of a husband and wife. If we sincerely wish to tackle the problem of inflation, if we really want to encourage people to save, we must abolish the means test, which is having the effect of destroying the incentive to save. The best way to prevent inflation is to encourage people voluntarily to do what is right; that is, to work harder and to save money. The law as it now stands does not encourage age pensioners to work because they are penalized if they earn more than, a very small amount; and the law does not encourage young people to save because, unless they saved £10,000 during their lifetime, they would be worse off when they reached a pensionable age than if they had saved nothing at all.
Always when the suggestion is made that the means test should be abolished, the government of the day, whatever its political colour, says, “Yes, but look at what it would cost “. Well, let us look at what it would cost. Actually, the cost would be a mere fleabite compared to our total budget, and to the damage which is being done to the economy of the country by the present system. I have taken out certain figures to show what it would, in fact, cost to abolish the means test. The statement was prepared when the age pension was £2 10s. a week, and it shows that the abolition of the means test for men only would cost £24,000,000. For women, it would cost £46,000,000, or nearly double, the reason being that women qualify for the pension at 60 years of. age instead of 65, and that women, on an average, live considerably longer than do men. I have calculated that, on the basis of an age pension of £3 a week, it would cost £33,000,000 a year to abolish the means test for men, and £64,000,000 to abolish it for women. In the note that I sent to the Minister for Social Services, the Prime Minister, and honorable members on this side of the House, I pointed out that a weekly contribution of 2s. 3d. from every male between 18 and 64 years of age, supplemented lr* an equal contribution from public funds would permit of the payment of a retir ing allowance of £3 a week to every maD who reached the age of 65 years. The calculation is quite a simple one. There are approximately thirteen times as many males between the ages of 18 and 65 as there are males over 65. Therefore whatever contribution was- fixed, it would be possible to pay a retiring allowance thirteen times as large.
The figures that I have cited have brought me to the conclusion that the Government could abolish the means test for men by means of a weekly contribution which would be equal to about 14 per cent, of the basic wage. Would it be too much for any basic wage earner to contribute about 1-J per cent, of his income? It would cost the Government about £16,500,000 a year out of a budget of approximately £1,000,000 000 to subsidize such a retiring allowance scheme on a 50-50 basis as it subsidizes superannuation contributions by public servants. At the present time the Government is paying a subsidy of almost £17,000,000 on butter production so as to enable the people who eat butter to buy it at a little less than they would otherwise have to pay. Which would be of greater advantage to the economy- and the general good of this country - to abolish this iniquitous means test so that everybody would receive a retiring allowance equivalent to the age pension at the age of 65 years withoutpassing a means test or to make the butter available cheaply to the people who like to eat it ? I do not suggest that the Government should necessarily withdraw the subsidy on butter production in order that it might eliminate the means test. I only mention that possibility in order to demonstrate that it is incorrect to state that the Government cannot afford to abolish the means test.
I am willing to support any proposal for the total abolition of the means test in respect of both men and women. However, it is a fact that it would be very much more difficult to take this action in respect of women. On the average, a woman has a working life of only eight years. Then she wisely gets married and; in the interest of the country, produces children. It would not he easy to collect contributions from people who have an average working life nf only eight years unless the burden of making such contributions were placed on the husband. That would place the married man at a great disadvantage compared with the single man. Therefore, I suggest that the Government should immediately examine the possibility of- introducing a scheme for the total abolition of the means test in respect of men and women separately. It seems obvious that the main cost of abolishing the means test for women must come from revenue; but in respect of men it could be abolished immediately on a contributory basis without any cost to the Government or at a cost of approximately £16,000,000 according to the extent to which the Government subsidized the contributions from general revenue.
There are many ways in which a scheme for the abolition of the means test could be financed. It could be financed by a contribution from each male and female, subsidized by a government contribution. It could be financed by a small surcharge on income tax. For example, I believe that the revenue received during the last financial year from income tax and social services contributions
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It is apparent that the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) indulged in considerable research in connexion with the speech that he has just made and on that’ score he is to be complimented, but I cannot compliment him on his contradictory attitude to this measure. A stranger, listening to the honorable member, would imagine that he was quite willing to support the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), but I have no doubt that when the division bells ring the honorable member will be found voting against it. What is the use of making speeches of that kind when what matters is not what an honorable member says in this House but how he votes? In view of the operation of party politics the contribution of the honorable member is nebulous.
The honorable member for Sturt commenced by stating that the amendment proposed by the Opposition had been presented merely with the object of delaying the payment of pensions. I point out to the honorable member that this debate is taking place as the result of an arrangement between the Government and the Opposition. Although the honorable member is not prepared to support the Opposition’s proposal to make payments retrospective to the first pay period in July, it would appear that he is quite prepared to make the payments retrospective to the 26th September.
I shall pass now from the contribution of the honorable member to the case submitted on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Bendigo. It will soon be necessary for the Government to take some action in relation to the means test. We, in Australia, commend ourselves on our highly developed social services but there is a contradiction in the Government’s policy in relation to those services inasmuch as the means test operates in respect of some benefits but not in respect of others. While this position exists there will always be anomalies and hardship will be caused by the operation of the means test. Honorable members have been told, in effect, that it is impossible to abolish the means test because of the expenditure involved. I have no doubt that the students of economics on the opposite side of the House will make their usual statements in support of such a claim but these defenders of orthodox economics have, no doubt, been astounded and confounded by what has happened in this country during the last ten years. We do not object to the payment of child endowment and maternity allowance to millionaires or multi-millionaires, but we object very strongly to the application of the means test to those who are at the opposite end of the financial scale. The means test is a deterrent to thrift. By continuing its application the Government renders a disservice to thrifty persons who throughout their working years saved to provide for their declining years. Five or ten years ago many of them hoped that they had assured for themselves a degree of security in their declining years ; now, as a .result of inflation, that security has been swept aside. In some instances those who do not need assistance receive social services benefits in the form of child endowment and the maternity allowance. I do not question their right to those benefits. I believe that a very strong case exists for the total abolition of the means test as it is applied to all social services benefits.
The plight of the pensioners’’ appeals to all honorable members who realize that, of all sections of the community, the pensioners have been hardest hit by rising prices. They have to pay rent and to feed and clothe themselves on meagre incomes, the purchasing value of which is receding daily as a result of rising costs. All honorable members sympathize with them in their difficulties.
I add my support to the appeal made hy the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) for a review if unemployment and sickness benefits. No amendment has been made in the provisions that cover the payment of unemployment and sickness benefits since the act was introduced by the Chifley Government in 1947. A married man with one child who is involved in an accident that may result in the loss of employment for twelve months is still entitled to a benefit of only £2 10s. a week. It is a matter for regret that the Minister for Social Services, when drafting the bill now before us, did not see fit to increase the rate of sickness and unemployment benefits. A very good case exists for a review of the rate of benefit in the light of present conditions.
I make a special appeal to the Minister on behalf of the parents of invalids between the ages of 16 and 21 years to whom the means test is applied. The permissible income of such parents has been increased from £9 to £12 a week, but if their income exceeds that amount they have to bear full responsibility for maintaining an invalid child np to the age of 21 years. I have been informed by the Minister that the abolition of the means test as it is applied to the parents of invalid minors would cost only an additional £150,000 per annum. At present there are approximately 3,000 invalid minors in receipt of the invalid pension. The grant df the small concession which I advocate would relieve Considerably the hardships imposed upon many parents with invalid children. Families in comparatively wealthy circumstances do not require the assistance, but others less fortunately placed need it badly. When invalids reach the age of 21 years they automatically become entitled to the invalid pension if they can prove that they are 85 per cent, incapacitated. The mere fact that an applicant must be 85 per cent, incapacitated in order to qualify for the receipt of the invalid, pension indicates that he is physically incapable of earning a living. Many invalids are involved in heavy expenses for medical treatment and medicines. A very strong case exists for the lifting of the means test as it applies to invalid minors. It is not yet too late for the Minister to insert an appropriate amendment in the bill now before us to enable that to be done. If I read his secondreading speech aright he has power to correct this injustice in the existing legislation. I ask him to reconsider his decision on the matter. I have much pleasure in -supporting the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Bendigo on behalf of the Opposition.
– If anything can soften the blow of higher taxes it is the knowledge that at least some portion of the additional revenue will be paid to deserving sections of the community. I refer to age and invalid pensioners, widows and other recipients of social services benefits. I deprecate the attempt that has been made by Opposition members to belittle, if not to ignore, the increased benefits that have been bestowed upon the recipients of social services by this Government. The Opposition, by submitting an amendment that is designed to bring about the withdrawal of the bill and its replacement by another measure that will involve further discussion and increased expenditure on social services, is merely engaging in a party-political manoeuvre. The amendment should not be taken seriously. It should be remembered that when the present Government came to office it immediately set about honouring its promise to the electors that it would authorize the payment of endowment for the first child of each Australian family. The Labour party, which when in office did nothing to help parents in respect of the first child, is now moving for the withdrawal of the whole hill with all the pension increases it provides because it says that it believes that the payment for the first child should be 10s. a week. In 1946, when a social services bill was before the Parliament, Dame Enid Lyons moved for the withdrawal of une paragraph of it, not the whole bill as the Opposition wants to do on this occasion. LI award of. the 3lst July, 1946, Volume 1SS, at page 3407, reports Dame Enid Lyons as having moved -
That paragraph 3 be postponed, as an instruction to the Government to investigate immediately relieving the undue burden imposed on the family by the economic situation by expanding the operation of the Child Endowment Act to cover all children of Australian families under the age of sixteen who ire at present excluded.
At that time the Labour Government in office had refused to endow the first child. The amendment provided for payment for the first child. It must be remembered, also, that when Dame Enid Lyons’s amendment was out to the vote, every honorable member then on the Government side voted against it. Now, after this Government has fulfilled its promise to endow the first child, the Labour party has changed face and is attempting to have the endowment for the first child increased, by a withdrawal and redrafting of the bill, although in 1946 it resolutely opposed any endowment for the first child. Among those who defeated Dame Enid Lyons’s amendment may he found Mr. Iv. E. Beazley, Mr. Bryson-
– Order ! The honorable member is referring to other honorable members by their personal names. That is directly in contravention of the Standing Orders.
– I am reading from a division list published in Hansard.
– The honorable membe]1 cannot read in the House the names of honorable members from such a division list.
– I cannot otherwise indicate who the honorable members are. because some have now changed their electorates and others are not now members of the House.
Honorable members interjecting,
-Order! I do noi require any assistance to interpret the Standing Orders.
– It is very fortunate for some honorable members on the Opposition benches that their facet can be saved by Standing Orders. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) voted against the amendment and his name is recorded in Hansard. That means that he voted against allowing any governmental assistance in respect of the first child of the family. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) is shown as having recorded his vote in favour of the amendment moved by Dame Enid Lyons in 1946. It will therefore be seen that the attitude of the Opposition is very childisH. It has moved an amendment that it knows it has not the power to carry through. It also knows that a majority of its members who will vote for this amendment voted against an amendment in much the same terms in 1946. Moreover, not only did they vote against increasing the endowment, but they also voted against any endowment at all for the first child. Honorable members opposite are merely playing al party politics and are trying to hide from pensioners the great advantage that has accrued to them through the actions of this Government.
This bill will liberalize the means tes as well as increase payments in many directions. Under it, social services payments will be increased by £13,516,000 a year. Honorable members would do well to remember that the Opposition amendment, if carried, would have the effect of denying the disbursement of this vast sum of money to the people who will receive it if the bill becomes law. Three hundred and forty-seven thousand age pensioners, 70,000 invalid pensioners, 42,000 widows and other sections of the people will enjoy this financial year a total amount of £124,000,000, which is 31 per cent, greater than the total Commonwealth expenditure in the financial year 1938-39. Therefore, while honorable members opposite try to side-track the suggested increases by asking for the abolition of the means test, the people themselves realize what great benefits they have received from the Government.
The Government is now providing for social services recipients £37,000.000 more each year than was ever provided before by any government, including Labour governments. The increase of 10s. a week is the greatest individual increase that has ever been made to age and invalid pensioners since the provision of pensions was instituted. Last year’s increase was 7s. 6d. a week, and up to that time that also was a record. “Whilst this measure provides for many benefits for social services recipients, it also contains several anomalies which I hope will be remedied. One such anomaly is revealed in the case of a widow who has to leave her home because she has no one to look after her. After she has left the home it becomes a white elephant to her and she would he better off without it. If she sold it her pension would he stopped. If she should let it her pension would he reduced, yet she still has to pay rates and meet the cost of insurance and upkeep. Therefore, I think that the means test should be relaxed to the amount of 30s. a week or more in respect of such a widow. Perhaps the Government could also display a little more tolerance in considering pensioners’ assets. For instance, holders of worthless shares in certain forest projects are denied the age pension because the shares have a face value. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter, and into other anomalies which prejudice claimants for pension under the act as it now stands.
All pensioners, I- am sure, are eager for this measure to be passed. Certainly they do not want it to be withdrawn, as the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has proposed. In the last twelve months, our annual pensions bill has increased by £37,000,000. Whilst there may be some virtue in the suggestion that the means test should be abolished, surely it is better that that additional £37.000,000 should be distributed amongst people who are in needy circumstances than that it should be spread over a much larger number of pensioners, many of whom would not really need the money, although with the means test abolished they would have a legal claim to it. Until much larger sums of money can be made available for pensions, there should he no substantial widening of the eligibility provisions. Obviously the abolition of the means test, at this stage would necessitate the imposition of much higher taxes and such a move would, I am sure, meet with little support in the highly overtaxed community to-day. The Treasurer appears to have exploited every possible avenue for taxation purposes.
When this measure has been passed, a pensioner couple will receive £P a week instead of £5 a week. In addition, the husband and wife will be able tn earn 30s. a week each without prejudicing his or her pension. The allowance paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner will be increased from 24s. a week to 30s. a week, and the allowance that she receives for the first child under sixteen years of age will he increased by 2s. 6d. to lis. 6d. a week. In addition, of course, child endowment of 5s. a week will still he payable. The pension payable to a widow who has one or more children under sixteen years of age will be increased by 10s. a week to £3 5”. a week, and the amount that a widow pensioner may receive by way of pension plus other income will he increased from £4 5s. a week to £4 15s. a week for class A widows, and from £3 12s. a week to £4 a week for widows in classes B and D. The amount that a blind pensioner may have by way of earnings or other income in addition to his pension will be increased from £8 to £10 a week. When this Government came into office blind pensioners could have a total of only £t 17s. 6d. a week. Under this legislation, a single blind pensioner will be permitted to have a total of £13 a week, including his pension, instead of £10 10s. a week as a present.
– How will he be able to earn the additional money?
– Some blind people are more useful members of the community than are many individuals who have the sight of both eyes. Incidentally, I pay a tribute to the men and women in religious orders and in public institutions who devote their lives to teaching the blind to become productive members of the community. Their work is reflected in the additional comfort that blind people are able to enjoy because of their ability to supplement their pension. Personally I should like to see all restrictions removed from the permissible income of blind pensioners, but this measure is at least a step in the right direction.
The bill increases by £250 the limit of property that a person may own without being disqualified from receiving a pension. That makes the total £1,000 for age and invalid pensioners and widows in classes P» and D, and £1,250 for class A widows. A married claimant will not be disqualified from receiving an age or invalid pension unless the total value of the property of the husband and wife exceeds £2,000. At present, the limit is £1,500. In addition, of course, the couple may own a home without limit in value, as well as furniture and personal effects.
All those liberalizations of pension payments and income restrictions will be of great value to pensioners in these days of increasing living costs which affect them so greatly. Instead of seeking the withdrawal of the measure, honorable members opposite should be only too glad to give it a speedy passage. Have we any reason to believe that if the bill were withdrawn the Labour caucus would be able to determine its attitude any more rapidly than it did when, through its majority in the Senate, it delayed the passage of the bill which extended child endowment to the first child of each family? This bill embodies quite a number of improvements of the original act which honorable members on this side of the chamber have advocated for some time. Everybody would, of course, like to see pension payments doubled, but we all know that- to be impracticable to-day. Nevertheless, -I hope that, as the years pass, an increasing national income and a consequent boosting of revenue will enable the Treasury to increase pension payments and other social services substantially. This bill is urgent and necessary, and I have no doubt that the amendment which requests its withdrawal will be defeated. In view of the
Opposition’s attitude last year to theextension of child endowment to the first, child and the months of delay in payment caused thereby, how can we have any confidence in the integrity of its approach, to this legislation?
.. - I support the amendment that hasbeen moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), but I deplore thesuggestion that the Opposition wants todelay the payment of the increased pensions. At the end of the last sessional’ period, I asked the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) whether increased pension payments contemplated in the then forthcoming budget would be made retrospective to the 1st July. That indicatesclearly the intention of the Australian Labour party in this matter. Yet, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) described the amendment that has been proposed on behalf of the Opposition as a last minute decision with the object of delaying the passage of this measure. Thehonorable member for Bendigo, in opening this debate on behalf of the Opposition, dealt thoroughly with the problem of pensions as a whole. I believe that all honorable members will admit that hedid so very fairly. He commended theGovernment for the increases of pensions that are to be made available under thismeasure and also the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) for his sincereefforts in the interests of pensioners. I regret, however, that we cannot commend! the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in that respect. It is an insult to pensioners to increase their pension by only 10s. a week. During the last three weeks we have been discussing a budget in termsof not hundreds of thousands of poundsbut hundreds of millions of pounds. Wehave had that privilege because of the increase of governmental revenue which has resulted from record prices for wool, wheat and other products. Every citizen should rejoice about that development. Supporters of the Government allege that previous Labour leaders, including Mr- Scullin and’ Mr. Lang, did not do the right thing by the pensioners and the needy. I point out that whereas in those dayswe were fighting for our economic- existence, to-day we are enjoying unprecedented prosperity. Yet, the Treasurer does nothing but harp about drawing off purchasing power from the community. “Why cannot the Government make some of that surplus wealth of the community available to the pensioners who, in the main, pioneered this country?
– That is what the Government is doing.
– On the basis of purchasing power, 10s. to-day is only the equivalent of 2s. 6d. four or five years ago. Is it any wonder that a Sydney daily newspaper, when commenting upon the budget, described this Government as a “Ned Kelly” Government? At least one can say of Ned Kelly that although he attacked the privileged he was always prepared to help the poor. Of course, the Government will use its numbers in this chamber to pass the measure in its present form; but that will be no consolation to the pensioners and the needy. Although supporters of the Government never cease talking about inflation they are not prepared to increase pensions to a degree that will enable recipients to purchase adequate supplies of the necessaries of life. The Government should issue a ration card to every pensioner and by a method of subsidy enable pensioners to purchase essential foodstuffs such as butter and eggs at reasonable prices. Supporters of the Government know that because of the existence of black markets pensioners are unable to obtain adequate supplies of food. During the eight years when Labour was in office, the basic wage was increased by £2 7s. a week and during the same period the rate of age and invalid pensions was increased by £1 ls. 6d. a week, or an increase of 47.6 per cent, of the prevailing basic wage. To-day, a Liberal Government is in office. It is Liberal in name, but not in reality. When it assumed office, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) had certain ideas about how the country should he governed. He was in favour of appreciating the Australian £1. Supporters of the Government have never denied the statement that the Cabinet, by twelve votes to seven, decided on three occasions to appreciate the currency. At the moment I am not saying whether I believe that such a step would be right or wrong. Nevertheless, the Treasurer’s reply to that proposal was, “ Only over my dead body will you do that “. Subsequently, the Prime Minister retreated. Next, he promised that he would introduce an excess profits tax.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not deal with matters that are covered by other items that appear on the notice-paper. I ask him to confine his remarks to the bill before the chair.
– The prices of the necessaries of life have risen beyond the purchasing power of the pensioners. The position is well illustrated by the following paragraph that I quote from yesterday’s edition of the Sydney Sun -
A St. Leonard’s housewife shopping at Crow’s Nest yesterday approached a case of slightly bruised apples and asked, “ How much are these?” The shopkeeper replied, “Well, lady, if von picks ‘em yourself they are 8d. ; if I pick ‘eni for you they are 7d.”
That incident is typical of the difficulties that now confront housewives in trying to make ends meet when purchasing items of foods. Yet, supporters of the Government say that an increase of 10s. a week will provide adequate assistance to pensioners ! The Government should do justice to that section of the community by making greater assistance available to them out of the surplus of over £100,000,000 for which it is now budgeting.
Provision is being made for an expenditure of £180,000,000 on defence. No one will object to that provision, but when the Government is able to finance such expenditure and still budget for a huge surplus it should, at the same time, do the right thing by pensioners who, in the main, have pioneered this country and have reared sons who have fought in its defence in practically every part of the globe in two world wars. To-day, the pensioners are in dire straits. When they are obliged to pay 4s. or 5s. a day for a room, how will they be able to make ends meet on a pension of £3 a week ? On the basis of the cost of living the basic wage will shortly be increased by another 10s. a week. If pensions were increased quarterly, as the basic wage is increased, according to rises in the cost of living, some measure of justice would be done to the pensioners. However, their position is reviewed only every twelve months. Although further increases of the cost of living may occur in the meantime their pensions will not be reviewed again until the next budget is brought down next year, for the last twelve months, the Government has been gloating over the fact that it increased pensions by 7s. 6d. a week. For the current financial year pensions are to be increased by 10s. a week. What does the Government think that the additional 10s. a week will enable pensioners to buy in view of the fact that the cost of living is rising almost daily? The previous Minister for Social Services, Senator Spooner, hit upon the bright idea of sending pensioners back to work. He calculated, in fact, that 40 per cent, of the recipients of pensions would be eligible for employment. Work and more work is the recompense that elderly people, who have toiled hard for many years, can expect from this Government for their contribution to national development. I emphasize to the Minister for Social Services that it is not yet too late t.o reconsider the proposed rates of pension. Higher company tax and sales tax will be reflected in higher prices for goods, which will be passed on to the purchasers. Many people are able to supplement their normal incomes by doing extra work at night or in the week ends, but the poor pensioners have no such opportunity, and must exist as best they can upon a miserable pittance.
I know that if I criticize the proposed rates of social services, honorable gentlemen opposite will retort, “ What did the Chifley Government do?” In the last Parliament they used to ask, “ What did the last Government do?”. By that remark they meant the Chifley Governnent, but they are not able to use that parrot cry any longer because the last Government was a Liberal Government, [f they were to criticize the last Government, they would condemn the Menzies Government. The people would welcome an opportunity to pass judgment on the present Government at the polls, because it has not done anything. Every time
Opposition members submit a request to it, whether for an increase of pensions or for anything else, the answer is, “ No, no, no “. Yet Ministers had the vanity- to think that on the 22nd September last we would say “ Yes “ to the Government’s referendum proposals. Their blindness in that respect astonished me. The result of that referendum- showed clearly thai the people who were fooled by the Liberal party and the Australian Country party at the general election in 1949, and again in April of this year, were not deceived on the third occasion on which they had an opportunity to express their views about its performances. I ask the Government to put party politics aside, and extend proper and honorable treatment to the unfortunate pensioners. If such a policy ii adopted, other things will right themselves in time. Of course, after the next general election, the incoming Labour government will give the people of Australia the laws and the guidance that they should have.
.- If we were to take notice of the speeches of members of the Labour party in favour of the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), we should have to gauge their sincerity in the matter by their deeds in the past. After we had applied that test we should be forced to the obvious conclusion that the amendment is a most insincere effort to try to regain for the Labour party the support which it lost a? the result of the miserable treatment that was meted out to the recipients of social services by the Chifley Government. It was not until the Menzies Government assumed office that pensioners began to receive their just entitlement. The Labour party, when in Opposition, has always cried to the high heavens abou the attitude of the non-Labour government of the day towards pensioners, whenever a forward move has been made. The Labour party, when it is in Opposition, declares that social services should be on a more liberal scale, but when it hin office, it refuses to increase them. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) recalled most aptly that the Labour party last year strenuously opposed a bill the purpose of which was to grant 5s. a week endowment to the first child of a family under the age of sixteen years, yet in this debate, Opposition members parade as the great protectors of the family unit. The amendment is a futile waste of time and a ridiculous attempt to work on the sympathies of honorable gentlemen on this side of the House.
– Government supporters have no sympathy for the unfortunate pensioners.
– I have a lot of sympathy for the honorable gentleman. We have always shown very real sympathy for the less fortunate sections of the community. The Labour party is fully aware of that fact, but hopes by means “of this amendment to cajole some honorable gentleman on this side of the chamber into crossing the floor and voting with them in favour of it. This bill has been thoroughly considered by the Government, and has the endorsement of the Liberal party. It represents the bust that we can do for the recipients of social services at the present time. There is nothing that a government can do that will give to the old people and the less fortunate members of our community all the things which they so richly deserve,
I am pleased to note that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) proposes to extend the scope of the scheme for the rehabilitation of invalids. It there is one matter upon which the Department of Social Services should be congratulated it is the work that has been proceeding with .the rehabilitation of invalid pensioners and the recipients of sickness benefits.
– Who began that work’s
Mi-. PEARCE. - It is a very real and valuable work, which was commenced, not by any government, but by a few enthusiasts in the Department of Social Services, who recognized the possibility of rehabilitating invalid pensioners and placing them in employment, as the result of which they would be able to regain their self-respect and rightful position in the community. The work that was done by those few enthusiast? in the early days finally forced govern- ‘ ments to take action. The importance of that work has been recognized to an increasing degree with the passing of the years. I believe that no political party can claim any credit for the introduction of the system of rehabilitating invalid persons. The credit for that fine work belongs’ to a few officers of the department.
The economics of the system should impress honorable members. The rehabilitation section, at the present stage of its development, has placed into employment approximately 2,700 persons, who otherwise have been compelled to spend the rest of their lives as recipientsof the invalid pension. The saving in pensions from that alone is approximately £2,000,000 a year and the saving on prospective invalid pensioners, recipient? of sickness benefit and other persons who are not in receipt of pensions but who are receiving rehabilitation, is £2,250,000 per annum. In other words, the rehabilitation section is saving the community in pensions alone approximately £4,250,00’ 1 a year. Calculated on the average working life of an individual, that means thai the rehabilitation section of the Department of Social Services has already provided for a future saving of pension expenditure of £127,500,000. In order to appreciate the full value of the work to the nation in terms of pure economy, we should add to that figure the amount of the earnings of those 2,700 persons. Basing the calculation again on average earning capacity and average working life, they may reasonably be expected to earn about £285,000,000. Thus, the rehabilitation of invalid pensioners and prospective pensioners has provided already for an estimated contribution to Australia’s economy of £412,500,000. Considering the matter solely from a business-like point of view, we find in terms of cold figures, which do not- lie, that the rehabilitation section of the Department of Social Services is of immense value to the nation. However, that aspect of the matter is incidental. The work of rehabilitation would still be completely justified if, instead of contributing £412,000,000 to the economy, it was carried on at a dead financial loss. The moral and physical benefits that are gained by men and women who are taken off the pension list and re-established as useful citizens able to earn sufficient to keep themselves and their dependants in comparative comfort provide all the justification that we need. Nobody wants to be an invalid pensioner. It is a fate that everybody would seek to avoid. The act of helping pensioners to return to a normal way of life as efficient members of the community who enjoy the respect of their fellows restores their faith in humanity in general and faith in themselves. They are removed from the class of persons who may be looked down upon by some people because they have had the misfortune to be disabled in some way and they are replaced in positions in which they can command respect.
One or two aspects of the rehabilitation procedure of the Department of Social Services require improvement, in my opinion, and I ask the Minister to give close attention to them. Every honorable member has been asked at some time to assist a person who, having been classified as an invalid pensioner, has been told that he is no longer entitled to a pension because a doctor has examined him and found that he was pensioned originally on the basis of an incorrect diagnosis. I consider that the claim of a prospective invalid pensioner should not be assessed in the first place on the diagnosis of a referee who is, perhaps, a pathologist in a health laboratory in a country town. He should be sent at once to a specialist in the particular type of complaint from which he is believed to be suffering. This would enable his case to be judged on a com- plete and expert diagnosis. Many applicants for an invalid pension develop what might be described as a pension psychosis as a result of early medical examinationsthat are not fully authoritative and their state of mind makes them less amenableto rehabilitation. One can readily understand the feelings of a man who is told,, first by his family doctor and later by a doctor in charge of a health laboratory, that he is suffering from a heart disease and should stop working, and live quietly on an invalid pension., if he is later taken in hand by therehabilitation officers of the Department of Social Services with the object of restoring him to useful activity and isthen informed by a heart specialist that there is nothing wrong with his heart but that he is suffering merely from » nervous complaint and that the best thing for him to do is to return to work. If I were in such a position, I should1 be loath to believe the specialist. Manysuch cases have been brought to light by the department. The persons concerned” are inclined to be resentful of thespecialist’s diagnoses and to resist any efforts to persuade them to return to theirnormal occupations, and I do not blame them on that account. This sort of thing could bo entirely eliminated if the department’s medical referee immediately sent each applicant to a specialist so that his preliminary diagnosis could be either confirmed or denied. At the same time,, the capacity of the applicant to be rehabilitated should be assessed. In my opinion, each applicant should first begranted a rehabilitation allowance equivalent to the pension instead of beingclassified immediately as an invalid pensioner so that, if he is capable of being rehabilitated, he may find his way back into normal employment more easily than might be possible otherwise. Should thedepartment fail to rehabilitate him, hecould then be classified as an invalid pensioner. That system would be less likely than the present system to destroy hope. A man must feel as though the normal’ world has fallen away from him when hereceives his first invalid pension cheque.
Another aspect of the rehabilitation, system that requires modification, in my opinion, concerns the candidate for rehabilitation who cannot be restored to» normal activity. Failure to rehabilitate a pensioner should be regarded as a failure on the part of the Department of Social Services, not as a failure on the part of the individual. I know of many men and women who have failed to respond wilh complete success to rehabilitation treatment. If, for some reason or other, perhaps psychological, a pensioner cannot be rehabilitated, the department now says to him, in effect, “ We cannot rehabilitate you. Go and find a job for yourself “. Full responsibility for the failure should he borne by the department, and the person concerned should be reinstated as ) pensioner or should be subjected to a further and concentrated rehabilitation course.
The rehabilitation section of the department has under its control in the various States homes at which country residents can undergo special training. They are operated in conjunction with day centres. I have inspected three of these homes in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. They are well conducted and I have no hesitation in recommending them to invalid pensioners and persons in receipt of the sickness benefit. One of the complaints of the officers who carry out the rehabilitation work of the department is that very few members of this Parliament have taken the trouble to inspect the centres. I assure honorable members that it would do their hearts good to inspect one of these establishments. Those people are doing a mighty good job of work for Australia and for humanity. It would greatly hearten the people who are conducting the rehabilitation establishments if the people who make the laws in connexion with rehabilitation were to take a keener interest in the work that is being ‘ performed. During my visits to some of those establishments I was shocked to learn that I was the first member of Parliament who had ever stepped into them to have a look around. I should not be surprised to learn that I am the only member of Parliament who has inspected three rehabilitation centres in Australia. They are really well worth while seeing. It would well repay the time and effort of honorable members to go along and see what is being done in a sympathetic and kindly manner to rehabilitate men and women. There is a real necessity for more money to he expended upon rehabilitation. Adverting to my opening remarks about the economic aspect of this matter, I stress that the rehabilitation section of the Department of Social Services is effecting m a colossal saving to the people of Australia. I consider that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) should open his money bag wider to ensure that more funds shall in future be provided for this work. I am convinced that that would “ pay-off “ not only from a business point of view, but also from moral and national points of view. The people who enter establishments to be rehabilitated are deserving of the best treatment that can be provided. Only a miserable pittance is being expended on the upkeep of our centres that are doing so much to rehabilitate unfortunate members of the community. I am sure that even if the Treasurer were to look at this matter solely from a cold, hard, business point of view he would be convinced that additional expenditure on this work would pay handsome dividends in the scheme of Australia’s economy.
Another aspect of this matter is that in most instances, particularly in New South Wales, the boarding rehabilitation centres that have been established for country people are too far from the cities. I contend that the efficient operation of the scheme would be assisted if both the day and boarding centres could be grouped under one roof. I hope that the Treasurer will authorize the Department of Social Services to acquire suitable premises for this purpose. Welfare officers who work on a psychological basis should be encouraged to make their services available. Any man or woman who suffers from a physical or mental disability requires psychological adjustment. I realize that social workers are very scarce. The only way that we can get them is to train them. Therefore the Government should offer scholarships tenable in our universities for social service training, in order that suitable men and women may be forthcoming to carry on this vital work. During the war the Red Cross Society sponsored scholarships for social workers. That scheme paid handsome dividends to society, paid handsome dividends to the society, as it would to the Government. It is essential that social workers should be paid reasonable remuneration. At present the monetary reward offered to social workers in our rehabilitation centres and charitable organizations is insufficient to attract suitable men and women to this occupation. I emphasize that only by opening the door to enable social workers to enter the service of the Commonwealth shall we be able to obtain their services. A further inducement to undertake this work would be to promise trainees that on completion of their course they would be able to serve in rehabilitation centres and to do so without financial worry.
An extension of the sphere of social service workers is warranted. When a person in a centre is about to return to his family life, the social service worker who has assisted him in his rehabilitation should visit the district in which his home is situated and pave the way for him. Et must be remembered that in the person’s previous environment, it had been accepted that he was a weak member of a family. After he has been rehabilitated he no longer needs special care and attention. Therefore a social worker should visit the home in which he will live, and the workshop or other place where he will work, and pave the way for his return, not as a pensioner, but as an ordinary wage-earner. I consider that the scheme falls short at present because, rehabilitated persons usually return, without prior preparation, to the environment from which they were originally taken.
I am pleased that the Minister has provided that rehabilitation training shall in future be open to young people between the ages of 16 and 21 years, which is a very vital age group. This will rectify the unsatisfactory state of affairs that has existed whereby a young person could not enter a rehabilitation centre until he had attained 21 years of age. I point out that these are the impressionable years of a young person’s life, during which his character is moulded. It is very difficult, after a person has reached maturity, to alter his impressions. If a baby suffers a disability from birth, early action should be taken to correct its disability. If a young person suffers a disability as the result of an accident, he should nol be required to wait until he is 21 years of age before he can be provided with rehabilitation training. As a result of the Minister’s extension of rehabilitation training to the 16 to 21 years age group, about 200 persons each year, who would otherwise have been compelled to exist probably for the rest of their lives on pensions, will now be rehabilitated as useful members of the community. Although there are many difficulties in these matters, I consider that the Miniate should have gone further. In addition ti their rehabilitation training, these per sons should also be paid a rehabilitation allowance. Deficient persons in that agl group constitute a heavy drain on .* family purse. Therefore rehabilitation allowances similar to those that are paid to persons above the age of 21 years, should be paid to these young people.
In my opinion we shall not be tackling the job properly until we get the defective children immediately they leave school, if the parents so desire. I think it is correct to say that in all States vocational guidance officers look after the children up tithe age when they leave school. It would be a relatively easy matter for the Depart ment of Social Services to obtain iron, the education authorities in the Statesparticulars of a crippled child’s capabil ties at the age of leaving school. If rehabilitation centres could train young people in the valuable period between the ages of fourteen years and sixteen years, within twelve months they could condition their minds in such a way that they would look forward, not to drawing an invalid pension for the rest of their lives but to earning their own livings in useful occupations and becoming respected members of the community. If we wait until after that period to commence the training, the young people will spend, in their own homes, pottering about, time that should be devoted to their rehabilitation. They will not be able to go to work because, not having been trained, nobody will find a place for them: Gradually, their physiological attitude to life will become upset and it will remain so for the rest of their lives. Why cannot we make use of the valuable years between the ages of fourteen years and sixteen years, during which we could do in six months work that, if we waited until a young person was older, it would take us three times as long to do? I should like to see rehabilitation centres established in country areas. It is a shame thai people in those areas who require training must travel long distances to the cities.
I know that the Minister has done the very best that he can do with the material chat is available. Expenditure upon rehabilitation work is comparatively small, but the benefits that are derived from it are, measured in terms of the physical welfare and the spiritual uplifting of physically handicapped people, tremendous. It is work of which Australia may justly be proud. It would do the hearts of honorable members good to visit these centres. I am certain that after one visit to a centre, any honorable member would become an enthusiastic supporter of it.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey). The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) said that the Opposition should Dot spend time in discussing this measure because, if it did so, the payment of the increased pensions would be delayed. If the Government *vere sincere in this matter, it could easily make provision for a retrospective payment, in the same way as it did for the judges. Honorable members opposite have challenged the sincerity of the Opposition in moving the amendment that is now before the House. We can prove our sincerity only when we occupy the treasury bench in this Parliament, which we hall do after the next general election. We believe that unemployment and sick.ness benefit should be increased to offset the reduced purchasing power of the £1, and that there should be a further amelioration of the means test. I should like to see social services benefits increased to a greater degree than is proposed in the amendment.
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) said that he doubted the sincerity of the Labour party in relation to social services, but the history of social services proves our sincerity beyond all doubt. Every social services benefit that i3 now being enjoyed by the people of Australia was initiated by Labour. The Curtin Government and the Chifley Government, notwithstanding that they were in power at a time when this country was involved in a global war and was fighting for its very existence, introduced legislation for additional social services. After Labour took over from the Menzies Government, which collapsed and let Australia down by leaving us defenceless in 1940, it devoted its energies to the mobilization of the nation for defence, but lt also found time to consider the interestof people who needed help and to expand social services. The accusation of the honorable member for Capricornia that the Labour party is insincere in relation to social services is completely disproved by the history of social services in thi= country.
The Liberal party is talking about b contributory scheme now. Under a scheme of that kind, poor persons would pay as much as would any one else. A Liberal government was responsible for legislation under which a deceased pensioner’s estate was examined and any money that he had left was paid to the Government in return for the benefits that he had received when he was a pensioner. We know that this Government has long-range plans, and it may be that a scheme of that kind is included among them.
The Liberal party inserted an advertisement in the Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 15th November, 1949. It appeared under a photograph of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The advertisement promised that, if the present Government parties were returned, child endowment would be paid in respect of a first child. It is now being paid, but not at the rate that the Labour party wanted. We wanted it to be 10s. a week, but the Government has given only a paltry 5s. a week. The advertisement stated that the present Government parties wanted to develop a national superannuation scheme. When are they going to do something about that? They have had plenty of time to act, but they have not done so. That is another unfulfilled promise.
– Order ! We are not discussing Government promises or policy. We are discussing this bill.
– I am dealing with what was said about social services in a newspaper advertisement that was inserted in the Sydney Daily Telegraph on behalf of the Liberal party. In 1949, the present Prime Minister delivered a policy speech on behalf of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. In the course of that speech he said -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age.
The right honorable gentleman might drag out the system that failed in 1938, under which it was proposed that every one should pay a contribution of ls. 6d. in the £1 in order to receive benefits that would not enable them to feed a crow. He continued -
It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right and so get completely rid of the means test,.
The newspaper advertisement from which I have quoted stated, without any qualification, that the Liberal party would get rid of the means test, but nothing was said about a contributory system of social services. The right honorable gentleman also said in his policy speech -
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval. Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value .by increasing their purchasing power.
What a big laugh that last sentence provides! We all know how much value has been put back into the £1.
I now wish to deal with some of the amendments that are to be made to the principal act and to indicate the inadequacy of them because of the failure to restore value to the £1. It has been said that a Liberal government was responsible for the biggest increase of pension rates. That is incorrect. The value of an increase can be judged only by having regard to the amount of goods which the £1 will purchase. If that principle is applied it will be found that the greatest increases were made by the Australian Labour party in 1948, when the pension rate represented 36 per cent, of the basic wage. The increases proposed by the measure now before the House will make the rates only 31 per cent, of the basic wage. I remind honorable members that there is on the horizon the prospect of an additional 9s. a week being added to the basic wage. When that is added, pension rates will be less than 31 per cent, of the basic wage. When the effect of the sales tax and other taxes proposed by the tyrannical budget which was recently brought down is felt and passed on to the consumer, pension rates will really be at their lowest ebb. This Government should take action to speed up the procedure of adjusting such rates. The cost of living is rising so quickly that the ordinary processes of parliament cannot keep up with it. In addition, the failure of this Government to restore value to the £1 is having a most adverse effect on pensions.
It is obvious that the Government has completely neglected its promise to liberalize the means test. In 1950, the sickness benefit payable to soldiers who were receiving a war pension was slightly increased, but the total amount involved was only £115,000. If all the pensioners concerned received the benefit during a year, that amount would provide the payment of only 4s. a head. It is unfair to say that that represented liberalization of the means test. The Government claims to be taking action to ease the means test by reason of the proposals contained in this measure, but I suggest that all that it is doing is to alter the property limitation by increasing it from £750 to £1,000. Property values are being revised continually because of rising prices. I consider that the number of people who will benefit because of this amendment of the act will be very small. The Government has completely overlooked the position of a person who lives in his own home and owns another property from which he collects a small rental. I know of an instance in which a man is receiving 39s. a week for a property which is worth not much more than £1,000. Because he owns that property he is not entitled to receive the age pension. Certain people in the community are expected to live on an income which is often less than that received hy a pensioner merely because they have the misfortune to own a small amount of property. Such people cannot eat their properties unless they turn themselves into white ants. This Government does not attempt to get down to the level of the people who are battling along.
This measure will improve the position of parents who have an invalid child, but if- the invalid is between the age of sixteen and 21 years, he is not, in his own right, entitled to receive an invalid pension. The total number of such persons is so small that the Government should abolish that provision entirely. Every person has a human right to some form of substance. As the matter stands, a young person between the age of sixteen and 21 years, who, because of his disability, cannot earn a living, is not entitled to a pension if his parents are receiving an income of more than £9 a week.
I now wish to deal with the provisions of the bill which relate to widows’ pensions. I remind honorable members opposite that the Australian Labour party proved its sincerity in regard to social services when it introduced legislation in 1942 to provide for the payment of such pensions. At that time the pension was £1 10s. a week, but as the cost of living rose it was increased accordingly. The Government now proposes to increase it to the same rate as that of the age pension. While I am grateful that war widows will receive increased pensions, I believe that the civilian widow should receive more than she will be entitled to under this measure. A widow is a widow no matter what the circumstances are. A civilian widow with three children will now receive £3 5s. a week, plus 5s. for each child. In addition, she is permitted to earn £1 10s. a week.
– She also will receive child endowment.
– That is true, but I shall disregard child endowment for the purposes of comparison. A civilian widow with three children could therefore have an income of £5 10s. a week. A war widow with three children receives’ £3 10s. a week, plus a domestic allowance of £1 12s., plus £1 2s. for the first child and 15s. 6d. each for the second and third children. Her income also includes an educational allowance of £1 ls. which brings it up to £8 16s. a week exclusive of child endowment. In addition, she is not subject to the means test so, if she were capable of doing so, she could supplement her pension to any extent by working. The civilian widow, on the other hand, is restricted to the receipt of a pension of £3 5s. a week plus an allowance of 5s. for each of the first three children, and has the right to supplement her income by only £1 10s. a week. I believe that that provision should be liberalized so that such a widow, if young and capable, could go out to work and thereby, in addition to supplementing her income, contribute to national production.
I turn now to the allowance in respect of the wife of an invalid pensioner. The Labour party first introduced this benefit in 1943. Previous to its introduction the wife of an invalid pensioner received nothing.
– Who first introduced it in the State sphere?
– The Labour Government of New South Wales.
– Is the honorable member quite sure of that?
– Yes. The weekly rate of pension of the wife of an invalid pensioner is .to be increased from £1 4s. to £1 10s. I believe that such an amount is totally inadequate, because the invalid pensioner himself will receive only £3 a week. An allowance of 5s. a week is to be paid in respect of the first child of such a couple, which will bring the total income of an invalid pensioner, his wife and child, to £4 15s. a week, which , is less than half of the present basic wage. If the wife were capable of doing so she could go to work and would be permitted to earn £1 10s. a week. The means test should be liberalized in this instance so that the wife of an invalid pensioner would be able to supplement the very inadequate allowance that she now receives. In many instances, however, the wife of an invalid pensioner has to stay at home to nurse her sick husband. That fact provides a strong argument for the liberalization of the allowance paid to her. Such a woman is worse off than a widow because she has a family to support instead of only herself.
Again .to prove the sincerity of the Labour party I point out that child endowment was first introduced in New South Wales by the Lang Government in the 1920’s.
– By whom?
– By the New South Wales Labour Government in 1925. That was the policy of the Labour party in that State, and it was not until many years later that it was copied by the Australian Government, which put child endowment on a Commonwealth basis. The Labour party of New South Wales was also responsible for the introduction of the age pension. The payment, of child endowment in respect of the first child is inadequate and should be increased to 10s. a week. The Government will have our support if it should move to that effect.
The next matter to which I shall refer is the rehabilitation of invalid pensioners. That scheme, which was first introduced by the Labour party in 1944, has been of great benefit to invalid pensioners. The only argument I have against the provisions in relation to it in the bill is that the Government has not made them liberal enough. Another social service introduced by the Labour party was the funeral benefit for pensioners, which was introduced in 1943 and has remained at the rate of £10 ever since. Just as the cost of living has risen, so has the cost of being buried, and the Government should liberalize that payment accordingly.
The health scheme for pensioners is the next matter I shall mention. I believe that the present scheme is shocking because it does not go far enough or cover all the pensioners. Many people do not qualify for this benefit although they are receiving less income than pensioners are receiving. The benefit should be extended at least to people who are receiving less than the age, in valid, or widow’s pension rate. The Government might very well examine that matter, because the disability that I have mentioned applies to the same people who. as I mentioned before, are deprived of a pension because of property disqualifications. I know people who are receiving less than £3 a week from property but who, because they are not pensioners, are not entitled to this health benefit. The Government should make the benefit available to this class of people.
This bill is supposed to be a bill to provide for social security, and I believe that, every body in the community should be made secure under it, otherwise its title is inaccurate. I challenge the Government to prove its sincerity by putting some real value back into the pensioner’s £1 and so fulfil the promise that its leaders made in 1949.
– The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) , by selecting a few aspects of social services, has tried to convince his listeners that non-Labour governments have not made the biggest contribution to social services. He chose several perhaps insignificant aspects of social services and claimed that the Labour party was responsible for the introduction of the original legislation, whereas in fact non-Labour governments both in the United Kingdom and Australia have been responsible for all the great advances in social servicethat have been made.
The Parliament may congratulate the new Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) upon having introduced the all-time record increase in social services that is provided for in this measure. Although his predecessor in another place introduced legislation for an. increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the age pension, the present Minister’s bill seeks to increase the pension by 10s. a week to £3. At the sam time we should congratulate the Minister for all he’ has done since he has been in charge of the Department of Social Services. We are very proud of him personally as well as of the contribution that he has made to the Government of this country, and we are also proud that he has submitted these proposed increases to the Parliament. We are proud, too. of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr
Wilson),- who has worked so hard in the interests of people who are suffering through the means test. Because they have been thrifty and have saved some money they are debarred from enjoying to the full the benefits provided by a welfare state. I am delighted to know that only a few moments ago a telegram came here which described the honorable member’s speech to-day as a great speech from a great gentleman. I offer him my sincere congratulations.
– Wait till we see how he votes.
– Order 1
– We do not need any assistance from the protectors of the Communists.
– I rise to order. I object to that statement, which I regard as an insult to the Opposition and to me personally.
– What was the statement?
– The statement which I made was that we do not need any assistance from the protectors of the Communists. It did not refer to the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie).
– It must have been intended to refer to somebody on the other side of the chamber.
– No, sir. It did not refer to anybody on the other side.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! I point out to the House that the custom and usage of the Parliament is that when any objectionable reference is made about any member of the House, and either the Speaker or the honorable member concerned requests that it be withdrawn, it must be withdrawn. But it is also the custom of the Parliament that no honorable member can require a withdrawal of a remark made about a political party. However, I advise the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) that he should not proceed on that line, and I think that in this instance he might withdraw his remark.
– The statement I made was that I did not require any assistance from the protectors of Communists. I withdraw it where it applies to any person who has a guilty conscience in the matter.
– Withdrawals must be made without qualification.
– I withdraw the statement without qualification. I believe that the welfare state is democracy’s
– He even has a “ mo “ like Hitler.
– Order ! Who made the interjection about a “ mo “ ?
– I did.
– The honorable member must withdraw the statement and apologize to the House.
– I withdraw the statement and apologize.
Mr. Curtin interjecting.
– The honorable member for Watson must apologize for interrupting.
– I apologize.
– The welfare State is democracy’s answer to communism. When the State is properly administered, with due regard for all persons, there is no room for communism, and there is little opportunity for propagandists to inject poison by telling people that they will be better looked after under communism. The Liberal parties in Great Britain and Australia have, in the main, been responsible for the most important contributions to the welfare. State.
– That is absolutely ridiculous.
– Order ! The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) will have his opportunity later.
– As I said before, I have no need for assistance from certain people. You, Mr. Speaker, will not allow me to say who they are. Social services benefits concern everybody. They concern those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to pay for food, clothing and shelter. Those are the people who are directly affected by any increase of pension rates. Social services also affect the taxpayers who provide the money out of which pensions are paid. They also affect the workers and producers who provide goods and services of which the money paid to pensioners is a measure. After all, the pension which a person receives is merely the measure of goods and services to which he is entitled. This legislation also affects all those people - and they constitute a majority of the community - who fear that some day they will have to accept social services benefits from the State.
It is not particularly helpful for members of the Opposition to say that pension rates should have been still further increased. As a matter of fact, the largest increase ever granted by a Labour government was 5s. in 1948. Before that, the increases had been in the nature of ls. or 2s. or 2s. 6d. The present Government, however, granted first an increase of 7s. 6d. a week, and it is now granting a further increase of 10s. a week.
The provision of pensions for the aged, the sick and the widowed is the most Christian work which any government can undertake. Those who read the New Testament - and I know that you are not unfamiliar with it, Mr. Speaker - have learned that Jesus Christ spent much time during His public life on earth in helping those in need. He gave sight to the blind, He healed the man who was possessed of a devil, and He cured those who were sick of the palsy. His advice was -
Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourself a treasure in the Heavens that faileth not.
The same lesson is taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan -
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by
On the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his
Own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spend est more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou,, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves ?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
When legislation of this kind comes before the Parliament it is an indication that ours is a truly Christian democracy; that we are really trying to do the things that matter; that we are offering help to people who, through illness or accident, or through some unfortunate circumstance, cannot save enough to provide for illness or old age.
The Liberal philosophy has always been characterized by a care for liberty and a drive for social justice, which, as I have said, is the real answer to communism. The socialist will display, on very slight provocation, what Mr. Herbert Morrison calls, “ His Liberal streak “. There are two historic strands in liberalism, the care for liberty and the drive for social justice. To combine the two, to achieve the one without sacrificing the other, is the objective of the liberal society. As the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) pointed out, social legislation in Australia was introduced before the Labour party was even formed.
– Under pressure from Labour.
– The first pensions scheme was introduced by a Liberal government in 1909. The Opposition is a part of the Parliament, and if the Labour party wishes to claim credit for having forced the hand of the government of that day, it is welcome to do so.
Members of the Opposition haveclaimed that they have forced the’ Government to introduce this legislation, but I do not remember their having requested the Government to take such action. The fact is that the Government itself- has put forward these proposals. The people of Australia know that the Government originated the measure and is grateful to it for having done so.
Legislation for the payment of age pensions was first introduced in Australia, although it was not carried into effect, by a non-Labour government in Victoria prior to .1901. Such legislation was introduced by a Liberal party government in New South Wales in 1908. In the federal sphere, the Deakin Liberal Government introduced the age pension in 1910. As the honorable member for Banks said, child endowment was initiated in New South Wales by a Labour government, but it was made available to families throughout Australia by the Menzies Government. In the federal sphere, health schemes were first formulated by the Bruce-Page Government. Honorable members will remember the social services that were introduced in the United Kingdom by the Asquith Liberal Government, the CampbellBannerman Liberal Government and by the Churchill Government. Mr. Churchill is a very great Liberal whom the whole world is proud to associate with social services. Parties of the same political persuasion as honorable members on this side of the House were responsible for the initiation of Christian Liberal democracy. Government members are extremely proud of that fact and I congratulate the Minister for Social Services, Mr. Townley-
– Order ! The honorable member shall not use the personal names of Ministers.
– I apologize for using the Minister’s name: The Minister for Social Services has been responsible for the introduction of .sweeping reforms. Honorable members opposite have criticized the Government on the ground that there is not .sufficient value in the age pension. An examination of the “ C “ series cost-of-living index as it was in June, 1951, and as it was at the conclusion of the September quarter of 1948 when the age pension rate was £2 2s. 6d., indicates that an increase of 9s. 5d. a week would bring the pension to the ‘same level of value.
– Do not be silly !
– Order! Such remarks are completely unparliamentary and should not be made.
– If the pension were to be increased to £2 18s. 4d. it would have the same value, on the basis of the “ 0 “ series index, as the £2 2s. 6d. had in the September quarter of 194’8. That is to say that the proposed pension is ls. 8d. more in value than the £2 2s. 6d. that was paid hy the Chifley Government in 1948. Let us examine this matter in another way. In 1937 the age pension was £1 a week. In 1940 it was increased to £1 ls. a week. In view of the fact that the “ C “ series index figure was then 1,000 and is now a little over 2,000, a pension of a little over £2 a week would now be equal in value to the £1 a week that was paid in 1939. In fact, the pension is now £3 a week, which is three times as much in money and it is probably 50 per cent, more in value than it was in 1939.
– The honorable member has been looking into the crystal ball.
-Order! The interjections from the cross-benches are becoming too persistent. I warn honors able gentlemen that further interjections will be regarded as grossly disorderly and will be treated accordingly.
– The honorable member for Sturt has laboured for months in his office, in the party room, and in the Parliament with the object of having the means test eliminated as soon as possible. The abolition of the means test has been a part of the policy of the Liberal party for many years. It has also .been part of the policy of the Labour party. In 1946 I wrote to the late Right Honorable J. B. Chifley and asked him what his proposals were in this connexion. He stated that the abolition of the means test formed a part of his party’s platform but that the implementation of that policy would cost £44,000,000 - it would now cost about twice as much - and he considered that the time was not then opportune for such action. The honorable member for Sturt has suggested that the means test could be abolished at once by introducing a contributory scheme which would, according to his calculations, result in a greater number of people immediately becoming part of the earning public and starting to pay taxes. They would contribute to the productivity of the country. The honorable member for Sturt stated how this could be done. In New Zealand there is already a contributory scheme under which everybody over a certain age can draw a pension.
– They do not all draw the same amount, though.
– That is not very helpful. We are not concerned with details. We are concerned with principles.
– The pensioner pays.
– Of course the pensioner pays. If pensions are increased too much and prices are inflated too much the pensioner is in just as bad a position as he was before. It is necessary for the Government to have regard for everybody in the community. As I said before, the pension should not be valued in money but in terms of goods and services that can be obtained from those who work and produce. The scheme that the honorable member for Sturt has put forward is very important. I think that there are about 500,000 pensioners in this country and it has been estimated that in not very many years, as the death-rate becomes lower and the average age of the community becomes greater, half of the community might be in receipt of some sort of pension. The country is rapidly reaching the stage when the implementation of the honorable member’s suggestion will become urgent, vital and necessary. It will become essential to find some way to bring into use the enormous store of energy represented by people who are now debarred from working by the operation of the means test. A few days ago a constituent of mine, a man about 70 years of age, who was quite fit and well, told me that he had surrendered his pension and that he was now earning £15 a week. Instead of receiving money from the Government that man is now contributing to the revenue by way of income tax. There are very great possibilities in the scheme that was advocated by the honorable member for Sturt, and honorable members on this side of the House support him in his endeavour to improve our social services system. As a commencement, the means test could be abolished in respect of pensioners aged 80 years and over. Next, the means test provision* could be progressively ameliorated until a more realistic basis of assessing pensions had been devised:
It is perhaps not appropriate for me, in a debate of this kind to refer to the fact that the many social services benefits that have been introduced by the present Government have made the lot of pensioners very much easier. Free medical services now provided for pensioners and other benefits provided by the governments of the Commonwealth and of the States, have considerably improved the lot of pensioners generally. Indeed, so many and varied are the benefits made available to the needy by the State governments and local governing authorities, that even the Commonwealth Department of Social Services itself has not full information concerning them. By legislation other than that now before us the Government has ensured that pensioners shall he able to enjoy a reasonably decent standard of living. A man and his wife who now receive the age pension may each earn up to 30s. a week without loss of pension. Their joint earnings of £3 a week, added to their combined pension of £6 a week, enable them to live in a fair standard of comfort. Normally, a married couple of advanced years who enjoy good health can live in reasonable comfort on £9 a week, particularly if they are fortunate enough to own their home.
The Government might well be more generous in its treatment of widow pensioners. A widow with a number of children under the age of sixteen years is permitted to earn 30s. a week for herself and 5s. for each child. I see no reason why the permissible income for each child should not he increased to 30s. a week. School children under the age of sixteen years are just as expensive to maintain as is the mother herself. Their clothing expenses are high and they need good wholesome food. The Government might well liberalize the means test as it is applied to the children of widow pensioners.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. GRIFFITHS (Shortland) [5.1Q~. - The amendment submitted by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr.
Clarey was designed not for the purpose of delaying the passage of this bill as supporters of the Government have stated, but rather to test the sincerity of the Government, having regard to the fact that, when it increased the salaries of public servants and certain members of the judiciary, the increased rates were made retrospective to July of lust year. The Opposition will always give its blessing to any proposal to increase social services benefits. The Government has demonstrated its lack of sincerity by the introduction of this measure. The benefits proposed in the bill will mean little or nothing to the great majority of pensioners, because within the next week or two it is likely that the basic wage will be increased by from 8s. to lis. a week. Instead of assisting the pensioners the Government is virtually making a direct attack upon their miserable means of subsistence by introducing the measure at this stage.
I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) upon the introduction of his first bill, but I regret that it does not do him justice. It is apparent that in framing the measure he acted on the directions of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who told him that hs could go so far and no further. Undoubtedly, he would have liked to get control of some of the £114,500,000 that the Treasurer proposes to take from the people and to put away for safe keeping. The Opposition is justified in supporting the amendment in an endeavour to assist the pensioners to meet steeply rising living costs. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech prior to the general election in 1951, stated that he and his Government would look after the interests of the pensioners. The right honorable gentleman said -
We make no cash promise to pensioners, whose pensions hat! not been raised by the Chifley Government, in spite of rapidly rising prices, right through from the latter part of 1948 to the end of 1049. but we increased their pensions in our very first budget by 7s. fid. a week. [ interpose by saying that the. increase to which ‘ he referred was granted twelve months after he had been elected to office. Almost another twelve months have gone by and the pensioners are now offered an additional 10s. a week, notwithstanding the fact that in the meantime the basic wage has been increased by £1 17s. a week. The Prime Minister continued -
We do not yet know what the appropriate alteration should be by the time of the next budget. But we do say that’ we understand the difficult problem of the pensioners in a period in which prices arc rising. The pensioners need not be led away by election cash offers. We will look after them. We may be relied upon to do full justice to their needs, as we have done before. “We know just how well the right honorable gentleman has honoured his promise to look after the needs of the pensioners. The Prime Minister in his 1949 policy speech said -
Meanwhile existing rates of pensions will of course be maintained.
I have indicated how the existing rates of pensions have not been maintained. In fact the financial position of the pensioner is now more precarious than it has ever been. The Prime Minister also said in
We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
We all know how the Government has failed to increase the value of pensions. On the 22nd September, the day the referendum to deal with Communists was being held, certain headlines and promises appeared in the Newcastle Morning Herald. They were -
Wool Subsidy to 00: Pensioners may get Extra £1.
Canberra, Friday. - The Government is likely to drop the £20 million subsidy on woollen goods. Old-age pensioners will probably get an additional £1 a week under the budget. . . . Old-age pensioners might expect an additional £1 a week, bringing their payment to £3 10s. a week. In addition, it is believed the means test will be cased to enable them to earn an additional £2 a week without their pension rights being threatened. The general pension rise, it is believed, will be about 25 per cent.
It must be remembered that that propaganda was spread in what might be described as the largest country town in New South Wales. It hit the pensioners harder below the belt than did any other action of the Government. I believe that when the Government canvassed for votes by this propaganda in Newcastle, it thought that there were probably more pensioners in that industrial area than in any other part of the Commonwealth. That would be quite likely because the men who work in the steel industries, the mines and the other heavy industries established there fail in health more quickly than those who work in more congenial occupations.
– The statement read by the honorable member from the Newcastle newspaper is not a Government statement.
– At least it must have come from a Government source, because a few days after that statement appeared the Government announced that the wool subsidy was to be abandoned and that when the budget was introduced pensioners would be given 10s. a week more. In this measure the Government has set out to do a further injustice to pensioners. Of course, certain provisions in the bill will give benefits to pensioners. The Minister should be congratulated on one provision, although it does not go far enough. That is the discretionary power given to the Director-General of Social Services to disregard when assessing the amount of pension, the value of the whole or part of the property of an age or invalid pensioner. That power has relation only to a pensioner who has let his home and is unable to regain it. On numerous occasions pensioners find that they are-
Conversation being audible,
– Order ! I can hear conversation in the House. That is unfair to the speaker who is. addressing the House. Apart from that, it is in contravention of the standing order which prohibits honorable members from conversing in the House.
– There are numerous occasions when people fall by the wayside. They can no longer continue working in industry, and are unable to obtain the full benefits under the social services legislation, because the Social Services Consolidation Act binds the Director-General of Social Services and his registrars as to what a person’s permissible income may be and as to what his pension shall be. The Minister should consider allowing to the Director-General of Social Services full discretionary powers in the cases of people who are unable to obtain pensions because of certain provisions in the act. It has been said that the pensioners now are in a better position than they were in at any period in the past. The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) quoted the “ C “ series index during his argument, but I shall quote actual money values.
In 1946 the basic wage was £5 8s. a week. An age married couple without any other means of support were allowed a total pension of £3 15s. a week. The difference between the combined pension and the basic wage was £1 13s. a week. In 1949, prior to the defeat of the Chifley Government, the basic wage was £6 12s. a week. A pensioner couple were in receipt of £4 5s. a week, and the difference between the combined pension and the basic wage was £2 7s. a week. Even at that stage the condition of the pensioners had deteriorated. In November, 1950, the basic wage was £8 5s. a week, a pensioner couple were in receipt of £5 a week, and the difference between the combined pension and the basic wage was £3 5s. a week. But now, at the beginning of October, 1951, when the basic wage is £9 13s. a week, and it is still rising, the Government intends to increase the age and widows’ pensions to £6 a week. That leaves a difference of £3 13s. a week. Within a few weeks, when the new basic , wage increase is made known, the difference will be more than £4 a week. The pensioners’ financial position will become worse, because this Government has not granted money to the States according to their legitimate requirements. That action of this Government has caused an increase of many essential costs. For instance, the New South Wales Department of Railways has announced that the freight on grain and flour will be increased by 166$ per cent. On fruit it will by increased by 166 per cent.; on hay, straw and chaff, by 133 per cent.; on wool by 75 per cent.; on milk and cream, owners wagons, by 66 per cent., a’.nd on milk, other traffic, 25 per cent. On frozen and fresh meat the increase will be 50 per cent. ; on coal and coke, 50 per cent.: on livestock, 33 per cent.; and on miscellaneous items, 45 per cent.
Therefore, it will be seen that because of the increase of freights alone, the “ C ‘’ series index must automatically increase throughout all next year. If something is not done by the Government to control prices and costs I hate to think what will be the lot of the pensioners in the next twelve months, especially those who are unable to earn anything to augment their pensions of £3 a week. This legislation will destroy any hope that pensioners may have had for improved living standards within the next few years. We are told that pensioners have a free medical service, but should a doctor have to travel some distance to visit a pensioner, his visit has to be paid for. Only life-saving drugs are free to pensioners. Other medicines, liniments, and invalids’ requisites such as cushions and bedpans, &c., have to be paid for. I have heard it argued in this chamber that our income tax scales are not so severe as those applying in the United Kingdom, but I point out that the people of Great Britain have a much wider social services scheme than we have. In addition to sick pay and compensation for injuries, the people of the United Kingdom are entitled to free dental attention and free spectacles, hearing aids and medicines; yet this Government cannot see its way clear to provide those things free even to pensioners.
The means test could be and should be considerably relaxed. The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) has illustrated clearly what may happen. This measure will not do anything ‘ for the pensioner who has only his pension on which to live, but by widening the conditions of eligibility for a pension it will help others who are already in moderately comfortable circumstances to enjoy even greater comfort. Any person who has more than £100 in the bank will be ineligible for a full pension.
I had brought to my notice some time ago the plight of a man who owned the house in which he lived and which was valued at £650. He also owned the house next door which was valued at £500. Because, apart from his own house, he owned property valued at more than the £200 permissible limit for a man and wife, both his pension and his wife’s pension were reduced under the means test. The man is 80 years of age and is blind. His wife is almost the same age, and it is impossible for either of them to earn additional income, yet they will still be ineligible for a full pension under this legislation although another man, living in the same street, and occupying a house worth £6,000 is receiving £3 a week from a superannuation fund in addition to the full pension. The Minister should examine cases such as that with the object of affording some relief to the pensioners concerned. I know of another blind pensioner, a man of 50, who lives within a short distance of my own home. His wife is a victim of osteomyelitis and can do little more than look after her blind husband. Under this measure, her sole income will be 30s. a week. This, together with her husband’s pension of £3 a week will give the household a total income of only £4 10s.” a week. That is a miserable pittance. Surely in such circumstances the Director-General of Social Services could exercise his discretion and. pay the wife the equivalent of her husband’s pension although she is not 85 per cent. incapacited.
Recently a war pensioner named Brooks received an increase of his pension which -brought it up to the rate applicable to a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman. He had lived with a de facto wife since 1921. In later years she became an invalid and drew an invalid pension. However, as soon as her husband’s pension was increased to £7 a week, the Department of Social Services invoked the means test and reduced her pension. The position is, therefore, that although the woman is recognized by the Department of Social Services as the wife of the ex-serviceman the Department of Repatriation takes the view that as she was not his wife in 1918 when he was injured in World War I. she is not eligible for a wife’s allowance. Under this legislation the ex-serviceman will receive £8 15s. a week, hut the Department of Repatriation will continue to deny his wife the allowance of £1 10s. a week, and the Department of Social Services will continue to deny her the full invalid pension because of her husband’s pension income. When I brought this matter to the notice of the
Minister, he had part of the pension restored, but because of the, terms of the means test which provide that an ex-serviceman who is in receipt of a pension may receive only £377 a year, his wife will still be denied assistance as her husband is receiving the £8 15s. a week applicable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. It is time something was done about such cases like that. I believe that an exserviceman who is in receipt of a war pension and is unable to take his place in industry should receive the same amount that is paid to an age pensioner who also has a superannuation payment of £3 a week.
The means- test should be applied in respect of service pensioners who are in receipt of both a civil and a service pension in the same way as it is now applied in respect of civil pensioners. In many instances, persons whom the departmental medical referee will not certify to be 85 per cent, incapacitated are unable to obtain an invalid pension. I know of cases of persons who had- only one eye and who were suffering from arthritis, heart trouble, or other complaints, yet the medical referee would not certify that they were 85 per cent, incapacitated. Such persons are unemployable. Many of them are obliged to subsist on the unemployment and sickness benefit which amounts to 25s. a week.
In one case that came to my notice last year, the departmental medical referee at Newcastle certified that a widow of 45 years of age, who had had ten children, eight of whom are still living, was able to work. Her father informed the authorities that she had epileptic fits and was unemployable. Eight weeks after she had been certified as being employable she was admitted to the asylum for the insane at Morriest and she is still an inmate of that institution. From information that has been supplied to me, I believe that she was not really insane but was declared to be so principally because of her condition as the result of fits. I also believe that, eventually, she was driven out of her mind as the result of the treatment she had received at the hands of the department. In another case, a woman of 35 years of age, who resided with her mother at Cardiff, and who had been in receipt of an. invalid pension for fifteen years, was certified by the departmental medical referee to be capable of performing semi-sedentary duties. Consequently, her pension was reduced to 25s. a week. She was a victim of osteomyelitis and had fixity of the knees and hips. Although she could not bend her legs the medical referee said that she was capable of doing scrubbing. When it was found that she could not perform such work she was engaged carrying meals to patients in hospital wards, but she could not do that work. The Director-General of Social Services should be instructed to use his discretion when dealing with- cases of the kind that I have mentioned.
In most instances, employers will not engage persons who are deformed, or are suffering from a physical disability, because such people often prove a liability to industry. The Government should accept responsibility for reimbursing employers in respect of leave and a proportion of the compensation that may have to be paid to persons coming within that category. If the Government did that, I am sure that employers generally would be more willing to employ such persons. I do not believe that the pensioners will be satisfied with the increases that are proposed under this bill. They are unable to make ends meet on the present rate of pension and they realize that rising prices will soon reduce them to a hopeless financial position. The means test should be reviewed and liberalized sufficiently to enable pensioners to obtain a little more of the amenities of life to which they are undoubtedly entitled. I again commend the Minister for introducing the measure.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Most of the criticism that the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffith) levelled a! the Government in respect of social services benefits generally could be more justly addressed to the Australian Labour party, of which he is a member. That party, after being in office for eight years, failed to attend to grievances of the kind that he has voiced. The present Government has been in office for only twenty months, but already it has substantially liberalized pensions of all classes. During that short period it has effected two increases of pensions and, undoubtedly, its record far surpasses that of any Labour government. As some of my colleagues have already pointed out, non-Labour governments were originally responsible for the provision of most of our social services. Since federation non-Labour governments have been in office in the National Parliament for more than 30 years, and during that period they have laid a solid foundation for the social services that the people now enjoy.
A great responsibility rests upon the nation to provide for the welfare of pensioners. This Government gladly accepts that responsibility, in spite of its unprecedented budgetary commitments. It is estimated that expenditure from the National Welfare Fund during the current financial year will amount to £138,000,000. That expenditure will he incurred in the provision of all classes of social services benefits, including funeral benefit, widow’s pension, maternity allowance, child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefit, age and invalid pensioners, increased assistance for blind people, hospital benefit, pharmaceutical benefit, tuberculosis benefit, and community rehabilitation benefit. In making such, provision, the Government is aware that the people realize that in the midst of all our difficulties, we must not overlook the needs of those in the community who are not able to care for themselves without government assistance. That responsibility devolves upon a little over 3,000,000 people who are enjoying good health and are in employment. They are prepared to accept the responsibility of caring for their fellow citizens who, unfortunately, have not sufficient resources or are not physically capable of caring for themselves. Those 3,000,000 people will bear the burden of the budget, and I have no doubt that they will willingly accept that- great responsibility. During the course of this debate several honorable members opposite have contended that existing pensions should be increased to a greater decree than the Government proposes to increase them, in order to bring the rates into closer proportion to the basic wage. Such a statement is remarkable, when we recall that the Curtin Labour Government in 1944 introduced amending legislation to delete from the Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act the sections that provided for the automatic adjustment of the maximum rate of pension in accordance with the variations of the basic wage. The Attorney-General of the day, Dr. Evatt, is reported in Hansard on the 23rd February, 1944, as having said -
As a result of a further examination of the position, and having- regard to the fact that considerable administrative work and many complications arise from, the present system, the government has decided to ask the Parliament to repeal the sections of the Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act which provide for the adjustment of the maximum rate of pension in accordance with the variations of the price index number.
Had those provisions been retained, pensions would still be adjusted automatically in accordance with the variations of the basic wage. The removal of those sections from the Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act in 1944 now prevents such adjustments from taking place automatically. Despite those facts, Opposition members have the temerity to criticize the Government on the ground that the proposed increases of social services do not bear a proper relation to the basic wage.
– The relevant sections were deleted from the act in 1944 in order to prevent a reduction of pensions.
– The facts show that the Labour party failed in its responsibility to the recipients of social services. Pensioners have every confidence that this Government will treat them as generously as it is able, and their confidence is not misplaced. This Government has not let them down. During the general election campaign in 1949, in the midst of a clamour by pensioners for an increase of rates, the then Prime Minister, the late Mr. Chifley, refused to indicate whether he would introduce legislation to increase pensions. The then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Menzies, on behalf of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, gave a clear and unequivocal undertaking that if he were elected to office, pensions would be increased. The people of Australia in general, and the pensioners in particular, recorded an overwhelming vote of confidence in the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, and the new Government, within a few months of assuming office, honoured its pre-election promise. . The Labour party quickly realized that it had made a mistake in 1949, arid during the general election campaign earlier this year, it promised that, if elected to office, it would increase the age pension by 10s. a week. The Australian people did not trust the Labour party, and returned the Liberal party-Australian Country party Government to office with a majority in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
On behalf of the Opposition, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has submitted an amendment which is designed to secure an increase of the proposed rates of pension. Such a move clearly indicates that the Labour party is playing party politics with the less fortunate section of the community. But the pensioners themselves will not be deceived by the tactics of the Opposition in this matter. They know perfectly well that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), during the recent general election campaign, did not specifically promise that his Government, if returned to office, would increase pensions, but said that rates of pensions would be reviewed. They have now been reviewed, and the proposals in the bill are most creditable to the Government. The new scale of social services will bring cheer to the hearts of pensioners. The amendment is a deliberate attempt to delay the payment of the higher rates, and, as I have said, the Opposition is clearly playing party politics at the expense of the less fortunate section of the community.
Opposition members have dwelt at length on the fact that the cost of living- will continue to rise. It has not been claimed that this Government can arrest the upward movement of prices promptly. The Labour party should consider the proposed scale of social services benefits in relation to the budget as a whole. The object of the Treasurer (Sir
Arthur Fadden), in preparing this budget, is to arrest basic wage increases, and bring about economic stability. Honorable gentlemen on this- side of the House honestly believe that, the budge: will go a long way towards easing the problem of inflation in this country, and arresting the upward movement of prices. When the inflationary trends have been checked, not only the pensioners, hut also other sections of the community will benefit. Although I listened intently to previous speakers, I did not hear Opposition members suggest, any other way in which greater assistance can be given to pensioners. The great curse in this country at present is inflation, which has been caused by too much money chasing too few goods. I expected that the Labour party would be eager to cooperate with the Government in its efforts to check the upward movement of prices, and would advise its supporters in the trade union movement that their best contribution to the assistance of pensioners would be an increased production, which would reduce the cost of goods. While governments merely continue to adjust social services payments in an attempt to enable them to keep pace with the upward movement of prices and do not solve the major problem of inflation, a sound basis will not be found.
Under this bill, age and invalid pensions will be increased from £2 10s. to £3 a week, which is unquestionably the largest increase that has ever been granted by this Parliament. Opposition members have referred to the relation between the new pension and the basic wage. I shall analyse the position. In 1949, when the basic wage was £6 12s. a week the combined pension of husband and wife was £4 5s., or 64.39 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1950 the basic wage was £8 5s. a week and the combined pension of husband and wife was £5 a week, and the relationship of the pension to the basic wage was 60.6 per cent. To-day the basic wage is £9 13s. a week, and the combined pension income of £6 for which the bill provides represents 62.17 per cent, of that figure. However, I remind honorable members that a prosperity loading of £1 a week was added to the basic wage in 1950-51, so that, if that were taken into account, the percentages would be 68.96 and 69.3 respectively. The Labour party could have obviated any variation of the percentage had it riot interfered, when it was in power, with a provision in our social services legislation that would have made possible an automatic alteration of pension rates in accordance with basic wage changes. Having abolished that provision, honorable members opposite now have the temerity to criticize this Government for not granting an increase of more than 10s. a week. Such criticism ill becomes them, especially when we recall that, during the last election campaign, they promised an increase of exactly that amount. The proposed increase will raise the pension rate to £3 a week and, in addition, a man and wife who both receive the pension will be permitted to earn as much as £3 a week. Thus, a married couple in receipt of pension may have a total income of £9 a week.
As the honorable ‘ member for Bendigo said earlier to-day, society has acknowledged its responsibility to the unfortunate members of the community by progressively increasing the, rates of social services benefits as general economic conditions have improved. The present measure is based on that principle, and the Government would be happy to increase the rates even further if it were in a better position to do so. However, the fact remains that the best way to improve the lot of pensioners is for every able-bodied man and woman to settle down to an earnest effort to increase production so that we may have real wealth in terms of the goods and services that we all want. Everybody must benefit if we use that means of restoring real value to our currency. Members of the Opposition, as well as Government supporters, have a duty to encourage greater productive efforts in the community so that pensioners and other unfortunate citizens will be able to benefit from the resultant prosperity.
The bill provides that the rate of allowance for the wife of an invalid pensioner shall be increased by 6s. to 30s. a week. The allowance for the first child under the age of sixteen years will he increased by 2s. 6d. to lis. 6d. a week.
Child endowment also will be paid in respect of such children. This Government can rightfully claim that it has encouraged family life in Australia by increasing the rate of child endowment. We have undertaken a great financial burden under our immigration policy simply because we urgently need more people in Australia. But children are the best immigrants and we should do everything that we can to foster the welfare of families. The Minister for Social Services has clearly shown his eagerness to help the recipients of social services benefits. We have 347,000 age pensioners, 70,000 invalid pensioners and 42,000 widow pensioners in Australia to-day. Therefore, more than 450,000 persons will benefit under the terms of this bill. That number represents a high percentage of our population.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I referred to the complete irresponsibility of the Opposition in relation to the provision of social services. Honorable members are aware of the Government’s proposals, in the budget that was recently brought down, to increase pensions rates liberally and to assist industry to achieve greater production. Age pensions are to be increased by 10s. a week. In reply to the contention of honorable members opposite that a greater increase should be made, I remind the House that during the last general election campaign Labour promised the people of this country that if returned to power it would provide an extra 10s. a week to the age pensioners. Therefore their present statements in this connexion show them to be guilty of pure political humbug. Right throughout the debate on this measure, as well as debates on other measures, all that honorable members opposite have been able to suggest is that more money should be expended in different directions. What we want for the pensioners is more goods that their money will purchase. On the 3,500,000 people in good health and employment in this country rests the responsibility to provide for its defence, development, and general activities. Approximately 450,000 people are in receipt of social services benefits apart from about 500,000 service pensioners and their dependants. The Government has ensured that those people shall be provided with the greatest possible help, having regard to the existing circumstances. It must be recognized that whatever is made available as this stage must be regarded as merely a palliative.
The budget proposals will in due course arrest the upward trend of the basic wage in this country. Until the inflationary problem can be brought under control, there will be little prospect of increasing the purchasing value of money. In the national interest, it would be far better if the Labour party were to concern itself with co-operating with the Government in stimulating production. That would be the best way to assist the pensioners, and, indeed all members of the community. Until production has been increased, the so-called benefits will be of little value to any one.
I agree with the honorable member for Bendigo that the pensioners are entitled to some greater reward. The problem is how best we can provide for them. While attacking the problem of inflation, we are making provision for these unfortunate people in the community. We all should do our utmost to receive the economic problems that face BillS country. Only by determination in the field of production can we bring value back into the currency of this country. If the Labour party will join with us we can arrest the very serious inflationary situation with consequent benefit to everybody. With the greatest pleasure, therefore, I support the measure before the House. I strongly oppose the amendment that has been moved on behalf of the Opposition. It i3 merely political humbug, of which we have had enough during the last few weeks.
.- The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) has shown a complete sense of irresponsibility in his references to social services, and has contended that the Opposition has been guilty of political humbug in having moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill. I suggest to the honorable member that greater irresponsibility is displayed by a responsible member of the Parliament who ignores Labour’s great achievements in the field of social services, and closes his eyes to what has transpired within the last decade. - Id that period increases have been made b, Labour governments in. such social services as age and invalid pensions and the maternity allowance. All the good things in that programme of expansion of social services can be directly attributed to Labour, yet an outstanding feature of the speeches delivered by those who have supported this measure has been a refusal to recognize what Labour has achieved in the field of social services. 3 do not contend that Labour governments have done all that could have been done in that field, but I do say that those that were in power between 1941 and 1949 took the initiative in that regard. One honorable gentleman opposite referred to the training that is given to invalids and cripples to fit them for the battle of life., but he refused to give the credit for that most worthy scheme to the Curtin and Chifley Administrations which ushered in that most benevolent phase of social services activity.
I support the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member foi Bendigo (Mr. Clarey). There is nothing evil in it. It asks that increases of pensions shall be made retrospective to th, 1st July, that the payment of child endowment in respect of a first child shall be made at the rate of 10s. a week, thai unemployment and sickness benefits shall be substantially increased and that there shall be a further amelioration of the means test. If the honorable gentlemen opposite who have spoken on this measure are as honest as they have proclaimed themselves to be, they will vote for the amendment, but when the whips crack doubtless they will conveniently forget what they have said during the course of this debate and will vote against the amendment. No Australian will cavil at an increase of age and invalid pensions. The struggle for existence by age and invalid pensioners is so hard that every class of the community will applaud anything that is given to them. But it would be absurd to suggest that the proposed increase represents the extreme of benevolence. T claim to know a little about social services, because for some years I was an officer in the Department of Social Services. If the Government is sincere in its protestations, that it wants to assist age and invalid pensioners, there are many things that it should do for them in addition to increasing pensions by 10s. a week. In the electorate that I have the honour to represent probably there are more age and invalid pensioners than there are in any other electorate. I know a great deal about how those pensioners have struggled to exist on £2 10s. a week, and I know also that, although the increase of 10s. a week will be of benefit to them, they will still have to struggle to exist.
In determining the pensions that should be paid to aged and invalid persons, consideration should be given to the great common denominator in Australia - the basic wage. I refer those who decry the work of Labour governments to what has happened in the past. If they study the relationship of age and invalid pensions to the basic wage over the years, they will find that the record of the Labour party is particularly good in that regard. I could go back to 1910, but I shall not weary the House by a long recital of figures. Sometimes figures convey nothing to immature minds.
– It will suit us if the honorable member goes back to 1931.
– I shall start from 1931, if it suits you.
– Order ! The honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean) will address me and will ignore interjections.
– The age or invalid pension was 26.3 per cent, of the basic wage in 1931, 27.6 per cent, in 1932 and 26.5 per cent, in 1933. In the succeeding years, when non-Labour governments were in power, the position of pensioners deteriorated. The percentage was reduced from 27.3 to 25, at which figure it stood in 1940. In 1941 a Labour government assumed office after the nation had called upon the Labour party to save it from invasion. Subsequently, the age or invalid pension was increased from 25 per cent, of the basic wage to 36.64 ner cent. That was the percentage in 1949, when’ the Chifley Government was defeated. In 1950, under this Government, the percentage was reduced to 30.8. “When the increase of 10s. a week becomes operative, the percentage will be only 31.7. I commend those figures to honorable gentlemen opposite who have suggested that Labour does not recognize the needs of pensioners. I believe that age and invalid pensions should never be less than 40 per cent, of the basic wage. I consider that to be a reasonable percentage. If the Government accepted that proposition, it would, having regard to the present soaring costs, for which it is responsible, have to increase age and invalid pensions by considerably more than 10s. a week. That is one phase of the subject.
I propose now to speak of other things which could be done in order to make social services more truly in conformity with the’ needs of the community. There are several aspects of the legislation which require amendment. I believe that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) will view my suggestions in a favorable light because, in my opinion, they would make social services payments the desirable thing that they should be instead of the miserly moiety that they are at the present time. When a Labour government liberalized the means test and raised the amount of income which pensioners might earn in addition to their pensions, such was the effect of that Government’s benevolence that from 1941 to 1949 the number of age pensioners increased by about 24 per cent., from approximately 260,000 to 321,000. The effect of that action was even more pronounced in the invalid pensions field, where the reduction of the invalidity qualification from 100 per cent, to 80 per cent, meant that 20,000 more persons became eligible for invalid pensions. I suggest to the Minister that the disability qualification should be even further liberalized to provide that a 75 per cent, degree of invalidity shall entitle an applicant to a pension.
During the course of this debate several honorable members have referred to the fact that many pensioners acquire sufficient money during their lives with which to purchase a small property. The value of that property is not taken into consideration when the applicant’s eligibility is being considered, provided that he is occupying it. However, with the advance of age or invalidity, many pensioners are compelled to vacate their homes and to live with relatives. When they do so, the value of the home is taken into consideration and the pension is reduced accordingly. Frequently it has such an effect upon the pension that the pensioner ceases to be eligible for it. I suggest to the Minister that that provision should he abolished. The experience that honorable members on this side of the House have had in connexion with pensions should be utilized if we are eventually to arrive at a proper social services scheme for the most deserving classes of the community. The operation of an economic qualification in connexion with applications by juniors for the receipt of invalid pensions should be completely abolished. Where applicants for invalid pensions are under the age of 21 years and live at home, the only matter that should be taken into consideration is the degree of disability of the applicant.
I also suggest that superannuation benefits should not be taken into consideration when superannuated persons apply for pensions. When I hear honorable members on the other side of the House boldly assert that the Australian Labour party has been somewhat indifferent to the needs of pensioners, my mind goes back to the years of the depression. Those who speak of the apathy or the indifference of the Australian Labour party to pensioners and their just rights should also cast their minds back to those years. If they did so, I believe that they would not he so eager to criticize something of which they know very little. During the depression, while the Lyons Government was in office, two things were done in the pensions field which stamped themselves indelibly on my mind.
– What about the Scullin Government ?
– The Scullin Government was never responsible for amendments of social services legislation of the kind brought about by the Lyons Government. The Scullin Government did not introduce .the legislation that related to contributions by relatives or the provision that pensioners should sign an undertaking before they could become entitled to receive a pension. Let me deal with those two matters. That which related to contributions by relatives provided that every applicant for a pension should be furnished with a form on which he was required to give details concerning the earnings of his relatives. Each one of those relatives was then furnished with a form by the Department of Social Services. The capacity of the relatives to contribute towards the support of the applicant for a pension was then considered by the department in assessing the amount of pension that should be paid. Accordingly, many people who were on the breadline themselves were compelled to pay a portion of a pension to which in fact the applicant was entitled as of right. The undertaking which pensioners were required to make was another iniquitous enactment of a Liberal government. After the 10th March, 1932, every person who applied for a pension was required to sign an undertaking to the effect that in the event of his death the first charge upon his estate, which generally consisted of a small cottage for which he had managed to save during his lifetime, would be the pension paid from the 10th March, 1932, to the date of his death. When honorable members opposite refer in glowing terms to the humanitarian tendencies of this Government, they would do well to remember the sorry record of previous Liberal governments. That record is not forgotten by the pensioners of this country, and will not he forgotten while people are able to appreciate the purpose of social services payment, a purpose that was thwarted during the years of the depression.
The honorable member for Lyne concluded his remarks by stating that this Government has shown some consideration for the pensioners and that it has done a good job for them. When one remembers that this Government is budgeting for a surplus of more than £114,000,000 and that all that it proposes to give to the most deserving people of the community is an increase of pensions of 10s. a week, it is reasonable to ask why the claims of those people have not been more appropriately considered.
We who sit on this side of the House support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) because we consider that the increased pension rates should operate from the date stated in the amendment. “We also consider that the bill should be re-drafted after further consideration had been given to the payment of child endowment and a complete review had been made of all phases of social services, which it is within the province of this House to consider from time to time. One of the first charges on any progressive community is not to provide means of paying for war which might or might not eventuate, but rather to take proper care of the pioneers who have done so much for the community. We should have such care for our pioneers who, by their labour, their sweat and their industry, gave to members of this Parliament the opportunity to be here and gave to us all the things for which this country is indeed proud; who, in the twilight of their lives, are worthy of the consideration that should be given to them by this Parliament, which has unfailingly been given to them by the Labour party when it has been in office. Let us hope that it will again be in office before long.
– This is a bill which will improve the lot of the pensioner. I am indeed regretful that the Opposition has adopted towards it the attitude that it has disclosed during this debate. I am sure that nobody on this side of the House considers the bill to be the final solution of the problems that face us, or regards it as more than an interim measure. I deplore the atmosphere of party politics that has been injected by Opposition members into this debate. Let them think less of the Labour party and more of the people and the pensioners of Australia. This is not a matter that should be exploited for its vote-getting value. It is a serious problem. In fact, I should say it is one of the most serious of the internal problems of the country. On this side of the House, and I hope also on the Opposition side, there is a growing realization that the means test must eventually be abolished in regard to both property and income. There are three reasons why the means test is bad. It is inequitable ; it penalizes the thrifty; and it penalizes those who have saved for their declining years. In point of fact, in some instances, by reason of the fact that their possessions exclude them from eligibility for a pension and medical and other benefits, persons who have made provision for themselves are placed in an even worse position than is that of people who have made no provision for themselves. The inequity is evident. Sociologically it is bad. It is breeding a contempt for thrift. It is breeding thriftlessness and a general lowering of the moral standards of the community, because many people consider that they have an almost inalienable right to evade its provisions. It involves all sorts of administrative difficulties which would vanish if only we could sweep it away. As the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has reminded the House, the economic effects of abolishing the means test would be found to be not so great - great though they would be - as they appear to be on the surface. The elimination of the means test, even though it would add to inflation if it increased social services payments, nevertheless would have certain counter-inflationary effects which should not be ignored. They would not be so great, perhaps, as the inflationary effects would be, but at any rate they could be set off against the inflationary effects by way of mitigation. An increase of the propensity to save would reduce the pressure of the demand for goods and services. As the honorable member for Sturt has pointed out, at this time when we need all the man-power we can get it seems silly that people who are perfectly able, ready and eager to work should be debarred from working because their earnings, if they worked, would place them, beyond entitlement to a pension.
There are economic considerations which we cannot disregard because they counter to some degree though not completely, the inflationary effects of the means test. The cost of abolishing the means test would be big. Figures prepared recently indicate that upon attaining pensionable age some 20 per cent, of the people who are entitled to pensions enjoy them. As age increases that percentage rises, and in the higher age groups about 70 per cent, of the people who are qualified by reason of age to receive pensions are, in fact, drawing pensions. Over-all the figures show that about 40 per cent, of those who are qualified by reason of their age to draw pensions are, in fact, drawing them. So it is easy to see that, in order to calculate roughly the effect of removing the means test, one should multiply the pensions bill by about two and a half, [n the figures that have been presented to this House it is somewhat difficult to disentangle the respective costs of age and invalid pensions, because the two amounts are shown as one. This year, of course, the position is made somewhat more obscure by the fact that the Estimates cover a pension rate that is being changed about one-quarter or onethird of the way through the year. But, speaking in general terms, it would seem that, on the new rates that will be applicable when this bill has been passed, the cost of the age pension, apart from the invalid pension, will be about £60,000,000 a year. The cost of removing the means test could be ascertained simply by adding another £90,000,000 or so to that amount, which would make the total cost about £150,000,000 a year. That is a high figure, and one which I fear we cannot immediately face. It is true that this year, by reason of the peak reached in wool income and other transitory causes, revenue is buoyant, but we should look not on those sources of revenue as something that can be permanently maintained.
Let us remember also that the burden of pensions, if one may so describe it - because it is a burden even though it be one that should be accepted ungrudgingly - must considerably increase as the age composition of our population changes. I shall illustrate that with a few figures. The census of 1881 shows the proportion which people of 65 years and over bore to the people in the 21 to 64 years age group in this country. It is a rough measuring stick, but it will show the result with tolerable clearness. In 1881 the proportion of people over 65 years of age to people in the 21 to 64 years age group was 5 per cent. By 1911, which .was about the time that the pensions scheme was introduced, the proportion had risen to about 8 per cent.
By 1941 it was up to 11 per cent. Today it stands at 15 per cent., and those who have taken the trouble to make predictions about the composition of our population in the future envisage that the percentage will reach 30 per cent, in the not very distant future. This means that the proportion of old people in the population is increasing drastically. The burden - and I use the word not in the sense of something that should be grudgingly accepted - must become heavier as the proportion of aged people rises. Honorable members .opposite will agree with me that in the bad cases, of which there are many among people nearing the end of their lives, the present pension rate is still insufficient. Because we must act within the limits of our resources, because of the demographic changes of population, and because revenues may not always be so buoyant as they are now, we cannot abolish the means test just- with the stroke of a pen here and now. although we know it must go eventually. For that reason I commend the approach to the problem of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) who, while recognizing that the means test should he abolished, was prepared to admit that some scheme other than the present would have to be introduced. Permanent changes in our social structure are taking place. Gradations of income do not so closely follow the age scale as they once did. Now, a man reaches his peak income earlier than formerly. He is not able to look forward, as was the case 30 or 40 years ago, to an increasing income throughout his life. Because of the increasing proportion of aged persons in the population, and because men attain their maximum incomes at an earlier age than formerly, the economic relationship which used to exist between parents and children is tending to become a relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. Whereas there used to be the feeling that children should support their parents, the position now is that it is the grandchildren who are in a position to support their grandparents. I do not believe that we can go on patching the existing system. The present amendment certainly improves matters, but I for one do not regard it as either the final solution of the problem, or even as a step in that direction. Like the honorable member for Sturt I believe that we must envisage far-reaching changes.
I agree that pensions should be tied in some’ way to the cost of living so that political bargaining, of which the Labour party has given us such regrettable instances to-night, may no longer be associated with pensions. “We must realize that whatever financial arrangements we may make, pensions must always be paid out of current income. That is an economic truism which there is no need for me to justify in detail. However, as the proportion of elderly people in the population increases, and as we attain a population balance which has never before existed in the history of humanity, we may find that our practices in regard to retirement are no longer appropriate to the new and unprecedented circumstances that have emerged. We have the idea that a man should retire abruptly, but must that idea continue to prevail? Might it not be better that men should retire in stages, taking less responsible and onerous work towards the end of their lives? This would involve no unkindness to the men concerned. Many people feel unhappy in their retirement. They feel frustrated because they are retired before they are ready to retire. Doctors tell us that the surest way to pass a death sentence is to enforce premature retirement. Men want some interest even towards the end of their lives. I know that there should be opportunity of promotion for younger men, and for that reason it may be desirable to introduce a system of retirement in stages.
I submit my proposal not as a cut and dried plan but as a basis of discussion, something that will be worth considering when we come to propound a pensions scheme under which there will be no means test. Let us establish a pension unit at, say, 15 per cent, of the basic wage, and pay all pensions entirely free of any means test, as a matter of right, and not of charity. Those people in the first age group, say from 65 to 70, would receive one pension unit. Those in the next group, from 70 to 75, would receive two units, whilst those over 75 would receive the maximum, or three units of pension. This would be a method of meeting the situation that has arisen as a result of the changing age proportions in the population, a factor which we cannot entirely, or even substantially, disregard. Of course, full invalid pensions would be paid to all who qualified for them, irrespective of age, but, iii the nature of things, the. invalid pension must continue to be associated with a. means test.
The scheme that I envisage would cost about- £98,000,000 a year, which is £38,000,000 more than the present pensions scheme costs. That is a large sum, but it does not approach in magnitude the amount that would be involved in the total abolition of the means test. However, that amount would provide higher pensions for .those who needed them most because of illness or extreme age. The present thresholds of 60 and 65 years of age were fixed in the days when the ‘ expectation of life was much lower that it is now, and it seems to me that they should be revised in the light of altered fiscal conditions. The pension is paid to women five years earlier than to men. If the Government continued that practice, as it might well do, approximately £14,000,000 a year would have to be added to the estimate that I have made.
There are other aspects of the scheme which I think may be worthy of the consideration of this House. One of the great defects of the pensions system has been its centralization, its depersonalization and, in many respects, its inhumanity, which is quite inseparable from the bureaucratic administration of a centralized scheme. I use the word “ bureaucratic “, not as a term of abuse, but in recognition of an inescapable fact. If the pension were to be paid as I have suggested it should be, without the imposition of a means test, then, concurrently, it might be possible to set up a scheme whereby pensioners, of their own free will, might assign their pensions subject to revocation, to institutions which have been founded for the benefit of other pensioners. It should be left to them to decide what those institutions were to be. Perhaps it could be arranged that an officer of the Commonwealth AuditorGeneral should inspect the disbursement, of the funds in order to ensure that, they were being used only for the benefit of other pensioners, but otherwise their administration could be left to the local bodies such as church organizations to whom they were assigned by the persons who relinquished them. If the nucleus of a charitable fund of this nature could be established it could be augmented, not only by gifts from other people, but also by the voluntary service of other people. It is most essential that the Government should avoid the depersonalization of social services. It must bring humanity back into them. It must introduce the local touch, the family touch and the human touch, into these centralized services which inevitably, through no fault of their present administrators, have been inhumanized.
O.le , of the great ‘problems that faces the Government is the proper housing of these aged people. There are no proper facilities for their housing in any of our cities or towns for the reason that in the past they have constituted only a small proportion of the community and their number has only recently increased because of the lengthening of the expectation of life. I believe that the Government should establish, not mammoth State homes, but small pensioners’ units consisting of, perhaps, 30 or 40 small flats provided with some central kind of service and with three of four trained nurses in attendance. Establishments of that character should replace the big State homes which, in many cases, do not provide the full services required. If the Government could bring some such scheme into operation it would provide a nucleus which private charity and local organization could expand so as to restore to the pensioner not only the comforts but also the decencies and happiness of civilized life and the feeling that he is not unwanted, but is a part of a living community. Although honorable members have the doctor’s duty of examining such matters coldly and dispassionately, they have also the duty of applying to them a degree of humanity, realizing that they are dealing, not only with figures, but also with living men and women.
.- Now that the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has completed his lec ture on the means test and the necessity for the introduction of a contributory scheme of pensions, it may be possible for the House to return to a discussion of the bill. The honorable member, in his half-hour’s address, made one brief reference to the bill in his opening sentence, in which he stated that it will improve the lot of the pensioner. I cannot decide whether the honorable member deliberately attempted to put out a smokescreen in order to prevent honorable members from becoming acquainted with the contents of the bill or whether he himself was unaware of the nature of its contents. He gave a long dissertation on the means test and the necessity for its abolition. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) delivered a somewhat similar dissertation. I have not noticed any other instance of those honorable : members having taken concrete action towards ameliorating the means test in the way that the Opposition has proposed.
I consider that the honorable member for Mackellar presented a case in opposition to this measure. He indicated during practically the whole of his speech that he is opposed to the provisions of the hill and that he believes that one should be submitted which would entirely eliminate the means test and include provisions for a contributory pensions scheme entirely different from that contained in this bill. I suggest to the honorable member that, if he was honest and sincere in his statements, it is his duty to submit amendments to the bill before the House so that honorable members may have an opportunity to consider his proposals and compare them with the proposals that have been submitted by the Government. I do not think that the honorable member will do that because he has received his instructions and will slavishly follow the decision of the Government, even though he has revealed that he entirely disagrees with the bill.
I consider that the bill is a mean and miserable attempt to deal with a very pressing problem. I shall not accuse the Minister of being personally responsible for the contents of the bill because I believe that he has a sympathetic nature and I know that it had to be approved by Cabinet. Yet, in past years, honorable members have heard very noble statements made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and other members of the Government to the effect that full justice would be done to the pensioners. The right honorable gentleman, in his policy speech prior to the general election of 1949, assured the pensioners that he would deal justly with them and that he would restore value to the £1 so that the pensioner’s £1 would purchase more of the necessaries of life than it had hitherto done. He promised to increase pension rates, and lie did so; but he completely lost sight of his most important promise to restore value to the pensioner’s £1. Since then the value of the £1 had progressively diminished. During the last twelve months it has diminished with increasing rapidity. Honorable members opposite have boasted that the proposed increase of 10s. a week in age, invalid and certain widows’ pensions is the most liberal single increase that has ever been granted by any government. That statement’ is true in terms of money, but as the result of inflation due to lack of action on the part of the Government, it is not true in terms of purchasing power. The increase, in fact, looked at in real value, is but a miserable pittance. Government supporters have criticized the pension increases, made by the Curtin and Chifley governments. They have made great play on the fact that, in 1948, the Chifley Government increased pension rates by only 5s. a week, which they described as a miserable attempt to do justice to the claims of the pensioners. I point out that after that increase had Deen effected the pension represented 36.6 per cent, of the then basic wage. This proposal to increase the pension rate by an additional 10s. a week, following upon the increase of 7s. 6d. a week made at about this time last, year, will increase the actual amount received by the pensioner from £2 2s. 6d. to £3 a week, but it will still be only 31.7 per cent, of the existing basic wage. Hoping to convince the people, the Government is. telling them in a. very loud voice, that a great, increase is to be made in the pension, rate, whereas, after this bill has been passed the stan dard of living of the pensioners will be approximately 25 per cent, lower than it was in October, 1948. That is the sort of kindness, generosity and sympathetic treatment which this so-called Liberal Government proposes to hand out to the most needy section of the community.
Throughout Australia there are at present 347,000 age pensioners, 70,000 invalid pensioners and 42,000 widow pensioners, all of whom are dependent for their livelihood upon the just and sympathetic consideration of their needs by the Government. They asked the Government for bread and it has offered them a stone. In 1948, when the maximum pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week, the basic wage was £5 16s. a week. To-day, the basic wage is £9 9s. a week. If pensioners now enjoyed the standard of living that they enjoyed under the regime of the Chifley Government in 1948, the pension, instead of being £3 a week would be £3 17s. 9d. a week, which is the amount necessary to purchase the necessaries of life that were obtainable in October, 1948, when the pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. Official figures issued by the Commonwealth Statistician prove that when the pensioners receive the additional 10s. a week proposed in this measure the purchasing value of the pension will still be 17s. 9d. a week below that which obtained in 1948. That state of affairs results from the mismanagement of the Government now in control of the treasury bench. By the middle of next month, approximately one month hence, the basic wage will be increased by an amount variously estimated at from 9s. to 12s. a week. We may assume that it will be approximately 10s. a week. If the relation between the pension and the basic wage that existed in 1948 were preserved, pensioners would be entitled to an additional 3s. 6d. a week a month hence. The Government, however, does not propose to increase the pension next month when the basic wage adjustment will become operative. Instead, it says to the pensioners “ The proposed increase of the pension rate by 10s. a week is the largest increase that has been proposed by any government at any one time. You are exceedingly fortunate to have such a generous government at the: helm of the ship of State “. Airy and misleading statements of that kind will not provide food, clothing and shelter for the pensioners. What they need is cold, hard cash. The Government has decided that the maximum pension for the next twelve months shall be £3 a week. The living standard of the pensioners, the most needy section of the community, will fall progressively as the months go by. In effect, the Government is introducing a system of slow starvation for the most deserving section of the community. Because of its callous attitude the Opposition has proposed the amendment now before the House, which is designed to ensure that pension increases shall be made retrospective to the first pay-day in July and that certain other social services benefits shall be increased. (. do not think that the amendment goes far enough. We should also demand considerable increases of the weekly rate of pension so that the standard of living of the most needy section of the community may be maintained.
Government supporters have claimed that because the Labour party nas moved the amendment the first payment of the pensions at the increased rate will be delayed. A more deliberate falsehood could not be told. Honorable members opposite are well aware that the Government decided when this bill should be introduced and for how long it should be debated. The Government, having the numbers, is able to determine the time that shall be devoted to particular items of business. We know from past experience that invariably its legislation is passed in accordance with the time-table drawn up by it. The statement that consideration of the amendment will delay the first payment of pensions at the increased rate is a malicious and deliberate distortion of fact.
– Order ! The honorable member should not import the word “ malicious “ into the debate.
– I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, if I have transgressed the Standing Orders. I feel very keenly on this matter. If I have uttered a word which I should not have mentioned, then I hope that you will forgive me.
-Order! The correct thing for the honorable member to do is to withdraw the objectionable word.
– Then I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker. The means test has been mentioned frequently in this debate. This bill purports to ease the means test in one direction only.
– In six directions.
– It may do so in six different branches of social services, but I am speaking now only of age pensioners. The bill will ease the means test for the age pension in only one respect. We have been told by honorable members on the Government side that this easing of the means test will prove to be of great benefit to thousands of pensioners throughout Australia. The easing of the means test, about which so much has been said by Government supporters will amount to a raising of the property bar from £750 to £1,000.
– There is also the matter of insurance policies.
– That is so ; but the majority of age pensioners cannot afford to have insurance policies for £500, so that particular provision will have little effect. The easing of the property qualification is a step in the right direction, but it is a very slow anil halting step. The Government’s action in this matter could be likened to the first step that a baby makes when attempting to walk. I hope that the Government will proceed further than the baby does when it takes its first step. However, the Government’s action could be compared with -more reality to the halting step of a very very old man - possibly his last step. This easing of the means test looks well on paper, hut it will have little practical effect, because the amount of pension which will be paid to a person who has only £800 or £1,000 in the bank is very very small. In fact, it would hardly pay for the boot leather used by the pensioner in walking up to the post .office each fortnight to get his pension. Such a pension would amount to about ls. 6d.’ or 2s. a week. The Government could well have followed the sound example set by the Chifley Government. That Government did not believe in a means test for pensions, and it hoped eventually to abolish the test altogether. In the meantime, its policy was to relax the means test step by step. I remind honorable members that in 1944 or 1945 a Labour government raised the permissible income from 12s. 6d. to £ : a week. It also eased the property qualification. At a later stage it increased the permissible income from £1 to 30s. a week and further eased the property qualification. I suggest that if this Government had continued the policy of the previous Government then the permissible income at present would be 50s. a week instead of 30s. When it is realized that the £1 is rapidly losing its value, and that 30s. permissible income in 194S is equivalent to £1 permissible income today, or less, it is apparent that this Government’s actions have been by no means generous. If the Government had raised the permissible income limit to approximately 50s., the lot of the pensioner would still have been no better than it was in 1948 under the Chifley Government’s legislation. However, the Government has side-tracked that issue altogether.
Tt has been explained how the total permissible income plus the pension has decreased in comparison with the basic wage. While pensions have been slowly increasing the permissible income has remained almost constant. But honorable members on the Government side have said that they do not believe in the means test at all for pensioners, that it should be abolished and that all people of the age of 60 or 65 years and over should receive pensions as a right. I can only believe that when they made such statements they were talking with their tongues in their cheeks.
I am reminded of a special article which was published in Melbourne in the official newspaper of the Liberal party, some two or three weeks ago. The article was written by the newspaper’s special Canberra correspondent, Mr. E. H. Cox. For the first time in his life he criticized the nations of the Government. In his article he told the Prime Minister and the members of his Cabinet that the time had arrived when they should settle down to doing some work. He said that the time for talking had passed and the very fluent speeches of Government members would not get the job done. I think that on that occasion Mr. Cox spoke very truly because since this Government took office after the 1949 general election-
-Order! The Government is not under consideration in this bill. In his opening remarks the honorable member upbraided the previous speaker for not speaking to the provisions of the bill, but he is doing much the same thing.
– I point out that 1 shall link up what I am saying with the bill under discussion. This Government is a government of words instead of works. That is shown by the measure at present before the House. I believe that you, Mr. Speaker, must have become tired of having to sit and listen to grandiloquent speeches from the Prime Minister and members of his Government in which they have told the House and thcpeople of all the great things that they propose to do.
– Order ! The honorable member must speak to the bill.
– The Government promised to remove the means test, improve the lot of age, invalid and widow pensioners and generally improve social services. Out of all the grandiloquent talk and dramatic speeches of honorable members on the Government side this paltry bill has issued. What a bill it is ! Its provisions condemn the most necessitous people in this country to slow starvation. It purports to improve the lot of the pensioners but it condemns them to a living standard 25 per cent, lower than their poor standard of 1948. We have had words, words, words, but no reasonably effective action.
The Opposition’s amendment proposes that particular consideration should be given by the Government to the sickness and unemployment benefit provided for in the Social Services Consolidation Act. That benefit was first introduced in 1945, and included weekly payments of from £1 for a single woman to £2 10s. for a man, wife and child. Since that, time those rates have not been increased. I do not put all the blame for that on the shoulders of this Government because the previous Labour Government was a little remiss in not increasing the rates in 1948-49. However, I put a large amount of blame upon this Government because since it assumed office in 1949 the cost of living has gone up by leaps and bounds. The spiral of inflation has been rising so fast that none of the workers or pensioners or those on fixed incomes have been able to keep pace with it. During the past eighteen months the necessity to increase the sickness and unemployment benefit has been ten times more urgent than it was prior to this Government taking office. In these enlightened days, when the basic wage is £9 9s. a week, it is worse than an insult to offer to a worker who is laid aside by illness a pittance of £2 103. a week. That is a disgraceful state of affairs, and one that should be remedied. It should not have been necessary for the Opposition to ask that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for more equitable payments. The Government should have been alive to the position. Had it given thorough consideration to the Social Services Consolidation Act, it would have realized that substantially increased payments were necessary. The main trouble is, I believe, that the Government is not concerned very much about the needy sections of the community. It does not get many votes from those sections, and therefore it is prepared to throw them to the wolves. The Government has no hesitation, however, in heeding the dictates of the financial interests which secured it3 election.
– Order ! The honorable member must deal with the bill now before the House.
– I am dealing with the money that will be expended in accordance with the terms of this measure.
– Order ! The honorable member was speaking of party funds.
– I mentioned that matter only in passing. I was saying that the wealthy financial interests in this country would object to being called upon, in addition to contributing substantially to party funds, to pay additional taxes to provide improved social services benefits for needy people. One aspect of the means test which I believe imposes undue hardship, is that which applies to invalids between the ages of sixteen and 21 years.
A child under sixteen years of age benefits under the child endowment scheme, and an invalid over 21 years of age may draw an invalid pension. However, the payment of a pension to an invalid between the ages of sixteen and 21 years is subject to a means test which is applied to the family income. The family maintenance unit is increased by this legislation from £3 a week to £4 a week, but that will not adequately meet the position. Several sad cases have been brought to my notice in recent weeks. I know of an invalid girl seventeen years of age who, at one time, received portion of the invalid pension. However, because a basic wage adjustment made as the result of increased living costs raised her father’s income, her small pension was stopped. At the same time she became ineligible for free medicine and free medical attention. Such a girl costs just as much to keep as does a person 21 years of age. This girl is a complete invalid. She cannot even walk and has to be pushed around in an invalid’s chair when she gets out of bed. She is prevented by the means test from drawing any pension at all.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I call attention to the state of the House.
Mr. Bryson interjecting,
– Order ! The honorable member for Wills will apologize for interjecting while the Speaker is on his feet.
– I apologize. I did not see you on your feet. I was looking the other way.
– The honorable member should have been looking this way. [Quorum formed.’)
.- The only part of the speech of the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) with which I agreed was the sentence, “ Thetime for talking has passed “. To-day, we have had nothing but words, wordsand more words from Opposition members, who have delved into the most minute details of this measure in an endeavour to delay its passage. I listened’ with interest to the outline of the history of social services in this country given by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey). I should like to refer to only one period of that history, and to do that I shall not have to go back nearly so far as the honorable member for Bendigo did. In fact, I need go back only to the 13th October, 1948, almost three years ago. At that time the representative in this chamber of the Minister for Social Services was the then Minister for Labour and National Service, Mr. E. J. Holloway. Speaking in reply to the second-reading debate on a measure almost identical with the bill now before the House, he said -
This bill provides that the initial payment of the pensions at the increased rate shall be made on the first pay-day after the legislation becomes effective.
An identical course is being pursued by this Government, to-day. Yet the honorable member for Bendigo has moved by way of amendment that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for payment at the new rates to be made retrospective to the 1st July. During the 1948 debate, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) asked -
Is payment at the increased rates to be made retrospective to the 1st July?
Mr. Holloway replied ;
No. The bill does not provide for retrospective payments and I feel sure that the Government will not alter the existing provision that payment will be made on the first pay day after the bill receives the Royal assent.
That is how the Labour Government acted on that occasion. I notice that older members of the Opposition have not spoken in support of the amendment now before the Chair. They have left this debate to the new members of the Opposition. To them I say that when they find out how Labour acted when it was in office, they will not be so ready to put forward and support an amendment of the kind now before us. Reverting to the debate from which I have just quoted, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison), who was then the honorable member for Wentworth, moved the following amendment: -
That the words “ day on which it receives the Royal assent” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “ first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and forty-eight “.
At that stage Mr. Chifley, who was then Prime Minister, rose and said -
I think I should make it clear to the committee at the outset that the Government does not propose to accept any amendments to this bill. In saying that I refer not only to the matter under discussion but also to- other payments provided in the bill. General principles have been laid down by the Government regarding the various types of benefits proposed in the legislation, which covers an annual expenditure of about ?20,000,000 for additional benefits. The Government does not propose to depart from those principles. Whatever may be said, we believe we have made a fair judgment and a very liberal advance in the way of social service payments.
I was the next honorable member to address the House on that occasion. I emphasized that Mr. Chifley had said that no amendment would be accepted in respect of either the pensions that were then under consideration or any other social services benefits. I then expressed the view that if the greatest intellects in Australia - assuming that they were members of the Parliament - had put forward the best amendment that they could devise for the good of the people of Australia, the government of the day would not have accepted it. Since I have been a member of the Parliament I have not heard such party political humbug as members of the Opposition have voiced in this debate. I realize that the speedy passage of this measure is of prime importance. Therefore, I do not propose to detain the House unnecessarily. There is not the slightest doubt that the amendment now before the Chair has been proposed in order to hold up payment of these increases of pensions. In view of the passages that I have quoted from the debate that occurred on a similar measure when the Labour Government was in office, I am sure that the Opposition does not expect the Government to accept the amendment.
In October, 1948, the Labour government of the day increased age and invalid pensions by a small amount, but from that time until December, 1949, no increases were made to the pensioners. During the intervening period of thirteen months supporters of the present Government, who were then in opposition, implored the government of the day, time and time again, to increase the pension, but on each occasion that request was ignored. During the same period the basic wage was increased by 13s. a week and, by a coincidence, the basic wage was increased by a similar amount during the first eleven months of the present Government’s term of office. Whereas during that period of thirteen months the Labour government of the day failed to increase age and invalid pensions, the present Government, within a similar period, increased them by 7s. 6d. a week. It now proposes to increase those pensions by 10s. a week, which is the greatest single increase that has been made since age and invalid pensions were established. The Government has been in office for less than two years, but during that period it has increased social services benefits in the aggregate by £27,500,000. One honorable member opposite said that what the pensioners want most of all is ro be enabled to purchase more for their money and that, therefore, the Government should check inflation. I remind honorable members that the Government, during the first twelve months of its term of office, was frustrated by a hostile Senate. It has been in power as well as in office for only the last six months, and surely no one would expect it to be able during that short period to clean up the rot of eight years of Labour socialism. N”o one1 expects a boxer to win a fight in the first round. However, when the Government has brought order out of the chaos that Labour left, inflation will be checked and economic stability will be restored. Labour left the country in such an unholy mess that no government ‘could be expected to straighten things out within a period of six months.
Every one would like to see age and invalid pensions increased to the greatest possible degree. However, the Government must have regard for economics in this matter. It cannot merely pay out money without examining’ the possible effects of such action. One honorable member asked why the Government could not finance a still greater increase of pensions out of the surplus of over £100,000,000, for which it is budgeting for the current financial year. Obviously, that honorable member does not realize that the Government’s purpose in withdrawing such a sum from circulation is to check inflation and thereby increase the purchasing power of the community.
Such action will benefit all sections of the community, including pensioners. In view of economic trends during the last few years, the warning that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) sounded at the conclusion of his secondreading speech was most opportune. He questioned whether we could maintain expenditure in respect of social services benefits at its present level. That, expenditure now exceeds the total budget, for 1939, and it has been made possible only by reason of the fact that Australia has experienced excellent seasons during six successive years. During that period we have received unprecedented prices for our exports. Surely, no one is so optimistic as to believe that good seasons will continue indefinitely or that prices for our exports will be maintained at their present levels. Inevitably, those prices must decline and when that happens we shall not be able to maintain our present rate of expenditure in respect of social services benefits.
I do not think that it is possible to abolish the means test. Such a step would involve the Government in a loss of revenue of approximately £97,750,000. Although I believe that a contributory scheme must eventually be introduced, 1 do not believe that one of the kind that some honorable members have suggested would be workable. In any event we shall be obliged to maintain the means test. I should favour a scheme under which every one would contribute according to his income to a pool from which social services benefits as a whole would be financed. However, a person who retires on an income of, say, £500 a year, should not be entitled to receive benefits from that pool. At present, persons on the higher ranges of income contribute very largely to the payment of age and . invalid pensions and, therefore, it would make no difference if they were obliged to contribute specifically to a pool for that purpose f from which they would receive no benefit. Such a scheme would have the virtue of removing pensions from the party political sphere, and then the pensioner would not be completely dependent upon the whim of the political party that happened to be in office.
Opposition members claim that the proposed increase of 1,0s. a week in the rate of pensions is not sufficient, in view of the rising cost of living. I recall that during the general election campaign a few months ago the Labour party “abandoned its policy of not making pre-election promises, and made many extravagant promises for votecatching purposes. One of its principal promises was that, if it were returned to office, pensions would be increased by 10s. a week. Let us suppose for the purposes of this discussion that the Labour party had been elected to office last April, and had fulfilled its promise to increase pensions by 10s. a week. Does any one suppose that the Labour Government would now ask the Parliament to approve of an additional increase of. pensions? Why, the very increase of 10s. promised by the Labour party would have been implemented during their budget session which is always at this time of the year. The opposition of the Labour party to this bill is just as ridiculous as was its opposition over the years to the proposal to pay endowment for the first child of a family under the age of sixteen years. Its promise during the recent general election campaign to increase the rate of pension by 10s. a week was only a desperate bid to regain office. The socialist policy of the Labour party had been revealed to the people, but honorable gentlemen opposite hoped to defeat the Government by making extravagant promises. Their opposition to the Government’s proposal to pay endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for the first child is the greatest example of political humbug in Australia during the last half century. The Labour party had been opposed for years to the granting of endowment for the first child, because it claimed that such a payment would affect the .basic wage. That fear was groundless, and we should pay a tribute to the former member for Darwin, Dame Enid Lyons, for leading the fight to obtain endowment for the first child. Reference to Hansard reveals that members of the Labour party, in their speeches on social services, were definitely opposed to that payment. Yet when this Government introduced legislation to grant endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for the first child, the Labour party tried to go one better and asked that the amount be increased to 10s. a week. At that time, the Labour party had a majority in the Senate, and managed to delay the passage of the bill for a long time.
Every one knows that this Social Services Consolidation Bill, which provides for an increased scale of social services, is very liberal to pensioners generally. A husband and wife will be permitted to receive an income of £9 a week including pensions. On the family basis, that amount compares favorably with the present basic wage. The Government is (making generous provision for pensioners, but the Opposition has suggested that the scale of social services should be even higher than is proposed. I find it remarkable that members of the Labour party who have been in the Parliament for some years, have not ta.ken part in this debate. Evidently they have said to one another, in effect, “ Lel the new members try their teeth on this bill. We cannot very well participate in the debate, because if we do, Government supporters will read passages from Hansard that will prove that we are engaging in a mock battle”.
The honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) has expressed the opinion that the pension should be directly related to the basic wage. I hope that he heard the speech of the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins), who pointed out that in 1944, the then Attorney-General, Dr. Evatt, introduced legislation to repeal the sections of the Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act, which provided for the adjustment of the maximum rate of pension in accordance with the variations of the price index number. Those provisions in the act had been incorporated by a nonLabour Government. Sufficient has been said about this bill. I suggest that the best course for the honorable member for Bendigo to take is to withdraw his amendment. It does not mean anything. The honorable gentleman knows the fate of amendments of that kind. They have not been accepted by the government of the day, and I am sure that his proposals will be rejected. The Government is being as generous as it can be to pensioners. The proposed increase of the pension by 10s. a week is the largest single increase that has ever been granted by the Parliament.
I believe that pensioners realize that, under existing conditions, the increase is as much as any government could grant.
.- .Thi House has just listened to the usual diatribe, which is like the bleating of a sheep, from a typical member of the squattocracy who did not make one constructive proposal. That omission, in itself, is not remarkable, because members of the squattocracy in general are opposed to any form of social services. The amendment which has been moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) proposes that the operation of this legislation shall be retrospective to the first pension day in July, 1951. Surely no Government supporter will disagree with the principle of a retrospective payment to the penniless pensioner.
– Did the Chifley Labour Government make the payment of increased rates of pension retrospective?
– Order ! The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has spoken, and I ask him to remain silent.
– The amendment also proposes that endowment for the first child of a family under the age of sixteen years shall be at the rate of 10s. a week. Do Government supporters disagree with that proposal ?
– That objection is the’ typical reaction of a representative of the squattocracy. The amendment also proposes a substantial increase of the unemployment and sickness benefit, and a further liberalization of the means test. Surely Government supporters do not disagree with those proposals. A single person, who is confined to his sick bed and is completely dependent upon the bounty of the Government, receives a sickness benefit of only 25s. a week. Evidently Government supporters consider that such a meagre sum is sufficient to keep body and soul together during a period of illness.
– What did the Labour Government do?
– The Labour Government
– Be careful. This will be recorded in Hansard.
– I do not need to read Hansard. I have gained my knowledge of this subject in a practical way by mixing with people who need social1 services. I speak from experience and I have no need to read in Hansard the pious platitudes of Government supporters. I wish that they, and especially the younger members on that side of the House, would realize that, in 1908, seven members of the Labour party forced the “ protection “ Government - the guise in which the present Liberal and Country party clique then masqueraded - to introduce an old age pension of 10s. a week. That fact- clamps the lid on the coffin of the Liberal party’s claim that it has introduced every form of social service in Australia.
– The honorable member must have read that in Hansard.
– Certainly not. I remember the occasion well. The Labour party believes that the 10s. a week increase of the age and invalid pension rate for which this bill provides is inadequate and out of all proportion to the recent sharp increases of the basic wage. I believe that provision should be made for an increase of 25s. a week. Even that would be insufficient, hut it is the minimum that ought to be granted. Successive basic wage rises that occurred when the Labour party was in office -between 1941 and 1949 amounted to £2 7s. a week. During the same period, the Labour Government doubled the rate of age and invalid pensions. But recent events tell a different story! Basic wage rises during the two tragic years of the Liberal and Australian Country party regime have amounted to £3 ls. a week. The pension rate has been increased over the same period by only 7s. 6d. a week. In other words, the pension increase represents slightly less than 12£ per cent, of the total basic wage increase. The proportion of pension increases to the basic wage increases under the Chifley regime was 45 per cent. But let us not worry too much about percentages. After ali, the aged and the invalid want money, not percentages.
When the Chifley Government went out of office, the gap between the pension rate of £2 2s. 6d. and the basic wage of £6 12s. was £4 9s. 6d. Now, under the administration of this munificent Government, this businessman’s Government, this Government that declared that it could run the country as it ought to be run, the basic wage amounts to £9 13s. a week and a further increase of Ss. a week is pending. But the paltry pension rate proposed in this measure is £3 a week. Therefore, after this bill comes into effect, the gap between the pension rate and the basic wage will bc £6 13s. a week. I appeal to Government supporters to heed ohe plight of the aged and the invalid in the electorates that they represent who need food, clothing and. shelter. The gap between the pension and the basic wage is becoming wider and wider. Since the defeat of the Chifley Government it has increased by. £2 4s. 6d. a week. Everybody knows that the proposed 10s. a week increase will be of little value in terms of real purchasing power. All statisticians agree that the £1 to-day is worth only 6s. 2d. Therefore, the proposed rise represents approximately 3s. Id. The situation of age pensioners and unmarried invalid pensioners will be bad enough, but what of the plight of the invalid pensioner with a wife and a dependent child? The pensioner will receive £3 a week and an allowance will be made for his wife, who must care for him, at the paltry rate of £1 10s. a week. The allowance for the dependent child will be increased to a mere lis. 6d. a week which, with 5s. child endowment, will bring the total family income to £5 6s. 6d. a week. That is not even equal to the amount which, according to the Government, is necessary for a man and wife in receipt of age pensions, who will be paid a combined total of £6 a week. An invalid pensioner with a wife and child will be expected to struggle along on 13s. 6d. a week less than the combined pensions of an aged couple.
The Government’s refusal to increase the rate of unemployment and sickness benefit warrants the most severe criticism. A sinister purpose lies behind its attitude to the unemployment benefit. It is bargaining for a pool of unemployed. There is agitation in Government circles for a back-to-the-land movement. By various ways and means, including the diversion of money and resources at the direction of the National Security Resources Board under the provisions of the Defence Preparations Act, a depression can and will be caused in the cities by the crippling of our secondary industries. The men who are thrown out of work in the factories will be offered an unemployment benefit of only 25s. a week, and thus will be compelled by economic stress to go back to the land to work for the “ cow cockies “. Men had to do that during the depression years for 10s. a week and keep. Do honorable members remember? Government supporters want to revive that sort of slavery. They are planning surely and purposefully to that end. When their scheme matures, they will force the unemployed to go from the cities to the farms. The present rate of sickness benefit, which will remain unchanged, is out of all proportion to the needs of those who have the misfortune to be afflicted by ill health, and I appeal personally to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) to reconsider his decision.
Another benefit about which I am gravely concerned is what is described as the adequate maintenance allowance for invalids between the ages of 16 and 21 years. I have studied this matter for a long time. I spoke about it in the House twelve months ago. The allowance is to be increased from £3 to £4 a week. I propose to prove that the Minister has been misled by his advisers on this issue. These experts do not know the first thing about adequate maintenance. They claim that the proposed increase of £1 a week shows that the Government is sympathetic to the needs of this class of pensioner. I shall demonstrate that the parents of such invalids will be no better off on the new scale than they have been up to date. The allowance is based on an income of £600 a year, or £12 a week. The calculation assumes that the father and mother each require £212 a year and that a similar amount is needed to provide for the adequate maintenance of the invalid applicant. The total allowance of £424 for the father and mother is deducted from the full income of £600. The remaining £176 is then deducted from what is deemed to be adequate maintenance for the invalid, leaving £86 which is payable as allowance to the invalid boy. The father’s income of £600 is taxable. In the event of the father working a little overtime and increasing his earnings by £3 a week, the additional income that he thereby receives, which is also taxable, rules out the boy. The additional amounts of approximately £50 for the father, £50 for the another, and £50 for the boy leaves the boy in the “red” by £16. I ask the Minister, who claims to be champion of the underdog, to give this matter further serious consideration.
I also wish to point out that under the adequate maintenance provisions in respect of sickness benefits, there is no adequate maintenance provision for girls and boys under 21 years of age. Although their incapacity may be merely temporary, the family income is disregarded altogether. The permanently incapacitated boy or girl invalid pensioner under 21 years of age, is deemed to be adequately maintained if there remains £212 of the family income. An actual case, illustrating the position, has been brought to my notice. Twelve months ago a married man was receiving an income of £8 a week. His invalid son of eighteen years of age was receiving an invalid allowance of £1 4s. a week. The father’s income has since been increased by 1 2s. a week as a result of the quarterly basic wage adjustments. Consequently the son’s invalid allowance was reduced by 50 per cent, to 12s. a week. At that stage the father had not received the £1 a week basic wage increase granted by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, If he subsequently received that increase, as well as another basic wage adjustment of 4s. a week then pending, and the son’s allowance was increased by 7s. 6d. a week when the new scale applied the sad truth would be that because of the father’s increased income, even though only as a result of basic wage adjustments, no longer would the son be entitled to receive an invalid allowance. Therefore, the whole family would be victimized by the basic wage adjustments, and it would be worse off financially when the son lost his allowance altogether, as he assuredly would. When the father received the new basic wage adjustment his income would be £9 16s. a week, a difference of only 12s. a week gross. In effect, the family would gain £1 16s. a week taxable income and lose £1 4s. a week non-taxable income.
The whole structure of pensions should be looked into. The Labour party considers that the pensioners have already suffered sufficiently. The reaction of supporters of the Government to my suggestion will be, probably, “ How much will it cost ? “ I ask them to consider how much blood, sweat and tears were shed by the pioneers who developed thi? great country, who now, in their declining years, get a miserable £3 a week thrown at them across a post office counter and are told by the Government that that must keep them for a week. Let us consider the plight of a pensioner living in a little room on his own, foi which he pays £1 a week’ rent. In addition to having to pay for gas for cooking, and electric light, he struggles to get a few clothes, footwear, and other necessities. He has left very little money with which to buy food to exist. The mothers and fathers of our nation are being asked to live on a paltry pittance that is thrown to them by an ungrateful government. I think that there are still some men on the Government side of the House who possess a little decency. I shall be able to count them when the vote is taken on the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. It is designed to increase the standard of living of the old people in the community who have done their duty in the past, reared families, and dug from the soil everything that we have in Australia to-day.
– It is a. pity that they dug you up!
– It is a pity that you do not show a little consideration for the underdog instead of merely giving advice.
– Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– If the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) were genuine he would support the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition to provide for a higher standard of living for our pensioners, particularly invalid pensioners who are unable to earn the paltry 1 10s. a week permissible income that may be earned by age pensioners. A person must be almost in his coffin before he is eligible for the invalid pension of £2 10s. h week, which the Government proposes to increase to a miserable £3 a week. He must be certified 85 per cent, incapacitated. Even taking into account the allowance payable to his wife, who tends him day after day, and child endowment of 5s. a week for one child under the age of sixteen years, the family still receives 13s. 6d. a week less than an old age couple, who are permitted to earn £1 10s. a week each.
As Christmas is approaching I shall make an appeal to the wealthy, smug, members on the Government side of the House on behalf of the 300,000 age and invalid pensioners in this country. I appeal to the Minister to ask the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) for a further increase of pension rates. As Jubilee year draws to a close, I consider that we should do something worthwhile for our old pioneers. I suggest that each pensioner should be given a bonus of £10 for Christmas. Of course, I realize that the Treasurer will ask, “ How much will that wst? “ I point out that during the year many functions have been held, on which there has been a considerable expenditure for guzzling and feasting. I have no objection to that, provided that our pensioners are fairly treated.
– Is not the honorable member in favour of a little guzzling?
– I know that the squattocracy “ are very much in favour of guzzling, and I do not think that it is too much to ask the Government, as a Jubilee gesture, to grant the pensioners an additional allowance to enable them r.o do a little guzzling on Christmas Eve. A gift of £10 to each of the 300,000 age and invalid pensioners in this country would involve an expenditure of £3,000,000. That is an infinitesimal sum when it is compared with the money that will be given to Asia under the Colombo plan. Charity begins at home. Let us give £3,000,000 less to Asia this year and make a gift of £3,000,000 to our age and invalid pensioners. Let them enjoy the Christmas of this jubilee year. Let this Christmas be something that they will be able to look back upon with pride. I address my appeal to those members of the Government parties who have a sense of decency left. It is not an appeal for a favour. These pensioners have the right to enjoy their Christmas. What if £3,000,000 when the Treasurer is budgeting for a surplus of over £114,000,000?
Mr. Hulme interjecting,
– The honorable member for Petrie, has his bread buttered. He is one of those selfish people who do not care whether the bread of the unfortunate pensioners is buttered. Surely these people are worthy of some consideration. Surely they deserve to be rewarded for their honest toil. Now that they are in the evening of their lives, let the Government show its gratitude to them by making the miserable concession for which I have asked. If it does so, it will receive the full support of the Opposition. Let honorable gentlemen opposite who call themselves Liberals show how liberal they are by putting pressure upon the Government to make the paltry sum of £3,000,000 available to bring joy to the hearts of the pensioners of this country.
– Hear, hear !
– The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who runs around Asia kow-towing to the rajahs and who drinks and eats the best, says, “ Hear, hear ! “ ironically when it is suggested that the unfortunate age and invalid pensioners of this country should receive a little hand-out at Christmas. He is the kind of man who would say, “ Let them work “, although he has never worked in his life or produced anything. The age and invalid pensioners of Australia, who are struggling against starvation, are the salt of the earth. Why should they not receive a handout from the Government this Christmas ? “ Handout “ is a paltry term to use in this connexion. Let us refer to it as a gift. I appeal to the Government to make a giftto the pensioners to commemorate the jubilee and to show them that we have not forgotten what they have done to develop this great country. They have made it possible for the smug members of the Government parties to be comfortable in Parliament House and to eat and drink the best.
.- We have all thoroughly enjoyed the comic relief that has been provided by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin). I pay the honorable gentleman the compliment of saying I believe that, for all his lack of intensive research into this matter, he sincerely meant what he said. I am afraid that I cannot pay the same compliment to other honorable gentlemen opposite. This debate has demonstrated clearly the difference between the approach to social services legislation of the Labour party and that of the Government parties. The attitude of the Labour party to social services -legislation suggests that honorable gentlemen opposite regard such legislation, not as being for the relief of distress or for the benefit of the more indigent sections of the community, but simply as an instrument from which to derive political advantage. The social services legislation of this country shows only too clearly that the Labour party has never given consideration to the relief of distress. It is a current belief that when a Labour government is in power there will be an increase of pensions just prior to a general election, or that promises will be made from the hustings, as- bribes to secure votes, that that government will increase pensions, if it be returned.
– Was that done in 1951?
– The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) knows that during the general election campaign of 1951 his late, leader said that if the Labour party were returned it would increase age and invalid pensions by 10s. a week. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in the policy speech that he delivered during that campaign, said -
In social services we redeemed our promise to endow the first child in a family. We made no cash promises to pensioners, whose pensions had not been raised by the Chifley Government in spite of rapidly rising costs right through from the latter part of 1948. We increased their pensions in our very first budget by 7s. 6d. a week, but no promise was given. We do not yet know what the appropriate alteration will be by the time of the next budget, but we do say that we understand the difficult problems of the pensioners in a period in which prices are rising. The pensioners need not be led away by election cash offers. We will look after them. We may be relied upon to do full justice to their needs, as we have done before. Meanwhile, we are, as we promised, working on the important problem of providing national retiring allowances on a basis which will not discourage thrift.
The Liberal and Australian Country parties have never used social services legislation to bribe the electors. Our approach to the problem has been to give sympathetic consideration to the needs of the indigent section of the community.
Since 1949, this Government has increased age and invalid pensions by 17s. 6d. a week. That increase has never been equalled in a comparative period. In addition, the Government has not failed to provide other social services, the provision of which would never occur to the members of the Labour party because they do not look very imposing in an election programme. The Government has given serious consideration to the health and welfare of pensioners and has provided them with special medical and pharmaceutical benefits that were not made available by Labour governments. I should like to pay a tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), who has presented this amending legislation. In it he has dealt not with one small section but has. provided for increased payments to a number of sections. He has gone through the whole act and has effected as many amendments’ as are practicable in order to afford the greatest relief to the indigent sections, of the community. However, there is one point which I consider has been overlooked by the Minister, by his advisers or by the Treasurer. I refer to proposed new section 12, which amends section 50 of the principal act. Section 50 provides that if an inmate of a benevolent asylum becomes an age or invalid pensioner, or if an age or invalid pensioner becomes an inmate of a benevolent asylum, he shall, so long as he remains an inmate of the asylum, be paid so much of his pension as does not exceed the rate of £39 per annum, and that the balance of his pension shall be paid to the person controlling the benevolent asylum for the maintenance of the pensioner. I believe that that is a serious anomaly and that due consideration should be given to it. In Queensland there are institutions, known as Eventide Homes, for old people. Any one who is in receipt of an income other than an age pension is entitled to live in such an institution on the payment of a sum of one guinea a week’. Under the legislation now before the House it will he necessary for an age pensioner to contribute the sum of 39s. a week. At the Eventide Home at Sandgate there are between 800 and 900 inmates, the majority of whom are age pensioners who pay 32s. 6d. a week. Under the provisions of this measure they will be obliged to pay 39s. a week. There are also inmates who own property or who have incomes from farms, and there are others who are in receipt of social services payments which are sometimes in excess of the pension paid to age or invalid pensioners. Such persons are called upon to contribute only one guinea a week, although some of them are in a far better position to contribute 39s. than are the age pensioners. It has been suggested that the cost of upkeep of the inmates of such homes far exceeds 39s. a week. I do not wish to argue that point, but I remind honorable members that the homes are benevolent institutions and that special grants are made by the Australian Government to the various State governments for their maintenance. I suggest that if the authorities in charge of such institutions consider that the amount of money which they receive as keep for the age pensioners is insufficient, the correct thing for them to do is to approach the Federal Treasurer or the State Premier rather than the Minister for Social Services. It is grossly unfair that old people should be required to pay an excessive amount from the pensions which they receive.
It has been pointed out that aged persons are not always inmates of institutions which are maintained by State governments and that there are other benevolent institutions, such as those conducted by church authorities. I am informed that the authorities conducting such institutions have made repeated- representations to the Treasurer and to this Government for an increased appropriation from age ^pension payments on the ground that the amount contributed by the Government is inadequate to meet the cost of upkeep of the pensioners. I suggest, however, that if they are benevolent institutions there is available to them income other than that received from the age pensioners. “Why is it that the Queensland Government is prepared to maintain, for only one guinea a week, people who are far better off than age pensioners? Why should the Australian Government - and I particularly ask the members of the Government to consider this matter - arbitrarily decide that before an age pensioner is paid anything the. sum of 39s. a week must be subtracted from his pension? That amount is allocated to the State government for the upkeep of the pensioner, although the State government demands only one guinea a week from other persons. It is a grossly unfair position and is one which has led to a great deal of dissatisfaction in such institutions. The pensioners feel that the Australian Government is not playing the game. I therefore ask the Minister whether he will give serious consideration to the elimination of that provision from the measure before the House, thereby leaving the position as it stood prior to the introduction of this bill. Age pensioners would then continue to pay 32s. 6d. a week and would enjoy to the full the increase of 10s. a week which has been granted to them by this Government.
I wish to refer to the remarks that were made this afternoon by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). I suggest that all governments in the past have been most eager to eliminate the means test. The honorable member for Sturt, on two previous occasions in this Parliament, has advanced a concrete scheme whereby that elimination might be achieved. It is true that the honorable member stated that he did not think that the scheme would be perfect, but at least it would provide a solid foundation upon which the Government . could build its plans for the elimination of the means test. I heartily commend to the Government and to the Parliament the scheme which has been put forward by the honorable member, in the hope that before the life of this Parliament is over, legislation will be’ introduced which will see the abolition of this . blot on our social services. I compliment the Minister on his thorough and exhaustive research of the social services legislation although I do not approve of proposed new section 12. I also compliment him for having adopted every practical means to improve the social services of our community.
Debate (on motion by Mr. J. R. Fraser) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I have no intention to delay the House unduly, but 1 think that a few minutes’ delay will not be out of place in relation to a matter of public importance. I shall refer briefly to recent alterations in command that have been made in the Australian service organizations, although not so much in the. Army as in the Air Force and the Navy. I shall also draw attention to a fact that must be obvious to most Australians, which is that a. movement has taken place which seems to be not in the best interests of the services and not in accord with the feelings of Australians generally on the question of who should lead our armed services. I have the greatest admiration for the Royal Australian Air Force, as I have also for the Royal Air Force, but this is not a matter of the differing aptitudes of the heads of the various departments so much as a personal matter close to the national life of Australia. The matter has been put very briefly, and, I think, with considerable strength, by a Sydney newspaper, the Daily Mirror. from which I shall read to the House a quotation concerning it. An editorial in to-day’s issue of the Daily Mirror says, in part -
A mere six years after a war, in which every arm of Australia’s armed forces proved itself, the R.A.X. is to be commanded by an officer of the R.N”. The W.A.A.Y. is to be commanded hy an officer of the R.A.F.
Sn far an Australian remains Chief of Austral i:i’s General Staff.
But for how Ions will Australia be free of the British War Office as far as its Army is concerned ?
Such appointments are not good enough.
These are not the days of H.M.S. Powerful and Admiral Poo re. These are the days in which to remember the Kokoda Trail, the sinking of the Bartolomeo Colleoni by John Collins and the R.A.A.F. triumphs in every Al.ied sphere of action, 1939-45.
Surely these days the higher “ brass ‘” trained in Australia - and if necessary for experience in the U.K and the U.S. - is capable of commanding its fellow Australians.
A big section of the Australian public will not hesitate to criticize the Navy Minister and the Minister for Air over these new appointments. A stern protest will be heard.
Australia needs to import English commanders no more than England needs to import an Australian as Commander-in-Chief of any branch of the British armed services.
The editorial concludes -
The Federal Government has no mandate for these recent Navy and Air top appointments.
They are an injustice to every regular soldier, sailor and airman who has dedicated his present and his future to serving his country in one or other of the armed forces.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman must realize that, according to Standing Order 74, he may not quote from newspapers in a debate except on a matter of privilige. The opinion of the Daily Mirror is not the concern of this House.
– I think that I can show the opinion of the Daily Mirror to be of some concern to the Australian people. We on this side of the House think that the Daily Mirror’s opinion is correct. However, it comes back to this point, thai there is a feeling among Australians thai this change should not be made and that it is a blow to the feelings of Australians who served in the forces in two world wars, as well as to the feelings of others who have served so valiantly and continuously in the services generally. The point is that we hear, almost incidentally and accidentally, that Air Marshal G-. Jones, who has been head of the Royal Australian Air Force since 1942, is to be superseded by Air ViceMarshal J. Hardman, an Englishman, who is no doubt a brilliant man. Bui the point that most Australians will take is that apparently the training and experience that our own service leaders have had is considered to be insufficient to sustain the responsibility of the top jobs in the services. Is there not- here an implied admission of failure? We have heard reports that the Public Service Board held an investigation into the Department of Air and found aspects of its administration that it did not consider to be satisfactory. But is this the way to throw the story to the Australian people, particularly as we are alleged to be in preparation for any aggression that may occur? There is an implied reflection on the top leaders of at least two of our armed services.
– Order ! I am sorry that I interrupted the honorable gentleman a few minutes ago. I now find that Standing Order 74 refers to the quotation from newspaper reports of debates.
– I thought that that was the position, but it was not for me to contradict you. We feel that we should make this position clear. We regard the Government’s action as rather a cavalier way of dealing with an officer of high rank. We have not been able to discover why Air Marshal Jones has been superseded. In this jubilee year it is extraordinary that we have gone back to the Crown Colony attitude and no longer have faith in our own service leaders. There are men of high quality in our Air Force. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) may have something to say about this matter later. I am sure that be will agree that our attitude is not one of criticism only; we represent a very strong public opinion in the community. Has the Government carefully studied this position, where it seems that no Australian can ever hope to fill the top job in any of our armed services and lead his men into battle or organize them for defence? On one occasion during the recent war we replaced an English officer of high rank with an Austraiian with very effective results. It does not seem right that we should wring our hands and say that we have .no capable leaders of our own, because the whole of our recent history is entirely against such a proposition. Our leaders in the Navy, Army and Air Force have been called upon for high service, sometimes at short notice, and although they did not have at their finger-tips the latest techniques they have distinguished themselves to such purpose that they now have a permanent place in our history. Such a feeling as a lack of faith in our leaders should not grow in a country which, is proudly celebrating its 50th year of federation and which has a distinguished record in two world wars. It seems mean and meagre, and it is quite beyond my understanding, that suddenly, and for no reason that we know of, the leaders of two Australian services have been superseded. It has been suggested even that the Army will now be controlled by a man from overseas. If that is to be done, is it because there has been some failure on the part of our own leaders? I think not! Has there been a change of policy, or is this the result of some departmental inquiry? This action is an assault on our Australianism. We are being made to feel that no Australian, civilian or military, can take the top job in any of our services. It is a definite smack in the face to be told, in effect, that we cannot find a man of our own nation to lead any of our services. What a psychological limp such a feeling will give us in the future, unless we dismiss this false attitude and admit that we have men who have been tested in tha fires of war and are capable of leading our forces. It seems to me to be a very poor piece of work on the part of the Minister for the Navy and Minister for Air (Mr. McMahon) and, indeed, on the part of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself, that this matter was allowed to come out in a. statement in the press without, so fatas my recollection goes, any discussion of it in the House.
I have nothing to add to my remarks except to say that this i3 a serious matter and that there must be something wrong with this country if we have no faith in our .own people to lead our armed forces, but always have to import somebody from overseas to do so, although usually the man we have on the spot is infinitely superior to the man we bring here at great cost.
.- 1 join with the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) in a protest against this development, which has occurred within the last week or so. It is rather strange that the Government, which came into office two years ago and immediately appointed as its Minister for Air a famous Australian airman, the Honorable T. W. White, who is now our Minister in London, should have moved for an overseas appointment and, presumably as a result of negotiations with the British Government, should have superseded Air Marshal Jones as chief of our Air Force. lt is a strange development indeed. One would have thought that a man with a reputation of Mr. White would, almost immediately after taking office as Minister for Air, have sent some promising young Australians overseas to study the latest developments in the United Kingdom and other countries, so that one of them would be ready to succeed Air Marshal Jones as Chief of the Air Force when the time came for that officer to retire. I make no reflections on the ability of Air Vice-Marshal Hardman. No doubt he is one of the most capable air officers that Britain has produced. However, Australian airmen have won great reuptations for themselves in peace and in war, and are famous the world over. When officers of the Army and of the Navy have been sent overseas to gain experience they have, upon their return to Australia, demonstrated that they are in every way capable of taking over the chief executive positions in our own forces. Probably, among Air Force officers who served in the last war, there are men who could have filled satisfactorily the chief executive position in the Air Force had they been sent overseas to gain greater experience. If none of the younger men are regarded as suitable, there are still available men such as Air Commodore Scherger and Air Vice-Marshal McCauley, veterans of the World War I., whom the Government could have chosen. Although they are now getting up in years, they would still be capable of filling high executive positions. I join with other honorable members in voicing a strong protest against the appointment that has been made. I wish the new Air Marshal well, but I regret that a young Australian has not been given the position.
– I was not in the chamber when this debate began, but I regard the subject as one of great ‘ importance. I do not think that the action of the Government in making the appointment needs any justification. We believe that, in the circumstances, the best that could have been done in the interests of the service has been done. People with no knowledge of the internal working of the services, and with little or no knowlodge of the principles involved, can never he in a position to form accurate or mature judgments. The Government gave a great deal of thought to this matter, and I am quite certain that people outside the Cabinet and the service are not in a position to form sound and honest judgments. The most they can do is to make a political issue out of something which should be placed on a national plane,” something which should be dealt with in a completely impartial manner. It is a national duty to place the best interests of the service before other considerations, and that is what the Government has done. It is scandalous that people should try to make political capital out of this matter.
– No one is making political capital out of it. Why did the Government sack the man?
– Air Marshal Jones told me himself that he believed it to he right that the Chief of Staff should stay in his position for a limited period. He added that it was not for him to make a recommendation, but for the Government to make up its own mind, and with that I agreed. Normally, in the Navy, the Army and the Air Force the Chief of Staff is appointed for a period of two years. In exceptional circumstances, the appointment is extended for another two years, but it should not go beyond that. Staff officers believe that a fouryear limit should be imposed. That practice is followed in Great Britain and in other countries, and I believe that it should be followed here. There is much to recommend it, because we then get the benefit of new minds and new vitality, and avoid the danger of following static and stereotyped methods. I put that point of view to Air Marshal Jones, and he said, “ Yes, I agree. That is the correct principle to apply.” Air Marshal Jones had occupied his position for eight years. However, my predecessor in office was aware of the practice of placing a limit of four years on the appointment of the Chief of Staff, because there is reference to it on the files. I considered the matter, and came to the conclusion that it would be wise, and in the best interests of the service, that Air Marshal Jones should be retired from the position of Chief of Staff. I discussed the position with him, acquainted him with my opinion, and that of the Government, and told him what we had in mind for him in the future. Air Marshal Jones is satisfied. There has been no bitterness-, and he has expressed no regret, because he realized that a wise decision had been made. He is respected for his ability, and for the service he has rendered to the country. It is wrong that his name should be used in a debate of this kind. Ho has given meritorious service.
– We asked why the Government did not appoint an Australian.
– An Australian was not appointed for the simple reason that it was believed that, on this occasion, it was better to bring to Australia, for a period of two years, a man with the necessary experience for the job. We did not think that there was an Australian with al] the qualifications - I do not say the qualities, because there are many men in Australia with the necessary qualities - but there was no one in Australia with the experience or the necessary qualifications for the position. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) put the matter well when he said that there had been such tremendous developments in the Air Force - new equipment, new strategic concepts, and new methods of co-operation between the three arms - that it was necessary to have as Chief of Staff a man who has made a close study of those problems. The man who has been appointed has made such a study, not only in South-East Asia, but also in France and other parts of the world. No Australian has had the necessary experience in dealing with those problems, and particularly in co-operation between the three arms.
– What, about the Navy ?
- Sir John Collins is- chief of the Navy staff. He is an Aus tralian, and is occupying the highest position in the Royal Australian Navy. Unfortunately, five of our best officers were killed during the war.
– I think we need a new Minister for Air.
– The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) did enough damage to Australia’s economy when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Australia lost its five senior captains on service during the war. As a consequence, when the Government wanted to fill the position of flag officer in command of the squadron it did not have a man with the training necessary for the position, and it looked to our traditional home, the United Kingdom, to provide such a man.
I am very glad that I was associated with this decision. I take complete responsibility for it. I believe that Air Vice-Marshal Hardman is a man of exceptional capacity and ability. He served in the 1914-18 war; he served with squadrons in France in the early part of the last war; he served in SouthEast Asia as a staff officer he has been a member of the Air Council in the United Kingdom and is at present an operational officer of the United Kingdom Southern Command. He is eminently qualified to fill this position. I should like to learn whether honorable members of the Opposition know any of the ‘persons whom they have mentioned. Even if they do know them, do they object to the Government’s maintaining intimate contact with the United Kingdom in such matters as this? Do they object to the Government’s action in filling staff postings with officers from the Motherland in times when it considers that this is the best course? If they do object to that principle and if they are courageous they should voice that objection. I consider that the Government has chosen wisely and it is certain that it has chosen in the very best interests of the Royal Australian Air Force.
ri0.53].The Minister for the Navy and Minister for Air (Mr. McMahon) has set up a couple of Aunt Sallys: and knocked them down to his own satisfaction. Opposition members have npt attempted to make political capital out of this decision. They desire to register an emphatic protest against the failure of the Government to appoint an Australian to the highest office in the Royal Australian Air Force. It is true that when the Labour party was in office it brought an Englishman, Admiral Eccles, to Australia for the reason stated by the Minister - that Australia lost five flagofficers in the war. But for that misfortune, one of those officers would have been appointed to this post. The Labour Government had to resist a great deal of pressure from Admiral Louis Hamilton and others who did not want Admiral Sir John Collins appointed to his post.
– I do not think that that statement is correct.
– Order ! The Minister has spoken.
– Representations were made to the Government of which I was a member by Admiral Hamilton in regard to that appointment. The Opposition does not suggest that there should not be the closest cooperation between the forces of Australia and Great Britain and between the forces of all the British dominions and the United States. If what the Minister said is correct, Great Britain should appoint an American chief of staff because America has a greater war potential than the United Kingdom and has greater armies in the field.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! Honorable members must maintain order. Some honorable members who. are interjecting have addressed the Chair on this question. I ask them to desist and give a fair hearing to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell).
– Opposition members believe in the principle of Australia first and they do not accept the dictum of the Minister that there is no officer in the Royal Australian Air Force who is capable of succeeding Air Marshal Jones. The Minister for Air has stated that no one in the Australian forces has had the necessary experience to fill the position. That is a matter of opinion as to what experience is required. The Government may have certain factors in mind. The Minister may think it is important that the appointee should have had European experience. The Opposition believes that Australia is a Pacific nation essentially and that the officers in command of our forces will have to fight wars in the Pacific and not in Europe. For that reason the Government should encourage the development of talent in its own armed forces. A previous government brought Air Vice-Marshal Burnett to this country and the Government of which I was a member did no’ have very happy relations with him. He was eventually succeeded by AirMa.rshal Jones. Lieutenant-General Squires was also appointed to a position in which it cannot be said that he was s tremendous success although he was a gallant man. He was succeeded by Australians who were great soldiers and competent administrators.
Opposition members fear that this decision to put somebody who is not an Australian into a post commanding th Royal Australian Air Force will be followed later by the appointment of a non-Australian to the Australian Army to succeed Lieu ton ant-G eneral Rowell. They fear that Vice-Admiral Collins will also be’ succeeded by somebody who is noi an Australian. Opposition members consider that this appointment is a reflection on the capacity of Australian officers who have performed under all circumstances very meritoriously and with great distinction to themselves. Instead of making a dispassionate statement the Minister started to harangue the Opposition and impute ulterior motives. What honorable members of the Opposition have said is being said by representatives of exservicemen’s organizations throughout Australia. I refer the Minister to the newspapers that have been published in the capital cities this evening in which protests have been made about the lack of consideration of the claims of Aus tralia ns for appointment to this important post. If the Government wishes to revert to the system of tutelage it should import a Prime Minister, a Speaker and a Minister for the Navy because they, presumably, would do better than the present occupants of those positions. I suggest to honorable gentlemen opposite that they should bring their views up to date on these matters. Even the churches have ceased to import archbishops and are appointing Australian-born people to their highest offices. Australia is a nation. Under the Statute of “Westminster it is an integral part of the British Commonwealth of Nations and is equal in status to every other part of the Commonwealth. The one bond of a common kingship unites us all. That being so the Government should not revert to the state of affairs that existed before the first world war by assuming that there is nobody in Australia with the necessary experience or ability to command our forces. I consider that the decision of the Government will have a very bad effect on the morale of the forces, even if all that the Minister has said in respect of the qualifications, qualities and gallantry of the officer who is to be brought from England is completely true. After all, he will return to England and an Australian will have to be appointed to this position then. The Minister, on his own reckoning, will have to appoint an Australian to the post in two years’ time, unless the appointment which has now been made by the Government is extended. We believe in Australian commanders of the Australian forces for the same reason as we believe in Australian GovernorsGeneral. We believe that Australians should be appointed to the highest positions in this land. We believe that the Australian people have the necessary qualities for such appointments.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has distorted the whole situation. I am sure that every member of this House agrees that, where it is practicable and to the advantage of the nation, Australians should be in command of our fighting services. That, I know, is the policy of the Government. However, as a result of circumstances which developed during World War TL, the present Chief of the Air Staff was appointed to that post when the position involved no operational responsibilities whatsoever, and he was deprived thereby of the opportunity to gain the experience that is necessary so to train a post-war air force in its functions that it will be qualified to meet the contingencies of any future operations. In consequence, the post-war Air Force has been deprived of that leadership which it must have if it is to be founded on sound operational and organizational principles.
– Is that why Australian airmen in Korea have been fighting under the command of Air Marshal Jones?
– They are not fighting under the command of Air Marshal J ones. They are attached to an American air force group for operations, and control. Air Marshal Jones is a good, administrator. Through no fault of his own, but because of circumstances over which he has had no control, he has not had the operational experience which is necessary to equip him to take charge of the training of the post-war Air Force so as to enable it to meet its commitments. In the circumstances, those officers who have served under him in the ‘post-war period have not had an opportunity to gain experience in the training that is necessary to meet modern air force conditions. That, in the circumstances, is complete justification for the Government’s decision, as a temporary measure, to import a Royal Air Force officer of wide operational experience and knowledge to train our own Air Force officers to accept the responsibility that will devolve upon them if they in turn become eligible for the position of Chief of the Air Staff. The Opposition is not acting fairly in raising this matter at this juncture. Honorable members opposite know as well as we do that the security of this country depends upon. the efficiency of our fighting services, and that to place them at a disadvantage merely in pursuit of some formal wish to have an Australian in command of the Royal Australian Air Force would be unfair and unwise. I congratulate the Government on its bold step of having appointed a Royal Air Force officer to this position in order to re-organize our Air Force on an operational basis, so that our own senior officers will be given an opportunity to gain experience which will fit them to accept a similar appointment in a few years’ time.
.- It would appear to be a proper function of our defence forces to provide a line of succession to the commanding positions, because if that kind of arrangement is not adhered to, the organization of our forces may fail completely. This is an important principle which should not be overlooked in the Royal Australian Air Force. A number of mcn who are suitable should be undergoing training to fit them to replace the highest officers in the armed forces. I cannot understand, therefore, why it should be necessary for the Government to go outside our own Air Force officers in seeking a new commander for the Air Force, or even indeed to replace its present commander. If, as has been stated, Air Marshal Jones has not had certain opportunities to gain operational experience, he should have been given them by a suitable period of exchange duty, and should not be deprived of his command in this fashion. Opportunities have been made available for our Australian airmen to visit other countries and other operational areas. Advantage has been taken of those opportunities by many senior officers, and I am sure that suitable men are available to undertake these most important duties. I need hardly mention the fact that our Australian troops rank among the finest in the world. Their’ standard of intelligence is outstanding. I cannot understand the decision of the Government, and I wholeheartedly support the remarks of Opposition members in regard to it.
– I wish to refer briefly to the individual cases of three exservicemen who have been affected by recent retrenchments in the Public Service. I believe it to be appropriate that’ they should be mentioned to-night. The first is that of a man, 64 years of age, who is an ex-serviceman of both the 1914-18 and 1939:45 wars. For the last three years, he has been employed in a clerical capacity in a Commonwealth department at -Canberra. He will be 65 years of age next March. He was dismissed, notwithstanding the fact that he had served in two world wars. He is a married man, with a wife to support, and is the tenant of a flat owned by the Government. He will probably be entitled to the payment of a social services benefit when he attains the: age of 65 years. In the mean time, does the Government care what happens to him? I have submitted his case to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), and I hope that the honorable gentleman will be able to assure me that the man will be reemployed.
The second case is that of another exserviceman who served in both world wars. He was an original Anzac in the 1914-18 war and he saw service in the Middle East in “World War II. For the last six years, he has been employed in a professional capacity in a Commonwealth department in Canberra. I” shall later give the names to the appropriate Ministers. Recently he was notified that he would be relegated to clerical duties presumably at a lower rate of salary than he had been receiving for the professional duties that he was performing. Those professional duties will now be carried on by a German immigrant who has been in this country for six months. Another German immigrant is being brought here to fill a similar professional position in the same department,, while the Australian exserviceman of two world wars has been reduced in status and salary. This man is married, and has his home in Canberra.
– What is the department in which he was employed?
-The Department of National Development. The third matter concerns a young ex-serviceman of the last war who has a wife and one young child. He was employed as a builders’ labourer in the maintenance section of the Department of Works and Housing. When notices were given out at the end of last month under the general retrenchment scheme he received a notice. When he interviewed the officer of his department to ascertain the cause of his dismissal, he was told, “ There have been bad reports about you “. He had heard no complaints about his work so he went to the foreman and the leading hand of his section and asked whether they had any complaint to make about him. They told him that they had no complaint at all to make about his work. I telephoned a senior officer of the department, who subsequently telephoned me and said that this man’s work had not been satisfactory. I believe that had it not been satisfactory that should have been given to him as a reason for his dismissal, and he should not have been dismissed under the general retrenchment policy. The list relative to retrenchments issued by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), according to the. right honorable gentleman’s statement in the House, indicated that ex-servicemen were to be the last to be dismissed, married men with families second last and married men without families third last. Each of the men to whom I have referred is married and each is an ex-serviceman. I want the Government to take the appropriate action to ensure that these errors shall be rectified.
, - in reply - I shall deal first with the matter raised by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser). If the honorable member will give to me the names of the men he has mentioned I shall ensure that each case shall be fully investigated.
– I also can let the Minister have a couple of names.
– I shall be glad to examine those cases too. I regret that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) raised a week ago certain matters which were not brought to my attention until to-day.
– The Minister must be short of staff as the result of retrenchment.
– My staff is kept very busy trying to satisfy honorable members on both sides of the House. I take it that all the employees mentioned by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory were in the category of temporary employees. Whilst we all may have feelings’ of sympathy with any person who for any cause loses a position in which he has found congenial employment, we must accept the responsibilities that we have, as a Government, in dealing with decisions taken in the interests of the Commonwealth. Temporary employees, as such, have no claim on any government or party for permanent employment. Such employment is reserved for members of the Public
Service proper, and any person who has an engagement as a temporary employee has been engaged subject ‘ to the hazards which ‘ accompany employment anywhere. I remind the honorable member of the words used by the late Mr. Chifley when he was dealing with the matter of full employment. He said that there could be no guarantee that there would be a particular job in a particular place for every person who wanted one ; that all that any government could hope to do was to ensure that there would be so many jobs available throughout Australia that those who sought work could be placed in a position which would keep them usefully occupied at a proper remuneration.
Proper stress has been laid on the fact that the persons dismissed were ex-servicemen. I do not know in what department the man first mentioned worked but the other two were employed in the Department of Works and Housing.
– The first man was employed in the Department of National Development.
– Two of the dismissed men were employed in the Department of Works and Housing which is administered by a man who of all men in this Parliament would have more sympathetic regard for the needs of ex-servicemen than would any other. He has known something of the sufferings and difficulties of ex-servicemen and I hardly imagine that he would have been regardless of such considerations in dealing with the matter. However, I shall ensure that the details of these matters shall be examined.
As so many honorable members opposite spoke about the matter introduced by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), I now want to say something about it. Here again has been demonstrated that curious steak of an inferiority complex which disfigures so much of Labour’s policy and administration in this country. Who in his senses would say that a government drawn from Australians, representing the Australian people and responsible to the Australian people, would have an improper regard for the claims of Australian men in our own services? We have no doubt about the skill and courage of the members of the Australian defence services; those qualities have been demonstrated wherever they have been tested. The matter of skill and courage in that sense does not arise on this occasion. Other countries, uninhibited by an innate sense of inferiority, freely make transfers abroad or bring men from overseas to assist them. Great Britain has time and time again made use of the services of talented men from the dominions in the, higher ranks of its fighting services. We all were proud to know that during the last war an Australian reached the rank of Air Marshal in Great Britain. That was Air Marshal Drummond. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) admitted, because he knew that it would be mentioned anyway, a Labour government brought out a high ranking naval officer to assist us to train our naval officers. Another Australian government brought out a senior man from Scotland Yard to give us the benefit of his experience in organizing a police force. That was Alexander Duncan, who re-organized the Victorian Police Force. .
– A Labour government did not bring him out.
– Do you think that that was a wrong decision?
– Order! The Minister must address me.
– I shall address you, Mr. Speaker. Another prominent man brought out. to help us was Mr. H. P. Brown. He was of considerable assistance in the Postal Department. I do not know which government brought him to Australia but all governments, whatever their political colour may have been, were glad to have his assistance. Recently an Australian became the first man from a dominion to be elected Lord Mayor of London. What nonsense it is to say that that we should deny ourselves the assistance of such men, assuming that we have not readily available persons with equal experience, training and technical knowledge, who can do the work that we require of them ! I am sure that honorable members who have listened to this debate have been infinitely more impressed by the speech of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock), who really knows something about this matter, than by the series of speeches from the Opposition benches.
– What does the Minister know about it?
– I do not claim to have much knowledge of the services, but I do know something about the temperament of Labour members, and about the many ways in which this inferiority complex has been demonstrated in the past. I was glad to hear Opposition members say that they were putting Australia first, bceause many people are convinced that quite a number of Labour supporters would prefer to put Russia first in matters of this kind.
Honorable members opposite profess to be concerned about the morale of the Air Force. I can imagine nothing more calculated to damage the morale of the Air Force than an endeavour by some members of the Parliament to make a political football out of service matters and national defence issues. In order to get a cheap headline in some newspapers, members of the Opposition have launched this attack allegedly in the interests of national defence; but, if they had a true appreciation of their responsibility to the people of Australia, they would keep such matters out of the range of party politics. I do not think the point requires labouring.
– It needs liberalizing.
– It is true that the defence programme and the defence policy of this country needed liberalizing when this Government took office. I have the highest regard for Air Marshal Jones, and I am happy to pay a tribute to the service that he has given to Australia in his very responsible position, but he himself would be the first to acknowledge . that he was asked to carry on as Chief of the Air Staff for a period of time which, in ordinary circumstances, has not, been regarded as in the best interests <;f the services. When the people of Australia see the results of thi= Govern- ments defence policy they will realize that bearing in mind the state of our defence forces and of their morale under Labour rule, it compares more than favorably with that of the Labour Administration.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following paper was presented : -
Aluminium Industry Act - Australian Aluminium Production Commission - Sixth Annual Report, for year 1950-51.
House adjourned at 11.23 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Communist Party Dissolution Act.
s. - On the 3rd October the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) asked the following question, without notice : -
Apropos of a recent case in which certain Communist-controlled trade unions challenged in the High Court the validity of the Communist Party Dissolution Act, does the Prime Minister yet know whether the costs against the Government are in the hands of the taxing officer of the High Court? If they are, will the Prime Minister state the amount in those costs covering the fees of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) ? If they are not, will the Prime Minister supply this information to the House when they are available so that honorable members and the public may know whether the right honorable member for Barton performed his task for love or money?
In answer to the honorable member’s question, I undertook to ascertain whether the bills of costs of certain Communistcontrolled trade unions, which successfully challenged the validity of the Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950, are now in the hands of the taxing officer of the High Court. Upon inquiry, I find that they are not.
e asked the Minister repre senting the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce andAgriculture, upon notice -
What was the production figure for the years 1939, 1949 and 1950 of the following, viz.: - Wheat, oats, butter, cheese, whole milk, powdered milk, barley, beef, lamb, potatoes, fresh vegetables, sugar, apples and pears, pigmeats, eggs, and blue and grey peas?
– The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has furnished the following reply : -
Production of rural commodities in Australia is recorded on a crop-year or financialyear basis, rather than for calendar years. Accordingly, the figures below refer to the years, 1938-39, 1949-50 and 1950-51. In the case of vegetables other than potatoes, production estimates for the year 1938-39 are not available. Figures for the year 1950-51 are, at the stage, necessarily subject to revision. With these qualifications, the information sought by the honorable member is set out in the accompanying table.
on asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
The names of the State representatives on the Commonwealth-State Consultative Committee, their positions in their States, and the States they represent are -
H. Chapman - Railways Commissioner, South Australia. A. G. Hall - Commissioner of Railways, Western Australia. C. E. Baird. O.Tt.TC. - Commissioner of Transport, Tasmania. 2 and 3. The committee was constituted in agreement with the State Governments following the recommendations of the Steering Committee of Commonwealth and State Officers, that discussions should be arranged between Commonwealth and State experts at the highest level who are concerned with railways, with the following objectives: - (a) to examine the present transportation position and also priorities of existing and proposed transport programmes and projects in each State, in the light of the need to prepare the Australian economy against the possibility of war; (&) to consider measures for ensuring that the essential parts of our transportation systems are brought into efficient condition within the next three years.
on. - On the 4th October, the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) asked the following question: -
Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that many Australian manufacturers and their employees are gravely concerned at the proposed importation of Japanese poods into Australia? W’*’ +’<( Minister stive details of arrangements that have been sanctioned bv the Government for the importation of such goods? Will he also give an assurance that appropriate action will bc taken by the Government to protect Australian industries and their employees from the effects of the damping of cheap Japanese goods ia this country I
The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished me with the following information : - As far as he is aware no concern has been expressed at the importation from Japan of the essential materials that make up almost the entire value of licences issued on Japan to the present time. He has, however, received some representations in. connexion with the scheme announced in July to allow token importations of less essential goods and assumes that the honorable member’s questions relate to the importation of goods in this latter category. The arrangements made to allow the importation up to a limited value, of less essential goods provide for the establishment of quotas based on previous importations of Japanese goods and for consideration of applications from bona fide traders who were not previous importers. The maximum quota to be established in favour of any firm is £1,000 for the period ending the 31st December, 1951. “Within the limits of the quota allowed to him the importer has freedom of choice as to what goods he will import from Japan. The Minister for Trade and . Customs gives his assurance that the Government will continue to afford protection to efficient Australian industry through the medium of the Customs Tariff which is the recognized instrument for that purpose.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 October 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1951/19511011_reps_20_214/>.