20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Eon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government has offered to sell its shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company?
– At the moment, 1 am not prepared to make any statement on the matter that the right honorable gentleman has raised beyond saying that
Lnc Government will engage in a series of discussions with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. It is not feasible for me to set out the course of those discussions, because to do so would be to interfere with them. As soon as there is anything to lie said on this matter it will be said ; and I am prepared to undertake that it will be said in this House.
– Will the Minister for Defence inform the House whether the whole sum of ?200,000,000 that is provided for defence .in the Estimates for this year will be expended during the current financial year? If it is not expected that the full sum will be expended, can he say what proportion of it is expected to he expended ?
– It is expected that the full amount of ?200,000,000 that lias been allocated for defence in this year’s Estimates will bo expended during the current financial year.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister for Civil Aviation indicate whether a decision has yet been made on the Hexham site for the Newcastle aerodrome! If not, can he say when a decision is likely to be made in view of the fact that an allocation has been made for land acquisition in the Estimates for the. current financial year?
– I understand that the Minister for Civil Aviation has accepted the responsibility for the establishment of an airport in the vicinity of Newcastle, dependent, of course, upon theavailability of funds. It was decided that, the most suitable site existed at Hexham: and preparatory surveys were madeFunds are allocated on the Estimates for the current year for the purchase of the land, but no provision has been made, for the constructional work. I am. also informed that before any action, is taken to purchase the land further consideration will bc given to the suitability of the site, having regard to the proximity of Hexham to. Williamtown, which may involve risk of collisions. A committee has been set up in the Department of Civil Aviation to consider the matter and to make a recommendation on that aspect.
– I address a question to the Minister for Air that relates to his decision to make available to an Australian a Mosquito aircraft in which ho will take part in the proposed LondonNew Zealand air race. Can the Minister inform the House of the value of such aircraft and whether the pilot will have to purchase it at its full value?
– The person towhom the honorable member has referred; is Squadron Leader Oates and the aircraft that is to be made available to him is a Mosquito, which is one of from 40- to 50 machines obsolescent from an Air Force point of view, that harebeen declared to the Department of Supply for disposal. Its monetary valueis not high. It would not be valued at much more than ?250. I have not yet decided how the aircraft will be made available because some difficulties have still to be overcome within the department. However, I make it clear that no obstacle will be raised that would prevent Squadron Leader Oates from achieving his ambition to participate in the proposed air race, and we propose to make the aircraft available to him as -soon as possible on the most satisfactory terms.
– Why do not you give it to him free of charge?
– That is- not a bad idea.
– I ask the Prime Minis ter whether the Government will give favorable consideration to making the accessary funds available to enable proposed developmental work to proceed on the Smithton aerodrome, so as to make it eligible to qualify as an A-grade Aerodrome ?
– Loan moneys are allocated to the States by the Australian Loan Council. The Commonwealth does not take part in that allocation on any condition that the moneys are to be used for a particular purpose. The use to which the moneys are put within the boundaries of a State is a matter for the State itself to determine. The policy on the matter that the honorable member has raised has for a long time been that the Commonwealth will make a contribution in respect of the development, operation and maintenance of an aerodrome when it has been proved by actual airline traffic over a period that the aerodrome has an economic and lasting value. There are many places in Australia at which local authorities have constructed or re-constructed aerodromes <m those terms. We cannot make an exception from that general principle in the case of Smithton aerodrome, although I realize the honorable member’s interest in it and its potentialities. So far as it has been able to, the Department of Civil Aviation has been assisting in an advisory capacity in the development of Smithton aerodrome and will continue to do so. Apart from that, the principle to which I have referred will operate in this case, as in other cases.
– My question is addressed to the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is it a fact that Commonwealth Hostels Limited has abandoned claims, or summonses against immigrants for arrears of board and lodging? If that is a fact is it the intention of the Australian Government or Commonwealth Hostels Limited to write off these debts that have been incurred by immigrants?
– I have no informa tion at all .that Commonwealth Hostels
Limited has foregone any claims that it may have against immigrants. I know that Commonwealth Hostels Limited has instituted proceedings against immigrants in certain cases and has obtained some verdicts. I shall ascertain the exact position in this matter and advise the honorable member of it.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs any information that Mexico has proposed a newplan for solving the prisoner of war deadlock in Korea? If so, does he believe that this proposal offers some hope for a solution of the matter?
– Yes, I am aware of the Mexican proposal. The Government has received particulars of it. The proposal is that prisoners of war who elect not to be repatriated to China or North Korea shall be absorbed as immigrants by the countries of the United Nations. I cannot believe that this is a practicable solution, because the reason put forward by the Communists for not agreeing to the voluntary repatriation of prisoners does not depend on their eventual destination. The Communists take exception to prisoners of war having any choice whether they will be returned to their country of origin or not. We hold that the prisoners of war should be able to exercise such freedom of choice. A difference of opinion does not reside in the eventual disposition of the prisoners. I appreciate the action of Mexico in putting forward this proposal, but I do not believe that it represents what may turn out to be a solution of the prisoner of war deadlock at Pan Mun Jon.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether liquid hepasol was originally on the list of free life-saving drugs and has since been taken off the list? If so, what was the reason for that action? When prescribing free medicine for pensioners, is the prescribing doctor limited »to the British Pharmacopoeia, and if he prescribes any drug not in the British Pharmacopoeia- or the list of life-saving drugs, does the pensioner have to pay what may be a very high price for such a drug?
– In the beginning oral liver preparations were included in the list of free drugs, but it was discovered later that there was a tremendous abuse of their use. Therefore, liver extract? were limited to those which are hypodermically administered and which are much more effective. Those drugs are still on the list. Under the previous system there was a tremendous abuse and, moreover, such extracts were not of the same value iis those that are administered intramuscularly. Pensioners are entitled first of all, like everybody else, to all free life-saving drugs; secondly, to the drugs in the British Pharmacopoeia and, thirdly, to the drugs that are contained in the prescriber’s list which includes practically all the drugs that are in USE in all the big hospitals in Australia. Those drugs could be used in combination with others. Hepasol is not in that list.
– Is the Minister for Health in a position to announce the names of the various societies that have been approved for hospitalization and have been registered in the various States and the Australian Capital Territory? If the Minister has not the information now will he obtain it and supply it to me ?
– Yesterday I informed the House that at the earliest possible moment, the Government would issue a. new set of advertisements which would give the latest list of names of approved organizations so that they will be available not only to the honorable member but also to everybody in Australia. A combined meeting of organizations from, all parts of Australia is now being held in Sydney to deal with this question and especially with its relation to aged persons and chronic invalids. A conference is also being held in Adelaide. I. hope to be able to announce some results next week.
– The question that I direct to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture arises from the fact that recent shipments from the United States of America of type 50T pick-up bailers manufactured by the International Harvester Company have been subject to import duty. In view of the Minister’s personal desire to assist primary producers in the conservation of fodder, and the desire of his department and the Australian Agricultural Council, can he explain why this duty is imposed and will he state whether he has any power to reduce it ?
– The duty upon pick-up bailers that are imported from the United States of America is imposed under the terms of the existing tariff schedule. The Government has no discretionary power that would enable it to remit the duty while Australia remains a party to the agreement with the United Kingdom and certain other countries of the British Commonwealth which is generally known as the Ottawa Agreement. That agreement provides for important reciprocal tariff preferences between Australia and the United Kingdom. A part of the bargain by which we obtain substantial preferences in the United Kingdom market is a provision that there shall be a higher duty on foreign imports than on imports of comparable commodities and equipment from the United Kingdom. When the United Kingdom is unable to supply an item, arrangements are made under which, with the consent of the United Kingdom, duty on such goods imported by Australia from foreign countries is remitted. The United Kingdom claims, correctly, I believe, that it is able to supply pick-up hay bailers of the same type as those that are supplied from the United States of America. The United Kingdom, therefore, rests on its rights under the Ottawa Agreement and is not prepared to authorize us to remit the duty.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Premier of New South Wales has made an urgent request for the Australian Government to make available to his Government, 10,000,000 dollars for the purchase of power plant overseas? Has the request been granted or rejected ?
– As honorable members know, because they will have read the correspondence in the newspapers, a request has been made for the provision of dollars for certain power plant. Honorable members probably know also that that application has been challenged, in effect, by alternative sources of supply of a non-dollar kind. Some of those sources of supply are i;n the United Kingdom and some are in France. In these circumstances, the whole matter has been investigated by the dollar committee of the Government and the report of that committee is now awaiting decision by Cabinet. I expect that decision to be made at a very early date and, when it lias been made, a statement will be issued to indicate our attitude to the application.
– Will the Minister for Health state whether it is a fact that all States except Queensland have adopted the Government’s plan, for the free distribution of milk to school children? Will the regular supply of milk in some form to the younger generation have a definitely beneficial effect on the general health of the community? If so, has the Queensland Government’ explained why it is preventing the children of that State from obtaining the benefit that is being obtained by children in other States?
– Queensland is the only State that has remained outside the free, milk arrangement. At present, about 700,000 children throughout the rest of Australia, representing about 70 per cent, of the total number between the ages of four and thirteen years, are being supplied with free milk, so that the proportion in certain States must be high. It passes my comprehension why Queensland should stay out ‘ of the scheme. Honorable members are aware that the Queensland Government objected to the hospital insurance scheme on the. ground that people have to pay contributions, yet it is opposed to the scheme for the distribution of milk to school children because it is free; so it is difficult for us to know the ruling principle of that Government in. such matters. The value of milk for children was proved indisputably in Great Britain during the last war, when housing conditions, because of bombing damage, were probably the worst that the world had ever previously known. Yet, because Sir John Boyd Orr had organized the provision of milk for school children, the average condition of boys and girls of thirteen and fourteen years of age in Great Britain at the end of the war was better than that of boys and girls of the same ages before the commencement of the wai*.
– The Minister for Health, in his reply to the honorable member for Darling Downs, mentioned the beneficial results of the scheme for supplying free milk to school children. No fresh milk supplies are available in large areas of some States. Will the Minister for Health consider substituting fruit juices where fresh milk is not obtainable?
– Before the answer is given, I must point out that this question has been asked time and time again. The Standing Orders provide that once a question is answered it cannot be raised again. This is the last time that I shall allow a question of this character.
– The difficulties in relation to the supply of free milk are well understood by the Australian Government and the State governments. There are many areas in Australia where fresh milk cannot be procured daily, especially in Western Australia and South Australia. Efforts are being made to advance research into methods by which butter, including salted butter, can be turned back into milk by a simple process. In that way, milk could be supplied to the residents of those areas as well as to school children. The Education Departments in Western Australia and South Australia are actively engaged in those experiments. The States Grants (Milk for School Children) Act 1950 provides only for the supply of milk, and contains no provision for the distribution of fruit, juices.
– My “question to the Prime Minister follows several questions that I have asked relative to the flooding of the Hunter River from time to time, which causes the complete cessation of primary production and transport, particularly the movement of coal. In view of that situation, I asked that a railway which may be used in all weathers be constructed. Finally, the Prime Minister asked me to place my question on the notice-paper, and I complied with his request. My question was on the noticepaper for about a fortnight, and I now have the reply to it. The first part of the answer-
- (Hon. Archie Cameron). Order! The honorable member may not read replies to questions on notice when he is asking a question without notice. If he desires to ask a question, he may do so.
– Very well! I shall phrase my question in conformity with your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I point out that the answer to my question really passes the buck to the New South Wales Government.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not phrase his question in that way.
– Will the Prime Minister inform me whether this Parliament has authority over interstate transport by virtue of the trade and commerce powers conferred on it by section 92 of the Constitution? Was not the Joint Coal Board, which was established as the result of legislation passed by this Parliament and the New South Wales Parliament, prepared to construct a rail link between the J. and A. Brown-
– Order ! Will the honorable member complete his question?
– Is the Prime Minister satisfied that it is the responsibility of the New South Wales Government to finance the construction of that railway line? As the Joint Coal Board was prepared to nuance the building of the alternative link, will the Prime Minister now permit that authority to proceed with the work in order that an all-weather railway may be provided ?
– I confess that I am lost. I was set, up to a certain point, in that question, and was about to say, “ Yes “, but it turns out that the answer to the last part of the question is, “ No “.
– Can the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General inform me when it is expected that work will be commenced on the North Sydney post office?
– I understand from the representations that appear in. the files of the Postmaster-General’s Department, that the honorable member for North Sydney is concerned with two’ aspects of this matter. One is relative to when the work will be commenced, and the other is in reference to the people who are living in houses that will b& demolished when the construction is commenced. I understand that the plans for the building are being prepared, but there is no probability that the work will be commenced for at least two years. However, the honorable member may rest assured that, before the work is undertaken, ample time will be given to the residents of the dwellings that would be affected to enable them to make other arrangements for their accommodation.
– Is the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General aware of a practice which operates in the Postal Department under which applicants for temporary employment who are over the age of 50 years are excluded from any possibility of obtaining such employment ? As many such applicants possess the necessary mental and physical qualifications for the positions that are available, will the Minister review this practice, which precludes many worthy citizens from obtaining employment?
– I am not aware that such a practice exists, but I shall discuss the matter with the Acting DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs and discover what can be done about it.
– Will the Minister for Health inform the House whether it is a fact that the life-saving drug artane, which is used in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, is in short supply? If that is so, is the shortage related in. any way to restrictions on purchases from, the dollar area?
– Representations have been made from various sources with regard to difficulty in securing artane I have made inquiries from the Minister for Trade and Customs and he has informed me that he is allowing practically free importation of the drug to ensure tha.t it will be available. If there is a shortage it is not the fault of the Government.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. On the 28th August, it was stated that the Director of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia had challenged the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to produce a certificate from the Commonwealth Statistician to show that in 1952 there were 40,000 fewer persons employed in rural industries than before the war.
– Order ! What is the honorable member’s question?
– Since then, the Minister has again publicly stated that there are now 40,000 fewer persons in rural employment than there were twenty years ago. In these circumstances, will the Minister say whether there was ever the slightest justification for challenging his figures on rural employment ?
– I know that the gentleman concerned has chosen to challenge my figures, and that, in a publication issued officially from Canberra under the imprint of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures, he has stated that I have really reiterated an incorrect statement and have conjured up a wrong picture. I am not prepared to engage in an argument with an official of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures, and I do not think that that organization would expect an official of the Government service to engage in an argument with it. But I cannot, and I will not, ignore an allegation, apparently made officially by the Associated Chambers of Manufactures, that I have repeated an untrue statement. Nor will I ignore a challenge from the same organization to produce a certificate from the Commonwealth Statisticain, apparently to prove that I have not lied. I should attach little importance to this-
– Order! The honorable gentleman is going well outside the scope of an answer to a question.
– I have a certificate from the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, dated the 10th September, which shows that in 1932-33 there were 445,242 persons working permanently and full-time on rural holdings in Australia, that in 1938-39 there were 439,084 persons so engaged, and that on the 31st March, 1952, there were 395,402 persons so engaged.
– I rise to order. I desire toask you, Mr. Speaker, for how long will you permit the practice to continue under which, in the period allotted for questions without notice, honorable members address questions to Ministers, to which the Ministers give obviously prepared answers, which prove conclusively that the questions have not been asked without notice?
– That is a practice of which I do not approve, and for which the Standing Orders do not provide. It is a practice which was well in vogue before I was elevated to the Chair, and one which I am willing to ban rigidly if theHouse so desires. But, as I have said on other occasions, if I were to apply strictly the Standing Orders that relateto questions without notice, question time would not last for ten minutes a day.
– This is a matter of great public interest.
– Order ! Apparently it is ‘ also a matter of controversy. One of the Standing Orders states that debatable matter shall not be introduced intoquestions or answers to questions.
– I shall confine myself to facts. The figures that I have cited show that, since the year before the last war, the number of persons engaged in. rural employment has decreased by 43,682, and that there has been a reduction of 49,840 persona in a twenty-year period. I shall send a copy of those figures to the chairman of the Associated’ Chambers of Manufactures.
– Order ! That is not relevant to the question.
– I lay on the tablethe certificate from the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, so that any honorablemember who is interested in it may see it.
– Will the Minister also lay on the table his letter of the 5tb September to the Commonwealth Statistician in which he requested the provision of the certificate?
– Action was taken a month ago in relation to advancing building work in the Australian Capital Territory. Frankly, I regard the administrative building as the most expensive white elephant that I have ever known. The present estimate of the cost of the building, when completed, is about £4,000,000, on a cost-plus fixed fee contract basis. Until recently, nobody seemed to be interested in getting the building finished. The object of proceeding with the completion of section A is to see whether we can get the building to a stage at which we can call tenders for the completion of the whole building, in order that somebody may show some interest in having it finished, on a fixed basis and not on a cost-plus basis.
– Will the Minister for External Affairs inform the House which countries outside the Iron Curtain provide by law for the registration of actual members of the Communist party? Would he also give instructions for the preparation of a summary of this, and connected, legislation in other countries for the information of honorable members ?
– I have not the complete facts in my mind at the moment, but J shall most certainly have them compiled and I shall make them available to the honorable gentleman and, possibly, to a wider public.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Foreign Affairs - Joint Committee - First Report to Minister for External Affairs, relating to the Peking Peace Conference. and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Eric j. HARRISON agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Distillation Act 1901-1950.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Mr. ERIC J. HARRISON (WentworthVicePresident of the Executive Council and Minister for Defence Production) 1 11. 6]. - by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Distillation Act allows for the clearance of spirits through the customs, for home-consumption purposes, by either the distiller or the owner. As the law stands the distiller is, in the ultimate, liable for payment of the duty. Without interference with other statutory revenue safeguards, the amendment seeks to relieve the distiller by transferring to the owner of the spirits the responsibility for the duty in all instances where the spirits are entered by the owner for home consumption. Simultaneously in the bill, and in consonance with the Customs Act and an Excise Bill that I shall bring in presently, opportunity is taken to make clear the scheduled rates of duty that shall apply and the particular stage at which the duty must be paid.
In keeping with the terms of the Excise Bill, also, this bill aims broadly to authorize the department to recover “ damages “ from the person in whose actual control the spirits concerned rested in instances in which, the spirits became lost or pillaged or were not otherwise accounted for satisfactorily. Formerly, the department sought redress under a regulation which has since been challenged and declared to be invalid by the High Court because it wag not covered by a section of the act. The amendment will establish the right to re-introduce a practice of long standing, and one which is vitally necessary for the protection of the revenue. The bill also seeks to cancel an outmoded and discarded basis of computing the sum of money payable in respect of a deficiency in the production of spirits from a given quantity of material at a distillery and to substitute a system which will be simple and concise. Furthermore, the distiller may be permitted to carry on his manufacturing processes pending a settlement of the claim, whereas previously suspension of operations was, by law, mandatory. The other provisions of the bill are purely administrative in character.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. ERIC J. HARRISON) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for hh act to amend the Excise Act 1901-1949.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Growers of tobacco are obliged to render annual returns which show the quantities of leaf produced, sold or transferred and of stocks remaining on the farm. A weakness in the legislation has been revealed in that, according to legal opinion, a grower who ceased to produce but still had a quantity of leaf on his premises could not be required to furnish a return in respect of transactions occurring after the last year in which he grew tobacco. This was obviously not in the spirit of the act and the amendment seeks to adjust the position. The act already provides that excisable goods may be. entered through the customs for home consumption by either the manufacturer or the owner. The bill contemplates that the payment of the duty shall become the responsibility of the person who clears the goods. The manufacturer will, of course, still be responsible for the payment of duty on excisable goods whilst they are in his licensed factory.
It has always been the practice to collect duty at the rate in force at the time of entry for home consumption. The strict legal position, however, was that excise duty was attachable to excisable goods at the time of manufacture. The amendment states concisely that the rates of duty which shall be applicable shall be those currently in force when entry for home consumption is made. In addition, the time when the duty shall be paid, namely, before passing of the entry, is clearly stated. The terms of the amendment run parallel to requirements under the Customs Act and thus it standardizes departmental practices in this respect. Finally, without destroying other safeguards in the act, an amending clause purposes to relieve manufacturers to some degree of responsibility for the safe custody of excisable goods after delivery from their control to the control of other persons. This will be accomplished by transferring responsibility, when goods are lost, pillaged or otherwise not accounted for satisfactorily, to the person who had actual control or custody of the goods at the pertinent time. For many years past the department has relied on a regulation for recovery of damages in the circumstances mentioned, but the High Court, in a recent ruling, held that the regulation went beyond the terms of the act. The inclusion of the proposed amendment would permit procedures hitherto found essential for the protection of the revenue to be continued. The changes represent no major alteration of policy or practice.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Dried Fruits Export Control Act 1924-1938, and for other purposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of this bill is to meet the wishes of the industry that the Dried Fruits Export Control Act 1924-1938 should be amended to reconstitute the Dried Fruits Control Board which was set up by statute nearly 30 years ago to regulate and supervise the export trade in dried vine fruits from the Commonwealth. As at present constituted, the board has a membership of eight persons, including five elected representatives of growers of dried vine fruits in Australia. Victoria has two grower representatives, and New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia have one each. In addition, there are two members with commercial experience and an Australian Government representative. The bill provides for an increase of the present grower representation on the board by the addition of one representative of each of the States of Victoria and South Australia, and also for the appointment of a member with experience in the marketing of dried fruits. If the bill is approved by the Parliament, the total membership of the board will, therefore, be eleven instead of eight as at present.
The proposals have been recommended to the Government by the board itself. They are also supported by the Australian Dried Fruits Association, which is an industry organization comprising over 90 per cent, of the growers of dried fruits in Australia. The proposed increase of grower representation is a recognition of the development of the dried vine fruits industry in Australia, since the board was originally constituted and preserves the balance of representation between the two major dried fruit producing States of Victoria and South Australia. Australian dried fruits face increasing competition in oversea markets. At present they are in a rather different category in this respect from some other products, for example. meat which is a staple commodity in world short supply. The industry is anxious that there should be provision in the. personnel of the board for a member with particular experience in the technique of marketing Australian dried fruits in oversea markets of any importance, particularly the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. The bill will give effect to the industry’s wishes in the matter. It has also been designed to extend the tenure of office of all members of the board, excepting the Commonwealth representative, from twoyear periods, as at present provided, tr three-year terms. The board has assured me that this alteration will ensure a more satisfactory continuity of policy and operations. Moreover, it is in line with the practice operating with most other marketing boards, and will lessen the pressure on the Commonwealth electoral machinery in respect of the preparation of rolls of growers, the nomination of candidates, the printing of ballot-papers and the conduct of elections.
An opportunity has been taken in the bill to bring some of the general machinery provisions of the existing act up to date by making some drafting alterations which are considered desirable in the light of the experience gained during the operation of this and similar acts. The amendments of any substance provided in the bill are included on the representations of central industry organizations and are designed to strengthen the existing export marketing machinery in the interests of the’ important dried vine fruits industry. I commend the bill to the consideration of honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. POLLARD adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 10th September (vide page 1238), on motion by Mr. Townley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Allan Fraser had moved, by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for -
the new pension rates to operate from the 1st July, 1952;
the rates set out in the bill to be further increased to meet the increased cost of living; and
the means test to be liberalized in the light of the change in money values “.
– I rise to make only a few comments on the bill now before the Souse. I, for one, have no apologies to make for speaking to this particular measure because, together with my colleagues, I have always taken a very keen interest in our Australian social services legislation. As I have pointed out on other occasions the Labour party pioneered social services in Australia. Whilst I welcome the small increase of the rates of pensions that will be effected by this legislation, I believe that the amount of 7s. 6d. a week is completely inadequate. Because of the greatly increased cost of living compared with the cost of living at the time the last budget was introduced, it is quite apparent that 7s. 6d. a week will not re-establish the value of the pension at its 1948 level, If the Government had carried out its preelection promises it would have increased the pensions at this stage by at least 12s. 6d. a week and probably by 15s. a week. Such an increase would have increased the true value of the pension and brought it up to about the level that prevailed in 1948-49.
I shall endeavour to show how the Labour party has pioneered social services in this country. The late Andrew Fisher, together with the late George Rylands, first advocated, in the Queensland Parliament, the introduction of age pensions. At that time it was pointed out that alone, no single State of the Commonwealth could introduce effective pensions, and that such pensions to be of value in our economic sphere must be paid in all the States. When the late Andrew Fisher entered the first Commonwealth Parliament he continued his advocacy of the payment of pensions to the pioneers of this country. As the result of his work, the matter was a very live issue in 1910 when the Deakin Government was in office. At that time, the Deakin party was in much the same position as the Liberal party is in this Parliament. It did not have a working majority in the House, and so Mr. Deakin entered into a compact with the Labour Opposition in which he agreed to introduce age pensions if the Opposition, which was led by Andrew Fisher at that time, supported certain other measures. That contract was carried out. In view of what I have said, it will be clearly perceived that when Liberal members say that non-Labour parties introduced all our social services legislation, they are not quite correct. I hope to have time in this speech to adduce additional evidence in rebuttal of their statements that the majority of our social services advances have been due to conservative politicians. “We agree that a non-Labour government first introduced age pensions, but it must be remembered that it introduced them because it was forced to do so by the Labour party. The only other piece of social services legislation introduced in the Commonwealth Parliament by a non-Labour government related to child endowment. The child endowment legislation was introduced in 1941. It should also be remembered that Labour governments have been in office in the Australian Parliament for only a short period of time compared with non-Labour governments. Nevertheless, the Labour party has introduced at least nine pieces of very valuable social services legislation between 1910 and 1949.
I have listened attentively to the speeches of Government supporters during this debate and I shall refer particularly to the statements made by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). He denied that any Labour government had raised pensions to the level of 38 per cent, of the basic wage rate, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro had claimed. The fact is that, under a Labour government in 1948-49, the rate of pension was 39 per cent, of the basic wage, instead of 28 per cent, as it is to-day.
The honorable member for Sturt also complained that Labour governments had not attempted to relax the. means test. That is not correct. I have always been a keen advocate of the relaxation, if not cbe complete abolition, of the means test, and I am glad to say that successive Labour governments considerably eased the means test during the period from 1.941 to 1948. That result was achieved in spite of the fact that the nation was engaged in a costly all-in war effort for most of that time. The Labour administration first increased the permissible property limit from £450 to £600. It raised the limit to £750 at a later stage. Ail that this Government has done, notwithstanding the definite promise that it made to try to abolish the means test, has been to raise the property limit to £1,000. The Labour administration also increased the permissible income for age pensioners from 12s. 6d. a week to 30s. a week. Thus, a married couple in receipt of the age pension may earn £3 weekly in addition to the pension income. This Government has not increased the permissible income limit. Had it sincerely desired to assist the pensioners, as its members and supporters professed during the last two general election campaigns, that they wished to do, it would have raised the limit far beyond the present level.
The history of pensions in Australia is very interesting. Honorable members on the Government side of the chamber would learn, if they would take the trouble to study the subject, that the Labour party hai been responsible for nine major social services reforms whereas anti-Labour governments have bren responsible for only two. I often wonder how pensioners manage to subsist under present conditions. The cost of living continues to rise, but the value of pensions remains at n very low level. The increase of 7s. 6d. a week for which this bill provides is very slight in comparison with the basic wage increases that have occurred since pension rates were last adjusted. In J 945, the basic wage was £4 8s. The pension then, under a Labour regime, was £1 12s. 6d., which was 33.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In July, 1947, the basic wage was £5 10s. The pension was increased to £1 17s. 6d. a week, which was 34.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1948, the basic wage was £6 a week. The pension was increased, again by a Labour government, to £2 2s. 6d., which was 38.4 per cent, of the basic wage. But then the present Government came to power. In October, 1951, the basic wage was £9 13s. The pension was increased to £3, but that was only 31.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In other words, the value of the pension in relation to the basic wage had fallen considerably since 1948. But the position became worse. This year the basic wage rose to £11 3s. a week. The pension remained at £3, and therefore it represented only 26.9 per cent, of the basic wage. Its value has fallen again within a few months. Last month, the basic wage rose to £11 15s. a week. The new rate of pension, under the terms of the bill, will be £3 7s. 6d., which will be only 2S.7 per cent, of the basic wage. These facts prove that the value of the pension ih relation to the basic wage under the administration of this Government has fallen to the lowest level in its history.
The pensioners have never been better off than they were under the regime of Labour governments. They are beginning to realize that fact more clearly now than they have done previously. I am convinced that the promises that were made by the leaders of the present Government parties during the last two general election campaigns influenced many Labour supporters amongst the pensioners to swing over to the support of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. They believed that those parties would honour their promises, but they were betrayed. The result is that pensioners are in a parlous position. They are in desperate straits to-day. Nobody is more deserving of our help and protection than are our age and invalid pensioners. Probably 99 per cent, of the age pensioners helped to pioneer our country. Unfortunately, they have been forgotten; The Government, which calls itself a Liberal Government, refuses to increase the pension in order that they may live in reasonable comfort. Yet it is well aware that a paltry increase of 7s. 6d. a week is not sufficient to meet the increased cost of living. I often wonder how the unfortunate pensioners manage to keep body and soul together, lt is a tragic state of affairs for them.
Invalid pensioners are in an even worse plight than are the age pensioners, who are permitted to supplement their pensions. An invalid, before he is eligible to receive a pension, must be classed by a medical referee as 85 per cent, incapacitated. In other words, his capacity to earn money is only 15 per cent. However, when he endeavours to earn income, the Department of Social Services reminds him that he is liable to be reexamined by the medical referee, and that his pension may be reviewed. Consequently, invalid pensioners are in a much worse position than are age pensioners. But both classes are in a sad plight. I welcome the proposed increase of pensions, niggardly though it is, and I.’ am sure that the unfortunate pensioners and recipients of other social services benefits welcome the proposed increases ; but, at the same time, they realize that even the higher rates will not enable them to live in reasonable comfort.
A report published in a Melbourne newspaper recently reveals the desperate plight of pensioners, and proves that the pension is not sufficient to enable them to purchase even the necessaries of life. The purchasing power of the pension is so small that they are compelled to buy food that is rejected for human consumption by the average citizen. The price of meat to-day places that commodity beyond the purchasing power of the pensioner. He simply cannot afford to purchase from butchers’ shops the cuts of meat that are bought by the average citizen, and, therefore, he is obliged to resort to an alternative to beef. The Melbourne newspaper to which I referred a few moments ago, published a news item under the following heading, which appeared in broad, black type : - “ Buying Horse Meat at Pet Shops for Dinners “. The news item stated that a meat inspector in Victoria had complained to the authorities that pensioners were purchasing horse meat from a shop, ; which sold it for dog3 and other pets, because they could obtain it for ls. per lb., whereas the cost of beef in butchers’ shops was 3s. or 4s. per lb. That is a shocking state of affairs, and reveal’s that the pensioners are undoubtedly in a desperate plight. I welcome the proposed increase of pension, small as it is, but I consider that the Government should honour its pre-election promise to the pensioners by making the increase, not 7s. 6<L, but 15s. a week, in order to restore the relation that the pension bore to the basic wage in 1948-49.
– This Government claimed that it would increase the purchasing power of the pension.
– Well, there you are. The Government has not honoured that promise.
I now propose to refer briefly to the administration of the Department of Social Services in Brisbane. My experience of that department has been most satisfactory. I find that the officers, from the Director of Social Services down to the most humble member of the staff, are unfailingly courteous and attentive, and are always ready and willing to help an unfortunate person who calls at the office in order to apply for a pension, or to collect a pension or another form of social services benefit. I wish to pay a tribute to the Director of Social Services in Brisbane, Mr. Burdeu, who was partly responsible for the introduction of the rehabilitation training scheme for invalids. Twenty-five years ago, when he was only a clerk in what was then the pensions office, he was a keen advocate of a scheme designed to assist the younger invalid pensioners. His idea was that no boy or girl should be permitted, if it could be prevented, to receive the invalid pension indefinitely, because he considered that, in doing so, they would lose all initiative and ‘ incentive to seek useful employment. He believed that young invalid pensioners should be offered some form of occupational training, at the cost of the department, in an attempt to enable them to fit themselves into industry. I am gratified to know that the scheme for the rehabilitation of invalid pensioners was introduced by a Labour government as the result of the advocacy of Mr. Burdeu. To my knowledge, at least, he was the first person in Australia who advocated such an innovation. Undoubtedly, the training scheme has been a boon to thousands of persons. The Minister for Social Services pointed out in his second-reading speech that many invalids had had the opportunity to attend rehabilitation training centres, and had equipped themselves to work in industry with Australian citizens who were not handicapped by a physical disability. I have no complaint to make against the administration of the Department of Social Services in Queensland, and 1 compliment the members of the staff, from the director down to the most humble officer, on the manner in which they perform their duties.
.- I am gratified to be able to concur with the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) about the administration of the Department of Social Services and the fine work that is performed by the staff. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) is to be congratulated upon the work of his department. I regret that it is only in that respect that [ am able to concur with the honorable member for Brisbane. I recalled, when he chose to describe the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. a week as paltry, that on no fewer than seven occasions a Labour government of which he was a supporter had increased the rate of pension. Was the increase on any of those seven occasions anything like 7s. 6d. a week? Of course it was not! On each of those occasions, the Labour government increased the rate of pension by 6d. a week.
– What was the value of money in those days compared with, its value at the present time?
– If the honorable member regards 7s. 6d. as a paltry sum, what is his description of 6d.? These facts cannot be denied. I notice that the honorable member is leaving the chamber. Apparently he cannot stand it.
– I direct attention to the state of the House.
– There are ten honorable members on my right and nine honorable members on my left. I point out that at no time since the debate commenced this morning has there been a quorum present.
– That may not mean very much.
– lt does.
– Honorable members may have been engaged in other business.
– The bells will be rung. [Quorum formed.]
– Recently 1 visited a pensioner who obviously had been listening to a speech of the honorable member for Brisbane that had been broadcast from this chamber, or to a speech of one of his colleagues. The lady proceeded to tell me her opinion of the pension. I listened quietly, and finally she turned to the subject of her home. She proceeded to tell me of all the things that she intended to do and the comforts that she had provided. They would have been regarded as luxuries years ago. When she had finished her recital of her possessions, she said to me, “ I do it all on my pension “. Hers was a very comfortable home and there is no doubt that this Government has looked after the pensioners very well.
– Where was the Mark V. Jaguar?
– The Labour party ha» moved an amendment in which it suggests that the means test should be liberalized. It has not suggested that the means test should be abolished. If the Labour party believes in the abolition of the means test, surely that would have been provided for in its amendment. The bill really provides for the liberalizing of the means test, but the Labour party does not understand that and . its amendment, in effect, is a contradiction of the bill to which it is attached. Curiously enough, the Labour party advocates, at the same time, liberalizing of the means test and lower taxation. Such an inconsistent attitude is possible only on the part of persons who have no real responsibility.
– When one contrasts the viewpoint of the Labour party with that of the Government, several things ar* obvious. Honorable members opposite have suggested that the pension should vary according to variations of the basic wage. As the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) pointed out last night, legislation was on the statute-book at one time which provided for such a variation. That legislation was produced by the Menzies Government of the day. Why is it no longer on the statutebook? The truth is that it was removed by the Labour party, which is completely inconsistent now when it insists on the need for such legislation. If the Labour party sincerely believes that such legislation should exist, it might well be asked why that legislation was repealed ?
– At the request of the pensioners.
– It was repealed in the days of the great Labour leaders about whom honorable members talk so much. They are living in the past and are pleased that at one time they had leaders whom they could regard as great. The reason why the pension no longer varies with the basic wage is obvious. The basic wage is based on the needs of a family unit of a man, a wife and a certain number of children. It depends also on the number of hours that are worked weekly and that number has been reduced quite considerably in recent years. Further, in 1947 and in 1950, the basic wage was increased, not on the ground of need but on the capacity of industry to pay higher wages. The basic wage is not now fixed on a basis of need. No doubt that was the reason why the legislation for the variation of the pension in accordance with the variations of the basic wage was repealed by the Labour party. The argument associating the basic wage with the pension entirely ignores the fact that in addition to the pension, pensioners receive various other benefits that are given by the Government, such as free medicine and medical treatment. When honorable members conaider the help that is given to the pensioners by the Government and compare it with the provisions that were made by the Labour Government, they should not forget that the only government that has ever decreased the pension was a Labour government. They should remember also that in the last year of the Chifley Government’s regime when the cost of living was rising considerably, that Labour government declined to increase the pension at all.
I invite honorable members to contrast those facts with the provisions that have been made by the present Government. The increase of pension rates by 7s. 6d. which is to be given through the bill that is before the House is 50 per cent, higher than any increase that was ever given by a Labour Government. The highest increase that was granted by a Labour government was 5s. An increase of 7s. 6d. has been given only once before. That was in 1950 when it was granted by this Government. That increase has been exceeded only once. That was last year when this Government increased pensions by 10s. Therefore, three record increases of pension have been given by this Government. When the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) asked the House last night with his usual pseudo-pathos what the Government had done for the pensioners, he ignored the facts that I have recited. He overlooked the fact that this Government will provide £72,000,000 for age and invalid pensions this year and that the total amount it is providing for social services is £164,000,000. As I have said, he regaled the House with his pseudo-pathos.
I pass to another matter. This bill relates to the welfare State. It is generally accepted now that the welfare State is a part of our institutions, and, therefore, that it is necessary, and, indeed, of paramount importance, to make provision for all kinds of social services for the benefit of the citizens of the State. The. nature and content of that provision have expanded during recent years, and its cost has ‘ increased greatly. Some people regard the welfare State as something quite new, but, in fact, the principle that underlies it is quite old, whether it be regarded as an ethical principle or as a governmental principle. For centuries, the English people have considered it to be essential that men should live their own lives and, at the same time, provide for the needs of their fellow men. They have recognized the principle of social responsibility, and the ideal of moral justice has long been in their minds. Consequently, they have provided for the human needs of their fellow men. The principle of social responsibility was introduced into law first in the days of the monarch whom I describe as the first great Elizabeth. The system introduced was, perhaps, imperfect and inadequate. Nevertheless, it endured for many centuries and, on the whole, was successful - so successful that it has been said rightly that England led the continent of Europe in thefield of social services. It is to a policy of providing for the needs of fellow human beings that England owes its peaceable social order and its absence of violent revolution.
– It is a shocking system.
– I do not expect the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) to make any remark other than that. I cannot say that I am delighted to hear the remark, but I am not astonished that it has come from him. Since then, the welfare state has branched out in many directions, and to-day provision is made for age and invalid pensions, maternity allowance, child endowment, unemployment benefit, rehabilitation benefit, educational benefit and various other payments. Expenditure upon the welfare state is vast, and it is likely to become overwhelming. Therefore, there is a danger that the financial system of the Commonwealth will break down. That is a matter which requires very serious consideration, because such a breakdown must be prevented.
The problem of financing social services is linked with the problem of the abolition of the means test. That is a very important problem to-day, because the popular demand for the abolition of the means test is incessant and clamant. The longer the means test continues in operation, the more difficult will it be to abolish it. The span of human life is increasing constantly, and every year the number of elderly people in the community increases. Therefore, it is a problem that must be grappled with at an early stage. All that the Government has said about the abolition of the means test is that it will examine the matter and endeavour to present a suitable plan at the next’ general election. Doubtless that examination has been made, and the able advisers of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) have been able to evolve an appropriate plan. Apparently, the aboli tion of the means test is being prevented only by financial difficulties. As I have already pointed out, the longer the problem remains unsolved, the greater will those difficulties be.
In this bill, the Government has proposed a further liberalization of the means test. I remind honorable members that it has already liberalized’ the means test to the degree that a person who possesses £1,000, apart from the value of his home and his furniture, is entitled to receive an age pension. This bill proposes, among other things, that a blind person shall not be deprived of a pension by the operation of a means test. The intention of the Government is that a blind person, irrespective of his means, shall be entitled to a pension of £3 a week. That is a fine advance, but we cannot stop at that point because there is an imperative demand for the immediate abolition of the means test.
The means test penalizes people who believe in hard work and thrift, which are excellent virtues. Undoubtedly, it encourages thriftlesness. Governments constantly ask the people to save, but how can they expect the people to save when they penalize those who do so? It is very difficult for a man to save money, especially in these days. Those men who do save, generally accumulate comparatively small sums, but those sums are sufficiently large to deprive them of the right to a pension. People who have contributed to superannuation schemes with the object of protecting themselves in their old age find that their efforts have excluded them from the right to receive an age pension.
– Of course it is a shame, but I am not aware that the Labour party at any time has done anything to alter that position. Frequently, age pensioners, despite their age, are able and willing to work, and to produce more goods - I point out that increased production is greatly needed - but if they earn more than a trifling sum they forfeit their right to a pension.
The whole trend of social services legislation is that persons shall be entitled to receive social services benefits irrespective of their personal means. I do not believe that the Government will find that the financial difficulties in the way of the abolition of the means test are insuperable. I believe that ways and means exist by which the Government could find the necessary money. It has provided for the financing of State public works out of current’ revenue, and has thereby relieved posterity of a burden that it should bear, so perhaps posterity may justly be called upon to bear a part of the burden that will result from the abolition of the means test. I urge the Government seriously, earnestly and strenuously to abolish the means test. The Government’s hospitals plan is based on a system of voluntary contributions, which may well be the best method of financing all kinds of social services. If such a system were adopted, present pensioners would not be deprived of the benefits they now receive because they would continue to receive their pensions, although they had not made contributions. The system would apply only to people who became eligible for social services after the time of its adoption. Such people would be in the same position as is anybody who subscribes to voluntary superannuation schemes such as now exist in government departments, industries and professions. Superannuation is a popular method of providing for the future which has .been adopted by thousands of people. A national superannuation scheme for social services would meet with popular approval. The abolition of the means test in relation to hospitals was advocated by the Labour party and its reimposition has also been opposed by the Labour party. The justification given for the reimposition of the means test in that connexion was that hospitals were overcrowded and that wealthy persons were taking advantage of the abolition of the means test and were receiving free hospital treatment while poor people were unable to gain admission to hospitals. If the Opposition is in favour of the abolition of the means test for the sick, how can it logically oppose its abolition in relation to the aged and infirm?
– “We do not.
– One solitary voice says, “ We do not “. I wonder how much truth there is behind that statement because I heard during the course of this debate a number of statements from the same part of the chamber which have proved to be not founded on fact. Summing the matter up, I submit that the only method by which the financial administration of the welfare state can be put on a firm basis is a system of voluntary contributions. The adoption of such a system will enable us not only to put social services on a firm financial basis, but also to abolish the means test.
– The basis upon which this country’s social services legislation is established is now well founded. The community raises taxes based upon the principle of ability to pay. Unfortunately this Government does not give full effect to that principle, because it has departed from the basic principle of raising most of its revenue by means of direct taxes, and is raising an increasingly large proportion of its revenue by means of indirect taxes, which are levied on the basis of consumption rather than on the basis of ability to pay.- Out of the proceeds of taxes the community makes what amounts to a redistribution of wealth by paying benefits to individuals in order to provide them with a minimum standard of living in old age, invalidity, sickness, unemployment o> following the death of a breadwinner, when the dependants need assistance. In such emergency circumstances, which may occur in the lives of any of us, the. State steps in and provides out of revenue a minimum standard of subsistence. That basis of social security, which in this country is now being extended ‘ from those limits, seems to be accepted by the community generally. I was astonished to hear the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) cite the laws of Elizabethan England as the basis of our social security legislation. If I remember aright, he said that the foundations of England’s greatness were laid in Elizabethan days, because the beginnings of what he regarded as social services legislation came into effect during the reign of the first Elizabeth. That appears to me to be a distortion of history. I agree with the honorable member that to a great degree the foundations of England’s greatness were laid during that era, but certainly not in the direction be suggested. It was during that period that the English Navy, which had been previously established, asserted itself and, among other exploits, won the great victory over the Spanish Armada. English seamen began to rove the world and, by establishing footholds in many parts of the globe, laid the foundations that enabled British people to go forth to far countries and develop great new democratic communities, including America and Australia. Those processes began in Elizabethan days, so it is perhaps true that the foundations of England’s greatness were laid in that age. But the Elizabethan Poor Laws, as I see them, were a disgraceful blot on the England of that time, and are not worthy to be cited as an example of the foundations of England’s greatness. The dreadful alms-houses, and the dreadful treatment of the poor in Elizabethan days are a black page in England’s history. It is only in recent times that the horrible conditions that existed under the Elizabethan Poor Laws have been abolished and that we have developed’ the tradition of real social security that prevails in England and in this country.
The honorable member for Balaclava seemed to me to be out of touch with the realities of the situation. At the commencement of his speech he cited the case of a lady who, he said, had a comfortable home which contained a number of articles of furniture of a kind that at one time had been regarded as luxuries. He said that she claimed, “I did all this on my pension “. I do not know whether the honorable member was serious or not. He knows, of course, that under the gradual .liberalization of the means test, which was begun during the regime of the Labour Government, a pensioner may own his or her own home and furniture without such ownership affecting the rate of pension. Surely the honorable member does not suggest that the pensioner to whom he referred was able to acquire her well-furnished home out of her pension. I have visited many homes of age pensioners that were comfortably furnished, but those pensioners were able to purchase their furniture and maintain their homes in first-class order before they qualified to receive the pension. At the same time, 1 have visited a greater number of pensioners who were living in single rooms, or in houses that were very poorly furnished. These pensioners had not been able to accumulate any luxuries. Indeed, because they are obliged to subsist entirely on their pension they are unable to purchase many of the necessaries of life. It must be clear to anyone who observes the facts that as a result of the constant and catastrophic increases of the cost of living, pensioners who depend entirely on their pension have very great difficulty in making ends meet.
In a discussion of this subject it is easy for an honorable member to claim that a particular party did this, or that, in the provision of social services benefits. The honorable member for Balaclava proceeded along those lines; but whilst he emphasized certain facts he completely ignored others that were equally, if not more, to the point that he sought to make. I do not think that I should serve any fruitful purpose by following his example. He attacked the Labour party’s record in respect of social services. He said that only a Labour government had reduced pensions and that the Chifley Government did not increase pensions during 1949, which was the year in which it went out of office. An effective reply can be made to his arguments on those points. I do not propose to deal with events that occurred during the depression years; but the honorable member is well aware of the circumstances in which pensions were decreased. He is also aware of the attitude that the Lyons Government adopted towards pensioners at that time. For instance, that Government made repayment of the pension a charge against the value of the home of a recipient upon his, or her death; and, in many instances, homes had to be sold to meet that debt. However, nothing is to be gained by engaging in a discussion along those lines. Any one who examines the facts will admit that Labour governments have nothing to be ashamed of in respect of their social services legislation. The honorable member for Balaclava failed to point out that up to the time that the Curtin Government assumed office social services were not very well developed in this country.
The age pension was introduced in 1909 and the invalid pension was introduced later in the same year, whilst the maternity allowance was introduced in 1912. Apart from those three benefits, no social services benefits were introduced until child endowment was instituted in 1949 not as a result of any desire on the part of the government of the day but solely as a result of the decision of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration to compute the basic wage upon a certain basis. If we desired to follow that line, which would not be fruitful, we should find that the record of anti-Labour governments in respect of social services prior to 1942 does not give cause for satisfaction. Those governments sponsored several abortive schemes, such as the national health and pensions insurance scheme, which were given wide publicity but were not actually implemented. It is well known that the era of rapid expansion of social services commenced after the Curtin Government came into power. Labour governments introduced the widows’ pension, which is a very desirable and worthy benefit, and the funeral benefit for age and invalid pensioners. Unemployment and sickness benefits, which are a most necessary form of social service and the absence of which constituted a serious gap in legislation of this kind, were introduced in 1945. Later, in 1948, a Labour government also introduced the existing worthy scheme for the rehabilitation of physically handicapped persons. Members of the Labour party have every reason to feel proud when they recall its record in respect of social services during that brief period.
The honorable member for Balaclava, as a Government supporter, could find cause for satisfaction only from the action of this Government in increasing the age and invalid pension by 10s. last financial year and from its proposal under this measure to increase the rate of pension by a further 7s. 6d. a week. But the amounts of those increases offer small real cause for satisfaction. If they had been provided at a time when the cost of living was stable, Government supporters would be able to take credit for their introduction because they would have helped to raise the standard of living of pensioners. However, all of us know that the Government was forced to grant those increases so as to enable the recipients to meet the substantial increases of the cost of living that had already taken place. But, just as a man on the basic wage finds himself to be worse off after the wage is increased by an amount that only partially compensates him for increases of the cost of living that have already occurred, so pensioners find that despite increases of their rate of pension their standard of living is declining because the amounts of the increases are not proportionate to the increases of the cost of living. There can be no question that inflation is the real problem that exists in respect of social services benefits as a whole. The future of social services benefits depends primarily upon what the Government does to meet that problem. Inflation, undoubtedly, is the main short-term problem that confronts the Australian people. It is having disastrous effects in many spheres. It is absorbing the savings of the people and is causing their standard of living to decline. Indeed, inflation is eating at the base of our whole system of social security. If it be not arrested it will jeopardize that system. If prices could be stabilized and further increases of the cost of living prevented from occurring our social services system would be made secure. Government supporters should direct their attention to that should direct their attention to that fact. If the Government had stabilized prices, its supporters could justly claim that by these increases of rates of pensions it was conferring a real benefit on the people; but if prices continue to increase, as all available evidence tends to indicate that they will, our whole social services structure will be seriously threatened.
The matter of relating rates of pensions to the basic wage and that of their inadequacy in relation to the present cost of living have been fully dealt with by members of the Opposition who have already spoken in this debate. Those honorable members have analysed the relevant figures, particularly with respect to the rate of unemployment and sickness benefits. I do not propose to traverse that ground. However, T approve of two aspects of this measure.
It is a cause for satisfaction that payments to blind persons are, to some degree, to be. made free from any means test. Blind people have always claimed that they should not be regarded as being recipients of an invalid pension. They resent that description of the benefit that is now made available to them because in many instances, despite their handicap, they are able to earn a livelihood and are justifiably proud of the fact that they are tothat degree independent and able to make their way in life. Institutes for the blind and various voluntary organizations that are interested in the welfare of the blind as well as the blind workers’ unions have been battling for years to get the Government to recognize that the payment that is now made to blind persons and is known as the invalid pension should be regarded as a disability allowance. They claim that the community has an obligation to pay to them an allowance that will enable them to meet the increased costs that arise directly as a result of blindness. Consequently, they claim that the benefit that is paid to them is not an invalid pension but an allowance to compensate them for those additional costs in which they are involved. In any event, it is pleasing to note that £3 of the maximum benefit of £3 7s. 6d. a week is to be payable to blind persons without a means test. At the same time, the Government, having decided to liberalize the payment, is acting rather niggardly in this matter. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) has not explained why the Government is making this fine distinction. One would think that the Government, having recognized the need to’ act in this direction, would have made the maximum benefit payable without a means test.
The second matter that gives cause for some satisfaction is the proposed alteration of the adequate maintenance provisions in respect of social services benefits. In future an invalid pension will be paid regardless of the parents’ income, to an invalid over the age of sixteen years, in respect of whom the parents are not eligible to receive child endowment.
As the age and invalid pensions are to be increased to £3 7s. 6d. a week and the permissible income in respect of a pen-
Mr. TP. M. Bourke. sioner is £1 10s. a week, a married couple will be able to have a combined income of £9 15s. a week. In addition, a pensioner is permitted to own his, or her, own home without being disqualified from receiving the full rate of pension. “Whilst the general rate of pension is inadequate in relation to the present high cost of living, it is also important to remember that some pensioners are much worse off than others. The pensioners who are solely dependent on .their pension, who have no other income from any source whatever, and who do not own and live in their own homes, are on the lowest rung of the social ladder. They have neither their own homes nor free accommodation in the homes of their children or elsewhere. A pensioner who has only £3 7s. 6d. a week on which to live, pay rent and provide the necessities of life, is the person in .this community who is most in need of assistance. I again suggest that such persons should be granted a special allowance of 10s. a week by the Department of Social Services. I agree that objections can be raised to such an innovation. An objection, which is on .the ground of principle, is that such a proposal would really institute a further means test within the already operating means test. Another obejction is that the proposal would be difficult to administer. However, the basic reason for our social services legislation is that there should be a minimum standard for people to live on, and the people about whom I am speaking are those on the very lowest standard. Therefore, we should ensure that their standard shall be raised. I put that suggestion to the Minister for Social Services, and ask the Government to consider making a special allowance to those who have nothing whatsoever other than their pension1. About two years ago the late Mr. Chifley made his last speech on social services legislation. When a social services bill was before the House on the 22nd November, 1950, he devoted the whole of the latter part of his speech to a plea that people who are solely dependent on their pensions should receive an extra allowance. I refer honorable members to Hansard, volume 210, at page 2883, where Mr. Chifley is reported to have pointed out that when he was in office he had intended to submit to the Labour party for its approval a proposal similar to the one that I have mentioned. The report then reads -
I think that the case of a pensioner without extra income is the saddest of all … I make this appeal on behalf of those underprivileged people.
When reading the statistics concerning pensions it is interesting to note that the great preponderance of age pensioners are women. That is a further argument in support of my proposal.
I now refer honorable members to figures published in the Tenth Report of the Director-General of Social Services. That report covers the year ended the 30th June, 1951, and although it is not up to date it indicates the general trend of the social services programme. During the year 1950-51, 38,842 people were granted age pensions and of that total 12,395 were nien and 22,447 were women. That is quite a big preponderance of women over men. Of the women 3,347 were single, 8,737 were widows and 10,336 were married. Therefore, of the 22,447 women who were in receipt of pensions, more than half were single or widows, and were entirely dependent on their own resources. They are the persons who, in the main, would qualify for the extra benefit that I have mentioned. The same general percentage of men and women prevails throughout all the figures relating to the recipient of the age pension. Of the 342,806 recipients at the end of 1951, 116,222 were men and 226,584 were women. Consequently, there were 110,362 more women than men recipients. Honorable members should carefully consider those figures. The experience of all honorable members who have had sustained dealings with the pensioners is that these elderly ladies,, living in rooms on their own, some perhaps with nobody to help them and others not accepting help because of their desire to be independent, are barely ekeing out an existence on the pension. From their pensions they have to provide all their necessary food, clothing and shelter, and they receive no other income whatsoever. They deserve the consideration of this community and should be helped further by the adoption of my proposal to extend special benefits to them.
My reference to the number of women who receive the pension, raises the matter of the widows’ pension. The Commonwealth pays the widows’ pension to a large number of women in this community. I believe that the number of recipients is now approaching 50,000. The majority of those who receive the widows’ pensions are in class B, that is, widows over 50 years of age with no dependent children. They are nearly 24,000 widows in that category. Of course, these people should receive pensions, because the introduction of such benefits was one of the most important advances in our social security legislation, for which the Labour party was responsible. However, it seems anomalous that such pensions should be confined to widows over 50 years of age with no dependent children. Consideration should be given to the matter of whether spinsters over the age of 50-
-Order ! The honor.orable member’s time has expired.
, - Honorable members of the Opposition have adopted a piffling and humbugging attitude by trying to make party political capital out of the plight of the aged and unfortunate members of the community. That is a most unfortunate attitude for the Labour party to adopt, because it is only within this House that critics of the Government’s policy may be found. As honorable members move round in their electorates they find that on the whole those who receive social services benefits are quite satisfied with the amount that they are getting, because they realize that they are receiving the utmost that this nation can afford to pay to them. When one returns from the healthy atmosphere of the electorates to the atmosphere of this House, thick with the carping criticism of honorable members opposite, one realizes that the Opposition is merely attempting to arouse among the people a feeling of antagonism towards the Government. If they want to fight the Government, let them fight it with fair weapons. Let them not use the hearts and souls and lives of the aged and invalid people in our community.
I listened carefully to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M.
Bourke), and I agree with some of his contentions. However, right throughout his speech there was an undercurrent of criticism of the Government. Let us now consider what is said by persons outside this Parliament who actually receive pensions. After all, they are the people who count, because they get social services benefits and they have to make their pensions keep them. I have received a few pieces of correspondence from those very people. Here are some extracts from it -
Please accept appreciation and convey same to the Minister.
Please accept congratulations on behalf of the blind.
This paragraph also appears in a letter -
We take personal pride of achievement in the announcement that youths between 16 and 21 who are totally and permanently incapacitated will be eligible in future for invalid pensions. This problem has distressed us greatly in the past and we are grateful to the Government for seeing our point of view. . . . The generosity of this could well be far reaching.
Another extract reads -
The rise of 7s. 6d. in the invalid pension is a great help ‘ We will continue to press home the essential need of legislation . . .
I remind honorable members that in a part of the bill now before the House provision has been made for this benefit. An extract from other correspondence from a great organization reads -
We are grateful for the Government’s generosity.
A letter from a member of that organization reads -
I know our president is writing to you, but I would like to write too on behalf of all the blind women of the Commonwealth to thank you personally for all you are doing for us in so far abolishing the means test for blind pensioners. Again with sincere and warmest thanks for all the blind women.
I knew when I was in Canberra last that your Government would be faithful to its promises and do its utmost to help us.
From another organization I have received this tribute -
Would you now please accept the appreciation of our Federation as being representative of the majority of blind people in Australia in respect of these matters.
In a further letter from Tasmania this statement is made -
We in Tasmania are delighted with the abolition of the means test as it affects us of the blind community.
– Where did the honorable member get those letters.
– Order ! The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) has been interjecting quite a lot from a seat other than his own. He must cease interjecting.
– Another letter from a Commonwealth-wide organization reads, in part -
My Committee is extremely grateful to you for the proposed alteration to the means test, and feel it will bring much happiness and security to the blind of the Commonwealth. We are also grateful to you for your attention to increase the pension by 7s. 6d. and for the wife’s allowance of 5s. which will help our people.
– Order ! Because of the ceremony that will take place in the King’s Hall at 2.30 p.m., and to which every honorable member has been personally invited, the sitting will be suspended until the ringing of the bells at. about 3 o’clock.
Sitting suspended from 12. 45 to3.10 p.m.
– I desire to inform the House that the honorable Paul Sauer, Minister for Transport in the Government of the Union of South Africa, is within the precincts of the chamber. With the concurrence of honorable members. I shall invite him to take a seat on the floor of the House beside the Speaker’s chair.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
Mr Sauer thereupon entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.
– The letters and telegrams from pensioners which I quoted earlier show that the pensioners are satisfied with the treatment that they are receiving from this Government. We hear criticism of the Government’s. generous treatment of pensioners only from the Opposition. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), quoted a statement that the late Mr. Chifley had made about invalid and age pensioners in 1950. I attach very little importance to what Mr. Chifley or, for that matter, any other member of the Labour party 3aid on this subject in 1950. However, I have a vivid recollection of a statement that Mr. Chifley made in 1949, when he was Prime Minister. In reply to invalid and age pensioners who had asked for an increase of the pensions rate, he said that he would not give any consideration to an increase. Only after this Government came to power did the pensioners receive a badly needed increase.
– The honorable member ought to be ashamed to make such a false statement.
– The honorable member for Fawkner said that the cost of living was having a serious effect on pensioners, and I agree with his statement, but I point out that he and other honorable members opposite bear at least as much responsibility for the increased cost of living as do the Government and its supporters.
The way to reduce the cost of living, and the consequent burden on pensioners and others who have fixed incomes, is to increase production. If we can increase production we can halve taxation, reduce the cost of living and restore to unfortunate citizens who are compelled to support themselves on small incomes the opportunity to maintain a decent standard of living. Therefore, honorable members opposite, who declare so often and so loudly that they represent the workers, should use every effort that they can muster in. order to promote increased production and its attendant benefits. Their responsibility is perhaps greater than is ours. Several honorable members opposite have suggested that the rate of invalid and age pensions should be tied to the basic wage. I remind them of the period when pensions were related to the basic wage. The Labour party was in power then. Pensions were increased on seven occasions during that period in accor dance with fluctuations of the basic wage, but each increase amounted to a mere 6d. a week - a coin that is put in a Christmas pudding! During the three years from the 3rd April, 1941, to the 17th February, 1944, a period when the Labour party was in power, pensions were increased by a total of 3s. 6d. a week. During the two and a half years since this Government came to power, pensions have been increased by 25s. a week. No wonder honorable members on this side of the House take pride and pleasure in the achievements of the Government, and no wonder honorable members opposite are so envious of those achievements that they vent their spite in this chamber by making all sorts of ill founded criticisms !
The Minister for Social Services, to whom great tribute should be paid, has often said in this House and elsewhere that his ambition, and the ambition of the Government, is to abolish the iniquitous means test as soon as the opportunity to do so occurs. That ambition has the wholehearted support of every honorable member on this side of the House. The means test must go. Perhaps, in these days of economic difficulty, it would be impossible to abolish it, but I am sure that the time when it will be removed from the social services system is not far distant. When that day comes, thrift will no longer be penalized and the people will be encouraged to save money so that, in their old age, they may not only enjoy the results of their thrift but may also receive a reward from their fellow citizens. As a first step towards the abolition of the means test, the bill now before the House provides that blind persons shall not be subject to the means test. I trust that other steps will be taken soon. Many thousands of Australians would benefit from the abolition of the means test, as the following list of persons in receipt of payments from funds to which they have contributed during their working lives will show : -
All these persons must look forward eagerly to the time when the pensions tor which they have contributed, compulsorily in many instances, will no longer be their only source of income. The means test is a blot on our social services system - a system that, otherwise, is almost without equal in the world. The sooner we get rid of the means test the better it will be for Australians.
Our ability to eliminate the means test depends upon the people. Too many Australians to-day refuse to give a full measure of work in return for a full measure of pay. They like to loaf and take the easy way out. Lack of production prevents this Government from doing all it would like to do to assist the aged, the invalid and other unfortunate members of the community. The Government has a huge burden to bear; The pre-war era in comparison with the present time, appears like a golden age from the point of view of governmental responsibility. In 1939, total expenditure on the various social services was £16,400,000. Expenditure for the current financial year is estimated at £173,709,000. The total cost of social services between the 1st July, 1950, the commencement of the first complete financial year after this Government assumed office, and the end of the current financial year, will amount to almost £417,000,000, which represents an average of almost £139,000,000 a year. During the three preceding years, when the Labour party was in power, the total expenditure on social services was only t’242,000,000, which represents an average of approximately £80,000,000 a year. In addition to pensions, this Government is providing free medical benefits for pensioners at an estimated cost of £1,500,000 annually, free pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners at an estimated cost of nearly £400,000 annually, child endowment for the first child in each family under the age of sixteen years, tuberculosis allowances, and free milk for school children. It is also preparing to launch a medical benefits scheme at an annual cost of £7,500,000. It deserves great credit for the fact that, at a time when costly defence preparations have been forced upon the nation, it has found ways and means of increasing the rate of pensions.
I am pleased that the Government has included in the bill a special provision for invalid pensioners between the ages of 16 and 21 years. Such young persons belong to a group that has ‘been neglected in the past. I should like the Government to go even further than it proposes to go at this stage and appoint small panels of rehabilitation officers from the Department of Social Services to co-operate in each State with the education authorities in protecting and helping invalid children until they reach the age of sixteen years. Although much good will be done by providing invalids with rehabilitation services when they attain the age of sixteen years, most of them require help before they reach that age. Very few children suddenly become invalids at that stage of their lives. Most young invalids suffer from inherited diseases, or from complaints that cripple them early in childhood. Such children should receive social services benefits during the formative period from three to fourteen years of age. Early guidance would be of the utmost assistance to them. Invalid children become increasingly conscious of their infirmities as they grow older. They become keenly aware that they are not like other children, and, by the time they reach the age of fourteen or fifteen years, they feel that the odds in life are very much against them. Much good would result from a system that provided help for such children from the time when they first begin their schooling. I am pleased to learn that surgical appliances are to be provided free of charge in the future for invalids who need them in order to carry out their occupations after they have completed courses of rehabilitation training. I have always taken a keen interest in the rehabilitation of invalids, and I have been greatly worried by the need for such assistance. I am gratified that the Government has realized that those persons should not begin with this mental handicap and physical worry, and that surgical appliances and the like should be made available to them free of charge. This provision is a humane and good thing, and will pay off, because the people to whom such gifts are made will become solid, responsible citizens in the community. A new way of life is open to them. For them it is the way back. They are on the road to recovery. Anything the Government can do for those persons is really the least that it can do for them.
We must look to the future. . During the next eight years, additional burdens will be placed upon the working community, because an increasing number of people are growing old. If the present trend continues, the peak year will, be 1960, when the load will be particularly heavy upon the people of the Commonwealth. As the boys and girls approach manhood and womanhood,’ and as the elderly people grow older, a terrific burden will be placed on the community. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of every citizen to do his best to ensure that this increasing burden will be met, and that our responsibilities will be fully discharged. The responsibility of caring for the aged, the infirm and the children, must not be allowed to rest wholly upon a government, because such a policy would come dangerously, and even perilously, near to the welfare State. Some degree of responsibility must fall upon the shoulders of the Commonwealth, but the State governments must also carry their share of it, because they receive money for such pui’ poses. I believe that the governments of most of the States I have visited are doing their share now, particularly with respect to the provision of eventide homes, twilight homes, and similar institutions. However, the combined efforts of the Australian and the State governments are not sufficient, and I am pleased to know that many private institutions are providing accommodation for age pensioners, who must have somewhere to live in reasonable comfort and security. In Queensland, many churches have taken up the challenge. That move is excellent, and it reflects credit on the conscience of the people that, through their church organizations, they have accepted this responsibility. I have particularly in mind the Methodist Home at Chermside, a suburb of Brisbane, where little cottages and dormitories are provided for more than 100 pensioners. The elderly people are able to live in that accommodation in comfort and security, and they have no worries about a roof over their heads and food to eat. But the responsibility cannot rest wholly upon such institutions as the increasing burden of an ageing population between now and 1960 is placed upon us. Of course, institutions should be encouraged to do a part of this necessary work for the old people. It is a proud responsibility that no one should shirk. People who are prepared to shoulder such a responsibility should be given every encouragement to do so.
We have developed three means of looking after the aged. The Commonwealth has its pensions scheme, its pharmaceutical benefits scheme, and other social services. The State governments are providing eventide homes, twilight homes and other forms of assistance. Public institutions are making provision for the welfare of the aged, and should receive more encouragement than they have received to date. However, I consider that the general public should accept responsibilities for the aged in an individual manner. The greatness of a nation is measured by the strength of the family unit, and the Australian nation will reach its greatest height, and the climax of its ambitions, when every family unit completely and acutely realizes the responsibility that rests upon its strong members to care for its weak members. After all, charity begins at home. I know _ of nothing more pathetic than a visit to an institution for aged persons on Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, and the sight of many mothers and fathers who have devoted most of their lives to their children, without a visitor or even a card of remembrance. They are completely alone. That actually occurs, and it is a disgrace to the strong members of such families who are prepared to let the Government carry the responsibility for the care’ of an ageing mother or father in a home for old folks. Of course, such an experience is not universal. I ha.ve rejoiced at the sight of many people with the light of gladness in their eyes as they have seen a son or daughter approaching them through an open doorway. The best gift for next Christmas that can be given to a parent in an institution for the aged and infirm, because it far exceeds the value of money, will be a visit from a son or daughter, and the experience of haying the arms of the visitor round him, and hearing him say “ Dad “ or “ Mum “ as the case may he, “ you have given everything to me and I will now stand beside you and be strong for you in your time of weakness “. When we have developed that strong family tie and sense of responsibility, and put our strong arms round the weaker members of our families and exist in proud independence, this nation will reach the heights of greatness.
The Australian people have .a four-fold duty. They must pay taxes to the Commonwealth in order to provide pensions and other social services, because the Government has no financial reserves of its own, and must rely on the money that is paid to the Treasury in direct and indirect taxes. That burden must be borne by the people. They must also stand behind the State governments, which must make available to an increasing degree every amenity required by the old people. The Various charitable institutions in our midst, including those of the churches ii 11 d other organizations which care for the aged people, must be encr if raged in every Way by gifts of money, and labour, and by kindly attention on the part of persons who may not have relatives in institutions for the aged and, infirm, but who may be willing to show some of the qualities of charity and mercy to the inmates. The younger members of the family units must be taught in the schools, and encouraged in every possible way to recognize that they have- the primary duty of ensuring that their aged mother and father are well cared for, and that no unhappiness will befall them in their old age. The social services programme will become progressively more attractive as this Government gives effect to its policy as enunciated to the people during the general election campaign of 1949. The means test will be eliminated, and no penalty will be imposed on thrift. The pension will be granted to people as a right and not as a charity. That day is not far off, and as this Government shows the people, by its example, that the old folk are of value to the community, I trust that Australian citizens will accept the challenge, and bear the burden of responsibility that rightly belongs to them.
.- I desire to pay a tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), be cause any approach that is made to him by members of the Labour party is invariably met with a ready and sympathetic response. I realize that he is fighting a terrific battle with the Government in order to obtain a greater measure of justice for the pensioners. The speeches made by some Government supporters, including the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) on this bill call for a reply. The honorable member for Capricornia spoke of the humbugging attitude of the Labour party in this debate. I hope that when I complete my speech, the. people who are listening will know who are the real humbugs, and who have their welfare really at heart. I have no knowledge of the circle in which the honorable member for Capricornia moves, and the sources from which he receives his letters of congratulation, but I am sure that he is pleased that a general election is not in the offing. If he were obliged to face his electors now, he would not have the support of some of those unfortunate persons, who, he claims, have written him letters of congratulation.
I compliment the Minister upon the abolition of the adequate maintenance provisions which have until now been embodied in our social services system. The Opposition is also pleased with the easing of the means test in respect of permanently blind persons, and invalids between the ages of sixteen and 21 years. However, the Labour party considers that the means test should have been relaxed to a greater degree than has been the case, and that a greater increase of pensions should have been proposed. That is the basis of our approach to this bill. The honorable member for Capricornia expressed the hope that the strong members of a family unit would take care of its weak members. I assure him that working class families already bear that responsibility. I invite the honorable gentleman to call at my office, where he will find ample evidence of the concern of families for the well being of their own kith and kin, and of their anxiety about the manner in which aged persons are being treated by this Government.
For the information of Government supporters, I propose to give a brief history of social services in Australia. Anti-Labour governments were in office in this Parliament for 23 of the 25 years prior to 1941. When the Curtin Labour Government assumed office at the end of that year, the only social services which were being provided by the Commonwealth were the age and invalid pension of 21s. a week, the maternity allowance of from £4 10s. to £7 10s., to which a means test was applicable, and child endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for each child of a family under the age of sixteen years other than the first child. Within a period of eight years the Labour Government had improved, or introduced, as the case may be, social services in a, variety of ways. lt had increased the age and invalid pension from 21s. to 42s. 6d. a week; relaxed the means test from 12s. 6d. to 30s. a week, at which it still remains; granted allowances for the wives and children of invalid pensioners; increased the maternity allowance to £10, and abolished the means test applicable to it; increased the child endowment payment, from »s. to 10s. a week; introduced widows pensions, and the funeral, unemployment, sickness, hospital, tuberculosis, mental institutions and pharmaceutical benefits; provided rental rebates under the Commonwealth and- State Housing Agreement ; and made provision for the rehabilitation of disabled persons. The honorable member for Capricornia evidently was not aware that a previous Prime Minister, the late Mr. Ben Chifley, was responsible for the reintroduction of the scheme for the rehabilitation of disabled persons. It i3 damnable when a young member states that Mr. Chifley refused to meet a deputation representing pensioners’ organizations. I shall refer again to that matter later in my speech. However, all those social services were provided by the Labour Government during the eight years it was in office. I agree with honorable members on the Government side who have said that they do not believe that social services should be made a party political football. The
Labour party has asked for a joint committee to consider these matters, but only yesterday the Prime Minister refused a request for the setting up of such a body. An honorable member on this side of the House asked whether the Government would consider the appointment of a joint committee to consider abolition of the means test, adequate rates of pensions, and a proper system of financing social services. The right honorable gentleman’s reply was an emphatic “ No “. He said, in effect, that no responsibility would devolve on honorable members to put into operation decisions that were reached by a committee. On numerous occasions, joint committees composed of members from both sides of both Houses of the Parliament have met to discuss important issues, and have made their reports with full responsibility to their electors and to the nation. I am confident that they would act in an equally responsible manner in an approach to this matter.
The unfortunate people of the community would receive a better deal with the Labour party’s help. Australia went to war in defence of liberty and freedom and now, in this Parliament, honorable members can show sincerity in their attitude towards the less fortunate people in our midst. The increases of pensions that are provided in the bill are inadequate. That is the Labour party’s claim. The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has given comparisons of the social services that were provided by the Chifley Government and those that have been approved by this Government. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) has referred to the few pence and the occasional shillings that a former government granted to pensioners, but he forgot to tell the Parliament and the people that the basic wage has increased by almost £6 since this Government came into office. The total of 25s by which this Government has increased pension rates is insignificant by. comparison with the basic wage increases. When the Labour party went out of office in 1949, the basic wage was £6 and the age pension was 42s. 6d. or 35.4 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day the basic wage is £11 15s. and at £3 7s. 6d. a week, the age pension is equal to only 28.7 per cent, of the basic wage.
Honorable members on the Government side talk about the abolition of the means test in the hope that it will save them at the next general election, but they are only hoping against hope. It is not strange that the Labour party fights for the pensioners. It battles in and out of this Parliament for those who are least able to help themselves. Most honorable members on this side of the House have been through the mill. Many of them have friends and relatives who have required assistance. Opposition members keep in touch with the people through the Australian Labour party branches, councils, trade unions, and other organizations with which they are associated. That is the fundamental difference between honorable members on the Government side and those who support the Labour party. Government supporters are aloof from the people. They have not the common touch, and they do not know what is taking place as do members of the Labour party. The people of Australia will never forget that a government that was liberal in character left office in 1941 because it refused to increase payments to soldiers and pensioners. The late Mr. Curtin moved a motion of no confidence in the government of the day in the form of an amendment to increase the budget provisions by adding £0,000,000 for servicemen and £1,000,000 for age pensioners. The government of the day, led by the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) walked out pf office in preference to increasing payments to soldiers and pensioners, yet this Government which consists largely of the same personnel boasts of all that it has done for pensioners. 1 shall traverse now the various social services that have been introduced by the Australian Government since federation. Tn July, 1909, the Deakin Government introduced the age pensions. It was forced to do so by the third party, the Labour party, which controlled the destinies of that Government. In 1910 the Fisher Labour Government introduced invalid pensions and in 1912 the same Government approved of maternity allowances. The Menzies Government was responsible for child endowment in 1941.
The Curtin Labour Government first paid widows’ pensions in 1942 and it introduced allowances for widows and children of invalid pensioners in 1943. In the same year,- it first provided funeral benefits for age and invalid pensioners. In 1945, the Curtin Labour Government introduced unemployment and sickness benefits. They were followed by hospital benefits in 1946, tuberculosis benefits in 1947 and pharmaceutic benefits in 1948, all introduced by the Chifley Labour Government. That is briefly the history of social services in Australia.
It is the responsibility of the government of the day to provide the greatest possible assistance to the sick and helpless people in the community and that is not being done now. All honorable members will agree that war pensions are a debt that must be met by the Government. The Labour party believes that age and invalid pensioners are equally a liability that the community must meet through its Government. The pensioners we are fighting for helped to build the nation under conditions that were far removed from those of to-day. They gave their sons and grandsons in two world wars willingly, and surely they are entitled to commensurate compensation for their untiring and sacrificing efforts. Honorable members have heard much discussion about the abolition of the means test. The people of Australia are prepared to meet the cost that would be involved. Recently the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) stated in reply to a question that the abolition of the means test would cost £85,000,000 a year. I do not suggest that the means test should bs abolished to provide benefits for the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes) and the honorable member for “Warringah (Mr. Bland), but the people of Australia would favour an immediate abolition of the means test and an increase of permissible income without delay for the benefit of the age and invalid pensioners generally.
In answer to a question that was put bv the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (“Mr. Crean), ‘the Minister for Social Services stated that if permissible income were increased from 30s. to £3 n week for a single person and from £3 a week to £6 for a married couple, the cost to the country would be £8,000,000. I remind honorable members that there is now a surplus of £185,000,000 in the National Welfare Fund. That money came from the pockets of the Australian people but it has not been returned to them by this Government. The payment of £8,000,000 through an increase of permissible income would be of more value to the community than the remission of £6,000,000 in land tax, mainly to a few city wealthy land-owners every year. According to the press, which secured substantial benefits, the country recovered its economic equilibrium when the land tax was abolished. Honorable members on the Government side believe also that they have fooled the people of Australia by abolishing the land tax, but they are fortunate that a general election is not to be held soon, for it would show them the weakness of their position. I do not suggest that the Minister could satisfy the arch reactionaries on the Government side of the House and particularly the honorable member for Warringah, but Ipoint out to him and to his associates that the Government represents the community and the community finances the Government. Recently a writer in a Sydney newspaper summed up the position in these words -
Financially speaking the community IS the Government and it has believed, evidently wrongly, that its social services tax was for the purpose of providing social services. Where individual people can add to the comfort and well being of individual pensioners, well and good. But the pensioners should not be dependent on charity. You hear these days many scornful references to the “ Welfare State “. But the ideal of “ Welfare State “ is a good one. And in ideal conditions people would pay social service tax confident in the knowledge that they could look forward to collecting an adequate pension. And, furthermore, without a Means Test.
I suggest that honorable members should take notice of that comment. I know that the Minister has done so because he has not run foul of his press cohorts again by making statements such as he made on a previous occasion. Let me deal with the question of who is paying for the social services benefits that are available in this country. In 1951, this Government introduced a measure under which the social services contribution, as such, was abolished and was incorporated in income tax payments. The Government is trying to hide behind that alteration of the taxation laws, but the fact is that now the people of this country are paying more for social services than they paid previously and, consequently, are demanding an adequate return for their payments. To-day, over £185,000,000is locked away in the National Welfare Fund.
It has been said that a high level of production is necessary in this country to enable adequate social services to be maintained. In 1948, the late Mr. Chifley, in an address to a meeting of miners in Sydney, said -
I tell you this, that every man in this country who fails to do his best does not cheat Ben Chifley, but himself and his fellow citizens.
Labour is cognizant of the need for adequate production. Occasionally, reference is made to the national cake - which means the national wealth - and how it should be shared among the members of the community. At the present time, the national income of this country is £3,238,000,000, of which wage and salary earners receive £1,870,000,000. Wage and salary earners, including pensioners, who represent 85 per cent, of the population, receive 57 per cent, of the national wealth, and companies and unincorporated businesses, which represent15 per cent, of the population, receive over 43 per cent. The aim of the Labour movement is to give to the wage and salary earners of this country a fairer share of the national cake. I echo the sentiments that were expressed by a member of the Labour party in this Parliament many years ago when he said that the aim of Labour was to secure for the people that it represented some of the pleasures, leisures and treasures of the nation. That is the reason why hundreds of thousands of people in this country demand that their interests shall be safeguarded in this Parliament by members of the Australian Labour party.
I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), because I believe that if the hill were redrafted in the manner that he has suggested, it would be in the best interests of the people generally. I believe that the Commonwealth should give more assistance to the States for their social welfare activities. The New South “Wales Government enjoys the respect and confidence df the people of that State, but on every occasion when it is mentioned in this chamber the members of the Government parties refer to it in venomous terms and, by so doing, reveal their class bias. I believe that this Government could learn some lessons from the social welfare activities of the New South Wales Government, especially in relation to the provision of hearing aids. I have been informed that, although such aids could be produced by the Commonwealth for approximately £9 a set, at the present time unfortunate deaf people have to pay between £50 and £70 for a set. I urge the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) to give some consideration to the activities of the New South Wales Government in the field of social services.
Honorable gentlemen opposite, because they know the fate that is in store for them, are trying to impress the electors of this country. If they vote for the amendment, they will demonstrate clearly to the people that they mean what they have said in this debate. They can demonstrate their sincerity, not by their words but by their votes.
– I assure the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Fitzgerald) that the Department of Health is very active in the provision of hearing aids. We take the view that it is most important to supply the aids to children, because, without such help, it is very difficult to teach children to become, useful members of the community. We are trying to make certain that every child who needs a hearing aid shall be supplied with one. That is the policy of this Government and it was also the policy of its predecessors. I think it is a very sound policy.
During the life of this Government, a striking advance has been made in the field of social services. The sum appropriated in this financial year for social services is more than double that which was expended for this purpose in 1948-49, the year before this Government came into office. Almost every service has been improved. By this measure, the unemployment and sickness benefits will be doubled. The policy of the Government is that ultimately the means test applicable to the’ age pension shall be abolished, and I believe that the course of action that we are pursuing will bring us within striking distance of that objective. The principle upon which we are working is that while people are able to earn they should make provision for the time when they will be unable to do so. and that those who can earn must be prepared to do something to assist those who cannot. The major obstacle in the way of a universal superannuation fund based upon the principle of compulsory insurance is the number of people already over the age of 65 years who would noi be contributors to the fund. That hiatus, which probably would involve £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 a year, constitutes the major obstacle that must be surmounted. The aim of the Government is to surmount that obstacle, not by enlarging the field of taxation that is already being exploited, but by taking certain costs out of the field of taxation, particularly those connected with health and hospitals.
Let us examine the advances that have been made in the field of social services during the two and a half years that this Government has been in office. In 1948-49, roughly £80,000,000 was expended upon social services, but this year £163,000,000 is to be appropriated for th;i.t purpose, and that is more than twice the 1948-49 figure. The reasons for the increase are that pensions have been increased, that the means test has been liberalized, and that child endowment is paid in respect of the first child of a family at an annual cost of between £15,000,000 and £20,000,000. Present expenditure upon health services financed from the National Welfare Fund is almost five times greater than it was in 1948-49. That increase cannot be attributed entirely to the cost of living, which has not risen to that degree. In 1948-49 £41,693,000 was expended upon the payment of age and invalid pensions, and this year £72,485,000 will be appropriated for that purpose. In 1948-49, the age and invalid pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week, and when this bill has been passed it will be £3 7s. 6d. a week. “With the passage of this bill the allowance paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner will be increased from £1 4s. to £1 15s. a week, and the allowance paid in respect of a child from 9s. to lis. 6d. a week. The class A widow’s pension is to be increased from £2 7s. 6d. to’ £3 12s. 6d. a week. The adult rate of unemployment and sickness benefit will rise from £1 5s. to £2 10s. a week and the allowance in respect of the wife of an unemployed or sick person will be increased from £1 to £2 a week. Rehabilitation benefits for single men are to be increased from £2 2s. 6d. to £3 7s. a week, and for married men from £3 6s. 6d. to £5 2s. 6d. a week. The payments made in respect of children of persons undergoing rehabilitation treatment will also been increased.
Those are .the reasons why expenditure upon the social services benefits dealt with in this measure will be increased enormously. Associated with those benefits, and really part and parcel of them, are health and. medical benefits. Whereas the amount provided for pharmaceutical benefits in 1948-49 was only £149,000, it will be £7,000,000 this financial year. The cost was slightly more than that total last year. That is an increase, since 1948-49, of £6,851,000 in respect of only one social service. The increase is, in effect, a reduction of income tax by a similar amount, because the costs that are attendant on serious illness would otherwise undoubtedly have to be borne by the people concerned. I consider that the provision of free life-saving drugs has already paid for itself, because the exhibition of these drugs in this manner enables doctors to prescribe the lifesaving and disease-preventing drugs that a patient really needs regardless of whether or not they would normally be within the financial capabilities of tha patient. I venture to state’ that the scheme for the provision of these drugs is paying for itself by shortening the time of hospitalization of patients, and, in fact, by making the admission of many people to hospital unnecessary. The dis covery of the modern life-saving drugs has enabled people with badly diseased tuberculosis chests to be operated upon successfully, whereas not many years ago they could not have been operated on at all. People come” here from Singapore and other parts of the East for major operations in our hospitals which are possible only because we are now able to use these drugs.
I am not one of the people who believes that we should shudder at an increase of public expenditure in the provision to the people of such benefits, which, as I have said, are just as valuable to the community as a definite reduction of income taxation would be, and are, in fact, a reduction of income tax that applies to the people who need it most - people who are seriously ill. Before this Government took office an agreement had been made with several of the States in relation to tuberculosis, but no money had been paid out in that connexion, except a total of £133,400 in tuberculosis allowances. This year we expect to expend a total of £4,595,000 for this purpose. As a result of paying very generous pensions to tuberculosis patients we have been able to bring under treatment several thousand men who were concealing their disease so that they could keep on earning to support their families, and who were infecting other people while they were working. Such people are now able to undergo treatment because tho benefit.? made available by the Government amount, .in some instances, to more than the basic wage.
Another important matter which has had an extraordinary psychological effect is the pensioners’ medical service, which’ was not in existence when the Government took office. That service has been operating for about two years and accounts for an amount of £1,660,000 which is to be expended on the treatment of pensioners at home and in the surgery and by the provision to them of free medicine. Both pensioners and doctors have told me how much this scheme is appreciated by the recipients and by the medical profession. Pensioners are now able to obtain identification cards and receive treatment as a right, as a result of which the whole attitude of pensioners to life generally has been altered. The system has given the pensioners a dignity and a satisfaction that they did not have before. Doctors have written to me about how wonderful it is to be able to prescribe drugs for pensioners which would not have been available to them before the scheme came into operation, because they could not
Iia ve paid for them. The medical profession is glad to be able to prescribe those drugs and to increase the length of life and the happiness of these people.
I turn now to the nutrition of children. Under the Government’s plan, milk is supplied free to school children in five States. For some extraordinary reason Queensland has not co-operated in this scheme. I venture to say that in ten years’ time the effect on children of the supply of free milk in school hours, will produce an extraordinary difference on hospital admissions and so make more beds available for the community generally.
The hospital benefits scheme, which in I94S-49 cost about £6,000,000, is now to cost about £12,000,000, or an increase of £5,500,000, taking into consideration the insurance benefit that goes with it. The result is that whereas in 1948-49 the total amount expended on social services was just over £7,000,000, this year it will be about £28,000,000, and when the medical benefits scheme is operating the figure will rise to more than £34,000,000, which will mean that it will have increased by 500 per cent. The effect of these measures is certainly to be found in the actual saving to the sick public, but is also to be found in the manner in which the whole problem is approached, lt is being approached, in fact, in a manner designed to ensure that people will make some contribution, when they are well, for any possible future sickness which may necessitate hospitalization. We are not doing anything strange by asking people to insure themselves against the risk of sickness. Medical insurance has been a characteristic of the trade union movement for a century. Systems of prepaid friendly societies and trade unions subscriptions have been in operation on the coal-fields and elsewhere for many years. After all, people insure their lives, and the law compels motor car owners to insure against risk to the public. We also insure ourselves against theft, accidents and all sorts of other eventualities including death. Surely we should insure ourselves against sickness! Of what use are material possessions when one is dead? It is surely reasonable that the first insurance that people take out shall be an insurance to keep them healthy and alive.
Because the hospital system of this country has not been operated in conjunction with a system of health insurance there has been a tremendous drift in the last five years in hospital finances which has induced the various State governments, with the exception of the Queensland Government, to co-operate in the Commonwealth scheme. We believe that this system ought to be adopted, so that we shall make certain that we have a permanent and established revenue for our hospital system, and be able, as a result, to devote the tax revenues now devoted to assistance to hospitals, to other necessary purposes. I believe that one of the ways in which such freed revenues will be ultimately spent is to fill the huge gap in social services that is caused by the fact that some people over the age of 65, who have been thrifty, are unable to obtain a pension because of the operation of the means test.
This bill will do something to improve the position of blind people. The means test will be removed from pensions of the blind insofar as the first £3 of income is concerned. I believe that some day we shall have to recognize that the thrifty members of the community are entitled to some recognition for their thrift and should receive benefits from the State on at least the same basis as as .that which applies to people who have not been able to save. The important thing is to be able to get enough money into our system to deal with the mass of people who are unable, because of their financial position, to obtain the pension. The burden associated with providing for these people should be borne by the community as a whole. It would be unthinkable that people who are still under the age of 65 years should be asked to pay more than they should have to pay, under a general scheme, to provide for themselves. We must provide some means for everybody to insure against the future. I consider that it would be unreasonable to suggest that people who are contributing to superannuation schemes or who have taken out insurance policies should have to carry an added load on top of their insurance premiums in order to fill the gap that exists in our social services at present. The responsibility for filling that gap should rest on the general taxpayers.
This hill represents a definite improvement of the whole social services structure. I shall deal with other aspects of social services when the National Health Bill comes before the House within the next .few weeks. I shall then inform the House of the general policy and the motives of the scheme, and explain the benefits that will ultimately accrue to Australia from it.
Mr. THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) 1 4.22]. - I have listened with interest to the speech of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) and to his plea for what he has termed a voluntary contributory scheme of national insurance. It is clear that we must recognize that all the talk on behalf of the Government about the abolition of the means test has been based on the theory that that abolition would be made possible by the inauguration of a contributory pension scheme. However, T do not expect the Government to do anything concrete about that matter at all”.
I wish to deal with several statements that have been made during the debate. One honorable member attempted last night to ridicule the Labour party’s policy on the abolition of the means test in relation to hospitals. I was amazed that honorable members opposite should continue to use the land of arguments they have been using again and again in this debate and elsewhere. I do not know whether some of the newer honorable members on the Government benches do not know the history of the means test, or whether they are deliberately making mis-statements. Section 24 (2) of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, which was in existence when the Labour Government came into office in 1941, stated -
Where the pensioner has accumulated property, the amount of a pension shall be subject to the following deductions: -
One pound for every complete Ten pounds by which the net capital value of the accumulated property exceeds Fifty pounds . . .
The act also contains a proviso, which was put into effect throughout the terms of office of the Lyons Government and the Menzies Government, which provided that where both the husband and wife were pensioners, except where they were living apart pursuant to any decree, judgment, order, or deed of separation, the deduction in the case of each of them would be £1 for every complete £10 by which half the net capital value of their accumulated property exceeded £25. That was the position when Labour came into office in 1941. For every £10 of half the combined capital of a husband and wife in excess of £25 the aggregate annual amount of each pension was reduced by £1. The Curtin Government, immediately after it assumed office, increased the amount of permissible capital in respect of the husband and wife individually to £50, and in 1947 it again increased th, amount to £100. That is the amount of permissible capital allowable to a husband and wife individually without being deprived of any proportion of the pension. Those amendments proved of most benefit to thrifty people about whose claims Government supporters have said so much in this debate. The permissible amount of capital was increased by Labour within a period of six years from £25 to £100. It - is remarkable, that this Government, although it assumed office three years ago, has not liberalized that amount. Yet Government supporters have endeavoured to ridicule the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) that would have the effect of gradually eliminating the means test. When Labour assumed office in 1941, the permissible income of a pensioner was 12s. 6d. a week. Labour increased that amount to £1 and, later, to £1 10s. a week. Yet, Government supporters, who promised the people during the last general election campaign that they would completely abolish the means test but have not honoured that promise and have not in any way increased those amounts, have the audacity to say that Labour did nothing to liberalize pensions. I also point out that when Labour fixed the maximum permissible capital at £100, that sum had twice the purchasing power that it has to-day.
The Minister for Health spoke of the position of persons over the age of 65 years who were disqualified from receiving a pension because they had been thrifty and accumulated savings. If there is one respect in which this Government has slipped so far as pensions are concerned, it is in relation to its talk about helping the thrifty. When Labour went out of office, a person could possess a maximum capital of £750 without being deprived of a pension entirely. Last year, this Government increased that amount to £1,000 but by doing so it effected not an actual but only a nominal improvement on an applicant’s position. Government supporters claim that they desire to help the persons who are prepared to help themselves. Let us examine the position of a pensioner with a maximum capital of £1,000. Of that amount £100 is not taken into account at all in determining the rate of pension to be paid, but in respect of an amount of £350 the aggregate annual pension is reduced by £35 whilst in respect of the balance of £550 the aggregate annual pension is reduced by £110, or a total reduction of £145. As the present aggregate pension amounts to £156 a year, a person possessing a maximum capital of £1,000 would be eligible to receive pension at the rate of £11 a year. Under the proposals embodied in this measure, a pensioner in those circumstances will be entitled to receive a pension at the rate of £30 10s., that is an increase of £19 10s. Nevertheless, a person who possesses a maximum capital of £1,001 will not be eligible to receive any pension whatsoever. The Government should rectify that anomaly by increasing the maximum permissible capital to £1,100. By doing so it would place persons with capital up to that amount relatively in the position in which they were when the Labour Government went out of office. That is another instance in which this Government has slipped badly, particularly having regard to its claim that it desires to help the thrifty.
I am not merely trying to make party political capital in this matter. I have dealt with it simply in order to correct, misstatements that Government supporters have made in the course of thisdebate. I am pleased that the Government has decided to double the rate of unemployment and sickness benefits.. When a similar measure was before the House last year, I urged it to make such an increase. I did not expect that it would be so generous on this occasion. I am also pleased that it has decided to abolish the means test in respect of invalid children between the ages of sixteen and 21 years. It will thus place such invalids in the same position as invalids over the age of 21 years in respect of applicability of the means test. However, I suspect that the Government - has taken such action because it has seen the writing on the wall. It has perceived the red light of danger. Consequently, it is setting out to win more votes from the pensioners. It realizes that it cannot count upon the support of employees in industry because they have been severely knocked as a result of its general policies. Nevertheless, I am glad to see the invalid pension conditions liberalized in the way that I have indicated because those who will be affected are most deserving of better treatment. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) read extracts from a number of letters that he had received from various persons and associations in which pleasure was expressed about the proposals embodied in this measure. All I can say is that I have received a far greater number of letters from individual pensioners and pensioners’ associations in which amazement is expressed that the Government has decided to increase the rate of pension by only 7s. 6d. a week. I admit that the Government has liberalized conditions in respect of pensions payable on account of blindness, and that increased benefits will accrue to elderly people in the- purchasing of life-saving drugs which are indispensable to them. However, such, improvements will go only a part of the way..
Labour, if it were in office, would go muck further in that direction. The improvements that the Government is effecting under this measure will not offset the inadequacy of the rates of pensions generally. The Minister for Social Services, in his second-reading speech, said -
Leaving age and invalid pensions for the moment let us pass to invalid pensions only. At present the wife of a pensioner may receive an allowance of 30s. a week. Under the bill this will be increased to 35s., making a total social service payment of £6 9s. a week to a family with two children.
After making considerable calculations I could not ascertain how the Minister arrived at the total payment of £6 9s. a week. On my reckoning, the total social services payment to a family with two children amounted to only £5 14s. a week, made up of £3 7s. 6d. a week in respect of the husband, £1 15s. a week in respect of the wife, and lis. 6d. a week in respect of each of the two children. However, I suddenly woke up to the fact that the Minister arrived at the total of £6 9s. a week by taking into account endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for the first child, and 10s. a week for the second child. Although the Minister’s statement was technically correct, he did not make it clear that the amount of £6 9s. a week included child endowment. He also said -
The means test will be liberalized by permitting all pensioners to have additional permissible income of 10s. a week for each dependent child, together with the present permissible income of 30s. a week, before the rate of pension is affected. Thus an invalid pensioner, his wife, and two children may have a total income of £ 10 9s. a week including pension payments.
That sum of £10 9s. a week also includes child endowment; but the Minister did not say so. A married couple may have a combined permissible income of £4 a week. However, any invalid who earned £4 a week would be disqualified from receiving an invalid pension because, officially, he would be regarded as not being 85 per cent, incapacitated. But how would an invalid pensioner obtain an income apart from his pension without working for it? A person who derived an income of £4 a week from capital investment would be disqualified from receiving the invalid pension because the capital sum that would be required to yield it would be too substantial. Possibly, the wife or the children of an invalid pensioner could earn the combined permissible income in the case of a married couple, or, perhaps, the children could earn up to £4 a week by selling newspapers. The point I make is that this provision in respect of permissible income will be of little benefit to an invalid pensioner because, owing to his disability, he will not be capable of earning that amount.
I now desire to consider the means test. I believe that the thrifty member of the community is penalized very severely by our system of calculating the age pension. He is penalized by what may be called the double means test. A reference to Hansard will prove that my attitude throughout my parliamentary career to the penal effect of the means test has been quite consistent. I argued during the days of the Chifley Government as I am arguing to-day. It is not fair to impose a property means test and an income means test. Assume that under our present system a man and his wife own £2,000 worth of property. Because of the possession of that amount of property their combined pensions would be no more than £22 a year. That of course is with the proviso that the income from the £2,000 was no more than £3 a week. Many people own a little property. They have saved their money and have put it into Commonwealth bonds or perhaps a cottage. Assume that the people about whom I am speaking have saved their money and bought a cottage worth. £2,000. If those people received £1 net. from the renting of the house, after paying rates and taxes and providing for repairs, they would be very lucky. If the man and his wife get £1 a week as the income from their property and the property is worth £2,000, their combined pensions amount to £22 a year and with the proposed increases will amount, to only £61 a year. I suggest that the property means test should be abolished in this case, and that only the income from the £2,000 should be taken into account in calculating the rate of pension.
I appreciate all that the Minister for Social Services has said about the enormous sum that would be required if the means test were totally abolished. [ also appreciate his remarks about the difficulty of establishing a fund of sufficient size to provide pensions for all those of pensionable age. But I also appreciate that the Government could do much along the lines that I have indicated in order to mitigate the injustice which many people suffer at present. I suggest that it is better to obtain the money needed for the payment of pensions by way of taxation than by forcing people to contribute during their working lives for their pensions. The Labour party and the non-Labour parties, differ on that important point. The Labour party realizes that every penny that is paid in pensions has to come from somewhere. We all realize that we cannot take anything out of the barrel unless somebody first puts something into it. However, honorable members on the Government side believe that the money should be put into the barrel as a direct contribution by people out of their wages during their working lives. It grieved me to hear the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) casting a slur on the workers by stating that they had not earned what they are getting in wages. There may be isolated instances in which workers have not earned what they get, but we must remember that the persons who have big incomes often do nothing to earn them. The biggest taxpayers in this country do very little to earn the incomes that they receive. However, I do not want to argue on that aspect of the matter.
It grieved me to hear the honorable member for Capricornia attack the pensioners .in his speech. In connexion with contributory pensions and the amount required, I wish to refer honorable members to the South Australian government superannuation scheme. A contributor who commences to pay into the fund at 30 years of age, if he has not been incapacitated beforehand, receives a pension at the age of 65 years. If he becomes incapacitated before the age of 65 years he gets an invalid pension. In order to get £1 a week plus the Government subsidy when he retires, or upon incapacity, he has to pay 4s. 3d. a week into the. fund. Therefore, honorable members will quite agree with the
Minister that it would be most difficult to establish a pension fund from weekly contributions. About twenty years ago I was appointed to a committee to investigate whether contributions to this fund could be reduced. After carefully considering the matter with the assistance of an actuary, it was found that the amount could not be reduced. The actuary said, “ You can’t reduce the weekly contribution because the fund is barely solvent “. The weekly contribution was fixed in this case on the basis that contributors were in good health when they started to contribute. They had to pass a medical examination before they were accepted into the scheme. I can quite appreciate the Minister’s statement about the difficulty of establishing a fund out of which to pay pensions. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) asked what initial sum would be required. I interjected that it would be astronomical if every body over the age of 65 years in the case of men or 60 years in the case of women were to be paid a pension. That being so, where is the money to come from if the means test be absolutely abolished? The Labour party believes that anything that is honestly due to people, no matter what their incomes may be, should be paid to them by the community in accordance with the taxpayers’ ability to provide the necessary revenue. That has been the attitude of the Labour party down through the years. Throughout my political life the principal upon which I have approached taxation matters has been that taxes should be levied on people according to their ability to pay. If honorable members will consider the 10 per cent, reduction of income tax to be made by this Government they will notice that a man with a wife and two children who earns about £600 a year will be better off in consequence by 17s. or 18s. a year, whereas a man whose income is £5,000 will be better off by about £200 a year. That is because a flat rate reduction of income tax is being made.
The late Mr. Chifley always stated that whenever he altered taxation he based the alteration on equity and ability to pay. If honorable members care to investigate some of the scales of taxation that have been introduced by Labour governments they will see that all impositions and reductions have been made according to the principle of ability to pay. For instance, one man might be required to pay 5 per cent, of his income as taxation and another with greater ability to pay might be required to pay 60 per cent. The Labour party approaches the matter of taxation from a humanitarian point of view, whereas non-Labour parties approach it in the light of cold financial considerations. Honorable members have asked in this House why a man who has saved his money should not be entitled to an age pension when a man who has not saved anything is so entitled. I should like to take those honorable members to some of the meetings of pensioners that I attend in my electorate. If they attended such meetings and studied the pensioners they would see the answer to their question. Most of those people have lived on very little throughout their lives, and have never been able to buy anything special with their incomes. In many instances they have not been able to nave a real holiday, until recent years when they have been granted annual statutory leave. Quite often they were unable to take advantage of a public holiday for financial, or health reasons. Surely honorable members do not suggest that they were not thrifty and that therefore they should not be given pensions. Some honorable members may ask why a man . who goes to a hotel on Saturday afternoons throughout his life should later receive a pension. Perhaps they will suggest that lie should have saved the money that he spent at the hotel. I say to them that most of the people with big incomes go to the saloon bars on Saturday afternoon and pay three times as much for their drinks as the workers pay for theirs. All sections of the community visit hotels. The little man may wager on a horse ls. that he cannot afford to lose, but the big man may wager £5, £50 or £100. Every man has a perfect right to do what he thinks he should do, within reason. I ask honorable members on the Government side not to clutter their minds with the idea that poor people are getting pensions because they were not prepared to do anything to help themselves.
Working people have generally been thrifty people. During recent years something like a disease has swept through the community. The rich man asks why he cannot get a new car. The richer man asks why he cannot get a new private aeroplane. The poor man asks why he cannot get a “ tin Lizzie “, or something else. That is common tq the whole community, and it is just as difficult for a poor man to get a “ tin Lizzie as for a wealthy man to buy a private aeroplane. For goodness sake let us not approach our problems with the idea that the working man is not thrifty and that the man with the bank balance is thrifty. Very often a man’s bank balance is due to good luck, favorable opportunities, or having had parents who had bequeathed money to him. The poor man has been put into his financial position by bad luck, a poor education, or lack of parental assistance. When I went to school very few people could afford a secondary education for their children, but now it is free to every one. Many of the people who now get pensions left school at the age of twelve or thirteen years, and went to the poorest paid kinds of jobs. They have never had much out of life, and when we say that they now have to apply for the pension because they have not been thrifty, we are unkind to them. I hope that the amendment moved by the honorable member for EdenMonaro will be agreed to, and that the remarks that I have made about the means test will be considered by the Government. I again say that a pension fund should be provided not by weekly contributions from the wage-earner but. by taxation according to ability to pay.
.- We must credit the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) with being sincere, but sometimes his approach to matters such as that now under review is completely wrong. He said that he visited pensioners’ organizations and found discontent among their members. Honorable members all realize that the honorable member himself can contribute to the discontent of the people. We all know that it is possible to approach any group of people and stir them up until they have a sense of grievance and loss.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide provided further evidence of woolly thinking when he stated that instead of the people getting the benefit of their thrift and enterprise they should be given something for nothing. He said that all the money required for the payment of social services should be taken from those people whose lives have, perhaps, been fortunate and who have had always the capacity to provide for themselves. Those of us who are mature in our outlook realize that good luck does not last for all’ time, and that success is based upon qualities that are more enduring than is good luck. The honorable member is still labouring under the delusion that one can soak the rich for everything. He is completely on the wrong track, as the British authorities are finding out at the present time. They have so heavily taxed the rich and the people with comparatively high incomes that those people have lost their initiative and lack incentive, and that loss is now reflected in the parlous condition of the people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. From time to time in this debate honorable members have attributed the initiation of social service legislation to one party or another. I like to think that both the Labour party and the non-Labour parties were on a common footing in endeavouring to do their best for the people in the way of social services benefits. However, the Labour party and the parties on the other side of the House have developed their social services thinking along different lines.
It has been said in this debate that the pensioners have no organizations. They quite definitely have organizations. The honorable member for Port Adelaide mentioned pensioners’ organizations. Many of these organizations are to be commended for their moderate approach to the matters which affect them. Before the 1951-52 budget was introduced in this Parliament, I had the opportunity f speaking to a meeting of pensioners on a topic completely different from pensions. I found no evidence whatsoever of the poverty and distress so often mentioned by honorable members opposite. I was not asked one question about the increase of pensions rates. Since then, despite what was said by the honorable member for Port Adelaide, pensioners have expressed astonishment to me that this Government should again have investigated the value of pensions and raised the rate by 7s. 6d. a week. The assertion that thereis a mass movement of discontent against the Government is a complete exaggeration. The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has proposed, in his amendment, that the Government shall commit itself to a vast burden of expenditure which he must realize the Labour party would not undertake if it were in power. He has not said that a Labour government would do what he urges this Government to do. Therein is the answer to his arguments. He knows that no sane Treasurer would attempt to budget for the additional expenditure that would be involved in giving effect to his proposals.
Honorable members opposite should study the statistics of social services payments before they engage in irresponsible campaigns for alterations of the system. Every honorable member would like to be able to assist those who are in. poor circumstances to the utmost limit of the nation’s ability to help them, but the fact is that the limit has been reached for the time being. Annual expenditure on social services now amounts to £173,000,000. The total in 1938-39 was only £60,400,000. The Government now provides for pensioners free medical benefits at an estimated cost of £1,300,000- annually, and pharmaceutical benefits at an estimated cost of £360,000 annually. It has also endowed the first child under the age of sixteen years in each family and has instituted tuberculosis allowances, general pharmaceutical benefits, ana* nutrition of children. Furthermore, it has planned a medical benefits scheme that is expected to cost £7,500,000- annually. Critics of the rate of age and* invalid pensions overlook the fact that the additional benefits provided for pensioners by this Government have raised their standard of living. Pensioners formerly had good reason to fear illness because they could not afford to provide themselves with adequate medical attention and proper medicines when they became sick. But this Government has undertaken the responsibility of providing them with medical services and medicines. I repeat that honorable memhers opposite who urge the Government to increase its commitments by millions of pounds annually have not said that, if they were in power, they would do so. Common sense tells them that the Government has undertaken social services commitments to the limit of the nation’s ability to pay for them. They are treating this very important matter as one for party political manoeuvring.
The Government has the welfare of the nation at heart. It refuses to jump on any political bandwagon merely for the sake of winning a few votes. My careful consideration of the social services system has led me to the conclusion that the nation may not be getting full value in return for its expenditure. There are signs that social services benefits are being provided for the needy at the expense of the thrifty. This may have the effect of making people thriftless and extravagant with their savings so that they may be eligible for pensions when they reach the appropriate age. Thi3 tendency makes it imperative for us to examine the whole field of social services from a fresh stand-point. Notwithstanding the party political criticism of the Government by members of the Opposition, the truth is that honorable members on this side of the chamber have the welfare of the aged and infirm constantly in mind. However, we must make sure that our younger citizens shall not have their thoughts wrongly influenced so that they will lose all sense of duty towards their parents. The risk is that sons and daughters will leave responsibility for the welfare of their parents entirely to the State.. The cultivation of such an attitude would do a great disservice to the nation. Evidence of its growth is to be found in the gradual breaking down of home life, to which the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) referred. This disintegration of family ties is in sharp contrast with the strong family unity of most of the immigrants who have arrived here in recent years. The family devotion of new Australians is outstanding. It is noticeable that most of them, after they have arrived in Australia, use their best endeavours to arrange for relatives to come to this country. They live and work more closely and co-operatively than do most nativeborn Australians.
This drift away from family life is bad for the nation. Unfortunately, it is caused, partly at any rate, by the belief that elderly parents and invalid relatives no longer need the help of their families because the State will care for them. Recently I travelled in company with a Chinese lad who is studying at a technical college in Geelong, and he told me that one of his first impressions of Australia was that the independence and freedom of young men and women were excellent features of our way of living. However, on more mature thought, he reached the conclusion that we lost more than we gained. Married pensioners who, under the terms of this bill, will be entitled to a joint income of £6 15s. a week, could live with sons or daughters in comfort and to the benefit of all concerned because of the reduction of overhead costs for rent and food. However, such elderly couples usually find that they are thrown on their own resources. We should try to restore a sense of responsibility towards parents in the minds of the younger generation. In the electorate of Corio, the construction of an old folks’ home has ceased, despite the great efforts of many public-spirited local citizens, owing to the lack of funds. Undoubtedly the blame for this unfortunate event lies largely with the State Government, which has failed to allot sufficient money for the maintenance of such institutions. However, this Parliament might well give its attention to the problem of caring for and accommodating pensioners with a view to making arrangements in the future for the financing of homes for them. Obviously, age pensioners can be cared for most efficiently if they are accommodated in groups. Such a system enables medical attention and other aid to be made readily available. During the general election campaign that preceded my election to this Parliament, an estate agent told me that one of the most heartrending problems with which he had to deal was that of the elderly pensioners who went to him to seek accommodation. The nation should attack this problem.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide said that many age pensioners did not have the capacity to earn and save money during their working lives. That comment gives rise to another line of thought. If what he has said be true, many pensioners may not be capable of using their small incomes to the best advantage. Therefore, it might be to their benefit to provide them with suitable accommodation and reduce the amount that they receive in cash. By this means, we might be able to ease their minds and provide for their general comfort and wellbeing. Consideration of such factors has led me to the conclusion that we must adopt a new outlook on social services. One of my severest criticisms of honorable members opposite is based on the fact that they appear to be unable to separate social services from their views on socialization. Social services should be entirely free of political considerations. We should endeavour to develop a system which will make the aged and infirm independent without being conscious of any suggestion of charity, and which will at the same time encourage thrift and also appreciation of the. amount received. For example, not long ago I was told by the president of a sub-branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, that, although generally ex-servicemen were satisfied with the repatriation benefits provided for them, they would not admit the fact because they thought that, if they did so, the Government would not be so generous to them when it next reviewed repatriation pensions. That is a bad outlook to develop, and we should discourage bargaining tactics of that sort amongst all sections.
We ought to consider the situation of persons in receipt of superannuation pensions who are penalized because the means test debars them from obtaining the age pension.
– Why does not the Government do something about that ?
– The Government is moving in the right direction now. s the honorable member for Port
Adelaide has said, the abolition of the means test would involve the Government in heavy financial commitments. It would not be possible to abolish the means test overnight. The task requires careful thought and preparation. The Government, if it acted precipitately, would be as irresponsible as honorable members opposite are now. When I speak of the abolition of the means test, I am not merely jumping on a political bandwaggon. The proper attitude towards social services was well expressed by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) during the 1949 general election campaign. He said then -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. 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.
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated* problem, with a view to presenting to you at the (.-lection of 1952 a scheme for your approval. Mean while, existing rates of pension will, of course be at least maintained. . . .
The rates, of course, have since been increased. The right honorable gentleman went on to say -
We are deeply conscious of the frequently unjust operation of the means test, and of the penalty it imposes in many cases upon thrift.
Honorable members opposite have sought to make political capital on the ground of alleged discontent. There are always borderline cases that give rise to discontent. Persons who find themselves outside the borderline feel aggrieved because they consider that they are underprivileged. The Prime Minister also said -
There are also grave anomalies associated with the position of persons who have contributed for their own superannuation benefits.
Without an all-round contributory system, there are enormous financial barriers to an immediate abolition of the means test. . . .
That impressed me as one of the outstanding planks of the platform of the Liberal party during the- general election campaign in 1949. I referred to it in my maiden speech in this House. The policy outlined in 1949 was fraught with great difficulties, yet the Government is moving steadily towards its goal. Opposision members ask, “ Why does not the Government abolish the means test?” My reply to that question is that the abolition of the means test is a part of the Government’s policy, but such a step will not be taken without proper consideration in order to avoid the entanglements that could arise as a result of variations of the amount of pensions, after each of which anomalies are revealed.
It is with great pleasure that I refer to the second-reading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), and particularly to his statement that progress is being made towards the abolition of the means test. I compliment the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) on his speech. He has consistently urged the relaxation of the means test. The Opposition is perfectly well aware of the Government’s intention in this matter. One great danger is that advantage may be taken of our social services system, and that it may be utilized in the wrong way. One of the States of America has introduced such an attractive system of social services that some people simply do not want to work. They are content to be unemployed, and draw their social services allowance, yet the State is importing labour. That aspect must be carefully watched here in order to ensure that our social services system -shall not break down the national outlook on progress and thrift. I commend this bill to the House in the belief that the Government has gone as far as it is possible to go in accordance with the principles of correct and responsible budgeting. I hope that, as the result of the observance of such principles, it will be possible at a future date to abolish the means test.
– Like the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), I deeply :-ep;ret the attack that has been made on Australian workers by some Government supporters. That remark applies particularly to the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) who, in my opinion, has done his case no good in the eyes of his electors. When the shorter working week was introduced, the employees in the industry with which I was associated produced as much in 40 hours us they had been producing in 44 hours.
During World War II., some men worked fifteen, sixteen or twenty hours a day on jobs of national importance. Men worked hard in flooded country to save railway tracks from destruction, and, by their efforts, they ensured that transport for war purposes would not be interrupted. Yet attack after attack is made upon th* workers who will be the pensioners of to-morrow. Honorable members opposite would be well-advised to discontinue such unfortunate attacks upon our people.
Every Opposition member recognizes the valuable work that has been performed by the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) with respect to the provision of life-paving drugs, and commends him for his efforts in that direction. The whole tenor of the speeches of Government supporters on this bill is insincere. Honorable gentlemen opposite have repeatedly proved, by their statements in this debate, that they are opposed to an increase of expenditure on social services. I recall that, as long ago as the 19th February last, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) made the following comment in his speech on a- motion of want of confidence -
At a time like the present when we are faced with rising costs we must look very closely at our social services programme. I say frankly that we have reached saturation point in our expenditure upon social services’. We simply cannot afford to make provision for further social services. If we insist on doing so and continue to bluff the people that we can .afford to do so increased inflation must follow is night follows day.
– Hear, hear !
– The honorable gentleman, by his interjection, proves that he believes that social services expenditure should not be increased, despite the fact that the basic wage to-day is almost twice as much as it was when this Government assumed office in December, 1949.
I believe that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), in his secondreading speech, endeavoured to convey the impression that the Government haddone excellent and outstanding work in the field of social services. I remind the House that it was the Chifley Labour Government, after it had obtained the consent of the electors by way of a referendum, that improved the social services in existence at that time, and introduced a number of new social services. The speech of the Minister doubtless appeals to those persons who are not affected by this bill. But not many weeks will pass before the recipients of pensions will learn precisely how little this legislation contains for them. It is true that a few minor improvements to the social services legislation are made in the bill but only a comparatively few persons will be affected by them. I thank the Minister for having made provision for those improvements, even though they are of a minor kind, because at least some persons in my electorate will benefit considerably from them. However, the improvements do not go far enough, and definitely do not meet the requirements of the great majority of pensioners.
In my opinion, the most important phase of social services welfare is completely ignored in this bill. I refer to the base-rate pensioner, to those persons who receive a pension less than the base rate, and to others who are unemployable and exist on the dole. A person who lives on the dole is not eligible to receive a pension, because it is claimed that he is not completely incapacitated. The Minister referred, in his second-reading speech, to the division of the community into three groups. I submit that the class to which I have referred constitutes a fourth group, and that it is the duty and responsibility of the Government to do more for them than has been done in the past. I shall refer to that matter later in my speech.
The Minister virtually apologized to the first group, which consists of wealthy persons, because the Government has not been able to grant to them relief from high taxation. Many persons would enjoy being in the position to pay high taxes in return for security and a guarantee of full and constant employment. The Minister has sympathized with the second group, which consists of the pensioners, yet he has chided and condemned many of them because they have not been able to make any provision for their old age. I wonder whether he really believes that the coal-miner who has been affected by slackness of trade throughout the years, lockouts, strikes, sickness and many other reasons, should have saved sufficient money for his maintenance in his retirement. I wonder whether the Minister considers that the worker who is obliged to migrate from place to place in order to earn his living should have been able to make provision for his future. Does the Minister consider that the railway employee, who does maintenance work in country districts, and the man who works in the forests or on the land, should have been able to make provision for their old age ? I wonder whether the Minister thinks that the man whose job obliges him to travel great distances, and who suffers from the effects of the high cost of living from the coast to the hinterland, is able to save. Does the Minister know that, in some remote places, a loaf of bread costs 18d., and the price of meat is almost twice as much as is the case in the large cities? I wonder whether the Minister has any knowledge of the sufferings of some of those men from sand flies and sandy blight. I doubt whether he has any knowledge of those matters. Yet he chides persons in that group, because they have not been able to make provision for their old age.
– They may grow wheat if they wish to do so.
– Why does not this Government make the necessary money available to the thousands of young men who are prepared to grow wheat or some other primary product?
– What about the 40-hour week?
– The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) has not worked 40 hours in his life, yet he criticizes the workers in industry because they have a 40-hour working week.
– I worked longer than 40 hours a week.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! I ask the honorable gentleman to resume his seat for a few moments. This crossfire of interjections across the chamber must cease. I ask the honorable member for Shortland to relate his remarks to the subject-matter of the bill.
– The third group to which the Minister referred in his second-reading speech consists of the thrifty. He said that such persons, because they have been able to save, are debarred from receiving a pension, and told them, in effect, “ You have been thrifty while other people have squandered their earnings. You should be entitled to receive a pension “.’ He allowed the matter to lapse at that point, and did not make a definite proposal for the assistance of members of that group by the abolition of the means test. I consider that provision should be made for a person who has, say, £2,000 in a bank, to receive at least a part of the pension. Many people were obliged to travel great distances in the course of their employment and lived in rented houses. However, they managed to save a few hundred pounds. Many of them worked until they attained the ages of 65 or 70 years, and succeeded in keeping their savings intact. “When the breadwinners have passed away, the widows have not been eligible for the pension because they have money in a bank. I cite a specific instance that occurred in my electorate. A man died at the age of 72 years while he was still in employment. For years he had paid the social services contribution. The widow occupied a flat, and had no furniture of her own. Because she had £1,100 in a bank she was debarred from receiving even a part of the pension. The greater part of that moneywas invested in Commonwealth bonds. When she made arrangements to sell some of the bonds, she received only £92 for every £100 bond. In my opinion, she should be paid at least a part of the pension. If the Minister were sincere, he would at least ease the means test so that widow and age pensioners would be able to participate in medical and hospitalization benefits and obtain concessions on the transport systems and other relief to ease their burdens. The budget papers show that £185,027,046 will be transferred from Consolidated Revenue this year to the National Welfare Fund. Recently I read a statement by the Minister for Health to the effect that nothing was left in the National Welfare Fund. He said that all of it had been expended on pharma- ceutical and medical services, but according to budget statement No. 6 the National Welfare Fund is estimated to earn in 1952-53, interest totalling £1,812,000. I want to know what has happened to that money. Why does it earn interest at the rate of only 1 per cent, and return only £1,812,000? If the money is available, it should be so invested as to give a return greater than 1 per cent. I believe that much of it should have been used to provide homes for many pensioners who are living in institutions, shacks and single rooms or on verandahs. If necessary those homes could have been provided under the ownership of the Australian Government. Many pensioners are living in abominable conditions. Their condition is tragic. Honorable members on the Government side have spoken about family life. Australian family life is as secure as that of any other nation, but it is being torn apart because pensioners cannot obtain homes and have to live in institutions. Their condition is discreditable and this is due to the Government, which has refused to provide homes for pensioners.
The proposal to merge the National Welfare Fund with Consolidated Revenue is a retrograde one. Rising incomes should have ensured that the fund would remain solvent for years. If the Government would maintain a policy of full employment, there would be no fears for the solvency of the fund. I am of the opinion that eventually all forms of sickness and unemployment benefits, pensions, hospitalization and medical services will have to be made the full responsibility of the Australian Government. Superannuation funds and provident funds will have to be placed under one control. Far too many anomalies exist in them at present. Some sections of the community are well placed while others suffer from severe disadvantages. Railway men and others who subscribe to superannuation funds are allowed an income of £18 a fortnight, and that amount will be raised soon to £19 10s. Others, including miners, are not allowed to receive a full age pension in addition to their superannuation when they reach 65 years of age. Those men, who contribute to the nation’s requirements by coal production, are allowed a maximum income of only £14 a fortnight. Why are individuals in one section of the nation allowed to receive £19 10s. a fortnight because they subscribe to superannuation schemes while those in another section who have worked just as hard, and, in some respects, subscribe more money towards superannuation, are allowed to earn only £14 a fortnight? With the increase of social services benefits the miners will have to contribute more to maintain the level upon which their pension is based. I advise subscribers to provident funds to seek from their employers the right to collect provident fund payments in weekly instalments so that they will not disqualify themselves from receiving an age pension when they retire.
I believe that trade union leaders will have to take a more realistic view of the social services contribution. We never get something for nothing. Although the community now contributes substantially to the cost of social services, a new plan must be devised to provide for all who are unable to provide for themselves because of ill health or accident. Everybody should be able to live without fear of poverty or unemployment. If honorable members possess a spark of Christianity, they will agree that all should have freedom and security. Events of the past few years have proved conclusively that sufficient finance can be provided to ensure justice for all. Twenty years ago there was mass unemployment in the country. During that period, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court provided for a 6s. a week prosperity loading in the wage structure although tens of thousands of people were walking round doing nothing. In 1939, war broke out and hundreds of millions of pounds was obtained for expenditure on war and defence production. Amidst the stress of war, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court provided for a war loading of wages by from 4s. to 6s. It was not suggested that the economy of the country could not stand those loadings. Yet when the war ended, the court again considered the various loadings and in 1947, by the court’s order, the prosperity loading of 1937 and the war loading of 1944 were absorbed into the wage structure. If that could be done through the Commonwealth Arbitration
Court, something can be done in the way of contributions for national welfare. I believe that the court could include in the wage structure an amount which would contribute directly to the national welfare of the people. With such a contribution, supplemented by one from the Government, and with increased production, we could form the basis for a sound system of national insurance.
It is true that expenditure on social welfare will reach a record high level this year, but the cost of living is rising continually and the 7s. 6d. a week extra that is to be granted to pensioners will be of little account. The Government was elected on its promises to look after the pensioners and to restore value to the £1. The Chifley Government was defeated in 1949 because it was unable to promise the pensioners truthfully that it would give, to them a specific increase of pensions. But this Government did not grant an increase until November, 1950. In the meantime wages had risen and now the level of wages is out of all proportion to that of pensions payments. The Government has failed miserably to maintain the standard of pensions payments that was provided by the Labour Government. When the proposals that are before the House are implemented, the Government will have given to the pensioners 25s. a week more than they were receiving when it was returned to office nearly three years ago. In the same period the basic wage has been increased by almost £6 a week. Pensioners are to get 7s. 6d. a week more than they have been getting, but the prices of butter, meat, flour, fruit, vegetables, clothing and all other essentials have risen. Honorable members on the Government side have praised the Government for having, in their opinion, done a great deal for the pensioners. The pensioners will not be fooled by claims that they have been treated well by this Government. They are receiving the pension because they are unable to help themselves. They need help more, than do other sections of the community. Other persons who have saved a few pounds are liable to have their pensions reduced when their life partner dies simply because they own a motor car valued at £200. Pensioners should have the right to own a motor car of & minimum value of £500. Tn many instances a motor car is the only means of transport available to a pensioner. Many invalids would be unable to go out if they did not possess a vehicle. It is disgraceful to reduce an invalid pension because a pensioner and his wife own a motor car.
– What about letting them have their own private aeroplanes ?
– If the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) had any knowledge of the difficulties that face pensioners who are unable to get round because they have no means of transport, he would have a little more sympathy for them.
– The same system operated when the Labour party was in power. Why, does not the honorable gentleman talk about that?
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out. (Mr. Allan Fr a ser’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker. - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill, read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 27th August (vide page 636), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition does not oppose this measure, but without unduly prolonging its consideration my colleagues and I wish to offer some comments generally with respect to the relationships that exist between the Commonwealth and the States. These grants are made to the States under an arrangement that was devised following the introduction of uniform taxation which, originally, was intended to operate for the duration ofWorld War II. and for twelve months thereafter. However, that plan was altered when the High Court decided that under the Constitution the Commonwealth has a prior right to collect income tax. It is important that that decision be borne in mind not only in this Parliament but also at all conferences between representatives of the Commonwealth and the States. It means that if, and when, the dual system of income taxation is reintroduced, the Commonwealth shall have the right to collect the whole of the income tax due to it at the rates imposed by this Parliament before the States may collect income tax. Subsequently, as a part of the arrangement under which the Commonwealth reimbursed the States, the latter agreed not to impose income tax.
The Chifley Government introduced a formula for the determination of such reimbursements under which they were to be increased in proportion to the increases of average wages and population. It was expected that payments made in accordance with that formula would meet the requirements of the States from year to year. However, we have since passed through extraordinary times with the result that the formula has been found to be inadequate for that purpose; and it is likely that as other major changes of the economic scene occur the formula will fall short further still of achieving its objective. That development has caused bickering and recrimination between the Commonwealth and the States with respect to certain issues, and generally it has been detrimental to the working of the federal system. In fact, it can be said that no other factor has strained that system so much. We shall not do justice to the States if we attempt to minimize the demands that are made upon them and which they are obliged to meet out of the tax reimbursements that the Commonwealth makes to them from year to year. We must recognize that the State governments are in closer touch with the people as individuals and collectively than is the Commonwealth. Consequently, the States are subject to greater pressure, and in normal times must finance greater spending departments. It is certainly true that, at present, the Commonwealth is faced with relatively greater expenditure with respect to defence, but by and large the pressure of spending departments is heavier upon the States than upon the Commonwealth.
The matters to which I shall direct attention were referred to some nights ago by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson), when he dealt with the problems that confront the States in relation to education and transport, in which spheres the States have the primary responsibility. However, the activities of those departments are also of great significance from a national and an international point of view. They demand an increasing expenditure to maintain their existing standards of efficiency. If, as we hope, long-term programmes of governments progress in respect of education and transport, the pressure for expenditure by those departments will continue to increase. Thus, it is clear that the State governments have very real reasons for pressing fer a maximum share of revenue from the Commonwealth. That fact has been apparent during the regimes of governments, regardless of party political colour, in this Parliament. In my examination of this problem, I perused reports of proceedings at recent conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers. I found that the same arguments that the States advanced when the Chifley ‘Government “was in office have been advanced since this Government Game into power. At the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers that was held from the 19 th to the 21st August, 1947, Mr. Chifley said -
The Premiers submitted to me in the preliminary talk that we had yesterday that the Commonwealth should assign to the States a very much greater proportion of tax reimbursements than is now allotted to them.
Similar statements have been made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) .and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) .at conferences that have been held in more recent years. As a result of such discussions, the Chifley Government evolved the formula to which I have referred. .Because of rising prices, greater demands for services and a new situation generally, it is inevitable that this formula cannot enable the States to meet their requirements.
– Is the honorable member referring to railway deficits?
– Railway deficits constitute one of the greatest problems that confront State governments. During World War II., when “huge quantities of war materiel had to be transported, the railway systems in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland earned substantial surpluses ‘which enabled the governments of those States to balance their budgets at that time. Conaversely, in normal times, current railway losses have put all State budgets in deficit. That fact gives point to my argument that the Commonwealth should pay greater regard to. the problems that confront State governments, particularly problems “which are national in character.
The Government proposed to the States that they should adhere to the ordinary tax reimbursement formula and that, in addition, the Commonwealth should make a special grant to the States to meet certain additional needs. The Treasurer, in his second-reading speech, said that under the formula the Government would make available the sum of £10S,800,000 to the States during the current financial year. However, due to the circumstances that I have mentioned, that amount was found to be inadequate, and, consequently, the Government agreed to ‘allocate to them an additional sum of £2<i,200,000. When disagreement arose among the State governments over the apportionment of that sum it decided to make available an additional sum >(f £900,000 to Victoria and Tasmania. I assume that those allocations, which total £135,900,000, will be sufficient to meet the minimum needs of the States. We can also assume, apparently, that the States agreed to that arrangement as a compromise. That is why the Opposition will not oppose this measure. However, I point out that the bill ‘does not go “to the root of this problem by seeking to deal with it on a permanent basis. The time must -come when, in order to ‘ensure the good government of Australia, we shall be obliged to evolve a unified system. Until we do .so we shall not be enabled to achieve the objective of one people under one flag, which was the ideal of the founders of federation. The uniform tax is attacked, on party .political grounds, but when it was introduced leading members of the present ‘Government expressed views similar >to those that I have joist expressed. However, whilst I believe that Australia “will ultimately develop along the lines I have indicated, the state of .public opinion at present makes it ‘certain that .the federal system will continue in operation for many .years to come. That being so, we must do our utmost to make that system work satisfactorily, and we can do that by refusing to starve the State Governments financially and by not limiting their functions. Unfortunately, that sums up the Commonwealth’s treatment of -the States in recent years and it has been the main cause of the bad feelings that now exist between them.
In any -new arrangement the State governments also must accept their responsibility. For too long have we tolerated a system under which State governments have asked for far more than they needed, whilst the Commonwealth has offered far less to the States than it was ultimately prepared to give to them. This form of bargaining has made increasingly uncertain the position of the States which have more or less come under the domination of the Commonwealth. In this respect I cite the position of Western Australia, which is the largest of the States but has only a very small population. consequently, substantial financial assistance is needed to enable it not only to finance it3 domestic development, but also to make its contribution to the defence and development of Australia as a whole. Western Australia must remain heavily dependent upon the other States for a considerable period. If the Western Australian Government did not force the Australian Government to recognize its case it might be regarded as letting down its own side and consequently might meet the political fate at the hands of the electors that no one in politics wishes to meet. The Australian Government is too prone to believe that the State governments play merely a subordinate role. That is partly true, but State governments exercise the vital functions of government in Australia, although they have not a source of revenue that will enable them to meet satisfactorily the great responsibilities that devolve on them. Therefore, the plan that we have to work out at the present time must be one that will achieve a maximum of working efficiency, a minimum of disagreement and generally a smoothly working federal system as far as that is capable of being achieved.
– The taxing power will be thrown back to the State3.
– The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate), for the sake of making a cheap political propaganda jibe, says that the taxation power will be thrown back to the States. The State governments are exploiting the opportunities that have been presented to them by our present circumstances. The giving back of this power is not a responsible solution of the problem, and the remark of the honorable member does not do credit to him. I believe that the suggestion that the taxing power be restored to the States is more thoughtless than irresponsible, because honorable members should realize that they do not shelve any responsibility, make our federal system work or develop and defend the country by saying to the States “ Take back the taxing power “. We have to work to develop and defend this country, and we must accept the consequences that flow from our actions. All the consequences of the Government’s action will not flow to State governments, if the Government merely damages further a situation that it should repair. Consequences will also flow to this Parliament, and to the country at large. The actions of the Australian Government affect the future of Australia for good or ill, and the return to the States of the taxing power needs much more serious consideration than would be involved in the Government saying to the States, “ You have asked for the return of the taxing power, take it “. A right to tax would give to the States a consequential claim on the incomes of the people as has been laid down by decisions of the High Court. The States would also have to accept the responsibilities and embarrassment that such a right entails. I believe that we must endeavour to carry on our present procedure. Our present system of taxation is efficient, just and equitable for the whole of the Australian people. Having retained our present system we must work out a formula which, as far as it is possible for human beings to do so, will stop the creaking of the federal system and make it function smoothly and with maximum efficiency.
I recently studied the reports of conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers and I discovered that State Premiers are generally critical of the Australian Government for the amount that it takes from the people, and particularly of the revenue that it devotes to works which, they claim, might well be done by the use of loan money. They are not critical of the principle of doing the maximum volume of loan works or capital or semi-capital works out of revenue, but they believe that a fair share of their own capital works should be financed out of Commonwealth revenue. They do not contend that loan funds should be used to finance all their works. I consider them to be shortsighted and wrong. A sound principle is that in a time of high prosperity the maximum number of capital works shall be financed out of current revenue. It seems foolish to believe that by raising substantial loans to carry out public works, the burden of paying for the works can be passed on to posterity. That cannot be done. The works have to be done at the present time by taking a certain proportion of the labour force away from the production of consumer goods and applying it to the production of long-term capital works from which consumer goods may later flow. If loan money is used to finance such works the present generation actually suffers by being deprived of a certain quantity of consumer goods. The men, whoever they may be, who are working on the Snowy Mountains scheme might otherwise be engaged in agriculture or in the production of a wide range of consumer goods. The present generation will be forced to go without the goods that those men might have made for us, in order that relatively more consumer goods may be provided at a later period for a new generation or perhaps an older existing generation. It is not true, except possibly in relation to overseas borrowing, that a future generation pays the cost of loan raisings. It is true that the community is taxed to provide income for the repayment of loans, but it is also true that a future generation receives the advantages of the expenditure of taxation raised to pay loan interest.
The Premiers’ argument, that the Australian Government should provide for all their capital or semi-capital works out of loan moneys, is wrong. They are advocating a principle that the Chifley Government rejected. The Chifley Government decided that as great a proportion of capital works as possible should be financed by taxation, and that the minimum reliance should be placed upon borrowing in a time of unprecedented prosperity. It is strange that as the wheel of political fortune has turned, the Labour party should now be criticizing the Government for doing just that. When the Chifley Government was in office there was no fiercer critic of the financing of capital or semi-capital works from revenue than the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). Every member of the Labour party, from the then Prime Minister down, said at that time that in a period of unprecedented prosperity the Parliament and the country ought to rely as little as possible upon financing its works by loans. We said that it should finance the major portion of its works from revenue. We had two reasons for saying that. First, we. know that such a programme would, draw off money in a time of relatively high inflation and lessen the amount of loan money required. Let us consider whether we can evolve a system by which our State and Federal legislatures can work together in harmony instead of the States’ policies conflicting with the Federal policy, and instead of the States constantly fighting against the Australian Government’s apportionment of the money available. In the first place, the Government has a responsibility towards the States which will become apparent in bills later to be placed before the Parliament. That is a heavy responsibility at the present time in respect of the loan market. I believe that if the Government rectifies its loan raising policy a good deal of the riction between State and Federal governments will be removed. If the problem of financing the States because of their vacation of the taxation field is to be solved, more close and continuous working arrangements will have to be developed between the Commonwealth and the States. There should be, for instance, a continuous liaison between State and Federal Treasurers, and a close and continuous liaison between State and Federal works departments. In regard to education, transport and other fields of State activity an organization something like the Australian Agricultural Council could be evolved. The Federal and State governments should know what is the maximum that can be done at any time by State governments in their own particular spheres. Then the Australian Government, having regard all the time to its responsiblity for development and defence, should be prepared to do its utmost to ensure that the State governments shall be enabled to do the work that they want to do. It seems to me that only by such, a working arrangement, can we achieve a reasonably working federal system, in this country.
I believe that as State government revenues are limited, and as those revenues come mainly from certain charges, the need for State governments to raise their charges from time, to time is not doing any service to the general economy. It is only forcing up the inflationary spiral which every one. fears will one day cause a depression. Therefore, the Australian Government should take a fairly heavy responsibility for major State works, or functions such as education and transport. At the present time the two latter spheres of activity have a major influence on State budgets. I do not suggest that the Australian Government should take over such responsibilities, even if the States were willing, or able to transfer them. However, I believe that this Parliament,, and the Government, should lead the way in allowing the States to do what they want to do by developing their education systems, to the utmost. This Government should accept a large measure of financial responsibility for putting a full education system into effect. It is- not to be expected, and I do not think that, at this stage it is desirable, for the Australian Government to take over all education. Having, provided money to- the States, the Australian Government should, arrange a. close liaison with State education- authorities and should work, constantly with them and exercise some degree of supervision over their expenditure. Then it should help them to develop the best system of education that the country can provide.
The- same thing is true of the trans. port- system. We know that in these days of international tension it is of marked importance that we shall have a good transport system. Honorable- members know what a fearful bottle-neck our transport, system, including, our railways, is. at any time. They also know what a tragic Liability it is in war-time. Perhaps my colleague, the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison)- will develop this matter at a later stage in the debate. I suggest, that tha Australian. Government, therefore, has- a very great interest in bringing the-
Railway systems in- Australia to. a. ma-xi- mum pitch of efficiency. Transport is the greatest financial responsibility that the State governments have. Therefore, the Australian Government should work as closely as possible with State governments in order to develop a nation-wide transport system. The Australian Government should work consistently to ensure that the maximum degree of transport efficiency shall be ultimately reached. I hope that the standardization of railway gauges, at least on trunk lines, will be achieved by the Australian Government taking the major responsibility for the finance required.
In recent times we have heard in this Parliament constant attempts by honorable members on the Government side to score off the respective State governments.. They may talk about power schemes or anything else. Such talk does nothing to promote harmony between the Commonwealth and the States. It merely extends an undesirable practice. Often such remarks are made merely for propaganda purposes, and I must say that they are not completely fair. They certainly make more difficult the proper operation of the federal system. The States should prepare their programmes having regard to the man-power and the production capacity that they control. They should also be given a proper priority to carry out their works, which I believe are mainly developmental works. Whether such works should be of a major or- a minor character should be governed only by the physical assets available to enable their being undertaken. The Australian Government should make it clear that when the physical components are available i’t will supply the money required to complete the works. I believe that unless something such as that, be done - and I have put forward only the germ of an idea - the present unsatisfactory situation will not. change. Indeed the situation will- worsen. A division of the resources of the country between State and Federal governments will hamper our development a-nd will also hamper, our defence in the dark future that looms ahead. The situation is not easy. The- Treasurer and the Prime Minister have endeavoured to solve the problem, but I believe that there is more in it than they envisage: I consider that the House desires, as the- people certainly do - in fact they demand - that the Government shall make the best possible arrangements with the State governments in order to ensure the most efficient production, the quickest increase of the population and the development of a maximum defence potential.
.- I had not intended to engage in this debate, but I do so now in order to welcome the suggestions that - have been made by the honorable member i or Perth (Mr. Tom Burke). Everybody will admit, I think, that he gave a very accurate historical account of the economic problems that have arisen under the uniform tax system. I agree with the contention implicit in his remarks that the scheme of financial arrangements that has been working since 1942 has brought responsible government in Australia into disrepute. Nothing could have been more calculated to impair the integrity of parliamentary government than the constant quarrelling that has taken place between the Commonwealth and the States in relation to the distribution of revenue. The amounts to which the States are entitled in terms of the formula that was adopted in 1946-47 will be distributed to them as usual, but this bill provides, in accordance with a decision of the last meeting of the Australian Loan Council, that an additional sum of £15,000,000 shall be paid to them in order to enable them to cope with particular difficulties in which they have been placed. I am in accord with the purpose of the bill. It is essential that the States shall have sufficient money to enable them to manage their activities, especially those important activities associated with education, social services and transport to which the honorable member for Perth referred.
This may be the last occasion on which we .shall be called upon to debate a bill of this type. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has indicated, in his budget speech and on other occasions, that he is determined to put an end to the situation that was ‘caused by the 1942 legislation under which the uniform tax system was instituted. I do not think that the abandonment of the 1942 legislation will solve our problems. To hold that belief would be merely to ignore all the changes that have taken place since 1’942. In that year, the Commonwealth operated with comparatively few departments and its expenditure, in relation to State expenditure, was small. Since that time, the position has been entirely reversed. The Commonwealth is working with budgets that exceed £1,000,000,000, and the budgets of the States have risen to £500,000,000. Therefore, we should consider this problem from a new standpoint. The matter is not merely one of abandoning the uniform tax system. The problem is to find some permanent means of resolving the financial relationships between the Commonwealth and the States,
I agree with the honorable member for Perth that, for ordinary administrative purposes, there should be a continuous liaison between the Commonwealth and the States. There should be a working partnership between them. “We ‘have found it possible to establish a reasonable working partnership in certain fields and, in fact, that kind of organization is of the essence of a federal system. However, there can be no federal system if the States are not independent of the Commonwealth in relation to finance. Unless they are in a position to raise their revenues in their own way, responsible government must disappear. The system under which we have been working has been contrary to the principles of a true federal system and has jeopardized the whole structure of responsible government. The danger has not been .solely in the fact that the Commonwealth has gathered many additional functions and engaged in many new .activities. Its position has been jeopardized because of the great revenues that it has :had to make available to the States. The weight of taxation under which the people are groaning at present has been made necessary largely because the Commonwealth has had to provide revenue for the States. Until the Commonwealth can rid itself of that incubus, it cannot proceed to manage its own affairs in the way in which it would wish to do if it were not compelled to succour the States. Nobody believes that the situation can be rectified merely by abandoning ‘the uniform tax system. Ever since .the Surplus Revenue Act of 1908 was passed, the position of the States has been one of increasing dependence upon the Commonwealth. There was no effective arrangement to allow the States to obtain from the Commonwealth what they considered themselves to be entitled to receive under the terms of that act. The States were really handicapped by that act, and they were handicapped again under the terms of the Financial Agreement of 1928. Both the States and the Commonwealth lost their sovereignty under that agreement.
I am opposed to the course of action suggested by the honorable member for Perth, who proposed the establishment of an organization that would result in exactly the same disabilities as were caused by the Financial Agreement. “We should not establish an institution superior to the Parliament behind which the Treasurer might shelter and say, “ I have no control over finance. This body that has been appointed by the Commonwealth and the States is supreme, and it determines interest rates and the amounts of loans that are to be raised “. Such an institution could take away from the States and the Commonwealth the power to do their own housekeeping. There should be collaboration between the Commonwealth and the States, but I should object to the establishment of another body like the Australian Loan Council or the Commonwealth Grants Commission, or any organization that would estimate the total amount of tax revenue needed for the purpose of carrying on the total government of Australia in the federal, State, and local-government spheres, and then determine the amount of taxation to be levied by the Commonwealth on behalf of each section of government. Such a system would challenge all the principles of responsible government and, somehow or other, we shall have to avoid such an arrangement. “We must examine the Constitution in an entirely new light. “We should ask, “ “What arc the total financial resources of Australia, and how can they be distributed amongst the various governmental bodies ? “ The problem cannot be solved very easily. We have only to examine the Commonwealth budget and the State budgets in order to realize the extraordinary difficulties that would arise if we tried to draw a line of demarkation between the taxing rights of the Commonwealth and those of the States. We should not adopt the local-governing scheme of England, for example, where the counties raise the rates for all the other governmental bodies. That is similar to the Australian Loan Council system and the system that the honorable member for Perth suggested.
We must find some way in which each governmental body can control its own method of finance independently of the others and yet, at the same time, work in the closest collaboration with them. I hope that this will be the last occasion on which we shall be called upon to debate this sort of bill, but it will not be the last occasion on which we shall deal with State grants because, under the Constitution, the States are entitled, as of right, to assistance from the Commonwealth. We are not justified in talking of the States that appeal to the Commonwealth for assistance as “ mendicant States “.
– The honorable member ought to be an alderman in a local council, not a member of this Parliament.
– I should like to get into the head of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) some notion of constitutional government and parliamentary ethics. My time in this House will not have been wasted if I succeed in doing so. The honorable member does not even begin to understand the principles of the federal system. I am trying to explain to him that the main principle of the federal system is that the Commonwealth and the States shall be independent in the field of finance and shall have the right to raise their own revenues in their own ways. The Government has appointed a committee to explore the ground and decide what can be done in order to substitute some other system for the present system of uniform taxation. I can only hope that the committee will find its task easier than I think it will be.
– I must join issue with the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) over some of his opinions about the future of federalism in Australia. I hope, for instance, that this is not the last occasion on which the matter of the reimbursement of the States under the uniform tax system will come before this House. The bill we are considering is indicative of the difficulties that beset a federal system in. equitably arranging the distribution of the national income between the ‘Commonwealth, as the central agency, and the States, which, at, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke), has rightly pointed out, still constitutionally retain important powers. For the purpose of placing this matter properly in perspective, we should consider how the amounts paid to the States have varied since the introduction of what is now commonly known a 3 the uniform tax system.
From 1942-43 to 1945-46, the amount of tax reimbursements paid to the States each year was £34,255,000. In 1946-47, when the act to which this bill is a corollary was passed, a. formula was established to fix the amount of the basic grant at £40,000,000. In order to understand how unsatisfactory that formula was, it is only necessary to consider the change that has taken place in the annual grants from 1946-47 until this year. In 1946-47, the formula fixed the basic amount of £40,000,000 and provided that the total should vary in accordance with changes of the national income. The plan provided for a gradual change from the existing basis of distribution between the States to a per capita basis of reimbursement. The following table shows how the amount of reimbursements has increased since 1947-48: -
With the additional amount that is proposed to be made available under the terms of the bill now before the House, the total amount for 1952-53 will be £135,900,000. This is an income tax reimbursement that we are considering and it is interesting to note that, in the budget for 1952-53, it has been estimated that the total amount to be derived from income tax on individuals and companies is £536,000,000. Under this formula, the States are to receive a reimbursement of £135,900,000. In other words, approxi mately one-quarter of the total amount of income tax collected by the Commonwealth is to be returned to the States during the current financial year. The Commonwealth will retain the remaining three-quarters of the collections. Of course, it is one of the unanswered problems for the future that the Commonwealth, for its normal purposes, will apparently need to keep at least threequarters of the income tax collections. If, as the States assert, they require more money than the existing reimbursements they receive, that will involve additional taxation, at least to provide the amount of which the States imagine they are deprived at the moment. Should the Commonwealth find that its revenue needs are increasing, it will also have to increase its collections of tax.
It seems to me that, in 1952, it is impossible to suggest a turning back in the Australian federal system to what was known as the “ pre-uniform income tax days “. The fact should be recognized in a modern enlightened community that adopts the attitude to social welfare that has been exhibited by honorable members in the House to-day, that the income tax is the most just and equitable form of tax. From an administrative standpoint, it is most difficult to have more than one taxing authority collecting income tax. All kinds of problems arise from any other sort of arrangement. We need only cast our minds back to the period before the introduction of the uniform income tax to realize the difficulties that existed under the dual system of taxation.
Since World War II., it has been recognized that a return to the low rates of tax that applied in earlier days is impossible. The important consideration in the future will be: Who is to have the first bite at the source of taxation? In the old days, when rates of tax were low, the States had the privilege of priority over the Commonwealth in imposing their income taxes. The amount that was taken from an individual by way of State tax was offset against his income, and the residue was regarded as taxable income for Commonwealth purposes. I suggest that, to-day, it is impossible for the Commonwealth to return to that system. The reverse will, be true in future. Ike- Commonwealths wilt be the- primary tasning authority - that is, if we assume that any change in. the existing system, is to occur. What the States can have will depend upon what, the Commonwealth’ needs:
Of course,, that matter still remains, a mystery. The Government, which plans to abandon the uniform income tax system, has not yet disclosed, the detail’s of its policy in that matter. As was indicated in the debate on the Estimates, the sort of financial policy to be applied by the Commonwealth will’ largely determine the amount of revenue that it requires. The Government, by some device, may want to treat as expenditure- from revenue something that it may have been content to regard in previous years as expenditure from loan money. I agree with the honorable member for Perth that any government should attempt to provide as much of the expenditure for administrative purposes ais possible out of ordinary revenue, and should not lay burdens on the shoulders of posterity through the medium of loan programmes. But, in the present state of affairs, the Commonwealth is the only Government which has that luxurious choice at the moment. The States have no such source of revenue to which they may turn.
If we are to get the best government for the community, we must have better co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. In their- relations, the emphasis should be placed, not on the amount of money that is available, but on the physical’ resources of the nation, and on what the country wishes to attempt. Perhaps the so-called Australian Loan Council is outmoded in 1952. All the haggling that occurs year after year about how many millions the Commonwealth and each State shall get is not desirable. Every effort should be made to arrange a proper system of priority for works. For instance, it may be necessary to determine whether additional irrigation development is needed in New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland, or some other State. An effort should be made to work out the logical priorities. Let us not have competition between, the States, because they are a part of the Commonwealth and are- merely aggregations of persons in different geographical groups. It is the welfare of the people as a whole that must be served. The- money required for that purpose comes out of the common national income.
Nature has so bestowed its advantages in the’ various States that some of them are poorer than are others. One of the attributes of the federal system is that it can. help. to. redistribute the disparities of nature, in the more favoured States, and help the weaker partners. I use the word. “ partners “ advisedly,, because the Sta.tes should be partners, and not competing entities iia. the community. I regard it almost as an axiom that it is impossible in a federal system to arrive at any cut-and-dried method of reallocating, finance between the Commonwealth and the States so that each government will raise every penny of the money that it expends. An insistence upon such a responsibility would overlook the essential fact that, just as we redistribute income by means of the income tax from the wealthier sections to the poorer sections of the community, so in the federal system as a whole we redistribute our resources from the wealthier States to the poorer States. That aspect of federalism is sometimes overlooked by the high and mighty speakers who talk about the vicious principle whereby a government may expend £1 or £2 for the raising of which it has had no responsibility. Those two great countries, Canada and the United States of America, are somewhat similar to Australia in this respect. In every country that has a federal system, the central government has to redistribute to the States revenue which is more easily collected by the central authority. That problem has to be solved in Australia,’ in order to avoid the annual wranglings that occur between an obstinate Prime Minister and obdurate State Premiers.
That interesting compilation, the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission,, which is published annually, though, unfortunately, the latest one available is the Eighteenth Report, which deals only with events up to the year ended the 30th June, 1950, contains a table, appendix No. 13, which gives some indication of the financial dependence of the States upon the Commonwealth. The sources of the States’ revenue include a figure with respect to business undertakings, which, for the most part, are the railways. This figure is largely a profit and loss item, because, strictly speaking, the revenue from the railways Ls not revenue in the same sense as are tax collections. When we exclude that figure we’ find that the States in 1949-50 derived 40 per cent, of their total revenue from tax reimbursements and other special grants made by the Commonwealth. Therefore, the bulk of the revenue of the States is collected in the first instance by the Commonwealth. Payments are made to the States under various headings, including the Financial Agreement, the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Agreement, section 96 of the Constitution, tax reimbursement, hospital benefits, relief to primary producers, assistance to housing, medical welfare and miscellaneous. In 1949-50, the total amount paid by the Commonwealth to the States was ‘£120,000,000. This year the amount will be approximately 6200,000,000. Those figures indicate the magnitude of our problem. Perhaps I should describe it as an imaginary problem that is created by some people who think that we can turn back the hands of the clock, and revert to the system of dual taxation that operated before the introduction of the uniform income tax in 1942-43. It is not possible to turn back the hands of the clock without prejudicing the existence of the federal system in Australia.
I assert, contrary to the honorable member for Warringah, that, in order to preserve the federal system, there must be greater co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States and a cessation of the wrangling that has occurred for a number of years. The greatest single problem in a federal system is how to allocate properly the revenues collected by the central government so as to give the greatest, measure of satisfaction to the community as a whole. We have our constitutional problems, which ha.ve to be solved. They will not be solved by the remedies and in the manner that the honorable member for Warringah has suggested.
The major function of government still resides with the States. The important matters of health, education, railways and the like are still under their control, and, by and large, they own the lands in the community. Development must take place in the actual States. The Commonwealth has virtually no territory, with the exception of the. Australian Capital Territory and the land that it owns, tithe various States. Yet, by the nature of change of circumstances, there have been shifts in our constitutional balance, and a gravitation of financial power to the Commonwealth. Defence is one factor that has helped to bring about such a gravitation. Nevertheless, the constitutional functions that reside in the States are still most important. What we, as democrats, have to solve in the next five or ten years is the problem of how to give the greatest satisfaction to, and provide the maximum, welfare for, the people of the Commonwealth of Australia.
I trust that this is not to be the last occasion on which the subject of uniform tax reimbursement is considered by this Parliament. In my opinion, it would be a defeatist and retrograde step to revert to the system that operated before the important change took place in our financial arrangements in 1942-43. But that does not mean that we should shut our eyes to the real difficulties, and to the fact that the States need money for developmental purposes. They need money on revenue account and on loan account. As I suggested earlier, the States are not in the luxurious position of the Commonwealth of being the superior taxing authority, in the best position to raise revenue and to determine financial policy. Full employment can best be maintained by a strong central government that can vary its financial policy from time to time according; to changing circumstances. The principal way in which fiscal policy can be varied is by the exercise of adequate control over the income tax field. Income tax is levied on people according to their ability to nav, and must be the central point in any financial system in an enlightened communty. I reiterate that it is not a tax which, lends itself to a division in collection. It is a tax which must be centrally bandied if it is to he utilized to the best advantage. Honorable members may mesmerize themselves with some sort of make believe that power has been handed back to the States when the same central agency is allowed to collect the tax and the revenue ultimately is still used for the same purposes. If they accept that arrangement as the removal of a vicious principle, it seems to be a very nebulous one in fact. I hope that there will be no turning back from the stand that has been taken by the Australian Government over the last eight or nine years and that the system of uniform taxation will be retained.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), in his opening remarks, gave to. the House a wrong impression of the contents of the States Grants (Tax Reimbursement) Act 1946. He gave the impression that there was considerable inadequacy in the original act in that the amount provided for distribution in grants to the States was £40,000,000, whereas it has grown now to £108,000,000. Section 6 of the act provided for the distribution of £40,000,000 in 1947, but by sub-paragraph (ii) of paragraph (fe) of that section provision was made to increase that amount. The section is somewhat technical, and I shall read a portion of it for the benefit of honorable members. After referring to the basic amount of £40,000,000 it sets out the ways in which the aggregate amount to be distributed in grants to the States is to he determined in each year subsequent to 1948. One of these is - increasing the amount so calculated by a percentage equal to half the percentage (if any) by which the average wages per person employed in the year preceding the year in respect of which the calculation is made exceed the average wages per person employed in the year ending on the 30t.h day of June, One thousand nine hundred and forty-seven.
The amount of £10S,000,000 which is under discussion is in accordance with the provisions of that section. It includes £40,000,000 plus an additional amount that is based on the increases of the average wages.
– “Wages and population.
– That is the actual, formula, and it determines the aggregateamount in relation to the average wagesper person employed. The amount isdetermined by reference to the second schedule to the act and relates to the payroll tax returns which are lodged by employers. The base amount is £40,000,000- to which is added the extra amount covered by the provisions of subparagraph (ii) of paragraph (6) of section 6 which is distributed on an adjusted’ population basis.
– On population, plus wages.
– I understand that theaverage wages are determined first in order to arrive at the extra amount on a population basis.
– The basis is- £40,000,000.
– That is so. When honorable members realize that the base amount was £40,000,000 and that it has been increased two and a half times, they will surely concede that the States are doing very well considering their responsibilities in comparison with those of theAustralian Government. I believe that the extra amount which the Australian Government gives to “ the States is most generous from the Commonwealth point of view. Honorable members should realize also that that is not the limit of Commonwealth assistance to the States. I have no intention of endeavouring to cover all the items that make up a total between £350,000,000- and £400,000,000 which the Australian Government gives to the States each year. A particular item is before the House, but in addition, a special grant is given to each of the three less populous States-, of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. When that amount is added to £135,000,000 I believe that, purely in relation to taxation matters, the Australian Government is being very generousto the States, and that the States are open to the most severe criticism because they are not doing the decent thing by the Commonwealth. It is all very well for members nf the Opposition to speak of co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth. Unfortunately there has been no attempt at co-operation by the States with the Commonwealth. I come from the Labour State of Queensland and I know that there is only one idea in the mind of every member of the Queensland Labour Government. That is to make political capital at the expense of the Australian Government. Time and time again, the late Premier of Queensland and the present Premier stated that blame should be attached to this Government because of high taxation and because it had not made sufficient money available to the State governments.
– Quite right.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has said, “Quite right “. Other members of the Opposition have shown plainly that they believe that taxation should be lowered, expenditure should be increased and we should have a. system of treasury-bill finance. I say again - and it worth repeating often - that honorable members on this side of the House will not have that system of finance in Australia. I believe that it should be possible to economize on State government expenditure. The Australian Government has given a clear indication of its recognition of the necessity to do so, but the State governments have not adopted that attitude. While they are in the position of mendicant States, they firmly believe that there is no obligation upon them to economize. The easy thing for them to do is to approach the Australian Government each year, and kick up a hullabaloo which is publicized in. the press, in order to get the extra money which will enable them to carry on in the same old way. Notwithstanding the statements that have been made by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke), I believe that the deficits in the State railways and other transport systems are a clear indication of that inefficiency. The Australian Government should not be called upon to tax the people of Australia simply to make a reimbursement to the State governments to offset their inefficient management of State transport systems, particularly the railways.
The honorable member for Perth referred to education. I agree that, in the main, education is the responsibility of cun States, but I believe that the State governments - and I speak particularly of Queensland - are not doing all that could be done in relation to educational facilities. The Queensland Government is doing much less than it could do in the extension of school buildings and in the encouragement of teachers to enter the teaching service. If the Queensland Government utilized to better advantage the money that is allocated to it, the education system would be improved.
I shall refer now to the subject of uniform taxation. It is a most peculiar spectacle to see the members of the Labour party in this House strenuously opposing the suggestion that taxing rights should be handed back to the States. I remind honorable member* that not one Premier, Labour or Liberal, has failed at one time or another to declare that he wants State taxing rights returned to the States. There seems to me to be a wide difference of opinion between the members of .the Labour party in the State and Federal spheres. 1 suppose that if the situation were analysed fully, we should find that in the State sphere the Labour party wants a federal system, but in the federal sphere members of that party are unificationists and want to do away with State parliaments altogether. Yet the honorable member for Perth persists with the idea that there should be co-operation. I want to know how it is possible to have co-operation when those who are allegedly from the same party hold different opinions on such an important matter. I believe that the responsibility of collecting revenue should rest with those who actually expend it. The principle that the Australian Government should collect revenue and that the State governments should be allowed to expend it without any responsibility is entirely wrong.
– It took the honorable member three years to wake up to that.
– It did not take me three years to do so, and I can say the same of many others. We woke up to it long ago. We thought that we were dealing with more decent types in the States than was the case. I say quite definitely that the Australian Government should hand back to the States their taxing rights’. I believe that, in doing so> we shall really test the ability of the States to cooperate because inevitably discussions will arise over certain sections of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Act. One of them, for instance, will be whether profits should be taxed in the State of manufacture or the State of distribution. There will be adequate opportunity for everybody to show a true spirit of co-operation but, at the same time, those who are expending the money will have a responsibility to the people. I believe that those rights should bo handed back to the States as soon as possible. I differ from the honorable member for Melbourne Ports in that 1 hope that this bill will be the last bill of .this kind that will be dealt with in this Parliament. I hope that from the beginning of the next financial year, the States will be making their own assessments for income tax purposes. I should like to see State and Federal assessments on the same form, but on the basis that each government would collect its own income tax and thus provide the revenue it needed. That would do away with the criticism of the Australian Government that has been levelled at it almost since the system was introduced, it would prevent the States from charging the Australian Government with failure to give to them sufficient money when, in fact, the States have been very generously treated by the Commonwealth.
– The House has been enlightened by the remarks of the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme). Any one who !m= listened to the honorable gentleman realizes that the bitterness of his feelings towards the States bodes ill for the future of Australia. He has said, in effect, that we should throw the States upon their own resources because, if we do “o, they will come a cropper which will bring them to their senses.
The honorable member has suggested that the policy of the Labour party is to nin the country into debt by the issue of treasury-bills, and that the policy of this Government is to finance the country from “revenue. Yesterday, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in an answer to a question, Stated that a Labour Government redeemed £65,000,000 of treasurybills in 1946-47, £70,000,000 in 1947-48 and £85,000,000 in 1948-49. Those treasury-bills had been issued during the war years. In 1949-50j the value of the treasury-bills redeemed decreased from £85,000,000 to £15,000,000. For approximately six months of that financial year, this Government was in office. In 1950-51, the first full year of office of this Government, no treasury-bills were redeemed. In the financial year that ended in June of this year, no treasurybills were redeemed but £45,000,000 worth was issued. Those were the first treasurybills to be issued since 1944. Before the last budget was presented, a member of one of the Government parties said to me, “ We shall bring down a budget that will surprise you “. I replied that I hoped the budget would not show that the Government intended to reduce taxes and, to enable it to do so, to make a wholesale issue of treasury-bills.
– Order ! The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) is getting well away from the bill.
– I should not have referred to this matter, Mr. Speaker, if you had hot permitted the honorable member for Petrie to make the remarks that he did make. I feel that if yon permit a Government member to make a statement that reflects upon, honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber-
– Order! I am not concerned about the honorable gentleman’s feelings. I have told him what I shall hot permit him to do.
– I have had my say upon this matter, but I regret that you have called me to order
-Order ! The honorable gentleman must not comment upon a ruling of the Chair, If he continues to do so, I shall ask him to resume his seat.
– The bill provides me with ample material for comment. I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). Honorable gentlemen opposite have; said that they expect that this will be the last bill of its type to come before the Parliament, but I hope that that will not be so. I do not wish to see again in this country the conditions that existed before uniform taxation was introduced. I know what South Australia suffered in the days of double taxation, to which honorable gentlemen opposite wish us to return. In those days, a taxpayer in that State was permitted to make a deduction for income tax purposes of only £15 in. respect of a child, but in other States the corresponding deduction was £50 or £60. South Australia levied income tax at a flat rate of ls. Id. in the £1, and poor tuen had to pay just as much tax on each £1 of their incomes as did rich men.
The Legislative Councils in the State parliaments are dominated by business interests, which dictate taxation policy to the State governments. I have had experience of taxation measures in this Parliament and in a State parliament. I know that’ when the Australian Government introduces a taxation measure in the House of Representatives, the measure is invariably accepted bv the Senate, but the position is different in the State parliaments. I hope we shall never revert to the old system of luxation.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is dealing with taxation. This is a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund sums for the purpose of financial assistance to the States. It is not a tax measure.
– It is a measure to reimburse the States. I am dealing, not with taxation but with tax reimbursement, and I am endeavouring to explain what the position would be if the uniform taxation system were abandoned. As honorable gentlemen opposite have expressed the hope that this will be the last nien en re of its type introduced in this Parliament, I think I am justified in explaining the position that would arise if that were so. It has been suggested that all the State Premiers want to revert to the old system of taxation. If honorable members are not permitted to I speak upon this matter now, we shall be faced with a fait, accompli before we have had an opportunity to direct theattention of the people to the effect of an alteration of the taxation system of thiscountry.
The honorable member for Petrie hassaid that the sum paid to the States by way of tax reimbursement have increased from £40,000,000 to approximately £135,000,000 a year, or by three and a half times, and that, although the States are receiving a fair deal from the Commonwealth, they are not doing what they should do, and are mendicants. I say that the States are entitled to every penny that they have received from the Commonwealth. When the tax reimbursement scheme was instituted, the calculations were made on the basis of the taxes that the States were collecting at that time. The great majority of the ordinary workers in each State did not pay a federal tax then. Now, because their wages have been increased as a result of inflation, they are paying considerable sums in taxes, and the Commonwealth, which is the tax-collecting authority, is deriving a great advantage from those increased incomes. When the basic wage rises, the Commonwealth collects more taxes from the people. The present position was not envisaged when tax reimbursements to the States commenced.
The States have considerable burdens to carry. I do not agree with the honorable member for Petrie that they are acting irresponsibly, and are spending money extravagantly. Last year, when revenue from taxes increased considerably, the Government lent money to the States. That money should have been treated, not as a loan, upon which interest must be paid, but as a tax reimbursement payment. The Government raised the money from the people in the States. It imposed a 10 per cent, income tax levy, but it reimbursed the States on the old scale. The States want new schools and more money for war service land settlement. We must get away from the original basis of tax reimbursement, and do something to help the States to meet their increased expenses. State governments are incurring heavy losses on their transport systems. Unless we evolve a tax reimbursement scheme more up to date than the present one, the position of the States will deteriorate. Some honorable gentlemen opposite desire a recurrence of the conditions that existed prior to the introduction of uniform taxation, when the less populous States were unable to make progress or to do any of the things that they have been able to do since uniform taxation has been in operation. I believe that, without uniform taxation, those States would have been unable to make any progress. It would be a retrograde step to revert to the old system, under which each State collected its own taxes.
I say to honorable gentlemen opposite who talk about Australia having grown up to nationhood and being able to speak as a power in the world, that we can speak as a nation only if we are a nation, not a conglomeration of six States and some Commonwealth territories. We must be united. Uniform taxation, which was sponsored by the late Mr. Chifley, is essential to that unity.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Let me tell the honorable gentlemen who are interjecting that if we allow this country to slip back, their friends in the business fraternity will slip back with it. Let there be no mistake about that. We shall be prosperous only if every State of the Commonwealth is prosperous. It is not in the best interests of the country to belittle the States, and to say that they approach the Commonwealth as mendicants and are not playing their parts properly. This Parliament represents, not some supreme authority but the people of the whole of Australia - the people of each and every State. When we legislate in this Parliament, we legislate for those people.
Reference has been made to cooperation between the States and the Commonwealth. I know that if the Premier of South Australia were asked to say when he received the best co-operation from the Commonwealth, he would reply that it was when the Chifley Government wy..; in power. I have heard State Ministers say that when Mr. Chifley was the Prime Minister of this country they knew where they could go, and that they could get on with the job. But now, they cannot find out what they can do. I say to those honorable members who are advocating the hybrid system of taxation under which one State imposed one rate of tax and another State imposed a different rate-
– -Order! The honorable gentleman is getting on to State taxation, which does not come within the scope of this bill.
– 1 am pony if I have departed from the hill again, but, to my mind, the problem of tax reimbursement is linked with the taxation system that was previously in operation. I cannot see how I can deal with, this bill properly without referring to that system. The Government will have to be very clever if it is to convince the States that this should be the last measure of its kind. I understand that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) wishes to have a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers before he goes to London in November so that a dual system of taxation can be again in operation after the 30th June of next year. I should not need to be much of a prophet to be able to say that it is most probable that when the State authorities have reported on the results of their various conferences, the Prime Minister will say, “I am sorry, we shall have to continue the uniform taxation system for another year before we can abolish it”. I personally hope that the system will continue to operate for many years to come, and that the reimbursements to the States will be on a better basis than at present.
– The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said that he hopes that the uniform taxation system will continue to operate for many years and that reimbursements to the States will bo on a better basis. In expressing that opinion, he follows the line that other members of the Opposition have taken during this debate. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) has also said that he hopes that bigger and better reimbursements will be made to the Sta tes. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), however, has displayed some reluctance in relation to the matter. He said that there ls still some work for the States to do.
That statement is nearer to the actual Labour line of thought on this matter than are the opinions expressed by the other two honorable members, if that be possible, and establish political unification in Australia. That is the policy of the Labour party, because it knows that, through unification and complete control of the finances of the nation, it will be able to control this Commonwealth with an iron fist.
– That is also the policy of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison).
– Nothing of the kind !
– I shall reply later to the interjection of the honorable member for Perth. I was interested to hear the honorable member for Melbourne Ports say that there is still some work for the States to do. Honorable members opposite have been rambling round this subject, trying to disguise their own policy, which is, and has been, quite clear. In 1942 the Premier of New South “Wales, whose name I may not mention in this chamber because of the provisions of the Standing Orders, instructed the New South “Wales Government’s solicitors to apply to the High Court for a return of taxing powers. The Labour party conference met and ordered him to withdraw the instruction. As a result, New South Wales did not participate in the case which four other States took to the High Court. Those four .States were Western Australia and Queensland, which had Labour governments, and Victoria and South Australia, which had Liberal governments. If I remember aright the High Court decided that the Commonwealth has the first claim on the income tax field in war-time. As a result of the continuation of the uniform tax system after the war we have to pass this kind of bill every year. The present bill will ensure a total allocation of £135,000,000 among the States.
The Opposition has said that it hones that this practice will continue. We believe that it should not continue, because we uphold the principle that the people who expend the money should have the odium of collecting it from the taxpayers. I hope that this is the last occasion on which a bill of this kind will come before this Parliament. While we depart from the principle that I have mentioned, the kind of inefficiency and damage to the people which is apparent in the conduct of the State transport systems of Australia, especially in one glaring instance, will continue. New South Wales is to recieve £40,000,000 dr £50,000,000 as a result of this measure. That State has lost £21,000,000 in the operation of its transport system. That loss must be made good from the amount allocated by the Government to New South Wales. Under the tax reimbursement system it does not matter how inefficient a State government may be in conducting its transport services, because it can always .ask the Commonwealth for the money necessary to make good any loss. Honorable members opposite say that if the money cannot be obtained from taxes we should start the printing presses rolling, to print the money to pay for the losses on the inefficient State transport systems. We have also the shameful situation, which is damaging to the federal system and to democracy in this country, in which we have the State governments saying to themselves, “ Let us reduce expenditure on certain items such as land settlement and education, because we can always blame the Commonwealth on the ground that it does not give to us sufficient money “. The New South Wales Government reduced expenditure on land settlement and education last year. That has been the story in some of the States for the last six months, but it is nearly played out because an intelligent democracy has discovered that not all the fault lies at the door of the Commonwealth.
I said that I should prove that our policy is opposed to the reimbursement system. We believe that, in order to preserve the federal system, the people who expend revenues must be responsible for the raising of them. It is appropriate that in any democracy the authorities that are closest to the activities of a State are more capable of obtaining efficiency from their servants, and, after all, we need efficiency. It is difficult in this federal system, with the institutions that are managed by the central government so scattered over a huge continent, to get discipline and efficiency in the Commonwealth Public Service, but it is not difficult to get efficiency in the State public services, because the State public service authorities are in closer contact with their employees. That is why we must return to the principle that I have mentioned.
I hope that conferences will soon be held in Canberra, and I believe that in the last few hours some have already been called, to determine how this kind of measure can be made unnecessary by next year. One of the factors that has made the continued introduction of such measures necessary is that many people believed that it was bad to have two income tax returns and that the finances for the entire Commonwealth should be raised on a federal basis and a certain proportion of them allocated to the States.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman is devoting too much of his time to the matter of raising money. This bill deals with the expenditure of money.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I was referring to section 4 of the States Grants (Administration of Controls Reimbursement) Act. The Prime Minister expressed the Government’s policy during the general election campaign in 1949. He said -
As we believe in the division of power, so we believe that the States must be preserved as real governing bodies and not as the mere dependents of the Commonwealth.
That is to say, we do not believe that there is any need for this kind of measure. The Prime Minister continued -
We shall therefore take an early opportunity of convening a special conference with the State Premiers to reconsider the problem of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States.
At that election the socialists were ignominiously thrown out of office. The Federal Council of the Liberal party adopted the following resolution in 1948 :-
That this Party affirms its adherence to the Federal system and its opposition to unifica tion and expresses its concern over the manner in which the Uniform Tax Plan is being applied by the present Federal Government and states its intention to review fully, nol only the operation of the Uniform Tax Plan, but also the whole question of Federal aud State financial relationships when the Party holds office in the Federal sphere.
The words “present Federal Government” referred to the Chifley Government. On the 27th March, 1946, in this chamber the Prime Minister said, when he was Leader of the Opposition -
I want to emphasize that, so long as we have a Federal system, we must aim at getting back to a state of affairs in which independent resources will be available to the States; because I believe that any Government that exercises real authority will exercise that authority wisely only if it accepts in the face of its electors complete responsibility for the raising of the money that it propose to spend.
There would then be no need for this kind of measure. If the States wish to waste money, let them raise the money themselves instead of this Parliament having to pass this kind of measure and run the gauntlet of public criticism in relation to taxation. The States have reacted with mixed feelings to the Government’s decision to hand taxing powers back to them. As I have said, four of the States went to the High Court in 1942 to seek the return of taxing powers, but two States - Tasmania, which did not take any part in the case, and New South Wales, which withdrew from the case at the request of the Australian Labour party conference - were not represented before the court. It has been reported in the press that the Premiers have, from time to time, asked the Commonwealth to give back to the States their taxing powers. I hate to be critical in relation to this matter, because I believe, as do other honorable members, that the States and the Commonwealth form a partnership for the good of the people, and that it is most unseemly for the States and the Commonwealth to bicker amongst themselves over money. I believe, however, that the States were not sincere when they asked for taxing powers to be returned to them. When they were faced with the return of those powers they were at first stunned. Now we have statements like that of the Premier of New South Wales in which he assures the people of that State that there will be no increase of taxes under a dual system.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is getting back to the subject of taxation. That is not the subject of this measure, which deals with the application of Consolidated Revenue ito a certain purpose. I point out to him that Consolidated Revenue, as he must know, is raised in many ways, for instance from customs, excise, land tax, pay-roll tax, sales tas and other kinds of taxes.
– I am replying, of course, to the remarks of the honorable member for Perth, who said that the Australian Government has big financial responsibilities. I trust that by doing so, Mr. Speaker, I shall not be canvassing your ruling. The honorable member also said that he hopes that these financial responsibilities will continue and that we shall continue to make bigger and better grants to the States. I think that the views of the honorable member for Perth might be slightly at variance with the views of honorable members from New South “Wales, for instance, who are more doctrinaire than he is and would more readily carry out the socialist doctrine of unification. The honorable member for Perth realizes that under the uniform taxation system Western Australia fares much better on a population basis than does New South Wales. He showed more enthusiasm for the federal system than did his colleagues from New South Wales and Victoria. Perhaps, I should say that he was a little more reluctant to agree to the introduction of a system that would mean the strangulation of the States. Probably, he remembers that at one time Western Australia was opposed to entering the federation. If the socialists succeeded in introducing unification Western Australia would probably erect a frontier to prevent the entry into it of Australians from, the eastern States. However, as the honorable member for Perth realizes, the people of Western Australia are only too well aware of the advantages that they enjoy under the federal system. That system enables us to keep aglow the flame of democracy. For that reason the Government supporters sincerely trust that in the near future the responsibility of collecting the money that they expend will again be placed upon the shoulders of the States, and that the Government will have no need to introduce another measure of this kind.
– The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) traversed much ground that was irrelevant to the measure before the Chair and, eventually, he resorted to a purely party attack upon members of the Opposition. He said that the introduction of this measure was made necessary as a result of a system that a socialist government had introduced as a step towards achieving unification. The answer to that argument is plain and simple. A glance at the history of the introduction of uniform taxation, under which grants of this kind are made to the States, will show that it was sponsored not by a Labour government, but, as I am sure the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) will remember, by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) who, during World War II., claimed that such action was in the national interest. The object of uniform taxation was to enable the Commonwealth to finance its war effort. However, at that time our expenditure on defence was less than the amount that the Government has allocated under that heading in its present budget. Having regard to those facts one can only deplore the action of the honorable member for Macarthur in taking the opportunity of this debate merely to vent party political spleen. In doing so, he did a grave disservice to the Parliament. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), as well as the honorable member for Macarthur, said that it was about time the States were again obliged to accept the responsibility for collecting the money that they expended. In sponsoring that contention, is the Government prepared to make available to the States revenue from excise and customs duties which it collects in the respective States? If the Government is prepared to do that, it should say so frankly. If it were prepared to make such revenue available to the States, no need would exist for the introduction of measures of this kind.
Government supporters who have attributed current losses on the railways in New South Wales primarily to inefficiency, have displayed complete ignorance of the facts. All honorable members are aware that the Australian transport system as a whole, particularly the railways, performed a marvellous job in the interests of this nation during World War IT. The railway system in New South Wales was allowed to run down during that period because funds could not bc made available to effect normal maintenance. Enormous strains were placed upon that system, in the transport of troops and war materials, and I am amazed that any honorable member should show a lack of appreciation of the great service that it rendered to the nation. In any event, Government supporters cannot be pardoned for failing to approach this measure from a national point of view. Some of them have gone so far as to say that, despite the great service that the railways in New South Wales rendered during the war and despite the fact that they are in their present condition owing to the strain that they were then called upon to bear, the Government of New South Wales should now be shouldered with the responsibility of taxing the people of that State in order to finance the rehabilitation of those railways. I believe that the honorable member for Warringah was sincere in advocating the development of the federal system along the lines that he indicated. He suggested that responsibility should be placed upon the States to do certain things. Again, I ask whether he would agree that the Government should return collections of excise and customs duties ‘to the States. Docs lie agree, for instance, that the New South Wales Government should now shoulder the whole responsibility of financing the rehabilitation of the great transport system in that State although its railways were reduced to their present condition as a result of the sterling service that they performed in the national interests during the recent war?
– What great transport system ?
– It il! becomes the honorable member for Riverina (Mr.- Roberton) or any other honorable member who represents a New South Wales electorate, to say anything in condemnation of the railways system in that State. I recall that shortly after the United States of America entered the recent war, a team of American experts’ visited New South Wales to advise on the best methods of enabling those railways to handle the transport of the thousands of troops and vast quantities of war material that they subsequently carried and that those experts, as a result of their examination, said that the New South Wales railways system was conducted as efficiently as any other system in the world. I can only express my astonishment at the attitude that has been adopted in this matter by the honorable member for Riverina and some of his colleagues. I repeat that the Treasurer was the first person to advocate the introduction of the system of uniform taxation. That fact should answer the claim made by the honorable member for Macarthur that uniform taxation was introduced as a step towards socialization. Furthermore, I remind him that the Treasurer’s advocacy in that matter was supported most strongly by the nonLabour Government of South Australia; that is, by a government of the same political colour as the Government to which the Treasurer belongs. I notice that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) is now in the House. Considering the attacks that have been made on people who believe in unification, let us consider what the right honorable gentleman said about the uniform tax system when it was under consideration on a previous occasion.
– To what date is the honorable member referring?
– I refer honorable members to Hansard, Volume 171s at page 1730, where is is reported that the right honorable gentleman said -
This legislation will remain-
– What is the legislation referred to?
– The original bill to impose a system of uniform taxation.
– Order ! I do not intend to allow the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) to develop an argument about uniform taxation. I have, from time to time, prevented other honorable members from doing that.
– I agree with your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I have not tried to burke your decisions in the past, and I suggest that the right honorable gentleman cannot say that for himself. I have no doubt that you will allow me to answer what I regard as a very snide form of criticism-
– -Order ! The word “ snide “ is not parliamentary.
– I withdraw and apologize, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you will agree to allow me to answer the statement that support for uniform taxation comes only from persons who are concerned with socialism, unification and centralized control.
– The honorable member should not forget that whatever I said in 1942 was said in a time of war.
– No. I also remember that the right honorable gentleman made these statements at a time when our war expenditure was not so great as it will be during this financial year. In Hansard, Volume 171, at page 1730, the Vice-President of the Executive ‘Council is reported to have said -
This legislation will remain in operation ostensibly for the duration of the war and for twelve months thereafter. I venture to suggest that once the people experience the benefits of uniform taxation the acts will never he repealed. As I stated, these bills arc the first step towards complete unification. It is a matter, not of legal argument, but of plain common sense.
At page 1732 of the same volume, the right honorable gentleman is reported to have said -
This legislation has been attacked not so much because it provides a uniform income tax system, but because its critics fear that it is the first step towards unification.
I suggest to honorable members that we face the same situation to-night. The Vice-President of the Executive Council continued -
The States which those critics represent cannot be persuaded to adopt an Australian outlook favorable to unification. They think that if they can effectively oppose this bill they will be able to stave off for a little while longer the inevitable unification of Australia.
Then the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) interjected -
Does the honorable member recall the last referendum on an increase of Commonwealth power, in which New South Wales defeated the marketing proposals by 440,000 votes?
In reply to that the right honorable gentleman said -
Possibly that did occur, but if the people of New South Wales were asked the simple question whether they favoured unification, they would say “ Yes “ by a handsome majority. The people of New South Wales want the whole thing, not half measures.
– Order ! The honorable member should realize that this bill does not deal with unification.
– I agree. But the Vice-President of the Executive Council said that honorable members of the Opposition were adopting their present attitude only because they were in favour of unification and because unification means socialization. I appreciate the tolerance that you have shown towards me, but I suggest that members of the Government cannot have it both ways. I expected a real contribution to the debate to-night from the honorable member for Warringah because he is a professor. I believed that, in dealing with a national matter such as that before the House, he would adopt a national viewpoint. We should not consider whether we have helped the States to this or that amount, we should consider in a co-operative spirit the good of Australia. Consider, for example, the State of New South Wales. That State has to carry the heaviest part of the burden of immigration, and because of that it will be called upon to make a greater national effort than will any other State of Australia. Surely the honorable member for Warringah will not suggest that New South Wales should carry a disproportionate burden in the task of developing the national strength of Australia. Honorable members of the non-Labour partie« should repudiate their foolish outlook and should forget the catch cry, “Let each State collect its own taxes”, unless they intend to go the whole way and giveto every State a right to all moneys, collected inside its borders. Let them do that or do what the Commonwealth did before 1*915, that is, not enter the taxation field at all. It is obvious that we cannot do that. Unif orm taxation is one of the measure that will help Australia to develop into a great nation. Let us eschew the narrow parochial outlook that has been exhibited by certain honorable members in this debate and let us realize that a taxpayer in New South Wales should not be called upon to contribute any more towards financing the vast immigration scheme or any other great national programme that is essential for our future well being than is a taxpayer in Western Australia.
Mr. WENTWORTH (Mackellar)
I’lO.lO]. - Little remains to be said in this debate. Honorable members opposite have said some things that we would agree with, but unfortunately they did not happen to be relevant to the bill. Honorable members on this side have already advanced most of the coherent arguments that could be advanced about the measure. You will allow me, Mr. Speaker, perhaps to reply to some of the statements made by honorable members opposite, even though they were not entirely relevant to the matter before the House. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) made great play about unification and socialization. Perhaps he will forgive me if I remind him of his own party platform, which seems to me to condition the thinking and arguments of honorable members opposite about this measure. This bill goes to the root of the financial relationships between the States and the Commonwealth, and insofar as it does go so deeply, it involves the whole federal system. That is because on finance most government turns. If one looks at the federal platform and objective of the Australian Labour party, to which honorable members opposite slavishly subscribe, one finds in clause 2 that is calls for this -
Clothing of the National Parliament with soverign powers and with authority to create States and provinces possessing delegated constitutional powers.
That means that honorable members opposite are committed to a full policy of unification and to the reduction of the status of the States to that of vassals. That may be either good or bad. We consoler it to be a bad thing, but honorable members opposite consider it to be a good thing. Since it is their desire to destroy the States and to vest all power in onecentralized parliament, it is quite natural that they should take the line that they have taken to-night.
– Hear, hear!
– I point out that this theory and objective of theLabour party which I have read from its platform, about which the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) says, “ Hear, hear “, and to which all members of the Labour party slavishly subscribe, is important because it is a step towards complete socialization. The Opposition believes that if it can centralize power in one parliament, without constitutional check, then socialization will become easy.
– Order ! I cannot allow the honorable member to develop his argument on socialization and unification. Certain references have been made co those matters, but if we are to open up those matters we shall be here until next Easter.
– I merely wish to refer to certain matters raised by honorable members opposite, and to point out that socialization, however well’ intended, cannot stop short of sovietization. The other matter raised by the Opposition has relation to treasury-bills. lt is quite true that under the previousLabour government, the volume of outstanding treasury-bills was reduced. But let the Labour party be honest and admit that it was reduced almost entirely as a. result of operations on the National Welfare Fund, when the moneys subscribed to that fund were misappropriatedby the Labour government and used to retire treasury-bills.
– That is a lie.
– Order ! The term used by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) is unparliamentary, and the honorable member knows it.
– I did not take objection to the honorable member’sremark because nobody takes him seriously.
– Order ! I must: take every honorable member seriously.-
– Now I turn to the bill itself. The measure has been supported by both sides of the House, but both sides have not supported the -desire that, this shall be the last bill of its kind and that in the future some responsibility will be. put upon the States for raising the revenues that they require for their own purposes. I believe that to be desirable for two reasons. In the first place> when States have the responsibility of raising their own revenues, they expend their money more efficiently. In the second place, it follows that the aggregate volume of taxation is reduced. Clearly, if money is expended efficiently, less money is required, and therefore the system of uniform taxation-
– Order! I have already ruled about five times that I will not permit a debate on uniform taxation to develop.
– With- all due respect, Mr. Speaker,. I submit that clause 4 of the bill refers to the” States Grants (Tax Reimbursement) Act.
– -Order ! The reimbursement of tax, not the method of raising taxes, is under discussion.
– Yes, but the purpose behind the bill is very much under discussion, and that purpose is set out in clause 4. It is obvious that, if we have a system under which governments are not responsible for the raising of their revenues, they will tend to expend money extravagantly. Therefore, under such a system, the aggregate burden upon the people tends to increase. We want to reduce that aggregate burden. We realize that services must be provided, !but we want them to be provided with the least possible exaction of taxes. The system of uniform taxation-
– Order ! I have said that I am not going to allow a debate on uniform taxation to take place. “This is not a taxation measure,
– During wartime, these questions did not arise so much because the expenditure of money then was necessitated by considerations that do not hold good to-day.
In war-time the sense of patriotism perhaps represses waste in a way that does not apply to-day. Therefore, this system of the reimbursement of taxes to the States, which was appropriate in wartime, i3 not appropriate to-day. Furthermore, the evil effects of the system were not immediately apparent because, at first, the extravagances that took place ia the States were restrained to some degree by the sense of residual responsibility that remained in their public services from the time when they had to raise their own revenues. Even when that brake was removed, the full evil consequences did not show themselves immediately. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) will be as well aware of that fact as is anybody. Eventually, when the States realized that buck-passing was all that was necessary, because they could always accuse the Commonwealth of making insufficient tax reimbursements, inefficient practices gradually intruded themselves into the State services which this bill is intended to sustain. As those inefficiencies increased, so the aggregate hurden on the. taxpayers tended to increase. For the purpose of illustration, I refer to the transport system of New South Wales which, after many years of Labour rule, has degenerated under the ineffable Mr. Sheahan into a state of hopelessness and anarchy that is imposing on the people of that State burdens that they should not be called upon to bear. The same ineffable Mr. Sheahan has endeavoured to make good his deficiencies by increasing fares and freight rates to levels very much higher than those that prevail in the rest of Australia. That process covered up the deficiencies temporarily. But a time came when the raising of rail, tram and bus fares merely resulted in a reduction of business.
– Order! The House is not dealing with transport charges in Kew South Wales.
– We are dealing with the purposes to which the money that is to be reimbursed to the States is to be devoted.
– Order ! The bill contains no statement of the purposes for which the money is to be used. It merely provides that certain money shall be paid to the States.
– We are entitled, under the terms of clause 4, to discuss the uses to which the States will put the money. If we are going to pay for services in the States, we are entitled to discuss those services. That, I think, is established parliamentary practice. The transport inefficiencies–
– Order ! I have said that I am not going to allow a debate to develop on the purposes for which the States will use the money.
– Very well, Mr. Speaker. If I may not speak on the transport inefficiencies of New South Wales I shall turn to other matters.
Honorable members on this side of the House have expressed very clearly the Government’s hope that this will be the last occasion on which a bill of this character will be introduced in the Parliament. If the Government is to be criticized on any ground, it should be criticized for not having acted earlier in this matter. I believe that it should have done so. Here I find myself in utter disagreement with the members of the Opposition, who consider that the Government should not act. I propose to discuss future policy in regard to measures of this character. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) argued that, in all federal systems, t he central government made some subvention to the States. There is some substance in that argument, but it does not preclude the proper operation of the financial relationship between the States and the Commonwealth. The essential factor in such a relationship is that there shall be no base subvention from the Commonwealth to the States and that the States themselves shall be responsible for a marginal imposition of taxation that will enable the electors to judge the relative efficiency of their respective State governments. That, I think, is the crux of the matter. If State governments are able to expend money extravagantly and take advantage of legislation such as we are now debating in order to pass the buck to the Commonwealth, it is impossible to sheet home to them their deficiencies. The Commonwealth can always make a subvention to all States, but it should leave a marginal amount to be raised by the States so that the citizens will be able to gauge the efficiency of each State government. There are such indicators at present, of course, but they are not easily seen by the electors.
One of the indicators is the scale of fares and freight rates charged on the New South Wales railways system. That scale is much higher than are those of other States, and it shows how much more inefficient the New South Wales Government is than are the governments of the other States. However, a person who buys a ticket from Sydney to Canberra or sends a bale of wool or a ton of wheat from “ Woop Woop “ to Sydney is not always able to compare the mileage rate with the charges that are made in more efficiently managed States. If a situation is established in which the State governments are required to impose rates of taxation that reflect the degree of their efficiency or inefficiency, the people can realize clearly the true worth of those governments. Such a system would lead to a higher standard of efficiency on the part of all State governments, and the faults of notably inefficient governments, like that of New South Wales, would be more clearly revealed. The argument has been advanced that uniform taxation–
– The argument has been advanced that the present system on which this bill is based is to the advantage of the smaller States. That may be true, but, after all, we have the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which is in a position to rectify anomalies and inequalities. I commend this bill, as do all other honorable members on this side of the House. Nevertheless, I hope that it will be the last bill of such a character to be submitted to us.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I direct attention to a decision of the Government which appears to be inexplicable. It is the decision to prevent the chairman of the Australian Road Safety Council from visiting New Zealand to examine methods that have been adopted in that country to deal with the serious problem of road accidents. The cost of the visit, which I understand was to be of three weeks’ duration, was to be £250. Some committee, which is known as the Committee on Overseas Visits - I do not know whether it is a Cabinet subcommittee or a committee of departmental officers- - decided that there was insufficient justification for a visit to New Zealand by any member of the Australian Road Safety Council. Evidently, this was not based on any evidence whatsoever, because the Australian Road Safety Council-
– Who is the chairman of that body?
– Mr. Paterson, a Commonwealth official. The members of the Australian Road Safety Council are the representatives of the road safety councils of the States, the police departments, education departments, the Transport Workers Union, the automotive industries, and road transport authorities. The council, I understand, unanimously decided that it was advisable that Mr. Paterson should pay a visit to New Zealand in order to examine the methods that had been proved most successful in that country in the avoidance of road accidents. I understand that the accident rate in New Zealand has been reduced to 6.03 a 1,000, which is the lowest in the world. The Australian rate is 12.3 a 1,000. From that information, the House will recognize that there was every reason why Mr. Paterson, or some other officer of the Australian Road Safety Council, should be permitted to go to New Zealand. Surely, every honorable member will admit the great importance of action to reduce the death and accident roll on the roads in Australis. That wes the purpose of the proposed visit to New Zealand of Mr. Paterson, or some other representative of the council. Yet a sub-committee of cabinet, or of departmental officers, decided that ‘<.re was no justification for such a visit. That decision amazes me when I consider the record of this Government in the matter of lavish expenditure on overseas visits. On the slightest pretext, visits overseas of Ministers and of honorable members of the Parliament are arranged on all kinds of matters. The Government has never been at a loss to find an excuse for sending a delegation abroad.
The visit of Mr. Paterson to New Zealand was to cost £250. The cabinet subcommittee, or the Sub-Committee on Overseas Visits, decided to exercise its right to veto the proposal. I point out. that the Australian Road Safety Council did not. ask the Government to provide an additional amount of £250 to defray the cost of the visit of its representative tr> New Zealand. That amount was to bc provided from the fund of £100,000 that had been already allocated by the Commonwealth to the council. The initial payment of £100,000 was made by the Chifley Labour Government for propaganda and educational work in respect of road safety. Out of that grant, the council had proposed to make £250 available for the visit of its representative to New Zealand. However, the Government has the authority to veto any decision of the council. Why it decided to veto this particular decision is beyond my comprehension. Mr. Cahill, who is the secretary of New South Wales Automotive Industries, and the representative of thai body on the Australian Road Safety Council, in protesting against the decision, said it was now doubtful whether there was any justification for the continued existence of the council. I emphasize that the council is a non-political body, the members of which represent all sections of the road transport industry. The council did not assert that it wanted Mr. Paterson himself, and no one else, to go to New Zealand. It was prepared to accept a decision that another person should represent it. In the circumstances, I should like to hear the Government’s explanation of that decision.
I now turn to the proposal of the Government to dispose of the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool. The Government does not uses, in this instance, as an argument in favour of the disposal of the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool, the contention that it is a losing proposition. It is immaterial to the Government whether a public undertaking is profitable or otherwise. The Government still disposes of the undertaking at bargain rates to its friends, 1 understand that the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool has been a profitable undertaking ever since its establishment in 1945. No adverse report has been made upon it by the AuditorGeneral. That official has not suggested that the assets of the pool should be sold, and no criticism has been levelled at the organization itself. Yet the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) has tried to justify the disposal of this public asset by saying that it has been conducted inefficiently. He stated that the administrative staff was too large compared with the number of persons employed by the pool. But the Minister, with his usual practice of misrepresenting a position in order to try to make out some sort of case for the Government’s action in disposing of the pool, lumped together as the administrative staff all the clerks and other office assistants employed by the pool. In point of fact, approximately 40 persons may be termed administrative officers, and the balance of the staff may be regarded as employees of the pool. The Minister did not include in his figures some 200 casual waterside workers who are employed in the operation of the equipment.
I point out that the use of the equipment is not confined to the waterfront. The machinery is used most efficiently to assist with the unloading and loading of vessels. It is also hired to industry. What is to become of the equipment if she Government sells it? Can there be any guarantee that the purchasers will use it, and continue to make it available on the waterfront? The Government brought Mr. Basten from overseas to report on the conditions on the Australian waterfront, and to recommend how the turn-round of ships could be expedited. He recommended that the pool should be retained, because he recognized its great importance. What is the reason for the disposal of this equipment? I do not know exactly what the equipment cost, but I understand that its present value is some several millions of pounds. It appears to me that this Government is eager to reward the people who, no doubt, supported it financially and in other ways during election campaigns, by disposing of Commonwealth assets- to them at bargain rates.
– Spoils to the victors.
– That is true. I should like to hear the Government’s reply to my statements.
The next matter that I wish to raise concerns a reply that I received from the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) about a matter of some importance that I raised in the House. I refer to the circulation among Commonwealth employees of a report that they were asked to submit. It was marked “ Confidential “, and dealt with personal matters which, in my opinion, no employer, including a government, is entitled to ask an employee to provide. Honorable members will recall that when I raised this matter previously I mentioned some of the details that were sought by the Government.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to refer to the recent submissions by the Queensland Premier, on behalf of his Government, to the Commonwealth, for a variation in the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Those submissions were of great interest to the Queensland Government, because had they been accepted by the Commonwealth, the State government would have been provided with a means of extricating itself from a rather embarrassing financial mess into which it had plunged itself, particularly in the Zillmere area. In that district, the Queensland Government has commenced a project for theerection of approximately 1,000 prefabricated houses. I mention, at thisstage, that the oldest of those houses was erected less than one and a half years ago, and that of the number erected, which is between 300 and 400, the majority are less than twelve months old. The dwellings are already disintegrating, and it is not an exaggeration to say that they are collapsing round the heads of thetenants. In fact, the Queensland Minister for Housing has admitted that a gang of sixteen workmen is permanentlyemployed in repairing and replacing parts of those houses. Some of the timber is- affected by dry rot, and other parts of the houses hive been so inefficiently constructed that they are now disintegrating. Had the Commonwealth acceded to the request of the Queensland Government, the responsibility, which really devolves upon the State Government, would have been transferred to the tenants of those houses. Yet they are the people whom the Queensland Labour Government claims to represent in the State Parliament.
The basis of the submissions put forward by the State Government was an alteration of the terms under which the State may sell houses that it owns. The terms that the Queensland Government requested provided that no competent method of inspection would be necessary before the sale of a house was effected. Under the provisions of the existing agreement, there is nothing to prevent the sale of these houses to the tenants on terms and conditions equivalent to those contained in the submissions made by the Queensland Premier to the Commonwealth. Under the original agreement, those houses could be sold, and the transaction financed by any approved agency, such as the “War Service Homes Division, banks, and insurance companies. The War Service Homes Division requires a deposit of 5 per cent., and repayments may be made over a period of 45 years. The ten ante are permitted to avail themselves of that arrangement.
The Queensland Government has stated categorically on more than one occasion that it does not intend to allow houses built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement to be purchased with money provided by the War Service Homes Division. Under clause 13 of the original agreement, the housing authority it? responsible for the maintenance, in good order and condition, of the dwellings leased, and all the equipment. The condition of the houses at Zillmere is such thai maintenance would cost a fortune. Even now, the houses require constant and most expensive replacements. I propose to deal with this subject more exhaustively in another debate, but I wish to point out now that, had the -Commonwealth agreed to the submission of the Queensland Government, the sale of houses could have been effected without being subject to the approval of an inspector whose interests lay with the tenant rather than with the State government. No financial agent would agree to finance the purchase of a home unless he was sure that it would be a sound economic proposition. The tenants of the homes have maintained that they would not be prepared to purchase those homes under any circumstances or at any price. In fact, I have been asked by them to make representations on their behalf to the Australian Government in order that they may help in some way towards preventing the Commonwealth from acceding to the request of the State government. The action of the Australian Government in refusing to accept the submission of the Queensland Government will ease the worry and fear that has been expressed that they might be forced by coercive tactics to purchase the houses under the threat of eviction. I offer my congratulations to the Government on its decision, and convey the heartfelt thanks of the people concerned for the protection of their rights against the insidious actions of the Queensland Government.
– I wish to direct the attention of the Government to the plight of immigrants who suffer a permanent disability before they have been in Australia long enough to qualify for a pension. Immigrants have to be resident in Australia for five years before they can do so. I mention this matter because a case has been brought to my attention in my own electorate. The man concerned came to Australia from Malta 2£ years ago with his wife and four young children. He is aged 57 years and his children are aged thirteen years, twelve years, ten years and five years respectively. Until recently this man was employed in the New South Wales Railways Department. A few months ago he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and he has been unable to work since. His application for an invalid pension was rejected because he had not resided in Australia for a continuous period of five years although the medical adviser of the Railways Department certified that he was totally and permanently incapacitated. The man is in receipt of unemployment and sickness benefits but those payments are of a temporary -nature 4 only. Hia wife would not be in a worse plight if she were a widow because she has the responsibility of looking after an invalid husband as well as four young children. The man is not entitled to workers’ compensation because his incapacity is not attributable to his employment. He is a British subject from Malta. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) might well give urgent consideration to this case. I know that the Minister has already taken a sympathetic view of the plight of widows who are left without a breadwinner. I suggest that he could consider now cases of the nature that I have mentioned and provide for them by amending legislation or have an amendment incorporated in the social services legislation that is now being considered in another place.
[10.501. - The matter that has been raised by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) will be examined. The legislative provisions to which he has referred are of long standing. Indeed, I believe they have been on the statute-book since 1908. Some individual cases such as that mentioned by the honorable member are very distressing. I understand that the difficulty is being met temporarily in this case by unemployment and sickness benefits, but I shall inquire into the matter and ascertain whether anything can be done consistent with other principles contained in. the legislation.
The Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool to which the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has referred was mentioned in this House recently. An explanation of the Government’s intentions was given then and I shall not repeat it in detail, except to say that the Government has no intention of disposing of the assets of that pool at bargain rates or in any way except that which the Government considers will be beneficial to the people in the long run. So far from disposing of those assets to its friends as the honorable member has suggested might be done, the Government has already announced that the State instrumentalities which are already operating handling equipment on the wharfs of Australian ports, will have every opportunity of acquiring the equipment. State governments and harbour trust authorities are already showing interest in the assets. If they desire them and show that they can operate them efficiently they will have the first call upon them.
– What if they do not want them ?
– Then, no doubt they will go to other people who can operate them efficiently. The Australian Government has no intention whatever of leaving the wharfs without handling facilities.
I now .turn my attention to a statement made on the 3rd September by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) during the discussion of the Estimates. The honorable member referred to a former soldier whom he described as a “Korean veteran” and said that the man had served in Korea for two years, that he had been back in Australia only twelve weeks and had been flung into the ranks of the unemployed immediately upon his return from the war. He said that the man bad been unable to get employment and asked me, as the Minister in charge of the House at the time, to investigate the matter. I said that I would do so, and the honorable member gave me the Tl Amr and address of the man. Investigations have been made, and I am informed that a man of the same name, address and age as those given to me by the honorable member, is known. He was a soldier from August, 1950, until September, 1951, but he was not a member of the forces in Korea and had no service overseas. He was not “flung into the ranks of the unemployed immediately upon his return from the war “, to which he did not go. The facts are that he registered for employment very shortly after his discharge from the Australian Regular Army. On the same day he was offered a job as a mail officer in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and he declined it.
– That is not true.
– On the same day he was given a reference slip to a labouring job. but failed to report to his. prospective employer. Nothing more was heard of him until August, 1952, eleven month? later, when he registered again as an unskilled labourer with some physical disability. As no unskilled light work was available to him, he has since been drawing the unemployment benefit, as the honorable member for Watson indicated. The district employment officer has been asked to try to place this manin employment, but I am sure that honorable members will agree that if a man is offered one job and declines it and is given a chance for another job and does not keep his appointment with the prospective employer, the Department of Labour and National Service may fairly be said to have fulfilled all reasonable obligations towards him. I hope, very faintly, that this case may cause the honorable member for Watson to exercise a little more discretion in making charges against the Government in future.
.- The facts as stated by the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) are untrue.
– Order ! The honorable member cannot use that expression.
– The Minister’s statements are incorrect.
– -Order! The honorable member must withdraw the statement that he made.
– I withdraw the word untrue “ and substitute the word “incorrect”. LastMonday I visited the employment office at Paddington, asI usually do in looking after the interests of my electors, to check on the statements that are made in this House by responsible Ministers, who arc very irresponsible at most times, and I spoke to the man concerned. The young gentleman assured me again that the position was as he had described it to me in a previous interview. He is still unemployed, a job has never been found for him, he is a Korean soldier–
– That is not what the honorable member said before.
– He is a Korean veteran, he has not been offered employment and he is drawing the princely sum of 25s. a week. He is unable to pay the rent for his room and was faced with eviction.Irrespective of the statements of any officer of the Commonwealth Employment Service and any statements that are made by the Minister–
– Or by the Army officials, and irrespective of records?
– The information that I have given is correct. The gentleman concerned can be questioned at any time and he is prepared to swear a statutory declaration of the truth of his statements.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Health - S. De Mylons, H. O. Lancaster.
Shipping and Transport - R. J. G. Cocks.
Rural Holdings - Statement prepared by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician relating to persons working permanently on rural holdings in Australia for the years 1932-33, 1938-30 and 1951-52.
House adjourned at 10.58 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he lay on the table of the Library all documents connected with the applications to the Commonwealth Literary Fund of Mr. M. H. Ellis, Miss Marjorie Barnard, Mr. Eric Lambert, Mr. Frank Davison, Mr. Dal Stivens, Mr. Judah Waten, Miss Kylie Tennant, and Mr. T. Inglis Moore?
– Documents relating to applications for assistance from the Commonwealth Literary Fund contain much information of a personal nature concerning the applicants. For this reason I do not propose to lay the papers on the table of the Library.
Royal Commission on Liquor.
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
If so, is this a breach of the secrecy provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act.
Sir ARTHUR FADDEN. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Royal Australian Ant FORCE.
– On the 2nd September the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) asked the following question : -
I preface a question to the Prime Minister by saying that I understand that the week immediately preceding the 21st September has been gazetted as* Air Force Commemoration Week and that during that time, particularly on the 15th -September, which is the anniversary of Battle of Britain Day, wreath-laying ceremonies will be held in the various capital cities. ls the .right honorable gentleman aware that in Queensland the National Fitness Council has chosen that week as Youth Week and that it is the intention of the council to have -dancing and physical training displays in the -streets at approximately the same time as the wreath-laying ceremony on the 15th September? Will the Prime Minister use his influence with thi; National Fitness Council with a view to having the dancing and display that it has arranged postponed until after the 15th September?
I how advise the honorable member that tho National Fitness Council has now indicated its intention of cancelling the demonstration which it had arranged for the date mentioned.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 September 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1952/19520911_reps_20_218/>.