22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Mr. Speaker, since the House met last, my distinguished colleague, the Treasurer, has, as you know, and as honorable members know, suffered a very sad bereavement. When we all remember how long this final illness lasted, we can appreciate the singular efforts made by our colleague as my deputy in my absence in order to maintain the business of the country. 1 am vastly indebted to him and so, I am sure, are all members of all parties. I am sure that it would be in conformity with the general feeling of the House if you, Mr. Speaker, were to convey to my colleague and to Lady Fadden our deep sympathy in this most unhappy event - an event in which we all mourn with them and most profoundly feel for them.
– I agree entirely with the suggestion of the Prime Minister. I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will carry out the request and make the message a personal message to the Treasurer and his wife. I hope that you will express our deep sympathy with them in their great loss.
– I assure the House that I shall comply with that request.
– I direct my question to the Postmaster-General. Some time ago I made representations to have improvements and additions made to the post office at Tully, which is in my electorate. I was informed that such additions and improvements would not be effected because it was proposed to erect a new, modern post office at Tully. 1 ask the Postmaster-General whether he is in a position to say what progress, if any, has been made in connexion with the proposed erection of the new post office at Tully.
– I am able to advise the honorable member for Herbert, possibly in somewhat general terms, of the position.
Following the allocation of funds to the Postal Department for capital works this year, it has been possible to finalize building plans. The proposal to build a new post office and exchange at Tully is included in the list of works to be commenced, at least, this year, lt is also included in the list of works prepared by my colleague, the Minister for Works. The present position is that both the Postal Department and the Department of Works are having a look at the original estimated cost of the building, because it is felt that it can possibly be carried out in a way which will serve the district properly at a lower cost than that originally estimated. That will not mean, of course, that it will not be a building consistent with the importance of the district and the volume of work there; I mention the matter because this aspect will need to be determined before it is actually put to tender. . Nevertheless, I assure the honorable member that the building will go to tender in the next few months, at any rate, and that a commencement will be made on its establishment during this financial year.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Have not developments in Suez and the Middle East rendered it even more desirable that Australia and the British Commonwealth should obtain supplies of oil from sources less vulnerable to unfriendly action? Should not this intensify our search for oil in our own territories? Would not vigorous action along these lines tend to excite salutary second thoughts in the minds of other nations whose wealth largely depends upon the production and transport of crude oil, and would not the knowledge that we were embarking on this policy strengthen our hands here and now in any negotiations with them? While I am not unmindful of the very great assistance which this Government has given to oil prospecting through taxation concessions, through the assistance of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, and in other ways, are not even these measures obviously inadequate to the new urgency for oil, which follows from recent political developments in the Middle East? Since in this matter every day is vital, will the Prime Minister prepare a plan for special encouragement of oil prospecting in Australia and New Guinea and bring it into the House before we go into recess, so that any necessary legislative action may be taken promptly, and so that the maximum and most timely effect may be exerted upon the outlook of the other oil-producing States to which I have referred?
– I think that the honorable member does well in directing attention to the gravity of this problem and, in particular, pointing out, as he does, that difficulties of the kind that have been encountered in the Suez Canal matter point increasingly and urgently to the development of alternative sources of supply. There has. of course, been a great deal of money spent, both publicly and privately, in Australia and New Guinea in searching for oil. Whatever the Government can do to encourage that search and the production of indigenous oil will, I am quite sure, be regarded by everybody as of the highest order of importance.
– 1 preface a question to the Postmaster-General by saying that the regional news session conducted in South Australia by the national broadcasting stations between 6.23 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. provides much news which is greatly appreciated by the listeners. It is well presented by the announcers, who enunciate and articulate clearly. However, this service covers so large an area and is so important that the announcers cannot present all the news in the seven minutes that are allotted. Will the Postmaster-General see that an additional three minutes is provided for this session so that the announcers may give full attention to all news and not have to curtail important items or hurry through the session?
– I think that the honorable member is aware that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is a statutory body which operates under its own authority, conferred upon it by the Broadcasting and Television Act. Therefore, I am not in a position, as Postmaster-General, to direct the commission that it shall do this, that or the other thing. I have always found that the commission has been actuated by a desire to serve the interests of the people generally, as efficiently as possible, and I have no doubt that if this proposal were put to the commission for its determination, and an increase of the time allotted for the dissemination of news were considered necessary, it would be only too happy to do so.
– Can the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization advise me of the progress being made by the organization in combating the infestation of valuable land in my electorate, and in other places in Queensland, by the lantana plant?
– The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has been active in trying to combat lantana for a great many years, and I expect that this problem will occupy the organization for a great many years ahead. Lantana is, of course, one of Australia’s important plant pests, particularly in the regions of summer rainfall, and perhaps especially in Queensland. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has been collaborating actively with the Queensland Department of Lands. The best promise lies in the importation into Australia of an insect enemy of lantana. To that end an officer, I think of the Queensland Department of Lands, was sent to Mexico and the Caribbean a little time ago. and of a number of potential insect enemies of lantana tested, one in particular appears to be showing very considerable promise, but it has still finally to be established thai this insect does not attack plants and growths of an economic value in Australia. I know that the present prospects are hopeful, although I think it will be three, four, oi maybe more years before this insect may be finally established as useful for this purpose and disseminated widespread in the present Iantana-afflicted areas. The position is hopeful, although there will be no quick and easy road to the solution of lantana infestation before the passage of three, four, or five years.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Interior. By preface - the wonderful, annual lilac time festival will begin in Goulburn on Friday, and will continue throughout the following week. Its national significance is indicated by the fact that the Leader of the Government in the Senate will perform the official opening on Friday. However, as Canberra and Goulburn are twin cities, I was wondering whether the Minister would agree to consider sending, on this felicitous occasion, an appropriate message of greeting and congratulation to the people of Goulburn or, alternatively, perhaps, would suggest that course to the chairman of our local advisory council.
– lt is a pleasure to have a question without a sting in the tail of it. Certainly, I shall be glad to accede to (he honorable member’s request.
– is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that spread of the fruit fly into north western Victorian and South Australian Murray River areas would cause the loss of the valuable export trade of citrus to New Zealand? Does he know that the continual threat of infestation from the New South Wales coastal belt, where this pest is so strongly entrenched, is proved by the sporadic outbreaks in the last two years in the Murrum.bidgeee irrigation areas, and Barham, Cobram, and Wangaratta? Has the Government a plan to eradicate or combat the spread of this menace, and will the Minister co-operate with the Federal Citrus Council of Australia, the Mildura District Citrus Co-operative Association, and the States of Victoria and New South Wales, in an endeavour to find effective means of combating this destroyer of production?
– The honorable gentleman has, on more than one occasion, directed my attention to the fact that citrusgrowers in his electorate are adversely affected by the fruit fly infesting particular orchards.
– Why does the Government not do something about it?
– If the honorable member will wait a moment, he will find that plenty is being done. It is hoped that in the not too distant future an answer will be found to this problem - much different from when the Government of which the honorable member who interjected was a member was in office, when all complaints were of promises and non-performance. If 1 may now continue to answer the question - research work on this problem is continuing, and the Government has made an allocation of finance to conduct research into ways and means of combating the fruit fly. I shall have prepared, for the honorable gentleman, detailed information showing what can be done and what will be done in future. I am certain that he will bc heartened by what is being achieved by lnc Commonwealth.
– Will the Minister for Supply inform the House what is really going on at Maralinga? The public are alarmed at the deferment from day to day of the bomb test. Does the Minister agree that the extreme care being taken by the experts is evidence of the terrible and deadly danger from the radio-active content of this bomb? What area will be affected and what are the risks if the wind changes direction shortly after the explosion?
– I cannot tell the honorable member all the things that are going on at Maralinga. I know that something like 3,000 pies a day are now being consumed by the people who are waiting for these tests to be made.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order! I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that interjections are out of order. I ask for co-operation in maintaining the dignity of the House.
– 1 give the honorable member this assurance: The test will take place when the scientists are ready and when the weather conditions are suitable. Nobody can say any more than that. These are scientific experiments and postponements of this kind are inherent in them. We had something like eight or nine postponements at the Emu Field test in 1953. Nobody seemed to think anything of that. In Nevada, in the United States of America, postponements often take place. The main thing for Australians to be assured of - and we give them this assurance - is that care will be taken to see that there is no danger or damage to Australian life or property.
– 1 preface a question to the Minister for Health by stating that Dr. Cunningham-Dax, chairman of the Victorian Mental Hygiene Authority, has stated that Victorian mental institutions are facing a serious shortage of the vital life-saving drug, largactil. Present orders for the drug cannot be met. Will the Minister state whether this shortage is due, in some measure, to import cuts, as has been reported? If this is so, will he tell the House why life-saving drugs are subject to import restrictions?
– The position is that importers of drugs are granted a quota for their total drug imports. It is then for the importers themselves to decide how much they allocate for special drugs - in this instance, for this special drug about which the honorable member asks. However, owing to the fact that this drug is used extensively, special quotas of a pretty considerable order have been arranged for each quarter for the company which imports it so that there shall not be a shortage. In fact, the aim has been to keep about five months’ supply of this drug constantly at hand in Australia. Recently, approaches were made to me by various State authorities with requests that further licences be issued and accompanied by a statement that a serious shortage was feared. I immediately got in touch with my colleague, the Minister for Trade, who promptly arranged for extra, special licences to be issued. I cannot think that any real shortage now threatens. In other words, the actions of the Minister for Trade have been such as to ensure there will be adequate supplies of this drug in this country. I should also like to say that honorable members should not allow their judgment to be carried away by the claims made about the properties of this drug by the more flamboyant organs of the press.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Has the Government’s attention been directed to the fact that diesel-engined road transport vehicles are increasing in number and size and are causing considerable damage to the Australian road system? Will the Government consider imposing on the diesel oil fuel used by such vehicles a tax similar to that imposed on petrol, in order to ensure that the States shall receive additional funds to assist in solving their road problems?
– The problem raised by the honorable member is a very important one. It is a matter of policy, and must, therefore, be considered as such and not dealt with at question-time.
– I address my question to the Minister for Supply, who to some extent touched on the matter exercising my mind in answer to the question asked by the honorable member for Banks. In view of the agitation of the more irresponsible sections of the daily press about the delay at Maralinga, will the Minister assure the House that this attitude of the press will not be responsible for any curtailment of the rigid safety precautions which are being observed? Can the Minister explain the strange attitude of this section of the press in first criticizing the atomic tests in Australia on the ground that they constitute a possible danger to the public and then criticizing the delay in exploding the first bomb, which is due entirely to the observation of safety precautions?
– I am quite unable to explain the mystery mentioned by the honorable gentleman concerning the agitation by a certain section of the press, but I can say that there will be no change in the standards of safety which have been, and will be, maintained from first to last in conducting the tests.
– Is the Minister for Trade aware that I have had a question on the notice-paper for three and a half months, which makes it two and a half months senior to any other question now on the paper? The question asks, among other things, whether the Minister will table a minority report submitted by members of the Tariff Board which was not included in the report of the board presented to the Parliament on 19th October, 1955. I ask the Minister when I may expect an answer to that question.
– I regret that a reply has not been provided for the honorable member. I shall see that it is provided at an early date.
“THE PETROV CONSPIRACY UNMASKED.”
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he has examined the contents of a recent publication entitled “The Petrov Conspiracy Unmasked “. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the author associates him and a number of other persons with the alleged conspiracy? If so, will he state whether the book is accurate in detail and in the conclusions reached? If not, what action does he propose to take against those responsible for its publication? If the right honorable gentleman has not read this publication, will he do so and let me have replies to the queries which I have directed to him?
– I have not seen this book which, as I understand the question, is “ The Petrov Conspiracy Unmasked “. I had no idea that the honorable member for East Sydney’s leader had actually published a book. I do not undertake to read it. I find it difficult enough to read all the sensible literature that comes before me without having to read works - if that is the right expression - of the kind 1 suppose this to be. I am sure it must be a deplorable book; otherwise the honorable member would not advertise it.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Interior a question. I have received several representations regarding the efficiency of the civil defence services. I realize that the basic responsibility rests upon the director of the services in each State, but I ask the Minister whether he has had an opportunity to examine the Commonwealth co-ordinating body and whether he is satisfied with the provision made.
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that the Government has acted, in these matters, on the advice of the Defence Committee, and that the Commonwealth is working within the appreciation of that advice at this time. The matters to which he has referred are under constant review.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Has the Government’s attention been attracted to the declared attitude of the Australian Automobile Association regarding the need for a national road reconstruction programme? Will consideration be given to the proposal that the reconstruction of some 20,000 miles of existing roads be undertaken by the Commonwealth to provide an interstate highway system circling the continent and connecting all capital cities by the most direct existing routes? Since the needs of defence and development are obvious federal obligations, will the right honorable gentleman initiate early discussions with representatives of the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, who are at present visiting Australia, with a view to obtaining a longterm loan for the purpose of linking the States by an adequate road system? Is the Government contemplating any action to improve the state of Australian roads?
– My attention has not been attracted to this matter. I am sorry to say that, since I returned from overseas, I have been chiefly occupied, if I may make an excruciating pun, in canalizing my ideas. However, I shall have a look at the matter raised by the honorable member which, on the face of what he has said about it, appears to be a matter of enormous proportion and would therefore need to have careful thought given to it.
– As preface to a question to the Minister for Immigration I should like to say that a careful analysis of the figures issued by the Commonwealth Statistician shows that in the year 1955-56 only a few more than 18,000 immigrants, or 1 9 per cent, of the total net intake of immigrants, came from the British Isles. If an additional number of 10,000 is allowed for Australian residents departing permanently, who return within twelve months and who therefore escape being recorded in the Statistician’s figure on their return to this country, then the number of immigrants from the British Isles was 28,000 last year, or 27 per cent, of the total net intake. This number is far short of t!ie announced aim of the Government of 50 per cent. British immigrants in the total net intake.
– Order! What is the honorable gentleman’s question? He is giving information instead of seeking it.
– Can the
Minister give an assurance that this unbalance between British and other nationalities among immigrants will not recur in 1956-57?
– The actual figure of intake of British immigrants was considerably higher, I can assure the honorable’ gentleman, than the figure he has mentioned. I shall try to get a more precise analysis for him but, as 1 have already explained in the Parliament, the classification adopted by the Commonwealth Statistician in respect of permanent arrivals and permanent departures produces some freakish results on occasions. We have taken this matter up with him, and he is endeavouring to devise a more accurate basis of analysis. Over the whole period since the end of the war the percentage of British intake has been 48 per cent, of the total intake and, as I have told the House on earlier occasions, we have been rather more successful than any of the other Commonwealth countries in attracting British immigrants. I can assure the honorable gentleman that it is our endeavour at all times to get the highest proportion of British intake that we can contrive to get within the balanced programme, and we shall continue these efforts.
– Can the Minister for Labour and National Service recall that in the course of his remarks to the House during the debate on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill during the last sessional period he asked the House to support the bill on the ground that it would streamline the arbitration system and would in turn help to overcome many of the irksome legalisms which, he claimed, then beset industrial relations? Can he recall having stated that the legislation would help to dissipate the heavy legalistic air that had found its way into much of the then existing system? If the Minister does recall having made those statements, will he say what action he proposes to take to deal with the new situation that has arisen as a result of the action of his erstwhile colleague, now in charge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court, in refusing to trade union secretaries the right to come before the court and his expressed view that they should be represented either by barristers or by solicitors?
– I have had a look at the transcript of the proceedings before the court in the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred. It appears that the court has taken the view that the position may be such that, in terms of the existing statute it is not able legally to receive representations from or take the appearances of persons other than those qualified to appear before it in terms of the Judiciary Act. On this occasion, the court sought to provide an opportunity for the trade union official who had come before it to secure legal representation in order that the point could be argued adequately before it. 1 am in consultation on this matter with my colleague, the AttorneyGeneral. If at a later stage I am in a position to add anything to what I have said to the House now, I shall do so.
– My question is prompted by that just asked by the honorable member for Macquarie, ls the Minister for Labour and National Service aware that his former colleague, the previous Attorney-General, who is now the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court, not only rejected the claim of the union when it was represented by its secretary, but also awarded heavy costs against it to meet the legal expenses of the employers who were its opponents? Will the Minister, when he is looking at the question of representation, also have a look at the practice - perhaps that is the wrong word, because I understand that this course has never been taken before in exactly the same circumstances - or the action of the court in awarding heavy costs against the union? If that sort of thing is permitted to continue, no union will want to appear before the court.
– I shall have a look at all the circumstances associated with the case, including those to which the honorable gentleman has referred.
– Has the Prime Minister received correspondence from the Western Australian Government pressing the need for a naval base on the western coast of Australia, either at Albany or at Cockburn Sound? Did he get an opportunity to discuss this important matter with representatives of the British Government? If so, will he indicate the result of such discussions and his attitude to the request by the Western Australian Government?
– I am not aware that 1 have received such a letter from Western Australia. That does not mean that one has not come, because I have not had a chance yet to catch up with some of the matters awaiting my attention. The question of a naval base in Western Australia was mentioned to me by a newspaperman just as I was leaving Australia, lt was not raised with me by anybody in Great Britain.
– Following the question by the honorable member for Mallee regarding insect pests, 1 desire to address a question to the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. In view of the fact that a great many new pests, or pests new to Australian producers, have appeared as a result of the intensive work that is being done to increase the production of various grasses and fodders in this country, would it be possible to arrange for a scientific officer of the organization to discuss with honorable members representing country constituencies in this Parliament the best method of approach to the problem of destroying or preventing the appearance of such pests?
– I think it would be possible to arrange for that to be done. lt might be a very good thing if honorable members who were interested in a particular pest, or agricultural or pastoral problem, could hear, say for an hour in the late afternoon, a talk on the subject by a wellinformed and authoritative scientist. I would be very glad to arrange it. Perhaps it could be done through the Whips. The parties might be canvassed as to the particular problems that they would like to discuss. This would guide me in selecting the scientist whose knowledge and experience were most suited to the task.
” THE PETROV CONSPIRACY UNMASKED.”
– Earlier the Prime Minister answered a question by the honorable member for East Sydney. 1 did not catch his answer at the time, but I have since been informed that he said - I presume facetiously - “ I had no idea that the honorable member’s leader had actually published a book”. First, I would like to say that I have no knowledge about anything connected with the authorship of the book, although I have seen it and, secondly, I would ask the Prime Minister to make that perfectly clear.
– I am delighted to find that the right honorable gentleman and I are equally innocent of the contents and authorship of this book. Personally, I repeat, I do not propose to waste my time by reading it.
– My question to the Minister for the Interior refers to the fact that the Commonwealth bridge, which is the only high-level bridge over the Molonglo River in Canberra, is closed for repairs and, presumably, will remain closed for a week or perhaps a fortnight, leaving the people of Canberra dependent on several low-level crossings which may or may not remain open, according to the level of the Molonglo River. 1 ask the Minister what action has been taken following upon the recommendation by the Public Works Committee, made some twelve months ago, that work should commence as early as possible on the erection of a highlevel bridge on the King’s-avenue alinement, and that this should be followed by the erection of a new bridge paralleling the present Commonwealth bridge. Will the Minister say whether it is still beyond the resources of the Commonwealth to build two bridges at once?
– I am well aware of the difficulties created by the closing of the Commonwealth-avenue bridge. I am pleased to be able to assure the honorable member that in this year’s Estimates provision has been made for finishing the test work in connexion with the new Commonwealthavenue bridge, and that if the Estimates are accepted by this Parliament that work will proceed, lt is not beyond the Commonwealth’s capacity to provide two bridges at once, but it has such a vast public works programme that it must exercise some discretion and fix priorities for the commencement of works.
– Is the Minister for Air in a position to throw any light on a report concerning the recent arrival at Darwin of a Qantas airliner with serious engine trouble?
– 1 do not yet know the result of the examination of the aircraft’s engines, which is being carried out by both Qantas engineers and aircraft surveyors of the Department of Civil Aviation. The facts are that the aircraft was about fifteen minutes out from Darwin, at 15,000 feet, when both No. 2 engine and No. 4 engine gave signs of being out of oil. Quite correctly, the pilot in command feathered the two motors and asked for permission to descend to 2,000 feet. He then landed without incident at Darwin, lt was found that there was, in fact, plenty of oil in No. 2 engine, but that a slight defect in the oil gauge had indicated that there was none. There was a shortage of oil in No. 4 engine. This had become apparent in Singapore. Work had been done on the motor there and the engineers there had passed it. On the relatively short flight from Singapore to Djakarta no more oil than usual was used, but on the longer hop from Djakarta to Darwin oil was used at an excessive rate. There was never any doubt, however, about the safety of the aircraft or its ability to complete the journey on the two motors that remained operating.
– Is the
Minister for Health aware that doctors who serve for a period with the Citizen Military Forces are granted 25 guineas a week, for the duration of their period of service, by the Minister for the Army, whereas they have to pay medical agencies 35 to 40 guineas a week for the services of locum tenens to carry on their practices, besides providing such locum tenens with board, motor car. and other amenities that go with the practice? Having these facts in mind, will the Minister discuss that matter with the Minister for the Army in order to ensure that these doctors who serve with the Citizen Military Forces are awarded some degree of justice?
– There does not appear to me to be any similarity between the circumstances of the doctor serving with the Citizen Military Forces and the doctor acting as locum tenens. In any case, the doctor concerned makes his own decision as to whether he will engage a locum at the figure required by the medical agency, or whether he will serve a period with the Citizen Military Forces, accepting the allowance granted by the Minister for the Army, without having his practice carried on by a locum tenens.
– Is the Minister for Trade aware that during the next month or so a serious shortage of household mosquito netting is likely, particularly in Queensland, because of import restrictions? If this is so, will the Minister take whatever steps are possible to obviate this likely shortage?
– I have not previously heard of such a contingency, but I shall have inquiries made. I regret that it is not possible to give an undertaking that everything that is desired will be provided in adequate quantities, having regard to the import restrictions, which have been inescapable. I understand the importance of mosquito netting in Queensland, and I shall investigate the matter.
– Is the Minister for Trade aware of the widespread dissatisfaction, particularly in the business community, in connexion with import licensing and restrictions? ls. he aware that charges of favouritism, and similar charges, have been made? Does the Minister intend to review the import licensing policy, and is an inquiry into it being conducted at present? What action does the Minister intend to take to give some satisfaction to those concerned?
– I am aware, of course, that there is widespread irritation at the impact of import licensing. Because of that, and because of the complexity and the extensive nature of import licensing, I can assure the honorable member and the country that, while no special inquiry is being conducted, the operation and administration of import licensing is being continuously and unceasingly examined and reexamined. Within the policy limits determined by the Government itself, import licensing is conducted as fairly as possible, having regard to our obligations to protect our overseas balances, having regard to the maximum extent to the avoidance of irritations and dislocations in industry and to the desirability of giving appropriate priorities to goods that are essential for sustaining employment and for maintaining the availability in Australia of articles that are imported or are manufactured here partly from imported materials. So long as the whole field of Australian industry and trade is subject to import licensing, as it is at present, it is probably too much to expect that we will achieve complete contentment. I aim at justice, and fairness and expedition in decisions.
– And no trafficking.
– That is so. I am aiming at a policy and administration which, unhappy as it may be in some aspects, will always be capable of being explained and which I am always willing to explain. That will place upon me the obligation of defending what is being done. I will never, in this whole structure, set out to suppress what is being done in any respect.
“SOUTHERN CROSS” AIRCRAFT.
– The Minister for Air will recall that some time ago he promised that the “ Southern Cross “ aircraft, which was flown by Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, would be made available to the people of Queensland if a committee was formed to arrange for the machine to be housed adequately in a shrine or memorial. As the Minister has now been advised of the formation of the committee and as the ground work which he suggested has been completed, I ask him whether he will make that aircraft available in the near future by transporting it either to Amberly aerodrome or to Eagle Farm aerodrome. The committee feels that the possession of the aircraft in Queensland will be of advantage to it in the work of raising funds. If the Minister is not prepared to make the aircraft available in the immediate future, will he inform me at what stage he will be prepared to have the aircraft sent to Queensland?
– I recall quite well the intense interest that the honorable member for Lilley has taken in this matter. I remember that he came to me some months ago and extracted from me a promise that the “ Southern Cross “ would go to Brisbane. We have made arrangements for an area of land to be set apart at the Brisbane airport. I understand that the very desirable committee that has been formed is ready to go ahead with the actual housing of the aircraft. Whether the aircraft can be made available immediately or at what stage it can be made available, I should not like to say without first examining all the items and elements that arise. Aircraft riggers, engineers and so on will be needed to pack and transport the aircraft. I will inquire into those matters and let the honorable member have a reply as soon as I can.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether he is aware that a recent survey conducted by a Sydney newspaper revealed that pensioners were obliged to pay from 20s. to 30s. a week for the rent of a room, that they suffered from malnutrition, that they had only threadbare clothes, that many needed constant nursing and that many will die uncared for and desperately lonely. Does the Minister agree that this is an accurate assessment of the position? If so, what does he and the Government intend to do to correct a situation which is a national disgrace and an indictment of the existing capitalist order of society?
– Many of the matters raised by the honorable member for East Sydney are exclusive to the New South Wales Government and they might properly be directed to that government. It is true that there is and there always will be, I am afraid, degrees of distress amongst our aged and infirm people. Unlimited opportunities are available to the honorable member for East Sydney, to me and to other honorable members to engage in activities that will relieve that distress from time to time. I am certain that if he, I and other people in the community direct attention to these good offices, much of the distress will be alleviated.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Territories been drawn to a recent article in the press alleging that the work of the Department of Territories in Papua and New Guinea in the matter of education is extremely backward, relatively neglected and generally not of such a nature as to push forward the general development of the Territory? 1 ask the Minister whether it is a fact that in the six and a half years that this Government has been in office tremendous advances have been made and right throughout the Territory most impressive and self-sacrificing public work has been done both by missions and by the government administration.
– As the honorable member suggested in his question, there certainly has been a very marked increase in the scale of governmental effort in Papua and New Guinea in recent years. In the field of education to which he referred, both the number of schools and the number of teachers - more particularly the number of native teachers who are now engaged in education - have, in the last five years, increased between two and three times on what they were before. Of course, that increase is continuing. Another element in the general situation that has to be borne in mind is that the pace that can be set in any activity in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea is affected by local circumstances. I shall give a simple example. Until law and order and acquaintance with administrative procedures are established in a place, a school cannot be founded. Technical or secondary education cannot be started until primary education has made some progress. The tasks in education there are enormous. We are not satisfied, and never will be satisfied, with our accomplishment because so much more remains to be done. Very great work is being done and a very real effort is being made both by the Christian missions and by the Administration’s Department of Education in tackling this enormous job.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether the report that he said that the value of social services may have to be reduced is correct. If it is. will the Minister explain how he reconciles it with the promise made in 1949 by the Government of which he is a member to maintain the value of social services and increase expenditure on this important service?
– I was incorrectly reported, if it is true that I am reported as saying that social services expenditure may require to be reduced. What I did was to draw the attention of honorable members and of the public in general to the fact that, unless the inflationary processes were stemmed, it would be very difficult to maintain the magnificent record of the present Government of increasing expenditure on. and accepting responsibility for, social services. I remind the honorable member that year after year, and for the purposes of budget after budget, the Social Services Act has been amended, improved and expanded, and that includes the present year when a bill for that purpose is now on the noticepaper.
– On behalf of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), I move -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Prime Minister from making a statement with reference to the Suez Canal.
I might explain to honorable members that, at a suitable stage, a motion will be moved to enable the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), if he so wishes, also to make a statement without limitation of time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 20th September (vide page 761), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I am sure that honorable members generally, and also the public, are very interested in the bill that is now before the House. I listened with great care to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) when he introduced the measure last Thursday night, and I was rather struck by the fact that although the legislation deals with only a portion of the social services benefits and is, in its way, only a small bill, it should have required such a long speech by the Minister to explain it. I suppose that the honorable gentleman thought that, as this was the first bill he had presented to the Parliament, he should explain his views on social services benefits. However, 1 must say that it looked to me as though he realized that the Government had fallen far short of what the people expected of it in the way of social services benefits. An examination of ihe Minister’s speech indicates that it is an attempt to justify the Government’s attitude to social services, rather than an attempt to explain the bill now before the House. lt seems that the Minister has failed to appreciate the real feelings of the people on this matter. Before the budget speech was delivered by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) recently, it was rumoured that there would be no increase in the rate of age pensions, and no amelioration of the means test, but merely an increase of the rate of pension for class A widows with children. It has been made evident, by means of conversations with people I have met, letters to the press, and public statements at meetings, that the people are very disappointed indeed that the budget made no provision for increased age and invalid pensions. It will be remembered that, more than twelve months ago, deputations of pensioners asked for a material increase of pension rates, and that when age and invalid pensions were increased by only 10s. a week the pensioners were very disturbed. I remember saying, when speaking to a similar measure in the Parliament last year, that I had attended gatherings of pensioners just previously, and that on being asked what I thought the amount of the increase would be, and whether it would be at least £1 a week, I had said that I was very doubtful whether an increase of that size would be made. In fairness to the present Minister for Social Services, I acknowledge that he was not the Minister at that time. His colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) then held the portfolio. The subsequent announcement that pensions were to be increased by 10s. a week accorded with my idea of the increase that the Government would make.
The pensioners who have to live on the present rates of pension are hurt because the rates have been left unchanged. If, twelve months ago, an increase of 10s. a week was not sufficient and was not as much as people thought should be granted, it takes no great stretch of the imagination to appreciate that a pension of £4 a week is not sufficient to-day. We all know that, during the last twelve months, costs have increased materially. For proof of that, we have only to cast our minds back to the figures that have been released from time to time by the Commonwealth Statistician concerning the increases of the cost of living. There is no hope that the rates of pension will be altered during the current financial year, although we have been told that, because of the ever-increasing costs of commodities, the index figures for the September quarter will indicate another large increase of the cost of living. The Government should take that matter into consideration.
As I have said, the Minister made a long second-reading speech, and in the course of it he said -
– That is entirely new ground.
– Yes, that is new ground. The Minister continued -
The bill includes a minor alteration to the arrangement for the pre-natal payment of maternity allowances in certain circumsances, and it excludes certain repatriaion allowances from the definition of “ income “ for all pensions and benefits which are subject to a means test.
That excerpt covers practically the whole scope of this bill. There is no mention of the ordinary base payment to age and invalid pensioners, nor is there any mention of child endowment and the other social services benefits. Instead, we find paragraph after paragraph of recapitulation by the Minister of what other Ministers have said in the past concerning the actions of the Government over the years. Does that not bear out my contention that the object of the speech is not to explain the purpose of the bill, but to justify the Government’s decision to do nothing at all for most pensioners? The people who receive age and invalid pensions are to continue on £4 a week. The wife of an invalid pensioner is expected to carry on with the same allowance of £1 15s. a week. There is no mention in the bill of an increase of that amount. On behalf of the Opposition, I declare very definitely that the provisions of this bill are totally inadequate to meet the generally acknowledged need for increased social service payments -acknowledged not only by members of the Opposition, but also in press statements from time to time by leading church officials and persons who are active in social organizations. They say categorically that £4 is not adequate for a person to live on. The Minister said, a little later in his speech -
It is the manifest duty of responsible government, as well as of all public authorities, to keep the demands upon our resources within the limits of reason and justice.
When we talk about “ the limits of reason and justice “, we need an interpretation. What is reasonable? If we say to somebody, “ You must do things in a reasonable Way “, different interpretations may be placed on the word “ reasonable “. The same may be said of justice. We on the Labour side have a different conception from that of the Government of reason and justice in these matters.
– My word you have!
– The Minister says that we have a different conception, and I quite agree with him. We on this side are very definite in saying that, right through the piece, the pensioner has never had sufficient to give him a really good standard of living. He has had only just enough to allow him to eke out an existence. That has been the position, not only during this Government’s term of office, but also throughout the history of pension payments. From 10s. and 12s. 6d. a week, the rate of pension rose to £1 a week, and so on, gradually increasing with the gradually declining purchasing power of money, and providing only the minimum requirements of pensioners. As the Minister for Social Services indicated a moment ago, we on this side have a different conception of what should be done. I happened to pick up the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ this morning, and I read the following report under the heading, “ Stevenson’s Plan to Help Aged “: -
Mr. Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic Presidential candidate .
This is not a Labour man, or somebody at the bottom of the tree in the United States of America. This is the man who contested the last presidential election and who, in every probability, will be the president of the United States before many months have gone, according to the trend of events in that country -
Mr. Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic Presidential candidate, issued the first of his “ New America “ policy statements in Denver, Colorado, yesterday. He proposed an old people’s programme, aimed “ far beyond “ a guarantee of security for the 15,000,000 elder citizens of the United States. He advocated a series of steps ranging from federallyfinanced housing for the aged to possible increases in Federal old age pension payments.
I should like honorable members to take particular notice of this statement -
Mr. Stevenson said the “ New America “ he has spoken of in his campaign must go far beyond the guarantee of subsistence. . . .
That is the very sentiment which I have expressed. Subsistence is all that has been provided throughout the history of our social service benefits. . . and aimed at more social security for old people. It seeks the greater objective - the guarantee of human dignity.
Let me break into the reading of this report to say that a few weeks ago I was at a pensioners’ association birthday party, where the oldest lady present cut the birthday cake. When that old lady was being helped to cut the cake, I looked at her and saw the bonnet she wore, which must have been purchased years and years ago, and her black coat, worn and faded with age. Although she had her own personal dignity it was not upheld by the condition in which she was compelled to dress by inadequate social service payments. Mr. Adlai Stevenson’s statement continued -
In this age of abundance in this land of plenty, a person should be enabled to maintain when life’s regular duties are completed, his or her accustomed standard of living.
That is the aim. To a degree, it has been acknowledged by this Government, because during the last seven years that the Government has been in office, in order to enable the preservation of dignity and some semblance of the old people’s former standard of living, it has raised the permissible income under the means test, and the value of property that may be held by pensioners. Those persons who were, one might say, on a higher strata, and enjoyed a better standard of living, who were able to purchase annuities worth £3 10s. a week in their retirement, or £7 for husband and wife, are now enabled to receive in addition £4 each in pension, allowing a total combined income of £15 a week for husband and wife. That provision has permitted some old persons, who are unable to continue with their work, to have some semblance of the standard of living they enjoyed before their retirement. Those persons, from ordinary walks of life, may receive £15 a week, which is adequate to a degree, if not as much as some would like, in view of the standard of living which they maintained in the past. But even they are not satisfied, and they want a higher standard. But they are not the persons of whom Mr. Stevenson was speaking or about whom we are so much concerned.
About eight or nine years ago, in my early days in this Parliament, I was talking with my colleagues in the party room about the base pension, and I argued on behalf of those persons who had, perhaps, a house besides that in which they lived, and who were severely penalized because of that little extra capital. I was trying to assist such persons to receive the pension of the day. One of my colleagues, who is not here now, turned to me and said, “ You are one of those persons who are fighting for the means test people. You are not fighting for the man or woman on the base pension “. That was altogether wrong, because [ had argued in favour of granting pensions to those persons who had a small amount of property in addition to the home in which they lived.
Let me get back to the subject I was discussing - raising the standard of living of these people, and allowing them to keep their dignity. I say to honorable members, “ Come along with me when I go to one of these pensioners’ gatherings “. It is not necessary, in a district like mine, for me to go along to them so as to catch votes. There is no necessity for that at all. I go along to them because I like to be among these people. I like to see what their standard of living is. I like to see whether what we as a Parliament provide for them is reasonably meeting their needs.
I come back to this fact again. When I analyse the statements of the Minister for Social Services, I feel that our interpretation of the situation is right. I pay due regard to the Minister’s opinion as to what should be done. In fact, the Government contends that the state of the economy of the country prevents the granting of greater social services benefits. The Minister has used the words “ keep demand within limits “. I do not want to read the whole of the Minister’s second-reading speech, but I want to quote some of it in order to make my point intelligible-
– The honorable member may read it all.
– I need not read lt all. I do not want to make my speech just a recapitulation of the Minister’s secondreading speech. He said -
Any system of social services which is not firmly backed by a sound economy is bound to prove both inadequate and dangerous in time of stress . . .
– Hear hear!
– The Minister for Primary Industry endorses that statement. The Minister for Social Services continued - . . especially when it is called upon to meet the expanding needs of a rapidly increasing population.
Taking that statement in conjunction with what I have been saying, it seems to me that the Government is not altogether consistent. The Minister has claimed that demand must be kept down, yet the Government has claimed that we are. en joying the greatest prosperity that Australia has ever enjoyed. I am not going to question the Government’s claim. I think that we have been enjoying the greatest year of prosperity that Australia has known. But if that is the position, why cannot we give real justice to the people now? If the economy is not sufficiently sound to meet a standard like that which Adlai Stevenson advocated in order to give these people a bit of dignity and lift them above a bare subsistence level, what is our position going to be later?
The Minister, in his speech, stated that the Australian Labour party had endeavoured to improve social services conditions in the years from 1941 to 1949 but he claimed that, because the Labour party was a socialist party, it could not achieve its objective. But even if we were a socialist party, we could not give effect to our programme because we were dominated by anti-socialist policy. We were dominated by a capitalist policy. The Minister for Social Services has told us of the wonderful work that has been done under the pensioner medical service scheme. I admit that the pensioner to-day is getting something in the way of medical benefits that he did not get before this Government came into office. But what was the position earlier? Before this Government came into office, the pensioner in portions of my district was able to get all the medicine that he needed free of charge, only from doctors who were prepared to defy the capitalist system, as represented by the control exercised by the British Medical Association. That association told doctors that they must not accept the government books and prescribe free of charge. I think that there were only three doctors in my then electorate who were prepared to work under the free medical scheme for pensioners and other people. If the British Medical Association had been prepared to work under that system as it works under the present system of medical benefits, all the pensioners could have got free medical treatment. lt is not true to say that the socialist government could not give effect to its policy because socialism will not work. The fact was that it could not give effect to its policy because of the existence of an antisocialist system which would not work for the benefit of the people. As I stated just now, in view of the fact that the Government claims that we are in a condition of properity that we have never known before, it is about time that we recognized our duty and our responsibility to the people. The Minister for Social Services has already made a statement on this subject, and I have no doubt that the honorable member who will follow me will take up the cudgels with me on that, because I. have an amendment to move later.
The next honorable member to speak in this debate may take up the cudgels by saying that we on this side of the House have a wrong conception of how the present value of the pension should be compared with the value of the pension in 1949 when the Labour Government went out of office, or the value of the pension when we raised it in 1948. The Minister for Social Services has stated that the real yardstick, which has been used over many years in the computation of the basic wage or the cost of living, is the C series index. I shall not quote a lot of figures on this aspect now. We have heard them so often that most honorable members should know them off by heart. But honorable members opposite are accustomed to compare the C series index figure in August with the C series index figure for August of this year and say that the value of the pension under the Labour government is equal to the present pension. I am getting back to what I stated was Labour’s conception of justice for the people. I am getting back to Adlai Stevenson’s statement, although J read it after 1 had prepared this speech.
Years ago, wages used to be fixed on the needs basis - on the needs of a person. We have got away from that system now. The Government and its supporters declare that wages should be fixed on the basis of what industry can afford to pay - the ability of the economy to provide for people. The Opposition contends that if the Government computes the value of the pension paid by Labour in 1948 on a needs basis, or the C series index basis, and does not take into consideration the £1 prosperity loading in 1950, it says, in effect, “You people in industry can have that extra £1 because the economy can afford it. The court has said so. But if you get too old to work and have to go on the pension, you will not receive what the country can afford to pay. You will be paid on a needs basis “.
In fact, when the Minister was speaking on the C series index he stated that another system should be introduced for the computation of the pension. 1 do not know what the Minister had in mind. I hardly think that he had in mind a system that would give a greater amount to the pensioner than is given under the C series index. He may have had; I do not know.
– He wanted a more accurate index for pensioners.
– I dread to think that that may mean that the Government has it in mind to ask pensioners to tell it how much bread, butter and other necessaries they use so that it can determine a regimen of their needs and fix the pension accordingly. That sort of thing has been done in the past in the fixing of wages. Most honorable members have heard, as 1 have done, of young women being called to give evidence and being asked what type of underclothing they wore so that it could be decided whether they paid too much for a singlet or some other garment. On the basis of such evidence, what was considered enough to live on was determined. That was done quite a lot in days gone by. Opposition members, who have had a lot to do with ordinary working people, know these things. We do not merely have a theory about them or read about them in books.
– Opposition members are not the only ones who know about those things.
– I do not say we are, but we do not merely subscribe to theories obtained ‘ from books. We know that the regimen system adopted in the past did not lift or even maintain standards but rather dragged them down a little.
– To the irreducible minimum.
– There is something below what is considered to be the irreducible minimum. People have been found dead of malnutrition. However, I do not imply that this Government intends to reduce people to that level.
– I am certain it does not.
– I do not imply that the Government intends to bring people so low, but some of them do come to it. The Minister for Social Services stated earlier this afternoon, in reply to a question, that unfortunately these bad cases do occur no matter what we do. I am concerned about the big body of people who are not getting sufficient. We cannot strike an average of the every-day needs of pensioners. Some wives, when their husbands die, are offered a home with a daughter. They contribute a little towards the cost of their food. They simply pack their clothes and go to the daughter. But others who are unable to live with children must find a room somewhere. After paying rent for the room they are left with very little to live on. Those are the people that suffer most. I sometimes think that the day is coming when we shall have to approach our social services system from a different stand-point altogether. We hear much talk about abolishing the means test. People feel they have paid for social services benefits in income tax and other forms of taxation, and that they should receive something back when they attain the age of 65 or 70, as in New Zealand. I remember meeting a New Zealand man in business in a big way who told me that on attaining the age of 65 or 70, whichever is applicable there, he would receive a pension of so much a year. It was not enough to keep him and was only a mere bagatelle compared with his business income, but he was pleased that he was to receive something back in return for all he had paid.
The time will come when we shall noi just average out pensions and give £4 a week to the person who lives with a daughter and merely pays a little towards the cost of food, and the same amount to the person who must pay rent as well. The time will come when we shall give every one a certain basic pension and make sufficient additional provision for those who need it. In stating that, I am not stating Labour policy. I am stating what I believe we as a community will have to do. But 1 am stating Labour policy when I say that pensions must be increased to give them a purchasing power equal to the purchasing power of the pension paid in 1948.
– Why not make it 1949?
– The honorable member read from “ Hansard “ a passage which indicated that the late Mr. Chifley was asked to increase pensions in 1949 and said he would not increase them then.
– That is correct. Take it from there.
– The honorable member took it from there, but I shall not take it from there. Supporters of the present Government contended in 1949, when ii took office, that the pension was not sufficient on 1949 cost of living figures. Yet they cite the amount paid in 1949 and the higher figure now paid to justify the Government’s refusal to increase the present pension rate, and state that it has increased pensions greatly since it took office! 1 shall not cite a lot of statistics. The Opposition believes that the pension should have’ a purchasing power equivalent to that of the pension paid in 1948, which we consider was just. I believe the community could do better to-day than it did in 1948. In August of that year the six capital cities basic wage was £5 16s. a week. In August of this year it was £13 a week. The 1948 pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week should be increased by 124 per cent, to give a purchasing power equivalent to that of 1948. This would make the present pension £4 15s. 3d. a week instead of £4. 1 propose shortly to move an amendment designed to have the Government redraft the bill in order to give pensioners that additional 15s. 3d, a week without delay. We believe the Government can afford it. The figures given to the House by the Minister for Social Services showed that every ls. a week increase of the pension costs the Government another £1,500,000 a year. Therefore, an increase of 15s. a week would cost it £22,500,000 a year. I make no apology for stating that the Government can afford to expend this amount in order to enable pensioners to maintain a little dignity.
So that pensioners may have the pension we contend they should have, J. move -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted, with a view lo inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be redrafted to provide, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social services 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 “. 1 do not think any one would say that an increase of 15s. 3d. a week for age and invalid pensioners would be extravagant. I do not believe that the Government will think over this matter again, but if it did it might be deterred from action by the thought of all the other social services benefits. Opposition members consider that all should be increased, but they think also that justice could be clone, well within the Government’s ability to meet the cost, by starting at the bottom. I give thanks to the Minister for Social Services for introducing the provision for an increase of 10s. a week in pension in respect of each dependent child after the first of an A class widow. I advocated that very increase here some two or three years ago, and I stated then that I would never rest until justice had been obtained for the civilian A class widow in the same degree as that extended to war widows. I adopted that attitude in the belief that civilian widows are just as much entitled as are war widows to receive financial help in respect of their dependent children, in addition to the endowment rate of 5s. for the first child.
So, I. appreciate the introduction of the provision that I have mentioned. I admit that it breaks new ground - ground that 1 am pleased to see broken. I say to the Government that as people retire from work through their inability to continue in employment we. as a Parliament, as a people, should be prepared to provide sufficient funds to enable them to get at least within cooee of the standard of living that they enjoyed when they were earning. I have some quite apposite cases in mind. One is or a woman aged 80 who has a daughter aged 50. The daughter is receiving the invalid pension, and the daughter’s son is contributing to help to keep his mother and grandmother. The other day the two Indies were invited to a small social gathering, but they were unable to attend, not because they did not want to go, not because they did not have the energy to get there - no, simply because they did not have decent clothes to wear to it. As Mr. Adlai Stevenson has said, it is that dignity that we are dragging in the dirt. I say that, in this day and age, and in this great country, we should do better for our old people and our ageing people than we have done for these two women I have mentioned. Perhaps honorable members opposite will say that it is easy for a member of the Labour party, not having the responsibility of office, to make such a statement, but that it is the Government which has to find the money to improve the lot of the aged and the invalid. But concern for the condition of the more unfortunate members of our community is not confined to members of the Labour party inside or outside of this chamber. People al! over the country, and in all walks of life, will agree that something more should be done for the aged and the invalid.
It involves no feat of memory to recall that before the second Menzies Government took office in 1949 its constituent parties promised that they would liberalize the means test, and that they would look after the pensioners if they were elected.
The facts and figures now available to us, almost seven years later, tell a different story. They show that, on comparisons based both on the C series index figures of cost of living movements and on the rate of the six capital cities basic wage, this Government is not doing more for the pensioners and other sections of the community than the Labour government did, but is doing rather less.
The Minister said in his speech that he did not want to belittle the Labour government and its efforts, and I give him credit for that. However, having made that statement, he had to try to excuse this Government, and no doubt other honorable members opposite will also try to excuse the Government, for its failure to provide adequate social services for people who need assistance. The fact is that the Government is just not doing enough for the recipients of social services benefits, and all the excuses in the world will not alter it.
I turn now to an aspect of the means test in respect of which the Government might well grant some relief. A widow with dependent children receives a pension, provided she does not own real property or capital of a value of more than £1,750. If a widow has property or capital the value of which exceeds that amount by even £1, she receives no pension. There is no gradation. The principle applied is a sudden death principle. A widow with assets valued at £1,750 can receive a pension of £4 5s. plus 10s. a week for each dependent child after the first. If she has assets valued at £1,751 she gets nothing. I appeal to the Minister for Social Services to have the Government consider the adoption of a principle under which there would be no sharp division in respect of the amount of capital that a person may own and receive a pension and the amount that debars a person from receiving a pension. That is to say, I suggest that between eligibility for pension and non-eligibility for pension there be gradations of pension rates, according to the value of property or capital held by the pensioner.
I hope that the Government will regard the amendment I have moved on behalf of the Opposition as a genuine attempt to help the pensioners, and not merely as a means of currying some political advantage. I realize that the Government may say that it is too late now to alter the pension rates in accordance with the Opposition’s desire so that a new rate could be payable on next pension day; but I am sure that such an alteration could be quickly effected, and I know that pensioners would not mind waiting another fortnight if they knew they were then to receive a higher pension.
I am sorry, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, if I have displayed some emotion in respect of this matter. I am not trying to play on the feelings of anybody by feigning emotions that I do not feel. But the subject of pensions, and the plight of pensioners in our community, to-day, affects me deeply as, I have no doubt, they also affect other honorable members, and I feel that the Government has not done all that it could do for these people. Prosperity! Yes, indeed we have prosperity - for the big businessman, for the big executive, for the highly paid persons in the community. But prosperity does not exist for many of the more than 500,000 pensioners in Australia.
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment, and reserve my right to speak later.
– I imagine that you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, after nearly seven years in this House, would not be able to make the speech just concluded by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), because it is true to say that during that time not one constructive idea has been put forward by a member of the Opposition, either in respect of new ways of financing social services payments or in respect of our ability to give service to pensioners and others most in need. It is obvious, from listening to the debate, that there is very little that we can add, from the Government side, to what we have said in the past. It is sufficient to say that this Government continually applies its mind to ways and means in which better service can be given to the pensioners.
Before I touch on the main subject of the debate may I mention certain principles on which the payment of social services benefits, and health benefits could proceed. The provision of such benefits could be based exclusively on need - that is, on some estimate, or an exact estimate of the need of the pensioner. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) mentioned that it might be wise, and probably would be belter, if a new regimen were prepared, not so much setting out what might be the effect of changes in the price level as establishing what might be the needs of the pensioner. Straight away, I want to make it clear to the honorable member for Port Adelaide that the Government has no proposal in mind at present for altering the regimen, and therefore he should not, in any circumstances, think that there is a possibility of a reduction of pension by the Government. 1 do not think it was proper for him to permit his imagination to run riot. He should not have thought that there was any possibility or probability of a change in the way in which the pension is calculated at present.
There is a second method of estimating the pension rate. It is to fix the highest rate that the taxpayers can afford to pay. That is a method that could be used. Apparently, it is one of which the Opposition is thinking at present. Finally, there is what I believe to be a realistic method of estimating the pension rate, lt is the method adopted by the present Government, which, at budget time, decides what changes of the rate should be made. It can be described as the general budget approach. It consists of looking at the various elements of the pension, considering how much the taxpayer can afford to pay, looking at the needs of the pensioner and, finally, taking note of what additional taxation would mean in terms of reduced incentives to producers. This Government does not restrict itself to one approach to the problem. It does not restrict itself to an approach based either on need or on the maximum that the taxpayer can afford to pay. lt considers the demands being made upon the economy by the pensioners and by other sections of the community and then it forms a balanced judgment of the pension rate that will be appropriate in all the circumstances. 1 point that out because I believe that it must be the starting point if we want to understand just, what can be done by a government in connexion with the pensio.n
What is the approach of the Labour party to this problem? We have heard the honorable member for Port Adelaide state that the principle the Labour party will adopt is that the pension should not be based on needs but should represent a certain proportion of the basic wage. So, the Labour party has altered its view of the basis upon which the pension should be estimated and has decided that it should be tagged to the basic wage. I believe that the Labour party has broken new ground in stating this as its policy. I intend, at a later stage of my speech, to analyse that statement, in order to help honorable members on this side to make up their minds whether Labour policy is a wise one and whether the Opposition would, in fact, adopt it if it were in office.
It will be remembered that, in 1940. the Labour government then on the treasury bench decided that increases of the pension rate would be based upon needs, and that adjustments would be made in accordance with changes of the C series index figure. The Labour party said then that in assessing pension rates it would look, not at the basic wage, but at the needs of the pensioner, lt said. “ We shall increase or reduce the pension according to how the C series index figure rises or falls “. But, in 1 944, four years later, the Labour party repudiated that policy and decided that it would no longer take note of needs or of changes of the C series index figure, but that it would make up its mind from time to time as to the method it would use to compute the pension rate. Therefore, I say that Labour has never had a consistent policy for estimating the pension rate but has trimmed its sails to any breeze that has blown and has changed its mind from time to time in order to gain political advantage. It has acted in accordance with political expediency only. Having shown the hopelessness of the Labour party’s approach to this problem, I emphasize that the Menzies Government has been consistent in its approach and that it will maintain the fundamental principles in accordance with which the pension is assessed now and has been assessed during the last seven years.
The Labour party’s arguments have been pretty hackneyed. Most of the proposals debated by members of the Opposition have been somewhat pedestrian. They have shown little or no imagination. They have shown little or no intelligence or novelty in the consideration of social services problems. What are the arguments of the Opposition? Four of them have been trundled out by the honorable member for Port Adelaide in the course of this debate. First, there is the old argument - “ You have not been generous enough. If we had been in office, we should have done a little better than you “. Secondly, honorable members opposite have said that what they did in the past was better than what this Liberal party-Australian Country party Government has done during its tenure of office. Thirdly, they have argued that, compared with the position when Labour was in office, the pension has not maintained its purchasing power. Finally, as a variant, the honorable member for Port Adelaide stated that he believed there should be a complete abolition of the means test for very elderly people.
All of those arguments are old. All of them lack novelty and cover ground familiar to’ those of us who have been here for some time. Let me deal with the first two arguments together - the arguments that Labour would have been more generous now than we have been and that it did more for the pensioner in the past than we have done while we have been in office. The Minister for Social Services has produced facts and figures to show that, in terms of purchasing power, the value of the pension to-day is greater than it was when the Labour party left office in 1949. But honorable members opposite argue that we should not look at the position in 1949, but should go back to 1948, when the Chifley Government last altered the pension rate. I can understand that attitude. I can understand that members of the Labour party are ashamed that in 1949, a time of rising prices, the then Prime Minister and Treasurer refused to increase the value of the pension. So they do not want to look back to 1949. They want to go as far back as 1948 - the year of the last increase of the pension by Labour. My colleague has pointed out that, in terms of purchasing power, the value of the pension to-day is greater than it was in 1949.
This Government does not look at the pension in the sense only of wanting to hand out money extrava gantly. We believe that the purchasing power of the pension should be sustained, and even increased, but we have provided other benefits which give security to the pensioner. They must be taken into consideration also in assessing the value of the pension. Let me remind the House of two or three progressive changes which, 1 believe, have made the value of the present pension inestimably greater than that of the Chifley pension of 1949. 1 mention, first, the pensioner medical service, administered by my colleague, the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron). Under that scheme, general practitioner services and pharmaceutical preparations can be given to the pensioner free of charge. That is an innovation. It has taken the fear of sickness away from the pensioner, and its value cannot be estimated in terms of money only. When assessing the value of the pension, to the actual money payment made to the pensioner we must add something for the relief of suffering when he is sick.
Then I mention the Aged Persons Homes Act, which I had the pleasure to introduce into this House last year. The pensioner desires, not only that he should have a basic pension, not only that he should have general practitioner medical attention, but also that his housing requirements should be met by the Government or by his friends. Therefore, I say that the scheme embodied in that act is not only novel and intelligent, but has made a real contribution to the security of the pensioner. I think you will admit, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that the performances of this Government are infinitely to be preferred to those of the Chifley Government. I believe that that disposes of the first two of the arguments that have been debated by members of the Opposition.
I now proceed to the second part of their argument, which is based upon the actual purchasing power of the pension, and relates quite specifically to the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). What the Labour party does is this: First, it says that, in terms of purchasing power, to-day’s pension is lower than that of 1948 or 1949. Secondly, it says that, as a percentage of the basic wage, the Menzies pension is lower than that paid by the Chifley Government. Now, whichever way we look at it, the arguments are wrong, both in terms of the purchasing power of the pension, and of the percentage that to-day’s pension bears to the needs section of the basic wage. The present pension has a greater purchasing power and, in terms of service - bearing in mind the other matters that I have mentioned - provides much more comfort for the pensioner.
I do not want to go into facts and figures on the value of the pension. My colleague has pointed out that to-day’s pension has a purchasing power that is between 4s. sind 5s. greater than that of the pension of September, 1949. 1 want to apply my mind at the moment to the argument relating to percentage of the basic wage. Labour supporters in this House are all too prone to use the phrase “ unpegged basic wage “. Typically, they become involved in jargon, and once they get it into their minds they are unable to get it out. First, what does “ unpegged basic wage “ mean? In fact, it means nothing. There is, to-day, a basic wage of about £12 6s., which was fixed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The word “ unpegged “ has no relationship whatever to the phrase “basic wage” as used by the court. Within that wage there are certain prosperity loadings, which to-day amount to £2 10s. 2d. In other words, if we took £2 10s. 2d. out of the basic wage of £12s. 6d. we would have a residue on which the pension would have to be computed. 1 am very glad to be able to say to honorable gentlemen that the relationship of the present pension of 80s. a week to the needs portion of the basic wage is 40.85 per cent. When Labour went out of office it was 35.72 per cent.
Therefore, it can be seen that if one cares to analyse the argument presented on behalf of the Opposition, both as to changes in the C series index of retail prices, and percentage of the basic wage, the Menzies pension is infinitely better than the pension that would have been provided if Labour had remained in office. Pensioners can derive no consolation whatever from the argument of honorable members opposite that if they had been in office they would have done better. In fact, Labour has not realized how the problem should be analysed and, that being so, it is proper to say that if Labour had been in office, its performance would have been infinitely worse than its performance hitherto. In short, the lot of the pensioner would have been substantially worse under Labour.
To complete the argument, I mention that the Arbitration Court itself said, not so very long ago, that the needs section of the basic wage - and I emphasize that the basic wage is made up of a needs section and a prosperity loading of £2 10s. 2d. - was sufficient for a unit of three - not one. It also said that the purchasing power of the needs section had been retained. I mention that just to complete my argument and to show, in terms of statistics, that this Government has done substantially better than merely fulfil its pledge and maintain the purchasing power of the pension. That disposes, I hope, of Labour’s debate on this problem.
I might also mention, in answer to the honorable member for Port Adelaide, who was, he said, pressing a personal point and not putting the official view of the Labour Opposition, that in terms of the liberalization of the means test, there has been a rise of something like 133 per cent, in both the property means test and the income means test, compared with a rise of only about 1 12 per cent, in the federal basic wage, which is now £12 6s. In other words, so far as these means tests are concerned, the Menzies Government has done better than merely adhere to a fixed percentage of the basic wage. It has raised both means tests by 133 per cent.
Now may I refer to one matter that is dear to my heart - the achievements of this Government. I know, of course, that they are set out in many of the books that have been published by the Liberal party. My colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) enumerated fifteen reforms of a progressive character that had been made since this Government came to office. They have not been simple changes, or a matter of merely deciding that we would give a little more here or a little more there. They have been changes of a radical and progressive kind. They have been changes that show imagination, and have indicated that the Government intends to look after the real wants and demands of the sick and ailing in the community. I have already mentioned the pensioner medical service, and pharmaceutical benefits. I would also like to emphasize the help that has been given, over a wide area of this country, under the Aged Persons Homes Act. 1 come now to the changes that have been brought about by the budget. They disclose imagination, and a novel approach to <the problem of pensions. I well remember the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) saying, shortly before he went overseas, “ Let us see how we can give real benefits; how we can make a contribution to comfort and contentment “. 1 believe that that has been done. My colleague, the Minister for Social Services, has announced three changes of a substantial kind that have flowed from the budget and from this bill. The first is the giving of help to one of the most needy -sections of the community, the widow with two or more children. Previously, subject to a means test, she had a pension of £4 5s., with the further assistance of child endowment amounting to 5s. for the first child and 10s. for each subsequent child. Her payment will now be increased by 10s. for each child after the first. This is a splendid -amendment - one that, previously, I had hoped might be made. I am glad to know that my colleague has introduced it, because it gives help to a really deserving section of the community - to those who have brought children into the world, are educating them, And are anxious to give them an opportunity in life.
A similar change has been made in the case of invalids. An additional 10s. will be paid for each child subsequent to the first. These are real benefits - I repeat the phrase - of a novel kind, which show that the Government has exercised imagination in considering the problem of pensions. I have already mentioned the third change, which affects the woman who has been called the “ A class pensioner “. At present, if she is between the ages of 45 and 50 years, and her children are older than sixteen, she loses the pension. It has always been a cause of wonder to me that a woman who has reared a family, and who has reached the age of 45, should be deprived of the pension when her children attain the age of sixteen years.
I am pleased to be able to congratulate my colleague from Riverina on bringing this amendment forward and having it placed on the statute-book, because I believe -that it will provide assistance to a section of the community that might previously have been prejudiciously affected. 1 know that a lot of bitterness has arisen in the past out of this item of social services benefits, and I know that the women of Australia will congratulate the Government on this change. This was one of the matters about which they most frequently made representations when I had the good fortune to be Minister for Social Services. I put these facts before the House, and I argue, as forcefully as I can, that this Government has done - and I promise that it will continue to do - more for the pensioner than could ever have been expected if a Labour government had occupied the treasury bench. 1 wish now to touch briefly upon one other subject that must, I think, be mentioned during the course of a debate on social services. I have some figures that I think should be put before the House, because they indicate the extent to which social services payments will be an increasing drain upon our national revenues and our National Welfare Fund. When these figures are studied it becomes obvious that we must look for new ways of financing social services, and we must find better means in the future of giving benefits than we have done in the past. The Government, as I have said, constantly applies itself to this problem, and if any. one can make a suggestion that will lead to a solution, I can assure him that the Government will be most grateful. Between 1940 and 1950 the average yearly increase in the number of age pensioners was 6,200. Between 1950 and 1956 the average annual increase was 18,500, and the number of age pensioners is at present increasing by 20,000 a year. If this rate of increase is maintained, and the present average rate of payment of £200 a year for each pensioner remains the same, the increase in the amount payable for age pensions will be of the order of £4,000,000 per annum. That will be the extent of the automatic increase in age pensions payments.
There has also been an increase in the proportion of pensioners to persons of pensionable age. In other words, of those who pass the pensionable age, which is 60 years in the case of a woman and 65 for a man, the number of persons who collect the pension is steadily increasing. In 1911, the proportion was 11 per cent.; in 1954, it was 43 per cent.; and in 1955, it was 45 per cent. In other words, 45 persons out of every 100 of pensionable age are receiving the pension. I point those facts out because I believe in my heart that they should be pointed out whenever budgetary proposals are being debated, because the responsibility devolves upon all of us to ask how we can continue to improve standards of living for all our people and provide more justice and contentment for pensioners. Pensions are paid out of the proceeds of present production, out of the proceeds of what we and the people outside this Parliament produce each year. If production remains static and we give the pensioner or the wage-earner any more, some one else must suffer, whether it be the farmer, or the person on a fixed income who has saved in the past and is now living on those savings.
– Or the profiteer!
– I have only a minute left in which to speak, otherwise I would reply to the honorable member. I am pointing out that if the pensioner is to get more, we must produce more. If the farmer is to get more, we all must produce more. If the man who has retired wishes to retain the value of his savings, then this generation and future generations must do what our ancestors did - they must work harder and produce more. It is therefore necessary, during the preparation of a budget, to balance the needs and demands of various sections of the community. We must not tax so heavily that we remove the incentive to do extra work. We must not tax so heavily that in the future our production will fall, and each section of the community must take less, whether it be the pensioners, the workers, those in management or those on the land. This Government has, therefore, consistently pursued a policy designed to provide incentives to greater production and greater saving, and consequently to ensure that in the future we all shall have a better life and more contentment.
I join with my colleague, the Minister for Social Services, in submitting that, from the point of view of a man who has not only a common-sense approach to this problem but also a mighty heart, we will, as a government, continue to do in the future as we have in the past. The purchasing power of the pension has increased. Other services of a magnificent kind have been provided that were never contemplated by the Australian Labour party. Those services show imagination and a real desire to help. I give you this pledge, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, on behalf of the Government, that during the next five years or more that we are in office we will continue our present policy, and that pension rates will be estimated according to the principles that the Menzies Government has followed. In other words, they will be estimated according to needs, community tax-paying capacity, and a consideration of the maximum that can be paid. I give my assurance that these principles will be followed in the future, and that, therefore, the expectations of pensioners can remain as high as they are at present.
.- At least the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), who has just resumed his seat, has given us an assurance that we havenothing more to expect if this Government should be elected again-
– That is not so.
– In the field of social services than we have received from this Government in the past. If the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) had listened until I finished the sentence, he would have found that his interjection was quite unnecessary. I think, however, that his interjection shows how much he feels the need to defend his record and that of his Government. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), whose speech differed strikingly from that of the Minister for Primary Industry, was quite correct in saying that the Minister for Social Services came into the House on Thursday of last week for the purpose, not of explaining this bill, but of defending his record, and defending it very aggressively and uncompromisingly. It was only too apparent then, as it is now, that the Minister felt that his record and that of the Government needed to be defended.
We have seen a striking difference between the rather turgid methods of the Minister for Social Services last Thursday and the very suave approach of the Minister for Primary Industry to-day. The Minister for Primary Industry, indeed, exhibited the technique of the confidence man with a policy to sell; and he has made a magnificent attempt to sell it. He has twisted statistics and contorted the view of the basic wage in an endeavour to defend the proposition that the pension to-day represents 40 per cent, of the basic wage; as compared with 35.2 per cent, in 1949. The Minister seldom referred to figures at all. He has been concerned with broad generalizations that are most difficult to deal with because they mean so little. Towards the end of his speech he told us that he intended to speak of fifteen radical reforms that have been introduced by the Liberal Government during its term of office. He referred to them as reforms that introduced some radical change in social services policy, rather than a mere grant of a little more in some established direction. When he did deal with these reforms, I did my best to count them, and could discover only five. They are the medical and pharmaceutical pensioner services, the Aged Persons Homes Act, the allowance for widows and children, the allowance for invalid children and the extension of the allowance for A class widows between the ages of 45 and 50 years.
There is nothing radical about any of these proposals. They provide just a little more. They have all been long proposed and advocated by many members on both sides of this House. The provision with regard to the aged persons’ homes, which is perhaps the most significant one, is not radical. The bill provides assistance for pensioners who are members of or are associated with existing organizations. It provides very little for pensioners who are not already associated with some co-operative, church or other organization. It seems to me that the test of the Government in relation to this provision will come when claims are made on behalf of, say, municipal authorities which are endeavouring to provide assistance for the ordinary pensioner who is not already a member of an organization. There was nothing at all radical about any of the proposals that the Minister mentioned. 1 return to the point to which I referred previously. Having endeavoured to show that the pension to-day was 40 per cent, of the basic wage compared with 35.2 per cent. when Labour was in office, the Minister went on to say that he would not deal with the basic wage as we know it - the simple, factual basic wage - but would define a basic wage as he considered it should be. First of all, he refused to accept the term “ unpegged “ basic wage or to accept the basic wage after adjustment for rising prices over the years. He would not have the ordinary sort of basic wage, but he would take some other one. Not satisfied with this adjustment of the statistics, he then said that the prosperity loading that had been part of the basic wage since 1937 would have to be left out. He said that amounted to £2 10s. lOd. Speaking from memory, 1 think that is 9s. or 10s. more than it should be. He would take these things out of the basic wage first. He would not accept the ordinary basic wage that we all know but would create one in order to make a comparison.
Having produced a basic wage that no one could recognize, he said, in effect. “ When we use this basic wage which 1. with my statistical acumen, can produce, we find that the pension to-day is 40 per cent, of the basic wage “. What sort of an argument is that? If we go a little further, we find that most of the arguments used by the Minister are of a similar type. 1 should like to direct my remarks, not to the question whether the Government has done more than Labour would have done in office or whether the Government’s record in the future may be deduced from its record in the past; 1 should like to show that the contribution made by the Minister for Social Services, and that of the Minister for Primary Industry, rest upon two main propositions. They are, first, that little progress was made in the development of social services by Labour governments between 1942 and 1949 and, secondly, that the Liberal-Australian Country party Government between 1949 and 1956 has an excellent record in social services.
Let us examine those two propositions to see what conclusion we can reach. The true position, with regard to the first proposition, is that the social services structure in Australia was, in fact, established by the Labour government from 1942 to 1949. In 1942, when Labour began the work of establishing the social services structure, the Commonwealth provided only two social services. They were pensions, as a result of pressure from Labour in 1908, and child endowment in 1941, as an alternative to an increase in the basic wage. These things were not willingly chosen by anti-Labour governments prior to 1942; they were forced upon anti-Labour governments by circumstances. Until 1942, Commonwealth expenditure on social services had never amounted to more than 8 per cent, or 9 per cent, of total Commonwealth expenditure. Indeed, it was generally less. The total social services income prior to 1942 had never amounted to more than 2i per cent, of national income. The generally-accepted view amongst those who knew anything of the situation in 1942 was that Australia was extremely backward in the field of social services.
Professor Bland, who is now the member for Warringah, at the Summer School of the Australian Institute of Political Science in 1939, said that Australia was not only backward in relation to developments in the years that had immediately preceded 1939, but, in its social services, was backward compared with any other civilized country. Mr. T. W. White, who was then the member for Balaclava and is now Sir Thomas White, said that Australia should be ashamed of its record in social services up to 1942. But in 1942, the very important Joint Parliamentary Committee on Social Security reached the conclusion that Australia was no longer a social laboratory as it had been claimed to be up to 1914. The explanation for this was quite clearly that anti-Labour governments had been in office almost continuously from the end of World War I. to 1939. There was a call for a new attitude to social services. Labour responded to that call’. The National Welfare Fund was created. Widows’ pensions, maternity and funeral allowances were established and legislation was enacted for a far more comprehensive medical and pharmaceutical benefits scheme than anything provided by this Government.
– But it did not work!
– It did not work because the friends of the Minister in the British Medical Association conducted a most effective strike against it. If that is what is meant by obstruction to a socialist government, then let us recognize it.
At the end of Labour’s record of creating the social services structure in Australia, the percentage of social services payments to Commonwealth expenditure had more than doubled. Social services payments to total national expenditure had risen from 2) per cent, to just over 5i percent. By 1949, the new attitude and thenew achievement had been established. Speakers who now support the Government had opposed most of these developments throughout the war and post-war years. They had opposed them bitterly, using exactly the same arguments as the Government uses to-day to justify the fact that it has not made more progress since 1949.
In order to test the proposition that I have just stated, let us look at the record of the Government since 1949. Time and lime again the Government committed itself to the proposition that it would maintain the real value of all social services and not merely the real value of pensions. That raises the question: How do we measure the real value of social services? The Government says that we should use the C series retail price index number, but that that is not the only way of doing it. Labour says that when we are concerned with the real value of social services, they should be compared with the basic wage. We make that claim for a very clear and definite reason. People who receive social servicesare entitled to benefit from any improvement in the productivity of the economy just as any one else is entitled to benefit from it.
The only measure we have at the present time of any improvement in the productivity of the economy is the basic wage. The C series retail price index number shows us nothing but the increase of prices of a particular small section of retail commodities. It does not show the capacity of the economy to pay a certain wage, pension, or anything else. Therefore, Labour says clearly that if we want to know what the economy can afford in terms of a social service payment we have to look not at the C series retail price index number but at the basic wage.
– When did Labour say that? Not in 1949!
– I think that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) cat* be left to his thoughts, whether they concern the state of the economy in 1949 or the state of the Cabinet in 1956. It is only too dear where the truth lies, whatever Labour said or did not say in 1949. Let us look at the achievements of the Government, first in relation to pensions - the mast to which the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is now so avidly pinning his -colours. He is trying to convince himself that the Government has taken the proper course, although he has failed to convince the pensioners. If we look at the pensions we find that the increase since 1949 is £1 17s. 6d. a week, or 88 per cent. How does that compare with changes in the real value of pensions? If we accept the Government’s argument and look at the C series retail price index, we see that it has increased by just over 80 per cent, since the Government has been in office, so that, on that basis, the pensions have increased by approximately 3s. a week in real value. But if we look more closely at the C series retail price index we find that the most important commodity purchased by age and invalid pensioners is food, and if we look at the food component of the C series retail price index number we find that it has increased by 117 per cent., compared with an increase of the pension of 88 per cent. Therefore, even on the Government’s own submission and its own chosen ground, to try to justify the argument that pensions have increased in real value raises very great doubts. But, of course, if wc look at the basic wage, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said we should, we find that, if the pension had been adjusted since 1949 to maintain its real value as against this measuring rod, it now should be £4 15s. 3d. a week. I do not think any reasonable person could possibly say that anything less than £4 15s. 3d. a week would either maintain the real value of the pensions or be just and fair to the pensioners.
Let us move on to child endowment, a matter which the Minister for Social Services and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), with his suave generalities, have avoided completely. Why has the Government said nothing about child endowment? The answer is that the Government has done nothing to increase child endowment. The Government has done one thing and for this I give it credit: It has introduced - apparently voluntarily this time - endowment of 5s. a week for the first child. That sum has not, of course, been increased since it was introduced and, therefore, has now fallen to 2s. 8d. in real value. What of the endowment for the other children? If we take a family of two children and look at the child endowment they receive, in accordance with the C series retail price index number, we find that its value has fallen by 3s. 5d. If we compare it with the basic wage increases, we find that the endowment for two children has fallen by 7s. 5d. In the case of three children, it has fallen by Ils. 8d., compared with the C series retail price index number, and 19s. lOd. compared with the basic wage. In respect of four children, it has fallen by £1 0s. 4d. compared with the C series retail price index, and £1 12s. 3d. compared with the basic wage; and in respect of a family of five children, it has fallen by £1 8s. 8d. compared with the C series retail price index number and £2 4s. 8d. compared with the basic wage. Even adopting the Government’s own standard of comparing the real value of social services payments, child endowment has fallen in every way. Is that how the Government chooses to maintain the real value of social services? Why is the Minister so silent on this matter of child endowment?
Then we turn to widows’ pensions, the inadequacy of which the Government has offset to some extent by an increase of allowances for widows’ children. If we look at the value of the pension for class A widows, compared with the C series retail price index number, we find that it is down 5s. 6d. a week in real value. The class B widows’ pension is down ls. 6d. a week on the basis of the C series retail price index number. Compared with the basic wage,’ the figures will be found to be considerably higher. Let us move on to another type of social services - maternity allowances, which have never been increased by the present Government. If we look at the value of maternity allowances on the basis of the C series retail price index number, we find that the least of them is down by £12 12s. in real value. They should be £12 12s. more than they are to have the same real value as they had originally, and if we compare them with the basic wage, we find that the allowances should be £18 12s. 5d. more if real value is to be maintained.
That is the record of the Government’s failure to maintain the real value of social services payments, and I. fail to understand how the Minister for Social Services, with his rather aggressive manner, or the Minister for Primary Industry, with his very suave manner, could claim that, by any stretch of the imagination, the Government had honoured its promise to maintain the real value of these payments. The Government can claim some credit for the relaxation that it has made of the means test in relation to both income and property, lt may claim to have achieved something by extending the allowances to widows’ children, and it also may claim some credit for its medical and pharmaceutical benefits schemes, although 1 point out that at present the medical scheme is financed on a flat rate contribution scale. The individuals who participate in it pay without any regard to their ability to pay and, for that reason, no doubt they pay considerably more than they would if the scheme were undertaken by other than private voluntary organization. The Government has, perhaps, improved the real value of pensions by 3s. a week, according to its own standard of reference - the total C series number, without any qualification about how that number affects pensioners. It has increased the unemployment and sickness benefit, on the same standard, by from 3s. to 4s. a week, but it has considerably reduced the real value of all other social services benefits which it inherited from Labour in 1949. That cannot be contradicted.
We have heard a considerable number of statements from the Minister for Primary Industry, and also from the Minister for Social Services, about the increasing burden of social services. The Minister for Social Services stated, in the roneoed circulated copy of his second-reading speech -
For some time past, Mr. Speaker, the Government has been obliged to develop its social services programme in the £ace of a rising tide of inflationary forces which have become a very real threat to the stability of the national economy. The Government has, unfortunately, had to take some unpopular measures to deal with these inflationary forces, but if it had failed to do so there can be no doubt that the result would have been disastrous to the entire economy, and it is, unhappily, within our experience that the first blast of disasters of the kind is visited on the aged and defenceless. Unless inflation is firmly checked, the inevitable point will be reached when, not only will the further expansion of social services become financially impracticable, but it will be increasingly difficult to maintain the complete range of payments even at their present level.
That, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is a warning. lt is a statement of things to come, from a government which accepts completely the outside determining forces of economic conditions in the Australian economy. The Minister for Primary Industry said that when the Government had regard to what the economy could afford, it considered the matter of balancing the needs of the community. It considered the fact that it could not tax too heavily for fear that its wealthy supporters might lack an incentive to produce.
Let us look at those two propositions, the matter of inflation, and the matter of balancing the needs of the community, in relation to the social services programme. I shall deal first with inflation. The Government is now telling us, after seven years of office, that owing to inflation its ability to provide social services is under pressure. A government that has been in office for seven years is saying that inflation is causing it difficulties in relation to social services. This is a government that came into office upon an undertaking to control inflation. This is a government that, in 1950. recognized clearly the causes of inflation and proposed policies which, had they been applied, would have prevented inflation from ravaging the Australian economy. But this is a government that found that the policy of preventing inflation would have affected first, the wealthy wool-growers, secondly, the private banking system, and thirdly, private company investors; and because it was not able to impose upon those interests a fair and equitable tax in order to put inflation under control, the Government has failed to control inflation, and because of that failure it now points to inflation as the reason why it cannot do better in the field of social services. The result is that the living standards of a great many persons, pensioners and families, have been forced down during the Government’s term of office, a fact which the Government has not been prepared to acknowledge by any increase of pensions or child endowment.
I now come to the matter of balancing the needs of the community. This is very closely related to the control of inflation.
They are not two different problems; they are the same problem. Labour makes no apology for saying that if, in the Australia of 1956, we are to take into account the needs of the community, income must be taken from the well-to-do, from those persons who receive excess profits and so forth, and transferred, by proper social service measures, to those persons who are in need of it. VVe have no hesitation in saying that in our view the priorities are such that that course is well and clearly justified. Since 1952, one of the outstanding features of the Australian economy has been the redistribution of the national income so as to take from the majority of persons who receive wages and salaries, and from farmers too, and to give lo those persons in receipt of incomes from incorporated and unincorporated businesses. The share of those persons between 1952-53 and now has risen from 27i per cent, to 31 i per cent, of the national income. Labour says, therefore, that as this kind of redistribution has taken place we must ensure that social service payments are advanced by a proper system of taxation in order to transfer money from those who have done so well over the last three or four years under the Government of which the Minister is a member to those who have suffered by the change.
When one looks at the priorities established by the Government in relation to its own expenditure, one sees a serious and obvious disproportion. Labour says that it is essential to follow, in the international field, the kind of foreign policy that will lead to the constructive settlement of disputes and issues, and make unnecessary the provision of £193,000,000 for defence. Labour says that if a healthy and progressive international policy of the type which has been clearly enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in relation to the Suez dispute is followed, it will be unnecessary to continue to keep the community in a condition of psychological preparedness for warfare, and it will be unnecessary to go on spending as much as £193,000,000 on defence. Therefore, by a transfer within the Government’s own system of priorities, much more can be done in the field of social services than has been done by the present Government. So whether we look at it from the point of view of the effect of inflation, which the
Government seems to recognize as one of the main causes, if not the main cause, of its inability to do better in the field of social services, or from the point of view of balancing the needs of the community by making a comparison of the priorities of this and that type of expenditure, it seems to me that the Government is at fault in the policy it has followed.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Bowden). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- In the field of social services, Australia has not taken second place to any other country; in fact it has led the world. A balanced look at our social services shows that we have the finest system of social services in the world. That does not mean, however, that our social service benefits are good enough. In fact, they are not, and that is the very reason why this bill is before the House. The bill is designed to amend serious defects in the legislation. To-day, a widow who has to maintain two, three, or four children, receives no more than does a widow with one child. Therefore, a widow with a large family has been at a very distinct disadvantage during this period of rising prices. The bill is designed to remedy that defect by providing an additional allowance of 10s. a week for each child after the first. A similar additional allowance is to be made for the children of invalids.
Another provision will remove one of the cruellest hardships which exists under our legislation, and one with which I have been concerned for many years. It has always seemed to me to be almost wicked, if I may use the word, that a widow, a mother who has reared three or four children to the age of sixteen, should find herself, still under the age of 50, without any income whatsoever and forced to look for employment. The bill proposes to remove that weakness, and a widow who is over 45 but under 50 years of age will receive a pension, notwithstanding that her youngest child has attained the age of sixteen. In these provisions we see signs of the continuous improvement in our social services benefits which has been going on ever since 1910. lt is most regrettable to hear a speech such as that delivered by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), who tried to make pensions an intense party matter.
He tried to suggest that whatever Liberals do, Labour could do better; or that whatever Labour had done was better than the Liberals had done. Of course, that is not correct. 1 hope that subsequent speakers will try to keep this debate on a higher plane. As I said before, although our social services system is the best in the world, it is still not good enough. It is our job, as members of this House, to realize and appreciate what the pioneers have done for this country. It is our job to see that there really is security in this country.
The present system of age pensions was introduced by the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1908. It provided a pension of 10s. a week, based upon “ need “. Notwithstanding the fact that most magnificent reforms have been made since that date, this essential basis of “ need “ has been retained and “ need “ is measured by the means test. I submit that “ need “ is an entirely wrong basis for the payment of our social services. Age security should be a right. It should be a contractual right and not a charity, based on “ need “. I believe that our whole system should be altered in order to provide a contributory scheme of age security so that every one, on retirement or when reaching a prescribed age, will receive a payment sufficient to enable him to maintain human dignity - sufficient to provide an age pension which will enable him to live in the last days of his life in a measure of reasonable security and in a position where his needs can more than be met.
I want to deal with the advantages of a national retiring allowance or a national age security, free of means test, on a contributory basis, against the present basis of a pension based on “ need “. The difficulty of a pension based on “ need “ is that it is entirely dependent on the budget for its finance. When the budget is in a difficult position it has such results as occurred in 1931, when the Scullin Government found itself forced to reduce the pension because of the economic position. Then again, in 1949, notwithstanding an increase of 10 per cent, in the cost of living, the Chifley Government found itself unable, on budgetary grounds, to increase the pension. So long as the pension is based upon need, so long will it be dependent on the budget; and so long will there be this feeling of insecurity and this battle as to the amount of the pension. If, however, the pension were based upon contributions so that the retiring allowance or age security payment might be a contractual right, then the retiring, allowance would not depend upon the budget and would not fluctuate according to the state of the economy from time totime.
Let us look, for example, to the casesthat I quoted when I spoke on the budget - the member’s retiring allowance. Themembers’ retiring allowance gives security to each honorable member of this Housebecause he contributes towards its cost.. I pointed out that ever since that scheme hasbeen in operation, members have contributed more than they have received so that the Government and the taxpayer have lost nothing, but every honorable member of this House has had security. I also pointed out that under the Commonwealth superannuated officers’ scheme which is a compulsory scheme of national saving-
– So is our scheme.
– Yes, so is the members’ retiring allowance. But under theCommonwealth superannuated officers* scheme which is a compulsory scheme and which has been in operation for 33 years, civil servants have real security. They get their retiring allowance as a matter of right, as a contract, without a means test. During every year of the 33 years that scheme has been in operation, civil servantshave paid into the fund more than they have drawn from it.
I have proved to this House that thesecontributory schemes are self-supporting. The members’ retiring allowance schemehas about 200 contributors. Suppose there was a fund to which the 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 wage-earners of this country were contributors. Just imagine the amount of contributions that would come into such an age security fund! If that amount of revenue were coming in, every person in this country could feel absolutely secure that when he reached the prescribed age, he could have real security. The scheme would not be dependent upon, the budget. It would abolish the means test. It would encourage thrift, because capital or income would not in any way affect a. person’s entitlement to the age securityallowance.
The retiring allowance would automatically increase with the productivity of the country. If every one made a contribution of 3d. in every £1 of income, and if productivity and incomes increased, obviously the revenue of the security fund would also increase. As the revenue to the fund increased, so the retiring allowances could be increased, in line with national productivity. The only weakness of the Commonwealth officers’ superannuation fund is that the retiring allowances have not kept pace with the increased cost of living. But if a scheme were introduced on the lines that I have suggested, with contributions in proportion to income, as national productivity increased and as the incomes of the people increased, so the revenue to the fund would increase and, consequently, the retiring allowances could likewise increase. Also, it would be possible to increase the retiring allowances in inflationary periods because it is well known that during a period of inflation incomes rise. In such a period wages and salaries rise and consequently, a contribution in proportion to income would bring in more revenue and the additional revenue for the fund would immediately enable an additional age security payment to be made. Also, the fund would be flexible. It would enable the retiring allowance to be varied from time to time in accordance with the income of that fund.
Pensions would not be a political football, as they are to-day, with politicians trying to bribe certain sections of the community by promises, which very often cannot be honoured, of increases of £1 here and there. We should have a national age security fund, national insurance fund, national retiring allowance fund, or whatever we like to call it, entirely separated from the budget and from party politics. The scheme would be self-supporting. Only the contributions and the national retiring allowance paid would vary from time to time.
During the budget debate I pointed out a new feature that has now entered into budget thinking. A few years ago governments were able to increase pensions if their budgets showed surpluses. If there was a surplus of income over expenditure the government was able to say, “ We shall deal with this surplus as follows: So much extra for pensions, so much extra for the States, and so much for tax reductions “.
Consequently, the ability of the country to pay and to increase pensions rested almost entirely upon the state of the budget. Owing to the operation of the means test and the present disinclination of the people to save, so little support has been given to government loans in the last two or three years that the Government now finds itself, notwithstanding a revenue surplus of approximately £100,000,000, unable to deal with it as it would like to do by increasing social service benefits and payments to the States, and reducing taxation, because the whole of it must be earmarked for expenditure on capital works since the savings of the people are not sufficient to finance the capital works programme. As a result, a new feature has entered into public finance, and governments have not only to examine their budgets and ascertain whether revenue exceeds expenditure before deciding how much they will make available for increased pensions, but also, apparently, to see whether a surplus of revenue over expenditure must be set aside to meet deficiencies in the loan account.
Under the scheme that I propose, which envisages a national age security fund, national insurance fund or national retiring allowance fund, according to the name it is given, the fund would provide substantial support for Commonwealth loans, and it would not be necessary to devote revenue to capital works. I pointed out during the budget debate that out of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund £44,000,000 has been invested in Commonwealth loans for public works. That contribution has come from a few public servants. Just imagine how much could be obtained if the whole of the people contributed to a national fund! So I suggest that if we adopted an entirely new basis for social services and paid an age security allowance out of a fund to which every one contributed we should have a system which would cure most of our present economic ills. It would cure the shortage of loan funds. It would remedy the lack of savings, because it would be based on compulsory savings. It would allow the means test to be abolished and so remove all the hardships associated with it. I ask the Government to examine the whole basis of our social services legislation, which I submit is antiquated and does not serve the purposes for which it was designed. The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1908, which came into operation in 1909, and upon which the whole of our social services structure is based, as 1 mentioned, provided for a pension of 10s. a week based upon need. From time to time, the amount has been increased, and it now stands at £4 a week. But it still embodies that essential characteristic of being based upon need.
Let us now consider whether it is achieving the object of meeting needs. Are we paying pensions according to need? I ask honorable members to listen closely to three cases which I shall mention. The first is that of an elderly married couple owning their own home, furniture and motor car, and receiving £7 a week in superannuation. The people, through the Government, pay them a combined pension of £8 a week, giving them a total income of £ 1 5 a week, or approximately £3 a week more than the basic wage. Are we paying them a pension according to need? If we are to stick to this old, absurd and antiquated basis of paying pensions according to need, let us pay them strictly according to need and not on a basis which, if the amendment is carried and the pension for a single person is increased to £4 15s. 3d. a week, will give this married couple a pension of £9 10s. 6d. a week, and a total income of £16 10s. 6d. a week.
– Does the honorable member think that would be too much?
– I do not. But I do say it is absurd to suggest that such people need an increase of income from £15 to £16 10s. 6d. a week as much as a widow paying rent, having no assets and no income other than the pension, and struggling to live on £4 a week, needs a higher pension.
I have really dealt with the second case in answer to the interjection of the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). It is that of a widow who has no income and no assets, and who pays 30s. a week rent. We are expecting her to live on £2 10s. a week. She cannot do it.
– What widow?
– An aged widow.
– Two pounds ten shillings a week?
– If she is paying 30s. a week rent, she has only £2 10s. a week left on which to feed and clothe herself and to provide all the other things needed. She cannot do it.
– Then why not suggest an all-round increase of pensions?
– 1 am not suggesting an all-round increase of pensions for the simple reason that it creates the idiotic result of giving more to some people than they really need, and not nearly enough to others who have real need. Let me repeat that the whole basis of my case is that the present method of assessing the pension, on need, is entirely wrong, and that wc should substitute a new basis for the one which has proved to be wrong. If it is intended to stick to this basis of need as the determinant of eligibility for a pension, surely we should administer it according to sound, sensible principles.
The third case I cite is that of the thrifty person who has saved £2,000 and invested that money in government bonds at 3& per cent, interest, which brings in an income of £62 a year. That person is not eligible to receive a pension. He or she can only sell the bonds, and that means, to-day. selling them at a discount of from £10 to £15 in each £100.
I have cited three cases. In the first case, £15 a week is coming into the home, and under the Opposition’s amendment that amount would become £16. The second case is that of the widow or widower or single aged person who, after paying rent, has to feed and clothe himself or herself on £2 10s. a week. It cannot be done! The third case is the case of the thrifty person who is getting nothing in the way of pension. All that person can do is sell his or her bonds. At this time, we do not want people to sell bonds. We want them to buy bonds. That person, who receives no pension, is paying the penalty for having been thrifty.
If we are to keep our place in the world as the leader in the field of social services, we have to get down to this problem, and get down to it quickly. It is becoming nonsensical and unreal to continue to pay pensions on the basis of need. I ask the Minister for Social Services to make available the sum of £5,000,000 to trustees in each State, empowered to deal with cases on the basis of need. An increase of 10s. in the rate of pensions would cost something like £15,000,000, or £12,000,000 at least. For hall of that amount, we could do what the Legacy Club is doing - deal with cases of need on the basis of need - examine each individual case and, if the need exists, meet it. One person may need 2s. 6d. extra a week, whilst another person may need £1 extra a week. The present act makes need the basis for payment of pension, but it is nol administered on the basis of need. This is, in my opinion, completely unreal, and is preventing us from relieving real cases of hardship.
There is nothing unusual in my suggestion. We have the services canteens fund, which has about £5,000,000 administered by trustees in each State, who deal with cases of distress among ex-servicemen. They deal with each case on its merits, and according to need. There have been no complaints about the administration of that fund. Has any one ever heard a complaint raised about Legacy’s distribution of the thousands of pounds it pays out each year to war widows and children, and the surviving dependants of ex-servicemen, all on the basis of need? The Legacy Club of Adelaide is paying out £30,000 a year for the relief of suffering and distress, and in helping widows and children whose husbands and fathers gave their lives for this country. So 1 plead with the Government lo get down, in a real fashion, to tackling this problem of social services. It is not good enough to say that the provisions in the original legislation of 1910 are being improved progressively every year. We can do better than that. We can say: A real problem exists. Let us get down to it and solve it “.
In the present bill we are dealing with cents in elements, but 1 think it is a question of making up our minds about what basis we shall use to determine the payment of pensions.
Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The whole i heme of the speech of the honorable member lor Sturt (Mr. Wilson) is that the pensions system should be self-supporting, that there should be some sort of contributory scheme lo make it so. I want to point out to the House, and the honorable member, that the Labour Government established the National Welfare Fund, which was in operation prior to 1950, for that very purpose. Unfortunately, when this Government took office it put all the money thai was in that fund into the Consolidated Revenue Fund and, consequently, theNational Welfare Fund has just disappeared.
I support- the amendment proposed b> the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), and I want to say that the attitude of this Government to social, services benefits has been callous in the extreme. The Government has the unenviable reputation of making the poor poorer, of making those people who really need something in addition to whatever income they may have much poorer. In. actual fact, as I shall show, the law of diminishing returns is applying to recipientsof social services benefits. I prepared a table from which some members on this side of the House have already quoted, but not to its full extent. That table, whichwas checked by the Commonwealth Statistician, shows the loss of value of social: services payments under this budget as compared with their value under the Chifley Government’s budget introduced in 1948.
– That comparison shouldbe with 1949.
– I shall show the honorable member that some cogent comparisons can also be made with the 1949 budget. The important point is that 1948 was theyear in which Labour last increased social services benefits, lt refused to bribe the electors prior to the general election of 1949, but it intended to amend the benefitsafter that election, if it were successful.
Let me get back to the table. In August. 1948, under Labour, the federal basic wage for the six capital cities was £5 16s. a week. If the basic wage had remained unpegged, in August, 1956, it would have been £13 a. week - that is £7 4s. or 124.14 per cent, greater than in 1948. Let me deal first with’ widows’ pensions. In 1948 a class A widow was getting £2 7s. 6d. a week. Adding 124.14 per cent, to arrive at the present-day value of that sum, we find that she should be getting now £5 6s. 6d. a week, but sheis getting only £4 5s. It is true that something has been done for widows who havemore than one child, but the loss suffered’ by other widows is considerable. The Government is giving an additional 10s. a week to widows with more than one child, but, even then, it is only giving to those women what they are losing in child endowment, because the value of child endowment payments now is much less than in 1948. The class A widow is losing £1 ls. 6d. a week, or £55 18s. a year. The class B widow was getting £1 17s. a week in 1948. She should be getting £4 2s. lid. now, but she is getting only £3 7s. 6d., so she is losing 15s. 5d. a week, or £40 ls. lOd. a year.
In 1948 age and invalid pensioners were paid £2 2s. 6d. a week. They should be paid £4 I5s. 3d. now to maintain the 1948 value of the pensions, but they are getting only £4, so they are losing 15s. 3d. a week, or £39 13s. a year. The “Women’s Weekly “, under the heading “ New Deal for the Aged “, had this to say -
Surely one of the tests of a nation’s standard of civilization is the manner in which it looks after its old people.
If this Government is judged in that way, a pension of £4 15s. 3d. would be insufficient. There should be a loading of, say, 10s. a week to enable age and invalid pensioners to keep ahead of inflation. It would not be much use to increase the pension to £4 15s. 3d. a week if, within a few weeks of the increase, there were a big increase of the cost of living and a consequent reduction of the value of the pension increase. So we say that there should be a loading by something like 10s. a week even of a pension of £4 15s. 3d.
I turn now to child endowment. This Government introduced child endowment of 5s. a week for the first child. In the field of child endowment, only families with one child have gained since this Government came into office. Their gain is 5s a week, Or £13 a year. A family with two children was getting 10s. a week in child endowment in 1948. lt is getting 15s. now, but to maintain the 1948 value, it should be getting £1 2s. 5d. So such a family is losing 7s. 5d. a week, or £19 5s. 8d. a year. A family of three children was getting £1 a week in 1948. It should be getting £2 4s. 10d. now, but it is getting only £1 5s., so the loss in that case is 19s. lOd. a week, or £51 1 ls. 4d. a year. A family of four children was getting £1 10s. a week in 1948. It should be getting £3 7s. 3d. now, to keep the value of the payments at the previous level, but it is getting only £1 15s., so there is a loss there of £1 12s. 3d. a week, or £83 17s. a year. A family with five children was getting £2 a week under the Labour budget of 1948. It should be getting £4 9s. 8d. now, but it is getting only £2 5s., so there is a loss of £2 4s. 8d. a week, or £1 16 2s. 8d. a year.
– Are those calculations based on official figures?
– Yes. They have been checked by the Commonwealth Statistician. Those figures show that the larger the family, the larger is the loss. I turn to the unemployment and sickness benefit, which this Government increased fairly substantially, but not enough to maintain the value that it had in 1948.
– The Government doubled it.
– The Government doubled it, I agree. The rate for a single adult in 1948 was £1 5s. a week. To maintain the 1948 standard, he should be getting £2 16s. to-day, but he is getting only £2 10s., so he is losing 6s. a week. A dependent wife was paid £1 a week in 1948. She should be paid £2 4s. lOd. to-day, but she gets only £2. For what is termed for this purpose the first permissible child - the only child in respect of whom anything is paid under the unemployment and sickness benefit provisions, because child endowment is supposed to cater for the others - the payment in 1948 was 5s. a week. It should be lis. 2d. now, to maintain the 1948 value, but it is still only 5s. Permissible income has not been increased by this Government. It is still £1 a week, as it was in 1948. To maintain the value of the concession, the figure should be £2 4s. lOd. a week. An unemployed family with one child was paid £3 10s. a week in 1948. lt is paid £5 15s. a week now, but, to maintain the 1948 standard, the payment should be £7 1 6s. 1 Od. I do not suggest that even thai would be enough. The Government should have a very close look at the unemployment and sickness benefit, especially as unemployment is increasing. On 8th September there were 10,325 people in receipt of the unemployment benefit, of whom 2,199 were in Western Australia.
I turn now to the maternity allowance, which was referred to by my friend, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). The first-grade allowance in 1948 was £15. It is still £15, although, to be of the same value as in 1948, it should be £33 12s. 5d. The loss to the mother in that case is £18 12s. 5d. The second-grade allowance in 1948 was £16. lt is still £16 to-day, although it should be £35 17s. 3d. There is a loss of £19 17s. 3d. there. The thirdgrade allowance is still £17 lOs - the 1948 figure - but it should be £39 4s. 6d. There is a loss there of £21 14s. 6d.
I direct attention to those figures because they are very important. 1 have read them so that they will, be recorded in “ Hansard “ for the benefit of people who want to analyse them. They show how the recipients of social services benefits have missed out under this Government. They emphasize the big lie that was told in 1949 when the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in order to buy a few votes, said -
The value of social services will be at least maintained. Indeed, it will be increased. Pensioners can rely on us for justice.
That was said in 1949, when the present Government parties were looking for votes. That was said before an election. But we find that nowadays the people are paying twice for social services benefits. The aged, the invalid, the unemployed and all other recipients of social services benefits are paying twice. If the Government had kept the lid on prices, the money paid by the people for social security would buy just as much to-day as when it was paid out. When we were contributing to the National Welfare Fund before 1949, we believed that the money that we were paying into it was retaining its value and that we should be able to get just as much out of it as we were paying into it. But what is happening now and has been happening for some time is that the people are sending good money after bad. They are paying out good money for social services benefits by means of taxes, but they will get back bad money of considerably less value. The people are losing in two ways. The value of social services benefits is being clipped, just as though an extra tax were being imposed on the people. lt is important to know how our expenditure on social services compares with that of other countries. I have some figures taken from the “ International Labour Review “ which show the sums expended on social services by various countries. The analysis shows that sixteen major countries are devoting a greater percentage of the national income to social services than is Australia. They are the German Republic, France, Austria, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Iceland, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Canada. For instance, in 1951 the German Republic spent 17.5 per cent, of the national income on social services; France, 15.9 per cent.; Austria, 13.8 per cent.; Luxembourg, 12 per cent.; New Zealand, 11.5 per cent.; Belgium, 11.2 per cent.; Italy, 9.6 per cent.; the United Kingdom, 9.2 per cent.; Denmark, 8.7 per cent.; Sweden, 8.5 per cent.; the Netherlands, 8.3 per cent.; Iceland, 8.2 per cent.; Finland, 7.8 per cent.; Ireland, 7.2 per cent.; Norway, 6.5 per cent.; and Canada, 6.5 per cent. Australia is spending only 6.1 per cent, of the national income on social services. Actually in only six countries was the percentage spent in this field found to be lower than that of Australia. Those countries were Greece, Israel, Switzerland, Turkey, South Africa and the United States of America.
If we look at the figures for the years 1949, 1950 and 1951 we find that the percentage of the national income devoted to social services has fallen more in Australia than it has in any other country, except New Zealand and Finland. When the honorable member for Yarra was speaking an honorable member asked, by way of interjection, what Australia’s percentage was at present. During 1955-56 Australia’s national income was £4,312,000,000, and £215,000,000 or 5.1 per cent., was spent on social services and health benefits. I have quoted these figures because it is important to appreciate that Australia is still not doing its job, so far as providing social service benefits is concerned.
– What proportion of the national income was devoted to social services in 1949?
– It was 6.9 per cent.
Order! The honorable member will direct his remarks to the Chair.
– I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will direct Government supporters not to interject. I am sorry to have raised a controversial subject, but it has been very necessary to do so. In the few minutes remaining I want to say a word or two about funeral benefits and the allowance payable to the wife of an invalid pensioner. The present funeral benefit payable to age and invalid pensioners is £10.It was introduced by Labour in July, 1943, when the basic wage was £4 18s. The basic wage, if it had not been pegged, would now be £13, and a proportionate funeral benefit would be approximately £26. The Government should have done something about the ridiculously low sum of £10, and even at this stage I appeal to it to do so. I am sorry that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is not in the House. Last March I drew his attention to this matter and asked him to bring the funeral benefit more into keeping with present-day costs. He said that it would be reviewed along with the budget, but if that has happened we have not been told anything about it. Certainly nothing was mentioned about it during the budget debate.
The allowance paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner is in a similar category. In 1952, when the invalid pension was £3, the allowance was £1 10s. To-day the pension is £4, but the allowance is only £1 15s. It should be at least £2, if only to maintain the old ratio withthe invalid pension. Moreover, if the pension were increased as it should be, the allowance properly payable to the wife would be even greater. 1 shall leave the matter at that and say only that I support strongly the amendment before the House, which asks that the level of social services be raised to what it was in 1948, and even higher if the economy of the country can bear it.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Turnbull) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– It is essential, if we are to form valid judgments on the Suez Canal crisis to begin by getting our facts right. I therefore propose to begin with the facts.
The Suez Canal was not built by Egypt. It was, as I have said elsewhere - the product of the bold vision and engineering genius of. a Frenchman, de Lesseps, and the financial resources of a company whose shareholding was international.
The then government of Egypt, the Khedive, granted to the company a concession not due to expire until 1968. This concession meant the construction of a canal which had for centuries been merely dreamed about. So far from subtracting from Egypt, it made Egypt in an international sense, for it put her on one of the great cross-roads of the world. In 1888, a convention was entered into between the United Kingdom, Germany, AustriaHungary, Spain, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Russia, and Turkey - under whose authority the Khedive of Egypt had granted the concession - under which the “ free use of the Suez Maritime Canal “ was guaranteed. The purpose of the convention was - to establish, by a conventionalact, adefinite system destined to guarantee at all times, and for all the Powers, the free use of the Suez Maritime Canal, and thus to complete thesystem under which thenavigation of this canal has been placed by the firman of His ImperialMajesty the Sultan da ed the 22nd February, 1866, and sanc- tioning the concessions of His Highness the Khedive.
Nothing could be clearer. As the firman of 1866 - the firman being merely the oriental decree, with particular reference to Turkey - had established the canal company’s concession, that concession was expressly recognized and, as it were, incorporated in the terms of the 1888 convention. It is an abuse of language to describe the company, merely because it was technically resident in Egypt, as anything other than an international entity, with rights recognized by an international treaty. It became, and is, a vital element in much of the world’s trade, including the great bulk of our own. Peaceful and unimpeded traffic along its waters is, in great measure, the condition of industrial prosperity and employment in Western Europe, half of whose total oil supplies pass through the canal. Its business is expanding. Tanker traffic alone will double and treble in a few years’ time. East of Suez there are hundreds of millions of people for whose goods, bought or sold, the Suez Canal offers the shortest and cheapest route.
The canal company did, and continued to do its work. Until the Israel-Egypt question of 1951 and since, there were no politics in the canal, lt was not the instrument of any domestic politics. It was, in the strict sense, a free and open international waterway, upon the continuance and freedom of which the trade and economy of scores of independent nations came increasingly to depend. Indeed, in a broadcast made as far back as 17th November, 1954, the Egyptian President, Colonel Nasser, said that there remained fourteen years until the end of the canal company’s concession. He said that good relations existed between the company and the Egyptian Government, which had, he said, full confidence in the attitude of the company. Egypt had no grievance against the Company’s administration. It is another remarkable fact, too little known or remembered, that on 10th June, of this year, the continuing validity of the concession was again recognized by the present government of Egypt. On that day that government approved an agreement under which the company was to invest in Egypt an amount exceeding £21,000,000- £10,000,000 by the end of 1956, £3,000,000 by the end of 1957, and £2,000,000 by the end of 1958, instalments to be increased annually thereafter until the end of 1963. The whole agreement recognized that the company’s concession ran until 1968. This is a most significant fact. The company was actually encouraged to continue to lay out vast sums in Egypt. Seven weeks later, the company was, assuming the legal validity of Colonel Nasser’s action, destroyed.
On 26th July Colonel Nasser, stung by the refusal of an American loan for the High Dam, the Aswan Dam, purported, by a so-called nationalization decree, to terminate the concession and appropriate the assets of the company. In express terms, he made it clear that the canal was being taken over .so that financially, it should serve the special needs and interests off Egypt. While he paid lip service to the 1888 convention, the terms of which he had, in the judgment of the United Nations, glaringly broken in the case of Israel, he made it plain, though in rhetorical terms, that in future the canal was to be an instrument of Egyptian politics and the servant of Egypt’s financial needs. This position he re-asserted in our Cairo discussions.
This high-handed, and as I believe, illegal action, produced a world crisis. The whole future of the canal was, and is, at stake. It was, of course, at once said by some people who, quaintly enough, regarded the problem as a purely academic one, that Egypt, as a sovereign power, had the right to “ nationalize “ an Egyptian enterprise and company, and that therefore there was nothing to argue about. Such people ignored, and ignore, the two salient operative facts:
First, for the historical reasons to which I have referred, the concession had an international character, recognized by an international convention. It could not, therefore, be regarded as a merely domestic enterprise, under the sole control of the Egyptian Government.
Second, what Egypt did was to repudiate this contractual concession twelve years before its due date, without consultation and without agreement. If such a repudiation is not a breach of international law, then there is no international law.
From the point of view of the canalusing nations, there were great and urgent issues at once created by Colonel Nasser’s act of repudiation and confiscation.
First, such a grave breach of international law, if overlooked or condoned, would encourage further acts of lawlessness, bringing immense damage to the whole economy of the free world.
Secondly, it would be folly to regard the canal seizure as a single act, to be dealt with in isolation. As an isolated act, it would in all truth be dramatic and crucial enough. But Colonel Nasser, acting in a similar fashion to other dictators before him, has made no secret of his particular ambition to be the acknowledged head of the Arab world, to encourage confiscations of outside investments and installations and to humiliate and drive out the foreigner. The canal seizure is, in plain English, the first shot in a campaign calculated, unless it is promptly and successfully resisted, to make the peoples and economies of Great Britain and Western Europe dependent, literally from week to week, on one man’s whim. In the literal sense, the Suez Canal issue is, for millions, a question of survival.
Thirdly, as Colonel Nasser’s “ acquisition “ of the Suez Canal Company was achieved by the repudiation of a longstanding contract, it was clear that Egypt’s credit in the world would be so weakened that she could not obtain or spend the many scores or possibly hundreds of millions needed for the much-needed expansion of the canal. The canal would, therefore, become more and more inadequate to cope with rapidly increasing traffic’, which would accordingly need to follow longer and less economic routes.
Fourthly, Colonel Nasser had, at his very first announcement, made it clear that the Suez Canal was in future to be the political instrument of Egypt, losing its specially impressed international and non-political quality.
This meant that, without any formal violation of the 1888 Convention, to which Colonel Nasser professes to adhere, the interests of the canal and of its users could be completely subordinated to the financial needs of Egypt. Thus, as I repeatedly pointed out to Colonel Nasser in our Cairo talks, Egypt could, as the sole canal authority and under pressure from her own treasury, raise the canal dues to the highest point consistent with not actually driving the traffic away. In other words, the canal dues instead of being as light as possible, in the interests of international trade, would become as heavy as possible, in the interests of Egypt’s domestic finance.
Again, the canal has already almost reached traffic saturation point. Over the next comparatively few years vast sums will need to be raised and laid out on duplication, or widening and deepening, or the construction of more by-passes. Without this kind of thing, the inadequacy of the canal will become, in itself, an economic disaster for many trading nations and their millions of people. With these improvements and an expanded capacity, canal dues might reasonably be expected to fall. But if Egypt’s internal financial position is to be the determining factor, then current earnings which should be used in part for expansion may well be drawn off into the general revenues of Egypt.
These are but a few of the grave and critical implications of Colonel Nasser’s action, lt is small wonder that the reaction in the world was so sharp, and that 22 nations came to the London conference with such anxiety about the future. The reaction of the United Kingdom Government was. both prompt and vigorous, lt denounced Colonel Nasser’s action. lt concerted measures with both the United States and France for the calling of a world conference of interested nations; including Egypt herself. It put into train military measures of mobilization and preparation.
In these steps, as I would like to remind the House, the United Kingdom Government secured, in Parliament at Westminster, the swift support of all parties. The philosophic doubts which have since assailed some minds were not present in the House of Commons on 2nd August, when a debate occurred which deserves to be remembered. The Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, said, inter alia -
I think it is true to say that the cause for the anger and alarm felt, not only here but among the Governments and peoples of the democratic world, at the action of the Egyptian Government, is due to the special character of the canal. It isright, therefore, that the House should be reminded of some aspects of this.
As the world is to-day, and as it is likely to be for some time to come, the industrial life of Western Europe literally depends upon the continuing free navigation of the canal as one of the great international waterways of the world. I need give the House only one example. Last year, nearly 70,000,000 tons of oil passed through the canal, representing about half the oil supplies of Western Europe . . . Nor doesthis traffic affect the West alone. Australia, India, Ceylon, and a large part of South-East Asia transport the major proportion of their trade, or a large proportion of their trade, through the canal.
Therefore, it is with these reflections in mind that I must repeat the carefully considered sentence which I used in the House on Monday last, if I may quote it again -
No arrangements for the future of thisgreat international waterway could be acceptable to Her Majesty’s Government which would leave it in the unfettered control of a single power which could, as recent events have shown, exploit it purely for purposes of national policy.
He added -
That is still our position, and it must remain so.
The Prime Minister later referred to Colonel Nasser’s broadcast of 17th November, 1954, and to the agreement of 10th June, 1956, of which 1 have already made mention. When he came to the matter of military measures, the Prime Minister said -
Colonel Nasser’s arbitrary action in breach of Egypt’s solemn undertakings, many of them recently given, without previous consultation or previous notice, reveals the nature of the regime- with which we have to deal, and I think: that the action of the Egytian Government in compelling the canal company employees to remain at their posts under threat of imprisonment is certainly, to say the least, a violation of human rights.
He then added -
In these circumstances, and in view of the uncertain situation created by the actions of the Egyptian Government, Her Majesty’s Government have thought it necessary - and I wanted to take this first opportunity to tell the House - to take certain precautionary measures of a military nature. Their object is to strengthen our position in the Eastern Mediterranean and our ability to deal with any situation that may arise.
So far, I have quoted the right honorable the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. That the matter was no partisan affair was clearly shown when Mr. Gaitskell spoke for the Opposition. Having stated his own view that the act of nationalization in itself was not wrong, Mr. Gaitskell went on to state three powerful objections to what had been done. First, he said the company was not an ordinary one conducting ordinary activities. It was a company controlling an international waterway of immense importance to the whole of the rest of the world. It was, therefore, bound to be a matter of international concern when it changed hands. He went on -
Now the ownership and control of the company is to be transferred to a single power, to the hands of one State controlling it and, therefore, in a position even more than before to decide how the canal shall be run. It may be said there is no need for anxiety because we have had these assurances about the 1888 Convention. I am bound to say that it seems to me the strongest reason for having doubts in our minds as to whether wc can accept those assurances has been the behaviour of the Egyptian Government in stopping Israeli ships from going through, and equally important - indeed, even more important - the clear defiance of the resolution of the United Nations condemning this action, passed in September, 1951.
Not my words - the words of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons! Mr. Gaitskell proceeded -
The second reason why I think we must take strong exception to this is that any confidence we might have had in an action of this kind was profoundly shaken by the manner in which it was carried out. It was done suddenly, without negotiation, without discussion, by force, and it was done on the excuse that this was the way to finance the Aswan Dam project.
Mr. Gaitskell continued ;
My third reason for thinking that we must object to this is that we cannot ignore - and this is a matter that the Prime Minister did not touch upon, no doubt for good reasons - the political background and the repercussions of the whole of this episode in the Middle East. We cannot forget that Colonel Nasser has repeatedly boasted of his intention to create an Arab empire from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf . . .
The fact is that this episode must be recognized as part of the struggle for the mastery of the Middle East. That is something which I do not feel that we can ignore.
All those words are the words of Mr. Gaitskell. He showed a realistic approach to the matter when he said -
I am satisfied, for these reasons, that if the Western democracies and, indeed, other countries in the world, had simply accepted this and done nothing about it, highly dangerous consequences would have followed.
When it came to the military measures which have been so much criticized since, Mr. Gaitskell said -
I do not myself object to the precautionary steps announced by the Prime Minister to-day; I think that any Government would have to do that, as we had to do it during the Persian crisis.
Mr. Herbert Morrison, whose standing is so well known, and who enjoys such wide respect, made a remarkable speech. He said, using his own homely language, that - no country unilaterally should do something which is calculated to upset the interests of the wider world and unilaterally upset the international applecart.
In one sentence he cut through all the alleged legal arguments when he said of Colonel Nasser -
He is a person to be condemned, because he has acted contrary to the law of nations, of international good faith and against the principle of an institution-
Referring to the Suez Canal Company - which, while it might be more internationally owned is, at any rate, internationally owned and held in trust for the common use of all the peoples of the world.
Having condemned the government for what he described, whimsically enough, as an excessive policy of appeasement towards Egypt, Mr. Morrison went on to deal with the question of force. Having stated that he was in favour of taking the matter to the United Nations, so long as the United Nations would be expeditious and effective about it, he went on to say - I quote his very words -
I say to the United Nations that if it wishes - as we would wish it - to become the great moral authority of the world and the great decisive instrument, it must stop dodging vital international issues. If our Government and France, and, if possible, the United States should come to the conclusion that in the circumstances the use of force would be justified, then I think that it is up to each honorable member of this House to tell the Government whether we would support them or whether we would not. For my own part, in principle, if, after an elaborate and proper consideration, the Government and our friends come to that conclusion, I think that in the circumstances of this particular case it might well be the duty of honorable members, including myself, to say that we would give them support.
I think it is fair to say that when honorable members read these speeches, one made by a Prime Minister who has had an enormous experience in foreign affairs, and whose name is honorably associated with the constitution of the United Nations; another by Mr. Gaitskell, the new and distinguished leader of the Labour party in Great Britain, and the third by Mr. Herbert Morrison, a former Foreign Secretary and Minister, whose services will be long remembered and who is a veteran socialist in the Labour movement, it can hardly be said that the United Kingdom’s reaction was either illconsidered, partisan or hysterical.
– They have changed their opinions since.
– Of course. Trie facts were, of course, that force had already been used by Egypt. You conveniently overlook that. Force is all right so long as it is the other fellow who employs it. Force had already been used, with the threat of more to come. This aspect of the matter just cannot sensibly be overlooked.
– Why do you say that?
– I will tell you; be patient. You are not bound to wait; you can always leave. I have always suspected that you had nothing to learn. The socalled nationalization decree of 26th July went into operation on that day by the arrival at the company’s various premises and depots of armed troops who proceeded incontinently to seize the premises and plant. This is what is advocated by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). Call this nationalization if you will. It is not our conception of nationalization.
– How do you nationalize?
– I could never nationalize you. Oh, dear me! Oh, no! You are beyond either nationalization or naturalization. As I. was saying, it is not our conception of nationalization. It was, in plain English, the acquisition of property, somebody else’s property, by the use and threat of force. Moreover, there was a strange violence in the treatment of nonEgyptian pilots. These pilots owed no allegiance to any employer other than the Suez Canal Company. They were - 1 hope that I may say this with the support of honorable members opposite - not chattels to be taken over by a new master at will. Yet they were, by the terms of the “ nationalization “ decree, compelled to serve in the employ of the new Egyptian authority on penalty of imprisonment! 1 will quote the precise words of the canal company nationalization law, referring to the new Egyptian board -
Article 4. - Said board shall retain all the employees and workers of the nationalized company. They will continue performing their duties and none can leave his work or give it up in ,any manner or for any reason except with the permission of the Authority. . . .
Article 5. - Every contravention of Article 4 shall be punishable with imprisonment in addition to denying the person concerned any right to compensation, pension or end of service gratuity.
Is it to be wondered at that preparatory military measures were taken on our side of this argument?
Further, it is perhaps not adequately known that Egypt, under a military dictatorship, exhibits all the normal features of the police state. The very pilots who have been foolishly criticized for recently leaving so soon as they could, could tell a story of houses searched, telephones tapped, bank accounts controlled, children ostracized, and personal search when going aboard ship. Having regard to the presence in Egypt, in these circumstances and conditions, of many thousands of British and French citizens, the condemnation of military preparations by Great Britain and France sounds just a little unreal.
It was said by some that, when the crisis arose after Colonel Nasser’s nationalization decree, the whole matter should have at once been taken to the United Nations. Strongly as we support the Charter, I cannot accept this view. The problem was urgent. The longer Colonel Nasser remained in possession of the field, the greater would be the temptation for people to say that we were dealing with an accomplished fact and that nothing could be done about it. It was essential that something should be done about it at once. The nations principally concerned, therefore, decided that they would call a conference of those countries vitally interested in the Suez Canal in order that they might evolve fair and sensible proposals for a just settlement. Hence the London conference.
All this was done, not in defiance of the Charter of the United Nations, but in performance of it. Article 33 of the Charter says -
The whole atmosphere of the London conference was excellent. It is quite wrong to say or to claim that it decided either for or against the use of force. On the contrary, it did not discuss that matter at all. It devoted its energies to producing constructive proposals designed to seek “ a peaceful solution in conformity with the purposes and principles of the United Nations “. These proposals, which were presented to and elaborately explained to Colonel Nasser by a committee of which I had the honour to be chairman, are in the hands of honorable members and I will not occupy time by repeating them in full.
But it is, I think, important to recall to the public mind that our principal proposal was that, in the language of the 1888 Convention, there should be “ a definite system destined to guarantee at all times, and for all powers, the free use of the Suez Maritime Canal “. The eighteen nations went on to say -
And I want to say this with every emphasis - there should be no profits taken out of the canal except by Egypt;
These proposals were given clear substance by our major working proposition, which was that there should be installed by agreement with Egypt, an operating authority, the tenant, in effect, of Egypt, constituted of members drawn from a variety of nations including Egypt herself, but not subject to political direction. Such an authority would be set up, not under the law of any one country, but by the terms of an international convention, as in the well known case of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Being thus, on anybody’s view, an international body not subject to nationalization, it would enjoy world wide confidence. Being armed, under the proposed Convention, with extensive corporate and financial powers, it could assure, in practical terms - not by a piece of paper, but in practical terms - the future freedom and efficiency of the canal; there would be no profits for any shareholder except Egypt and Egypt’s asset would be at one and the same time made more valuable and more productive.
I sincerely believe, with the representatives of the other seventeen nations, that no fairer or more generous proposal ever emerged from a conference, though that conference was convened at a time when feelings ran high and the dangers of conceding a clear victory to Colonel Nasser were, as I hope they still are, so vividly understood.
Let me repeat that, while these proposals gave adequate protection to the interests of canal users, and assured the future of the canal as a non-political waterway, and provided financial guarantees for its maintenance and expansion, there were also enormous advantages for Egypt. These were summarized in my letter to Colonel Nasser of 7th September in these terms -
I have no doubt whatever that what was put to Colonel Nasser represented a fair and indeed generous settlement. He rejected our proposals, not, as honorable members will observe, if they read the report, by reasoned argument but by reference to what can only be described as slogans. He offered the view that the presence of any “ foreign body “, as he would describe it, in the canal was a derogation from Egyptian sovereignty. There were and are two complete answers to this claim. One was that we were not imposing something upon Egypt but inviting her willing agreement - an agreement which she would make in exercise of her sovereignty and not in derogation of it. The second was that Egypt’s position as the landlord of the canal being fully recognized, what we were seeking was to have a working tenant which would at one and the same time produce increasing returns for Egypt, and for Egypt only, while creating such international confidence in the conduct of the canal as would enable the tenant itself to provide the necessary finance and engineering skill so that the canal might become increasingly effective as an international waterway.
At the risk of some repetition, I think that I should clear up one important aspect of this matter. For various reasons, there seems to be an impression abroad that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with nationalization and that consequently the attack upon Colonel Nasser’s action is misconceived. I have even heard it suggested that the London conference approved of the legal validity of the nationalization of the canal. This is not so.
The question of the validity of the nationalization decree is, in essence, one of law. The London conference was not a judicial body and, therefore, did not attempt to make any judicial finding on this
Doint. What it did, in effect, was to say, “ Let us work it out on the assumption that the nationalization is completed and that adequate provision is or will be made for compensating the shareholders. On this footing, let us. evolve a series of proposals which we think both fair and acceptable “.
Colonel Nasser himself, in the course of our discussions, constantly reiterated that his nationalization decree was valid and that in consequence there was nothing to complain about. I therefore, while stating clearly that I for one thought his action illegal, found it necessary to tell him in direct terms that he was confusing two matters. One was the question of his power; the other was the question of the character and circumstances of its exercise. What he had actually done was to repudiate a concession which had twelve years to run. When he said “ How could anybody complain about that if it was within our power? “, my reply, on behalf of the committee, was that if his attitude was that merely because it was within his legal power he could repudiate a contract binding upon him, this in one blow destroyed the moral confidence that the world had in Egypt’s contractual word.
His retort was that the concession would have expired in twelve years’ time and that no doubt an “ uproar “ would then have occurred. Our reply to this was that if he had not interfered with the concession the company itself would no doubt have soon begun negotiations for a further concession; and if he had then said that he would not contemplate such a thing the user nations would have begun negotiations with him for some future organization for the canal. But those negotiations would have been conducted in an atmosphere which was not one of crisis, and sensible and fair conclusions might well have been arrived at without the development of heated views on “ sovereignty “ - which is one of the words - and “ collective colonialism “ - which is one of the phrases.
The difference that emerged between legal validity and the justice and morality of the action taken is vital and cannot be sensibly overlooked in our consideration of this most vexing problem.
When our proposals were rejected, a new proposal was made for the formation of a “ Canal Users Association “ designed to protect the interests of the nations affected.
The nature and form of that association, to which 1 will return later, have been under discussion in the second London conference. ls this inconsistent with the United Nations Charter? 1 think not. In fact, the plan for a users association having been worked out and adopted, the matter is now going to the United Nations, for, we hope, expeditious treatment. Referring this matter to the United Nations has, to some, and very naturally, seemed the obvious course from the beginning. This point of view ignores three elements of great significance.
One is that the conferences and international discussions which have already occurred have at least disclosed and clarified the issues, so that an informed Security Council can deliberate with speed.
– Ha, ha!
– The honorable member appears to scoff at the Security Council, but no doubt he is really scoffing at our side, as he usually does. There is one thing about him: He is always in favour of the enemy.
The second element is that the rules which tend to inhibit action by the Security Council - that is to say, in plain language, the veto - except in the case of Korea, when the Soviet Union was absent, rendered it necessary for the nations most concerned to do all they could to produce a speedy but proper settlement by direct negotiation.
The third is that a confiscation of the canal, achieved by force, made it both reasonable and necessary for the user nations to make it promptly clear that they were not prepared to allow their own economic sovereignties to be subordinated to the aggressive sovereignty of one nation.
This they have done, at each of the London conferences, the second of which has now constituted and defined the Suez Canal Users Association by a document, the terms of which, by leave. I lay on the table.
The scheme is not as comprehensive or as precise as one could have wished. But, if sufficient shipping nations not only adhere, but pay their dues to the new association, the fruits which Colonel Nasser hoped for will he largely ungathered by him, and his attitude towards making the fair agreement we offered him vastly improved.
Before I conclude, I want to speak quite frankly about three other matters. One is the question of force. That question calls for a cool and clear answer. There has been a great variety of vocal opinions, ranging between what I will call two extreme views. One view is that force should at once have been used to defeat a confiscation by force. This view is out of harmony with modern thinking; or, at any rate, this side of the iron curtain.
The other view is that force can never be employed, except presumably in selfdefence, except by and pursuant to a decision of the United Nations Security Council. May I repeat that, because it is important: The other view is that force can never be employed, except presumably in selfdefence, except by and pursuant to a decision of the United Nations Security Council. This I would regard - and 1 speak quite bluntly - as a suicidal doctrine for. having regard to the existence of the veto, it would mean that no force could ever be exercised against any friend of the Soviet Union except with the approval of the Soviet Union, which is absurd. The public exponents of this view have been much heard during the weeks of the canal negotiations. Their opinions have enjoyed great prominence in Egypt, and profoundly and obviously influenced the current of our conferences with Colonel Nasser, in Cairo. They ended by convincing the Egyptian Government, which was quite willing to be convinced, that there was no danger in rejecting our proposals; that, force being absolutely out, Egypt could afford to sit back, agree to nothing, carry off the spoils of victory, and further build up its prestige in the Middle East.
Each of these extreme views must, I believe, be rejected. The truth is that, in a world not based on academic principles, a world deeply affected by enlightened selfinterest and the instinct of survival, but nevertheless a world struggling to make an organization for peace effective, force, except for self-defence, is never to be the first resort, but the right to employ it cannot be completely abandoned or made subject to impossible conditions.
Let me say, quite plainly, that the whole lively and evolving history of the British Empire and the British Commonwealth of Nations was not the product of any theory. It has been, from first to last, a practical matter, an inductive process, like the slow creation of the common law and of all the great instruments of self-government. It would be a sad day if it allowed itself to be theorized out of existence. We need not get into a timid state of mind in which the very mention of the word “ force “ becomes forbidden. There is no community of nations which can say, with a clearer conscience, that it has set a great twentieth century example of using force only when forced into it, and then not for conquest but for resistance to aggression.
But does this mean that we are to be helpless in the presence of an accomplished threat to our industrial and economic future? 1 believe not. ls our task to “ patch up “ peace and no more? Surely our task is not merely to prevent hostilities but to build up a firm order of law and decency, in which “ smash and grab “ tactics do not pay. We must avoid the use of force if we can. But we should not, by theoretical reasoning in advance of the facts and circumstances, contract ourselves out of its use whatever those facts and circumstances may be. We are to seek peace at all times, but we are not bound to carry that search so far that we stand helpless before unlawful actions which, if allowed to go unchecked, can finally dissipate our own strength and deprive the world of that power and authority, both moral and physical, which reside in the free nations, and are still vital to the free world and the human interests which the free world protects.
What, then, should be our programme of action in relation to the Suez Canal, that great international waterway, up to now, or up to 1951, non-political, which is at present the economic life-line of hundreds of millions of people, north, south, east and west of it?
First, negotiation for a peaceful settlement by means of honorable agreement. So far, we have tried this without success. The failure, let me repeat and emphasize, has not been due to any unfairness or illiberality on our side, but to dictatorial intransigence on the other. I know that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), who are interjecting, do not agree with this, because they never agree with their own country. No doubt t,ley are in close communication with Mr. Shepilov, except that I must say he speaks very well.
Should we continue to negotiate on a watered-down basis, in the spirit which says that any agreement is better than none? 1 cannot imagine anything more calculated to strengthen Colonel Nasser’s hand, or weaken our own.
Secondly, the putting on of pressure by co-operative effort on the part of the user nations. Colonel Nasser must be brought to understand that his course of action is unprofitable to his country and his people, and that he is abandoning the substance for the shadow. This is one of the great merits of the users association now established by the second London conference. The more canal revenue that is diverted from the Egyptian Government, the less will the Egyptian people believe that it pays to repudiate.
Thirdly, should the United Nations, by reason of the veto, prove unable to direct any active course of positive action, we may find ourselves confronted by a choice which we cannot avoid making. I state the choices.
– Sounds as if it is a declaration of war.
– If you can hear me, Mr. Speaker, over the noise-
– What unit are you going to serve in?
– The same as you served in in the last war.
– Stick with your leader!
– Order! I must ask the House to maintain order.
– I state the choice in stark terms -
– That leads to war.
– I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I must repeat myself. I can see, sir, that I shall have to go back a little. I said - thirdly, should the United Nations, by reason of the veto, prove unable to direct any active course of positive action, we may find ourselves confronted by a choice which not one of us can avoid making, and 1 want to state the choice so that we may have it in our minds, in stark terms. 1 state it thus -
Opposition members interjecting,
– All right, do not run away from these things. This is a perfectly accurate analysis and it is a miserable state of mind which declines to face up to the choices. Therefore, sir, I shall state them again - and again and again, like the young lady of Spain. They are -
And this is where I come to the choice that the honorable member for East Sydney likes -
This is, I believe, a realistic analysts of the position. It does not matter whether people like it or not, it is true.
It has been, for me, an astonishing experience to find that there are people who reject force out of hand, reject economic action, as so many of those did just now on the other side of the chamber, on the ground that it is provocative, and so, being opposed to action of either kind, are prepared to accept the new tyranny, with regret perhaps, but without resistance. Such an attitude is so inconsistent with the vigorous tradition of our race that 1 cannot believe it commands any genuine and informed public support.
The second matter concerns the attitude and activities of the Soviet Union. I hope that honorable members opposite will not be too upset over this. My observations in London and since have convinced me that: First, the Soviet Union is not looking for a world war, but is willing to stir up and foment trouble in those regions where the strength of the Western democracies can be materially weakened. Secondly, it is anxious to increase its influence in Egypt, by the provision of arms and the development of economic ties. How to reconcile this with Egypt’s sovereignty is a problem it will leave to Colonel Nasser. Thirdly, it has been in constant and persuasive touch with Colonel Nasser during the recent negotiations, lt is of great significance that, at the first London conference, Mr. Shepilov openly declared the argument for Egypt, in terms, in phrases, in slogans, which I was later to hear used, word for word, by Colonel Nasser himself, at Cairo.
The third matter concerns the impact of the Suez Canal confiscation on Australia and on the great new nations of South and South-East Asia, whose interests we respect and have done something to help. So far as Australia is concerned, I need hardly say that an open canal is essential to British prosperity, and that a closed canal could mean mass unemployment in Great Britain, a financial collapse there, a grievous blow at the central power of our Commonwealth, and the crippling of our greatest market and our greatest supplier.
We are not alone in this. The nations and peoples of South-East Asia, being much nearer to Suez than we are, are even more dependent on it than we are. Further even than this, Asia contains great populations which need the developmental assistance of foreign capital and friendly co-operation. Colonel Nasser’s policy of repudiation in the name of sovereignty is not calculated to help the very countries whose admiration and support he is now claiming. Indeed, it is ironical that, in the guise of their leader, he is now taking steps to deprive some of the great Middle East powers of the natural and established market for the product of their oil wells.
A final note of warning is necessary. In or out of the United Nations, there are great principles and vital interests at stake. A matter of this kind is not disposed of by being sent to the Security Council or, under present procedures, to the General Assembly. Nothing could suit the Egyptian dictator better than for the free world to lose interest, or a sense of crisis or a sense of urgency. There must be both speed and realism. We must also look ahead, keep our sense of direction, and maintain our impetus.
Should the United Nations’ machinery fail to produce an early settlement, are we then to wash our hands of the whole matter, saying, “ Well, it is too bad; but we can do nothing. Colonel Nasser must be left with his spoils; retreat in the Middle East must go on “. I decline to believe it. The principle of internationally assured non-political control of the Suez Canal is vital. It cannot bewatered down without being washed away. To abandon it would be suicidal.
Therefore, if the United Nations, once more frustrated by Soviet action, proves ineffective; if it cannot impose economic sanctions or direct any other course of effective action, we, the user nations, must in the absence of willing and proper negotiation, be ready to impose sanctions ourselves. For the central and unforgettable fact in all this unhappy business is that unless Egypt’s action is frustrated and the international status of the canal assured, a score of nations, great and small, will have put their fortunes into pawn. We are, indeed, at one of the cross-roads of modern history. We will take the wrong turning at our peril.
Ilay on the table the following papers: -
Declaration providing for the establishment of a Suez Canal Users’ Association;
Suez Canal - Seizure by Egypt - Ministerial Statement; and move -
That the Ministerial Statement be printed.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), from making his speech without limitation of time.
– I want to say immediately that I think it is appalling that on the very eve of the discussion of this dispute by the chosen representatives of the United Nations, the permanent and elected members of the Security Council, a speech of this kind should have been made in Australia. I can imagine that the arguments advanced by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) would have to be considered under certain circumstances, but we must remember what the situation is. After weeks of delay, during which this dispute has been more and more exacerbated by violent speeches from this side and that - when, finally, the United Nations is to take possession of the dispute and, in a calm and deliberative way, try to mediate in order to get a settlement - this type of speech is made.
I think that I can best help the House and the country by dealing at once with the so-called choices which the Prime Minister indicated towards the end of his speech. He referred to the possibility of the exercise of the veto. That, of course, applies only in the Security Council. I will assume that this dispute is a Security Council affair and that it will remain so. I think it may well go to the General Assembly before it is concluded, but I shall assume that it is a Security Council affair. Let me say a few words in parenthesis about the veto. The power to exercise the veto in the Security Council is not possessed only by Russia.It is possessed by the five permanent members of the council. It is possessed by Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United States of America and China - the China that now occupies the island of Formosa. Each of those countries has the power of veto. In addition to the five permanent members of the council, there are six nonpermanent members, including Australia. Will the representative of Australia deliver a speech of this kind at that great meeting of the council? I can say only that even people who share the objectives of the Prime Minister would be disgusted by such a violent appeal to prejudice and passion.
I shall answer these questions asked by the Prime Minister, because each of them has been drafted in a cunning and misleading way. This is the stark choice. He said that if a veto prevented a decision in the
Security Council, we had several choices, the first of which was to organize a fullblooded programme of economic sanctions against Egypt. We do not object to economic sanctions because they are provocative. We object to economic sanctions, unless authorized by the Charter of the United Nations, because they are a form of economic warfare - the form which, very often, is most cruel and most wicked. We had an example of that the other day when a British Cabinet Minister suggested that there was a reserve power that might be exercised by Britain in Uganda. He said that the waters of the Nile could be stopped. That would mean improverishment, suffering and death right down the Nile Valley. That, I suppose, is what the Prime Minister has in mind. He does not want economic sanctions of a minor character. He wants a full-blooded programme of economic sanctions against Egypt. I say that the world would not stand that. The Security Council would reject it, and the General Assembly would treat it with absolute scorn.
The Prime Minister referred to the great, new nations of South-East Asia. Just think of how they became nations! Prior to the advent of the Attlee Government, I remember statements made by Conservative leaders in Great Britain. Those men were not willing to consider full nationhood for India, Ceylon, Pakistan and Burma. They thought it was essential to the interests of Great Britain to prevent that - and perhaps it would have been valuable to Britain’s economic interest if those nations had not been granted nationhood. There were promises and there were undertakings. The Atlantic Charter, signed by Churchill and by Roosevelt, stated that those nations should receive their independence and the right of self-government. So they became free nations. I wonder what the comments of the Prime Minister of India will be on the speech to which we have listened tonight? It was a shocking speech. I thought that the Prime Minister would come to the House to-night and say, “ There has been a bitter dispute over this. I have done my best “ - he might well have said that, because undoubtedly he did - “ by going to Cairo to try to get President Nasser to agree to the basis of negotiation laid down by the nations in London. I was limited. I had no authority to mediate or negotiate “.
It is true that the Prime Minister had no authority to mediate or negotiate. 1 expected that then he would add, “The dispute is going to the United Nations “. He completely misunderstands the spirit of the United Nations and how things are worked out in the great councils of the United Nations. I think he has forgotten that each of the five permanent members of the Security Council possesses the power of veto.
The first alternative suggested is a fullblooded programme of economic sanctions against Egypt. What does he want to do? He has got the users’ association. According to Mr. Gaitskell and other leaders of the Labour party in England, the object of the users’ association is to cause an obstruction at the canal, so that ships will not go through easily. The members of the association are to have their own pilots. Canal dues are not to be paid to Egypt. The association is to keep the money. That is provocative, but that is not the real point. If the plan is carried out, who will close the Suez Canal? It will not be Egypt. It would be madness for Egypt to close the canal. In 1954 the Tory Government of Great Britain secured the passage of an act of Parliament under which British troops left Egyptian territory - it was thought forever. They left Cairo in 1948 when Mr. Chifley was Prime Minister. Then they left the canal zone, and the 1922 committee of the Tory party - the ultra conservatives, who believed that the British should never leave Egypt - opposed the move. They said. “ Well, what is to be done? “. The responsible Ministers in Great Britain said, “ What use would it be to retain troops in Egypt’.’ It is quite out of keeping with the whole spirit of the age “. So, the first alternative we are given by the Prime Minister is that of full-blooded sanctions. I would like to know what those sanctions are to be. How could they be characterised? 1 certainly could not characterize all the suffering that was caused by economic warfare in two great world wars.
That first alternative is rejected. No one will accept it. Certainly the Labour movement in this country will not accept it. lt will not be accepted in Great Britain. That has been made clear by a unanimous decision of the Trade Union Council of the British Labour party. It will not be accepted by the Labour movement in New Zealand. Only a day or two ago Mr. Nash forwarded to me a communication to that effect.
We have been told that, secondly, force could be used, to restore international control of the canal. Let us shoot our way through, and push Egypt aside! The important point is that the only discussion that took place in Cairo, involving the control of the canal, was the attempt to get Nasser to say in advance that he would negotiate, not on the basis that Egypt would look after the operation and administration of the canal, but that Egypt, plus other nations, would do so. That is an arguable point. It might be a good thing to try to persuade Egypt to accept that; but this is not persuasion. This is force - using force to restore “ international control “. There never was international control of the canal in the sense used by the Prime Minister. In referring to the Suez Canal Company he used the phrase, “ lt is of international concern and importance “. Of course it is. but it is not a body of nations, lt is a body of shareholders, who, over the years, have made very substantial profits. They have run their business as a strictly financial company making very high profits. The British Government is the only government which has shares in it. Otherwise, it is a private company. That is why I criticize the phrase, “ To restore international control of the canal “. The directors of the company represent, for the most part, the shipping combine that has exploited Australia for so long, and the international oil cartel is also well represented. Do honorable members think that this is an international organization? lt is, but only in the sense of being an international cartel. That does not necessarily mean that various nations have much to do with it. We know that very often nations do what the international cartel wants them to do.
The Prime Minister’s second alternative means war. The right honorable gentleman spoke about the use of certain words. He himself to-night used the word “ force “ in many different senses. He attacked Nasser for using force, but Nasser passed a law. It is either valid or invalid.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Order! I must ask for silence on my right.
– It is very interesting to see the reaction of Government supporters. My point is that to use physical force in war is a bare act of force, but the force to which the Prime Minister referred was the carrying out of what ‘members of the Egyptian Government regarded as the valid legislation of their own country by occupying the property which they sought to acquire. I will come back to that point later. It is curious that to-night the Prime Minister ventured the opinion that this was invalid. I think that I understood him correctly. He said it in various ways, and perhaps with reservations, but that was his point of view. If that is right and Egypt’s action was contrary to international law, and could be disregarded as null and void, the result is clear. The property should be restored to the company from which it was taken. But the company has been kept out of it. The eighteen nations do not want to give the control and operation of the canal to the Suez Canal Company. They said to Egypt, “ Well, we are not going into that “. The Prime Minister of Great Britain said that Egypt’s move was “an act of plunder “ and. in effect, what the Menzies committee, representing eighteen nations, said to Nasser was, “ We do not mind the plunder if we can share it with you “. That is exactly what happened. They said, “The Government of Egypt can hold on to it. We are not going to dispute your right to nationalize; but you really must put us in the team “. Five or six other nations were to join Egypt.
What is the good of humbugging and talking about the invalidity of nationalization when you are prepared, before the world, to send the Prime Minister of Australia representing eighteen nations, to tell Nasser, “ You ought to accept our proposal because nationalization is accepted and the sovereignty of Egypt in this area is fully and completely recognized “. I ask the House to consider that point. It is the fatal point to those who then want to hark back to the original position and try to argue that the taking over of the canal by Egypt is unlawful.
Then the Prime Minister says that he is willing to waive force. Already force” has been used, but only against the Suez Canal Company. It is not without interest to see that Lord Hankey, the British Government’s director on the Suez Canal Company, referred to that very matter during the debate in the House of Lords. Running through the proposals of the committee, which became the Menzies committee, he came upon these words -
The International Suez Canal Board should be responsible for operating, maintaining and developing the Canal, and enlarging it to increase the volume of traffic in the interests of world trade and of Egypt.
The crucial words were “ International Suez Canal Board “. It was an essential part of the negotiations that the Prime Minister had with Colonel Nasser that the board would consist of certain nations, in addition to Egypt. Lord Hankey said -
I rubbed my eyes when I read that. 1 had come straight back from a meeting of the Board of the Suez Canal Company and had spent the night in the train. 1 asked myself, “ What have I been doing these last ten years, going to Paris week by week to the meetings of the Suez Canal Company, if it is not just to help in carrying out this exact function for which you want to set up a new organization? “
Of course, as he says, it is exactly what the Suez Canal Company has been doing. He continued -
Nobody can say that we have done it badly. We have done it very well.
Lord Hankey then quoted testimonials from various political leaders. He added -
Almost in the same sentence as he praised the Suez Canal Company to the skies, the Leader of the House-
He referred to the Prime Minister of Great Britain - proposed to demolish it. 1 ask myself, why do you not retain what is good and replace what is bad? There is no need to replace the Suez Canal Company; it is a perfectly good affair, as I shall show in a moment. But there is a real need to replace Article 8 of the Convention of 1888, which provided a sort of arbitrary body, a high level body which was supposed to settle the difficulties, but which never met.
If we look at the convention of 1888, to which the Prime Minister has referred so often, we find a scheme for stopping obstructions to traffic in the canal. The function of looking after that matter was committed to Egypt. If Egypt had not the necessary power, then the suzerain of Egypt - Turkey - had power to act and Turkey could, in turn, seek help from the maritime powers of Europe. That is the position. This so-called shocking act of nationalization is condoned and accepted by the eighteen powers. All that they say is: “ Yes, you have possession of the canal, but you have to put the running and administration of it under the control of a number of nations. We want to come in and share in the plunder.” I use the word “ plunder “, not because there would be any plunder in it, but because it was used by the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
All this talk about nationalization is humbug and hypocrisy. If there is anything substantial in it no doubt the Security Council will treat it with great earnestness and. as it can do, will ask the International Court of Justice for an opinion upon it. However, 1 do not think that it is likely to go as far as that because 1 feel confident that what has been done is within the power of Egypt. In any case, if it were not, no court could, in the circumstances that have arisen, really adjudicate on the matter when the governments that objected to the change now accept it.
The second point in the Prime Minister’s programme of action is a suggestion of the use of force. I say that that is tantamount to a suggestion of war, and that the people of Australia will adopt the same attitude towards it as have the people of Great Britain, who have shown, in public opinion polls, overwhelming opposition to the use of force. As a third suggestion, the Prime Minister says -
We can have further negotiation, provided we do not abandon vital principles.
What a wonderful thing to do! It is suggested that we can negotiate so long as we restrict the area of negotiation, by saying at the beginning to the other party, Of course, we are not going to negotiate about who is to run the canal; that will be not only Egypt but also the other nations “. That is exactly the way in which, the Prime Minister proceeded in Egypt. If honorable members will read the report, they will realize that such a condition was basic, and that it was made perfectly clear by the Prime Minister. His instructions from the nations he represented were that he was not to negotiate with Egypt at all, but to find out whether Egypt would negotiate, after having accepted the principle that nations other than Egypt would have charge of the administration, control and actual operation of the canal. That was not negotiation at all. What is the use of saying that that is negotiation, when a representative of eighteen countries commences his discussion with one other country by stipulating a condition of that kind? lt is not negotiation if those countries say, ‘ We will negotiate, but only if, as a condition precedent, you agree to our basic requirement “. That is sham negotiation. I do not believe that the spirit of the relevant clause of the United Nations Charter was ever followed. The clause to which I refer provides that we must try to settle disputes by negotiation, lt would not be the function of a mediator or conciliator to start by laying down what has to be- done. He would hear both parties, in order to decide what could be done.
Those are the Prime Minister’s three alternatives, and we reject them all. But that does not end the matter. The real answer lies in mediation and conciliation, by skilled people, and not by people who wish to humiliate one party to the transaction, or to make it admit that it is wrong. The Prime Minister of India has suggested a plan. He has said, “ What does it matter if we have Egypt running the canal, subject to an advisory committee? “ He was referring to a committee representative of the various nations, who could see what was going on and report any obstruction of traffic in the canal. Do we want to have all the nations running the canal? 1 suppose that, from the point of view of efficiency, control by one nation would be preferable, so long as it was supervised, and reports were regularly made. In my opinion, a United Nations’ authority would be the most suitable and appropriate advisory body. It is absurd to talk of war, if we accept the suggestion of appointing a United Nations advisory committee.
The Prime Minister has said that we can negotiate, provided we do not abandon vital principles. That language is not the language of the twentieth century. lt is the language of the years before there was a League of Nations or a United Nations.
– Gunboat diplomacy!
– Yes, gunboat diplomacy. Wc are often critical of other powers that use that sort of diplomacy. We cannot talk to nations like that, no matter how small or weak they arc, with any effect. Even though a nation’s cause is unpopular with otter people, no one will stand for that method of approach.
I have reminded the House of the stark choice that has been suggested by the Prime Minister. I hope that the answer given by the Labour movement of Australia is clear. We say that we must continue to negotiate, and if all else fails we should try to mediate. But we must have a good and experienced mediator, such as the secretary-general of the United Nations, Mr. Hammarskjoeld, or the former secretary-general, Mr. Trygve Lie. Gentlemen of that calibre can deal with countries not on the basis that they are schoolboys deserving chastisement, but that they are proud nations.
The Prime Minister’s whole speech was contrary to the spirit of the report that he made after he went to Egypt. This has greatly surprised me. It appears that during his discussions in Egypt courtesy was the rule. Colonel Nasser put his case without any violence, extravagance or exaggeration. If he did that, the Prime Minister should have tried to follow his example to-night, but the Prime Minister has exaggerated in putting his case, and I do not think that his case can be accepted.
I have already pointed out that the Prime Minister had no authority to negotiate. That job has yet to be done. At no point has Egypt sat at a table, face to face with the other powers, to decide the question, “ What is the basis on which this dispute can be composed? “ All that has happened is that the representative of all the other nations has handed over a paper and said. “ These are the proposals. Will you negotiate on these six or seven clauses? “ After three or four days the answer was clearly in the negative, and no negotiation has taken place. That, I submit, constitutes a definite breach of the clause of the United Nations Charter which makes it mandatory to negotiate these disputes, or to try some other method of peaceful settlement.
These points contained in the Prime Ministers speech admit of very little discussion and, 1 suggest, cannot be supported. It would be an intolerable position for Australia if such an argument were put before the United Nations Security Council by our representative. The Prime Minister has given us his view about the Suez Canal Company, but, as has been pointed out by Professor Friedmann, who was at one time resident in Melbourne, the Suez Canal Company is not in any direct way linked with the convention of 1888. In fact it has always been operated as a commercial enterprise during its long history, and it has been run on the basis of what the traffic will pay. In 1906 the Australian Government protested against the canal dues, and asked the British Government to approach the Suez Canal Company. The British Government, although a shareholder in the company, having more than 40 per cent, of the shares, replied to the Australian Government in official correspondence to the effect that the company had to be run as a financial concern, and that the British Government would make no attempt to ensure that the canal dues were lowered, although they constituted an obstruction to Australian trade and commerce. 1 have given a summary of the official correspondence on that matter. Earlier still, before Disraeli actually bought the shares, the British Foreign Secretary, the Earl of Derby, pointed out in official correspondence that the Suez Canal Company was never an international company in any true sense, although its functions were important to all the nations. What it did was important, but it was not an international entity. The British Government rather favoured an international agreement, but that was rejected out of hand by Turkey, which at that time had sovereignty over Egypt, and which said that the suggestion was completely inadmissible, that the canal was in Turkish territory, Turkey having sovereignty over it, and that it would not permit its viceroy in Egypt, the Khedive, even to consider the suggestion. These facts are made clear in a little book by Schonberg. published in the “ Penguin “ series, in which the correspondence is set out.
I have quoted the statements of Lord Hankey to prove the point that the attempt to assert that the nationalization was invalid was really not pursued. That, however, is what the Prime Minister himself said. As reported in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 20th August, the Prime Minister said on 1 9th August, when about to put his case to Egypt -
The Western proposals were fair to Egypt because -
They recognized the termination of the existing Suez Canal Company.
In other words, they recognized the legal efficacy of the nationalization decree. Does not that destroy the implication in the Prime Minister’s statement that when Egyptian officials went to take possession of the offices and physical assets of the company in Egypt they were armed? I have seen it reported that they were police officers, and perhaps they were armed. It is known that police officers in other countries are armed when they are carrying out their legal duties. To compare their actions in this case with the unbridled and unlicensed force of war is simply to play upon words.
The Prime Minister said that the Western proposals were based on the assumption that Egypt’s act of nationalization was not to be revoked. The Prime Minister speaks - and that is my chief complaint against his speech - about the United Nations. He said, as one alternative, that force could be used to restore the operational control of the canal. That is completely contrary to the rule of law which has emerged as a result of the international charter known first as the Agreement of the League of Nations and now as the Charter of the United Nations. A distinguished member of the House of Lords, Lord McNair, who was a member of the International Court of Justice and presided over it for some time, declared -
During the last fifty years there has been a complete transformation in the attitude of the law towards resort to armed force.
He said that armed force was no longer a discretionary instrument of policy and that its use is regulated by law. It is regulated by the Charter of the United Nations, which provides that all other conflicting international obligations are to give way to the rule of the United Nations Charter. So it is no use citing other international agreements if they conflict with it. We have only to see the terms of the United Nations Charter. The only exception to the rule of the Charter to prohibit and outlaw force and warfare is the provision in Article 51 giving the right of self-defence against armed force. It does not provide for the use of force against a policy that one country does not like. Assuming Great Britain said to another nation, “ We do not like the policy you are carrying out and we are coming in “, that would be completely contrary to Article 51 of the Charter. No authorization of force is provided under the Charter except self-defence against armed force.
This is a vital point and I should like honorable members to follow it. I shall state it as briefly as 1 can. On 12th September, only a few days ago, Lord McNair said -
I must now turn to a more serious aspect of this matter, which 1 mention with reluctance and under a strong sense of duty. I am in agreement with the initiative of the Government in seeking to obtain the negotiation of some kind of international system or guarantee for the Canal.
He approved of the attempt to negotiate, as every one would, provided the approach was not that the other side must agree to the proposal. He approved of genuine negotiation. He continued -
As a lawyer, I find difficulty in reconciling the whole of the Government’s recent action with the existing rules of law governing the threat to use armed force. I have been puzzled by the massing and display of armed force in the Eastern Mediterranean that we have witnessed during the past five or six weeks. Fifty years ago, yes. At that time, armed force was remedy of the last resort which Governments could use at their discretion in aid of their diplomacy in order to attain the ends which they regarded as essential. At that time the law made no attempt to regulate the occasion upon which armed force should be used and was content to endeavour to regulate the operation of that armed force when it was being used.
He is there referring to the rules of war -
But during the last SO years there has been a complete transformation in the attitude of the law-
Not the political attitude; the international law - towards resort to armed force, as I shall endeavour to show.
He referred to the charter of the United Nations, and said -
The combined effect of the Treaty provisions has completely transformed the legal position of armed force. It is no longer a discretionary instrument of policy but its use is regulated by law. That, I believe, is the view of the use and threat of armed force which is now held in the large group of countries with whom we normally co-operate and whose good opinion we cannot afford to forfeit.
Lord McNair, the great international lawyer, continued -
In all sincerity and humility, I would beg the Government to reflect upon my attempt to state the present rules governing the threat and the use of force, and to examine and to check it. If they come to the conclusion that I have stated those rules correctly, I think they are bound to come to the conclusion which I have reached, which is as follows: That so far as the events in the present controversy up to date are known to us, I am unable to see the legal justification of the threat or the use of armed force by Great Britain against Egypt in order to impose a solution of this dispute.
That comment is precisely in point. It true, it is a complete answer from the point of view of international law to the assumption of the Prime Minister that nothing has changed since the days of the last century. That is the international law that governs the subject.
The practical position is that there are 76 members of the United Nations, all of which are equal in the General Assembly and whose opinion will govern the course of international events, no matter how small or weak the country may appear to be. The United Nations is becoming a universal body and will govern international events for many years to come, lt is a body whose members are to be found throughout the world and it consists of all countries, whatever their political views may be. The opinion of those nations must be considered, and so must the opinion of Australia. If the Prime Minister of Australia, or the Prime Ministers of other countries, wanted to test the opinion of their respective nations, it is easily tested. The people of Australia, although excited by inflammatory speeches and by inflammatory articles that sometimes appear in the press, are resolved that the only occasion on which they can participate in war is an occasion like Korea, when the United Nations authorizes and confirms the use of armed force.
There is no authority under the Charter for any other form of warfare. The doctrine of self-defence must be relied upon when armed aggression is used against a country and its friends. In those circumstances, a nation can defend itself against armed force. But there is no other occasion on which it can be used; there is no other occasion on which it should be used in the civilized world with the changes that are taking place. The chairman or one of the leading officials of the Atomic Energy Commission said recently that the situation had been reached to-day when the weather throughout the whole of the world could be controlled through the devices and application of the sciences associated with nuclear weapons. He said that that holds out to the world a prospect which is almost certain to cause disaster to the fabric of the earth and the only remedy is to move towards world government with some universal action by the nations in connexion with these problems.
War cannot be waged except with the authority of the United Nations or in conformity with its Charter. I believe that to be the position. I believe Lord McNair’s view to be completely correct. It was accepted by the overwhelming majority of both Houses of Parliament in England, though naturally the members of the Conservative party voted to show their confidence in their own government. Let me make this point. Even the Conservative party in England did not say that the action of the Egyptian Government was illegal. The resolution said that it was arbitrary. Of course it was arbitrary; it was most arbitrary. [ agree with the Prime Minister that that action was possibly due to some extent to pique occasioned by the fact that a loan promised for the Aswan Dam was not made available. That may be so. That makes the action arbitrary, but doe’s not make it illegal. The House of Commons used the word “ arbitrary “. lt endorsed the proposals of the eighteen powers, and they are the very proposals that the Prime Minister took to Egypt. Those proposals were so drafted that the Suez Canal Company was required to get out of the way and that was the end of it. I suppose they were sick of the Suez Canal Company, lt was run as a commercial enterprise.
I do not know, even now, what the case against Egypt is. ls it that it wants to keep the canal closed? That would mean ruin to Egypt. It wants the ships to go through the canal and, according to to-day’s press reports, just as many ships are going through now as went through at the same time last year. Egypt is not trying to stop the ships going through. It is important to the economy of thai country that the ships go through.
I refer to the speech of Mr. Gaitskell. The Prime Minister laid great emphasis on the speech of the Labour leader, but he did not refer to the recent speech of Mr. Gaitskell. The amendment before the House of Commons was -
That this House, while condemning the arbitrary methods employed by the Egyptian Government in respect, of the Suez Canal Company and resolved to support the legitimate rights of the users of the canal, deplores the refusal of Her Majesty’s Government to invoke the authority ot the United Nations over the dispute . . .
That is the policy of Labour in Great Britain. Mr. Gaitskell’s speech was designed to persuade the majority of members to accept that policy. The resolution called upon Her Majesty’s Government to refer the dispute immediately to the United Nations, to declare that it would not use force except in conformity with our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations, and to refrain meanwhile from any form of provocative action. I think it would be correct to say that the industrial and labour movement of Australia would accept every word of that resolution. We know that it applies to New Zealand and Great Britain. I shall not go into the details of Mr. Gaitskell’s speech of 1 3th September, but I invite the attention of the House to it. He said that after the first debate in the House of Commons, he gave the Prime Minister warning that if he contemplated the use of force to reach a solution, the support of the Opposition could not be relied upon. That was something that he said to Sir Anthony Eden before the second occasion arose. The debate followed, said Mr. Gaitskell, but the Prime Minister in his speech made virtually no reference to that subject at all. Later on, the House adjourned, and all the newspapers immediately began to say that if Great Britain and France did not have their solution accepted, in effect, force would be used. The whole Labour movement naturally was concerned, and at trade union conferences decisions were taken, as they also were taken by the Labour party. The quotation by the Prime Minister to-night of Mr. Gaitskell’s speech was not incorrect, but it had no application to the situation because of the use of force.
I had intended to ask the House to look through the clauses of the 1 888 convention, but I can deal with the matter in another way. The Australian Prime Minister tonight, and the Prime Minister in Great Britain, repeatedly have quoted the preamble to the convention as though, I presume, it was illegal for Egypt to nationalize the company’s assets. I have already dealt with that matter from another point of view, but they can hardly argue in that fashion. If one looks carefully at the convention. I do not think anything will be found in that argument, because the convention says that the obligation of the signatories is to keep the canal open. Subject to the powers of Egypt to have meetings called, the agents in Egypt of the signatory powers are charged to watch over execution of the convention. In the case of an event threatening the security or free passage of the canal, the agents must meet on the summons of three of their number and proceed to verifications and inform the Khedival Government of the danger, so that that government can take proper steps to ensure the protection and free use of the canal.
Under the method adopted during all of those years, the government that had authority to do that was the government of Egypt. I agree that the government of Egypt went through many transformations, but those are the words of the convention. It also is provided that if the government of Egypt cannot take action it may get assistance from Turkey. In addition, there is to be a meeting every year of the parties to the convention, but as Lord Hankey has said, they have never met once; they have left the matter, in effect, to Egypt.
What is the great disaster that threatens? 1 should prefer a system which I shall indicate in a few moments, but first, let me say a word about the so-called users’ association. Where did the idea of a users’ association come from? I suggest that it is pretty well known. The American press says that some second secretary of the State Department at Washington brought forward what was called in the House of Lords a “ contraption “. Mr. Younger, who was a Cabinet Minister in the last Labour government in Great Britain and who visited Australia recently as a distinguished lecturer for the Dyason Foundation, said -
The purpose of the users’ association is to provoke a refusal of transit rights on the pari of Egypt and to force Egypt to be the first to take some kind of physical action with regard to traffic going through the canal.
Why should Egypt stop the ships from going through? Why should ships come up with their own pilots when pilots are already there doing the job? The users’ association says, “ We will want facilities “. In other words, the members of the association want to be treated as though they themselves were operating the canal, the operation of which has been confided to Egypt by the law. Surely it is fair comment to say that that is provocative.
In addition, there is the question of the Suez Canal pilots. It is interesting that, whilst the Prime Minister was in Cairo, the Suez Canal company circularized its own pilots who were not Egyptians telling them that they must choose by the 15th whether to continue with the Egyptian administration or to resign. That time has now expired. According to Mr. Younger, that was a plain invitation to them to leave Egypt and stop the working of the canal. Is not that the obvious inference? Do this Government and the British Government want an inquiry by the Security Council into the facts of these things? The debates in the House of Lords concerning this matter are available. Reading them, there is not the slightest doubt, in my opinion, that the Suez Canal company did these things and did them with the knowledge of members of the British Government. If that is so, cannot honorable members see the point of Sir Anthony Eden’s speech when he said that if the Egyptians would not put the ships through under those conditions Egypt was not to get the money for the canal dues? The money was to be paid to the association. Egypt had to provide facilities. If, under those conditions, there was no performance of the convention, according to Sir Anthony Eden, Egypt would be in breach of the convention of 1888. In other words, it is the manufacturing of an association, the inevitable result of the operation of which would be the inability of the Egyptian Government to see the ships go through. That is what has been going on in this matter. There are great forces at work. I do not profess to be able to tell all the details of the matter, nor would there be time for me to do so, but I say that that is quite right, as an honorable member said in debating the subject in the House of Commons.
It is said that Egypt must keep the canal running, but the pilots are to be taken away and are to be paid at full salary while they are away, for two years or three years. It would be, in a sense, a visit to Europe. That came out in the debate. In addition, the dues are not to be paid to Egypt. The Prime Minister said that in Ibis speech, and I ask honorable members to look at it. He wants economic sanctions :to be applied to Egypt simply in order to force Egypt to agree to the terms he took to Cairo and which Egypt would not accept. That is to say, he wants to use economic force to get people to agree. 1 can assure him that the reference in the United Nations Charter to “ negotiation “ means free negotiation by free parties. The Egyptians do not want the economic sanctions threat to be used, nor would the United Nations tolerate it. It is the economic squeeze. The press of England has been full of it. How long could Nasser last if this were put into force?
Now, Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few things about what ought to be done. The trouble with the speech of the Prime Minister is that it undoubtedly was calculated to impede the processes of the Security Council. My views on this may not be accepted. I am not putting them forward as final views, but I am putting the case as I believe it to be. I do not think that the Prime Minister has done himself or Australia a service by making a speech of the kind that he made to-night, on the very eve of the reference to the Security Council - a speech which must be answered tonight. I suggest that what the Government ought to be doing is working out a scheme under which mediation could be commenced in a real sense, so that there could be true negotiations and meetings round the table, as the result of which agreement might be reached between Egypt and the Security Council. What should be done? First, the Security Council probably will require all the parties to the dispute to give an undertaking not to use warlike measures. It does that often as a beginning. This country has been made a party to the dispute. If the matter had been referred to the United Nations at the beginning, the Australian Government might not have taken the attitude that has been stated tonight. Is it not obvious that there is a dispute between Egypt and Australia, Great Britain, France, the United States, and all the other nations as to how the canal should be run? That has been proved by the speech of the Prime Minister to-night. How is it to be settled? lt cannot be determined by a brutal majority, if I may use that expression. It has to be genuinely worked out.
There are other difficulties which confront the Government through not referring the matter to the United Nations in the first place. I notice that the Government of Great Britain and the Government of France, in referring this matter to the United Nations, have called it a “ situation “. From time to time, they have both called it what it is - a dispute. If it is a dispute, then it may very well follow, under the charter, that the parties to the dispute may be prohibited from voting in the Security Council. What would that mean? That would mean a fiasco, but it would indicate that the proper procedure in the spirit of the Charter is to get mediation, to get a good mediator, and try to get this matter really settled. We do not want what one English politician called, “ a run through of the Security Council “, just to get the hands going up to indicate the numbers necessary to apply the veto, and then act, as the Prime Minister indicates.
We want proper consideration of the whole matter. I say that the Security Council would probably be right in appointing a mediator to assist it, and I have suggested the appointment of the secretarygeneral, or the former secretary-general of the United Nations. Then, no doubt, the Security Council would- appoint a commission, representing the nations, to ascertain the facts about the canal, whether the ships are going through, and whether Egypt or somebody else is trying to stop them from going through. Undoubtedly, advice from such a body would be important, and the council could set up a permanent commission of an advisory, or supervisory character. Since this matter has arisen, the most sickening part of it has been that the conservative government of Great Britain has attacked Egypt because of Egypt’s wrongful, improper, and violent action in stopping Israel’s ships from going through the canal. The Prime Minister repeated that to-night. What was done about it? A resolution was carried when the Labour government was in power in Great Britain, but not a thing has been done by the tory government of Great Britain to ensure that justice is done to the ships of Israel. It is absurd to talk of war between those countries, when it is only a kind of guerrilla warfare. That is a matter that should be taken up. In my view, it could and should be settled as one of the terms of this dispute. 1 believe that those countries have been kept in continuous hostility. The question of refugees is involved, and the whole key to the Middle East is the recognition of Israel as a real bastion of democracy, and to ensure that the Arab countries get some encouragement to march towards democracy. J do not put this as an impossible ideal. The Prime Minister started his speech to-night with a sneer at Egypt. He said that Egypt did not build the canal. Who said that it did? There is no doubt that the great engineer de Lesseps designed it. but Egyptian labour was used for the work. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were used, and I have no doubt that the loss of life suffered in the terrible deserts through which the canal had to be cut is regarded in Egypt with grave sorrow for the conditions of its peasantry, its fellaheen, lt is of no use to say, as the Prime Minister has said, that that was the beginning of Egyptian history, and that it made Egypt strategically important. Egypt was important when Napoleon went there, and the possession of Egypt and the southern shores of the Mediterranean has always proved important.
What one should do in these matters is to look above the mere dispute about the canal, important though it is to trade, and important though trade is to all of us because of its effect on the standard of living. We must look at the standard of living of the people in those countries. The standard of living in Egypt is so low that a description of the physical conditions of the Egyptian peasantry by John Morley in one of his books would move the hardest heart. I believe that much of the responsibility for that condition is that of the rulers which Egypt has had; there is no doubt about that. One English politician of the tory vintage suggested the other day in England that Farouk should go back and take the place of Nasser. He said, “The new rule is to be, ‘ Let us join the ladies ‘ “. That is the new rule of international diplomacy. Egypt and all the countries of the Middle East are entitled to their place in the sun and to decent standards of living.
We cannot kick them round any more. I do not agree with the violence of Arabian nationalism. I know how difficult it is to cope with it. The Arabs opposed the plan under which Israel became a nation and a member of the United Nations. Honorable members know what a task was then presented, and this so-called undeclared war, this unfinished war between Israel and Egypt, goes on. Let the United Nations not dodge that responsibility, as the Conservative Government of Great Britain, and other members of the Security Council, including the United States, have dodged it ever since they made a declaration that it was wrongful to keep out Israel’s ships.
It will be remembered that when the 64- dollar question was asked - I do not think that the price should go up now, because it was so carefully framed by the Prime Minister - there were four alternatives. 1 tried to answer it. I chose mediation, 1 chose conciliation, and I think the experience of the United Nations already shows that they will triumph, if there is sufficient patience and care to hear all the opposing views and not to say, “ You have to take this settlement or else “. That has been the line taken by some of these persons, including, I regret to say, the Prime Minister. He should not have taken that view. Does anybody think that those eighteen nations would approve of the speech made by our Prime Minister to-night?
Opposition Members. - No.
– They have been congratulating themselves that at last they have got the matter out of the hands of power politics into the hands of the United Nations. There is a maxim that must be adopted in meditation. It was the life motto of a very great protagonist of the League of Nations, who instituted the scheme of passports for the persons who were displaced - that is the terrible word used to-day - after World War I. I refer to Dr. Nansen, the great explorer. His more important work was for the League of Nations. His motto, which he applied to his explorations and which he said should be applied to international affairs, especially to the task oi conciliation and mediation, was, “ The difficult is that which can be done immediately: the impossible is that which takes a little longer “. Something may appear to be impossible to-day, but one speech in the Security Council or the Assembly may transform the atmosphere. I regret that the Prime Minister is not better acquainted with that atmosphere. I should like him and the Minister for External Affairs to go over to the Security Council meeting, and then we should see what would happen.I believe that the policy of the Minister for External Affairs in these gatherings is a policy of conciliation; that was the policy of the Labour government. It is the only method by which this dispute can be settled.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Casey) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 816).
– I feel that after the electrical atmosphere in which we have been discussing the relationships of nations, it is hardly likely that the speeches which will be made on the placid subject of social services will receive the attention which the importance of the subject deserves. The measure that is before the House to-night is designed to give effect to promises which were made a few weeks ago in the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who was then Acting Prime Minister. I want to congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and the Government upon having introduced a measure which, while it may not fulfil the complete desires of members of the Opposition, and perhaps the wishes of certain persons who are receiving pensions, does show that a realistic view has been taken of the requirements of a very substantial number of those persons who are in receipt of pensions in this country. It deals especially with the widow and the invalid pensioner. It does not apply generally to the age pensioners. I think it would not be inappropriate if. to-night, I made certain references to the sources of the money which provides the social services of this country. I think that we shall get things in better perspective if I do so.
According to the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), the total amount which will be made available for the
National Welfare Fund in this financial year is, in round figures, £226,000,000. The total revenue from all sources for the current year has been estimated at £1,121,400,000. So the net result is that approximately £1 in every £5 of the national income will be devoted to the National Welfare Fund. That is a staggering figure, considering that it is necessary to provide for 200,000,000 for defence, £250,000,000 for the States, and so on. The fact that we are providing from taxation £1 in every £5 in order to maintain our national welfare services pinpoints the tremendous reliance placed by this nation on the efficiency of its business and the efficiency of those engaged in the production of wealth from which this vast sum is furnished. There is no other implication, so far as I can see, and there is no escape from the logic of that fact. When we study the subject of social services and what is expected of them, Opposition members, and occasionally some members on the Government side, say that there should be a more generous attitude in the distribution of the national income. 1 think it would be well for those honorable members to consider the full impact of what we are doing at the present time.
I do not for one moment deprecate the fact that we are pursuing the policy of an enlightened nation. I am quite prepared to agree that there are certain other things which may be very desirable in the distribution of funds for the purposes of national welfare. But I come back to the point that whether it be that proportion which is mentioned in the bill, whether it is the enlargement of our expenditure this year by approximately £11,000,000 compared with what we spent last year, or whether it be a larger sum, such as my friends of the Opposition might desire, all that money must come from the production of the people who are capable of working, organizing and carrying on the business of this country. That represents a tremendous load. It is essential that we should not interfere unduly or heedlessly in any way with the work in which they are engaged. T want to emphasize to-night that the estimated expenditure this year is £1 1,000 more than the expenditure last year.
– Is the honorable member happy about the increase in impoverishment the number of age pensioners?
– I shall develop my subject as I go. What I want to point out is this: The £11,000,000 represents a relatively small portion of the amount paid to the recipients of these benefits. I think that there are approximately 85,000 invalid pensioners; I do not have before me the figures showing the actual number of widow pensioners. But the fact is that we are increasing our expenditure year by year, and to that point 1 shall come back a little later.
I intend to address myself to-night to three main aspects of the bill. The first is the extent and nature of the increased benefits. The second is the progress of the cooperative scheme to build homes for the aged. The third is the impact of rising and inflationary costs on all social services. As to the first aspect, I have given some indication in my opening remarks of the extent and nature of the increase of the benefits. I shall particularize on that by referring to the fact that, to-day, there are 452,000 age pensioners and 85,000 invalid pensioners, making a total of 537,000. If we look at the budget papers we find on page 19 the following comment in respect of this particular expenditure: -
Of the estimated increase in expenditure of £1,167,000 for widows’ pensions in 1956-57, £360,000 represents the expected cost of higher pensions now proposed for widows with children and £30,000 the cost of widows’ pensions for certain widows between 45 and 50 years of age and without children. The remaining £77,000 is due to the full year effect of pension increases which applied from October, 1955, and to an increase in the number of widows becoming entitled to benefits.
At page 10 of his speech, dealing with this subject, the Treasurer made a statement on which 1 think I can elaborate a little without covering too much of the ground already covered by the Minister and other speakers. The Minister has said that a widow with one child or more children under sixteen years of age at present receives a pension of £4 5s. a week. He has stated that it is proposed to increase this pension by 10s. a week for each child after the first. Thus, a widow with three children under sixteen years of age may receive an increase of £1 a week, bringing the pension up to £5 5s. Certain benefits are provided for invalid pensioners. Those are some of the proposals to which it is intended that effect shall be given under this bill.
I pass now to the subject of homes for the aged. I want to congratulate the Minister and his predecessor upon the introduction of this most humanitarian provision. Finely conceived, it is one of the things which can do more to lift the load off a certain class of pensioner or mitigate the evils suffered by the aged and the debilitated than any actual increase in cash payment can bring about. I note that already £1,623,395 has been spent by the Government in subsidizing £1 for £1 the activities of the community in housing aged persons. That is what 1 meant when I said this was. an activity of co-operation between the Government and the community. This means, in effect, that more than £3,200,000 has. been spent since this Government set this, great humanitarian activity in train. Aspeople take up the challenge throughout Australia and co-operate with the Government by their own local generosity, bequests, and other means, so this sum will grow and a great deal of relief will be given to people who are peculiarly in need of relief.
I do nol wish my next remarks to be regarded as a criticism of the Government’s policy up to the present time. I would rather put them - forward as indicating a need for second thoughts. The Government’s policy has been to endeavour ta make that provision so that old couples may live either in small semi-detached buildings, or in one of a group of buildings where they need not be parted, but can spend the sunset of their lives together. That is a very fine conception indeed, but, on second thoughts, I have come to the conclusion that it is infinitely more important that we should provide for men and women who are left on their own. A couple who have their pooled pensions can certainly manage to weather certain financial difficulties far better than individuals who are dependent upon a single pension can do. 1 think the most urgent need is to provide more and more for these unfortunate men and women who have lost their life’s partner or all their relatives and have to struggle along in unsuitable accommodation, making shift as best they can, sometimes paying rents which are high beyond reason, and trying to eke out the miserable sum left to them. T repeat that I have come to the conclusion that the old couple who are together can do better on their combined pensions than two lone persons on separate pensions can do. I should like the conditions under which the subsidy for the housing of aged persons is paid to be liberalized if need be in order to speed up this good work. Increased provision of accommodation for people in this condition is more important even than an increase of pensions.
I have already said that I do not make these remarks in criticism of what the Government has done. The scheme for the housing of aged persons is magnificent. I think the community, on the whole, has responded finely, but there is a possibility that we may need to have second thoughts about the actual policy itself, and perhaps make it a little more flexible.
The final point that I wish to discuss to-night is the impact of rising and inflationary costs on all social services benefits, and especially on pensions. If we examine the social services expenditure since the financial year 1953-54, we shall find that it has increased from £176,500,000 in that year to an estimate of £226,600,000 for the current financial year - an increase of approximately £50,000,000. It is quite true that that is in many respects an effective answer to those critics who say that the Government has had no regard for the impact of rising costs on the fortunes of the pensioners. Actually, the expanding of benefits by the provision of free hospital treatment, free medicines, and free medical services, has increased the real value of the pension far beyond the figure stated by Opposition members.
This problem is bound up with my opening remarks. It seems to me that the great problem before the Government and the country, and inherent in the bill, is the problem of how we are to stabilize and perhaps even slightly reduce the cost of living for the community. We are concentrating on trying to meet the rising costs, but apparently we have not yet been able to solve the problem which makes the greatest impact upon the people who are served by measures such as this. Those are the people on fixed incomes, and especially those on pensions. We have to face that fact. The Treasurer, in his recent budget speech, mentioned something of prime importance - the effect of the increase of the basic wage upon the economy of the country. This matter has a very definite bearing upon the subject now under discussion. Referring to the effect upon Australia’s wage bill the Treasurer said -
Every shilling increase in the State basic wages of the five States concerned directly adds a further £3,000,000.
So an increase of the basic wage by 10s. a week in five States would add £30,000,000 a year to the wage bill. If the indirect effects on costs were taken into account, the cost increase would probably be something like £200,000,000.
It is most interesting to note that when I tried to obtain figures in respect of this matter from both official sources and the Parliamentary Library a considerable time ago, I was quite unable to obtain any factual information which threw any direct light upon the question. However, one of the outstanding facts stated in the Treasurer’s budget speech was that an increase of the basic wage in five States by ls. a week, which may be taken to apply to workers whose wages represent roughly 40 per cent, of Australia’s wage bill, would increase the wage bill by £3,000,000 a year. As I pointed out, an increase of 10s. a week would increase the wage bill by £30,000,000 a year. If such an increase were taken to apply to workers whose wages represent half the wage bill of Australia, it would mean a direct increase of costs by £60,000,000 from that source alone. When we come down to the basic facts, we find that, despite all the casuistry in which the problem is clothed, the community’s food bill represents its major cost. That has been stated very pointedly by the late Louis Bromfield in his book “ Malabar Farm “, in which he wrote -
High prices, high protein foods such as meat, eggs, butter, milk, etc., are drawn irresistibly to the areas of concentrated populations and higher income levels.
He went on to write about the “ monstrous overgrown cities “. I do not wish to develop that theme except in relation to the bill. I repeat what I have said on a previous occasion: I do not think we have any possible chance of steadying and stabilizing the economy unless we stabilize the prices of the community’s basic foods. The answer to that, of course, is that we must have them for export. I believe that if we are to have goods for export at the expense of supplying vital foods that the people need for their health and strength, we shall be getting exports at too great a price. However, I do not believe that our exports would suffer if we avoided the unfortunate extreme to which the United States of America has gone, and introduced a system which would afford a reasonable price to the producer and a reasonable price to the consumer for the basic foods necessary to us all.
One of the most authoritative of our rural newspapers pointed out a short time ago that if the basic wage increased by £1 a week wheat would increase in price by 3.6 per cent., butter by 4.5 per cent., beef by 5.1 per cent., lamb by 5.1 per cent., eggs by 4.5 per cent., sugar by 5.2 per cent., and so on. Therefore, if we are to tackle the problem of the rising cost of the pensions bill of this country, and if we are to attempt to bring about social justice, we must not do so merely by increasing the basic wage, because price rises always follow such increases, and then the basic wage rises again and we find that we are constantly chasing our own tail.
I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and the Government on the steps that they have taken to alleviate the effects of the rising cost of living, but I suggest that we have not yet got to the root of the trouble and have not sought to ascertain how we can stop the spiral of inflation from rising still further. I do not say that the cost of food and of the basic necessaries of life causes inflation, but I believe that it plays a major part, and unless we can reduce the cost of the goods that the people really require we shall not control the general rise of prices and year after year we shall have to increase the sums of money that are paid out to pensioners and others. Moreover, there will be a steady decrease in the production of essential foods for the people of this country.
I should have liked to develop this theme on lines somewhat different from those along which I have developed it to-night, but that would have involved the making of a speech on the budget as a whole, which may notbe done under the guise of discussing a bill relating to social services. The Government has done all that is reasonable under the circumstances and the Minister is to be congratulated upon what he has done; but I look forward with great trepidation to the future unless some effective attempt is made to put the cost of living: on to a more stable basis than the basis that it is on at present.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Duthie) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment -
Broadcasting and Television Bill (No. 2) 1956.
Canned Fruits Export Control Bill 1956.
House adjourned at 10.35 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
r asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y. - On 18th September, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) asked me a question relating to the Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, recently signed at Geneva, and I undertook to make a statement on the subject.
The Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery was approved by 40 of the 43 States attending the recent United Nations conference in Geneva, only the United States, Argentina .and Chile abstaining. The convention was signed in Geneva on 7th September, 1956, by 31 States, including Byelo Russia and the Ukraine, but not including the United Soviet Socialist Republics.
The convention will enter into force upon ratification or accession by two States, and, after that time, it will enter into force with respect to each State on the date of deposit of its instrument of ratification or accession.
The convention is concerned with the abolition of slavery in its traditional sense - that is, the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised - and practices similar to slavery, such as debt bondage, serfdom, the sale of women in marriage or the adoption of children with a view to the exploitation of their labour.
Forced labour, which has been found by two investigating committees of the United Nations and the International Labour Organization to exist in the United Soviet Socialist Republics and certain other countries, will be the subject of a separate convention to be negotiated by the International Labour Conference at its next session in 1957. The United Soviet Socialist Republics has stated its willingness to participate in the preparation of a convention abolishing forced labour, but the sincerity of its intentions in this regard can be judged only by the results which the proposed convention achieves. The United Soviet Socialist Republics has recently become a party to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930. No information is available on the extent to which the provisions of this convention are being applied in that country.
n asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
What was the net permanent immigration from (a) the British Isles and (b) each of the other countries, during 1955 and the first and second quarters of 1956, respectively?
– The honorable member will recall that, in a reply to a previous question on this subject, his attention wai. drawn to the need for interpreting immigration figures correctly, especially those figures released from time to time by the Commonwealth Statistician. The Statistician issues every three months figures purporting to represent the permanent arrivals and permanent departures of British an ! non-British persons. In order to do this he is obliged to establish criteria for the words “ permanent “ and “ British “. With regard to the word “permanent”, he has, quite correctly from his point of view, adopted a definition that is generally accepted internationally in his particular field. That is. that a person who departs with the intention of being away for twelve months h regarded, for statistical purposes, as a person departing permanently, as also is ;i visitor who has been in Australia for twelve months. Obviously this definition is purely arbitrary, and in no other field than that ot statistics would a period of twelve months be regarded as permanency. For example an Australian citizen by registration oi naturalization does not lose his citizenship unless he is absent for a continuous period of seven years, and not even then if hfrom time to time gives notice that he wishes to retain it. From an immigration point of view, it is quite illusory to class as permanent departures absences of twelve months from Australia.
A similar objection may be made from an immigration point of view, to the practice of including in permanent departure - of British persons, not only persons bom in the British Isles, but also all Australian citizens, wherever born, and all British subjects by naturalization. This can be ;i very fertile source of fallacy in any estimate of the net permanent migration of British persons to Australia in any period. In the year 1955-56, for example, a total of 19,354 Australians, departing for periods of twelve months or more, were debited against the British intake, whilst the corresponding credit for returning Australians was only 8,446. The net effect on this count alone was to cause an underestimation of true British migration of 10,908. [ would like to make it clear, also, that it is not possible to give exact figures such as have been requested by the honorable member, for the simple reason that permanency, as to arrival or departure, is something that is in the mind of the individual, and is known to him alone and, although persons are asked to state whether their arrival or departure is intended to be permanent, this is not an irrevocable decision on their part. It is not like asking for the number of passengers carried by an airline in any given period, or the number of people who have lodged income tax returns. For the reasons I have given above, it would be most misleading for me
The Department of Immigration has already discussed the matter of migration statistics with the Commonwealth Statistician, who is giving consideration to a more detailed dissection of the figures with a view to rectifying the various deficiencies which at present exist.
b asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
The following table shows the net migration figures from the main non-British> countries for the period under discussion. The figures are as published by the Commonwealth Statistician: -
– The answers to thehonorable member’s questions are as follows: -
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
d asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
When does he propose, in accordance with his advice to me in a communication dated 30th August, 1956, to take action to amend the Second Schedule to the National Health (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Regulations to add pemphigus to the list of diseases for which cortisone may be prescribed free of cost?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Action is in train to give effect to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Committee’s recommendation, that pemphigus be added lo the list of diseases for which cortisone may be prescribed as a pharmaceutical benefit. The several steps involved will be completed as speedily as possible.
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Navy has furnished the following replies: -
b asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
When will outstanding applications for telephones in the Bayswater district, Western Australia, be serviced?
– The department is planning to provide telephone services for 165 of the 245 waiting applicants in the Bayswater district early next year. It is expected that the remaining 80 applicants will be connected later in 1957.
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice; -
– I am advised as follows by the Minister for Repatriation: -
The decrease in beds occupied on 31st December, 1955, and 3 1st March, 1956, was a direct effect of the Christmas, New Year and Easter periods - an occurrence common to most hospitals. 3. (a) Where it is necessary for an eligible ex-servicemen to be admitted to a repatriation institution for treatment of a non-urgent nature, admission is arranged for a date suitable to the patient. Should operative treatment of a nonurgent nature be required, admission is arranged for a date suitable to the patient and the surgeon who will perform the operation, (b) The same principles apply in respect of admissions for examination to determine eligibility for treatment or pension.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560925_reps_22_hor12/>.