21st Parliament · 1st Session
M.t. Speaker (Eon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– The question that I direct to the Minister for the Army concerns Government assistance to rifle clubs. By way of explanation, I point out that I have received several inquiries from recently-established clubs and from riflemen who propose to form clubs. I am aware of the financial assistance for which provision has been made in the Estimates for 1954-55, but can ‘ the Minister inform me whether the Govern- ‘ ment provides any further assistance to rifle clubs or their members ?
– In addition to the £65,000 that is made available to cover general expenses involved in organizing rifle clubs and conducting competitions, a payment of 5s. per’ annum ‘ is made for every efficient rifleman. There are to-day about 45,0.00 rifle club members classified as efficient The Government also makes available 200 rounds of ammunition free of charge to efficient members of rifle clubs, and it enables members to. purchase further ammunition, as required; at reduced rates. For riflemen who are forming new clubs, the Government lends rifles in special circumstances and, when members desire to purchase rifles, it makes the weapons available at reduced rates. Spare parts are made available in the same way. Every effort is made to support the rifle club movement in Australia, which has the goodwill and support of the Government.’ ;
-I a address a question to the Minister for the Army. It relates to the Queen’s shoot that is to take place at the Anzac rifle range, near Sydney, in October. Is the Minister aware that it is proposed that markers and other personnel employed by the National Rifle Association of Now South Wales at that meeting shall be paid £2 3s. a day? This amount is far .below the equivalent of the basic wage. . Will -the Minister request the National , Rifle Association to pay the full rates of £3 a day prescribed by the Department of the Army for civilian markers employed at military shoots, and will he instruct the General Officer Commanding Eastern Command that Army personnel shall not be employed on marking duties at the Queen’s shoot to the exclusion of civilian markers ?
– The honorable member asked a similar question about this time last year. On that occasion I directed the attention of the National Rifle Club, at its meeting at the Anzac Range, to the questions that the honorable member had raised, and indicated - and that is all that I could do - that I thought the suggestion in the honorable member’s letter should be given effect to. On that occasion that was done. I shall be pleased to repeat the process. As far as the request to the General Officer Commanding Eastern Command, is concerned, I believe it is a reasonable request, and I shall give effect to it.
– The Prime Minister will remember that last week I asked him whether, in view of the importance to the defence of Australia of rail standardization, amongst other important factors, he would give sympathetic consideration to the setting up of a committee representative of both houses of Parliament and the three political parties to consider rail standardization in all its phases on an Australian level. In his reply, the right honorable gentleman said he could not guarantee that the proposition would receive favorable consideration. I now ask him whether his hesitation to extend favorable consideration to this tremendously important work rested upon his own opposition to the setting up of a joint parliamentary committee to consider the matter, which should have the effect of lifting the subject above party politics, or whether it related directly to his straight-out opposition to the standardization of railway gauges in Australia.
– This seems to be an inquiry into the state of my mind rather than the state of my administration.
– Not long ago I asked the Minister for Defence whether, in consultation with the service Ministers,” he would give consideration to arrangements whereby selected members of the Parliament could attend important defence exercises as observers. The Minister indicated then that he would consider the matter. ‘ I now ask him whether his investigation into the question has been completed. If so, can he inform the House of the decision?
– I have considered the honorable member’s suggestion in consultation with the service Ministers. Accommodation and administrative factors place a limit on the number of observers who may witness service training exercises. This applies particularly to maritime exercises such as those to be undertaken at Manus Island, where accommodation in warships functioning on an operational training basis is necessarily at a premium. Further, the attendance of a delegation of members of the Parliament would add a logistic load to the present heavy commitments on the Manus Island base, which will be fully taxed in meeting the service requirements for the training exercise. In view of those factors, I regret that it will not be possible to arrange for honorable members to attend the Manus Island exercise. The interest of the honorable member for Darling Downs and other honorable members in this matter is appreciated. The service Ministers will keep under notice the possibility of arranging for a small number of honorable members to attend occasional service exercises in mainland areas where the nature of the exercises and the available administrative facilities will permit this to be done.
– My question is directed to the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration. The sugar industry and the shire councils of north Queensland are perturbed, because a majority of new Australians who have been sent into the northern areas are either unwilling or’ unable to work in the sugar industry. In view of the difficulty in securing suitable, labour for this industry, will the Minister sponsor a representative, or representatives, of the sugar organizations and of the Australian Workers Union, which represents 90 per cent, of the men working in the sugar industry, to visit Britain, northern Europe and southern Europe to select and screen labour for next season’s activity? Will the Minister also re-open the immigration centre in Cairns, so that selected immigrants could be landed at Cairns where they could secure work which would condition them for the 1955 season?
– I am not very enthusiastic about the proposal of the honorable member that representatives of the Queensland primary industries should go abroad and do the screening of immigrants who may be accepted to be brought to Australia. All I can say about the matter at this stage is that my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, has always paid very great attention to the needs of the sugar industry and other primary industries in Queensland, and each year when the seasons are coming round he has had great success in supplying immigrant labour for those industries. I shall consider the whole matter that has been raised by the honorable member, and let him have a written reply later.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether, in view of the fact that many members of approved medical benefits societies are dissatisfied with decisions given by those societies in respect of refunds to their members under the Commonwealth health legislation, he will consider the establishment of appeal boards in the States in order that members of the societies may have an opportunity of appealing against what they consider to be unfair decisions.
– I have had no communication about any injustices that have been caused by such decisions, but I shall give consideration to the suggestion of the honorable member.
– Has the Minister for the Army received a report from the Director-General of Medical
Services, which gives some hope that measures for the defence of the civil population against atomic attack may be more effective than is popularly supposed? Will the Minister tell the House whether the Director-General of Medical Services did in fact say anything which might encourage such a hope, and, if so, will he, at a suitable time, make a statement setting out the relevant facts and outlining the main defensive measures considered to be necessary, and how it is proposed to put them into effect?
-80 far I have not actually received any report from the Director-General of Medical Services, Major-General Kingsley Norris, although I have heard from Army headquarters about some of the ideas that he has expressed to the press. When I receive his report I shall give it immediate consideration, and if I then believe that any useful information could be given to the House about the matter, I shall be delighted to give it.
– My question is supplementary to that asked a few moments ago by the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron). Since the Director-General of Medical Services has had an opportunity to inform his mind abroad, particularly in regard to the effect of certain types of atomic weapons, will the Minister for the Army consider inviting that gentleman to Canberra to speak to honorable members, on an appropriate occasion, and pass on the information that he. has gained?
– If a sufficient number of honorable members indicate to the party whips that they would like the Director-General of Medical Services to address them on the medical aspects of the effect of atomic bombs, I shall be very glad to make the necessary arrangements.
– The question that I direct to the Minister for the Army is consequent upon the question asked by the honorable member for Mackellar in relation to the effects of atomic bombing and the reply by the Minister that he will arrange for the Director-General of Army Medical Services to meet honorable members and discuss the matter with them. Will the Minister direct the special attention of the director-general to his statement that the atom bomb which fell upon Hiroshima had rather more limited results than was generally believed, and also to the fact recently announced by an eminent authority that the hydrogen, bomb has a capacity for destruction at least 2,000 times greater than that of the bomb dropped at Hiroshima, so that the director-general will be in a position to answer questions on the security of the population from a bomb that will be fully destructive, apparently, over 300 square miles of territory ?
– I said in reply to the question asked by the honorable member for Mackellar that I would ask the Director-General of Army Medical Services to discuss with honorable gentlemen the medical aspects of the effects of hydrogen and atom bombs. I shall also direct the attention of the directorgeneral to the points that the honorable member for New England has raised, and I shall discuss the matter with him before lie meets honorable members.
– Will the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General state when the Government proposes to take steps to restore the clock tower at the Sydney General Post Office, which was removed as a war time measure? Why has there been such a delay in this restoration? Has it been a matter of cost? Does the Minister know that a public meeting will be held in Sydney to-night by people who are anxious to have this matter clarified?
– I do not know. I know that the clock tower is not there. My own opinion is that the building looks rather better without it, but I shall ascertain the position.
– Is the Minister for the Army aware that, during a recent week-end bivouac that was conducted by a unit of the Citizen Military Forces in South Australia, the schedule was disorganized because four out of five of the army vehicles used for the transport of troops and stores broke down, and had to be towed back to head-quarters? Will the Minister have inquiries made into the condition of transport vehicles used by the Department of the Army and issue instructions that vehicle maintenance shall be carried out on such vehicles immediately prior to their use in connexion with week-end bivouacs?
– One thing about which I am certain is that army vehicles are constantly under supervision and repair. Anybody who saw the enthusiasm of the young lads of the Citizen Military Forces who drive these vehicles would realize that my statement is factual. However, I shall make inquiries into the matter raised by the honorable gentleman.
– I direct to the Prime Minister a question that arises from one that was directed to him yesterday by the honorable member for Wannon Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the terms of the ban on the export of stud sheep from Australia are not being .properly observed? Is he also aware of reports that the progeny of some of the merino stud sheep that were exported in 1951 are now being used for stud purposes on some sheep ranches in the United States? Is he further aware that it is again proposed to allow more stud sheep to be sent to the United Kingdom and South Africa, under the pretext that they will be used for scien.tific experiments ? I suggest to the Prime Minister that it is unwise to permit this practice, and I ask him to apply the export ban most rigidly, because the export of stud sheep could develop into a threat to our wool industry.
– That is a matter in connexion with which the Prime Minister has no personal responsibility.
– I should not like to let pass the opportunity to express my appreciation of the constant interest shown by the honorable member in the wool industry. I had a little talk with one of my colleagues about this very problem this morning, and we decided that if some one would put a question on the notice-paper it would be a suitable opportunity for stating the facts of this matter briefly, but clearly.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether, with the transfer, in the’ immediate future, of aerial services from the Parafield aerodrome in South Australia to the new aerodrome at West Beach, which is now under construction, activities will continue at Parafield as a supplementary landing base? Will the Minister say for what purpose it is intended to use the Parafield aerodrome in the future?
– Parafield aerodrome will continue to he used until such time as the West Beach aerodrome is fully operational, but in the intervening period we think that we shall use West Beach, first, for emergencies, and then for all heavy aircraft plying to the area. The surface of the Parafield aerodrome, of course, is not good enough for that. The transfer will be progressive, and I do not think that West Beach will be operational, and that Parafield will be closed down and disposed of, for a matter of years.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. In view of the fact that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is to hold a conference in South America during October and November, will the Government give an undertaking that Australia will be represented at that gathering by more than one delegate ? Because of the great importance of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to the social and educational work of all nations, will he arrange for a representative of each side of this House to be attached to the Australian delegation?
– I shall convey the suggestion to the Department of External Affairs.
– I ask the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister acting for the Treasurer, whether he will consider obtaining from the Department of the Treasury a statement which shows the allocation of the 54,000,000 dollar loan negotiated some months ago with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development?
– Yes, I shall have whatever information is available on that point supplied to the honorable member for Ryan.
– In view of the fact that there has been a tremendous expansion in the volume of hire purchase credit released in the community, will the Prime Minister appoint an independent committee of experts to examine the many implications of this important’ development, including the questions whether the volume of hire purchase credit should be subject to .the control of the central bank, and whether the rate of interest charged by many companies is too high?
– The honorable member for Fawkner has asked a very important question. I shall give consideration to his suggestion.
– Has the Minister for the Army yet had an opportunity to examine the proposal which I have submitted on several occasions in this House that the Pacific Islands Regiment should be raised from one battalion to one brigade? If the Minister has had an opportunity to examine that proposal, will he state whether he is in favour of it?
– As one who introduced military training for the natives of Papua and New Guinea and is very pleased with the progress that has been made in that respect, I should be very happy indeed to be able to provide a brigade of Pacific Island natives, but, unfortunately, no provision is made in the Estimates, and. cannot be made this year, for a force of that size. However, I shall keep the matter constantly in view.
– Has the Vice-President of the Executive Council asked for a full report on all the complaints concerning the production by
Chrysler Australia Limited of components for Canberra bombers which I brought to the notice of the House on the 25th August last and which, the Minister will recollect, were additional to the complaints on which he reported on that occasion ? If so, will he table the report ?
– I have had a report on the charges made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh. A meeting of workmen employed by the Chrysler annexe protested volubly against the honorable member because he had made such charges in the House. I have satisfied myself that there is no substance whatsoever in the remarks of the honorable gentleman, and I shall not table the report.
– Cameron. - That is a lie. There was no such meeting.
– That is all right.
– The Minister has had his leg pulled again.
– In view of the Government’s promise to increase the intake of immigrants this year and to continue developing our immigration programme, will the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration consider the utilization of the unrivalled facilities available at the immigration centre at Bathurst for the purpose of providing rural training for immigrants?
– Yes, I shall give consideration to that matter.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not a fact that the Commonwealth Bank is required under legislation to advance money for housing at the lowest possible rate of interest. If that is so - I assure the right honorable gentleman that it is so - can he explain why the bank up to December last year, advanced £12,000,000 to co-operative building societies but, this year, reduced its total advances to such societies to £1,500,000 and is now declining to approve of any further applications from them ?
– That matter was raised yesterday. I am sorry that I have not had an opportunity between then and now to ascertain the facts ; but I said that I would do so, and that promise stands.
– I preface a question that I address to the Prime Minister by pointing out that the editor of the Adelaide News upon his return from the Seato Conference, at Manila, said that the president of the Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay-
– Order ! The honorable member is out of order in introducing personal names. He appears also to be quoting from a newspaper paragraph.
– The editor of the Adelaide News said that the president of the Philippines would like to visit Australia. Will the right honorable gentleman consider inviting this dynamic leader to Australia in view of the direct and responsible link that we now have with his country under Seato, and also in view of his desire to learn more about our democratic institutions and way of life?
– This Government has invited quite a number of distinguished people from other countries to come here. I think, perhaps, we might be allowed to deal with that matter in the orthodox way.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether his refusal to answer a question by the honorable member for Hindmarsh seeking information regarding the salaries received by the DirectorGeneral and the Deputy Director-General of Security were based on the assumption that by answering such a question he would endanger national security or in some way adversely affect the efficient operation of the security service? If that was the ground of his refusal, will the right honorable gentleman state precisely how the giving of such information would have that effect? If he had some other reason for his refusal, will he state that reason ?
– That question, standing by itself, would, of course, have no impact whatever on national security. What I stated was that the vote for the security service has always been a lump sum vote not only under this Government but also under the previous Government; and there are very sound reasons for maintaining that character in the security vote.
-Will the Prime Minister re-assure the House, as he did in December of last year, that the telephones of members of this Parliament are not being tapped by the security service?
– Yes, Mr. Speaker, I do.
Mr,Clydecameron. - That is the first time.
-I address to the Prime Minister a question which, in his absence, I asked the Treasurer two weeks ago and to which I have not yet received a reply. In view of the part played by Australia in two world wars to liberate the Middle East, to keep it free for progress and democracy and to ensure unimpeded communication through the Suez Canal among the nations of the free world, will the right honorable gentleman use his good offices with the Government of Egypt and other Arab states to secure the freedom of all shipping of friendly countries through the Suez Canal and thus endeavour to ensure security and happiness for the new State of Israel by guaranteeing peace among the nations of the free world?
– The whole problem of the Suez Canal and the Suez Canal Zone has been under discussion at times, intermittently and, at times, internationally. Throughout these proceedings, the Australian Government has been aware of developments and has offered its views from time to time.
– As the construction of the Blowering Dam on the Tumut River is essential if Australia is to make full use of the waters from the Snowy River for the purpose of irrigation, I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government will honour the agreement reached between the Chifley Government and the New South Wales Government that the Commonwealth would make a capital contribution towards the construction of the Blowering Dam, having regard to the amount of water it will feed into the inter-connected Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme?
– I should be very grateful if the honorable member would let me see this agreement that he refers to, in which case I should be very glad to give attention to it.
– Does the recent statement by the Minister for Defence that the Royal Australian Air Force is to be equipped with new types of jet fighter aircraft and medium bombers mean that the Sabre jet and the Canberra bomber can now be regarded as obsolete? If so, does the Government propose to abandon production of those aircraft? Further, what new types of fighter and bomber aircraft does the Government propose to acquire for the Royal Australian Air Force?
– The Sabre and Canberra aircraft are still the best in the world of their types, and there is no suggestion that they are obsolescent in any way. However, it is true that, in forward planning, the Royal Australian Air Force will be called upon to recommend new types for production in the future. That will be done, and the production or the purchase of the new types will be undertaken, but I assure the honorable member that the present Sabre and Canberra aircraft are excellent machines of their types.
Report on Item - Annual Report.
– I lay on the table the report of the Tariff Board on the following subject: -
I also lay on the table the following paper : -
Tariff Board - Annual Report for year 1953-54, together with summary of recommendations.
The report is accompanied by an annexure which summarizes the recommendations made by the Tariff Board and sets out the action taken in respect thereof.
Publication of Confidential Report in the “ Century “.
– I present the following report of the Committee of Privileges: -
Report relating to the alleged misuse of a confidential Hansard proof, together with minutes of proceedings. and move -
That the report be printed.
.- The House unanimously agreed to refer this matter of the use of a Hansard “flat” to the Committee of Privileges. Frankly, I have been astonished to find that the committee has discharged its duties with so little apparent inquiry as seems evident from what I have heard. It may be true, as some honorable members say, that the publication of matter which will appear in Hansard a few days or a few weeks later is not of great importance, but I think it is of importance to members of this Parliament, who themselves cannot obtain a Hansard “ flat “ from tha Parliamentary Library and who are told, if they inquire at the Library for a “ flat “, to go and see Mr. Speaker. It is important to them to know how a “ flat “ which, whether it should or should not be confidential, is nevertheless marked “ confidential “ and intended to be confidential, can get into the hands of certain newspapers, and particularly a newspaper which, as far as I can gather, is completely anti-Labour.
– Ha, ha!
– The Century, the newspaper concerned, circulates in Sydney. It is not, therefore, a journal which I see very often, but I have here a few copies which I have obtained from the Library. The first headline that I see is an attack on the Premier of New South “Wales. The second is an attack upon the AttorneyGeneral of New South Wales. The third is an attack upon the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labour party.
– Mr; Speaker, I am sorry to interrupt the honorable member, but I am doing it, I think, in the interest of honorable members generally. It is going to be very difficult to follow this discussion unless we know what is in the report. Is there any .procedure under which the contents of the document may be made known to us? I am sure that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) will agree that it is very difficult to discuss it in abstract.
– The position is that the report has been presented. I have no knowledge of its contents, and I do not know how much other honorable members may know of its contents. It could be read by the Clerk, but I think it would be better if we allowed honorable members time to read it and had the debate on some later occasion. The Clerk has pointed out to me that, under Standing Order 345, no discussion shall take place upon the presentation of the report, but the report may be ordered to be printed with or without the documents that accompany it. If honorable gentlemen wish to speak on a report of the Committee of Privileges, on my knowledge of procedure, the matter should be disposed of at a fairly early date. I am in the hands of the House.
– I think we know, near enough, in general terms, what the committee’s report contains.
– I make the suggestion that the discussion proceed, and then those honorable members who are reading the report now-
– It has just been handed around. This is the first we have seen of it.
– I do not believe that this matter should be adjourned because we all know that, when matters of this nature are adjourned and put on the notice-paper, at the bottom of the list, they are rushed through towards the end of a sessional period and that is the end of them.
– Order ! I must intervene at this stage and take the sense of the House, because it is obvious that a high proportion of members are not in agreement with the course which is being taken. I think, in the circumstances, if it is the desire of some honorable members to discuss the report of the committee, the House itself should make , arrangements . for an opportunity for a debate to occur at a very early date. The matter should not be left on the notice-paper. Has the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) anything to say?
– I suggest that, in view of the fact that the contents of the report cannot be known to honorable members because it was presented only a few minutes ago - members at the present moment are busily studying it - the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), instead of assuming the nature of the report in order to provide a basis for his argument, should ask that the debate on the motion for the printing of the paper be adjourned. The matter would then be listed on the notice-paper, and it would be debated quite early after the House resumes following the short recess which will begin at the end of this week.
– If the House has an assurance from the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) that an early opportunity will be given to honorable members to debate the report, I shall be content to ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage, but I should not be willing to do so without a definite assurance. I would rather take my chance now and endeavour to debate the matter without seeing the report, unless the House has the assurance that I seek now.
– In the circumstances, I suggest that the honorable member proceed with his speech.
– Order ! The honorable member for Yarra has asked for leave to continue his remarks at a later stage, and I am bound to submit his request to the House.
– Mr. Speaker-
– Order ! There may be no discussion at this stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to-
That leave of absence for one month be given to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt), the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman), and the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton), owing to their absence from Australia.
Motion (by Dr. Evatt) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), owing to their absence from Australia, and to the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Davies), on the ground of ill-health.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to-
That Standing Order 104-11 o’clock rulebe suspended until the end of November next.
Debate resumed from the 28th September (vide page .1.688), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Allan Fraser had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide that the rates of age and invalid pensions be a minimum of £4 a week; and to provide similarly for increases in the rates of child endowment, widows’ pensions, unemployment and sickness benefit, dependants’ allowance and other social services corresponding to the increase in prices so as to restore at least the former purchasing value of these payments “.
– In addressing myself to this bill, I desire to enter my most emphatic protest, and that of many thousands of my my electors, at the Government’s cr;iel and callous treatment of, and its utter disregard for the unfortunate invalid and age pensioners and all other persons who receive social services benefits. This measure might well be named the anti-pensioners bill, because it prevents the majority of pensioners from enjoying a decent living. It is true that it provides for the relaxation of the means test, a proposal with which I heartily agree, but I protest against the Administration’s treatment of age and invalid pensioners, and other persons in receipt of social services benefits, particularly widow pensioners and their dependants and persons in receipt of sickness and unemployment benefits who will receive no increase of their benefits. In the 1953-54 budget the Government sawfit to the grant to those classes of persons the small increase of 2s. 6d. a week in their benefits.
I am satisfied that pensioners have never been worse off since pensions were introduced in 1909 than they are at present under the administration ot* this Government. I protest against its treatment of pensioners and persons in receipt of social services benefits, but not for political reasons as a number of Government supporters would imply. The Opposition makes its protest on traditional grounds. If one were to trace the history of age and invalid pensions and other social services benefits, one would find that the Australian Labour party has always pioneered such benefits. That reminds be of a statement made by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand) several weeks ago during another debate in this chamber. I want to answer several of the statements made by the honorable member on that occasion, though I do not want to criticize him unduly. The honorable member was a very much respected member of the Queensland State Parliament for many years, but he has not long been a member of this House, and I am sure that he does not understand pensions so well as do many other honorable members, particularly . Opposition members. The honorable member for Wide Bay observed that in 1931 a Labour government had reduced pensions to 17s. 6d. a week. That is true, but I remind the honorable member that the Lyons Government, which was of a similar political colour to the Administration that the honorable member now supports, at the first meeting of the Parliament in 1932 after its election to office in 1931, reduced pensions further to 15s. a week. Not content with that action, the Lyons Government went further and dealt with other parts of the social services legislation. It introduced a provision under which pensioners, if they owned dwellings, were compelled to mortgage their homes to the Government. On the death of the pensioners, the Government sold the homes in order to recoup itself for the pension payments that it had made to the owners. My statement is based on the contents of an official publication issued by the Department of Social Services and is not a misstatement of the facts.
The honorable member for Wide Bay remarked, also, that pensioners were not treated so well by the last Labour Government as they have been treated by this Administration. That statement is completely incorrect, as I shall demonstrate. Taking all things into consideration and bearing in mind the differences between the present pension and the pension rate in 1949, when Labour was defeated, pensioners are in a much worse position to-day than they have ever been in before.
As I said earlier, I do not raise my protest against the Government’s treatment of the unfortunate persons who receive social services benefits, merely for propaganda purposes. So long as I can remember, Labour has pioneered the introduction and extension of social services benefits. At present, ten distinct types of social services benefits are provided for in the social services legislation. Of those ten legislative enactments, eight were introduced by Labour and two by antiLabour governments.
– And those two were only introduced under pressure.
– That is so. One has only to peruse the pages of Hansard to discover that age pensions were introduced by the Deakin Government in 1909. That was not done so much because of pressure, but because that Government held office by a very slender majority, and desired to get certain legislation through the Parliament. Therefore, it agreed that if the Labour Opposition of that time would not oppose its other legislation it would introduce an age pension measure. Therefore, honorable members will see that age - pensions were not initiated by an anti-Labour government, but really by the Labour party which was in oppos]on in those days. The only other piece of social services legislation that has been brought in by an anti-Labour government since 1909, is the child endowment legislation that was introduced in 1941. I remember well when the first Menzies Government introduced child endowment. Again it was a case of an anti-Labour government being forced to supply a social service. At that time the basic wage was under review by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and big business interests approached the Menzies Government just before the 1941 general election and brought pressure to bear on it to introduce child endowment so that the basic wage would not be increased.
Now let us consider the social services activity of the Labour party. The Fisher Government introduced invalid pensions in 1910, and maternity allowances in 1912. Allowances to wives of invalidpensioners were introduced by the Chifley Government, and pensions for widows by theCurtin Government in 1942. Funeral benefits legislation and allowances for unendowed children and the wives of invalid pensioners, were introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943. A Labour government also introduced unemployed and sickness benefits and a system to rehabilitate invalid pensioners, in 1944. Therefore, eight social service legislative “enactments were introduced by Labour go- vernments, compared with two introduced by anti-Labour governments. Yet honorable members on the Govern- ment side still claim that this Government, and other governments of the same political colour, have done more for the people by way of social services than have Labour governments. That is absolutely untrue, and, indeed, my claims are proved by a booklet issued by the Department of Social Services itself.
The unfortunate people who are depending upon social services to-day are worse off than they have been since 1909. Although I am very pleased to notice that this Government has seen fit to do something for the people in the legislation now before honorable members, and that some unfortunate persons will benefit under it, I am afraid that those who are already receiving age and invalid pensions will get no benefit at all. Under last year’s budget they received only a paltry 2s. 6d. a week increase, but surely the Government cannot claim that the cost of living has not increased since the last increase of pensions. As a matter of fact the cost of living has increased and is still increasing. All necessary foods have increased in price even in the last few months. The food that a pensioner could have purchased in 1948-49 in the way of bread, flour, tea, sugar, jam, potatoes, butter, milk and beef for 17s.21/2d. would now cost him £1 16s. 3d. In view Of those figures, how can the Government say that the pensioners are better off now than ever before?
I listened attentively to the budget speech made on the 2nd September’ by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes). He said that pensions were at one time tied to the basic wage, but that a Labour government altered that system. That is absolutely incorrect, because pensions have never been fixed in accordance with the basic wage, but Labour governments have always endeavoured to have pensions increased in a ratio to the basic wage. All social services at one time were based on quarterly adjustments according to the C series index. It is true that the Labour Government abolished that principle. But Labour always endeavoured to have pensions fixed at arate that was as near as possible to the basic wage. Let us compare the present position in that regard with the position that existed as far back as 1945. I shall compare, in each instance, the pension rate with the basic wage for the six capital cities. In 1945 the basic wage was £4 8s., and the pension was £1 12s. 6d., to which rate the Labour Government had increased it. That rate represented 33.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1947 the basic wage increased to £5 10s., and the Labour Government increased the pension to £1 17s. 6d., which represented 34.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1948-49 in the Labour Government’s last year of office, the basic wage was increased to £5 16s. and the Chifley Government increased the pension to £2 2s. 6d., which represented 36.6 per cent, of the basic wage.
Eleven increases of the pension were made during the period with which I have” dealt, and comprised increases granted by the Chifley Government and quarterly adjustments in accordance with cost of living increases. They aggregated £1 ls. Since the present Government took office in 1949 it has increased pensions on four occasions by an aggregate of £1 7s. 6d. at a. time when the value of money is less than it was in the period in which the Chifley Government increased pensions by £1 ls. It is really unnecessary to repeat that the cost of living has increased much more than pensions have increased. This Government was” returned to office in 1949, 1951 and at the last general election in May of this year, as a result of promises that it would reduce the cost of living. Instead, it has allowed the cost of living to rise progressively, until to-day it is higher than it was when the Commonwealth Arbitration Court issued quarterly index figures, before the basic wage was frozen. An honorable member opposite lias indicated dissent from that opinion. I remind him that the price of meat has increased by 6d. of 7d. a pound in the last few weeks, and that the price of tea has increased by ls. a pound in the last month. As I have said, in its last year of office the Labour Government increased the pension rate to bring it to 36.6 per cent, of the basic wage. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court, when it. was fixing the basic wage, always calculated it in accordance with the needs Of a man, wife and one child. A pension rate of 36.6 per cent, of the basic wage is obviously a fairly good rate for the maintenance of only one person. Let us examine what has happened since the Government took office iii 1949. In 1951 the basic wage rose to £9 13s., and the Government increased the pension rate to £3, which represented 31.1 of the basic wage. That means, that less than two years after the Labour Government left office, the percentage had fallen by more than 5 per cent. In 1952 the basic wage rose to £.11 15s. and the Government increased the rate of pension to £3 7s. 6d.’, or 28.7 per cent, of the basic wage, another big reduction of the percentage. The last increase of the pension rate granted by the Government was 2s. 6d., and was made when the basic wage was £12. The rate still stands at £3 10s., which represented 29.1 per cent, of thebasic wage at the time that the last increase was granted.
It must be obvious to all honorable members that pensioners are much worse off to-day than they have been at any time since 1909, when pensions were first introduced. No section of the community deserves to be treated in the manner in which the Government is treating the pensioners. These unfortunate people deserve to be given better treatment because, after all, many of them, particularly among the age pensioners, are the pioneers of this nation. Everybody will agree that there must always be in a community a large percentage of workers who have no hope of attaining the economic heights, but will always earn the basic wage. It is impossible for such people to rear families and also to save enough for their old age. Therefore, it is a duty of this, or any other government, to see that they are kept in reasonable comfort during the eventide of their lives. The Government contends that a pensioner who receives a pension of £3 10s. a week has sufficient to live on. In my opinion such a rate of pension does not keep pensioners in any reasonable comfort. It does no more than keep body and soul together. I shall cite an example to show how impossible it is for a pensioner, or any other person who receives a social services benefit, to do more than merely exist on the paltry amount paid by the Government for the last twelve months, which amount obviously the Government does not intend to increase in the near future, because there is no provision in the bill for any increase. State institutions in Queensland, the only State of which I can speak with personal knowledge, include some very fine eventide homes. There is one at Sandgate, one at Rockhampton and one at Charters Towers. Although the State Government, which conducts these institutions, is able to purchase foodstuffs and other commodities at wholesale prices, the cost to maintain one pensioner is £5 13s. 8d. a week. Of that amount the Commonwealth pays £2 4s. leaving the State Government to find the balance of £3 9s. 8d. Those figures show that it is impossible for pensioners to live on the paltry amount of £3 10s. that they are receiving to-day.
I support wholeheartedly the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). During the last . federal election campaign the Labour party leader promised in his policy speech that if Labour were returned to office it would increase the pension rate by 10s. a week, which would bring the rate to the same percentage of the basic wage as it represented in 1949. As a matter of fact, a careful study of the relevant figures will show that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro should have moved that the rate be increased by at least lis., because £4 ls. a week would have a purchasing power equal to the purchasing power of the pension in 1949.
I shall now discuss the means test. In common with all other members of the Labour party, I have advocated the total abolition of the means test. But the Labour party is not the only political party that has adopted that policy. I remind the House that the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies’), and the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), on behalf of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, respectively, promised the people, in 1949, that if they were returned to office, they would take the necessary measures to abolish the means test. It is true that the means test is to be considerably relaxed, and we all are very pleased on that account, but I believe that the Government has not gone far enough in that respect. Even some Government supporters have advocated, not in this chamber, unfortunately, but at various gatherings, the abolition of the means test. I have here a copy of a Brisbane newspaper, which reports that the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), in an address to the annual convention of the Liberal party in that State, said that most Government supporters were in favour of the abolition of the means test. The report of the honorable member’s” statement reads as follows : -
Almost 100 per cent, of the Party desired abolition of the means test; but he felt they would not get anywhere when the budget was presented. “ There is passive resistance by Cabinet to our approaches”, he said. “ I do not think we will sec an abolition of the means test.”
Yet not one honorable member opposite has protested in this debate about the failure of the Government to introduce legislation to abolish the means test. I shall not discuss that matter at greater length, because the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) dealt with it very fully last evening, and gave an explicit analysis of the whole position in relation to the persons who, the Government claims, will be affected. I believe that the Government should have relaxed the means test to a greater degree than is provided in this legislation. However, I am pleased, that a number of persons, who hitherto have not been eligible to receive pensions, will be entitled to- them in future.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I do .not propose to follow the line of discussion taken by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), and debate whether or not the pension is adequate for the needs of the recipients. I am sure that we shall never get unanimity of opinion on that matter in this House, much less outside it. However, that does not mean that the Government is not deeply interested in the people of pensionable age. This bill will improve services generally to pensioners, and will considerably modify what is now called the income and property means test, as it is applied to the full age or invalid pensioner. The bill will give effect to the promises made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) during the recent general election campaign.
This debate has high-lighted some of the promises made by the Labour party during that campaign, and the remarks made yesterday and also to-day indicate that the approach of the Labour party to this important subject of social services, of which age and invalid pensions form a part, becomes more obscure every day. A few months ago, this country was subjected to an all-out blast of propaganda by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and his supporters who claimed that the means test could be abolished during the life of one parliament. We have read a good deal about the process of brain-washing used by the Russians. A victim is subjected to an all-out propaganda attack, and after such treatment, his views are’ completely changed. The Leader of the Opposition, I suggest, failed in his attempt to brain-wash the Australian people during the recent general election campaign, when he asked them to accept completely his proposal for the abolition of the means test.
– The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) reminds me that it was only eye-wash. If that was the case, I shall refer to the matter in detail at a later stage: Everybody will recall the slogan of the Leader of the Opposition during the recent general election campaign. “ We can do it, we will do it “ was the slogan that was used on every Labour platform in reference to the abolition of the means test. Last night, the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Eraser), on behalf of his leader, submitted an amendment to the motion for the second reading of this bil], in an attempt to impress this House, and all the people who were listening to the broadcasting of the proceedings, that he was deeply interested, as was also the Labour party, in the plight of the pensioners. I remind honorable members that the effect of this unfair amendment, if it were agreed to, would be to delay the payment of increased social services benefits to 56,000 new pensioners and 94,000 age and invalid pensioners. They expect to receive the higher benefits in a few weeks’ time. If the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is accepted, the new benefits will be postponed indefinitely. The amendment itself is couched in vague terms, and I shall read it in order to refresh the memories of honorable gentlemen of it. It is as follows : -
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 that the rates of agc and invalid pensions be n minim nin of £4 a week; and to provide similarly for increases in the rates of child endowment, widows’ pensions, unemployment, and sickness benefit, dependant’s allowances and other social services corresponding to the increase in prices bo as to restore at least the former purchasing value of these payments “.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has not indicated the amount by which he considers child endowment should be increased, and he has not specified the other social services mentioned in the amendment. No reference has been made to the ability of the country to pay any of those increased benefits. The inquiry which the honorable member proposes could last twelve months or even longer. Indeed, the whole position might never be resolved if the investigation were made on the basis of the terms of the amendment. The only concern of supporters of the amendment is to delay the granting of the benefits which the prospective recipients expect to have in a few weeks’ time. That cost will amount to over £6,000,000 in a full financial year. Government supporters are gravely concerned about the anomalies that still exist in respect of age and invalid pensions. One of those anomalies is that persons who, throughout their lives, endeavour to be thrifty and invest their savings to meet their needs in their old age, are, upon reaching pensionable age, refused a pension on the ground that they have acquired property of a certain value. Nothing could be more calculated to discourage incentive to work and save than the application of a means test that places a penalty upon thrift. That is the position at present, and the Government is endeavouring to abolish that anomaly. Only by encouraging thrift in the community shall we be enabled to abolish the means test.
The proposals contained in this bill are designed to implement the promises that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made in the joint policy speech of the present Government parties when he said that the Government would continue to work vigorously for a modification of the means test. These proposals represent a major step in removing existing anomalies, particularly those that discourage thrift. It is the policy of the Government to encourage the people generally to save and to invest their savings providently. For that reason, it is most desirable that the means test should be abolished; but to do that in the life of one parliament, as the Leader of the Opposition during the recent general election campaign undertook to do, if Labour were returned to office, would hurt to the greatest degree the very persons whom this measure is designed to assist. Briefly, the policy enunciated by Labour was one of pensions for all and sundry. The provision of pensions under those conditions would have involved the abolition of the means test but, at the same time, it would have substantially reduced the purchasing power of the pension and would have not only penalized persons who are entirely dependent upon the pension but also would have hit hardest, financially, persons who have been thrifty throughout their life. It would have done so because such action would have caused widespread inflation. No one wants to return to the conditions of a few years ago which all honorable members remember so well and which this Government was able to remedy soon after it assumed office. However, if Labour had been elected and had attempted to abolish the means test in the life of one parliament, those conditions would have returned almost immediately.
I do not think that the people generally really realize the cost that would have been involved in lifting the means test in accordance with the promise that the Leader of the Opposition made on behalf of his party. During the heat of the recent election campaign, varying calculations of that cost were made. Many doubted that the cost would be as great as others suggested that it would be, whilst many merely made a stab at assessing it. However, to-day, in the quiet immediately following that campaign, we are better able to assess that cost. An increase of the age, invalid and widow pensions by 10s. a week in accordance with the proposal made by the Leader of the Opposition would have involved an additional annual cost of £13,100,000, and the cost of abolishing the means test in respect of those pensions in the life of this current Parliament would have been £113,000.000 in respect of age pensions, £7,500,000 in respect of invalid pensions and £9,500,000 in respect of widows’ pensions. The total annual additional cost of those items would have been £143,100,000.
– What is wrong with that?
– I remind the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr.
Daly) that some years ago, when this self-same proposition was raised in this chamber, he, himself, said that the only way effect could be given to such a proposal would be to rely on the printing press to turn out sufficient notes. The cost of implementing that proposal at that time would have been much lower than would be the cost of implementing it to-day.
– Who said that?
– The honorable member, himself, said that; and, if he so desires, I shall quote the exact remarks that he made on that occasion. The cost of giving effect to Labour’s policy in respect of social services as the Leader of the Opposition enunciated it during the recent general election campaign would have been tremendous. In addition, he said that Labour would liberalize child endowment benefit but, whilst he did not mention any specific amount in that instance, certain members of the Australian Labour party indicated that Labour would increase that benefit by 5s. a week. The provision of that increase would have involved an additional annual expenditure of approximately £35,100,000. Labour’s proposals in respect of pensions and child endowment would have involved a total additional annual expenditure of £230,900,000. Having regard to that cost, those proposals were fantastic. Of course, they were to be financed from revenue, that is, from the earnings of the taxpayers. Immediately those ideas were advanced, not only members of the Government parties but also some members of the Australian Labour party, itself, asked how it would be possible to finance them. That question became the “ 54-dollar “ question throughout Australia during the recent general election campaign. It is enlightening to look through Hansard reports and to examine statements that have been made by members of the Australian Labour party on this matter. .Similar statements have been made by spokesmen of that party outside the Parliament. For instance, Senator Kennelly, speaking at the recent conference of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labour party, stated -
I feel that we are going to be haunted with this policy for a number of years. I have no objection to abolition of the means test if yon can prove to me how it can be done when you will not tax and will not risk intiation.
Senator Kennelly is an influential member of the Australian Labour party. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) also said it would be financially impossible to give effect to Labour’s proposals. And, some years ago, the honorable member for Grayndler, who has been interjecting, said that those proposals could not be implemented without substantially increasing taxation.
The Leader of the Opposition made a dishonest attempt to fool the people into the belief that every woman over 60 and every man over 65 could be provided with a pension without increasing taxation. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who moved the amendment, made an interesting statement when he discussed the proposal to lift the means test. He said that the means test could possibly be abolished if a contribution were made by every section of the community. That statement by an important member of the Labour party has particular interest in the light of the discussions of a proposal for a compulsory contribution of that sort which took place some years ago. I personally am not opposed to that form of taxation, but I note that the views of members of the Labour party on the issue are completely divided. For example, I refer the House to a statement made in 1946 hy Mr. Rosevear, who, as the honorable member for Dalley, was then an influential member of the Labour party. When replying to the honorable member for Reid at that time, who is well known to us as Mr. John Lang, Mr. Rosevear said -
If the honorable member for Reid concurs with the Opposition in the means by which the Opposition proposes to finance the abolition of the means test, he is in favour of an entirely new and additional scheme of taxation in the guise of a compulsory contribution to a national insurance fund. If he does not, there is only one way in which he can finance any scheme which involves the abolition of the means test. Governments cannot get money out of thin air. There is only one way governments can get money, and that is by taxing it out of the people. … It would be interesting to hear some of the advocates of the abolition of the means test tell us exactly how they propose to abolish it without inflicting further taxes on the people of this country.
Mr. Rosevear opposed the abolition of the means test on the ground that it would necessitate increased taxation or an additional scheme of taxation in the guise of a compulsory contribution. Yet honorable members last night heard the honorable member for Eden-Monaro suggest that such a contribution be introduced as a means of disposing of the means test! What is the policy of the Labour party on the abolition of the means test? Every member of that party seems to hold a different view. The Leader of the Opposition expresses one view, but honorable members who sit behind him in this House hold other views. I want to know where they stand on this issue.
The concessions that will be provided by the Government under this bill will considerably relieve deserving members of the community, and especially those who have been deprived of assistance because of their thrift during their working lives. The bill will considerably increase the income that a person may receive while continuing to enjoy full pension rights. It also provides that a person may own his home without suffering the loss or reduction of his pension. This exemption will apply also to personal effects. The bill provides that a pensioner may have a larger sum in the bank than is now permitted, and extends the definition of property by making it clear that property, for the purposes of the means test, does not mean only real estate. I repeat that the provision of pensions for aged members of the community is not sufficient to provide a satisfactory solution of the problems that beset such people. The assistance of the aged is not a matter entirely for the Government. It is also, I suggest, a community obligation. Money alone will not solve the problems of an elderly pensioner. The Government obviously appreciates that fact, because it has announced that it will make available £1,500,000 this year for the care and housing of old people. The task of keeping up the morale of old people is just as big a factor in their welfare as is the doling out of money in the form, of pensions. The Government, of course, must initiate a plan for the housing of elderly people, but I submit that the practical aspects of such a plan must be administered by local people in order to soften its application.
We are particularly indebted to the officers of the Department of Social Services for the sympathetic way in which they deal with pensioners’ problems. I know that the Director-General of Social Services and his staff are constantly helping people to obtain pensions. They have taken the attitude that the bill provides for great concessions. The Government is constantly striving to increase the concessions allowed to old citizens and, with the sympathetic assistance of the department, it is doing its utmost to make benefits available to those who can qualify for them. In other words, the Government and the department are not discouraging people who are eligible for pensions. That is a most desirable attitude. The department has gone about the task of improving the situation by reducing the volume of paper work required in dealing with an application for a pension, and it has considerably reduced the number of questions that applicants are required to answer. This is commendable, not only because it assists persons who wish to apply for pensions, but also because it helps to cut down expenses.
The cost of social services has become one of the big items in our national expenditure. In the last year of the Labour Government’s administration, the cost of social services was £85,300,000, and national health services, which are closely associated with pensions, cost £7,500,000. I ask honorable members to compare that expenditure with the rate of expenditure to-day. Under the Menzies Government, the cost of social services now is £159,000,000 a year, almost double the cost when the Labour Government left office. National health services now cost £35,000,000 a year, which is four times as great as the expenditure when the Labour Government was in office. The Menzies Government has kept in the forefront of its social services planning in the last four years the needs of those who have little or nothing other than a pension. It is constantly trying to improve the position of such people and will go on doing so while it is in office. The encouragement of savings and investments by individual citizens is a part of the
Government’s plan for the eventual abolition of the means test. I consider that it is wise in encouraging the community as a whole to be thrifty and to accumulate reserves in the ways that I have mentioned during my speech.
The budget for 1954-55 offers every possible inducement to thrift. With this basis for the expansion of our social services programme, I believe that there will be no difficulty, as the years pass, in carrying on the plan initiated by this Government. Our social services scheme can be considerably widened as time passes. Certainly, as long as this Government can continue in office, one of its principal objectives will be to encourage thrift at all times while continuing to ease the means test. I congratulate the Government upon the achievements that it has already made. I believe that it is endeavouring to do something that the community wishes to have done. I also praise the wonderful work that is being done by the Department of Social Services in trying to make it easy for people to apply for and obtain pensions. Its officers are sympathetic and understanding, and they encourage people to make application for pensions. This policy has been considerably helped by the lessening of the number of forms that applicants are required to fill in to support their claims.
.- The Labour party makes no apologies whatever for supporting the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), because, as a party, we are always in the vanguard of any move that is calculated to improve the lot of the average citizen, and the amendment is intended to achieve exactly that. The honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) attempted to deride the amendment - most unsuccessfully by the way - and, in that attempt, he placed before the House a number of imaginary obstacles and then proceeded to demolish them. That is an old debating trick. The” honorable member suggested, for example, that if the amendment were adopted it would mean a postponement of the benefits of the bill, probably for twelve months. That is so much balderdash, because an official of the Bureau of Census and Statistics could calculate the rates required by the terms of the amendment and make the necessary comparisons with the figures of 1949 in half an hour or less. The Government could accept the figures immediately, and the bill, as amended, could be passed by this House next week. With any Government that had the interests of the pensioners at heart, the whole process of carrying the provisions of the amendment into legislative effect would not involve a postponement of more than seven days. This talk of postponing the operation of the measure for twelve months is merely begging the question, and honorable members on the Government side of the House know it.
The Labour party considers that there should be a dual approach to the discussion of the (proposals embodied in the bill. The measure certainly contains a number of provisions that have been advocated by the Labour party for many years. As a matter of fact, as the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) pointed out, the role of the Labour party in the sphere of social services in Australia is an honoured one indeed, because not only has the party been responsible for the introduction of eight of the ten measures now effective in the social services field, but also it has at all times acted as a propaganda agent for -the other two. For years before the Commonwealth Parliament decided to introduce old-age pensions, the Labour party had been advocating that very course of action. ‘ In other words, it sowed the seeds in the minds of the public. It pointed out to the Australian people the necessity for oldage pensions, and the anti-Labour party of that day saw the wisdom of incorporating Labour’s proposals in its legislative plans if it wished to survive as a major political party. Of necessity, the antiLabour party’ adopted Labour’s policy. Something similar occurred in relation to child endowment. The Lang Labour Government of New South Wales, during the 1920’s, was the first administration to introduce child endowment benefits in Australia. Members of the” Australian Labour party, in this Parliament and the various State parliaments, had advocated the principle of child . endowment, with the result that, in 1940, the parties that support the present Government, for various reason, adopted the idea. The point I make is that the Australian
Labour party is always in the van in these progressive movements. When the Liberal and the Australian Country parties find that Labour’s proposals are gaining popularity among the people, they accept Labour’s doctrines as their own, and forget that Labour first made them popular. For many years the Australian Labour. party has advocated a number of the proposals that are incorporated in this bill, particularly the modifications of the means test. I regret to say that a number of proposals might well have been included in the measure, but, for reasons best known to the Government, it ignored them.
It is true that the means test has been liberalized. The honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) wanted to know what was Labour’s policy in relation to the means test. Labour’s policy is clear and unequivocal. We stand for the progressive elimination of the means test. That has always been our policy and is our policy still. On the other hand, there is a confusing fog of uncertainty surrounding the policy of the Government parties in respect of the means test. In 1949, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was then Leader of the Opposition, declared that if the Liberal party were elected to office it would appoint a committee to inquire into the matter of abolishing the means test by 1952. In 1954, we are still a long way from the abolition of the means test. I throw the query of the honorable member for Isaacs back in his teeth, and ask what is the Liberal party’s policy in relation to the means test. Is it abolition within three years, as was proposed by the Prime Minister in 1949, or is it, judged on the basis of the modification at present proposed, abolition over a period of 25 years?
The most important aspect of this bill is not the modification of the means test, which is very welcome. The failure to increase age pensions is the most important matter, and it has caused widespread indignation. The perpetuation of the existing pensions rate for at least another twelve months will cause a relative worsening of the position of pensioners, which has been steadily becoming worse since 1949. The inflation of the last five years has robbed pensioners of almost all benefit of the increase in productivity that has occurred since 1910. Any one who has studied production statistics for Australia knows that since 1910 productivity has consistently increased. The benefits of that increase have been widely spread throughout the community, partly by the payment of social services benefits. But the galloping inflation of the last five years’, under the administration of this Government, has swept away the benefits that had accrued to pensioners up to 1949. This budget presented the Government with a unique opportunity to make it possible for pensioners to retrieve some of the ground that they have lost during the last five years, but the Government did not act, and I suggest that it will live to rue the day that it neglected the needs of pensioners. The budget provides for the expenditure on social services in the current financial year of the amount of approximately £193,000,000, or more than £16,000,000 in excess of the actual expenditure last financial year. The vote last financial year totalled £184,000,000, but only approximately £176,000,000 was expended. What assurance is there that expenditure on social services in the current financial year will equal the amount voted? The Government makes great play on the proposed increased expenditure in the current financial year, but there is no guarantee that expenditure will, in fact, be greater. The Administration is exaggerating its claims over the proposed increased expenditure.
Honorable members from both sides of the House welcome the proposal to liberalize the means test. The proposal will cost approximately £4,000,000 in the current financial year, and £6,000,000 in a full year. I am glad the means test is to be liberalized, because I stand for the progressive elimination of that test, as do other members of the Australian Labour party. The cardinal fact apparent in a consideration of this bill, which is subsidiary to the budget, is that the Government has failed to realize the sorry plight of people whose sole income is the pension. More than 76 per cent, of pensioners receive the full pension and are wholly dependent on it. For some years past, and especially since I became a member of this House, there has been much controversy about the precise amount that is required by a pensioner to keep body and soul together. The Government contends that the present pension rate is adequate, and that it is better than the pension paid by the Labour Government in 1949. That claim is entirely untrue. The Administration might have succeeded in convincing itself and its supporters that it is true, but it has certainly not succeeded in convincing any one else. Government supporters state that the present pension is the equivalent of lOd. a week more than the rate in 1949 under Labour’s administration, but the matter is open to a great deal of argument.
I refer the House to an investigation that was made recently by the Melbourne Age, following the budget announcement that the pension rate would remain at £3 10s. a week. As honorable members are aware, the Melbourne Age circulates widely throughout Australia. It has the reputation that it supports worthwhile social reforms, and its arguments are always presented in a sober and restrained manner, entirely lacking exaggeration and extravagance. The only fault that I find with that journal is that it supports the Government in season and out. It could never be said to favour Labour. At all times when the whips are cracking, it espouses this Administration’s policy. But, in the report that the Age- made on the investigation that it conducted, it gives the Government no paeans of praise. The Age sent an investigator to the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, and he spent a considerable time ascertaining what it costs pensioners to live in that suburb.
The figures that I shall recount to honorable members represent the costs of a single male pensioner who lives alone. His expenditure on meals amounts to £2 2s. a week. That amount is based on charges for breakfast and dinner of 2s. 6d. each at the cheapest eating house in the district. He pays ls. for his midday meal. The charge is low because the meal is provided by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, which, as honorable members who represent Victorian electorates are aware, is a church organization that does fine work in the inner industrial suburbs of Melbourne in providing for pensioners comforts that should rightly be provided by this Government. The brotherhood, in effect, subsidizes the pension, which should be increased by the Government. The amount paid by the pensioner in question for his room is 15s. a week. That amount does not include any payment for wood. The pensioner does not enjoy the benefits of a fire, and in the winter months he must go to bed even to keep warm in the. day-time. Government supporters might not agree that the next item of expenditure is justified. It is an expenditure of 7s. a week on tobacco, matches and cigarette papers. I am sure that every reasonable person will concede that pensioners are entitled at least to a little enjoyment of the pleasures of smoking, if they so desire. Government supporters probably will not acknowledge the pensioner’s entitlement to expend ls. 6d. a week on beer. He certainly would not become intoxicated on the amount of liquor that that meagre expenditure would buy him. Most of the pensioner’s clothes are provided by free hand-outs, and the expenditure that he finds it necessary to make on clothing amounts to 3s. a week. On aspirin he spends ls. 8d. a week; on haircuts, 9d.; on razor blades and soap, 9d. ; on laundry, ls.; on boot repairs, 6d. ; and on tea, biscuits and gas, 2s. His total expenditure amounts to £3 15s. 2d. a week, without any provision for fruit, milk, amusements, newspapers and magazines, and naturally without any savings.
In reporting its conclusions upon the investigation, the Age stated -
The list above does not show the full picture. Except for clothes, it barely touches renewals and replacements. .What happens when his shoes wear out?
The Age stated also -
For those who would slash at the 8s. 6d. for tobacco and drink, it should be noticed that he has no amusements except the radio.
There is a final and fundamental point.
The Government provides this pension on the assumption that it is sufficient for subsistence. Accepting that, where would this man be without the help of, in this case, the Brotherhood of St. Laurence?
It is true that some Government supporters might not agree that a total expenditure of 8s. 6d. a week on tobacco, matches, cigarette papers and beer is warranted. If the amount were not spent on those commodities, it could certainly be spent on fruit, milk, newspapers, magazines, picture shows, and the like. Pensioners are entitled to some of the amenities of life. An expenditure of £3 15s. 2d. a week is the least on which a pensioner can live, and he can live on that only because it is, in effect, subsidized by a church organization that provides meals and clothes. Surely, therefore, no honorable member would claim that a pension of £3 10s. a week is adequate for the upkeep of the pensioner whose weekly expenditure I have just outlined.
The only way that the problem of the minimum amount required for a pensioner to keep body and soul together, can be solved is by the appointment of a judicial inquiry to determine the basic needs of pensioners. Obviously, the matter cannot be determined by honorable members, whose opinions differ. I should be the first to concede that honorable members would never reach common agreement on the amount. A judicial inquiry, on the other hand, could take evidence from interested parties, and the presiding judge would be able without difficulty to determine what the minimum rate of pension should bc. I make this suggestion in all seriousness. Such a proposal was advocated by the Melbourne Argus in a recent article and by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, which is doing a great deal of work that should be done by the Government. The officers of the brotherhood could give the judicial inquiry startling and compelling evidence from their firsthand knowledge of the needs of pensioners, particularly of those resident in the inner industrial suburbs. Prom my own personal observations, I say unequivocally that, under present conditions, pensioners are nothing less than, destitute. They are forced to deny themselves all but the barest necessities of life.
The Government is apparently very satisfied with what it is doing. It stated that it is expending 19 per cent, of the public expenditure on social services benefits. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), in his secondreading speech, stated that 4.68 per cent, of the national income is being expended on social services benefits. He claimed that this was a greater proportion than was being spent on social services five years ago, and that, therefore, the Government is doing a good job. I suggest that we look for comparison to other countries. If the Government were to compare Australian social services with those of other countries, its cheerful optimism might not be so pronounced. The International Labour Organization recently published the results of a survey of expenditures on social services measures in 24 countries affiliated with that organization. To my perturbation, I found that only six of those countries expended on social services a smaller proportion of the national income for each head of population than does Australia. The conclusions of the International Labour Organization give Australia no cause to be proud of its social services. A survey conducted by that body shows amounts, in dollars, based on the United Nations conversion rates, expended on social services per head of population by certain countries out of their annual budgets. The figures are - Australia 47, New Zealand 114, . United Kingdom 87, Canada 62, Sweden 88, United States 71, and France 61. Honorable members will note that Australia expends only 47 dollars a head of its population each year on social services. I suggest that that is a sorry state of affairs when we consider the expenditure of the other countries that I have mentioned. But perhaps some Government supporters will be able to throw out their chests with pride when they hear that Greece, Iceland and Turkey expend less o.n social services than we do.
Although this measure will alleviate the means test to some slight degree, apparently the Government is unmindful that the persons in greatest need of some assistance are those without property and unable to earn anything. More than 70 per cent, of the pensioners are entirely dependent on their pensions, yet they will receive no benefits from this Government’s budget. Indeed, the actions of the Government are making their economic position worse. The worth of the pension is not really £3 10s. a week ; the true worth of the pension resides in what it will buy. But when we try to assess its value in goods, we find that it is painfully inadequate. The Labour party contends that no section of the community is more deserving of a life of security free from economic worries than the pensioner, but this Government’s approach to the fixation of the pension rate has always been haphazard, and consequently the pensioners have not been given all that they deserve. Apparently the Government thinks of a number and then applies it to the assessment of pensions. There has never been a scientific inquiry into how pensions should be assessed, and if the Government is not prepared to conduct a proper judicial inquiry into that matter, then the pension rate should be related to the basic wage, which, despite the imperfections of the method adopted to fix it, has some relation to our living standards. The basic wage is accepted by all competent authorities to-day as having a relation to our cost of living, and if workers from any section of industry or commerce desire to have their wages or conditions improved, then the basic wage is taken as a measuring stick. There is no reason why the Government should deviate from that wellestablished policy of wage and margin fixation in regard to the fixation of pension rates. In other ‘ words, the Government should consider the basic wage when it assesses the pension.
Although I advocate a modification of the means test, particularly in relation to property, the means test has very little to do with those pensioners who, through illness, age or inflation, are condemned to life-long penury. Very few people of the age of 65 or 70 can earn £3 10s. a week, because employers do not want to employ people of that age. Recently I spoke about this matter to a national service officer in my State. He told me that most employers required men not older than 40 or 45, and said that if a man of 65 tried to get a job he had a hopeless task. Therefore, honorable members should understand that very few employers will employ those who have reached pensionable age. The property means test has been eased by this Government, but its action in that respect is merely the continuation of a long series of similar acts by Labour governments in the post-war period. I am very much in favour of further modification of the means test, because I believe that it can be justified for two very good reasons. The first is that the inflation of recent years has dissipated much of the value of superannuation and retiring allowances, towards which many people contributed from their earnings over long periods when money had much more value than it has to-day. Consequently, we must adopt a new approach to modest bank deposits and to superannuation payments whose value has so greatly declined. Secondly, the people who receive superannuation, or have had some other form of retiring allowance, had to accept lower standards of living while they were paying for those benefits. That is a matter that should be taken into consideration by the Government when considering the means test. However, inflation has overtaken the easing of the means test in recent years, so that such people have not received much benefit from the Government’s actions. 1 suggest that if the Government does not consider more seriously the claims of the people who have been hit so hard by inflation in their age or illness, then it will be acting very harshly towards them.
The raising of the property limit for the age pension to £1,750 will not do much to help hundreds of thousands of deserving people. It is a step in the right direction, but the Government could have done much more. I also agree with the Government’s action in proposing not to take into account, as income, the rents received by pensioners who cannot get possession of their own houses. I understand that the Department of Social Services recently conducted a survey of pensioners, and discovered that the possession of property was the main reason why pensions had been reduced. The survey was conducted among social services recipients in Victoria, and it showed that of the pensions examined 77 per cent, had been reduced because of the property qualifications, 8 per cent, reduced because of income and property qualifications and 15 per cent, because of income alone. If a pensioner has saved £2,000, or owns a house worth that amount, and has an income of £90 or £100 a year, he will not be granted a pension - even though his income is not taken into consideration at all. I agree with the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr.-
Thompson) that the Government would have acted more fairly if it had revised the policy described by the Minister as a fundamental change, and had provided that property should not be taken into consideration at all in computing pension rates.
The existing provision makes the possession of property a nightmare for any one who has a small income from that property, and who seeks to augment that income by a partial pension. The Minister’s proposals hardly touch the basic problem that confronts a man who has a small asset of, say, £2,000, because although his income from that property is far too small to live on, he still cannot get a pension. Surely the Government, in computing pensions, could have taken into consideration, not the value of the property owned, but the income from tha t property. Unfortunately the Government did not do that, and the persons to whom I have referred - and there are thousands of them, even in my own electorate - who own small cottages and get £4 or £5 a week rent, out of which they have to pay rates, taxes and maintenance and then live on the residue, cannot get any part of a pension. The only crime that they are guilty of is that of being thrifty and self-denying, and of trying to ensure a small competence for their old age. However, because of the property qualification this Government has denied them elementary justice.
The pensioners are largely a product of an age when any suggestion that wages should come before profits was regarded as rank economic heresy. Age pensions can be regarded as a device by which industry generally, has passed on to the community a burden which, to a degree, is the responsibility of industry itself. Social services benefits are rights, which merely restore partial balance to an unbalanced structure. Wages and salaries have never been higher in our history than they are to-day, and profits and dividends are reaching astronomical proportions while extravagant depreciation allowances are being claimed. Yet the age and invalid pensioners are expected to live on the mere pittance offered by this’ Government.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
. -This bill was introduced by the new Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), and the House should congratulate him upon his appointment to that position. His is a portfolio of very great social importance, and one with which a man of ability and energy can do a great deal in the same efficient way as did his predecessor. I know that there has been a certain amount of criticism directed at the Minister in this House, because of two misfortunes that he labours under. One is that he happens to be a bachelor, and the other is that he apparently has a few of this world’s goods. It seems, listening to the Opposition, that those are not qualifications for an office of the kind that the Minister occupies. I should have thought that far from them being disqualifications, they would have been excellent qualifications. He does not need to worry about his own domestic troubles - as he does not have any - and he does not have to engage in the battle for money, because he is sufficiently well furnished with it now. Therefore, he can devote his attention to the work of his department.
All these charges that a man who has a few pounds in his pocket is not interested in other people and has to be suspect, were answered by the great W. S. Gilbert in these lines -
Hearts just as pure and fair,
May beat in Belgrave Square,
As in the lowly air
Of Seven Dials.
This bill was introduced after the victory of this Government at the recent general election. It was introduced to carry out the policy that the Government put before the electors in the campaign that preceded that election. The Government had stated that there would be an amelioration of the means test, but that for the present there would not be an increase of pension rates. On the other hand, the Labour party promised all sorts of increases of social services benefits, and made other promises also. The amendment which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) moved last night is along the same lines as the promises made by Labour at the last general election. The Government is bound to reject the amendment, because it is not in accordance with the policy that the electors supported at the last general election.
– The Government parties did not say during the election campaign that they would not increase the age pension if they were returned to office.
– We did not say that we would not increase the age pension, and I have not the slightest doubt that before this Parliament ends the age pension will be increased. But we have not made a promise to increase the age pension immediately. We made a promise that we would immediately ameliorate the means test, and we are carrying out exactly the terms of the promise that we made in that respect. It is typical of this Government that it carries out the promises that it makes, and that it makes only promises that it is able to carry out and that the country’s economy is able to sustain. For that reason the people believe that it is a Government that can be relied on. That was why they rejected the specious, glittering promises that were -made by the Opposition in the full knowledge that there was no possibility of their being able to carry them out if Labour was returned to office. The Government, having been returned to office, has carried out the promises that it made. Nevertheless the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has moved this amendment, prefacing his motion with a speech in the course of which he endeavoured to juggle with figures in a manner of which he alone is the master. I do not propose to discuss in full the arguments that he based on these figures. The honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron), and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), pointed out many of the inaccuracies in the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. I shall refer, however, to the way in which that honorable member endeavoured to perform like an illusionist by attempting to make the year 1949 disappear from view. He said, in effect, “We shall just forget 1949, and we shall compare the present position with the position in 1948 “. Of course, he wanted to forget 1949, because every Labour man in this House, as well as every honorable member on this side of the House, realizes that Labour’s record in 1949 is a disgraceful record. That was a year of rapidly rising prices in which Labour declined, most emphatically, to increase pensions. It was also the year in which Labour man after Labour man rose in this chamber and neglected to say one word on behalf of the poor pensioners.
The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), who is just leaving the chamber, gave us a reasoned speech. We can readily agree with many of the views be expressed. But he also entirely forgot the year 1949, when, in effect, he referred to Labour as the friend of the pensioners. He did not mention Labour’s shocking treatment of the pensioners in 1949. That treatment, which the pensioners remembered so vividly when the general election of 1949 was held, was one of the reasons why the pensioners were not prepared to accept the Labour party’s promises about increases of pensions. They knew that if Labour was returned to office, and tried to increase pensions in accordance with the promises that the Labour party had made, inflation would have become so great that the increased rate of pension would have been worth far less than the present pension is worth.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro said that Mr. Chifley wanted to grant an increase of pensions in 1949, and had also favoured the abolition of the means test. The published records of Mr. Chifley’s words on this subject, part of which was quoted last night by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), shows that when the matter of an increase of pensions was raised, Mr. Chifley said, in effect, “ Oh, we gave them something last year. We are not giving them something this year”. Mr. Chifley also said emphatically that there could, be no abolition of the means test. But the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, in the course of his speech last night, in which he juggled figures, gave us, as the words of the great Mr. Chifley, statements that are absolutely contrary to the statements that Mr. Chifley made and to the ideas that he had in his mind. Mr. Chifley’s policy was not along the lines stated by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
I have emphasized those points because they show how inaccurate throughout was the speech with which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro introduced his amendment. Can there be much substance in an amendment of such a nature, the principle of which has not only been rejected by the electors, but which itself was also submitted in a speech that was full of inaccuracies? Can it be sincere? Can we really believe in it? Or is it something which it is better to forget? I contrast the speech made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro with that made by the honorable member for Batman. The remarks of the honorable member for Batman were sincere. I believe that the majority of honorable members wish to help the pensioners as much as possible, and, as I have said, I believe that before this Parliament ends, pensions will be further increased. But the Government was .not returned to office to make a further increase of pensions in a short time, because the electors realized that the national situation was such that it was not possible to grant an increase of pensions speedily.
I turn now to the statements of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) in connexion with the meanstest and its modification. The proposed modification is on the lines set out in the Prime Minister’s policy speech, and will give effect to everything that the Prime Minister promised the Government would do in relation to the means test.. The Minister pointed out that a discretionary power is conferred by the act to enable the means test to be lifted. He said that in the future that power would be more freely exercised. That power gives a completely unfettered discretion to the Government to lift the means test for any special reason in any particular case. The power is the widest discretionary power.
– Is it a power to lift the means test as it applies to persons, or to groups ?
– It can be applied toindividuals. The present Minister for
Air (Mr. Townley) who, as Minister for Social Services, introduced the bill that confers that discretionary power, said in his secondreading speech on that occasion that the power would be exercised only for temporary purposes and within very strict limits. Unfortunately, in his administration of the Department of Social Services he adhered exactly to what he said in his speech was the purpose of the power. He did not exercise the full unlimited discretionary power that was given to him by the law. He apparently took the view that he was bound by the statement that he had made in this chamber when he moved the second reading of the bill. With great respect to him, I consider that he should have taken the broader course. When Parliament gives a Minister or his director-general a discretionary power in the widest possible terms, he is entitled to exercise that power according to those terms, “ in any particular case and for any special reason “. The Minister was not bound to limit his use of the power to the few kinds of cases that he mentioned, or for temporary reasons only. It is now said that the power will be more freely exercised in the future. I should like to say to the new Minister for Social Services that T ‘ hope that promise will be carried out, and that a wider effect will be given to the discretionary power than has been given to it in the past. However, the reference to the use of the power by the Treasurer in his budget speech, to which the Minister referred in- his speech on this bill, does not lead me to believe that the power will necessarily be exercised more freely.
When the former Minister for Social Services introduced the bill that confers discretionary powers he said that the power was intended to be used to help home-owners. The fact that it is now admitted that the power can be exercised more freely shows that it has been exercised in too limited a manner in the past. I repeat, however, that the use of the power is still referred to in terms such as the former Minister used in the course of his second-reading speech. The present Minister said that in cases where reasonable efforts are being made to get possession of a home the means test will be lifted. What is meant by the phrase “ reasonable efforts are being made to get possession of a home “ ? A person has to take court proceedings in order to get possession of a home. Suppose the application is refused, as is likely under present landlord and tenant legislation in the Stales? Does the director-general then say to the plaintiff, “-You have made your reasonable effort, and your application has been refused, so your pension will cease from now on. We have given you three months’ grace during the proceedings, but you will get no further grace from us “ ? The home-owner’ would find it necessary, under State law, to wait six or nine months, or some other substantial period, before he might again apply for possession of his home. Has he then to go before the court again with his application for possession, have his pension restored for a short period, lose it. then get it again for a short period while he tries again to regain possession of his home probably without a chance of success? Does the Government intend to insist that elderly persons go through the unpleasantness of court proceedings in order to obtain pensions ? I have received letters that refer to the unpleasantness of proceedings in such cases. We know from experience that such proceedings are not pleasant. I do not believe that the Parliament, when it gave this power to the Director-General of Social Services to exercise in any particular case for any special reason, intended that it should be limited in the way in which it has been administered in the past. Nor do I think that what has been said in connexion with the present bill really indicates that the power will be more freely exercised in future. The new Minister will receive a great deal of praise, and be regarded as doing a very worthwhile work, if he closely examines the exercise of this discretionary power, and ensures that the promise made by the Government that the power will be freely exercised shall be real, and not something which has been said to be forgotten.
Another matter which I should like to discuss is the abolition of the means test. The policy of the Government as enunciated by the Prime Minister, was to “ vigorously modify the means, test “. I assume that such a statement means that the present step is only the first of a series in the modification of the means test. Put it is a step which goes very much further than any move that has ever been made previously in that direction by any government, and, therefore, it is to be greatly praised for that reason alone. The fact must not be forgotten, too, that the present step is to be coupled with the statement of the Prime Minister that, in future, there will be a vigorous modification of the means test, and “ vigorous “ means that a great deal of vigour shall be used in the matter. I assume, therefore, that this is merely the first instalment of the policy of vigorously modifying the means test.
The modification is good so far as it goes, but every step forward in the modification of the means test leads to the creation of still greater anomalies. A great number of honorable members are of the opinion that the means test should be entirely abolished. I believe that the former Minister holds that view, and that if he had been able to do 30, he would have abolished the means test by now. This gives the new Minister a great opportunity to take further substantial steps towards the abolition of the means test, even if he is unable to abolish it entirely during the lifetime of this Parliament.
The Prime Minister has pointed out that the time for a contributory system of national superannuation has passed, because so much is now paid in taxation that we cannot expect contributions apart from that. That statement of the Prime Minister shows quite conclusively that a person who pays taxation is entitled to this form of superannuation. The only point in the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro with which I am able to agree is that it is really of no great importance to a wealthy man, who pays thousands of pounds in taxes every year, whether he gets a few pounds back by way of what is called a pension. When all is said and done, a man who has paid taxes for years is only getting back a contribution from his own tax payments. Many, people have been thrifty for years and many have put their savings back into production. Now, through the great inflation which has occurred in this country, those persons find themselves far worse off than people who have the pension. They are people who are really feeling the pinch. Many of them have homes, which are subject to pegged rents and so forth, and they are the people who need help. As I have said, every step forward in the amelioration of the means test leads to the creation of still greater anomalies. I believe that a great number of honorable members on both sides of the House are of the opinion that the abolition of the means test is now within a very close distance indeed. I sincerely trust that is so.
Before I resume my seat, I should like to pay a tribute to the efforts made by the former honorable member for Sturt, Mr. K. C. Wilson, towards the abolition of the means test. Mr. Wilson was a great member, and his presence in this Parliament is greatly missed. May he be here again in the future.
– This bill, as the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) has pointed out in his second-reading speech, is concerned mainly with the amelioration of the means test. The amount of permissible income which a pensioner may now have is to be increased from £2 to £3 10s. a week. The minimum property amount which a pensioner may have before the rate of pension is affected, is to be increased from £150 to £200, and the maximum amount- of property which a pensioner may have before his right to a pension is extinguished, is to be increased from £1,250 to, £1,750. In addition, what we may term the double-barrelled effect of the means test, as it operated in the past, is to be done away with. Previously, if a person who was qualified by age to receive a pension, possessed property which produced income, he was affected by the means test, because of the income from the property as. well as because of the capital value of the property. This bill takes a novel step forward in the sense that income arising from property is to be completely disregarded, so that the double-barrelled effect of the means test will no longer operate.
Those changes all are steps forward in. the .amelioration *>f the means test. .But it is very interesting to note that while the Government has modified the .means test in pursuance of the policy which it put before the people during the recent general election campaign, these progressive moves have .not been .accompanied by any increase of the base rate of pension. Despite the fact that the present pension rate of £3 10s. a week is inadequate, .no increase .has been granted. This is the fundamental dilemma which faces honorable members when they are considering the abolition of the means test. The further we go towards the abolition of the means test, the more we lessen our capacity to do justice to those pensioners who are on the lower rates. Those persons need an increase of the rate of pension so that they may live decently and adequately. An examination of some figures will illustrate that point.
Before the provisions of this bill come into operation, the cost of age pensions alone is at the rate of £71,000,000 a year. If the means test, in respect of income and property, on age pensions alone were to be completely abolished, the extra cost would be £100,000,000, so that the cost of age pensions would increase from £71,000,000 to £171,000,000 per annum. Every person in the pensionable age group then would be receiving an age pension.
Let us assume that we abolish the means test on age pensions and incur the- additional cost of £100,000,000. We shall then face the problem of bringing about a much-needed increase of the basic rate of pension so that pensioners, who are entirely dependent upon the pension for their means of livelihood, may receive justice, be able to buy the necessaries of life, and live in a reasonable and decent manner. On the figures I have given, the cost of increasing the pension by ls. a week would be £2,500,000 a year. A worthwhile increase of 10s. a week in the basic rate of pension, which is put forward, very properly, in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, would cost £25,000,000 a year.
Let us now consider certain important matters, such as the present uncertain state of our economy, the statement by the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip
McBride) yesterday that the present defence expenditure of .£200,000,000 :a year cannot be expected to decrease, the tendency of the prices of our primary products to fall, and the fact that our national income is not increasing now at the rate at which it increased in recent years. In view of those matters, it would be a big .thing now to embark on that extra expenditure of £25,000,000 a year for that single item alone, without taking into account other necessary items in respect of which our social services bill should be increased.
T put it to the House that it will become increasingly difficult to do justice to those pensioners on the lower basis who have no income other than the pension, if we incur all that extra expenditure, and thereby make the cost of increasing the basic rate of pension so heavy. The people for whom I am speaking, the people whose interests I have most at heart in this matter, are the single pensioners. Most of them are women. They do not possess the advantage of having their own homes, and live in rooms, for which they have to pay rent. An examination of the relevant figures shows that a great proportion of those people are elderly ladies. The report of the Director-General of Social Services for the year ended the 30th June, 1953, -which is the latest report available to honorable members, indicates that there were 51,075 new admissions to age pensions in that period, and of that number, 30,729 were women and 20,346 were men. That proportion seems to prevail, roughly, throughout the field of age pensions. Each year, there is a considerable pre1ponderance of women.
The Director-General of Social Services has analysed the figures, and I find that 47.6 per cent, of the women who began to receive the pension last year were either widowed or single persons. That is to say, practically one-half of the new admissions of women last year were widowed or single ladies. They are the people who, in the main, do not possess their own homes. They live in rooms, and they have to pay rent. They receive the pension of £3 10s. a week. It does not matter whether the permissible income is £2, £3 or £20 a week. That aspect does not affect them, because they are completely dependent on the pension. They have to pay their rent out of the pension, and live on the balance. If they are to have an adequate and reasonable standard of living, the rate of pension must be considerably increased.
That point was made by the late Mr. J. B. Chifley. I should like to draw the attention of honorable members to the Inst speech on social services which he made in this House before his death. He spoke on the .Social Services Consolidation Bill 1950, and his speech is reported in Hansard, volume 210, at page 2883. Mr. Chifley put forward a view similar to that which I am now expressing, that the people whose interests should be looked after are, in the main, those who are on the bottom rung of the social security ladder, and depend entirely on the pension for their livelihood. They have no other means of income whatsoever. Those are the people whose interests we should be primarily considering. Mr. Chifley said -
The Government proposes to liberalize the means test in conjunction with the pensions increase so as to assist persons who have small independent incomes. However, the Australian Labour party is chiefly concerned about the situation of the single man or woman living alone in a cottage or a room who has no income apart from the pension. I understand that 65 per cent, of the pensioners in Australia are in that unhappy plight and that an additional 15 per cent, receive amounts of only os. or less a week supplementary to their pension. I appreciate the difficulties that would be involved in applying a means test within a means test, but I prepared certain proposals when I was in office that would have been submitted to the Australian Labour party for its approval had it been returned to power. I think that the case of the pensioner without extra income is the saddest of all. I am not greatly concerned about abolishing the means test so that every body in the community above the prescribed age limit may receive an age pension, even though that is a part of Labour’s policy. I am not interested in making the pension available to persons like a man whom I know who has been receiving £30,000 a year for many years. Nor am I concerned about the Treasurer. I have an idea that he will be able to carry on without a pension.
I am concerned about people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, who suffer great hardship under present living conditions.
That attitude should be borne in mind by the Parliament when considering the important subject of social services payments. In my view, the problem boils down to the fact that the further we go towards abolishing the means test the more necessary it becomes to consider the provision of supplementary assistance to those on the bottom income rung who have no income apart from their pension. Mr. Chifley put forward one method of dealing with this problem whereby those most in need of supplementary assistance would benefit to the greatest degree from any increase that might be provided ; and he suggested that such persons should receive an additional 10s. a week. As he pointed out, such a proposal involves certain administrative difficulties. It involves applying a means test within a means test, and that would be difficult to carry out. However, every one should agree with the principle that he was driving at. Mr. Chifley’s idea of some sort of supplementary allowance for those on the lowest income rung is similar to the scheme that operates at present in England where the payment of a supplementary pension, based on need, has been added to the general pensions scheme under which a general pension is provided without a means test. Under . that scheme, all persons of pensionable age receive a pension whether or not they need it; but this supplementary pension is paid only to those who need it. As there is some misunderstanding of the scheme that operates in England at present, it is worthwhile to place on record the fact that since 1948, under the National Insurance Act of the United Kingdom, a pension, which is not considerable according to our standards, is paid to all on the basis of age, but, in addition, the National Assistance Act of the United Kingdom provides that a supplementary pension should be paid to those whose only qualification is need.
I again suggest that we should direct our thoughts to methods whereby some supplementary assistance can be given to those who are most urgently in need of it. We should endeavour to provide some form of supplementary assistance to pensioners who have no other income, apart from the pension, and who, therefore, are not affected by the fixation of a permissible income or a permissible property limit. Those persons need supplementary help, and we should direct our minds to ascertaining the best and most effective means of providing such help for them in order to raise their standard of living to a reasonably satisfactory level. The amendment” that has been moved on behalf of the Opposition, in so far as it proposes ‘that the general rate should be raised by 10s., is a step in the right direction ; but I suggest that we should also give consideration to providing some form of additional assistance through local government bodies which, after all, are in close touch with the people who live in their particular areas. In our forms of government we have tended more and more during recent years, as a result of development, to centralize control at Canberra. I believe that much can be said for some form of decentralization. Authorities which are most intimately in touch with people who live in their areas should have some say in handling social services benefits. Local government authorities are in close contact with the people and should be entrusted with the administration of the form of supplementary assistance for pensioners that 1 am advocating. At present, local government authorities, on an unorganized, voluntary basis, make available supplementary assistance free of cost to pensioners. It is not a matter of paying out money. After all, the payment of money is not the only way, or even the most important way, whereby the needs of these pensioners can be satisfied’ and whereby they can be enabled to live in happiness and contentment in their declining years. In the municipality of Prahran, which is situated in my electorate, the local council makes provision each year for the distribution of firewood free of charge, to pensioners who need it. That is a great boon, indeed, to many old people, particularly elderly ladies who, because of advanced age, are obliged to spend most of their time in rooms. Out of a pension of £3 10s. a week, after paying their rent and buying necessaries, they have not any money to spare for the purchase of fuel to enable them to live at a reasonable standard of comfort, particularly during the winter months. The example of the Prahran Municipal Council could be followed by other bodies. The Melbourne City Council, which controls a large area, also distributes firewood free of cost to pensioners. That is a most valuable form
Ifr. W. M. Bourke of supplementary assistance to old people who greatly appreciate that service which helps to bring happiness into their lives.
– The Tasmanian Government also provides assistance of that sort to pensioners.
– I am glad to hear that. Work of this kind on the part of local government authorities could be extended. If necessary a subsidy could be provided for that purpose. In my electorate, and, I have no doubt, in other electorates, voluntary organizations, such as the Old Age Pensioners Association, which pensioners may join on payment of a nominal subscription, arrange social outings, concerts, dances and outings to the country and use any surplus funds derived from such functions to provide firewood free of cost to their members who need it. In the municipality of South Melbourne, which is situated in . the electorate of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), an admirable scheme is being operated which should be more widely publicized so that progressive local government authorities might be induced to adopt it. That scheme is known as “ meals on wheels “. I understand that it was copied from a. similar scheme in the United Kingdom. Many fine people are prepared to devote their time voluntarily to helping aged people. This scheme is conducted on that basis. Hot meals are cooked by voluntary helpers and distributed in containers to pensioners in their homes. For this service only a . nominal charge is made. A subsidy could be provided for the purpose of extending that scheme, but I do not suggest that the Government should take it over. This service is provided mainly for elderly ladies who are obliged to spend most of their time in rooms and who, for health reasons, are unable to look after themselves adequately. They are provided each day with a hot meal and are thus relieved of the necessity of cooking the main daily meal for themselves or of buying the requisite foodstuffs for it. That service should be extended. It could be developed into a most valuable form of supplementary assistance and as a means of making the lot of pensioners happier. We should give more attention to matters of this kind with a view to enabling voluntary organizations to play a more active part in the provision of supplementary assistance to pensioners about which, up to date, the National Parliament has not seen fit to do anything. No doubt, other honorable members could suggest other means of providing supplementary assistance to pensioners.
I direct attention to two other matters that arise under this bill. On a previous occasion, I expressed the view that the income means test in respect of the pension has now been adequately liberalized but that a serious anomaly still exists in respect of the property means test. The Parliament should give attention to these matters in a progressive way. To a large degree, the present permissible income covers the position of persons who are in receipt of superannuation benefit as well as the pension. For instance, a married couple in receipt of superannuation benefit can now have an income of £7 a week in addition to receiving the full rate of pension. Such pensioners have no real cause for complaint with respect to the present income means test but the provision that has been made for them has given rise to anomalies in respect of other sections who have made provision for their old age not by contributing to a superannuation fund but by exercising thrift and investing their savings in the purchase of property. Persons in the latter class are not in so favorable a position in regard to the receipt of a pension as are persons who draw superannuation benefit.
A retired public servant can draw superannuation benefit and, at the same time, qualify for a full pension, but persons who make provision for their old age by investing their savings in property are still penalized because they are permitted to own property to a maximum value of only £200 without affecting their eligibility to receive a full pension. It is anomalous that whilst adequate provision has been made under the income means test in respect of the first class of persons, the other class of persons should still be suffering an injustice under the property means test. Persons who make provision for their old age by investing their savings should not be at a disadvantage compared with those who make such provision by contributing to a superannua tion fund. The property means test should be progressively ameliorated. It has been ameliorated to some degree by provisions which are not mentioned in the bill, but which have been emphasized in the debate. One of these provisions was mentioned by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), who referred to the discretion vested in the DirectorGeneral of Social Services in relation to certain forms of property. This is an important matter, and I mention it because I think that honorable members should publicize the existence of this discretion as widely as possible so that it will be made known to pensioners, with the result that some of the hardship which still prevails under the property means test will be alleviated. The discretion is vested in the director-general under section 65 (1.) (c), which provides -
If, for any special reason, in any particular case, the Director-General so directs, the value of the whole or any part of the property of the pensioner shall be disregarded.
I have just noticed that this provision in section 65 refers to widow pensioners. A similar provision was written into section 30 (1.) (c) in 1951 for the benefit of age pensioners. It is rather interesting to note that this power was provided for the benefit of widow pensioners some time before it was extended to age pensioners. The existence of the discretion should be made widely known to pensioners, and I consider that it should be widely exercised by the director-general.
The honorable member for Balaclava claimed that undue restrictions were being placed upon the exercise of the discretion, and he cited a case in which a couple receiving the age pension could not obtain possession of their own house. Because they could not do so, the value of the home, plus the income derived from it, previously affected their right to receive the pension. Although there is nothing in the act to cover this situation, it is suggested that, if these people have taken reasonable efforts to acquire possession of their house, the director-general should exercise his discretion and disregard the value of the property. The income derived from the property will no longer be taken into account under the provisions of this bill, and the director-general, by exercising bis discretion, could disregard the capital value of the property and pay the pension to the couple as though they were living in the house. Its value would not be counted against them under the means test.
I agree with the honorable member for Balaclava that it should not be necessary for old people to go to court in order to show that they are entitled to have that discretion exercised in their favour. That would impose an intolerable burden on them. It would be altogether improper, in my view, if we told elderly people qualified to receive the pension on the’ basis of age, who could not obtain possession of their house, that they would have to go to the expense, and suffer the mental turmoil and the worry to which we know elderly people are subject on such matters, of instituting legal proceedings and then going to court to give evidence in order to qualify for the exercise of the director-general’s discretion in their favour.
– They would have little chance of succeeding in a court case.
– In Victoria the chances of their success would be no more than fifty-fifty.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– I thank honorable members for their welcome to me. I know perfectly well that, during the recent general election campaign, various members of the Opposition came over to North Sydney and said that the representative of that electorate in this Parliament had never spoken in the House. I did not mind them doing that, of course, because I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that it was the best advertisement I could have had. I am sure that not only members of this House but also all thinking people in the community will give this bill their fair and honest judgment and will agree that, in bringing it down, the Government is to be commended for its sound and practical approach to the vexed problem of the pensions means test, about which we heard so much during the last election campaign. We know perfectly well that the Opposition promised to abolish the means test. It also promised to increase the rate of pension by 10s. a week, to provide marriage loans, and to do all sorts of other things. I am convinced that these promises were the cause of the Australian Labour party’s downfall at the election.
It is not my intention to attempt to expound any economic theories or to generalize on the field of social services. What I particularly want to do is to deal with the bill before the House and the provision that it makes for the easing of the means test and the improvement of the conditions under which pensioners live to-day. There can be no doubt that, to some extent, the means test causes anomalies and penalizes thrift because it deprives those people who have saved a certain amount of money or made other provision for their old age of the right to receive the full age pension, or a part pension. I think we must agree, however, that, unless our Australian pension scheme is completely altered and replaced by some kind of a contributory scheme, a means test is essential to enable a distinction to be drawn between those who should receive pensions and those who should not. I know that a good argument can be put up by the Opposition for the removal of the means test entirely for people who have lived for a long period in this country and have paid their taxes, and so contributed to the National Welfare Fund from which pensions are paid. But the problem is not so simple as my friends on the opposite side of the House attempt to make the electors believe.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) has estimated in his speech that there are about 535,000 persons of pensionable age who are at present disqualified by the means test from obtaining the age pension. If we multiply this number by the annual rate of pension, which is £182, we find that the cost of paying a pension of £3 10s. a week to all these people, regardless of their means, would be £97,370,000. We must add to that the cost of raising to the full rate all pensions that are at present reduced by the means test. This would bring the cost of removing the means test up to £100,000,000 a year. This, mark you, Mr. Speaker, would be additional to the present cost of the age pension, which is about £70,000,000 a year, and so the total cost would become about two and a half times the present cost of the pension. Of course, if we raised the rate of pension, the cost of removing the means test would go up accordingly. My friends of the Opposition promised to increase the pension by 10s. a week and to abolish the means test as well. Another 10s. added to the present pension of 70s., a week would add one-seventh to the amount of £100,000,000 I have mentioned, and the total cost of removing the means test for age pensions . would then be about £114,000,000 a year for age pensions alone. Just where would this huge additional amount come from? It would certainly have to come out of someone’s pockets. You cannot draw out of any bank account, in the long run at any rate, more money than you have put into it, and, therefore, whatever amount is paid out of the National “Welfare Fund must be paid into it. Thus, if we were to abolish the means test on age pensions alone, at a cost of at least £100,000,000 a year, the additional money would have to be found by the taxpayers in some way or other. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, this could be done only by substantially increasing taxation or by engaging in inflationary finance on a large scale.
The figures I have cited relate only to age pensions. I do not think that the Opposition has stated clearly whether it also has in mind the abolition of the means test for invalid pensions and widow’s pensions. However, I believe that honorable members opposite promised to bring the conditions for such pensions into line with those for age pensions. If that means the abolition of the means test, I understand that the additional cost would be about £15,000,000 a year. There can be no doubt that the electors of Australia have endorsed the Government’s view that the complete removal of the means test in the life of the Parliament is not practicable. The Government, however, is to be congratulated on its practical endorsement in this bill of its policy of modifying the means test and removing anomalies. The substantial raising of the property limits and of the .amount of income which a pensioner is allowed to have will be welcomed by many thousands of people who are eligible by age for the pension but are at present debarred by the means test.
The Minister has said that about 56,000 of these people, as well as another 9,000 invalids and 6,000 widows, will be able to receive the pension as a result of the liberalizations for which this bill provides. This should give a great deal of satisfaction, not only to the people directly concerned, but also to honorable members on both sides of the House. I think it will surprise many people to learn how liberal the provisions will be for a married couple of pensionable age when this bill becomes law. In addition to full pensions of £7 a week, they will be able to have earnings, or perhaps superannuation, of another £7 a week, making a total of £14 a week between them, which is a couple of pounds a week more than the basic wage. Furthermore, they will be able to own their own home, without any limit on its value, as well as furniture and personal effects, and they may have as much as £400 in the bank or invested in bonds. Any interest from such investments will be disregarded, and, in addition, they may also have life insurance policies with a surrender value up to £750 for each of them. I have no doubt that this will give a great deal of satisfaction to many couples approaching pensionable age who have made some provision for the eventide of their lives.
I have discussed this matter with a number of people, and I have found that there is a great deal of misconception about the position. The bill does not mean that a couple may have earnings of only £7 a week in order to receive pensions. They may have more than £7 a week in earnings, in superannuation, or in both, and receive pensions equal to the difference between that income and a total of £14 a week. Let us consider, for example, a case in which a husband reaches the age of 65 years but decides to keep working, and earns about the basic wage, let us say £12 a week. He and his wife, if she is 60 years of age or over, will be able to obtain a small pension of £1 a week each to bring their total income up to £14 a week. The position would be just the same if the £12 a week were received in the form of superannuation, or partly in earnings and partly in superannuation. This shows very clearly how generous the means test on income will be under the bill. The Government is to be commended for the substantial widening of the means test.
I am aware, of course, that a single person will not be quite so well off as a married couple, and I agree with the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), who said that it is very hard for a single person to live on £3 10s. a week. I have approached the Minister for Social Services on several occasions about the problems of single persons. If they live in rooms and are friendless, even though they may be paying only a small rental of about 15s. a week, they find it difficult to live on £3 10s. a week. I trust that the Minister will give this problem earnest consideration.
Let us take, for example, the position of a couple. If the husband is aged at least 65 and receives £12 a week by way of earnings or superannuation, and the wife is 60 or older, they will receive between them a pension of £2 a week, making a total income of £14 a week. I am aware, of course, that a single person will not be quite so well off as a married couple will be, but he will be able to earn £3 10s. a week in addition to the pension, which will give him a total income of £7 a week. I suggest that this is a definite improvement on the present total income limit of £5 10s. a week for a single pensioner. I am sure that all honorable members will agree with me that most men, at 65 years of age, are able to engage in light work. The Government would be wise to consider raising the retiring age of public servants to 70. Such a proposal has been frequently mentioned for some time past. We are now in the position in which we are very short of labour. If the retiring age for public servants were increased to 70 years, departmental officers and the Public Service Board would be greatly assisted in obtaining the necessary staff, which will be very difficult to obtain in the near future. The bill will encourage pensioners to do a little work within their physical capabilities in the knowledge that by doing so they will supplement and not reduce their pensions. Pensioners can do very well a lot of useful work, particularly light part-time work. I am sure that, following the passage of this measure, pensioners will be delighted at being able to earn and spend a little more money in addition to the pension.
I am pleased that the Government has decided substantially to increase the limit of money or other property that a person may have without losing entitlement to the pension. I think I am right in saying that the increase of the limit by £500, from £1,250 to £1,750, is the greatest increase in the property limit that has been granted by any government since the introduction of pensions 45 years ago. My own feeling is that the property test is a greater deterrent to thrift than is the income test, because it penalizes persons who have been careful and industrious throughout their lives and have saved a little money to help them through their remaining years when their earnings will have ceased, or will have been very much reduced. I would go further and suggest that, in my humble opinion, even the new limit of £1,750 is not altogether adequate. I trust that at some later date the Government will see its way clear to increase this limit further. My reason for expressing this view is that, as honorable members know, the average net return on an investment of £1,750 at the present time is low. At, say, 4 per cent., the return would be only £70 a year. No one, of course, could live on that amount without drawing upon his capital. If a pension claimant owns a house worth £1,750 and lets it to a tenant, after meeting rates and taxes, insurance, repairs and the like, under present conditions he would receive a net return of not more than 25s. or 30s. a week. If he has no other assets or means to fall back upon, he is placed in a very difficult position. This is often the case with elderly people who own a house in which they are not able to live owing to ill-health or for some other reason. The net rent is generally well below the amount necessary to keep body and soul together, and as they cannot live on the capital and at the same time receive the income, they often live on a very meagre diet and actually endure hardship. I know, of course, that a person who owns a house worth £1,750 could raise money and live on the amount for the time being, and so qualify for a higher pension than he would otherwise receive. On the other hand, he may sell the property and live on the proceeds, and so, in the course of time, qualify for a higher pension. But, as everyone knows, elderly people who own a house do not like to face up to the necessity to sell, and they prefer to continue living under conditions that may cause them hardship, even though to a degree those conditions are self-imposed.
I hope to see, at some future time, a further increase of the permissible property limit, but I realize that the Government must consider the question of finance. Nevertheless, I want to commend the Administration warmly on the valuable liberalization of the property means test that it has made, not only by increasing the maximum limit from £1,250 to £1,750, but also by increasing from £150 to £200 the amount of money or other property that a pensioner may have without any effect on the pension. A most commendable improvement of the means test has been made by disregarding income from property, so that, in assessing the amount of a pension, the pensioner will no longer, as one might say, be hit with both barrels. In the past, not only was the value of the pensioner’s property taken into account under the property means test, but also his income was taken into account under the income test and, in that way, the pensioner was, as I have pointed out, hit with both barrels. In future, he will be hit with only one barrel. I admit, of course, that, in some circumstances, it might be just as bad to be hit with one barrel as with both.
I have sought advice from departmental officers about the manner in which the new property scale will work. I am somewhat surprised to learn that pensioners with a substantial amount of money or property will be able to receive a pension at a. fairly high rate. When I speak of property, of course, I exclude altogether the home in which the pensioner lives, because the principal act allows him to own the home, whatever be its value. Whether it is worth £5,000, £6,000, or £7,000, it makes no difference to the pension. It can also be very well furnished, because furniture and personal effects are entirely disregarded under the existing law. In relation to the fact that pensioners with a substantial amount of money or property, apart from their homes, will be able to receive reasonably high pensions, I shall mention a few illustrations that have been explained to me by departmental officers. A single pensioner, with £500 in cash, will be able to obtain a pension of a little less than £3 a week. A pensioner with £1,000 in cash will be able to receive a pension of nearly £2 a week, and a pensioner who has £1,500 may obtain a pension of £1 a week. This is a reasonably generous provision. Married couples will be in an even better position. A married couple with £500 between them may receive pensions totalling £6 16s. a week. A couple with £1,000 may receive pensions of about £5 17s. a week. A couple with £2,000 will be able to receive in pension nearly £4 a week. One could go further and mention the case of a couple with £3,000 in cash, who will be able to obtain a pension of £2 a week, and own their own home, furniture and personal effects up to any value. I think honorable members will agree that this is a very great improvement on the position that existed in the past, and I am sure that they will join with me in commending the Government for this very valuable improvement in the means test.
Another important amendment of the law, for which the Government will receive the thanks of the community, is the proposal to remove entirely the means test from all blind persons. I am sure that every one will agree that the loss of sight is a very sad affliction. However, most blind people, particularly those who are fairly young despite their disability, endeavour to fit themselves for suitable trades and occupations. Man of them have been very sucessful and, despite their great affliction, have been able to earn good incomes and make provision for their future. In this regard, we should pay a high tribute to the work of the various blind institutions and other similar organizations throughout Australia, which do magnificent work in helping, guiding, and training blind people, and making them useful and selfsupporting citizens. The amendment of the principal act that will allow these persons to receive the full pension of £3 10s. a week, without any regard to what they may earn, any other income they may have, or their assets, is highly commendable, and I am sure that the Government’s action will he warmly received throughout Australia.
Opposition members have criticized the Government because it has not increased the maximum rate of pension, and they state that pensioners who already receive the maximum pension will gain nothing under the provisions of this bill. However, it is not quite correct to put the matter in that light. Pensioners who receive the full pension and who are able to do a little work, will be able to earn 30s. a week more than previously and still retain the full pension. That, in itself, is an additional benefit of which I am sure a considerable number of pensioners will take advantage. I trust that they will do so. The Opposition argues that the present pension rate of £3 10s. a week, which will remain unchanged, leaves pensioners worse off than they were when Labour was in office. The Minister for Social Services dealt with that argument very effectively and explained the position correctly in his second-reading speech. He pointed out that the only satisfactory method of comparing the value of the pension at different times was to relate it to the C series index figures for retail prices.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I was speaking of the means test in relation to age pensions. During the eight years of Labour administration in this country, from 1941 to 1949, the property limit in regard to the age pension was increased from £400 to £750, which was an increase of £350, whereas the Menzies Government has raised the property limit from £750 to £1,750, an increase of £1,000. In addition, the Government has introduced a pension for the blind free from a means test, and has made many other concessions connected with the age pension means test. One of those was the raising of the special exemption in regard to the surrender value of life insurance policies from £200 to £750, and in the present bill there is another important concession relating to the complete disregard of income derived from property. I could continue talking about further concessions which the Menzies Government bas made, but I do not want to weary honorable members any further. Therefore. I shall content myself with once again congratulating the Government on the very important concessions that it has made to pensioners in easing the means test.
I again express the hope that, the Government may later see its way to go a little further in easing the means test, particularly in regard to the property limit, and with regard to the single pensioner over 70 years of age. Before resuming my seat I pay a high compliment to the Minister not only for his very lucid and informative speech on this bill, but also because I know from conversations that I have had with him that his sympathies are with the pensioners, and that their interests will be perfectly safe in his hands. I support the measure.
.- I am pleased to support the amendment to this measure that has been moved by the Opposition. For the information of honorable members I shall repeat its terms. It was that -
The bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide, that the rates of age and invalid pensions be a minimum of £4 a week; and to provide similarly for increases in the rates* of child endowment, widows’ pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits, dependants’ allowances and other social services corresponding to the increase in prices so as to restore at least the former purchasing value of these payments.
The Government has made a great song about the proposed easing of the means test by £1 10s. a week. That is the proposed increase from £2 to £3 10s. of the amount that a pensioner may have before bis pension is reduced. Certainly that will be of some assistance to those who may have some other form of income, or who may own property, but it will be of no assistance to the pensioners who have to rely entirely on their pension.
The honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Jack) suggested that as a result of the easing of the means test pensioners would be encouraged to go out and earn some money. Surely he must realize that many pensioners from the age of 65 years upwards are not capable of earning anything, and that very few employers would engage them if they were so capable. At present it is fairly difficult for a man to get a job if he is over 45 years. For example, a clerk cannot get employment at present if he is over 45 unless he has some special qualifications. But honorable members know that a clerk’s job should be one of the easiest occupations that a pensioner could engage in. Again, most pensioners are suffering from some infirmity that prevents them from earning anything much to augment their pensions. Some, of course, might be able to get temporary jobs, but I doubt whether many pensioners would have the strength to carry on even a temporary job. I support the viewpoint adopted by honorable members of the Opposition that the means test was liberalised by the Government only because part of Labour’s policy at the last general election was the total abolition of the means test. I say also that quite a number of other persons who were opposed to the abolition of the means test during the last general election campaign changed their views after the election was over. In that regard I refer to the West Australian newspaper which attacked the Labour party very bitterly for advocating the abolition of the means test. Indeed, it went so far as to print 100,000 coloured pamphlets on its own presses, which were to be distributed to the electors in Western Australia. Those pamphlets were designed as an attack on the Labour party because of its promise to abolish the means test. Unfortunately for the West Australian and the Government parties, and very fortunately for the Labour party, the publishers of the pamphlet omitted to put their names on it. Consequently, the pamphlets did not comply with the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the West Australian was not allowed to distribute them.
– Those responsible were having a shot in the dark.
– Tes, that sums up accurately the attitude of the West
Australian. On the 1st June the West Australian, in an editorial, stated -
The dropping of the means test would be one of the greatest encouragements to individual thrift that any government could give. Any financial contributions that present and future generations of wage-earners might have to make as a result should in the long run prove more than worth while. Savings and property would regain their full value as assets to support declining years. In the higher income levels, however, such considerations become less important, and it might well be that a partial abolition (says to the £1,000 a year income level) would be as high an objective as we should aim at for a start.
That newspaper did not suggest going as far as the Labour party had suggested, but in another part of the same editorial it advocated that the means test should be abolished with in respect of persons over the age of 70, and implied that the newspaper would be quite prepared to support the total abolition of the means test as time went on. As a matter of fact, the party to which many Government supporters belong supported the abolition of the means test in 1949, and .in his policy speech, delivered during the general election campaign of 1949 and recently mentioned by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test.
As a matter of fact, for many years it has been the policy of the Labour party to abolish the means test, because the Labour party has always considered that the test is an indignity and an injustice. In 1946, when Labour established the National Welfare Fund, our idea in so doing was to abolish the means test completely in eight years. The eight years would have expired in 1954, but the Labour Government went out of office in 1949 and consequently the means test has not been abolished this year. But the National Welfare Fund, into which all social services contributions were placed so that the fund could be drawn upon to abolish the means test, was frozen by this Government. Consequently, funds have not been available to do what the Labour party intended to do - that is, abolish the means test. That is why the Labour party had to say that it would be prepared to abolish the means test over a period of three years.
There is no difference in principle between abolishing the means test for the age pensioner and abolishing it in regard to child endowment. After all, the recipients of child endowment are not subject to a means test, and neither are those who receive maternity allowances. The Government has made quite a song about raising the property bar, and there is no doubt that that will be of some assistance to those who will receive benefits as a result of the Government’s action. When introducing this measure the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) said -
The amendment will be of great assistance to claimants and pensioners who own houses, but, due to the operation of State tenancy laws, cannot obtain possession and meanwhile are receiving rent from tenants.
I agree that it will be of some assistance, but I do not think that it will be of very great assistance because all that the Government has really done is to raise the property bar from £1,250 to £1,750, and the pension will be progressively reduced as the property increases from £209 to 1,750, after which the claimant will get nothing. I do not think that a person could own much property these days the value of which would not be somewhere about the figure of the property bar, because of our present inflated values. Therefore, there is not much in that concession. In 1949 the Prime Minister said in his policy speech that the value of all social services would be at least maintained. He said -
The value of all social services will be at least maintained. Indeed it will be increased. Pensioners can rely upon us for justice.
If he had omitted the word “ justice “ and said “just us”, he would have been nearer to the mark, because this Government has been concerned only to help the people that it represents in this Parliament. They are the people on the big incomes, who have received substantial reductions of taxation. The pensioners, of course, have got little or nothing, and those who are not affected by the present easing of the means test will get nothing at all. It is true that this Government has increased pensions during the time it has been in office, but the pension increases that it has granted have not kept pace with the increased basic wage. In 194S, under a Labour government, the pension was 37 per cent, of the basic wage, but to-day it is only 29 per cent, of the basic wage. I draw1 the attention of honorable members to an editorial published in the Melbourne Age of the 10th August. It is headed “A Better Deal for Age Pensioners “. Of course, honorable members realize that this newspaper could not be considered a Labour sympathizer, but nevertheless this editorial reads -
There is still a general recognition that rises in pension rates have been far from commensurate with the shrunken value of money and that the increases did not keep pace with the rise of prices and costs. In 1948, the age and invalid pension -was 37 per cent, of the basic wage; to-day, it is only 29 per cent.
All these factors strengthen the case for a generous review of the means test, with a view to increasing the permissible income without affecting eligibility for pension. There should be a minimum of delay in giving effect to the plans outlined by the Prime Minister in May.
These plans would have the effect of placing the pension within reach of many thousands of elderly people subsisting on depreciated annuities, slender incomes from property, or small personal earnings. The mood of the May election was that there should be a liberalisation of provisions. It was felt that a country said to be riding an unprecedented tide of prosperity was well able to give a better deal to its aged and infirm.
Despite the extra vote for defence, the hope is that Cabinet will find ways and means to better the lot of those whom age, illness and inflation have condemned to penury.
How a country treats those who have passed their working days without having acquired resources of their own affords an important test of its concepts of welfare.
I consider that the Government’s concepts of welfare fall very far short of the ideal. We should remember, also, that when the pension rate was 37 per cent, of the basic wage, that wage was not pegged. If the basic wage were not now pegged the percentage ratio of the pension to it would be even lower than it is. As a matter of fact it is estimated that the Western Australian basic wage, had it not been pegged, would have increased, in accordance with the increase of the cost of living, by another 19s. lid. Pensioners in Western Australia receive about 26 per cent, of the basic wage as it would then be, which is a long way short of the percentage of the wage that they received in 194S, when Labour was in office.
We contend that a minimum rate of £4 is necessary in order to give the pension the value it had when the Chifley Government was in office. The Minister cited, in his speech, the C series index figures, in order to bolster his case. He directed attention to the fact that, according to the index figures, the pension rate should now be 69.2d. The rate is now lOd. more than that figure, and he seems to think that that is a great achievement. Even the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has tossed out the C series index figures as a means of assessing the basic wage. It is not using them at present, although it refers to them. The GovernorGeneral mentioned in his Speech at the opening of the Parliament the continued prosperity of the country. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) referred in his budget speech to the prosperous state of the nation, although he watered down his references to it, probably because he feared that they might be used in evidence when the margins case was re-opened. One would think in these days of alleged unprecedented prosperity the Government would be prepared to do something more for pensioners who have nothing but their pensions to live on. The loss of the value of the pension to which I have referred applies also to other social services benefits. We urge the Government to increase those benefits so as to offset that loss of value.
I have prepared a table that shows the loss of value of social services payments provided for in the last budget, compared with the payments made when the Chifley Labour budget of 1949 was introduced. The federal basic wage in the June-August quarter of 1949, when the last Labour budget was brought down, was £6 4s. In the June-August quarter of 1954 it was £11 16s., or £o 12s. more than in 1949. That increase of £5 12s. is an increase of 88.7 per cent, above the 1949 level. If we apply that figure to various pension rates we get some interesting results. I shall read to the House the table that shows the losses, and in one instance a gain, that affect recipients of social services -payments now. The table is as follows : -
That table shows clearly that the Government has failed to maintain, far less restore, the value of social services benefits.
– The honorable member does not know anything about the history of social services.
– I may know more about it than does the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme). I have been associated with this kind of thing for much longer than the honorable member has. The same loss of value applies to other social services payments, such as funeral benefit.
Mr. Hulme interjecting,
– If I am interrupting the honorable member I shall sit down and let him have the floor. The Minister had the audacity to say in his speech -
During its term of office the Menzies Government has kept in mind the needs of those who have little, or nothing, other than their pension.
That is not a true statement, because the Government has forgotten about people who have nothing other than their pension. One would have thought that this Government, which claimed during the general election campaign that it was a workers’ government in the truest sense, would have done something more for the ordinary people, and would have adopted a more humane approach to these matters than it has shown. We consider that it would have been far better for the Government to have compelled taxpayers who could have afforded it, to continue to subscribe heavily to the revenue in order to enable increased payments to be made to the aged and invalid and people in receipt of child endowment, than to have inflicted hardship on the pensioners, as it is doing at present. Many pensioners are people who pioneered this country. They have now fallen on evil times and should receive some consideration for their past efforts on the country’s behalf. The Government, of course, would rather grant tax reductions amounting to £13 a week to people who have incomes of £15,000 a year. The Government bills and coos to the ordinary people of the community, but immediately it gets their votes and is returned to office it forgets all about them.
I wish to refer now to another unfortunate section of the community. I think that all honorable members will agree that the section to which I refer is not getting a fair deal in connexion with social services benefits. I do not know of any section of social services benefits in respect of which discrimination is not exercised against the unfortunate natives of Australia. The booklet, ‘ Social Services of the Commonwealth, issued by the Minister for Social Services, states -
Maternity allowances may be paid to aboriginal natives of Australia who have been granted exemption from State control laws or who, in any State where exemption is not provided for, are considered, by reason of character, standard of intelligence and social development, suitable persons to receive the allowance.
I point out that the booklet says that maternity allowances “may be paid “. Evidence of such discrimination is to be found throughout the booklet. I have received a letter from the Association of Apex Clubs in Western Australia, which has asked me to .raise this matter in the House. The best way in which I can raise it is to quote extracts from the letter, so that the Minister will understand fully the problems that concern the association. The letter reads, in part -
One of the greatest anomalies under which the native is suffering is his entitlements under the Social Service Consolidation Act. In order to realize fully how he is affected by this legislation it must .be pointed out that where an aborigine gets paid for work done he pays tax which, of course, includes hig social service contribution. Despite this, there are some benefits under the act to which he is not entitled.
Maternity Allowance. - This is not paid to full-blood aborigines or to those with a predominancy of native blood. There is on record a case in Western Australia where a woman who had only one thirty-second predominancy of native blood was precluded from obtaining the maternity allowance. This woman thought she would be entitled and had arranged purchases for her baby accordingly. The ultimate refusal of the allowance caused her financial embarrassment. I think you will agree that all natives could not be expected to know their entitlements under the act, and for this reason alone it would appear that there is merit in the suggestion that all natives be eligible under the act. The fact that any person who pays his tax is not eligible, certainly calls for amendment to the act.
May I point out that even when a native is entitled to the maternity allowance the granting of same is always at the discretion of the
Deputy Director of Social Services, and cases are on record in this State where eligible natives have been refused the allowance.
A-9e, Invalid and Widow Pensions. - These are not paid to aborigines with a predominancy of aboriginal blood and not to those on native reserves or on stations. The only exception is the rare aboriginal who has obtained citizen rights. In the latter case the native must cut himself off from all native welfare departments before being granted his citizenship. This, of course, is not necessarily a wise move.
Unemployed or Sickness Benefits. - Each case is dealt with on its merits at the discretion of the Registrar of Social Services, who could be hundreds of miles from the reserve. This is considered to be unsatisfactory and these benefits should apply automatically.
That letter is signed by Mr. Dedman, the honorary secretary of the Apex Club of Floreat Park, in Western Australia. The Government could do more for the natives than it has done. I suggest that at the first opportunity the Minister should introduce amending legislation that will ensure that these natives get a better opportunity to enjoy social services benefits. I realize that in some respects the natives are a problem, but at the same time something more could be done in order to give them a better deal. I conclude by supporting the amendment moved by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), and I commend it to the House.
– I compliment the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) on this bill, and accord it my support. Before I discuss the provisions of the measure, I should like to make some comments on the remarks of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Webb). I know that there is a great diversity of opinion among members of the Labour party to-day on a wide variety of matters, but one matter above all others that they have not been able to make up their minds about over the years is the abolition of the means test. I was singularly interested when the honorable member for Swan referred to the famous eight-year plan of the Chifley Labour Government for the removal of the means test. The honorable member pointed out that the plan was initiated in this Parliament in 1946, and he said that, had the Labour Government not been defeated in 1949, the plan would have come to fruition. I may be excused if I point out that the Labour Government had four years in which to give partial effect to the eight-year plan before the electors put it out of office, and it would be a masterpiece of understatement if I said that the Labour Government achieved very little in that regard. In fact, it achieved precisely nothing in respect of the removal of the means test in the period from 1946 to 1949. There is no evidence, I suggest, that the eightyear plan would have been fulfilled if the Labour party had remained in’ office for eight years after 1946.
I am even more interested when I turn to the pages of Hansard in 1946, the year in which the famous eight-year plan was formulated by the Labour party. I find that a member of the Labour party, the former honorable member for Reid, Mr. J. T. Lang, advocated in this House the removal of the means test. Once again, a diversity of opinion was evident in the ranks of the Labour party. Incidentally, it seems to have increased in later years. I find that the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke), who comes from the same State as the honorable member for Swan, attacked this 1946 proposal for the removal of the means test in the following words: -
I ask honorable members to consider who would benefit from the abolition of the means test. It is obvious that not one penny of the extra money which would have to be raised would go to those who have only the basic pension on which to live. It would go to those who, in addition to the pension, were in receipt of other incomes . . . Thus the honorable member who claims to be the champion of the underprivileged . . . would deny those most in need of it any of the extra money he proposes to hand out … He would give all to those in receipt of fairly substantial incomes.
The former honorable member for Dalley, Mr. J. S. Rosevear, who was Mr. Speaker, could not resist the temptation to leave the chair in order to join this great school of unanimity. He said, on the floor of the House -
If the honorable member for Reid concurs with the Opposition in the means by which the Opposition proposes to finance the abolition of the means test, he is in favour of an entirely new and additional scheme of taxation in the guise of a compulsory contribution to a national insurance fund. If he does not, there is only one way in which he can finance any scheme which involves the abolition of the means test. Governments cannot get money out of thin air. There is only one way governments can get money, nml that is by taxing it out of the people.
The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) too, seems to be particularly interested in this matter, so I shall read a passage from the speech which he made on this proposal in 1946. He said -
Let us examine what abolition of the means test would entail . . . How would the money be provided 1 We cannot print banknotes for the purpose of meeting the cost of social -services . . . The additional estimated cost resulting from the abolition of the means test on invalid and old-age pensions , . would call for a total contribution of 1.3s. per breadwinner-
I like these excursions into the humanities - and, of course, that could not be paid by unemployed .persons-
With a Liberal government in office, there are no unemployed persons - pensioners and persons over the ;: te of ()”> years . . and that does not take into account the expansion of social service plans, including health and various other schemes which Labour has in view.
– Who made that statement?
– The honorable member for Grayndler, who is the Opposition Whip in this Parliament.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! I ask the Minister to resume his seat. I am quite tired of the interjections to-night, and the spirit of levity, possibly because the vote on the amendment should have taken place after questions without notice this afternoon. I have heard nothing very new in the meantime. The Minister for Air has the floor, and I ask honorable members to keep quiet and listen to him.
– I rise to order. You, Mr. Speaker, have said that you have heard nothing very new in the debate to-day. Is the Minister in order, then, in reading passages from Hansard years ago?
– Order! Quotations from Hansard, provided it is not the Hansard of the current session, are always in order, no matter how uncomfortable they may be.
– I rise to order. Is the Minister entitled to take a passage from my speech out of the context, and place an entirely false interpretation upon it?
– Order ! I am not aware of what the Minister is doing. All I know is that it seems to have an effect on the honorable member for Grayndler.
– It is nothing to the effect that this will have on the electors. Having referred briefly to the remarks of the honorable member for Swan, I shall now address myself to the bill. The statement is often made that social services should not become the subject for debate in this House on party political lines. I consider that there is some merit in that opinion, but, at the same time, I do not subscribe to it completely. Over the years, most of the improvements that have been made, have been directly or indirectly the result of debate in this House. I consider that our remarks should be constructive, and factual, and should be spoken with some degree of responsibility and common sense. That will be my approach to the consideration of this bill to-night.
In this rather contradictory century in which we live, I think that there is one thing from which we can gain encouragement, and that is the tremendous record of progress and achievement that has been obtained in the field of social services and social welfare, not just in this country, but in every country on earth. In the last 50 years, there has been a dramatic improvement, and the people and governments have recognized and accepted their responsibilities to persons in the community less fortunate than others. It is difficult to realize that in Australia less than 50 years ago, there were no social services of any sort. Then, in 1911, the first social service, the agc pension of 10s. a week, was introduced.
– Who introduced it?
– I do not wish to become controversial. At the present time, the age pension is 10s. a day. In addition, a wide variety of benefits are granted over a tremendous field of human need. When the age pension was introduced in 1911, there were 235,000 people in the pensionable age group and 32 per cent, of them qualified for the pension. By 1933, the relative proportion had not substantially changed. There were more people in the age group, but only 32 per cent, of them qualified for the pension. By 1947, the number of persons of pensionable age was 735,000, or three times as many as the number in 1911, and 37.5 per cent, of the persons in the group qualified for the pension. The figures for 1953, which are the latest available to me, show that there were 913,000 persons of pensionable age, and 42 per cent, of them qualified for the pension. The result has been a tremendous increase in the expenditure on pensions.
In 1939, which is not very long ago, the total expenditure on social services in the Commonwealth was £16,000,000. By 3949 that expenditure had increased to more than £S0,000,000. In the current financial year, payments under the Social Services Consolidation Act and various other social services will cost approximately £200,000,000. This is the greatest expenditure* which the Government has, apart from expenditure on defence. It is an increasing expenditure, and clearly, it cannot be considered except in conjunction with all the other commitments of a government. It must always bc remembered, too, that when the expenditure is so vast, proposals for increases must be examined with great care. If an irresponsible policy were pursued in this matter, the people who would suffer most would be those in receipt of pensions, because the economy would be destroyed, and the purchasing power of the pensions would be removed.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) was the spokesman for the Opposition when the debate on the motion for the second reading of this bill was resumed last night. I compliment the honorable member on the way in which he presented his case. It seemed to me that his criticisms of the bill were based on three grounds. The first was that the basic pension had not been increased. The second was that the basic pension expressed as a percentage of the basic wage had fallen over the years. The third was that the liberalizations of the means test, which are included in this bill, do not go far enough. I shall examine those criticisms one by one.
The honorable member has contended that we should increase the basic pen sion. I think it is quite fair to make a comparison between the performances of the Labour party in four years, and the achievements of this Government in its first four years of office. The Labour Government increased the pension by only 10s. a week in the four-year period 1946 to 1949 inclusive. No increase was granted in two of those years. It is all very well for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and other Opposition members to chide the Government this year because it has not increased the basie pension, but I remind them that the Chifley Labour Government did not increase the pension in two of the four years to which I have referred, and that over the whole period the pension wa.-i increased by only 10s. a week. What is the performance of the present Government during its first four years of office? The pension was increased by 7s. 6d. in the first year, 10s. in the second year, and 7s. 6d. in the third year. I pause there to point out that every one of those increases which were given consistently year after year were record increases. The smallest of them was 50 per cent, more than the greatest increase ever given by a Labour government. The biggest of them was double the greatest that was ever given by a Labour government. In four years, the Chifley Labour Government increased the pension by 10s. a week. In a similar period, the present Government increased the pension by 27s. 6d. a week. In fact, Labour governments have granted only 22s. of the present pension of 70s. a week ; the other 4Ss. has been contributed by non-Labour governments.
The second point which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has made, which has been repeated by the honorable member for Swan and other Opposition speakers, is that the ratio of the pension to the basic wage has fallen. That is quite true. I concede it. But this point was made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro last year, and I said at that time -
The basic wage is sometimes but misguidedly used as a yardstick against which to measure pensions. Such comparisons between percentages at different points in time give an entirely erroneous impression. To refer to years gone by and attempt to compare the percentage of the present basic wage to pension with the percentage in 1939, or 1943 or 1949 is completely unreal. The reason is obvious. The whole basis of determination of the basic wage has changed. It no longer purports to be a minimum necessary to support any particular sized family unit. It includes two loadings added without any regard to needs, one of which was the additional £1 awarded in 1950.
I interpolate here that whereas the basic wage originally was calculated to meet the needs of a man, his wife and two children, it became difficult subsequently to know exactly what family unit it was designed to make provision for. Later, it came to be generally regarded as a wage in relation to hours of work, first for a 50-hour week, then for a 48-hour week and, later, for a 40-hour week. In view of the different loadings contained in the wage at present, it is completely unreal for members of the Opposition to go back over the years and compare the value of the present rate of pension with that of the rates in previous years in relation to the basic wage at the corresponding periods. In the reply that I made to this argument when it was advanced last year, I continued -
Any comparison of percentages in different years is valid only if the standards of comparison remain unchanged. This is not the case with the pension and the basic wage.
The only satisfactory basis on which to make any comparison of the purchasing power of the pension at different times is to relate the rate of pension to the “ C “ series retail price index number.
The last “ C “ series retail price index number issued by the Commonwealth Statistician before the Chifley Government went out of office was 1428 for the September quarter 1949. The maximum pension was then £2 2s. 6d. a week.
That was the pension paid by Labour -
The price index number for the 1954 June quarter was 2324. By taking the ratio 2324 over 1428 of £2 2s. 6d., we get the result £3 9s. 2d. Thus, on relative values measured by the “ C “ series price index number, the pension rate of £3 10s. is higher than the value of the pension immediately before the Labour Government went out of office.
I submit that that is a fair and logical reply to the specious comparisons that are made by honorable members opposite between the rate of pension to-day and rates of pension in the past on the basis of their relation to the basic wage at particular periods.
Members of the Opposition said that the Government had not liberalized the means test to an adequate degree. In this matter, honorable members should get down to the basic facts. Our social services scheme can be described as a comprehensive scheme of life insurance. There comes a time during the lifetime of each one of us, no matter how much we save or how hard we try, when we find ourselves financially incapable of meeting certain circumstances. Hardship may be caused as a result of sickness, loss of earning capacity, invalidity, widowhood, or any of a number of other problems. No matter how hard we may endeavour to provide against such contingencies, a time comes when we just cannot make the grade. Consequently, our comprehensive scheme of social services benefits has been developed for the purpose of providing assistance to individuals in these times of need. These various benefits cover a very wide field. They include maternity allowance, child endowment to assist parents in rearing families, a pension for invalids, a pension for tuberculosis, assistance in respect of hospitalization, the provision free of charge of costly drugs required in cases of serious illness, and various other benefits. I have described this system as an insurance scheme, and I think that that description is most appropriate. The premiums payable in respect of life assurance can be likened to the social services contribution which forms a part of income tax.
In the course of this debate, honorable members opposite have contended that every person should be entitled to receive the age pension solely on an age basis because every person pays social services contribution. I shall deal with that argument later. I repeat that very few persons have the good fortune to go through life without requiring the assistance that is provided by social services benefits in one form orr another. However, even if a few people should not, throughout their life, require any of these benefits, the fact remains that all persons in the community in paying social services contribution, in effect, pay for insurance cover. As we know, the solvency of all classical assurance schemes is guaranteed on the principle that the majority contribute in order to make provision for the needs of the few.
– How would the Minister like to live on the present pension?
– I should expend 10s. of it on thallium for the honorable member. The point I make is that we pay for social services and we are entitled to receive various pensions and benefits should the need arise to claim such benefits. I am speaking of the application of the means test in respect of the age pension. Rightly or wrongly, the age pension is not payable simply on an age basis to a male upon reaching the age of 65 years and to a female on reaching the age of 60 years. The age pension is payable to persons who, upon reaching those ages, are in need : and they qualify for the pension on the basis of need as well as on the basis of age. That need must be defined precisely, and it is so defined under the law, which provides that a person who possesses property in excess of a certain value or has income in excess of a certain limit is not in such need as would qualify him, or her, to receive an age pension ; but that if the income or value of the property of a person of pensionable age is less than the limit prescribed, he is deemed to be in need and, therefore, is eligible to receive the age pension. Many contend that no means test should be applied in respect of the age pension. I admit that compelling arguments can be advanced in support of that point of view. However, one thing must be remembered. It is that the purpose of the social services contribution, which is paid by way of taxation, is to provide a pension to be payable subject to a means test, and that if a pension were to be provided free of a means test, present rates of taxation for this purpose would obviously have to be increased tremendously.
– What was the Minister’s plan for abolishing the means test in 1952?
– It was not a plan that could be implemented for nothing. The provision of pensions for all, free of a means test, would involve tremendous cost. It can be demonstrated that that additional cost would be of the order of £100,000,000 annually. This Government has progressively eased and liberalized the means test. It has followed a policy of gradually relaxing that test. The Government does not believe that, at present, the taxpayers would be prepared to provide an additional £100,000,000 annually in order to meet the cost that would be involved in abolishing the means test completely. Consequently, the Government has taken a middle course and has liberalized the means test in respect of those who are in the greatest need.
It is interesting to glance at the relaxations that have been made in this respect. The property limit beyond which no pension is payable was increased in 1951 by £250. In 1953, that limit was increased again by £250; and, under this measure, it is being increased by a further £500, which will make the property limit £1,750. The property exemption was raised in 1953 by £50, and, under this bill, it is being raised again by £50, which will raise the complete property exemption to £200. The special exemption in respect of the surrender value of a life assurance policy was raised by £300 in 1950, and, in 1951 it was raised to £750. In 1953, the income means test was increased by 10s. a week, and, under this bill, it is being increased further by £1 10s. a week. Those are the progressive relaxations that have been made in respect of the means test. I should be the last to say that the Government has done all that it would like to do in this wide field of human need and social welfare. However, I say definitely that in this country we have, over the whole field of social services, provided as liberal and as effective a system as exists in any other country. It is a progressive scheme. Whereas, as I have already pointed out, total annual expenditure on social services in 1939 amounted to £16,000,000, and ten years later that cost increased £80,000,000, it is now £200,000,000. It is undeniable that this Government has done more than all previous governments combined have done in the history of this country in the provision of social services benefits.
.- I should rather listen to the humanitarian sentiments that were expressed by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Webb) than to the utterances that have just been made by the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley). It is strange that the Minister should cavil at the alleged inability of the Australian Labour party to make up its collective mind with respect to the abolition of the means test when he stands condemned out of his own mouth on that issue. In order to show the inconsistentcy of the Minister, I shall quote again the letter which he wrote, when he was Minister for Social Services, in reply to representations that were made to him by the honorable, member for Darling (Mr. Clark). In that letter he said -
I may mention, however, regarding the suggestion that the means test be abolished, that the Government recognizes 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.
– Who wrote that ?
– The present Minister for Air wrote this letter when he was Minister for Social Services. He continued -
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.
He concluded his letter as follows : -
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.
That -was early in 1953.
– Was that letter written by the Minister who has just spoken?
– Yes. He continued -
As soon, however, as the economic and international position improves, the Government hopes to be able to proceed with this important reform.
There might be something in the suggestion of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) that the Minister for Air, having regard to his inconsistency in respect of the means test, should take the opportunity again to-night to cavil at the alleged inability of the Australian Labour party to make up its collective mind with regard to the abolition of the means test. I repeat that I should prefer to hear the humanitarian statements that were made on this matter by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) and the honorable member for Swan in the course of this debate. Labour believes that there is a serious defect in the social services programme of this Government. The important aspect, of course, is the need of those in the greatest distress. I also give credit to the Government - because I believe that the essence of representation in this Parliament is to give credit where credit is due - for the liberalization of the means test for which the bill provides. Any step that leads towards the eventual liquidation of the means test is a very important step indeed. However, I do not agree that these proposals have arisen solely because of the broad view that the Government has taken of the social needs of the community. I suggest strongly that they have arisen from the impetus given to the Government’s programme by the continual efforts of members of the Opposition. If we trace the whole history of social services in Australia, we find that the great reforms have been accomplished either when Labour was a vociferous and adamant Opposition, which forced the government in office to take action, or when Labour was in office. I propose to develop that theme later in my speech.
The best way for us to consider the problem of social services is to adopt the principle enunciated by a great Welshman, David Lloyd George, who made this impressive declaration in one of his public utterances -
How we treat our old people is a crucial test of our national quality. A nation that lacks gratitude to tho.-e who have honestly worked for her does not deserve a future for she has lost her sense of justice mid her instinct of mercy.
The treatment of aged people is a crucial test of civilization. In Australia to-day nearly 350,000 elderly people are being denied justice of any kind by this Government. This theme, too, I propose to develop later, but first I shall contrast the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the statements made in the
Governor-General’s Speech, with the performance of the Government. In 1953. the Prime Minister said -
We will look after the pensioners. We may he relied upon to do full justice to their needs.
I ask this House in all sincerity: Is it justice to expect an elderly couple with no income or property to live on £7 a weeks Is there any honorable member who can say with the honesty that should characterize every member of this Parliament that a couple can live on 140s. a week ?
The mere fact that pensions have increased by 27s. 6d. during the five years since this Government came to office does not prove anything. Neither does it justify the proud boasts of the Government, because the increase has not been in proportion to the increase of the cost of living, for which the Government has been responsible. As the honorable member for Swan has said, when the Labour Government left office in 1949, the pension rate was 42s. 6d. a week and the basic wage was £5 12s. a. week, so the pension represented nearly 37 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day, even though the rate of pension may have increased by 27s. 6d. to £3 10s. a week in the interim, it represents only 29 per cent, of the basic wage. The honorable member for Swan also exploded the theory enunciated by the former honorable member for Sturt, that pension increases had kept pace with the increases of the C series index. I should not like to tell the poor old people in Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton who are tightening their belts, that they need not be worrying, because they cannot buy enough food, as everything is all right and the pension has increased with the C series index.
Every member on this side of the House maintains with justice that the most urgent need is that of the pensioner who has no other income and no property of ray kind. How can the Minister say that the bill represents one of the highwater marks in Australia’s social services legislation when members of the most deserving class in the community are receiving the princely sum of £3 10s. a week? The Governor-General’s Speech at the opening of this Parliament acknowledged the need for the Government to take humanitarian action on behalf of the pensioners. His Excellency said - and, of course, his Speech represented the policy that this Government was supposed to pursue - 3Ir Government recognizes that there is no greater human problem affecting old people than that of care and housing.
Proper care and housing are the barest living necessities. In the poor area that I represent there are 3,800 people dependent upon this Government for their means of subsistence. And the means of subsistence with which they arcs provided amounts to 70s. a week, the maximum rate of pension. They will not be helped by the liberalization of the means test. It means nothing to them that they will be permitted to have property worth £1,750, apart from their homes, and still draw the pension. All they are concerned with is the question, “What does 70s. buy for me?” Those people are dragging out a precarious and a miserable existence. Some of them are fortunate because they are living with their children or with other relatives, but, in the main in that poor area, they are living under conditions that typify those which existed when the Song of the Shirt was composed. They live in garret.?.
Honorable members can obtain some idea of those conditions if they study a booklet prepared by the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence, which gives a true picture of the housing situation in the cities of Collingwood and Fitzroy, which, form a part of the electorate of Hoddle. In the course of their researches, members of the brotherhood found that, of a number of houses investigated, 3S per cent, were “very damp and in a very bad state of disrepair “, 16 per cent, were damp, 51 per cent, were without kitchen sinks, and 3S per cent, were without baths, or had baths but no water laid on to them. Most of the pensioners in that area are living in places like that, and they arc paying pretty high rents too. In fact, the rent usually is so high that there is little left for the pensioner to purchase the necessaries of life. Those who live in the metropolis of Melbourne know full well that, if it were not for the efforts of poor people helping poor people, those pensioners would be in an even worse situation. Why, even in a place like Fitzroy, elderly pensioners have banded themselves into an association so that they can collect old clothing to help keep members warm in the depths of winter because they have not enough money with which to buy adequate clothing. In the part of Collingwood that I happen to know very thoroughly, a similar organization collects anything disposable so that it can be sold to supplement the meagre pensions paid to its members under the aegis of this benevolent Government.
I agree with the Minister for Air that social services are a growing problem, but that does not mean that the subject should be approached with trepidation, or with a feeling that anything the Government gives is largesse. The people who deserve pensions are those on the lowest rung of the pension ladder, the workers, who, during their working lives, had no opportunity to acquire any competence with which to keep themselves in comfort in their old age and preserve them from indigence. So, whatever vision one may have of the social services problem, it should be on a broad magnanimous scale. This is a subject that should not be approached in the spirit that the Government is giving away something that people have no right to expect. These elderly pioneers have made Australia, and they deserve the best that we can provide. Any benefits that may flow to wealthy land-owners from our national prosperity might more rightly and humanly be diverted to those pioneers who, because of the conditions under which they worked in the days of their vigour, have nothing to sustain them to-day. I agree that the cost of social services is a great and growing problem but I maintain that, unless we approach it with a broad vision and a proper sense of the obligation that man owes to man, the system will break down under its own weight. I shall repeat figures that were cited last night by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who pointed out that the increasing expectation of life in the community meant that the cost of social services was growing in volume day by day. In 1900, the expectation of life in Australia was 51 years for males and 55 years for females. By 1948 it had increased to 66 years for males and 71 years for females. By 1951, it had increased further to 69 years for males and 72 years for females. As science and human knowledge are increasingly brought to bear upon the subject of health, the expectation of life must, of necessity, continue to increase.
In the comprehensive and well compiled twelfth report of the DirectorGeneral of Social Services, there is clear evidence that every day a larger number of people reach pensionable age. Therefore, this problem must not be approached in a cheese-paring way. Pensions constitute the best volume of money that the community can have in circulation, for the larger the sum expended on social services payments, the larger is the amount expended on the necessaries of life. It is fluid money. It keeps on circulating and is not hoarded away to provide for the future. Because it must be used to buy the commodities required to sustain life, it must be spent from day to day. The continuous flow of this money stimulates industry. It has a good effect upon Australia’s production, and keeps men and women in employment. Therefore, any money expended on social services is fluid money that keeps on rotating until it returns to the Government through increased production and increased wealth. For that reason, I say that pensions should be approached in a spirit of liberality and with a keener conception than this Government has demonstrated of the value of the services that our elderly pensioners have rendered to the community. I said earlier that the greatest percentage of pensioners receive the maximum rate of pension. Some people seem to think that pensioners who receive the reduced rate of pension must of necessity be in fairly comfortable circumstances.
The report of the Director-General of Social Services for the year ended the 30th June, 1953, reveals that many pensioners in receipt of reduced rates of pension are by no means affluent, and their needs are worthy of consideration. Page 9 of the report reveals that 25.5 per cent, of pensioners had property valued at between £110 and £159; 20.8 per cent, had property valued at between £160 and £209 ; 36.9 per cent, had property valued at between £210 and £459; and 3.2 per cent, had property valued at between £460 and £509. Therefore, 86.4 per cent, of pensioners receiving reduced pensions owned property valued at between £110 and £509. One hundred and two thousand pensioners had property, other than a home, in excess of the limit below which the pension is unaffected, and up to a value of £509. Pensioners who had property valued at less than the affecting limit numbered 350,000. A total of 452,000 pensioners had property of a value up to £509. Pensions must be approached on a broad, humanitarian basis. If the representatives of the Australian Labour party did not speak in this House for the pensioners, who would speak for them? It is true that the means test has been liberalized, but the true test of humanity is one’s desire to help those persons whose total income is the maximum pension of £3 10s. a. week. Pensioners must be warmly clothed and fed. Retail prices have risen continually ever since this Government took office. When one bears that in mind and considers also the inescapable commitments of pensioners, one can readily appreciate how difficult it must be for pensioners to live on £3 10s. a week. As an illustration, let us consider such a humble commodity as firewood. In the June quarter of 1949, the price of a ton of firewood in Melbourne was £4 3s. 6d. In the June quarter of 1953, thanks to this Government’s magnificent work in controlling inflation, the price of firewood in Melbourne had increased to £6 15s. 9d. a ton. It is almost impossible for pensioners in a great part of my electorate to buy firewood at its present price. Even itf they could afford it, in the conditions under which most of them live, they would not be able to find grates in which to burn it.
– And firewood is greatly needed in Melbourne.
– The honorable member is correct. All these factors encourage me to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. As I said earlier, I agree that it is desirable to liberalize the means test, provided that a move is made towards its eventual abolition. I make no secret of my particular belief that it should be abolished. But I believe that at this stage it is equally important, as is connoted by the amendment, to increase the maximum rate of pension above £3 10s. Elderly people are entitled to live decently. They are not living decently. To-day they are merely existing. If it were not for the help that they receive from charitable institutions, relatives and many municipal councils, and for the charity of working people themselves, many of them would be in a condition almost of semi-starvation. I wholeheartedly support the amendment. It is desirable, timely and humanitarian. Unfortunately it will probably receive no consideration from the Government, which ‘has set its compass to steer a .particular course, from which it will not be diverted. But the people of Australia, and especially the 452,000 age and invalid pensioners, know where humanity, charity and decency repose. While the Australian Labour party exists to espouse the cause of the underdog, pensioners will not lack champions in this House.
.- I remember clearly and distinctly that when I made my maiden speech in this chamber I followed the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. ‘Cremean). On that occasion I was not acquainted with the name of the honorable member’s electorate, and, seeking a prompter, I thought some one told me that he was the honorable member for Twaddle. This evening, perhaps with some justification, I might give to him that description. His remarks this evening were a series of contradictions. He said that, if Labour did not speak for age pensioners, no one would speak for them. He had said earlier, with the usual naive approach of the Labour politician to this problem, that the greatest developments in social services had occurred when Labour was a vociferous Opposition. In other words, he said clearly and distinctly that all the developments in social services had occurred when anti-Labour governments were in office.
– The honorable member for Hoddle said nothing of the sort.
– He did, and he was correct. I do not contradict him on that point. The Australian Labour party, in office, was completely barren of ideas in relation to social services and social justice. Its only approach to social services, in all those years was, on occasions, immediately preceding an election, to increase the pension by 2s. 6d. or 5s. a week, which was the greatest increase that it ever gave, in the hope that it might buy the votes .of pensioners and prospective pensioners. Labour was completely dishonest in its approach to the problems of age pensioner’s, and completely devoid of ideas for the implementation of a policy that would achieve social justice. The honorable member for Hoddle suggested that social justice could be achieved by increasing the age pension, and that the liberalization of the means test was not the proper approach, because it favoured those whom he referred to as wealthy land-owners. How little interest has the honorable member taken in this subject! How devoid of knowledge of the problem is he to make such a statement! It is indicative of his lack of interest in the indigent people in the community. I shall demonstrate that the most indigent group is not. the age pensioners. It is the people who are suffering from anomalies that have arisen as a result of the extension of the social services benefits. Whenever more people are brought within the ambit of the social services scheme, more and greater anomalies are caused. That must always happen. I say, and I shall stand by it, that before any consideration is given to increasing the age pension, the available funds should be devoted to bringing more and more people within the scope of the scheme in the hope that we shall thereby eliminate anomalies that we know exist. The Government has been gradually eliminating those anomalies throughout its term of office. I applaud this Administration for its approach to the problem of social services. The suggestion that the vociferous shouting of the Australian Labour party has been the real cause of the introduction of any measure of justice into the social services scheme is positively ridiculous. That suggestion was contradicted by the honorable member for Hoddle, who said that he was aware that all his shouting would have no effect on the Government, which would give no consideration to his remarks. Of course, his arguments will receive no consideration, because he. did not analyse the problem and did not make any constructive or thoughtful suggestions that could not be countered by an examination of the facts and of the position of those persons who are in the gravest need. Consequently. I dismiss as unworthy of further consideration the contribution to the debate by the honorable member.
It is well worth considering the fact that since this Government took office age pensioners have received vast increases in their income. Also the allocation of funds for social services benefits has increased from £80,000,000, which was the figure at which it was pegged in 1949 by the Labour Government, to the present figure of £1S4,000,000. . Pensioners to-day not only receive the benefits of increased pension rates, but also are able to avail themselves of the pensioners’ pharmaceutical and medical benefits scheme. They may attend doctors of their own choosing; they may have prescriptions prepared by their own chemists; and they are better treated by this Liberal Government than they were ever treated by Labour administrations. They are better treated now than they have ever been treated, but this has not been achieved by the vociferous howling of members of the Australian Labour party. That fact was confirmed to-night by one of Labour’s own socialist members, and it is ridiculous to suggest otherwise.
I compliment the Minister on his second-reading speech, which was the most comprehensive and informative speech on social services that I have known to be delivered in the Parliament. I congratulate the Government on its approach to the problems of social services. It has adopted the right approach and has removed a great number of anomalies. It is my intention this evening to bring to the notice of the Administration certain anomalies that still exist in the hope that in the next budget provision that will remove them will be made.
During the debate on the Estimates, I referred to the position of married couples. Let us consider the circumstances of a man of pensionable age, with a wife almost 60 years of age who is unable to work, and who between them have no other income than the pension. The total income for these two people is £3 10s. a week. I consider that this is an anomaly which must be dealt with long before any consideration is given to the Labour party’s proposition that the age pension should be increased. I also brought forward the ca-e of elderly widows and widowers who, because of age and ill health, were unable to continue to live in their own homes and had to seek refuge with a son or daughter. Merely because those persons own their own homes but are not living in them, they are debarred from receiving a pension. That is another anomaly that should be examined by the Government when it is next considering an alteration of the Social Services Act.
Notwithanding those facts, any elderly couple can have assets worth £12,000, if that money is invested in a certain manner, and still be able to drawage pensions. I wish to impress that matter on honorable members, and I shall repeat the details of it again, although I also mentioned it during my speech on the Estimates. A couple could own their own home worth £5,100, have purchased an annuity which brings in £7 a week and which is valued at £3,500, and have furniture and personal effects to the value of £1,500. [Quorum formed.’] Before the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) caused his supporters to leave the chamber so that he could call for a quorum. I was referring to the fact that an elderly couple could have assets worth £12,000 and still obtain age pensions. They could have assets that I have referred to, insurance policies of the surrender value of £3,500 and cash in the bank of the total of £400. They could have all that, and still draw age pensions. Nevertheless, an elderly couple who may own their own homo and personal effects may have £3.000 invested in Commonwealth bonds at 3£ per cent, from which they receive an income of £96 35s. a year would be entitled, because of the property disqualification, to a pension for the two of them that would amount to £104 a year, so that their total income would be £200 15s. a year. Such a couple would be forced to live on an income of less than £4 a week, and they are the ones who are suffering to-day. They are the really indigent people of the community, not those referred to in such eloquent terms by the Opposition as the pioneers of Australia. Such old people as I referred to in my last illustration are the ones who built this country. They are the people who strove and saved and invested their money, in the hope that they would have enough to live on in their old age. Therefore, they are the people who must receive the first consideration of the Government when it prepares its next budget, or when it considers any further amelioration of the means test. Indeed, I suggest that they should receive consideration before any further increase of the rate of the pension are considered.
All the promises made in the Prime Minister’s policy speech before the last general election on the subject of social services are now being fulfilled by this legislation. The permissible income in respect of the age pension has been increased from £2 to £3 10s. a week following the first promise made by the Prime Minister in his policy speech on social services, and the property limit for age pensions has been increased from £1,250 to £1,750. Up to the present time income from property, as well as capital, has been included for means test purposes. The Prime Minister promised that income from property should be excluded, and it will be excluded by this measure. The cost of increasing the permissible income will be £3,600,000, and the cost of raising the property barrier from £1,250 to £1,750 will be £2,400,000 ; making a total of £6,000.000 being expended on social services to remedy anomalies similar to those that I have spoken about to-night. I suggest that the Government has adopted a humane and proper approach to this matter to ensure that the most indigent among our people shall have some chance of getting a livelihood.
I desire now to deal with section 106 paragraph (d) of the Social Services Consolidation Act. That paragraph was introduced into section 106 last year, and I suggest that it is a matter that should have been brought before the Parliament this year. I deplore the manner in which the Parliamentary Draftsman has drawn up this paragraph, because I am quite sure that everybody will experience the same difficulty that I and other honorable members have experienced in trying to ascertain the draftsman’s meaning. The paragraph refers to the application of a means test to payments made from an approved medical benefits fund to a patient in a hospital for the purpose of payment of unemployment sickness benefit. . The paragraph reads -
Such part of a payment, made by an organization registered under a law referred to in the last preceding paragraph, for or in respect of expenses incurred by a person for hospital, medical or dental treatment as does not exceed the amount remaining after deducting from the amount of those expenses the amount of benefit received under that law for or in respect of those expenses;
If that paragraph is to continue to be part of the act, I suggest that the Parliamentary Draftsman should study it and attempt to render it intelligible to anybody who can read English. Only a person with legal training, after a great deal of consideration, could arrive at a conclusion about its meaning in its present form. Even then he would have doubts whether his interpretation was correct. That paragraph of section 106 discriminates against Queensland. Honorable members recently learned from the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) that only 25 per cent, of the people of Queensland have subscribed to approved medical benefits societies, whereas 56 per cent, of all Australians have so subscribed, and in New South Wales 82 per cent, of the population have done so. I believe that the application of this clause to Queensland is one of the contributing factors to the failure of so many of the people of that State to insure themselves and their families under the medical benefits scheme. Men who earn about the basic wage, or up to £15 a week, and who have wives and families, do not generally have bank accounts sufficient to carry them over a period of illness. If such a man subscribed to a medical benefits fund, his contribution would be about 5s. a week. For that sum he would be entitled to about £8 8s. a week as a hospital benefit, and to certain medical benefits. There are free wards in the Queensland hospitals for indigent people. If a person such as I have described needs hospital treatment for a long period of three to six months, he can enter the free ward of a hospital and receive treatment provided by the State Government. If he should do so, then because of the application of paragraph (i) of section 106 of the Social Services Consolidation Act, he would be disqualified from receiving unemployment or sickness benefit. Therefore, after his fortnight or three weeks sick leave is used up his family is not able to obtain any weekly income at all simply because he has insured himself and his family. In fact his wife would not have enough money to pay her tram or bus fares to visit him in hospital. However, at the conclusion of his illness he is able to obtain a fair sum of money through the medical benefits society with which he is insured. That sum is not usually paid by weekly instalments, and therefore I contend that paragraph (d) should be completely eliminated from the Social Services Consolidation Act.
Through my discussions with the Minister for Social Services and his officers, I have learnt that the total cost of abolishing that paragraph would be practically negligible. If that is so, there is no reason why it should not be deleted immediately. The situation in Queensland has developed to a point where medical benefits societies have been forced, because of the extreme necessity of such people, to institute a special priority claim service; and they endeavour to pay a weekly sum of money if a necessitous case is specifically brought to their notice. But very rarely are such cases brought to their notice. The workers who are disqualified from receiving unemployment and sickness benefit because they have insured themselves in the health scheme, prefer to cancel their subscriptions so that they will be able to receive the £4 15s. a week which is payable to a man with a wife and child in the case of the breadwinner’s illness. The continued application of that provision means that the Commonwealth is obtaining a financial advantage at the expense of the Queensland Government. If the Queensland Government can provide a free hospital system, and from its resources ensure than any indigent person may have treatment in a free ward, why should the Commonwealth be able to capitalize on that position and save itself £4 15s. a week in respect of breadwinners of families that may include several children? I say that that provision is dishonest in its application. It takes advantage of the Queensland Government, and possibly of the Tasmanian Government, but certainly, to a very large degree of the Queensland Government. It is unfair and uncharitable, because it discourages a man from being prudent and insuring his family, and thus gaining the advantage of the Government’s medical benefits scheme, which has been applauded throughout the country. Until that provision is repealed nobody can justly criticize the Queensland Government if indigent people in Queensland fail to insure and so take advantage of medical benefits.
I conclude by specifically asking the Minister to give particular attention to amending that provision in the act in such a way as to provide that no means test shall apply to any man who has been prudent enough to insure his family under the medical benefits scheme. I also ask that, when the next budget is being prepared, and consideration is being given to the framing of the social services legislation consequent on it, before any provision is made for an increase of age pensions, these anomalies, under which married couples are forced to live on £4 a week instead of £7 or £14, shall be given first consideration, and that an increase of pensions be placed on a lower priority.
.- For sound and fury the speech of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. “Wight) has seldom been excelled. His speech, however, was signally lacking in both logic and respect for humanitarian needs. The honorable gentleman directed attention to the fact that his maiden speech in this Parliament followed a speech by the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean). As I remember it, the honorable gentleman’s maiden speech was the same speech as he has made again to-night. It displayed the same lack of knowledge, the same ignorance of the fact« of history, and the same complete disregard for the needs of the old people in the community. The Opposition has moved an amendment to the bill in order to impress on the Government the needs of ‘aged people. We have been taking such actions ever since the Labour movement was born in the early struggles of Australia’s political history. It is true, as honorable members opposite have said, that the early pensions system of Australia was forced into existence by members of the Labour party in this Parliament. At that time a motion was moved by the then leader of the Labour party, Mr. Andrew Fisher. It was carried by the Parliament, but the Government of the day said that it did not have the money to give effect to it. It was Andrew Fisher who devised the means by which the Parliament’s view, as expressed in the motion, could be put into effect. He devised the provisions of the Surplus Revenue Act, under which the surplus revenues of the nation were diverted to a trust fund from which pensions were paid. That is the early history of pensions legislation in Australia, which bears the imprint of the work of Labour leaders in this Parliament, who forced the governments of the day to accede to Labour’s humanitarian desires. The motion to which I have referred was not put into effect, and the pension was not paid, without opposition. There were members of the Parliament in those days of the same political calibre as members of the present Government, who opposed Mr. Fisher’s proposals. The antiLabour parties in those days were known by names- other than those by which they are known to-day, but they evinced the same opposition to adequate provision for the aged and infirm in the community as their successors show. They opposed violently every suggestion that the Deakin Government should put the wish of the Parliament into effect. As the Hansard record shows, they claimed that the Labour party had forced the payment of pensions. Sir John Forrest, a member of the Parliament from my own State, claimed that when the Labour party insisted that pensions had to be paid the government of the day finally came into line. Those are the facts of history, which show how the pension system was born.
– Pensions were not paid until the Fisher Government was elected to office. ifr. TOM BURKE. - I was not aware of that. In any event, they were paid as a result of action by a Labour leader, and the scheme under which the pension system was financed was devised by the same man. The arguments that members of the Labour party used in those days are still being used. We are not attempting to win the votes of the pensioners for our party. We are merely urging the humanitarian claim, on this nation, of the old mcn and women who pioneered this country. The honorable member for Lilley claimed that there should be no increase of basic pensions. He ridiculed the statements of honorable members on this side of the House that nien over 65, and women over 60 years of ago now7 were the pioneers of Australia. He followed the usual lino followed by the Government’s supporters by saying, in effect, that these people should have saved for their old age, but did not do so, and therefore had no just claim or right to a reasonable level of existence. It is undoubtedly true that men and women between the ages of 60 and 70 to-day were the pioneers of this nation. They built Australia’s industries, and pioneered the great outback areas that members of the Government will not even visit to-day, because they find conditions in these areas too hard. In their youth the old men and women of Australia suffered hardships far worse than anything that is suffered to-day in the outback. They endured privations in building up this great nation. They have earned the commendations of Australia, but commendations are empty and futile unless they are accompanied by a reasonable contribution from the nation to enable these old people to live in comfort in their declining years. Even if nothing were due to them of right because of the part they played in pioneering this country, common humanity demands that men who cannot fend for themselves, and women who cannot provide for their ordinary basic needs, have a moral claim, in the highest degree, on other people in the community who are more fortunately situated. The facts of history support their claim, and humanity demands that it be mct.
There is a third reason, to which the honorable member for Hoddle referred. Unless we give to men and women of pensionable age a reasonable income with which they can satisfy their basic needs, our industries will suffer. If pensioners are provided with reasonable incomes, as the honorable member for Hoddle has said, they will be able to buy the products of Australian factories and use the products of Australian farms. These people will provide a market for products that are in great supply. That is the third reason, and an important one, why a proper income should be paid to them. Finally, as the honorable member for Hoddle said .so clearly and so well, the money received and spent by the pensioners, is not finally lost to the Government. It is not stored up. It is spent at once on the purchase of commodities vital to life and the maintenance of health. It does not represent a vast and final subtraction from the sum of Australian income. The money that the pensioners receive, and spend, whether it be £1,000.000, £2,000,000 or £20,000,000, returns almost immediately to the Government in large degree in the form of income tax collections from the profits of business with which the pensioners deal, from excise on the goods that they buy, through transport services that they patronize, and through a host, of other avenues. In fact, I think that the major proportion of the money that they spend will come back to the Government in one form or another.
The Government cannot claim that the pensioners have not a moral right, in the highest degree, to reasonable treatment. It cannot claim that they have not done their share in pioneering this great nation, and that they have not a just claim on the present generation and on the Government. It cannot claim that, we are under no obligation to pay to those people the reasonable pension that the Opposition contends they should receive. Yet, despite all the cogent argument’s that have been advanced for reasonable treatment for the pensioners, the Government has sternly set its face against adopting the reasonable, possible and desirable step that the Labour party has suggested be taken in order to provide for these people in their declining years.
Honorable members opposite have claimed that their efforts are designed to provide justice for this section and that section of the community, and that the Government’s overall consideration is to prevent a new spurt of inflation. But they have made no effort, and have given no evidence of willingness or capacity, to erect a barrier against further inflation. “We contend that the pensioners should receive at least £4 a week. It is said that, measured by the ordinary measuring stick by which a government arrives at the total cost of such an increase of expenditure, our proposals would cost an extra £12,000,000 or £14,000,000 a year. The Government says that the nation cannot afford to carry that extra burden. It admits that pensioners are short of many of the things that they require but says that we simply cannot afford to pay them more than they are receiving to-day. That is the case the Government’s supporters have put, both by implication and by deliberate statement. As I demonstrated in an earlier debate, and repeat now, in the long run an outlay of £12,000,000 or £14,000,000 would not be involved, because at least half of the amount paid out would come back to the Government in excise duties, in income tax on the profits of businesses, and so on. In any case, even if a total outlay of £15,000,000 or more were involved, that is little more than half of the amount that this Government has remitted to wealthy people by way of tax reductions this year. We say that to expect pensioners to live on a pittance of £3 10s. a week is a crime against humanity, and opposed to all economic sense. The Government shows scant regard for the work of these men and women in the early years of Australia whilst it returns to people in the wealthy sections of the community, and in varying degree of prosperity’, a total of £23,200,000 in the form of tax reductions. The Government cannot afford to do justice to pensioners so as to enable them to purchase their minimum requirements, yet it can return to the wealthy in this financial year £23,200,000 by way of tax concessions. This inconsistency may not affect the Government. People, when they get to pensionable age, are firm in their political beliefs. In any event, they are, in the main, the workers of Australia, who have voted for the Labour party, because they have seen the struggles of Labour movements, and have been in Labour organizations when they were in the early formative stages.
But the conscience of the Government must be sorely troubled. Members of the Liberal party, if they are liberals within the true meaning of the word, must feel stirrings of doubt when they read in the newspapers, day after day, of increases in the prices of commodities. They must realize that pensioners in receipt of £3 10s. a week, who have no other sources of income, are in a desperate plight at the present time. My colleague and friend, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has directed attention to a survey that was conducted by the Daily News, a Perth newspaper, which circulates in the capita] city and throughout the country districts. The survey was made last year, and the moving headline that accompanied it stated that the pensioners were starving. Unlike so many headlines in the daily newspapers, that headline was justified by every line of the journalist’s description of the situation as he saw it. He justified his statements, too, by reference to cases in the community of Western Australia, which proved that people were slowly starving, and were desperate in their search for the basic requirements of life. That survey was made twelve months ago. The Government claims that, since that time, inflation has been arrested. Such a claim is not true. The prices of basic commodities rise almost daily, and many necessaries of life are now out of the reach of the pensioners. The rent of rooms has skyrocketed. It is almost impossible for a pensioner to rent a room for less than 30s. a week, and that amount has to be paid out of the pension of £3 10s. The price of tea, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has stated, has risen by ls. 4£d. per lb. in Western Australia and by varying amounts in other parts of Australia. Pensioners were starving in Western Australia twelve months ago. Their plight has been aggravated by sharp increases in the cost of living since that time. Their situation has become desperate because the prices of the goods which the pensioners normally purchase have risen more sharply than the prices of other goods.
So, if people were starving twelve months ago, as indeed many of them were, their plight is indeed desperate at the present time. Yet Government supporters rise in their places, as the honorable member for Lilley has done, and assert that no sound argument can be adduced for an increase of the pension. They consider that the pension is adequate. Their opinions reveal a scant regard for humanity, and a complete lack of knowledge of the facts. The least the Government can do is to provide the amount of money which we contend is necessary for the pensioners. Having done so. the Government might think that it had maintained the value of social services, whereas in fact, it would merely have given a small lift to persons on the minimum standard, who cannot help themselves.
The Government has taken action to ameliorate the means test, and in that respect, has made a fairly considerable advance. That improvement has been sought by many sections of the Australian people, and will bring a great benefit to large number of persons. However, the partial amelioration of the means test, which is proposed in this bill, will not do anything for the great body of Australian people. The Minister for Air (Mr. Townley) read a passage from a speech which I made in 1946 about the removal of the means test. I make no apology for that speech. What I said then I repeat to-day, and those views arn held by every supporter of the Labour party in this House and throughout the country. 1 said, in effect, that the first step was to provide a reasonable standard of living for people whose only income was their pension. The next step was the amelioration or abolition of the means test.
That policy was submitted on behalf of the Labour party to the Australian people. During the last general election campaign, we said that if we were returned to office, we would grant a minimum increase of 10s. a week in the pension payable to persons on the lowest rung of the social security ladder who had no other source of income. Had the Labour party been returned to office, that payment would have made life a little easier for pensioners in their declining years. But the Government is deaf to all pleas, and blind to the urgency, of the situation. Government supporters talk glibly in the Parliament, and in the country, about their record of performance in respect of social services, but those who have a conscience, in the political sense, must be troubled by the plight of the pensioners in the great capital cities. Those persons are reduced to desperate straits. They live in dingy rooms, and are striving to live on the small pittance that they receive from this Government.
I fully subscribe to the views expressed by the honorable member for Lilley in one part of his speech. He drew attention to the fact that people who are in receipt of a pension, whether it be an invalid or an age pension and whose wives are not of pensionable age or a pensionable physical condition. are experiencing a very difficult time. That is perfectly true. The number of persons in that category is not great, and the cost of giving them some relief would be fairly small. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will make a careful note of the position of dependants of pensioners who are not themselves eligible for a pension. I have in mind the wives of invalid pensioners, who are not themselves of a pensionable physical condition, and the wives of age pensioners who have not yet attained the pensionable age. They all are reduced to living on a miserable pittance. Whilst an urgent need exists to grant relief to the great mass of pensioners who have no other source of income, the need is even more urgent to grant assistance to persons whose wives are not eligible for pensions and who, for a variety of reasons, are not able to go to work. I hope that the Minister will examine those matters, and even before this bill is passed, make provision for a fairly considerable increase in the amount of money that is paid, not as a pension, but as a grant by the department to such persons.
In the limited time remaining to me, I desire to discuss a few matters to which, I think, the Australian Government and
Australian Parliament should devote attention. These matters are prominently before the Australian people at the present time. At this point, I should like to pay a tribute to the Minister for the work that he has done for blind pensioners. He has rendered a valuable service to them by the abolition of the means test as applicable to the blind pension. The institutions in the States do magnificent work for those people, who suffer from a great disability.
The other matter to which I desire to refer is the position of institutions which care for spastic children and crippled children. The Parliament and the Government will be well justified in devoting attention to that field. A real social problem exists there. The societies which care for spastic and crippled children ;are the poor relations of governments and the people generally. We owe it to ourselves to examine at an early date the position in which those institutions are -placed, and the methods by which they are financed, and determine ways and means by which this Government, in cooperation with State administrations, can meet the position. Gaols, asylums and institutions of various kinds are the spending departments of governments. I hope that the Minister will lose no time in examining the position regarding -.spastic and crippled children. In recent days, an officer of the Spastic Welfare Centre of Western Australia has been in Canberra with a view to discussing with :the Minister the organization’s claim for ^assistance, or recognition by the Government of the real problem of spastic and crippled children. At least, the gentleman concerned has been in Canberra in pursuance of efforts to form an Australiawide association.
Some people, by voluntary effort on quite a large scale, have done a great deal for the furtherance of work amongst -those children. The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) has played a -fairly prominent part in that work. But this problem is beyond the scope and capacity of groups of individuals. The voluntary work that has been done to date must be generously subsidized by governments, Federal and State, jointly or severally. Great work has to be done “in this field. It has been commenced and developed by persons who have been busy in other avenues, but have devoted a considerable portion of their time to making conditions liveable for spastic and crippled children, and making it easier for adults who have been afflicted with loads of this kind. This is a real social problem. The Government must support the voluntary organizations and give them the maximum financial assistance to undertake extensive research into the causes of these disabilities, and the methods by which they can be eased. The Minister will do a great service to the whole community if he is willing to examine the situation, seek the cooperation of the State governments and move on a broad front through the whole Australian community which deals with institutional life and human disabilities of the type I have mentioned.
I need not elaborate further the case which we have made, as an Opposition. The Government, if it is not deaf to the needs of the people in the most vulnerable classes in Australia, if it is not unmindful of the work that those people have done for Australia and if it is not unconscious of the fact that money paid to those persons will be well spent and a part of it at least will return to the Government in various forms of revenue, will accede to the request of the Opposition, made in the amendment, and thereby earn the gratitude of the Australian people, including the pensioners. [Quorum formed.]
– Speaking to the amendment, I direct the attention of the House to the precise words that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) used in moving it, because I think that those words are of particular importance. The amendment proposes increases of the rates of age and invalid pensions to a minimum of £4 a week and similar increases in child endowment, widows’ pension, unemployment and sickness benefit and dependants’ allowances. I immediately direct attention to the fact that the amendment makes no reference whatsoever to the means test, nor does it contain any statement officially by the Opposition that an increase should be made in the permissible income or the property limit. I simply mention that matter now, and will revert to it later. I also point out that the term “ minimum “ has been used. The Opposition desires to increase the rate of the age and invalid pension to a minimum of £4 a week. On this occasion, the word “ minimum “ is used for the first time in the history of this Parliament in dealing with this problem. In the past, the Parliament has always fixed tha maximum rate of pension, but on thi3 occasion the Opposition had not the common sense or the courage to state in specific terms what it believes should be done. It has simply used the term “ minimum “ and left undetermined the amount by which the pension should be increased over and above £4 a week. The Parliament has never previously been asked to adopt that attitude, which reveals weakness in the drafting of the amendment or is evidence of the fact that the Opposition has not given much attention to this problem.
I point to the way in which the Opposition has decided to increase the pension, its reasons for proposing such increases and the philosophy behind such proposals. In the past, when increases of pensions have been under consideration, all governments, whether they have been Liberal or Labour administrations, have accepted two matters as guides in determining what should be done, and the Parliament itself in determining the issue in the light of all the facts, also invariably, has accepted those two matters as guides to action. The first has been the needs of a single pensioner; and the second has been that changes in the pension should be considered’ on the basis of changes that have occurred in the C series retail prices index. That has been the practice adopted by the Parliament in these matters since 1 911. In other words, the Government made, first, an assessment of needs; and, secondly, increases in the rate of pension universally based on changes that have occurred in the C series retail prices index. The Labour party has said, in effect, ““We have to raise soma sort of an argument and, therefore, instead of looking at the C series retail prices index let us base our recommendation on a novel idea and take the percentage of the pension to the basic wage, and see if we cannot make party political capital out of that “. The Australian Labour party, instead of arguing on the basis of realities and logic, is trying to make party political capital by proceeding on the basis of expediency. As T have said, in the past the rule observed by the Parliament has always been to pay regard to changes that have occurred in the C series retail prices index in determining whether changes that should be made in the rates of pension. In 1940, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) tied the rate of pension to the C series retail prices index. That practice was abandoned, by Labour when it came into office, and the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), who was a member of that Government, led the debate on that occasion. But, last year, the Leader of the Opposition speaking on this subject in this chamber recommended that pensions should again be tied to the C series retail prices index. In doing so, he admitted that the Australian Labour party realized that that was the proper basis to be used as a guide in computing changes in prices and, therefore, changes in pension. “What would happen if the Parliament were to be guided by changes in the basic wage when determining whether changes should be made in the rate of pension? There is no real basis in logic for such a. proposal because, initially, under the Harvester Award the basic wage was based on the needs not of one individual, as is the pension, but on those of a. family unit. The Arbitration Court said that the basic wage was sufficient to meet the needs of a. man, his wife and one child. It was designed to cover the needs and conventional necessities of a family unit as estimated by the court. The basie wage related not to one individual but to three individuals; it related not to the fact that a person had retired or was out of employment but to the fact that he was in employment. But even if there was some justification for computing the rate of pension on the basis of a basic wage, that argument no longer applies because in recent times the Arbitration Court has changed the basis on. which it determines the basic wage from that of the needs of a family unit to that of the capacity of industry to pay. If the argument that is now advanced by the Opposition in this respect was inappropriate before the court changed that basis, it is doubly inappropriate at present. But I go further, because the court, in recent months, has said that the basic wage contains a sum of at least 30s. above the needs allowance. That can be understood, because in .1950 a special loading of 20s. was added to the basic wage, and just prior to that year a proseprity loading of 5s. had also been added to it. So, not only have we a different method established to-day on which the basic wage is based. At the present time it is not on the needs of a family unit hut on the maximum that industry can afford to pay, but also the basic wage itself contains a prosperity loading which does not relate to the needs of the individual. Therefore, the logic df the Opposition in this matter is at fault, and no Government, be it Liberal or Labour, could accept such reasoning. In fact, honorable members opposite, if they are logical, must revert to the standard that was accepted by the Curtin and Chifley Administrations and, when considering making alterations in the rate of pension, must be guided by C series retail price? index. I emphasize that point. The illogical argument of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and the fallacy of his reasoning should be made clear. We must continue to accept the C series retail prices index as a guide in determining whether changes that should be made in the rate of pensions.
Reverting to the form of the motion, I emphasize that not a single word of it refers to the means test. As the Opposition does not suggest that, the means test should be liberalized, surely we arc entitled to conclude that Labour has abandoned its proposal to abolish the means test. Honorable members opposite have not put officially on record their belief in the abolition, or liberalization, of the means test and, therefore, the House and the country are entitled to conclude that it has abandoned its proposal in that respect. We now realize that it was put forward by the
Leader of the Opposition, during the recent election campaign, as political bait and for no other reason. Dozens of members of the Australian Labour party, both in this House and outside, have expressed opposition to that proposal. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) expressed his opposition to it in forcible terms.
– I shall quote the honorable member’s exact remarks, if I am asked to do so. However, they were quoted in the course of this debate last evening. Senator Kennelly, who is an influential member of the Australian Labour party, also expressed similar opposition; whilst the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) made a most eloquent speech which no one could interpret as indicating that he believed that the means test should be abolished. On the contrary, he frankly recognized that if it were abolished the group of pensioners who would suffer most as a result would be the base-rate pensioners, whom honorable members claim that they desire most to help. We find that abolition of the means test has been dropped by the Australian Labour party; and we can only conclude that its proposal to abolish it was advanced as a political expedient and that it has never been sincere in its protestations that the thrifty should be helped and that people should be encouraged to stay in employment for longer periods than is the case at present. I have never believed that the Australian Labour party was sincere in this matter. I do not think that it ever intended to abolish the means test. But that is only a part, of the question.
Coming back to the form of the amendment, when the Opposition puts forward an. amendment it should do two things. First, it should state how much the changes it proposes would cost; and, secondly, how it proposes to finance them. I took the trouble to prepare a schedule which shows that the cost of giving effect to the proposals contained in the amendment would be of the order of £65,001,000. Not one single member of the Opposition has endeavoured to make that calculation. As. under the current budget, the Government has reduced taxation in the aggregate by £35,000,000, we are entitled to assume that Labour would not be prepared to make a similar reduction of taxation, or, if it did, we should experience vast inflationary finance. Let me analyse that statement further, because a passage in my second-reading speech that the official Leader of the Opposition has praised is the statement that inflation must be prevented because nothing would do more to destroy the value of social services benefits. In other words, if the currency was inflated the value of pensions would be substantially decreased. Therefore, we can only assume that if the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was speaking honestly - and I know that he was - his logic was unsound, or the Australian Labour party could not have been conscious of what it was doing when it said, in effect, “Let us use £65,000,000 worth of treasury-bills for this purpose “. If that were done, inflation would be set on the move again. Either it did not know the consequences, or, if it did know the consequences, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro should not have spoken as he spoke in this chamber last night. The cost would be £65,000,000. It could only have been met by refusing taxation reductions and increasing taxation by £30,000,000, or by allowing inflation to get under way again. I have not heard one member of the Opposition rise and say that taxation should be increased, but I think it should be known to every thinking Australian that one of the alternatives was that the Labour party was prepared to say, “Let us increase taxation in this budget by £30,000,000”. The other alternative should have been made perfectly clear. The value of the pension would have been steadily decreased, and every pensioner would have suffered by reason of the mismanagement of the economy through the methods suggested by the Labour party.
Those were the matters that I rose to speak about. There are one or two other matters that I should like to mention. The first is the very helpful attitude of many members of this House, including members of the Opposition, in making suggestions for the relief of anomalies in the administration of theact and for the simplification of the working of the act itself. I have had some very helpful suggestions, particularly the suggestions of those who havesaid that what is really needed is sympathetic administration to let the people see that we recognize their needs and will administer the act in the most sympathetic way, and the suggestions to simplify the working and administration of the act. I want to thank all members who have given co-operation and help. I assure them it has been invaluable and has done a great deal to relieve the difficulty of the work of the department. Finally, I should like to quote a letter that I received only to-day. I have complete authority to do so. This letter was written in Braille by a blind pensioner, Mr. R. Seawright of Myall, Walumbilla, Queensland. This man is one of those who has benefited from the legislation brought down by the Government. I venture to say that this Braille letter, in very stark terms, is one which gives full credit to the Government. I think it has shown in the bill before the House that it is prepared to recognize the needs of pensioners. Indeed, it is prepared to recognize the needs of all worthy sections of the community. This is what Mr. Seawright says in his letter -
Having listened to some of the debates in the House of Representatives on handicapped people I cannot see that they are being neglected as faT as it is possible for your Government to assist according to their knowledge but 1 have not heard one constructive proposal put forward by the Opposition.
This is but one very poignant letter received, and I am glad to be able to make it public in this House because it is a recognition from a very deserving individual that he knows the Government has the deepest sympathy for those in need, particularly for people like blind pensioners and others who are physically handicapped. The attitude of the Government on this matter is perfectly clear. It will continue to look at the problems of pensioners, handicapped people and all others who come within the ambit of the Social Services Act with a maximum of sympathy.
I mention in conclusion that there is one matter that will shortly be dealt with by the Administration which, I think, will bring great benefit to the aged people of this country. That is the pledge of the Prime Minister during the course of his policy speech that £1,500,000 would be allotted for homes for the aged. This matter has received the most careful attention, and I hope that, in the not too distant future, we shall at least be able to work out the detailed administrative proposals relating to the completion of the measure. It has taken a considerable amount of our time because we were, in effect, working in the dark, but I want to say that those aged people who have no homes, and who may be single individuals, are one group that is deserving of the most sympathetic treatment. I assure the House, that when the measures are finally completed and the details of administration are completed honorable members will be satisfied that the Government has adopted a very healthy and responsible attitude to this problem and that it is handling it in a very realistic fashion. Again, to those members who have given constructive support, I give my thanks and the thanks of the department, because I am certain that, as we get help from this House, so, too, will we make the social services legislation much more humane and much more administratively workable than it was when the Menzies Government came to office in 1949.
– The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) spent most of his time giving himself a pat on the back and complimenting the Government on what it had done. The honorable gentleman is new to the Department of Social Services. He tells us that one blind pensioner wrote a letter in Braille complimenting the Government. Members on this side of the House could produce hundreds of letters from the 350,000 age and invalid pensioners who have no other income to live on than the pension and who have got nothing out of the budget. We could produce sheafs of letters from civilian and war pensioners who claim that their interests have been ignored in the £36,000,000 hand-out which this Government has distributed by way of largesse under the budget. The war pensioners have been forgotten, except for minor matters that have been dealt with in another bill, and there is absolutely nothing at all for age, invalid, and civilian widow pensioners who have no other incomes.
The Opposition claims in its amendment that these people should receive a minimum of £4 a week, and the Minister has made a debating society speech on the words, “ a minimum of £4 a week “. Our amendment must be read as a whole. We want a minimum of £4 a week for age and invalid pensioners because we do not know exactly what the cost-of-living figure is at the moment. But we do know that all those people whose interests we are trying to protect are entitled at least to an extra 10s. a week on their pensions, because we know that the cost of living has gone up very considerably since the last pension increase was granted. Just how much it has gone up we do not know, and just how much it may go up in future because of the increasing tendency of prices to spiral, and about which the Treasurer ( Sir Arthur Fadden) warned us in his budget speech, we also do not know. We want to make sure that the pension will not lag behind the increasing cost of living. We have said, similarly, that there should be increases of child endowment, widows’ pensions, the unemployment and sickness benefit, dependants’ allowances and other social services corresponding to price increases so as to restore at least the former purchasing power of those payments.
It is perfectly obvious that what we want to do is to give the pensioner a fair deal. He is not getting a fair deal under this Government’s budget. The Minister has gone to great pains to tell us that, if we look at the C series index figures and relate pensions to-day to pensions payable in earlier days, we shall see that the pensioner is not doing so badly. What the Minister and every other honorable gentleman on the Government side of the House ignores is the fact that, in December, 1950, an increase of £1 a week was granted to basic-wage earners as a prosperity loading. We say that the pensioners are entitled to a share in the prosperity of the country, and not merely those who are still strong enough to earn a living and sell their labour power. The workers in industry are not the only people who are entitled to share in the increasing prosperity of the country brought about by the increasing productivity of the labour force in the community. The old people should share in it too. But this Government treats the pensioner so callously, and with such complete and absolute disregard of all his rights, that it says that he is not entitled to share at all in the prosperity of the country.
– It is too soon after the election.
– -Ministers and their supporters certainly did not say that before the election. Had they done so, they might not be here now. In any case, they are in office, not because they won a majority of the votes, but in spite of the fact that they received a minority of the votes.
I am certain that, if the Labour party had not promised during the last election campaign to abolish the means test, this Government would not have come so far along the road towards that objective as it. has come in the budget for 1954-1955. We have forced it along the road to the welfare state over the last 50 years. Old age pensions were first introduced by an act of this Parliament as a result of a bargain made by the Labour party, under Mr. J. C. Watson, with Mr. Alfred Deakin under which the Labour party promised to support the Deakin Ministry if it did a number of things, including the introduction of old age pension legislation. We have Deakin’s letter in his own handwriting agreeing to the terms for Labour’s support. We shall have a photostat copy made of it one of these days and will give it to the National Library. It is a very valuable historical document.
– Why not do it now?
Mi-. CALWELL.- I might do it tomorrow. At any rate, there would be no age pension to-day if it had not been for the Labour party, and, if it had not been for the adoption of the 1946 referendum proposal that enabled this Parliament to increase social services benefits and legitimize the payment of certain pensions which had been paid previously, many people in the com munity would not be benefiting as they are to-day under the welfare state which Labour helped to build. Every member of the Country party opposed the referendum proposal, and most of the Liberals did likewise. Yet the Minister now says that the Government is entitled to a lot of credit for what it has done.
– Hear, hear !
– Well, I suppose the Government is entitled to some credit, having done it at the point of the pistol. The fact that it has acted under duress and the weight of public opinion indicates how little it would have done if the Labour party, in its determination to provide for a more equitable distribution of- the annual income of the community, had not used its propaganda to create the conditions which have led to the payment of social services benefits.
If the Minister thinks the Labour party has abandoned its proposal to abolish the means test, he is only deluding himself. The Labour party will ultimately abolish the means test. It has promised to do so. and we never go back on our promises. What we put forward in the amendment before the House is a programme of immediate demands on the Government in respect of this particular legislation. Had we been elected to office, we would have carried out our promise to abolish the means test in successive stages. We did not promise to abolish it in the first session of the current Parliament. We promised to abolish it over three years. We would have gone further than this Government has gone at this time with the proposal embodied in the bill.
– The Labour party had eight years in office.
– Yes, that is true, but in the eight years that we were in office we introduced widow’s pensions, increased child endowment, liberalized the means test so as to permit age pensioners living in their own homes to receive the pension without a means test, got rid of the means test on the maternity allowance, which the Lyons Government had imposed so savagely during the depression years, and provided hospital benefits, which this Government has taken away. The Australian Labour party has always believed that the means test is iniquitous, but in the capitalist order, one cannot bring about a perfect social state; one can only do one’s best to introduce social services benefits by instalments gradually as public opinion is educated. It is not true to say that the means test could be abolished only at the expense of lower income earners, and pensioners who have no income other than the pension. If the Labour party abolishes the means test, it will certainly do it at the expense of those persons who are best able to pay, because Labour always governs in accordance with the right canons of taxation. Labour throws the responsibility of paying for government on the shoulders of those people who have the most money and are in the best position to pay. Labour’s social security legislation set a standard that this Government has had to maintain by taxing high incomes heavily. This Administration has not greatly reduced taxation on high incomes, and it might ultimately be forced to increase taxation on the upper range of incomes to finance the existing and proposed social services benefits.
The Minister for Social Services stated that the Government later will do something more by liberalizing the means te=t and by other means. I trust that it will do so. At least it would then do something that we could say it wa- doing rightly. The Government does not always act retrogressively; it fails to act retrogressively only when it realizes that to do so would be to court political disaster. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) advocated the abolition of the means test in bis maiden speech in this House, and he repeated his earlier sentiments this afternoon. If members of the Liberal party were allowed to vote freely, most of them would vote for the abolition of the means test. But I have no hope that members of the Australian Country party will adopt such an enlightened attitude. If the abolition of the means test could be related in some way to a subsidy on wheat, they might agree to it; otherwise they would not agree to its abolition. This Government pays less in social services benefits for each head of the population than does the government of any other modern civilized state. Australia pays less for each head of the population than does Iceland. We have a long way to go before we get Australia back to where it was in the halcyon days of Labour’s administration, when: expenditure^ on social services for each head of the population was a great deal higher than it is at present in relative purchasing power.
– Where did the honorable member get his comparisons?
– I obtained them from a report of a United Nations body - the International Labour Organization.
– They were 1946 figures.
– They were 1951 figures. The position of pensioners has not been improved by this Government. Indeed, our complaint is that 350,000 worth-while Australians who are age and invalid pensioners are now 30s. a week worse off than they should bc. They should at least have the same purchasing power when they try to buy goods with the Menzies £1 as they had when they made purchases with the Chifley £1. The fact that the Government has been generous to a few blind pensioners - and fortunately we have not many blind people in the Australian community - does not relieve it of its obligation to do justice to the great body of people who have no source of income other than the pension. This Government’s guiding principle in regard to the payment of social services benefits is that it will act justly if just action does not cost much. We on this side of the House believe that if tinpeople are entitled to justice, they should get justice. It should not be denied to them because the giving of justice might, inconvenience the Government by requiring it to increase the burden of taxation, particularly on those persons who arc in the best position to pay for the benefits that should be given as of right to those citizens for whose benefit special legislation has been passed, so that, in the evening of their lives, they may exist, not on a high standard of living, or even on a basic wage standard of living.
– Labour, in its last budget, allocated only £209,000 for benefits to blind pensioners.
– Whatever provision was made by Labour in its last budget, at least the pension paid by the Labour Government amounted to 36 per cent, of the basic wage, whereas the present pension is the equivalent of only 29 per cent, of the basic wage.
.- In this debate, the Opposition has been able to demonstrate that the Government has been strikingly remiss in its treatment of a most deserving section of the Australian community - the aged fathers and mothers who have contributed much to the progress of the country and who deserve very much better treatment than they have received from this Government by way of social services benefits to give them security in their old age. This budget, which is brought down at a time when the economy is said to be buoyant, and which gives relief to many people by remitting taxation, should make better provision for the needs of persons who are wholly dependent on the pension. But the Government has failed to afford those persons the relief that is essential for them to live even in the most menial fashion, and it has denied to them many of the essentials of a decent life.
– The honorable member, perhaps, has never experienced anything like the conditions under which pensioners exist. He doubtless comes from a well-favoured environment, and if he does, I can understand his lack of sympathy for citizens who are subject to the hardships by which many pensioners are oppressed at present. Consequently I disregard interjections from one who is in the comfortable circumstances of the honorable member. Many pensioners, in these days, exist on a standard that is much below the minimum set as a basic need. I know only too well that many of them are dependent upon the charitable efforts of church institutions and public organizations for many of their essential needs. That being so, the Government, if it were in closer contact with the community, would realize the growing feeling of dissatisfaction that exists as a result of the raw deal that age and invalid pensioners, widows and orphans are getting under the mean treatment that the Government and its supporters have given them in this bill.
If this debate has demonstrated one thing, it is that the wild and extravagant statements of Government supporters about Labour’s proposals for the abolition of the means test during the recent general election campaign were false propaganda. The unfortunate feature of the situation is that so many pensioners who are suffering to-day were so influenced as to mistake the identity of their friends, and the Government was able to obtain a measure of support that it will never again receive. Pensioners have suffered severely for the mistake that they made on the 29th May last. When the Government’s record is judged in three years’ time it will have to answer for its treatment of pensioners.
During this debate many serious anomalies have been brought to the attention of the Government by the Opposition, and we shall expect that in the coming months the Administration will introduce legislation designed to remove those anomalies. In particular, I commend to the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) the appeal made by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) for relief for widows, particularly those who have family responsibilities. In fairness, the law must be amended to relieve widows with dependent children of the distinct disability under which they at present suffer. Again, I appeal to the Government to consider the needs of widows, orphans, age and invalid pensioners, and others who are solely dependent on the pension for their sustenance.Up to the present time, this Administration has clearly failed to discharge its obligations. Government supporters are always eager to parade the argument that this Administration has done well by the pensioners. Let me say to honorable gentlemen opposite had it not been for the presence of representatives of the Australian Labour movement in the Parliament over the years, social services benefits would not have advanced even to the level that exists to-day.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the question he now put.
The House divided. (Me. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . 9
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Mr. Allanfraser’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Motion (by Sir ERIC Harrison ) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I do not wish to detain the House unduly, but I have an important matter to bring to the notice of honorable members. Last Monday night, as the result of two small advertisements in the classified columns of daily newspapers, more than 2,000 people - and that is not a political estimate but an actual one - attended a meeting at the Richmond Town Hall. Those 2,000 people arc unable to obtain admittance to co-operative housing societies, because the Commonwealth Bank, private financial institutions and the State Savings Bank are no longer providing money for those societies. I warn the Government that it will ignore a meeting of that size and of that determination at its peril. Those who attended it for the purpose of addressing it, including myself, were completely surprised at its size and temper. The meeting was organized by the Federation of Cooperative Housing Societies, through two small advertisements in the classified columns of the daily press.
I was told by the secretary of the Victorian Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies that more than 200 inquiries are received every week by the Registrar of Co-operative Housing Societies, from people who are anxious to join the societies and, through them, build their own homes. Those people are unable to do so at present because the Commonwealth Bank and other financial institutions are refusing to provide the finance needed by the housing societies. The societies are the only means by which ordinary home-builders, including young couples who are not entitled to war service homes and who have not sufficient money for the deosits required by private banks, are able to acquire their own homes.
Time and time again Government supporters have jibed at the members of the Labour party, because they say that we desire to prevent people from owning their own homes. Let them consider their own position, because as a result of the financial policy of the Commonwealth Bank, which can be changed by government direction, the co-operative building societies in Victoria are being strangled ; and I presume the same position applies in the other States of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Bank is directed specifically by legislation to provide money for housing at the lowest possible interest rate. From when to December, 1953, it had provided £12,000,000 for that purpose, but to the present time this year it has provided only £1,500,000, and it is now telling many of the societies that it is not prepared to advance any more money for five years or longer.
– They were told that they would not get anything for up to five years.
– In many cases applicants for membership of co-operative housing societies are being told that their applications cannot bc considered for from five to ten years. Private banking institutions, over which the Government has no control, have discontinued making advances to co-operative housing societies altogether, although the National Bank of Australia, is. I think, providing some money to one of the big firms that desires to build homes for its own employees. Apart from that instance, the private banking institutions have shut down- on co-operative housing loans altogether. Therefore, with the Commonwealth Bank, the private banking institutions, and the State Savings Bank of Victoria refusing to provide finance for co-operative housing societies, these societies are being completely strangled. There are literally many thousands of young couples who are most anxious to help themselves by buying their own homes, but they are being prevented from doing so as a result of the financial policies being pursued by the various financial institutions, including the one over which the Government has some power. The argument advanced by the Treasury officers to whom the Government always refers this question is that sufficient building materials are not available^, and that if they were to allow a flood of credit into a market that cannot be satisfied now. there would be a tremendous upsurge in the price of building materials that arc in short supply. If that is so, the Government stands condemned, because it has done nothing to improve the supply of building materials.
– The supply position is 300 per cent, better than it was under the Labour Government.
– If that is so- and we accept the assertion of the honorable member that there has been that tremendous improvement in the supply of building materials - will the honorable gentleman tell me why, in the face of such a great increase of building supplies, there has been such a terrific curtailment of the finance made available to co-operative building societies? Will he also tell me why the Government attempts to justify that policy by quoting the shortage of building materials? In 1952 the co-operative housing societies were advanced loans amounting to £8,000,000. In 1954 the total of loans is down to £2,000,000, from all sources, including the Commonwealth Bank, the private financial institutions, and the State banks. If the Governnent is sincere in its talk about helping people to acquire their own homes, and if it believes its own protestations about the best, most secure and most stable society being one in which every family owns its own home, it will not be content with taking the advice of dismal officials of the Treasury, but will take a real look at the situation and see what can be done for people of the type who packed the Richmond Town Hall to capacity recently. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this demand by the people for the right to build and buy their own homes cannot be ignored safely by this Government, or any other government. The Government will ignore that demand at its peril. The fact that 2,000 people gathered in the Richmond Town Hall as a result of a small advertisement is an indication of the feelings of the community in regard to this matter.
The Treasurer says that, the Government cannot do anything about the release of credit. I should like to point out to him that, when pressure is exerted on him by members of the Liberal party in this House, who hold dangerous seats, somehow or other the Commonwealth Bank, -which also says that nothing can be done for co-operative housing societies, finds a few hundred thousand pounds in order to assist the particular members concerned. That has happened time and time again. Although co-operative housing societies generally are being refused finance, there are some particularly favoured individuals on the other side of the House who are able to go to the Treasurer, who in turn is prepared to put pressure on the Commonwealth Bank, in order to get finance for societies in their electorates. If it is good enough for these honorable members to be able to obtain such finance for societies in their electorates, it is good enough for the Government to provide such finance generally. The money is there, and the materials are there. You can see picture theatres. “ pubs “ and everything else going up all over the place, but the Government say? that materials are not available for the building of houses. The Government Ls bringing in immigrants at a rate that will require the provision of £30,000,000 a year, if the immigrants wish to acquire their own homes at a cost of £2,000 each. Tremendous numbers of immigrants are interested in making applications to join co-operative housing societies, but are prevented from doing so by the Government’s advances policy. The population is increasing, not only by the introduction of immigrants but also as a result .of natural increase. The number of marriages in Australia is increasing every year, and so is the demand for houses. The demand made by the ordinary man in the community for what this Government says is his inalienable right - the right to own his own home - is being denied by the financial policies that the Government is pursuing. The Commonwealth Bank, and all the rest of the financial institutions, can find millions of pounds for hire purchase. Hire purchase finance is available from the banks, including the people’s own bank, to buy any rubbish that may be got anywhere in Australia, but at the same time co-operative housing is being strangled. I say that the Government has a duty to see that credit is made available for co-operative societies. It can be made available, and the first people to get the benefit of it should be the people who desire to own their own homes.
If honorable members opposite are in any doubt about this matter, let them consult their electors. Let them ask the secretaries of co-operative housing societies in their electorates about it, and they will speedily find that everything that I have said is absolutely true. There is a great demand among many thousands of people for the opportunity to join co-operative housing societies, and the Government is doing a very wrong thing in frustrating the expansion of these societies by refusing them finance. I warn the Government again that it will deny this demand for finance at its own peril. I ask it to call Treasury officials into consultation immediately, so that they may be directed to co-operate with the building societies to ensure that people who wish to build their own homes through co-operative societies shall obtain the necessary finance.
– I have listened with great interest to the vicious attack made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) on the Commonwealth Bank, and other lending institutions, regarding finance made available for home building. I remind the honorable gentleman that it is not the province of the Government to direct the Commonwealth Bank in these matters. As a matter of fact, the Commonwealth Bank watches very closely the happenings in all fields of activity, and it is its duty to assist where assistance is needed. Only this morning I obtained a list of the loans for home building that had been granted by various financial institutions. It is a formidable list, and will be of interest to the House and the country. Any suggestion that finance is not being made available for home building is in direct contrast to the facts. The list, which shows the number and value of loans approved by the major lending institutions for the building of houses, is as follows : -
Those figures indicate that the Government has made no mean contribution to house building in this country. It is perfectly futile for the honorable member to suggest that money should be directed to house building while we have full employment of both men and materials. The latest figures that I have show that less than 4,000 people in the whole of Australia are in receipt of the unemployment benefit. A total of 19,000 people is registered for employment, most of whom want jobs other than those which they hold already. Over 49,000 vacancies are registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service. To suggest that, by pumping money into housing, one would enable more houses to be built is so much nonsense. Such a course of action would only result in inflation, higher costs, and less production. I think my remarks prove conclusively that there is no lack of finance for house building or any other activity.
– There is a lack of finance for the co-operative housing societies, but not for certain other bodies.
– I do not know where the other bodies obtained their loans from, but the fact that they did obtain them shows that money is being made available. Both men and resources are fully employed, and if any additional activity were undertaken it would result in the lessening of some other activity. Consequently, I suggest that the case that the honorable member has put forward is completely fictitious.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mb. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
The following paper was presented : -
Tariff Board Act - Tariff Board - Annual Report for year 1953-54, together with Summary of Recommendations.
House adjourned at 11.32 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
on asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
In view of the fact that vegolysen by injection is now available as a pharmaceutical benefit, will he consider also including tablets of vegolysen for those people requiring this treatment?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The question of including vegolysen in tablet form in the list of pharmaceutical benefits was considered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, without whose recommendation no drug or medicinal preparation may, under the act, be prescribed as a pharmaceutical benefit; and this committee has recommended that the injectible form only of vegolysen be included.
n asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister for
Supply, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows
z asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
Mr.Beale. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 September 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1954/19540929_reps_21_hor5/>.