20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 3.20 p.m., and read prayers.
– For reasons which I think honorable members will appreciate, the House has met 50 minutes later than the time fixed by its motion last week. If there is any objection to my decision to alter the hour of meeting, I ask honorable members to express it now.
– I am sure .that I have the support of every member of the House and of all the people whom this House represents when I ask the Honorable Richard M. Nixon, Vice-President of the United States of America, to take a seat on the floor of the House at my right hand. Mr. Nixon comes from a country with which we have many affiliations. We do not owe allegiance to a common sovereign, but in no circumstances, I think, could anybody in this House consider the Vice-President of the United States of America to be a foreigner.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
Mr. Nixon thereupon entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.
Mr. GRIFFITHS presented a petition from certain residents of the district of Newcastle praying that the House would -oppose any recognition of Communist China by the Australian Government and would oppose its admission to the United Nations.
Petition received and read.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. In view of the number of petitions presented to this House by honorable members opposite, which have carried the implication that this Government is about to grant recognition to Communist China, will the right honorable gentleman inform the House of the Government’s attitude on this matter? Does he regard the manner in which these petitions have been drawn up as purely belated anti-Communist propaganda from the Labour party, coloured perhaps by the imminence of the next general election?
– I have repeatedly stated the position of the Government on this matter. It happens to vary from the previous government’s view which the honorable member for Yarra was once thought to support, because I well remember what the last Prime Minister had to say about the realistic treatment of the position in China. He said, in effect, that he was not concerned with theory, but with fact. This Government has stated repeatedly, through myself, that we have been engaged in hostilities with Communist China, and that we do not arrive at conclusions about recognizing countries when we are engaged in hostilities with them. There is at the moment an armistice, but there is at the moment no peace. In the circumstances that exist at the present time, I shall give no consideration whatever to recognizing Communist China. I have made that clear repeatedly, but I have not failed to notice that quite a few people whose hostility to communism is pretty dubious are now trying to cash in on this matter by pretending that we, whose attitude has been unambiguous from first to last, have now become ambiguous.
– Why does not the Prime Minister answer the question?
– It would be a very good thing indeed if the Opposition could answer it. I have stated my position so clearly that every honorable member of this House except the honorable member for Watson can understand it.
– In the temporary absence of the Prime Minister, I ask the Treasurer whether it is not a fact that certain honorable members who now so urgently occupy themselves with demands that the Government should not recognize Communist China signally failed to support this Government’s plan to deal with Communists in their own country. To what does the right honorable gentleman suppose this change of mind is due, particular! y ou the part of the honorable member for Yarra and the honorable member for Gellibrand, who regale us continually, with complaints that the Government has failed to deal with the Communist party ?
– The observations embodied in the honorable member’s questions are correctly founded. I am afraid that I do not know what can be done about the change of front that he has mentioned. - Mr. SWARTZ. - I ask the VicePresident of the Executive Council whether it was the Attlee Labour Government in the United Kingdom that first accorded formal recognition to Communist China. Did the leader of the Labour party in the United Kingdom last month make a broadcast over the British Broadcasting Corporation network in which he called for the admission of Communist China to the United Nations? If that is the policy of the Labour party in the United Kingdom, is it also the policy of the Australian Labour party?
– Order ! The questions relate to a matter for which the VicePresident of the Executive Council is not responsible in this House.
– I ask the Prime. Minister whether there is any significance in the fact that, when an atomic bomb was touched off in Australia last week, the wind was apparently blowing in th? direction of Canberra and that, according to some scientific observers, radio-active particles were subsequently discovered floating over this city. In view of the fact that another atomic bomb is to be exploded in Australia soon, will the right honorable gentleman take steps to ensure that there shall be no recurrence of such a. happening and, if necessary, call upon the assistance of the honorable member for Mackellar?
– I am not an authority on meteorology, but I know something about the political wind. I have noticed that it has been blowing from the Government side to the Opposition side for quite a long time, but unfortunately it appears to have carried no radio-active particles.
– Do you, Mr. Speaker, control the flying of flags over Parliament House? If so, will you arrange for the flag of the United Nations to be flown above the building for the remainder of this week, which is United Nations week, in order to show our allegiance to the objects of the United Nations ?
– I certainly do control the use of flags above this portion of Parliament House, but unless I have an instruction from the House, I recognize only one allegiance, and that is to Her Majesty the Queen.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Was Australian ground approach control made available for the use of contestants in the recent London to Christchurch air race? If such equipment was made available, was it used at Harewood in the very close finish that developed in the speed section and the transport section of the race ? Did the conference on air transport matters between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, which met in New Zealand after the air race, decide to operate the trans-Tasman airline with land aircraft in the near future, instead of with flying boats as at the present time? Will the service from New Zealand to Australia, which is an essential link between the two countries, be retained as a government, airline in which Australia will continue to own 50 per cent, of the shares?
– Ground control approach apparatus was made available by Australia to New Zealand for the London to Christchurch air race. The authorities in New Zealand expressed their deepest appreciation of this assistance. Due to the weather conditions which developed at Christchurch towards the finish of the’ air race, this particular apparatus was essential to the safe landing of the aircraft engaged in the event. New Zealand has none of this equipment. The honorable member has also asked about the future of the trans-Tasman air service. Representatives of the
United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand met in the last-named country to determine the future organization, or reorganization, not only of the Tasman service but also of the Pacific service, between Australia and the United States of America. Certain conclusions were reached between the representatives of the three countries, and recommendations will be submitted to the governments concerned for confirmation or otherwise. The operation of the transTa swan service by a government airline, or private enterprise, still awaits decision, but on the basis of the recommendations which have been made, it would appear that governmental operation of the service might be the likely outcome.
– Is the Minister for Civil Aviation able to say when the Vickers Viscount aircraft ordered by Trans- Australia Airlines will be operating in this country? When that happens, will the DC3’s, which can only be described as the old ladies of the air, be withdrawn from principal air routes and replaced by faster and more comfortable aircraft?
– Trans-Australia Airlines has six Vickers Viscount aircraft on order. The first is due to arrive in Australia about the middle of next year. Aircraft of this type are not very freely available. The airline companies which desire to use them have to place orders for them. Orders are filled on the basis of priority of application. A couple of years may elapse after the order has been lodged before delivery can be obtained. They are not likely to replace DC3’s. In the main, I think they are more a substitution for the DC4, which is a much higher class of aircraft than is the DC3. I consider that the DC3 is one of the most useful aircraft we have in Australia, and that the reflections made upon it by the honorable member are unjustified. Nevertheless, in the course of time it will be replaced, and it would appear that the Vickers Viscount is one of the appropriate kinds of aircraft that will replace it.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether it is correct that Trans-Australia Airlines, in addition to its purchase of Vickers Viscount aircraft, is now negotiating for dollars to purchase DC6 aircraft in order to enable it to compete with Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited ?
– As the honorable member has said, Trans-Australia Airlines has purchased six Vickers Viscounts. That airline is perfectly entitled to make representations to the Government for the provision of dollars for such aircraft as it considers appropriate to its purposes. The issuance of a dollar licence is a matter for further consideration by the civil aviation authorities and by the Government because we must guard against the development of aviation services with too many aircraft for the number of passengers to be carried.
– The question that J wish to ask the Minister for Civil Aviation is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Angas.
– Why is the honorable member wearing a Menzies tartan tie?
-Order! I assure the honorable member for Henty that it is not the Menzies tartan.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether the DCS aircraft described by the honorable member for Angas as the old ladies of the aithave been selected for use by Her Majesty the Queen during her visit to this country next year?
– I do not think that DCS aircraft have been selected for use by Her Majesty next year. The honorable member probably has in mind DC6 aircraft, which, of course, are a considerable improvement on the DC3 type. I am a stout defender of the DC3 aircraft. I do not think that the DC3 is the old lady of civil aviation. I think that she is the work horse of civil aviation.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation confer with the general manager of Trans- Australia Airlines in order to ascertain whether it is possible, without unduly affecting the balance-sheet of the airline, to provide passengers on the Cor’owa-Canberra service with something better for lunch than a cold, soggy sandwich?
– I agree that a cold, soggy sandwich is not the best sort of lunch, especially if an honorable member wishes to ask questions in the House after lunch. I shall see what I can do about the matter.
– -My questions are directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. In view of the fact that the operations of Trans-Australia Airlines for the last complete financial year resulted in the handsome profit of £136,000, notwithstanding the rationalization of air services, can the honorable gentleman give an assurance to those who are interested in the success of internal airline operations that further rationalization, which would reduce services to areas of low population-density, will not be undertaken ? Will arrangements be made for -members of this Parliament to have a flight in the new type of aircraft ordered by Trans-Australia Airlines, the Vickers Viscount, when a prototype machine visits Canberra next Thursday, so that they can obtain some idea of the luxurious and rapid transport that will be available to them and the people of Australia in the near future?
– The fact that Trans-Australia Airlines completed the last financial year with a profit of approximately £130,000 is a vindication of the policy of this Government in preserving Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. In addition, an amount in excess of £400,000, which was levied by the honorable member for Maribyrnong when he was the Minister for Civil Aviation for air-route charges, has been refunded by this Government to Trans-Australia Airlines. Those facts show that this Government is most eager ‘ to preserve the competitive system, and the two airline companies. As a matter of fact, the profit made by Trans-Australia Airlines in the last financial year, and the profits that it may make in the future, will largely be determined by the elimination of losses caused by the overservicing of certain air routes. For example, Trans-Australia Airlines was losing £80,000 and Australian National AirWays Proprietary Limited was losing a similar sum on the .Riverina route. As the result of the rationalization which has been- effected, Trans-Australia Airlines will save that amount of money, and
Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, which takes over the operation of that route, will show a small profit. The further rationalization of services is not a matter for this Government or myself, but for agreement between Australian National Airways Limited and Trans-Australia Airlines, under the chairmanship of the arbitrator, Sir John Latham. The honorable member for Maribyrnong has also referred to the forthcoming visit to Canberra of the Vickers Viscount aircraft. I shall ascertain whether British European Airways Limited, which owns this aircraft and entered it in the London to Christchurch air race recently will be able to allot sufficient time to enable members of this Parliament to have a short flight in the plane. I am sure that the company will make the aircraft available for this purpose, if time permits. I should like honorable members to have the opportunity to obtain a knowledge of this firstofftheline British propellor-jet aircraft, and I shall see whether flights can be arranged.
Air. DALY. - My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation and I point out, by way of explanation, that during the war years he described zoning and rationalization as the basis of socialism. Can he now advise the House of the reason for his change of mind in applying rationalization to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and Trans- Australian Airlines?
– I am interested to be reminded of speeches that I made years ago, especially during the war years. I do not recall that I made a speech in which I criticized zoning and rationalization in the manner indicated by the honorable member for Grayndler, because I believe that when the country is at war, it is necessary to do all kinds of things that we would not do in peace-time. For example, the Labour Government in wartime introduced rationing, credit restrictions and wage-pegging. Many economic controls were supported by members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, -when they were members of the Opposition, as necessary measures in war-time, but, unfortunately, the Labour party cannot forget that Australia is no longer at war, and that we should have as much freedom as possible from economic controls.
– Can the Minister for Supply inform me whether there are any difficulties to prevent the free and urgent exchange of information between Australia and its esteemed ally, the United States of America, on atomic energy, especially for industrial purposes?
– From Australia’s point of view, no difficulties whatever exist to prevent the exchange of atomic energy information between this country and the United States of America. We are very ready indeed to share any information which we possess on these scientific matters with the United States of America and with our other allies in the free world. Strictly as between Great Britain and ourselves, I think that a similar position exists. Legislative difficul ties prevent the United States of America from sharing information on atomic energy with other countries, but the Government has never concealed its view and its hope that it will be possible, in the future, to relax this restriction to the mutual benefit of all free peoples.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral inform me whether the supply of rural automatic telephone exchanges is increasing? If his answer to my question is in the affirmative, can he inform mc whether centres which, were approved three years ago for such exchanges can look forward to the early installation of this equipment?
– The supply of rural automatic telephone exchanges has substantially increased during the life of this Government. Approximately 100 of these exchanges were in operation at the time this Government assumed office, and I think that approximately 4:00 of them are in operation now. The department is installing these exchanges as quickly as it can. To what extent the number of exchanges can be increased depends largely upon finance, on the one hand, and the availability of apparatus, most of which is imported, on the other hand.
As I have said, we are accommodating as many rural localities as possible with rural automatic exchanges.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House whether there is any prospect of an early further payment in connexion with the 1952-53 wheat crop? Can he inform the House also whether there is likely to be an early progress payment of the tax money held in the Wheat Industry Stabilization Fund?
– Because a very high first advance was paid on the last wheat crop - by far the highest ever paid upon delivery of wheat - accumulation of funds by the Australian Wheat Board, subsequent to the discharge of the overdraft obligation arising from that advance, has been more protracted than usual. My information- is that the next advance on that crop may be made about the middle of January. As I have already stated in the House, there will be a repayment of £11,000,000 of No. 14 pool tax money in the stabilization fund. I am not in a position to state the precise date of that repayment, but I shall announce it as soon as possible.
– Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture aware that land for the production of wheat was sold last week in Victoria for £50 an acre ? Is it possible to settle ex-servicemen and others on wheat land sold at or near that price, with reasonable chance of success?
– I have no personal knowledge of sales of land having been made at £50 an acre, although I have read something to the effect that a sale of land was made at that price in the Warracknabeal-Dimboola area. I am sure that that is not the price that generally prevails, nor is it fairly representative of the present level of values in Victoria for wheat-growing land. Any control that may be exercised in respect of land sales is, as I am sure the honorable member will know, entirely within the jurisdiction of the Victorian Government, which consists of members of his own party.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General a question in relation to wireless licences. Has the Minister given consideration to extending to war widows the concession that has been extended to age pensioners?
– This matter has been examined very closely. Very many sections of the community, who claim that they are entitled to the same concession as age pensioners, have applied for it. Their representations also have been closely examined. I regret to inform the honorable member that it is not possible to make any changes in the existing arrangements.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Supply a question in relation to the map recently published by his department which, for the guidance’ of prospectors, shows radio-active anomalies in the Rum Jungle area. Does that map indicate that prima facie that is a very rich area? Does a comparison of that map with similar maps published in other countries indicate that this is one of the richest areas in the world? Does not that fact justify an increase in prospecting in this and other areas with a view to increasing the Australian production of uranium?
– My knowledge of such publications in other parts of the world is somewhat limited, and I am unable to make a comparison that would establish whether or not Australia’s resources of uranium are the same as, or greater or less than, those of other parts of the world. It is true, however, that the radio-active anomaly maps for one area in the Northern Territory that have recently been published are very encouraging indeed, and, although so far we have discovered only one susbtantial deposit, it would be surprising if, beneath the surface where these maps reveal these indications, there were not other deposits of uranium. As the honorable member has said, there is a great need for vigorous survey and development, and the Government is going ahead with them as quickly as it can. As indicated by resent proclamations, we are encouraging to the utmost of our ability more prospecting by private enterprise so that more mines will be discovered and brought into production as soon as possible.
– Is the Minister for Supply prepared to give an unqualified denial to the report that Australia is selling uranium to the United Kingdom and the United States of America for 16s. 3d. a unit whereas the world price is about 30s. a unit? Will he assure the House that the price that Australia is receiving for its uranium is not less favorable than that received by other uraniumproducing countries ?
– I have already said in the House, and I am glad to repeat, that the Government gives an unqualified denial to the newspaper reports which have alleged variously that Australia is selling uranium for 16s. 3d., £1 0s. 3d., and £1 0s. 3¾d. a unit. The prices mentioned by these publications are wildly and hopelessly short of the mark. The price that Australia is receiving for its uranium is very much in excess of those amounts. The Government believes that it is obtaining a price that is at least as good as any paid elsewhere in the world.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Supply been directed to a recent statement that Australia is being paid 16s. 3d. a unit for uranium by the United Kingdom and the United States of America instead of the world price of 30s. a unit? If those figures are correct, can the Minister make a statement to the House on the matter ?
– A similar question has already been asked to-day.
– That i3 so. A similar question was asked a few minutes ago by the honorable member for the Northern Territory. I only wish to add to my previous reply that a unit is a one-hundredth part of a ton or approximately 22 lb. and the statement that Australia, is receiving only 16s. 3d. a unit for its uranium oxide is not merely silly, it is lying propaganda of the worst sort, because, in th.e light of information which has been given in this House, those persons who repeat a statement of this kind know that it is untrue. Australia is receiving immensely more than that amount for its uranium.
– My question, which is addressed to the Prime Minister, relates to the trust fund for Australian exprisoners of war established by the Government. Will the right honorable gentleman consider making a statement to the House about the amount that has been distributed so far to ex-prisoners of war from the fund, the number of men who have been assisted, and the cost of administering the fund?
– I shall do so.
– Has the Minister for Social Services considered the case submitted to him by the Limbless Soldiers Association, in which it is claimed that war pensioners should be permitted to receive, in addition to the war pension,a proportion of the age pension that would bring their incomes to the level of the permissible incomes of other classesof pensioners? Is there any hope of placing war pensioners on the same footing as civilian pensioners by raising the ceiling limits of their pension payments to £5 10s. a week for a single pensioner and £11 a week for a married couple?
– The question of war pensions is one for the Minister for Repatriation. The ceiling limits that the honorablemember has mentioned were imposed by the previous Government. We followed the policy of that Governmentin this connexion until this year. In the past, when there was an increase of the war pension and civil pensions, it was customary to apply only one increase to war pensioners. This year, we have departed from that procedure to some degree. We are giving war pensioners the benefit of both the war pension increase and the civil pension increase and, in addition, a half of the increase of the permissible income.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether the attention of the Australian Government has been drawn to the disgraceful intimidation of men who surrendered to the forces of the United
Nations in Korea ? Does the Government approve of the methods that are being adopted to brain-wash Korean prisoners, despite the fact that many Allied lives were sacrificed and the Korean war prolonged for many months in order to guarantee to men who surrendered to the United Nations forces the right to refuse, if they so desired, to return to the control of Communist tyranny ?
– My attention has not been drawn to this matter. If it admits of the description given to it by the honorable member, I would disapprove of it, and so would every other honorable member of this House.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether the local representative of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board in each port is to continue to act as the board of reference to settle waterfront disputes, as was judicially decided in 1949? Has a recent judicial decision changed this arrangement and provided for the appointment of a committee of five persons, including two representatives of shipowners and two representatives of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, to act as a board of reference? If that is so, then will the representatives in some ports of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia certainly be Communists, and will they receive fees as members of the reference board? Will the Minister arrange for a judicial review of the alleged new proposal in order to eliminate the possibility of Communists being appointed to the reference board?
– I understand that Mr. Justice Wright recently made some alterations in the method of dealing with the matter mentioned by the honorable member. I have asked for a report from the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board about the effect and implications of the alterations, and when I consider that report I shall have in mind the comments of the honorable member.
– I ask the Minister for Air whether arrangements have been finalized for the establishment of the Canberra bomber unit to be stationed at Amberley in Queensland? Are facilities available for these aircraft to operate from Garbutt and Momote air bases?
– The Amberley field is being developed as the main bomber base for jet aircraft in Australia, but a decision has not yet been made about when the bomber wing will move to the field. Facilities for jet bombers are available at Momote and Garbutt fields at Townsville, should these aircraft be stationed there.
– Does the Minister for Air believe that the Australianbuilt Avon-engined Sabre jet aircraft, if fitted with an after-burner and suitably stripped, would be capable of capturing the world speed record ? If so, will the honorable gentleman arrange for an attempt to be made on the record as soon as the first machine is delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force?
– I express a strictly personal view when I say that I do not know whether an Australian Sabre jet aircraft could beat the record recently established by the American Skyray aircraft. It could possibly beat the earlier record. With the approval of my colleague, the Minister for Defence Production, I shall investigate the possibility that an Avon Sabre jet fitted with an after-burner should have a crack at the record. If we think that a Sabre jet aircraft so equipped could beat the existing record, we shall be quick to make the attempt.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that the Australian Dental Association is most anxious to secure the right to prescribe and administer certain drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act? Will the Minister grant to members of the association the right to prescribe drugs which are considered necessary in dental treatment, and which embrace a number of penicillin, sulphur and. vitamin K drugs and distilled water, which are allowed the dental profession by law, but which are not available under the provisions of the
Pharmaceutical Benefits Act? In order to obtain free drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act it is necessary for the dental patient to attend a doctor and frequently pay a consultation fee or a fee for the administration of the drugs-
-Order! Is the honorable member asking for information or giving it ?
– Will the Minister adjust this anomaly and allow the members of the dental profession, under the supervision of appropriate committees, to issue these drugs which are so essential to the well-being of their patients ?
– This matter is largely governed by State legislation.
– It is governed by the provisions of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act.
– The matter will be considered.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that there is considerable dissatisfaction amongst members of certain medical groups who, after having paid medical or hospital accounts, forward the receipts to the associations of which they are members for the payment of a portion of the costs and are compelled to wait for many weeks before they receive even a reply, much less payment? -Will the Minister endeavour to expedite such payments and so prevent unnecessary hardship to many people?
– In conversation with the heads of two of the biggest medical benefit insurance organizations, I have learned that nearly all claims are settled by those organizations within a week. Furthermore, the friendly society organizations have established local authorities, throughout New South Wales at any rate, which settle claims expeditiously, I think- almost within a day of receiving them.
– Can the Minister for Health inform me whether doctors are provided with lists of free life-saving drugs similar to those supplied to pharmacists ? Does the right honorable gentleman know of any reason why a doctor should supply medicine to a pensioner at 19s. Id. a bottle? Should doctors be allowed to prescribe for pensioners in this way? “When will pensioners be provided with a free medical service?
– Pensioners are entitled to all the items in the list of life-saving drugs, as well as those listed in the British Pharmacopoeia. That is a very wide range of drugs, and it should be adequate to cover any ailment to which a pensioner might become subject.
– In view of the expectation that the Parliament will be prorogued this week-end, does the fact that the National Health Bill 1953 is listed on the notice-paper after all other items of business indicate that the Minister for Health intends to withdraw the bill? “What is the reason for the abandonment of the right honorable gentleman’s national health proposals?
– The policy of the Government in this matter will be revealed at the appropriate time.
– I direct to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture a question concerning the activities of the Japanese pearling fleet, which was the subject of questions that several of my colleagues have asked him during the last .fortnight. Can the Minister inform the House first, whether ‘ he has attempted to verify the statement made to the House by an honorable member who represents an electorate in Queensland, that Japanese pearling luggers had been sighted off the northern coast of Queensland, I think near Mackay; and, Secondly, and more important, whether licences in accordance with Australian law have been taken out by, or on behalf of, the fleet operating in the north of Australia and, if not, what action is proposed by the Government in relation to the matter?
– There was nothing but a newspaper rumour to the effect that ii Japanese lugger was pearling, or fishing for beche-de-mer, or something of that nature, off Mackay. I requested that inquiries be made in order to discover whether there was any foundation for that rumour. My advisers have not been able to discover any foundation for it. In respect of the legal position and the Government’s policy with regard to tha control of pearling in our northern waters, honorable members will recall that the Government made the relevant law effective as from the 12th October last The law provides that in proclaimed waters it is necessary for both Australian pearlers and foreign pearlers to take out licences in respect of . all persons and all ships engaged. That has been done, or is in the course of being done, in respect of Australian pearling ships. However, because the Japanese pearling fleet came to the proclaimed waters to operate, without knowing that a licensing system was intended by Australia, and also because only about two or three weeks of the pearling season still remain, the Government decided that, whilst giving effect to its policy, it would do so without provoking an incident. It operated its policy by providing that an area within the proclaimed waters was to be exempt. It was an area in which the Japanese pearling fleet was then engaged, but which had not been, worked by Australian luggers since the last war. It was also an area in which we knew there was ample pearl shell. We gave the Japanese the opportunity either to take out licences and be given, as we assured them they would be given, the opportunity to fish in the areas covered by the licences, or, alternatively, to move into the exempt area, in which they might fish for the remaining two or three weeks of the season.
– But they were breaking the law.
– Order !
– The Japanese chose to move into the exempt area. They therefore are fishing in a limited area inside our proclaimed waters, but are confining their operations exclusively within the exempt area prescribed by the Government. The pearling fisheries inspection vessel has informed our officials that they intend to confine their activities to that area for a stated period, I think, two weeks, and then move right outside the area of Australian proclaimed waters. Complete effect has therefore been given, in difficult circumstances, to the’ policy of the Government in relation to control in this remote region, without involving any impairment of goodwill between Australia and Japan. I hope that that is an objective which has the support of all Australians
– Does the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture believe in private enterprise and free competition? If so, will he advise the House why he is urging the State governments to restrict the manufacture of margarine instead of bringing- the price of butter to a more competitive level?
– It has been the chosen policy of State governments for many years to restrict the production of margarine. Only one State government has stepped out of line. I propose to promote a discussion among the State governments on this important matter.
– Can the Minister for Immigration inform me whether it fs a fact, as reported in an Australian Broadcasting Commission’s news broadcast, that members of the Russian Legation staff have been pestering immigrants from Russia with, demands that they should return to their native country, and otherwise making themselves objectionable? If that is a fact, what steps will be taken to protect immigrants from Russia who come to this country? Why do we not do, .as the Russians do in their homeland, and circumscribe the activities of the staff of the legation in this country?
– No official reports have been placed before me about the matter to which the honorable member for Henty has referred, but I shall certainly make some inquiries into the allegations, which have appeared publicly. a’id ascertain whether any action c.vt be taken from this end to meet that position. I am quite confident that no person of sound mind, who has had any experience of this country and of Russia, will have any need of compulsion from this Government to remain in this country, and help in its development.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral had an opportunity to compare the architectural beauty of the new telephone exchange opposite the Hotel Kurrajong with the lobbyists’ home which is being erected in the same locality? Is it a fact that special head-quarters are being provided for lobbyists from the motion picture industry, who are doing their utmost to prevent the introduction of television into Australia?
– I do not understand all the implications in the honorable member’s question. I do not know where the lobbyists’ home is to which he has referred, and, therefore, I am somewhat up-hill in answering the question.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. In view of the repeated statements by Ministers that press reports are inaccurate, distorted, completely false or, as was stated by the Minister for .Supply a few moments ago, lying propaganda-
– Did that statement appear in a press report?
– Yes, the Minister referred to it. Will the Government appoint a royal commission consisting of members of the three political parties represented in this House to investigate the freedom of the press, so as to ensure that as far as possible, while that freedom is preserved, the right of the press to lie, distort and so forth, as evidenced by statements of members of the Government, shall be curtailed ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is “No”.
– Last Friday, the honorable member for Farrar (Mr. Fairbairn) asked me a question about the publication on the cover of Hansard of university degrees after the names of honorable members who are entitled to them. T examined this matter thoroughly during the week-end, and I have discovered that it has arisen from time to Mme in the history of the Parliament.
During the life of the Eighth Parliament, it was decided that the use of military titles in Hansard should not be continued, but no specific decision seems to have been made about the use of university degrees. One right honorable gentleman who is a member of this House, uses the title of “ doctor “. I do not know whether it is a courtesy title, or whether the degree of doctor has been conferred on him.
– He will set your leg next.
– Order ! Silence must be maintained while Ms. Speaker is on his feet. Some time ago, I made the decision, for which I had a precedent, that a gentleman who was an ordained clergyman and was being sworn in as a member of this House, should not have “Reverend” placed before his name. I also decided that the title of “professor “ should not be placed before the name of an other honorable member.
Honorable members in I rrje cling .
– I. ask that silent bo maintained while I arn on. my feet. If there are any more interjections, I shall name the interjectors. There should be silence while the Speaker is answering a quest ion. I have examined the situation thoroughly. I have even compared our own system with that which prevails in England, but no guidance is offered by that comparison. It appears that in longland, as in Australia, it is left largely to the discretion and the taste of the honorable member concerned. Special mention may be made of one honorable gentleman, the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), who is the only member whose name appears in the Hansard list with certain university degrees. I am not prepared to alter the present system. If any honorable member wishes his university degree to be inserted - and I understand over 30 members are entitled to the use of university degrees - it- is a matter for that member. I suggest to honorable members that it is a matter of sufficient importance to warrant the setting up of a small committee to inquire into the question in order to provide some useful guidance for the present occupant of the chair, and possibly also for his successors.
- As chairman, I present the report of the. Public Accounts Committee on the following subject: - ‘
Ordered to be printed.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Commonwealth Observatory Trust Fund Bill ]?53.
Forestry ami Timber Bureau Bill 195.”.
– In view of the further increase of the cost of living by 3s. a week declared by the Commonwealth Statistician, will the Prime Minister say whether he still adheres to his statement that inflation in this country has been arrested? Does he agree that workers whose wages are not increased by 3s. a week will surfer a lowering of their living standards? Will the latest increase of the cost of living have the effect of nullifying the proposed increase by 2s. 6d. a week of the payments made to many classes of people in receipt of Commonwealth social services? Is he aware that certain State governments have taken action to prevent any worsening of the people’s living standards? Does the Commonwealth intend to take a similar course?
– The honorable member has indulged in his propaganda. I think a similar question is on the noticepaper.
-(Hon. Archie Cameron). - I have received from the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) an intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely: -
The effect on the Australian arbitration system of the recent damaging statements by the Leader of the Opposition and the action of the Government of New South Wales in rejecting the recent decision of the Arbitration Court suspending quarterly adjustment payments.
Before I put this question to the House, I wish to state that in my view it is possible to discuss this matter under -
Order of the Day No. 13 - Government business - Cost of Living Adjustments - Arbitration Court’s decision - Ministerial Statement - Motion for printing paper.
I ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) whether the Government proposes to have that matter discussed during the present session.
– In drawing up the programme of business, I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that the Government finds that it is impossible to bring on this matter during this session.
– I rise to order. I submit, first of all, that the intention of the Government to bring on a particular order of the day is completely irrelevant. If it has any bearing on the question, I want to discuss the matter and not to avoid it in any way. I suggest that the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who is in charge of the business for the Government, should move immediately to bring forward the discussion of Order of the Day No. 13 by consent, so that the whole question can be fully debated, instead of only a narrow area of it which I am sure you, Mr. Speaker, would not favour. There could then be a broad debate on the question, including the matters set out in the terms of the intimationby the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). I suggest that that would be a more convenient course. The Opposition moved for the adjournment of the matter mentioned in the order of the day and thought there would be no difficulty associated with that procedure. Whatever course is adopted, I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, would like a broad discussion on the subject.
– I wish to speak to the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). As I understand the intimation from the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), it is directed to two particular developments, both of which have taken place since the making of the statement referred to in Order of the Day No. 13. As I understand the terms of the intimation, it is the desire of the honorable gentleman, and I am sure the desire of many who have noted those developments, to discuss them. I imagine, in view of the remarks of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison), that if some incidental reference to the broader question becomes necessary, that is a matter that you, Mr. Speaker, will take into consideration. The terms of the intimation are directed to the particular development to which the intimation makes specific reference.
– I support the view that has been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I point out that Order of the Day No. 13 deals with cost of living adjustments and that the very nature of the matter now submitted to the House, by the honorable member for Balaclava, flows from the question of the cost of living adjustments. If there were no cessation of the system of quarterly cost of living adjustments, it would have been impossible for the honorable member to submit his matter to the House. I suggest that, as that matter flows from the action of the court and that the action of the court was the subject of a statement to the House last Friday, it is desirable, in the interests of both the Government and of the Opposition, that Order of the Day No. 13 should be linked with this matter so that a general discussion can take place.
– Under Standing Order 106 discussion of a matter of urgency can be brought up only in this way. It is very doubtful whether this is a matter of urgency. As the question of cost of living adjustments already stands on the notice-paper, I think the matter should he discussed under that heading. The Government has complete control of the business of the House. It has a majority, and, if it so desires, it can move for a suspension of Standing Orders to allow Order of the Day No.1 3 to he brought on at any time. The discussion would not take any longer under those circumstances. The right honorable member said that the Government has not the time to bring forward that order of the day. Then it cannot have time to deal with the matter introduced by the honorable member for Balaclava. If the Government has time to deal with this particular matter, it should be dealt with under the proper heading on the noticepaper.
– In speaking to the point oi order raised by the Leader of the Opposition, I submit that whether or not the Government intends to bring on Order of the Day No. 13 is not the question at issue. “When all is said and done, we are not dependent on the good grace of the Vice-President of the Executive Council in relation to the 7natter submitted by the honorable member for Balaclava. I contend that as the matter on the notice-paper includes the matter now submitted by the honorable member for Balaclava the logical approach for the Government to make is to bring on Order of the Day No. .13 for general discussion forthwith.
– Two important points have been raised. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) dealt with the matter of urgency, and the Leader of the Opposition, if I heard him correctly, said that be bad contemplated making a similar proposal, but thought it might not be in accordance with the Standing Orders. My view of the matter is that a. debate on Order of the Day No. 13 would give honorable members every facility necessary for a. discussion of the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Balaclava. (Mr. Joske). My job is not to prevent debate. . It is to facilitate debate, within the limits set by the Standing Orders. For that reason, T asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council whether he was prepared to bring on Order of the Day No. 13, but he declared that he was not so prepared. In those circumstances, so that honorable members may discuss a matter that some of them consider to be very important, I have decided to allow the proposal of the honorable member for Balaclava to proceed, provided it is supported. Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
– I wish to raise a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The effect on the Australian arbitration system of the recent damaging statements made by the Leader of the Opposition, and the action of the Government of New South Wales in rejecting the recent decision of the Arbitration Court suspending quarterly adjustment payments.
I shall discuss two matters of considerable seriousness. The seriousness of those matters is fully realized by the Opposition, which has endeavoured to discourage and prevent direct consideration of them. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court has determined that quarterly adjustments of the basic wage shall be suspended for the time being. That is a solemn decision by a properly appointed court, with full jurisdiction to decide the matter. It is a decision that is binding upon all parties to the case that was before the court. The New South Wales Government has stated that it is not prepared -to abide by that decision. The New South Wales Government was a party to the case before the court. It had every opportunity to put its views before the court. It was represented in the proceedings, and its views were expressed to the court. If the decision of the court had been in favour of the New South Wales Government, it would, of course, have abided by that decision. But because the New South Wales Government does not like the decision, it is not going to obey the decision. That kind of thing can lead only to industrial anarchy.
– I rise to order. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) is attacking the New South Wales Government on the ground, that it is disobeying an order of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I point out that the court has not yet made an order in respect of any section of the New South Wales government railway services. The whole of the attack launched by the honorable member is based on a completely erroneous assumption. The New South Wales Government has not taken the action that the honorable member claims it has taken.
– That is not a point of order.
– What an answer ! Apparently the New South Wales Government is prepared to flout the Commonwealth Arbitration Court by raising a legal technicality. It will tell the New South Wales Department of
Railways not to obey the order of the court. Then, when it is said that disobedience of the order is the action of the New South Wales Government, it will be argued that the New South Wales Department of Railways is not the New South Wales Government. That is thy way in which the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is going to be flouted. We have heard statements made in this House by honorable members opposite about legal quibbles and the way in which lawyers behave. Has any one heard a greater legal technicality raised in any place at any time than the rubbishy point of order just taken by the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison ) ?
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! I ask the House to maintain order. I understand that in this debate tempers are likely to rise. If that happens, and honorable gentlemen cannot conduct themselves properly, some of them will be outside.
– J have pointed out that a flouting by a responsible government of an order made by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in a case to which that government is a party can lead only to industrial anarchy. What would happen if every member of a trade union, every employer, every employee and every member of any other organization that was a party to and bound by an award said, “I do not like this award and I shall not obey it”? That could lead only to industrial turmoil. In such circumstances, there could be no order in industry. The whole purpose of the Commonwealth arbitration system is that it shall be a province for law and order. Those words of Mr. Justice Higgins have been venerated ever since they were uttered. They have been quoted many times. I believe the whole of the Australian people agree that the Commonwealth arbitration system is a province for law and order. Of all the bodies that should obey the law and endeavour to uphold law and order, surely the responsible government of a State should be the first. But the New South Wales Government has determined that there shall be disobedience of the order of the court, that we shall not have the law and order to which we are entitled. and that there shall be industrial chaos and industrial anarchy.
I turn to the statements that have been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). According to reports, the right honorable gentleman has said that this Government, in conniving at the suspension of the quarterly basic wage adjustments, is doing something little short of fraud or cheating. Those are shocking words. Let me state what this Government did in connexion with the recent proceedings before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. It is known to all honorable members that the Government resolved that the Commonwealth should be represented in those proceedings and that it should brief counsel to give the court every assistance and supply the court with all the information which it sought and which could be supplied by the Commonwealth. The Government briefed as leading counsel for the Commonwealth a gentleman of the utmost integrity and the highest ability. He is a master of this branch of the law. He was briefed by the previous Labour Government to represent the Commonwealth in previous proceedings before the court. We can be sure that this gentleman, in the discharge of the duty imposed upon him., brought before the court every piece of information that was available and that the court desired to have. Could anything be more proper than that? I propose to take a high stand on this matter. According to the Constitution, the dispensation of industrial justice, under the system of industrial arbitration, is not vested in this Parliament. The Parliament cannot make a decision about the increase or decrease of wages, nor about the conditions of employment, because they are entirely matters for the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. No government has a right to take any part at’ all in the determination of industrial matters, powers to deal with which are vested in the court. It is not for a government to try to buy votes by saying. “ We shall do our best to bring about an increase of wages “. Nor would it be right for a government to say, “ We shall do our best to decrease wages “. All governments must leave the court complete independence on matters concerning wages and conditions of employment. That is the position that this Government quite rightly and constitutionally, and, I venture to say, in a statesmanlike way, -accepted. It is in the face of conduct of that sort that we have read in the daily press the unbridled comment which the Leader of the Opposition has dared to express.
The right honorable gentleman has had a long career, and he has occupied positions of high distinction both inside and outside the Parliament. He knows full well the value of evidence. He knows that before a statement is made or before anything is done there must be evidence to justify the making of the statement or the doing of the act. He knows that before a person comes to any decision, he should weigh the evidence for and against it. The right honorable gentleman has made Jio statement of any concrete fact that would in the slightest degree justify the language that he lias used. The language was not that of- a judicial, or even a judicious, person; it was nothing more than a splenetic spasm. When one finds language of that sort being used by a person who should know better, about a matter of such solemn ]m porta ncc as the industrial peace of this country, one can only express indignation, and ask him to put forward the facts on which he has supposedly based his statement. He has made a general broadcast and a wide, loose statement, but he has shown no facts which would justify language of the type that ho has used. What does the word “connivance” mean? It is usually accepted to mean something relating to an improper agreement. Does he suggest that this Government has been doing something improper in connexion with the Commonwealth Arbitration Court? That very notion, in view of the actions of the Government, is quite outrageous. The institution that has more integrity in this country than anything else is the system of the administration of justice. There is no question about the probity of the judges in all our courts. The statements of the Leader of the Opposition have no substance in them, and no basis of fact whatsoever. Therefore, I can only say that his statement is nothing more than a. statement made with a degree of recklessness which horrifies. It has been said that statements that are made falsely are base, and that statements made with recklessness are equally base. Statements such as those made by the Leader of the Opposition are such as to arouse the moral indignation of all decent people.
– The House had heard this matter, and it is typical of the way in which it has been brought forward that the- honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) has not even read the statement that I made. Indeed, he has not even read the sentence about which he has made two or three observations. This matter of standard hours, the standard basic wage and automatic quarterly adjustments, has been before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration for a considerable time. I have argued in this House that it was the duty of this Government to state the way that it considered the matter should be decided. That practice was followed by the last Labour Government, and this matter of quarterly adjustments was then ‘ one of the issues before the court, Nothing was said by the Opposition about the matter until the court’s decision had been given. However, as the inflationary spiral rose higher and higher, in spite of the promises made by the Government parties that they would put value back in the fi, the basic wage increased with every quarterly adjustment. As each quarterly adjustment was announced, pressure was brought to bear on the court by a large section of the press - the anti-Labour section of the press - to suspend the quarterly adjustments. We did not hear anything about the sacredness of the court then. The court was exposed to criticism, and, in some cases, criticism of the most violent nature, while the case was pending; but no statement was made, by the Opposition in this House.
Now that a decision has been given by a body such as the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, that decision is open to criticism. This court is the economic dictator of Australia. We cannot alter its decision on hours, wages or quarterly adjustments, but we can comment on the decision , and criticize it. Honorable members should remember that decision after decision of the courts of Australia have vindicated the right of the people to criticize. The honorable member for Balaclava does not object to the criticism of the court. He objects to the statement because it is a strong condemnation of what has been done by the court. My remarks were not a criticism of the court, or of counsel who appeared in the case, but a criticism of the Government that the honorable member supports. Many of the supporters of the Government, including the president of the Liberal party, believe that what the court has done is quite a proper thing. I do not know the opinion of the honorable member for Balaclava, but I suggest that the action of the court was an interference with the vested right of nearly 2,000,000 workers in this country. Quarterly adjustments were made at the end of each quarter. If the cost of living has increased during the quarter, the adjustment is not prospective but applies to the money that has already been spent by the wage-earner. Consequently, the people who have had to pay for the increased cost of living during the quarter, have had so much money taken out of their pockets because the quarterly adjustment has been suspended. That principle of retrospectivity has been enshrined in Commonwealth Arbitration Court practice for many years.
The decision of this court was given one Saturday morning at a special sitting of the court. One of the first comments on the decision was made by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). According to the press of the 12th September, the day that the decision was made, the Treasurer said that the court’s decision vindicated the financial policy pursued by the Australian Government. Surely that is a comment on the decision. Was the Treasurer entitled to make that comment? He said further that he was pleased that the court had seen the economic advantage of withdrawing the tedious and expensive quarterly adjustment method. Apparently while costs are rising it is tedious to have to contemplate the possibility of a salary or wage-earner getting the benefit of the quarterly adjustment method which lias been accepted by industrial authorities for the last 30 years. It is not tedious and expensive from one point of view, but it is certainly wage injustice from the opposite point of view - that of the worker. It is my belief that the Government did not put a case for an alteration of the present system. It took no attitude on the matter, but when the court’s decision was given, it snapped up the decision, thinking to itself, “ Here is something that vindicates our financial and economic policy. It proves that the inflationary spiral has stopped “. In the statement I made in reply to the Treasurer I indicated very much the same point of view as that which the honorable member for Balaclava has criticized. The Treasurer also said -
This means that adjustments will bc on a twelve-monthly basis.
How did the right honorable gentleman know that? The court did not make such a statement. The Government did not put a case to the court fairly from the point of view of the public or of the workers. The decision having been given the Government cannot say that there shall be no criticism of it. The honorable member for Balaclava in his motion seeks to deny us the right to criticize the decision. He has said that we cannot alter the decision. That is true, but he went further and said that wo should not criticize it. As long as I remain a member of this Parliament, if I think the occasion arises for criticism to be voiced I shall certainly voice it. In this instance the criticism was levelled, not so much at the court and still less at persons who appeared before it, as at the attitude of the Government. In answer to the Treasurer’s statement I said on the 13th September -
The great majority of wage and salary earners of Australia will repudiate the Treasurer’s rather brazen claim that the suspension of quarterly adjustments of the basic wage is a vindication of his financial and economic policy. The court has given no reasons whatever fur the decision so that the assertion is not only absurd but it is impertinent. The plain fact is that as costs are still rising and inflation has not been checked, the purchasing power of nearly 2,000,000 Australian employees is likely to be reduced. I believe this to have been demonstrated in the November basic wage adjustment.
Did not the Treasurer know from the reports of the Commonwealth Statistician that such an outcome was practically certain? Almost all the newspapers of Australia made such a forecast. This decision will deprive the worker, whether on the basic wage or on a margin above the basic wage, of the definite sum of money represented by the November adjustment. My forecast turned out to be correct. The November adjustment recently announced shows that the inflationary spiral has not been checked. I publicly criticized the Treasurer for having made no constructive suggestion to remedy the injustice that will result from the suspension- of a system which has modified, to a small degree, the hardships caused by the severe Fadden inflation of the last three years. Not only have I a right to level such a criticism, but also the criticism is just. It is true that in voicing my criticism of the Treasurer I used words similar to those which the honorable member for Balaclava has attributed to me. Ministers, certainly the Treasurer, must have known of the high degree of probability of an increase in the November adjustment. The Treasurer did nothing to prevent it. but when the announcement was made by the court the right honorable gentleman seized upon it and said that the Government’s decision vindicated the financial policy pursued by the Government.
What is the position of the States as the result of this decision? As the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) has said, it is completely untrue to contend that the New South Wales Government is breaking an award. An award of the court, unless it expressly says so, does not prevent an employer from paying more than the rates stipulated in the award. The New South Wales Government is perfectly within its right in paying more than the court’s award. The court’s decision is not applicable to New South Wales State instrumentalities. [Extension of time granted.’] The honorable member for Balaclava did not object to criticism of the court while the court was engaged in considering the matter. Then, he maintained a deep silence. Only when the case has been decided, and criticism can and must be made, does he object to such criticism. I do not withdraw anything that I have said because I think it is substantially true. It was the duty of the Government not to adopt and maintain a state of neutrality in this matter. It must have had a view one way or the other about the quarterly adjustment of the basic wage. The Treasurer, instead of saying, “ We will examine the court’s decision “, within an hour of the publication of the decision publicly stated that the decision was a vindication of the economic and financial policies of the Government and that it would mean twelve-monthly adjustments of the basic wage in the future. How could the right honorable gentleman have known that that result would follow the court’s decision? Out of the chaos that has been caused by the court’s decision he hopes to get something that will vindicate his financial and economic policies. When the right honorable gentleman went to the people prior to the last general election, he told them that he would put value back into the £1. He and his colleagues in the Government pledged themselves to the women voters to restore the real value of money. Since then the cost of living has increased. As it has increased in the quarter just ended, I am entitled to recall the promises which the Treasurer and his colleagues made to the people prior to the last general election. Indeed, it is my right and duty to do. so. It is perfectly fair for me to criticize the decision of the court and say that it inflicts injustice on the people. Because a person supports the arbitration system it does not mean that he may not criticize a decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court; it simply means that he should not take action against a decision of the court - which is a very different thing. I submit that the comment I made on the court’s decision was fair in the circumstances. Fair comment on a decision given by a court is always justified. The Treasurer had no right to snatch at the decision and say that it vindicates the Government’s financial and economic policies and that in future adjustments of the basic wage will be made at twelve-monthly intervals. I am perfectly entitled to criticize statements of that kind. The November adjustment averages 3s. over the whole of the Commonwealth. I:i respect of some States the amount is even greater than that. Therefore, I am perfectly entitled to say that the court’s decision has inflicted an injustice on the workers because inflation has not been checked.
The motion submitted by the honorable member for Balaclava is a sample device designed to prevent proper discussion of this matter. The basis of the democratic system under which we live is that if we believe that an injustice is being done and the matter is one of public concern we may comment upon it and criticize it. The honorable member does not want the Government to be criticized. If the criticism of the court’s decision had favoured the Government we should have heard nothing of it, but as it is against the Government the honorable member resents it. He must not be so thin-skinned as to believe that strong criticism of the Government must be stifled at all costs. I know that some of the persons with whom he sympathizes do not like criticism of the Government, but the Government has no alternative but to face up to the criticism that has been levelled against it in. this connexion.
– In a desperate effort to attain office at any cost, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has shown, time and time again, that he is prepared to take advantage of every breeze that blows, wherever it is likely to take him. In trying to capitalize on the recent basic wage announcement the right honorable gentleman made a series of outrageous statements. They were outrageous, not only in the sense that they reflected in a thoroughly unwarranted way on the Government, but also, in the sense that they reflected directly upon one of the most cherished democratic institutions of this country, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Whilst I can understand the right honorable gentleman’s discomfiture about this debate, the fact remains that all his evasive wriggling in the last quarter of an hour cannot conceal his avoidance of the two issues mentioned by the honorable member for Balaclava, one of which was to the effect that, the statement published in the name of the right honorable gentleman was scandalous. The right honorable gentleman in an effort to evade the issue, has said that the Government cannot take criticism. As a government, we take criticism every day this Parliament meets, and are prepared to take such criticism. But it is a different matter when a man who regards himself as the prospective leader of the Australian people, not in a splenetic spasm, but in a carefully considered statement not made in the heat of debate in this Parliament, but made for release in the press, accuses this Government of conniving in the suspension of quarterly basic wage adjustments, an act which amounts, in his own words, to little short of fraud or cheating. Conniving with whom ‘( The right honorable gentleman has not said. But what is the one and only implication of the right honorable gentleman’s statement? He says, in effect, that the Government has connived with the judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to procure a certain result. That is clearly what the statement implies. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of the word connive as “ to be secretly privy “ to a course of action. That is the accusation which the right honorable gentleman made in considered terms against this Government. He made it. while knowing that the whole industrial stability of this country rests on the great decisions on industrial principle made by the court, and that the issues of industrial peace in this country arc largely influenced by the view that hundreds of thousands of working men and women take of the stability of the court and the equity that they can expect from it. Knowing all that, the right honorable gentleman, in order to snatch some cheap temporary political advantage, has been prepared to sabotage one of our most cherished democratic institutions.
That is the substance of the charge made by the honorable member for Balaclava, which this Government supports, and which I affirm the right honorable gentleman has made no attempt to answer. He has wriggled all over the place, but he has not sought to justify the terms that he used, or to establish the falsity of our charge that what he clearly had in mind when he made the statement was to convey that the Government was conniving with the court. Curiously enough, believing that attack is the only means of defence in a matter of this kind, he now says that the Government has failed in its duty, in that as a government it did not present to the court during the basic wage hearing, arguments that would influence the court one way or the other. In other words, an attitude on the part of the Government which the trade union movement recognized as a virtue - the fact that it did not seek to influence the court, but allowed it to have an unfettered, impartial and objective approach to this industrial issue - is now used by the right honorable gentleman as a. ground for attack on the Government. According to the right honorable gentleman the Government should have gone in, boots and :it 1, to try to establish a case, whether that case pressed against the working man or not. Clearly, in a case in which there are two parties, those representing the employers’ organizations and those representing the trade unionists, government action to establish an argument one way or another must be partisan. It. must be in favour either of the case for the trade unions or the case for the employers. The Government took a course of action that it believed to be proper. I did not hear, at any stage of that long hearing, one word of criticism from honorable members opposite to the effect that we should have taken any other course of action. Indeed, the right honorable gentleman himself, knowing that he had exceeded the proper bounds of duty when he took a partisan line in the 40-hour week case, took a different line, or at least supported his leader in doing so, when the basic wage hearing was before the court. Now we are subjected to an attack by the right honorable gentleman, accompanied by much evasive wriggling on his part, because we have taken a line similar to that taken by his own leader in corresponding circumstances.
That leads me to the other element imported, I think rightly, into the charge made by the honorable member for Balaclava. There can be no doubt that there is a link between the attitude of mind, and the policy, evinced by the Leader of the Opposition and those displayed by the leaders of branches of the Labour party in the State sphere. I do not say that the Labour movement, as such, has set out wilfully to destroy this country’s arbitration system, but I say that it must realize that its .course of action is leading to that inevitable conclusion. There are even certain instances, as I hope to show, when that course of action has been followed wilfully. In those instances the Labour party has followed a course of action in other directions which it must have known would have the effect of weakening confidence in the court and debilitating the capacity of the arbitration system to function. There have been certain instances of Labour administrations, when they failed to obtain from the court the decisions they wanted, having used legislative powers to give effect to decisions of a nature which the court, after having surveyed all the economic considerations, was not prepared to award.
We are reaching the fantastic position that a political party which publicly expresses support for the arbitration system in practice abides by its decisions only when they happen to suit it. The New South Wales Labour Government was not prepared to await the decision of the court on the merits or demerits of the 40-hour week, but legislated for its institution. The Victorian Labour Government is not prepared to wait, although it knows that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has full power to deal with the matter, for a fair decision about long service leave. It is legislating in connexion with that matter irrespective of whether or not it is a proper decision to make. I am not arguing now the merits of that matter. It may be a very good thing.’ I am arguing, however, that at some point or other the people have to make up their minds whether they want the kind of economic stability and social justice that they receive from a court composed, as the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is composed, of independent men of integrity, or the anarchy, chaos and instability that a series of legislative decisions on industrial issues will produce in this country. We move a step downward when a Labour government, which has been a party to a case before the Arbitration
Court, declares after the court has given its decision, “ We are not going to accept that decision “.
– The court has not given a decision.
– That is utter nonsense. The honorable member has far too much knowledge of industrial matters to be under a misapprehension. He should not try to hoodwink anybody on this issue. The Arbitration Court has said to the governments of Australia, “ We believe that this country needs a period of wage stability”. Whether the court has published its reasons or not, one does not need to be clairvoyant to interpret its decision. It has suspended quarterly cost of living adjustments indefinitely and, in so doing, it has made clear to us that the country needs a stable wage for as far ahead as it is able to see now.
– That is very nice.
– I have not put a time limit to the court’s decision. I simply, say that the court has decided that we need a period of wage stability. The duration of that period, no doubt, will be affected by economic developments. That clearly is the view of the court.
We have learned from experience the importance of maintaining uniformity in these matters. The honorable member for Bendigo, the honorable member for Blaxland and other honorable gentlemen in this Parliament who have had industrial experience know that there could be no more prolific cause of industrial trouble in Australia than to have men engaged on the same kind of work, perhaps side by side, but receiving different rates of pay. I need only remind the House of the dislocation that occurred during World War II. when a war loading was paid to some workers but not to others. Honorable members opposite know as well as the court and the State governments know that the preservation of uniformity is vital. That is why State governments from time to time have issued general directions to State tribunals to follow, as far as possible, the awards of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. But here is a case in which a State government, of its own volition, has thrown aside uniformity and stability and has invited chaos in order to gain some passing political advantage. Gone is any sense of responsibility and any concern for future industrial stability in Australia! How is it proposed that this Government and succeeding governments shall maintain the arbitration system and uphold respect for the decisions of industrial tribunals if governments themselves are not prepared to respect such decisions? How can we convince recalcitrant employers and employees’ organizations which wilfully defy the arbitration system that they are prejudicing our prospects of industrial stability, when the Government of the principal industrial State of Australia, is prepared to cast stability overboard ? Such actions by the Government of New South Wales have been too frequent to be accidental. That Government apparently is following a set course with a definite objective in view. The right honorable gentleman and those who condone his statements and the actions of the New South Wales Government are either wilfully sabotaging the industrial arbitration system of this country or recklessly following a course of action that will lead to the same result.
This Government has been accused of being a low-wage government. It is during the lifetime of this Government that the average working wage of male workers has reached the record high level of £15 lis. a week. The intelligent worker realizes that a high wage of itself is meaningless unless it is stable and capable of purchasing a. reasonable volume of goods. We have proved to the Parliament previously that the average wage to–day will buy far more than the average wage-earner could buy at a1 earlier period in Australia’s history. The objective of this Government is to ensure stability, but every effort that it has made in that direction, ever since inflationary pressure was most acute, has been attacked and criticized by the Leader of the Opposition. He does not want stability. He condemns it.
-Order! The right honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
Mr CLAREY (Bendigo) r.5.10’J. - T regret very much the tone of this d eba ft1 and the extremely personal nature of the attack that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has made upon the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). That attack was totally unjustified. No better proof that this Government is biased in favour of low wages could be produced than the statements that were made by the honorable member for .Balaclava (Mr. Joske) and the Minister. What has given rise to all this criticism of the Leader of the Opposition? The right honorable gentleman merely expressed concern at the reduction of the standard of living of 2,000,000 Australian workers. The Premier of New South Wales, after having investigated the situation, decided that it was far better for the people of that State to keep the framework of their wage intact and so maintain their standard of living than to have it reduced by the decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Both of these prominent men have been attacked because they have taken a humanitarian view of the situation. The basis of the formal motion cannot be related, even by the wildest flight of imagination, to the comments of the Leader of the Opposition. The urgent matter to which the motion refers is -
The effect on the Australian arbitration system of the recent damaging statements by the Leader of the Opposition and the action of the Government of New South Wales in rejecting the recent decision of the Arbitration Court suspending quarterly adjustments.
Where did the Government and its supporters acquire the idea that every downward revision of wages or working conditions by the Arbitration Court must be carried out by employers? Two very important issues are raised in this debate. Hie first relates to the right of criticism. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court exercises two functions. First, it exercises a judicial function in relation to the interpretation of awards and a number of other matters. Secondly, it exercises, within its own sphere, a power equally as wide and as great as the power exercised by this Parliament because it makes awards which are as binding upon employers as are any laws of the land. Are we to be told in these days, when the people demand freedom to express their opinions, that political parties and governments have not the right to criticize such decisions? Only this afternoon I heard the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), in reply to a question, stress the importance of freedom from controls. The honorable member for Balaclava initiated this debate primarily to prevent any criticism of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. From the days of the late Judge Higgins until the present time, the role of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has been merely to fix minimum standards. It establishes a minimum wage and a maximum working week. The court has always made it clear that, apart from the obligation to observe those minimum standards, employers are as free as the air. They must pay not less than the wage fixed by the court and must not force an employee to work more than the standard hours that it lays down. But they may pay as much above the minimum rate as they wish to pay. Indeed, instrumentalities of this Government are paying more than the award rates fixed by industrial tribunals for their employees. This attack has been launched upon prominent Australian citizen.? merely for the sake of gaining political advantage. There can be no doubt about that. The honorable member for Balaclava and the Minister for Labour and National Service have merely tried to smear the reputations of political leaders who have been entrusted by the people with a high degree of responsibility in the State of New South Wales and in this Parliament.
This Government has no reason to be proud of itself. It claimed to have the support of the workers when it was elected to office, and it promised that it would protect the standards of the workers. Now it condemns anybody who defends those standards. I .sincerely hope that the people of Australia will appreciate the significance of this criticism of the Leader of the Opposition. The cessation of quarterly cost of living adjustments of wages must reduce the standards of the workers, and the Premier of New South Wales is convinced that the prosperity of his State will be protected best by the retention of the system of quarterly adjustments. The present situation has arisen from the indecision and general lack of policy of this Government. Obviously, any application to an industrial tribunal for increased hours of work and reduced wages threatens the economic security of the workers. The granting of such an application would reduce their purchasing power and. therefore, would have a grave economic effect upon the nation as a whole. Previous governments have recognized this fact and have placed their views before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in such cases in order that the court might be fully informed. However, this Government remained silent in a case that affected the welfare of hundreds of thousands of Australians because it involved the possibility of reduced wages and increased hours of work. Yet this is the Government that promised to protect the workers and even to improve their standards. It told the people that it would increase the value of the £1 so that they could enjoy a greater measure of happiness and contentment. But the Government was not prepared to send a representative to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in order to protect the economic interests of the great mass of the Australian people. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) announced immediately after the court made its decision that the suspension of quarterly cost of living adjustments of the basic wage would operate for a period of twelve months. How did the Treasurer know this when the court had not and still has not announced or given any such decision. Representatives of this Government have declared that any action by public men to prevent the incomes of the workers from falling should be construed as criticism of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and must be of a political and partisan character. Prices are still rising, as the latest C series index has shown. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the issue of the reduced value of wages will become the dominant subject of political controversy throughout Australia during the next twelve months.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. EricT. Harrison) put -
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mb. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr. Eric J. Harrison, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to validate, until the 5th December, 1953, the collections of customs duties made under Customs Tariff Proposals No. 8, which were introduced into Parliament on the 9th September, 1953. The necessity to introduce this validation bill has arisen th rough the impending prorogation of the Parliament, and the fact that, in the limited time available, it has not been possible to bring clown the customary bill for the enactment of the proposals. Honorable members will appreciate that this is purely a machinery measure and the opportunity for a. full debate on the proposed tariff amendments will be presented as early as practicable.
. -The Opposition asks the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric j. Harrison) for an assurance that the House will be given full opportunity to debate Customs Tariff Proposals No. 8 later. If such an assurance is forthcoming the Opposition will allow the bill to pass without delay.
– in reply - I give the assurance for which the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has asked. This bill is purely a matter of timing, as it were, and the Tariff proposals will be debated next session.
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.
Bill presented by Mr. Eric j. Harrison, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move.
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is in the same category as the Customs Tariff Validation Bill(No. 2) 1953; that is, it is necessary because of the impending prorogation of the Parliament. The bill is a machinery measure which seeks to validate, until the 5th December, 1953, the collections of excise duties made under Excise Tariff Proposals No. 5, which were introduced into the Parliament on the 9th September, 1953. As I indicated in my speech on the Customs Tariff Validation Bill (No. 2) 1953 an opportunity fully to debate the proposed amendments will be presented to honorable members as soon as practicable.
.- The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) has stated that Excise Tariff Proposals No. 5, which were introduced into the Parliament on the 9th September last, will be fully debated as soon as practicable. The right honorable gentleman is very subtle. Why should the Opposition agree to the postponement of the debate on those proposals when the Government, for a reason of which the Opposition is not aware, will prorogue the Parliament after this week, and the Parliament will not re-assemble for about a fortnight? Excise Tariff Proposals No. 5 reduce the excise on spirituous liquors including whisky, gin and brandy, by approximately 21s. a gallon. I do not advocate that spirituous liquors should be severely taxed as a means of raising revenue, but I am bound to point out that the excise on beer is not to be varied.
Generally speaking, spirituous liquors are consumed by persons who have welllined purses, whilst beer is the beverage of the poorer sections of the community. The rich are to benefit by a reduction of excise on whisky, gin and brandy, but the. worker is not to receive any relief in respect of excise levied on beer. Why this discrimination is made is beyond my comprehension. I am forced to come to the conclusion that, once again, the Government is conferring a benefit on its wealthy friends to the disadvantage of the workers. I see no reason why the Government should postpone the consideration of Excise Tariff Proposals No. 5 for some weeks. Incidentally, I point out that the tariff proposals ofthe Government affect a variety of manufactured goods. I know that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) will be interested in knowing that the tariff proposals cover mower blades, harvester blades, and parts for reapers and binders.
They also affect people who are interested in other manufactured products. I know that the tariff schedule with which we are dealing covers industries in the constituencies of members of this House, and that the Government proposes that increased tariff protection should be afforded to those industries. As a protectionist party, the Labour party believes that it is better to have within the confines of one’s own country industries from which taxation can be extracted rather than to support industries in countries overseas where they cannot be taxed. There are combinations and cartels that exploit the people of Australia. The Labour party, as a whole, is favorably disposed towards protection, in marked contradistinction to the Australian Country party, which traditionally supports free trade. The Australian Country party adopts the attitude that there should be absolute free trade, being apparently oblivious to the fact that importers, particularly of agricultural implements, combine to overcharge primary producers. Overseas companies cannot be taxed in Australia on their profits, and thus, in the absence of a protective tariff, would enjoy an advantage over the local manufacturer who employs Australian labour under Australian conditions. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that he is willing to give the Opposition an opportunity to discuss these excise and tariff proposals fully. If that undertaking is a hard and fast one, the Opposition is prepared to agree to the proposals, although members of the Opposition emphasize that they are unable to understand, and object very strongly to, the discrimination shown in favour of the drinker of spirits as against the modest drinker of humbler beverages.
– in reply - The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) asked for an assurance that these matters would be debated fully at a later date. I remember that on another occasion, when I occupied the seat at present occupied by the honorable gentleman, I rose in protest against the procedure then proposed. I remember how I pleaded with the honorable member who, with a cold, flinty look in his eye, said : “ Of course, we will let the honorable member discuss these proposals at a later date “. Unfortunately, the promised opportunity never eventuated. We never had the opportunity of discussing the tariff schedule that was brought forward by the honorable member who now. occupies the seat I then occupied, and who pleads for the right to discuss the tariff schedule. I remind him that only in the last session of this Parliament we debated the whole of the schedule, something which was never done when the honorable member sat on this side of the House.
– Oh, yes, it was.
– It was not. Notwithstanding the fact that on behalf of the then Opposition I pleaded for some consideration from the honorable member-
– We gave the opportunity.
– I assure the honorable member that we will give him every opportunity to discuss the relative values of whisky, and the various brands, if necessary, besides gin, vermouth and any other liquor. If the honorable gentleman puts up a sufficiently strong argument in favour of beer, who knows what might happen? I give him the assurance he seeks. The matter will be fully discussed at a later date.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from the committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue he made for the purposes of 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 of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Mr. Francis do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to authorize the payment, during the current financial year, of special grants amounting to £15,400,0.00 to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The payment of these grants has been recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in its twentieth report, which was tabled last week. In its twentieth report, the commission has continued to apply the same general principle of financial need as it adopted in its third report in 1936. The commission has expressed this principle in the following terms: -
Special grants are justified when a State through financial stress from any cause is unable efficiently to discharge its functions as a member of the federation and should be determined by the amount of help found necessary to make it possible for that State by reasonable effort to function at a standard not appreciably below that of the other States.
In applying this principle the commission makes a detailed comparison of the budget results of the claimant States with those of the non-claimant States. When making this comparison the commission takes account of the differences between the claimant and non-claimant States in their levels of expenditure and in their efforts to ra.ise revenue. As in recent years, the commission has adopted a balanced budget standard as the starting point for its investigation.
Because of the difficulty of making precise estimates of the needs of a claimant State in .the year in which the grants are paid, the special grants recommended are divided into two parts. One part represents the commission’s estimate of the State’s financial needs in the year for which the grant is recommended. This part of the grant is treated- by the commission as an advance payment, which is subject to adjustment two years later when the commission has examined in detail the audited budget results of the States for that year.
The other part of the grant represents a final adjustment of the’ special grant paid two years earlier. Thus, in the twentieth report, the commission has decided upon the grant which each State required in 1951-52, and has compared these amounts with the advance payments made in 1951-52 in order to arrive at a final adjustment. The special grants recommended for payment in 1953-54 are therefore made up as follows : -
The special grants recommended for payment in 1953-54 are £534,000 less than the special grants paid in 1952-53. On the other hand, the tax reimbursement payments to the claimant States in 1953-54 will be £1,312,000 higher than last year. The net effect, therefore, is that the total revenue grants to the claimant States will increase by £778,000 over last year, so that South Australia will receive £348,000, Western Australia £201,000 and Tasmania £229,000 more than in 1952-53.
On the basis of the preliminary budget estimates submitted to the commission by the claimant States, the effect of the commission’s recommendations would be to leave each of them with a small deficit in 1953-54. These estimates, however, are tentative only, and in two years’ time the commission will recommend adjusting payments in the light of the actual budget results achieved by the States. The special grants recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission have in each year been adopted by the Commonwealth Government of the day, and the present Government considers that the commission’s recommendations should be adopted again this year.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
It will be recalled that the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act was amended in the latter part of 1952 to provide for increased pension rates for mariners and certain classes of dependants, consequent on pension increases to corresponding classes of pensioners granted under the Repatriation Act. Since the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act came into operation in 1940, pension rates for seamen who suffered war injury have always been maintained at the same level as those for corresponding classes of ex-members of the force provided under the Repatriation Act. As announced in the budget speech, the rates of war pensions for certain classes of pensioners under the Repatriation Act are being increased this year also. It is the view of this Government that the principle of alining the pension rates under the two acts should be preserved. Accordingly, the bill proposes that the general pension rates for Australian mariners and widows of Australian mariners be increased on a basis similar to that provided for corresponding classes of pensioners, for whom increases are being provided under the Repatriation Act.
Briefly, the proposed increases are as follows : - The generate rate of pension is computed on the basis of the percentage of incapacity of the mariner. The general rate for a mariner whose incapacity is assessed at 100 per cent. will be increased by 5s. a fortnight. A mariner whose rate of pay was 22s. 6d. a day or less at the time he incurred a war injury, and whose incapacity is assessed at 100 per cent., will receive£8 5s. a fortnight instead of £8, as at present. Rates for cases assessed at less than 100 per cent. will be adjusted according to the degree of incapacity. The general pensions rates for widows of Australian mariners will be increased by 5s. a fortnight. Certain other increases of benefits for members and dependants granted under the Repatriation Act will be extended to mariners, and will be expressed in the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Regulations. The rate of sustenance while a mariner is undergoing medical treatment will be increased to conform with the new rates of pensions, and subsistance allowance while a mariner is travelling for treatment or pension purposes will be increased from 25s. to 30s. a day.
A domestic allowance in addition to a pension is paid to the widow and children of a deceased mariner, and to a widow who has attained the age of 50 years or is permanently unemployable. The allowance at present is £3 4s. a fortnight. It is to be increased to £3 9s. a fortnight. Recently, the domestic allowance paid to a widow with children ceased when the last child reached the age of sixteen years. In April, provision was made for the allowance to continue as long as the child, or one of the children, was not in receipt of the adult wage and was undergoing training. In practically every case, the training would be under the soldiers’ children education scheme. That benefit was extended to the children of certain classes of mariners many years ago.
In commending this bill to the House, I stress again that its main purpose is to bring general war pension rates for Australian mariners and the widows of Australian mariners into line with the increased rates proposed by the bill to amend the Repatriation Act.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 16th October (vide page 1544).
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is to give effect to the increases of war pensions and service pensions, which are included in the budget for this year, and to other alterations for the benefit of members within the scope of the act, and to their dependants. This Government, after a thorough examination of the whole problem, has made a practical approach to the task of providing for the needs of ex-servicemen, and each budget presented by this Government since 1949 has included increases of pensions. The nation owes an immense debt of gratitude to the exservicemen who fought in two world wars as well as in Korea and Malaya. Those ex-servicemen who, as a result of their war service, have suffered in health, or have suffered loss of sight or hearing Olof limbs, can never bc adequately compensated by a cash benefit or consideration of any kind. The Government has, however, made a valuable contribution towards improving the welfare of these ex-servicemen and. their dependants, both by way of increased pensions and allowances, and by the provision of substantial funds to ensure that the best of medical attention and hospital treatment is available to restore them to health and alleviate their sufferings. During the three years 1950, 1951 and 1952, all classes of pensioners have received increases, and I shall give examples of the alterations in the war pensions of the main classes. The rates shown in the legislation are fortnightly, as pensions are paid fortnightly, but as weekly rates are more readily understood, I shall refer to weekly rates in this speech.
War pensions were first provided under the War Pensions Act 1934, and were administered by the Treasury. In 1920, they were incorporated in the Australian Solddiers’ Repatriation Act, and administered by the Repatriation Commission. But, before this was effected, they were thoroughly examined by the then Minister for Repatriation, Senator the Honorable E. D. Millen, and were considerably revised in the light of experience over the previous’ six years. It is therefore appropriate that the year 1920 should be regarded as the base, or foundation, year in making comparisons of rates of pension in relation to factors such as cost of living figures. That indicator is preferred by ex-servicemen’s organizations, rather than, say, the basic wage. Those organizations do not desire that rates of pensions should be linked with the basic wage.
The C series index figure, which is the weighted average of six capital cities, was 1166 for 1920. For the June quarter, 1953, it was 2293. For simplicity, the base year could be indicated by the figure 100, and on this basis the relative figure for 1953 would be 197, a little less than 100 per cent, advance on the base year 1920. War pension rates have not been exactly related to the index figures over the years. If that practice had been followed, it would have involved reduction of rates of pension over a long period from soon after 1920 until about 1947. However, it is apparent from the alterations to the rates at various times, that all Australian governments have had some regard to the indexthat I have mentioned. Therefore, there has been an approximate relationship, and from the figures I shall detail it will lie seen that the rates in the bill work out very well on such a comparison.
Naturally, the classes which first occur to mind are those comprising pensioners who are dependent mainly upon war pension, for example, members who .are blinded or totally and permanently incapacitated. Those persons receive the special rate pension provided under the second schedule, which was drawn up in 1920. This pension was then £4. The new rate in the bill is £9 5s., about 130 per cent, advance on the original rate. The general rate for members under the first schedule is for members not so seriously incapacitated. For a member classed as 100 per cent, incapacitated, the rate was £2 2s. in 1920, and the proposed new rate is £4 2s. 6d., or almost double the 1920 rated.
The bill also provides for increases of the amounts under the fifth schedule to the act, that is amounts which are paid in addition to general rate pension to fifteen classes of members who have suffered the loss of a limb or limbs, or a limb and loss of vision in one eye. For the first six items, which relate to very serious amputation disabilities, the amount has always been the difference between the 100 per cent, general rate and the special rate, and therefore is necessarily adjusted each time that the special rate is altered. On that basis it will be £5 2s. 6d. The amounts for the remaining nine- items are determined separately from time to time. The fifth schedule was introduced in 1922, and the amounts for the items, other than the first six, originally ranged from 3s. 6d. to 28s. The range in the bill is from 8s. 6d. to 56s., and here again they are either double the original amounts or even more than double.
The pension of a widow in 1920 ranged, according to rank of the member, from fi 3s. 6d. to £3, but where the rate was below £2 2s. it could be increased to that rate if the widow had dependent children or her circumstances justified the higher rate. In 1943, a new basis was instituted, and a rate of £2 10s. was provided for all widows where the rank of the member was the equivalent of army captain or under. This was increased to £2 15s. in 1947 ; but it was found necessary to grant something further for a widow with one child or two children, and. a domestic allowance of 7s. 6d. was provided. Thus, the principle of additional payments to widows with children was again introduced. The rate of pension was increased to £3 in 194S. In 1950, it was increased to £3 10s. and the domestic allowance was increased to 10s. ; and, moreover, that allowance was made available to all widows with children, and to widows who had attained the age of 50 years. In 1951 the domestic allowance was increased to £1 12s., and extended to include a widow who is permanently unemployable.
Ordinarily, the domestic allowance payable to a widow with children is cancelled when the youngest child attains sixteen years of age, but in April last it was decided to continue the allowance so long as the child, or one of the other children, is not earning the adult wage and is being educated. I shall now summarize these payments to widows. Taking the case of a widow with children, the rate in 1920 was £2 2s. The rate in the bill is £3 12s. 6d. and the domestic allowance will be increased to £1 14s. 6d., making a total of £5 7s. or an increase of about 155 per cent, of the widow’s own pension. In the same period the pension of the first child of a deceased member has increased from 10s. to 26s. 6d., which is a rise of 16s. 6d., or 165 per cent. The pension of a second child has increased from 7s. 6d. to 18s. 6d., a rise of 147 per cent., and the pension of a third child or other child from 5s. to 18s. 6d., a rise of 13s. 6d., or 270 per cent. I believe that I have given sufficient information to show that because of the increases granted to these classes of pensioners during 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953, their pension increases have been equal to or much greater than the increases that have taken place in the C series index figures. The total to be paid in war pensions in this year will be £33,500,000, compared with £19,000,000 paid in 1948-49.
I now turn to service pensions, which are really invalid or age pensions for members, similar to the civil scheme. However, they have certain advantages for members and dependants as com- pared with the civil scheme. But there must be close adherence to the same factors of the civil scheme as regards rates of pension and the conditions attaching to income and property in the assessment of pension. The alterations to these factors under the bill to amend the Social Services Consolidation Act will be applied to service pensions. Foi example, the maximum rate for the member will be increased from £3 7s. 6d. to £3 10s., and the income which he may have apart from pension will be increased from £1 10s. to £2, or from £3 to £4 in the case of member and wife. The new provision regarding property will also apply, that is, accumulated property up to £1,250 will be allowed instead of £1,000 as at present. For a member and wife the new property limit will be £2,500. The amount of property a member may have without any reduction of pension has been increased from £100 to £150, and in the case of a member and wife from £200 to £300. The value of the pensioner’s home is excluded from the above amounts.
Where a pension has been reduced because of other income, it will be possible, as a result of the above increases of other permissible income, for members to receive increases of service pension up to 12s. 6d., or, in the case of a member and wife, up to £1 5s. Where the pensions have been reduced in pursuance of the property provisions, it will be possible for increases to be even higher than 12s. 6d. or £1 5s., as a result of the value of property exempted having been raised from £100 to £150 or £200 to £300, as the case may be. If the income other than service pension includes war pension, it will be possible for a member and wife in receipt of war pension at 60 per cent, general rate to receive service pensions each at the maximum rate. In addition they may have income from some other source to an amount of £2 4s., giving a total for both of £11 before any reduction of service pension. The position in this regard is a substantial advance in favour of service pensioners.
If the member served in the 1914-18 War, his wife might - not necessarily, of course - but might be eligible for an age pension in her own right, instead of a service pension as a wife of a member. In that case the maximum rate of pension payable to her would be twice that of the latter. She would be eligible for the maximum age pension, and her husband would be eligible for the maximum service pension if they were in receipt of war pension at 30 per cent, general rate, and they could have other income of £2 5s. - a total of £11 - without reduction of her age pension or his service pension. The last example is of special interest in that the rate of war pension viz., 30 per cent., is close to the average percentage of the pensions of those in the main group of war pensioners - that is, members and dependants in receipt of the general rate ranging from 10 per cent, to 100 per cent. The average rate is 35 per cent., and the great majority comprises members on a rate 30 per cent, or less, and these persons, subject to qualification as to eligibility for service pension, and to the amount of private income or property, could receive the maximum rate of service pension. It is estimated as a result of the increase of pension rates, combined with the increases in the property and income allowances, that the total payments for service pensions this year will be £2,700,000 as against £2,200,000 last year. That represents an overall gain to service pensioners of 22£ per cent.
The liberalizing of the means test will have a beneficial effect also upon certain classes of dependants of members whose war pensions are subject to the standard means test. These include certain parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and even mothers-in-law. For example, in the case of a parent of a deceased member, the maximum amount of income plus war pension that the parent may have will be increased from £4 17s. 6d. to £5 10s. per week. If the pension has been reduced because of the provisions relating to property, the increase may be higher than 12s. 6d. Other benefits in the bill, apart from rates of pension are considerable. Up till now there have been time limits in respect of eligibility of step-children and adopted children of a member. A child of an exserviceman of the 1914-18 war is not eligible for pension or other benefits unless dependent upon the member before the 2nd July, 1931, and, in the case of the 1939-45 war or the Korea and Malaya operations, dependent upon the member within seven years after the date of his discharge. Clauses 6, 18 and 20 remove these limits on the eligibility of stepchildren and adopted children.
In 1942, in respect of new claims for pension, provision was made for pension to be granted from a date up to three months before the date of the claim. The provision relates only to claims arising from the 1939-45 war, or the Korea and Malaya operations. The Government has now decided to extend the concession to claims in respect of the 1914-18 war also. As I have stated, the provision relates to original claims. In the case of a grant of pension as the result of a reapplication or an appeal against rejection of the original claim, provision already exists in the act for arrears of pension to be granted prior to the date of the successful re-application or appeal.
The Government has considered the provisions of section 43 of the act whereby the pension of a dependant may be terminated if the determining authority is satisfied that continuance of pension is undesirable. In some cases, action taken under the provision has evoked criticism, particularly where it has been taken in respect of a widow of a member, but I should like to make it clear that for many years now it had notbeen used for the purpose complained about. For many years action under the provision was taken only in cases where the circumstances were undoubtedly within the purpose of the provision. In reading the section, it must be kept in mind that another provision of the act stipulates that a pension of a female dependant shall not be continued after her marriage or re-marriage. The authorities under the act considered that they were justified in applying a similar principle where a dependant entered into a de facto relationship, but did not go through the form of marriage. However, the War Widows Guild has made strong representations that section 43 be withdrawn, and the section has now been reconstructed to limit its application to the case where a member or dependant requests cancellation of pension, and to give power to the commission or a board to cancel the pension when a dependant fails to draw pension for a long period. That sort of case gives the administration much difficulty. The department makes every effort to get in touch with such a dependant, but in some cases no evidence is forthcoming about the whereabouts of the pensioner. The department is thus unable to determine whether qualification for pension still continues, or even whether the dependant is still alive. The commission must have power to protect the public funds in such cases.
Conversation being audible,
– Order ! The persistent rumble of conversation must cease. It is out of order and most unfair to the Minister.
– The other clauses in the bill relate to administrative and machinery matters. For example, opportunity has been taken to amend sections 16 and 17 of the act. At present section 16 provides for the suspension of a commissioner or acting commissioner in certain circumstances and the declaration of his office as vacant, but does not provide for the formal termination of his appointment. The result is that a person so suspended would, if his suspension were confirmed in accordance with the provisions of the section, become permanently suspended instead of having his appointment terminated. Section 17 exhibits the same defect in relation to members of boards, and is also defective in that it makes no provision for the office of a suspended member to become vacant. Clauses 4 and 5 will remove those difficulties. In addition, opportunity has also been taken to amend section 16 to convert the number of days within which the statement of the Minister must be laid before the Parliament, and the number of days within which each House may resolve that a commissioner or acting commissioner be restored, to appropriate numbers of sitting days.
Where a pension is being retained under section 49 - that is, in cases of unmarried members of the forces afflicted with lunacy - and the pensioner dies while still afflicted with lunacy, the moneys and investments held on his behalf do not form part of his estate, and under subsection (6.) of that section the commission has a discretion in regard to the distribution of the money involved. Before it exercises that discretion the commission has to be satisfied that the member was, at the time of his death, afflicted with lunacy, and it takes great care to satisfy itself on this point. The section is now to be amended to provide that in such circumstances the commission may safely proceed to make the distribution where, at the end of six months from the date of the member’s death, it has not been proved to the satisfaction of the commission that the member had, at the time of this death, recovered from his affliction of lunacy.
The bill will also remove the existing time limits which apply in relation to appeals to a war pensions appeal tribunal. An amendment is also being made to section 119 for the purpose of amplifying the scope of its operation. Originally, this section provided for an arrangement to be made with the government of another part of the Queen’s Dominions for reciprocity of certain repatriation benefits, other than pensions, and for the Repatriation Commission to act as agent of a dominion in the granting of assistance, benefits and pensions. In 1950, the section was amended to enable an existing arrangement to be continued after a country had ceased to be a member of the Queen’s dominions. This amendment will enable an arrangement to be instituted with such a country; for example, India.
The other clauses in the bill relate to machinery matters and will be explained in detail in the committee stage. Other benefits apart from those in the bill have also been decided upon.. Sustenance rates payable while a member is undergoing medical treatment will be increased to conform with the new general rate and new special rate of pension. Subsistence allowance while a member is travelling for purposes in connexion with medical treatment or pension will be increased from 25s. to 30s. a day, and the allowance for a member who loses wages or salary while attending for treatment or pension purposes for a period of less than one day will be increase from 3s. to 4s. an hour.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the8th October (vide page 1197), on motion by Mr. Townley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The immediate issue on this bill is whether the proposed rates of social services payments are generous, which is the Minister’s description, or whether they are much too low, as the Labour party contends and, accordingly, should be increased. An amendment will be proposed to test the feeling of the House on that issue. For example, the bill proposes an age and invalid pension of £3 10s. a week, an increase of 2s. 6d. The Labour party considers that, in accordance with the Government’s own pre-election pledge, the pension rate should now be a minimum of £4 a week - an increase of 12s. 6d. The bill proposes permissible income under the means test of £2 a week, an increase of 10s. The Labour party considers that merely to accord with changed money values permissible income should now be £2 15s. a week - an increase of £1 5s. Similarly, the Labour party considers that the proposed means test limits on property are too low and should be correspondingly increased. The purpose of our amendment is to restore the real value of social services rates to what it was before the Labour Government was defeated. We regard this as obligatory on the Government in terms of its pledge at that time at least to maintain the social services values established by Labour. If this Government will not do that, the Labour party, as has already been announced by its leader, will act to do it immediately on its again becoming the government of this country.
When the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) made his second-reading speech on the bill he used a very large part of his speech to dilate on the increases above 2s. 6d. to be received by those able to benefit by the changed means test limits. The honorable gentleman was at pains to point out that 120,000 pensioners will receive increases of more than 2s. 6d. some, he said, up to 12s. 6d. He hammered home that point with every possible illustration. There are three things to be said about that. The first is that the accuracy of the figure 120,000 is doubtful because the Minister spoke solely of the income test. Where that income is from property it is likely that many of the 120,000 pensioners will find themselves ruled out of the increase above 2s. 6d. by the continuing severe property test. Secondly, from whatever basis the means test is examined, even as it is now to be modified - and four years after the promise was made is very late in the day - it will still be much more severe in terms of real money values than it was before this Government took office. The third point is that most persons in the group mentioned by the Minister, whether it numbers 120,000 or less, will still receive, after these increases, a pension of less than £3 10s. a week and in no case more than £3 10s. a week.
The Minister, in emphasizing at such length the increase of up to 12s. 6d., or whatever it may be, to 120,000 pensioners out of a total of 496,000 pensioners, has really emphasized the tragic position of the 370,000 aged and ill men and women, who, under this bill, will receive an increase of 2s. 6d. a week and nothing else. The Minister’s own continual emphasis on the increase to be received by a portion of the total number of pensioners has itself merely emphasized the tragic position of the great majority of pensioners who are to receive this niggardly increase of 2s. 6d. a week, because lie pensioners who are to be limited to the increase of 2s. 6d. are the very people who are on the lowest rung of the pension ladder. They are the people who are being engulfed, or who have already been engulfed, by the rising tide of prices. For them, an increase of 2s. 6d. a week, and nothing more ! They are the people who have no income, no property, no home of their own; who have to feed themselves, clothe themselves and find some sort of shelter for themselves on only £3 7s. 6d. a week at present, and only £3 10s. a week after this bill has become law.
– That is not necessarily correct. They may have their own homes.
– Order !
– As the Minister knows from his department’s official records, the overwhelming majority of the 370,000 old and ill persons whom I have mentioned are in the category of persons who have no income, property or home, and are in a position in which they are required to maintain themselves entirely on £3 7s. 6d. a week, which is now to be increased by a miserly 2s. 6d. a week. This utterly inadequate pro- vision for people who have nothing else is a fundamental fault of this bill which the Labour party seeks immediately to rectify.
These people represent a primary call on the social services provided by this nation. They are the aged and the invalid who are without resources and without savings, who are no longer able to work, or for whom work is not available. It is begging the question to say that they should have made some advance provision for themselves. In most cases they have had literally no opportunity to do so during their working lives, because they have never been able to earn enough to enable them to do so, or because they have lived in an economy of constantly recurring periods of severe unemployment; or because of the necessity always to provide for their own families, or because of illness and misfortune.
If it is agreed that those people have a right to live, then the fact to be faced is that for their means to live they are dependent on this community, and are therefore finally dependent on the Government, which speaks and acts in the name of the community. Obviously the Government does not deny that. It does not deny that these people have a right to live. It does not deny that they have no means of subsistence other than such as may be provided by the community. Nor does the Government claim that it is financially impossible for it to make increased provision for the base rate pensioners. Such a claim is obviously untenable when the return of prosperity has been announced in the Treasurer’s budget speech, and the budget itself makes provision for a reduction of taxes, which will amount, according to the Government’s own figures, to £118,000,000, largely distributed among big companies and wealthy sections of the community. Apparently, then, since the Government does not deny that these people are dependent upon . it for their very existence, and does not claim it to be financially impossible to provide for them, it has chosen to take the attitude that £3 10s. a week is an adequate amount for these elderly ladies and gentlemen and invalids to live on. If not, then Government members are now in a position to increase the amount, and will have an opportunity to do so by voting for the amendment that will be moved by the Opposition. But if Government supporters do claim that this amount of £3 10s. a week is, at this time of inflation, a sufficient amount on which, to keep body and soul together, then the two sides of the House are utterly divided on the issue. The Labour party declares clearly that the amount requires to be substantially increased before it will meet present costs and prices, and that to refuse to increase it is to condemn hundreds of thousands of our fellow Australian senior citizens to semi-starvation.
That is not merely the view of the Labour party. My statement is supported by evidence that has been obtained as the result of a complete investigation. The evidence is all round us in our daily lives. There are a thousand responsible witnesses from every city and State in this Commonwealth to give evidence on the matter. That evidence comes, not from men with political axes to grind, but from responsible and independent men, ministers of every denomination whose work brings them into daily contact with pensioners. They all present to this House and to this nation the same evidence of despair, hunger and tragedy. It would take me several hours to read to the House all their statements, but there is no need to do so, because every honorable member has had an opportunity to study them. As recently as last Saturday a distinguished prelate made a timely and moving appeal for these people. It was timely, coming as it did just before this debate, and I hope it will move this House to action. He pointed to the poverty of pensioners, and showed that the proposed increase had been practically wiped out in advance by increased prices, before it had even been paid, and he expressed the hope that something further would be done to improve the position of these unhappy people.
– Is the honorable gentleman speaking on behalf of wealthy supporters in the electorate of EdenMonaro ?
– I am speaking on behalf of the people of EdenMonaro generally, and I guarantee that they are with me on this issue.
– Cheer up.
– This is one thing which does not merit that kind of interjection. It is a serious problem which confronts this nation. It is all very well for the well-fed honorable member to say “ Cheer up “. I invite him to toll these unhappy pensioners to cheer up and see what answer he will get from them. . The tragedy of the pensioners is not confined to any one city or any one State. The Perth Daily News, which is not a Labour paper, conducted a detailed investigation of the position of pensioners in that city, and published its findings in a series of special articles in August. It declared -
Bluntly, these people are starving. In our own struggle to feed, clothe a.nd rear our families so many of us fail to see people starving to death in our midst.
In a land of alleged plenty, enviously viewed by almost every country in the world, they can’t get enough to eat.
Many aged pensioners are starving to death, dying of malnutrition, or call it what you like.
In that series of articles the Daily News produced chapter and verse of actual cases that it had investigated to prove the truth of its statements in a way that shocked the city of Perth and should shock us all.
There, then, is the evidence from a thousand different witnesses all over Australia. That evidence stands completely uncontradicted. I have neither heard nor read any refutation of it, nor have I heard of anybody who has dared to brand these witnesses as false, or who has produced facts .to demolish the evidence they have presented. Does any member of the Liberal party or the Australian Country party contradict the evidence? Is there any one of them who will say that the witnesses are either telling lies or are mistaken? If any honorable member on the Government side is prepared to say that, then let him also produce his evidence and give his testimony. Let him rise, well fed, in his place in this House to-night and declare that he has investigated the position and that he is satisfied that pensioners are not suffering great hardship, that their position has not been worsened by inflation, that they are better off than they were before, and that the increase of 2s. 6d. a week is adequate. Let him say that it is possible at to-day’s prices to pay room rent and buy food and clothing, or even live at all on £3 10s. a week. Is there one Government supporter who believes that, and is prepared to say it? If so, he can honestly vote for this bill as it stands and vote against the amendment that will be moved. But how many honorable members opposite are prepared to make these statements ? Those who are not prepared to do so can scarcely vote against the amendment and at the same time do justice to themselves and to their pledges to the people, because every honorable member opposite knows that he was elected as the result of a specific pledge to the people to maintain, indeed to increase, the true value of social services in this country during this Government’s term of office.
A royal commission is not needed to establish the fact of the sufferings and privations of the aged, poor and invalid, but such a commission, if appointed, would undoubtedly present a report that would sear the conscience of every honorable member. It does not need the computation of percentages to demonstrate that old people and ill people are going short of nourishing food. In the view of the Labour party, however, the decline of the percentage of the pension to the basic wage which the pension represents is a measure of the Government’s failure to honour its minimum obligation. Here is a government that has always urged the people to abide by arbitration. The pensioners have no court of arbitration to which they may resort. As the Minister has said in this House, they are entitled to their share, modest though it may be, of the national prosperity. When the Government’s pledge about social services was made, the pension was about 34 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day it is 29 per cent. As a measure of help and justice to the pensioners, the Opposition proposes by its amendment that the pension rate shall be further increased until it represents the same percentage of the basic wage as it represented when the Government made its pledge. On present figures that would mean an increase of the rate of pension to £4 a week, which would cost £12,000,000 a year in a budget which makes provision for expenditure of almost £1,000,000,000. That extra amount of £12,000,000 could easily be saved by avoiding the waste that occurs in relation to other expenditure by this Government.
The Labour party is not suggesting that that pension rate should become a new figure, pegged for ever to the basic wage. Nothing of the kind ! It suggests that, at this time, in these circumstances, and in the light of the Government’s specific pledge and of the present plight of the pensioners, the suggested amount is the least that ought to be paid. Further, the Labour party says that whatever may have been the position in the past, the need of the pensioner is now so urgent, and his plight so severe, that the pension increase should operate from the first day of the financial year.
Mr. Hulme interjecting,
– We shall give the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) the opportunity to vote on that issue also. I had hoped that in this debate - but I am afraid that I shall be disappointed - we should not hear again one argument that has been advanced before as a justification of the Government’s present position. I refer to the fallacious argument that this Government and its anti-Labour predecessors in office have provided 4Ss. of the total pension rate, whereas Labour governments have provided only 22s.
– Hear, hear !
-The honorable member says, “ Hear, hear ! “ I cannot imagine how he would dare to insult the intelligence of the public. He might just as well argue that this Government has added £6 to the basic wage during its term of office, whilst Labour governments added only £2 to the basic wage, and that it therefore deserves credit. Such an argument would be as valid as the argument about pensions. The honorable member and everybody else who uses that argument knows that it is a false argument. If you increase the basic wage by £6, as you have done by inflation during your term of office, you have not added Id. to the real purchasing power of the worker, and, far from increasing the purchasing power of the pensioner, you have, during your term of office, actually severely reduced it.
– Order! The honorable gentleman will please address me.
– What has been said of age and invalid pensioners who are solely dependent upon their pensions applies equally to widows who are solely dependent upon their pensions-. The need for an increase of basic payments in accordance with changed money values applies also to various other rates. The Opposition amendment, therefore, will provide for appropriate increases of those rates. Child endowment provides an outstanding example of the utter repudiation by the Government of its social services pledge. It promised to maintain, and, indeed, to increase, the true value of all social services, which include child endowment. Yet, in the years of inflation since then, it has not increased the rate of child endowment by a penny. It has allowed the real value of that payment to the mother to be almost halved in complete repudiation of its promise.
The adjustments of the permissible income and permissible property limits under the pensions means test, as announced by the Minister, will be welcome as far as they go, but they will not go nearly far enough.. An adjustment of these means test rates was long overdue in the light of the Government’s pledge in 1949 at least to maintain true means test values. The adjustment now to be made will be insufficient to give effect to that undertaking. The Minister surely is naive if he believes that the memory of Australians is so short that they will accept the cla im, which he made in his second-reading speech, that the Government has now, in fact, ameliorated the means test during its term of office. All that this over-late adjustment does is to make up some, but not all, of the leeway that has been lo3t during that term. “When this Government came into power, the permissible income under the means test was 30s. a week for each pensioner. For over three and a half years the Government has left that figure completely unchanged, although inflation during that time has nearly halved its value. Now the Government proposes to increase the rate to £2 a week, which represents an increase of 33i per cent. Whatever measuringstick the Government uses, it cannot truthfully argue that the change of money values during that time has been limited to 33 1/3 per cent. I do not expect even the honorable member for Sturt to use that argument, although no member of this Parliament has done more - unintentionally no doubt - to mislead the pensioners concerning their position under this Government. The honorable gentleman constantly speaks in favour of the abolition of the means test, yet he regularly votes for a government which has reduced the effective value of the means test during its term of office. It is beyond doubt that the income means test is now more severe in terms of money values than it was when this Government took office, even if we take into account the 33-1 per cent, adjustment that is about to be made. By the amendment that it contemplates, the Labour party proposes to hold the Government to the minimum terms of the means test pledge that it made to the Australian people.
The view of the Labour par tj’ is that, in terms of this pledge, the permissible income should be at least £2 las. instead of £2 a week. The Leader of the Opposition lias already announced that the ensuing Labour government will act as soon as it comes to office to honour the pledge that this Government has dishonoured. The increase of the permissible property limit proposed by the Government is from £100 to £150. Even that increase will not accord with the change of money values. But the position is far more deceptive than an examination of that figure alone would indicate, because the Government proposes to retain the deduction of £1 a year for each £10 of property from £150 to £450. Over £450, the only alteration that it proposes in order to compensate for the tremendous change of. values as a result of inflation is a reduction of the pension by £2 a year for every £11 of property instead of £2 a year for every £10 of property, with a new ceiling limit of £1,250 ‘instead of £1,000. The Labour party proposes an alteration of the property means test in order to bring it into line with the Government’s pledge at least to maintain all true means test values.
This bill embodies several proposals of a minor character in relation to the expenditure that they entail, which nevertheless will be useful in rectifying anomalies in the social services law. The Opposition agrees with these amendments, so far as they go, and commends the Minister for having brought them forward. We wish that we could commend him equally on major matters. Unfortunately, the grave defects of the bill, in relation to both the basic rates of payment and the amelioration of the means test, will not be compensated by these i::cr amendments.
Indeed, a most significant omission from the Minister’s second-reading speech was any reference to the Government’s previous declaration of its intention to abolish the means test. Although in previous years the honorable gentleman had been eloquent in expressing his determination to abolish the means test during his term of office, on this occasion he was silent on the subject. The reason for this remarkable change of attitude is a matter for conjecture. The Government has Been so lavish with bold promises and declarations of policy which it has later repudiated and abandoned that it would not be astonishing if this change of front j the Minister indicated the fate of the means test pledge. If that is so, it explains the Minister’s seeming retreat on this issue in his second-reading speech. Of course, it may well be that the Minister and the Government are preparing once again another means test abolition placard for presentation to the people during the next general election campaign. On that assumption, the Government must be ingenuous indeed to believe that it can score at the ballot-box a triumph of hope over the electors’ experience of the value.lessness of its promises. How many times the Government has now promised to abolish the means test without doing anything about it is a matter for computation by a statistician. One fact clear in my mind, however, is that this Government, because of the special financial interests which it serves and because of the distaste of its supporters for the welfare state, will never produce a means test abolition plan of a kind acceptable to the Australian people.
The Government’s attitude, represented by its vague, unfulfilled promises and its continual backing and filling on this issue, is at complete variance with the attitude of the Labour party. The determination and the actions of the Labour party on this matter, both in office and out of office, have long been consistent. Just as the Labour party is determined to maintain the basic pension at an adequate rate, so it is determined to proceed as rapidly as possible by progressive steps towards the total abolition of the means test. .The Labour party is united on this great project, as it is on all projects for the social Betterment of the people. The former
Labour Government proved its sincerity during the war when, despite the immense costs that had to be provided for that struggle, it took successive steps to ameliorate both the income means test and the property means test in a way that led to a real increase of their true values. The Labour party will further prove its sincerity upon its return to office next year, when, in terms of the announcement already made by the Leader of the Opposition, it will act immediately to liberalize the permissible income to £2 15s. a. week, with a corresponding adjustment of the property test. From then onward, it will take further steps as rapidly as possible towards the goal it has in mind.
The doubts of Government supporters concerning the possibility of abolishing the means test are new-found. In 1949, the present Government parties announced to the people that, if elected to office, they would produce their plan for the total abolition of the means test in 1952. It was to be done in three years. It is very interesting to compare the situation now, not with the situation in 1949, but with the situation last year, when the Minister made some noteworthy comments in his second-reading speech on a similar bill. On that occasion he said -
I have never hesitated to say both inside and outside this House, that there are many features of the means test on pensions which are repugnant both in themselves and in their effect.
He went on to express his hope for the early fruition of a complete scheme whereby no man would be debarred from pension because of his thrift or industry. But he had a reason why the Government’s promise could not be honoured then. He explained that the Government had to find £125,000,000 from revenue for State public works alone, and many more millions for the States’ other needs. The Commonwealth does not have to do that now. He said last year that, but for this additional drain upon Commonwealth revenues, we could be rid of the means test. The honorable gentleman had no doubts then of the practicability of abolishing the means test. Now the Government no longer has the obligation to finance the public works of the States from revenue. He has got rid of the obligation.
– That is not so.
– The Government is not financing State works from revenue this year. It is financing them with treasury-bills. I refer honorable members also to an interesting letter that the Minister wrote early this year to the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark). The honorable gentleman stated in that letter -
I may mention, however, regarding the suggestion that the means test be abolished, that the Government recognises the unfairness of the means test and the penalties which it imposes upon thrift. Efforts have been made accordingly to devise a new system of social services whereunder pensions are paid as of right and without a means test. A solution has already been reached which, it is felt, will be suited to Australian social and economic conditions’ and which will meet with the general approval of the community.
Owing chiefly to the Commonwealth’s heavy financial commitments in defence and payments to the States, it has not been found possible to introduce the new scheme at present. As soon, however, as the economic and international position improves, the Government hopes to be able to proceed with this important reform.
Now, of course, the Minister and his colleagues claim that the country’s economic problems have been solved and thai Australia is again prosperous. But still the Government fails to fulfil its promise to abolish the means test ! Never again should it make that promise to the people in the hope that they will believe it. The change on the part of the Minister is indicated by the following statement that he made during his second-reading speech on this bill: -
It is sometimes said that the means test penalizes thrift and savings, but it is easy to overstate ite effect in that direction
I may equally remind the Minister that while the financial problems associated with a just system of social services are very real, it is also easy to overstate their magnitude.
When this Government makes loud claims of increased provision for social services, it is salutary to examine a few official facts and figures. I take again the illustration of the age and invalid pensioners, who form such a large section of the total number of recipients of social services. When the tragedy of their present position is set out, as I have endeavoured to set it out to-night, it is fair to recognize that this is « problem intensified by the organization of a complex industrial society. It is a. modern problem for government, butthat should in no way weaken our attack upon it. It is also fair to recognize that this is a problem intensified, not only by inflation, but also by the ageing population. Medical science has extended the span of human life without providing the means of sustaining it. In 1900, the average expectation of life was 51 years for a man and ‘ 55 years for a woman. In 1948, the average expectation of life was 66 years for a man and 71 years for a woman. These are the latest figures that I have, but they show that within 50 years, the expectation of life has increased by fifteen years, and that the number of people who have become eligible for pensions, in relation to the total population, has correspondingly increased.
In 1920, there were eighteen men over 65 years of age and women over 60 years of age for every 100 males in the community work force between the ages «f 16 and 65 years. To-day there are 31 men over the age of 65 years and women over the age of 60 for every 100 males in the community work force. Those figures show the increase that has occurred in 30 years. Statisticians estimate that by 1965 the figure will have risen to 36 persons in the pensions agc group and by 1975 to 39 persons in that category for every 100 males in the community work force. Those estimates exclude unpredictable factors of migration from the calculation. Those in the pension age group to-day represent a generation with a high birth rate, and they are also living longer - much longer. Eight years ago, 342 persons in every 10,000 of our population were age pensioners. The corresponding figure to-day is 425 in every 10,000 of our population. In those circumstances, it would be reasonable to find the cost of pensions continually increasing, because the number of persons dependent upon pensions has continually risen in relation to the total population. However, in 1938-39, age and invalid pensions represented 1619 per cent, of the total Commonwealth budget. In 1948-49, these pensions represented 7.8 per cent, of the total
Commonwealth budget, and that was a year in which heavy costs arising out of the war and post-war period of reconstruction had to be met. To-day, there is still no improvement in that percentage. Indeed, a further slight reduction has occurred. Despite the largely and continually increasing number of pensioners in relation to total population the proportion of the total Commonwealth budget now expended under that heading is down to 7.4 per cent.
The figures in relation to national income are equally illuminating. In 1938-39, age and invalid pensions represented 2.2 per cent. of the national income. This percentage was maintained In 1948-49. Since then, the Government has had the opportunity to improve the position of the recipients of social services, yet the figure has been slightly reduced to 2.1 per cent. of the national income, although the number of age pensioners has increased in that period from 350 to 425 in each 10,000 of the population. Even the cost of abolishing the means test, large though it would be, is frequently overstated. Based on a pension of £3 10s. a week, the cost of abolishing the means test in respect of age pensions would be £99,000,000. Even including the cost of all the supplementary social services that have been recently introduced, expenditure by the Commonwealth on social services to-day is still less than 4 per cent. of the national income. The exact figure is 3.97 per cent. of the national income compared with 3.7 per cent. three years ago. Figures issued by the International Labour Office show that only six of 24 countries examined are spending a smaller percentage of their national income on social services than is Australia. The lesson that those figures teach is that there Is still room for a considerable improvement in our provision for social services. Indeed, the ideal of a welfare state, to which Labour subscribes, in which full protection is given against all the vicissitudes of life as a payment by right and not on proof of destitution, and to which all citizens will contribute according to their means, is not unattainable. Such a state can be neither an El Dorado state nor a mendicant state. It is a state in which thrift will not be penalized, and the right to the reasonable possession of private property will be recognized. It is a state which must be based on a policy of social justice, and on the full recognition by each individual of his moral duties in fair balance with his moral rights.
For the present, the Opposition is concerned with an amendment that is designed to ensure that this Government shall honour, at least, the pledge that it made to maintain the value of social services as at the date on which the pledge was made to the people shortly before it took office in 1949. Accordingly, I move -
That all words after “ That “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “ the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide for -
1 ) the new pension rates to operate from 1st July, 1953;
the rates set out in the bill to be further increased to the same percentage of the basic wage as before this Government took office;
the amounts of permissible income and permissible property under the means test to be further increased in accord with the change in money values;
similarly appropriate increases to be made in those social service rates which have not been so increased “.
– I second the amendment.
.- For many years, some honorable members on both sides of the House have been urging the best possible conditions forage and invalid pensioners. I think that it will be interesting to-night if we examine the whole position with a view to ascertaining how successful the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and his colleagues were in inducing the Labour Government to increase age pensions. We should also compare their achievement with the success that members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party have had in requesting the Menzies Government to increase pensions during the four years it has been in office.
First, I shall examine the period from 1946 to 1949, when the Chifley Labour Government was in office. No increase of pension was granted in 1946. An increase of 5s. a week was granted in 1947 and again in 1948. No increase was given in 1949. That is to say, the Chifley Labour Government increased pensions over a period of four years by 10s. a week, or an average increase in each of the four years of 2s. 6d. Is there any wonder that the Labour Government, which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro supported, was named the Woolworth Government, or the half-a-crown Government? Let us now compare that record with the increases of pensions that have been granted by the Menzies Government. The pension was increased by 7s. 6d. a week in 1950, by 10s. a week in 1951 and by 7s. 6d. a week in 1952. This bill provides an increase of 2s. 6d. a week. In other words, the Menzies Government has increased the pension by £1 7s. 6d. a week over a period of four years, or an average of 6s. 10-Jd. a week. I remind the House that the average increase granted by the Labour Government over a similar period was 2s. 6d. a week.
I shall now examine the cost of living. According to the Commonwealth Statistician, the cost of living increased by 9.3 per cent, in 1949 - the last year the Chifley Labour Government was in office. Did the Labour Government increase the pension in that year? Of course, it did not ! The Labour Government did not increase the pension by one penny in 1949, although the cost of living rose in that period by nearly 10 per cent. These figures are not my calculations, but are issued by a government official whose duty is to prepare and publish accurate statistics. The Commonwealth Statistician shows that since the Menzies Government has been in office, the cost of living has increased by 62 per cent, and that the pension has increased during the same period by 64.7 per cent. Therefore the House will see that this Government has actually increased the purchasing power of the pension in relation to the cost of living. Before the Menzies Government assumed office, an aged person who became sick had to pay his own medical expenses and purchase his own medicines, if he could, out of the miserable pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week provided by the Labour Government. The Menzies Government has granted to pensioners the greatest benefit that they have over received, namely, free medical attention and free medicines. The
Statistician computes the value of that benefit at 8s. a week for a single person and 16s. a week for a married couple.
Opposition members frequently discuss the relationship of the pension to the basic wage. I think that when we are considering this matter, we should, have a clear definition of the basic wage. In 1907, Mr. Justice Higgins defined the basic wage as follows : -
The normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilized community for a family of about five.
I stress the words “ for a family of about five”. In 1940, the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court said -
The court has always conceded that the needs of an average family should be kept in mind when fixing the basic wage.
I again emphasize the words “ average family “. In 1950, the court said -
The Harvester award was the actual wage upon which well-situated labourers are at the time maintaining the average family unit.
It is perfectly clear, from every basic wage judgment that has been given, that the basic wage is an amount which relates to a family unit. Therefore, those people who try to compare the pension paid to a single person with the basic wage, which is designed by the court to provide for a family unit, are obviously endeavouring to compare things that are not comparable. In order to compare them one would have to divide the basic wage by five, which would mean that the court decided that £2 7s. 3d. a head is the minimum amount that industry can pay -for each member of a family on the basic wage.
– How do you work thai out?
-. - By doing a simple sum in arithmetic, and dividing £11 16sl by five. The pension cannot be related to the basic wage, because the basic wage is designed to support a family unit In the last two decisions affecting the basic wage there have been prosperity loadings - in one instance 7s. 6d. and in the other £1 - that had no relationship whatever to the cost of living. One would be perfectly justified in comparing the pension with the cost of living index in the same way that the basic wage formerly was related to the cost of living; index. In my opinion, a pension at all times should be an amount that is fair and just to the pensioner, that provides for his reasonable needs, and that takes into account the capacity of industry to pay and the effect of the whole social services structure on the national economy.
Under the bill now before the House, a married couple of pensionable age could have an income of £11 a week and free medical attention to the value of 16s. a week. The position to-day is that an aged couple of pensionable age can receive in pensions, plus permissible income and plus the benefit of free medical attention and free medicines, which workers on the basic wage do not receive, the equivalent of the basic wage of £11 16s. a week.
Let us now examine the position to see what would happen if the figure were raised above the basic wage, or if, in other words, it were made more profitable for a person to give up work and take the pension than to remain in work, even though he had attained the pensionable age. First of all, I think honorable members should realize that governments do not pay pensions. Pensions are paid by the taxpayers of this country, by the wageearners, by the thrifty people and by the producers. If there were no wageearners, no thrifty people and no production, there would be no pensions, Because there would be no funds out of which to pay them. In Australia at present there are 850,000 people of pensionable age. Of that number 520,000 are now either working or are in receipt of an income from their savings. To make B more profitable to give up work and go on the pension would mean the destruction of the source from which all pensions are paid.
Let us now look at the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro on behalf of the Labour party. The honorable member has suggested a pension of £4 and a permissible income of £2 15s., which makes a total of £6 15s. In the case of a married couple the total would Be £13 10s. The addition of 16s. as the value of free medical treatment and free medicines would mean allowing to that aged couple an income of £14 6s. a week, which would be £2 10s. in excess >f the present basic wage.
– You do not think he meant it, do you?
– It is obviously one of those impracticable suggestions that are put forward by irresponsible people who pretend to be friends of the pensioners, whereas they are the pensioners’ worst enemies, because the scheme they propose would destroy the whole of our social service system. Let it be remembered that the basic wage is not fixed by this Parliament. The basic wage is fixed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and recently that court pegged the basic wage at £11 16s. a week, which has to keep a family unit. The Labour party is suggesting that two aged people, when the basic wage is fixed at £11 16s., should get £14 6s. a week. In effect, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is saying, to every man of pensionable age, who is in receipt of the basic wage or in receipt of an income of up to £14 6s. a week, “ Toss up your job. You can do better by going on the pension “. If only one-half or onethird of the 520,000 aged people who are now working and helping to pay for social services were to give up their jobs, cease to pay taxes and immediately receive the pension, how would the pensions be paid? If ever there was a cruel and irresponsible suggestion, it was the suggestion made to-night by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro on behalf of the Labour party. While the honorable member was speaking I had the cost of his proposal worked out. The initial cost to the country, assuming all those people remained in work, would be £82,330,000 a year. Honorable members might say that the Government could easily pay another £82,330,000 a year. Perhaps the Government could pay that amount if the people of this country remained in work, and continued to save. Once people give up work, and. once they stop saving, the source from which all pensions are paid is destroyed. My knowledge of the pensioners suggests that they would rather have a reasonable and secure pension than a promise from an irresponsible member on behalf of an irresponsible party which, when it was in office, did absolutely nothing worthwhile for the pensioners. Now the Opposition comes forward and makes this suggestion, not for the sake of the pensioners, but purely to buy votes. That is a cruel and wicked thing to do.
Let me point out that, at the present time, only 2,500,000 persons are in employment in Australia, yet the honorable member for Eden-Monaro suggests that 500,000 aged people who are not receiving pensions because they are working, or because they are living on their savings, should go on to the pension. Already this country has reached the danger limit in this respect. Only last week, a man aged 6S years came to see me. He was on a basic wage of £11 lis. a week. After I had examined the figures and checked the matter with the Department of Social Services, I had to tell that man to ask his employer to reduce his wage by lis. to £11 a week, and then take the pension. He would then receive £34 a year more, in addition to getting free medicine and free medical attention. In that particular case the pensioner had a young child. I admit that that is an anomalous position, but it is possible even with the limit as it is at present. If the Government were to raise the limit of pension, plus permissible income to an amount higher than the basic wage, or to the figure suggested by the honorable member for EdenMonaro, who would work? Why should anybody work if he would be better off by not working?
I suggest to the Minister and to other members of the Government that social services in Australia are getting into a critical position. While the means test remains there is a danger that the cost of social services may eventually destroy our economy. The present system is discouraging thrift and discouraging work. If it becomes more profitable for a man to give up work than to remain in work, and if thrift is penalized, how will production be maintained and how shall we obtain savings to pay for new capital equipment? There is only one thing to do if the Government would prevent the crash of its social services structure. The solution of that problem is to abolish the means test and introduce a national retiring allowance on a contributory basis. I believe this bill is the first step towards the total abolition of the means test, because it provides for n considerable liberalization of the test. It will enable a married couple of pen sionable age to have a combined income of £11 a week, made up of a combined pension of £7 a week and other income of £4 a week. In addition, of course, they will be entitled to free medical attention and free medicine. They will be able to own their house, and furniture, and have up to £2,500 in cash or other assets without being deprived of a full pension. The bill will entitle so many aged people to the age pension that those not entitled to it will be considerably fewer than now.
The next step must be the total abolition of the means test, so that there will be no penalties imposed on thrift and work. I believe that that can, and must, be done. I have stated previously in this House that we could abolish the means test to-morrow in respect of people of 70 years of age, and pay a national retiring allowance of £3 10s. a week to every person over that age by levying a contribution of 3d. in the £1 on the taxable incomes of persons below that age. That scheme would not cost the Treasury a penny. It would be entirely selfsupporting. I have said also that we could go further than that, and pay a part retiring allowance of, say, £1 10s. a week to people between the ages of 65 and 70 years, still preserving all pension rights as they are to-day. If we abolished the means test and introduced a national retiring allowance on a contributory basis, we should remove all the dangers to which I have referred to-night. A person would get his national retiring allowance and would still be able to work and help to increase the production of the country. During his lifetime, be could save whatever he liked, and be could use his savings to provide additional comforts in his old age. I believe that the people of Australia are demanding this reform. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services on the bill which, in my opinion, represents the first step towards the greatest reform that this country could institute.
We have opportunities to-day that the people of Australia have never had feefore. We have markets overseas for all the primary products that we can produce. We have built up tremendous and valuable secondary industries. In the dawn of the atomic age, we are, fortunately, in possession of valuable reserves of uranium. The future of Australia is unbounded, but if we are to seize the opportunities now open to us we shall need a vast amount of capital and we shall be required to do a great deal of work. Unless we encourage work find saving, we shall riot be able to take advantage of those opportunities.
I am particularly pleased to support the bill because I believe it will give, for the first time, a real benefit to superannuated officers and other people who have saved to make provision for their old age. Up to the present, they have found that, having made provision for their old age, the operation of the means test has deprived them of all or most of the social services benefits. Now, most of the superannuated officers, as a result of the liberalization of the means test for which provision is made in this bill, will enjoy the benefit of an increase of their pensions by from 12s. 6d. to £1 12s. 6d. a week if they are single, and from £1 5s. to over £3 a week if they are married. The benefits bestowed by the bill upon such people will be tremendous. No one can estimate the number of persons who are deprived of entitlement to a pension at the moment but will become eligible for part pensions as soon as the bill has been passed. But we do know, as the Minister has stated, that 120.000 pensioners in Australia now in receipt of a part pension will have increases of their pensions ranging from 12s. 6d. to £1 12s. 6d. a week if they are single, and from £1 5s. to £3 a week if they are married. Those increases of pensions will be the largest ever given to any section of pensioners. Yet the honorable, member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) has complained about that. He thinks it is a dreadful thing that the Government proposes to give a benefit to those people, not to people who have not saved. For three years, those thrifty people who have worked and saved have derived virtually no benefit from our social services legislation. Now, they will get a benefit that will be of greathelp to them. I am disappointed that we have not seen the total abolition of the means test this year, but T .ni delighted to see a first step taken in that direction, and I am still more delighted to know that the thrifty people and the working people will receive a substantial benefit as the result of the bill. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro pretended that the Labour party was in favour of the abolition of the means test.
Mi-. SPEAKER.- Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I have listened, on other occasions, to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) commending the attitude of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) to pensions and pensioners, but to-night the honorable member nullified the efforts of the Prime Minister, first, when he said that Labour’s proposal that the base pension rate be further increased by 10s. a week could be described as crude, irresponsible and wicked, and, secondly, when he fell back on the old plan of Liberal partyAustralian Country party governments for a contributory pensions scheme based on a flat rate levy, irrespective of the capacity of persons on low incomes to pay such a levy. Then the honorable member foisted another plan on the unwilling pensioners when he said that, under such a scheme, they should work, not until they were 65 years of age, but until they reached the age of 70.
The viewpoint of the Labour party is that social services benefits should be adequate to meet the needs of people who have served the community and that the benefits should be paid as a matter of entitlement. We attack this bill because the social services payments made by this Government have become progressively less adequate to meet the needs of pensioners of all types. The Government had to choose between paying adequate pensions to those persons most in need of pensions and giving £33,000,00” to companies, particularly big companies whose profits are already inflated. Ti chose to take the second course. Labour has always preached, and when in office has practised what it preached, that the base pension rate should be related to the basic wage. The Minister for Social Services, in his second-reading speech on the bill, said it was fallacious to argue that pensions were inadequate because they represented a lesser proportion of the basic wage now than previously. But lie claimed that in recent years - he did not claim specifically that it had happened during the lifetime of this Government - the conditions of working men had improved and that the capacity of industry to pay high wages had improved also. If that be so, why should not the pensioners have their due share of an increase of the national wealth? The honorable member for Sturt differed from the Minister for Social Services because, in expressing his opinion that pensions should be fair and just, he said they should be related to the reasonable needs of pensioners and that account should be taken of the capacity of industry to pay. I recall that the Prime Minister, speaking in this House on this very matter not very long ago, said that he paid no attention at all to what had happened in relation to the basic wage, or to the prosperity loading of £1 a week awarded by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to persons who were fortunate enough still to be working then. We say that the pensioner, above all other persons, is entitled to a share of the nation’s prosperity. In view of the way in which pensioners have been treated by this Government, the promises made by the leaders of the present Government parties during the last two general election campaigns must ring hollow in their ears.
Mr. Turnbull interjecting,
– If we are prosperous, a? the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) would like us to believe, why cannot we pay adequate pensions? If we cannot pay adequate pensions when we are prosperous, how could we pay them when we were not prosperous? I ask honorable members to take their minds back to the election promises that were made by the present Prime Minister in 1949. He said then that existing rate of pensions would be at least maintained. He added -
We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
At that date, “ existing pension rates “ were determined by the Labour Government then in power on the basis of their relationship to the basic wage. In 1940, the Menzies Government had adjusted pensions on the basis of the C series index. In 1944, the Curtin Government changed that basis of adjustment, and commenced to adjust pensions on the basis of their relationship to the basic wage. Under Labour governments, the percentage of the basic wage represented by a pension increased progressively. The Labour party, during its period of office, maintained the base rate for pensions at a figure equivalent to at least 33 per cent, of the basic wage. During that period, pensioners received between 6s. and 10s. a week more than they would have received if we had stuck to the C series index as a basis for adjustment - a course favoured by this Government. When the Labour party went out of office, age and invalid pensions were being paid at the rate of £2 2s. 6d. a week. If the C series index instead of the basic wage had been used as the basis for the fixation of pension rates, the pension would have been only £1 13s. After 1950, the present Government commenced progressively to reduce pensions until they drifted back towards the C series equivalent. If we compare the rates of pensions that are now paid with the basic wage we shall find that the Government has reduced the proportion of the pension to the basic wage to 29.6 per cent. Therefore, it appears as though the Government is re-establishing pensions on the 1940 standard. But, by so doing the Government is giving the pensioners 10s. a week less than they would have received if the last Labour Government’s pensions scheme had still been in operation. Honorable members should remember that the Labour party has indicated that it will revert to that scheme when next it assumes office.
– The honorable member’s figures are not correct.
– If the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Kekwick) cannot understand the simple figures then that is his misfortune. In 1949, when the age pension was £2 2s. 6d. and the basic wage was £6 7s. a week, the pension was 33.4 per cent, of the basic wage. Now, the pension being £3 10s. a week and the basic wage £11 16s., the pension is 29.6 per cent, of the basic wage. Therefore, the pensioner has lost about 10s. a week.
During the life of this Government the basic wage has increased by 86 per cent., but the age pension has been allowed to increase by only 64 per cent. The pension is now an inadequate proportion of the basic wage, and the pensioners are all suffering because of inflation. It would have cost the Government only about £2,250,000 in this year to increase age and invalid pensions by another 2s. 6d. a week, and the Opposition says that if it was possible for the Government to remit £33,000,000 in company taxation during this financial year, at least it could have given about £12,000,000 to age and invalid pensioners and increased their pensions by 12s. 6d. a week.
– Why did not the last Labour Government do that?
– I have detailed the benefits conferred on the pensioners by the last Labour Government. Before 1941, pensioners received 21s. a week. Under the 1941 budget the pension was increased to 23s. 6d. a week, which was then 27.3 per cent, of the basic wage. When the last Labour Government left office the pension was £2 2s. ‘ 6d. a week or 33.4 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day the age pension is £3 10s. a week, but it is only 29.6 per cent, of the basic wage. That is the answer to the interjection of the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer). I shall now draw honorable members’ attention to the plight of widows. In order to restore their pensions to the relationship that they bore to the basic wage in 1949, class A widows should receive 13s. a week more than they will receive during this financial year, classes B and D widows should receive ,11s. more, and class C widows should receive 21s. a week more. Indeed, it would have cost this Government only £170,000 this year to increase widows’ pensions by 5s. a week instead of 2s. 6d. a week. Again we ask why a Government that remitted about £33.000,000 in taxation to companies, could not find £170,000 for the widows of the community.
Consider now the permissible income of pensioners, which is a matter that has been misrepresented by the honorable member, for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). In 1949, the permissible income for age and invalid pensioners was 30s. a week, or 24 per cent, of the basic wage. This Government claims to have liberalized the permissible income provisions of the pensions legislation, but let us not forget that by last year the permissible income of 30s. a week was only 13 per cent, of the basic wage and even now it is only 17 per cent, of the basic wage. Therefore, to restore the position of the pensioners, in regard to the permissible income, to what it was in 1949, it would be necessary to increase the permissible income to 55s. a week. There is a further vital matter that must not be overlooked. Not all pensioners can work, and work is not available for all pensioners. That being so, it becomes all the more important that the pension itself should be made at least adequate for the needs of the recipients. Consider the case of an average pensioner who is seeking employment. At present there are S8,000 fewer jobs available than there were in 1951. The Commonwealth Bank, in its last annual bulletin, stated that even during last year employment fell by 27,000, although immigration and natural increase added about 60,000 persons to our work force during that period. So to-day our pensioners are required to compete for jobs against 88,000 people who have lost their employment, and against another 60,000 people who enter the labour market each year.
The honorable member for Sturt spoke of the total pension which, when added to the permissible income, would give the pensioners an income that could be considered something of an achievement by this Government. That claim is untrue. Moreover, the honorable member said, “ Who is going to work if the total of the pension and the permissible income is greater than the basic wage “. Yet, in 1949 during the period of full employment a married couple receiving the pension plus the permissible income received £7 5.s. a week, which was 18s. above the basic wage. However, this Government has been very careful progressively to reduce that relationship until in 1952 the same married couple were receiving £1 12s. less than the basie wage, and under this year’s budget they will receive 16s. a week less. So there can be no substantiation of the claim made bv the honorable member for Sturt that- the
Government has liberalized the means test as a step to its abolition. The loss of 34s. a week during the life of this Government is some measure of the loss that pensioners generally have suffered quite apart from the effects of inflation.
The honorable member for Sturt spoke of the fixed income earners and superannuated employees. If any persons in the community have suffered during the regime of this Government, they are the persons who have fixed incomes and the persons receiving superannuation pensions. In 1949, a superannuated person who was receiving a partial pension, got 1 8s. more than the basic wage ; but to-day. because of inflation the same pensioner gets a full pension together with his superannuation payment, and receives, in all, 16s. less than the basic wage. He is obviously worse off than he was in 1949, because he has lost his margin above the pension, and has been forced to become a pensioner with a consequent loss of purchasing power. There has been only a partial recognition of inflation in the Government’s pension proposals, and the pensioners have lost considerably. Inflation has created a new class of poor whom this Government has. certainly not relieved by its budgetary proposals. Again, when we consider the pensioner’s property allowances we find that no real liberalization has been attempted by the Government. Indeed, the reverse has been the case. An increase from £100 to £150 of the amount that a pensioner can receive without reduction of his pension is only equivalent to half of the basic wage increase during the life of the Government. Further, the limit of the property qualification beyond which no pension will be granted is, after all, less than the basic wage increase, which has been 86 per cent, during the life of the Government. After making the promises that I previously mentioned the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in 1951, said -
We’ will look after the pensioners. We may lie relied upon to do full justice to their needs.
Yet we have seen that in regard to pension received, permissible income and permissible property allowance, the pensioners have suffered all along the line under the administration of this Government. Now we are entitled to consider what the pensioners expected from this
Government. In order to throw some light upon that, I shall quote from an interesting article in a pamphlet called Now which is published by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence which, in my electorate and in Melbourne, is doing a magnificent job for pensioners and others - particularly in trying to house them. The publication was issued before the budget, and the article reads -
There are thousands of old people, especially single persons and lonely widows and. widowers, living in hardship, helplessly watching pi-ices mount and feeling they are forgotten. They urgently need a substantial increase in the pension. . . . Talk of prosperity and tax concessions will have a hollow ring if we refuse to grant a living allowance to the large and ever-growing number of old people, to whose efforts in the past we owe so much to-day.
They are very true words. The pensioners were led to hope in 1949, and again in 1951, but their hopes have not been satisfied by this Government, even in its dying days. The Government has disillusioned the pensioners and broken its own promises. Behind the whole record of the Government, and the sufferings of those on fixed incomes, those who have been thrifty and those who are pensioners, is the spectre of inflation. The Government has never been prepared to assist them progressively in the last three and a half years, during which time they have lost much ground. The record of inflation and of the suffering that has arisen from it is a very sorry one. We now have a new poor; we now have a forgotten class of people. The pensioners will no longer be forgotten after the next general election, when a Labour government has been returned to office. They will then get what they must have, that is, a new deal. The first step towards that must be a restoration of the pension position to what it was in 1949. When we look at the difficulties that pensioners face in securing accommodation, and the high rentals that they are required to pay out of their inadequate pensions, we see a problem which must be faced by both State and Federal governments in the future. There must be an adequate scheme for the housing of the pensioners who have served the community in the past but who, because of economic circumstances and because of the mischance of depression and illness, as mentioned by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Eraser), have not been able to provide homes for themselves during their working lives. I ask honorable members to think about this matter, and during the life of future governments at least to try to do something about housing these people whom society so far has not assisted. The pensioners of this nation are people who have served Australia, during their working lives. Some of them have suffered from illnesses and have been paid invalid pensions, but, according to their capacity, they have served the community. There is nothing more precious in this community than the mothers and fathers whom the .Government has chosen to forget. I ask that those who have not enjoyed the full opportunities of life that others have be not forgotten in this legislation as they have been forgotten in legislation arising out of the last two or three budgets. Accordingly, I commend the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
.- After listening to the two Opposition members who have spoken in this debate I do not know whether I should be right in classifying them as leopards who are trying to change their spots or as Ethiopians who are trying to change the colour of their skins. The amendment proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) on behalf of the Labour party is absolutely wicked and completely irresponsible. “Why the Labour party should have proposed to raise the pension rate to only £4 a week I do not know. It could with equal irresponsibility have proposed that the pension rate be raised to £5, £6 or £7 a week. The Labour party has no responsibility in this matter. It is not in charge, of the affairs of the country and it has no likelihood of again being returned to office. Heaven pity the pensioners if a Labour government should again be returned to office! We know Labour’s record in this matter. We know that the bad treatment which the Labour party gave to the pensioners brought about the defeat of the Chifley Government in 1949. During all the years that Labour governments were in office they consistently turned a deaf ear to the plea.; of the pensioners for an increase of the pension rate. Indeed, a Labour government twice reduced the pension rate and on one occasion it quickly changed its mind and gave back to the pensioners the amount that it had taken from them. That stigma will always remain on the Labour party and on no other political party. When Labour members prattle about the abolition of the means test they do so irresponsibly. Their promise to abolish the means test has not even yet had the backing of the outside bosses who control the policy of the Labour party. Not for months to come will the outside junta which controls the party tell its parliamentary representatives what it wants in this connexion. I know what Labour’s real thoughts about the mean* test are because I have in my possession a letter written on the subject by a former Labour Prime Minister, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, in answer to a correspondent who had written to him in regard to the abolition of the means test. Mr. Chifley said -
I am in receipt of your letter in which von advocate that the means test he abolished.
In reply I wish to advise that it has always been an objective of the Labour party to remove such a test at the earliest possible date. The subject has been considered on a number of occasions but a very large sum is involved.
– The Labour Government had a chance to do so at that time.
– That is so. The letter was written in 1948 when the Chifley Government still had eighteen months of office ahead of it. The letter continued -
Vor that reason and because of the impact that such action would have on the finances of the country at the present time, nothing further has been done to relax the test.
All I can say at present, therefore, is that the subject will continue to receive the constant attention of the Government.
In the face of the statements contained in the letter what good purpose can irresponsible members of the Labour party hope to achieve by coming into this chamber and telling us that the Labour party will abolish the means test? It must be realized that the cost of the abolition of the means test during the period of office of the Chifley Government would have been approximately only a quarter of the present cost. The Labour party speaks with one voice when it is in office and with a completely different voice when it is in irresponsible opposition. So, to-day we have this wicked amendment which is designed to play upon the emotions of the people. The amendment lacks sincerity and it was backed by spurious argument. In proposing it the Labour party is looking ahead to May or June next year in the vain hope that speeches made by Labour spokesmen to-night wall influence electors in May or June next to vote for Labour candidates and thus return a Labour government to carry on Labour’s socialist programme to the damnation of the people of Australia. That is why Labour has proposed this amendment.
When Opposition members speak about tying the pensions to the cost of living they also speak with a voice quite different, from that with which’ they spoke when they were in office and they themselves had an opportunity to do so. I again remind the House as I have done on other occasions that when the Labour Government was in office the right honorable gentleman who now leads the Labour party in this House - or does he? - refused to tie the pension to the cost of living.
Mr. Allan Fraser interjecting,
– Whether the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who is barking now. speaks with a different voice from that of his leader is of no consequence. What is of consequence is Labour’s record in relation to pensions. As Labour governments did not do what they should have done for the pensioners, it is silly for Opposition members to talk about what they would do for the pensioners.
The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) admitted that he did not know what would be the cost of implementing the wild and irresponsible promises which he made to the people recently, and which have been repeated by Opposition members. If we work out the figures we shall find that the abolition of the means test and the increase of the rate of pension to the amount proposed by the Labour party would cost the community approximately £372,000,000 a year.
– It is no wonder that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is astounded. The estimate that I have given is correct and shows how completely ‘ irresponsible and wicked were the statements made by the honorable member to-night in support of his amendment. Obviously he had not counted the cost and accordingly he did nothing but make empty promises. If he had counted the cost, why did he not tell us, and why did not the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ewert) tell us, whence the money would come to finance his proposal ? Opposition members talk airily about a few million pounds here and a few million pounds there, but they completely forget that the cost to the taxpayers and the wage-earners of Australia of giving effect to their proposals to increase pensions to £4 a week and to abolish the means test would be £372,000,000. Does the honorable member for Eden-Monaro knowthat there are now 906,000 persons of pensionable age in the Commonwealth and that, three years hence, the number will increase to more than 1,000,000? Has he estimated the cost of paying pensions at the rate of £4 a week to all of those people? Not at all; all he has done is to say to people who are ready to listen to him, “ The pension rate should be increased to £4 a week and the means te3t should be abolished “. He spoke, not to the members of this House, but to the people who are listening to the broadcast of this debate hoping that he will be able to convince them to vote for him and his colleagues in the Labour party at the general election to be held in May or June of next year. What a pitiful thing it is that a member of this Parliament should so play on the emotions of the people in an attempt to gain for himself and his party a few votes ! T would rather not be here than place myself in such a category.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro said that he hoped that no honorable member on this side of the House would stand up and retell the story of the record of this Government and of governments of a similar political complexion in connexion with the pensioners of Australia over the years. I am sorry to dash his hopes to the ground. I propose to do the very thing which he hoped that no honorable member would do. I am proud to say that of the 70s. a week that the pensioners will receive after this legislation has been passed - I hope that its passage will not be delayed because of the irresponsible amendment proposed by the Opposition - no less than 48s. was provided by Liberal governments. The honorable member does not want that fact to be known, but it should be known because it is true. Of the new pension rate of 70s. the Labour party, which has proposed this wicked amendment has provided 22s., despite the fact that during the greater part of the period in which pensions have been paid in this community Labour governments have been in office in the Commonwealth sphere. Let rae put it in another way. During the few years that this Government has been in office it has raised the pension rate by 27s. 6d. a week compared with the pitiful increase of the pension rate by 22s. a week by Labour governments in all the years in which they were in office. In view of that record how much reliance can the people place upon the promises made by Labour spokesmen? [Quorum formed.] I am glad that a member of the Opposition was so much enjoying my address that he wished others to come into the chamber to hear it and called for* a quorum. During the three years that this Government has been in office it has given to the pensioners 5s. 6d. a week more than did Labour governments in all the years in which they were in office. That shows how weak and irresponsible is this amendment. The Labour party’s record in office proves that it has no intention of doing the things that it talks about doing. It reduced pensions twice. “What a glorious record the Labour party has in regard to pensions ! It would not increase pensions in 1.947 or in 1949. Over a period of four years it increased pensions by only two miserly amounts. During the few years this Government has been in office every budget has not only provided for an increase of actual pension rates but has also provided the liberalization of the means test. Every honorable member in this House who has ever brought a legitimate case before the Department of Social Services or the Minister for Social Services has received the utmost courtesy, sympathy and understanding in regard to it. I challenge any honorable member to prove otherwise. The official attitude was entirely different during the Labour regime. Pensioners throughout Australia know that we extend sympathy, courtesy and understanding to them.
The proposed increase of pension was decided upon by twenty men who form the Cabinet and know the whole facts about the country’s economic position. They decided that the increase was justified. The Government’s pensions’ record shows that it is doing now, as it has done in the past, the best that it can for the pensioners. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro and the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ewert) twisted figures to suit their own ends. Both honorable members prattled about prosperity and asked why the pensioners should not share in it. As if we were not aware of the needs of the pensioners ! We do not use empty words and make irresponsible promises. We talk to the people in the language that counts. We give them a share of the prosperity of the nation. I remind the honorable member for EdenMonaro that the national income in 1949, when a Labour government was in office, was £1,938,000,000. This year it is £3,579,000,000, which is almost double. Social services payments from the National Welfare Fund in 1949, under the Chifley Government, amounted to £81,780,000. This year, social services payments will amount to £184,000,000. Not only have we doubled the total of social services expenditure with the doubling of the national income, but we have also given the pensioners another 25 per cent, more for good measure. These are the things that count, and not the empty, vain prattlings of two members of the Labour party who do not know where they are going, and are only looking for votes.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro, and perhaps some other honorable members, will find interesting the percentages of the national income represented by social service expenditure over a period of years. In 193S the percentage was 2.106. In 1949, when a Labour government was in office, it was 3.705. Last financial year it was 3.974. The total expenditure on social services, including health, last year represented 4.624 per cent, of the national income.
– The honorable gentleman cannot even read figures correctly.
– If I read faces correctly the honorable member is a very miserable man at present. The figures giving the expenditure on health and social services as a percentage of the total budget expenditure are also interesting. In 1938-39 the percentage was 17.396 per cent. In 1943, when Labour was in office, the percentage had dropped to 12.427 per cent.
– That is not correct.
– It is exactly correct. To-day the percentage is 18.656 per cent.
– That is incorrect.
– It was during Labour regimes that the percentage dropped.
– I rise to order. Should not the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) be required to give his authority for these figures, or must we accept the figures issued by the Liberal party.
– (Mr. McLeay). - The honorable gentleman is entitled to cite what figures he chooses.
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that the figures are correct. If he has any doubt of that fact he should look at the face of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who is now at the table, and who is rather upset by the figures. Let us not forget that after a pensioner reaches the age of 65 years and is qualified to receive an age pension, he will enjoy that pension for the rest of his life. His pension will be worth £3 10s. a week, or £182 a year. In order to buy himself an annuity that would give him £182 a year, or to buy shares that would produce such an income plus a similar income for his wife, a man would have to invest a very large sum of money. Only recently I received an offer of some stocks that are yielding 1 good return and are a safe security. They are stocks of the kind that any one of us would be glad to have. The offer was in respect of shares to the following number in the following companies: - Australian Cement, 200; Australian Consolidated Industries, 200; Australian General Insurance, 300; Broken Hill Proprietary (Australia) Limited, 200; Burns Philp and Company, 200; G. J. Coles Limited, 600; I.C.I.A.N.Z., 300; Kraft, 300; Myer Emporium Limited, 1,000; “Woolworths, 500. A nice parcel of shares !
– What pensioner has such shares?
– Only members of the Labour party could afford to buy them. We cannot afford to buy them. The total cost of buying these gilt-edged shares would be £4,992 18s. 4d. and they would return an annual income of £181 13s. 4d., which is less than the income that a pensioner receives for himself only, and less than half the income that a pensioner couple receives. Therefore, if a pensioner wished to invest in securities that would return him an income equal to that received by a pensioner couple from their pensions alone, he would have to invest almost £10,000. Let us not forget that 80 per cent, of the taxpayers earn less than £1,000 a year and have little opportunity to amass £10,000 for investment in shares that would give them the assured income that a pensioner couple has from the pension.
It is obvious that the Government is doing the best for the pensioners that is possible according to the state of the revenue. The Government is prepared to go before the people on its pensions record, because the work it has done for the pensioners has been splendid, and” eclipses by far the work done by the Labour party during its terms of office. The contribution that the taxpayer makes to the pensioners through the medium of the Government is not a full discharge of his responsibility to the aged, the infirm and the weak. I listened .with some misgivings to the spurious concern voiced by the honorable member for EdenMonaro for people who are in a sad plight. We know that there are people whose existence is sad. The Government fully realizes its responsibility to them. However, there exist in the community other avenues through which these people can be helped, and I trust that there will be a wide awakening to the communal responsibility that we have to the pensioners, not as taxpayers, but as their fellow members of the community. I trust that in course of time our social consciences will be aroused and that such cases as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has mentioned will not be neglected. The existence of such cases is not a reflection on this Government, because they have existed under all governments. They are a reflection on the state of the social conscience of the people. If a nation is prepared to spend its money on booze, gambling and other pleasures as this nation does, and to neglect people who deserve its help, then the blame lies fairly and squarely on it. The Government is discharging its responsibility to the pensioners to the greatest degree possible from the revenue that, it receives. But the community is coming to a pretty low level if it leaves the Government; to shoulder the entire responsibility towards the weak, the poor, the aged and infirm in our midst. That is something that lies on the conscience of all of us and for which we shall have to answer to our Maker. It is of no use to place the entire responsibility on the Government, because that sort of thing will not wash.
Of all the loathesome and horrible things in the world a person who attempts to play upon the misery and need of others is the worst. I say to the Labour party, and all its members, “ Put aside your political ambitions and aspirations, because they are not worth the wickedness, spuriousness and irresponsibility of” the amendment that has been moved. Examine your hearts and see whether you would be prepared, if you were in office and had a full knowledge of the economic facts, to do .the things you say you would do for the pensioner “.
I say that the Labour party is using its proposed amendment of the measure as a. political weapon. It knows that the Government cannot accept it. It knows that if it was in office and had the responsibility of controlling the nation’s finances it would not do what it has asked the Government to do. The Labour party’s record speaks for itself. It shows that over a period of years the Labour party did not help the pensioners, the weak, the poor or the infirm as much as it could have done. The things that it now asks this Government to do are things that it could have done when it was in office, but it refused to do them.
– It did them.
– It did not do them. Over a period of four years it made two miserly increases of pensions. I say to members of the Labour party, “ Talk to yourself in your hearts in all honesty, instead of trying to fool the electors, because whilst you may be able to fool others, you cannot fool yourselves. Be true to yourselves and realize that what this Government has done is the best that can be done”. Let us accept our responsibility as individuals and go out as leaders of the community, as we are, and impress upon the people their duty to carry out their responsibilities to the pioneers of this land who are now in the twilight of their lives. As individual members we can be honest to ourselves. The honorable member for EdenMonaro is not being honest in introducing an amendment that he knows, in his heart, is wicked, irresponsible and spurious, and will be thrown out, because of its very insincerity.
.- I doubt whether I have ever heard such a remarkable speech as that of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce).
– Give us some moral rearmament.
– Some of that would not, do honorable members any harm. It seems strange that an honorable member who claims that he is endeavouring to do the right thing should impute all sorts of motives to the Labour party and indulge in such an attack on individuals on this side of the House. After all, we are debating the Social Services Consolidation Bill. The subject of social services brings to mind, not the little, filthy, wicked, spurious people of the world, but the large numbers of Australians who, because of age, invalidity or some other handicap, are not able to earn a livelihood. We should think of social services in a big way. We have a Christian obligation to do the best that we can for the afflicted. Government supporters so far in this debate seem to be concerned less with the welfare of those grand people who helped to develop our nation, the fathers and grandfathers of Australia, who deserve a reasonable standard of comfort, than with their desire to keep, down costs so as to avoid, if possible, the necessity for imposing any extra taxation on the more fortunate members of the community. If they honestly wished to help the aged, the invalid and other beneficiaries of our social services scheme, they would stop worrying about the taxes that have to be paid by their friends in the commercial world and would consider the human aspects of social services. They should consider not only whether rates can be increased but also whether there are other ways in which, as the custodians of the national wealth, they can improve the lot of recipients of social services. I am concerned more with the problems with which the bill does, not deal than with the provisions that it contains.
Honorable members who represent metropolitan electorates are familiar with the straitened circumstances of pensioners to-day. In the old days, when costs were not so high as they are to-day, when rents were fairly reasonable, and when families were large they usually made arrangements for the accommodation of their aged parents, hence the difficulties of pensioners were not so acute as they are now. But there is to-day a growing number of old people in the country, as well as in the cities, who have nowhere to turn for accommodation in their declining years. Thousands of them are forced to rely solely on the pensions that they receive. They pay more than half of their incomes frequently to rent single rooms in apartment houses and are forced to support themselves with the balance. There is nobody in the community to look after them and to make sure that they receive a fair deal in this prosperous country, where most of the people who are young enough and strong enough to look after themselves are living under better conditions than ever before. Governments do very little for these old people, although this Government has a particular responsibility to care for them.
Yet not one word in the bill indicates that there is any problem apart from that of providing a weekly income for pensioners. The Government has given no thought to the possibility of providing suitable homes for the aged and the invalid.
Those of us whose thoughts go beyond the need for mere pounds, shillings and pence realize that there is a growing demand for a housing scheme under which pensioners can be provided with small rooms at a reasonable rental. The national income is large, and the Government should consider some means of providing small homes in which pensioned couples could live cheaply. There are various other facilities that old people lack to-day because they are able to depend less than formerly on their children, who, as we know, usually have responsibilities of their own and do not consider themselves to be under the obligation to their parents that we acknowledged many years ago. Thus,, in modern society, it has become a responsibility of governments to provide for the needs of those who are not in a position to look after themselves. This bill does not deal with that responsibility. The thoughts of Government supporters are turned, not to the requirements of the human beings who receive social services benefits, but to the cost of providing pensions. Their object appears to be to limit expenditure as much as possible in order that they may be able to grant tax remissions to some of the big companies with which they are associated. The fact that the bill provides for an increase of pension rates by only 2s. 6d. a week, whereas one company, which last year had a profit of over £S,000,000. is to be given a rebate of taxation of £800,000 a year, speaks ill for the Christian conscience of this Parliament. It shows clearly where the interests of this Government lie and how little hone there is for the poorer members of the community while it remains in office.
The honorable member for Capricornia told us that the pensioners defeated the Labour party in 1949. There may be a large degree of truth in. that statement. but the Labour party was not defeated because it had been unfair to the pensioners. The Labour Government had succeeded in providing a number of pension increases during a very difficult period. The fact is that pensioners voted against the Labour party because of the rosy promises that were made to them by members of the present Government parties. Those promises were definite, but they have not been honoured. The present Prime Minister pledged himself to maintain the real value of social service benefits as they were in 194S, and also to improve them as the opportunity to do so presented itself. That pledge has not been fulfilled. In 1948-49, the base pension rate represented about 37 per cent, of the basic wage. The ratio fell .after this Government gained office, and, even after the readjustment for which this bill provides bas been made. it will not exceed 29 per cent. One Government supporter discussed the amounts that pensioners would be permitted to earn after the means test had been relaxed by this measure. Unfortunately, even according to the figures supplied by the Government, only about 120,000 of the 496,000 pensioners ‘in Australia will be able to receive enough income to benefit by more than the 2s. 6d. a week increase of the base rate for which the bill provides. Of this number, not more than about 10 per cent, will be able to earn sufficient to benefit from the full permissible increase of 12s. 6d. a week.
The Government has indulged in a song and dance in praise of its permissible income proposals. In January, 1953, the permissible income for a married couple in receipt of the age pension was £9 15s. a week, which represented S4.42 per cent, of the basic wage. The liberalization of the means test for which the bill provides will not increase, the permissible income for such a couple to more than 85 per cent, of the basic wage. I have here the pension figures for 1909, the period just after the Harvester Award. They show that at that time, almost 45 years ago, the total pension including permissible income for a married couple in receipt of the age pension represented 95.2 per cent, of the basic wage. Therefore, since then, the situation of such married couples has deteriorated by over 1.0 per cent, of the basic wage. The Government should consider that fact carefully before it boasts of its achievements. I appreciate the concern of the honorable member for Capricornia for the Australian Labour party, but it might be better politics for him to spare a little of that sympathy for himself and for his party, which, I have no doubt, will need all the sympathy that it can win because it will not be able to wriggle out of the consequences of its disregard of the numerous promises that it made to the people during the last general election campaign. The honorable gentleman made a remarkable statement. I do not know where he obtained his advice or who drafts his speeches for him, but he said, in the course of his speech to-night, that the Labour party had been in power for most of the period that had elapsed since pensions were introduced in Australia. 1 have not checked the figures, but I have been in Australia throughout my life, and I know that the statement is untrue. The Labour party has been in power in this Parliament for only about twelve of the last 50 years.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) said in his second-reading speech that it was useless to argue that the pension rate was inadequate merely because at one time it represented a certain percentage of the basic wage and now represented some other percentage. He said that such arguments were fallacious, but he did not suggest any better means of determining the real value of the pension to-day in relation to its value some years ago. The honorable gentleman also said that the basic wage originally was based on the needs of a man with a wife and three children, but that this basis had been changed. That is true. However, when the wage was based on the needs of a five-unit family, it included provision for certain family needs that are now met by means of various social services. In fact, his argument reacts against his case if it is taken to its logical conclusion. The number of family units to which the wage is related, of course, is not the only element taken into consideration. The honorable gentleman failed to prove that his method of assessing the real value of the base rate of pension to-day was any nearer the mark than the method by which the Labour party calculates its value. I refer to the relation between the basic wage and the pension.
The Minister mentioned, in his secondreading speech, the claim that the pension should be tied to the cost of living C series index. Speaking from memory, I think that the Menzies Government tied the pension to the C series index in 1940, and that that system of calculation of the pension remained in operation until April, 1944, when the Curtin Government introduced legislation to free it again. I do not know why that matter of history should be used as an argument in favour of the Government. As far as i am aware, no Labour government has tied the pension to the basic wage or the cost of living C series index.
– The Leader of the Opposition has advocated it. I merely remind the honorable gentleman of that fact.
– The Leader of the Opposition did not advocate that the pension should be tied to the cost of living C series index. He stated definitely that under present conditions, the Labour party regarded the relation that the pension bore to the basic wage in 1949 as fair, but he did not accept such a relationship as permanent. The right honorable gentleman suggested that the pension should be increased to £4/ a week, so that it would then have the same relation to the basic wage as it did in 1949. The Labour party has not attempted, by legislation or any other means, to tie the pension to the cost of living C series index.
The Minister also discussed, in his second-reading speech, the liberalization of the property means test. We know that the provision in respect of permissible income is applicable to only a small percentage of the people, but 1 desire to direct attention to an anomaly that has arisen. A railway employee, a policeman, a school teacher, or a professional man may own the house in which he lives. Upon his transfer to a different locality, he may let his house to a tenant and rent another house for himself and his family. The fact that he receives rent debars him from receiving social services, although the amount that he pays for rent may exceed the amount that he receives from his tenant. The Government should examine that matter with a view to adjusting the anomaly. A person in such circumstances should be permitted to offset the rent he receives against the rent that he pays for the accommodation of his family and himself.
The Minister has also claimed that the Government has liberalized the provision in respect of permissible income. I find that the permissible income for social services was 26 per cent, of the basic wage in 1948, and is only 17 per cent, of the wage to-day. So much for the claim of the Minister that an improvement has been made in that respect ! I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, because I consider that the Government has not made a genuine attempt to relieve persons in the lower income groups of their financial burdens. The Government has certainly done a great deal for its friends in the higher income groups, particularly by the reduction of company tax, but the Australian Labour party is principally concerned with the plight of those persons who have no income other than the pension. Under this bill, those persons will receive an increase of a miserable 2s. 6d. a week. I am concerned more with what has not been done than with what has been done for the pensioners. Not many years ago, there were comparatively few social services. Some of us can even remember when the age pension was introduced. But conditions have changed vastly since that time. The requirements of human beings are more complex now than they were then. The Government should not be satisfied merely to add a few pounds to this social service and a few pounds to that social service, when it is distributing the receipts from taxation and other sources of revenue; it should examine the just requirements of the people who urgently need adequate social services.
Many Government supporters remind us that if the means test were removed, 900,000 people would be entitled, on the ground of age, to receive the age pension, and that the financial burden which would be imposed on the Treasury would be intolerable. I do not suggest that the means test should be immediately abolished, but I point out that the claim of Government supporters to which I have just referred does not bear investigation. Many of the 900,000 persons who would be entitled to the age pension upon the abolition of the means test would he in receipt of large incomes, and would not claim the pension. If they were to claim the pension, a considerable portion of it would be repaid to the Treasury in the form of increased taxation on the whole of their incomes. Consequently, the claim by Government supporters about the cost of the abolition of the means test has not a great deal of point. The figures that have been cited by honorable gentlemen opposite are, after all, only estimates, and even if they were reasonably accurate, the financial burden would not be so great as has been claimed.
I rose principally to register my protest against the manner in which the Government is distributing concessions under this budget. Obviously, the wealthy section of the community will derive considerable benefit from the proposals in the budget this year, whilst the pensioner is expected to be satisfied with a miserable 2s. 6d. a week. I have also directed attention to the anomaly to which owners of property are subjected. Some persons in this category are unable to regain possession of their houses because they are already tenanted and therefore are experiencing considerable hardship. They have to pay high rents for the accommodation that they have obtained for themselves and their families, and they are debarred, because they derive income from property, from receiving a pension. The Government should give them some redress, if only by allowing them to offset the rent that they receive against the rent that they pay. I support the amendment, although I consider that it does not go far enough. Social problems in any civilized community to-day require close investigation. People all over the world are becoming discontented because they believe that they are not receiving their just reward from the countries for which many of them have fought in great wars. The Government should examine the requirements of such human beings in the light of modern needs. I hope that aged couples, who have been forced to separate because of accommodation diffi culties, will be brought together again without delay. The Government should provide houses or flats for them, or make such provision as would enable State governments or local governing bodies to assure that aged couples in their declining years may enjoy a little real happiness.
– I should like to make it clear at the outset that I oppose the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). I trust that in the time available to me I shall be able to show that I have good reasons for having arrived at the conclusion that the amendment should be rejected by the House. However, before I deal with the amendment, I desire to refer to the remarks of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Gordon Anderson). I listened with the greatest interest to his suggestion that children no longer have a sense of responsibility for the welfare of their parents in their declining years. That statement is a downright condemnation of the welfare state if, as the result of our effort to shift to the community the load which we felt was not evenly distributed, we have taken away from the children a reasonable sense of responsibility that they should feel for those near and dear to them. Having made that statement, I quite agree with the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith that a strong case indeed can be made for the provision of suitable houses in small settlements for people who have no homes and are semi-invalids, but whose condition is not so serious as to warrant their admission to hospital. They need to live reasonably close to a hospital. I remind the honorable member that provision is made in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement for the State to undertake that responsibility. If the States have failed to accent that responsibility, it is just too bad. I know perfectly well that religious bodies like the Salvation Army, and other organizations, have provided eventide homes for elderly folk who need them. In my own city of Armidale a. worth-while project of this kind is being undertaken at the present time. The Commonwealth carries a measure of responsibility in regard to such projects because donations for such works are allowable deductions for income tax purposes. If a person on any income at all gave a substantial amount of money, the Commonwealth could pay at least half of that sum as a subsidy by remitting taxation. I refer to that in passing.
I desire to mention one other point raised by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith. I am subject to correction, but I am almost certain my information is correct when I say that when the Social Services Consolidation Act was previously amended, provision was made for a discretionary grant to those who were obliged to leave their home and moye to another place and receive rental for the home that they vacated. I think I remember that amendment being agreed to. It was a very important amendment, because it removed a very great injustice to very worthy people who could not dispose of their home and buy another and who were disqualified by the receipt of rent.
I do not desire to prolong that aspect of the discussion, but to address myself to some of the implications of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. If the honorable member moved the amendment in good faith - he did so with tremendous force and vigour and a great deal of feeling, and I am not going to suggest that he did not move it in good faith - he must have completely overlooked the implications of what he proposed and the way in which it would rebound on those whom he desired to serve and he must have failed to recall exactly the history of the matter as it related1 to his own party. I refer to Hansard, volume 199, 1948. Mr. Holloway, the Minister in charge of the bill then before the House, was asked the following question by the late Mr. Ryan : - ls payment at the increased rates to be made retrospective to the 1st July?
The Minister replied -
No. The bill does not provide for retrospective payments and I feel sure that the Government will not alter the existing provision that payment will he made on the first pay-day after the bill receives the Royal assent.
On that occasion a Labour Minister, supported by the honorable member for EdenMonaro, accepted the principle, which apparently has been adopted from time immemorial, that payment takes place on the first pay-day after the bill receives the Royal assent. The honorable gentleman has moved by way of amendment that payment shall be made retrospective to the 1st July ; but when that same amendment was moved by a member now on this side of the House, but who at that time was in Opposition, it was not thought fit to accept it. I am citing these facts because I propose at a later stage to follow a certain line of thought. The honorable gentleman is quite entitled, when he sits in Opposition and his party is not endangered by what he says and what he does, to speak as he did if he feels so inclined. I am quite prepared to concede that point to him, but I am wondering whether if the honorable gentlemen who sit behind him, by some evil stroke of fortune for the people of Australia, got on to this side of the House, they would not suddenly find that somehow the finances would not permit the honorable gentleman to do what he wanted. Let me point out to honorable members that, if the bill were withdrawn and redrafted, he would merely hold up a payment which otherwise would be given almost immediately to those whom he apparently decides to serve or claims to serve.
It is interesting to note that the last amendment of this act, introduced by a Labour government, which provided any payment to age pensioners was passed in 19,48. Then the payment was raised by 5s. to an amount of £2 2s. 6d. At that time an effort was made by the Opposition to improve upon that figure. Apparently honorable members are all extraordinarily sympathetic when they have not the responsibility of facing up to the implications of what is proposed, but I suggest the time has come when the age pensioner or the invalid pensioner or the widow should be put upon a. nobler basis. The late Mr. Chifley, who was Prime Minister at that time, said -
I think I should make it clear to the committee at the outset that the Government docs not propose to accept any amendments to this bill.
He went on to say -
General principles have been laid down by the Government regarding the various types of benefits proposed in the legislation, which covers an annual expenditure of about £20,000,000 for additional benefits. The Government does not propose to depart from those principles. Whatever may be said, we believe we have mode a fair judgment and a very liberal advance in the way of social service payments.
I do not think any one who knew the late right honorable gentleman would suggest for one moment that he was lacking in sympathy for those who were known as the underdogs, but I find that at page S65, Volume 202, of Hansard, 1949, the then honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) asked the following question: -
I ask the Treasurer whether the Government intends to increase the rate of age and invalid pensions. If so, will the increase be between 3s. and 5s. a week, as suggested in the press, or will the Government ensure that the new rate shall have some practical relation to the cost of living?
The late Mr. Chifley said-
No consideration has been given to a further increase of pension rates. The Government considered this subject not long ago and made a general increase, and it is unlikely that a further increase will be considered so soon after that. The law provided at one time that pension rates must be related to the cost of living and must rise or fall according to variations of the cost of living index .figures. However, when “ C “ series index figures fell about three years ago, there was a great protest against any reduction of pensions. As a result, the provision that related pensions to the cost of living was removed from the law. Therefore, the pension rates are not now affected by the cost of living.
I have already said, knowing what I do of the late right honorable gentleman, that I do not think for one moment that he lacked sympathy with those who were in needy circumstances when he refused to raise the rate of pension. Notwithstanding the fact that there had been an increase of approximately 9 per cent, between the passing of that amendment and the assumption of office of the Government, he declined to raise the pension. It comes with rather peculiar grace from the Labour party to-night that, when the Government has brought down the most generous set of proposals ever submitted, including a modification of the means test, for the purpose of helping age and invalid pensioners, the Labour party should move an amendment which honorable members opposite know in their heart of hearts could not be implemented without a tremendous increase in taxation and without a com- plete dislocation of the budget. I concede to honorable members opposite the right to put forward proposals, but to put forward a proposal which I think has been quite soundly estimated to cost approximately another £82,000,000 is something that goes beyond the realm of common sense.
I followed the remarks of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro on the tendency for the number of aged people to rise and for the number of those who were younger to recede. I know the honorable gentleman was sufficiently astute and wise to know the weakness of his argument and he tried to take the sting out of the reply of the Government by citing figures which he knew would sooner or later be cited against him. If honorable members look at the budget, they will see that the provision of over £906,000,000 taxation rests on approximately 2,750,000 people of earning age. Let me refer to the latest figures I could obtain on this subject. In 1950 the total population of Australia was 8,185,000, of whom 2,170,000 were under 16 years of age. Quite a number of those over 16 years of age do not earn until they leave a university or technical institution. The number of those 60 years of age and over was approximately 1,000,000. That gives a net figure of 5,000,000 people between the ages of 15 and 60, and the task force of Australia in that number comprises approximately 2,750.000 persons. It is to be noted that not only have those 2,750,000 persons to find approximately £906,000,000 to cover this budget, but they have also to provide their share’ of State expenditure. When in this House honorable members talk about social services, they completely forget that to-day education is a social service which has to be paid for by the taxpayer. They forget also all those other services which cost great sums of money, the provision of which rests upon the shoulders of the 2,750,000 persons who comprise the task force. If one takes the amount set out in the budget and rests it upon those people who are between the ages of 15 and 60, it is found that it represents £330 in taxation alone, exclusive of State expenditure. I think it was the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) who raised this question in his thoughtful and well-documented speech to-night.
If honorable members take the figures shown in the budget for the National Welfare Fund the figure works out at £20 12s. 7d. for each member of the population - not for the 2,750,000 members of the task force alone, but for the whole population. If they then take the figure for war and repatriation services, which is £13, the total is £33 12s. 8d. for each member of the population. On top of that, the figure for the defence of this country works out at £22 8s. 4d. for pensioners and everybody else. If those figures are taken and applied, not to the total population, but to the people who are able-bodied and who are earning and able to carry the burden, I believe it would place upon them all that it is reasonable to place on them. Nobody has been more vocal than members of the Opposition, at times, on the subject of the destruction of incentives by over-taxation. When we consider the burden that is being borne by the able-bodied members of this community, we must come to the conclusion that, no matter how big our hearts may be, we must be ruled by our heads in national affairs. As the honorable member for Sturt has said, if we go very much farther along the present path, we shall find ourselves in such a position as will leave neither the pensioners nor any one else enough to meet their needs. The Government explored and considered all possible courses of action. Having done so, it presented a series of proposals, which, for generosity, spread of benefits, recognition of thrift, and the gradual removal of the means test have not been equalled in the history of pensions in Australia. I give the Minister for Social Services full marks for that.
Let us suppose that, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has suggested, we loaded the taxpayers with another £80,000,000 of taxes in order to benefit, as he has said, the age pensioners. What is the greatest benefit that we could confer, not only upon age pensioners, invalid pensioners and other pensioners who are dependent upon the bounty of the taxpayer generally, but also upon all persons in the community who have fixed incomes? The greatest benefit that this or any other government could confer upon such people would be so to stabilize the purchasing power of the £1 that £3 10s. would purchase to-morrow what £3 10s. will purchase to-day. Every thoughtful employer and employee knows that, unless inflation can be arrested, the purchasing power of our money will be gradually reduced. The Government has done a great deal to halt inflation. It has been able to stabilize costs and prices and, in many instances, to reduce them. Unless we go headlong into a drought or some other catastrophe of that kind, I believe that, as the full effects of the budget begin to be felt, the cost of living will tend to be stabilized at a lower figure. It is much more important that £3 10s. given to a pensioner to-day should have a greater purchasing power at the end of the financial year than that pensioners should be given an increase such as that suggested by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, which might ultimately destroy the value of their pensions.
I want to say clearly and unequivocally, with due respect and without malice, that the most contemptible thing that is done during election campaigns is that the slimy leeches who fasten on to the body politic tell poor old people that if the Government wins they will lose their pensions. Let me quote one instance of that nature. It is not the only one that I could quote. In my electorate, there was an old miner SO years of age. He was quite blind. I went to his little shack during a State election campaign, and I saw him sitting in the sun. He said, “ Mr. Drummond, is it true that if your party wins, I shall lose my pension?” Imagine the depth of the degradation of people who at election times harrow and destroy the peace of mind of old people for wretched political gain! We all know that in the political game we must take and give hard knocks. But surely the most contemptible thing that a man can do is to strike at the blind, the weak and the defenceless. That is not an apocryphal story. I said to the old man, “Alec, this is a State election - but we could not do that even if we would and we certainly would not do it even if we could “. He said, “ Mr. Drummond, I knew they were telling lies, but I had to ask you that question “. I hope, for the good name of the Australian people, that men of every party will outlaw that kind of thing and declare it to be a disgrace that they will not tolerate any longer.
I cannot support the amendment moved by the Opposition, first, because I consider it to be impracticable; secondly, because, if accepted, it would delay the passage of the bill and the payment of increased benefits to age, invalid and other pensioners; and thirdly, because it would tend to destroy the purchasing power and stability of the Australian ?1 and, by so doing, harm pensioners more than any one else.
Debate (on motion by Mr. George Lawson) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate : -
Without amendment -
Wheat Marketing Bill 1953.
International Wheat Agreement Bill 1953.
Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Bill (No. 2) 1953.
Without requests -
Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Bill 1953.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Committee on Taxation - Reports -
Collection by instalments.
Entertainments Tax - conditional exemption.
Pay-roll Tax - exemptions and anomalies.
Pay-roll Tax - local governing bodies.
Penal provisions and prosecutions.
Returns and assessments.
Sales Tax - freight charges.
Sales Tax exemptions - private hospitals and similar institutions.
Taxation of abnormal income receipts.
Nauru - Ordinances - 1953 -
No. 1 - Chinese and Native Labour.
No. 2 - Prohibition of Sale or Barter of
Administration and Employers’ Stores.
Defence Transition (Residual Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Pro perty ) Regulations - Orders - Invention and designs.
Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of the Army - J. H. Ramsay.
Public Service Arbitration Act - Determinations - 1953 -
No.66 - Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
No.67 - Federated Clerks Union of Australia.
Social Services Consolidation Act -Report by Director-General of Social Services for year 1952-53.
Tariff Board Act - Tariff Board - Annual Report for year 1952-53, together with Summary of Recommendations.
House adjourned at 11.23 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Government had not been considering any overseas appointments, but I thank the honorable member for bringing this gentleman’s name to my attention.
s. - On the 9th September, the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) asked the following question : -
Is the Prime Minister aware that during recent months a number of temporary employees of the Commonwealth Public Service have been discharged and replaced by permanent officers and that although these exemployees have served faithfully and well for more than eight years’ continuous service they have been refused salary in lieuof furlough? In view of the fact that the Commonwealth Employees’ Superannuation Act was amended last year to provide for the payment of salary in lieu of furlough to public servants who had given more than eight years’ satisfactory service, I ask the right honorable gentleman if he will have the matter to which I have referred investigated and ensure that the ex-employees concerned will be paid salary in lieu of furlough?
I am now able to inform the honorable member as follows: -
When the legislation was passed by Parliament last year the Government’s intention was perfectly clear in the minds of all honorable members. However, differences of opinion in legal circles later arose as to the interpretation of thu word “ retrenchment”. These differences have now been resolved and arrangements have, been made to issue approval forthwith for payment to be made in those cases referred to by the honorable member where the exemployees have made application.
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : - 1, 2, 3, 4 an’d 5. The term of office of the present members of the Commonwealth Tarin1 Board does not expire until the 20th Mardi. I!)5(>, and no consideration has been given to the appointment of members after that date. Should the Tariff Board Act. be amended at a future date to enlarge the present membership of the board, consideration will then be given to the appointment of additional members. However, no appointments in this connexion have vet been considered.
k asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : -
e asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What is the tax payable per gallon on (a) petrol (6) power kerosene (c) distillate and (d) fuel oil?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : -
The following schedule shows details of customs, primage, excise duties and sales tax in respect of the products to which the honorable member refers: -
n. - On the 29th September, the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) asked whether I had any information to give the House about the results of the sale of Australian meat in hard currency areas last year. At that time I gave a broad answer to the question and I am now in a position to reply in detail. The facts are that between August and December, 1952, the Australian Meat Board shipped about 850 tons of beef to the United States of America, of which 57 tons was still unsold on the 19th September, 1953. Of the quantity sold, the board made a loss of about 7d. per lb. and it appeared that the total loss on the whole venture will amount to between £50,000 and £55,000. About 350 tons of mutton was shipped to the United States of America between April and August, 1952, and on the 19th September, 1953, approximately 35 tons was still unsold. The average loss on the mutton sold has been about10d. per lb. and it is likely that the total loss will be about £33,000. Lamb shipments to North America and Honolulu between September, 1952 to April, 1953, amounted to about 1,800 tons and about 330 tons were still unsold on the 19th September, 1953. It is expected that the board will lose about 5d. per lb. on sales of this lamb to the United States of America or a total of about £65,000. However, it is expected that sales to Canada and Hawaii will result in a profit of about £25,000, leaving a net loss on lamb shipments to North America and Hawaii of about £40,000.
ON.- Is the Prime Minister aware that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration has abandoned the system of automatic wage reviews, as distinct from quarterly adjustments of the basic wage, and that the only way in which the basic wage will be altered in the future will be through the channels of ordinary award making? In future, will all applications for a new award by a union on behalf of its members be made in two parts, the first part in respect of conditions to a conciliation commissioner, under Part 13 of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and the second part in respect of wages to the court, under Part 25 of the same act? Does not the decision to abandon automatic wage reviews set back the industrial clock in Australia by 30 years, and deny wage justice to the Australian workers ?
Mr. MENZIES- I beg to be excused from conducting a retrospective discussion about matters that were discussed at great length before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. All the matters that the honorable member has put to me were put to the court, and the court has given its decision. Nothing could set back the clock in industrial arbitration more than mass disobedience of a decision of the court.
N. - Is the Minister for Supply aware of the confusion that exists about whether Australia is selling its uranium by the unit or by the pound? Will the Minister give the House any information that he can about that matter, and am I right in understanding that a unit is 22 lb. ?
Mr. BEALE. - There is no confusion in the minds of members of the Government about this matter. The only confusion that appears to exist is in the minds of those conducting certain newspapers. Australia is selling its uranium at a price that is related to the pound weight. It is true, as the honorable member has said, that a unit, in mining parlance, is one-hundredth part of a ton or about 22 lb. This matter originated
Petrol per gallon- 8½d.
Kerosene, fuel oil and distillate are not subject to excise duties.
Kerosene, petrol, fueloil and distillate for use as fuel are exempt from sales tax.
Wednesday21, October 1953.
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 October 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19531020_reps_20_hor1/>.