22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. CLEAVER presented a petition from 5,533 electors of the subdivision of Victoria Park, in the Division of Swan, three local governing authorities in adjacent areas, seventeen voluntary organizations, and fifteen members of the British Medical Association, praying that the Repatriation Commission should release the Edward Millen Home for local use, and that the Commonwealth should transfer this property to the Government of the State of Western Australia for the purpose of hospital use.
Petition received and read.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Supply a question without notice in relation to the proposed tests of atomic weapons at Maralinga, in South Australia. Is it now clear, from the numerous postponements of these tests, that danger may !be encountered, and damage done in the event of a change, or changes, in the direction of the wind at the time of, or following, the tests? If that is so - and I ask the preliminary question formally only - are steps taken in such a case to consider the possibility of damage, loss and injury being sustained, notwithstanding every precaution that may be taken, in the event of a change in the direction of the wind after the explosion? Will the Minister explain what is done in that way? I think it is more important than the mere fact that care has been taken and there there have been many postponements. Another question arises which is, perhaps, outside the Minister’s direct jurisdiction. The three nations which are engaging themselves in nuclear experiments^ - Britain, Russia and the United States of America - have indicated, through their leaders, a willingness to negotiate a suspension of nuclear tests. Has any action been taken by the Australian Government in that matter? Has the advice of the Minister been sought on whether Australia could take the initiative to see whether such an agreement could be negotiated and adopted?
– I shall deal with the last question first. I gave a general answer some time ago to a similar question, but I am sure the Leader of the Opposition will agree that it is a question that properly should be answered by the Minister for External Affairs, who also has spoken in the House on the matter. Turning to the earlier part of the question, I say it is not true that last-minute changes of the wind would cause danger, in the sense that the scientists would not know until the last minute what the changes would be. Some newspapers have said that. Indeed, I have never in my life heard greater streams of misleading statements on this matter than those that have emanated from certain of the pressmen who have been cooped up at Salisbury in the last few weeks and, apparently, do not like it.
– Hear, hear!
– Good! Most of the pressmen have acted in a very responsible and restrained manner, but several of them have been making quite atrocious statements. The right honorable gentleman will not expect, me to go into meteorological details - they are quite beyond my depth, anyhow - but I am assured by Professor Martin and the scientific safety committee that when the decision is made to fire the weapon, there will be no question of something happening by way of a sudden change of wind thereafter that will cause danger. I am not competent to say more than that. The highest scientific authority in Australia assures us that when the decision has been taken, the firing will be completely safe.
– I address a question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. Has the Department of Customs and Excise authority to charge duty on the contents of genuine gift parcels from abroad? A case occurred recently when a present was sent from the United States of America to a child here, but his parents were forced to pay quite a large amount of duty on it. Is that practice usual and justifiable?
– It is true that under our customs laws duty is charged on goods whether they come into the country as presents or whether they come in commercially. That is the practice, I understand, of most countries in the world. It is obviously necessary that that should be done, because the administrative task of i ry ing to decide what was a genuine gift and what was an inspired gift would be quite beyond the capacity of any government department. I know that this procedure does cause misunderstanding and dissatisfaction at times. The method that we have adopted to meet the difficulty is lo put as low a value for duty purposes as possible on goods when the circumstances indicate that they are genuine presents, not commercial transactions. When goods can fairly be said to be of no commercial value, no duty is charged. In that connexion, a point is often stretched in favour of the receivers of presents. When goods are obviously of some value, the value placed on them for duty purposes is made as low as possible. 1 assure the honorable gentleman that one thing that we do not do is to accept the donor’s own statement of the value of the goods. One of the things that I have been surprised to discover is that people who send presents here from abroad, rather than write down the value of the presents in the hope of escaping duty, often exaggerate the value, sometimes quite grossly - perhaps to emphasize the extent of their generosity.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether it is true, as reported in Brisbane and other capital cities, that petrol rationing tickets have been, or are being, printed on behalf of the Commonwealth Government? If it is true, is it the intention of the Government to re-introduce petrol rationing?
– lt is the first I have heard of it, but I will investigate it.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he regards the action of the Australian Workers Union and associated unions in preventing the handling of the wool shorn by shearers under the award made by the Queensland Industrial Court as a “ full-blooded “ programme ot economic sanctions. Has the Australian Workers
Union refused to renew union tickets to shearers who worked under the terms ot federal arbitration awards and, consequently, driven them from employment? As both these methods of duress impose excessive mental cruelty and physical hardship on many individuals in preventing them from carrying out their ordinary occupations under the law of the land, is there any reason why economic sanctions, to prevent President Nasser from causing widespread unemployment and distress in many countries, are placed in a different category by the Leader of the Opposition? Are not the economic sanctions imposed ruthlessly in Australia by many unions in defiance of arbitration tribunals as cruel and wicked as the Leader of the Opposition says they would be in the case of Egypt?
– I rise to order. As the right honorable member for Cowper is making a snide attack on the Prime Minister by talking about economic sanctions, and is offending against the Standing Orders by making a long, irrelevant speech-
– That is not a point ot order. The right honorable member for Cowper is in order so far.
– I repeat, are not the economic sanctions imposed ruthlessly in Australia by many unions, in defiance of arbitration tribunals, as cruel and wicked as the Leader of the Opposition says they would be in the case of Egypt? Finally-
– The right honorable member should come to the question.
– These are all questions. Mr. Speaker. Has the Leader of the Opposition advised the unions, with which he is in intimate contact, to give up this most cruel and wicked form of economicwarfare, as the Premier of Queensland has done?
– 1 rise to order. Whatever your ruling may be, Mr. Speaker, it wil) clear the air. Is it in order for the right honorable gentleman to ask a question on a matter that is already on the business paper, and under discussion in this House? I am not, of course, referring to the earlier part of his question in regard to the Aus tralian Workers Union. Is it not wrong to anticipate debate?
– I think that the right honorable member for Cowper is in order.
– I am bound to say that 1 think the point taken by the right honorable gentleman is very sound. The distinction between the two cases appears to be that, from the point of view of the Opposition, Nasser is a gen,leman whose interests ure to be protected, but that the people who suffer from the course of conduct referred to by the right honorable member for Cowper, being merely Australians, are not to be protected.
– 1 would like to preface my question to the Prime Minister by saying that I have asked a similar question of the Minister for External Affairs many times without getting a “ fair dinkum “ answer. Why has not the Government appointed a Minister or an ambassador to Ireland? Before this Government took office, there was a Minister in Ireland who had been appointed by the Labour government. If an ambassador or a Minister is to be appointed, can the Prime Minister say when the appointment will be made? If such an appointment is not contemplated, will the right honorable gentleman tell the House why? Doss he not think that this is an appropriate time to settle the matter?
– There is no mystery about this matter, lt has been explained, more than once, quite clearly and publicly by my colleague the Minister for External Affairs. I should have thought that all honorable members would have known that there was and is a difference between our view and that of the Government of the Republic of Ireland as to the accreditation of a diplomatic representative.
– As to the method of accreditation?
– Yes, as to the terms. We have taken a view to which we adhere very strongly, and we are not prepared to abandon it in order to satisfy the honorable member for West Sydney - with very great respect lo him. So long as the difference remains, there will be no appointment. When the difference disappears, an appointment will be made.
– Has the Prime Minister seen a report from Tokyo to the effect that the head of the war prisoners’ section of the Japanese Foreign Ministry has gone to the United States of America in order to plead for the release of all war prisoners sentenced by that country? ls the right honorable gentleman aware that there are at present 166 war prisoners in Sugamo prison, of whom 64 were sentenced by Britain and Australia, and 102 by the United States? Will the Prime Minister state the attitude of the Australian Government towards the Japanese Government’s request for the release of these prisoners?
– I have no knowledge of the proposed application by Japan to the United States of America, or of the particular facts referred to by the honorable member, but I shall ascertain the position as soon as possible
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of the growing importance of New Guinea and the fact that the very substantial population of that Territory has no direct representation in this Parliament, he will consider the establishment of a joint parliamentary standing committee on New Guinea affairs.
– I do not at the moment see any particular merit in the suggestion, but I shall convey it to my colleague, the Minister for Territories.
– 1 direct a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Some time ago the Minister informed the House that an aircraft was being designed in the United Kingdom which would replace the DC3 aircraft, which, of course, has been out of production for some time. I understand that one or two prototypes of the new aircraft have been flying. Can the Minister tell the House the results of the tests that have been conducted with the new aircraft, and the stage that has been reached in the manufacturing programme? Is it a fact that most of the major airlines in Australia have indicated that they are interested in this aircraft and are likely to purchase it when it becomes available?
– I am afraid that I have not up-to-date information concerning the Handley-Page Herald aircraft. I remember that the honorable member asked a question about it some time ago, and I think that at that time 1 gave the specifications of the aircraft. 1 have had letters from the honorable member for Franklin and from Squadron Leader H. G. Hazelden, who does the test flying for the Handley Page company. In the last letter 1 had from him, Squadron Leader Hazelden said that the aircraft was developing very nicely. Certain Australian companies have lodged letters of intent to purchase with the company and, subject to all tests being correct according to specifications, I think some Australian companies will bring these aircraft here. The prototypes have been flying for a long time now and I think production models should be coming from the factory in the next few months. One ot the senior pilots of Queensland Airlines went to England, I think, about two months ago, with the idea that he should fly this aircraft and see whether it came up to specifications before delivery was accepted.
– I ask the Minister for Supply a further question on the Maralinga tests. Does he agree that the amount of speculation that has taken place in the press and elsewhere has been caused to some extent by the paucity of convincing information about what is happening? In view of the fact that he relies upon Professor Martin and other physicists, will the Minister obtain from them a statement to present to the Parliament showing how long local danger resulting from an explosion is likely to last and. when once satisfied that wind and other weather conditions are favorable, how long the scientists can depend upon these weather conditions not changing?
– I do not agree that there has been paucity of information. Indeed, some time ago, following a policy of giving the Australian people the fullest possible information about this matter, to which they are clearly entitled, a campaign was organized to present purely factual information about these tests. A very valu able press interview was held by Sir William Penney. I believe it was the biggest press interview ever held in Australia - certainly the biggest in Sydney. That was followed by a series of newspaper articles by scientists and then by several papers which were distributed widely throughout Australia giving the fullest information that we could! upon this matter. I am informed by newspaper editors, whom I have seen on this matter quite recently, that they are very gratified by the extent, volume and frankness of the information. I do not think that there is any cause for criticism that there has been paucity of information. In view of that fact, I think that the rest of the honorable gentleman’s question really does not arise. If he, in particular, isinterested in this matter, I will gather together all the various papers that havebeen distributed and let him have a copyof them.
– Could the House have them?
– With pleasure. I will have them gathered together in a folio and tabled in the House.
– Will the Minister for Tradegive consideration to the formation, either within the Department of Trade or elsewhere, of an organization similar to the Fairbanks Ward organization of the United States of America or the British Good Housekeeping Institute? The function of these organizations is to place a seal of quality on manufactured goods and primary products, provided they conform to required standards. The seal of the Fairbanks Ward organization is recognized in the United5 States as a hallmark of quality. The formation in Australia of such an organization, staffed by a competent body of experts, would greatly assist the sale of Australian, products on overseas markets.
– I am aware that such organizations exist in some overseas countries. I believe that they are privately founded and are not related to the government. They are designed to give a seal of quality to approved products. It seems to me that the concept is very valuable and may be of great aid to us in respect of our export industries. It is not part of the responsibility of the Department of Trade to concern itself with normal trade within.
Australia, but so far as the export implications are concerned, J can see some value in the idea. I will discuss with departmental officers whether an opportunity exists for conferring with private industrial interests on the proposal, for which I thank the honorable member.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation admit that Trans-Australia Airlines made a substantial profit in the financial year 1955-56? Did that profit exceed expectations? Is it a fact that pilots, air hostesses and other employees of Trans-Australia Airlines are dissatisfied with working conditions and rates of pay and that many of them are seeking employment with overseas airlines in which conditions are better and pay higher? If it is correct that the profit of TransAustralia Airlines exceeded expectations, will the Minister see that some of the profit is returned, in increased rates of pay and improved conditions, to pilots, air hostesses and the other employees who play such an important part in maintaining the standard of service and safety at the present high level, thus ensuring that the well-trained and efficient staff of this great airline will not be tempted to seek employment with overseas airlines?
– -The honorable member asked whether the profit made by Trans-Australia Airlines last year exceeded expectations. So far as I remember, the profit was very close to the budget estimates of the airline - maybe a little more, but not very much more.
– lt was more than the Government hoped for, anyway.
– We are never without hope. So far as the pilots and air hostesses are concerned, I suppose that, being human, they are never satisfied with their pay, and of course they are not alone in that. Members of parliament sometimes think that they, too, should get more money and have better conditions. In respect of the pilots, we deal with the Australian Air Pilots Association, which is the professional association of pilots in Australia, and through which the members of Trans-Australia Airlines aircrew, as well as all other airline people, speak with a united voice. Last year, the association met with the operators - Trans-Australia Airlines, Australian. National Airways Proprietary Limited and all the others - and came to an agreement about pay and working conditions. To the best of my knowledge, at that particular time the pilots’ guild was quite satisfied with the arrangements that were made, both in. regard to salaries and superannuation; but, recently, there has been a movement amongst the air pilots for a review of their terms and conditions, and as late as last Monday I saw the assistant general manager of Trans-Australia Airlines, who was then on his way to Sydney for discussions with other interested parties on conditions for the future. What the outcome of that meeting was I am not in a position to say, because it has not yet been conveyed to me. Regarding the conditions of the hostesses who, Iam sure all honorable members will agree, do a magnificent job on the airlines, at Sydney they have been provided, within thelast six months or so, with quite a comfortable rest room which I am sure they wouldbe only too pleased to let the honorablemember have a look at - provided, of course, that he knocked first. In Melbourne, the airline is, at the present time, in. possession of plans for rebuilding which will include better accommodation for both pilots and air hostesses.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for External Affairs, arises out of the question addressed by the Leader of the Opposition to theMinister for Supply. Would the suspension of atomic tests by us put the western, world at a grave disadvantage in the development of modern weapons? Does the Minister know whether the Leader of the Opposition in Soviet Russia also is prepared’ to jeopardize the defence of his nation?
– I am afraid that 1 did not get the full import of the honorable gentleman’s question, but in respect of the continuance of atomic and hydrogen weapons tests the matter has, I think, been, thrashed out completely in this House and elsewhere in the past, and the situation has. not altered. The simple fact is that the continuance of atomic tests is bound upwith the whole question of disarmament or limitation of armaments, both orthodox armaments, as they are called, and. unorthodox armament. Until a general understanding is arrived at in respect of disarmament or limitation of arms, I would not believe - and for what it is worth, I would not recommend - that atomic and hydrogen tests should be stopped or curtailed. This matter is an intimate part of the whole problem of limitation of armaments, and I personally think that if we were to deprive ourselves of one of the few things that is on our side in this matter we should be extremely unwise. That view is shared. 1 think, by all of those persons who are concerned, on our side at least, with this limitation of armaments problem.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Debate resumed from 26th September (vide page 897), on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill before the House seeks to amend the Repatriation Act and to give effect to decisions of the Government which were announced in this year’s budget speech. The bill provides benefits for certain sections of the community which are the responsibility of the Repatriation Department. In particular, it provides benefits for persons who are most deserving of those benefits, that is. totally and permanently incapacitated persons, and the family group, widows and children. Very briefly, might I say that the decision of the Government in this respect accords wholeheartedly with my own attitude. I have previously said in this place that I believe that our attitude towards the provision of repatriation benefits, including pensions, must be governed by the fact that recipients are divided into two categories. The first section is comprised of those persons who receive a purely compensatory pension, that is, those whose earning capacity has been only slightly affected, if at all, as a result of war-caused difficulties and experiences, and on whose living conditions the amount of pension has little effect; the other section is comprised of temporarily and permanently incapaci tated ex-servicemen, widows and children, who receive pensions upon which they must live and which must be related to their needs. I refer to the pension paid to these persons as the economic pension. We often hear in this chamber references to a tie-up between pensions, the basic wage, and the cost of living, without acknowledgment of the fact that only a section of war pensioners requires a pension for economic reasons. I contend that every time this suggestion about need for an overall, general increase in pensions is made, the pensioner is merely being used as a political football, and I very much regret that this is constantly taking place. ‘
The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) last night, in a most intemperate speech, suggested that there was more dissatisfaction among ex-servicemen with regard to the operation of the Repatriation Department than there was satisfaction. Fortunately for himself, he said that he was working on a few basic assumptions. Whilst those assumptions may have been basic, -they were definitely false and obviously were figments of his own imagination. There are 200.000 pensioners, and to state in the language that the honorable member used that to find a satisfied pensioner such as himself was to find the odd man out in this group is a gross exaggeration. It is a statement which fails to recognize the actual position.
It is remarkable that in every year since 1949, when I was first elected to this House, the Government .has introduced measures to provide additional benefits for exservicemen. That is as it should be. It is regrettable that we are not able to provide in one hit all that we think the ex-service people really need, but other national requirements must come into the picture. Apart from that, experience teaches us where the weaknesses are in the operation of the Repatriation Act and how those weaknesses must be adjusted.
I listened with considerable interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), who spoke on the provisions of the Repatriation Act concerning onus of proof and the benefit of the doubt. I think it would be as well if members of this House were given a clear picture of the way in which these onus of proof and benefit of the doubt provisions actually operate to-day and the way in which they operated before amendments were made to the Repatriation Act. I think that honorable members will find that much of the suggested misunderstanding is misunderstanding which has been deliberately sponsored for no good reason whatsoever. lt is not a genuine misunderstanding.
Let me take honorable members back to the days after World War I. I am speaking of something of which 1 have had considerable experience as an office-bearer in the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. At that time the onus of proof was on the exserviceman lt was generally the task of secretaries of sub-branches of the league to become inquiry agents, investigators and researchers in order to establish the claims of ex-servicemen. Let me tell honorable members what actually happened. An exserviceman found himself suffering from a disability which his civilian doctor told him was undoubtedly due to war causes. The ex-serviceman had the task, first of all, of establishing that he did suffer from the disability. Then he had the job of providing evidence to show the Repatriation Department that, during his war service, he was connected with an incident which could have given rise to that disability. Men who were suffering from chest troubles and internal troubles as the result of having been badly gassed had to prove to the department that they had been in an area in which they could have been affected by gas. Men W 10 were suffering fro.n the effects of trench fever or other disabilities had to prove to the Repatriation Department that they had been in an operational area where they could have contracted some disease or could have been affected by the conditions. The inadequacy of the military records at that time was a tremendous problem. They were not available to the ex-serviceman. 1 have on my files at home a great deal of correspondence concerning exservicemen on whose behalf I searched out former commanding officers and comrades-in-arms in order to obtain evidence that they had served in an area or had engaged in operations in which they could have contracted their disability. The onus of proof was on the ex-serviceman, who had to establish not only that he suffered from a disability which could possibly have been contracted on war service, but also that he had actually served in an area or engaged in operations in which it could have been contracted. 1 shall give the - House a classic instance which comes to my mind. In 1934 a member of the sub-branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, to which 1 belonged, spent several months in hospital after having a piece of metal some 2 inches square removed from his shoulder. He was operated on by his private doctor in a private hopsital. The piece of metal was portion of a high explosive shell. The exserviceman had suffered for years from a shoulder and back disability which he had believed to be due to rheumatism. He had never made a claim on the Repatriation Commission. When he produced the piece of shell that had been removed from his shoulder 1 said, “ Surely you are entitled to payment by the Repatriation Commission of the expense incurred in having this foreign body removed! “ So he made a claim on the commission for entitlement. He produced the piece of metal and medical evidence that it had been removed from his shoulder. It took me seven months to trace his former commanding officer and his comrades-in-arms in order to obtain evidence that he had served in a field of operations while shells were exploding and that a piece of high explosive shell could have entered his shoulder.
– When was this?
– In 1934. The exserviceman had to accept the onus of proof and establish not only that he had the disability, but also that he could have sustained it only on the field of battle. He ultimately succeeded as a result of a communication which we received from a man then living in Canada who had been his section commander. That evidence was sufficient to have his claim admitted.
Many officers of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia who were engaged in attempting to establish the justice of ex-servicemen’s claims dealt with a great number of similar cases. The league for fifteen years battled with governments to have the Repatriation Act amended to remove the burden of the onus of proof from applicants, and eventually it won the fight. Prior to the present “ onus of proof “ and “ benefit of the doubt “ provisions being introduced, a claimant had to establish every element of his case by producing evidence, and the Repatriation Commission and the entitlement appeal tribunals sat back and waited for him to prove his claim. The circumstances are now entirely different. The work of the sub-branches, and of the league itself, in establishing the claims of exservicemen is much simpler and happier because they have hot the tremendous difficulty of establishing that a man had served on a battlefield and, for example, been buried in a trench or spent days in a shell hole contaminated with dangerous liquid such as mustard gas. The records are now sufficient and these things have no longer to be established by the applicant. The exserviceman now has only to submit a claim, and produce evidence that he has a disability and that it is likely to have resulted from war service. Then it is up to the Repatriation Commission, if it does not acknowledge the claim, to prove that the disability cannot be the result of war service. That is all. But present circumstances are so changed from the circumstances which then existed that I believe it is now necessary for the Government and the Parliament to examine the entire workings of the repatriation system.
To-day, the Repatriation Commission and the tribunals have to decide, on medical evidence, whether or not a man’s claim that his disability is the result of war service is valid. So, we have two bodies, both of them lay bodies, having to make what is, in effect, a highly technical medical decision. They have to resolve a doubt, a difference of opinion - let me put it that way - expressed by medical authorities Whose views on a certain case conflict. That is the core of the matter. The applicant does not have to establish that he was a serviceman, that he served in France, the Pacific Islands, Egypt, Syria, Tobruk, or what have you. His military record, which is in the keeping of the Army, Navy or Air Force authorities, establishes those things. He does not have to say who his commanding officers were, or prove that he was engaged in any particular battle, or suffered any particular hardship, or that he reported sick with a certain complaint during his service. All he has to do is to submit a claim that he is suffering from some disease or disability which he holds to be the result of war causes. Generally, that claim is accompanied by a medical certificate from the applicant’s own medical man, expressing the opinion that the complaint is due to war causes. The claim is submitted to repatriation doctors, who may say that the complaint is not war-caused. The fact that the applicant has the complaint is not contested. The fact that he may have been in circumstances where he could have contracted the complaint does not arise. The only question that arises is whether the complaint is a result of his war service. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) dealt with that point. There may be a conflict of opinion between the claimant’s own medical man and the repatriation doctor or doctors to whom the claim is submitted for an opinion. So, a doubt is raised. But a doubt in whose mind? Unfortunately, a misunderstanding, to some degree deliberately fostered, has grown in respect of this matter.
People have been led to believe that a difference of opinion between two medical authorities is a doubt in the meaning and intention of section 47 of the act. Often an ex-serviceman whose application is supported by his own doctor’s certificate, but rejected as a result of the conflicting medical opinion of a repatriation doctor, believes that that conflict of opinion constitutes a doubt under the act, of which he should have the benefit. That is not the case. The doubt that must exist is a doubt in the minds of the persons who composed the tribunal, or commission, who are in the same position as a judge of a criminal court or any other court determining a case on the evidence before him. I shall tell honorable members what happens, and in doing so I am speaking from experience. An ex-serviceman submits his case, supported by medical evidence that he is suffering from a disability that could have arisen as a result of his war service. The Repatriation Department refers the case to its medical authorities in an attempt to disprove the evidence submitted by the claimant. It submits the case, for opinion, to medical authority either equal to, or higher than, the medical authority that the claimant has produced. The department’ seeks to show, in appropriate cases, that the man’s disability or disease is in actual consequence of his method of living, or something of the sort. The case is submitted to the tribunal with both sets of conflicting medical opinion, and the tribunal has the responsibility of resolving the issue. If the members of the tribunal have a doubt about the matter they must give the benefit of that doubt to the ex-serviceman. If they are satisfied that the medical evidence submitted by the exserviceman with his claim is the more valid medical evidence, they must resolve the case in his favour. If, on the other hand, they are satisfied that the medical opinion submitted by the department is the more valid medical evidence, then there is no question of doubt, and they find against the exserviceman. That is the simple position as it occurs to-day. Either the tribunal must be satisfied, without doubt, of the justice of the ex-serviceman’s claim, or it must have a doubt about the validity of the evidence and opinions produced by the department in rebuttal of the claim, before it can find for the ex-serviceman. If, conversely, it has no doubt about the validity of the department’s case, it finds against the ex-serviceman. But I must stress again that the doubt that must exist does not consist merely of a conflict of opinion between opposing medical authorities. The doubt that must exist, for the applicant to enjoy the benefit of the doubt under section 47, is a doubt actually raised in the minds of the tribunal which acts, literally, in the role of judge on the bench. Its responsibility in resolving a case is exactly the same as that of a magistrate in a police court, a judge in a criminal court, or a justice of the High Court of Australia, who reach their decisions on the evidence placed before them.
In one way section 47 is perfectly futile, because a cardinal principle of British justice is that a man on trial for any offence is innocent until he is proved guilty, and must have the benefit of any reasonable doubt of his guilt that is raised in the mind of the judge or in the minds of his jury. Section 47 is an extension, into the Repatriation Act, of that principle of British justice. Previously, the benefit of the doubt was given to the Repatriation Department. There is no doubt about that. But to-day, the tribunal is instructed that when it, sitting in loco judicis - that is to say, as a judicial body - has a doubt in its mind, the case must be resolved in favour of the claimant. I regret the misunderstanding in the minds of many people, including exservicemen, about the nature of the doubt that must be raised, is being perpetuated and aggravated as a result of statements made in this place by some honorable members who give the impression that a difference of opinion between or among medical authorities constitutes a doubt the benefit of which must automatically be given by the tribunal to the claimant. Nothing of the sort is true! I repeat that the doubt must exist in the minds of the members of the tribunal. That is the only doubt with which section 47 deals. A doubt in the mind of any other person or authority is of no consequence under the section.
That brings me to the point I want to make, which is that, because of the complete change of circumstances to which 1 have already referred, a recasting of the repatriation system is required. The Repatriation Commission and the tribunals were set up originally in circumstances, which ! have mentioned earlier, in which the exserviceman had to establish his claim beyond doubt. The evidence that applicants were most frequently called upon to submit was not evidence of a medical nature, but evidence of their actually having been engaged in service somewhere at some time in circumstances from which their disabilities could have resulted. Because of the nature of the evidence with which a claimant was required to support his claim the commission and the tribunals were composed oi laymen with, in the case of the tribunals, a lawyer who was appointed to decide on the legal aspects of the evidence. These laymen were former members of the forces who had some experience on the field of battle, and were therefore able to assess whether a man’s claim was reasonable or not. In the then circumstances such persons were the most appropriate persons to have on these bodies. But, because of the changes that have since taken place, because of the fact that the Repatriation Department now bears the onus of proof, it has become necessary for the commission and the tribunals to decide on highly technical medical questions. They have to decide whether a man’s disability or disease could, or could not, have been war caused. There is now no question as to whether he served, where he served, ov how he served because these facts are established from military records. So I doubt very much whether the commission and the tribunals, as composed to-day, are qualified to give decisions on highly technical medical matters. They certainly have placed before them, or have available to them, the opinions of the most highly qualified medical authorities. But two medical authorities with equal qualifications may submit conflicting opinions based on the same facts concerning a man’s disability. Three laymen, with no medical knowledge, sit as a tribunal to assess those conflicting opinions and decide which of them they should accept. That is just not right. Different arrangements should be made, so that highly technical medical questions can be decided on informed opinion. I believe that exservicemen should continue to be represented on the tribunals and on the commission, but, because of the complete change of circumstances that has occurred as a result of the fight waged by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia for over twenty years, there should be a change in the method of reaching decisions and applying the provisions of the legislation.
It cannot be said that the onus of proof provisions are not clear. I do not think they are misunderstood generally by exservicemen and by those who administer the legislation, but misconceptions and misunderstandings are all too frequently sponsored for political reasons. That is most deplorable. We have made many improvements of the legislation for the benefit of exservicemen, but we have not altered the method of applying it. Highly technical medical questions should be decided by people really competent to decide them, or, at least, there should be on the tribunal or the commission somebody competent to guide the other members on technical medical matters. On some occasions, a tribunal is called upon to decide whether a cancer - or a carcinoma, as it is called - of the stomach has arisen from a duodenal ulcer contracted on war service. That is a medical question, but the tribunal responsible for deciding it is composed of laymen. The members of the tribunals make mistakes. That is only natural, because they are laymen called upon to decide technical questions. Sometimes a mistake -favours the ex-serviceman, who would not otherwise receive the benefits of the repatriation legislation, but it is obvious that sometimes a worthy case is denied the benefits and privi leges of the act. An injustice is done because laymen are called upon to resolve highly technical medical questions.
In that respect, we have failed to make a suitable amendment of the act. We have amended it in such a way as to prevent injustices and indignities of the kind which were suffered by ex-servicemen of World War I. We have made it much easier for the ex-serviceman to get to the tribunal - the court, so to speak - but we have failed to provide that the decisions shall be made by people fully qualified to make them.
I emphasize that when we refer to the benefit of the doubt, we refer to a doubt that must reside in the mind of a tribunal. The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) interjects to say that I am wrong in that, but I believe that I am right. If there is a difference of opinion between the honorable member for Shortland and the honorable member for Moore, we go to an arbitrator and ask him to resolve the difference. If the arbitrator says that the honorable member for Shortland could be right, he must give the benefit of the doubt to him, but if he says, “ I am satisfied that the honorable member for Shortland cannot be right “ - I doubt whether he could ever be right - he must give the benefit oi’ the doubt to the one who is generally right - that is, the honorable member for Moore.
– There is a doubt in my mind.
– The honorable member does not happen to be a member of a tribunal. That interjection emphasizes the point I am trying to make, which is that the doubt must reside in the minds of the judges, so to speak. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) knows that, but I deplore the fact that very often he does not make it clear. He argues that if there is a difference of opinion between the two sides, the verdict should go automatically to the ex-serviceman. But there is a difference of opinion in nearly every case, and the tribunal is called upon to decide which of two opinions is correct. If the tribunal satisfied that one opinion is correct, it gives a decision accordingly. But if it is not sure whether one doctor or another is right, it says that it cannot be certain and it gives the benefit of the doubt to the claimant, the ex-serviceman. The doubt is one that must exist in the mind of the deciding authority.
A doubt does not exist merely because there is a conflict of opinion between two doctors, between an ex-serviceman and the Repatriation Department or between two exservicemen.
If that is clearly explained and made known to ex-servicemen generally, there will be no further trouble about the benefit of the doubt and the onus of proof. But it will still be necessary to remove an obstacle to justice. The tribunals and the commission are required now to make decisions entirely different from those they were required to make in the early days of the operation of the legislation. Because of that change of circumstances, we shall not get satisfactory results unless we alter the composition of the courts, as it were, in the way that I have suggested.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
[11.33J. - I intervene at this stage, with the consent of my colleagues, to refer to the very important speech that was made yesterday by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). The facts that he stated were startling. I agree with him that they show that ever since the Repatriation Act was amended after World War I. at the instigation of Mr. W. M. Hughes, there has been a failure to appreciate the connexion between war experiences and heart diseases such as coronary thrombosis. As the honorable member for Balaclava said, it has been assumed that that is a disease of old age. I suppose that tens of thousands of cases must have been dealt with on the assumption that because the disease did not become apparent until many years after the completion of war service, it could not have been caused or aggravated by war service.
Quite recently, a distinguished American expert stated that the hearts of young American soldiers killed in the Korean war had been analysed. He said that in the 300 cases examined, the average age of the soldiers being only 22 years, the incidence of diseased coronary arteries was 77.3 per cent. I agree with the summing up of the honorable member for Balaclava that the basis upon which the repatriation doctors have been dealing with heart trouble in men in their fifties and sixties is erroneous. The doctors have been refusing to accept claims on the ground that the fact that the heart disease has become evident only in later years indicates that it has no relation to war service. They have taken the conventional view that heart disease is primarily a disease of old age. That is just one illustration of the principle.
I come now to what the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) has said. It is quite right that the doubt referred to is in the mind of the tribunal, but the tribunal must act reasonably. The tribunal alone decides these cases. It would be assisted by adopting the four rules suggested by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). I shall not repeat them, but they state, shortly, what the act means. We have reached agreement in this Parliament on this matter. Honorable members on this side have, over and over again, produced illustrations of the working of the onus of proof and benefit of the doubt provisions, which are the same in substance. Case after case has been produced by the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers), the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and many others. As the honorable member for Moore has said, in substance the act lays down that if the condition could have been caused, aggravated or accentuated by war service, the claim must succeed. The act does not say that it must have been caused, aggravated or accentuated by war service. It would be a very bold medical man who would say, dogmatically, that an illness could not have had any connexion with war service.
– But some do say that.
– That is so. All these years they have been saying things like that about coronary thrombosis. They are administering the act according to their own opinion, but, in fact, they are not asked to determine whether an illness was caused by war service. They are asked to determine, by a scientific exercise of the imagination, whether it could have been due to war service.
Mr. Leslie interjecting,
– I would ask the honorable member for Moore, to whom we have listened so patiently, to listen to me for a few moments. I know that he is interested in this matter, lt is not enough to say that the doubt is in the mind of the tribunal. The tribunal may be wrong, and the honorable member for Balaclava has simply stressed what we of the Opposition have said repeatedly: It is true that there must be a decision, but that decision is not to be the opinion of the tribunal except as to the possibility of the illness being caused or contributed to by war service.
An ex-serviceman may, twenty years after his war service has concluded, die from or suffer the onset of coronary thrombosis. Let us assume that he has not merely been in the Army during time of war, but has been actively engaged in an area where there has been fighting. Could any responsible doctor say that war service could not have contributed to that illness? He could say it, of course, but clearly he would be wrong, and would be ignoring all experience.
The illustration given by the honorable member for Balaclava is conclusive. The fallacy has been accepted. This is not a matter for political debate. It is rather a question of the departmental approach to an act of parliament. As I have pointed out, Mr. W. M. Hughes first brought down this provision in the twenty’s. During the Curtin Government of the war years the legislation was tightened up. We thought that we had overcome any possibility of weak administration of the onus of proof and benefit of the doubt clauses. I still think that every gap was closed, and that soldiers are not getting the full benefit of those provisions. The fact that that is becoming the general view is shown by the position of veterans of World War I. We are moving towards the acceptance of automatic entitlement in their case. The effects of World War I. are being revealed in these veterans, though they have now reached an advanced age.
War service must contribute to ill health or breakdown and unless one can be satisfied that it has not, the soldier, or his widow, must be given a pension. If that is so, what has been the difficulty? I do not take any pleasure in criticizing the department’s officers, but during the eight or nine years when I was Attorney-General I found that some of them adopted an obstinate approach to these matters. Naturally, they looked at them from a departmental point of view, and that view was far too narrow. That is revealed by the fact that the former Attorney-General, Mr. Spicer, took substantially the same view as I have expressed.
Many of the members of the tribunals are ex-servicemen. It is always argued that for this reason the decisions of the tribunals are beyond criticism. That is not the point. The ex-service member of the tribunal may be led into error by his anxiety not to allow the fact that he is a veteran to affect his judgment.
Last year we asked the Parliament to adopt the English practice. The British Parliament looks at this matter conservatively, and would not have provided an appeal tribunal if it had not thought that it was necessary. An experienced High Court judge was appointed, many years ago, to ascertain whether the tribunal was really applying the legislation. He has power to set aside the tribunal’s order and make a new award. The whole of the repatriation administration in England has been liberalized by amending legislation.
As the honorable member for Balaclava will appreciate, re-statement, and the addition of further rules, tends to confuse a lay tribunal, some members of which may be technically qualified as members of the legal profession, but may have no experience in the administration of the act. Some one is needed who will ensure that these beneficent provisions are applied in the way that I have described so often. Debates on this subject have taken place every year.
The honorable member for Moore is right in saying that the legislation leaves it to the tribunals, but we do not want the tribunals to make errors. If a judge could look at the reasons given for not granting an appeal he would be able to determine whether they were valid. That would be a very different matter.
– If there is a doubt the soldier should get the benefit of it, but he does not.
– If the tribunal had to give its reasons for saying that there was a doubt, those reasons could be examined. Very often they would be found to be wrong, not because of any bias, but because it is a very difficult section to apply. This is an entirely new field of repatriation. The whole movement to insert the benefit of the doubt and onus of proof provisions was started, I think, in Australia. As the years go by the number of World War I. ex-servicemen or widows who should be given a pension must increase. The same considerations apply to ex-servicemen from World War II. It is no use doing again what Labour did in this Parliament last year. A division was taken on our proposal and it was rejected. It was thought unworkable. A judge could be transferred to this position from some other tribunal. I see that the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) is shaking his head. I do not know whether he is signifying disagreement with my argument.
– No, 1 was not.
– The honorable member should be more careful. He might give the impression that he is in agreement with some one whose views differ from his. He may be wrong. There was a famous historical expression beseeching people to believe that they may be wrong. My point is that I believe the English system would work well, and few cases would arise such as those to which honorable members at present have to give so much attention. In those cases the individual matter is sometimes settled, but the general principle is not affected.
I have probably spoken at too great length on this matter, but I am most concerned about it, and I think that all honorable members, no matter to which party they belong, are eager to have the matter settled. Why could not my suggestion be adopted? If it failed to achieve the desired object, the Parliament could pass amending legislation and reject it. I think it would be successful. I believe that there are thousands of cases in which this section is not applied. Let us give assistance to these administrative tribunals, so that they may have some one to judge them. They cannot get a direction from the Repatriation Department, and yet for many years officers of the department, acting as their legal advisers, gave views on what onus of proof meant, and it was necessary for the Attorney-General’s Department to point out that those views were incorrect.
When I was Attorney-General that course became necessary. We did not always accept the departmental view. Similar action was taken by Senator Spicer when he was Attorney-General. He found it necessary to set aside certain interpretations and give new ones, along substantially the same lines as those I had originally drafted, and which are again reinforced by the opinions expressed to-day by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). We may agree on a statement of principle, although the application of it is difficult, and the application requires the trained mind of a person who understands the distinction between onus of proof and benefit of doubt. If prima facie reasons are given for a view that a doctor or a repatriation tribunal has made a mistake, then I submit that the procedure I suggest should be followed.
I appeal to the Minister and the Government to consider this matter afresh, and decide whether I have offered anything constructive towards a solution of the problem. A most startling revelation was made in the speech of the honorable member for Balaclava, and it is merely one illustration of cases that, I believe, frequently occur. I have, I think, expressed the views of all my colleagues, and of other honorable members of this House, who have fought so hard to see that justice was done in many individual cases. I ask the Government to consider the establishment of an appeal tribunal consisting of one judge, so that it will not be necessary to indulge in long and expensive litigation. The particular matter could frequently come before that tribunal without any preliminary hearing. We should try to remove the sense of injustice that really does plague the men who have given service to their country in time of war. Let us get back to the true meaning and spirit of the original legislation and ensure that a tribunal exists for the purpose of enforcing the provisions that all parties have agreed upon, both in the original legislation introduced by Mr. Hughes, and in the amending legislation passed by the Labour Government of Mr. Curtin.
.- This question of onus of proof has troubled the Parliament for many years. I am sure that we are all greatly indebted to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. (Joske) for having so clearly stated the difficulties involved in a consideration of this matter, lt is grand to hear the Leader of the Opposition, the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) dealing with this matter on a nonparty basis, but I do believe that all honorable members of this House prefer to deal with matters concerning ex-servicemen and their dependants on a plane above that of party politics.
The Leader of the Opposition told us a few moments ago that when the Labour Government was in office it endeavoured, so far as it could do so by legislative action, to make the intention of Parliament on the question of onus of proof perfectly clear. Notwithstanding the care with which the Labour Government’s legislation was drafted, it has become apparent since that government left office that its legislation was not effective in carrying out the intentions of the Parliament. Since that time the present Government has attempted, both by legislative amendments and by administrative instructions, to clear up this very difficult question.
The attitude of the Parliament is beyond question, lt has said over and over again that if a man’s death or injury is due to, or aggravated by, war service, pension entitlement should follow. The question is: Who is to determine whether death or injury is due to,, or aggravated by, war service, and how is that question to be determined? Obviously, we must have some tribunal. At the present time there are really three tribunals. An exserviceman has a right to apply to a board and state his case. From the decision of that tribunal he may appeal, and when a further decision is given he has an opportunity to appeal to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. He can continue to appeal to that tribunal, at intervals of six months or more, for as long as he likes, provided that he can produce additional evidence on each occasion to assist him in establishing his case. The Leader of the Opposition has now suggested the establishment of what would really be a fourth tribunal. In other words, he has suggested that a judge should be appointed to act virtually as an appeal court, to review the decisions of the entitlement appeal tribunals.
– On matters of onus of proof.
– That is so. I do not for one moment discount the possible merits in the right honorable gentleman’s suggestion, and 1 believe that every suggestion for solving this problem should be carefully considered. Unfortunately, it is quite obvious that this suggestion will not carry us very much further, because if the judge rejects an application, it can still be said that the principles laid down by Parliament on the question of onus of proof have not been followed. We could, therefore, appoint further tribunals, and we might finally have not four but 40 of them. If we are to arrive at that position, the sooner we make entitlement automatic the better.
The difficulty that is encountered on this question of onus of proof arises from the fact that it is almost impossible to establish any uniform procedure. Certain more or less snap decisions have to bc made. There are, of course, cases in which the correct decision is obvious. If, for example, an ex-serviceman is knocked over and killed by a motor vehicle,- it is most unlikely that his death would be attributed to war service. Then we have the obvious case of a man who suffered injury during his war service and subsequently died, in which it can be said with a reasonable amount of certainty that his death was, at least, aggravated by that war service. But between those two extremes is the extraordinarily difficult position of a person who suffered during the war and who for many years subsequent to the war carried on his normal vocation without any apparent disability. All of a sudden, he dies of heart failure or some similar cause, lt is almost impossible to say whether that person died as a result of war service or whether his war service contributed to his death. One tribunal might say “ Yes “ and another tribunal might say “ No “, both considering identical circumstances and both consisting of honest, reasonable men trying to administer the same set of laws. Therefore, the Parliament has gone out of its way to make clear to the various tribunals what it expects of them.
The Parliament has stated its policy in clear and unequivocal terms and that has been followed from time to time by directions from the Attorney-General and the Minister for Repatriation of the day. A very valuable direction was given to these tribunals quite recently. It said clearly that if a person died or suffered injury, he or his widow was entitled to a pension unless the tribunal was certain in its own mind that that death or injury was not due to war service. I do not believe that anything further can be done by legislation to make the situation clearer than, it is to-day. The policy adopted by this Government is known. All these debates in the House are valuable in the sense that they must make an impression upon the minds of members of the various entitlement appeals tribunals and must make clear what the Parliament thinks.
I agree with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) and other honorable members who have addressed this House that the various entitlement appeals tribunals are not carrying out the express views of the Parliament. We can cure that in one of two ways. First, we can say to the tribunals. “ You are sacked because you are not doing your job “. In that event, new tribunals that might be even worse than the existing ones might be appointed. Alternatively, we can keep reminding them of what the Parliament expects of them in the administration of these laws. An allparty committee to go into this problem may be able to find a solution. It is a most difficult one and parties from both sides of the House when in government have tried to solve it. Therefore, I think that the Government should consider the appointment of a committee to examine every aspect of this most difficult matter.
I congratulate the Government on introducing this bill. In 1949, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), said -
Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility . . . We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.
That undertaking has been honoured by this Government and by this Parliament. No government and no body of men can have a better knowledge of the needs of returned men than the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. The league has its welfare- committees which are continually in touch with the human problems of returned men. When the Menzies Government was elected in 1949, the league presented to it a case containing. to the best of my memory, 32 reforms that it considered necessary to carry out the great principles of repatriation. Those suggestions had been put to the previous government but had not been accepted. The majority of them were immediately put into operation by the Menzies Government. An examination of those suggestions shows that practically the whole of them, if not carried into effect immediately, have been adopted since. The Government is most indebted to the league for the tremendous amount of thought and consideration that it has given to this great human problem.
This bill reforms two matters which have been brought to light since the returned servicemen’s league presented its original points to the Government. One deals with service pensioners. As honorable members know, service pensioners are age pensioners who, in consideration of the sacrifices and the hardships that they suffered during wartime, receive their pension five years earlier than others. In other words, men receive their pensions at 60 years of age instead of 65 years of age. The service pension, like the age pension, is subject to a means test. The greatest hardship has been caused, particularly during the last few years, to service pensioners who are not able to take a fulltime job, but who are able to do parttime work. They have found that if they have been able to get, perhaps, a month or a couple of months’ work in a light job that they are able to do, immediately they have taken that job they have lost their service pension. Consequently, the means test for the service pension has been a deterrent to work. That has been bad for the country, and many service pensioners have been deprived of that little extra income which would have provided for them comforts in addition to what is provided by the pension of £4 a week.
The reform envisaged in this bill is a grand reform. It enables the service pensioner to take on part-time work, if he is able to do it, and his full pension of £4 a week is not touched unless his total income for the year exceeds the permissible income of £3 10s. a week or £182 a year. The result of this reform is that a great number of ex-service pensioners will now be able to engage in part-time work, consistent with their ability to do so. We know that during the wool season, for example, there are jobs in wool stores such as taking tallies and acting as caretakers, which people who are not 100 per cent, fit are able to do. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest reforms in the bill because it will enable ex-service pensioners to supplement their income considerably. I trust that, now that this reform has been made, practically every pensioner will receive al least £.7 10s. a week instead of £4 as at present, the £7 10s. a week to be made up of £4 pension and £3 10s. from earnings which can be earned during one month or three months, or over the whole year, according to the ability of the pensioner to perform light or part-time work.
Another hardship which has come to light during the last few years concerns widows and totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen with children to educate. Owing to the increased cost of living, these people experience great difficulty in keeping their children at school, lt has been the boast of governments that no child is deprived of education because his father gave his life in the service of this country, and that every child has the opportunity for education to the standard that he would have attained had his father lived. Insofar as it is possible for governments to achieve that objective, they have provided liberal allowances for children being educated. However, as all honorable members know, costs have increased considerably and have been doing so for the last fifteen years. Therefore, it has been necessary from time to time to increase the education allowances for children. In this bill, those allowances are being improved substantially. Such allowances will be provided for the children of ex-servicemen whose deaths were due to war service, of ex-servicemen who are totally and permanently incapacitated or blinded, and of those who are in receipt of the maximum rate of pension under the second schedule because of tuberculosis and who are likely to remain o:i that rate of pension for three years. The increases are: For children between the ages of twelve and fourteen years, if living at home, from 1 ls. 6d. a week to 16s. 6d.; between the ages of fourteen and sixteen years, from ’15s. a week to £1 5s.; between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years, from £2 a week to £2 15s.; and in respect oi professional education, for those living at home, from £2 12s. 6d. a week to £3 15s. Similar and even greater increases are to be made in relation to children who aru not able to live at home, but I do not propose to deal with those increases because they were dealt with by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) in his speech.
The Government, in accordance with the undertaking given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that repatriation would remain the proud responsibility of the Government, has seen to it, by means of substantially increased allowances, that children of deceased or incapacitated ex-servicemen have every opportunity to receive education at the country’s expense. I congratulate the Government on the continual reviews thai have been made. I am sure that the Minister, other members of the Government and. indeed, all honorable members, will keep their eyes wide open to see that when cases of hardship or distress arise among ex-servicemen from time to time, appropriate action is taken at the earliest possible moment.
– Theoretically, this bill is a very simple one, its purpose being to amend certain rates of repatriation benefits, a purpose which, of course, is appreciated by the recipients of the benefits. I believe that the Government should be congratulated on its decision to increase these benefits; but while some recipients will benefit from this bill because of the reduction of the qualifying age for education allowance from thirteen years to twelve years, others with children aged ten years and eleven years will still have to live on the present rate of pension, so that poverty will continue. Until the children of those people reach the age when they will be entitled to the additional benefits, the pensioners will have to put up with what they have now.
Despite what the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) has said, there is still discontent among ex-servicemen, and in their organizations, because of the weaknesses of the Repatriation Act and also, in some instances, because of the manner in which claims are dealt with by the administration.
– What are the weaknesses in the act?
– I shall try to explain them to the honorable member later in my speech. 1 believe that he himself should be commended for indicating that he desires the establishment of another allparty committee to investigate anomalies, the shortcomings of the Repatriation Act and the reasons why applications for pensions have been rejected. That there is great discontent among ex-servicemen I think is proved by the reports of the Repatriation Commission which show that, in 1954, the commission dealt with 8,830 applications, of which 1,092 were successful, which meant that 7,738 ex-servicemen had their applications rejected. In 1955, 8,088 applications were dealt with and determined, and of those, 929 were successful and 7,159 rejected. Of the applications to which 1 have referred, 6,532 were applications for pensions by ex-servicemen of World War I., only 742 being successful. It appears that it is becoming increasingly difficult to have the ailments of returned servicemen of World War I. accepted by the Repatriation Department as due to war service.
– That is a complaint against the administration rather than against the act.
– I want to make it clear that 1 derive no satisfaction or pleasure from having to take to task the administration of repatriation benefits. Before I complete my remarks I propose also to take the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to task, although I acknowledge that, in replying to representations made to him, he is guided solely by the officers of the Repatriation Department.
It is enlightening to hear the views of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Moore. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) must be congratulated on his speech because, in referring to authorities, as he did, he broke new ground. Most of us appreciate that section 47 has given rise to many difficulties and has been the cause of much complaint. The ex-servicemen who are supporters of the Government have badly neglected their opportunity to do something about amending this act. Many Government supporters in this House are ex-servicemen, but I am prompted to speak of their apathy because of a remark made, by way df interjection, on 6th September.
During a debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) spoke on a repatriation matter. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) followed the honorable member for East Sydney in the debate, and said that I had brought before the House numerous cases where it was apparent that a doubt existed about the correctness of determinations of the commission or of tribunals. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) interjected, saying, “ How many of them are genuine? “ I want the House to know that every case that 1 have brought before it has been genuine. I would not care about the honorable member’s interjection if I did not know these ex-servicemen or if I were not aware of their misery as revealed in letters written by them to me. When the honorable member for Gippsland, an exserviceman, a soldier with a very fine war record, asks other honorable members how many of the cases are genuine, I wonder just how much interest Government supporters really have in the problems of exservicemen. I do not think that their interest goes very far and, when all is said and done, the honorable member has not enhanced his reputation in the House by the cheapness of his remark. The cases of which I have spoken will stand the light of investigation by an all-party committee, if the Government sees fit to appoint one. Such a committee could determine the extent to which I am right, and whether the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) is correct in saying that I am never right. In this respect, he and I disagree.
I base my arguments in relation to section 47 on the fact that the commission has rejected applications in cases where as many as three or four doctors have said that ex-servicemen either died or were ill as a result of complaints arising from war service. In these cases appeals to tribunals have also been rejected. The honorable member for Moore has said that the members of tribunals should include doctors and that the final decision must be left in their hands. Possibly, it must be. If 1 and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) differed in relation to a determination made by a tribunal, I could understand it, but these are instances where medical men are prepared to say that they disagree with determinations, decisions, and opinions of other medical men. 1 cannot understand it at all, because this state of affairs must indicate that a doubt exists in the minds of medical men who have all received the same or similar training.
The honorable member for Balaclava referred to statements by Major-General D. C. Ogle, and Dr. Irvine H. Page, the president-elect of the American Heart Association, who said that post-mortem examinations of 300 ex-servicemen killed in the Korean campaign disclosed that 77.3 per cent, of them showed gross lesions of the coronary arteries. Surely, members of the British Medical Association, knowing that the reports of these doctors and the fears that they have expressed about the prevalence of heart disease have been considered even by the United States Congress, should hesitate to say that hundreds of ex-servicemen who have suffered coronary occlusions have been rightly refused benefits. I remind the House that, two or three years ago, I mentioned the cases of two ex-servicemen who were brothers-in-law and who had served through World War I. together, virtually side by side. One of them was discharged medically unfit, but was refused a pension. He was treated by numerous doctors until 1941, when he died of a coronary occlusion. The other man had a heart attack in 1948, seven years later. He went to a repatriation doctor, never having been to one before, and he was awarded a 20 per cent, pension. In 1950, he died, and the Repatriation Commission accepted the contention that his coronary occlusion was due to war service. I want the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) to explain to the House how he, or any other doctor, could differentiate between these two cases. The first man was gassed and injured, but it was held that he did not die, in 1941, as a result of war service. The other man, who died in 1950, was held by the Repatriation Department to have died from a coronary occlusion due to war service. That is the aspect that worries me. There was a lapse of eight years between the death of the first man and the occlusion suffered by the second, yet it was held that the first man did not die of war-caused injuries, but that the second did. It should be the function of an all-party committee to determine, once and for all, whether or not there could be a distinction between two such cases.
I want Government supporters, especially ex-servicemen, to listen to the matter which 1 now raise. Two men were retired from industry within the last twelve or eighteen months. One was compulsorily retired because of a heart condition and emphysema, and is entitled to a pension. He was a despatch runner in World War I., and served for over three years, being slightly wounded on two occasions and slightly gassed on another. He was admitted to hospital. He won the Military Medal for bravery in action. The other man worked right through until his retirement at about 66 years of age. He never received a war pension, but retired on superannuation. He became ill some time ago and made application to the Repatriation Commission. Although, for 38 years, he had not received repatriation benefits or assistance, he has now been awarded a full pension, in addition to his superannuation and any other income he has. because the emphysema and heart condition from which he suffers have been held to have been caused by war.
I want to quote from an official file which contains a copy of a report made by the Head-quarters Medical Officer on 17th February, 1956, and which is marked “ O.E. files “. I do not know what that means. The name of the man concerned is William Andrew Parkes. The medical officer stated -
I have noted a letter from the Newcastle City Council dated 22nd December, 19SS, but they have no record of periods of absence from work prior to 2nd April. 1938.
I want to inform honorable members that the Newcastle City Council was not formed, as the result of the amalgamation of a number of councils, until that year, so the man would have been working before that year for a suburban council and the city council would not have a record of him prior to that time. The report continued -
On the 5th September, 1955, I referred to this member being treated for a septic hand and influenza in April-May, 1917, and I have no further comments to make in regard to same. Member was admitted to hospital again on 24th April, 1918. The service documents do not give the reason for this evacuation, but on 14th January, 1955, member stated he was admitted to hospital in France 1917 with lachrymatory gassing and I think this could refer to the evacuation in April, 1918.
He thinks it could refer to the evacuation in April, 1918! This man had been admitted to hospital; he, apparently, had been in hospital for some time because he did not rejoin his unit until 12th June, 1918. The medical officer said -
He rejoined his unit on 12th June, 1918, and there is no record of any subsequent illness during his remaining period of war service.
Dr. Pettinger, of Wallsend, stated, on 25th June, 1956 -
I have known Mr. W. A. Parkes for many years, since about 1923. He was only a young man, recently returned from World War I., and he appeared to have a condition of the lungs which was progressive. On account of his comparative youth and the fact of onset in a man who had no history of lung disease previous to enlistment, I always have had the opinion that he was suffering from a war disability.
This man was a champion soccer footballer before he went to the war in 1915 or 1916. The report of the head-quarters medical officer to which I have referred stated -
Dr. Booth (Radiologist), 4th March, 1955, stated chest was clear. According to reports of Dr. Brent (Chest Specialist) 10th March, 1955, and Dr. Epps (Physician), 29th March, 1955, this member’s main pulmonary disability would definitely appear lo be due to emphysema.
But he said -
In the absence of any confirmatory evidence of chest trouble in the period from 1919 to 1930 or later, 1 do not consider this member’s chest condition is a legacy of his war service.
Here is a medical officer reporting to the tribunal that he does not consider that certain things have happened, even though the reason cannot be found for this man having been admitted to hospital for six weeks, and was evacuated because there was something wrong with him. I suppose that the job of despatch runner would be one of the worst jobs that a soldier could have. I do not know; the soldiers from World War I. could tell me; but the fact that this man had been compulsorily retired because of emphysema indicates that his disability is due to war service. The other man to whom I have referred had worked for 38 years or more after the war and was awarded a full pension recently. Yet departmental officials have said that this man is not entitled to a pension because his injuries are not due to war service, lt leaves me cold.
I now want to discuss another case which I have mentioned previously in this House. lt concerns a Mr. Ford, who served in three wars, the Boer War, World War I. and World War II. I believe that this is one case that should be thrashed out to its end irrespective of who gets hurt over itThis man received a pension for sixteen years. The pension was taken away from him in 1933 or li>34 after he had been in Randwick Military Hospital for three months. I make these representations in view of the pages of information that I have from this soldier which indicate quite clearly the suffering that he has experienced and what happened to him in his fight for a pension. He even brought to me a family photograph which I have here and which clearly shows - I regret to say this - that there must be bias in the minds of some members of the Repatriation Commission.
– Did he go to the tribunal and have a look at the case history?
– I am glad that the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) raised that point. This man has been everywhere. Every year he has endeavoured to get the information. He is now selling his furniture. He sold the big home that he had and bought a smaller one, so that he could make ends meet on the age pension. This man has served in three wars. He has been most insistent in claiming his pension. It was taken from him more than twenty years ago and even the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) will not tell me the reason. I have gone to the Minister about it. The latest ministerial reply to me. dated 27th April, 1956, states -
Mr. Ford enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces on 5th June, 1915-
I am only reading parts of this letter - and on the 16th February, 1916, was struck off the strength of his brigade as he was then found to be medically unfit. On 13th April, 1917, he was discharged from the Australian Imperial Forces.
The Minister said -
I find that, on the 13th June, 1933, the Repatriation Commission reviewed this case in accordance with its power under the Repatriation Act and rejected the disabilities, neurasthenia and neuritis, and cancelled the pension payable in respect of the incapacity arising therefrom.
It is quite evident from that, that neurasthenia and neuritis had been accepted as being due to war service but, in 1933, after the investigation, the department cancelled the pension. I told the Minister that this man had been “ stripped “ in England when a gun rolled on him during gun-laying practice. I may have used the wrong expression. Apparently, when the timbers were being lowered in the laying of these siege guns, somebody let the timber go and he was taken to the ground with the excessive weight and was stripped. If honorable members were to read the old fellow’s account they would see that he was injured in World War I. I have a certificate which shows that he was discharged through being disabled in World War I. But what annoys me is that the Minister went on to say, in his letter -
I note you mention that Mr. Ford has stated his injuries were caused when gun laying in England and that the siege gun rolled on him when being mounted into position. There is no record of any such occurrence happening during’ his service in the 1914-18 War and the following is an extract from Army Form B 179:-
I want honorable members to listen to this -
Partial paralysis and neuritis existed prior to enlistment, in 1889 fell 45 feet receiving concussion of the brain and injuries to right shoulder and back. In South African War fell from horse going into action, injury to head and unconscious for three days. While serving at Thursday Island R.A.G.A. was in hospital for four months with neurasthenia and insomnia.
This is an insult to a man who has given a life-time of service to his country. A “Sydney Morning Herald” report of 1889 reads as follows: -
The. following cases were admitted to the Sydney Hospital on Saturday: - Arthur Ford, aged seven, residing at 22 Kent-street, brought in at quarter to five o’clock by his father who stated that he had fallen down a shaft in Kent-street, a distance of 30 feet.
The Army only added 15 feet on to the distance that he dropped, which could mean the difference between life and death at any time. The report continues -
On examination by Dr. Gwynne Hughes, he was found to have a lacerated wound on the back of his head, and was also suffering from concussion of the brain. Last night the little fellow was progressing favourably.
That report is from a paper of 1889.
– Is he still living?
– Yes, he is still alive and has been trying to get the pension to help him to keep body and soul together. Here; is a man who, in service to his king and- country, was in a battle in the Boer War in South Africa-. His horse was shot from under him in battle, yet the military people’ say that he fell off his horse. Mr. Ford assures me that he was never in hospital, on Thursday Island for four months suffering from neurasthenia and’ insomnia. He has told me that he was in hospital on Thursday Island on only one occasion, for approximately three weeks, when he had an ear and throat infection and a foreign body was removed from his ear.
Here is his history. After the Boer War he returned to South Africa from Australia and served for two years in the Transvaal Police. He subsequently returned to Australia and served in the New South Wales Mounted Police Force at Casino for three years. Yet he is supposed to have been suffering from neurasthenia and neuritis. In 1908 he was a champion footballer in a Casino football team. 1 have a photograph of him token in a group with other officers of the New South Wales Police Force at Casino in 1908, and he looks as lively as any one could be. Yet he is supposed to have contracted neurasthenia and neuritis about that time. In 1910, he was a member of the Waverley Tramway Depot League Football Club in Sydney. When he was at Thursday Island he was a physical instructor in the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery. I have also a photograph of him taken before he left New South Wales to go overseas. Now I come to the important part of Mr. Ford’s history. I have here a photograph of him taken before he embarked to return to Australia from England in 1916. I should like honorable members to examine it. It indicates that he had been injured, because it clearly shows that his right arm, which he appeared to be favouring, was an inch or two shorter than the left arm. I ask honorable members to examine the photograph, because it is not the sort of thing that can be concocted. It is real evidence.
– Were those photographs submitted to the entitlement appeal tribunal?
– I do not know. 1 want to know why Mr. Ford’s pension was taken from him after sixteen years, and 1 hope the Minister for Health, who represents in this chamber the Minister for Repatriation, will help me to find out. Mr. Ford gave valuable service to his country in several wars, and was prepared to enlist again in World War II. He even offered his services in the Boxer Rebellion. Government supporters say the Repatriation
Commission displays no bias. I say that in some instances it displays much bias. I believe we all should co-operate in an endeavour to remedy the situation, and that the Government should appoint an all-party committee, as proposed by the honorable member for Sturt, to examine repatriation problems. 1 cannot find out from the Minister for Repatriation why Mr. Ford’s application for the restoration of his pension has been rejected. 1 could say much more about this case, but I propose to deal now with another which is much more recent. This is the case of a young man named Kinnaird, who has worked for only three months in three years. He receives only a 40 per cent, war pension, although he is virtually dying on his feet from a whole series of complaints. The Repatriation Commission recently had him examined by Dr. McGuiness, who said he was suffering also from psychoneurosis. The commission was not satisfied with his opinion, and sent Mr. Kinnaird to a Dr. Russell, who, of course, said he was not suffering from psychoneurosis. Dr. Philip Rundle, a specialist in Newcastle-
– And a good one, too.
– He is. Dr. Rundle tells me there is no doubt about Mr. Kinnaird’s condition. We hear a great deal about the onus of proof. The honorable member for Moore said these decisions must be left to the appeal tribunals. Dr. McGuiness said that Mr. Kinnaird was suffering from psychoneurosis, but the Repatriation Commission was not satisfied. It said, in effect, “ We shall have another shot at him “, and sent him to another doctor who declared that he was not suffering from psychoneurosis. I ask the Minister for Health to take the matter up with the Minister for Repatriation and have Mr. Kinnaird re-examined by Dr. Russell in the hope that he may come to a different decision.
Here is a man who has had practically nothing on which to keep his wife and family for the last three years. Yet the Repatriation Commission pays him only a 40 per cent, pension! Dr. Kevin Johns has said that Mr. Kinnaird is now suffering from coronary disease and probably has not many years to live. But the Repatriation Commission is not prepared to help him.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) has put before the House a very sad story, the effect of which is multiplied because it concerns several cases. He looked accusingly at Government supporters and charged them with responsibility for what he alleges has occurred.
– Government supporters are responsible for it.
– They are not. I do not know whether the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) understands the three tiers of responsibility in the determination of repatriation pensions. If he did, he would realize that the present system has existed for a great many years.
– But we want to alter it.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKEROrder! The honorable member for Wills has already addressed the House in this debate.
– He would realize also that the present system is regarded as adequate and fair. I point out to the honorable member for Shortland that he is entitled under the provisions of the Repatriation Act at any time to advise applicants that they can authorize him to act as their advocate, and that, acting on that authority, he can appear on their behalf before the entitlement appeal tribunal and argue their case.
– He can examine the files.
– As the honorable member for Lilley has pointed out, acting under the authority of the applicants to appear as their advocate, he can examine the files at the offices of the commission. He can even obtain a synopsis of the facts as they have been revealed. I suggest that the honorable member for Shortland should not look accusingly at Government supporters and charge them with responsibility for these things. Opposition members, along with Government supporters, have embraced the present procedure, under which entitlement appeal tribunals have the final power to determine whether an injury is due to war service and whether the sufferer therefore ought to receive a- pension. I remind the honorable member that people who arc dissatisfied with the rejection of their application for a pension can at any time apply to the Repatriation Commission in writing and submit additional evidence. If the commission refuses to consider the additional evidence, the applicant can appeal to an entitlement appeal tribunal on the question of the admissibility of the further evidence. At such a hearing the honorable member for Shortland would be entitled to appear for the applicant, with his authority, and argue his case, as he has done so ably in this chamber to-day.
I repeat that the honorable member should not look accusingly at Government supporters and charge them with responsibility for these things that he alleges have happened. Government supporters are not responsible for them. This Government took over a repatriation system which had earlier been taken over by the Labour government. This system provides three opportunities for an applicant. He applies first to a repatriation board, the chairman of which, in New South Wales and Victoria, is ordinarily a public servant who is engaged on full-time duty as board chairman and is the most experienced pensions officer available. In the four smaller States the chairman of the board is normally the officer in charge of pension matters, and is the most experienced man available in the State. Each repatriation board has two other members, one of whom is appointed by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) from a panel of names submitted by the ex-servicemen’s organizations. The other is appointed by the Minister from among people he considers fitted for the task.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– When the sitting was suspended I was running through, for the benefit of the honorable member for Shortland, the procedure that follows the making of a claim for a pension. First, the claim is considered by a repatriation board, consisting of three members. Such boards are established in each State. The chairman of a board is selected from a list submitted to the Minister for Repatriation by exservice organizations. So each repatriation board consists of a chairman who is an ex-serviceman. Each board has two other members, one of whom is selected from lists supplied by ex-servicemen’s organiza tions, whilst the other is recommended by the Minister to the Governor-General for appointment. Should it occur, as it often does, that the board declines to grant the application, the staff of the Repatriation Commission informs the claimant that the application has been rejected and, at the same time, forwards to him a notification of his right of appeal to the Repatriation Commission. With that notification of his right of appeal is forwarded the actual form on which he may lodge the appeal. An appeal, if made, then goes for consideration to the Repatriation Commission. The act provides that there shall be a Repatriation Commission of not fewer than three, nor more than five members. At present there are three Repatriation Commissioners, but there are also two assistant commissioners. The assistant commissioners are appointed by the commissioners in the exercise of their power of delegation under the statute. Those assistant commissioners are expressly appointed for the purpose of considering appeals. They travel throughout Australia in connexion with their work. They do not, of course, hear evidence. It would be impracticable and impossible for them to do so. They go through the file in each case, with all the references summarized, and make their decision on the information contained therein.
If the commissioners decide to reject an appeal, the procedure then followed is that a notification of rejection of appeal is forwarded to the claimant, accompanied by another notification which informs him of his right of appeal to an entitlement tribunal and a form of application by means of which he may lodge that further appeal. At the stage of the appeal to the entitlement tribunal it is competent for the claimant to authorize somebody to act as an advocate for him. As I pointed out earlier to the honorable member for Shortland, that advocate is entitled, when authorized to do so by the claimant, to examine the departmental file and see everything connected with the case. In fact, such an advocate is often supplied with a synopsis of the file that will go to the entitlement tribunal.
It is at the stage of the hearing of the appeal by the entitlement tribunal that there enters into the picture the feature of which we have heard so much in this debate - the onus of proof provision. I suggest to the House that we shall always have difficulty in respect of this provision, which is contained in section 47 of the Repatriation Act, while any one claimant has his claim rejected. It is the wish of everybody, 1 am sure, that justice shall be done in those matters, but, while there is a single claim rejected, there will be somebody who contends that the onus of proof provision ought to be amended to allow it to embrace the particular application with which the person making the contention is concerned. This morning, the Leader of the Opposition advanced a proposal that there should be yet another stage - a fourth stage - on top of this three-tiered structure - an appeals judge. The information I have is that the entitlement tribunal decides, in 17 per cent. of the cases that come before it, in favour of the applicant for a pension. If we had a fourth tier, what percentage of appeals may we presume would be upheld? If it were again 17 per cent., surely there would still be people who had not successfully established their claims who would claim that there should be a fifth tier in the structure. From there, we could go on to claims that there should be a sixth tier, and so on. I suggest to the House that it all resolves itself to this: You have an umpire. What do you do - accept his decision, or sack him? That is the decision to be made by this House, and to be expressed in this legislation. I, personally, believe that we must accept the legislation as it will stand after this measure passes. I think it is a very fair piece of work, and is not only a credit to the draftsman and to the successive governments in this place who have added to it in order to bring it into accord with a sense of justice for those people who are likely to make applications for pensions.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, for the first time,I am in disagreement with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). I find it rather extraordinary that I should disagree with him. However, the honorable member for Balaclava suggested to the House last night, in a constructive way, that the wording of the instructions to doctors and tribunals should be in layman’s language so that they will be able to understand the intention of the onus of proof provision. I suggest to the honorable member that the wording of the instruction sent some time ago by the
Minister for Repatriation to the doctors and the tribunals, which incorporates an opinion by the former Attorney-General, the then Senator Spicer, is sufficiently clear for any one with any intelligence to understand. This instruction was prepared in April, 1953, and, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of honorable members, I shall read the important part of it so that it will be recorded in “ Hansard “ and be there available to people generally in the future. Included in the instruction are the following extracts from the opinion of the Attorney-General. They read -
Parliament has, in section 47 of the Repatriation Act, established a special code for the hearing and determination of claims, applications and appeals. The section docs two important things: -
Paragraph 3 reads -
In the Repatriation Act, Parliament has completely reversed the normal process. It has expressly declared in section 47: -
that it shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim application or appeal; and
that in all cases whatsover the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority opposing the claim, application or appeal.
I suggest that no words could be clearer. Paragraph 6 of this document reads -
The onus remains with the opposing person or authority throughout the proceedings. The claimant need not, but he may, if he so desires, furnish proof in support of his claim. But whether he furnishes proof or not, the onus will, at the end of the proceedings, still be upon the opposing person or authority to satisfy the determining authority that the claimant is not entitled.
Paragraph 7 states -
This brings me to the second matter with which section 47 deals, i.e., the effect to be given to the evidence which is adduced. Section 47 does two things; firstly, it requires that the determining authority shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt in regard to certain enumerated matters, which, in effect, cover the whole field of matters relevant to the inquiry; and secondly, it provides that the adjudicating authority shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant applicant or appellant.
The onus of proof in this matter is the complete reverse of the normal onus of proof in judicial proceeding. The concept is entirely different. I suggest to the House that it is quite clear that in those cases in which the payment of a pension is not approved, that is not due to any weakness of the onus of proof provisions. The structure does not require, as the Leader of the Opposition suggested, the superimposition of a fourth tier - an appeals judge. There will always be some unsatisfied people unless a repatriation pension is granted to all people who claim one, but I suggest that that is a proposition with which, in conscience, we could not agree.
Like the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), I have experience of a person who made an application. This is one of those unfortunate situations which can arise. A young woman with a young family had a husband who had a history of headaches over the last two or three years. Suddenly the headaches became worse. Then, quite without warning, he died. The widow then made application for a repatriation pension in the normal way. She applied to a repatriation board, but her claim was rejected. She made an appeal to the Repatriation Commission, but that was rejected. She went then to an entitlement appeal tribunal. Through the agency of that magnificent organization, the Returned Servicemen’s League, an advocate was made available to her to assist in the presentation of her case to the tribunal. The tribunal, however, found that, despite all possible favorable inferences from the evidence, it could not decide that the man’s death was in any way due to his war service. The unfortunate feature of the case was that when the man was about to be discharged and went before a medical board, all that he wanted to do was to put off his army tunic and put on a civilian coat. So. when he was asked if there was anything wrong with him, he said, “ No, I am perfectly all right “. All that he wanted to do was to get home. After his death, he was, of course, unable to adduce the evidence required. The widow was left in the unfortunate position that she, too, was unable to adduce the evidence required to enable the tribunal to decide that she was entitled to a pension.
If something is to be done, I suggest that it should not take the form of an overall attack on the onus of proof provisions or anything like that, but the form of an investigation of the situation that arises when an applicant for a pension is not the person who suffered injury, lt is often the case that when widows or children are seeking pensions they have not within their personal knowledge the information that the tribunal requires. Save in cases of that kind, I feel that the onus of proof provisions operate justly and fairly.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said that repatriation was a matter that should be approached on a non-party basis. Having said that, he proceeded to compare percentage increases of pensions with percentage increases of the basic wage. He put forward the proposition that pensions must be tied to the basic wage. I disagree emphatically with that proposition. lt may be that a serious anomaly existed in 1939, the year chosen by the honorable member for Lalor for the purposes of his comparison. If that were so, the anomaly would be continued if pensions were tied to the basic wage. As the amounts increased, so the degree of the anomaly would be exaggerated. Therefore, I disagree strongly with the honorable member for Lalor on that point.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), in his speech, said, in effect, “ I agree that this matter should be approached on a non-party basis, but I believe also that Opposition members have a duty to express their views and to express the views of the various ex-servicemen’s organizations “. I want to make it quite clear that the members of the Opposition have no monopoly in the expression of the views of exservicemen’s organizations. On the contrary, I suggest that the associations of honorable members on this side with ex-servicemen’s organizations are stronger, closer and greater in number than are the associations of honorable members opposite.
Last night, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) put forward two propositions with which I agree very strongly. . He said that there should be free medical attention for the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated men. I could not agree more with that proposition.. I associate myself with the appeal made by the honorable member to the Minister to consider that matter and adjust the position at the earliest opportunity. I felt that the honorable member made a great contribution to the debate when he suggested that the social services legislation which provides for a Commonwealth contribution on a £l-for-£l basis in the case of homes for aged people should be extended to the building of homes for aged “ diggers “. If the Government took that step, it would do a great deal to alleviate, not only the present difficulties of many ex-servicemen, but also the difficulties that will confront a host of ex-servicemen in a few years’ time, when they will have become just old men who served in World War 11. That is a problem of the future. If the Government takes this step now, by the time the problem reaches its peak we shall, perhaps, be in a much better position to solve it.
I want to say something about a vital part of the activities of the Repatriation Department. I refer to reconstruction training scheme allowances and the provision of loans for the establishment of eligible members in business. I have’ enjoyed the benefits of reconstruction training. Under the aegis of the Repatriation Department, I was enabled to go to a university and do a law course. That course extended over a period of six years. The reconstruction training grant, however, was for three years as a gift, and from then on it was as a loan. Some people do university courses which last only three years. There are people who do a straight arts course or a straight science course. They become graduates after three years, when they can go out into the world and pursue their way, rehabilitated or, if you like, reconstructed. There are some people who choose courses which take longer than three years - law, medicine or engineering. Those people find that at the conclusion of their courses they owe considerable sums to the Repatriation Department, which made loans to them to enable them to pursue their studies.
I speak feelingly on this matter. When I incurred my debt, I did not realize that I should be standing here and drawing the attention of this House to what I regard as a serious anomaly. At the conclusion of my course, I found that I owed the Repatriation Department a sum approaching £500. I make no secret of the fact that I am still paying back to the department the remnants of that loan of £500. I realize that a vast number of people, needing reconstruction training, have incurred debts and repaid them, and that it is, therefore, probably inappropriate to cancel the indebtedness that remains, but 1 suggest that the terms of the loan to the many who are still undergoing reconstruction training should be reconsidered. It should be not a loan but a gift, with effect for the duration of the course, whether that be three, five, or six years.
The other rehabilitation project that 1 have in mind is the provision of a loan with which to set up a business. The loan limit is at present £750, which, I suggest, is totally inadequate for the purpose. Australia can well be developed on the application of the fundamental principle of free enterprise, based on small flourishing businesses. The practice of rehabilitating exservicemen by establishing them in such businesses is very wise indeed. It will bring a great deal of happiness to ex-servicemen, and contribute greatly to the development of this country. However, the loan limit should be stretched considerably beyond £750.
Eligibility for the loan ceases five years after the end of reconstruction training, or discharge. It is not difficult to conceive a vast number of circumstances which would preclude an otherwise eligible exserviceman from being able to start a business within that period. Five years is not nearly long enough. The period of eligibility should undoubtedly be increased.
It is an extraordinary feature of the commercial life of Australia that if one gives a bill of sale over one’s personal effects, every bank and credit house in the country, having read of it in the trade gazette, comes to the conclusion that one is on the rocks. Before the repatriation loan of £750 is granted a bill of sale is required as security. This is registered and, immediately, the applicant’s business credit is dramatically slashed. If the department is to achieve its aim of helping the ex-serviceman to become established in business it must find some means of securing the loan other than registering a bill of sale against the personal effects of the grantee, because from that very moment every one thinks that he is down to his last two bob. Extraordinarily enough, though it is quite the thing to have a hire-purchase agreement, to have a bill of sale is certainly not the thing to do. I suggest that the department give serious consideration to remedying that position at the earliest opportunity.
.- Government supporters have said a great deal about not making political capital out of this measure, but my mind goes back to the days when the present Government parties were in opposition. Though we had the grave responsibility of conducting a war we were attacked daily by them for purely political purposes. After the war, we had to rehabilitate more than 1,000,000 o our people, and we did a grand job. Despite that, the then Opposition did not let a day pass without attacking the Government and trying to make political capital out of repatriation.
The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) who introduced this measure in this House, sought, during his secondread.ing speech, to compare the pensions position in 1949 with that of the present. In tha* year, of course. Labour was in office, so the Minister himself has brought politics into the debate. He went on to say -
Perhaps the shortest summary of what this Government has done for ex-service men and women can be found in a comparison between the amounts provided for war and service pensions in 1949 and at the present time.
Within that time, the total amount provided for war and service pensions has risen from £20,500,000 to an estimated expenditure for the current financial year of £50,283,000, which is well over two and a half times -the amount provided when this Government took office.
I agree with the, honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) that it is not how much pension an ex-serviceman receives, as compared with 1949, but how much he can buy with it of all those things that are necessary to maintain body and soul.
The honorable member for Lalor went back to 1939. When the Government uses comparisons it must accept the facts revealed by those comparisons. The honorable member compared the 1939 base wage with that of 1949 and 1956, and went on to give the percentage which the service pension bore to it. Government supporters have said that service pensions are not tied to the basic wage; but the ex-service man or woman wants to know how much food or clothing he or she can buy with his pension, and whether it will be sufficient to provide proper housing. I am confident that a gallup poll of ex-servicemen pensioners would reveal that they simply cannot purchase the necessities of life. Tragic events occurred in war-time. I, and the great majority of other honorable members of this House, have lived during two world wars. We can remember when the cream of Australian manhood enlisted in the services. We saw those men being farewelled by the governments and the Australian people. They were cheered throughout the length and breadth of Australia. The people and the governments promised that their dependants who were left behind would be looked after while they were away and that they would return to a country fit for heroes only. However, we witnessed tragic scenes after World War I. I bring these matters before the House this afternoon because 1 believe that the Government is not doing enough for the people who were prepared to sacrifice everything so that we may be free. What did we do for those heroes who went forth and fought our battles, many of them never to return, but to leave wives and children to suffer in the ensuing years? Among the 800,000 or 900,000 unemployed in this country in the period of the depression there were many who wore the returned serviceman’s badge. Those men could not find jobs, and they were forced to walk the streets and live on the dole. That is the , way we repaid them after World War I., and, unfortunately, that is the way we are repaying them after World War II.
– It is not a sufficient ‘ answer to say that that is nonsense. Let us consider the situation to-day. When I think of the way in which the cost of living has increased and inflation has mounted, it appears to me that if there is one section of the community that should have been considered in this budget it is that which consists of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. I had thought that if no other section of the Repatriation Act was amended, at least the provisions relating to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen should have been liberalized. There is no sadder sight in Australia to-day than the men who left the country physically fit to fight in either World War I. or World War II., and who returned minus an arm, or minus two arms, or minus a leg or even two legs, or without their sight. Can any one contend that their efforts have been appreciated by the Australian community when we give them a pension of £9 15s. a week? 1 submit that those persons are entitled at least to the basic wage.
– What did they get in 1949?
– I am trying to drive il into the skulls of honorable members opposite that whatever those pensioners received in 1949, they could purchase more with it than they can purchase with their pensions to-day. Who can deny that? Ask the wives of the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen.
– If they have wives they receive more than £9 15s. a week.
– It is all very well for us, with our £3,000 a year, to sit in this House and discuss these things. We do not understand, or try to understand, the situation of these unfortunate people. There is nothing too good for those who made it possible for us to live in comfort in this country. Honorable members opposite display an unsympathetic attitude when they ask us what we did in 1949. The present Government is, unfortunately, responsible for our economic situation. Did not the Prime Minister himself say that he was coming back to look after “ his somewhat battered domestic affairs “?
– He did not say that, of course.
– It is the usual thing now, when any member of the Government is reported to have said something that he should not have said, for him to come into the House and deny it. In any case, the Prime Minister was coming back to a battered economy. If he did make that statement he was speaking no more than the truth. In this battered economy the recipients of repatriation benefits are suffering, and that is a tragic state of affairs.
Even at this late hour something should be done at least for the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, so that they may be able to purchase the same quantity of goods as they could with the pension in a period when Australia’s economy was sound, and when prices were stabilized and controlled by a sound Labour government. No doubt the pensioner longs for those days to return to Australia.
I make an appeal also for war widows, who, as young women, married servicemen who went away to light and never came back. Those widows certainly have been granted a pension, and certain concessions have been made in this legislation for their children. However, it is the war widow herself who has suffered so much during the intervening years. She gave up everything so that we might live in comfort. It may be said that a war widow can go out and work, and that she is permitted to do so and still receive a pension. One of the tragedies in this country to-day is that too many women are going out to work, and because of our economic situation it is necessary for them to do so. We, as decent Australians, should not expect a woman who gave her husband to her country to leave her children and go out to work in order to maintain herself and her family. I believe that she should be compensated to such an extent that she can remain at home, live in reasonable comfort and rear her children as she is expected to rear them. I hope that before this legislation is passed some further concession will be made to these women who have paid so dearly in the. interests of their country.
I now wish to refer to the onus of proof provisions, about which so much has been said in this debate. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) referred to the contribution made by the Leader of the Opposition this morning. He contended that if the tribunal suggested by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) is established, the entitlement machinery will be further overloaded. We on this side of the House are concerned that no one shall be treated harshly, and that any exserviceman who is entitled to repatriation benefits shall receive them: We are concerned that the intentions of the Repatriation Act shall be carried out in their entirety.
– How many tribunals would the honorable member advocate?
– I am not concerned about tribunals. I am concerned about justice being meted out to ex-servicemen. A case was brought to my notice only the other day of a man who served in World War II. Before the war he was strong and healthy. He spent four years overseas fighting our battles, and when released from the armed forces he was still classified Al. After a few months he did not want to work. He was being called a loafer and it was said that he would not work. He appealed for a pension, but his appeal Was refused on every occasion. Five years later that man died in tragic circumstances from a malignancy that was not discovered by the doctors. He left a wife who applied for a war widow’s pension, but she cannot get such a pension. When that man left Australia he was in Al physical condition. I am quite confident that the war service be gave to the country so undermined his health that it was responsible for his death. Yet that woman in South Australia cannot get a war widow’s pension! I am concerned to ensure that the Repatriation Act will operate in such a way that cases like that will receive the benefits provided in it.
Mfr. Wilson. - Who will determine that, apart from the honorable member?
– If there is any doubt whatever, it should be given to the exserviceman. I have mentioned one case, but there are thousands of similar cases throughout Australia. There are women to-day who are virtually war widows; they are widows because of the service given to this country by their husbands. But they cannot receive the benefits to which they are entitled from what should be a grateful community.
The Leader of the Opposition made a sound suggestion which, if accepted by the Government, may be of great value to those people who suffer so seriously to-day. The situation, particularly for the ex-servicemen of World War I., is grave. They are getting older. It may be said that the complaints from which they are suffering are not entirely war injuries or due to war service. I believe they are. I believe that there is no suffering comparable with that of men who spent four or five years overseas in trenches, in the Air Force or in the Navy. There is no suffering that can undermine the physical and mental capacity of any individual as war service can. Therefore, we must periodically look closely into the pensions that are being paid to these people. “We’ must look at our economy and increase the pensions according to the cost of living; we must not simply fix a figure of 10s. or £1 and not relate it to the cost of living. That is the tragedy to-day. When a concession is granted it is not truly related to the economy or to the cost of living.
I appeal to the Government before this legislation is passed to grant a further concession, particularly to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and to the war widows. Each year on Anzac Day we stand at attention, with heads bowed, at the Cenotaph and say some very solemn words. I shall repeat them here -
They shall grow not old, as we who are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
I appeal to the Government to-day to put those words into practical effect and to give to the ex-servicemen, who made great sacrifices that we in Australia may flourish as we have, the justice to which they are entitled. Some made the supreme sacrifice, and every government - Labour or Liberal - has a grave responsibility to these people and their widows. I look to this Government to-day to do justice to our ex-service men and women.
.- I was somewhat surprised to hear the appeal that terminated the speech of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) when he quoted the words, “ We will remember them “. I hope that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and other returned soldiers who sit with the Labour party in this Parliament will remember the words of the honorable member for Adelaide when they are called upon to express their opinions in another debate which is to take place in this House. If honorable members opposite endorse the remarks of their leader, they will betray the ex-servicemen on whose behalf they claim to speak to-day. Let them remember that and remember it well! Let us bear in mind the consideration given by the Labour party, when it was in government, to the requirements of ex-servicemen.
– The Menzies Government ran away from its responsibilities when the war started!
– With pathetic appeals, the honorable member for Adelaide asked this Government to remember the situation in which the ex-servicemen are placed today.
– The Menzies Government ran out of office!
– Order! I ask the honorable member to refrain from interjecting.
– Do honorable members who served in World War II. remember the >contempt with which the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia was treated by the Chifley Government? The honorable member for Adelaide was a Minister in that government. He should remember well what he did with the 23-point pension plan which was the result of months of research and work by the most responsible ex-servicemen’s organization in this country. With no excess or extravagant demands, this 23-point pension plan, which had been reduced from a 26-point plan, was submitted to the then :Labour government for sympathetic consideration. What did Labour do? It granted not one point that was contained in the brochure issued by the league in -which the 23-point pension plan was detailed. Not one point was given an iota of consideration by the then Labour government. The 23-point pension plan was thrown into the wastepaper basket until this Government came into office.
– The Labour government would not allow us to incorporate the plan in “Hansard”.
– I thank the honorable gentleman for his interjection. The Labour government refused to allow speakers, who were then members of the Opposition and who are now supporters of the Government, to have the terms of that plan incorporated in “ Hansard “. Since this Government came into power, every one of the 23 points contained in the league’s submission has been implemented. Indeed, this Government has gone far beyond the points raised in that plan.
To-day I believe that the basic structure of repatriation benefits existing in this country is second to none in the world. We admit that year by year circumstances have caused further consideration of various points. But year by year since 1949 this
Government has risen to the occasion and is to-day regarded by the ex-servicemen as the government that has stood by them, that has implemented the points that have been made by their responsible organization and that has indeed befriended them to the utmost. Therefore, the remarks of the honorable member for Adelaide are not worthy of consideration. He even attempted to mislead the House in regard to totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen who; he suggested, were in receipt of income of only £9 15s. a week. As honorable members know, £9 15s. a week is the rate of pension that is paid to a single totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, lt is the base rale. Let us be honest about this matter and consider the income of a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman who has a family. I assure honorable members opposite that I have many friends who are totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen and who are prepared to admit frankly, whether they are Labour supporters. Liberal supporters or Australian Country party supporters, that the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman is. better off to-day than ever before. When this legislation becomes operative, such an ex-serviceman will receive for himself a pension of £9 15s. a week. His wife will receive a war pension of £1 15s. 6d. a week: the first child will receive a war pension o!’ 13s. 9d. a week and an education allowance of 15s. a week; and the second child will receive a war pension of 13s. 9d. a week and an education allowance of lis. 6d. a week. In addition, there will be child endowment, so that the total income of the family will be £14 19s. 6d. a week.
Last year, this Government lifted the ceiling limits that had been imposed by the previous Labour government. Some of those who sit on the other side of the House and who now ask for a fair deal for exservicemen, were Cabinet Ministers in the previous Labour government and responsible for the introduction into this Parliament of legislation which imposed ceiling limits on the amount of pension that an exserviceman might draw, even though he were justly entitled to receive two pensions. That action was a complete prostitution of the principles embodied in the Repatriation Act and which govern the granting of repatriation pensions. When war pensions were first introduced it was intended that they should be inalienable so far as the application of the means test was concerned, lt is proper that such pensions should be inalienable and not subject to taxation or to consideration as income. But the Australian Labour party did not think so, and so that ex-service pensioners might not bc able to obtain the full benefits of the pensio provisions, Labour imposed a means test in the form of ceiling limits. As I have said, this Government lifted those limits last year, and in my opinion, that was one of thelined contributions of the Government towards alleviation of the problems that confront ex-servicemen who are entitled to pensions on the ground of total and permanent incapacity.
Let me turn to the provisions of the bill before the House. In the first instance, it takes into consideration the problems of the permanently unemployable ex-service pensioner. Such a pensioner with more than one child under the age of sixteen years will receive an additional 10s. a week fo each child excepting the first child, and the abolition of ceiling limits will enable him to derive the full benefits of the legislation. In addition, the totally and permanently in capacitated ex-serviceman who receives £ 1 20 a year as recreational transport allowance - additional income, by the way, that was not referred to by the honorable member for Adelaide - will receive the £120 completely free of means test. Decoration allowances also will be in the same category. As the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) explained this morning, the last federal conference of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia brought to the attention of the Government an anomaly that exists in regard to estimating the income of exservice pensioners on a fortnightly basis. The league asked the Government to consider computing pensions on an annual basis, which would mean that ex-servicemen would be abls to obtain temporary employment for short periods and supplement their income without detriment to their pension rights, provided that the total annual income did not exceed the statutory limit. The honorable member for Sturt dealt with this matter fully, and 1 congratulate him on the manner in which he did so.
The bill before the House provides that increased education and rehabilitation allowances are to be made in respect of the children of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and war widows. There will be other adjustments of pension rates from time to time, and I have no doubt that they will be determined, as they always have been, in accordance with increases of the cost of living and the problems encountered by ex-servicemen on that account. Basically, the repatriation structure is very near perfection. There are, however, two points that 1 want to bring forward for consideration by theGovernment. The first concerns a very real anomaly which should be adjusted. It applies in the case of an ex-serviceman who is obliged to undergo treatment in a repatriation general hospital. It frequently happens that, before the ex-serviceman’s state of health will allow him to return to work, he must have a period of rest. His papers, therefore, are marked “ rest essential “. Many ex-servicemen are discharged from repatriation general hospitals with their files marked “ rest essential two weeks “, or “ rest essential three weeks “, or even “ rest essential four weeks “. This period of rest presents a problem in many instances, because the time spent in hospital has been less than thirteen weeks. If the period of hospital treatment exceeds thirteen weeks, the ex-serviceman, on discharge from hospital, will receive the base rate of pension, plus sustenance allowance, to bring his income to parity with the temporary total disablement pension, which is the same as the total and permanent incapacity pension. Such a man, therefore, is not faced with excessive financial worries during the period of his convalescence. But, if an ex-serviceman is an inmate of a hospital for only twelve weeks, or even if he is discharged one day short of the thirteenweek period, a regulation applies which prevents him from receiving the sustenance allowance, so that, during the period of rest prescribed by the repatriation doctor, his only income is the base rate of pension. As honorable members know, the basic rate of pension is not meant to be sufficient to sustain an ex-serviceman and his family without supplementary income.
The result is that many ex-servicemen who undergo a period of treatment in a repatriation hospital find, on discharge, that they are unable to pay their rent and keep their families on the base rate of pension only. They are forced to return to work before their health improves sufficiently for them to do so, with the result that there is a progressive deterioration of their health. They are constantly in and out of hospital and their condition gradually becomes worse. This matter must be given urgent consideration by the department. It is absolutely necessary for the department to recognize that, if a man is discharged from hospital and, in the opinion of a repatriation doctor, must have a period of rest before resuming work, he is temporarily totally disabled. He is totally disabled for the period of time during which his medical adviser considers that it is absolutely necessary for him to have complete rest. Of course, he should be entitled to receive a pension at the temporarily totally disabled rate, calculated in the same way as if he had been in hospital for thirteen weeks, that is, the base rate pension, plus sustenance allowance. I sincerely trust that the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who is in charge of the bill in this House, will bring this matter to the attention of the Government and that he will urge that the necessary steps be taken. He particularly would know, from his own outstanding career as a medical man, how essential it is, when a doctor orders “ Rest essential “, that the patient should have that essential rest. He would know also that if a patient is financially embarrassed he cannot rest mentally and, indeed, he finally goes to work before he is physically fit to do so.
There is one other matter which I believe requires urgent attention. That attention must come, not from the Repatriation Department, but recommendations from that department to the Department of the Treasury could have the effect of expediting consideration of this matter. As honorable members know, war pensions are inalienable for taxation purposes, and exempt from income tax, but it is not generally known that the wife’s allowance, which is paid under the Repatriation Act, and which is in fact a war pension in her own right, is not so inalienable and exempt. Ex-servicemen are not aware of this fact, with the result that at least 99.9 per cent, of those of them who are in receipt of war pensions are breaking the law, because when they make their income tax returns they do not in clude the repatriation allowance which is paid to their wives, believing that that, too, is inalienable and exempt from tax in the same manner as is their own pension. In June. 1955, I brought this matter to the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). He, 1 believe, submitted it to the repatriation sub-committee of the Cabinet for consideration. Of course, I do not know the findings of the sub-committee, but I have good reason to believe that it made a recommendation to the Treasurer, who referred the matter to the Department of the Treasury. Months passed, and nothing was heard of what was to be done about this matter. I therefore put a question on the notice-paper, to which 1 received this reply from the Treasurer -
War pensions and other amounts paid under the Repatriation Act are expressly exempt from income tax in the hands of the recipient and, as such, are not subject to tax. However, the question whether the allowance received by the wife of a war pensioner and which contributes towards the cost of her maintenance should not be taken into account in ascertaining the concessional deduction allowable to the war pensioner in respect of his wife is still under consideration. The honorable member will appreciate that the question of excluding a war pension received by a taxpayer’s wife, for the purpose of determining the concessional deduction allowable to the husband on her account, cannot be considered alone but must be considered in conjunction with the question of other types of exempt income which may be received by other dependants of a taxpayer as well as his wife, for example, income from scholarships or bursaries received by a dependent child. The matter raised by the honorable member will receive consideration prior to the introduction of the next budget.
The matter may have received consideration, but no provision was included in the next budget, so the matter was raised again, and the Treasurer advised -
You may be assured, however, that your representations have not been, and will not be, overlooked. The subject of concessional deductions for dependants in receipt of war pensions is one to which the Government has given a great deal of attention and it will be reconsidered at an opportune time.
I believe that there has been a stalling on this matter because of arguments that have been advanced by officials of the Treasury, and I believe that the Government must ignore those arguments in the cause of what is right. In the terms of the current legislation, ex-servicemen, with very few exceptions, who are in receipt of war pensions, are breaking the law when they complete their income tax return, because they naturally assume that the amount which is paid to their wives solely because they are in receipt of a war pension need not be included when they make their returns. The Treasury has informed us in a communication that this amount should be included separately as income derived by the wife of the ex-serviceman. This amount is paid in exactly the same way and for exactly the same purpose as an ordinary war pension is paid. Any suggestion that there should be a differentiation in the case of moneys paid to a wife because of disabilities that have been suffered in war is completely wrong, and I urge the Minister for Health to put this matter before the Government again and to inform the Government that there is a great body of opinion which most urgently requests that this matter be given immediate consideration and that an amend-: ment be made at the earliest possible moment, because until then ex-servicemen pensioners will continue to break the law without realizing that they are doing so. If the Government is concerned about how much such an alteration would cost, I ask the Government to check the number of income tax returns lodged by ex-servicemen pensioners that include these allowances received by wives under the Repatriation Act. It will be found that only in very rare instances is a soldier penalized by the inclusion of this amount, and that therefore, the cost to the Treasury would be virtually nil. No further excuses of the Treasury officials should be entertained, and the Government should enforce its will and amend this provision as early as possible.
Mfr. STEWART (Lang) [3.23].- The only comment that I wish to make on the speech by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) is to point out to the House and to the country that between the end of World War I. in 1918, and 1942, the year after a Labour government came into office, virtually nothing was done to amend the Repatriation Act. In 1942, the late John Curtin established a committee of senators and members of the House of Representatives to inquire into and report on the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. The members of that committee were returned soldiers. The committee brought down a first and a second report, and almost every recommendation in those reports was implemented by the Labour government. Not only were those recommendations implemented, but others were also adopted, and the foundations for the present Repatriation Act came into being. Only the effluxion of time has caused the Repatriation Act to continue to be amended. The Labour party was also responsible for the introduction of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, from which thousands of ex-servicemen benefited.
The announced intention of the Government in the second-reading speech of the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) on this bill to amend the Repatriation Act could be interpreted, in the main, in three ways. First, the Government intended to increase the amount paid in education allowances to children of war widows, totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, and tubercular pensioners in receipt of the maximum pension. Secondly, it intended to increase the amount paid to service pensioners who have two or more children. Thirdly, it intended to convert the rate of service pension from a fortnightly basis to an annual basis. I intend to deal with each of those points.
The first point concerns the education allowance. The increases are to be commended. They are long overdue and those people who are covered by the education allowance - the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, the war widows, and the tubercular pensioners on the maximum allowance - deserve every consideration that this Parliament can give them. But even’ allowing for the increase provided in this bill, the Australian act is not as liberal or as generous as the British act in respect of education allowances to’ children. The Australian act provides for education allowances to be paid to the children of deceased exservicemen, of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, and of tubercular pensioners in receipt of the maximum rate. Those are the three categories that are allowed to receive education allowances for children. The allowance is only payable for children of twelve years of age and over. The British act provides that education allowances may be payable to children, of five years of age and over, of any ex-serviceman in receipt of a pension. I feel that those two provisions could well be absorbed into the Australian act. This Government, and, indeed, this Parliament, looks upon the Australian act as being the most generous in the world. But those provisions in the British act relating to education allowances could well be incorporated in the Australian act with benefit to the Australian ex-servicemen who cannot receive education allowances for their children, and with benefit to the country generally.
The second point is that the Government intends to increase the amount paid to service pensioners who have two or more children. 1 want you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Minister for Health, to listen closely to this extract from the secondreading speech of the Minister -
The bill now before the House extends to certain categories of service pensioners certain increases being provided this year under the Social Services Act, that is, a service pensioner classified as permanently unemployable who has more than one child under sixteen years of age is to receive 10s. a week additional pension for each child except the first. This is in line with the Government policy of helping, in particular, the family unit. As there are now no ceiling limits, apart from the social services means test, service pensioners eligible for the increase of 10s. in respect of a second or subsequent child, which I have just mentioned, will receive that increase in full.
The Minister went on to say -
I should like to draw the attention of honor able members to one particular provision included in this bill. Clauses 11 and 12 of the bill not only give the increase in service pension, which I mentioned earlier in my speech, but they also provide that, in the application of the means test to service pension, the income of the pensioner will, in future, be assessed on an annual basis instead of a fortnightly basis as at present.
We find, on looking at the relevant section of the principal act - section 85 - that a service pension is payable to a member of the forces under certain provisions. The wives of members of the forces are to receive - I quote from the act - 70s. a fortnight. Children of members of the forces, according to the act, are to receive the following amounts: In respect of one child, 23s. a fortnight; two children, 28s. a fortnight; three children, 33s. a fortnight; and four or more children, 38s. a fortnight.
The Minister has announced that it is intended to convert the fortnightly rate to an annual basis. Converting the present rate of 23s. a fortnight for one child to an annual basis, we find that a service pensioner would receive £29 18s. per annum. For two children he now receives 28s. a fortnight. Converting that amount to an annual rate, he would receive £36 18s. For three children the present rate is 33s. a fortnight and the annual rate would be £42 18s. For four or more children the present rate is 38s. a fortnight and the annual rate would be £49 8s. per annum. I want to remind the House once again that the Minister has anounced that each child after the first will receive an additional payment of 10s. a week. On turning to the bill before the House - a bill to amend the Repatriation Act - we find that clause 12 reads as follows: -
Section eighty-five of the Principal Act is. amended -
by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words “ Seventy shillings per fortnight “ and inserting in their stead the word*. “ Ninety-one pounds per annum “;
That is the amount at present paid to the wife of a service pensioner and it has not been altered. Paragraph (b) says - by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words “ Twenty-three shillings per fortnight “ and inserting in their stead the words “ twenty-nine pounds eighteen shillings per annum.
That is for the pensioner with one child. The rate at present is 23s. a week and it has not been altered under the provisions of this bill. Paragraph (c) reads - by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words “ Twenty-eight shillings per fortnight “ and inserting in their stead the words “Thirty-six pounds eight shillings per annum “;
As I pointed out earlier, the rate of 28s. a fortnight converted to the annual rate, represents an amount of £36 8s. I am open to correction on this statement, but I have examined the Repatriation Act, the Social Services Act and the Minister’s secondreading speech and I have failed to find any provision in either of those acts, or in the speech, to allow this payment to come into effect for the children of service pensioners.
Paragraph (d) states - by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words “ Thirty-three shillings per fortnight “ and inserting in their stead the words “ Forty-two pounds eighteen shillings per annum “.
Once again, the present rate of 33s. a fortnight equals the amount shown in this bill of £42 18s. per annum. So again, apparently, no provision has been made to increase the amount payable to the pensioner with three children. Paragraph (e) says - by omitting from sub-section (I.) the words “ Thirty-eight shillings per fortnight “ and inserting in their stead the words “ Forty-nine pounds eight shillings per annum “.
Once again I point out that the rate payable at present is 38s. a fortnight for four or more children and that, converting to an annual basis, the amount is £49 8s., so it is apparent that no provision has been made in this bill for the payment of an increased rate to children of service pensioners. The new rate would apply as follows: - For two children the pensioner should receive 48s. a fortnight; for three children the pensioner should receive 73s. a fortnight; and for four or more children the rate should be 98s. a fortnight.
– Under the bill it will be added to the pension of the father, not the child. The honorable member has the wrong story.
– As I said, I have examined section 85 of the principal act and I am unable to see where the necessary provision will be made by this bill. I am open to correction and shall be quite willing to hear the Minister explain the matter when he has an opportunity to do so. The Social Services Bill 1956 will provide for increased allowances for age and invalid pensioners in respect of children in their care by inserting after sub-section (1.) of section 28 of the Social Services Act the following new subsections: - (I A.) The maximum rate of age or invalid pension is, subject to the next succeeding sub-section, Two hundred and eight pounds per annum. (IB.) Where a person who is qualified to receive an invalid pension, or a person who is qualified to receive an age pension and is permanently incapacitated for work, has the custody, care and control of two or more children under the age of sixteen years, the maximum rate specified in the last preceding sub-section shall, subject to the next two succeeding sub-sections, be increased by Twentysix pounds per annum for each of those children other than the elder or eldest child. 1 cannot find in this bill any provision for similar increases to be paid to service pensioners.
I mention this matter not in an attempt to embarrass the Government, but merely to direct attention to what I believe to be an omission in the drafting of the bill. I am open to correction, and I should be in terested to learn where I could find in this bill provision such as I have mentioned. I have examined this measure as a layman. The Minister said quite specifically in hissecondreading speech - 1 should like to draw the attention of honorable members to one particular provision included in this bill.
He then mentioned clauses 11 and 12, towhich I as a layman feel we should be able to look to find provision for these increases. My concern is to ensure that those service pensioners who have been advised by the Government that they will receive increases shall receive them on the day on which age and invalid pensioners receive increases in respect of children under their care and control.
I should like to point out to the Minister for Health, who represents in this chamber the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), that under the Social Services Bill 1956 an additional 10s. a week will be paid to invalid pensioners .for each child after the first. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), referring to the existing rates, said, in his second-reading speech on the Social Services Bill 1956 -
At present these rates apply regardless of the size of the family. The amendment made by the bill will add 10s. to the husband’s pension for each additional child under sixteen years after the first.
I cannot see in this bill any provision under which a service pensioner with more than four children would receive an additional 10s. a week for each child under sixteen after the first, although the Minister for Health once again made a specific statement when he said, in his second-reading speech - . . a service pensioner classified as permanently unemployable who has more than one child under sixteen years of age is to receive 10s. a week additional pension for each child except the first.
Having brought that matter to the attention of the House, I shall pass to another. I should like to compare the family allowances paid under the British and Australian acts. Under the Australian act, allowances for children cease on the child attaining the age of sixteen, except where he or she is unable to earn a livelihood for medical reasons. The British act provides that the education allowance may be paid during the period of full-time education if it is continued after sixteen. It provides also for the allowance to be continued in the early part of an apprenticeship when wages are below a reasonable level. The education allowance is paid separately and concurrently with the family allowance. The British act stipulates that, except for an apprentice continuing full-time training or a Student continuing full-time education, the family allowance shall cease when the child becomes eighteen, if the father was an officer, and when it becomes sixteen if the father belonged to the other ranks. The Australian act could be improved by embodying similar provisions, which would be of benefit to ex-servicemen’s widows who receive family allowances for their children.
The English act also has provision for what is called an “ unemployability supplement “, which is paid to any ex-serviceman in receipt of a pension equivalent to 60 per cent, or more of the full rate if he is compelled by ill health to cease work. The cessation of work need not be due entirely to war disability. It is sufficient if it is due mainly to war disability. The unemployability supplement is paid at the rate of £117 sterling per annum for officers and 45s. a week for other ranks, with a proportionate amount for wives and children. 1 suggest that the Government consider whether similar benefits could be provided in the Australian act.
I desire now to discuss the position of war widows, who have received some assistance from this Government. I should like them now to receive the benefit of a provision similar to that made in the New Zealand act, which provides that upon the death of an ex-member of the forces who is in receipt of a pension equivalent to 70 per cent, or more of the full rate his widow shall be automatically entitled to receive a war widow’s pension, irrespective of the cause of death. The Australian act provides that death must have been due to a war disability. In most instances it is well nigh impossible for the widow of an exserviceman who had not been receiving a service pension to prove to the satisfaction of the Repatriation Commission and the entitlement appeal tribunals that death was due to a war disability. The widow would not have at hand the information that could normally have been provided by the exserviceman himself, and she is compelled to try to find other ex-servicemen who were in her husband’s unit and obtain it from them.
It is a worrying task which constantly recalls to mind her husband’s death. This Government should introduce an amendment of the principal act to give to widows of ex-servicemen who had been in receipt of a pension equivalent to 70 per cent, or more of the full rate automatic entitlement to a war widow’s pension. It can justly be claimed that the span of life and general health of an ex-serviceman in receipt of such a pension had been adversely affected by his war-caused disabilities.
I should like to revert for a moment to the third principle that was announced in the Minister’s second-reading speech - the provision for the amount of the service pension to be granted on an annual basis instead of a fortnightly basis. This, apparently, has resulted from representations made to the Minister by members of this House and also by the executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. In that organization’s 40th annual report, which is the report for 1955, the following statement appears: -
The league has always regarded as most unfair the discrimination operating against service pensioners as compared with age pensioners.
A service pensioner’s income from any type of employment is based on a fortnightly rate; the age pensioners on an annual amount.
A service pensioner earning more than the scheduled amount for a fortnight suffers suspense of the whole of his pension. Should he continue to work for a further period pension payment is suspended for the whole of the period.
If at the end of the year he has earned less than the permissible amount allowed other pensioners he cannot claim payment of the pension for the suspension period.
I feel certain that the Returned Sailors. Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia would be completely satisfied with the amendment to that provision respecting the change of the service pension rate from a fortnightly basis to an annual basis.
The last point on which I wish to speak concerns ex-servicemen who suffer from mental illnesses. The Labour party and ex-servicemen’s organizations have attempted for a long time to have such exservicemen automatically entitled to receive war pensions. The Leader of the Opposition, in the policy speech that he delivered on behalf of the Labour party during the 1954 general election campaign, stated that automatic acceptance of entitlement in cases of mental illness would be part of the repatriation programme of a Labour government. Unfortunately, on that occasion the people saw fit to return the present Government to office. But the Labour party is vitally interested in this subject, because it believes that the rigours of war have undoubtedly caused many ex-servicemen to suffer from nervous disorders and other mental diseases. We feel, therefore, that it is time that the Government accepted mental disorders in ex-servicemen as ground for automatic entitlement to pension.
In the last twelve months ex-servicemen’s organizations have made representations to the Minister for Repatriation in respect of this matter, but he has rejected their requests on every occasion. He has said -
I do not feel that certain disabilities could be selected and automatically be deemed to be due to war service, and I regret, therefore, that I am unable to support this resolution.
But I should like the Government to have another look at this matter, and also at the interpretation instructions issued by the New Zealand Government, which allow exservicemen who have been in actual combat with the enemy automatic entitlement to pension in respect of mental illness. The New Zealand Government stipulates that the ex-serviceman must have been in actual combat with the enemy, either by taking part in onslaughts on the enemy or having been under bombardment or shell fire, or similarly engaged. 1 consider that the Australian Government would be well advised to examine the interpretation placed by New Zealand on the question of eligibility in the case of mental illness, and I suggest that the Australian Government bring the same procedure into being here.
During the course of my speech I have made certain suggestions to the Government in respect of educational allowances, unemployability supplement, the automatic grant of war widows’ pensions to widows whose husbands, prior to death, had been in receipt of a pension equivalent to 70 per cent, or more, of the full rate. I have suggested that the interpretation of provisions relating to eligibility for pension of a mentally ill ex-serviceman should be brought into line with the New Zealand interpretation, so as to give such ex-servicemen automatic entitlement to benefits. I have also brought to the notice of the House what appears to me to be an omission from the bill. I say again that 1 am quite open to correction, but I am particularly interested to see just which clause of the bill allows, for the increase of service pensions in respect of the children of service pensioners.. I should like to give notice that, unless the Minister is able to give me a satisfactory explanation, I shall move appropriate amendments at the committee stage, inorder to see that the announced intention of the Government in relation to service pensioners is put into effect.
– I rise to make a personal explanation, Mr. Speaker. Last night,, when speaking in this debate, 1 inadvertently used an incorrect figure in reference to the rate of pension payable in 1948 to a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman. I quoted the rate payable to a. married totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner with one child. The figure I quoted was £6 19s. which I gave as including the allowance for one child. The figure should have been £5 6s., and not £6 19s. I was not aware of my mistake until the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) pointed it out to me. I want tr> say that I appreciate his courtesy and his. consideration in this matter, because hemight easily have quite legitimately used my mistake against me in debate. I want to say also that I offer to the House my apology for using the incorrect figure that I inadvertently quoted, and I make my present statement so that the “ Hansard “ record will stand clear on this matter.
.- It was very pleasant to hear the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) make that personal explanation. I did not require him to say anything about my part in the matter, because I was only too happy to co-operate with him in any way, for two reasons. The first reason is that ever since he has been’ a member of this House I have been impressed with the apparent honesty with which he speaks on the subjects to which he addresses himself, and with his bearing. The second reason is that I was very friendly with the honorable gentleman’s father when he was Minister for Repatriation in the Chifley Labour Government, and on several occasions I have paid tribute to him. I mention that fact in particular because I have heard made in this debate- a statement that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) is not a bad sort of a fellow and would like to help exservicemen but, of course, cannot do as he wishes because the Government parties will not allow him to do so. That statement, of course, brought back memories of 1949 and 1 got the relevant “ Hansard “ and found that I said, in a speech on repatriation in that year- -
I am not attacking the Minister for Repatriation. I have always claimed, both inside and outside this Parliament, that the Minister for Repatriation is sympathetic to ex-servicemen, and particularly to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. I believe he will do what he can to have those pensions increased, but I am afraid he does not have the backing of Caucus or of the Government.
I said that I was afraid he did not have caucus support, but 1 meant that I was sure. We have tried to keep this debate above party politics, but it will always be impossible to do that in this House while it contains members like the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) and the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). Every year since this Government came into office, the honorable member for Grayndler has chided me with roaring like a lion when in opposition, but behaving like a worn-out tomcat as a member of the Government parties. That is good publicity for me. But there is always a reason for anything that I do. In one way, the honorable member for Grayndler is quite correct. I may have appeared to be a roaring lion when in opposition, but things were happening then which infuriated me. I. rose in the House to speak because I felt that I had a message for the people. I felt that something had to be done for the ex-servicemen. That was in the period towards the end of Labour’s reign. When this Government came into office, things improved. I was fairly satisfied with what was being done.
Towards the end of the life of the Chifley Government, on 25th October, 1949 - honorable members will recall that a general election was held on 10th December of that year - I spoke on the motion for the adjournment of the House. I said -
I refer to pensions for ex-servicemen and lay emphasis on pensions for totally and permanently incapacitated men. I had hoped to raise this matter earlier but the opportunity to do so did not occur.
Mark the next point! I went on to say -
During the debate on the Estimates, I had not sufficient time to deal with the subject as the time allotted for the discussion of five votes was only one and a half hours and only one Opposition member received a call.
I tried to speak on the Estimates for the Repatriation Department, but only one Opposition member received a call while they were under consideration. 1 anticipate that, later this day, we shall hear Labour members complain that the guillotine has been applied to the debate on the Estimates for the 1956-57 budget, although the time allowed for discussion will be liberal. The honorable member for Grayndler continues to interject. He interjects often, as 1 do. I appreciate his interjections; they keep me going. He said, in an interjection just now, that he remembered my speech on 25th October, 1949.
– I shall never forget it!
– The honorable member is being facetious. That must have been one of the occasions when he was in Australia, not when he was earning the title “ Dilly Dally Daly “. He dillydallied in capital cities throughout the world when he made a trip overseas which should have taken a fortnight but which took three or four months. During the first sessional period of this Parliament he went overseas again, not on behalf of the Labour party, but at the invitation of another body. He rushed into the House on the last day of the sessional period, so that he could be sworn in and become entitled to draw the pay that he has often referred to.
– Order! The honorable member must come back to the bill.
– I shall get on to the subject of repatriation, but I take it that I am allowed to reply to one or two things that have been said. We heard the honorable member for Adelaide speak in this debate. He was in his best form, but he was, perhaps, a little tedious, because what he had to say then we had heard so often before. We heard him say that servicemen were given a guarantee that they would return to a country fit for heroes only.
– I did not say “ only “.
– The honorable member said, “ fit for heroes only “. 1 took his words down. If that guarantee were given, all that I can say is that a lot of us will have to get out of the country pretty quickly. I have never claimed to be a hero. The honorable member said that he wanted justice for returned servicemen, but he was not concerned with how that justice should be given. What good was that? We want men who are prepared to delve into the matter and find out how justice can be given to returned servicemen. It means nothing if I get up and say only that I want justice. We have got to find out how justice can be given. We have got to insert the appropriate provisions in the legislation. It is idle for an honorable member to say that he wants justice for ex-servicemen, but that he is not concerned with how it shall be given.
Then the honorable member said that these men fought so that this country could flourish in the way .that it has. Dash k all! I heard him make a speech the other day, and as I listened to him I felt that everybody in Australia was bankrupt and that the country was just about all-in. Now he talks about the country flourishing. f did well to pay tribute to the honorable member for Bass, because he appears to be the only member of the Opposition who is prepared to make a personal explanation when he finds out that, quite honestly, he has made a mistake. I do not suggest for a moment that all the figures that have been quoted have been used only to deceive. It would be quite wrong to suggest that, and I shall not do so because I have some very good friends, I hope, in the ranks of the Opposition. However, it is possible to make a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes. I have often done so. If every honorable member who has made a mistake in the last few days rose to make a personal explanation, I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would be kept pretty busy during the next few days listening to personal explanations from both sides of the House. A man can make a mistake quite honestly. We do not hold an honest mistake against any one.
I do not want to go into details, but let me say that I believe this Government is doing, and has done, a tremendous job for ex-servicemen. Back in 1949, the condi tion of repatriation pensioners was not anything like as good as it is now. At that time I read to the House a letter that I had received from the secretary of the Victorian branch of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Association of Australia. In his letter, the secretary stated -
My executive request me to place before you the economic position of totally an:l permanently incapacitated personnel who receive a special pension of £5 6s. a week, which is inadequate to cover the present cost of living.
After 1 had spoken, Mr. Barnard, the then Minister for Repatriation, to whom I had paid tribute, said in his speech -
I appreciate the honorable member’s tribute to me. … It is true that in these da-s of rising costs, all persons on fixed incomes, including pensioners, are finding themselves in some difficulty.
In 1 949, he referred to “ these days of rising costs “. Yet Labour men tell us continually that prices did not begin to rise until this Government came into office. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), who is interjecting, is one of those who has made that claim. I know that for the purposes of comparing what Labour did and what this Government has done, he would like to go back to 1948. Honorable members opposite have argued that right up to the day when Labour left office, prices were firm and the economy was stable. If I had time to go through “ Hansard “, I could find many statements of that kind. But everybody knows that prices began to rise long before this Government came into office. Before we could put a stop to the price rises caused by Labour, prices began to gallop away. We have had a fight on our hands ever since, but Labour has not assisted us in any way.
Honorable members opposite have talked about the great increases that Labour gave to the pensioners. I should like to tell the House what really has happened. In this Parliament, if our opponents take the party line, we, too, must use party political arguments. If members of the Opposition were prepared to treat this subject on a nonparty basis, they would find no one more ready than I to co-operate with them. Between 1946 and 1949, the last three years of office of the Labo.ir government, the general rate pension was raised by 5s. a week, an increase of ls. 8d. a week for each year. Between 1950 and 1956, while this
Government has been in office, the general rate pension has been raised by £2 a week, or 6s. 8d. a week for each of those six years, compared with ls. 8d. a week for each of the last three years when Labour was in power. Between 1946 and 1949, the special rate pension was increased by 10s. a week by Labour. That was an increase of 2s. 9d. a week for each of those three years. This Government, in six years, has raised the general rate pension by £4 9s. a week, an increase of 14s. lOd. a week for each year, compared with 2s. 9d. under Labour. During the last three years of office of the Labour Government, the pension for a wife was increased by 2s. a week, or by 8d. a week for each year. Yet, honorable members opposite talk about a miserable pittance given by this Government! If we had increased a pension by 8d. a week for each year, they would not be able to find words to describe the increase! This Government, in six years, increased the pension for a wife by Ils. 6d. a week, or by ls. lid. a week for each year.
What about the children? We hear Labour men speak about the children almost with tears in their eyes. The Labour Government, in its last three years of office, made no increase of the allowance for children. We certainly were like roaring lions, but that was justified. This Government has raised the amount by 4s. 9d. a week.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) did not go quite far enough in making his personal explanation, lt was pleasing to hear him make it, for the figures that he quoted were quite true. He had said that the pension wa’s previously £6 19s., and had compared that with a pension of £9 1 5s., when he should have compared if with a pension of £12 9s. 3d. The 1949 figure of £6 19s. was made up of £5 6s. for the pensioner, £1 4s. for his wife and 9s. for his child.
As the honorable member has stated, the pension for a single man is now £9 15s. The married man gets another £1 15s. 6d., and for his child 13s. 9d., or £12 4s. 3d. in all. In 1949 child endowment was not paid for the first child. This additional sum of 5s. brings the total for the married man with one child to £12 19s. 3d. The totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner who is ineligible for the service, age or in valid pension because his income is in excess of the means test can receive £15 14s. 6d. If he is eligible for service, age or invalid pension his income may be as high as £20 8s. Of course, no question of income from personal exertion is involved, because the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner cannot work.
When we consider the man who is eligible for service, age or invalid pension we must compare the figure of £6 19s. given by the honorable member for Bass with £20 8s. Those figures may seem fantastic, but if I am wrong I will be the first to make a personal explanation admitting it. In the meantime, I hope that this House and the people of Australia will appreciate that the Opposition has not been able to fault the figures that I have quoted, because they are correct in every particular.
Reference has been made to the fact that I do not continually raise the matter of repatriation in this House, as I did from 1946, when I first came to this Parliament, until Labour went out of office. There are definite reasons for that. “ Hansard “ records that after fighting unceasingly for the payment of 3s. a day to former prisoners of war 1 insisted on putting one final question on the subject in 1949 to the Labour Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley. He said, “ The matter is closed “. My colleagues and 1 prevailed upon the then Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to promise in his policy speech that if he were returned to office he would set up a committee of three to investigate the claim that I had made on behalf of the prisoners of war. Moreover, he promised that if a majority of the committee favoured the payment it would be made immediately. I was satisfied with that promise. The committee was set up and Dr. W. E. Fisher, who had been a prisoner of war, voted in favour of such a payment. However, the other two members of thecommittee voted against it, and our case was lost.
Does any honorable member think that, after asking for that committee, I ought not to accept its decision and should now start pushing the matter further, saying that the committee was wrong? I told prisoners of war throughout the country that thiscommittee was to be set up, and both the returned servicemen’s organization and the prisoners of war associations were satisfied with, its personnel. The committee’s finding was against us and we have . had to accept it. The other day the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) said that 1, when member for the Wimmera, had always been fighting for 3s. a day for prisoners of war, but was now strangely silent. There is nothing strange about my silence on this matter. It is prompted by common decency. I got what I fought for - a committee to consider the matter. I did not win my fight on behalf of the prisoners of war, and 1 have had to accept that.
A great deal has been said about the onus of proof, a subject that interests me very much. Cases can be quoted in support of both sides of the argument. I want to cite a case with which I had great success recently. A young man went into hospital in Melbourne and died suffering greatly from pains in the head. Although he had served in the islands, his widow thought there was no, chance of receiving a pension. I told her that I had had some experience with malaria and had seen many men die. from it in similar circumstances. As honorable members know, when the malarial germ dies it floats in the system. It may lodge in a certain part of the brain, and be unable to pass through. When that blockage occurs the sufferer gets pains in the head. If the pain is not relieved it is followed by death. I thought that was what this young man had died from, and pointed it out to the widow.
We wrote a letter on the subject and had the doctor who attended the young man in hospital make a full report to the Repatriation Department. The department looked into the case and wrote back saying, “ No. We regard this case as not due to war service and therefore cannot give the widow a pension “. I persevered and had the case re-opened. What is known as a “ full investigation “ was made, but the result was still the same. However, one officer of the department whom I found very co-operative said that it might be helpful if a doctor perused the file and submitted an independent report. I thought of Dr. J. Glyn White, who was in charge of the medical services at Changi, and has had more experience of malaria than most men in Australia. He said that he would be pleased to peruse the file. Briefly, he reported that he could not say that this man’s death was not due to war service. Of course, he could not say that it was, but the onus of proof that it was not due to war service was not satisfied. The matter went back to the Repatriation Department and twelve months after I took the case up the widow was granted a full pension. She got all the back pay and it was very pleasant to be associated with the case.
I want to pay a tribute to the Deputy Director of Repatriation in my own State. Mr. Gould, who always shows me the greatest courtesy and investigates fully everything that I put before him. I am taking up at the moment a case in which the onus of proof is in doubt. I hope that it will be resolved in favour of the man for whom I am acting. In another case, a war widow is attempting to get a pension, but I shall not give the details of either because they are both being investigated, by the board and it would not be proper for me to do so.
I believe that members, of the repatriation tribunals are doing all that they can for the ex-service sufferer. An honorable member has claimed that the mere fact that they are themselves returned soldiers does not mean that they will give special concessions to their fellow ex-servicemen, and that possibly, being afraid of favouring returned soldiers unduly, they sometimes go too far the other way. I do not think there is very much in that. All we want is fair treatment for the ex-serviceman.
The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), in a great speech, said to-day that the doubt must be in the ‘ mind of the tribunal which is making the decision. Any doubt in the mind of the medical, practitioner who has given evidence on the case, or who has submitted an independent report, is transferred to the mind of the tribunal deciding the case on the evidence before it. Of course, where there is any doubt the benefit should go to the exserviceman. I have no doubt that every honorable member wants to see the exserviceman get the best deal possible, and I am glad to be associated with other honorable members in seeking to attain that objective. Any improvement that can be effected as a result of fair criticism in this House is all to the good, and will have my whole-hearted support.
.- Some of the provisions in the bill before the House have not as yet been explained to honorable members. The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) said, in his second-reading speech, that the amendments could be explained if necessary, and I desire to mention two clauses of the bill about which I would like some information. The Minister may explain their meaning and the reason why they have become necessary. Clause 4 of the bill provides for the addition of a new section to the act, in the following terms: - 39a. If the marriage of a member of the Forces is dissolved, otherwise than by death, a pension to which the former spouse of the member was entitled as the spouse of the member shall thereupon cease.
Clause 8 of the bill provides -
Section sixty-four of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (I.), after the word “ ground “, the words “ that the member is not suffering from any incapacity or on the ground “.
Section 64 of the act relates to appeals.
I desire to be informed why it has been deemed necessary to insert proposed new section 39a, and also whether the amendment proposed by clause 8 of the bill will have the effect of increasing or decreasing the benefits payable to ex-service men and women. The Repatriation Act has been in operation since 1920, and it seems strange that two amendments of this kind should be brought before the House only after 36 years of trial and error in the operation of the legislation. I therefore believe that the House is entitled to know the reasons for the framing of these suggested amendments.
Besides providing for certain variations of pension rates or rights, this bill is designed to correct certain anomalies, but it should be emphasized that it does not seek to increase pensions. While it is true that the benefits that it proposes to confer should not be denied to the dependants of pensioners, the main features of the bill are that it seeks to improve the condition of children of ex-servicemen and to liberalize certain provisions regarding the means test. Apart from those provisions, the bill provides for very few benefits for ex-servicemen.
When one considers the economic position of Australia to-day, it is clear that the position of repatriation pensioners is far from satisfactory, and that they are receiving less than justice from this Government. At this stage I should like to express my appreciation of the fact that the bill includes better provisions regarding apprentices than have existed in the legislation previously. I agree with the Minister that it is desirable that the interests of apprentices should be protected, and that everything that can be done by way of legislation should be done to induce the sons and daughters of ex-servicemen to become skilled in some trade, craft or profession. To the extent that the bill makes provision for allowances to a war widow or a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman in respect of education of their children or their training as apprentices, it must be commended, as must all the other provisions regarding children’s allowances. However, while I feel that the amendments will do some good, I must express my disappointment at the fact that the inadequate pension rate at present, in operation has not been increased. From that stand-point the bill is unsatisfactory.
– Which rate is the honorable member objecting to?
– I am objecting to the pension rates generally, and I do so because I believe that they are inadequate, particularly when one considers our responsibilities to exservicemen, whether they served in World War I., World War II. or the Korean conflict. I put it to the House that in no circumstances should the rates of ex-servicemen’s pensions be allowed to decline. When a rate of pension is fixed initially, the object of the Government, and, indeed, of the community, should be to ensure that as the national wealth and productivity increase, repatriation beneficiaries will receive an appropriate share of the consequent increased prosperity. I submit that ex-servicemen and women pensioners have not received a fair share of the increased prosperity of the community, and I emphasize that their standards should not be permitted to deterioriate. The whole purpose of the legislation should be to improve standards as far as possible.
The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) stated last night that repatriation pensions had never been tied to the basic wage. I believe that statement to be correct. But we must devise some means of ascertaining whether pensioners are keeping pace with other sections of the community in purchasing power. There are various ways in which this may be tested. It may be tested by comparison with the basic wage, whether subject to quarterly adjustment or not, with the C series index, or with the fluctuations in the C series index over a period of twelve months. The important point is that the pensioner must receive justice and a fair share of the community’s revenues. Whichever way we test the matter, and whichever measuring rod we use, it will be found that over the years the purchasing power of the repatriation pensioner has substantially decreased. I do not mean that we should measure the decrease over the short period of time. I suggest that we should consider it over a number of years.
– How many years?
– I take from 1939 to 1956. That gives a period of seventeen years and covers the period just prior to the outbreak of war, the war period, the post-war period and the period up to the present time. There is need to test only one rate of pension. Other rates will vary slightly, but one finds the same pattern and trend throughout all of them. 1 take the totally and permanently incapacitated n.’.j. I shall test it by each of the methods 1 ‘ve enumerated. The totally and permanently incapacitated rate in 1939 was £4. The basic wage for the six capital ci,;’.” was £3 1.8s. At that stage, the totally and permanently incapacitated rate was in excess of the basic wage. To-day, that rate is r° 15s. The basic wage for the six capital ci if adjusted to date, would be £13. The difference between £13 and £9 15s. is a sum of £3 5s. That method of calculation indicates a deterioration.
– Has the honorable member taken into account the allowances for a wife and children?
– I have taken the rate tor the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman who is single. I agree that there have been improvements in other rates, but that is the basic rate. If that basic rate is not adjusted, some one is being treated unjustly.
– Is not the basic wage the amount needed to maintain a family unit?
– No. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has frequently told us in the last three or four weeks that it is based on the capacity of industry to pay. That is the reason why he does not agree with the adjustment of wages. Let me continue with this comparison. No purpose is served in being thrown off the track by interjections, good intentioned as they may be. 1 shall take the second basis of measurement, which is the unadjusted basic wage. That is the one which is recognized by the Government and which is in operation today. For the six capital cities, it is £12 6s. Adjusted on the basis of £12 6s., the rate of £9 15s. would be £11 9s. On those two bases, it is obvious that, instead of the totally and permanently incapacitated rate being above the basic wage as it was in 1939, it is now substantially below it and has not kept pace with it.
I shall now take the third method. That is the C series index figures on their own. This method does not take into account any increase that has taken place in real wages. From 1939 to the present time, the C series index figures have increased by 175.7 per cent. On that basis, the totally and permanently incapacitated rate should be £11 5s., instead of the present sum of £9 J 5s.
I shall now take a fourth basis of measurement that can have no relation to political opinions at all, and that is the totally and permanently incapacitated rate when it was fixed last year, compared with what it is to-day. In the last twelve months the cost of living as shown by the C series figures - and I have checked them with the Commonwealth Statistician - has increased by 6.4 per cent. That indicates clearly a deterioration of 6.4 per cent, in the purchasing power of the rate since it was last fixed. If these pensioners are to receive justice, the rate should be £10 7s. So, whatever the basis, the standards of these pensioners have deteriorated.
I listened with very great interest when the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) said that the reason he was once regarded as a roaring lion was because things were bad. He said that he is satisfied now. Apparently he is satisfied to see the purchasing power of pensions fall. He must be a great disciple of the law of diminishing returns so far as pensions are concerned. I suggest to the honorable member that he will probably find in the future that his words as they appear in “ Hansard “ will be used in evidence against him. The figures I have given indicate without any doubt at all that the purchasing power of the category of pension that I have mentioned has fallen. It has gone down, whether a comparison is made between the rate in 1939 and the present tate, or between the time that it was last fixed at £9 15s. and the present time. I do not propose to examine the position regarding other pensions. Some show a greater fall, some show a lesser fall, but all show a fall in relation to standards.
As a community we have a very grave responsibility to these men and women. We should make sure that they get at least their share of the increased prosperity of the community. It cannot be said that either the community or its productive resources would fail to give them a better standard. The mere fact that the budget aims at providing from taxation £108,000,000 more than the amount needed by the Government to carry on the business of the Commonwealth is an indication that the community can afford to pay higher pensions, determined on a more just basis than is the case cat the present moment. Some of the surplus of £108,000,000 might well have been devoted to making the pension rate for repatriation beneficiaries a little better than it is at the present moment.
The productive resources of the community have improved considerably. I am sure that my friend, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), would be interested to hear that since 1939 the productive capacity of individual Australian workers has risen by no less than 43 per cent. That is equivalent to an increase of 21- per cent, a year in the production’ of each worker. The fact that production, national dividends, real wages and the profits of companies have increased indicates clearly that Australia is in a position to give to repatriation beneficiaries, from its resources, something better than is being given to them at the present moment. I sincerely hope that these facts will be taken into consideration, and that recipients of pensions under the Repatriation Act will receive a better deal in the future than apparently they have received in the past, and certainly better than they are receiving under this bill.
In the brief time at my disposal, I want to make some reference to onus of proof. 1 express my appreciation to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) for the very fine exposition that he gave last night on this matter. The information he gave and the suggestions he made might well be considered by the Government. Returned servicemen are very dissatisfied with the manner in which the onus of proof provision, contained in section 47 of the act, is being interpreted. I believe that the act should be amended to provide for a system similar to that which operates in Great Britain. There, a judge hears appeals and determines onus of proof cases. In my opinion, the point made during the debate, that it is because laymen administer this section in Australia that errors are made, has a good deal of merit in it. If a judge were appointed to review cases on appeal, we on this side of the House think that much injustice and hardship would be prevented.
According to the speech of the honorable member for Balaclava .(Mr. Joske) last evening, heart complaints may be generated at a very early age, but that is contrary to the views of most repatriation doctors. More than one case has come to my knowledge of an ex-serviceman suffering from a heart complaint who died at a fairly early age, but was not able to obtain repatriation benefits, with the result that his widow has not received either pension or assistance.
A case that came before the court in England indicated the necessity for a review of this discretionary power. The widow of an English ex-serviceman appealed on the ground that her husband, who had died of cancer, had not been able to have his condition accepted as due to war service. I am given to understand that nobody knows what causes cancer. When the matter came before the appeal judge, the very fact that nobody knew the cause of cancer was itself sufficient for the judge to say that the exserviceman should have received the benefit of the doubt. The result of that case, I understand, is that it is now recognized by the British repatriation authorities that cancer can be regarded as having been caused by war service. That is not so in Australia, of course. I could give any number of instances of ex-servicemen who have suffered from complaints, the origin of which was unknown, and who have been deprived of pension rights.
I have in my electorate a man, whose name can be given to the Minister if he wishes to have it, who is suffering from a complaint known as osteitis deformans. I am told that nobody knows the cause of this complaint. He has been on the broad of his back for more than ten years. When 1 interviewed him, he told me that he had been kicked in the back by a horse while serving in France in 1917 and that, following the kick, he had had trouble with his back and had gradually reached the stage where he could not stand up but could only lie down. He is absolutely helpless and must lie on his back all day. Although nobody knows the cause of this disease, the repatriation doctors have declared that it was not due to war service. Therefore, this man, who served his country very well in 1917 and who has been an invalid for nearly 30 years, receives only the age pension. In my opinion, people afflicted by disabilities or diseases of that kind should be entitled to receive the total and permanent incapacity rate of pension.
I suggest, too, that the Repatriation Department should consider giving, either to the commission or some other body, discretionary power to deal with cases which are suitable for the exercise of discretion. 1 bring to the notice of the House the case of a man named Johnson who served in the armed forces during World War I. and who, before being discharged, had to undergo a very severe bowel operation. From that time to the present moment he has suffered very severely from bowel trouble. Only recently, a repatriation doctor discovered that his condition was due entirely to the failure of the surgeon who operated on him in 1917 to complete the operation. Mr. Johnson now desires to have the operation completed. The department agrees that his condition is due to war service, but unfortunately, in the meantime he has developed a prostate condition, and the department refuses to perform the bowel operation until such time as the prostate operation is carried out, at his own expense.
That seems to me to be bureaucracy at its worst. If the man’s condition is due to war service, the Repatriation Commission should have sufficient discretion to see that both operations are performed by repatriation doctors and the man given the relief he deserves.
I also suggest to the Minister that when ex-servicemen express dissatisfaction with their pension entitlement they be examined by a different medical specialist. My experience is that a returned serviceman who goes to the Repatriation Department to apply for a pension, is examined and, if necessary, sent to a specialist, who makes a report. If a fresh examination or investigation of his case is undertaken, reference is made to the decision of the first specialist. On every subsequent medical examination or investigation the opinion of the first specialist is taken into account, so, on that opinion, the man’s whole case is decided. When there is dissatisfaction with a decision, the ex-serviceman concerned should be sent to a different medical specialist, a fresh examination made and the whole case reviewed on that basis.
The essential requirement of legislation of this kind is to provide ideal conditions for ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen. When all is said and done, they have given their very best for their country. Many of them have lost their lives in consequence and thus have made the greatest sacrifice that a country can ask. In such circumstances, their dependant’s are entitled to receive the most liberal benefits that the country can give. A country that does not give generously to ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen fails in its duty. I conclude, therefore, by saying that whilst the measure before the House improves certain repatriation benefits and removes some obvious anomalies, it could be both more generous and more just. It is to be hoped that the criticism and suggestions that have been made by myself and other honorable members will be noted and investigated, and that legislation will be introduced at an early date to provide more satisfactory repatriation benefits than those that exist at the present time.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I think that, when I spoke earlier to-day, I said that the pension of £6 19s. for a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, his wife and child, in 1949, could be compared to a pension of £20 8s. now. 1 should have said that it could be compared with a pension of £17 16s. 9d., because the figure of £20 8s. is applicable to a pensioner, his wife and two children and is the maximum amount that he can obtain from all the benefits provided by this Government.
.- Vast numbers of ex-servicemen throughout Australia will appreciate the Government’s action in bringing the means test as applied to the service pension somewhat into line with the test applied to the age pension. The provisions designed to improve and aid education will, of course, give to far more children an opportunity to proceed to higher education and, as the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has said, they will encourage children to take up skilled trades at a time in Australia’s history when technical development is so necessary for the nation. But I must remark on a statement by the honorable member for Bendigo who, in an attempt to tie the basic wage to the pension rate, gave the House some wrong figures. He said that in 1939 the totally and permanently incapacitated rate was £4 and the basic wage was £3 18s., whereas now the totally and permanently incapacitated rate is £9 15s., and the adjusted basic wage is £13. He used those figures to show that there was a decrease in the purchasing power of the totally and permanently incapacitated pension. We must be quite fair in these things and in this computation use the rate received by a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, his wife, and two children. In so doing, we give cognizance to the fact that the means test has been removed from the pension payable to totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. A man, his wife, and two children, as a family unit, receive an amount of £19 3s. a week, and not £9 15s. a week as stated by the honorable member for Bendigo, compared with a basic wage of £13.
In the whole consideration of repatriation, it is wrong to take one small fact and try to establish a principle from it, instead of viewing repatriation from the aspect of the whole of the Government’s responsibility. We must then ask ourselves whether the Governmen is living up to its obligation to ex-servicemen. I am quite certain that the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) did not mean to say, as he .is reported in “ Hansard “ to have said, that in a budget of £1,000,000,000 the share of ex-servicemen was to be £116,000. Just prior to the honorable member’s speech, the .honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) had pointed out that about £50,000,000 would be provided this year for repatriation purposes.
Speeches in this debate seem to have centred on the onus of proof and the element of doubt in pension matters. I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) this afternoon give what I thought was a very sound reason why the present system could not be discarded altogether and had much to commend it. I listened with great interest to the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) who, following the lead set by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), spoke of legal aspects of the onus of proof provision, but I am afraid that I cannot agree that we should look to Great Britain as an example in the fixing of pension rates or in the method of ascertaining whether or not a man is eligible for a pension. In the first place the onus of proof is slightly different, and any ex-serviceman in Great Britain would cheerfully exchange the Australian Repatriation Act and all that it implies for the British act and the benefits derived from it.
The Repatriation Act, which has been amended by successive governments - and I pay tribute to the parliamentary committee which, I think in 1943, reported on the act and suggested improvements - compares more than favorably with the corresponding act of any Commonwealth country. Three years ago I attended a conference of ex-servicemen from all over the British Commonwealth, and they were amazed at what the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act did for the ex-servicemen of this country. By that I do not mean that one could say that the act is absolutely perfect. It is not, but with the effluxion of time defects will be ironed out and principles established to improve the lot of certain persons. But at the present stage Australia has something to be proud of in its repatriation legislation and in its expenditure on repatriation. As the honorable member for Franklin said, £50.000,000 from a total budget of £1,000,000,000 will be expended this year on repatriation. I think the British budget this year provides for an expenditure of a little over £5,000,000,000, and of this amount about £88,000,000 will be expended on war pensions.
– But in Great Britain there is free medical treatment for every one.
– I know all of that. I have seen what happens, and I will come back to the comment of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) and some of the things which the ex-serviceman in Great Britain faces as compared with his counterpart in Australia. This year in Great Britain the amount paid for war pensions will be about £1,000,000 less than the amount paid last year. From memory, about £10,000,000 more will be expended on Australian repatriation benefits than was expended last year. In Great Britain there is no such factor on the side of the exserviceman as the onus of proof provision. The onus is on the ex-serviceman to prove his case. Even if he served in India in a time of war and contracted malaria, he has to prove that it was contracted while he was on active service and that he did not contract it as any citizen, living in similar conditions in a barracks, could have contracted it. We must realize that Great Britain is far behind us in its repatriation benefits and in the means by which ex-servicemen may obtain those benefits, so one must be very careful before saying that we should encourage the adoption of British ideas on this subject.
– What has that to do with whether or not we should have a tribunal?
– I have never been willing to agree that there should be some authority higher than a tribunal to decide whether or not a man is eligible for a pension. lt is wise to remember that the Public Accounts Committee in 1954 investigated the Repatriation Department and I have heard from both sides of the House compliments paid to the committee for its fairness in investigation and in the reports furnished to the House. In its 1954 report, in relation to tribunals, the committee said -
The tribunals are established by the Parliament with specific functions and are beyond the authority of the department. The department thought that there would always be a demand for an appeals system in view of the peculiar nature of the pension system. The figures suggest that the number of appeals is a small percentage of total assessments although the number’ of successful appellants is a large proportion of the number of appeals made. The department has agreed that the repatriation boards, the commission and the tribunals are bound by the same degree of relativity of evidence and of standards of proof: the figures show that the commission’s determinations are usually accepted by the applicant.
I would say that all of those applicants who were successful in their appeals would concede that the onus of proof and the element of doubt were properly regarded by tribunals, and that those applicants whose appeals were rejected would have some quarrel with the present system. Whatever system is instituted, those persons who are disappointed in the result of their appeals will never be quite satisfied with the administration or with the machinery established to hear their appeals.
– The point is that there is such a large number of those persons.
– That is quite true, but there is also a large number of exservicemen, lt is becoming increasingly evident that the average age of ex-servicemen from World War I. now being 63 years, many are reaching the stage when they are suffering the ordinary complaints that Father Time brings on.
– Do you not think that it is accelerated by war service?
– The Government has admitted that service in World War I. reduced the life span by five years. The service pension is paid at 60 years of age instead of at 65, when the age pension is payable on the assumption that that is five years off their life.
Last night, the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) stated that he thought that every dependant of every war pensioner should be admitted to a repatriation hospital. I want to say quite clearly that the moment that that was done it would deprive the man for whom the repatriation hospital was built of treatment in that hospital because there would not be sufficient room for him. It is wrong to think that the benefits of the Repatriation Act can be thrown open to everybody in the community regardless of whether they served for one day, two days or two months. The Government’s responsibility lies, in the first place, with the men who fought the war and those who suffered through fighting that war.
Opposition members have said that many men secured pensions after World War II. with much greater ease than had exservicemen after World War I. That is quite true. The amendments to the act have enabled that to be so. The type of discharge that the men went through was also an assistance, because everybody had to submit to several lengthy examinations before he could go back to his civilian occupation. It is little known that about 33 ^ per cent, of the ex-servicemen who are eligible for treatment at repatriation hospitals receive no pension at all. My figures on this subject relate to Western Australia, but I think that they would be fairly consistent with the figures for the other States.
There are two points that 1 want to mention in connexion with Western Australia. One is the accommodation at the repatriation hospital. The administration of the hospital comes under the commission and I understand that the chairman of the commission. General Wootten, will go to Western Australia at the end of this week. 1 should like the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to ask him to have a special look at the accommodation that is provided for the nurses at Hollywood hospital. Last year the hospital, which has a nursing staff of about 135, had 80 new staff and 87 resignations. Up to the present stage of this year, 75 new staff have been appointed and 58 have resigned. I am inclined to think that the accommodation provided for some of the sisters may have a great bearing on this change-over of staff, which is not a good thing in any hospital.
The hospital was built as a military hospital during the war. I think it was commenced about 1940 and, at the same. time, a nurses’ home, or a nurses’ quarters, was built with accommodation for some 60 people. I think it is laid down in the Nurses Act that single-room accommodation shall be granted to any person on the nursing staff. There are 135 people on the establishment, thirteen of whom are male nurses who may leave at any time and who, while they are there, live out and therefore do not require accommodation in the space provided; but, at any stage, if the full staff of 135 required accommodation, they could not get it. Those who cannot fit in the building that has been specially constructed are accommodated, sometimes two in a room, in small dog houses erected as temporary accommodation years ago. 1 think that they were erected at the finish of the war, and nothing has been done about it since. The temperature in these huts rises to 120 degrees in the summer. It is rather difficult for sisters when they finish their spell of duty in the middle of the day and return to their huts in which the temperature may be 120 degrees. Consequently, when they come off duty they spend their rest period in the lounge, a place that was built for 60 people. That is a matter that cannot be rectified by legislation. lt is an administrative matter and the commission could well look into it.
The other point that 1 want to mention, and something that I cannot understand in the administration of the Repatriation Act, is the hospitalization of war widows who reside in country areas. I think that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) last night expressed great pleasure that war widows, for the first time, will be accommodated in the repatriation hospital in Tasmania. Up to this stage, there had been no space to accommodate them. In Western Australia, a fair percentage of beds is available. There are wards where war widows can be taken for treatment. Because of the vast spaces in Western Australia, war widows might have to travel almost the distance from Melbourne to Perth to get to the repatriation hospital and have treatment. No arrangement is made for them to be given treatment in local hospitals by local medical officers when the treatment is not of long duration and perhaps a fortnight in hospital would cure the complaint. As I see it, this arrangement would save money for the Repatriation Department. It would save the department the cost of the fares to the repatriation hospital and, possibly, would benefit the health of the person. I cannot see any reason why a war widow cannot be treated as a war pensioner who, if he needs hospitalization in the country, can be accommodated in a local hospital under the repayment system on the order of the local medical officer.
Perhaps there is some profound reason for these things. It is a reason that I should like to hear, because I think that my proposal would help in the administration of the department and would also save money, lt has been a point of talking throughout Australia for a long while that everybody, regardless of his disability and regardless of the acceptance of that disability, should be treated at a repatriation hospital if he suffers any illness. I think that one of the greatest tributes that can be paid to the Repatriation Department and to the Repatriation Commission is that so many people want to be treated in repatriation hospitals, even to the extent of paying for that treatment. Many people are envious of the set-up in repatriation hospitals, the availability of specialist staff and the treatment given to the patients. So pressure is exerted in various places to throw open repatriation hospitals to everybody who has been in the services for any length of time, and regardless of their disabilities. Obviously, that is not a practical proposition. I mentioned before, in reply to the honorable member for Wills, that if the many thousands of exservicemen in Australia were taken to repatriation hospitals for the treatment of any complaint at all, there would be no bed space left for the men who are entitled to treatment in them. But something might be done, in view of the terrific hospital shortage throughout Australia, to make available some of the beds that are empty in repatriation hospitals. I notice that the Public Accounts Committee reported that on an average, about 15 per cent, of the available beds throughout Australia were empty. The figure varied from 10 per cent, in New South Wales to 31 per cent, at Caulfield. Those figures applied to the year 1953. The figure was as low as 9.4 per cent, in Hobart. Taking the average of 15 per cent., it is obvious that if the eligibility of people to cn’.er repatriation hospitals were increased, it would be necessary to establish some system of priorities for admission to the institutions. The person who had to decide the priorities would have to make most difficult decisions. But one group comes readily to my mind, and it comprises the nurses of World War I. They are all reaching an average age of 60 years and many of them are single or widowed. 1 think, for sentimental reasons and because those nurses served under conditions far worse than those under which the majority of ex-servicemen served in World War II., the conditions of entry, if they are to be lightened, should be lightened for the purpose of enabling the admission of those nurses. There would not be sufficient of them to fill all the empty beds. I realize that the first consideration must be given to the person who has an accepted disability and who has the right of treatment. In a certain percentage of hospitals, and especially repatriation hospitals, there must be beds available at all times because of the potential number of people, throughout the various States, who may at any time bc in need of treatment.
In Western Australia, for instance, there are some 18,000 members who are receiving disability pensions and who in the event of hospital treatment being required as a result of disability can be admitted to hospital, and there are some 2,500 people on the over 100 per cent, rate who are eligible to enter the Hollywood Repatriation Hospital for the treatment of any disability irrespective of whether it is war-caused. In addition, there are some 6,000 who have entitlement but who are not receiving a pension and who, if a complaint for the treatment of which they were eligible became worse, would be entitled to be admitted to the Hollywood hospital. So we must arrive at a figure which will allow benefits to be increased and not overburden the already crowded hospitals throughout Australia. Perhaps something could be done, not at Commonwealth expense, by a repayment system. I know, from reference to the Public Accounts Committee’s report, that in most instances the repayments would be higher than the charges of public hospitals owing to the additional services that must be provided by the Repatriation Department.
I trust that my observations will be brought to the attention of the Minister for Repatriation, to whom honorable members on both sides of the House must pay tribute for his administration of the Repatriation Act. Ex-servicemen, especially those who are disabled, feel that the present Minister is extremely sympathetic to their needs, and will listen to their pleas and present them to the Government in the best possible manner. So I wish to associate myself with the’ congratulations bestowed upon the Minister for the proposals contained in this bill. I think they will do good where it is most needed. If the comparison between the overall expenditure on repatriation and the total budget expenditure is borne in mind it will be seen that the country is discharging in a manner of which we all can be proud its responsibilities to those who suffered as a result of their war service.
– in reply - I intend to reply very briefly in this debate. I want first to refer to one or two points made in the speeches of honorable members and then to make a few observations on the general argument which developed about the question of the onus of proof and the question of whether ex-servicemen are in fact getting from the tribunals the benefit of the doubt.
First, 1 should like to refer to what was said by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) last evening, and by other honorable members later, about the comparison of the pension with the basic wage. 1 want to make it plain to the House that it is not realistic to take the basic wage or any other yardstick as something to which the pension should be related and on which it should be assessed. The two things are entirely different, Mr. Speaker. Wages are paid for one purpose, and pensions for another. Each must be assessed according to its own values and criteria and a decision arrived at in each case. After all, the total expenditure of governments has to be apportioned in various directions, and we must exercise some responsibility in the allocation of expenditure to various things, including repatriation and social services. Last year expenditure on repatriation in general was something like £60,000,000. In addition, approximately £30,000,000 was expended on war service homes. If we are going to talk about expenditure, let us exercise a little responsibility. After all, the taxpayer has to provide these funds.
I want to refer also to a remark which was made this afternoon by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), who said that, as the Government has budgeted for a surplus of £108,000,000, obviously there is enough money to pay higher pensions. Of course, the fact is that the budget surplus must be reserved for its proper purposes, which are to redeem loans falling due and to support State works. If it is not used for those purposes, we shall have large-scale unemployment in the States. So, when we talk about allocating more money from surpluses to pensions, we must realize that the correct amounts must be allocated at the time to the specific purposes for which the budget is framed.
Finally, on this question of the basic wage, let me say that over the long period during which this matter has been debated by ex-servicemen, the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia has always been against relating the rate of pension to the basic wage,
I want to refer now, sir, to the remarks made by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) this afternoon. I tried to point out to him by interjection that he was mistaken. In fact the bill does not add 10s. to the child’s pension. What it does is to add to the pension of the father, who is the eligible member, 10s. for the second child and 10s. for each additional child. Clause 1 1 of the bill will amend section 84 of the principal act, the effect being to apply to service pensions automatically the provisions of the Social Services Bill 1956 and to give the pensioner 10s. for each child. The words “ per annum “ are intended to provide for assessment on an annual busts. I want to make that plain, because it is obvious that the honorable member for Lang, as I pointed out at the time, did not have the story right when he was speaking.
The honorable member for Bendigo raised two other points in relation to clauses 4 and 8. Clause 4 will merely put into legal form a practice which has always been observed, and clause 8 will give to an exserviceman the right of appeal if the tribunal says that he is suffering from no disability at all. Ex-servicemen did not have that right previously. So, in fact, their position will be improved.
– I wanted to find out whether that was so.
– It is. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) made a very thoughtful speech last evening, as he always does. He raised the question of the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated members not being eligible for medical or hospital benefits. I want to point out that the picture is not quite so bleak as he imagined it to be. In the first place, many of these people are eligible in their own right as pensioners, and in the second place the least that a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and his wife would receive would be £11 10s. 6d. a week. So they are not entirely indigent. They may in fact receive as much as £3 9s. 6d. a week above the service pension. So 1 do not think that a grave injustice is being done to the wives of service pensioners. Indeed, for a small sum many of them could be insured under hospital and medical benefits schemes.
The other question raised by the honorable member for Franklin to which 1 wish to refer is that of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner who served in the British Army and is not eligible for treatment for all disabilities. The honorable member will be glad to know that regulation 66 is being amended to rectify this anomaly.
Now I come to the other point I made, the main question of the onus of proof, and I refer to what was said yesterday by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) in a most learned speech. The honorable member spoke about coronary arterial disease, and drew certain conclusions. With respect to my friend, I suggest that there are other equally valid conclusions which can be drawn from the same evidence. Perhaps what these researches show is that this disease is not only a disease of age, but is also, in fact, one that occurs fairly frequently much earlier in life. But that does not prove that it is, therefore, caused by war service. Because two conditions are associated in time they are not necessarily cause and effect.
– But the condition might be aggravated by war service.
– It has been proved, also, that the presence of this disease in youth is compatible with considerable physical effort, and that it may not cause such serious symptoms in youth as was thought, lt may also be strong evidence that its occurrence in youth can be completely compensated for with an adequate blood supply developed to replace what was lost, because the effect of this disease is to cut off the blood supply to an area of the wall of the heart. In other words, the disease may be recovered from, and a man who suffers from coronary artery disease in much later life, after many years of health, may, in fact, not be suffering at all from a recrudescence of his earlier disease, but from a degenerative arterial process, occurring de novo at that time. I suggest that these are perfectly valid conclusions.
Every case that comes before the tribunal must be judged on its merits. The tribunal makes a decision, and not, as was said this morning, the doctors - who, in any case, are never members of the tribunal. The tribunal makes a decision, having assessed the evidence, and after taking into consideration, no doubt, the facts that have been placed before the House by the honorable member for Balaclava. I am confident that those facts have been considered also by the medical officers giving medical evidence before the tribunal. Honorable members must keep in their minds the thought that only a proportion of cardiac diseases, either of advanced age or of youth, are due to faults in the coronary system. A great many of them are diseases of other origin. Not every case of coronary occlusion is due to the same type of coronary arterial pathology, lt is not valid to draw a conclusion that because, in a group of young American soldiers, coronary arterial disease was found at autopsy, coronary arterial disease in elderly men is necessarily due to a progression of a disease they had earlier in life. But there may be some doubt, as the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has indicated, and therefore it is essential that both those giving medical evidence and the tribunal should have these thoughts in their minds.
– Could a coronary condition be aggravated by war service?
– It would be possible for an existing coronary condition to be aggravated by war service, as it could be by any other physical effort.
– Could that condition be detected during a medical examination before enlistment?
– No, it could well be concealed from the examining doctor - I do not mean concealed by the soldier. The tribunals are now accused of making wrong decisions. It is only proper to say that the decisions of the tribunals that have assessed the evidence - medical and otherwise - are wrong, if a statistically significant number of their decisions are taken and it is shown after an examination of the decision in each case, that reasonable men, having examined the evidence, could not have arrived at the conclusions the tribunals did. Unless that is done, it is not competent to say that the decisions of the tribunals are wrong. ‘ Personally, I believe that no real evidence, except perhaps in one or two instances - which in any case I do not admit without further investigation - has been adduced to prove that the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, in fact, give wrong decisions.
This morning, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said that he believed that the tribunals were giving wrong decisions for various reasons, one being departmental obstruction. I thought that was a most remarkable statement to make. What evidence is there that departmental officers have attempted to obstruct the decisions of tribunals? A second reason given by the right honorable gentleman was incorrect medical evidence. It is for the tribunal to assess the medical evidence. Another reason which he advanced was that members of the tribunals were, themselves, exservicemen, and their judgment would be, not biased in favour of the ex-serviceman, but likely to be a little adverse to him, in case they might be regarded as being biased in his favour. Those are most insubstantial reasons on which to attack the tribunals. The Leader of the Opposition concluded with the most remarkable proposition of all when he said that what the tribunals required was a trained mind. He considered that their decisions should be submitted to a judge for review.
The chairman of the tribunal, according to the act, must be either a barrister or a solicitor of the High Court of Australia or of a State supreme court. I have always imagined - perhaps in my innocence - that these gentlemen had trained minds, and also that it was from their ranks that the judges are chosen. From what I have been saying about the onus of proof, it is obvious that there is no real evidence that the tribunals are giving wrong decisions, and there has been no common-sense alternative suggested to the present method. The Opposition has suggested two things. The Leader of the Opposition has suggested that the decisions of the tribunals should be subject to appeal, the hearing to be before a judge. Other members of the Opposition have suggested that the whole method should be abandoned, and that every ailment from which an ex-serviceman suffers should be automatically admitted as a war disability. So, I say that until the Opposition makes up its own mind, I would strongly recommend the Government to continue to follow its present course. I believe that, on the whole, we have in the Repatriation Act a most satisfactory act, well administered and bringing contentment to the vast majority of those whom it is intended to serve. In fact, I can say quite plainly that the Government intends to follow the course it has pursued, which it believes to be sound and in the interests not only of the exserviceman, but also of the taxpayer and which, moreover, has been approved and vindicated at a whole series of general elections.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
– On 18th September I placed in the Library, for the information of honorable members, a communication from the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, transmitting an appeal of the Supreme Soviet to the parliaments of all countries of the world on disarmament. As the text of the appeal has now been given public circulation from Moscow. I lay the document on the table.
– I declare (a) that the Estimates of expenditure are of an urgent nature; (b) that the resolutions preliminary to the introduction of the Appropriation Bill are urgent resolutions; and (c) that the Appropriation Bill is an urgent bill.
– Mr. Speaker-
– Order ! The declaration of urgency may be neither debated nor amended.
Question put -
That the Estimates be considered of an urgent nature, that the resolutions be considered urgent resolutions, and that the Appropriation Bill be considered an urgent bill.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 24
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the time allotted for the consideration of the remainder of the Estimates, the resolutions, and the stages of the Appropriation Bill, be as follows: -
The practice which the House is being invited to adopt is one which has become quite familiar, I think, to honorable gentlemen in all sections of the House over recent years. I am quite certain that anybody who has had experience of what we have done in recent years, and contrasts that with the rather haphazard consideration of the Estimates at earlier points of time, will agree that this is undoubtedly a great improvement and also undoubtedly meets the convenience of honorable members of all parties in the House. lt enables a much more orderly consideration of the Estimates of the various departments of state to be carried out by the House when it goes into committee, and I am sure that in those circumstances the allotment of time will receive the approval of the House as a whole. The allotment of time which has been made on this occasion should be adequate when honorable members realize that it will allow some 45 hours of debate, running over more than two weeks, for consideration of the Estimates. That compares with an allotment of 22 hours a few years ago and a rather longer period last year - but last year we allowed less time for the general debate on the budget. If honorable members consider the time allowed for debate on the budget this year in conjunction with the time proposed under the schedule being considered, they will find that approximately the same total amount of time is being provided for the detailed consideration of the departmental estimates as was provided for consideration by the Parliament and the Committee of Supply of the first item of the budget, that is the general budget debate. Having regard to the legislative programme before the Parliament, and the need to give adequate and orderly consideration to the departmental estimates, I feel confident in saying that this is a satisfactory and convenient arrangement which, I hope, will commend itself to the House as a whole.
.- For many years past, governments of different political colour have brought down the “ guillotine “ to try and force the Estimates through the Parliament. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) was completely right when he said that at this time of the year the “ guillotine “ is introduced. He said that it is a fairer method of obtaining the opinion of the House in respect of the different items under the various votes than was the case when discussion was unimpeded until the last few hours, at which stage everything was rushed through under the motion that the question be put. Of course, he did not think that way when he was in opposition, and, I suppose, no Opposition ever thinks that way, anyhow. I am not going to depart from my practice of the last sixteen years by voting for the “ guillotine “, and 1 remind the Minister that when the day comes when his party is in opposition, it will probably make the same sort of protest.
– That day is a long way off.
– The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) says that day is a long way off. It is probably not so far off as he was off becoming the deputy leader of his party when the ballot was taken at his party’s meeting yesterday. The Opposition does not object to the allocation of hours within the time specified, but thinks that 45 hours is too short; and, for that matter, that 55 hours would be too short. We have seven hours less this year than we had last year, but the amount to be appropriated this year is £100,000,000 more than the sum appropriated last year; it has reached the staggering figure of £1,235,000,000. Last year, the figure was £71,000,000 up on that of the year before. Considering we had 52 hours in which to debate an expenditure of £1,138,000,000 we obviously need more time to discuss an expenditure of £1,235,000,000 this year, unless, of course, inflation has galloped so much in the last twelve months that there is not so much value in the money now to be spent.
– We are not paid by the hour.
– No; but we are voting by the hour. We are voting £27,000,000 an hour, or £450,000 a minute.
– We have increased our productivity.
– Our productivity in the exercise of our voting powers is growing, but I do not know that this is the proper way in which to dispose of or disperse public money. It has a touch of irresponsibility about it. It was all right in the days when the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was Treasurer - when he was a tragic treasurer. Comparatively speaking, the Government had nothing to vote away in those days. It was not until 1939 that the first Commonwealth budget amounting to £100,000,000 was approved. Now, we are considering a budget that runs into almost one and a quarter thousand million pounds! The Opposition offers its objection as it did last year and will vote against the schedule.
– The objection is the same.
– It is the same as that made by the Minister for Defence when he was in opposition in this House. Whatever reasons he advanced then are still valid for us to-day, and 1 recommend to him that he be at least consistent when he casts his vote, even if he is not consistent in anything else.
– I join with the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) in protesting against this “ guillotine “. 1 direct the attention of the Parliament to the fact that the time allowed for this debate means, in effect, that the Parliament is being asked to approve of expenditure at the rate of £30.000,000 an hour.
– The rate has grown, lt was £27,000,000 an hour when the honorable member for Melbourne was speaking.
– The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) seeks to take refuge in the fact that it is only £27,000,000 an hour. Apparently, he regards that as a fair figure but objects to £30,000,000 an hour, lt is a scandalous set-up when the Parliament of this country is denied an adequate opportunity to examine carefully, line for line, the expenditure that is proposed in this document. 1 recollect very well the remarks of the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), and I will be interested to hear whether he will support me in this matter. I recollect clearly how every year he has criticized the Parliament - not at the correct time, which is now - but during the debate, for not giving the House more time to examine carefully the expenditure it is asked to approve.
Another thing that is quite objectionable is that under this proposal, instead of the Estimates of each department being dealt with separately, so that the whole Parlia ment can make a careful analysis of the expenditure in relation to each department, as was done in previous years, the Government in this instance has grouped the Estimates of as many as seven departments to be dealt with in globo, thus preventing the Parliament from making a careful analytic examination of those Estimates. The Estimates of each department should be separately considered and Ministers should be compelled to sit at the table to be available to answer criticism or questions in connexion with the expenditure proposed by their respective departments.
What do we find? When the Estimates of five or six departments are grouped one Minister only - admittedly a Minister who is connected with one of the grouped departments - remains at the table; but too often we find that the rest of the Ministers, while their departments are being dealt with, do not even remain in the chamber. In that way they treat with contempt the opinions of honorable members. I believe, therefore, that more time should be given - that sufficient time should be given - so that a proper debate can take place on every item of the Estimates. For those reasons, I join with the honorable member for Melbourne in opposing the “ guillotine “. 1 hope that the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) will remain in the chamber when the debate on the Estimates for his department takes place, because I feel that the Parliament will want information about the enormous amount of money the Department of Supply has squandered during the last twelve months and the amount it proposes to squander in the twelve months upon which we have just entered. We cannot properly consider the Estimates for the Department of Supply in the time allotted to us. Yet we find that in order to try to smother up the inadequacies of the department and the Minister’s poor administration, the Government has obliged him by grouping together with his department
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
, - I rise to support the motion. I admired the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), the Deputy Leader of- the Opposition, for what I might describe as his amiable acquiescence in the Government’s proposals, but I am bound to say that the animadversions - if that is the right word - of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) seemed to me to be somewhat Shakespearian - full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has said, this is the best opportunity that has been given, certainly in my time, for an orderly discussion of individual items in the Estimates. Ever since I have been in the Parliament, we have had the scramble of a budget debate, followed by a debate on the Estimates in which one honorable member would talk about one item in a group of departments and another member would rise to talk about another item. There was no coherence, logic or system in those debates. Now, for the first time, we have an attempt - I am sure it is approved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, because he has virtually said so - to bracket departments in such a way as to make it possible to have an intelligent debate on each group of departments. I intend no disrespect to anybody who has held the distinguished office of Leader of the House when I say that if this is the first fruit of the new leadership, 1 am entirely for it.
.- It seems that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), who is the new Leader of the House, is starting off on the wrong foot. His predecessor, who will shortly be on his way to London, spent most of his time in throttling the Opposition, and it seems that the new holder of the office intends to follow that example. This is a very bad start for him. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we on this side are “ fair dinkum “ when we protest against this “ guillotine “ proposal. We do not oppose the method of grouping the items to which the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) referred. We protest at the amount of time allotted for the debate. As our deputy leader, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), has said, we are asked to vote £1.235,113,000 in five sitting days - not in two weeks, as the document that has been circulated would suggest. That is scandalous. We shall be allowed only the same amount of time to discuss these Estimates as was allowed last year, but this budget provides for the expenditure of several hundreds of millions of pounds more than the budget of last year.
– If the honorable member says he believes that, he has not even studied the budget.
– Why all the hurry? Is it because the Olympic Games are not far off? The Government is running out of business. That has been obvious for some time. This proposal is another indication of its desire to rush the business through and to get us away from this place before the middle of October. We expected to be permitted to discuss the Suez Canal dispute, but it appears that we shall not be allowed to do so, at any rate for some time. This Government is a spendthrift of public money, yet it is a work-dodger, and that does not make sense. We are asked to vote a huge sum, yet the Government does not want us to devote more than a fortnight to the consideration of the Estimates. I protest vigorously against this gross curtailment of free speech. This sort of thing has been going on ever since this Government came into office. It has applied the gag and the “ guillotine “ more than any other government. I join with my colleagues, both vocal and silent, in protesting at this curtailment of debate.
.- Let me remind the House of what Labour did in 1949. For the discussion of the Estimates for the Department of the Interior and the other departments that appear subsequently on the circulated document, the Government proposes that we shall be allotted from 1 1 p.m. on 2nd October to I I p.m. on 11th October. For exactly the same items, a Labour government allowed from 6 p.m. on 11th October to 6 p.m. on 13th October - just over two sitting days.
– There were only 75 members then.
– This Government proposes that we shall be allotted nearly four times that amount of time on this occasion. There is no doubt about that. If the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who has interjected from a seat other than his own, does not accept what I have said, he can read what occurred in “ Hansard “ of 11th October, 1949, at page 1 155. That was the day when Labour presented its last Estimates for a very long time.
In those circumstances, it is amazing that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) should have said that this sort of thing has been going on ever since this Government came into office. Why did not he say that it was going on when Labour was in office? In those days, debate was restricted to a much greater degree than now. If members of the Opposition make speeches of that kind, can we accept them as being serious about anything?I stated earlier to-day that in the debate on the Estimates in 1949 I wanted to speak on the Estimates for the Repatriation Department, but although only a very short time had been allotted for the discussion of those Estimates, not one member of the Opposition received a call in the time allotted. Therefore, I had to take advantage of the motion for the adjournment of the Houseto speak on the subject of repatriation. I apologized for doing so, and pointed out that I could not speak when the Estimates for the department were under consideration because no Opposition member was called. In those days, even though the time for the discussion of the Estimates was severely restricted, most of the available time was taken up by Ministers. The Opposition has protested against what I regard as a libera! allocation of time, compared with the time made available by Labour in the days when it was in office. The new members here, belonging to all parties, do not realize what happened when Labour was in power.
– Order! The time allowed under Standing Order 92 for debate on the motion has expired.
Question put -
That the motion (vide page 954) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 24
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Mr. BEALE (Parramatta - Minister for
Supply). - by leave - I have just been informed by Sir William Penney that the first explosion of the present series of atomic weapons tests at Maralinga was carried out late this afternoon to the entire satisfaction of the Australian safety committee and of himself. Sir William said that everything went according to plan and prediction. The cloud behaviour is as forecast, and in accordance with the requirements of the safety committee. All precautions to safeguard personnel at the range were fully enforced. Tracking and checking of the cloud as it disperses and decays are following the normal course. 1 want to repeat, for the benefit of the Australian public, the effect of what I said at a press conference a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of a test taking place a day or two thereafter. As with previous tests, there may be a slight rise of radioactivity in some areas in Australia, but the radioactivity in all cases will be at a quite harmless level. The possibility of rainfall over the Australian continent is always considered by the safety committee before each weapon test, and firing does not occur unless the committee is certain that conditions following rainfall are completely safe. The public should not attach any importance to geiger counter readings of radioactivity from rainfall after a test. These instruments are extremely sensitive, but their readings are not significant unless taken by scientists in association with many other matters. For instance, the luminous dial of a wrist watch held close to a geiger counter will give as many as 20,000 counts a minute. This sounds a lot, but it is, in fact, quite harmless. I should say that the test does not cause a fall of rain. What happens is, that the high drift of light particles spreads out at great distances, usually, but not necessarily, going in a general north-easterly direction. Some traces of radioactivity which are settling towards the earth may pass in a rain cloud and be brought down by the rain. This rain will not be dangerous in any way.
Finally, as on the occasion of previous weapon tests, aircraft will be controlled through the Department of Civil Aviation, and there may be diversions or delay in some flights. This is not because of danger, but because it is the practice to ensure that there is no unnecessary radiation exposure. Later on, a statement will be issued indicating how the light particles have dispersed. But it takes time to gather and collate information, if it is to be reliable, so that this statement cannot be expected for a few days.
Sitting suspended from 6.3 to 8 p.m.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 18th September (vide page 623).
– Is it the pleasure of the committee that the votes and departments contained in each section of the time-table be considered together throughout the Estimates?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
Remainder of Proposed Vote, £875,000.
Prime Minister’s Department.
Proposed Vote, £2,689,000.
Department of External Affairs.
Proposed Vote, £2,061,000.
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed Vote, £9,158,000.
Proposed Vote, £1,729,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
– This evening 1 would like briefly to give honorable members a survey of the costs of my own Department of External Affairs, and to make one or two additional remarks on that subject, lt has also been suggested that I might take this opportunity to place before honorable members the facts of the relationship, in recent years, between Egypt and Israel. I propose to do this in a purely factual way, without expressing any opinions of my own, or of the Government. Such opinions as I do express will be those of die Security Council of the United Nations. I should like, then, to say a very few words about the contribution that Australia has made towards the maintenance of the very large number of Arab refugees in the Gaza area, between Egypt and Israel.
Dealing first with the costs of my own department, and with the Australian External Affairs service generally, honorable members will find a conspectus of the total figures on page fourteen of the Estimates. This shows that in the last financial year the cost of conducting the department in Canberra, and the whole of our external affairs service in 30 or so diplomatic posts throughout the world, was only £70.000 short of £2,000,000. Moreover, the total cost for this year will be £2,061,000. The difference in cost between last year and this is about £130,000. In view of the fact that margins have since risen, and that there must inevitably be a small but steady increase in the personnel of the External Affairs Department and service, I believe that those figures reflect a praiseworthy economy on the part of the officers of my department. 1 shall not bother honorable gentlemen with the detail, but it is there to be seen and commented upon, if necessary.
It is interesting, however, to compare the cost of conducting our Australian External Affairs Department and service wilh the cost of conducting similar departments and services in other countries, some slightly smaller and some a good deal larger than Australia, but in a somewhat similar position. So as not to weary honorable gentlemen with a mass of figures, I have had them reduced to the cost per head of population in Australia, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and countries such as the Netherlands, which is about the same size as Australia, and in a similar position. The results are quite interesting. The cost for Holland, converted into Australian money is 13s. 4d. per head of population. For Canada, the figure is 9s. 3d. a head; for the United Kingdom, 7s. 10d.; for New Zealand, 7s. 9d.; and for Australia, 4s. 5id. That is a very satisfactory position. Our cost per head of population is less than half that of Canada; it is one-third that of Holland, and something like 50 per cent, or 60 per cent, lower than that of Great Britain and New Zealand. The figures have been of that’ order for some few years now. Occasionally they have gone up or down a little, but, generally, they reflect our successful endeavours to use every reasonable economy in the conduct of our machinery for relations with the rest of the world.
It may be said that we are doing it on the cheap, but that is not a valid criticism, as will be realized by any honorable member who, in visiting our posts abroad, has seen our officers al work and knows something of the calibre of their reporting and representation. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to say that Australia’s representation overseas will bear comparison with that of any other country. Our posts are, of course, very much smaller than those of, say, Great Britain, the United States of America and other countries with a very much greater population than our own. but the quality of reporting and representation - the two important things - is by no means dependent on the size of the post.
I would like to believe that I have a critical mind in those matters. 1 visit as many of our overseas posts as 1 can. I suppose that I have visited at least threequarters of them in an effort to find out how our people are getting on overseas, and how their status and standing in the countries to which they are accredited compares with those of other diplomatic posts. Although, from time to time, one finds grounds for criticism, in general I am proud of our Australian representation overseas - of the men who represent us and, if I may say so, of their wives, because the wives of our diplomats have a definite function to perform. That is all that I. propose to say about the figures for the department, but if honorable gentlemen seek further information, I shall be only too glad to supply it.
Let me turn to the second leg of the task that I have set myself to-night, and give honorable members a concise and factual picture of the relations between Egypt and Israel. It has been suggested that I should do this because question time does not permit one to give any real picture of the position. I repeat that, as this is not a controversial debate, such opinions as I do express will be those of the Security Council of the United Nations, and not my own.
As honorable members may recall, the armistice following the war between Egypt and Israel came in February, 1949, but since the armistice, Egypt has claimed and has exercised a right to blockade the passage through the canal of Israeli ships and even cargoes carried in bottoms of other nations. That blockade has been continued at Suez and Port Said, the terminal towns at each end of the waterway. As part of the blockade, Egypt has searched many hundreds of ships that have passed through the canal, and has seized and appropriated cargoes, which were considered to be contraband, either coming from Israel or destined for Israel. Between the years 1948 and 1950 many governments, including the Australian Government, on more than one occasion protested to Egypt about the Suez Canal blockade. Those protests were ignored and had no effect whatsoever.
In October, 1950, Israel took the matter to the Security Council of the United
Nations. It was referred to the truce supervisory organization in the Levant, but the whole matter proved to be of no avail. Again in July, 1951, Israel took the matter to the Security Council and on that occasion the council delivered a judgment in the matter - eight of its members voting for Israel and no one opposing the motion. At that time Soviet Russia had not adopted the practice that it has since adopted, that is, of exhibiting hostility to Israel, so the Soviet representative on the Security Council did not exercise his power of veto.
In 1951 the Security Council first expressly denied Egypt’s submission of the existence of a state of war with Israel, and consequently Egypt’s defence of selfdefence. Secondly, it defined the blockade in the Suez Canal as an unjustified interference with the freedom of the seas and the freedom to trade, and, thirdly, it called upon Egypt to terminate the blockade in the canal and to stop interfering with shipping there except in observance of the international agreements in force. I repeat that that was in 1951. Egypt completely ignored the finding of the Security Council, and the blockade of Israeli ships and cargoes through the canal continued.
In February. 1954, Israel again took the matter to the Security Council. On that occasion New Zealand proposed that the council put on record its grave concern at Egypt’s non-compliance with the Security Council’s resolution of 1951, and called for compliance by Egypt. On that occasion, eight members of the Security Council voted for the motion, but in the meantime, Russia had adopted a policy of hostility towards Israel, and made use of the veto. Consequently, the resolution failed. Since that time, with Russia adopting its present attitude towards Israel, any further reference to the Security Council would have been futile, and has not been made. 1 should like to put honorable members in possession of the principal arguments that Egypt advanced and which affect this case. There were two particular matters involved. The first was the 1888 convention, of which three of the articles are relevant to this matter. Those articles are not long, and I intend to read them briefly. The most important article of the 1888 convention is article I., because it is most relevant to this matter that I am attempting to discuss. It reads -
The Suez Maritime Canal shall always be free and open, in time of war as in time of peace, to every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag.
Consequently, the high contracting parties agree not in any way to interfere with the free use of the Canal, in time of war as in time of peace.
The Canal shall never be subjected to the exercise of the right of blockade.
Article IV. is also relevant to the matter under discussion, and it reads -
The Maritime Canal remaining open in time of war as a free passage, even to the ships of war of belligerents, according to the terms of article 1 of the present treaty, the high contracting parties agree that no right of war, no act of hostility, nor any act having for its object to obstruct the free navigation of the Canal, shall be committed in the Canal and its ports of access, as well as within a radius of three marine miles from these ports, even though the Ottoman Empire should be one of the belligerent powers.
Article 10 is in some way relevant, and it states -
Similarly, the provisions of articles IV., V., VII. and VIII. shall not interfere with the measures which His Majesty the Sultan and His Highness the Khedive, in the name of His Imperial Majesty, and within the limits of the firmans granted, might find it necessary to take for securing by their own forces the defence of Egypt and the maintenance of public order.
In case His Imperial Majesty the Sultan or His Highness the Khedive should find it necessary to avail themselves of the exceptions for which this article provides, the signatory powers of the declaration of London shall be notified thereof by the Imperial Ottoman Government.
It is likewise understood that the provisions of the four articles aforesaid shall in no case occasion any obstacle to the measures which the Imperial Ottoman Government may think it necessary to take in order to insure by its own forces the defence of its other possessions situated on the eastern coast of the Red Sea.
That article waters down, to some degree, article IV. which I previously read, but it does not water down article I. It has been made expressly to refer to article IV. and1 the other three minor articles that I mention. Article I. is so important that I should like again to bring it to the attention of honorable members. It is -
The Suez Maritime Canal shall always be free and open, in time of war as in time of peace, to every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag.
Consequently, the High Contracting Parties agree not in any way to interfere with the free use of the Canal, in time of war as in time of peace.
The Canal shall never be subjected to the exercise of the right of blockade.
So much for the convention of 1888. Now I desire to turn to the executive provisions of the armistice agreement binding Israel and Egypt. In the 1949 armistice agreement, each country bound itself “ to abstain from warlike or hostile action against the other “. This, together with the three articles of the convention that I read, were the main items of evidence discussed an the two occasions when the matter was reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. After very full discussion, based on ordinary human argument and on the legal implications of these documents, the Security Council came to the conclusions that 1 have already mentioned. Those conclusions were that the council denied Egypt’s pleas of the existence of a state of war and of self-defence, denounced the blockade in the Suez Canal as an unjustified interference with the freedom of the seas and the freedom to trade, and called upon Egypt to terminate the blockade in the canal and to stop interfering with shipping there except in observance of the international agreements in force. In 1954 a test case was mounted by Israel. This has become quite a historic case. An Israeli ship named “ Bat Galim “ sought to pass through the canal and was stopped and seized by the Egyptian authorities. Then in this year, 1956, a Greek ship, which was seeking to carry cement from one side of Israel to the other, was denied passage. Those, I imagine, were test cases.
– Force was used on that occasion?
– Those ships were stopped and seized, yes.
– Some of those ships carried food, did they not?
– Food, certainly, and almost every variety of commercial articles, f have given the history of the matter and the present situation. I offer no opinion about it. The opinions that I have given are those of the United Nations Security Council, and not of myself or of this Government. The simple fact, as I have said before and as other honorable members have said, is that Egypt has consistently disregarded its obligations under the Suez Canal convention of 1888 and under the United Nations Charter. It is equally clear that the Russian veto has protected Egypt against the consequences of ignoring the resolution of the United Nations Security Council.
Those are the simple, unadulterated facts. They are the bare bones of the situation, and I leave it to honorable members to draw what conclusions they wish. There is just one other subject on which I wish to speak, and I shall be very brief. I am reminded of it because of the fact that it comes geographically very close to the matter that 1 have been discussing. A very large number of Arab refugees, of the order of 1,000,000, fled from Israel, or Palestine as it was, largely into the area between Egypt and Palestine, which has come to be known as the Gaza strip. The United Nations came to the rescue of these people, and have been maintaining and feeding them, and providing housing for them and schooling for their children. They have been provided with only a little more than the necessaries of life. It has been a very Costly business.
I mention this matter to show that Australia maintains an interest in areas quite far removed from its own shores, and attempts to fulfil its international obligations, even to people with whom we have no close relationship. I wish to put on record the fact that since 1948, when this great outpouring of Arab refugees became a problem to be coped with, until to-day, Australia has provided a total of over £717,000 for the relief of these refugees. That sum, which is not inconsiderable, was provided both by this Government and the last Labour government, although, of course, most of it has been provided during the term of office of the present Government. The total amount that has been provided by all countries that voluntarily gave money for this very necessary humane purpose is equivalent in Australian money to just over £13,500,000. Australia has provided something over 54- per cent, of the total amount that has been given by all the contributing countries for the purpose of relieving the plight of these unfortunate Arab refugees. In the first place, it was intended not only to feed these poor creatures and keep them alive, but also to reestablish them in life. However, there has been no possibility of carrying out that intention. Although a great deal of thought and attention has been given to the problem, the unfortunate fact is that no more 3has been done than barely maintain these people and keep them alive. Many schemes have been mooted and tried with a view to re-establishing them on the land, but none has succeeded, and the fact is that the -countries of the world that have humane feelings are keeping these 1,000,000 people in idleness, simply because there is no practicable proposal for them to do anything else, and no scheme which would enable these people to earn a living.
Those are all the matters about which I wished to inform the Parliament. I wished to say a few words about, first, the Department of External Affairs; secondly, the Israel-Egypt question, and. thirdly, the matter of the Arab refugees in the Gaza strip.
– We are all obliged to the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) for giving us the information that we have just heard; but, as he has not expressed an opinion on the matter directly, it is really more the subject of debate at a later stage, when the debate on the Suez Canal problem is continued. I rather gather that the right honorable gentleman agrees that that is so. 1 wish to say just a few words regarding the blockading that Egypt has carried out in connexion with the canal. As I said on Tuesday evening, I think that Egypt’s action in this regard constituted a flagrant breach of its obligations under the Suez Canal convention, and I suggested to the Australian ^Government that it should not be overlooked by the United Nations Security Council. The position is now that Egypt is face to face with the other nations, and one of the greatest tragedies in the Middle East is the continuance of this state of guerrilla warfare, or whatever it may technically be called, between Egypt and Israel. The real trouble - and I think the Minister will agree that there is force in this suggestion - is that the great nations of the world have tended to play off one of these powers against the other. In turn, the two nations have been receiving arms from other nations. Egypt has been provided with arms not only by Russia but also by Britain. The same applies to Israel.
The United Nations Security Council, having condemned Egypt for the holding up of ships, let the matter drop. It is perfectly true, as the Minister has stated, that it may not have been possible to enforce a decision, particularly as the convention does need to be re-written and brought up to date. The main authority for enforcing the provisions of the convention, in the first instance, is the Egyptian Government. The convention refers to the Khedivial Government, which is the government the head of which was the Khedive of Egypt, who at that time was the viceroy of the Sultan of Turkey. It is a very complicated affair, but it appears to be clear that the hold-up of Israeli ships and cargoes was quite unjustified. The resolution of the Security Council was quite correct, but what was done between 1951, when the resolution was carried, and 1954? Nothing was done. No power brought the matter up again. Now is the time, however, when the question of the use of the canal is in dispute, to see if the differences between Israel and Egypt can be resolved. More importantly, an attempt should be made to bring about a real state of peace between these nations. Israel, though a small country, is undoubtedly the most democratically governed nation in the Middle East, and the Arab nations must face up to the fact that Israel is there to stay.
There is also the problem of the Arab refugees, which should be handled in a direct and humane way. It is a great tragedy, and nothing has been done to bring about a final solution of the problem. Although many nations have contributed to the relief of these refugees, as the right honorable gentleman has said, the position is far from satisfactory.
I do not want to repeat what I have said on another occasion. Without going into the technicalities of the convention that was drawn up in 1888, the obligations under it are substantially as the Minister has said. The canal is supposed to be kept free and open for ships of all nations, not only in peace-time, but in time of war. We know perfectly well that during World War I. and World War II. it was argued that the occupying government, which at the time included British and Australian forces, was, in effect, in a position to blockade the canal. A great many articles have been written and a number of opinions, have been given about it; but the Minister has made an informative statement to the committee and, as our time for discussing this department is limited to-night, and as many honorable members wish to discuss various sections of it, 1 suggest that for the time being we should note what the right honorable gentleman has said and reserve final comments on the matter without waiving the opportunity to bring forward these questions relation to the Suez Canal dispute. If the Minister will agree to that, it might be of great service to those in the Middle East who are striving to ensure that both Israel and Egypt carry out their international obligations, especially in connection with the present blockade.
.- I desire to speak about the Department of External Affairs. 1 thank the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) for the information he has given us in the summary of the department’s expenditure. My first comment is more by way of a question. I refer to Division No. 4 of the Estimates for capital works and services which relates to buildings, works, equipment and furniture for overseas establishments. At the outset I make it clear that my remarks are made not in any critical way-
– I rise to order, Mr. Chairman. Are we dealing with that section of the Estimates now?
– If it has relation to the department. I am prepared, in the interests of more intelligent discussion, to allow reference to miscellaneous works which are under the control of the department.
– We have a set timetable, Mr. Chairman. We may speak on certain departments until U.30 to-night. Those matters do not include capital works and services. If honorable members are permitted to wander into a discussion of miscellaneous items which should really come up for discussion later, other honorable members will be prevented from discussing matters which are primarily before the committee now.
– If it is relevant to the department, the administration of which is under discussion, 1 am prepared to allow that latitude. We have thrashed this matter out and it is felt that it would make for more intelligent debate if we followed that procedure.
– I rise to order. Perhaps I might explain the position. It is not completely obvious. As I understand it, we are now discussing the Estimates for the actual Department of External Affairs in the broad sense. Those Estimates are summarized on page 14. Other items are dealt with on other pages. For instance, on page 99, in Division No. 217K the Estimates for International Development and Relief appear. They include the Estimates for the Colombo plan, and for United Nations contributions. Those are mattersthat will come up for discussion later. Actually, overseas works under the control of the Department of External Affairs come under a rather later item, and I suggest that perhaps the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) might take advantage of a later opportunity to discuss them.
– I do not want to bemandatory on this matter. If honorable members, in the interests of intelligent discussion, wish to link these matters with the department, the administration of which is under discussion, I am prepared to allow them to do so.
– Let us have a roving commission. That will suit me.
– At this stage, I wilt allow discussion of matters related to a department, the administration of which is under consideration.
– Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the Minister for External Affairs for his explanation. I did not intend to enter into any discussion of the matter I had in mind. As I said at the outset, I wished to ask a question; but I shall ask it later.
The second matter to which I wish to refer relates to the importance, of getting to know the countries to the near north of Australia to a far greater extent than we are doing at present. We have visits by various missions of different types from those countries, but unfortunately we do not seem to arrange reciprocal visits to those countries to the same extent. There are two ways in which we can give to those countries, which are really our close neighbours in so many ways, more information regarding Australia itself and the Australian conception of the democratic way of life.
A few of their citizens have had the opportunity to make such observations during visits to this country. If we were to send fact-finding teams from Australia to those countries to mix with their peoples and to explain to them our own belief and conception of the phrase, “ democracy at work “, which is so often used in Australia, I believe we would greatly serve the cause of peace and international goodwill.
Several honorable members, myself included, have spoken on this subject before, and I think it would be true to say that during the last Parliament the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for External Affairs were giving thought to the selection of some such teams. In my opinion, such teams should be drawn from various groups in the community. They should be representative of primary producing, professional, commercial and business interests. They should also include a certain number of members of Parliament. I think it most important that members of the Parliament should be included in such teams because members represent a reasonable cross-section of the Australian community. By the nature of their training and through the very fact of their being members of the Parliament, they are well versed in current affairs, and they have a reasonably broad knowledge of Australian conditions and Australian objectives regarding their form of government and its national and international ideals. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that if it is possible to send fact-finding teams of this kind abroad, members of the Parliament should be included in them.
In conclusion, I suggest that we could assist the nations to our north, our neighbours, by providing them with literature descriptive of the Australian way of life. I shall give one example of how that could be done. A plea was made through certain metropolitan newspapers in the form of a letter addressed to the editor of the “Herald” on behalf of the head of the International Buddhist Centre in Bangkok. That centre asked that Australians despatch to it various types of literature such as magazines, novels and documentary works descriptive of the Australian way of life, industry and working conditions, but I understand that so far the response to that request has been very poor indeed. Honor able members could help to liven the response by speaking of the request in their electorates and by encouraging the Australian people to enter into correspondence and an exchange of literary works of the widest description with those countries.
– I address my remarks to the Estimates for the Parliament itself, and in particular to the need for a reclassification of some positions in the Department of the House of Representatives. Officers of the House of Representatives have for years been asking for a reorganization and reclassification of their positions consequent upon the enlargement of the Parliament. Mr. Speaker first approved of a reclassification in principle in 1951, and attempts were made to implement such reclassification in 1953 and 1955. In 1955, Mr. Speaker, acting within his powers under the Public Service Act, made a reclassification, but at the request of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), that was cancelled, .and the Public Service Board was invited to investigate and make recommendations regarding the officers’ classifications. The board’s report . was made in December last. It recommended that the salary classifications of three clerical officers be advanced one stage, that one officer’s classification be reduced in scale and that small increases be made in the salaries of the principal attendant and the chamber attendants. Mr. Speaker agreed to accept fully the board’s recommendations and took action for their adoption. But, because the Treasury has refused up to date to provide the few hundred pounds involved, it has been impossible to implement the recommendations. The Treasury stated that funds would be refused until such time as the President of the Senate had concluded consideration of a letter written to him by the Prime Minister in May of this year, in which the suggestion was made that salaries of officers in other parliamentary departments might also be reviewed.
In the meantime, we have reached the astounding position that, even though the course of action suggested by the Prime Minister has been fully observed by the House of Representatives department, the action of the Treasury prevents the implementation of the board’s recommendations. As a consequence, some officers of the
House of Representatives are being penalized financially and their eligibility for additional superannuation rights is being prejudiced.
I propose to read, for the record of this committee, a precis of the negotiations that have taken place. I suggest that when the House hears this precis, the document might be sent to Bangkok as a suitable sample of the Australian way of life. The precis is as follows: - 11.5.1951. - Reclassification approved in principle by Mr. Speaker, based on staff reorganization and establishment of the larger Mouse in 1950. 1951-1952. - Frequent representations by various officers, but no positive action taken until the Clerk Assistant had returned from 15 months period of duty overseas. 27.1.1953. - A reclassification approved by Mr. Speaker, but never put into effect. 5.2.1953. - Notification of reclassification and promotion of officers published prematurely by Gazette Officer in the “ Gazette “ in error prior to submission of the recommendation to the Executive Council. 12.2.1953.- “ Gazette “ notice of 5.2.1953 withdrawn.
February, 1953. - A Senate reclassification also made about this time to grant parity with House of Representatives, but this also was not put into effect. 17.3.1953. - Public Service Board requested by Presiding Officers to furnish recommendations regarding all Parliamentary staffs.
September, 1953. - Board’s report received recommending that classifications in the Senate be lower than those in the House. No action taken pending conference on salaries of Parliamentary Permanent Heads. 9.12.1954. - A meeting between the Presiding Officers, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Attorney-General-
We had the big brass on this one - decided that as “ margins “ “ were involved no finality could yet be reached on the question of Permanent Heads’ salaries. 1 3.5.1 955. - Mr. Speaker again made reclassification. Notified in the “Gazette” on 26.5.1955 and copy forwarded to the Prime Minister. 18.5.1955. - Treasury requested to provide funds. Request refused pending consideration of letter to Prime Minister. 7.6.1955. - Prime Minister informed Mr. Speaker thai Government proposed introducing a bill requiring the Presiding Officers to obtain recommendation from Board in their exercise of functions under Section 29 of the Public Service Act. Suggested that reclassification of 13.5.1955 be withdrawn pending recommendation from the Board. 8.6.1955. - Discussion between Presiding Officers, Prime Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Defence and Vice-President of the Executive Council. Decided that Bill would not be introduced, but that future reclassification changes would be discussed between Presiding Officers, Prime Minister, Treasurer and Attorney-General.
The Minister for Defence was left out for some reason -
Mr. Speaker’s reclassification of 13.5.1955 to becancelled. 29.6.1955.- Reclassification of 13.5.1955 cancelled by Mr. Speaker. 1.11.1955. - Mr. Speaker requested Board to examine claims of officers of House and make recommendations. 20.12.1955. - Board’s report making recommendations forwarded to Mr. Speaker.
We are now into the present calendar year -
Board’s recommendations accepted in full by Mr. Speaker. The changes involved were five officesincreased in classification, one office decreased in classification, one new position created and one position abolished. Treasury requested to provide funds. The funds required were £330 in 1955-56. 17.1.1956. - Mr. Speaker made a reclassificationbased on Board’s recommendations but not given effect to pending provision of funds. 26.5.1956. - Letter from Prime Minister to Presiding Officers suggesting a Board review of other Parliamentary Departments. 19.6.1956. - Advice sought from Acting Secretary, Prime Minister’s Department, as to whether action on reclassification could now proceed.
– The honorable member is getting close now.
– This is getting close. Listen for the next thrilling instalment - 10.8.1956. - Acting Secretary, Prime Minister’sDepartment, advised by memorandum that Acting: Prime Minister had agreed that reclassification. could proceed without formal meeting of Committee and that action to implement the reclassification would appear to be in order. 14.8.1956. - Treasury advised of memorandum from Acting Secretary, Prime Minister’s Department, and a request again made for provision of funds. (1955-56, £358; 1956-57, £637.) 17.8.1956. - Verbal advice received countermanding memorandum of 10.8.1956 from Acting Secretary, Prime Minister’s Department. 22.8.1956. - Treasury advice that funds refused by the Treasurer until President has concluded consideration of Prime Minister’s letter of 26.5.1956.
That is where the position rests at the moment. The officers concerned are still being denied the increase in salary and the reclassifications to whichI believe - and I think honorable members in this chamber will agree with me - they are fully entitled.
.- I think that the committee is indebted to the honorable member for the Australian Capital. Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) for some of the information that he has given to it about its own officers. I had intended - and I now take the opportunity - to refer to the officers of Parliament. I have been engaged in making a study of the steady growth of the civil service in the Commonwealth from the time of federation until the present day. If honorable members care to study that growth they will find some very revealing information. A particularly interesting point is this: That whilst all the departments in the Commonwealth have grown steadily - indeed they have multiplied to a phenomenal extent-
– So has the business of the country.
– The one place that we can hold up as a remarkable example of, might 1 say, efficiency without a terrific increase in costs and staff, is Parliament itself. In 1901, the officers of this chamber numbered eight. At present - 55 years later - with the number of members of Parliament doubled and the terrific increase in the development of the country referred to by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the number of officers of this Parliament has increased to ten. That is an increase of two in 55 years.
The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has referred to another place, lt is rather interesting to note that the overall staff of the House of Representatives in the period I mentioned has increased by three, but that the overall staff of the Senate has increased by six. However, 1 shall not refer to them.
My remarks on this portion of the Estimates are directed to the Public Service Board and its vote. I suggest that the Public Service Board might well take the officers of this House as an example, not in relation to the way in which they have been treated in regard to their emoluments, but for the manner in which they have managed their affairs. There must have been a tremendous increase in the demands on their time, but they have adjusted their duties and services to provide that service without a big increase in their numbers or in the cost.
The statement of events to which the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has referred is in remarkable contrast to what has occurred recently in connexion with the Public Service Board.
When the Government began its discussions on the Estimates for this financial year, an announcement was made that an instruction had been issued to all departments to cut their coats according to the national cloth. Economy was to be the order of the day. 1 say quite frankly that I lauded the Government for it, and told everybody what great fellows they, and we, were. To my surprise, I find in the “ Commonwealth Gazette “, No. 51, of 6th September, twenty pages of reclassifications of public servants.
I am not averse to anybody getting promotion and an increase of pay, but it is a remarkable thing that, almost immediately after the Cabinet had issued a directive, the Public Service Board has done something which runs, apparently, completely counter to that directive. From the “ Commonwealth Gazette “, we find that new positions have been created - scores of them - at considerably higher rates of pay than the officers concerned were receiving in the old positions. Some explanation is needed. I have no objection to a man receiving more pay if the job he is doing in a department merits a higher salary, but I question this entering upon a system of reclassifications without any actual reason being given. Certainly, this is a very cold document and merely fulfills legal requirements, but it is also available to the public and is subject to our analysis.
Some of the increases of salary are phenomenal. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has stated that the reclassification of officers of the House of Representatives would cost an additional £637 a year. By comparison, I direct the attention of the committee to these reclassifications of public servants. Dozens of those officers will receive increments because of an alteration in their status, or because a new title has been given to their office and for no other reason. They will each receive increments of salary amounting to £200, £300 or £400 a year.
– Do they do any more work?
– I do not know whether they do any work at all. I am merely quoting from a cold document, and it contains no explanations.
– Just a cold statement.
– That is so. We find that an officer has been promoted from clerk to assistant inspector engaged in research or some other work. His salary range was £1,173-£1,353. I presume he would be receiving the maximum of £1,353. His new salary range is £l,533-£l,733. That is, in effect, an increase from £1,353 to £1,733 in one hit. Strangely enough, all these big increases have been applied to the top brass group. When we look at the reclassifications in the Postal Department, for example, we find that the salary range has been altered under the reclassifications merely to provide that the officer concerned can reach a higher pay in a certain time. For example, the list contains the name of an officer who was* on a salary range of £354-£818. He was reclassified and promoted to another position where the minimum salary was the maximum of the previous range - £818 - and he can go now to £948.
– Good luck to him.
– I agree. He was on his maximum at £818. His position was worth more, and the higher range that he could reach was lifted. His salary was increased in accordance with the new range, and he went up immediately to £858. That is an increase of £40. Quite a few officers in the lower group received promotion, but no increase of salary. They started at the maximum they were receiving when the reclassification was granted. But, in the £2,000 and £3,000 salary groups, the increases amount to £200, £300 and £400. We should have some explanation why this was necessary at a time when we are called upon to tell the nation that it is government policy to economize in the Public Service.
An amount of £52,000,000 was expended for administration last year. This year, the amount has been increased to £56,000,000. It is obvious how the extra £4,000,000 comes into the picture. In my opinion, these increases are not normal increases. Honorable members deserve some better explanation of them. The Public Service Board itself, and the method of operation in its own department, require investigation.
– Create a new department?
– I do not know what it has done. There should be an inquiry todiscover to what extent effect is being given to government policy by the Public Service Board. After all is said and done, it is a servant of the Government and of this Parliament, and not the boss of the country, as I think the board is inclined tobelieve.
– I wish tospeak on the Estimates for the Parliament. My observations during my membership of this institution have led me to believe that the experience and talents of honorable members are not being utilized to the best advantage. This is understandable when we consider the size of the Parliament. Before 1949, when the Parliament was smaller, it was easier for an honorable member to make his views known to the Parliament. Now, because of the increase of numbers, which has been very good for many of us. there is, and will be, much frustration among honorable members. They are unable to make contributions to the debates because of the limitation of time. I put to the Government for its consideration that honorable members who desire to render conscientious service should not be prevented from doing so by limitation of the time for debates.
I am not suggesting that the time for debates should be extended, because I appreciate that the Parliament can meet only for a part of the year, but I suggest that the Government should see that honorable members who devote time to various problems and wish to give the results of their efforts to the Parliament should be given an opportunity to do so. Therefore, I suggest that the Government should give very earnest consideration to extending the committee system along the lines of the system that operates in the United States of America. I am not suggesting that additional committees should be appointed to deal with highly controversial political questions, because, obviously, no unanimity of opinion would ever be reached on such matters. It would be presumptuous for committees to consider matters of that kind, because in relation to them the political parties in the Parliament to-day have a deliberate and premeditated course to pursue, and no amount of committee work would debar them from following, it.
There is such a clear and unambiguous line of divergence in respect of these contentious political matters that there would be no hope of committees ever arriving at agreement on them, but with numerous other matters that come before the Parliament there is no great gulf of disagreement between the parties. Under the present system, it is only on very rare occasions that the Government accepts Opposition amendments of bills that it presents to the Parliament. I think I can remember only two or three very minor machinery amendments which involved altering the wording of a clause without altering its sense. In this respect, I am not indicting this Government any more than previous governments, but I consider that the Parliament should move with the times. The present Government, and apparently also previous governments, have taken the view that no suggestion, however constructive, will be accepted if it comes from the Opposition. This attitude is to be deplored, because the Australian people suffer in consequence.
I first became enamoured of the benefits of the committee system as the result of my experience of a municipal council which, of course, dealt with very unimportant matters compared with the great matters of the day that are discussed in this place. Neverthe-less, that experience enabled me to appreciate just how efficient the system could be in threshing out problems and reaching a basis of common agreement. Those views were reinforced when I became a member of the Public Works Committee of this Parliament, a committee that produces positive and tangible results for the parliamentary machine. It makes a non-party approach to numerous projects that are the responsibility of the Parliament and, as a result, its deliberations - I am speaking at the moment as a committee man - have been highly beneficial to the taxpayers of Australia. The Public Accounts Committee is another illustration of the efficacy of the committee system. Recently, the Parliament decided to appoint a committee to review the Constitution, and it is possible that it will hammer out a basis of agreement on certain important matters which will be put to the Parliament and, ultimately, to the people of Australia.
– What about the Foreign Affairs Committee?
– I shall refer to that committee in a moment. I venture to suggest that if a committee to review the Constitution were not appointed, it would be well nigh impossible for any government to bring about major alterations of the Constitution.
The extension of the committee system on logical and sensible lines to provide committees like the Public Works Committee, which would not be hamstrung by certain methods of procedure, such as meeting in camera and making reports that nobody would understand, would give honorable members who are unable to contribute to debates within the limited time available, and who must content themselves merely to sit and listen, a much greater interest in the proceedings of the Parliament. What is even more important, the improvement of the working of the parliamentary machine would give added strength to our democratic system.
The committees that I propose should be set up by this Parliament could consider many matters and make a well-reasoned approach to national problems without emphasis on any particular political outlook. Many such matters come to mind. For instance, social services would be a suitable subject. A very good social services committee functioned during the war years and was comprised of honorable members from both sides of the Parliament. It made many useful suggestions which were adopted by the government of the day. In the field of social services to-day, there is not so very much difference between the views of the Opposition and those of the Government. It is true that there are anomalies that we think should be corrected, but under the present system, suggestions put forward by Opposition supporters when social services legislation is being discussed receive scant consideration from the Government. The transport system is crying out for reform. On the need for uniform railway gauges and an improved roads system throughout the Commonwealth there is very little disagreement between the various political parties. As a matter of fact, it could almost be said that there was a substantial measure of agreement on those matters between large numbers of honorable members on both sides of the Parliament. On the subject of primary production also there is very little disagreement, and that is true, too, of television, immigration, national development, and housing. Those matters are not of a highly contentious political nature. If committees were appointed to discuss them and report back to the Parliament, I think that we should get much more satisfactory bills than those presented here under the present system.
These committees would make recommendations to the Government, and because of the circumstances which led to the making of the recommendations, I should think that the Government would give them very serious consideration. It would be for the Government to decide, of course, whether or not to accept the recommendations, but I think that it would take the view, as it does in respect of decisions made by the Public Works Committee, that the recommendations had been the result of balanced conclusions arrived at in conclave in the committee room, after mature consideration, and away from the heat of debate in the parliamentary chambers. Such a system would lead to a better approach to many of our national problems.
My suggestion, of course, is not new. Other parliaments in various parts of the world use this system to a far greater degree than we do. The American Parliament, of course, uses the committee system very extensively. 1 am not advocating that we should adopt the American system of committees in its entirety, because the American parliamentary machine is somewhat different from ours. Suffice to say that members of Congress are influenced considerably in their attitude to bills by the reports of committees. In America, the committees exercise most influential power in relation to the passage of legislation. I think, however, that we can learn quite a lot from the Mother of Parliaments, the House of Commons, in this matter of appointing additional standing committees on various national problems. The number of committees of the House of Commons is smaller than is the number in America, but the British committees nevertheless perform most effective work. They examine bills and make recommendations to the Parliament. Their composition is on similar lines to that of the committees of this Parliament, and of course, Government members are in the majority.
I believe that the appointment of additional standing committees to discuss complicated legislation before it was drafted would be advantageous not only to the Parliament, but also to the people. Only this afternoon there was circulated in the Parliament a report by Mr. J. R. Odgers, the Clerk-Assistant of the Senate, who recently returned from America. Mr.. Odgers submitted a report to the Senate, in. the course of which he made a number of’ suggestions along the lines I have already indicated. He said, for instance -
The appointment of information-gathering committees . . . would provide a considerable fillipto the promotion of more private members’ bills,, and it is suggested that it is a development whichshould not be discouraged by the Administration. Rather should the Administration encourageprivate members to put their talents to work, towards what they are all elected for - the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth.
He continued -
This is not to suggest that private membersshould in any way attempt to usurp the Ministry’s responsibility for the formulation of legislativepolicy. There is little danger of that, anyway, iii Party government. But the point is made that a Private Member’s bill proposing an improvement in the law permits greater expression, and commands more consideration, than a Question or speech.
Later, referring to the Australian Senate, he said -
The additional function suggested for the Australian Senate is a standing committee system on the American model to watch and appraise theadministration of the laws in certain defined’ fields of governmental operations and to inform* public opinion.
– To prepare for its. abolition?
– Later on. He also said, referring to committees generally -
Precedent in our own Parliament provides another answer, one example of which is therecord of achievement of the war-time Joint Committee on Social Security. That committeemade many suggestions for improvements and reforms in the field of social services. Therewas no evidence of mischief, or shift of leadership, or of interference with Ministerial control. Indeed, the committee’s valuable work was publicly applauded by the Social Services Minister of the day, and his successors.
Then, in summing up his conclusions, he said -
Expert committees on particular subjects would develop, to which Ministers may be grateful to refer problems of long-term importance for inquiry and report.
Finally, in the concept of its functions under the Cabinet form of government, a committee o the type proposed in this report is not policy making. That is not its province. Its concern is with administration. As the Public Accounts Committee watches public expenditure to see that value is obtained for money spent, so other standing committees could watch and review administrative action to see that the laws are faithfully and efficiently administered.
I suggest thai Mr. Odgers, in his report, has submitted facts that should not be ignored by this Government. As a member of the Opposition, it seems to me that, in the present circumstances acceptance of any amendment submitted by an Opposition member, no matter how worthwhile it may be, is almost an impossibility. If a system of committees were introduced, the Opposition could put forward its viewpoint calmly and dispassionately in the committee room and, judging by the results achieved in other parts of the world, it is quite possible that the suggestions would be embodied in the Government’s projected legislation.
I again emphasize that, in relation to many public questions, there is very little difference of opinion, but the government of the day, when it introduces a bill, gives scant consideration to any points that are raised by the Opposition. Because of the inflexibility of the party system, suggested amendments are not adopted, apparently on the basis that, if the Ministry adopted them, it would lose face. I vouchsafe the opinion that an extension of the committee system by the formation of a number of standing committees for the purpose of conducting preliminary investigation into projected measures would strengthen the system of parliamentary government in the Commonwealth.
.- I should like to support the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) in his reference to the reclassification of certain positions on the House of Representatives staff. I think it is scandalous that this state of affairs should have been allowed to continue since 1951 without a satisfactory conclusion having been reached. I can see no reason why a decision made by the Prime Minister should be cancelled. Everybody who has investigated the problem in question has come to the conclusion that the changes that have been suggested should be made. They could hardly be rejected on. the ground of cost, because in one year they would cost approximately £320 and in. the next year approximately £600. The total estimated expenditure on salaries for the House of Representatives staff isapproximately £31,000. I hope that the case that was put forward so clearly by thehonorable member for the Australian Capital Territory will be given speedy consideration and that a positive decision will be made in the very near future. I commend the honorable member for the manner in which he brought the matter before thecommittee.
Following what the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) has had to say about the Public Service Board, there are a couple of matters that I should like to mention, because I think that they constitute injustices. Admittedly, not a great number of persons is involved, but in some waysgrave injustices have been caused. I have in mind the case of a certain man who had been a permanent member of the Public Service for some years and who wanted tofight in Korea. He applied for leave without pay for the purpose of joining the Royal Australian Navy to go to Korea. He wastold that he could not obtain leave without pay, and that if he wished to join the Navy he would have to resign from the Public Service. He did that, and spent a few yearsfighting in Korea. Approximately six weeks after he had resigned from the Public Service a regulation was gazetted which allowed Commonwealth public servants toobtain leave without pay and to retain their full rights and privileges if they re-entered the Public Service within a short period after having completed their service in Korea. This man is now back in the Public Service, but he has not yet regained the rights and privileges that he had when he resigned to go to Korea. That is a disgraceful state of affairs, and it should be adjusted rapidly. 1 also have in mind the case of British ex-servicemen who have come to Australia, since the war. I am thinking particularly of a man who has been employed as a temporary public servant for approximately eight years. He is an Irishman. He joined the British services and had five or six years’ service during the war. Because he is a. British ex-serviceman, and because of the- preferential treatment that is extended to local men, it seems that some considerable time might elapse before he can become a permanent public servant. I think that is quite wrong. This man has been doing his job for eight years and has been doing it well. During that time he has seen seven or eight other people who have worked with him for a couple of months become permanent public servants. That situation should be adjusted rapidly and justly.
– Has the honorable member raised this matter in the party room?
– 1 have raised it several times.
– Then the honorable member ought to do something about it.
– What does the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) think I am trying to do now?
– Why does the honorable member not force it on the Government?
– 1 refer now to another matter that was raised by the honorable member for Moore, although I think he was being unduly critical of some public servants. His statements were a little too general. There has been much talk recently about the need to reduce the size of the Public Service; but that is a wrong approach to the whole problem. What we should seek to do is to obtain greater efficiency in the Public Service. If that were done, I believe that the numerical strength of the Service would adjust itself. I do not think we should go about and say, “ Let us throw some of these people out. We have too many “. The point from which we should be attacking the problem is whether the Public Service is working as efficiently as might be expected. As I have said when raising this matter before, I am not attacking the many thousands of good Commonwealth public servants, but I am saying that there are some persons in the Public Service who are not doing anything like a full day’s work. I know that there are many good public servants who would like to have a greater degree of efficiency in the service. I know that under the powers conferred upon the Board by section 17 of the Public Service Act, officers in the organization and methods section advise the Board on the administration of the several departments, but from what I have been able to find out
I am not satisfied that there is the full co-operation that there should be between officers of this section and the various departments which are investigated from time to time. Without that co-operation I believe that the organization and methods section, even if its own methods are really efficient, cannot obtain the results that one would desire. I have said in this chamber before, and I will not give up saying until something is done about it, that the whole matter, in my opinion, boils down to the fact that there should be an investigation into the efficiency, not of individual public servants but of the methods and systems used by the Public Service. If that comes about, the Public Service will be happier and the people of Australia will also be happier in their own minds.
.- 1 wish to speak to Division No. 15, High Commissioner’s Office, United Kingdom. I recommend a change of name for this office in London, and I shall give my reasons for so doing. It seems rather fantastic that an office of the standing and importance of the High Commissioner’s Office in London should still have that title. After having given serious thought to this matter, I recommend that the office be an ambassador’s office-
– Ambassadors are accredited to foreign countries only. Are you suggesting that Great Britain is a foreign country?
– The Minister who interjected is a man who knows everything about everything; we know that. The present descriptive title, in my opinion, cheapens the office in London, whatever the Minister may say about foreign countries and the description of our representatives there. Would the Minister call Canada a foreign country?
– Canada has a high commissioner in London.
– Yes, and so has India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, and Ceylon. I put this suggestion forward for serious consideration, irrespective of what the Minister has said, because, after all, he is only the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– No, you are wrong again. It is Customs and Excise.
– He is a very junior Minister. He does not make Cabinet rank.
– That is so. There are so many Ministers in this Cabinet, about 22 of them, that we are liable to become a bit mixed about who represents whom or what; that is the plain truth of the matter. I have said that the title “ High Commissioner “ cheapens the Commonwealth’s highest office abroad. I think that the description lacks dignity and savours of a last-century approach to the matter. I think that such a title is a misnomer. The word “ Commissioner “ is now used to describe holders of 1,000 less important offices. For instance, we have commissioners of police, with chief commissioners in charge. The use of the word has grown considerably over the years since this title was given to our senior representative in London. I think that the holder of this office should be differentiated from the holders of less important offices described in a similar way. My next point is in respect of Australia House. I notice that expenditure on the general upkeep of Australia House is to rise from £72,480 to £80,500.
– That is because Sir Eric is going there.
– It may be, as the honorable member for East Sydney has suggested, to make provision for the return of His Excellency, Sir Eric Harrison. Australia House needs a general overhaul both in personnel and in the approach which is made for the job for which it is established. From time to time we hear from Australians returning from London criticisms of Australia House. It has the air of an emperor’s palace. I have inspected it and upon entering one has the feeling as of entering some mystic temple. There is nothing friendly about the atmosphere at all. I contend that the general attitude displayed by officers in Australia House indicates that they have become out of touch with current Australian thought, atmosphere, and even development. The official attitude has become stodgy and uninspired. A breath of fresh air is definitely needed there. The’ building itself is not of a type which is suitable for the purpose, and that makes it harder for the officials to carry out their duties in a friendly and knowledgeable manner. It was intended more as a palace than as a place where Australians would be welcome and where inquiries could be made about this country. When one considers that Australia House is the spearhead of our immigration contact in London, one realizes that many prospective emigrants entering might feel frightened the moment they enter the doors of what they will find at the other end of the long hallway inside. I mention this matter only because a great amount is to be expended on Australia House. According to some reports, it may even be overstaffed.
After saying these things, I want to pay a tribute to the general work of our ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls throughout the world, lt is a wonderful experience for an Australian overseas to walk into an Australian embassy in a foreign country where not only the language spoken, but also the customs and traditions, are different from ours. It is inspiring to meet friendly men and women working in a strange land, cut off from this country, but maintaining the principles and standards of our way of life. They are kindly and thoughtful and they receive the highest praise from Australians who are privileged to visit these foreign countries. They are certainly keeping Australia on the map and maintaining the highest traditions of our land. 1 should now like to mention a matter nearer home, in relation to the Government Printing Office in Canberra. I understand that the Government Printing Office is desperately in need of more space because of the added work placed upon it by the publication of the daily “ Hansard “. 1 know that all members on both sides of the chamber have a tremendous respect for the Government Printer’s staff. It always amazes me that we can get a daily “ Hansard “ printed promptly, efficiently and so clearly and delivered in Parliament House even before we meet at 10.30 in the morning. That achievement stems, of course, from the “ Hansard “ reporters in Parliament House itself,- as my friend the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has reminded me. I always associate them with the printer. Our speeches are taken down here and processed, and off they go to the Government Printer with the corrections which make them so much more readable for the general public.
I feel that the Government should tackle this problem of the expansion of the Government Printing Office. I guess that the Government Printer could put more staff on to handle this problem if he had more space, lt is impossible to employ more staff in the present building. 1 speak on behalf of all honorable members who are eager to have this job done under the best conditions possible. These men work when we are sleeping. We make our speeches here up to 11.30 p.m. The “Hansard” staff works on past midnight, and the men and women over yonder at the printing office work through the night. They deserve the best conditions possible, and I feel that they are not getting the best conditions when they work in a place so crowded as the Goverment Printing Office. 1 am always amazed at the variety of work that they do, at their efficiency, and at the high standard of their work. We have evidence of it in the papers that come before us day by day in this chamber, particularly at budget time. I cannot praise too highly the splendid staff that we have here in “ Hansard “ and at the government printery. It makes our work a lot easier when we know that we can trust these men with the job that they are doing for the nation.
I should like to mention, too, the Bureau of Census and Statistics. This branch of the Treasury has taken on more and more importance in the last few years. We in this chamber, from time to time, quote statistics compiled by Mr. Carver and the staff at the bureau. Those men are always willing to work out the most intricate problems for us. We only have to telephone them, and put our case before them, and we are given the figures in next to no time. We can always quote those figures as being absolutely reliable. No one dares, in this Parliament, to question the statistics issued by the bureau. This branch has kept up a high standard and we in this Parliament have recognized it. That is why we use its statistics so often.
Outside this chamber, the general public may not appreciate the great work that those folk are doing, although, from day to day and from week to week, we see statements from the bureau on all sorts of matters, particularly economic and financial matters. The bureau produces a fund of information for the nation and for this Parliament. Although it proposes to spend £871,000 in this financial year, as against £776,000 last year, I, for one, do not begrude the expenditure on this very efficient and most important branch of the Treasury. After all, statistics seem to be playing a bigger part in our lives every day. I suppose that that is why this bureau has grown in significance within our Commonwealth set-up.
I shall just review the matters that I have raised. First, 1 thoroughly recommend a change of name for what we call the Office of the High Commissioner in London. I believe that we should have an overhaul of Australia House. I believe that the premises of the Government Printing Office in Canberra should be expanded and that the installation of the new rotary press that has been ordered should be speeded up because the printing office is urgently in need of it. 1 close by again paying tribute to all those Australians outside our shores who are helping to keep us in touch with the rest of the world through embassies, consular offices, trade commissioners’ offices and so on.
.- The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) has prompted me to say something about the subject of the High Commissioner’s office in London. Whilst I do not agree with a number of things that he said, there are some things with which I possibly could agree, but I shall refer to them later. It is quite true that the cost of upkeep of Australia House has risen steadily during the last four years. I notice that it rose to £72,480 in’ 1955-56. The amount in 1952-53 was £49,415. I am referring only to the item, “ General Upkeep of ‘ Australia House ‘ “. I understand that half the increase has been caused by an increase in wages. In addition, a high standard of maintenance has been necessary during the last few years. It is quite true, as the honorable member for Wilmot said, that each year some criticism appears, both in Australia and in London, of the duties performed by this office. In consequence, I feel that this is an appropriate time for mo to say something about this office in London, particularly because there has been a steady increase in the expenditure without any lessening, if I may say so, of criticism. I agree that these criticisms help to affect considerably the prestige of this country, and i hat is quite wrong, lt is unfortunate that the main office of this country in London should be criticized to the extent that it has been criticized because I feel that it lessens our prestige.
Last year, approximately 60,000 Australians visited London. This year, I believe, a great many more are expected in London and most of those people will visit this centre of ours in the Strand. 1 think it is a very good thing that they will. As taxpayers, they are entitled to seek whatever service the High Commissioner’s office can provide for them while they are in the United Kingdom, and it is very important that they should have some knowledge of what is transpiring in their homeland. In fact, they have little alternative to visiting Australia House if they wish to find out what is going on in Australia because, as most honorable members know, very little information - if there is any at all - is published about this country in English newspapers. But it will be generally appreciated by the committee that Australia House was not solely set up for the purpose of assisting Australian tourists, lt was set up in order to fulfil the normal functions of an important overseas post of the Commonwealth of Australia.
A large number of very important departments are located in Australia House, and all of them are doing a very good job. There is the Prime Minister’s own department. There is the Department of Immigration, which was referred to rather unjustly, I think, by the honorable member for Wilmot, because that department is doing an excellent job. Very few people who go to Australia House specifically to obtain information about Australia do not get what they are seeking. In fact, I think they are helped considerably. I believe that very little criticism whatever could be levelled at the work of this particular department in London.
The Department of Trade is also represented at Australia House, as is the Department of Customs and Excise, all the service departments, the News and Information Bureau and the Commonwealth Bank. Australia House also provides a service in order to help Australian visitors whose purpose in the United Kingdom is primarily pleasure. A booklet that is distributed freely in Australia House and to all intending visitors going overseas states -
The staff will welcome inquiries from visiting Australians in any matters of interest to them.
The fact that various amenities are provided for visitors establishes that the Government regards the provision of this service for visitors as one of the normal functions of Australia House. That being so, those services should be first class. In my opinion the Government can and should give very much better service to visitors to Australia House than it is giving at the present time.
Much of the criticism that is levelled at Australia House could be directed at the not-too-enthusiastic staff on the ground floor whose duties are to assist Australian visitors. Perhaps I may agree with the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) and say that I believe the criticism of that aspect of Australia House is justified. Newspaper files are provided on the ground floor for visitors, but at most times it is difficult to obtain access to a copy of any one of the principal Australian newspapers, because only one copy of each is available. By the time one is able to get it, it is usually so torn and dilapidated that it is almost impossible to read it. As most visitors to the building go no farther than the ground floor, it is understandable that they go away and immediately begin to criticize Australia House as a whole. Of course, that is not justified. We should either provide good service for visitors to Australia House or withdraw from this field of activity altogether. Anything less than good service is bad publicity for Australia, and is highly unsatisfactory to Australians who are overseas probably for the first time and expect a lot from Australia House. It is our duty to see that they receive reasonable service while they are abroad and that they are able to avail themselves of the amenities normally expected of a High Commissioner’s office.
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council, who will soon take up the post of High Commissioner at Australia House, is not listening to the honorable member. He is not even in the chamber.
– I am sure he will examine the report of my remarks. However, I am sorry that he is not in the chamber, because the discussion of this matter might give him food for thought about the duties he is about to undertake.
As I said before, the offices of the various departments located in Australia House do a very good job, particularly in view of the difficulties under which they work. 1 wish to mention some of those difficulties now. A very large proportion of the staff at Australia House is English and can hardly be expected to have the same interest in Australian affairs as Australians would have. More than half the officers are temporary employees who cannot rise beyond a certain stage in the Public Service. Consequently, they must lose a good deal of incentive after they reach a certain classification. The Australia House building is a very fine piece of architecture, and on that point I disagree with the honorable member for Wilmot. The building is extremely well situated, and the most serious criticism that can be made is that the standard of the office accommodation is very poor and the space severely limited. No doubt the expense of running Australia House is represented largely by maintenance charges and the cost of continual alterations to the internal fittings and structure. The Government should give very early consideration to the suitability of this building for the purposes for which it is used. Its present monetary value must be enormous and far in excess of its value as an administrative headquarters.
If the new High Commissioner does his job well, as I am sure he will, he will find, as did his predecessor, that such an important post is no sinecure. It is imperative that he should have around him a very good staff which has not been away from Australia so long that it has almost forgotten what Australia looks like and is out of touch with both thought and conditions in Australia. This is a matter that the new High Commissioner should look into very closely when he reaches London. It is imperative that men filling the top-level positions of the Australian staff in London should move between the United Kingdom and Australia and not just be forgotten and allowed to remain in London permanently. Too many of the top-level officers at Australia House have been allowed to remain there far too long and have lost touch with Australian thought and conditions. I believe that is the fault not of the officers themselves but of the Government for not returning them to Australia often enough to get a better appreciation of Australian conditions and the Australian way of life. I believe it is only by giving attention to these details that Australia House will be able to earn and maintain the respect that is due to a High Commissioner’s office and which the Australian Government should demand for such an important office. London is the centre of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and Australia’s important position in the Commonwealth demands that its officers stationed in the United Kingdom shall give the very best service not in only a few departments which have offices in Australia House, but in all the departments represented there. I believe that anything less than the best service is a very bad advertisement for Australia.
.- I do not think the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) was quite fair when he suggested that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) had only derogatory remarks to make about the staff at Australia House in London. The honorable member for Wilmot was of the opinion thai the building itself was at fault.
I wish to mention an entirely different matter which relates to the Estimates for the Prime Minister’s Department and to a grave omission which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has failed to acknowledge, possibly owing to the importance of the crisis over the Suez Canal, and probably because he has no desire to discuss the matter that I am about to mention. Each year the Parliament is asked to approve estimates in which appear items of expenditure for the normal overseas visits by Ministers and the Prime Minister in the conduct of their essential duties. Most ot the people of Australia are beginning to realize that the Prime Minister did not go abroad to participate in negotiations or discussions with Colonel Nasser over the Suez Canal, but that he really went overseas originally to attend a conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. The people are entitled to ascertain through this Parliament - in fact they demand to know - the vital matters which the Australian Prime Minister and the Prime Ministers of the other Commonwealth countries discussed at the London conference last June. The conference was attended by the Prime Ministers not only of Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, but also o Pakistan, India, Ceylon, the Central African Federation and South Africa. It was a very comprehensive gathering, and there should be more like it.
So far the Prime Minister has been silent on this subject, and his silence will be prolonged unless he chooses to report to the nation on the many vital matters which were discussed at the conference, by speaking during the consideration of the Estimates. The Estimates will take up the time of honorable members for the next two weeks. Therefore, the Prime Minister will avoid his responsibilities for that time at least. In the “ Age “, of 9th July, a leading article appears under the heading, “ Prime Minister silent on world issues “. The Suez Canal is one of the matters which is purely incidental to the major factors of policy which were discussed at that conference. The importance of it so far as honorable members and those whom they have the honour to represent are concerned is even greater than the matter on which the Prime Minister saw fit to report last Tuesday. The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) at least had the courage to face this chamber after his return from a mission that had not been successful, and make a statement, although he received somewhat of a drubbing at the hands of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). But at least the. Minister gave a report to Parliament and to the nation.
The Prime Minister made a highly controversial and provocative statement on the Suez Canal, a matter which, admittedly, has assumed extreme importance at the moment. But he has remained silent on the real substance of his visit overseas, which was to attend the conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers and discuss important matters which are all too seldom dealt with. 1 shall refer briefly to some of these outstanding matters. First of all, there is what can be called the “ Soviet new look “. concerning which there has been some discussion recently, and of which we have seen so much evidence that we have been compelled to stop and reflect. The same article to which 1 referred in the “ Age “ contains this significant paragraph -
No one, not even Mr. Menzies and Mr. Strijdom of South Africa took up the position that the Peking Government’s exclusion from the United Nations made sense.
In regard to the same matter a further report in the “ Age “ on 4th July bore the caption; “ Change in attitude to China seen - Prime Minister’s talks show near agreement “. The opening paragraph contained this line -
The Prime Minister’s view is that the present situation is incongruous and cannot last.
Even Sir Winston Churchill, Mr. Dulles and Sir Anthony Eden, in forthright statements, have made their position clear in regard to this matter, but we, through our Prime Minister, have remained silent. Mr. Gaitskell, Leader of the British Labour party, whom our Prime Minister quoted with such approval in his statement last Tuesday concerning the Suez Canal, has also expressed his agreement in an almost bi-partisan statement on foreign policy with Sir Anthony Eden, the leader of the Conservative party in Great Britain, that greater, flexibility should be maintained in relation to the “ new look “ in Russia.
The second outstanding matter is the unification of Germany. If that problem is to be made an obstacle, or condition precedent, to any discussion with regard to disarmament, the reduction of defence forces and the banning of further atomic tests, we are putting the cart before the horse. The removal of these fears will be the very thing that will make possible, ultimately, a satisfactory solution of the problem of unifying Germany. That is a matter upon which all honorable members are anxious to know the views discussed at the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister of Ceylon (Mr. Bandaranaike) has made a statement to the effect that certain naval and air bases in Ceylon will be officially closed as far as Great Britain is concerned. He said, also, that Ceylon would possibly become a republic, which would probably remain in the Commonwealth of Nations as Pakistan and India have done. I have had to go outside
Australia to obtain that information. It appeared in the “ Christian Science Monitor “ of 7th luly, 1956, in a report on the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference. Our Prime Minister is silent. The article states, further, that Mr. Bandaranaike is prepared to negotiate favorably with the British Government as an equal, about “ certain facilities “ which the British Government wants in Ceylon.
Then there is the Kashmir dispute, a matter which has been long outstanding. The Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India, met for the first time, at the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. Surely this is a matter upon which Australia should be informed, so that we can welcome a satisfactory settlement of this long standing and contentious question between these two major powers. In these pressing days, we cannot as a Commonwealth afford to allow these maters to disunite the countries within the Commonwealth of Nations.
There is also the question of the Middle East, and the dispute between Israel and Egypt to which the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Casey) referred to-night. All honorable members appreciated the motive behind his statement. This matter has been largely superseded by the debate on the Suez Canal. For obvious reasons, the Prime Minister will very likely run away from the remainder of the debate on the Suez question. He has made a statement in this chamber, and I predict that he will not re-open it here for two reasons: first, it would split his Cabinet and, secondly, it is not a matter that he would wish to be discussed at a political level, and that is what would ‘most likely happen. He will run away from it. In regard to Egypt ana Israel, the change in Soviet policy had a great effect. On 22nd June, Mr. Shepilov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, refused to give an undertaking to Colonel Nasser that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would not assist Israel. On 16th July the Soviet entered into a trade treaty with Israel to sell that country three times the amount of petrol it had been selling Israel hitherto. The news of that agreement had a great effect upon Colonel Nasser in his decision to seize the Suez Canal. Obviously, important events are taking place in this area on which the people of Australia should be enlightened.
The last important subject to which I refer is the change in the relations between red China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. An antipathy is developing between those two countries, and there is reason to believe that the Soviet Union is apprehensive of the new nationalism in red China. Unless these matters are reported to the nation the people cannot be expected to approve the expenditure of public funds necessary to send Ministers on senseless trips.
– Necessary trips.
– In theory they be necessary, but unless the people are informed of practical results they cannot be expected to approve the expenditure of public funds for such purposes.
.- First of all, I direct the attention of the committee to the contemptuous attitude of the Government to the Parliament. The opportunities afforded the Opposition to discuss many matters of grave concern to this Parliament and to the community have been greatly limited by the Government. Secondly, the various Ministers in control of the departments to which the Estimates relate, and for which approval of expenditure of £1,200,000,000 is sought, are not present in the chamber. For example, the Prime Minister’s Department heads the list, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is absent from the chamber. This concerns the Department of External Affairs - and the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) is absent - and the Treasury - and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is not here. The Attorney-General (Senator O’sullivan), as everybody knows, is in another chamber. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who is now on the front bench, is only the second Minister present in this chamber. He came in five minutes ago, at 9.55 p.m. to be precise. So that, during almost the whole of this evening’s proceedings we have had, at the table, in charge of the committee, one junior Minister - the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr. Osborne) - who would not be able to give detailed answers to the queries that are raised by honorable members. The honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) said that he wanted answers from the Prime Minister, and surely the Prime Minister could stand the Parliament a few minutes of his time, considering that he has been abroad for four months - and I think that that was the most unproductive trip ever made by any member of this Government. Surely he could let us have more of his time after a trip abroad lasting four months, muddling around with Australia’s international affairs, attending an abortive Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference, and in between times attending cricket test matches, or viewing them on television in his Daimler car. According to one newspaper he was so much concerned with the Suez crisis that he actually turned off the television set in the Daimler car, because he could not concentrate on Australia’s problems while he was viewing the test cricket. But, the newspaper went on to say, he arranged for periodical reports on the score to be supplied to him. Now that he is back in Australia after an absence of four months we see him for a very short period of time, and then he disappears again. What is keeping him? What is detaining the Prime Minister that he cannot give us some of his time in this chamber?
Now I want to make a reference to the sole contribution of the Prime Minister to debates in this Parliament during this sessional period. It is perfectly true that he has initiated a debate on the Suez crisis, which is now listed on the notice-paper. But every honorable gentleman in this chamber knows that there is a very grave danger that that item will never be reached, either in this sessional period or in the next, because the Prime Minister, this great socalled oracle, having spoken, believes that the last word has been said in regard to the Suez situation. 1 do not think it has. Let me ask now, at the outset, what has become of our Minister for External Affairs himself? He also has been abroad at very great expense to the Australian community. As a matter of fact, while I have been sitting here listening to the debate I have been trying to recall whether there has ever been an occasion since this Government came into office when all the members of the Cabinet have been in their own country, Australia, at one time. The trips of Ministers abroad are very costly trips, and why should the Prime Minister, merely because he saw a great opportunity to build himself up as an international figure, peremptorily send the Minister for External Affairs back home?
Why would he not allow the Minister to initiate the debate on the Suez dispute? And the Minister for External Affairs came into the chamber this evening and discussed Suez in the debate on the departmental estimates, but, instead of giving us some opinions of his own on the matter and how it should be handled, and what should be done, which is what we expect from our Minister for External Affairs, he merely recapitulated much of the material that we had already read in the press, or heard from the Prime Minister himself.
Now let us look at another point in respect of the Suez situation. The Prime Minister said, in effect, “ Oh yes, at this stage we are prepared to allow this dispute to go to the Security Council of the United Nations, but, if the Security Council does not decide in our favour, we are still going to use force “. That is the attitude of the Prime Minister on this matter. Let us look at the issues involved. Of course, the Prime Minister denies that his great concern, and the great concern of the tory government of Britain, is over the action of the Egyptians in nationalizing the Suez Canal.
– Order! I shall not allow the honorable member to proceed with a discussion on the Suez affair. He must deal with the administration of the departments the financial provision for which we are discussing.
– The Minister for External Affairs discussed the Suez affair.
Whether he did or not, I shall not permit the honorable member for East Sydney to continue on the line he has been following.
– The Minister for External Affairs discussed Israel, Suez and Egypt.
– Of course he did! He discussed Suez. What I am now discussing is the Prime Minister’s journey, the costs of which are governed by the items under discussion, and whether, during his trip, he handled Australia’s international affairs in a proper and efficient manner. In order to do that I have to show how he has bungled and muddled Australia’s affairs, how he has endangered the very security of this country, and how this money has been deliberately wasted, because he has not been doing a proper thing by the Australian community.
– I rise to order, Mr. Temporary Chairman. The honorable member for East Sydney is doing two things that are out of order. He is seeking to convert a debate on the Estimates for the Prime Minister’s Department into a debate on a subject which is already on the notice-paper. Secondly, he is canvassing your ruling.
– I shall not permit the honorable member for East Sydney to continue a discussion on the Suez affair. Provided he deals with the administration of the departments whose proposed votes are under review, I shall allow him to continue, but I shall listen very closely.
– I wish to speak to the point of order, Mr. Temporary Chairman. Am I permitted to answer the arguments advanced by the Minister for External Affairs in this debate?
– Then what may I deal with?
– I do not know what the Minister for External Affairs said in the debate, but while I am in the chair I shall not permit you to discuss the Suez affair. You may continue your remarks, but I shall listen to them very closely.
– The Minister for External Affairs did not discuss the Suez.
– The Minister did discuss the Suez affair, and the Temporary Chairman has now ruled - a most amazing ruling - that I may not reply to the arguments advanced by him. Well, I suppose that, although it is a most outrageous and unusual ruling, I shall have to abide by it. h. ‘cause the Government has a majority in this chamber. So I shall turn to another subject touching the Prime Minister’s Department, in respect of which the Temporary Chairman will probably have to exercise a great deal more facility if he wants to rule me out of order. The matter I want to discuss concerns the expenditure on the Royal Commission on Espionage in Australia. I notice that even in this financial year we are to spend another £6,000 incidental to that royal commission, which will bring the total expenditure to date, I believe, to £136,000. But that is not the end of the cost to this country of this abortive royal commission which, I tell the claquers on the Government side, has been wasteful expenditure, in my opinion, because no spies were discovered by it other than those who had sought asylum in Australia. I would like to ask the Government, and the Prime Minister if he were present, whether the Australian community is to be regarded as being responsible, indefinitely, for the upkeep of those two foreign ex-officials who have sought asylum in this country. Are we to maintain them indefinitely? The Prime Minister says that they are still employed by the Commonwealth. When we ask members of the Government what work they are engaged on, to whom they are responsible, and what salaries they are receiving, we are met with complete silence. Honorable members may recall that I asked the Prime Minister a question the other day in respect to some very serious allegations that are made against him and against members of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and others in regard to the conduct of this particular investigation.
– What is the title of the book they are made in?
– The book is titled, “The Petrov Conspiracy Unmasked “. The Prime Minister tries to brush the question lightly aside. He said that he had not read the book, that he did not know what it contains, and that he did not care what it contains.
– What has this to do with the. Estimates?
– It has a great deal to do with the Estimates, because it concerns the methods of investigation used by this abortive royal commission, and, therefore, I suggest to the members of the Government, to show what a peculiar game they are playing in this particular matter, that the author of the book is a well-known Communist journalist. The author of the book is a well-known Communist journalist who has been a candidate for State parliamentary honours in this country. So, at least he is a man well known in the Australian community. He does not pull his punches in this book. He makes a very careful analysis of the evidence given before the Royal Commission on Espionage in Australia, and the happenings surrounding it, and, in making this charge of conspiracy, he names the Prime Minister, certain officials of the security service, and other people. When 1 asked the Prime Minister what the Government intended to do in. respect of these very serious allegations and charges that have been made, the right honorable gentleman brushes the matter aside. Of what is the Prime Minister afraid?
– Has the book been published?
– Yes. If the Prime Minister takes action against the author of this book, two positions could arise. Either the author be found guilty of misrepresentation and of making allegations which he cannot substantiate, and for which he would have to pay the penalty; or, if his allegations are proved to be true, it is a very serious matter for the Prime Minister of this country. Therefore, I say to the Parliament that the Prime Minister ought not to allow this matter to rest where it is. If this author has made charges for which no basis or foundation exists, then he should be penalized, because the Prime Minister of the country is a very important person; he occupies a very important position. If honorable members opposite are genuine and sincere in their desire to protect the Government and the Prime Minister, why do they not take some action in the matter?
– I rise to order. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is discussing an item which, I understand, is due to be discussed by the committee on Thursday, 11th October, at 3.15 p.m.
-In this particular instance, the honorable member is dealing with the administration of the Prime Minister’s Department, and I rule he is in order.
– In the few moments that remain, because the time of this debate is obviously limited, let me say that some very strange happenings are associated with this particular matter. In this Parliament, I have raised the matter of one of the main witnesses before the Royal Commission on Espionage in Australia having been charged by a Mr. Marue of engaging in trafficking in liquor with him. Mr. Marue was the man employed by the security service to watch Dr. Bialoguski, who, in turn, was employed to watch Mr. Petrov. Mr. Marue, on oath before a court in New South Wales not so long ago, swore that he had been engaged in trafficking in this liquor. Yet, the Minister refused to allow daylight to shine on this murky affair. He refused to produce the records of his department. He refused to disclose the quantity of liquor that had been ordered by the Soviet Legation and used in trafficking.
– 1 rise to order. As I understand it, the honorable member for East Sydney is, . at this moment, discussing the affairs of the Department of Customs and Excise.
– He was still connecting his remarks with the administration of the Prime Minister’s Department. Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I propose to deal with Division No. 51, “ Superannuation Board “. The time has arrived when superannuation payments should be increased. The value of a superannuation unit was originally 10s. but it was progressively increased to 17s. 6d. It still has not kept pace with the increase in the cost of living and I suggest that the time has arrived when the value of the unit should be increased from I7s. 6d. to £1. The Superannuation Fund is in a financial position to enable this to be done without involving any additional payment by the Treasury. The Commonwealth officers’ Superannuation Fund commenced in 1922 and has been in operation now for a period of 34 years. During that time it has built up reserves of £44,388,023. It cannot be denied that the fund has now in hand a reserve quite adequate to meet all contingencies. If we look at the annual receipts to the fund and payments from the fund we find that in each year of its operation public servants of the Commonwealth, taken as a group, have paid more into the fund than they have drawn from it. Added to the contributions of the public servants is a contribution from general revenue, and also, of course, interest on the very large amount of reserves that have been built up over this time.
Although this fund was conceived on a very sound basis it is not in line with modern thinking. In times gone by, all schemes associated with superannuation and retiring allowances have presupposed that contributions would be collected from persons concerned, be paid into a fund which would be invested and would return interest so as to provide at the time of retirement pensions for the persons contributing. Funds such as this are generally of a permanent nature. I believe we will always have public servants, and in a young developing country such as ours it is probable that the number of public servants will be maintained at somewhat the same level or, perhaps, at a slightly increased level. That being the case, it is almost certain that the pattern of the past will continue in the future and that in every year of the operation of this fund the payments into it by public servants will exceed the payments out of it. What great purpose can therefore be served in allowing this fund to accumulate and get bigger and bigger when it already -has an adequate reserve to meet the present situation?
– What does the actuary say about it?
– I am taking the figures tabled on page 26 of the Auditor-General’s report. If, of course, we are to consider this on an actuarial basis which, I mentioned previously, is an old and antiquated method of looking at these schemes, we shall go on building up reserves in perpetuity. But in a scheme of this nature the modern idea is to use what is known as the assessment method, not the insurance method. Under the assessment method, all that it is necessary to ensure is that in no year will payments out from the fund exceed the payments in.
We have the experience of 34 years of operation of the fund. We have proved that in every year the payments in have exceeded the payments out. It has been built up to the colossal sum of £44,000,000. In view of those facts, is there any justification for keeping the value of the unit at the present level of 17s. 6d. a week? I suggest that action be taken immediately to increase the value to £1 a week. That would not jeopardize the security of the fund in any way. lt would continue to build up. If the value of the unit were increased, retired civil servants would receive larger means test-free superannuation payments. In some cases, their age pension payments would be reduced accordingly. Therefore, the Government would have something to gain in that direction. I am quite sure that retired civil servants would .prefer to receive means test-free superannuation payments, so that they could earn what they liked and hold assets of any value, than to be dependent partly upon superannuation payments and partly upon pension payments, as so many of them are to-day.
– Would the 2s. 6d. be paid from their contributions, or would an extra subsidy be required?
– I would pay them from the fund, as at present. I am not suggesting that there should be an additional subvention from the Treasury. The fund is sufficiently sound to enable the value of the unit to be increased by 2s. 6d. a week without jeopardizing in any way the security of the position of other civil servants who expect to collect their retiring allowances in, say, fifteen or twenty years’ time.
This is a permanent fund. It is not something that is here to-day and gone tomorrow, as so many savings schemes are. When a superannuation scheme is established by a private firm, it is necessary to go on building up the fund, because at some time or other the firm may go out of existence. The fund must be big enough to meet any future liability. But the Commonwealth fund virtually has the backing of Australia. The one thing that we are concerned with in a fund of that nature is to ensure that in every year the receipts of the fund shall at least equal, if not exceed, the payments out.
I mentioned earlier that we have had 34 years’ experience of the operation of the fund. Perhaps some people may take the view that that experience is not long enough to show the true picture. In addition, the fund has a backing of £44,000,000. With 34 years of experience and £44,000,000 invested, I should be very surprised if any public servant felt any nervousness about its future. I am not quarrelling with the great minds which established this fund. It is one of the finest ever to be established. It has given a sense of security to thousands of civil servants by relieving them from the fear of poverty in their old age. It enables civil servants to save. It enables them to go on working after they have retired from the civil service, because the superannuation payments are made to them regardless of their income or assets.
The fund was established at a time when all expert opinion favoured the basis on which it was established, but, in the light of modern experience with national insurance schemes and social security schemes, a different set of rules is now considered to be correct. It is believed that we should use what is called the assessment method, rather than the insurance method. The modern view is that there is no need to build up the fund if we ensure that in no year will outgoings exceed receipts. 1 suggest that immediate consideration be given to this fund with a view to seeing whether it would be possible immediately, without costing the Treasury a single penny, to increase the value of the superannuation unit from 17s. 6d. to £1 a week. If that were done, it would bring the value of the unit more into the line with what it was originally, taking into account the increased cost of living.
– I agree with the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) that there should be a reconsideration of the basis on which the superannuation scheme for Commonwealth employees is established. In view of the talk that we hear from time to time about the ultimate abolition of the means test, there is a need to consider the basic assumptions on which funds of this kind depend. Assume, for the sake of argument, that in twenty years from now we shall have abolished the means test, having worked out a scheme to enable that to be done. In those circumstances, there would not be the same need as at present for persons to contribute to superannuation schemes.
At present, as the honorable member for Sturt has pointed out, each Commonwealth employee sets aside a certain sum each week, according to his salary, and the Government makes an equivalent or a larger contribution. So, in the final analysis ,a retired Commonwealth employee is receiving the benefit, not only of his own contributions, with accumulated interest, but also of the Government contributions. That was a matter that was ignored some time ago when the civil servants were suggesting that the means test be abolished so far as their superannuation scheme was concerned. It must be remembered that, under the existing scheme, a part of the pension which is paid to a retired Commonwealth employee represents the contribution made to the scheme by the Government. In that respect, he is in no different position from the man who is dependent upon an age pension or an invalid pension, the whole of which comes from government sources.
I do not agree with the honorable member that in these days £44,000,000 is a huge sum. In our economy, it is comparatively insignificant, especially when it is borne in mind that there are over 100,000 contributors to the Commonwealth fund. Nevertheless, I think it can be agreed that there should be a fresh examination and appraisal of the basis upon which the fund is established, particularly in view of suggestions for the abolition of the means test. I believe that the community as a whole hopes that some day the means test will be abolished. To my mind, that is not a matter that should be given the highest priority now. There are many other things which should be done before that. If it were done, it might involve the working out of a new system of taxation, and, in any event, the basis upon which superannuation schemes, both government and private, are founded would, to some extent, be cut away.
I rose mainly to deal with a matter that has relation to the Treasury. If honorable members will look in the Estimates at the schedules of employees and study the administrative organization of the Treasury disclosed there, they will see the vast influence which the Treasury has upon the economic life of the community. It has a Central Secretariat, a Budget and Accounting Branch, a Banking, Trade and Industry Branch, a General Finance and Economic Policy Branch, a Loans and General Services Branch, a Social Services Branch, an Insurance and Actuarial Branch, and a Defence Division. And then, of course, it has the ordinary machinery of taxation collection as well. When we look at that kind of set-up, we see that the Treasury reaches out into the whole governmental organization. There are sections in the Treasury which match the operation of the various other departments of government, and this indicates that Treasury control is a very real thing in Australia. And so it ought to be. If it is to control the processes of government, the whole thing must be brought to a head somewhere. There are 4 1 9 officers of the Treasury engaged in this administrative set-up, as distinct from the collecting of taxes and other activities. They are the people who co-ordinate and direct the economic life of the community, they are responsible, ultimately, for deciding why it is that we need to collect £1.230,000,000 ‘ in taxes and how the revenue shall be distributed amongst the various functions of government.
One of the sections that I mentioned was the Loans and General Services Branch. I submit that in our community to-day the national debt, or the service of our debt, is a very important matter. The national debt of Australia - the total amount owing by the Commonwealth and the States- is about £3,800,000,000, which, in anybody’s language, is a large sum. How i hat debt is managed and serviced is important to the economic life of the community. The interest rates payable on the debt are important. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), when he produced his budget at the end of August, pointed to the very real problem of interest in the next twelve months. He pointed out that already this year something like £70,000,000 of the national debt had had to be converted. The details are given at page 96 of the budget papers. There had to be converted, on 15th August, a Commonwealth loan of £16,000,000 odd. bearing interest at 3 per cent., and also, at - the same date, a further loan of £54,000,000, bearing interest at the rate of 3i per cent. These were the low-rate loans that were raised during the regime of the Labour government.
We on this side of the chamber believe that interest rates ought to be kept as low as possible, because when interest rates are allowed to rise, they affect not only the taxation structure, but also the private side of the economy. Such matters as house mortgages and that sort of thing are indirectly influenced by the current rate on Government bonds. The Treasurer found that he had difficulty in converting the whole of that £70,000,000 of debt. In fact, he used these words in his budget speech -
Although the response to the £70,000,000 conversion offer was moderately satisfactory, a sizeable amount of cash had to be found to pay off non-converters.
In this country, we do not seem to be so keen as other countries are to take the public into our confidence as to how the large amount of national debt stock is held among the various sections of the community. It is sometimes thought that the small saver is an important factor in the loan market. I submit that, in Australia, he is not a very important factor. He could be made a very important factor if a more imaginative effort were made by the Government to attract his savings, but, by and large, what is important, so far as the holding of our national debt is concerned, is how much bodies like the Commonwealth Bank, in its various aspects, has reserved for the note issue. Its ordinary reserves in the central bank indicate how much it takes up. Something like £800,000,000 of stock, or more, is held by the Commonwealth Bank. In other words, it is held by the bank for the people as a whole. Whatever interest is derived from it goes back into the profits of the bank. Equally important are the large amounts which are held by the various savings banks of Australia. Savings banks, at the moment have, I think, something like £1,100,000,000 on deposit. The major source of investment of those deposits is in government securities, either of the Commonwealth or of the various State public utility services. In a sense, as far as the small man is concerned, saving is virtually done for him by proxy. It is done by the commissioners of the various State savings banks, and a large amount is also done by the various life insurance companies which, after all, are only large machines for gathering up the small savings of the people and re-investing them in government securities of one kind oi another. It is extremely difficult in this country to find out just how much of the total of national debt stock is actually held by the individual investor as such. As I said earlier, there is very little systematic attempt to attract the savings of the small man in Australia.
The Opposition has pointed out from time to time a kind of security that exists in America. I think it is called the E type security. If you read the popular American magazines, “ Time “ or “ Life “, you will find advertisements in a quite attractive form suggesting to the individual that investing in bonds of this kind is investing in the future of his own country. Very little of that kind of approach seems to be made here. The real value about that kind of bond is - and 1 submit that this is the most important matter for the small investor - that there can be no capital loss whatever. It is similar in a way to the war savings certificates that we had some years ago, when a person paid 16s. for a certificate which, over a period of seven years, gradually increased in value until it was worth £1.1 think the interest rate was something equivalent to the then current rate on government bonds. If a person put £500 or £600 into these securities, and after about a year or two, for reasons best known to himself, wanted to cash them, there was no possibility of his being involved in a capital loss. He could get the amount of his original investment, plus accumulated interest to date. I submit that the time has come when the Loans and General Services Branch of the Treasury - there is a research officer attached to it - should give consideration to re-instituting this kind of security - a security, that could be cashed, let us say, within six months of being taken up, if necessary, and which, if cashed at any time after that date, would carry accumulated interest, the capital to remain intact. What the small investor is seeking is not a high rate of interest. Like anybody else, he endeavours to get as high a rate as he can, but he is more concerned, not with the immediate yield on his investment, but with an assurance that if he wants to use the capital - and most people accumulate savings with the ultimate intention of buying a house or a motor car or something of the kind - he can get it. He wants a guarantee that when the time comes for him to cash his securities in order to put the money into assets such as I have mentioned, he will not suffer any capital loss on the transaction. I submit that it is about time the Government took note of the pleas along these lines that have been made by the Opposition. They have been made, also, by honorable members on the Government side, with a view to the re-institution of this type of security. The amount of the investment could be limited to £500 or £1,000, so that it would not be taken up by people in large parcels, the intention being that it would be an attraction to the genuine small investor to help the development of this country. He may not want to be bothered with the ordinary bond, but he will not be involved in any capital loss if, after a certain lapse of time, he wants to cash the type of security to which I have referred. In short, I urge upon the Treasurer a more imaginative and scientific approach to this matter.
It is difficult in these days of inflation for the small man to acquire vast savings and, for the most part, he devotes his spare money to insurance policies, or places it in the savings bank. These institutions invest it for him by proxy. He might, however, like a higher rate of interest on his savings and the safer type of security which I have mentioned might prove attractive to him. I shall leave it at that in the hope that the Government will adopt a new approach to this question of the national debt, especially as it affects the small investor.
.- Mr. Chairman
– I rise to order. The Minister has already spoken in this debate, and I feel that I, too, am entitled to say something.
– That is not a point of order. The Minister is entitled to speak when he wishes.
– I understand that when I was absent for a short time from the chamber earlier this evening the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made one of his usual statesmanlike speeches. He referred to my absence and the fact that the Minister then at the table was the only Minister present in the chamber. For the greater part of the time since I left the chamber I have been at a meeting of a large Senate committee, which I was invited to attend for the purpose of discussing a certain matter.
I am told that the honorable gentleman delivered himself of a series of remarks criticizing Ministers for travelling overseas from time to time. 1 wish to address myself to that matter for a few moments. I do so with no intention of apologizing for visits that I or any other Minister or member of this Parliament may have made abroad. One has only to go through the mildly intellectual exercise of looking at a globe of the world to realize that, of all the countries, Australia is the most remote from the great centres of population. We are lonely, isolated and vulnerable in a world that has become progressively more interconnected.
In these days every country is called upon to express itself in the United Nations and elsewhere on matters that occur in every corner of the world. We are a small country with a population of 9,250,000. As populations go to-day, that is a very small figure. We cannot expect the representatives of the United States of America, Great Britain, France and other highly populated countries, half a world away, to visit us to discuss international affairs with us and give us the benefit of their experiences. If we are to keep up with the world, and in tune with what is going on, we must travel abroad a great deal more to offset the natural reluctance of statesmen in other countries to visit us.
So far from being in the least apologetic, I am aggressively in favour of visits overseas by responsible Ministers and members of this Parliament. Only in that way can we increase our knowledge of what is going on in the world. In total, such visits as are made cost a very few tens of thousands of pounds each year, out of this country’s budget of more than £1,100,000,000. Therefore small-time political criticism about Ministers going overseas leaves my withers completely unwrung. The number of Ministers and members of both Houses of Parliament who go overseas could be doubled, or trebled, with great advantage to Australia and at no great cost.
– We could send the honorable member for East Sydney.
– With great respect, in this matter we must be a little selective. It is a two-way traffic. Our visits abroad not only make an impression on us, but also on those whom we visit. That is true of every Australian who goes abroad. For that reason, we must safeguard Australia’s interests by being selective and ensuring that those who represent us will be a good advertisement. Unfortunately, we have had a good many years’ experience of the honorable member for East Sydney. We know his circumstances, and make allowances for him. We do not take him quite at face value. We have succeeded in insulating ourselves against the effect that the honorable member for East Sydney has on most people. However, other nations have not had that experience and it might be a very great shock to the people of some civilized community if the honorable member for East Sydney were to arrive among them representing Australia. They would not understand him at all. Just imagine the effect that that would have on Australia’s, reputation! I am perfectly serious when I say that it would be something approaching, a national calamity.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who is a master of understatement, once found himself obliged to make the remark that, try as he might - and he had tried very hard - he could not find a single redeeming feature in the honorable member for East Sydney. The Prime Minister is a man of great experience, who does not express himself lightly on these matters. I am sure that he said what was in the minds of a great many honorable members.
In the United States of America, a great country of which I have had some little experience, there is a type of small-time politician called a “ ward politician “. It is a well-known expression, and almost a term of contempt - “ So-and-so is just a ward politician “. 1 am not saying that we should adopt that expression in this country, no matter how greatly Americanismsmay invade our everyday life. But, in a way, it is a pity, because it would have an even more pointed meaning here than it has. in the United States.
I ventured, in a speech that I made not so very long ago, during the budget debate, to say something about the subjects that had been chosen for discussion by honorable members opposite during that debate. At considerable pains to myself, I examined the record of the first week of that debate and I found that about 90 per cent, of the speeches that fell from the lips of honorable gentlemen opposite were devoted to such small-time matters as the payment received by individuals as remuneration for their work or as social services of one kind or another.
– They are important matters.
– That is so, but they are not nearly so important as some of the subjects that are facing Australia at the present time, and, for about the fifth time.
I implore honorable members opposite to remember this. I quoted the remarks of some Labour supporters, and begged them to raise their sights a little and discuss some of the many subjects of first-class national importance that are around us all the time. The question of survival is a very big and important matter, and for us the problem is accentuated by Australia’s isolation. Winston Churchill has said a number of things which are well worth the attention of all people. Among his many great gifts, he has a great gift for pithy expression, for condensing a large thought in the fewest possible words. He once said that every country must have an overriding objective, whether it realized it or not. I say that our overriding objective is survival.
– I rise to order. I recall clearly a ruling made recently from the Chair to the effect that any honorable member speaking in this debate must connect his remarks specifically with the items within the administration of the department under discussion. The Minister is not doing that.
– Order! The honorable member’s point of order cannot be upheld because the Department of External Affairs is in the group that is now before the committee, and, broadly, the Minister is discussing external affairs.
– I thank you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, and I am grateful of your support. I was trying to point a very simple moral that should be in the mind of every honorable member except, possibly, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). It is that there are great subjects which should be obsessing the minds of all thinking and responsible Australians, the most important of which, probably, is that this country has to look to its survival because our survival is by no means guaranteed in an angry world. We are, as I have said before, remote, lonely, vulnerable and isolated-. Those four adjectives can be applied more to this country than to any other country in the world. If a determination to survive in an angry world is to be our overriding objective, should it not dominate- all our thoughts? Should it not dominate our thinking about our development, our increasing population, the strengthening of Australia generally, the develop ment of our industries, the search for minerals, our defences, our finances? All those things can be discussed with the objective of survival in the background - in other words, the strengthening of Australia. That is. a theme which would, admit of discussion in this Parliament,, and would be the bigger for being, turned about from one side of the chamber to the other. If that were done,, new ideas would be produced and we want new ideas instead, of fiddling about with the small change of ward politics. We could and should be discussing matters of high import to Australia; but we do not do so. During this debate we heard three or four serious speeches from this side of the chamber about matters of consequence, and then from the Opposition we are told that too many Ministers are going abroad trying to inform their minds about the situation in other countries in an angry world. Can any one imagine more smalltime stuff than that! I shall not take up more of the committee’s time.
Opposition Members. - Hear, hear!
– Yes, I know that it is hard for the Opposition to listen to what I have been saying. I shall finish my speech with another quotation from that great man, Winston Churchill. Almost everything that any one of us does, thinks or looks at every day has been electrified and illuminated by something he has said at one time or another. He has spoken* of this subject of survival, even for his own country, Great Britain, although Britain’s survival is in a category different from ours. He has advocated his own people to think, discuss and concentrate on the serious matters of life and to leave the small stuff to small people. He summed it up in words with which I shall conclude. He said, “ My friend, watch the tides and not the eddies “.
– I hope that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), having dealt with East Sydney, will give some consideration to West Sydney. I have before me the estimated expenditure of the Department of External Affairs on overseas embassies, legations and other representation, and I notice that the department has representation in some 24 countries abroad. However, one of the smallest amounts of money expended on representation overseas is spent on the Embassy of the Republic of
Ireland. A total of only £13,500 is expected to be expended on that embassy in the present financial year. I have brought this matter before honorable members and the Minister for External Affairs on many occasions, and to-night I am breaking a good resolution that I made this morning that I would no longer address myself to the Minister.
In 1949, when a Labour government was in office, Australia was well represented in Ireland. Mr. Dignam represented us there for three years, but no sooner had the present Government taken office than he was brought back from Ireland; and we have not had a representative there since. It has been said that it would be an offence to Her Majesty the Queen for us to have an ambassador there, but I do not believe that that is correct. I was introduced to Her Majesty in this building when she visited Australia, and I am sure that if the matter were left to the Queen we should have no further trouble. When I was introduced to Her Majesty she asked me where I came from, and I told her that I came from Ireland. She said, “ Really, it is nice to meet you “; and we were friends all at once.
I now wish to direct the attention of honorable members to an article which was published recently in the London “ Times “. It was there reported that Mr. Costello, the Prime Minister of Ireland, told that newspaper’s special representative that relations between the Irish Government and the governments of British countries were better to-day than they had ever been. Association at all levels with Great Britain was close and friendly. The same applied to relations with Canada, but. so far, the Australian Government had not seen its way to appoint an ambassador in Dublin. Ireland, he said, was a European nation and was determined to pull its full weight in international affairs. I suggest that this repudiation by the Government is another example of its two-faced attitude. During the last general election campaign a promise was made by a prominent Minister of this Government to a certain gentleman in Queensland that an ambassador would soon be sent to Ireland - not an ordinary representative, but one of the highest rank. The Government has not honoured that promise; and we have been represented in Ireland by a first grade clerk.
Time and time again the Minister for External Affairs has stated that this is just a matter that needs a little negotiation between the two countries; but there does not seem to have been any need for that sort of negotiation between Great Britain and Ireland and Canada and Ireland. Ireland is now a member of the United Nations, and I ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) or the Minister for External Affairs to inform the committee why we are not represented in Ireland by an ambassador.
Twenty-three per cent, of the voting population of Australia have come from Ireland, or are of Irish descent. Some other countries have no nationals here at all. When I came into the chamber to-night I did not intend to speak. Then, however, 1 heard the Minister for External Affairs patting himself on the back for what he had done here and overseas. He told us that Australia has appointed Ministers in this country and that country, and that he has visited these overseas posts. I understand that he intends to embark on another journey next month. Before he does so, he should al least settle this question. If he, or the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) cannot settle the question that I have been speaking about, how can they be regarded as suitable persons to settle disputes in other places?
That is all I wished to say on this matter. 1 have put my views in plain words, and I ask the Minister to tell the people of Australia, and the people of West Sydney, whom I represent, the real reason why this Government has failed to appoint a minister or ambassador to Ireland. Do not tell me that the Queen would be offended if this post were filled; I would not believe that. I ask the Minister to tell us, before he goes off to settle any other disputes, why he has not settled this one. Six years ago he promised to make this appointment, and he has consistently failed to honour his promise. I remind him that the Irish people are not looking for aid under the Colombo plan, or for any other kind of aid. They are looking for justice in the matter of these appointments. The Government of Ireland eighteen months ago appointed a man to represent it in Australia. He held the position for about six months, but when it became apparent that the Australian Government did not intend to make a reciprocal appointment in Ireland his appointment in this country was terminated.
That is the present situation. I hope and trust that a decision will be given to-night on this question. I shall be quite satisfied if a decision is given, but until we are told in plain language why an Australian representative is not appointed in Ireland I shall not be satisfied.
.- 1 have listened with great interest to the ponts made in this debate and to the criticism of various departments. I was pleased to hear the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) answer, with the great knowledge of external affairs that he possesses, some of the arguments that have been advanced, chiefly by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). There is not the slightest doubt that overseas trips can be overdone. However, when Ministers or supporters of this Government have gone overseas, it has been for the purpose of attending important conferences, or, in the case of back-benchers, to gain knowledge that on their return to Australia will enable them to carry out their duties for the people of Australia in a more satisfactory manner. I do not think any one in Australia would object to members of Parliament acquiring wider knowledge. When a man enters this Parliament he does not, perhaps, need to be able to speak on all subjects, but he certainly should specialize in certain subjects that interest the people in his own electorate. I have never been one of those who deride what is called the parish pump, because if every member of the Parliament speaks in this chamber on behalf of the special interests of his own constituents, then the whole of Australia must benefit. -Members of Parliament must, however, make trips overseas, because they must find out what is happening in other countries. As has been pointed out by the Minister for External Affairs, Australia is far removed from the real centres of civilization.
– The honorable member criticized me for going overseas.
– I did nothing of the kind. I criticized the honorable member for staying away so long. Any ordinary member could have absorbed the knowledge that he acquired in half the time that he took. That is why I criticized him. 1 believe that all members of Parliament should endeavour to widen their knowledge, and the Minister for External Affairs was quite correct in joining issue with the honorable member for East Sydney who criticized Government supporters for making overseas trips.
I am pleased to see that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has entered the chamber, because when Labour was in government, and even since it has been out of government, no member of this Parliament made more frequent or lengthy trips overseas than has that right honorable gentleman. I do not find fault with him for that, because he went overseas on missions that may have been of benefit to Australia. However, the members of the Opposition should not criticize Government supporters for making overseas trips when their own leader made most extensive trips when he was Minister for External Affairs. I do not, as I say, find fault with the Leader of the Opposition in this regard.
Departments other than the Department of External Affairs have been discussed during this debate. Reference has been made to the Treasury, and to the Taxation Branch. I believe that much can be done through the Taxation Branch to stimulate production in Australia and to relieve our balance of payments difficulties. I shall refer to one way in which primary producers can be encouraged to increase their production. I believe I am entitled to speak on this matter, because the Taxation Branch is controlled by the Treasury. Income tax concessions are allowed to people who prepare land for agriculture or for grass and pasture. Amounts spent in this way may be deducted from income, for taxation purposes, in the year in which they are spent. Let us consider the case of a man starting out on the land, who commences by clearing land and preparing it for grass and pasture or for agriculture. In the year that he makes his expenditure for this purpose he is allowed to deduct the amount from his income for tax purposes, but in that year he will probably have no income at all, and so he will receive no concession. I believe that the deduction should be made when the land that is cleared comes into produc- tion, when the crop is reaped or when the stock is fattened on the pasture that has been improved by the expenditure in ques-tion. Of course, a city dweller who has a big income may take up an area of rural land, prepare it for agriculture or grass, and deduct the amount involved from his income in the year in which he expends it. In its present form, the provision for this concession is of no great help to the’ men who really should be given a chance to establish themselves on the land. The man who has the capital, and who wishes to buy a property to put under grass or to use for agricultural purposes can always outbid the man with limited capital who is seeking an opportunity to become a primary producer. If my suggestion were adopted, I am confident that it would be the means of enabling more men to engage in primary production, and as a result we should achieve that greater production we know is necessary in the interests of Australia’s future.
I come now to the pay-roll tax. The Minister has said that this is necessary in order to obtain revenue for the payment of child endowment. I suggest that the money needed to pay child endowment could be collected by way of straight-out income tax. Pay-roll tax is detrimental to Australia’s interests for several reasons. In the first place, it taxes the man who has the initiative to establish a business which, in turn, enables him to give employment to our people. Such drawbacks should not exist in this country. We should do everything possible to encourage a man to establish a business that creates employment. Again, pay-roll tax adds to costs and in that way gives impetus to the spiral of inflation. I repeat that it would be far better to collect the money needed for child endowment by way of direct income tax.
I admit that a business must be fairly large before it becomes liable to pay payroll tax, just as I admit that this Government has increased the exemption tremendously. Under the present system, the man who employs only two or three on his farm, or in his business, pays no pay-roll tax; but, on the other hand, it has to be remembered that the bigger businesses which attract this tax are perhaps our chief employers and, therefore, should be encouraged. I emphasize that in my view the imposition of pay-roll tax is not justified, that the money required should be collected in some other way. We must do nothing todiscourage initiative. Both the Liberal party and the Australian Country party havealways supported the encouragement of initiative in private enterprise. We havealways favoured private enterprise as against the socialization of industry, because privateenterprise encourages a man to exerciseinitiative whilst socialization robs him of it. Certainly, pay-roll tax cannot be calculated to spur on a man to employ morepeople because the more he employs thegreater the amount of tax he paysEfficiency in business is not fostered by pay-roll tax. The fairest tax in the world is the straight-out income tax, and if this. money is required for child endowment, I should like to see it collected in some other way. When speaking to the social services, bill recently, one honorable member opposite said he would not object to the introduction of a means test in connexion with child endowment. Certainly, if a means test were imposed, thecost of child endowment would not be nearly so great as it is now and, therefore, it would not be necessary to raiseso much money for this purpose. I venture the opinion that the introduction of themeans test would reduce the cost of childendowment by approximately 50 per cent, and Australia would benefit in many waysas a result. After all, many wealthy people who now collect child endowment are using, it merely as pin money.
One could speak on many matters connected with the Estimates under discussion.. For instance, the Parliament alone is a subject upon which one could speak at length. Another matter of vital interest is the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings, which,. I understand, costs about £45,000 a year. But that expenditure is certainly justified. Only last week, I was urged by a man in theKing’s Hall to do everything within my power to see that the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings was continued. “ Hansard “ is an excellent publication, but even the oldest of honorable memberswould be amazed at the small number of people who read it. With the broadcasting of the proceedings of the Parliament, many more people have come to take a keeninterest in the doings of the Parliament, and of recent times it has become evident that honorable members are now accustomed to this practice of broadcasting parliamentary proceedings for they no longer evince anxiety to get on the air at the prima donna hour of 8 o’clock. They now realize thatit is desirable that Ministers be given the opportunity to speak at that hour because they have special messages for the people. I am pleased to see that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) is smiling. It is the first time he has smiled at me this week. Despite the claims by some people that the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings is robbing the Australian Broadcasting Commission of valuable time that could be utilized for the broadcasting of classical music, it cannot be denied that it is serving a good purpose. Let us forget about classical music for the time being and get down to the things that really matter to Australia.
– “Rock ‘n roll”.
– The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) has voiced a plea for “ rock ‘n roll “. I am not interested in that. What interests me is the desirability of giving the people of Australia an opportunity to hear the views of honorable members on both sides of the House on national and international questions which are of vital importance to the whole community. The value of the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings was seen so recently as last Tuesday night when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Leader of the Opposition spoke about the Suez Canal crisis. By this means, the Prime Minister was able to convey an extremely important message to every person who cared to listen in; and there can be no doubt that countless thousands availed themselves of the opportunity to listen to him. Those who actually heard him speak derived more satisfaction from the information conveyed than they could possibly hope to gain from newspaper articles. In saying that, I am not in any way criticizing the press, although the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has often accused the newspapers of misquoting him. I am afraid that we do sometimes read frivolous statements in the press.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Mr. Chairman-
– Mr. Chairman! 1 move,. “ that the honorable member for East Sydney be heard”.
– I have not yet given, the call. Did the honorable member for East Sydney rise?
– I have to decidenow whether I should give the honorable member for East Sydney a second call in preference to calling another honorable member who has not yet spoken. I have endeavoured to alternate the call from sideto side, but I like to give preference to an honorable member who has not spoken.
– The honorable member for East Sydney was attacked by theMinister.
– lt is a matter of procedure. As I am loath to depart from the practice of alternating the call from side to side, I give the call to the honorable member for East Sydney.
.- I would not have asked for a second period’ when such a short time is permitted for the consideration of this group of Estimates, had it not been for some misleading statements made by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). The Minister was not in the chamber when I spoke; evidently he had to get his information second-hand or by listening to the radio. It is quite true that I made certain references to the overseas visits of Ministers. I did not argue that the overseas visits of Ministers could not be useful; what I was arguing against was the fact that this Government works on a roster. A Minister does not go overseasbecause he is required for some specific purpose. The Government has a roster, and it is a matter of whose turn is next. That is the principle upon which Ministers are working.
If the Minister for External Affairs only realized it, I was actually paying him a compliment. I was objecting to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) peremptorily sending home the Minister for External Affairs whose specific duty it was to be present at the international conferences. I am not arguing that the Minister would have done any great service to this country, but, in view of the position that he occupies, he was the right person to be there. As a matter of fact, I heard one honorable member say that he thought the Minister was very fitted to attend these conferences because somebody said he was reared in the “ Suez “. I do not know whether that is correct or not but that was one statement that I heard. It was that it fitted him to attend these conferences.
Let us have a look at this gentleman. He said, in effect, that care had to be taken in the choice of who was to be sent aboard because the type of man to be sent had to be known. Therefore, I propose to refresh the memories of some members of this Parliament, in case they have forgotten, on the calibre of the Minister for External Affairs and his record in this country. The Minister has a very personal dislike for me which goes back over a good number of years. The reason the Minister has such a particular hatred of me is because some years ago in this Parliament I was able to expose his activities and show how public money was being wasted on an abortive royal commission which the government of the day had appointed to inquire into the financial structure.
The Minister for External Affairs was the Treasurer at that time. I was put in a position of intercepting a letter from Sir Roland Wilson, who was then the Commonwealth Statistician, which was to be delivered personally to Mr. Ward at Parliament House, lt was delivered to Mr. Ward, but to the wrong Mr. Ward. The Minister for External Affairs, who was then the Treasurer, had a secretary whose name was Ward. He made a big mistake having a Ward around the place as a private secretary, because the letter was handed to me. I tried to force it back onto the messenger to take it to the Treasurer. I said, “ It is not for me “. He said, “ Yes, it is. I was given specific instructions to place it into your hands and not into the hands of anybody else “. Anybody in those circumstances would have thought the letter was a reply to some representations he had made and that the Trea- surer had directed that the communication be handed to the member.
I opened it, and I read the letter. I was amazed at what I read. I say “ a letter “ but it was a copy of the evidence which Sir Roland Wilson proposed to give before the Royal Commission on Banking, which he had sent to the Treasurer. He said, “ I have also sent a copy to Mr. Sheehan, who will no doubt blue pencil much of it “. Mr. Sheehan was then Secretary of the Treasury. When I tackled the Treasurer, as he then was, in this House he made a lame excuse. He said that this was just a private joke between himself and the Commonwealth Statistician. It is obvious what they were doing. They were, in fact, doctoring the evidence which was to be given before a royal commission. That was a most reprehensible act on the part of a responsible Minister.
The gentleman then moved from the scene in Australia, and became the Governor of Bengal in all his splendour and trappings-
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).Order! That has nothing to do with these Estimates.
– lt has something to do with the overseas visits of the Ministers, to which we are referring.
– Not a reference to the time the Minister was the Governor of Bengal.
– I shall conclude if you, Mr. Chairman, will not permit me to give other incidents in the very sorry record of the Minister for External Affairs. But I do not think there is any need for me to continue, because his own party was able to assess his worth recently. He was a candidate for the position of deputy leader of the Liberal party. According to a section of the daily press, he was sure to succeed; he was gaining ground every day. When we heard the figures, we found that he was the first candidate to be eliminated in the ballot.
– Order! What parties do has nothing to do with the Estimates.
– I think the Minister for External Affairs came into this debate merely because the Government is afraid that there may be some probing into some of the questionable happenings surrounding the now notorious Royal Commission on Espionage. The Minister knows quite a deal about it, because he was the first gentleman to make the amazing discovery, according to his own statement. I admit that his statement was made after some celebration, when he had returned to the House at a late hour. He probably said more than he intended to say, but when the Minister did come into the House he announced dramatically that a nest of traitors had been discovered in his department. Honorable members will recall that Opposition members, and particularly the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), questioned the Minister day by day to try to find out what he was doing about the nest of traitors, whether they were still in the department and whether any action was being taken against them. It turned out, eventually, that this so-called nest of traitors arose out of a circumstance of which the Minister at the time, evidently, had not been advised. The security service itself was actually releasing documents as a form of trap to test the employees in the Minister’s department. Though the Minister talked about a nest of traitors handing out some confidential documents which dealt with a trade treaty between this country and the United States of America, it was subsequently revealed that this was an official handout by the officers of his own department.
That shows that, besides other deficiencies, the Minister is completely inefficient. He does not know what is happening in his department. When he makes his statements to this House, what do we get? A rehash of what we have read in every daily newspaper in this country for weeks past! We never get an original thought or an original idea; he is not responsible for making any decisions. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister had to rebuke him in his own party meeting the other day because of some of his statements regarding international affairs. According to the Prime Minister, those statements were not in keeping with the views of the Government.
I leave it to the members of this House, and to the Australian community, to judge the man who made this uncalled for and violent attack on me this evening - an attack which he made on returning to the House after a long absence from the debate when he was not fully aware of what was happening.
In the last minute of my time, I ask the Minister in charge of the House what action the Government proposes to take in regard to the serious allegations contained in the book entitled “ The Petrov Conspiracy Unmasked “. That book was written by a man who is well known in this community. lt cannot be brushed aside merely by saying that he is a Communist, a Communist journalist, and a Communist candidate for Parliament. If we were to take any notice of this Government and its statements, we would believe that it would, with the greatest of alacrity, prosecute this man and pull him into the court to make him prove the statements contained in this book. But the Government does not do that. It tries to ignore the subject, because it is afraid to test the truth of the statements in this book. It knows that the book will be a great embarrassment to the Government and the Prime Minister.
Order! The time allotted for consideration of the remainder of the proposed vote for the Parliament and the proposed votes for the Prime Minister’s Department, the Department of External Affairs, the Department of the Treasury and the AttorneyGeneral’s Department has expired.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Fresh Water from the Sea.
What is the-
Newtown 125, Marrickville 190, Dulwich Hill 75, Stanmore 30, Lewisham 15, Petersham 110, Summer Hill 10. 2. (a) Ten years.
Can consideration be given during this financial year to the sealing, at Oakey airport, of the road from the entrance to the waiting room?
House adjourned at 11.31 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560927_reps_22_hor12/>.