21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Immigration a question relating to housing conditions apparently revealed in, I think, Carlton and Fitzroy, Victoria, as a result of an inspection by the honorable member for Burke and leading Labour members of the Victorian Parliament. Is there any follow-up by the Department of Immigration as to the living conditions of immigrants in this country, at any rate before they become naturalized? Has the department any machinery by which care is taken to see that those immigrants who are not very familiar with the language are not subjected to unfair exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous people?
– Yes, a great deal is done by the department in order to avoid the development of unsatisfactory conditions. Not only do we circulate as widely as possible to immigrants information warning them against the possibilities of exploitation and urging them to consult officers of the department and members of the good neighbour movement whenever they feel that any specially difficult problem arises, but we do what we can in various other ways in order to assist them through the difficult transition period. The people to whom reference is made in the press this morning are principally people who have come to Australia, not under a scheme of Commonwealth assistance, but nominated by their friends or relatives who are already established in Australia. I was interested to see that Mr. Cain has suddenly discovered that this problem exists; but he was Premier of a government in Victoria for several years when, presumably, these conditions were allowed to develop. The Australian Government does what it can in this respect, and. in the main, the State governments cooperate very thoroughly with us in trying to avoid the development of social problems. On the subject of housing generally, Australia has a better housing performance and a better rate of housing in proportion to its. population than any other comparable country in the world. But that does not mean that special problems will not arise in particular cases. We, for our part, will do what we can to overcome those difficulties, and will gladly work in with State governments in order to remove any difficulty of the kind which may develop.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Air whether the. Government has ordered more helicopters for the use of the Royal Australian Air Force. If the answer is “ Yes “, will the Minister confer with civil authorities in order to work out arrangements by which these machines can be made available to country areas in cases of serious floods, bush fires, lost people, and similar emergencies ?
– No. The Air Force has not ordered any more helicopters. I think the honorable member will know that the Air Force has done a notable job rendering assistance during national emergencies. During the floods in New South Wales last year, the Air Force was always ready to do anything that it could do. I repeat the Air Force has not ordered any more helicopters this year.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Territories by reminding him of representations that I made to him some little time ago seeking the provision of assistance towards meeting the cost of freighting breeding cattle to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Has consideration been given to that request? If the matter has been considered, what assistance, if any, is being given ?
– I recall quite clearly, of course, the representations which the honorable member for Capricornia made to me on several occasions on this subject. Recently, in order to assist the building up of the cattle industry in Papua and New Guinea, and particularly to facilitate the transport of stock from north Queensland and other parts of Australia to the Territory for that purpose, it was decided that a freight subsidy scheme should be introduced, and provision was made in this year’s Estimates for the Territory for subsidies of £55, £40 and £80, according to the sex and age of the cattle, which may bc given for the introduction of stock. The subsidy will be payable under certain conditions relating to the quality of animals and the numbers in which they are shipped.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether he is aware that representations were repeatedly made by myself and by State members of Parliament - for both my own and the adjoining electorates - to the former Premier of Victoria, regarding the conditions under which immigrants were living in certain areas close to Melbourne. J. further ask him whether he is aware that, despite those repeated representations to the Premier of Victoria to take action lo bring those immigrants under the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act or to re-introduce prices control in order to obviate the exploitation that was taking place, the Premier refused to take such action. I also ask the Minister whether he is aware that these people are taken very largely outside the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act in Victoria by virtue of the fact that services are supposed to be provided for them which, by and large, come under the control of prices legislation, but that the Premier of Victoria repealed the prices legislation in that State and repeatedly refused to take notice of representations that were made to him in this particular matter.
– I. do not claim to have’ any personal knowledge of the representations or approaches which the honorable member for Yarra, or other honorable members, may have made on this matter, but I put it to the House that we have a good record as a Parliament in keeping this very important national question above the party political level.
When, only a couple of days ago, 1 found that a special committee of thi. Labour party was being appointed - i think it was called the new Australian rent committee, or something of that kind-
– And three-quarters of the members of it “ Corns “.
– I did not deplore that action at all, but when I find that what appeared on the surface to be a process of political stunting by the former Premier of Victoria, is followed up here in the Parliament this afternoon, then 1 say that we are liable to do more damage than good by a process of that kind. If there is a serious social problem - and, despite our best efforts, it is quite conceivable that one could develop - I hope we shall combine in an effort to overcome the problem and that we shall not engage in a process of winning political points at one another’s expense.
– In the absence of the Prime Minister, I address a question to the Vice-President of the Executive Council. Is it a fact that, following the Tariff Board’s adverse report on the production of asbestos at Wittenoom Gorge, in Western Australia, the Western Australian Government, in order to save the industry, has agreed to provide a subsidy of £5 a short ton and has appealed to the Australian Government to provide a like amount? If so, will this Government, without delay, give an assurance that the subsidy of £5 a short ton made available by the Western Australian Government will be met on a £l-for-£l basis by the Australian Government to assist in saving one of the most important towns on the north-western coast of Western Australia?
– I am not aware what correspondence may have passed between the Western Australian Premier and the Prime Minister. That is something of which the Prime Minister personally would be aware. On his return, I shall direct his attention to the honorable member’s question and shall ask him whether he can then reply to the honorable member.
– Last week, the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister whether it was the intention of the Government to investigate the possibility of fabricating aluminium at Bell Bay. The Prime Minister promised to ask me to inform the Leader of the Opposition about the matter. I now have the answer for the right honorable gentleman, if I am permitted to give it.
– How long is it? Will it require a speech?
– It is an answer to a question. If the honorable member does not want it, he need not have it.
– Order ! If the Minister proposes merely to answer a question, he may do so.
– This is not a statement. It is a straight-out answer to a question. There is no immediate intention of embarking upon fabricating activities at Bell Bay for the following reasons: - (1) The Australian Aluminium Production Commission is not yet sure of enough electric power from the Tasmanian Hydro-electric Commission to enable the plant to produce to its full capacity of 13,000 tons of ingot a year, and it would be unwise to make any further demands for power until our full requirements for ingot production can be reached and maintained. (2) There is no shortage of fabricating capacity in Australia; nor is there likely to be for some years to come. (3) The shipment of fabricated aluminium from Tasmania to the mainland, where nearly all of it would be consumed, would be very expensive and would create serious shipping problems. This position apparently was recognized by the previous Government which, by section 7 of the Aluminium Industry Act 1944, under the authority of which the enterprise was established, specifically limited the activities of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission to the production of ingot aluminium.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. In reference to the unsatisfactory position of sugar removals at Queensland ports, can the Minister give any assurance that sugar mills will not close down on account of removal problems at ports of shipment? Can he say what is the latest position at Bowen?
– I wish I could give the assurance that the honorable gentleman asks of me, but that would require action, in perhaps some contingency, beyond the power of the Australian Government. However, I can assure the honorable member that, so far as we are able, we are doing what we can to improve the position at Queensland sugar ports. Only yesterday, in the course of discussions in the presence of senior representatives of the Australian Council of Trades Unions and the Waterside Workers Federation, I directed the attention of those representatives again to the emergency that is developing at Bowen and Lucinda Point. I was assured by both the president of the Australian Council of Trades Unions and the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation that they were themselves taking action to bring about an improvement on the industrial side so as to obtain a more even flow of sugar from those ports. But there is another aspect, on which approaches have been made to the Queensland Government. Unfortunately, in addition to interruption to shipments owing to quite unwarranted industrial stoppages at those port?, there has been some lack of continuity in the movement of rail trucks to the shipping points. Consequently, at times, when there has been waterfront labour available to load the sugar into the ships, trucks have not been there to enable the men to do it. That is an aspect which we have taken up with the Queensland Government, and I hope we shall be able to secure, from now on, a more regular supply of trucks to those ports.
– I ask the Minister for Works a question about the recasting of the Commonwealth works programme, which I understand is being carried out to-day by a sub-committee of Cabinet under his chairmanship, to give effect to the new decision to reduce expenditure on Commonwealth works this year by £10,000,000. Can the Minister give an assurance that in this recasting, the construction of Merimbula aerodrome will not be set back? Will his subcommittee bear in mind that this important work has actually been begun, that the Minister for Air has given its completion a very high priority, that tenders have been called and that everything is now ready to proceed except for this unforeseen final hurdle? In view of the fact that the people of the far south coast formerly enjoyed a regular air service but have been deprived of it for several years while awaiting the construction of the new aerodrome, will the Minister earn their blessings by active intervention on their behalf to-day instead of the formidable curses which will be invoked on the Government from the whole district if this work is yet once more delayed?
– The full intention of the Government will no doubt be debated or disclosed when the civil works programme is under discussion, I think, next week.
– At the present moment, I cannot give any honorable member any assurance on any particular work. Nobody likes to have the civil works programme in any way reduced. As a matter of fact, everybody would like to see it expanded, but the position, briefly, is that we cannot do everything at once in this country, and that certain things must have priority over other jobs. As long as there is overfull employment in the building industry, the Federal Government must set the lead and take action which, to all of us, is very distasteful. I can assure the honorable member that his constituents will not receive any worse deal than any one else, but, at the same time, I can assure him that they will not receive any better deal.
– Can the Minister for Labour and National Service say whether it is a fact that the preference provisions of the Re-establishment and Employment Act and the Tradesmen’s Rights Regulation Act expired on the 2nd September, 1955? Can the Minister say whether the Government has considered the desirability of extending these two sets of provisions for a further period ?
– The preference provisions to which the honorable gentleman refers were contained originally in an act of this Parliament commencing in 1945, and specified to run for a period of seven years, expiring in 1952. There was also embodied in the Tradesmen’s Rights Regulation Act a provision to the effect that it would expire at the same time as the preference provisions of the Reestablishment and Employment Act. Both of them would normally have expired in 1952. At that time, an examination was made into both sets of legislation, and it was decided to extend their terms for three years. It is a fact, as the honorable gentleman points out, that as a result of that provision, both these terms expired on the 2nd September of this year. The Government has given full consideration to the situation thus created, and has come to the conclusion that there is warrant for continuing each set of provisions for a further period of three years, and legislation will shortly be introduced into the Parliament for that purpose.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Social Services, is in reference to a returned soldier, who desired a larger home for his wife and five children and who applied to the War Service Homes Division for an advance. He had sold his former home in order to purchase the new home. The purchaser of his former home, a returned soldier, was financed by the War Service Homes Division. I shall not mention names, because that is not permitted. The War Service Homes Division agreed to finance the firstmentioned returned soldier to the extent of £2.500. He had agreed to pay £3,100 for the new home. The vendor, a lady, is now endeavouring to cancel the contract because no reply has been received from the division, to which I wrote over a fortnight ago. This man, who has sold his home, will be left destitute, andhis wife and five children will be thrown into the street, because the returned soldier purchaser is already occupying his former home. Could the Minister endeavour to expedite the advance of £2,500 which was agreed upon? The house was inspected by officers of the division, but despite their agreement on the purchase and the valuation of the property, the money is not yet forthcoming.
– If the honorable gentleman had had the courtesy to discuss this matter outside the chamber, I should have done my best to ensure that, he received a reply promptly. In fact, I would have ensured that he received a reply the same day. The same courtesy of a prompt reply will be extended to him if he comes to me this afternoon with the information.
– Here it is now.
– “Why did he not bring it before? He has obviously been sitting on it for a. considerable length of time, and it would have been a simple matter to have brought it to my notice.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Services. I have received a number of inquiries from ex-servicemen who have made application to the War Service Homes Division for assistance to buy or build a home. They refer to the length of time taken to establish eligibility and then to have the property valued. I have been informed that a valuer of the division has recently been appointed to the Newcastle-Gosford arpa in order to hasten the preliminary work. I ask the Minister whether that is. so. A quick decision is important, because acceptance by the division of an applicant’s proposal would permit him to raise temporary finance and so proceed with the purchase of a home without unnecessary delay. Could the Minister fake action to hasten matters, and would i> help if I were to give him any specific examples?
– Two or three honorable members, including the honorable member for Shortland, have asked me questions relating to the time lag in approval by the War Service Homes Division of applications for advances. I have made inquiries in the division to ascertain whether specific illustrations can be obtained of instances where there may have been an unnecessary delay. Up to the present, I have not found one case where I have come to the conclusion that an unnecessary delay has occurred. The honorable member for Robertson has put his finger right on the difficulty. In order to overcome this difficulty, the division recently appointed a valuer in the Newcastle-Gosford area, and I think that I can assure the House that since he has been appointed preliminary investigations and valuations have been completed within a period of three weeks, provided only that all the information required by the division has been given by the applicant. It is hoped that we shall be able to shorten that period, and the division will do so to the best of its ability. I ask the honorable member, as I have asked the honorable member for Shortland and others who are interested in this problem, to give me particulars of any cases that he may have in mind. The division will be only too happy to see that a decision is expedited and, if there is any cause for delay, to ensure that that cause is removed. The honorable gentleman also referred to the necessity for hastening approval because, as a result of a recent decision by the Government, temporary finance can now be obtained in respect of both new homes and existing properties. The Government is eager to ensure, first, that approval shall be given and, secondly, that a letter authorizing financial assistance shall be given to the applicant as quickly as possible. As I have already said to the honorable gentleman, if he will give me one or two cases in which there is a hint of delay, I shall be only too happy to investigate them for him.
– My question is directed to the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who is representing the Prime Minister. Has the Minister’s attention been directed to a report that widespread floods, with a considerable loss of life, have occurred in India? If he is aware of that position, will he take up the question of immediate assistance to the Indian people in the form of a grant of money or relief of some other kind? Does the right honorable gentleman agree that such action would be a gesture of goodwill and understanding to a fellow member of the British Commonwealth of Nations and one of our closest neighbours? Is he also aware of the fact that quite a number of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations have assisted Australia when it has been in dire need as a result of floods?
– Yes, my attention has been directed to the floods in India and also to the help that has been sent by India to Australia when floods have occurred here; but I remind the honorable member that on past occasions we have contributed to relief to India when floods have occurred in that country. The situation caused by the present flood in India will receive the consideration of the Prime Minister on his return to Canberra. He will then be in a position to answer the question asked by the honorable member.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Supply. Is it a fact that aerial geiger counters or scintillometers at present in use for the detection of uranium ore-bearing territory could also be used for locating processing plants which turn out fissionable material? Has consideration been given to the defence use of such instruments? Is it a fact, however, that when fissionable material is encased in weapons such as bombs, it cannot be detected by these instruments? Is there any indication that this disability from a defence point of view can be overcome?
– Yes, it is true that geiger counters or scintillometers can detect plants that are processing uranium, not because the uranium oxide is detectable or because it is radio-active, but because it is difficult to imagine a processing plant without a stockpile of ore close at hand. The defence significance of this matter is understood and is being kept in mind. With regard to the question whether fissionable material encased in bombs is capable of being detected by these instruments, I am informed by the experts that it is not so detectable. I am not sure that I understand the final part of the question which, I think, is related to the disability from a defence point of view. It may be a disability from one point of view, but an advantage from another point of view. It would be a disability to us if we could not detect the enemy’s plant or stockpile of radioactive material, but, on the other hand, it would lie an advantage if he could not detect ours from the air. In any event, I should imagine that anybody with hostile intentions who sought to detect our plants by using these aerial instruments would receive a hostile reception.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior : Is there under consideration in the Department of the Interior a proposal for the resumption of part of Manuka Park, fronting Manuka Circle on the southern side of the oval, for the purpose of constructing a row of retail business premises on what is a main artery passing through the city of Canberra ? If any such proposal is under consideration, will the Minister do his utmost to halt such madness?
– I am not personally aware of such a proposal, but that does not mean that somebody has not suggested it and that it is not under investigation. I promise the honorable member that T shall look into the matter and advise him of the position. If such a proposal has been put forward, probably it will be referred to the National Capital Planning and Development Committee. It may even have been put forward through that committee. 3 do not know at the present time, but T shall find out and let the honorable member know.
– Last week, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) asked me a question about the investigations which were being made into certain, reported irregularities, or supposed irregularities, by officers of the Department of Works. That is n very important matter, affecting the integrity of the Public Service. Therefore, I ask the House for permission ):o give the answer briefly now, rather than send it to the honorable member in the form of a letter.
– If it is in reply to a question, the Minister may go ahead.
– The detailed report of the investigators has now been received. The conclusions reached, with which the Director, Commonwealth Investigation Service, agreed, were as follows : -
That is an officer of the Department of Works-
With regard to No. 3, that is a matter of non-compliance with section 91 of the Public Service Act, and appropriate administrative action is being taken against the officers and employees concerned. The allegations of bribery and malpractices in connexion with contractual matters were most hurtful to the department and its officers. Therefore, I have taken the first available opportunity to give the House a summary of the report. I told the honorable member for the Northern Territory that, if he wanted to see the full report, I should be very pleased to give it to him, and I am still willing to do so.
– I preface a question directed to the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs by saying that I understand that recently a statement was made by the head of the new Government of the Federation of Malaya, extending a welcome to Australian troops sent to Malaya and expressing appreciation of the action of this Government in sending them. Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to another recent statement that a top youth leader of the major party in the Federation of Malaya has made a nation-wide protest against the arrival of Australian troops in Malaya? Has the Minister any information to give to the House about this alleged protest and the standing of the. person who made it?
– My attention was drawn to the report to which the honorable member has referred. I should like to tell the House that the man who made the statement, Abdul Ghalib
Binsahun, has no official position and no special influence in Malaya. He has no standing there whatever. I remind the House that Tenku Abdul Rahman, the Chief Minister, has already made his position quite clear, because he has said that he welcomes Australian troops in Malaya.
Mr.RI ORD AN . - W ill the Minister for the Navy say whether H.M.A.S. Melbourne has been commissioned and manned by personnel of the Royal Australian Navy ; when the vessel will arrive in Australia; whether enlistments in the Royal Australan Navy have been sufficient to meet the planned strength of our fleet; will the number of recruits forthcoming be sufficient to enable additional ships to be commissioned ; and whether, if there has been any lag in recruiting, the Government proposes to secure recruits from among ex-Royal Navy personnel in Great Britain
– H.M.A.S. Melbourne has been commissioned, and was re-named last week. We hope that it will arrive in Australia early in the new year. Recruiting for the Navy has been stepped up, and to make assurance doubly sure we are now engaged in recruiting, and hope to be successful in recruiting, 1,000 ex-Royal Navy personnel in the United Kingdom, recruitment of whom will start almost immediately.
– I direct to the Minister for Air a question that is supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Wimmera concerning helicopters. Has the Air Force any training in dealing with small bush fires, in inaccessible and precipitous areas, by way of foam bombs or the dropping of fire-fighters by parachute? Have the State governments made any representations to the Government in this respect? By way of explanation, I inform the House that the incidence of serious forest and bush fires in the United States has been almost wiped out by the dropping from the air, by parachute, of fire-fighters who smother the fires in their early stages.
If nothing has been done in this direction, will the Minister be kind enough to give instructions to the Royal Australian Air Force to investigate this important matter, and will he later confer with the Minister for the Army regarding the training of parachutists for this work?
– No, the Royal Aus.tralan Air Force has not considered that particular kind of search and rescue operation. It does quite a lot of supplydropping for people who are in trouble, and so on, but it has not yet tackled firefighting. I might say that the Air Force is completely occupied on its normal training programme, and has great difficulty in keeping up to date with that. However, I shall investigate the honorable gentleman’s proposal.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether any attention has been given by him to the possibilities of securing a nation-wide, uniform standard in the quality of the ingredients in drug’s supplied to the medical profession and the public. Is the Minister aware that differing conditions for the processing and manufacture of drugs exist in almost every State? Would the Minister support the holding of a conference of all State Ministers of Health with his department, with a view to securing uniform standards in ingredients and conditions of manufacture of drugs?
– The conference for which the honorable member has asked took place about two years ago, and a bill dealing with the matter from the Commonwealth’s point of view has been already passed by this Parliament.
– What has been done about it since?
– What has happened, of course, is that the States themselves have not carried out their job and, as the Leader of the Opposition can tell honorable members, the States are the authorities that control the manufacture of drugs. We went to the trouble of getting the States together and working out uniform legislation that could be passed by this Parliament and State parliaments, and be operative through out the whole of Australia to produce the effect that the honorable gentleman desires, and which we are indeed anxious to produce, because so far the only drugs the Commonwealth is able to control are those that it buys itself, which are handled through the scheme for the free supply of life-saving drugs, and imported drugs. We have imposed very strict rules insofar as the import of drugs is concerned also.
– I wish to ask the Minister for the Navy a question which is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Kennedy. It refers to a statement made by the Minister outside the House about ten days ago on the present state of the Royal Australian Navy. Will the Minister do two things - will he table the statement in the House, and will he move that it be printed?
– I should very much like to table the statement and move that it be printed, but a disability is that it has already been published. It was the speech that I hoped to deliver in this chamber during the consideration of the Estimates last week. I am afraid that, in the circumstances, the House would not welcome the tabling of the statement already published.
– I wish to ask a question of the Vice-President of the Executive Council who, I take it, as the representative of the Prime Minister, is also acting for the Treasurer. Has the right honorable gentleman, or either of his principals, received an application from the Bank of New South Wales Savings Bank Limited for an authority to carry on banking business in Australia? Has the authority been granted? If so, has it been granted subject to conditions, and what are they? If the authority has not yet been granted, will he ensure that it is granted subject to the condition that the new bank lends the great bulk of its funds for the purpose of housing and municipal works, as do the Commonwealth Savings Bani and the State savings banks?
– If the assumption of the honorable member is correct - and I do not say that it is - he will be aware that 1 have not been sufficiently long in this great office to obtain the information that he seeks. However, he may rest assured that I shall have the necessary inquiries made and see that the Prime Minister gives him an answer when he returns.
– I desire to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council whether, in view of the report that representatives of Krupps, the armament and steel makers of Germany, are at present in Australia and are interested in setting up a steel industry in this country, representations have been made to the Government for the granting of any concession or special consideration to that company. Are any consultations likely to take place between the principals of this firm and the Government on this matter? Before any agreement is made with this firm will the Parliament have an opportunity of reviewing it?
– The honorable member is well ahead of himself on this matter. I am not aware of any such approach being made to the Government, or to individual Ministers such as the Minister for National Development. I will have inquiries made, to see whether I can give the honorable member further information.
– My question refers to the decision of the New South Wales Government to raise hospital fees in that State. Can the Minister for Health inform me whether New South Wales receives from the Commonwealth the same assistance to hospitals as do the other States, and whether any other State has similarly raised its hospital fees?
– A uniform agreement exists between the Commonwealth and each of the six States on the subject of hospital benefits. It will operate for the whole of the five-year period. I have not heard of any government other than the New South Wales Government increasing its fees during the last three months.
– Will the Minister for Supply inform me whether his department arranged for the removal of a public servant’s furniture from Brisbane to Darwin by road at a cost of £1,000 when the furniture could have been carried by the Commonwealth-owned ship Wangara for £150, thereby saving £850? How can the Minister reconcile this wasteful action with the Prime Minister’s appeal to the nation to spend less and save more?
– I am afraid that the honorable gentleman has been reading the newspapers, and that is a dangerous thing because it means that he sometimes does not get the facts right. I am sorry to say that the so-called facts, as outlined by the honorable gentleman, are quite wrong.
– The Minister is sorry to say it?
– Yes, because I am always sorry to hear of one of the right honorable gentleman’s colleagues being misguided. Perhaps I should correct that statement; they are naturally misguided. The facts are that these goods could not have been taken by the steamer, which was full up, anyhow. Secondly, in all the. circumstances, it was better to send the goods in the way in which they were sent. If the honorable gentleman wants more details on this matter, I shall certainly give them to him. They do not directly affect the department that I administer. The department was merely asked to effect the transfer of this officer’s furniture. But I do say that the main point, as reported in the newspapers, is quite wrong.
– Does the Minister for Immigration recollect a statement that I made when speaking on the Estimates in 1951, to the effect that rent rackets were being used to exploit immigrants in this country? Did the Minister then take any action as a result of the charges that I made? If the Minister does not recollect the statement, will he make inquiries inorder to find out whether any action was then taken as a result of the statement that I made in connexion with the rent rackets for the exploitation of immigrants in this country?
– Order ! I draw the attention of the honorable member to the fact that questions without notice are supposed to seek information on matters of an urgent nature. A question is not supposed to refer to something that was said in 1951, and a question that does so obviously is not of an urgent nature.
– Surely the matter is becoming more urgent every day!
– Whilst I regret that I do not recall the speech which the honorable member made, and which I have no doubt was a useful one, I am quite certain that action would have been taken to follow up any comments that he made of that character. But, as I previously pointed out, whilst the department does a certain amount in order to alleviate social problems of this character, primarily any function of that kind comes within the scope of the State governments. I would hope that the honorable member, having the influence which I know that he possessed with the State government that was in office in Victoria at that time, would have been equally vocal in seeing that that government did what it could in order to overcome the problem.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like you to tell the House, if you would be so kind, under what standing order you permitted a Minister to reply, without leave, to a question that has not been asked to-day. I make this request, in view of the fact that Standing Order 102 reads -
The House shall proceed each day with its ordinary business in the following routine: - 1. Presentation of Petitions. 2. Giving Notices of Motion. 3. Questions without Notice. 4. Ministerial Statements, by leave. 5. Presentation of Papers. 6. Motions and Orders of the Day, as set down on the Notice Paper.
– It is the custom, when a Minister has been asked a question by an honorable member to which he cannot give an immediate answer, that he should be allowed to supply the information as soon as possible to the House.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question which is supplementary, to some extent, to a question which has been asked by the honorable member for Wide Bay. With your permission., Mr. Deputy Speaker, I remind the Minister that, in a letter which I received from him recently, he stated that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited was quite happy with the wharf position at Lucinda Point where the company employs four gangs on ships on which five gangs could be intelligently used. I ask the Minister whether it means that bpcause the company is satisfied with that position, Jio fs also satisfied with the position. Will the Minister tell the House whether there has been any deterioration in the loading rate at Lucinda Point and whether any ships have been waiting in the harbour for a berth at Lucinda Point while a ship has remained at the wharf ? If so, will the Minister use his undoubted influence with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited to ensure that five gangs will be used at Lucinda Point, instead of four, with the object of achieving a quicker despatch of sugar and a faster turn-round of ships?
– Presumably, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, in respect of the communication to which the honorable member has referred, had in mind the continuous operation of the gangs in that port and that that work force would have been adequate had continuous work been available. Unfortunately, there has been a crop of stoppages at Lucinda Point this season and, as a result, the current removal and storage position has become quite serious. I do not have with me the full answer to the honorable gentleman’s question on the points of detail that he has raised, but if the effect of an additional gang would merely be to have five gangs in an industrial stoppage instead of four gangs, there would not be much to gain by that addition. I have raised the problem which has developed at Lucinda Point with people who, i think, may be able to exercise a good influence and I hope that, as a result of our joint efforts, we will bring about some improvements. I will see whether anything further can be done by additional work, whether the Colonial Sugar Henning Company Limited itself has been to blame in any way by not having its ships moved as freely as could he desired.
– A week or so ago I asked the Minister for Health the reason why he closed down the pathological department of the Wollongong District Hospital. He informed me that he would look into the matter and let me have an answer as soon as possible. Is the Minister now in a position to give an answer to my question?
– I must apologize to the honorable member for not having given him the answer to his question. I shall make sure that he has it by to-morrow.
– I ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council whether he has any information about the present whereabouts of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Is it correct that the last time the Minister was seen, he was ten paces ahead of an angry crowd of dairy-farmers, leaving Warwick, and heading south? I ask. whether Ministers of the Crown are covered by workers’ compensation in the event of their being injured in a struggle for a microphone, or in endeavouring to convince dairyfarmers that the Government is doing the right thing by them.
– I noticed that the honorable member was speaking very feelingly. I understand that, during the last State election in Victoria, his party was placed in much the same position as that which he has mentioned. That being so, I shall take the necessary steps to see where the Minister is, and to ensure that he does not suffer the same inconvenience as was suffered by the honorable member’s party in Victoria on that occasion.
– On the 27th September, the Minister for Labour and National Service, in answer to a question asked by the honorable member for St. George about the long-expected report of the committee inquiring into waterfront employment, referred to a letter of the 22nd August from the chairman of that committee. In view of the terms of that letter, and in particular the reference in it dealing with the necessity or otherwise for a separate statutory committee, including its functions and powers, will the Minister remind the committee of the terms under which it was appointed ? Can he re-assure the House that the Government does not intend to allow the committee to determine policy on this matter, but that the committee will confine its activities to elucidating the facts?
– I think if the honorable gentleman will examine the statement that wa3 made by the chairman before the inquiry, indicating the course it was proposed to follow, he will see that the chairman very carefully stated the position, of the committee, covering precisely the point that he lias now raised, and set out its function as the finding of facts. I can let the honorable member have the full passage, but I think he can be assured that the chairman and the other members of the committee are fully aware of the responsibility which the Parliament has imposed upon them, and will discharge it in the manner that the Parliament would wish.
– As the Australian Atomic Energy Commission has carried out certain investigations in connexion with the uranium fields in the CloncurryMount Isa area, will the Minister for Supply make a statement on the reports that have been submitted, and on the potentialities of the district, and inform the people of the assistance the Government proposes to provide in order that this field may be fully developed?
– I shall consider the question that the honorable gentleman has asked, but I think it is sometimes quite imprudent for Ministers to make statements about the potentialities of. mineral fields which might give rise to misapprehension in the minds of the public, particularly the investing public, because if things do not turn out the way the investors think that they should turn out, they are apt to blame the Government. I shall look at the honorable gentleman’s question in detail and see what reply can be given to him.
– I desire to supplement the answer which I gave to the question asked by the honorable member for Cunningham a few minutes ago relating to the pathological department of the Wollongong District Hospital. I find that the answer to his question was available in the House on Wednesday last, and I regret very much that he has not received it. I shall supply him with a copy of the answer.
– Is the Minister for the Interior aware that a privately owned cool store in Victoria is endeavouring to bring pressure to bear on the Victorian Government to increase the charges made by its cool stores? As an increase of charges would be detrimental to both the primary producers and the consuming public, will the Minister use his undoubted influence with the Liberal Government in Victoria to prevent any unwarranted connivance at exploitation?
– As this is undoubtedly a State matter, I think the question should be placed in deep freeze.
– I desire to inform the House of the following further changes of officers in attendance in the chamber : - Mr. Pettifer has been promoted to the vacant position of Third Clerk- Assistant ; Mr. Reid has been promoted as SerjeantatArms. Mr. Reid is pursuing a course of study overseas, and, during his absence, Mr. Blake will act as Serjeant-at-Arms.
– I have received letters from both the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) proposing that definite matters of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion to-day. I have selected the matter proposed by the honorable member for Wilmot, namely: -
The urgent necessity of obtaining a definite assurance from the Government th:it no attempt will be made to dispose of Commonwealthowned ships, that Governmentownership be fully maintained and that the fleet be expanded for the benefit of the people of Australia.
Is the proposal supported ?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
.- We of the Labour Opposition have submitted this matter to the House for discussion as a matter of urgency in order to concentrate the attention of the Australian people on a new threat to dispose of the 42 Commonwealth-owned ships which are operating so successfully on the Australian coast. For five years this Government has been plotting to sell our modern shipping fleet to private shipping interests. For five years - with several interruptions - negotiations have gone on in secret. The Government has conducted a shameful bargain-sale of the people’s assets, hoping that the private shipowners would eventually find the capital needed. At one stage, both Huddart Parker Limited and the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited were nibbling at this line, and other companies have nibbled at it at other times. But that was only a delaying action by the companies. They were not in a hurry; they knew that eventually the Government would water down its conditions of sale, or bring forward another plan. So, for five years these splendid ships of the Commonwealth fleet have remained under sentence of death - sailing in the shadow of the scaffold, as it were. Never once has the Government taken either the Parliament or the people into its confidence, even though thousands of shippers and primary producers look upon shipping in general, and the Commonwealth-owned ships in particular, as their economic life-line. The failure of the Government to take them into its confidence reveals its callous contempt of the people. The Government has no mandate whatever to alter the present set-up of its shipping fleet. Now, another proposition has come to our notice by various means. The Government, never abandoning its fanatical urge to placate the shipowners, and never once abandoning its fanatical urge to weaken or destroy Governmentownership of the fleet, is now investigating a plan to form a corporation to take over all of the assets of the Australian Shipping Board, including the 42 Commonwealth-owned ships, on the same lines as Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited were originally constituted. Under the plan, the Government would own 51 per cent, of the shares of the corporation and sell 49 per cent, of its interest to private shipping companies. Although this sounds a nice, cosy arrangement, for several reasons Labour will not have a bar of such a proposal. In the first place, who would run such a corporation? The Government would own 51 per cent, of the shares, but the private shipping interests would have SO per cent, of the say in relation to the control of the ships, which would be disastrous to Australia. What guarantee would Tasmania have, for instance, that the present arrangements for the provision of services to Tasmania by Commonwealthowned ships would continue? Secondly, we regard such a proposal as a longterm plan to dispose of the Commonwealth fleet in easy stages. Knowing this Government’s contemptuous attitude to Government-owned enterprises, and its recklessly shameful sell-out of its shareholdings in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited to private enterprise, we warn the Australian people that, in a few years’ time, if this Government is still in office, it will sell out its 51 per cent, shareholding in the proposed shipping corporation to private enterprise. I emphasize that this is a long-term plan to get rid of the Commonwealthowned ships in easy stages. Both petrol and wireless are vital to defence and a war effort. This Government has sold out all its interests in both these vital fields. Shipping also is essential to defence and a war effort, and the Government is determined, one way or another, eventually to dispose of the 42 Commonwealth-owned ships in the same way that it sold its interests in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. It is determined to dispose of this merchant shipping fleet, which is vital for defence.
– This is just a lot of tripe. The honorable member does not know what he is talking about.
– That is the sort of tiling one might expect from the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett). The Government’s record in the two fields to which I have referred is disgraceful and absolutely unworthy of an administration that calls itself a responsible national government. The magnitude of its folly is seen in the fact that the 42 ships of the Commonwealth shipping line were built at a cost of approximately £1S,000,000 and paid for out of taxpayers’ money. They are worth about £30,000,000 at to-day’s values. The Labour Government built 34 ships between 1942 and 1949. Twelve have been built since, and eleven more are on order, some with their keels already laid. By the end of next year, the Government’s shipping fleet will number 53 vessels. The average age of these ships is eight years. The river class, D class and E class vessels have revolutionized shipping standards and construction. They have been a mighty asset to Australia since World War II. It is no wonder that the private companies want those ships. At present, there are 152 privately owned vessels operating along the Australian coast. Their average age is 21 years and four months, and at least 60 per cent, of them, therefore, are obsolete by to-day’s standards. This Government is ready to sabotage the country by disposing of the government-owned vessels to private companies to enable them to get rid of their obsolete ships. It cannot be argued that the Commonwealth shipping line is losing money. During the last three years, the average annual profit-
Honorable members interjecting,
– I should like a fair hearing, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– Order ! I ask honorable members to cease their cross-fire of interjections.
– During the last three years, the average annual profit of the Commonwealth shipping line has been £392,000. Already there is reaction throughout the country at the news that a corporation may be formed. Stern opposition to the idea is developing in several States, and particularly in Tasmania, which is served by eleven of the Commonwealth-owned vessels. Anger is mounting and is being translated into action. Representatives of all the exporting and importing interests and of the powerful 8,000-strong Tasmanian Farmers Federation will meet on Thursday in Tasmania, under the chairmanship of the Tasmanian Chief Secretary, Mr. White, to discuss the situation that has arisen. I challenge the Government to hold a referendum on this issue in conjunction with the next general elections. We demand an unequivocal assurance from the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley), who is now at the table, and who is the representative in this chamber of the Minister for Shipping and Transport, that the Commonwealth shipping line will not be sold. For years we have been waiting for some responsible person on the Government side of the House to tell Australia that the Government will not sell the people’s ships, but the Government and its supporters talk about all sorts of other things and do nothing to answer that demand. No one on the Government side of the House is game to tell the Australian people that this Administration will not sell the Commonwealth shipping line.
– The Prime Minister told the people that last year.
– He did nothing of the sort. We want an assurance, also, that no corporation will be formed and that, instead, the Government will establish the Commonwealth shipping line on a basis similar to that of Trans-Australia Airlines, so that it may operate in true competition with the private shipping companies. The Australian Labour party gives the Australian people an undertaking that, if it were returned to office, it will never sell the Commonwealth fleet of ships or reduce its effectiveness; that it will undo any damage that this Government has done to the fleet, and that it would expand the fleet and, by legislation, constitute an Australian shipping commission on a basis similar to that of Trans-Australia Airlines, so that the 42 ships of the Commonwealth shipping line could be operated in active competition with the vessels of the private shipping companies, with service before profits as the objective. Under Labour’s administration, the government-owned fleet would be a mobile shipping force that could be directed wherever it was most needed on the Australian coast. This type of fleet could be developed. The late Mr. W. M. Hughes proved that it could be done.
I want to give the House a brief history of the government-owned merchant fleet after World War I. By 1923, the Australian government owned 50 ships, fifteen of which had been bought during the war. These vessels were operated with outstanding success on overseas routes. During World War I., they earned £7,000,000 in profits for the Treasury. Between 193 6 and 1923, they carried goods for £5 a ton, although the freights charged by some private companies were as high as £15 a ton. The government-owned ships saved the primary producers £8,000,000 in freights in those years. In 1923, the Bruce-Page Government took office and immediately set out to destroy the Commonwealthowned fleet. It took that Administration four years to do the job, but it succeeded.
First, the Australian Shipping Board, consisting of three highly paid men who received £3,500 a year, was formed. Losses began to mount immediately as a result of many sabotaging decisions and actions. The big shipping conference of private companies was fighting to have the government-owned ships sold. In 1927, the Public Accounts Committee was asked to investigate the board and the running costs of the fleet. In May, 1927, the committee reported, as appears in Ilansard -
Not only has the Commonwealth line been responsible for actual reductions in freight, but the presence of the line has exercised a material restraining influence against proposed increases. The Committee, therefore, recommends that in the interests of Australia the line be continued.
That report came as a bombshell to Mr. Bruce, who then resorted to the ruse of tendering evidence before the committee in camera. The chairman and other members of the Australian Shipping Board appointed by the Bruce-Page Government were called on to interview the Public Accounts Committee behind closed doors. No report of these proceedings appeared in print, but the people guessed what had happened. The upshot was that, in November, 1927, the committee reversed the findings that it had announced in May of that year, and urged the Government to dispose of the Commonwealth-owned ships. Mr. Bruce announced that he would sell what was left of the fleet, which, by that time, had dwindled to one-quarter of its former strength. The White Star Line bought the remaining vessels and went bankrupt. The Commonwealth is still waiting for £400,000 that- was lost in that sordid transaction. The Public Accounts Committee, in the report to which I have referred, stated further -
The presence of the line secured a reduction in freight rates of 10s. ],er ton, being estimated to have saved £2,000,000 per year in Australian freight charges.
It stated also -
The competition of the line compelled healthy, modern, efficient standards of shipping find shipping services.
But that fact did not stop the Bruce-Page Government from selling the Commonwealthowned ships. When that Administration took office, the Commonwealthowned fleet comprised 54 ships of a total tonnage of approximately 350,000 tons. The fleet had reduced freights, made profits, improved standards, been a godsend to primary producers, and provided active competition with the private companies. But it was crippled and then sold by a government married to private shipping interests. Never was a governmentowned shipping line needed in the national interest more urgently than it is to-day, when rising freight charges are helping to price Australian commodities out of overseas markets and are hitting primary producers savage blows. We want an Australian shipping commission established. At the present time, the private shipping companies act as agents for the Commonwealth shipping line. Could one imagine anything more fan tastic? The government-owned shipping line should have its own offices and agents. During the past three years, for example, the taxpayers, through the Government shipping line, have paid £545,000 in booking fees to private shipowners acting as agents. Those payments will amount to more than £800,000 in five years.
What are the Commonwealth-owned ships achieving? First, they are connecting distant ports with the main markets - Perth to Darwin, Brisbane to Darwin, Perth to Sydney, and Strahan in Tasmania to Melbourne. It has been a godsend to Tasmania, providing a wheat and general cargo service between Hobart and Brisbane, a refrigerated and general cargo service between Hobart and Brisbane, a bulk tanker service to carry sulphuric acid between Hobart and Adelaide, a direct general cargo and produce service between South Australia and Tasmanian north-west coastal ports and a direct service between the west coast port of Strahan for the carriage of pyrites and general cargo to the mainland. It is operating on long-distance, uneconomic routes where private enterprise will not send ships, because there is no profit. It has been employed in times of crisis SUer as when timber piles up in our ports in Tasmania and when potatoes or fruit urgently require shipping space to mainland ports.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I think I am allowed twenty minutes.
– No, the honorable member has fifteen minutes.
– How this subject comes to be raised as a matter of urgency I am at a loss to understand. The majority of honorable members in this House have been here for six years or more. In that period there have been more general elections and more by-elections than in any similar period in the history of federation. Yet not one election has come round without the Labour party, or some members of the Labour party, which is completely barren of ideas and completely devoid of policy, trotting out the same old story about the sale of Commonwealth ships.
For six years, at election after election, with, a monotony that has .become a little tiring, honorable members opposite have told the story of the sale of Commonwealth ships.
During recent weeks, there has been a great deal of press speculation about still another election that is to be in June of next year, in March of next year, or in December of this year. Press speculation on the next election is precisely the same as this speculation about a corporation to run the Commonwealth ships. The honorable member for “Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) believes this speculative story about the control of the Commonwealth ships, and no doubt he believes the speculation about the election, and is anxious and disturbed about it. He searches, I am sure, with great diligence for anything that will distract public attention from the shortcomings of his own party. In this diligent search he finds in the Augean stables of the Labour party nothing but this old horse labled Commonwealth ships, and he trots it out again, as another election is mooted. He trots out this old horse that has not yet raised a gallop, and never will.
The Commonwealth-owned ships have been the subject of urgency debates on many occasions in this House. Three years ago, the matter was raised by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford), and my colleague, the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), in reply, stated the Government’s policy in clear and precise terms.
– Three years ago.
– I admit that it was three years ago. The report will be found on page 1384 of Hansard, in September, 1952, and I commend that speech to the honorable member for Wilmot and other members of the Labour party. If they will read it, the time of this House will not be wasted with inanities.
At that time, the Minister for Territories told the House that if ever there came a time when this Government disposed of the Commonwealth ships, four principles would be observed, and that on those terms and no others would the Government countenance the sale or disposal of the ships. He enumerated those four points. He said, first, that if ever the ships were sold the Govern.ment would require an assurance that the ships would be retained on the Australian coast, that it would require a guarantee that an adequate service would be maintained and that public interest would be served through active competition. The second point of the policy he enunciated was that the Government recognized the responsibility of ensuring that adequate services should be provided to remote areas of the continent, to Tasmania and to any areas which depended so much on sea transport. The third point was that the Government recognized and re-affirmed the need to maintain in Australia an efficient shipbuilding industry. At this point, I remind honorable members that, at the present time, there are no fewer than eight large ships being constructed in Australian ship-building yards for the Commonwealth. The fourth point was that the Government recognized its responsibility that the operations of privately owned ships would conform to the requirements of public interest.
On behalf of the Government, the Minister stated that policy and those requirements clearly and plainly. He said that on those terms, and on no other terms, would this Government ever consider the sale of Commonwealth ships. That policy was stated three years ago. It was the policy six years ago, and it is the policy to-day. But the remarks of the honorable member for Wilmot seek to imply that such a sale on the terms that I have enunciated would be a calamity, a disaster, to the people of Australia.
I would be the first to admit that, under this Government, the Commonwealth line of ships has become increasingly efficient. Under the disastrous Labour Administration, the line was losing £2,000,000 a year.
Opposition Members. - Oh !
– Yes, the line lost £6,000,000 in the last three years of Labour’s term of office. Now, under the present Government, the line is making a profit. I would also be the first to agree with the honorable member fox Wilmot that there have been times when the Commonwealth shipping line has helped enormously in taking cargoes to and from Tasmania, for example. But having agreed on those two points, I do say that coastal shipping in Australia, particularly as it affects Tasmania, has never been worse since the Commonwealth line of ships came into existence. Never has the service been more inadequate and never have freight rates been so high. I do not suggest for one minute that the Commonwealth ships have been responsible for those conditions. I merely state a fact. What I do say is that the honorable member for Wilmot puts undue importance, and lays undue emphasis, on the value of Common-wealth ships in the shipping section of the transport structure of Australia. Let me tell him a few of the facts of life about shipping, particularly as it affects Tasmania. As he is not a Tasmanian, he would not know these things. He is merely a new Tasmanian.
Twenty years ago, long before the Commonwealth line of ships came into existence, any businessman in Hobart could send an air-mail order to Melbourne on one Monday and the following Monday the goods he ordered would be delivered into his store. That did not happen only once; it was not something unusual; it was the regular practice week after week and year after year. An order would go from Hobart on the Monday night and the goods would come back on the following Monday. To-day, however, if an order is sent away to Melbourne on the Monday night, the business man is lucky to get the goods in two or three months. From Sydney, as regularly as the sun rose, a big passenger and cargo ship came to Hobart every Friday morning. It discharged its cargo and its passengers, and, by 10 o’clock next morning it went back to Sydney with a fresh lot of pasengers and cargo. That’ service operated between Sydney and Hobart, every week in summer and every fortnight in winter, year after year.
Now let me come a little closer to the honorable member’s own electorate. From Devonport and Burnie there were regular sailings of passenger and cargo ships three times a week. From Launceston, a ship went across the strait to Melbourne on every alternate day. But that was twenty years ago, before the Commonwealth line of ships was ever heard of. To-day, no passenger ship plies between
Hobart and Sydney. There has not been one for years. Cargo ships come only intermittently, so they are of very little use to the people of Hobart. No ship except Taroona runs from Devonport and Burnie to the mainland to-day, and it serves Launceston as well. That service would not exist if it were not for the fact that the generosity of this Government, the generosity which it has displayed in many ways towards Tasmania, has led it to subsidize Taroona to the extent of £2,000 every time the ship puts to sea. Even though the Commonwealth ships make an overall profit on the Tasmanian service, they lose £250,000 a year on all their operations, but this Government, in its generous approach to Tasmania, is perfectly willing to authorize that loss. The Government, in its generosity, expends the best part of £400,000 on the ships that take to Tasmania the wheat from which is made the bread which we Tasmanians eat from our tables. As a Tasmanian, I give due credit to the Government for this generous spirit which it always shows in its sympathetic approach to the problems of Tasmania, not only in respect of shipping. No previous national government has ever been so sympathetic towards Tasmania’s claims and problems. I have mentioned some of the things which this Government does for Tasmanians in relation to shipping. The same attitude prevails in regard to finance. Let us consider the tax reimbursement special grants by the Loan Council. In the last four years of Labour government Tasmania received £22,000,000; during the past four years of office of this Government Tasmania has received £82,000,000. This illustrates again the generous approach of this Government to the problems of Tasmania, whether in relation to shipping or anything else. I, as a Tasmanian, repeat that the Commonwealth line, of ships has often come to the rescue by lifting or bringing in cargo when needed. If any one tries to convince me that under the system of governmentownership instituted by a Labour government the shipping position to-day is as good as it was when the private companies, with all their faults, ran the service, my reply to him will be that he does not know what he is talking about and that he should examine the facts.
The honorable member for Wilmot has made his reproaches gently. He has made them for one reason only. It is clear that he, as a member of his party, is a socialist and believes that governments should own, manage and operate everything. It does not matter if a government institution is inefficient. It does not matter if, for instance, an activity like coastal shipping is ruined in the process. It does not matter whether it is serving a good purpose or a bad purpose. It does not matter whether the service provided is good or bad. It does not matter whether it affects the taxpayers or suits commerce and industry. In the mind of the honorable member for Wilmot these aspects are of no importance at all. The only matter that concerns him, as an academic socialist, is this conception that the Government must own and run everything. Whether the initial, intermediate, or end result is good or bacl, he believes that only a government can run a line of ships, and that only a government should run it. That is a philosophy which we, as a government, reject completely. We reject it utterly, without reserve, and without hesitation. I therefore move -
That the business of the day be called on.
Question put. The House divided. (Mk. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 6th October (vide page 1393), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Allan Eraser 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 redrafted to provide, as from the 1st July, 1055, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948.”
– The Government is under attack in this chamber because of its complete failure to honour the pledges that it gave in 1949 and in succeeding years, not merely to maintain the value of pensions and other social services payments, but to increase the value of those payments. It has been adequately shown during this debate that, whatever measuring stick is used, the Government has failed completely to live up to its promise. The amendment before the House seeks to bring the Government to a proper realization of its responsibility in the payments that are made to the aged, the infirm, the widows, and the helpless members of the community. It is competent for the Government to say to the Australian Labour party whilst it is in opposition, and when it attacks the Government on this matter, “What would you, as a government, have provided at this time?” I suggest that the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) on behalf of the Opposition sets out the least that the Labour party would be prepared to do if it were in office.
Mr. Osborne interjecting,
– I believe that the pensioners would be extremely grateful if the Labour party were in office and if they were getting the justice that they are now being denied by the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) and every other honorable member who sits behind the Government.
– That is not correct.
– That statement iscompletely correct, as the honorable member will discover within a very short time.
– The statement is not based on fact.
– It is absolutely true, as I shall amply demonstrate to the honorable member for Evans and any other honorable member who cares to listen.
– Let the honorable member demonstrate it first, and it may be of some use.
– I shall demonstrate it in due course. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), referred in his second-reading speech to the generosity of the Government in its treatment of the pensioners, and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) adopted the same line. Their paean of praise was that this Government, during the five or six years it has been in office, has given most generous treatment to the pensioners. When it was shown, by using the unpegged basic wage for purposes of comparison, that the value of the pension in 1955 was less than it had been in 1948, when the pension was last adjusted by the Chifley Labour Government, supporters of this Government maintained that the unpegged basic wage was not the proper yardstick to use when measuring variations of the value of the pension. They suggested - and, indeed, the Minister did so very strongly - that the proper yardstick was the (J series index.
– That is correct.
– I am glad to hear one honorable member say, by way of interjection, “ That is correct “. But perhaps a more correct method of assessing the relative value of the pension in 1948 and in 1955 would be to compare the respective quantities of basic foodstuffs that the pension would buy in those two years.
– What did the Labour party do in 1949?
– Those figures can, and will, be given. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) need have no fear. The Labour party has undertaken, if it is re-elected to office, at the very least, to restore the value of pensions to what it was when Labour last adjusted pensions in 1948. The Government, and particularly those of its supporters who are so vocal, can ask of us no more than that. We say that that would be the very minimum.
– The honorable member knows how much the rise would be. It would be 8d.
– The Minister may waggle his ears and his tongue as much as he likes, but he cannot gainsay the figures that have been supplied by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, dated the 5th October and the 11th October, 1955. They show the average prices for the six capital cities as published in the Quarterly Summary of Australian Statistics. The list includes the prices of a number of basic foodstuffs for the September quarter of 1948, the period in which pensions were last adjusted by a Labour government, and for the June quarter of 1955, the latest figures available. If we were to take the figure for the September quarter of 1955, obviously the comparison would be even less favorable. In the September quarter of 1948, the price of a 2-lb. loaf of bread was 6.97d., and in the June quarter of 1955 it was 13.S6d. If, in September, 1948, a pensioner had converted his pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week into loaves of bread, he would have been able to buy 73.17 loaves. The same pensioner, using the pension that is paid by this Government to-day, would be able to buy 60.6 loaves of bread.
– Does the honorable member suggest that bread is a better yardstick than the C series index?
– A pensioner who used the whole of the proposed pension of £4 a week for the purchase of bread would be able to buy 69.26 loaves.
– But who wants 69 loaves of bread?
– Order! The honorable member for Evans must not interject. Interjections are disorderly.
– For the benefit of the honorable member for Evans, I suggest that the only way in which one can assess the value of money is to determine what it will buy. The important factor is the quantity of basic foodstuffs that the pension will buy.
– What about medical and health benefits?
– As I have stated, in September, 1948, a pension of £2 2s. 6d. would have bought 73.17 2-lb. loaves of bread; but the proposed pension of £4 a week would buy only 69.26 loaves of bread.
– That is a completely false argument.
– The honorable member for Forrest says that that is a completely false argument. Let us take the matter a little further and examine the figures that have been given for various other commodities. In September, 1948, the price of butter was 26.10d. per lb. In June, 1955, it was 4’9.32d. If, in September, 1948, the pension had been converted into pounds of butter, it would have bought 19.54 lb. The present pension of £3 10s. a week would buy 17.03 lb., and the proposed pension of £4 would buy 19.46 lb. Of course, the price of butter has been reasonably stable over the years. Let us now consider the price of milk. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), who interjected earlier, will agree that milk is a very valuable food for pensioners and sick persons. In September, 1948, the price of milk was 9.05d. a quart, and in J une, 1955, 18.8ld. In September, 1948, the pension would have bought 56.35 quarts of milk, whereas the present pension would buy 44.65 quarts, and the proposed pension of £4 would buy 51.03 quarts. The price of tea in September, 1948, was 33.0 Id. per lb. and in June, 1955. 88.93d. per lb. If a pensioner had used the whole of his pension in September, 194S, for the purchase of tea, he would have been able to buy 15.44 lb. The present pension would buy 9.44 lb., and the proposed pension would buy 10.79 lb. The price of sugar in September, 1948, was 4.49d. per lb., and by June, 1955, it had risen to 9d. per lb. If the pension paid in September, 1948, had been used to buy sugar only, it would have bought 113.58 lb., but the pension to-day would buy only 93.33 lb. find the pension proposed to he paid would buy 106.66 lb.
Let me go on from there to deal with one of the basic vegetables, the potato - which, I suggest, is used far more in the diet of age and invalid pensioners than it would be if the pensioners could afford to buy more necessary foods. According to the Statistician’s figures, in September, 1948, the price of 7 lb. of potatoes was 10.52d., and by June, 1955, it had risen to 37.84d. If the pension had been devoted entirely to the purchase of potatoes in September, 1948, it would have bought 339.35 lb. The present pension will buy only 155.33 lb. and the pension that is to be paid will buy 177.59 lb.
– This is exciting!
-The honorable member for Evans may find it exciting to consider the purchase of rump steak.
– Personally, I cannot afford it at its present price.
– The honorable member cannot afford to buy rump steak! I suggest that the pensioners of this country can afford it even less.
– I think that is probable.
– In September, 1948, the price of rump steak, averaged over the six capital cities, was 23.98d. per lb., and the price to-day is 53.1 8d. per lb. Let me show how much value has gone from pensions. In 1948, a pensioner would have been able to buy with his pension 21.26 lb. of rump steak, whereas to-day he could buy only 15.79 lb. With the pension that will be paid by this Government, he could buy only 18.09 lb. of rump steak. These figures illustrate accurately the fall in the value of pension payments that has occurred under the administration of this Government. One accurate way to assess the change in the value of the pension is to convert the pension payment into terms of the goods that a pensioner must purchase. I suggest that a pensioner expends his pension on the basic foodstuffs that I have mentioned - bread, butter, milk, tea, sugar, potatoes and meat.
There was some scoffing from the Government benches when I suggested that we should make the comparison on the basis of rump steak. Perhaps it is more likely that the pensioner would buy stewing steak, and there the comparison shows an even more striking difference. £ am taking the figures given by the Commonwealth Statistician. In September, 1948, chuck steak - which is the type of steak that a pensioner would use for stewing - cost 10.98d. per lb. Under the management of this Government, the price of a pound of chuck steak has risen to 30.41d. per lb. If the whole of the pension paid in September, 1948, had been used for the purchase of chuck steak, a pensioner would have been able to purchase 46.44 lb. of chuck steak with his weekly pension, but on the present pension he could buy only 27.62 lb., and on the pension that it is proposed to pay within the next fortnight or so, he would be able to buy only 31.56 lb.
That is a real comparison of the value of the pensions paid to the aged, sick and infirm and to widows in 1948 and to-day. Although some honorable members on the Government side have professed tofind those figures tedious, they are avery real basis for comparing the value of the pension in two comparative periods - that is, the September quarter of 1948, when the Chifley Government last made an adjustment of the pension, and the presenttime, when this Government is proposing to alter the pension rate. That comparison shows quite clearly, not only how much value has gone from the pension since a Labour administration was last in office, but also something which, to my mind, is far more serious - that is, that the pension to-day does not provide adequately for the purchase of the basic foodstuffs that a pensioner should have.
The figures are set out in table form in a document. The figures in the top half of the table were provided by the Commonwealth Statistician. Below those figures aremy own calculations of the value of the pension, converted into terms of the foodstuffs that I have mentioned. I ask for leave to incorporate the table in Hansard.
Leave not granted.
– Then I shall read the table. It is as follows: -
The Acting Commonwealth Statistician (Mr. S. R. Carver), under date the 5th October, 1955, and the 11th October, 1955, provided the following average prices for the six capital cities, as published in the Quarterly Summary of Australian statistics: -
What the pension would buy (in bread, butter, milk, tea, sugar, potatoes, rump steak, chuck steak) as at September, 1948, at present and under the proposed new rate.
lt has become necessary to read the table because of the refusal of honorable members on the Government side to grant me leave to have it incorporated in Hansard, and so made available to the House in that manner.
I think that those figures are valuable. I feel that they provide a very real condemnation of the attitude of this Government to the pensioners. It is clear from the figures, and nothing that the Minister or any other honorable member on the Government side may say can controvert them, as they have been provided by the Commonwealth Statistician, that the pension, even at the rate of £4 a week which is to operate when the bill becomes law, will buy less of every one of the food items that I have named, than would have the pension after it was last adjusted by the Chifley Labour Government in 1948. Not in one instance does the pension to-day buy more of one of those basic foods than could be bought in 1948 by the pension paid at that time under the Labour Government. The comparisons I have given are completely fair. It is admitted that in respect of some items there are seasonal variations of price. In my discussion with the Commonwealth Statistician’s office those variations were taken into account and where one quarter varied from another the comparate figure has been used. It is true that the most recent figures available from the statistician are for the June quarter of this year. It is also true that the price of one item that I have mentioned, tea, was slightly higher in June than it is to-day. The price of tea to-day is 86. 5d. per lb., compared with the June figure of 88. 93d. per lb. supplied by the Statistician as the average for the six capital cities.
I point out once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the figures that I have given provide an argument that, I feel, no one can answer. The plain fact- is that we pay the pensioners a certain sum of money a week from which they must provide their needs, not only in rent and clothing, but also in all the foods that they require. In 1948, when the Labour Government last varied the pension, the amount paid to enable the pensioner to buy his needs was £2 2s. 6d. The amount being provided to-day, under the present Administration, is 70s. a week, and the amount to be paid when the bill becomes law is 80s. a week. It is perfectly clear from the figures that I have cited and which will appear in Hansard, the record of speeches made in this Parliament, that the SOs. a week that the Government proposes to give to the pensioners will not buy as much as the pension paid under the Labour Government in 1948 bought, in that year, of the various items of good that 1 have mentioned - bread, butter, fresh milk, tea, sugar, potatoes, or meat of the two different cuts, one a cheaper cut and one a good cut - chuck steak and rump steak. I suggest there can be no more real comparison of the differing values of the pension in 194S and 1955 than is provided by those figures. It can be taken further. Rapid calculations made this afternoon, for example - these have not been checked by the Commonwealth Statistician, although the initial figures were provided by him - based on the price of eggs in 1948 compared with the price to-day, and related to the pension rate, show that the pension of £2 2s. 6d. in 1948 would have brought 15.64 dozen eggs in that year, whilst the pension of 70s. a week being paid to-day will buy 11.89 dozen eggs, and the pension of SOs. a week to be paid when this bill becomes law will buy 13.55 dozen eggs. So, if the Government supporters like to take that one for good measure, there it is! 1 repeat, the pension paid by the Chifley Government, in 1948, would buy 15.64 dozen eggs, whilst the pension to be provided under this measure will buy only 13.55 dozen eggs, lt is perfectly apparent that the pension being provided by the Government falls far short of the needs of the pensioners, and, indeed, so do all the social services provided by the Government.
Not one of the social services being provided by the Government can be compared in real value with the pension being paid under the Labour Administration in 1948, when the rates were last varied. Translated into tables, the figures show that the value has almost completely fallen away from many social services payments. I have given the House the illustration of age and invalid pensions for the purposes of my comparison, because I think that it is the variation in the purchasing power of pensions which really brings home to us, in the most real fashion, just how much the ill and sick are being deprived of by this Government - this Government which gave a solemn pledge to the people that not only would it maintain the value of pensions and other social services payments but also that, more importantly, it would increase their real value. Those were the words the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) used in 1949, again in 1951, and again in 1954, during general election campaigns. He said that the parties now in office would put “ real value into pensions “. This is how this Government, this Minister, and those honorable members opposite have put value into the pensions - by taking out the real value that existed in them and depriving the pensioners of the opportunity to buy, in proper quantities, the so-essential foods that they should have.
.- It has become a hardy annual in this chamber to hear from honorable members opposite, speaking from a position of somewhat comfortable irresponsibility, a suggestion that the rate of pension being paid by the Government is never enough. By the hour we liston to tedious analyses - and all sorts of false analyses - of various commodities and price indices and the basic wage, and all sorts of comparisons which do not, in the result, bear any real relation to the needs of certain individuals in the community. From the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser), we had the results of a most amazing amount of industrious research into the quantity of various commodities that could be bought with the. pension paid in 1948, and the quantity that could be bought with the pension now paid, and to be paid. He evoked .pictures of pensioners surrounding themselves with loaves of bread, mounds of meat, and piles of sugar, or something of the sort. The whole picture is completely false, because if he had really wanted to present us with the results of some thorough research he would have gone farther, and given us details of not only the prices of items which have increased but also of some that have declined.
– Tell us one!
– Has not the honorable member found that his cost of living has increased recently? For instance, the honorable member has found it necessary to seek an increase in his electorate allowance. It was granted and back-dated for twelve months.
– So has the honorable member’s brother.
– Order! The honorable member for Eden-Monaro should remain silent.
– The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory did not present a complete picture. If he had done so, he would have referred to all those items which, carefully selected and weighted, actually comprise the C series index. In that regard, the arguments last week of his brother, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), did bear a little more weight. But what strikes us as singular in relation to the argument based on the C series index, or on a series of commodities, is that both honorable members seem to have missed a year somewhere. They have gone back to the year 194S. Which party was in government in 1949 ? Why should we not start by comparing the pension in 1949 with that of to-day? Are honorable members opposite ashamed of the last year of Labour government? They have been singularly silent about it. The truth of the matter - and it is quite irrefutable - is that by comparison with the year when this Government came into office the pensioner now receives 9s. 4d. a week more - adjusted according to the change in the C series index. I do not believe that the pension should be tied to the C series index, or the basic wage, or decided by a royal commission or any other body.
One of the rather unfortunate characteristics of the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was the strong, bitter and venemous words that he used. They showed no deep sincerity of purpose or concern for the people who are really in need. He took the mythical figure of “ a pensioner “ ; but there are many grades of pensioners. A married couple may receive £14 a week, or only £7 a week. Some single pensioners receive £7, and others £3 10s. a. week. One can judge the sincerity of honorable members opposite by the fact that they have lumped all these people into one class and have shed crocodile tears about their sorry plight. Surely there are degrees, and differences, in the plight of these people, but year after year one hears this tedious analysis of the C series index, and this tedious comparison with the basic wage.
– Eighty-five per cent, of the pensioners receive nothing more than their pension.
– That is not correct. Eighty-five per cent, are drawing the full pension, but it does not follow that they are not receiving the maximum allowable additional earnings. The words of the honorable member for EdenMonaro and his brother, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, are those of men who are hungry for political power at all costs - even at the expense of the aged and the sick. They play shamelessly on the emotions of these people to gain votes and public office. They are, of course, placed in a position of peculiar difficulty. It has partially been created by their own leader because they must treat every pensioner as being in the same category and class. They do not believe in a means test, and that is probably the reason for their approach to this matter.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro said that pensions should be adjusted automatically with variations of the basic wage. Any automatic adjustment of pensions, by whatever method, is an abdication of government responsibility in this matter.
This Government has a very proud record. Honorable members opposite may say “what they like about the relationship between the pension and the basic wage, or the C series index, but what about all the other things that this Government has done for the pensioner? What about medical and hospital benefits? Honorable members opposite have not mentioned them. Have they not a cash value to the pensioner? Of course they have. What about homes for the aged? I refer to the new venture in this field last year, upon which the Minister for Social Services (Mr.
McMahon) is to be congratulated. If we relate the pension to the wage we get a confused idea of what a pension should be and, for that matter, of what a wage should be. Surely a wage is a reward for actual services performed - for the productive effort that is put into a particular job. To relate a pension to that sort of thing is to ensure complete confusion, which will lead either to the wage-earner not getting justice, or to the idea of pensions being completely distorted.
The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) suggested that pension rates should be decided by an independent committee. Surely we have already had too much abdication by Parliament of its responsibilities in these matters. This is the elected Parliament of the people. It speaks for the conscience of the people of Australia. Pension rates must be adequate to meet the needs of the people in the community who require them, and they must be related to the means of the rest of the community, having regard to their economic responsibility to meet that burden. The responsibility for deciding the rates, therefore, must rest upon the government of the day. This Government is never afraid to face the people on that basis. It has made good and just decisions so far as the needs of the less fortunate people in the community are concerned. In this debate, honorable members opposite have had no regard to the needs of the people. They have merely been cheerchasing, and looking for votes.
I suggest that there are many fields - quite apart from a general extension of the pension - in which we could advance the cause of those who have no adequate means, but they have not been mentioned by honorable members opposite. For example, we should explore the possibility of inducing people to use their own savings to purchase annuities. This Government has had a realistic approach to the problem of health insurance, and this is another avenue that it could well explore. It should be possible for insurance companies, subsidized by this Government, to make available annuities which could be purchased by pensioners from savings. Men and women who have saved a few hundred pounds should not be encouraged by any government merely to bold on to it in the Hope of handing it on to their beneficiaries. They should be encouraged to purchase a pension from a recognized insurance company which was subsidized by this Government. That income should be permitted to augment their pension. Similarly, the Government could well explore the possibility of increasing selfhelp projects, such as homes for the aged. This has been the most forward step that the Government has taken in the treatment of aged people during the years that it has been in office. But there are many other needy people. For example, the burden of age falls most harshly on single pensioners who live alone and have to pay rent for rooms. They have no one to care for them. Those are the people for whom meals should be provided. In Perth and Adelaide the League of Home Help for Sick and Aged provides “ meals on wheels “ for the sick and aged. Organizations of this kind could be assisted by the Government because they have regard to the real needs of the people. The pensioner, whether married or single, who is in his own home - and quite rightly he has been encouraged by this Government to own his home - has a definite advantage over other classes of pensioners. Consideration could be given to granting an allowance to people who are so unfortunate as not to own their own homes. I know that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro will have grave doubts when I suggest that single pensioners are worse off than are married pensioners. Some small allowance could well be given to a single pensioner in order to compensate him for that difference. When it is all boiled down, the only right that a government has to distribute the income of other citizens is based on the need of the less fortunate members of the community. That is the only justification for interference by the Government in the affairs and the lives of its citizens.
I think that a higher pension could well be paid on a basis of advancing years. As people grow older, their needs become greater. They are less able to care for themselves. A pensioner, at the age of 65 years, should he able to take advantage of the very generous provi sions of the means test to. a. greater degree than at the age of 75 years. The possibility of graduating the pension should be examined by the Government.
Before all these things can be done, it will be necessary to conduct some thorough research into the subject. I regret very much that a sufficient body of research is not being done into the detailed state of all people who are drawing the age pension. For example, I mentioned a few minutes ago that 84.2 per cent, of all age and invalid pensioners are actually drawing the full pension; but no figures are available to show what means these pensioners have outside the age pension. Of the 16 per cent, of pensioners who are receiving less than the full pension, 70 per cent, are not receiving the full rate on account of the property that they own. So it appears that there are comparatively few people who are able to earn more than the permissible limit of income which allows them to draw the full pension.
– For every shilling they earn, they lose a shilling in pension, so there is no incentive for them to earn money.
– That is true. At any rate, as long as we accept the principle, which I think the honorable member for Eden-Monaro should accept if he believes in Labour principles - that it is the need of people that we should consider - then people who are able to earn should be encouraged to earn. To abolish the means test, as the honorable member has suggested, would be to approach the problem in the wrong way. That would simply result in the Government’s giving people money instead of allowing them to earn it themselves. That would merely substitute the government benefit for an income that they should earn for themselves.
– !No wonder the gaols are full.
– The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) may feel that this is a facetious subject. He is entitled to regard it in that way if he wishes. I am trying to make some suggestions as to the lines along which the Government should advance in regard to pensions. Year in and year out, we have arguments about the rate of a maximum pension. There should be an infinite variation of the rates that are payable within the limits of that maximum pension. I ask the Minister for Social Services to conduct more research into the individual needs of that vast mass of pensioners - 84.2 per cent. - who draw the full age or invalid pension. They are the people whose needs we should consider. A series of improvements should be made in their position, according to their need, otherwise we shall find that the community will be burdened with a huge social services bill each year, and a lot of people will benefit from it whose needs are not so great as the needs of some, whose needs are really urgent. It is quite probable that means could be found to bring in some scheme which would induce people who have expensive homes and who retain them because they do not want to have their pensions reduced, to sell those expensive homes, buy a cheaper home, and use the surplus money for their own advantage instead of trying to hang on to it for their beneficiaries. It is not the responsibility of any government to subsidize a man’s beneficiaries. [ suggest that these are the basic and sound lines of approach to this problem. In a relatively small way, the Government has tried to introduce these ideas. For example, it has provided free medical benefits for pensioners, and has helped to provide homes for those who have not got thom. To proceed from those measures to the measures that I have suggested would bo an approach which would give substantial justice to people who are less fortunate than we are. I commend these ideas to the Minister as a logical approach to the problem of the aged people in the community.
The attitude of honorable members opposite, as in previous years, is unimaginative and dull. It is only dull and unimaginative because it is not characterized by any sincerity or depth of feeling for those who are undergoing real hardship. The Opposition’s attitude is the result of a cheer chasing manoeuvre which we have seen, year in and year out. It is a bid for votes - an attempt to make pension rates the subject of an auction system at each election. I hope that Labour members will give some thought to my remarks, and change their stupid insistence on the abolition of the means test and other slogans which will not stand up to analysis.
– The honorable member subscribed, to the tune of £17,000,000, to the abolition of the means test.
– I have never believed in the possibility of abolishing the means test, and I do not believe that honorable members opposite have believed in it, either. If they have any regard for the people who really need government assisttance, they would, not adopt that view.
Mr. GEORGE LAWSON (Brisbane) 4.52 j . - I regard it as a privilege to have the opportunity of speaking on this bill, which deals with social services. To my mind, this is one of the most important bills that has been introduced into this Parliament. I believe that I am safe in saying that this bill is the only bill that has been, brought into this Parliament which deals specifically with one section o.f the community. That section is, of course, the aged, the infirm, the widows and all other people who receive social services benefits. I am very disappointed indeed that the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) and other honorable members on the Government side have said that we members of the Labour party are supporting this amendment, and opposing this legislation, for political reasons. I want to say, in reply to that charge, that we have always endeavoured to improve the position of all those who seek social services. As I have said on previous occasions, no matter what political party may be in power at the time at which the budget is brought down, the pensioners and other recipients of social services benefits are one section of the community who should not be forgotten. The great majority of the age pensioners pioneered this country. It is all very well for honorable members opposite to say that this Government has treated the pensioners more liberally than did the Labour Government. That is absolutely untrue, as I shall prove. The proposed increase of pensions by 30s. a week is inadequate. This was shown conclusively by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser), who cited figures compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician in order to support his case. Labour has always endeavoured to improve the conditions of the recipients of social services benefits.
I listened very attentively to the speech of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock), who is not now present in the House. He said that legislation should be introduced to compel the children of aged and invalid persons to maintain them, instead of the Government paying them pensions.
– The honorable member for Indi said that the children should help their aged and invalid parents.
– He said that the children should maintain and keep them. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) has pointed out that full pensions are being paid to about 80 per cent, of the pensioners. Therefore, the honorable member for Indi could not have given very much consideration to the course that he advocated. Why should persons in receipt of only the basic wage, who are providing food and clothing for large families, as well as bearing the cost of educating their children, be compelled by law also to keep their aged or invalid parents? It will be recalled that the Lyons Government attempted to enact such a provision. I consider that we should be reverting to the conditions of the Dark Ages if the suggestion of the honorable member for Indi were implemented. It is obvious that the honorable member for Indi is still thinking in terms of the conditions of those days.
I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who led this debate on behalf of the Labour Opposition, and moved an amendment. I believe that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) will be unable to refute the forceful arguments that were advanced by the honorable member.
During the debate we have heard the typical parrot cries of supporters of the Government which are always heard when the subject of social services is being debated. Honorable members opposite have stated that Labour did very little for the pensioners when it was in office. I should like to remind the House that Labour pioneered the provision of social services benefits in Australia.
– That is not right.
– What I am saying is absolutely true. It is proved by a booklet issued by the Department of Social Services. I remember very well that the late Mr. Andrew Fisher, when he was a member of the Queensland Parliament, advocated the introduction of age pensions, but he found that it was impracticable to provide age pensions in only one State. He continued his advocacy of age and invalid pensions when he became a member of the first Commonwealth Parliament. The Hansard records show that when Mr. Deakin was Prime Minister in 1908 - the Deakin Government enjoyed only a very slender majority - he entered into an agreement with Mr. Andrew Fisher, the then Leader of the Opposition, who had been advocating the introduction of legislation to provide for age and invalid pensions, the effect of which was that Mr. Fisher would support certain legislation that thi? Deakin Government intended to introduce, provided it also introduced a measure to provide for age and invalid pensions. This, in fact, it did in 1909. That was the first measure enacted in this country to provide social services. I admit that the age and invalid pension legislation was introduced by a Liberal government, but that was done only after continued advocacy of such a course by Labour between 1901 and 1908.
– The price was Mr. Deakin’s long term as Prime Minister.
– That is so. I shall compare what Labour has done in the field of social services with what has been done by the Liberal party down the years. It will be recalled that the Liberal party was previously known as the United Australia party and the Nationalist party. According to the booklet that I mentioned a moment ago, the Liberal party can claim credit for only two phases of the social services legislation - the age and invalid pensions legislation in 1909, and the child endowment legislation that was introduced by the previous Menzies-Fadden Administration in 1941.
– What about rehabilitation and homes for the aged?
– -Labour placed legislation in respect of invalid pensions on the statute-book in 1910. That measure was introduced by the Fisher Government, which also brought down legislation in 1912 to provide for the payment of maternity allowances. In 1942, the Curtin Government introduced legislation to provide for widows’ pensions, and in the following year it introduced a measure to provide for the payment of allowances to the wives of invalid pensioners. Funeral benefits also were introduced by that Government in 1943. The same Government introduced allowances for wives of invalid pensioners in respect of unendowed children in 1943, unemployment and sickness benefits in 1944, and the scheme for the rehabilitation of invalid pensioners in 1944. Those are eight types of social services that were introduced by Labour governments, compared to two that were introduced by nonLabour governments. Yet honorable members opposite try to tell members of the Australian Labour party that the party has done nothing for the pensioners.
The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), when he spoke upon another matter a few weeks ago, compared what this Government has done for the pensioners with what Labour governments did for them. He stated, first, that a Labour government reduced pensions to 17s. 6d. a week in 1931. That is true, and we on this side of the House need make no apology for it. In 1931, the Scullin Government reduced pensions from £1 to 17s. 6d. a week; but let me point out why it was compelled to make the reduction. I emphasize the fact that it was compelled to reduce pensions. When it took office, it found that the Bruce-Page Government had left the Treasury absolutely empty and that there were not sufficient funds to pay age pensions and the salaries of Commonwealth public servants for the current fortnight. Accordingly, the Scullin Government was compelled to reduce pensions. However, the reduction was made with the support of members of the present Government parties, which were then in Opposition. The argument advanced by the honorable member for Balaclava has been used also by other Government supporters. Let us follow it up and see whether the Scullin Government was the only government ever to reduce pensions. On studying the records, we find that it was not. In 1932, the Lyon3 Government reduced all social services benefits by 2s. 6d. a week. As a consequence, the pension was reduced to 15s. a week. However, the Lyons Administration was not content with that action. It went much further than merely reducing pensions, and amended the social services legislation in order to compel a pensioner who owned his own home to mortgage the home to the Government. When the pensioner died, the Government sold his home and recouped itself out of the proceeds for the pension that it had paid. In consequence, 50,000 or 60,000 people, rather than place their homes in jeopardy, forfeited the pension and drew none during the years when that condition upon the payment of a pension existed.
– How did they live?
– I do not know how they lived. Doubtless, they were forced to depend on their children at a time when it was almost impossible for the younger people to keep themselves. Those facts demonstrate that the honorable member for Balaclava talked sheer nonsense when he endeavoured to lead the House and the people to believe that a Labour government was the only administration ever to reduce pensions.
Recently, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) made all sorts of charges that were completely untrue. He cited figures that had previously been quoted by the Minister for Social Services. In the opinion of myself and other members of the Australian Labour party, those figures were incorrect and the conelusions drawn from them were based on wrong premises. The honorable member for Capricornia referred to the unfortunate pensioners as derelicts. It ill becomes any honorable member to speak of them in the terms in which the honorable member for Capricornia spoke of them.
– The honorable member for Capricornia did not refer to pensioners as derelicts.
– He did. I am not quoting .Hansard, but be is reported in Hansard as having done so, and the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand) may read it for himself, if he wishes. 1 wish to refer now to the arguments that have been very effectively refuted by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory. Labour has never attempted to have the pension tied to the C series index and has never intended that it should be so tied. Labour has always advocated the tying of the pension to the basic wage, as is proposed in the amendment moved last week by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. Labour has always stood, and still stands, for that principle. I am satisfied, as other honorable members have stated, that the 10s. a week increase will not bring the value of the pension to anything like what it was in 1948 after it had been increased by the Chifley Government.
I have prepared some figures that I intend to cite to compare the basic wage in 1948, the pegged basic wage of to-day, and the proportion of the pension to the basic wage. In 1951, under the administration of this Government, the basic wage based on the C series index figures for the six capital cities was £9 13s. a week. In that year, the pension was increased to £3 a week, which represented only 31.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In August, 1952, when the basic wage was £11 15s. a week, the Government increased the pension to £3 7s. 6d. a week, which represented 28.7 per cent, of the basic wage. In October, 1953, when the basic wage had increased to £12, the pension was increased to £3 10s. a week, which represented 29.1 per cent, of the basic wage. This bill provides for a 10s. a week increase, which will make the pension £4 a week. This represents 37 per cent, of the unpegged basic wage at the end of August last, based on the figures for the six capital cities, and including the cost-of-living adjustments that are not added to the unpegged basic wage, as stated by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory. This means that the pension should be increased to £4 lis. a week, not £4, as provided under this bill. With the proposed increase of only 10s., the pension will represent 33£ per cent, of the present unpegged basic wage. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is in conformity with Labour’s policy, and we shall give effect to its objective so soon as we have the opportunity.
– That will bo a long time.
– It will not be a long time. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) need make no mistake about that. I propose now to compare the percentage that the pension bore to the basic wage during the last three years of the Labour Government’s term of office with the present position. Under the Labour Government, in 1945, the average basic wage for the six States was £4 8s. a week. At that time, the pension was £1 12s. 6d. a week, or 33.1 per cent, of the basic wage; whereas, even with the proposed increase of 10s., the pension will represent only 33^ per cent, of the present basic wage. In 1947, the average basic wage of the six States rose to £5 10s. a week. The pension was increased to £1 17s. 6d., or 34.1 per cent, of that increased basic wage.
– The wage was pegged at that time.
– Wages are pegged now, and they have been for two years.
– And they were pegged then.
– In 1948, the average basic wage of the six capital cities was increased to £5 16s. a week, and in that year the Labour Government increased the pension to £2 2s. 6d. a week. This represented 37 per cent, of the basic wage. As our amendment indicates, we are of the opinion that at least another 10s. is required to give the pension the same percentage relation to the basic wage as it bore to that wage in 1948. The proposal of the Government is to increase the pension to only 33 J per cent, of the present basic wage.
– The Labour Government did not increase it on a percentage basis in 1948.
– We increased the pension each year. If the honorable member for Wide Bay will peruse my figures he will see that each year-
– The C series index.
– The Labour party never intended to tie the pension to the C series index figure at all.
– The Labour party always used it.
– The Lyons Government introduced that system. That Government amended the legislation to tie the pension to the C series quarterly index figures. That system continued for a short time, and was then repealed. If I remember rightly, the Menzies-Fadden Administration repealed that legislation. Later, somewhere about 1940 or 1943, the cost-of-living provision was re-introduced into the pensions legislation. The Chifley Labour Government repealed that section which tied the pension to the C series quarterly index figures. It did so, because it realized that the pensioners were not getting the deal to which they were entitled. The members of that Government said, in effect, “ We believe that pensions should always be tied to the basic wage, and not to the quarterly C series index figures “. That being so, the amendement moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is strictly in accordance with what Labour has carried out over a long period of years, and with what the Labour party will implement when the opportunity presents itself and that party once again governs the Commonwealth.
– Tell us about 1949.
– I shall tell the honorable member about 1949. In 194S, the pension was fixed at as high a percentage of the basic wage as was possible at that time. Honorable members know as well as I do that the basic wage is fixed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. They know that, under that act, the court is required when fixing the basic wage, to base it on the requirements of a family unit of three. If the honorable member for Gippsland cares to examine the figures, he will find that 37 per cent, of what was required for a family unit of three was a fairly high figure. The Labour Government did not increase pensions in 1949. It said that when it was returned to office, it would increase them in its next budget. The present Menzies Government also promised to increase pensions. It also promised to make the position of the pensioners much better.
– So it has.
– Never ! The pensioners are worse off to-day than they have ever been.
– Order ‘ The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) said that the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) referred to pensioners as derelicts. That is not correct. What the honorable member for Capricornia did say was that the Labour Government had not done anything about the derelict pensioners in the street. That is an entirely different matter, and I give it in answer, not only on behalf of my colleague, but also to show how honorable members on that side of the House have changed their arguments. The honorable member for Brisbane said that this side of politics had been responsible for introducing only age pensions and child endowment in the Commonwealth pensions sphere. That is not true. While it is true that this side of government has been responsible for introducing those two benefits, I remind honorable members also of the introduction of the homes-for-the-aged scheme. I remind them, too, of the introduction of medical and pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners. I remind them also of the great widening of the means test that has taken place under this Government. Those three examples indicate this Government’s sympathy for, and understanding of the needs of, pensioners.
The honorable member for Brisbane also claims that the Labour party has not used pensions for political purposes. I remind him of the complete change that has taken place in the Opposition’s attitude towards child endowment since 1951.
In addition, there has been a complete reversal of the Labour party’s policy in connexion with the abolition of the means test in 1954, which I think many honorable members will recall. As a third example, I quote the decision of the Labour Government in 1949, which has been mentioned several times this afternoon. Despite the inflation that was prevailing under the Labour Government, despite the great increase in prices, the Chifley Government refused to increase any pensions. I cite those as examples to show how honorable members opposite do twist their arguments to suit a particular occasion.
During the time I have been a member of this Parliament, I have always endeavoured to be fair in connexion with the responsibility for the introduction of the various social services benefits. I do not deny now that the Labour party, when it was governing Australia, was responsible for quite a number of good benefits under its social services legislation. Put I do not think that the answer to’ this problem is to be found in discussing the history of social services, nor is it to be found in a comparison of conditions of earlier times with the disabilities under which pensioners may be suffering at the present time. I should like to refer briefly to the provisions of the bill that is at present before the House. It will give effect to the Government’s decision to increase age, invalid, and widows’ pensions by 10s. a week, thus making the maximum rate of age and invalid pensions £4 a week for a. single person. The increase will apply to all classes of widows’ pensions, and will raise the maximum rate to £4 5s. for a widow who has the care of one or more children under the age of sixteen years. It would also be wise if I reminded the House of the increases that have taken place since the present Government has been in power, because twice during those six years a record increase of 1 Os. a week has been applied. In 1950, the increase was 7s. 6d., in 1951 10s., in 1952 7s. 6d., and in 1953 2s. 6d. In 1954, there was a great widening of the provisions in relation to the means test, and the proposed increase of 10s. will operate when the bill is passed by both Houses.
It will also be well if I answer the honorable member for Brisbane by suggesting to him that he study the C series index figure for the September quarter of 1949, which was the last figure fixed before Labour left office. The figure was 1,428, and the maximum pension at that time was £2 2s. 6d. a week. The latest C series index figure, for the quarter ended June, 1955, is 2,375. If one takes the ratio of those two numbers and applies it to the pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week paid by the Labour Government the appropriate rate of pension now would be £3 10s. 8d. a week, whereas this Government proposes to pay £4 a week. On(* again the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Brisbane and, indeed, by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) when he was leading the debate for the Opposition, fall to the ground. In reply to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro may I suggest to him, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he and his colleagues should take a more active part in those spheres of government in which they have certain responsibilities rather than move an amendment without giving any indication of how the increased cost shall be met. The honorable member did not indicate whether the extra money required should come from increased taxation or whether other items in the budget should be correspondingly reduced. We do not know what is in his mind. As an example of what I am referring to, I cite the iniquitous means test that applies in Few South Wales. The New South Wales Government is responsible for certain social services, including the provision of free spectacles and free dentures to pensioners. An invalid pensioner, receiving the full pension from the Commonwealth, was refused these free services because he had just over £50 in the bank. Because of the operation of the means test in New South Wales he was considered not eligible.
– Why does this Government not provide those benefits?
– I suggest to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, and to the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), who is now interjecting, that they should devote some of their energies to those spheres in which they have some influence. Although notice should be taken of statements by honorable members in this House, I think it is appropriate that I should quote an independent authority in relation to the proposed increase of pensions -
The 10s. a week rise to pensioners waa not only more than most pensioners expected. It more than offsets the rise in cost of living, and substantially steps up the real value of pensions.
That is a remark by an independent authority. I should like to direct the attention of the House to an anomaly that still exists. I referred to it briefly when I was addressing myself to the budget. My remarks then evidently aroused some interest, because I have had some correspondence and further suggestions in regard to it. I referred to the great benefits that have been given to a large section of the Australian population in the higher ag,e groups by the widening of the means test so that a married couple may receive full pensions of £S a week, and have other income amounting to as much as £7 a week without the pension rate being affected. In other words, they may receive a total of £15 a week.
We have also entirely removed the ceiling limits on war service pensions, war pensions, and age pensions. That has brought great benefits to another large group within the community, but there still remains a group that has not received any great benefits. I refer to those people who, because of the nature of their employment, have not been able to invest their savings in superannuation funds and so receive as much as £7 a week in income, but have had to make other investments. The present limits of the means test operate against’ them, I think unfairly, because a large amount of savings in bonds, shares, investments, or fixed deposits in a bank would be needed to produce an income of £7 a week. Even if a person has saved £500, his pension is reduced, I think from memory, by £5 a year. I therefore suggest to the Minister that the Government when making the next amendments to the Social Services Consolidation Act should apply the means test for age and invalid pensioners to the income derived from pro perty and not to its capital value; Take the case of a man who pays into a superannuation or insurance scheme during his working years. He may be entitled to a retiring allowance of, say, £7 a week, and may also draw a full pension for himself and hia wife, making his total income £15 a week. He therefore has no need to be thrifty. A second example which I may cite is that of a married man, working in employment where no superannuation or insurance scheme operates. He saves, say, £2,000 to make provision for his retirement, and invests this in government bonds, thus helping his country. The income from these bonds gives him £90 per annum. Because of his investment, he may receive only a part pension for himself and his wife - say £3 10s. a week - making their total weekly income approximately £5 10s. a week. The person who wrote to me in connexion with this example says -
It being impossible to live on this amount, lie must draw on his capital to augment his income. Therefore, because he has been thrifty, he is penalized by the present set-up of the means test.
I support the requests that have been made on behalf of this group of persons, because I think the anomaly to which I have referred should be examined. I hope that the Government will introduce amending legislation to remove it.
I recognize, however,, the tremendous amount of good that this Government has done in relation to the social services problem. When discussing these matters in the Parliament, we should adopt a nonparty political attitude. I support the request made by the, honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) to the Opposition. I hope that all sections of the community will avail themselves of the opportunity that has been afforded by this debate to bring forward, through the appropriate channels, their own ideas about this very important subject, because social services problems are of great interest, not only to the recipients of the benefits, but also to the- taxpayer, who foots the bill. All too frequently pension matters are discussed only during election campaigns, and a totally incorrect impression of the amount and variety of benefits is obtained.
The only justification for the spending by the Government of the people’s money which it has raised by taxation is the need of those persons who receive the benefits. The greatest problem is that of giving the highest payments to those persons whose need is the greatest, and at the same time encouraging saving for retirement without penalizing the thrifty. I suggest to honorable members opposite that the amount of the cash benefit is not the only answer to the problem. That is why, in addition to making available the highest possible cash payments that the country can economically afford, this Government has introduced other benefits. [ have referred to the great medical and pharmaceutical benefits that are available to the pensioners. They mean a saving to the average pensioner of 8s. a week. I refer also to the payment by the Government of a £l-for-£l subsidy to charitable and non-profit making organizations that have undertaken the erection of homes for aged persons.- Associated with the social services problem is the necessity to provide suitable social contacts and suitable care and housing for the single male or female pensioner, and an opportunity for retired married couples, in the closing stages of their lives, to live together in the domestic atmosphere to which they have become accustomed.
One section of the community, including the Opposition, which thinks that social services payments should be related to the basic wage and including also another group which thinks they should be related to the C series index, believes that all free benefits should be abolished, and that those persons who are in receipt of a full social services pension should pay for benefits. Another group believes that the social services tax should be abolished and that a national superannuation fund or a national age bonus scheme should be established. I should like to put forward for the consideration of the Government the suggestion that has been advanced by the group which believes that a national age bonus scheme, without a means test, and related to either the C series index or the basic wage, should be established for all persons who have a certain residential qualification. This group suggests that the scheme should be financed by contributions from employers and employees in the proportion of twofifths and three-fifths respectively. It means that the same group of persons who are now being taxed would provide the finance for such a scheme, but that the fund would be entirely different and not related to taxation. The suggestion is that, because of the present economic state of the country as outlined by thu Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), this would be an appropriate time for the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) to consider this proposal. Its proponents point out, in support of their request, that such a scheme would curb expenditure on luxuries and would enable those persons who now have only a small amount of spending money to purchase more of our primary and secondary products. This, in turn, would help the primary producers and basic industries with a consequent improvement of the health of the economy. The letter that I have before me makes some complimentary remarks about myself and other honorable members.
– I suggest that the honorable member should read it. After all, an election is imminent.
– Despite the encouragement of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), I shall not read it. The letter asks that the suggestion be placed before the Minister and, further, urges that during this financial year he should introduce legislation to provide that where, after full inquiry, a pension has been granted, it should be granted for the remainder of the pensioner’s lifetime’. It is pointed out that to do so would mean a great saving in administrative work, a.nd a saving of worry to the pensioner, and would also allow pensioners to do temporary work without any reference to the Department of Social Services. The writer further points out that production would be increased, and suggest* that information obtained from the department about the number of pensions that have been reduced or cancelled under the existing system would bear out his contention that the number affected would be infinitesimal.
I refer to that letter, which is but oik1 of quite a number that I have received, to show the increasing interest that is being taken in the problem of social services. I hope that my remarks, together with the Minister’s second-reading speech, will stimulate further interest in this very important problem.
.- I am very pleased to bc associated with the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who, on behalf of the Opposition, has submitted to the Government a proposal for giving greater assistance to the recipients of social services benefits. If the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) wishes to assist these unfortunates in some way, he should give deep consideration to the proposal that has been advanced by the Opposition. It might be as well to remind Government supporters at this stage of the wish of Opposition members. A lot of nonsense has been talked by honorable members opposite about delaying the bill and not making the proposed payment immediately. The Labour party suggests, in its amendment, that - the bill be redrafted to provide, as from 1st July, 1955, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly to ensure as a minimum that each of those payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948.
I suggest to Government members that they give consideration to some of the thoughts expressed in that amendment, particularly if, as they claim, they are anxious to assist people who are in need.
I say again that a lot of nonsense has been talked about the attitude of the Labour party to this bill. We say that the increases should operate from the 1st July. Some weeks ago, a bill was passed under which the salaries of judges were increased retrospectively, but the pensioners, the most unfortunate section of our community, must wait for their increases until this bill has been pushed through. Before the bill was even introduced into the House, I was informed that the increased pensions would become operative on the 27th October. We suggest that the increases be made retrospective to the 1st July. We say that, as the increased salaries for judges and other people in the higher-income ranges have been paid retrospectively, the unfortunate pensioners should be given similar treatment. I ask honorable members opposite either to show their courage by voting for the increases of pensions to be made retrospectively or to stop their humbug about what they are prepared to do for the pensioners.
The honorable member for Robertson has said that the history of the introduction of social services i3 not important in discussing this problem, and that what is important is the real value of pensions. I think that is true. Let us compare the value of pensions now with their value when Labour left office in 1949. In December, 1949, the basic wage was £6 9s. a week, but since then inflation has run riot. I recall that 25 years ago, when I was quite a young man, I took out an insurance policy for a sum of from £600 to £800. I felt that if I had that money when I retired, I should be in a position to buy my home and live comfortably. Imagine the situation of a man now left with only £600 to live on! I knew a young serviceman who, just after he had enlisted, told me that if anything happened to him while he was overseas, his dependants would be all right because he had an insurance policy worth £200. He did not come back. I wonder how he would feel now if he realized the circumstances in which his people were living, due to the inflation which this Government has allowed to run riot in the community.
Government members are smug and complacent about the miserable 10s. a week increase of pensions that is to be granted, but, even before the increases are paid, there is talk of a move to impose a means test in respect of pensioners’ medical benefits, which would rob the pensioners of a service that is most important to their well-being.
– Order I That matter is not under discussion.
– Of course it iB not under discussion.
– Obey the Chair, then.
– But the fact is that it has been suggested that such a means test be imposed. Similarly, the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement provides for an increase of the rate of interest charged from 3 per cent, to 4£ per cent., which would involve an increase by almost 10s. a week of the rent of houses built under the agreement.
– And it denies rent rebates to pensioners.
– As my colleague has said, it denies rent rebates to pensioners. It is disgraceful that moves of that nature are being talked about before the extra 10s. a week has been paid to the pensioners.
The pioneers of social services in this country were in the ranks of Labour. From the commencement of the Labour movement, social services payments have formed an important part of our policy. The Labour movement was formed to work and fight for the more unfortunate people in the community. Every advantage in the social services field received by the people of Australia has been gained for them by the Labour party. As the secretary of the Federal Parliamentary Labour party, I have had an opportunity to go through our minute-book. I have with me a copy of a letter, dated the 6th July, 1905, written by Alfred Deakin to the then leader of our party, Mr. J. C. Watson, pledging the government of that day to do certain things. The letter wa3 as follows : -
I am now able to inform yon that the programme of business to be submitted to the present Parliament will include, in addition to the Budget and other ordinary requirements of that kind, any necessary legislation upon the matters and lines embraced in the Ballarat Platform of 1003 or since arising out of the’ action of the House.
I may mention among the subjects that we hope to deal with, some of them have already advanced more than one stage.
This included support for old age pension legislation. Then the letter set out a number of the items contained in the Ballarat platform, of the Labour party, including the age pension. The letter concluded with these words -
We cannot hope to dispose of all these great problems but may be enabled to secure further consideration for those upon which legislative action is not yet desirable. (Signed) Alfred Deakin.
– The leader of the Liberal party !
– He was trying to win the support of the Labour party, which was sought also by other sections in the Parliament. It was the decision to introduce legislation for age pensions which influenced the determination of the Labour party to support him. That promise was the price of Labour’s support. An extract from the minutes of a caucus meeting held on the 5th July, 1905, states -
That this party having been informed through Mr. Watson (see letter posted on front cover) of the measures proposed to be submitted by Mr. Deakin, agrees to give his Ministry a general support during this Parliament in the transaction of public business.
I say again that every proposal for the advancement of the well-being of the Australian people has emanated from the ranks of Labour. Labour was responsible for the introduction of the age pension. Other social services - with only one exception, namely, child endowment - were introduced by Labour governments. Government members are smug and complacent about the paltry rise which they propose to give to the pensioners, but inflation is so rampant at the moment that it has become extremely difficult for the unfortunate pensioners to keep themselves alive.
I ask Government members whether they are aware of the very high cost of living to-day. The inflation that is responsible for that high cost of living has been caused by the mismanagement of the affairs of the country by this Government. Inflation is the creation of the Government. When Labour left office, the basie wage stood at £6 9s. a week, but now it is almost double that amount, and clothing, footwear, tea, butter and other commodities are almost beyond the reach of aged people. I remind the Government that last year it had a budget surplus of about £70,000,000. We feel that some of the benefits that accrue from the prosperity of the nation should be shared by the unfortunate pensioners, who are in the unhappy position of having to wait until the Government has made its decision about the increases that will be given to them.
I hope that not many Government members believe in the nonsense that has been talked by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock), who has appealed to the Australian Government to cut pensions for aged people and thrust upon their families the responsibility for caring for them. He believes that that is the way to cut down excessive expenditure. I say that the proposal is a disgrace, and that the Government should disown the man responsible for it. I remind Government members, who talk about what the Government is doing for the pensioners, that in 1941 a Government of the same political colour as this Government was forced from office amongst other reasons, because it refused during the war years to increase the payments to age and invalid pensioners by 2s. 6d. a week. At the same time, that government refused to accept an amendment moved by Mr. John Curtin, the then Leader of the Opposition, to provide, in addition to 2s. 6d. social services payment, for an increase of ls. a day in the pay of servicemen. That was the occasion on which two members on the Government side of the chamber crossed the floor and voted the Government out of office. The people who talk so complacently about what they are prepared to do for the pensioners are, I remind the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who is now interjecting, the same people who rejected John Curtin’s amendments designed to increase age and invalid pensions by 2s. 6d. a week, and the pay of servicemen by ls. a day. Coles and Wilson, two Government supporters, on that occasion crossed the floor of the chamber, supported the Labour opposition, and threw that Government out of office.
– They were bought.
– They took that action because they were men who were willing to stand up for the pensioners and our fighting men. The Labour party believes that, despite all the talk from honorable members opposite about the effect of an unpegged basic wage, when the nation is passing through a prosperous period, as it is doing now, and as it has been doing over the last ten years because of bountiful seasons, everybody should share in that prosperity. Unfortunately, the aged and infirm who are in receipt of social services benefits are not sharing in it, because they are a powerless section of the electorate. We appeal to the Government to right the injustice under which pensioners suffer. We hold that pensions should be so increased as to enable the recipients to live decently. It is the first responsibility of this Government, or any government, to take care of people who are in need; but the Government is not meeting that responsibility. I ask the Ministers of the Government, who have the say in what is to happen, to consider seriously the appeal made from this side of the Parliament for more justice for pensioners.
We say that old age is not a crime, yet the Government leads the way in dispensing with the services of people who reach the age of 60 or 65; although they are still capable of doing a good job. Similarly, the Government gives the lead to industry in refusing to employ physically handicapped persons who have failed to pass a medical examination. The Government should be the first employer to raise the rate of employment of physically handicapped people who are capable of doing good work, and thereby it would set an example to private enterprise. Legislation might well be adopted by this Parliament, as it has been adopted by the British Parliament, to provide that industry, as well as government, shall carry a percentage of physically handicapped persons in their total of employees. Nowadays, we hear a great deal about the assistance that the Government is giving to physically handicapped persons ; yet the Government, as an employer, is the first to reject such people for employment in government instrumentalities. Those unfortunate people are refused employment because they have failed to pass some medical examination. I ask for the introduction of legislation to give real assistance to physically handicapped people who are capable of doing good work in the Public Service. I say that, unless action along those lines is taken, it is of little use to talk about so-called aid to physically handicapped persons.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– Before the dinner adjournment it was my pleasure to- support, the amendment moved so ably last Thursday night by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. The amendment seeks a number of alterations of the measure, one of the most important of which is that pension payments should be increased retrospectively, just as were the salary increases of judges and high public servants. I ask the Government to accept the amendment and so assist the aged, the infirm and others in desperate need at the present time. The withdrawal of the bill, for the purpose of redrafting in the way suggested, would ensure higher pension payments to compare at least with the change in living conditions since the Chifley Government was in office, in 1948. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, in moving the amendment, asked for an increase of age and invalid pensions to at least £4 Ils., and an increase of 10s. a week in child endowment for the second and subsequent children. He asked for like increases of widows’ pensions, allowances to wives and children of the aged and infirm, unemployment and sickness benefits, funeral benefits and maternity allowances. These are all part and parcel of Labour’s amendment.
Earlier^ I was able to produce a copy of a most historical document - a letter written to the Leader of the Australian Labour party, Mr. Watson, in 1905. I also read an extract from caucus minutes. As secretary of the parliamentary Labour party I was able to look up the records and find, the letter to Mr. Watson advising that if Labour gave certain support to the government of the day, age pensions would be included in that government’s plans for 1905. I propose to repeat the extracts that I read from the minute book of the parliamentary Labour party of that period. I quote -
This party, having been informed through Mr. Watson of the measures proposed to be submitted by Mr. Deakin, agrees to give his ministry general support during this Parliament in the transaction of public business.
That resolution was carried. As I paid earlier, Labour has been responsible for every social advance that has been gained by the people of this great Common wealth. Down through the years Labour has consistently added to its social service legislation.
The- Government is quite smug about this paltry pension increase. As I said before the dinner adjournment, even before assent to the bill has been given the Government has taken action to nullify the increase by imposing a means test upon pensioners in relation to medical benefits. Also, increased interest rates on housing finance will1 mean increased payments by pensioner occupants. I ask the Government to remember its £70,000,000 budget surplus last year and the £188,000,000 that was left in the National Welfare Fund when it took office in 1949. We make our appeal to assist the people who are in need. We remind the Government that it is the custodian of the people’s money and that, at present, more of that money is needed by those in want. The existing inflation is of the Government’s making, and is destroying our aged people. I ask the Government not to talk nonsense about having increased this payment by 10s., and that payment by 10s., since it has been in office. The fact is that the basic wage has almost doubled in that period- It is about time that the Government considered the effects of the inflation that it has created, and did something for the needy. I have made my plea; again I beg the Government to assist these people. One Government back-bencher made a magnificient contribution to the budget debate by suggesting that age pensions should be abolished and children forced by law to support elderly parents. The Minister who administered the portfolio of Social Services before the present holder made similar comments in years gone by. Is it any wonder that the Government got rid of him? He was transferred to another field. It is now suggested that he is being groomed as the next Prime Minister.
Some supporters of this Governmentdeserted the Menzies war-time Administration when Labour, through Mr. John Curtin, moved the historic amendment which sought to increase age pensions by 2s. 6d. and the pay of servicemen by ls. a day. Eather than accept the amendment, that Administration walked out on its responsibilities. Two of its supporters crossed the floor on that historic occasion. [Quorum formed. J
In the few minutes remaining I should like to beg the Minister to take action to assist the unfortunate people who are suffering in this period of prosperity. I ask him to permit the widows and children a decent livelihood. I ask him to remove the property disqualification from people with property, for they are the newly poor. Many councils are striking new levies on property and placing these unfortunate people outside the realm of assistance, though all their lives they have paid out money in the hope that when they became a certain age they would receive the help that they needed. The holders of bonds are placed in a similar position. They tried to help the nation in a period of great tribulation, but to-day are being penalized. I ask the Government to remove the means test. Let it take advantage of the budget surplus last year of £70,000,000 to assist people in need. I ask the Government to help those who are over 70 years of age by approving an increase of their pension rate every five years. They are not able to go to work and need special help. An increase of pension every five years would be of great assistance to them. I remind the Government that the Chifley Government left £188,000,000 in the National Welfare Fund. If that fund had continuted to operate, the balance in it to-day would have been in the vicinity of £400,000,000 or £500,000,000. So the money is available for the payment of those benefits. We are appealing to the Government to give assistance to people who are in need and in want.
I ask the Government, likewise, to take over State social services. I know that it will be argued that the States impose a means test in respect of social services. It is true that the States, because of the limited amount of money that is made available to them by the Commonwealth, must impose a means test, but I ask this Government to take over that field of social services without a means test. I ask it to provide the dental care that New South Wales provides for pensioners. Likewise, I ask the Government to take over the supply of blankets and hearing aids to those who need them. I make this plea to the Government to assist those people who are in need because, in these days of prosperity, the state of a country is determined by the extent to which it is prepared to help those who are in want. 1 ask that the Commonwealth give assistance in the construction of homes for aged people by providing finance on the basis of £2 for every £1. The Government could also introduce a nursing service for the aged similar to that which operates in New South Wales. I ask the Government to demonstrate that Christian spirit of which honorable members opposite have spoken and do unto others as it would that they should do unto it. If the Government were to do these things for those people who are in want, Australia would be a better place for all to live in.
I ask the Government and I ask all members on both sides of the House not to make this matter a political football. Social services should be something that people are proud of. It is the desire of people who attain a certain age that they should secure their just rights. In view of the money that is held by the Government and in view of the prosperity that it has claimed, I ask it to give assistance to those people who are in need and in want. I feel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you are looking at the clock, that my time must be drawing to a close, but I should like to make another appeal to the- Minister for Social Services on behalf of those people who are physically handicapped and who are unable at present to secure work. I ask the Government to consider the establishment of a rehabilitation scheme on a basis providing real service.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), in introducing this bill to amend the Social Services Act, has anticipated the great desires of the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Fitzgerald). The Minister proudly presented legislation providing for an increase of 10s. a week to be paid to aged, invalid and widow pensioners. He j<* justified in feeling proud in introducing this bill, the culmination of many similar measures which have been introduced since this Government came to office. The proposed increase in pensions equals the record that was established in 1951, when the record increase of 10s. a week in pension rates was made. Two other increases in pensions, each of ‘7s. 6d. a week, have been made by this Government since it came to office in December, 1949. In 1953, an increase of 2s. 6d. a week was also made. In 1954, although there was no increase in the pension rate, 93,000 people actually received increased pensions because of the easing of the means test. In addition, other benefits of various kinds have been given from time to time.
This is such a successful bill that the Opposition has found it difficult to discover any argument against it. In leading the debate on behalf of the Opposition, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) seized on something which he thought was of great value. He said that the Government proposed to defer payment of the increased rate until the 27th October. What did he mean by “ defer payment “ ?
– The increase should have been paid on the 3rd October.
– “ Defer “ means “to put off “, if I understand the English language correctly.
– That is right.
– If the honorable member for Eden-Monaro will keep quiet, I shall explain the position to him, because he obviously does not understand it. The honorable member went on to say that we all very clearly understood - I do not know whom he meant by “ all “ - that the increase would be paid this week. He said that the Opposition was prepared to facilitate the payment of the increases in every way. The method by which the Opposition has facilitated the passing of this legislation has been by raising a series of points of order which occupied half an hour of valuable time, immediately Government supporters rose in order to reply to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. Even as late as to-day, the Opposition raised the subject of shipping as a matter of urgency.
-Order! That has no reference to the bill.
– I am showing that the delay of which the Opposition has complained is of its own making.
– If the Government had not taken action, by moving that the business of the House be proceeded with, we could still be discussing the matter of shipping that was raised by the Opposition.
– That is so. I remind the honorable member for Eden-Monaro that the increased rate of pension, as stated in the budget, will become payable on the first pension pay day after the amending legislation has been passed. It has never been suggested that it would be paid on the 27th October. The Treasurer stated clearly, when he introduced his budget, that these increases would not take place and could not take place until after the amending legislation had been passed. Apparently the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has not even looked at the bill. Clause 14 of the bill reads as follows : -
The amendments effected by this Act in so far as they relate to instalments of pensions, apply in relation to an instalment of a pension falling due on the first pension pay day after the date on which this Act receives the Royal Assent and to all subsequent instalments.
The Government’s intention as to when the increases should be paid is clear from that clause. There has been no deferment. It is in accordance with practice that the increases should only be paid after the bill has been passed, and after the Governor-General’s assent has been received. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said, in effect, “You are going to defer it, and I am going to help you defer it “, because he moved the following amendment to the motion that the bill be now read a second time : -
That all words after “ That “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be re-drafted to provide, as from the 1st July, 1955, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged ) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948 “.
The payment of the increases will be delayed even longer if the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is carried because a considerable delay would be required in order to ascertain the maximum amount of pension that the national economy would permit. Does the honorable member suppose that such matters have not been taken into consideration by the Government? Does the honorable member suppose that the Government blindly took a plum out of a hat and announced that the increase would be 10s. a week ; or does he believe that the Government has deliberately ascertained what is a reasonable amount that can be spared from the Treasury this year for the payment of increases to pensioners? The honorable member, who is so eager to have this legislation passed, has moved an amendment that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted and that all sorts of investigations should take place. He does not say by whom the investigations should be made. He does not say whether we should appoint a commission or whether a number of people should form a committee in order to examine these matters and then decide what amount of pension can be paid. On the other hand, the Government states a definite figure. There is nothing nebulous about that. There was nothing vague about the Government’s statement that it intends to increase the pension to age and invalid pensioners and a certain category of widows by 10s. a week. Just before the honorable member for Phillip concluded his speech, he said that we should use the amount of £168,000,000 that the Chifley Government had left us in order to make increases that we thought necessary from time to time.
– The amount was £186,000,000.
– “Whatever was the amount, the fact remains that the Chifley Government did not leave even enough money in the coffers with which to pay all war gratuities due to ex-servicemen. Honorable members opposite know that that is so, and yet they imply that the Government could increase pensions with the bags of gold that were left in the Treasury by Labour. They know that only paper credit was left ; that is all that it amounted to. The honorable member displayed his ill-acquaintance with finance when he referred to a surplus of £70,000,000 which the Government was supposed to have had last year. He assumed that that amount of money was lying under the counter and could be used to increase pensions. It has been explained time and time again how last year’s surplus was acquired, what it amounted to, and how it has been absorbed. It can be seen, therefore, how fictitious are the proposals of honorable members opposite.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro was somewhat doubtful whether his amendent would get any support; he has already circulated the terms of another amendment which, I assume, he intends to move at the committee stage. In other words, anticipating that his amendment would not be supported, he got in a bit early by circulating an amendment that he proposes to move at the committee stage for the insertion of newclauses in the bill.
– More delay!
– Yes, more delay; honorable members opposite could keep on talking for a long time in committee on the amendment, while the pensioners were waiting for their money. The honorable member said that the Minister’s speech was nakedly party political. As you will not allow me to use the word “ hypocrite “. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall say that 7 do not know any reason why I should not say that that observation was arrant humbug. Honorable members opposite have complained about delay in implementing pension rises, and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has stated that the Minister’s speech was nakedly party political, yet every Opposition member who has spoken on this measure has delivered the most highly party political speech that one could imagine. It has not been left entirely to the Opposition members of this House to do so. The idea of making pensions a party political issue if shared by members of the New South Wales Parliament. I want to quote from statements which were made by a member for one of the State electorates within my federal electorate, not because I place much store on the fact that he made an attack in. the House on the Commonwealth’s social services scheme, but because of the enormous publicity that his remarks were accorded by the press, in an article which was published under the heading, “ Member for Dubbo attacks Social Services “. The matter did not end there. When looking through the Hansard report of the address-ill-re.,17 debate in the New South Wales Parliament on the 7th September, I found that the honorable member for Dubbo had made accusations not only against the Commonwealth, but also against the people in the Department of Social Services, who go out of their way on many occasions to do various things for pensioners and other people with whom they come in contact. According to the Hansard report, the honorable member for Dubbo said -
I assume all social services departments throughout the Commonwealth are the same and the attitude adopted by the type of person looking after the cares, wants and needs of the aged, infirm, widows, and the like is absolutely fiendish.
These are strong words -
I could cite case after case of maltreatment of these people such as would not have been found in Belsen prison camp.
If the honorable member had been there, he would know differently. Later, he said -
The most flimsy excuse is sufficient for the suspension of a pension. Those people in Carrington-street do not care whether the pensioner lives, dies or starves.
That is tha way in which the honorable member for Dubbo referred to the people who are administering the Social Services Act on behalf of the Commonwealth.
– Obviously, he is a Labour member.
– Yes, obviously he is a Labour member. He went on to say - ft appears to me that the Commonwealth Government is- subjecting aged and infirm people to all manner of persecutions so that in the ultimate they will die out quickly.
What nice remarks these were by a member of the- New South Wales Government! He went on to say -
The administration of the Commonwealth Social Services Department is completely inhuman and works in a rotten way.
I remind honorable members that 1 am reading extracts from the New South Wales Hansard report of the speech of the honorable member for Dubbo. He went on to say -
To obtain any semblance of common sense and decency it will he necessary for the Commonwealth to pass the work back to the State.
There is the rub! The honorable member for Dubbo said that he could cite case after case of maltreatment of these people, but did he do so? No, he cited only one case, which concerned a pensioner over SO years of age, who had been totally blind and bed-ridden for a number of years, to whom he said the department sent a peremptory note to have his eyes tested. That should be borne in mind. He went on to say that he and others knew that the department was fully aware of the old man’s condition, yet his pension was suspended for months. Subsequently, he said that Senator McKenna was approached in connexion with the matter and it was later adjusted. I have taken the trouble to ascertain the facts, because if they were as outlined by the honorable member for Dubbo there was just cause, for complaint. What surprised me was that the complaint was not made, in this House to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) and it. was not made to me, as the federal member. Obviously for party political purposes, it was made in the State house.
– Did it happen?
– If you will listen 1 will tell you what happened. From my inquiries, I have found that the applicant then aged 82, was granted an age pension of £129 per annum from the 20th September, 1951, based on property of £118, comprising bank credit and livestock. Other property consisted of a farm of 480 acres’, 180 acres of which was freehold and the balance conditional purchase. The registrar, before whom evidence was taken, noted that his eye-sight appeared to be very bad. His pension was increased to the maximum rate from the 29th October, 1953, from which date the property exemption was raised. I ask : How is that a fiendish attack? Is it evidence of maladministration? Was it something that people in the Belsen prison camp would do i In effect, the officer in charge of this case said, “ I will treat all this farm property as this applicant’s home “. He did so. I think that that was as generous a gesture as could be made. The applicant’s pension was increased to the maximum rate from the 29th October, 1953, which was the date from which the property exemption was raised by this Government. A subsequent review disclosed that the pensioner was living with a daughter in Dubbo, and had rented his farm for £120 per annum. As honorable members know, the rent received from a farm is not taken into consideration when the means test is applied with regard to pensions. The pensioner stated at the time that he did not think he would ever return to live on the farm. The medical certificate lodged at the same time stated that the pensioner was blind and unable to work. The department had obviously set out to ascertain the improved capital value of the farm, seeing that it was no longer his home, and decided to examine the question whether the pensioner was entitled to a means- test- free blind pension. Is that the action of a very hard department that will trample the pensioner under its feet or, in the words of the honorable member for Dubbo, treat pensioners in such a manner as to ensure that, in the ultimate, “ they will die out quicker “ ?
– The reference for which the honorable member is looking is on th? other side of the page.
– These scathing remarks of the honorable member for Dubbo are on both sides of the page. Are these criticisms consistent with the attitude of a department that would see how it could give this man a meanstestfree blind pension? The medical certificate lodged was not from an eye specialist, and it was considered that it did not contain sufficient information to determine whether visual acuity, after adequate correction by suitable glasses, was less than 6/60 in both eyes, which is the specified standard. Arrangements were accordingly made for examination by a Dubbo eye specialist, but, although two communications were forwarded to the pensioner, he did not attend the doctor, nor was any advice of his in ability to attend received by the department. The honorable member for Dubbo states that this man had been blind and bed-ridden for years. Do honorable members consider that the facts bear out that statement? It was decided to suspend payment of the pension pending further inquiries, with the object of avoiding increasing the over-payment should it be found eventually that the pensioner could not be accepted as blind. The department rightly decided that, before it could increase the pension to the means-test-free blind pension rate, it would have to have the pensioner properly examined by an eye specialist in order to establish that he was blind. Representations were made subsequently by the honorable member for Dubbo through Senator McKenna, as a result of which it was decided to accept, the pensioner as blind for the purposes of the Social Services Act and thus entitled to a means-test-free pension. Accordingly, payment was resumed at the maximum rate from the date of suspension, the arrears of £21 being paid with the instalment due on the 23rd December, 1954. The pension was suspended for only three or four weeks.
What did the honorable member for Dubbo dol Did he appeal to the Minister for Social Services? No. He stated that he wrote to the Minister and telephoned him, and that the Minister would not sign some letters, or he made some other frivolous statement. Did the honorable member for Dubbo appeal to me ? No. I heard nothing of the matter from the honorable member for Dubbo. When he was asked in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly why he had not approached the federal member, he ignored the question. He did not appeal to any one except Senator McKenna. I should be interested to know why he approached a Tasmanian senator. Is there no senator of his own political colour in New South Wales? Had he come to me or approached the office of the Department of Social Services in Carrington-street, Sydney, he would have received a reply immediately and would have had the pension reinstated. It would not then have been suspended for even the few weeks to which the honorable member for Dubbo referred as months. That honorable member has no answer to the question why he did not take this action. All one can conclude is that his complaint was made solely for party political purposes. The worst feature of the case is his assertion that the federal member would not take any interest in it. He stated -
Meaning the pensioners - complain that the federal member does not even bother about the matter.
Perhaps some honorable members opposite also will say that the pensioners make such complaints.
– The honorable member for Hindmash (Mr. Clyde Cameron) also puts the blame on the pensioners. He will not say, as the honorable member for Dubbo might have said, “ The honorable member for Lawson does not do his job “, because such a statement can be given the lie direct. Every person from whom I have received a letter has had a reply from me, and no pensioner who has appealed to me has failed to obtain my full attention and help. In my efforts on behalf of pensioners I have received all possible assistance from not only the Minister but also from officers of the department. It has gone out of its way to give people pensions that they themselves did not realize they might have been entitled to, and pensioners have nothing but praise for it. Admittedly, there may be times when matters proceed a little slowly, but is not a little delay only reasonable in the work of a department that, at the 30th June last, paid pensions to 425,556 age pensioners, 78,498 invalid pensioners and 41,547 widow pensioners - a total of 545,601 pensioners? The payments for age, invalid and other pensions, child endowment and medical and other benefits last financial year totalled £190,000,000.
– What is the point the honorable member is trying to make?
– I am making the point that the honorable member for Dubbo can mention only one case, although he says he can cite hundreds, of inattention to the needs of pensioners by a depart ment that deals with so many people and handles so much money. I am pointing out also that that one case is founded on the flimsiest of arguments and that those statements will not hold water when they are examined.
– The case was not genuine.
– Of course it was not. There is nothing genuine about the approach of the Opposition to this bill. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro accused the Minister of using this measure for party political purposes. We have heard nothing but party political arguments from honorable members opposite and their colleagues in the New South Wales Parliament. This Government has made a positive proposal, which will increase pensions by 10s. a week. It is acknowledged that it has done, and is doing, everything it can for the pensioners. It not only offers a definite increase of cash income, but also does its utmost to improve the position of pensioners in other ways, which are more important even than increasing their cash income. I refer to such matters as pharmaceutical, hospital and medical benefits, which are all part of the social services structure developed by this Government. I refer particularly to homes for the aged, to which the Minister referred in his second-reading speech. Pensioners living in their own homes or with friends or relatives enjoy reasonably good conditions. However, many who must find accommodation for themselves are suffering considerable disabilities. The subsidy of £1,500,000 that the Government proposes to make to charitable organizations that build homes for the aged is one of the grandest gestures to pensioners that has been made for a long time past. It has been eagerly accepted by people in country districts and, I have no doubt, also by those who live in the cities. It is evidence of good faith on the part of the Government, not only to give pensioners a cash pension, which will now be £4 a week, but also, by encouraging people to build homes for them, to try to give them some of those comforts that they are probably missing. This is very desirable, because the pensioner does not want to feel that he is a pensioner.
I recently attended an afternoon of entertainment provided by the Quota Club in Dubbo. This is a club of business women, who try to make the lives of pensioners brighter and happier by inviting them to gatherings at which music is played, songs are sung, competitions are conducted, prizes are given and afternoon tea is served. Every one had a happy time at the gathering that I attended.
– What did the honorable member do?
– I noticed that the honorable member for Dubbo was not present. Had he been there, I should have asked him to tell the honorable member for Hindmarsh what I did. I enjoyed myself with the others, and we all had a very pleasant afternoon. Those are the things that people can do to help these old pensioners.
I congratulate the Minister upon introducing this scheme for homes for the aged, as I congratulate him upon the introduction of the bill now under discussion. It is a definite promise of something to be done. It is no vague proposition that is to he sent back to a committee to be examined and related to something or other which has no bearing on it at all. I have the greatest pleasure in standing up to-night and congratulating the Minister. I know that the House will reject the amendment and readily pass the bill.
– It has been rather surprising to me to hear the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) talking about making party politics out of this question. Let me remind him that the Labour party will always make party politics out of doing something for the people of this country. We on this side have told honorable members on the Government side for years that if they want the gloves off, we will take the gloves off with them any time they want it. Let me tell them here to-night that we have been fighting-
– I’ll say!
– We have been fighting and doing our best for the workers and the people of this country throughout our history. I like to hear the laugh of the honorable member for
Capricornia (Mr. Pearce). I should like to refer to two statements that have been made by these champions of the pensioners, these opponents of party politics. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) spoke on behalf of the Labour party when he moved his amendment. We thought that the honorable member for Capricornia was contravening the Standing Orders when he spoke, but the House decided against us. He was not asked to withdraw the remark when he said that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro had moved a hypocritical amendment.
Government Supporters. - Hear, hear !
– Yes, hear, hear! Three minutes ago, the honorable member for Lawson said there was nothing genuine about the approach of the Opposition to this matter. Let us see whether there is anything genuine in the proposal we have put forward. I ask the people to listen to what we say should be done. The Government has brought down a bill, which its members describe as wonderful. The bill proposes to give pensioners an increase of 10s. a week. We say straightout that this increase is not sufficient. The honorable member for Lawson said he bad been to a gathering of pensioners. I go to such gatherings very often. A few weeks ago, I went to two such gatherings in the one afternoon. They were birthday gatherings of pensioner associations. Some of the pensioners said to me, “ What increase are we getting, Mr. Thompson? Will we get, at least fi? “ I said, “ I do not want to disappoint you, but I do not think the Government will grant more than 7s. 6d. to 10s.” They were very downhearted.
The honorable member for Lawson thinks the pensioners are pleased and proud. I went to a pensioners’ gathering in Adelaide only a few weeks ago. It was not organized by the Labour party. We thought we could have organized something even bigger than that, but the pensioners themselves organized it. The president of the Chamber of Commerce, leaders of the various churches and representatives from other bodies were present. All of them said, “ We believe the pensioners should receive a substantia? increase “. I emphasize that they spoke of a “ substantial increase “. What is a substantial increase? The Government jays to these people, “ You are getting £3 10s. a week each. That is £7 a week for a married couple. We propose to give you a substantial increase. We shall increase the pension for a married couple from £7 to £8 a week “. That is not what I should call a substantial increase. I want something more than an increase of £1 on £7 before I shall call it substantial. But that is all this Government has done for these pensioners, and we know they have to take it.
I emphasize to the people of Australia, and to the Government, that we on this side contend that the Government has not done what it should have done. As we have pointed out to the Government time and time again, its leader promised at the 1949 election that the pensioners would get better value than they were then receiving from the Labour Government. Mr. Menzies promised them real value. Now the Government tries to defend itself by quoting the C series index for September, 1949. Government supporters ask us why we did not increase pensions in 1949.
-.- The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) has the audacity to work out what they have received, and bases his calculations on the 1949 figures. He cannot have it that way. If he wants to make a comparison, he must take the increase that we gave to pensioners in 1948; and I remind him that when we granted that increase, we did not want to tie the pensions to the basic wage. We said to the pensioners, “ Your pensions will be increased to £2 2 s. 6d. a week “.
– A shame.
– I am glad to have the honorable member’s interjection. That pension of £2 2s. 6d. represented approximately 37 per cent, of the basic wage at that time. The honorable member for Gippsland says it is a shame to give them only 37 per cent, of the basic wage. What is his Government doing? Even with the proposed increase of 10s.. the pension will represent only 33 p,?r cent, of the basic wage, and the Government is proud of it!
Honorable members on the Government side point to what the Government is doing, but they cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that we did not do enough in 1948, when we gave the pensioners 37 per cent, of the basic wage, and the present Government is to give them only 33 per cent, of the basic wage. What we have suggested is just. AVe have proposed, in our amendment, that the bill be re-drafted to provide, as from the 1st July of this year, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will stand. The Government says it has already done so. It says the increase of 10s. is all that the national economy will permit. The amendment proceeds to suggest, particularly, that provision be made to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments be restored to the same percentage of the unpegged basic wage as it bore under the adjustment of rates made by the Chifley Government in 1948. That is a pension equal to 37 per cent, of the basic wage, which the honorable member for Gippsland said was a shame. We ask the Government to withdraw the bill, and increase the rate to 37 per cent.
– The date in the amendment should be 1949, not 1948.
– The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) talks about 1949. He talks about making a political catch cry of this question, but he knows the position as well as I do. I know what our late leader, Mr. Chifley, said. When we suggested to him that he include an increase in pensions as part of his election policy he said, “ I know the figures show that an increase is warranted, but we are going to the electors, and we shall not attempt to buy their votes by promises of increased pensions “.
– What rot!
– The honorable member can say, “What rot” or anything else he likes.
– Of course it is rot!
– I can only state the true position. All that supporters of the present Government wanted to do was attain office at any price, and the people of this country, the pensioners in particular, have paid dearly for keeping that Government in office all this time. Honorable members on the Government side talk about giving the people what they can. Why, this afternoon, the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) said that people who had a bit of property, apart from a home, cannot expect this Government to pay them a pension so that they can leave their property to beneficiaries.
Honorable members opposite also prate about what they have done in connexion with the means test. Let me give an actual case. The honorable member for Lawson referred to somethting that was said by a member of the New South Wales Parliament. What he said the department did is only in conformity with my experience. It was what I have always found departments willing and ready to do when I go to them. The department gives them good and fair treatment within the provisions of the act; it cannot do more than that. Let us see what happens in cases such as that referred to by the honorable member. A few months ago a man came to me and said, “ I can obtain only about half the pension or less “. I forget the exact amount. I asked, “ What is the position ? “ He said, “ I was- hurt at work and, after about two years, the court gave me a lump sum in compensation for my injuries “. This man was aged 73 and he wanted to continue working. For his injuries he received about £1,000 in compensation. He had lost his wife a few years previously, and he then married a lady of about his own age who had lost her husband. Each owned a home, but they lived in the husband’s home. The wife wanted a place to go in case anything happened to her husband, so she let her own home to a relative, subject to a room being kept available for her in case she needed it. The department informed her that the value of her property had to be considered. It was not satisfied with the value assessed by the municipal and water authorities. Even to-day, application forms for pensions provide that local authority valuations be supplied, if they are available. That harks back to the time when Labour was in office. The value of this property was recorded as £1,500. It was in one of the poorer districts and had been built many years ago for £400. I pointed out that the water authority and the local government authority did not value the property so highly. An officer of the department said to me, “We have our own valuation. If you go to a private valuer, and he writes the valuation clown to a figure below ours, we may re-open the case, but in accordance with our practice we cannot do so at present “. The Government has raised the means test. The valuer, acting for the department, fixed a valuation of over £1,500, but wrote it down to £1,500 because it was a pension case.
This Government has to wake up. Honorable members opposite say that consideration of income from property has been done away with, but the Government should consider removing the means test altogether from property and applying it fairly and squarely to income only. I think the honorable member for Forrest spoke about encouraging people to sell their property and buy annuities with the proceeds. Can one imagine the lady to whom I just referred, who is over 70 years old, selling her house and buying an annuity? We are told that more should be done for people who are over 70 years of age, but the Government is not doing anything for them. We have what we call a welfare state. Many honorable members opposite, and those sections of the community which they represent, arc not happy about the welfare state. If we are to have a welfare state, we must look after the people. Honorable members on this side of the House are told that our approach to this matter is not genuine. We believe that the wealth of- the world should be divided a little more reasonably. I would not say to anybody, “ I will take what you have and give it somebody who has not tried to get anything for himself”. To-day, we are told that we should lift the standards of South-East Asia. Something should be done to give people in that part of the world a more reasonable share of the world’s food. Some countries should not be permitted to have food to waste while others have not enough for their needs. There has to be some reasonable method of distribution. Similarly, we on this side of the chamber say that the welfare fund which we initiated should be used for a levelling process in our own country, not in order to make the rich man poorer, but to give the poor man a reasonably decent standard. If it is suggested that I am speaking as an individual, or as a member of the Opposition for party political purposes, I invite honorable members opposite to look at the gallup polls which were conducted three or four months ago in relation to an adequate rate of pension. Most of the persons who were questioned suggested a rate of £6 10s. a week and others suggested a rate in excess of £6. Honorable members opposite will say that those persons did not understand the financial position or economics enough to know that that could not be done. “Why can it not be done? More money has to be obtained by way of taxation. It would not hurt honorable members opposite or me if a little more of our money were taken in taxation and used to even things up a bit. It is all very well to talk in theories, as did the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) when he said -
A single person who at present cannot obtain a pension because he has an income of £7 a week will, under the bill, be able to obtain a pension of 10s. a week. A married couple who at present cannot receive pensions because their combined income is £14 a week, will be able to obtain pensions of 10s. a week each.
He said that nothing was being done about the means test, which was remaining as it was last year. Let us examine how solicitous the Government has been for a man with an income of £7 a week. It will permit him to receive £7 10s. a week by way of pension and other income, which represents an increase of 10s. a week. I forget the Minister’s exact words two years ago, but he said that the pensioners would gain not only an extra 5s. a week, but also free medical attention and free medicine; they would go on the pensioners’ list. He was proud of that last year, but why is he not able to do something like that now? It is because of power being exercised on the Government from outside. I cannot enlarge on the subject of the health bill, but we know that the Minister could not say this year what he said last year, because the medical profession has said, “ We will not give this service to the man who has £7 a week and can receive 10s. a week in pension “. It was a proud boast last year, but it has receded now. I wonder how many other things will recede when pressure is brought to bear. If there is a recession, and big firms cannot make huge profits while paying high taxation, they will bring pressure to bear for reduced taxation. I am inclined to think that if we then have such a government as we have to-day, which is not representative of the ordinary, common people of the community but is representative of property and vested interests, those who will suffer most will be those who suffered in the past, the people at the bottom.
I was citing the case of an elderly man and woman who cannot receive a full pension because for a house worth £1,500 they are receiving about £1 a week clear, after paying rates and taxes. The only income they are getting from that house valued at £1,500 is £50 a year, but they are losing, as a result, £150 a year in pension. A married man to-day may receive £7 a week as a superannuation payment or gratuity, and he and his wife may receive, in addition, a pension of £8 a week. On the other hand, a man who has not subscribed to a superannuation fund but who has invested £3,500 in government bonds at 4£ per cent, receives an income of a little over £3 a week. That is almost his entire income, because, as a result of the property ceiling of £1,750, he receives a pension of only £27 a year.
The Minister for Social Services is so solicitous for the welfare of the man who has a total income of £14 a week that he proposes to give to him an additional sum to bring his income up to £15, but the man who is in possession of property above a certain value will not receive any extra worth-while benefit. The fact that I am advocating the abolition of the property limit is not something new. If honorable members look at Hansard for 1947 or 1948, they will note that I urged the Labour government of the day to abolish the property tax. The honorable member for Lawson has referred to a blind person in respect of whom, because of his blindness, the property means test was set aside. There are cases where the mother has passed away and where the father has not wished to live on his own in the house but has gone to live with a daughter or somebody else. The fact that that man’s property is worth, say, £2,000, means that he cannot obtain a pension although his only income is the rent that he receives from his house. It has been stated that the Government does not intend to make it possible for people to obtain a pension and then to leave their property to their beneficiaries. If that is so, why has it raised the property limit to £1,750? Why does it grant a pension to a man who lives in his home irrespective of the value of that home? A man may have a farm worth £5,000, but, if he is living on it, he is able to obtain a full pension; yet when he dies the property will pass to his beneficiaries. If both parents who were receiving a pension die at the same time, the house that they own will pass to their beneficiaries, but if one parent dies and the other does not continue to live in the house, and if it is worth more than £1,750, the remaining parent loses the pension. I appeal to the Government and to the Department of Social Services to consider the abolition of the property means test. The greatest thing that we could do for the people of this country would be to abolish the property means test entirely.
– Would the honorable member not suggest that a ceiling should be placed on the property value?
– The ceiling would be on the income. I am speaking now about the property means test. It was the aim of the Labour party to eliminate the means test completely, but to do so gradually and not to wipe it out in one stroke. I suggest that it could be done gradually. If one received income from a property worth £50,000, probably it would be such that one would not receive the pension. It is the person at the bottom of the ladder about whom I am concerned. The Government talks about an increase of 10s. a week and what it will provide. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) to-day cited a lot of figures to show just what a pension will buy. Perhaps the honorable member did not speak as emotionally as I am speaking to-night, but he put in a lot of solid work to compare the value of the pension to-day with its value in 1948. If honorable members opposite mix with pensioners, they will know that some are not too badly off. A widow without any property may live with a family that is in a good position, and which may say to her. “ We do not want your pension. You may buy clothes with it for yourself.” But such cases are rare, and that is why the present system is of particular advantage to those people who are in a better position.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) told us what a pensioner has to pay for a room, and we heard what he said about the dire need of such persons. In my own electorate and in Adelaide city people are living in the poorest of accommodation because, if they did not choose poor accommodation, they would have to starve. I know that the Government is not heartless and that honorable members opposite perhaps manifest as kindly a spirit as I do, but the whole question becomes one of fundamentals. The Opposition is prepared to say to the people of Australia, “You must pay out of your surplus, as it were, sufficient to help those persons who have not enough on which to exist “. I feel very keenly about this matter, probably because I come from a district in which there has been a lot of poverty. I have mixed with these people, not just since I was elected to the Parliament, but over the last 25 years. I have been in their homes, and they have come to me to see whether they could get a pension or for some other form of assistance. The needs of these people have been so ground into me that I feel that the people of Australia should awaken to a sense of responsibility. Eight years ago, when I was advocating a better deal for the pensioners, I was a little afraid of the reaction of those persons who were obliged to pay the taxes. I wondered what the men in industry would say when they were obliged to pay for such benefits, but, when I meet them now and hear their expressions of opinion, I find that they do not worry at all about the extra obligation. They say, “ We are prepared to pay if we can feel sure that when we are old and have need of assistance, we will obtain something reasonable. We do not want to be shut up like other people.” In submitting its amendment, the Opposition urges that the value of the pension should be restored at least to what it was in. 194’S.
– The honorable member means 1949.
– I mean 1948. If that were done, pensioners would receive £4 10s. or £4 lis. a week instead of the proposed £4 a week. But the Opposition wants the Government to do more than that. It is all very well for the honorable member for Lawson to talk about delaying the passage of the bill. We do not want to delay it. Let me tell the honorable member that the Labour party held a meeting on Wednesday last, and had before it information to the effect that the bill would come before the House at 8 o’clock on Thursday last, that it would be passed by this House to-day, that it would be passed by the Senate to-morrow, and that it would receive the assent of the Governor-General in time for increased payment to be made on Thursday next. I said at the time that I did not think that was possible, and that it would be necessary for a special meeting of the Executive Council to be convened so that the Governor-General could give his assent in time for payment to be made on Thursday. While we were discussing that information, we were informed that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) had told the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) that the debate would continue until later this week. The honorable member for Lawson talks about the Opposition wanting to delay the passage of the bill, but let me inform him that we had arranged for only sufficient sneakers to debate the measure on last Thursday night and to-day.
– Speak up!
– I hope the VicePresident of the Executive Council can hear me, because what I am saying is correct. We were eager for these increases to be paid. We know that any pensioner who thought he would get a pension of more than £4 a week, paid retrospectively from the 1st July, would be quite happy. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) has been telling the butter-makers, “You will get mere money at the end of the year, even if you are not getting much now “.
– Order ! The honorable member is going outside the scope of the bill.
– I shall not discuss what the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture told the butter-makers. I think I can draw an analogy. It is quite all right for Ministers to make statements like that to the people, but when members of the Labour party make those statements, they are told that they should not do so. I hope that this amendment will be supported.
– Order ! The honorable members’ time has expired.
– This debate sounds more and more like an election meeting the further it proceeds. I think it is worth while to remind the House that we have before us a motion for the second reading of the Social Services Bill (No. 2) 1955, and that to that motion the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) has moved an amendment, the general effect of which, if I interpret it correctly, is that the bill be taken away to some back room, re-east and reintroduced in an entirely different form, in order to give a higher amount of pension to the pensioners.
I have read very carefully the speech which the honorable member for EdenMonaro made in moving his amendment. It seemed to me to be a strange speech - a speech which was extravagant in its language, having regard to the nature of the subject with which it dealt, and a speech in which the speaker devoted a great deal of his time and energy, not to discussing the merits of the proposal which he put forward, but, by various means, particularly by the use of adjectives - which are unpersuasive words in any case - to proving that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) personally was something of a rogue and a dishonest person, that the Government was misleading every one in the country and, generally, that things were going to the bad. In other words, he devoted far more of his energy and eloquence to attacking the Government than he did to attacking the very real problem of social services benefits with which this House is called on to deal.
When I saw the honorable member rise, fix the House with his glittering eye, like the Ancient Mariner, and then proceed to tell that long tale about the doom that seemed to beset him, I thought of him at first as perhaps a lonely man. We know him as a lonely man - perhaps one of the loneliest of the many lonely people who constitute the Opposition to-day. But, as the debate has proceeded, it has appeared that this is a movement made, quite seriously, by the Opposition. It is not the strange idiosyncrasy of an individual. It is not just the extravagant outburst of a single member. This is something which the Opposition, the Labour party, apparently has put forward as a serious contribution to this subject. What might have been dismissed with a shrug or with kindly tolerance as an individual utterance, has to be examined with a great deal more care when it is put before us as the contribution of the Labour party, the Opposition.
What is this contribution? We are familiar with the record - I mean the recent record - of the Labour party in matters relating to social services. There are honorable members opposite and honorable members on the cross benches who well remember the last general election that was held and the way in which’ the Leader of the Australian Labour party on that occasion approached the problem of social services. There are honorable members sitting on the Opposition benches, who, in their own private minds and, some of them, in their public utterances, denounced that approach as one that showed irresponsibility, carelessness and disregard of the public interest. It seems to me that this proposal is in keeping with the sort of record set by the Australian Labour party when it last went before the electors, when the electors - great credit to them ! - had the good sense to recognize Labour’s policy as a series of specious promises designed to catch their votes, and would have none of it.
– We got a majority of the votes cast in the country. It was just the seat boundaries that “apse? us.
– That may be the honorable member’s story. It was not the vote which the people of Australia gave. What exactly did the honorable member for Eden-Monaro propose? He proposed an increase in the pension far above the increase of 10s. which the Government is proposing in this bill. So far as he tried to justify his proposal at all, he seemed to try to justify it by a round of argument in which, first of all, he criticized the calculations by which the Government had arrived at the sum of 10s., and then justified his own figure by an argument which, to my mind, ran something like this: That the figure that he suggested was the pension rate that Labour would have fixed if Labour had been in power and if Labour had acted in a way different from the way it had acted on all previous occasions and had taken into account considerations which it did not take into account when it was in office. Then it might have arrived at the sort of result which he put before the House.
Let us cut right through all these attempts to show that this side is better than that side, that one set of figures is more dependable than another, and that one line of argument is more reasonable than, another. Let us get back to the case on which the Government rests its proposal for an increase of 10s. The Government took the pension as it was in 1949, when, it can be assumed, the previous Government was content that it represented an adequate payment. The pension in 1949, when Labour was in office and when Labour refused to increase it further, was £2 2s. 6d. a week. We propose that it should now be £4. That increase from £2 2s. 6d. to £4 - an increase of £1 17s. 6d. - will have been made over a period when, as every one knows, the value of money has fallen.
In the arguments which the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) has produced in the House, he has used a series of calculations known as the C series index. Using those figures - which are calculated by the Commonwealth Satistician, not by any of us - he finds that the purchasing power of £2 2s. 6d. in 1949 is equal to the purchasing power of £3 10s. 8d. to-day. But, regarding the pension paid in 1949, under.
Labour, as not having been fully adequate for the purposes for which it was granted, he proposes that the pension now should be not the exact equivalent in purchasing power of the pension paid in 1949, but £4, or 9s. 4d; more than the present-day purchasing power of the pension actually paid by the previous Government.
That underlines the first and most substantial point made by the Government in presenting its case. The Government, having increased the inadequate Labour pension shortly after it was returned to office in 194.9, has since then consistently maintained the purchasing power of the pension, and by this increase to £4 is still maintaining its purchasing power.
The attack which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro makes on that is based on a challenge to the applicability of the C series index. In many other calculations which we are accustomed to make in this country, we have adopted the C series index. We have been content to regard it as a reliable index of changes in the purchasing power of money. But on this occasion the honorable member chose to disregard it and to look for some other index. In looking for some other index, apparently he had recourse to personal inquiry, quite legitimately made, of the Commonwealth Statistician. He addressed an inquiry to the Commonwealth Statistician and, in answer to that inquiry, the Commonwealth Statistician supplied him with information. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro quoted from the letters he had received from the Commonwealth Statistician and he was courteous enough to make the letters available to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon). As the Minister himself will not have the opportunity to reply, I have asked him to let me see those letters, so that I may comment on them. I have the statistician’s letters in my hand now - the letters on which the honorable’ member for Eden-Monaro based his case - and I would point out that there is nothing in either of the two letters which refers to pensions, either directly or indirectly. On the contrary, it is clear on the face of it, that the correspondence did not relate at all to prices indices as affecting pensions; it related to another subject altogether, namely, - and I quote the rather odd and technical language which statisticians use - “ a universal deflator of costs or incomeexpenditure “.
When the honorable member for EdenMonaro quoted from these letters to the House he did not quote the parts of them which made it clear that the Commonwealth Statistician’s answer referred, not to pensions and index numbers, but to the purchasing power of earnings ranging from £600 a year to £15,000 a. year, subject to various considerations other than the considerations that affect the spending of a modest pension of about £200 a year.
– If the Minister believes the statistician’s letter says that, he ought to read it more closely.
– I have the statistician’s letter in front of me, and I have read it very carefully.
– Do not distort it. After all, I have made it available.
– In the course of his speech the honorable member for EdenMonaro was asked, by way of inter jection, to state what the question was that he had put to the statistician, and to that interjection the honorable member made no reply whatsoever. I suggest that he did not reply - and J hope I do not do him any wrong in making the suggestion - because the statistician was giving a reply to a totally different question from the one that the House is now considering, and the House is now considering solely the subject of finding a satisfactory yardstick for measuring the purchasing power of pensions at two different times - 1949 and 1955. There was a further distortion of the figures presented - or a distortion of the figures so far as they apply to the particular question before the House - because the honorable member persisted in making his comparison between a date of his own choice in 1948, and a date in 1955, whereas the comparison should purely bp between the date at the last time the Australian Labour party bad a chance, because it was in power in 1949, to change the pension - that is, between the time when the Australian Labour party refused to change the pension, and the present day. Surely that is the point of time which should be compared with the present point of time. The time chosen for comparison with the present should not be some date in L94S arbitrarily chosen by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. In any event, L do not propose to pursue that matter further. I have elaborated it to the extent that I have because it seems to me to show that the honorable member for EdenMonaro, in developing his own case, first, in order to destroy the Government’s calculations and, secondly, in order to build up his own calculations, handled the material before him rather carelessly, to put it in the most charitable terms. When all is said and done, however, it does not make very much difference which of the two sets of figures we take.
– Then why is the Minister making so much fuss about it?
– I am directing attention to the matter because I think it is sometimes of importance in an argument to disclose the methods used as well as the actual facts produced, because the methods have some bearing on the credibility of the person producing the argument, and on the credit to be given to that person’s argument. The figures quoted in the statistician’s letter -arid I use the honorable member for Eden-Monaro’s paraphrase of them - were on the basis that £1 as at mid-1955 would have purchased what cost approximately 10s. 6d. in mid-1948. Since then, the statistician has advised the Minister for Social Services, in answer ro a further question by him, that if the 0 series index alone had been used, and not the rather more intricate calculation he used in supplying the answer to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, the figure given as 10s. 6d. would, in fact, have been 10s. 9d. Let us do some simple arithmetic, an exercise of which I think even at this late hour of the evening we should still all be capable. Multiply by four - the four being £4, the value of the pension to be paid under this measure - either 10s. 6d. or 10s. 9d., and the product in one case is 42s. and in the other case 13s. Within the honorable member’s own calculations, which we dispute, it is proved that the figure that existed in 1948, which he chose, is broadly equivalent on either set of calculations to the pension as we propose to make it and 19 not equivalent to the pension rate which, with some extravagance, he proposes to nominate in his redrafted bill. I want to recall to the House the fact that the action taken in this particular measure by the Government to raise the pension by 10s. a week is in keeping with a series of actions that have consistently been taken by this Government over the years. Year after year, since the Government has been in office, there have been the steady annual increases of rates in order to maintain the purchasing power of the pension. In addition to maintaining the purchasing power of the pension the Government has applied itself to other aspects of this great problem, which, we all recognize, affects the lives and happiness of a great number of individuals in this country. By extension of the benefits available to persons in receipt of pensions, particularly medical and pharmaceutical benefits, and by the liberalizing of the conditions which govern the granting of pensions, and in particular by modifications of the means test, the Government has not only maintained the purchasing power of the pension, but also has made the pension available to more people. It has also added to the purchasing power of the pension benefits outside those that I have already mentioned, which previously had to be supplied at the pensioner’s own cost.
I should like to suggest to the House, in all seriousness, that any government, no matter of what political colour, in approaching this great problem of social services has two responsibilities. N”o matter how keen its sympathy mav be for any group in the community, any government which deserves the confidence of the people of Australia has two responsibilities in a matter of this kind. On the one hand there is that overriding responsibility for the management of the public finances of the nation; alongside that is the responsibility for the care nf the necessitous and the under-privileged. Surely all governments will accent not one, but both, of those responsibilities. Social services benefits are paid for by the community. They are not paid for by any one else. The 518.000 age and invalid pensioners in Australia have their legitimate claims to assistance, anr! the 3.500.000 taxpayers who provide £90,000,000 for this purpose each year also have their legitimate interest in the way in which the public finances are administered. The people of Australia have watched the total expenditure on social services benefits of various kinds rise to a point approaching £200,000,000 a year. The Government has to manage sums like that with some sense of care and responsibility.
The increases proposed in the bill will, in a full year, add £15,000,000 to the amount already being provided annually for social services. Six years ago, under Labour, the cost of social service benefits was £85,000,000. This year it will be £179,000,000 - more than double that amount. To be watchful and careful over expenditure of that magnitude is not to begrudge assistance to those who need it. It is simply the responsibility of this Government, in the national interest. The spirit of this nation - and I am sure that this is true of all income groups and occupations - is that no one shall go in want, hungry, cold or without shelter. That is a responsibility that not only the Government but also the community surely accept quite readily, but let us not, because of our sympathetic recognition of that grave social responsibility be misled into extravagance or carelessness. Let us not, as a nation, think that this is the kind of thing that can be determined simply by the desire of this party or that to make itself popular with a section of the voters.
I have in my own constituency a large number of pensioners. This is doubtless true of all other honorable members also. As are all honorable members, I am in fairly close contact with pensioners, and hear their troubles. I try to take up their cases as opportunity offers. In my electorate there is, I think, one of the largest State institutions caring for aged pensioners in the Commonwealth. I think I know something about them and, therefore, I would say that although they have a legitimate claim to be cared for by the community, they do not like to be regarded as paupers, or as people whose votes can be brought for 5s. by any party that comes along and offers it to them. The pensioner of this country is not lacking in self respect, and I think that it is about time that we abandoned this business of making political speeches about social services and, remembering our dual responsibility, ceased insulting the pensioners by bidding for their votes. I am sure that the great mass of the pensioners do not want us to do that by offering 2s. 6d. or 5s. over and above what another party may offer them. Our record, and it. has been consistent, has been to try to maintain the purchasing power of the pension, assuming always that it is reasonably adequate for the great majority.
That brings me to my second point. There is undoubtedly a good deal of unevenness in the way in which the pension is applied. All honorable members can think of people in receipt of pensions in certain categories who are reasonably well situated, and of others who are in want. One can make an extreme contrast. First, there is the married couple of pensionable age who own their home and are able to earn up to the permissible limit. Their total income will, if their wants are not extravagant, keep them in comfortable respectability. On the other hand, there is the single, aged and incapacitated pensioner who lives by himself, is obliged to pay rent and has no capacity to supplement his pension by earnings. That man is in want, but we must recognize that such situations cannot be made good merely by laws. Laws do not operate with, machine-like perfection. Many of the socialist theories suggest that a government can devise laws to deal with every variation that exists in human society. That is a fallacy. There are always likely to be the hard cases, which will never be overcome solely by devising variations in the law. The present Minister for Social Service? (Mr. McMahon) and his department can take a great deal of credit for the way in which these hard cases are administered, and for the discretion that is exercised in order to overcome, as far as possible, situations in which, because of the uneven application of the pensions system, some people are worse off than others. I am sure that that sympathetic administration will continue and will, very largely, still be used for the relief of these cases of individual necessity. However, there will still be some *we** that the department cannot help, and T do not think that the fact that we have a pen- sion system of this kind relieves the community of its remaining responsibility to exercise the blessed gift of charity.
There is a tendency sometimes to say that charity is an insult. If a workmate is injured, or falls on bad times, no insult is given him by passing round the hat. If there is, living in a back room a pensioner whose individual plight cannot be dealt with in the ordinary way, there is no insult, but rather blessedness, if the community will fill in the gaps that are inevitable under any system. Our system of social services benefits now assists 500,000 people in the community, and provides reasonable comfort and respectability for a very large proportion of them. It should be supplemented by both the sympathetic administration of the department and the continued charitable efforts, of every member of the community - of the very neighbours of these unfortunate people. I think that if we did a little more of that, instead of simply regarding a hard case as something that can be kicked around like a political football in order to gain a vote or two, social services would be lifted a good deal above the atmosphere of political stunting and vote-catching with which they are now surrounded.
I should like to refer to a proposal in the bill that has received scant attention. T refer to the removal of the ceiling limits so far as they apply to persons already in receipt of a war pension. The Chifley Government, in 194S, set a special limit on the age, invalid and widows’ pension that could be received by one who was also receiving a war pension. These ceiling limits have been a great source of irritation to ex-servicemen who, through age or invalidity, have become entitled to a civil as well as a war pension. The limits meant that any person who received compensation or superannuation in a civil sense could be granted an age pension at the full rate, but a war pensioner could not, a limit being set to the total income that he might receive. The bill removes the disparity between a person receiving a civil pension or superannuation and a person receiving a war pension, so far as eligibility for an age or invalid pension is concerned. The result will be that a single war pensioner who is otherwise eligible may also receive the increased age or invalid pension, to a total of not more than £7 10s. a week - the new income limit. Similarly, a married couple receiving war pensions will receive age or invalid pensions at the increased rate, bringing the total pensions payable to not more than £15 a week. That is the new limit of income plus pension for a married couple. That is another instance of the progressive way in which the present Government and the Minister for Social Services have tried, year by year, not merely to maintain the purchasing power of the pension, but, in various ways, to remove anomalies, to remove disparities and to iron out inequalities.
I commend the bill to the House. I regard it as something which will produce a result to the pensioner and which will maintain the pension at its purchasing power. In the case of the war pensioner who is in receipt of the age pension, it will remove a very serious disability. It is yet another instance of the way in which, in an enlightened and sympathetic manner, but with a due sense of its financial responsibility, the Government has attempted to deal with the question of social service benefits.
Mr. STEWART (Lang) [9.411- - Before I commence the speech that I have prepared on this bill, I feel that certain arguments that have been advanced by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) should be answered. First of all, the Minister once again put forward 1949 instead of 1948 as the proper basis of calculation of the present value of the pension, disregarding entirely that all parties were agreed in 1949 that an increase in the pension was then necessary and that it would be the responsibility of whatever party won the election that year to increase the pension rate.
Secondly, the Minister once again put forward the contention that the C series index is the only satisfactory measuring stick of the value of the pension, even though he had in his hand the letter of the Commonwealth Statistician which declared that no single index, at that time, could be regarded as a satisfactory yardstick. The remarkable admission was made by the Minister, in this respect, that, even on the basis of the C series index, the pension rate, taking 1948 as a basis, should be some shillings more than the £4 a week which it has proposed. Unless the Government is prepared to claim that the pension rate of £2 2s. 6d. in 1948 was too high in relation to the then basic wage, how can the Government refuse to accept 1948 as the base year? The fact which cannot be denied is that, in order to maintain the same relationship now, and so to honour the Government’s election pledges, the pension rate should be £4 lis. a week. As the Minister raised no other argument against all the contentions that have been put forward by the Opposition, and as he has been put up as the Government’s champion, it seems that the Government cannot deny the validity of the Opposition’s case as a whole. Therefore, it should accept the amendment.
The poor case that has been put forward by the Minister for Territories on behalf of the Government illustrates the reason why this bill is being hastened through the House without giving the Opposition ample oportunity of discussing it to the full. The Government has no answer to the case that has been proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and other members of the Opposition. By using its majority in this House, the Government is preventing Opposition members from supporting the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. There is cause for grave regret that the bill does not provide for any increase in child endowment. The foundation of our community is our families. Yet, not since 1950 has any increase been made in child endowment, despite the fact that the value of wages and of endowment has seriously declined.
I realize that the Minister for Social Services has endeavoured to carry out his duty as Minister sympathetically and sincerely. I give him credit for the increase of 10s. a week which the Government has granted to age, invalid and other pensioners, even though this amount falls far below the increase to which the pensioners are justly entitled. I understand that it was only his persistence and perseverance in the face of stiff opposition in Cabinet which obtained the 10s. increase. If other Ministers had been able to make him shift his ground, the pensioners would have had to be content with much less. However, whilst he managed to obtain some justice for age and other pensioners, he failed in his duty to the mothers of our families in not substantially increasing the endowment payable for the second and subsequent children. At some time or other, all thinking Australians have expressed the opinion that a stable nation is based on a strong and contented family life. I doubt whether this has ever been better said than by the late John Curtin when speaking on the introduction of the Commonwealth Child Endowment Bill in 194.1. Mr. Curtin then said -
With this bill we are, for the first time in the history of this country - except for the Maternity Allowance Act - writing into the statute-book our realization of the national significance of family life. That is not a maru platitude - that means something. There never has been any doubt of the value of the services, infinite in variety and extent, which the family renders to the nation. Primarily, it is the source of national continuance; it has supplied the human material indispensable for the production of the means of subsistence; it provides for the replacement of the old and the dead, and is the sole guarantee for the redemption, in the future, of those obligations which previous and present generations have found it desirable to incur in order to enjoy the fullest obtainable measures of security, comfort and civilization. .
The payment of child endowment is one social service which has the approval, almost unanimously, of members of every party in this House. One has only to look at speeches made by various members from the Government side of the House on previous occasions when child endowment was being discussed in order to realize that this is so. In 1941, when the Minister for Labour and National Service, who has the same portfolio at present, introduced the original Child Endowment Bill, he had this to say -
Child endowment can be rightly considered as a profitable national investment. A free enterprise economy such as ours provides inadequate incentive for investment in persons as compared with things. This is because it is rarely possible for people who make investment in persons to profit from it. For this reason governments subsidize education. For this reason also the investment of the Commonwealth Government in child endowment can be expected to make a high return in human happiness
He went on to say -
These payments will constitute a substantial contribution towards maintaining the welfare of children against the industrial hazards of their breadwinners.
Speaking on the same bill, the present Minister for the .Navy (Mr. Francis) said -
I am enthusiastically in favour of child endowment.
Speaking on the same bill, the then honorable member for Robertson, Mr. Eric Spooner, said -
I regard the introduction of an Australiawide scheme of child endowment as an indication of an evolutionary social outlook not only in Australia but also throughout the world. If Australia is to take its place among the greater nations it is fitting that it should display its political courage in the introduction of a scheme of this description.
Mr. Abbott, who was then the Australian Country party member for New England, said -
I congratulate the Government upon having introduced this measure. I agree with many other honorable members that the bill is one of the most vital and important pieces of legislation that has- yet been brought before this Parliament. It is a tribute to democracy . . . This is legislation of the stuff which binds the whole fabric of the nation.
Mr. Price, the then honorable member for Boothby, said -
I give both my support and my blessing to the bill.
Mr. Guy, the then honorable member for Wilmot, said -
I regard this legislation as a first instalment of very desirable social reform and I am hopeful that, when hostilities between nations have ceased and final victory has been achieved in the cause of democracy, this Parliament or some subsequent Commonwealth Parliament, will widen and improve this legislation.
Most of those sentiments were re-expressed when the bill for the payment of child endowment for the first child was introduced in this House. Even in connexion with the present bill before the House, the Minister for Social Services said in his second-reading speech -
We must recognize . . . the needs and claims of our children.
He went on to say -
We have a duty to the old, the sick, the family unit.
But we see no indication in the bill that the Minister has considered those people in any way. He has not granted any increase to them. If the family is of such significance, surely it is time that this Government, which has given lipservice to the introduction of child endowment, should do something feasible and introduce a bill to increase the payments that are made to the mothers aud fathers of our nation who are endeavouring to bring up children in this day and age. The system of family allowances has long been recognized. The younger Pitt defended its introduction in 1795 by stating -
There is a difference in the numbers which compose the families of the labouring poor If the minimum wage is to be fixed upon the standard of a small family, those will not enjoy the benefit of it for whose relief it is intended. What measures then can be found to supply the defect? Let us make relief in cases where there are a number of children a matter of right and an honour, instead of a ground for approbrium and contempt.
In 1940, Judge Beeby, of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, said that the wage then operative met the requirements of a family with one child; if there were two children, there was hardship, and if there were more than two, there was actual suffering. Mr. Abbott, who was the honorable member for New England in 1941, when speaking on the motion for the second reading of the Child Endowment Bill, said -
The bill represents the first attempt yet made to remove an undesirable feature of our wage structure, namely, the injustice suffered by large families under our present wagefixing system, which places a penalty upon paternity, and, at the same time, pays a bounty on bachelorhood. To some degree the bill will remedy that position.
In 1941, when the original Child Endowment Bill was introduced into this House, the Arbitration Court had an application before it for an increase in the basic wage. At that time, as I have pointed out, Judge Beeby said that in relation to the basic wage the court was not taking into consideration the needs of a family including from one to three children. Again, in 1950, when the present Government introduced endowment for the first child in every family, under sixteen years of age, once again the Arbitration Court had before it an application for an increase of the basic wage. Once again, the needs concept was brought under the eye of the Government by the judges of the Arbitration Court. On those occasions, the Government hastened to rectify the omission by bringing down, first, the original child endowment measure, and in 1950, by introducing endowment for the first child. In October, 1953, the Arbitration Court had a case before it for an increase of the basic wage. The Court made a clear statement to the effect that the fundamental consideration that it had in mind when assessing the basic wage was simply an estimate of the highest amount that industry could pay. The court said -
As a result of the 1940 interim addition and the decision of 1950, the (needs) concept has no part in the assessment of the current basic wage.
The court seemed to envisage that the time would arise when the basic wage should be fixed on a true needs basis. It stated -
The question of whether such a method is correct in principle and all questions as to the size of the family to be selected remain open.
In 1941, the court pointed out that the basic wage did not provide for the needs of a family. It pointed that out in 1950, and on each of these occasions the present Government introduced child endowment measures to provide some relief for the family; but in 1950, when the court again pointed out that the needs of the family were not provided for by the basic wage, the Government failed to make any increase in child endowment, either in the budget that was introduced in 1954 or in this year’s budget.
Let us have a look at the basic wage in 1941. The wage for the six capital cities was £4 6s. a week, and child endowment of 5s. a week was paid in respect of children other than the first child in the family. In 1948, the Labour Government then being in office, the basic wage for the six capital cities was £5 16s. a week, and child endowment at the rate of 10s. a week for each child under sixteen years of age other than the first child in a family was paid. To-day, the basic wage, if unpegged, would be £12 5s. a week. Endowment of all children under sixteen years of age, after the first child, is still 10s. a week, although the basic wage has increased from £5 16s. to £12 5s. a week. Surely all the needs of a family should be taken into consideration. If, as has been said in days gone by, families constitute the foundation of our community, it is time that this Government, instead of paying only lip service to the people of Australia, did something to see that they receive their just wage rates.
Let us have a look at the trials and tribulations of some families at the present time. I have before me the budget of a man - a friend of mine - who has three children. He is employed as a clerk, and is receiving a weekly wage of approximately £17. His weekly commitments are as follows : - rent, £3 5s. ; contributions to a medical benefit fund, 3s.; contributions to a hospital fund, 4s.; assurance, 2s.; personal loan instalment repayment. £1 10s.; income tax, £1; rates, taxes and insurance, £1 10s. ; and fares, 8s. 6d. - a total of £8 2s. 6d. a week, leaving a balance of £8 17s. 6d. a week from which to provide food and clothing, purchase chemists goods, and provide for other incidental expenditure including gas, electricity and entertainment. This man is paying instalments of £3 5s. a week for the repayment of a loan that he obtained in order to build his own home. He was handy with tools and did most of the work on the place himself. There are thousands of families in Australia who are not able to do the work that this man did in connexion with the establishment of his home and who, as a result, will never be able to own their own home. But irrespective of whether or not they own their own home, would any honorable member care to try to live on £8 17s. 6d. a week ? The basic wage, until such time as it is assessed on a needs basis, must be disregarded as far as family allowances are concerned. If the basic wage does not take into consideration the needs concept, surely it is up to the Government to give some assistance to the mothers and fathers of our young children, so that they will be able to provide food, clothing and shelter, recreational facilities, and make provision for old age. These days, a young couple who are endeavouring to provide for their old age. in addition to purchasing a home and furniture, are not able to live adequately on the present rates of wages that arp being paid throughout Australia. Of course, the wage rates might be adequate for a couple who have no children. If the woman goes out to work, two weekly wages come into the home. But a woman who has a young family is prevented from going out to work; she is unable to devote any time to earning money outside the home, because she has to look after her family. If she ignores her family and goes out to work she leaves the children in the care of neighbours or friends. Consequently, there is a lack of parental control, which often leads to delinquency.
The payment of child endowment or family allowances is an investment. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) in the debate on the bill which introduced the payment of endowment for the first child in 1950, admitted that the introduction of child endowment had made a big difference to family life and to the general welfare of the community. lt i3 not right that young couples with three, four or five children should have to work on a pinch-penny budget. I sincerely hope that the Government will not merely pay lip service to the needs of the family and of the children who, because their parents are unable to provide them with the necessaries of life, are forced to do without many of the things that mothers and fathers would like to give them.. The amendment moved on behalf of the Australian Labour party by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) reads -
That nil the words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the Bill be redrafted to provide, as from the 1st July, 1055, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in “.19-1 8”.
The Australian Labour party will move amendments also at the committee stage to provide for an increase of the funeral benefit from £10 to £25 and for a 10s. a week increase of the amount payable to the dependants of pensioners who, for some untold reason, have been entirely disregarded in the framing of this measure.
I have endeavoured to show that the position in respect of the needs of a family is more urgent to-day than it was in “1941 when the original Commonwealth Child Endowment Act was enacted by a conservative government. That legislation was amended in 1950 to provide for child endowment for the first child. If the Government parties thought it necessary to make provision for the needs of a family after their attention had been directed to the matter by a judgment of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court on both those occasions, why did the Government not act consistently and increasechild endowment after the judgment of 1853 in which the court again directed attention to the failure of the basic wage to provide for the needs of a family?” Were the Government parties sincere in 1941 and 1950, or was their action motivated by a desire to gain political advantage? If they were sincere in 1941 and 1950, how can honorable members opposite explain the failure to increase child endowment in the budgets introduced in 1954 and this year? The Australian Labour party, in the amendment so capably, honestly and sincerely moved by my colleague, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, seeks to obtain an increase of child endowment. I earnestly request the Government to give full and favorable consideration to this proposal, for, until we introduce a wage system that will enable wage-earners to become effective owners of property, from what source can a family man who has only a wage out of which to provide food and the necessaries of life, set aside anything for the future by practising frugality?
.- I recall clearly that, in the debate on the Social Services Bill 1954, it was made abundantly clear to the House by an Opposition member that the greatest advancement and development of social justice and the greatest benefit to age pensioners and the other more indigent members of the community always occurred when the present Government parties were in office and the Australian Labour party was in Opposition. The excuse advanced by that Opposition member was that it was the vociferous shouting of Labour members in opposition that achieved those results.
– A good excuse for keeping them there.
– A very good excuse. It is apparent that the Australian Labour party has no constructive views about social services. It is true that while it is in opposition, it pays lip service to the needs of the more indigent section of the community, possibly because it believes that those people are of lower mental calibre than others and therefore are likely to be swayed by persuasive eloquence in this Parliament and led to believe that if only Labour were in office the world would be theirs. That is so true that, while Labour is in office, nothing is done for age pensioners. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has referred to the situation that existed in 1948 in the hope that the people will forget that in 1949, when Labour was still in office, inflation was galloping ahead and the plight of age pensioners was desperate, and that the Labour Government turned a completely deaf ear to the pleas of aged pensioners and gave them no relief in its budget in that year. Yet, with pious platitudes, members of the Australian Labour party in this House to-night decry this measure. They have not made a concerted attack on it, but have merely probed and searched in an endeavour to find a weakness in respect of which their criticism may find public support.
The honorable member Lang (Mr. Stewart) concentrated upon the problem of child endowment. It is only a short time since we saw the spectacle of the great Australian Labour party voting in this Parliament against the payment of child endowment to the first child. Honorable members are not ignorant of the fact that child endowment on a Commonwealth basis was introduced, not by a Labour government, but by a government of the political complexion of the present Administration. In addition, this Government set a record for the greatest increase of pensions that had ever been given. It has since exceeded that record time and again. The honorable member for Lang suggested that the Government was trying to rush this measure through.
– So it is.
– The honorable member for Lang suggested that the Government was trying to rush this bill through because it feared a debate on the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
– That is right.
– The remarks of the honorable member for Lang and of the Opposition Whip, the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), clearly indicate that the Australian Labour party is completely out of touch with the needs of the more indigent section of the community. If those honorable members were more in touch with the people they would realize that the people are most anxious that this measure should be passed by the Parliament and receive the Royal Assent without delay, so that the increased pensions may be paid at the earliest possible moment. The suggestion of Labour members that the bill should be debated at length in the Parliament clearly demonstrates that they are not anxious that increased pensions should be paid to age, widow and invalid pensioners at the earliest possible moment.
– It does not suit their politics that the increased pensions should be paid without delay.
– It does not suit them at all.
It would be unjust if this measure were passed without the payment of a sincere tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), who introduced it. All honorable members, whether they sit on the Opposition side or the Government side of the House, must admit that, whenever they approach the Minister with a case in which it is apparent that some one is in dire difficulty and really needs sympathetic consideration and assistance, the Minister always gives the case all possible consideration, strains the terms of the legislation and the regulations, and exercises all his prerogatives to the utmost in order to assist the person who needs help. Not one honorable member on the Opposition benches can deny that he lias had from the Minister the most sympathetic consideration of every problem of this nature that he has brought forward; and the same applies to honorable members on the Government side. So I pay tribute to the Minister, who has been most sympathetic and most kind in his administration.
Further than that, the gradual development of the social services legislation which has occurred under this Minister indicates clearly that he has. a great understanding of the problems of these people. One of the most imaginative thoughts in this field was the provision of a special grant, to assist charitable organizations to provide homes for aged people. This has been one of the most imaginative thoughts which have been given to the whole problem of social services - a problem which goes far beyond the payment just of age pensions. “We know that the thoughts of the Labour party are confined to the field of pension payments and will go no further because it sees in that field the possibility of buying a few miserable votes. That is no answer to the problem. To those who have indicated that the party is confined to that field, I suggest that they get in closer contact with the aged and the infirm in their electorates.
– We are in closer contact with them than are Government members.
– What member of this Parliament, including the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), is unaware of the fact that in his electorate he has people who have advanced so far in years that ill health, caused by their age, has overtaken them, and they are in a position where they are no longer able to care for themselves and are unable to live by themselves in their own homes? These people may not have children who are able to support them and even if they have, they may not be able to communicate with or contact the children, or the children may not be in a financial position to assist them and support them in their advancing years and in their ill health. Consequently, it is necessary to find somebody who is able to cater for their needs. In the past, those charitable organizations which have been providing homes for the aged have been handicapped by the difficulty in raising sufficient finance to enable them to give accommodation to these people. Under the provision of the act, we are now able to advance the sum of £1,500,000 a year to help organizations to raise finance for the provision of this accommodation.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who is interjecting, should know something about this problem, but his speeches in this House indicate that he knows nothing a.bout it. He, above all men, should realize that this is one of the biggest contributions to the solution of the problems of the aged. I repeat that he, of all people, should know this, because he must have been associated with organizations that have endeavoured to raise finance for this particular purpose and have found that it has been only since the introduction of this legislation, that there has been greater enthusiasm amongst those who subscribe to this purpose. Already, in the past twelve months, over £1,000,000 has been subscribed for that purpose, and that reflects great credit on the Minister.
What pleases me most in the legislation before the House to-night is the move to abolish completely the ceiling limits that have been imposed on the pensions payable to ex-servicemen who were in receipt of a service pension and a war pension. Let it not be forgotten by anybody in this country that there were no ceiling limits before the intervention of a Labour government. Let it not be forgotten that a man whose body bad been bashed and battered by war, or whose mind had been damaged by war and who was in receipt of a war pension for the incapacity which he suffered in fighting for his country, was able to obtain a full service pension under the terms of this act until the Labour party came into power and imposed ceiling limits.
– And the Government which the honorable member supports has taken six years to remove them !
– It was the Labour party that imposed these ceiling limits. That party has shown, whenever it has been in office, a complete disregard and complete contempt for the requirements of the ex-service men and women. It was this Government that lifted the ceiling limits.
– Sis years to take them off.
– Under the bill, exservicemen will no longer be handicapped by these ceiling limits which did apply merely because they made some sacrifice in the defence of their country while trade union leaders were fighting a great battle on the home front to maintain the standards of living of the workers.
Let me point out the great advantages that will accrue from this one single section of the act. The honorable member for Wilmot said that this Government had never done anything in the social services sphere, with the exception of the introduction of child endowment. Of course, he would not know very much about the ex-servicemen, but let me point out to him the benefits that will accrue to these people because of the legislation which has been introduced by the Minister, and which abolishes legislation that was introduced by the Labour party.
– It is marvellous how much the honorable member knows.
– Order! The honorable member for Wilmot is interjecting far too much.
– Under the Labour party’s legislation, a soldier who was married and received a 100 per cent, war pension was limited, as to the amount of service pension he was able to draw, to a maximum of £9 12s. 6d. for himself and wife. If he was single, the maximum income was £5 12s. 6d. Under the legislation which is being debated to-night, an ex-serviceman and his wife, if both are eligible for the service pension and the old-age pension combined, will get £14 10s. 6d. a week. Yet the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) asks us to compare the advantages which will accrue, in terms of pension payments, with what obtained in 1948 ! The position is £14 10s. 6d. to-day as against £9 12s. 6d. then.
Further, these people are now entitled to medical benefits and pharmaceutical benefits under the Pensioners’ Medical Benefits Scheme and the Pensioners’ Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. These benefits cannot be calculated in terms of money because, as men and women advance in years, their dependency upon medical treatment by doctors and the supply of medicine must increase. So, when we suggest that to-day we are paying to the age pensioners a far greater proportion of the revenue than that which was ever paid to them by the Labour party, we speak with truth.
But I feel that this Parliament hae somehow to re-orient its whole approach to the problem of social services. This year we shall pay for social services approximately £218,404,000, or more than one-fifth of our total revenue. Whence is this money to come? We have a population of approximately 9,000,000. Our work force is estimated to be in the vicinity of 3,500,000. This means that 3,500,000 people have to contribute every week, out of their pay envelopes, sufficient money to make available by the end of the year the sum of £218,404,000 for social services. There must be a limit to this. It cannot continue year after year. The percentage of the total revenue will continue to increase. Let us examine the position as it exists to-day. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro suggested that we must increase the age pension. Somebody suggested that the age pension should be at least half the basic wage - in other words, that a married couple should receive the equivalent of the basic wage.
– Hear, hear!
– It was suggested that, in addition, pensioners should be permitted to supplement that income from various sources. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) said, “ Hear, hear ! “ Let him go back to the electorate of Wilmot and tell those persons who work there and receive an income equivalent to the average basic wage of £11 16s. a. week that, out of that income, they should contribute so much more in taxation as to enable somebody else to receive an income of £15 a week.
– The honorable member should apologize. I did not say a word.
– Let him ask any worker for award wages, who is earning an average of £11 16s. a week, whether he thinks that money should be taken from his pay envelope to contribute to somebody who is receiving pounds a week more than he is. Let us examine the needs of the two classes of people involved. On the one hand we have a couple, perhaps in the age group between 65 and 80 years, who own their own home, furniture, soft furnishings, and almost all the requirements to see them to the end of their days, who receive an income of £15 a week without any other commitment than their own maintenance. The Labour party suggests that some fellow in the age group from twenty to 40 years, who is married and has a family of two, three, four or five children, and is endeavouring to educate them, should contribute money from his pay envelope to provide a bigger income for somebody who is not required to work any more. In other words, th. Labour party suggests that a man who receives the average basic wage of £11 16s. a week should contribute money to give somebody else an income of £15 a week, and from what is left over he should keep his wife and children, endeavour to pay off a home or pay a high rental for a State-owned home supplied under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, furnish his home, and provide the medical services which are required by an ever-increasing family. The Labour party would condemn this man to poverty to provide an income of £15 a week to somebody who receives free medical attention and free medicine, who has to pay no income tas or instalments on a home, and who owns his own furniture and soft furnishings. The latter will have no increases in his family. In other words, this man will virtually live in the lap of luxury while the other struggles to support him. If that is the Labour party’s idea of social justice, then my opening remarks are correct, and it is time that it woke up to the realities of the whole problem of social services. Until this legislation was introduced we had apparently forgotten or refused to bring before the Parliament the fact that there are a number of different classes of indigent people who are recipients of social services benefits. I sincerely believe that pensioner married couples, with an income of £15 a week, are doing very well indeed.
– “Who receives that?
– A man and his wife may have a total income of £15 a week.
– Yes, “ may “.
– They may own their own home, they may have insurance policies, they may own a motor car and other personal effects.
Not one member of the Labour party, during the course of the debate to-night, has suggested that there are different sections in this field of social services, and that great hardship would fall on the single pensioner who has a home but is required to maintain himself completely from his pension. He is in a different category altogether. So also is a single pensioner who does not have a home but is required to pay rent, and from the balance of his pension has to feed and clothe himself. These persons are entitled to far greater consideration than those couples who are in receipt of a total income of £15 a week, and it cannot be denied that there are pensioners in this latter category.
While we appropriate sums such as £218,404,000 a year for social services, I think that it is time that the Parliament adopted a wholly different outlook on the problem. More than one-fifth of the total revenue of this country is being used for social services, and some persons are receiving pensions when their need of assistance is not as great as that of others. The time has passed when the Parliament could say, “ We must increase the age pension holus-bolus and bring it up to half the basic wage “. Anybody who suggests this does so for political purposes. There is no depth of sincerity in his heart and he has not examined the problem. How long can the Australian working force of 3,500,000 continue to contribute £218,404,000 for this purpose? Is this amount to be extended by further increasing the age pension? We cannot continue in this way. We have to reorient our thinking completely and examine the whole problem. I agree that adequate pensions must be paid to those who are in indigent circumstances and in dire need. Until that policy is adopted, social services will be a handicap to national development and a political football at the feet of those who are prepared to stand in the Parliament and say, with complete irresponsibility, “ Let us increase all the pensions; let us bring them up to half the basic wage “. Anybody who says that has either failed to examine the problem or is completely irresponsible. Honorable members who belong to the Labour party have claimed that the Government has not been generous in its approach to the problem. I remind them that not one member of the Labour party had the courage to rise and to use as a basis for his argument the figures that existed when Labour went out of office in 1949.
This Government assumed office in December of that year, and, in its first budget, increased the pension by 7s. 6d. to £2 10s. a week. Until then, the pension had stood at £2 2s. 6d. a week, above which the Labour Government had refused to increase it in spite of inflation. In 1951, this Government increased it by 10s. a week, which was twice the amount of any increase that had been given by any Labour government in the history of Australia. That brought the pension to £3 a week, and in 1952 it was increased by 7s. 6d. to £3 7s. 6d. In 1953, it was increased to £3 10s., and now it is proposed that the maximum pension rate shall be £4 a week. What I applaud most is the fact that the proposed increase of 10s. will be given to all classes of pensioners - not only to age pensioners, but also to invalid and widow pensioners.
In conclusion, let me repeat that any assessment of the contribution of the work force to the indigent and old persons of this country should not be confined to the amount of the pension that is paid. Let us also take into consideration the all-important fact that, not only will they receive a pension of £4 a week, or £S a week in the case of a married couple, with a maximum income allowance of £15 a. week, but also free medical treatment, free medical supplies, and a contribution that will help to house all aged and infirm persons who are unable to accommodate and cater for themselves. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) upon his approach to this problem. I suggest that it is the most sympathetic approach that has ever been made by a Minister for Social Services in the history of the Parliament.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), in the latter part of his holier-than-thou speech, viciously accused me of making an interjection.
– The honorable member would not have sufficient intelligence to interject.
– Cheer up!
– Order ! The honorable member for Petrie is out of his place.
– At the stage of the honorable member’s speech to which I have referred, I was perfectly silent and was listening to him with great interest. The interjection was made by another honorable member in relation to whose voice I cannot understand the honorable member for Lilley making a mistake.
– I should like, first, to pay a tribute to the officers of the Department of Social Services. In common with all honorable members on both sides of the House, I have pensioners and other persons coming to me for advice and assistance on social services matters. It is always a pleasure to receive such problems and to submit them to the officers of the Department of Social Services, because the assistance of those officials is given very promptly and readily. I think we should pay public tribute to Mr. Rowe and Mr. Fyfe of the central office, and to Mr. Collopy and his fellow officers of the Victorian branch, for the ready manner in which they rise to the occasion and help honorable members. I should also like to take the unusual step of paying tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon).
Mr. Edmonds interjecting,
– If the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) were honest, he would join with me in saying that the Minister, in his administration of the Department of Social Services and the War Service Homes Division, is most helpful when honorable members submit individual problems to him. He is always ready to do whatever is possible within the confines of the law, and, if possible, to give to the applicant the benefit of the doubt. That has been my experience, and I think it has been the experience of other honorable members on both sides of the House. The Minister deserves commendation for the sympathetic manner in which he and the officers of his department perform their administration.
Another matter to which I should like to refer is the fact that each year we receive from the Director-General of Social Services a very valuable report in which he reviews the operations of the department during the preceding year and gives a lot of very interesting and useful statistical information. It seems a pity, however, that, as is the case with other departments and other government instrumentalities, such reports never seem to be available to honorable members until after their subject-matter has come under discussion. To-night, I went to the reading room and asked for the latest report of the Director-General of Social Services so that I could look at it before speaking in this debate. I found that the latest available report was for the year ended the 30th June, 1954, which was ordered to be printed on the 4th November last. It seems to me that the administrative attention of the Minister in charge of this bill, and also of Ministers who are responsible for other departments, should be directed to ensuring that these very helpful and valuable reports are prepared, printed, and made available to honorable members before the subject-matter with which they deal comes up for debate.
Having listened to this debate for some considerable time, it seems to me to be a great pity that year after year, when the1 subject of social services benefits is dis- cussed, the needs of the pensioners, the elderly people, and other desirable sections of the community should be made the subject of a political football match. It is most unedifying to hear speech after speech from both sides of the House in which arc enumerated the claims first of one party and then of another. Underlying all those speeches is the suggestion that one side or the other has a monopoly of decency or humanitarianism, and that one side or the other has been doing the right thing and has been facing up to its responsibility of seeing that justice and fair play are given to these very worthy sections of the community. The arguments that have been advanced point to the necessity to give effect to something like the proposal contained in the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua), as leader of the Australian Labour party (anti-Communist), so that as far as possible, the subject of social services will not be made the subject of a political football match each time it is raised. We witnessed the spectacle of one side claiming that the rate of pension should be related to the C series cost-of-living index, and of the other side claiming that it should be related to the basic wage. One side wants to start its calculations from 1949 and the other side wants to start it calculations from 1948. The date on which we start our calculations, or the particular mathematical formula that we use, has no relevance. Surely the real point is, not the formula that should be used or the date that we should take to commence the calculation, but the amounts required to meet the needs and requirements of the recipients of social services benefits.
It is in order to give effect to the very desirable principle that social services payments should be based upon needs and proper requirements, rather than thai they should be a political plaything, that the honorable member for Ballarat has foreshadowed an amendment, which proposes the appointment of a royal commission. Of course, royal commissions have their limitations and restrictions, but a royal commission seems to me to be the only kind of independent body that could be appointed to call evidence, go into the whole matter and ascertain the needs and proper requirements of the recipients of social services payments. Having ascertained those needs and requirements in a. proper manner, free from all political bickering and dickering, we could pay those people the amounts that they need, without having a rather unedifying auction every year, with one side saying, “ We shall give so much “ and the other side saying, “ That is not enough ; we shall give so much more “.
I think the House should give very serious consideration to the proposition put forward by the honorable member for Ballarat. It is on that basis that the real needs of the pensioners and other people who receive social services payments can be ascertained and effect given to them. On that basis they would receive justice in accordance with what the economy would stand, and we should get away from unedifying spectacles such as the one we have been witnessing.
In the short time that remains for this debate, I should like to draw attention to the fact that some people who are in receipt of the full age pension are comparatively well off. Some of them have an income from other sources, which brings their total income up to the maximum rate of £15 a week. If such people own their homes, they are comparatively well off. But a section of the community which, in my opinion, we tend to overlook, and which I am afraid has been overlooked in the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, is the section which consists of people who are entirely dependent upon a pension for their livelihood - people who have no income other than a pension, who do not own their own homes and who are living in accommodation for which they have to pay rent. They are the people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. They are the people to whose needs we should give special consideration.
It is a matter for great regret that, in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and in the speeches that have been made in this debate, we have not heard more about the necessity to do something specially for them. I want to draw the attention of honorable members to the fact, which I have referred to in previous years, that the late Mr. Chifley, in the last speech that he made on the social services question in this House, specifically referred to the need to help these people. He expressed his philosophy on the payment of social services benefits. He said it was this section of the community that was most in need of help, and he stressed that the Labour party, which was then under his leadership, should give particular attention to the needs of that section of the community.
What Mr. Chifley had in mind was that people with no income other than a pension and who do not own their own homes - most of these people, by the way, are elderly ladies, either widows or spinsters, who have nobody to rely on - should receive a special payment - call it what you will - over and above the ordinary pension. There are administrative difficulties in the way of making such a payment, as Mr. Chifley recognized when he first raised the matter in the House, but the fact that there are such difficulties is no reason why we should not do something to help these people. On the 22nd November, 1950, speaking on the Social Services Consolidation Bill of that year, Mr. Chifley said -
The Government proposes to liberalize the means test in conjunction with the pension increase so as to assist persons who have small independent incomes. However, the Labour party is chiefly concerned about the situation of the single man or woman living alone in a cottage or room who has no income apart from the pension.
It is regrettable that the need to assist those persons appears to have been lost sight of by the people sitting behind the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) to-day, because, as I have already said, there is no mention of the problem in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. After developing that theme, Mr. Chifley said -
I am not interested in making the pension available to persons like a man whom I know who lias been receiving £30,000 a. year for many years, t have an idea that lie 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 . . . Even at this late hour, I appeal to the Government to give special consideration to the unfortunate pensioners who have no other income than their social services benefit.
One way of dealing with the problem presented by those people, mostly elderly women, who have no income apart from the pension, is to pay them a special allowance. A special allowance of 10s. a week was mentioned in those days. That would be one way to deal with the problem, but the department does not seem to favour it. Another way to deal with the problem would be for the Government to provide adequate accommodation for pensioners, at nominal rentals which are easily within their reach.
It seems to me that these people have a need that is not purely a financial need. It is not a matter only of increasing pensions, and giving the recipients extra income. Many of these elderly people are in such a state of health that they are not able adequately to look after themselves. They would be much better off if they were living in decent accommodation and had facilities such as a common dining room, so that they would not have to bother about cooking their meals. If the scheme upon which the Government has embarked of making money available to provide housing accommodation for these people were extended, in my opinion, that would be the most progressive step forward in the social services field in recent years.
To meet the real needs of the elderly citizens in the community who require help, we should concentrate more and more upon providing bousing accommodation for them. I entirely approve of the principles underlying the Aged Persons Homes Act, which is breaking new ground in an estimable way. I think that the principles laid down in that legislation should be extended. I hope that when that scheme gradually expands, as it will, emphasis will be laid upon giving priority for admission to the places which will bo built with Government assistance to the people that I have mentioned - the elderly widows and spinsters who are entirely dependent upon a pension. I hope that in the housing schemes that are going forward those people will receive preference. They should receive preference over people who are in a position to make their own housing arrangements.
In my electorate are examples of the valuable work being done in accordance with the grants that the Government has made under the Social Services Act to assist in providing homes for aged persons. In the Fawkner electorate there are three different institutions which cater for old people. The Villa Maria and the Villa Madonna, conducted by the Catholic Church, arc two which cater for the aged blind. There is also a hostel for blind ladies conducted by the Association for the Advancement of the Blind. The Montefiore Home for the Aged is conducted bv the Jewish community for aged Jewish people. The Masonic Homes provide for aged members of the Masonic order and their womenfolk.
I direct attention particularly to the work of this latter body, because a remarkable development has taken place in the accommodation it has provided. This is particularly suited to the needs of aged persons. This body has been the recipient of one of the grants for aged persons’ homes on a £l-for-£l basis. It has built a number of cottages in which married couples, who find that kind of dwelling most suitable to their needs, can live quite independently. They have their own cooking facilities and so on. There is also a large block of buildings containing flatettes for people who can be best suited with this type of accommodation. They each have a bed-sitting room, and toilet and bathroom accommodation. There are common dining rooms, and they do not have to bother about having to do their own cooking. They also have common recreational facilities. Included in this block of buildings is an infirmary, or small hospital, in which any of these aged people can be given proper medical attention if they become ill. This set of masonic homes for the aged in Prahran is a model because it provides a most efficient means of giving the maximum service in a limited area of ground for a large number of people in accordance with modern standards. All charitable institutions and religious bodies who are interested in taking advantage of the assistance available from the Government, under this social service legislation could well examine what has been clone in that quarter.
Honorable members concentrate their attention in social service matters almost exclusively to the needs of the aged, which are very real and deserving of utmost sympathy. The result is a tendency to overlook the fact that there are many young married men working for State instrumentalities whose wages are not high. I have in mind employees of the Victorian railways and the Victorian State Electricty Commission. They receive about £15 a week, and are experiencing considerable difficulty in meeting the normal economic requirements of a decent living standard for their families. Only the child endowment makes that possible because their wages would not be sufficient to purchase even the necessaries of life. Honorable members who have young sons know that a pair of boots are often worn out in six weeks, and a pair of trousers in a considerably shorter time. They will appreciate the burdens which these men in the lower income group are carrying in their efforts to provide for their families that decent standard of living which should normally prevail in this country. To assist them it is imperatively necessary that the rate of child endowment for these families should be increased. The minimum should be to increase the weekly payment from 10s. to £1 for all children after the first. Although that would involve the country in a considerable financial commitment, it is necessary so that these young parents, the fathers and mothers of the next generation, are given urgently needed assistance.
– So far as we are concerned this debate continues, because it is an important one.
– In other words, the honorable member proposes to hold up the payment of the increased social services pensions?
– No, we do not propose to hold up the payment, but we want to say something in support of the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) from this side of the House, because a few points have been raised from the Government side which make it desirable for us to say something in relation to the Government’s approach to this matter.
– The honorable member is stone-walling.
– An accusation of stone-walling in relation to the payment of increased pensions provided for under the measure could well be laid against the Government because of its failure to do one of two things. If the Government were really interested in the pensioner it could have dealt with this matter a week earlier, had it so desired, because it is in charge of its own business.
– Since the Labour party seems to want to delay the payment to the pensioners of the increased pensions, I move -
That the question be now put.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Mr. Allan Fraser’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma ; progress reported.
House adjourned at 11.10 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– I am advised as follows by the Minister for Repatriation: -
Northern Territory Tourist Traffic.
M r. Keon asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice - 1.Is it a fact that considerable revenue from tourist traffic is being lost to the Northern Territory as a result of the lack of proper tourist accommodation?
k. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable member, the Minister for Shipping and Transport has furnished the following replies: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 October 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19551011_reps_21_hor8/>.