22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have received a return to the writ which I issued on 1st August last for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Richmond, in the State of New South Wales, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of the Honorable Hubert Lawrence Anthony. By the endorsement on the writ it is certified that John Douglas Anthony has been elected.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
Mr. Anthony made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.
– I have to announce to the House that my colleague, the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), has been advised on medical grounds to curtail his activities for at least one month. While continuing to administer his department, therefore, he will not be attending Parliament for the next few weeks. Meanwhile I have arranged, for the convenience of honorable members, that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) will represent the Minister for Health in this chamber.
– Will the Prime Minister, or yourself, Mr. Speaker, convey to the Minister for Health our sincere wishes for his early restoration te full health?
– That will be done.
– I ask the Minister for Trade: Is it a fact that at the last annual conference of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Country party, a Mr. V. C. Thorby, a former member of this Parliament, stated that the Government’s system of import licensing was vicious and encouraged dishonesty, and also that it must be the most corrupt in the world? Did Mr. Thorby claim to have astounding information of firms trafficking in import licences? As these views are in line with the opinions already expressed by the Labour party and other sections of the community, will the Minister undertake to establish immediately a full public inquiry into all aspects of import restrictions and licensing, and thus allow Mr. Thorby and others to submit for thorough examination any evidence of which they may be in possession? If this course is not adopted will the Minister state whether it is intended to ignore completely the very forthright statements made by such a prominent member of his own party?
– I am not aware of what Mr. Thorby may have said nor am I responsible for it, but I say quite categorically that Mr. Thorby has not sought to put before me nor, to the best of my knowledge, before any one in the Department of Trade any evidence to substantiate such a statement as the honorable member for East Sydney reports him to have made. If the Australian Labour party claims to have knowledge that there is corruption in import licensing, then the Labour party is extremely negligent in its public duty in not bringing before the Parliament, before me or before the department, evidence of such malpractices. I have no doubt whatever that there is no foundation for suggesting that malpractices exist, and it is most reprehensible that a body of public servants who are devoted to the cause of this country and who perform an unpalatable duty in administering import licensing, should at the same time be subject to calumny of the character that one might expect from few people other than the honorable member for East Sydney.
– By way of a supplementary question, I ask the Minister for Trade whether he will, to make good what he has said, follow up the information given publicly by the honorable member for East Sydney, or whether he will just ignore it. That information comes originally from a gentleman who is an ex-Minister of the Crown and a member of the right honorable gentleman’s own party. A charge is contained in the statement that has been made and I suggest that all the right honorable gentleman does at present is to ignore it.
– I do not want to play with words, but I think there is some difference between a charge and a broad allegation. If Mr. Thorby, the honorable member for East Sydney or any one else makes an allegation, supported by some prima facie evidence, then I undertake here and now, as I have undertaken before over a long period, to have an immediate, correct and adequate investigation made into it.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Interior as the Minister administering civil defence. Has the Minister’s attention been directed to the statement made four days ago in the House of Commons by the Home Secretary, Mr. Butler, to the effect that the 500,000 people enrolled in the civil defence organization in Great Britain are insufficient? The Home Secretary then appealed for further volunteers and stated categorically that even under present conditions much could be done by civil defence to save lives and to mitigate disaster in the event of an attack.
Has the Minister’s attention also been directed to the resolutions passed about a fortnight ago by a conference of senior civil defence officers of the Commonwealth and the States meeting in Melbourne, asking first what was the Government’s policy, secondly that some machinery be set up to solve the constitutional question of division of responsibility between the States and the Commonwealth, and thirdly, raising the question of finance?
Is it not a fact that, although the officers administering this function are officers of great capability and are doing what they can within their limited resources, the provision made for this function is still only a token provision? Will the Government do something about stopping this vital gap in our defence structure and do it quickly?
– Though I have not seen the precise text. I am aware in general terms of the statement made in the House of Commons. At the moment I have on my desk the resolutions pased by the Melbourne conference some little time ago. Most careful consideration is being given to those matters. I assure the honorable gentleman that the Government has civil defence under constant review, and is acting within the terms of advice from its own defence committee.
– I address to the PostmasterGeneral a question concerning concessions in respect of broadcast listeners’ licence-fees. Is the Minister aware that the concessional fee of 10s. allowed to age and invalid pensioners, and totally and permanently incapacitated repatriation pensioners, is not available to war widows, who are required to pay the full fee of £2 15s. per annum despite the fact that their pensions are much less than those of the people who already receive this concession? Further, if war widows’ pensions were subject to a means test, many war widows would come within the scope of the means test applicable to the other categories of pensioners mentioned. Will the Minister give immediate consideration to my request that war widows be afforded the same concession as is extended to other pensioners?
– I am aware that certain pensioners receive a concession in the matter of broadcast and television licencefees. As the honorable member pointed out, these concessions are granted, broadly, to holders of licences who receive a pension that is subject to a means test. The extension of these concessions has been the subject of inquiry on a number of occasions, and the principles that now apply are the result of the investigations that have been made. I do not know that any fresh factor has entered into the matter to justify a departure from the principles and the provisions that have existed for a considerable time. War widows are not subject to a means test, nor are certain repatriation pensioners, and consequently, they do not receive the concessions. However, as the honorable member has stated a special case for war widows, I shall be glad to examine the question again, and see whether any of the matters that he has put forward has not already received due consideration.
– I preface a question to the Postmaster-General by stating that the Postmaster-General’s Department conducts in Victoria a lineman-in-training course for youths, which usually covers a period of up to two years. Will the Minister confer with the Minister for Labour and National Service with a view to arranging that youths undergoing the course will not be called up for national service training until their course has been completed?
– It is true that the Postmaster-General’s Department trains a considerable number of young men in its lineman-in-training course, and that the period of training occupies up to two years. Offhand. I do not know how the provisions of the National Service Act apply to these youths. As the honorable member doubtless knows, there is provision for the deferment of training for certain classes of students. However, as the honorable gentleman has asked, I shall confer with my colleague and ascertain the applicability of those provisions to linemen-in-training.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Services. Can the Minister inform me of the approximate date on which the proposed increases in age, invalid and widows’ pensions will become payable?
– On the last sitting day, I gave notice that I would ask for leave to introduce a bill to amend the Social Services Act. I hope, with the permission of the House, to introduce the measure this afternoon. It will come into operation immediately after it receives the royal assent, and the increased pensions will be paid on the first pension pay-day thereafter.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Before the survey to determine the route of a standard gauge railway line between Albury and Melbourne is commenced - or, if it has been commenced, before it proceeds much further - will the right honorable gentleman give an undertaking that the alternative proposal advanced by the shire council of Corowa, for a re-routing of the Melbourne-Sydney line through Corowa at a suggested estimated saving of £750,000, will be examined?
– I was not aware of this proposal having been made, but I shall discuss the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Shipping and Transport.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral inform me whether it is a fact that television is being introduced for industrial and commercial uses in Australia by many organizations? If so, what are the principal uses? Are licences issued by the Postmaster-General’s Department for the use of television equipment for these purposes?
– Television is now being put to a considerable number of uses in industry. As a matter of fact, fascinating prospects seem to be opening up for the use of television in our industrial life. The honorable member wants to know the nature of the uses to which television is being put in industry. From my own observation and reading, I would say that television is being used more and more for the remote control of various industrial operations. An example is to be seen in the steel industry, where television is used in the control of the feeding of blast furnaces. Only last week-end I saw the use of television in the bulk-loading of sugar. In this operation a camera is fitted to the end of the chute through which the sugar is finally discharged into the ship’s hold, and the storing of the sugar can be controlled by a man sitting up in the gantry. I understand that television is also being used, to some extent, in atomic research operations in which the interiors of closed containers have to be viewed from time to time. Tunnelling is another activity in which television is being increasingly used. Operations at the end of a tunnel may be viewed by some one outside and controlled accordingly. I have also seen examples of the testing of equipment which is being manufactured, the test operations being shown on a television screen. All these are examples of the kind of development in television which may ultimately be of great use to industry.
The last question of the honorable member related to the issue of licences. Although I speak now without any great technical knowledge, I understand that most of the operations that I have outlined can be carried out in what is called a closed circuit, in which the use of a frequency would not in any way interfere with outside operations. For any operation that would require the allocation of a frequency for outside work a licence would be needed, but it would not be needed in other cases.
– Has the Prime Minister, or any one on behalf of the Government, offered to or discussed with responsible officers of the Governments of the United Kingdom or the United States of America facilities for storing or maintaining atomic and hydrogen bombs 01 other nuclear weapons under Australian control in Australia, or, alternatively, under American custody in Australia?
– I am not aware of any such discussions, but I will, at any rate, speak to my colleague, the Minister for Defence, about this matter. I think it most unlikely that I would not know of them if such discussions had taken place, but I shall ask the Minister whether they have taken place, so that my answer to the honorable member may be complete.
– I direct a question to tha Minister for the Army, relating to the administration of the Services Canteens Trust Fund. The Minister will be aware that the age of eligibility for children to receive benefits from the fund has recently been raised from fourteen to fifteen years. What were the reasons that prompted the raising of the age of eligibility? As many thousands of children in Queensland sit for their scholarship examinations when they are thirteen years of age and, therefore, are in the greatest need of assistance when they are fourteen, will the honorable gentleman undertake to have a further examination made of the age at which children may become eligible for assistance?
– I cannot recollect at the moment the exact reason why the age was raised to 15 years. This is a matter which is in the hands of trustees; but I shall have a look at it at an early opportunity and give the honorable member an answer.
– I direct a question without notice to the Minister for Social Services. In view of the fact that the amendments to social service legislation have been delayed because this House did not sit last week, will the Minister reconsider the suggested commencement date of the proposed liberalizations and thereby not penalize pensioners and other social service recipients because it suited members of this House to have a recess last week?
– I am required to follow the normal procedures of the House in introducing legislation of this kind. In this instance the bills will be brought down at the first available opportunity. I hope they will have a speedy passage through both Houses of the Parliament and that payments will be made at the earliest possible date. That is the only possible reply to the honorable member’s question.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. Have members of the public generally the right to criticize any policy or act of the Government, and does this freedom of speech apply particularly to members of the Australian Country party, without fear of coercion or expulsion?
– I thank the honorable member for attracting my attention to the disparity in this regard between the Australian Country party and the Australian Labour party. Members of the Country party need have no fear of expulsion - the fate of our friend the honorable member for Adelaide.
– In the absence of the Treasurer I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Does the tax on diesel oil apply to oil used by local authorities who operate diesel power plants for road making and other purposes? Does it apply to log hauliers who deliver logs from the forest to the sawmill, but do not use main highways? As the tax was placed on diesel oil for the purpose of repairing and building highways used by interstate freight companies, will the Minister have an investigation made into its application to activities other than heavy haulage on main highways, such as I have mentioned? The Treasurer has already given an assurance that all diesel oil used in farm machinery is exempt from this tax.
– No doubt because of my advanced years I have not quite got the import of the question. I would therefore be glad if the honorable member would expend his boyish energies by putting it on the notice-paper.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the suggestion made by the Graziers Association, and other bodies, that an independent committee be set up to inquire into the structure, working, and cost of the civil service? In view of the immense growth of the civil service, does the Prime Minister agree that there is considerable merit in this suggestion? If so, will he take steps to set up such a committee?
– As this proposal involves a matter of policy, I will refrain from offering my opinion on it. No doubt there will be a Cabinet opinion on it, which I will be able to express.
– I preface a question te the Prime Minister by saying that £300 is allowable as a taxation deduction for life insurance. This is, of course, of benefit only to a person in good health and able to pass the insurance medical test. Will the right honorable gentleman consider giving some taxation relief to persons who fail to pass a medical test for life insurance, in order that they may derive a comparable benefit?
– The question relates to a matter of financial policy. I will convey the honorable member’s proposal to my colleague, the Treasurer, on his return.
– In view of the fact that, owing to drought conditions, many areas in New South Wales will not produce a bag of wheat this season, I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether the Australian Wheat Board has made arrangements for sufficient wheat to be held in New South Wales for both human consumption and livestock feed. Will it be necessary to cancel any recent wheat sales where the wheat has not already been shipped?
– Touching the second part of the honorable member’s question first, I do not think it will be necessary for the wheat board to take any action to cancel contracts already made for the sale and shipment of Australian wheat overseas. As to the first part of the question, the wheat board has looked at the problem and has decided to put a partial, if not a total, embargo upon the export overseas of New South Wales wheat, or wheat for flour, for the remainder of this season. I can give the honorable member the assurance that the problem is being looked at cautiously and daily. If there is any further information I can give to the House subsequently on this difficult question, I will be only too happy to supply it.
– I ask the Prime Mini*ter whether he will lay on the table of the House the papers in connexion with the discussion that has taken place, up to the present time, on the St. Mary’s project. I refer to the papers that have passed between the various officers relating to reports that have been made. I understand that the Prime Minister is to make a statement in the House on this matter. When he does so, will he present the papers on which that statement is based?
– If I understand the honorable member’s question correctly, I am being asked to lay on the table of the House documents of some kind or other which are the normal confidential documents that pass between governments and officials. It has never been the practice to table such documents. I hope that it never will be.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. It has been announced that £3,000,000, of which £2,000,000 will be raised by a diesel fuel tax, will be distributed to the States this year. As this item is listed under Commonwealth Aid Roads, will it be distributed under the formula of the act covering the Commonwealth Aid Roads agreement? If not, does this fact indicate a recognition of the advocacy that this formula is outmoded and is grossly unfair to at least one important State?
– Two questions arise in relation to what I might call the diesel tax fund - the special £3,000,000. The first is whether the formula for distribution should be the same as the general formula provided in the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement. The second is what form that particular formula should take - how this particular fund should be distributed. This is a matter which has already engaged the attention of Cabinet. We are to reconsider it at our next meeting, and the Minister for Shipping and Transport has been engaged in working on various suggestions that have been made. I, myself, am having a consultation with him about that matter this afternoon and I hope, therefore, immediately after the next meeting of Cabinet, to be in a position to announce what decision has been made. It is a very urgent matter, and we will not delay it.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether any person who takes a television set on trial is obliged to obtain a licence for it before the purchase of the set has actually been made.
– The licence required for a television set is applied to a set which becomes the property of the viewer who buys it. I do not know of any special provision regarding trial sets, but certainly a viewer would not be required to buy a licence for a trial set that he did not own. He might use certain ways of purchasing it, but that would be a matter between him and the vendor.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Primary Industry a question in connexion with the Wool Industry Research Fund. Can the Minister say whether the research programme for this year has yet been determined? If so, can he give the House any information as to its nature?
– Last week, I gave final approval to the continuance of those research projects which had been started prior to the new research legislation coming into force. A preliminary survey of new projects was made by the Wool Research Committee at its last meeting and the committee is now considering, in order of importance, which of those projects should be submitted to me for final approval so that the necessary funds can be granted. It would take too long to give a recital of the projects approved, but I shall have a list of them prepared for him, and it will be put in the post this evening. As soon as approval has been given to the balance of the projects I shall also make particulars of them available.
– Can the Minister for Social Services say whether there is anything other than avoidable formalities which would prevent inclusion of a provision in the bill to amend the Social Services Act to make the payment of increased pensions date back to the 3rd September, the date on which the budget was introduced?
– I think that honorable members generally will appreciate the difficult task of a department such as the Department of Social Services when an act is amended which involves some 700,000 people. The mechanics of putting the alterations into operation can be described as prodigous, and a certain amount of time is necessary in order to make the physical arrangements for the payment of increases in pensions. I can assure the House that I have devoted a great deal of time to considering the first practicable date on which increases can be paid. If I get the legislation through in time, that date will apply.
– In view of the continuing risk of stock losses because of the prevailing drought, will the Minister for Primary Industry consult with the Tasmanian Minister for Agriculture and explore the extent to which sheep from drought areas could be moved to lush Tasmanian pastures? Could this investigation take into account the transport of breeding ewes in order to build up the fat lamb industry in Tasmania? Could consideration be given to the provision of loan assistance to farmers in Tasmania in order to assist them to pay air or sea freight under extended terms of payment?
– As I said earlier this afternoon, the problem of drought conditions has received the careful attention of the Department of Primary Industry over the course of the last few weeks. Although it is difficult to generalize, I say that so far as the wool and sheep industry is concerned, I should not like it to be thought that we are now at a stage of crisis. Conditions are difficult, it is true, but if satisfactory rains are received within the course of the next two or three weeks, and if follow-up rains are also received, then there is a real hope that the sheep industry will not be seriously affected. Nonetheless, as I have said, these problems are receiving consideration by the department. The three suggestions made to me by the honorable gentleman also will be considered, although I have some doubt whether it would be practicable to move as many sheep as he would like to move to the very lush pastures of Tasmania.
– I preface my question to the Prime Minister by reminding the right honorable gentleman that it is now ten years since the Snowy Mountains scheme was first commenced and at least five or six years since it was known, even to kindergarten children, that some agreement eventually would have to be made between the Commonwealth, Victoria and New South Wales. I ask the right honorable gentleman: How many times during the last five or six years - to say nothing of the total period of ten years - has the Premier of South Australia made representations to the Commonwealth on behalf of South Australia for a share of the extra water that would be made available? If such requests have been made, will the right honorable gentleman state what the attitude of the Commonwealth Government has been towards them?
– Naturally, I do not carry in my mind the number of times the Premier of South Australia may have written about this matter. I know that, of late, I have had considerable correspondence with him.
– Fan mail!
– Not quite fan mail. I could think of a better description than that. But, as for going back over the period, that would need to be looked at, and I shall ask my colleague, the Minister for National Development, to obtain the information.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that in some areas of Queensland - I have in mind particularly an area where approximately 500 holders of wireless licences are affected - listeners are completely debarred from receiving radio programmes because of interference caused by the transformers of the Southern Electricity Authority of Queensland? Could urgent consideration be given to a conference with representatives of the authority with a view to removing this disability? Failing that, could consideration be given to refunding to the people concerned the amount paid for radio listeners’ licences, which are entirely useless?
– From time to time, as a result of the operations of some authority or other, interference is caused to broadcast reception. Invariably when such cases arise officials of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board or the PostmasterGeneral’s Department discuss the matter with the authorities concerned, and in all the cases I have heard of so far some way of avoiding the trouble has been arrived at. I know that there is a particular problem with regard to the reticulation of power by the Southern Electricity Authority, particularly in new rural areas. I shall convey the question to the board and ascertain whether there has been any discussion with this authority, or whether discussion is needed to try to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. I certainly hope that we shall be able to reach such a conclusion without having to make any refund to the people concerned.
– Can the Minister for Trade say whether it is true that the export of coal from Newcastle to countries overseas has been suspended until March, 1958? Is it also a fact that markets for the sale of coal are being lost either because of a shortage of shipping, or because the authorities dilly-dally before shipping is made available to receive coal? Is it true that numerous loading hours are being lost every month at Newcastle because favoured treatment is shown to certain interests, and that cranes are often kept idle awaiting the arrival of ships belonging to those interests? Will the Minister examine a complaint that a contract for the sale of 2,600 tons of coal by a Newcastle colliery agent has been lost because the export of coal has been suspended, and will he ascertain what part lack of shipping is playing in the deterioration of the coal industry? For the information of the Minister, I suggest that inquiries of P. J. Williams and Associates, 88 Normanby-road, South Melbourne, may assist him.
– I shall answer the question. Some of the matters raised by the honorable gentleman are within my knowledge, and I can say that his statements on them are not correct. However, this matter is under the jurisdiction of my colleague, the Minister for National Development, to whose notice I shall bring the question, and I shall see that the honorable gentleman gets reply.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. As the rabbit population is increasing alarmingly in certain areas of Victoria, can the Minister say whether the myxomatosis campaign has been aided by funds available to the Wool Industry Research Committee? If so, in what way are those funds being used?
– Recently, the Australian Agricultural Council considered the problem of the increase in the rabbit population throughout Australia. In consequence, it was decided to introduce the European rabbit flea to supplement the work now being done by the conventional methods. A part of the research vote is made available to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to carry on this research. I understand that that organization has sufficient funds with which to do the job on myxomatosis. That is all I can say about that aspect of the matter. On the last point, as to what is being done, I shall obtain a list of the research projects already approved and distribute it to those honorable members who ask for it.
– In the absence of the Treasurer, I ask the Prime Minister: Will the right honorable gentleman indicate what effect, if any, the action of the Macmillan Government of Great Britain in increasing the bank rate in the United Kingdom will have on Australian trade? Does the Australian Government propose to take any action to meet any disability that this action might produce, either now or subsequently, for Australia’s export trade?
– I would hesitate to offer an opinion on a matter which is, at this very moment, exciting a good deal of controversy. Not only do political opinions vary, but also what we call expert opinions vary, on this matter. My colleague, the Treasurer, and the Secretary to the Treasury are both at present in a position to have pretty close discussions on these matters, and I am looking forward very keenly to their return to see what additional light can be thrown on a problem to which I myself have given a good deal of attention, but about which I would not offer, at this stage, to produce any considered judgment.
– The Prime Minister will recollect that one of the two reasons he gave in his recent statement on defence for not re-arming the Royal Australian Air Force with the F104 Starfighter was that its use would involve electronic ground controls far beyond our capacity. My question concerns the ground-to-air guided weapons unit which, he said in his April statement on defence, would be located in the Sydney area where, to quote his words, “ a modern electronic control unit has already been established “. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether the unit near Sydney is still considered adequate for controlling guided weapons, even if not F104 aircraft, and when the guided weapons unit will be ready for operation.
– I do not know what date will be the correct date for the completion of this installation, but I shall find out. What I said about the electronic installation in Sydney is correct, and it is regarded as adequate for the purpose for which it was designed; but, in the case of these very high flying and supersonic fighter aircraft, the degree of electronic control required, and its speed and accuracy of action, are completely beyond anything we have had to look at. I do not say for one moment that we do not possess, intrinsically, the scientific skill that would enable us in due course to cope with those matters; but, as a short-range proposition, it is not only scientifically, but also financially, far beyond our capacity, and, for the reasons I indicated, far beyond our requirements.
– I ask the Minister for the Army: Has he initiated any action which, if it succeeds, would have the effect of reducing, or discontinuing, the amount of financial assistance provided by the Commonwealth to rifle clubs throughout Australia?
– This is a matter which I am considering at present, but I have no information on it to give to the honorable gentleman at the moment.
– by leave- On the debate on the motion for the adjournment on the last sitting day you, Mr. Speaker, very properly made me withdraw and apologize for an interjection which I made. At the time I could do so only briefly and formally. I now want to take this first opportunity to make a full and proper apology.
When feelings are high, things are sometimes said which, normally, are not said, and which never should be said. Such expressions do not maintain the standard and dignity which the public expects of this House - and, like all honorable members, 1 am anxious to preserve the standard here. I deeply regret having erred on this occasion, and I wish to express a genuine apology to you, Sir, to the Minister for Primary Industry, and to all honorable members.
– by leave - The statement I am about to make - not a very lengthy one - on the St. Mary’s filling factory I will come to in one moment; but, before I do so, I should perhaps say this, in the event of any public misapprehension: We talk about the “ St. Mary’s filling factory “ in the singular, and some people may imagine that refers to one building of the kind to which we are accustomed. Honorable members will, of course, realize that a filling factory not only covers a vast area of land because of the dispersal that is involved, but also includes literally hundreds of separate buildings.
In my recent statement on defence I stated, in reference to the new St. Mary’s filling factory, that the Chiefs of Staff had unhesitatingly given it as their opinion that the construction of the filling factory was of the very first priority.
This statement was true.
On last Monday week, 23rd September, a letter was addressed to the Melbourne “ Age “ by Major-General Legge, a wellknown soldier, and formerly Master-General of the Ordnance. In that letter the general said that “ there has been gross and inexcusable waste of public money at St. Mary’s, not, as the Prime Minister seems to imply, on the advice of the Chiefs of Staff, but in fact contrary to the recommendations made “. It is my present purpose to answer that criticism, not in any spirit of resentment, for I am sure that Major-General Legge wrote it honestly, but so that the full, picture may be seen.
The Chiefs of Staff are responsible for’ technical military advice. Their powers include that of advising whether a filling factory, or any other munitions project, is necessary for effective national defence. Advice from them on these matters is of the very first significance. Governments, on the other hand, are responsible for those economic and financial matters which may arise from, or be associated with, military advice. I have never sought, nor will I seek, to place the responsibility for economic decisions upon the shoulders of military specialists. The Government takes its own responsibilities on these matters.
Major-General Legge has, I think, read into my statement something not designed to be in it if he thinks, as he clearly does, that the economics and contractual arrangements of the St. Mary’s project were or are regarded by me as the responsibility of the Chiefs of Staff.
In substance, the issue - a very important one - raised by the general is whether a new filling factory was needed, or a re-furbishing of the old war-time one would have been adequate, practicable and economically desirable. After prolonged and close examination, we chose the former. As the reasons for this decision are quite lengthy. 1 did not go into them in a statement on current and future defence policy. But since the decision is challenged, I will now state the historic and practical reasons for il.
During the war, two filling factories were built; a “ permanent “ one at Salisbury in South Australia, and a temporary and partial one at St. Mary’s in New South Wales. In 1946 the Chifley Government, exercising its considered judgment, decided to dispose of Salisbury to the new and important Long Range Weapons Establishment, for use in conjunction with Woomera. It also decided to make the buildings of the then St. Mary’s factory available to civil industry on a leasehold basis.
The decisions thus taken were put into execution by that government. Within a year SO firms were installed in the area. By 1948, 2,000 persons were employed there. By 1950, the number of firms had risen to 95, and total employment to 3,000 ! The figure fell later to 2,500, but is now nearly 3,000 again. The establishment of a complete industrial community had been put in hand. With the exception of a limited number of monthly tenancies, all buildings were held by private enterprise, some of it from overseas, on lease contracts, made by the then government, of periods
Tanging from 5 to 20 years, with rights of renewal or of first refusal of sale and purchase. There were no provisions for re-acquisition by the Commonwealth in the event of any factory being required for explosives-filling purposes - that is to say, no special provisions apart, of course, from the general constitutional power. Over 300 buildings with a floor area of more than 1,000,000 square feet were occupied by industrial firms. Most of the plant and equipment originally installed in the buildings was removed and sold soon after 1946.
The then Commonwealth Government urged the New South Wales Government to provide housing in the area, and granted financial assistance for the planning of the surrounding district and for the construction and improvement of subdivisional roads. The new industrial area thus created was incorporated in the Nepean District Planning Scheme. Tenants were allowed, and indeed encouraged, to make expensive alterations and additions to the buildings.
When 1 point out to the House that the new St. Mary’s, with a very much greater productive capacity, will normally employ not 3.000 but 500 to 600 persons, it will be seen at once that a decision to re-occupy by compensation under the general constitutional power to acquire on just terms presented great social and economic difficulties. Tt would have - though T classify these points, they are probably not exhaustive - first, involved a gross breach of faith with extensive industrial undertakings, some of them brought to St. Mary’s from overseas; secondly, led to wholesale unemployment pending the reconstruction of these industries elsewhere; thirdly, required the payment of compensation of an unknown, but obviously very great size, running into millions; fourthly, involved a breach of faith with the New South Wales Government and its instrumentalities; and fifthly, rendered either useless or precarious the district housing and development scheme, which a restored filling factory could not have supported.
Theoretically, unemployment might have been avoided if adjacent land could be secured in sufficient area, if new factories were then built by the Commonwealth for the dispossessed, if employees were transferred only as and when each new factory was built, if new housing was provided as and when required, if the necessary roads and services were provided, and if the creation of a revived St. Mary’s could be spread in this way over a number of years and so heavily postponed in point of completion. But there are too many “ ifs “ in that proposition for acceptance as an economic and practical programme. I should add that the quoted difference of £10,000,000 between the cost of a new factory and the re-establishment of the old, takes grossly inadequate account of these vital factors.
Looking back on the files during the past few days, I think it fair to say that our decision not to disrupt this great industrial and housing area might, with advantage, have been taken somewhat earlier. The first Cabinet discussions were in 1952. The final decision that there should be no re-possession and rehabilitation was made in 1954. But the formulation and submission of the views of Ministers and departments with sometimes conflicting opinions, even though perfectly properly held, not infrequently leads to delays.
Major-General Legge has remarked upon the need for balance between the various sections of defence expenditure. As it happens this very consideration of balance in the whole defence programme, which brings up issues of total defence expenditure, allocation between the services, and allocation between production and equipment on the one hand and man-power and maintenance on the other, had a great deal to do with the fact that the decision about St. Mary’s was not taken earlier. But the essential thing is that, for the reasons T have indicated, and for two others of a different but important kind which I will mention now, we were and are convinced that the decision to build a new filling factory was correct.
Reliance has been placed by MajorGeneral Legge upon the views of the Joint War Production Committee. I should therefore point out that in 1952 there came before Cabinet, among other documents, a minute of an earlier meeting of the Joint War Production Committee. In that minute, that committee “ noted that the difficulties in respect of both the St. Mary’s proposition and the alternative Salisbury proposition are so formidable that the most desirable course is to build a new factory, giving preference to the capacity required for heavy bomb filling “. There had been a suggestion that the Salisbury factory might be retaken.
– That is the Cabinet committee, is it?
– No, the Joint War Production Committee. Sir John Storey was the chairman of the committee, and it embraced representatives of all the service departments. I think MajorGeneral Beavis, as Master-General of the Ordnance, represented defence at that time. The committee comprised a wide cross-section of people inside the service departments with one or two people outside.
In the second place, the Joint War Production Committee recommended - . . that the Department of Defence Production ask the Department of Works and Housing, as an urgent and important task, to examine the time factor in respect of a new factory, giving consideration to the possibility of employing an overseas contractor using imported labour and materials, and that, if that Department is unable to reduce the time sufficiently for use in war-
The committee added that the time was the period of three years that had been specified by me in 1951 - the conclusion, reluctantly reached, is that reoccupying and rehabilitating St. Mary’s should be adopted.
As the House will see, the Joint War Production Committee’s view was: “ Time is in favour of rehabilitation, unless you can tell us that you can build a new factory in the same time “. It will be observed that the time factor was given great importance, and that if a new factory could have been achieved in the same time as a re-activated old factory, the new factory would have been unhesitatingly preferred. Subsequent examination and events have made it quite clear that, by the unusual methods employed at St. Mary’s, the new factory will have been completed in less than three years. At the time of the examination by the Joint War Production Committee, the estimate of the Department of Works for a new factory was from five to eight years. The repossession and re-equipment of the old St. Mary’s would clearly have taken much longer; the estimates are that finality could not have been reached before 1960.
The second additional point is this: lt is a mistake to compare a rehabilitated St. Mary’s with the new St. Mary’s as if we are comparing like with like. The new factory, apart from being much more up to date and efficient, is much greater in productive capacity. The shell-filling capacity, for example, is two and a half times as great. In what it can do, the new St. Mary’s in reality replaces both the old St. Mary’s and Salisbury. To achieve anything like this result, the old” St. Mary’s would not only have needed to be re-occupied and reequipped, but would also have had to be added to on a most extensive scale. As I said in my earlier statement, “ It would be a mere pretence at defence preparation to establish a productive capacity which would instantaneously become grossly inadequate if war broke out “.
Before I conclude, I should say that I have not purported in this statement, which is made to answer a criticism of principle, to deal with the special form of contract made for St. Mary’s. That contract involved arrangements - sometimes novel - with a famous firm of Australian architects and engineers and building contractors of the highest repute and efficiency. It will be appropriate for my colleague, the Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale), to explain these matters during the debate on the Estimates. For myself, as Prime Minister, I will simply say that we never could have secured the new factory in under three years if the usual procedures had been followed.
– by leave - I do not think that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has done justice to the very serious matters raised by
Major-General Legge. It will be necessary for me to make clear what MajorGeneral Legge did say. The Prime Minister made great play of the fact that the opinion of the Chiefs of Staff that the construction of the ammunition filling factory was of the very first priority led to certain conclusions in favour of constructing a new filling factory. Major-General Legge disposes of that in simple terms, but a great deal of the Prime Minister’s statement is devoted to that point. Major-General Legge, in his letter, quoted the right honorable gentleman’s key statement that it would have been a strange act of irresponsibility if the Government had rejected the advice of the Chiefs of Staff that the factory was of the very first priority. Major-General Legge wrote -
It is true that a filling factory is top priority, but by itself it is quite useless.
He was making the point that every filling factory needed to provide the ammunition without which war cannot be waged, or defence properly conducted, must be a matter of first priority. Therefore, his criticism goes to the very root of the Prime Minister’s attempt to shelter behind the Chiefs of Staff. Major-General Legge then came to the essence of the matter, and stated -
Without capacity to make the explosive and the container, ammunition cannot be produced. Without weapons, vehicles, signal equipment, many thousands of other material items, and without adequate numbers of highly trained men, ammunition cannot be used effectively in war.
He was saying that expenditure on any filling factory must depend upon its relationship to the preparedness of the country, and the general defence plan. Major-General Legge continued -
All this costs money, a very great deal of money, and to maintain a proper balance between the many top priority items it is vital that extravagance in any one direction be avoided.
Almost all of these defence requirements are top priority. How do we achieve a balance? Major-General Legge then proceeded to make the statement that has caused such intense anxiety among the Australian people. It is in these words; -
It is my belief that, apart altogether from the matters criticized by the Auditor-General there has been gross and inexcusable waste of public money at St. Mary’s.
He puts on one side the criticisms made by the Auditor-General, although, in all conscience, they are serious enough. I sup pose that there has never been a report more critical in relation to defence expenditure presented to the Parliament. MajorGeneral Legge puts it on one side, but the Parliament cannot put it on one side when it deals with it. The gross and inexcusable waste of public money at St. Mary’s mentioned by him occurred, he said -
Not, as the Prime Minister seems to imply, on the advice of the Chiefs of Staff, but in fact contrary to the recommendations made.
In his statement to the House on 19th September, the Prime Minister said -
The Defence Preparations Committee of Cabinet then consulted the Chiefs of Staff, who unhesitatingly gave it as their opinion that the construction of the filling factory was of the very first priority.
The right honorable gentleman rubbed it in by adding -
It would have been a strange act of irresponsibility if, without reason, we had rejected that advice. A new filling factory was therefore approved, and approved as a matter of urgent priority.
Those three sentences can mean only that the Chiefs of Staff gave preference to the new filling factory. Major-General Legge denies that in the following statement: -
The simple facts are these: -
There was a filling factory at St. Marys during the last war.
It was started by the first Menzies Government, but was completed in the main by the Curtin Government, in 1944. That was a magnificent achievement in the time available. The expense was heavy, but, compared with other war expenditure, it was completely justified. Major-General Legge continued -
I have not all the details before me. The House will want a great deal more detailed information and documents before it if it is to pass fair judgment on this issue. My recollection is that the Chifley Government’s policy in relation to the former ammunition filling factory at St. Mary’s after the war was that it might be wanted again if the international situation should deteriorate, but that, in the meantime, industry could use it on permissive occupancy.
– That is not true.
– You may be right
– The correspondence does not bear that out.
– The Minister says it is not true, and he may be right, but the genera] understanding of the position was that there was to be permissive occupancy. Let us look again at General Legge’s letter. In setting out the facts, he says -
That is the point. It was after exhaustive examination by the Department of Defence Production, the department which was administered by Sir Eric Harrison and which is now administered by the present Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale). General Legge says -
After exhaustive examination by the Department of Defence Production, the Director-General of Works-
Who had vast experience of these projects - the Defence Production Planning Committee, the Joint War Production Committee and the Defence Committee, all these recommended -
That is supported, at least to some extent, by the extract that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has read from a document. But he has given us only a portion of the document, and the House is entitled to see the whole of it. General Legge further sets out the recommendations of these authorities as follows: -
Those are the grounds on which the recommendation of the military authorities and civil authorities appears to have been made. They seem to have been unanimously against the construction of a new filling factory. General Legge goes on to say -
The fact that a filling factory is a top priority item is not open to doubt.
The House will notice that he says “ a filling factory “. He goes on -
The means adopted to produce it are open to criticism and require explanation and justification.
But General Legge did not allow the matter to rest there. He followed his letter to the newspaper with a public statement, which was published in the “ Sydney Morning Herald” on 26th September, 1957. The report in that newspaper commenced -
The Commonwealth Government had wasted at least £10,000,000 by “ completely ignoring “ the Chiefs of Staff and other authorities over the St. Mary’s project, Major-General S. F. Legge said to-day . . . “The £10,000,000 the Government could have saved if it had listened to advice could have been put to far more urgent defence needs”, he said.
He was there comparing this project with other defence needs. In other words, other requirements have to be looked at if we wish to have a balanced and efficient defence programme - which, of course, this Government has never had. The reference in the document to the three-year period indicates that. We had a statement from the Prime Minister, “ War in three years “. Sir Eric Harrison said, “ War in one year “. That is the kind of background against which we must consider this matter. The newspaper report said further -
General Legge said: “ We don’t know what happened, but the Government completely ignored all advice of the Chiefs of Staffs.
Does the Prime Minister now say that the Chiefs of Staff advised the construction of the new filling factory in preference to the rehabilitation of the older one? I want to know that. We are entitled to know it. General Legge says that the Government ignored the advice. Therefore, a record of that advice must exist. It exists in writing. It is not a confidential document, because it has been dealt with by General Legge and the Prime Minister has made a public statement with regard to the allegations of General Legge. Are we not entitled to see what the advice was? The report in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ continued - “… the Government completely ignored all advice of the Chiefs of Staffs, the Department of Defence Production, the Director-General of Works, the Defence Production Planning Committee, the Joint War Production Committee and the Defence Committee “.
That is what General Legge charges. Are these charges true or are they inaccurate? Admittedly they are honestly made. How could General Legge say these things publicly unless he knew them to be true? He is a man who has been intimately connected with this kind of project in the army. His statement, as reported in the newspaper, continues - “ After exhaustive examination, all these people recommended that the old filling factory used during the war at St. Marys should be repossessed and reconditioned “.
That is not ambiguous. Is it not clear? He goes on - “ We agreed that a new factory should not be built, and that it would be cheaper to recondition the old one and build alternative accommodation for the present civil occupants “.
The occupants were to be provided for, although it was probably beyond their legal rights, if my recollection of what the Chifley Government decided is correct. However, that point is incidental. The recommendation was that the industrial establishments should be taken care of in that way. The report of General Legge’s statement continues - “ It’s no good having a Rolls-Royce which you can’t buy tyres for.”
In other words, it is no use having a filling factory when you lack the requirements necessary to obtain the ammunition to be fired in the defence of this country. It is necessary to balance one requirement against the other. That is ordinary defence planning, which, I am afraid, is not very familiar to the defence Ministers of this country, as I think all the world now knows.
– You would have sacked the 3,000 men!
– The Prime Minister’s thoughts come to the brilliant point where he says, “ You would have sacked the 3,000 men “. General Legge says that they would not have been sacked, and that some alternative accommodation would have been provided for the establishments now occupying the site of the old filling factory. The Prime Minister’s sudden sympathy for the men, and his opposition to unemployment, are quite new. He denies that there is unemployment in this country to-day. I continue with the newspaper report of General Legge’s statement: - “ I don’t know what arbitrary means the Government has of arriving at our defence quota, but I think they must just take it out of a hat.”
Evidently that is what the Government does, because a genuine defence estimate could not amount to £190,000,000 each year. It is too coincidental. Sir Winston Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, once got into trouble with his budget and said, “ I have a really good excuse. I went to a school which was not very strong on mathematics and I was always careless with my noughts “. This statement made by General Legge is correct. The Government must have taken it out of a hat, because it always amounts to the magic sum of £190,000,000.
– Every year the same!
– That is so. The Government’s method is to put the amount of money first and to decide on a policy later. General Legge continued - “ it is quite unrealistic - and then they go and spend money like this.”
Are these charges correct? As the AuditorGeneral’s report shows, there has been waste in regard to many aspects of the construction of this filling factory, but we now see that there was waste in the actual choice of the project. According to General Legge, the defence programme has been unbalanced. There is no certainty that we shall have the means to use the ammunition when it becomes available. Yet the Government has continued with this project which, I suppose, has been the most wasteful project in the defence history of Australia. The present Minister for Defence Production and his predecessor told us that the cost of the factory would not exceed £21,000,000. They have to eat those words when they read the report of the AuditorGeneral. The “ Sydney Morning Herald “ report continued -
General Legge said that there was no doubt that the filling factory was a top priority job-
Of course it was. That was common ground - but there was no need to build a new one.
I do not want to elaborate any further on this matter, Mr. Speaker. I say that the Prime Minister’s statement does not give us the relevant documents and does not give us the full facts. The Chiefs of Staff and the other authorities mentioned by General Legge are expert people. They are highly qualified, and have had vast experience. They include the officers of the Department of Defence Production, and the DirectorGeneral of Works, who is a most experienced officer. One characteristic aspect of government administration in the war period was the tremendous success of the Department of Works and the Department of Munitions with regard to firm contracts, as far as they could be arranged, although it was not always possible to let such contracts. The policy of letting firm contracts was introduced by the Chifley Government, and economy was made the order of the day.
Mr. Nelson Lemmon issued warnings about this project, from his place in this House, before it was commenced. Those warnings were treated with contempt by Sir Eric Harrison when he answered the honorable member’s question on that occasion, although he was answering a man who had vast experience of such projects and knew what he was talking about. Then let us consider the Defence Production Planning Committee, the Joint War Production Committee and the Defence Committee. Are they all out of step? Are they all wrong? General Legge says that they advised against the project. The people want to know what the facts are. Are we not entitled to see the documents? The Opposition will not let the matter rest here, but I felt that some preliminary statement was called for.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) proposed -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Social Services Act 1947-1956.
– Order! The Minister is seeking leave to introduce the measure. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is out of order in pursuing that line. If there is no objection, leave will be granted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) proposed -
That the bill be now read a first time.
– Would I be in order in saying that the Minister is trying to bludgeon this bill through the Parliament quickly? I am complaining at the Minister’s ineptitude and the ineptitude of the Government.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition would be out of order.
– Well, I will not say it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is designed to bring additional comfort to the aged, to the sick and to the afflicted, who, for a variety of reasons, have been unable to make adequate provision to meet contingencies of the kind. It is also designed to supplement the incomes of pensioners who have been more fortunate or more provident and who are in some position, however inadequate, to meet the economic consequences which are inseparable from old age, bereavement, sickness or unemployment.
Every fiscal year since 1949, without a single exception, the Government has brought down legislation of this description and, during that comparatively short space of time, we have made greater progress towards social security than at any other period in our history since federation. It is a very great achievement.
This measure will bring particular satisfaction to some 700,000 people who are directly involved, and it will bring general satisfaction to those who are conscious of our social service responsibilities to the less fortunate in our midst and who are anxious to discharge them. Admittedly it will bring little or no satisfaction to those who believe that social service payments can be made for political purposes without regard to the people who provide the vast sums of money that are required year by year, and without regard to the economic stability of the community as a whole. lt is the height of folly to imagine that there are resources available to the Government other than through direct and indirect taxation. Every penny that is spent on health and social service payments - and more than £243,000,000 will need to be appropriated this year - has to be found by the valiant men and women who engage their energies and who utilize their resources to provide in excess of their own immediate physical needs and, by that very process, bear the heavy burden of taxation in all its forms.
In this connexion, I must deplore the illconsidered petitions which are presented to this Parliament from time to time requesting social service payments equal to half the basic wage. A moment’s reflection will reveal that, if increases of the kind could be granted without a drastic reduction in the permissible income and property limitations, a very grave injustice would be perpetrated on every wage and salary earner in our country who would be taxed to provide social service payments to married pensioners which together with permissible income, and apart altogether from permissible property, would exceed the basic wage. This government will perpetrate no injustice on any wage or salary earner.
There is an excuse for the credulous and the uninformed to lend their support to petitions of the kind, but there is no excuse for those who are aware of the realities of the current social service scale of payments and benefits and the source from which they come.
It is argued, of course, that permissible income and property should be eliminated from our social service scheme, and that the resources available to the department should be concentrated on those who are without income of any kind and property in any form, but that, quite obviously, would impose an indefensible penalty on the industrious, the provident and the thrifty, who, in spite of all the vicissitudes of life and living, have made some provision for their old age, their sickness, infirmity and affliction. lt is argued with equal vehemence that the means test, both with regard to income and property, should be abolished, and that age, invalid, and widows’ pensions should be paid to every one who qualifies for them without respect to income or property, which would, of course, double the total cost of these particular benefits, since the means test excludes more than half the number of people who otherwise qualify for them, and give rise to the question of the wisdom or justice of taxing those who are in receipt of the basic wage to provide pensions for those who, traditionally and by their own more fortunate circumstances, have been excluded from them. It is difficult to reconcile these two opposing arguments, but the Government has attempted to do it in the most spectacular way, ever since it was elected to office, by increasing the rates of social services benefits whenever that has been financially possible and by liberalizing the means test to include an increasing number of qualified persons from time to time. This bill is another practical demonstration of that splendid purpose.
In his budget speech, the Treasurer announced the Government’s intention of making substantial increases in the rates of pensions and unemployment and sick ness benefits, and of liberalizing the means test for unemployment and sickness benefits. This bill will give effect to that intention. The rates of age, invalid and widows pensions will be raised by 7s. 6d. a week - the sixth general increase in eight years. The rates of unemployment and sickness benefits, payable to an adult or married person, will be raised for the second time in eight years, by 15s. a week, and the rates for unmarried minors will be raised by 5s. a week for those aged sixteen and seventeen years, and by 7s. 6d. a week for those aged eighteen, nineteen and twenty years. The additional benefit payable for a dependent wife or unpaid housekeeper will be similarly increased by 7s. 6d. a week and the 5s. a week additional benefit now payable for the first child will be doubled. In addition, the weekly income that may be received by an adult or married person without reduction of unemployment or sickness benefits will be raised from £1 to £2, and for others it will be raised to £1.
Before considering these increases and liberalizations in any detail I should like to pay a tribute - an impassioned tribute, if I can - to the people, men and women alike, who have made them possible. In many cases they have been aided by bountiful nature, for which we should be grateful - although there are occasions when there is no sign of such gratitude - but in all cases their efforts have been strengthened by the sound economic policy of the Government. It can be more liberal to-day with social security benefits mainly because of the efforts of those who are engaged in our primary, secondary and tertiary industries who have increased the country’s capacity to pay. The Government, indeed this Parliament, is only the channel through which some of their effort is diverted to those who, through age or incapacity, or through some other cause, are unable to make full provision for themselves and their dependants
Many of those who will benefit from this legislation will have themselves, in their working days, made a contribution to our national wealth and have helped to lay the foundations of the prosperous and sound economy which we enjoy to-day. They are the great ones. What has been won by past and present effort can be retained and strengthened only if there is no retreat - no retreat from production, no retreat from industry, no retreat from responsibility. Our social services must be sustained out of current production. The higher we raise standards, the greater is our reponsibility to maintain a healthy, vigorous and expanding economy to support them. Looking back at the vast improvements in our social services since 1949, one might well be daunted and and question the ability of posterity to continue to meet the costs. Yet, if we consider our country’s progress under the present Government, our confidence mounts, and we feel assured that, given continued wise statesmanship and good seasons, we are assuming no burden that cannot continue to be borne by a resourceful and resolute people.
The bill before the House will make the new maximum general rate of age and invalid pensions £4 7s. 6d. a week. That is more than double the maximum weekly rate of £2 2s. 6d. when the Government took office. Two pounds five shillings a week of the pension will represent increases made by this Government against the total pension of £2 2s. 6d. in 1949. These figures, however, do not reflect fully the increases that have been made. Honorable members will notice I have used the term “ maximum general rate “. The word “ general “ has been introduced since, in October last year, provision was made for the maximum pension rate for invalid pensioners, for age pensioners who are invalids and for widows with children, to be increased by 10s. a week for each child under 16 years, after the first. The phrase “ maximum pension rate “ is now somewhat misleading as it is no longer the highest rate that is payable to all pensioners. The maximum rate payable to any particular individual is governed by the number of dependent children in a family. I have therefore adopted the phrase “ maximum general rate “ as the maximum rate payable to a person who is not entitled to receive additional pension for dependent children.
All four classes of widows will receive the benefit of the full increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the maximum general rate payable to them. For widows in class A- that is those who have the custody, care and control of one or more children under the age of 16 years - the new maximum general rate will’ be £4 12s. 6d. a week. This is £2 5s. a v/eek higher than when Labour was last in office, and this new maximum general rate is subject to an increase of 10s. a week for each child after the first. For widows in classes B, C and D the new maximum rates will be £3 15s. a week. These are widows not less than 50 years of age, or in some cases 45, who have no children under 16 years of age in their custody, care and control, widows of any age who are without children and who are in necessitous circumstances, and women whose husbands are imprisoned. The new maximum rates for widows in classes B and D will be more than double the maximum when Labour was last in office, and for widows in class C it will be £1 12s. 6d. a week more since the Socialists were - if I might be permitted to put it this way - finally in office.
The great improvement in the lot of pensioners over the last seven years is even more marked if account is taken of permissible income, that is the amount of other income that can be received before the maximum rate of pension otherwise payable is reduced. Under the Labour Administration a single age or invalid pensioner could receive only £3 12s. 6d. a week by way of pension and all other income; now he will be able to receive £7 17s. 6d. a week, an increase of 117 per cent. Under Labour, a married couple, both age or invalid pensioners, could receive £7 5s. a week; now they will be able to receive £15 15s. pension and income a v/eek - also an increase of 117 per cent. An invalid pensioner with a wife but no children, under Labour administration, could receive £6 6s. 6d a week; now he will be able to receive £13 2s. 6. pension and income a week - an increase of 108 per cent. When the socialists were in office, an invalid pensioner with a wife and one child could receive £6. 16s. 6d. As soon as this bill becomes law, he will be able to receive £14 4s. in pension and income a week, an increase of 108 per cent.
As the number of children grows, so the improvement becomes more manifest. For example, in 1949, an invalid pensioner with a wife and four children could receive only £6 16s. 6d. a week - the same as a pensioner with only one child. The socialists took no cognisance of the size of a pensioner’s family. Now he will be able to receive £17 4s. a week in pension and income, an increase of 152 per cent. For widows in class A, the improvement is even greater. Whereas in 1949, a widow could receive only £4 2s. 6d. a week, irrespective of the number of her children, now, if she has one child, she will be able to receive £8 12s. 6. a week in pension and income, an increase of 109 per cent. If she has four children she will be able to receive £11 12s. 6d. a week in pension and income, an increase of 182 per cent. In that short space of years, as compared with these increases, ranging from a minimum of 108 per cent, to 182 per cent, the C series retail price index has increased by 80 per cent.
The figures I have given do not include child endowment, which today is payable when there is a child, or when there are children, in a family. Since endowment of the first child was introduced by the present Government, the more favorable treatment of those with family responsibilities would have been much more marked had endowment figures been included in these comparisons. Nor do the figures bring into consideration the liberalization of the property means test by which the value of exempt property has been raised from £100 to £200 since 1949, and the property limit beyond which no pension is payable increased from £750 to £1,750. These amounts are, of course, doubled in the case of a married couple to £3,500 and that figure does not. include the home in which they live if they own it. These are startling comparisons, since honorable members opposite spend so much time denying the existence of prosperity which, paradoxically enough, they claim the pensioner does not share.
I could go on to narrate at length the achievements of the Menzies-Fadden Government in the field of social services. I am sorely tempted to do so, for as I said last year, the public memory is notoriously short. However, I shall content myself with a brief reference to two major beneficial measures which emphasize the achievements of the Government. The first is the pensioner medical service, under which some 685,000 persons, including pensioners of various kinds and their dependants, receive free medical and pharmaceutical benefits for the first time in our social services history. This adds considerably to the value of their pensions, and relieves them of the financial anxiety of meeting medical and pharmaceutical costs. The second major beneficial measure is the Aged Persons Homes Act, under which 192 grants have been made to churches, charitable and other organizations, to assist them in providing homes for elderly people. Grants of over £2,200,000 have been made, which will contribute towards the accommodation of a succession of 3,590 older people. It will be my privilege later to introduce a bill to provide for the payment of such grants on the basis of £2 from the Commonwealth for each £1 found by the organization.
Before turning to unemployment and sickness benefits, I should mention two other provisions of the bill. They are important provisions. The bill removes an anomaly which at present places blind war pensioners at a disadvantage compared with war pensioners who are not blind. A limit is now imposed on the amount that may be paid by way of war and civil pensions to blind persons. The purpose of the limit was to ensure that a blind ex-serviceman was not placed in a better position than a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman who was not blind. The wording of the provision now in the act has the effect of preventing a blind ex-serviceman from receiving any increase that may be made in his pension rate because of children. He is thus worse off, in certain circumstances, than if he were not blind. This was never intended, and the anomaly will be removed so that he will be placed in a similar position to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman.
The second matter relates to pensioner inmates of benevolent homes. At present, inmates of these homes receive 28s. a week of their pensions if they are age or invalid pensioners, or 24s. 6d. if they are widows in class B. The remainder of their pensions is payable to the authorities of the home for their maintenance. Consequent on the increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the rates of pensions, the amounts payable to pensioner inmates of benevolent homes will be increased to 30s. 6d. and 27s. respectively. This allocation is similar to that made in 1950 and that made in 1952, in each of which years pensions were also increased by 7s. 6d. a week.
I come now to unemployment and sickness benefits, and remind the House that in 1952 the Menzies-Fadden Administration doubled the rates of unemployment and sickness benefits, except for the additional benefit payable for a child under the age of sixteen years. This year again, as I have indicated, a substantial increase will be made. The rate for a single adult or married minor will be increased from £2 10s. a week to £3 5s. a week, an increase of 15s. a week. The additional benefit for a dependent spouse will be increased from £2 to £2 7s. 6d. a week, thus raising the total benefit for a married person with no children from £4 10s. to £5 12s. 6d. a week, an increase of 22s. 6d. a week. The additional benefit payable for one child will be increased from 5s. to 10s. a week, so that the total benefit for a married person with a dependent spouse and one or more dependent children will be increased from £4 15s. to £6 2s. 6d. a week, an increase of 27s. 6d. a week. The rates for unmarried juveniles will be increased from £2 to £2 7s. 6d. a week for persons between eighteen and 21 years of age and from £1 10s. to £1 15s. a week for persons of sixteen and seventeen years of age. The amounts by which benefit rates have been increased since 1949 are 133.3 per cent, to 160 per cent, of the rates payable when the Government took office. Put in other words, the average rate of benefit now is approximately two and a half times what it was in 1949.
The bill also increases the amount of income which an unemployment or sickness beneficiary may receive from outside sources without a reduction of the rate of his benefit. This will be the first general increase in permissible income for unemployment and sickness benefits since they were introduced in 1944 and first paid in 1945. At present, the amount which may be received from outside sources by an adult or married person is £1 a week and the amount for unmarried juveniles between the ages of sixteen and 21 years varies from 5s. to 15s. a week, according to age. The amount allowed for an adult or married person will be doubled to bring it to £2 a week, and the varying smaller amounts at present allowed for unmarried juveniles will all be increased to a uniform rate of £1 a week. The effect of the increased rates of benefit and the increased permissible income will be a most generous one, particularly in the case of married persons with families to support.
The limits of benefit and other income referred to do not take into account the specially exempted payments which may be received by a sickness beneficiary from an approved friendly society or similar organization. Payments of up to £2 a week received by a sickness beneficiary from such an organization are excluded from the operation of the means test, with the result that the limit of benefit and other income is virtually increased for such a beneficiary by up to £2 a week. Thus, the effect of this bill will be to enable a married sickness beneficiary, with a dependent spouse and one child, to receive a possible total income of £10 2s. 6d. a week, not including child endowment.
The increase in permissible income proposed by the bill will be especially helpful to members of friendly societies. At present, any payment in excess of £3 a week from a friendly society has the effect of reducing the rate of sickness benefit payable to the member, with the result that the society finds it inexpedient to make payments greater than £3 a week. The higher permissible income now proposed will enable the societies to increase these payments to £4 a week without causing any reduction in the rate of sickness benefit, except in those cases where other outside income is received. Other amendments will have the effect of permitting a couple, where one party is a pensioner, to receive the advantage of the increase in the pension rate without the other party suffering a loss in unemployment or sickness benefit.
At present, if a wife receives a civil or service pension or allowance of £2 a week or more, no additional benefit is payable to the husband on her account. If she receives a pension or allowance of less than £2 a week the husband receives, subject to the means test, additional benefit of the difference between her pension or allowance and £2 a week. With the increase in the additional benefit to £2 7s. 6d. a week a pensioner wife will not cease to be dependent until her pension or allowance reaches £2 7s. 6d. a week and, subject to the means test, the amount by which her pension or allowance falls short of £2 7s. 6d. will be made up by way of additional benefit.
Where the wife of an unemployment beneficiary is in receipt of an age, invalid or service pension, the act now provides for so much of that pension as does not exceed £2 a week to be excluded from the operation of the means test in the assessment of the husband’s unemployment benefit. The bill increases this exemption to £2 7s. 6d. a week, thus ensuring that a married couple in circumstances of this kind will receive the full benefit of the general increases of pension and unemployment benefit, as well as the advantage of the higher permissible income for unemployment benefit.
Approximately 556,000 age and invalid pensioners and 45,600 widow pensioners will receive the general increase of 7s. 6d. a week. Some persons now excluded from pension because their income exceeds £7 10s. a week will become eligible for pension if their income does not exceed £7 17s. 6d. In the case of married couples the figure will be £15 15s. a week.
The new rates of pension will be payable from and including the first pension payday after the day on which the bill receives the Royal Assent. The increased rates of unemployment and sickness benefit will become operative as soon as the Royal Assent is given to the bill. That answers the question that was addressed to me earlier this afternoon by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand).
The cost of the proposals included in the bill will be £12,775,000 for a full year and £8,830,000 for 1957-58. This will bring the total cost, for this financial year, of all benefits under the Social Services Act exclusively to approximately £200,784,000. The estimated cost of national health benefits and services for 1957-58 is £42,788,000, making the total cost of all benefits payable from the National Welfare Fund £243,572,000. It will be noted, perhaps, that I make no reference to repatriation benefits, which, of course, are social services benefits in addition to those I have mentioned.
In 1948-49, the last full year of the last, or, perhaps I should say, the final Labour Government, expenditure under the Social Services Act was £74,600,000. In 1956-57, it amounted to £183,500,000. Expenditure has thus increased by 146 per cent, over a period during which the national income has increased by 139 per cent, from £1,961,000,000 to £4,680,000,000.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, a good deal has been said of late by people who are interested in the provision of supplementary pensions to those who, because of particular circumstances, are suffering hardship. It has been said, with some truth, that where limited resources are available, assistance should be granted to them at a higher rate than that given to the body of pensioners as a whole and I have in the past looked into various suggestions of this nature and am now re-examining the whole difficult problem. From both an administrative and a technical point of view the proposal is not as simple as it sounds. It would impose a means test within a means test and would lead to a more frequent and more detailed examination of the circumstances of pensioners than we have at present. I would remind honorable members that a somewhat similar system introduced in 1932 was abandoned after only ten months’ trial. The additional pension was then only 2s. 6d. a week, but that was then one-sixth of the maximum pension, and it was abandoned after a brief trial.
Supplementary pensions would necessarily involve considerably increased staff because of the detailed nature of inquiries and, I fear, the inquiries necessary would for many be regarded as something in the nature of a personal inquisition. These are general observations only, but I would hate to introduce a poor-law tradition into a country which, at the Commonwealth level at least, has been singularly free of traditions of the kind. However, I can assure the House that I shall continue my examination and search for a practical solution to a very difficult and perplexing problem.
Let me stress that, while giving more help to those in need, it is our manifest duty to encourage self-reliance, providence, and the quality of independence that rightly belongs to a free and resolute people. The Government has attempted to do the one by its increases in rates of pensions and benefits, and the other by its relaxations of the means test. The bill increases the rates of both pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits; it also relaxes the means test on unemployment and sickness benefits. It is another step forward in the history of Australian social services. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Edmonds) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Aged Persons Homes Act 1934.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to increase the assistance the Commonwealth may give by way of grants to religious, charitable and certain other approved organizations to help in providing homes for older people. It is now almost three years since the commencement of the Aged Persons Homes Act. At the time, it was in the nature of a bold experiment. While both humane and logical, it was nevertheless an unusual and novel approach, as far as the Commonwealth was concerned, to a pressing social problem. Its origin lay in the Government’s recognition of the fact that one of the greatest anxieties old people have to face is the lack of housing and proper care in their advancing years. We did not attempt to solve this problem by directly entering a field where success depends so much on a personal and intimate relationship which no government, however beneficent, can ever hope to achieve. We accepted the view that churches and voluntary organizations, with their long experience of the problems of humanity and their undoubted devotion to the task, are better able to meet the individual needs of our people by providing homes in a spiritual atmosphere - not merely accommodation - and we were most anxious to assist them in every possible way. To that end the Government sought the cooperation of the religious and charitable bodies. Through the Aged Persons Homes Act it offered encouragement and financial help to those who, by their great devotion and long experience, had already shown their interest in this most human problem. They were already doing splendid work, and the act was designed to assist them to expand their activities. It was based essentially on a partnership between government and people in the true sense of the term, and it depended for its success on a spirit of co-operation, mutual trust and goodwill.
These hopes have been amply justified, I am proud to say, and organizations have made a magnificent response to the Government’s leadership. Grants totalling £2,214,028 have been approved in respect of 192 projects. These grants have been made to organizations in every State of the
Commonwealth and even in the Northern Territory. Some 118 approved homes are in or near the metropolitan areas, and I am sure the House will be interested to know that the remaining 74 are in provincial cities, towns and country areas. This development in country areas is, to my mind, a very desirable feature. It means that many old people will be enabled to live out their days, as they would wish, near familiar friends and among familiar surroundings instead of being obliged to move to localities that are strange to them and among people who are strange to them. Even more important, it shows that local needs are being recognized by local citizens, and that local efforts are being made to meet those needs. This, I am sure, is a sound democratic development. I am equally sure that it owes much of its present activity to the incentive provided by the Aged Persons Homes Act.
Two other features of the grants that have been made are specially noteworthy. A considerable number of applications has come from newly established bodies, and many organizations which have already received grants have applied for subsequent grants to extend their accommodation still further. If proof were needed of the stimulus provided by the act, it can surely be gauged from developments such as these. As one would expect, the churches, with their long tradition of humanitarianism, have been in the forefront of those assisted by the act. Honorable members may be interested to know that, of the £2,214,028 approved in grants under the act £1,298,992 has been approved for religious bodies, £812,889 for charitable or benevolent organizations, £52,055 for ex-servicemen’s organizations, and £50,092 for various other organizations approved by the GovernorGeneral. The vexed question of housing has been solved for a succession of elderly people numbering many thousands. In addition, they will have the skilled attention and the loving care of those who have dedicated their lives to this most noble task, and they will have the companionship of their contemporaries, which is most important. Moreover, the act provides that the homes shall be established with proper regard to the companionship of husband and wife and that, in particular, aged persons should reside in them in conditions approaching, as nearly as possible, normal domestic life.
The record, then, in human and financial terms is already most impressive, but there is still much to be done. In spite of great expansions, the vast majority of homes still have waiting lists of applicants, and organizations, however anxious they might be to extend their activities, are deterred from embarking on new ventures by lack of funds and, unhappily, by rising costs. The problem, though on its way to solution, is therefore still with us. Indeed, it grows greater. Two factors contribute to this - the number of old people continues to increase, and the excellent and varying kinds of accommodation now being made available appeals to many old people who previously considered homes for the aged as too impersonal for their individual tastes. In a sense, the supply has helped, if not to create the demand, at least to increase it.
In an effort to assist organizations still further, the Government now proposes that grants shall be made on a more generous scale. The bill before the House provides for this in two main ways. The first relates to land. In the original act, the capital cost of an approved home meant, in the case of a home erected by the organization, the cost of erection and included necessary fixtures but excluded the cost of the land. Where existing premises were purchased for conversion into a home, the cost of the land necessary for the purposes of the home was, however, included. This has meant that organizations seeking new sites on which to build have been at a disadvantage compared with those purchasing already existing premises. Moreover, many have found their initial outlay on land so great that their resources for building were depleted. This bill amends the definition of capital cost. The effect of this amendment is that in future the capital cost of a home to be erected will include such amount in respect of the whole or a part of the land acquired for the purposes of the home as is determined by the Minister in his discretion. This will apply only to land acquired on or after the date of commencement of the amending act.
The other amendment provided for in this bill gives effect to the Government’s proposal to double the rate of contribution 1 it is at present making towards the capital cost of approved homes. Up to the present, I the amount of a grant has been limited to I one-half of the capital cost of the home as determined by the Director-General, or to the amount, exclusive of borrowed moneys or moneys obtained from a government, raised by the organization towards the capital cost, whichever is the less. This bill raises this limit to two-thirds of the capital cost of the home, or to twice the amount raised by the organization towardsthe capital cost. In effect, it will mean that instead of grants being made on a £l-for-£l basis as formerly, they will in future be made on a £2-for-£l basis. The new scale of assistance provided for in this bill will also take effect from the date of commencement of the amending act. Grants towards homes approved on or after that date will be determined on a £2-for-£l basis.
To meet the increased expenditure that is expected as a result of these amendments, provision has been made in the budget for an appropriation of £1,800,000 compared with actual expenditure of £751,136 in 1956-57. This appropriation will provide for payments on grants which have already been approved but which cannot be finalized until projects are completed, and for payments of grants made on the new basis. Previously, the maximum contribution the Government was prepared to make in any single year for homes for the aged was £1,500,000. This will now be raised, I am proud to say, to £3,000,000 a year.
All these provisions are an earnest of the Government’s sincere desire to assist in solving a great national and social problem. The Aged Persons Homes Act has been regarded by thousands of people as one of the most constructive and farseeing pieces of social legislation in the history of this Parliament. The new amendments should render it even more effective in achieving its splendid purpose.
The past three years have indeed seen great achievements - tangibly in the form of homes, whether splendid communal buildings, self-contained cottages or flats; and intangibly in the peace of mind and sense of security that their occupants enjoy. Many older persons are themselves making contributions towards the funds of organizations that are establishing homes. These donations will now attract a government grant of £2 for each £1 donated. Not only are organizations, both large and small, receiving assistance, but the act is providing individuals with the opportunity for self-help, and for the preservation of both dignity and independence, without which life for so many would be a dull and uninspiring experience.
All of us, young or old, have, I verily believe, a spirit of independence. All of us. young or old, have some spirit of adventure. Yet all of us have a desire for domestic security. These are human emotions, which we all share, and they are not inconsistent. Indeed, the urge to gain both economic and domestic security often calls for the greatest manifestation of independence and the strongest spirit of adventure.
There was a time, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, when, generally speaking, elderly people had an honoured place in every community - Christian and non-Christian alike. Unhappily, in this materialistic age and generation, old age can be a bewildering, and even a terrifying, experience. It is our manifest duty to correct that position - if, and when, we can.
There is no known way to bring down legislation in this or any other parliament to enforce the commandment, “ Honour thy father and thy mother “; there is no known way to introduce a bill for an act to provide an honoured place for our elderly citizens; but the responsibility is surely ours to do all that lies within our legislative power to recognize the valiant work that has been done by so many splendid organizations and to assist them in every possible way.
That was the original purpose of the Aged Persons Homes Act. A magnificent start has been made. Together with other honorable members, it has been my proud privilege to visit a great many of these homes in all parts of our vast Commonwealth. I have met the people who are primarily responsible for their establishment and maintenance, and I have shared with the most fortunate residents the peace and tranquillity that pervades all these establishments.
This bill will increase the number of these homes; it will give practical help and encouragement to all those who are engaged in this most noble work; and it will multiply the accommodation available to our elderly people, and restore their faith in a generation that is tempted to ignore a sacred responsibility and duty. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 19th September (vide page 867), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1 - The Senate - namely, “ Salaries and allowances, £30,000 “, be agreed to.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved by way of amendment -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
.- I can imagine nothing more tedious or more futile than to be the first speaker to take up a debate such as this after a break of one week. However, the debate, which had been in progress for two weeks before the break, must go on as planned by the Government, and some one must make the first speech following the resumption. I support, very strongly, the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I support it because the budget is negative, and because it does nothing to arrest inflation at a time when firm action must be taken by the Government to arrest it, because its severity is increasing. This budget, which is characteristic of the budgets brought down by the present Government, seems to follow the principle of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party that the strong must be made stronger and the poor must be made poorer. I am sure that honorable members on both sides of the chamber have heard it said, as I have, among members of the business community, and of all other sections of the community, for that matter, that nothing was expected from this budget because it was not to be followed by an election, and that the people must wait until the next budget for anything that they want. That has become characteristic of the budgets brought down by the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). lt is not my intention to discuss the details of the budget. As I have said, it would be futile for me to do so, because anything that can be said about them has already been said. I should like to say, however, that the Leader of the Opposition, and my colleague, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), gave magnificent analyses of the budget, and directed at it the criticism that it merited. This debate affords honorable members wide scope, and I propose to take advantage of the opportunity to discuss several matters. First, I think it is regrettable that, throughout this debate, Government supporters, in a weak attempt to justify the budget, seem to have adopted the attitude that the best way to do so is to make a personal attack upon the Leader of the Opposition. That does not say very much for the calibre of the Government’s supporters in this chamber. They seem to think that Opposition members have no right to criticize the budget. I am sure that the Treasurer would not suggest for one moment that anything so important as the budget should be beyond criticism. Budgets have always been subject to criticism, and the Opposition should be able to exercise its right to criticize this budget without the Leader of the Opposition being subjected to personal attacks of the kind that have been directed against him during this debate.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) made a statement to the effect that, in 1949, the Leader of the Opposition was not acceptable to the people, and was not liked by them. I suppose his basis for that statement is the defeat of the Chifley Government, in 1949. Let us reminisce a little. It is true that the late Mr. Chifley, who was Prime Minister at the time, and members of the Australian Labour party were not acceptable to the people as a government. If that were not so, Labour would never have been defeated. Let us go back a few years. Whatever might have been said about it in 1949, the Australian Labour party was acceptable in 1941, and the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was the Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs in the government of that day. When I speak of the 1940-41 period it may be said that I am old-fashioned, or that I am talking about something that is not relevant to present-day matters, but it will be remembered that in 1941 the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) were at loggerheads, the result being that the Liberal-Country party government of that day broke up. That government was not defeated as was the Labour government in 1949; it defeated itself. Even the members of the press, who have very special methods of getting at the facts associated with political questions could not find out who was stabbing the other in the back on that occasion.
When honorable members opposite resort to personal attacks on the Leader of the Opposition, they should remember that at the time of which we have been speaking Australia was at war, and the two parties whose members occupy the Government benches to-day could not agree to govern even in time of war. If we have to resort to personalities, let me make this reference to the Leader of the Opposition: Not only was he acceptable to the Australian people in 1943, as the results of the elections in that year proved conclusively, but he was acceptable also to the governments of other countries, especially that of the United States of America. He personally led the move for the introduction of the lend-lease arrangements, which Government supporters will surely agree played a very important part in our subsequent victory in the war in the Pacific.
– But his reputation has tumbled, and is tumbling still.
– The honorable member says that his reputation has tumbled, but it has tumbled only as a consequence of this kind of personal attack that has been made upon him, not only by honorable members opposite but by other persons in the community. I will challenge anybody to point the finger of scorn at the sincerity, morality or ability of the right honorable gentleman. If his reputation has fallen, it is only because it has been destroyed by the methods that have been adopted since 1949. When we speak of attacks on the present Leader of the Opposition, let us not forget that exactly similar attacks were made on the late Ben Chifley before he died, and before the crocodile tears were shed in this Parliament and other places. If I chose to take the trouble, I could quote “ Hansard “ reports of statements that the present Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, made in this House that Mr. Chifley was accepting his instructions from Soviet Russia. No one knew better than the right honorable gentleman that that was completely untrue, just as the accusations made against the present Leader of the Opposition are completely untrue.
I could continue at some length to deal with events that have occurred between 1949 and the present day. I shall make one reference. There is nothing more nauseating to me than to sit here and see honorable members opposite stand in thenplaces and boast, with the arrogance that is expected from supporters of the present Government, about the Snowy Mountains scheme. The Snowy Mountains scheme was not a creation of the tories. It was created and initiated by the Labour Government. Mr. Nelson Lemmon was the Minister for Works when the scheme was initiated. If we must reminisce, let me tell honorable members that in 1948, when the first sod was turned by the Governor-General for the Snowy Mountains project, and the Governors of Victoria and New South Wales were also present, only two members of the tory parties in this Parliament attended the ceremony. It was boycotted by all other members of the then Opposition. The two members who attended were the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) and the then honorable member for Bendigo, who later became Senator George Rankin. Yet the Minister stands in this House and speaks of the Government’s achievements, and one would swear in the name of Heaven that he was personally responsible for the creation of the Snowy Mountains scheme. In fact, there would have been no Snowy Mountains scheme at all if it had not been for the Australian Labour party.
– What about the budget?
– I know that these statements are not well received by honorable members opposite. I recall that I was told quite recently that I should bring myself up to date and be more modern, but I believe that the people of Australia should never be permitted to forget that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party abdicated from the government benches when this country was at war, when they had a majority in both Houses of the Parliament.
I shall confine my remarks now to the section of the budget dealing with defence, particularly that portion of it relating to the Royal Australian Air Force. Since the financial year 1950-51, an amount of £334,256,138 has been spent in this direction. I know that if one says that the Government has no right to spend £190,000,000 each year on defence one takes the risk of being accused of not believing in defence. If honorable members on this side of the House mention anything about defence they are told that they are supporting the Soviet attitude and that they do not believe that Australia should be defended at all. The Australian Labour party has never held that belief. The only criticism that we have is this: If you must spend £190,000,000 on defence, then you should spend it in a way that gives you a return for your money. Our criticism is not of the expenditure, but of the way in which the expenditure has been made.
– It is not enough!
– That may be so, but at least we are entitled to see some return for it. The question that I am interested in, and in which I am sure that you, Mr. Chairman, being a Queenslander, are also interested, is this: How much of that £334,000,000-odd could have been used in developing aerodromes already in existence? Admittedly, I am speaking of civil aerodromes. During the war I was in north Queensland, and I know of the countless millions of pounds that were spent in building new aerodromes and extending existing ones, and building satellite aerodromes and airstrips throughout the length and breadth of that country. In 1947, the Chifley Government initiated a very good scheme, which was continued by this Government up to a point. The scheme was that in a country area, if the local authorities felt so disposed, they could establish a civil aerodrome. Having established it, and having proved to the Department of Civil Aviation by passenger and freight figures that it was justified, they could hand it over to the Department of Civil Aviation which would convert it from a dry-weather aerodrome to an all-weather aerodrome. That was acceptable to very many local authorities throughout Queensland country areas. The former Government of Queensland thought it was such a good scheme that it subsidized the local authorities £1 for £1. The scheme progressed satisfactorily until this Government decided to depart from that arrangement. It substituted a new scheme without notifying the local authorities or the airline operators. This Government decided that it would not take any aerodrome that was within 100 miles of an already established aerodrome. So, in places like Ayr, Ingham, Innisfail and Proserpine there are aerodromes which the local authorities cannot maintain any longer, and for which the Department of Civil Aviation refuses to accept responsibility.
We talk about defence and the necessity to expand the Air Force and increase the number of aerodromes: Here is a heavensent opportunity for this Government to spend some of the money earmarked for the Air Force, What better asset could there be than an already established aerodrome? All the Government has to do is expand it and develop it, so that it will be ready for use in case of war. Instead of that, this Government has repudiated its agreement and local authorities are left with aerodromes that are usable only in dry weather. Much of the money that has been spent on the Department of Air could have been spent on the improvement of these aerodromes.
I come now to my old favorite, the Burdekin valley scheme. I heard the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) recently advocate a brand-new scheme. It is called the Fitzroy River scheme. In 1949, Mr. Chifley agreed with the then Premier of Queensland, Mr. Hanlon, to subsidize, £1 for £1, a scheme to develop the Burdekin valley, and the expenditure was expected to be £19,500,000. That was a tangible arrangement between the Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland. However, an election intervened and the Chifley Government was defeated. From that day to this I have been trying to get the Treasurer and the Government to accept the arrangement that was entered into between Mr. Chifley and Mr. Hanlon. I remember Sir Eric Harrison saying to Mr. Chifley, when they were discussing the Snowy Mountains scheme, that it would be a wicked waste of public money to undertake such a grandiose project. Probably I, too, shall be accused of talking about a grandiose scheme when I mention that since 1949 the estimated cost of the Burdekin valley scheme has increased from £19,500,000 to £100,000,000. But I cannot imagine anything of greater defence value than to develop the Burdekin valley in the manner envisaged by Mr. Chifley and Mr. Hanlon.
I remember, as will other honorable members, the Treasurer saying that the Government could not assist the Queensland Government with the Burdekin valley scheme because it was economically unsound. The right honorable gentleman has repeated that statement so often that he must sometimes say it in his sleep. But there was another scheme in north Queensland, also commenced by the Queensland Labour Government. It was the Tully Falls hydro-electric scheme, which was officially opened, I think on the 23rd of last month, by the brand-new Premier of Queensland, Mr. Nicklin. The Treasurer of the Commonwealth said that this Government would not assist the Tully Falls hydroelectric scheme because it was economically sound, and therefore no financial assistance was necessary. So there we have it. The Burdekin valley scheme could not be assisted by the Commonwealth because it was economically unsound and the Tully Falls scheme could not be subsidized because it was economically sound! Yet these are great defence projects. When one considers an expenditure of £190,000,000 a year on defence one is justified in thinking in terms of great national projects, because, even in these days of Menzies-Fadden inflation, £190,000,000 is a large amount of money. Who provides it? We have heard about St. Mary’s, and I am sure Government members will not want us to say too much about that for a while; but not one project in Queensland has been given one farthing of Commonwealth money. When defence is mentioned it is said, with justification, that the north is the most vulnerable sector. If this country is to be attacked it will be attacked from the north; yet this Government has not twopence worth of defence in the north! Where are the projects that justify the expenditure of £1.90,000,000?
Mr. Anderson interjecting,
– The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) can talk about the national service training scheme. I know that soldiers are being marched around or perhaps used to train boys to drive jeeps: We know all about that, but I am talking about projects that justify the expenditure of £190,000,000. No member of the Government has yet been able to give any idea of how that money has been expended. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that this Government merely plucked a figure out of the blue sky. It says to the service departments, “ There is £190.000,000; it is your job to spend it”. That is what has taken place over all these years.
I should like to say a word about pensions. I heard the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) say today that more than 700,000 people would receive with great satisfaction the increase of 7s. 6d. per week that this progressive Menzies-Fadden Government is giving to pensioners. What it means, of course, is that 700,000 age, invalid, and widow pensioners will be enabled to buy approximately one extra loaf of bread per day. That is just exactly what this Government has given to the pensioners; and the Minister says they have acknowledged with great satisfaction indeed, the fact that this Government has provided an extra 7s. 6d. a week for them. We know that every increase in pensions means that more is taken from the pockets of the taxpayers. But, although that is so, would not any member of this Parliament be prepared to allow himself to be taxed infinitely higher than he is in order to provide some relief to the thousands of pensioners who are practically living on a pittance to-day? It is futile merely to say that such relief will cost money. We know it will cost money; but everybody should be prepared to cooperate and justify the extra expenditure. I give my wholehearted support to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
.- I listened carefully to the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds), but he said very little on the subject of the budget which calls for answer. It would appear that he deliberately avoided dealing with the budget and concentrated his attention on personal attacks made from this side of the chamber on the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). Whether or not there was justification for the honorable member’s remarks, they were hardly relevant to the debate. He referred to the Snowy Mountains scheme. Never, at any time, has this Government sought to take any credit from the Opposition for instituting that scheme when it was in government. But there seems to be an attitude of jealousy or fear on the part of honorable members opposite that they may lose some of the glory due to them for initiating that scheme. Apparently, they have little left to hold on to.
Before the honorable member for Herbert leaves the chamber, I should like to comment on his remarks concerning air force aerodromes in Western Australia. Of my own knowledge, I am aware that when Labour was in office in this Parliament it converted a fighter air strip at Dunreath. in Western Australia, which was in combat use in 1944, into a passenger terminal for Trans-Australia Airlines. The idea may have been sound, but the timing of it was very unsound. I cannot cross swords with the honorable member as to the importance of the air strips in the development of Queensland, but it must be patent to honorable members opposite that very few investors - among whom 1 include the Commonwealth - are disposed to invest money in States under the control of Labour governments. Several members of the Opposition have referred to the proposed defence vote of £190,000,000 as a sum “ plucked out of the air “. Has the thought ever occurred to them that it may be an arbitary amount within which the service chiefs must operate? I ask them to consider that possibility.
I now wish to refer to the budget debate. Although it is now drawing to its close, it must now be quite clear to the people that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has again demonstrated to the nation his ability as a good housekeeper. Since the inception of this, the twenty-second Parliament, he has introduced two budgets, as well as a supplementary one in March, 1956. It is interesting to reflect on the basis of each of those budgets, their effects, and also the views expressed by members of the Opposition on each of them. The supplementary budget was introduced at a time when the national economy was feeling the effects of a spending spree which caused a large influx of imported goods. We had an adverse trade balance and a decreasing bond value, due to the demand for money for industrial expansion pushing up the interest rate. At that time, the Government was following the policy of its predecessor in office by supporting the bond market at the expense of creating credit by way of Treasury bills, but this, being an inflationary practice, was discontinued. On 14th March, 1956, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a statement to the Parliament on the national economy in which he said -
We are, as a nation, enjoying a high measure of prosperity. Our purpose is to preserve and consolidate it. To achieve these purposes, we must be prepared to face up to the factors which tend to destroy prosperity by aggravating our costs. to the inflation of our currency and to the great task of maintaining and building our trading position in the world.
Can any one deny that these purposes are now being achieved? The emergency measures which followed, including heavy import restrictions, expansion of our export trade and a relaxation of the terms of the Ottawa Agreement, have now enabled the Treasurer to bring down his present budget with measures of relief - some small, I will admit - to an extent which was not conceded by the Opposition at that time, and, as well, provide for a surplus of £119,363,000 to be transferred to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve. Yet, the Job’s comforters opposite are still saying “Not enough “, “ Unemployment “ and the usual slogans of their craft. Again, the Treasurer, in submitting the 1956-57 budget, stated -
To meet these problems, so far as they are capable of being met by governmental action, the Government has developed policy measures designed, on the one hand, to restrain demand and so mitigate pressures on resources and, on the other hand, to promote higher levels of production and exports. In broader terms, our aim has been to strike a balance between the long-term objectives of development and population growth and the more immediate requirements of preserving the prosperity and stability of the growing community.
The comments by the Leader of the Opposition on that occasion featured an accusation that the Government did not wish to end inflation. He said -
Inflation has certain benefits to a government that does not look too closely at all aspects of the picture.
He still pressed the advantages of a controlled economy and left little doubt that the Opposition, if returned to power, would impose controls on interest rates, capital issues and prices and also levy an excess profits tax. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) also made a “ great “ contribution at this time in speaking of prosperity. He said -
It is endangered because we have a crew of bunglers in charge of affairs to-day. Let us examine this vaunted prosperity of theirs. Anybody can live beyond his means. Anybody can have a period of prosperity if he uses up his savings or if he can borrow money. That is exactly what this Government has been doing. It has been using up the national reserves and imperilling the future stability of Australia.
If there is one thing that has been apparent in this Government’s administration, it is the fact that it is doing exactly the opposite.
The Government’s policy in financing public works from annual revenue, the payment of surpluses to the sinking fund against payment of our national war debts, and so on, shows how wrong the Opposition line can be. Good housekeeping is producing that stability in our economy which is so vitally necessary if we are to achieve a rapid expansion without lowering our living standards. The Treasurer made this clear in introducing the present budget, when he said that stability had been gained not without some cost but certainly through measures which so far have not proved to be incompatible with sound progress.
It must be a matter of great pride to the Treasurer that the Government has achieved, in the short time since the supplementary budget was brought down, such an impressive position that he is able to grant the concessions now conferred on practically all members of the community. The maintenance of the defence vote at £190,000,000, together with a more realistic appreciation of our defence requirements, will be of great advantage to the nation. In this regard I should like to say a few words about the proposed revision of the services pay code. Whilst agreeing that payments for service specialists and tradesmen should be in line with that of their civilian counterparts, I do not agree that the existing pay-roll outside those categories is an unreal one. Indeed, I have been approached on many occasions by serving personnel who have indicated that the present rates are reasonably satisfactory. The major complaint is that their retiring allowances are insufficient.
The impracticability of applying the superannuation system of the Public Service to the military services should be patent to all. It is undesirable, also, that the conditions affecting service retirement allowances should, to some degree, be subject to recommendations by a committee of public servants. For example, a Commonwealth public servant, entering the service as a junior, and normally retiring at 65 years of age, has a contributing life of approximately 50 years, and can take up his units, compatible with his classification, to give him a reasonable pension upon retirement. However, such is not the case with military personnel. The retiring age of an army officer is now dictated by the rank that he holds. Generally, majors retire at 47 years of age, lieutenant-colonels at 50, colonels at 55, major-generals at 57, and lieutenant-generals at 60. But, of course, it is not given to many to gain general rank.
The expenditure of an army officer of major’s rank, retiring at 47, on behalf of his family on food, clothes, and particularly on education, is at its maximum at the very time that he has to live on a greatly reduced income. Of course, this applies to a greater or less degree to every rank in the services. It is difficult for a man who retires from one of the services at the age of 50 or more to obtain suitable civilian employment. It is this doubt as to the future security of himself and his family that makes men reluctant to enlist in the services. There is also the fact that retired officers who obtain Commonwealth employment suffer a drastic reduction of their pensions. The position is even worse for those who joined the services after completion of war service in 1946, and whose period of contribution to a superannuation fund has thus been shortened.
I suggest that here is one opportunity to let posterity pay, and there would be no danger of inflation. Instead of providing for substantial increases in pay, except to specialists, the revised pay code should provide for a non-contributory pension scheme under which set amounts would be payable on retirement according to rank. Then every serviceman would know, on enlistment, exactly what his financial position would be eventually, and the money for those increased benefits would not have to be found until the men retired. This would off-set, to a small degree, the burden now undertaken by the Government in paying for capital works out of annual revenue as a measure to reduce inflation.
However, I should like to mention some of the other benefits conferred by this budget, such as increased war and repatriation pensions; the doubling of the contributions for building homes for the aged; the increase of Commonwealth scholarship living allowances; the payment of an additional £22,662,000 to the States; the provision of an additional £15,000,000, approximately, for capital works; increases to Commonwealth superannuation pensions; the reduction by 6d. in the £1 of company tax; and one of the great benefits to industry and, therefore, to employment, the adoption of further recommendations of the Hulme committee by increasing deprecia tion rates, on the diminishing value method, by 50 per cent. This concession will lead inevitably to the provision of more efficient working plants, better conditions of employment, and an opportunity to reduce the cost of manufactured goods. Certain sales tax exemptions have been provided and, whilst not generous, they are at least a step in the right direction. Pay-roll tax, another killer, has been lifted from employers whose wage bill does not exceed £200 per week, but there are many comparatively small organizations whose salary commitments are well in excess of this figure. This is one tax that 1 should like to see completely abolished.
I was pleased to note the realistic approach to double estate duty, a matter which I, myself, took up with the Treasurer early this year. There are also minor taxation concessions. The Government is also to be commended on its provision, in the capital works and services appropriation, of an additional £5,000,000, making a total of £35,000,000 for the current year for war service homes. This should help to reduce the present waiting time. The delay has been caused by the increased number of applications from those who served in Korea and Malaya, and by the inclusion by this Government of war widows as participants in the scheme.
Finally, I turn to social services, for which an additional provision of approximately £16,000,000 has been made for a full year, and approximately £9,500,000 for the current year. The flat rate increase of 7s. 6d. a week in age, invalid and widows’ pensions will, no doubt, be more or less thankfully received, but I feel sure that it is time that we got away from the political approach to what is essentially a humanitarian concept. A careful study by the Government of the problems of the aged and indigent is long overdue. My friend and colleague, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), has given many years to research on this subject, and the Government members’ sub-committee on social services, of which he is the distinguished chairman, has rendered to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) a comprehensive report. Considerably later, an outside committee, under the chairmanship of Professor Downing, also made certain recommendations in this matter.
If we are to continue with our present system instead of introducing a compulsory national superannuation scheme we must give due weight to the differing circumstances affecting applicants for social service benefits. It is a fact that a heavy price is being paid to-day for our rapidly expanding economy by those people who, as pioneers, have already borne the hardships of developing this country. They have been adversely affected by two depressions and two great wars, and now they must rely on the Government for assistance. However, since liberalization of the means test, a new group has emerged in the field of age pensioners, and although these people enjoy some compensation for the devaluation of the currency, I am afraid we have reached the limit beyond which there will be a detrimental effect on those in more indigent circumstances. I refer to the married couple who own their home, have a car, have money in the bank, and enjoy superannuation of £7 a week and pension of £8 15s. a week, making a total of £15 15s. From this optimum, there is a gradual reduction in the economic position of pensioners, including those couples who are assisted by their children and those who live in rented accommodation, the husband being physically capable of earning the maximum wage allowed under the act. Even in these difficult times, most of these people are reasonably housed and fed. At the bottom of the scale, however, are the single pensioners, particularly those who are too infirm to earn anything at all, or who have no relatives or friends upon whom to depend for accommodation or care. These unfortunates are compelled to pay as much as half their pension for small rooms or backyard bungalows and must eke out a meagre existence on the balance, helped at times by charitable organizations. These are the people for whom I make a special appeal. These are the people who deserve our every consideration.
Broadly, to recapitulate, these are the three main groups in this field: First, we have the married couple who own their home and perhaps a car, who have all the normal household and personal requirements, who let rooms for a return of not more than £7 a week, or who have superannuation of not more than £7 a week, or are capable of earning that amount. Secondly, there is the married couple who rent reason able accommodation, or live with some member of their family, and whose circumstances are somewhat similar, in other respects, to those in the first category. Thirdly, there is the single person - the widow, the widower, the spinster or the bachelor - forced to live alone, with no assets, no near relatives, little of the world’s goods, incapable of working, paying 50 per cent, of the pension for poor accommodation, and endeavouring to exist on a couple of pounds a week - an impossibility to-day without charitable assistance. I am given to understand that the percentage of the total number of pensioners represented by the first group is 17 per cent., and by the third group, approximately 40 per cent.
If we are to help those in real need, future additional appropriations for social services of this nature should be placed to the credit of a special national assistance fund. Needy pensioners could apply on a standard form which they could obtain at any post office. Departmental officers could investigate such applications in exactly the way that investigations are now made when pensions are applied for. Surely, this would not be beyond the capabilities of the staff of the department! If it would be beyond them, I suggest that nobody would cavil at augmentation of the staff for this purpose, particularly as the staffs of some government departments seem likely to be trimmed in the near future. The adoption of this suggestion would enable the Government to do the greatest good with the least expenditure and, above all, it would help those who are most in need. If we do not do this, we shall place an enormous burden on those members of the public who already are contributing time and substance to so many of our hospitals, institutions and charitable organizations.
A better deal for those in real need and increased provision of housing for the aged are important to our economy, apart altogether from humanitarian considerations. However, in my opinion, any such provision can be only a stop-gap. We must face the need for a compulsory national superannuation scheme. At the present time, we are spending nearly 25 per cent, of our total annual revenue on national welfare. With increases of population, both naturally and from immigration, with greater longevity and rising costs, this percentage could well be doubled in a decade if we continue to blunder along in this easy way of merely increasing the flat rate periodically. It is a great pity that an earlier move to establish such a scheme was thwarted. I hope that it is apparent that no further time should be wasted in tackling this problem.
The invalid pensioner is another who suffers as a result of unrealistic and too rigid regulations. To be classed as totally unfit for work, invalids must be medically certified to be 85 per cent, unfit. The department, by regulation or otherwise, allows them to earn a total of 15 per cent, of the basic wage, or about £1 15s. a week, without prejudicing their pension right. But, here is the catch: If their total income from all sources, including the pension, exceeds £7 10s. a week, they can suffer reduction of their pension or be disqualified from receiving the pension. There are many of these people who could earn, when they are well enough to do so, far in excess of the weekly base rate, but, of course, there would be no continuity of their earning capacity. They are thus compelled to waste away in enforced idleness when they could be making a reasonable contribution to the economy of this country and, at the same time, improving their own financial position.
I believe that the standard of 85 per cent, incapacity is too harsh. Naturally, medical opinion will vary when assessments in these cases are being made. Therefore, in my opinion, invalid pensioners who so elect should be able to earn to a greater degree and still retain the pension. I suggest that, subject to a regular, periodical medical examination, and direction of employment, they should be allowed to earn a total sum of £182 a year, irrespective of the rate of earning or the period during which the sum is earned, without affecting their existing pension. Surely, this pension is granted as a compensation for infirmity and not for the purpose of directing this section of the community to a life of idleness and destitution!
It is true that, under the rehabilitation section of the Social Services Act, many infirm and disabled persons have been assisted, but I think that the majority of invalid pensioners could not meet all the requirements necessary to entitle them to such assistance. I believe, however, that they would be only too willing to do any of the 101 odd jobs, such as minding children, caretaking, lunch-time relieving, and assembling components of an industrial nature in their own homes, that are available.
These remarks are not intended to detract from the credit due to the Government for the provisions of this budget, in respect of which I, in common with all Government supporters, express my congratulations to the Treasurer. The Opposition may harp on his conservatism, although that may yet prove a great boon if the present drought conditions continue, but I am sure that all thinking Australians would rather have this Government’s conservatism than the type of nationally controlled economy which is sodear to the hearts of honorable members opposite and their ilk. I support the motion.
Sitting suspended from 5.49 to 8 p.m.
.- This is the tenth budget which the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has introduced. It would be ungenerous of me were I not to congratulate him on that fact; but, whilst I do congratulate him on having attained such a record as ten budgets, eight of which have been introduced successively, 1 cannot agree, and never have agreed, with this budget or any of the budgets that he has introduced. I have never agreed with the principles on which these budgets were founded. They have all been dull and dreary. They have been generally so dreary that Government supporters have slept through them rather than listen to them,, and, of course, they have been so dull and dreary that not even Sir Laurence Olivier could have made them sound dramatic.
When the present budget was in preparation, all sorts of people descended on Canberra pushing their own barrows, asking for concessions of all kinds that would benefit the particular interests they represented. The Treasurer, again to his credit, refused the requests of the greedy people who camehere, represented by the chambers of commerce, the chambers of manufactures and the Employers Federation, and who wanted’ nothing less than tax remissions amounting to £570,000,000 out of a total budget income of £1,200,000,000. Such unrestrained greed and such indifference to the needs of both war and social service pensioners on the part of the nation’s wealthy parvenus, and those other purse-proud1 people whom they represent, would cause any thinking person almost to despair for the future of this nation. But, as I have said, the Treasurer, to his credit, resisted all these demands from these people. But, the Government - and I do not know whether it was on the Treasurer’s advice or against his opposition - did decide to make certain concessions to the wealthy interests of this country which might well have been made in other forms in the way of tax remissions and increased social services benefits. Now, the Government, to the extent to which it has made tax concessions to companies and wealthy interests, has helped its own wealthy friends to a far greater extent than it has provided for the most needy and impoverished sections of our community. That there are people in this country who are suffering greatly because they are not able to buy the food and clothing and afford the shelter that they need is made abundantly clear by the numerous petitions presented to this Parliament, on behalf of age and invalid pensioners, by honorable members on both sides of the House. An honorable member asked Mr. Speaker how many petitioners had presented their views to the Parliament through honorable members. I understand that the figure was not ascertained, but I know that requests for improved conditions made by the pensioners have not been heeded by this Government.
Of course, the Government, which to-day imposes such heavy taxation in all sorts of direct and indirect forms, is composed of honorable gentlemen who, when they were in Opposition, were continually inveighing against the Chifley Government for its alleged over-taxation of the community. When the present Treasurer, for one, was in opposition he denounced the Chifley Government for its alleged over-taxing and over-controlling methods. Has there been any government that has so over-taxed the people as this Government has done or, outside war-time, have there ever been controls so numerous or exacting as the controls that are operating to-day? The present Treasurer said that it was not antiinflationary but inflationary to impose high taxes and other indirect taxes which, he said, forced up the prices of goods, heavy pay-roll tax which raised nominal wage rates, and crushing income tax which, according to him, stifled production. This was the present Treasurer in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949, when he was in opposition.
Now, after eight Fadden budgets, all those taxes are higher than they were in the days of the Chifley Government, and the sum total of them is higher. The Chifley budget of 1949-50 provided for the imposition of £500,000,000 in taxes on the Australian people; to-day we are voting money amounting to £1,300,000,000 for this financial year. The Treasurer, therefore, has much to answer for.
In the debate which has ensued, and for the first time for quite a number of years, Ministers have tried to match Opposition leaders in the contest to justify or destroy the budget introduced by the Government.
– How many leaders are there over there?
– Well, there are quite a lot of leaders on the Government side of the chamber, and I shall deal with their efforts one by one. There is the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley), who attempted to put up a case and was quite effectively dealt with by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). He was left without a feather to fly with. Then came the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), who has invited me to comment. He was answered quite effectively by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). As a matter of fact, it was not a good speech by Childe Harold. Lord Byron would have been ashamed of him. If I might describe it in another way, if this was the effort of the Young Pretender to the Liberal party throne it was a dismal failure. He had the advantage, of course, that the Old Pretender was not here to make a speech. He was, in the romantic language of those bygone days of a couple of hundred years ago, “ over the water “. Unlike the Old Pretender of history, he prefers New York to Paris. Then, of course, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), who would not know a bull from a barbed wire fence, was completely destroyed by the efforts of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), who answered him most effectively. Then came the Prime Minister, and he was answered by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). Insofar as either gentleman, or both gentlemen, dealt with the budget, the honorable member for East Sydney easily had the honours. I understand that I am to be followed to-night by the Minister for
Defence Production (Mr. Beale), who is under notice, or ought to be, because the bells of St. Mary’s are ringing against him.
Now, the Opposition has put forward its story, and we believe that in all these debates we have justified the motion of censure on the Government moved, in effect, by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in the form of an amendment to the first budget item. We believe that we have established our claim that unemployment in this country is increasing and, if it is not to be understood from what we have said that that is the fact, the provision by the Government for increased payments to those in receipt of unemployment and sickness benefits is evidence that the Government itself recognizes that unemployment is increasing and that it has to make provision accordingly. I would say that, by the figures we have been able to produce, we have shown that the Government is basing its case on false or unreliable premises. We say, above all else, that the Government should make a better distribution of the national income in order to provide for the needs of those who require most, and not continue to try to rearrange the distribution of the national income to benefit those who need least. Of course, there are always people in this Government, such as the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who is the deputy for the Melbourne Club, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), who is the representative of the Adelaide Club, and the Minister for Defence Production and the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne), who put the views of the Union Club of Sydney. These people are always there to make a case with the Government on behalf of the wealthy people.
– What about the Young Men’s Christian Association?
– If I know anything about the Young Men’s Christian Association, its members could be much better represented by the Labour party than by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) or any other obscurantist on the Government benches.
– You do not seem to be too happy in the “ Caucus Club “.
– We are happy enough, but it is the Government that has reason to be unhappy. This Government came into office promising to put value back into the £1. I know that that is the ghost that is haunting all honorable members on the Government side. I know that the Prime Minister would fain forget it all and that the Treasurer would like to swallow his words, but this Government imposed upon itself the obligation to put value back into the £1. The Government has failed continually, ignominiously and disgracefully to fulfil that promise! The value of the Australian £1 is much less than it was in 1949. As a matter of fact, all that the Treasurer can say in defence of his budget is, “ We are reaching stability in regard to the rise in prices. We have not turned the corner, of course; prices are still rising but are not rising as much this year as they were last year “. If one looks at any responsible journal published anywhere in the world, one will see that this Government has allowed value to ooze out of the £1 over the last eight years, that our £1 purchases less than almost any £1 or its equivalent currency in the British Commonwealth of Nations and that, on the question of the value of money throughout the world, our currency is a little bit better than that of Mexico, Chile and a few other countries. Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand have currencies that purchase more than our money does.
I emphasize that this promise was selfimposed. There was no need to make it, but the present Government did make it when in opposition. The promise of the Government to defeat inflation and restore value to the £1 was never intended to be kept. It was a miserable stunt to catch votes and as such it has reeked and still reeks of prurient dishonesty. But the Government won control of the treasury bench with that promise. The Prime Minister says that he has put value back into the £1 and that he has kept his promise. How any person in public life could be so daring as to try to convince the people that black is white is beyond my comprehension. The Prime Minister has allowed value to ooze out of the £1. Yet he says he has put value back into it. If, after allowing value to ooze out of the £1, he can claim he has put value back into it, then he is a wizard of finance. He is not the wonderful Wizard of Oz; he is the wonderful wizard of ooze. This Government will most assuredly have to justify itself before public opinion in the years ahead on this question.
Who are the people suffering from this Government’s failure to put value back into the £1? Who are the people suffering from the failure of this Government to maintain the purchasing power of the £1? They are 6,949,000 holders of life assurance policies. They are 7,561,000 holders of savings bank accounts. They are 318,000 contributors to Government and semi-government pension and superannuation schemes. They are 212,000 shareholders in registered building and investment societies. They are 24,000 members of co-operative housing societies in Victoria alone. They are 202,000 persons interested in superannuation schemes organized wholly through life assurance companies. They are 185,000 persons covered by separately constituted funds. They are all these people, some of them covered in perhaps two or three different directions. Every one of them is losing yearly while this Government remains in office. Retail prices rose by 6 per cent, in the last year. That has eaten up the whole of the earnings from interest on every savings bank account. The people are therefore worse off in consequence. The capital value of all the holdings I have mentioned has also depreciated by the failure of this Government to protect the interests of the people and the purchasing power of their money.
Others, of course, have gained. Who are they? I am indebted to the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited for a recent review in which it cited figures showing that over the last seven years the shares of eleven of Australia’s largest companies have increased in value threefold. The wealthy alone have enjoyed the benefits of the Government’s policy. The benefits have gone to the companies which are continually making higher and higher profits, which are ploughing their profits back into their industries, which are overcharging for their goods or services and which are then using that money for expansion and for the creation of greater profits. Ultimately the people must pay. What are the companies? The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited in 1954-55 made a profit of £1,500,000; two years later it made a profit of almost £2,000,000. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited in 1955 had a profit of £4,300,000; two years later its profit had risen to £7,383,000. General Motors-Holden’s Limited showed a disclosed profit of £9,000,000 in 1954, £9,000,000 in 1955 and £8,000,000 in 1956. We get 15 per cent, of the money which that company sends to America, and the American shareholders are taxed by the American Government. But the two other companies that I mentioned and companies such as G. J. Coles and Company Limited and Woolworths Limited have benefited by the Government’s decision to reduce company taxation by 6d. in the £1. That is a very considerable sum. As against that, we have an increase of £13 in the allowance to the wage-earner for the maintenance of his wife. As the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser), who is a bachelor, said recently, all that this amounts to is an increased depreciation on the wife. There is no other benefit. There is certainly no benefit in the way of provision of extra food and clothing or anything such as that.
The Government’s social service and repatriation benefits, amounting to a miserable 7s. 6d. a week for age, invalid, war widow, civil widow and service pensioners and £1 5s. a week for totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners will cost only £4,100,000 in a full year. The hardhearted Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has tried to convince himself that the Government has been generous to the great number of people who depend almost entirely on those pensions for their continued existence. Let us measure the £4,100,000 that the increase of war and repatriation pensions will cost the Government in a full year against the total amount of taxation concessions amounting to £56,850,000 in a full year. The Government is not being generous to pensioners. It is not even being just. It has made no attempt to ease the means test. It has done nothing to accede to the requests of a lot of people who have asked, and have a right to ask, that the Government consider their needs. I have documents which indicate that the Victorian branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia expected repatriation pensions to be increased. The returned soldiers asked that the means test should not apply to service pensions, and they had a right to expect that their request would be met. But the Government has done nothing about it.
Several years ago, the boy scouts’ and girl guides’ organizations wrote to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) asking that flags bought for their functions should be exempted from the imposition of sales tax, and the Treasurer promised to consider the matter. But boy scouts, girl guides, and members of other worthy organizations still have to pay sales tax, although big companies receive the benefit of a remission of 6d. in the £1 in company income tax and other concessions, which, as I have already pointed out, will cost the Government the greater part of £56,000,000 in a full year. The benefit to company shareholders from this remission will amount to £14,000,000 in a full year, and the increase of depreciation rates by 50 per cent, will account for another £26,000,000 in a full year. So the benefit to company shareholders in this budget is £40,000,000, compared with £4,100,000 for war and repatriation pensioners, although the total number of company shareholders is small compared to the number of pensioners.
This Government maintains the sales tax at high rates. They are much higher than they ever were in the days of the Chifley Government. Indeed, they are much higher than they were in the worst days of World War II. The Labour Government never took the rate of sales tax above 25 per cent. This Government has had the rates up to 66$ per cent, and 50 per cent., and even now the maximum rate is at 33i per cent., to which level it was raised in March last year to discourage people from buying motor cars and to discourage a lot of other expenditure that the Government termed wasteful. The people expected that, since this budget provides for such a great surplus over last financial year’s revenue, they would receive some benefit. I think, speaking from memory, that the Government proposes to collect £87,000,000 more in revenue in the current financial year than it collected last financial year, after taking into account all the benefits and concessions that it has given. I do not think that the people will be easily fooled by that. The only form of taxation that has been reduced is company income tax, which it is expected will return £6,500,000 less this financial year than last financial year, whereas income tax on individuals will return £61,000,000 more than it did last financial year, and excise will yield £13,000,000 more than it yielded last financial year. The fact that income taxation on individuals will yield an additional £61,000,000 in the current financial year proves conclusively, first, that inflation is increasing, and secondly, that the Government is in a position to make tax remissions, particularly for the benefit of those who earn the basic wage or only a little above it, but will not make those remissions. Excise rates, which were increased last year, and which have been responsible for a reduction in the consumption of beer and spirits, and in the use of tobacco and cigarettes, and the like, are still far too high. The Government could easily have reduced sales tax rates, excise and income tax as they affect the little people, the worth-while people, the people who are struggling. The mass of the people are bearing too heavy a burden, and are being denied justice.
I know that Government supporters, particularly those who belong to the Australian Country party - the rural slickers - have tried to prove that they have done more for the people generally than Labour did while it occupied the treasury bench. 1 have even heard one Government supporter say that this Government has done more for returned soldiers than the Chifley Government did. There was never a greater slander, or a more foolish claim. I have the record here to prove the truth of the matter. Sir Gilbert Dyett, who was for 27 years federal president of the R.S.S.A.I.L.A., was reported in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “ of 9th November, 1944. as having said - i do not think we have ever had a government more sympathetically inclined to the interests of the ex-serviceman than the present Labour Government.
That was the Curtin Government, which gave the returned soldiers of this country the best rehabilitation and repatriation legislation that has ever stood on the statutebook of any country. Of course, Mr. Chairman, this Government has added a few little things, but the great basic work of assisting the returned soldiers stands to the credit of the Curtin and Chifley Governments. However, if Government supporters are not satisfied with the words of Sir Gilbert Dyett, let me cite a comment made by the next federal president of the R.S.S.A.I.L.A., Sir Eric Millhouse, K.C., of South Australia, who was reported by the same newspaper two years later as having said that the Commonwealth Government was handling rehabilitation problems very well. That is all true. Then, of course, we have the attempt to prove to the satisfaction of those who wish to be deluded that the Australian Labour party, which, when in office, built the welfare state, and carried the amendments to the Constitution in 1946 against the firm opposition of the Australian Country party, which received the half-hearted support of the Liberal party, was the only party that ever reduced age and invalid pensions. I have in my possession a document which states -
Pensions were reduced in the depression years. The maximum rate was reduced to 17s. 6d. a week in 1931 by the Scullin Government. In 1932 the Lyons Government introduced a provision reducing the rate to 15s. if the pensioner had income of not less than 2s. 6d. a week.
My authority for that is the Minister for Social Services, who is a member of the Australian Country party, and who sent me this booklet, entitled “ Commonwealth Social Services “, with his compliments.
I turn now to another matter. Despite the fact that the Treasury is overflowing with money, and the Government is rich beyond the dreams of avarice, it has decided to impose a tax on aviation kerosene. In our view, this tax is intended to cripple Trans-Australia Airlines as a government airline, and to make it almost impossible for it to compete against the privately owned airlines, which the Government secretly favours. This attack on TransAustralia Airlines will be directed at that airline because it uses English-made Viscount aircraft in preference to the kinds of aircraft used by the other airlines. The Government, as I have already said, will have a surplus of more than £87,000,000 in the current financial year, and it will get £400,000 out of this tax. The imposition of such a tax condemns the Government.
– This is not the Yarra Bank.
– I know that, but more sense is talked on the Yarra Bank than in the clubs to which the honorable member sometimes goes. More sense is talked in the people’s forum of Melbourne, and a similar forum in Sydney, and under the canopy of Heaven anywhere, than is to be heard in those places to which honorable members opposite repair. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House for its courtesy, and I shall not long presume upon its generosity. We of the Australian Labour party say that the budget stands condemned because of the failure of the Government, first, to halt inflation. That charge is proved beyond all doubt. It stands condemned because of the Government’s failure, secondly, to provide adequate increases in age, invalid and widows’ pensions. That fact is also proved beyond all doubt. It stands condemned, thirdly, because of the Government’s failure to liberalize the meanstest. No reference to this matter has been made in the budget, and that must disappoint all those people who are living partly on pensions, on superannuation and. on savings. This Government has promised, time and time again, to ease the means test.
Fourthly, the Government is worthy of condemnation because it has failed to increase child endowment. It has donenothing in this regard in eight years, except to introduce an endowment of 5s. a week, for the first child. It has made no increaseat all in the amount of 10s. a week for thesecond and subsequent children, which wasgranted by the Chifley Government, in 1948. There are, of course, certain persons in thiscountry who want to get rid of the pay-roll tax. I would not mind our getting rid of the pay-roll tax if those who want to removeit would remember that it was imposed for the purpose of financing child endowmentIf they seek to abolish the pay-roll tax because of its alleged inflationary effect, they should agree to a capital gains tax or an excess profits tax, or to increased taxes on companies, in order to make up for the amount that the Treasurer would have to collect in some other form if the pay-roll tax were removed. I, for my part, would hand the pay-roll tax field over to the States, and deduct the amount raised by the tax from the reimbursements that we now give to them.
The mothers of Australia are receiving scant justice from this Government. As a matter of fact, the most important members of the community, from a biological point of view, are our children. If we will not help the mothers and fathers to raise their children in comfort and give them all they need, then the future of this nation is a bleak one. It was because of the fall in the birth rate during the depression years that we reached the extraordinary position, in 1953, when the population was over 9,000,000, that we had fewer children in the fifteen to nineteen age group than we had in 1937, when the population was less than 7,000,000. That must not happen again. This Government, therefore, should be condemned for not doing enough about child endowment.
Fifthly, this Government stands condemned, in my view, for not having promised to consider the introduction of a national superannuation scheme. In Great Britain both the Conservative party and the Labour party are facing up to this problem, in spite of the difficulties which that country is facing, and which are even greater than those confronting us in Australia. This Government is doing nothing about such a superannuation scheme. It is merely struggling along on a catch-as-catch-can basis, hoping that the rains will fall and that things will be all right, and that wool prices will remain high. 1 suppose that if the rains do not fall the Government will say that the plight of the farmers is the result of an act of God. When the Government cannot plead an act of God, it blames Moscow. It always blames something or some one other than itself, but it is because of its own failure, and that of nobody else, that the country is so poised that if only one drought occurs we will face very considerable difficulties.
Sixthly, the Government stands condemned for its failure to curb the rapacity and the avarice of the controllers of the monopolies and combines, who are exploiting the great mass of the people. I am amazed when I hear honorable members opposite talk about free enterprise. There has been no such thing as free enterprise for the last couple of hundred years. Free enterprise went out with Adam Smith. It ceased to exist when monopolies began to corner the people’s food, clothing and other goods, as well as the shipping of the world, and then to exact a heavy toll from all those who wanted to use the goods or the shipping that had been cornered. Those who oppose democratic socialism had better get a new term to use when they wish to defend the existing order, because the existing order, of course, is a capitalist exploitation order, and it is not working and cannot work satisfactorily for the Australian people.
Seventhly, this Government stands condemned for its failure to maintain full employment. I have listened to the efforts of honorable members of both the Government parties to convince the committee that 50,000 or 100,000 unemployed do not matter, and that as a percentage of the work force such a level of unemployment is infinitesimal. But if you happened to be one of the 52,000 or 100,000 who were looking for work, you would know that unemployment is a very real problem. Honorable members opposite are new converts to the idea of full employment. Only eight years ago they were backing the Hytten plan, under which 8 per cent, to 10 per cent, of unemployment was considered normal in any country. That was the rate of unemployment when the Menzies Government was in power before the war.
– What about the 32 per cent, when a Labour government was in power?
– Yes, for a little while, when honorable members opposite were urging on the Communists in the coal strike in 1949, hoping that they would wreck the community so that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party could step into power, with the aid of a lot of strong-arm people.
When the present Prime Minister was in office before the war, he admitted that when war broke out there were 250,000 people unemployed. In 1941, two years later, on the eve of Pearl Harbour, the Prime Minister admitted that there were 100,000 unemployed. Honorable members opposite are inclining to the view of the Macmillan Government in England that a certain amount of unemployment is necessary and desirable, and that it would be a good thing to have a deflationary trend. The rise of 2 per cent, in the bank rate in England is designed for that purpose.
And lastly, this Government stands condemned, too, for its failure to reduce sales tax, excise duty and income tax on incomes of £5,000 a year or less. I cannot imagine how any sensible person in this country, receiving an income of £3,000 a year or less, could vote for the representatives of predatory wealth in the Liberal parly and the Australian Country party. All the interests of such people are bound up with the success of the Australian Labour parly. We certainly will come back to power. We have had our troubles, and we may have still more trouble. Every political party has its troubles, but one does not assess the success of a party on a shortterm basis. One must consider the long term. The Australian Labour party will come back to power a year or two after the British Labour party comes back to power, and the British Labour party will win the next election in England, just as the New Zealand Labour party will win the next election in that country. We know that the people of Australia want a change of government. We feel that this Government has failed and failed badly, and just as the Labour party of other days defeated the fusionists under Deakin and Reid, so the Labour party of to-morrow will defeat the confusionists under Menzies and Fadden.
– Mr. Chairman-
– Does the Minister claim his right to speak? I have been working on lists given to me by the Whips.
– I claim the right to speak.
– If the Minister claims the right to speak I must give him priority.
– As I came into the chamber I heard the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell)-
– Did you call me, Mr. Chairman?
– No, I called the Minister.
– Take a point of order!
– I did not hear any one take a point of order.
– As I came into the chamber I heard the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) refer to me as one who was under recall or should be. He said that this was because the bells of St. Mary’s were tolling. I recall a quotation from that very famous man, John Donne, who said -
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
To the honorable member for Melbourne I say that the bell tolls for him. The hatchet men will get him if he does not watch out. I think this gloomy and depressing performance to-night - so unlike the spirited debates we usually hear from him - is an indication of his frame of mind. He does not quite know who is waiting for him in the corridor or around the corner.
This budget debate is, I think, one of the most dispirited exhibitions we have had from the Opposition, certainly in all the years I have been in Parliament. And it is little to be wondered at, because most honorable members opposite are contemplating their navels, or otherwise going through a process or rumination on their internal troubles, and therefore they are in no state to attack the Government. There was one subject upon which some members showed a little spirit - synthetic spirit, ifI may say so - and that was on the subject of defence. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) says, “ Hear, hear! “ I remember hearing him say, together with the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), that the Government had been in power for seven years, had spent £1,250,000,000, and had squandered the lot. The honorable member for Grayndler has to say something, I know, but I warn him that he is in rather a difficult position. There is a moral, that no chicken ever avoided the axe merely by making a loud squawk, and the honorable member will not get out of his troubles merely by making the noisy sort of allegations he did. It is the Goebbels technique; we hear it time and time again. If you say something often enough and loudly enough some people will at least believe you. The answer has to be given and I suggest it can be given only in facts and figures.
The first thing to observe about defence is something that is known by every minister for defence throughout the world, including my colleague the honorable member for Wakefield (Sir Philip McBride), Ministers for Defence in England, and Secretaries of State for Defence in the United States of America - you can never be right. First of all, defence is resented by a proportion of the people because it means increased taxation. Those people never remember that it is rather like the insurance on their motor car; it is a form of premium paid for something which they hope will not happen. Unlike those members of the community who normally accept the need to pay a premium and will be glad to pay it next year even though they do not have an accident this year, there is a body of people who are not prepared to make that measure of sacrifice and effort to ensure that if trouble comes their country shall be safe.
If you economize in defence matters and war comes, they say you have failed. If you make what you believe to be an adequate allocation of national funds to defence, and there is no war, those same people say you have wasted the money. If you give an adequate allocation of funds to defence and there is a war, then it is said that you have not given enough. So, no matter which way you look at it, in this field of defence it is very difficult to persuade the people that what you have done is right. If we add to that the changing concepts which we are conscious of these days, new areas where this country may be called upon to make a defence effort, the change from what we are pleased to call conventional to atomic war, the difference between chances of total war at present and those thought likely a few years ago, the new problem of the kind of aircraft we require and of aircraft vis-a-vis the guided weapon - we find that the defence problem is an enormously complex one.
I believe that there is a tale to be told about Australia’s defence expenditure and defence effort in the last seven years during which this Government has been in power. lt is a record of which the Government is entitled to be proud. Certainly it is one that reflects the honest attitude taken up by this country toward its responsibilities to itself and its allies. The Government has been in power for seven years, rather like the seven years that Jacob worked for Rachel. T have been reminded that somebody put a quick one over Jacob and he had to work seven years for Leah. Well, if it is any comfort to our friends opposite, this Government expects to be here in seven years’ time, so it will be fourteen years in all.
If one looks at Government expenditure over the last seven years, this is the story which should be told: One hundred and sixty eight thousand young Australians have received national service training. Doss anybody suggest that that has not been a good expenditure? Does anybody suggest that in terms of basic training, in terms of morale, in terms of discipline, that that has not been a good thing for the defence of the country and for Australian youth? In those years we have also supported a regular Army and the Citizen Military Forces. The money needed to fulfil those obligations has been of the order of £224,000,000. Is it said that that £224,000,000, used to train young men for national service, to maintain the Army, and to maintain the Citizen Military Forces has been wasted or squandered?
I come now to the Royal Australian Navy. In the last seven years six new warships have been added to the fleet, and three warships have been converted, at a total cost of £30,000,000. Pay and allowances for the Navy over that same period and capital expenditure on buildings and equipment are of the order of £135,000,000. If one turns to the Royal Australian Air Force, one finds that 55 Winjeel trainers, 41 Vampire trainers, 21 Mustang fighters, 76 Vampire fighters, more than 60 Sabre fighters, 22 Lincoln bombers, more than 40 Canberra bombers, 121 Jindivik pilotless aircraft, 59 Merlin engines, and 101 Nene and 130 Avon engines have gone into service. All these planes and engines have been built in Australia for the R.A.A.F. and funds of the order of £80,000,000 have been consumed in those years. Has that been wasted? Is it to be said that that money has been squandered? These are concrete figures, indicating what has been spent on defence in this country. Pay and allowances for the Air Force over the same period have been of the order of £118,000,000.
In my own department, of Defence Production, in the various ammunition, explosives, and ordnance factories, production has cost £70,000,000- the result of the brains, hands, and hearts of Australian workmen in Australian factories. Capital expenditure on plant in those establishments has been of the order of £20,000,000. Everybody, particularly the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), knows the story of the 4.5 Stag mountings for Daring class destroyers, built at Bendigo. Is the expenditure on anti-tank guns, gearing for destroyers, anti-aircraft guns, torpedo tubes, mortars, not to mention 150,000,000 rounds of .303 ammunition for the troops, said to be wasted? Has that all been squandered?
We have also now spent £20,000,000 on the St. Mary’s filling factory, which will be finished in two months’ time. Whatever honorable members opposite may say, or might like to say about St. Mary’s, it cannot be denied that when we came into office there was no filling factory capacity in Australia. But on 17th December of this year, there will be in operation the best and most modern rilling factory in the southern hemisphere - perhaps in the world - capable of supplying all our requirements if war should break out.
Korean operations have cost this country £54,000,000. The Strategic Reserve in Malaya has cost us something like £9,000,000. It is to the credit, and indeed, to the honour of Australia, that every time we have been asked by our allies to make a contribution outside of Australia to world peace or democratic defence, we have never refused. We have always responded. This has cost us money and that money has come out of our defence vote. In the case of these two items the cost has been £54,000,000 for Korea and £9,000,000 for the Strategic Reserve. We have spent something like £3,000,000 on the restoration of Manus Island fortifications, the abandonment of which constituted a pitiful and shocking blunder. Here was a £1,000,000 base which could still have been in first-class condition with American warships swinging at anchor ready to defend this country. But those fortifications were left derelict; they were broken up and sold for scrap to the Chinese. The place was left a wreck until this Government took it back and had to spend large sums of the hard-earned taxpayers’ money allocated out of the defence vote to restore the fortifications as best we could. Has that money been wasted? Has it been squandered?
During the last seven years the Department of Supply has spent something like £275,000,000 in obtaining supplies for the armed services. Some of that sum is included in the figures I have given before, but not all of it. It has gone into equipment, food, clothing, uniforms, and all the things that are necessary to enable troops to train and work and fight. Is it said that that £275,000,000, spent in the last seven years, has been wasted? Nearly all of that material was obtained by public tender at the lowest possible prices.
In the field of defence science, excluding the Woomera Rocket Range project, we have spent £13,000,000 in our laboratories. I say now, as has been said before - I think the other night by the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) - that one of the things that this country, in common with all the democracies, must be very careful about is not to let our defence science and the training of our scientists and technicians lag behind the efforts of other countries. We all believe that total war is less likely than it was thought to be a few years ago. That may well be because the Communists believe that they can win the war anyhow, in the long run, by overhauling the Western democracies technologically by training so many men in the technological sciences, that finally they can overwhelm us in production and in scientific skill. In a British White Paper issued some time ago figures were given showing that, already, Russia is training more scientists, engineers and “ technicoms “, as they call their technical college students, than Britain and America put together. When one remembers that there are something like 625,000,000 people in Communist China and that that country has now embarked upon its first five-year plan involving the most revolutionary training of scientists, the outlook for us is one of which we should take great heed. This country dare not lag behind in the training of scientists. Accordingly, as a part of the defence vote we have made the best contribution we can in our scientific laboratories by increasing the expenditure on scientific training.
In the field of atomic testing, again large sums of money have been spent in the last seven years out of the defence vote to make a contribution as a partner with Great Britain in the testing and development of atomic weapons as a deterrent against World War III. I do not believe that any honorable member in this chamber would deny that that was a proper and honorable contribution to make, because we all know that it is only in the deterrent that safety and the prevention of World War III. really lies. It has cost us a lot of money, but most of the burden has fallen upon Great Britain. Nevertheless, in terms of money, man-power, material and administration, Australia has made a heavy contribution. An Australian army officer is in charge of Maralinga at this moment. At Woomera and Salisbury, during the last seven years since this Government came into office, we have spent funds to the order of £60,000,000 as part of the joint project. Has that been wasted or squandered? Or do honorable members opposite agree, as I think they do agree, that that has been a most valuable contribution to defence and to the prevention of World War III.?
In the light of all these figures can it be said that there is nothing to show for the expenditure of this £1,250,000,000 during the last seven years?
– It is only a drop in the ocean.
– I have mentioned only a few out of hundreds of items which could be enumerated. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) now says that is only a drop in the ocean, but a few nights ago he said that the Government had squandered all of this £1,250,000,000. These figures could be amplified ad nauseam, but they indicate one thing - a massive and intelligent defence effort; and they demonstrate a degree of sturdy self-reliance in this country, of which we are not only entitled to be proud, but which has also earned the respect and admiration of our allies. Our efforts are appreciated by the people of Great Britain, but until recently they were probably not fully understood in the United States of America. Not long ago my colleague, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) was in the United States of America.
– How did he get on?
– He got on in this way: A statement of a kind that does not usually come from the United States of America was issued that the United States Government regarded Australia as a worthwhile ally. Those are good words.
Opposition members interjecting,
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).Order! There are too many interjections, and when I ask for order I expect to get it.
– Australia is regarded by Great Britain and by the United States of America as a worthwhile ally. She would not and could not be so regarded if, over the last seven years, she had not made contributions to defence which were well regarded by her allies. But they are so regarded. They have already been assessed; and we say, in this place, far from apologizing for a defence expenditure of £1,250,000,000 over the last seven years, that that money has been well spent. We shall continue to pursue policies of that sort because we believe that they have earned us the right to ask for assistance if we should need assistance in time of trouble. It is only by earning the right to ask for assistance that this country will be saved if trouble should come.
.- Any one listening to the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) can quite easily appreciate the situation that existed in Australia during the period 1939-40.
– The old, old story!
– Perhaps I am not going to tell the old, old story which so many might be interested in. This is a budget debate, and the budget is what I am concerned about. In 1940 and 1941, when Australia found itself in a most desperate situation, with the enemy almost at our front door, we thought that this country was properly defended. We believed what we had been told by the then government. We had heard the story often in this chamber, in the course of various budget speeches, and in papers that were delivered in those days, to the effect that we had adequate defences. Yet it is well known that when the desperate period arrived we were not adequately defended. It is also well known that the equipment that was required by our expeditionary forces in the early stages of the war was not forthcoming. We were unable to find sufficient equipment to train our men in Australia, much less to supply men with all the equipment that was required overseas.
To-night, we listened again to the same story that was told in those days. The Minister for Supply has given us a picture of the defences of Australia to-day. He has told us the old, old story. A total of 160,000 men have been adequately trained in the services. I remember, three or four years ago, criticizing the Government’s defence policy, particularly in regard to national service training when it first came into being. I said that the training was outdated and outmoded. Members of the Government criticized me severely for having made those remarks in this chamber. They said that they were not true. They said that the trainees had received modern training. The Government went on spending £200,000,000 on defence each year, and then £190.000,000 for the last two years.
It was soon after the presentation of the last budget, which provided for (he expenditure of £190,000,000 on defence, that the Government announce, that it would continue the national training scheme; but later in the year it announced in this chamber that it would not continue with the scheme. Everything points to the fact that, each year, the Government simply says to the services: “ Here is £190,000,000. Spend it the best way you can.” The Minister indicated that it was intended that £20,000,000 should be spent on the St. Mary’s project, in this modern era, a warship or a submarine could stand off the coast of New South Wales and drop shells on St. Mary’s which, I suppose, would be no more than 40 miles from the coast. In two or three moments it could be destroyed. The sum of £20,000,000 would have been wasted. That indicates the difference between the defence policy of the present Government and the defence policy of the Labour party.
What was the defence policy of the Chifley Labour Government? It did not tell the community that it would spend £200,000,000 each year on calling up young lads who were eighteen years of age. I do not believe that it should be the responsibility of the services to train youths in discipline. That is the duty of the home and the school. Surely the taxpayers, who have to pay for the education of their children in schools and colleges, should not be called upon to pay for training lads in the services simply to improve their morale and give them a sense of discipline. It was not
Labour policy to call up eighteen-year-old lads and send them to various military depots throughout Australia.
The Government is spending £200,000,000 a year on the same training that was given to servicemen for the 1914 war. If honorable members had gone into any training establishment in Australia during the last three years they would have seen the same old bag of chaff being charged at with bayonets on .303 rifles. Such a training scheme is a complete waste of money. It is out of date and outmoded; yet that is the way that the Government has spent money on defence since it came to office.
What was the defence policy of the Chifley Labour Government? That Government contended that, for the proper defence of Australia, there must be decentralization of industry. It decided to provide particularly for defence industries, which should be situated well inland. It considered that main roads, from one end of Australia to the other, must be satisfactory. I am confident that had the honorable member for
East Sydney (Mr. Ward) still been Minister for Transport in a Labour government the standardization of rail gauges would have been an accomplished fact to-day. Who can deny that the Labour government’s policy really provided for the defence of Australia? But what has happened since this Government came to office? Instead of industry having been decentralized, thousands of factories have been built along the coastline. During the term of office of the Curtin Government and the Chifley Government, many industries were established in South Australia, away from the coastline. Those governments followed correct methods of defence, and they are the methods that the present Government should have adopted.
– Tell us about the Evatt defence policy.
– J know that honorable members opposite would love me to get on to that policy this evening, but 1 do not intend to do so. I want to reply particularly to the Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale) who came into the House this evening and tried to explain to the Australian people how more than £1,000,000,000 had been spent on the defence of this country. Defence, to my mind, means, amongst other things, an adequate number of airfields throughout Australia, lt is true that we have a few, but more money should have been expended on aerodromes, the construction of modern harbours, and projects of that kind. It is all very well for the Minister to say thai we have so many warships, one helicopter, and so on. We all know that we have no real defence equipment. The things on which the Government is wasting money to-day are not really defence projects.
The Australian Labour party is the only political party that has ever given this country a real defence scheme. I know that honorable members opposite do not like being reminded of these matters, but T say again what I said originally: The story that the Government is using now was also told to the Australian people in the early stages of World War II., and when Labour came to office we found that there were not the defence arrangements that were required. If Australia were to be faced by the tragedy of war tomorrow, we would not have adequate defences. An essential feature of defence is civil defence. What do the Australian people know of this, and what would they do if, tomorow, a hydrogen bomb or an atomic bomb were dropped on or near one of our capital cities? The steps to be taken in such an event should be among the first things to be explained to the people. Yet, the Government allocates only a few thousand pounds for civil defence, while it wastes great sums of money on projects of no value to the country!
It is useless for the Minister to try to defend the defence policy of this Government, because we still need real defence arrangements, including decentralization of our industries and our people wherever that is possible, strategic roadways between the capital cities, the standardization oil railway gauges, an adequate number of airfields, and modern harbours. Those are the things that will count if ever we arc called upon to defend this country again - and I trust that we shall never have to participate in another world war. 1 hate to see money being wasted when it could be used for the development that is so much needed here.
I think it is most regrettable that the Government has to reduce the intake of immigrants. I believe that Australia needs, at the very least, 30,000,000 people and I believe, too, that a suitable policy should be devised so that the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who come here are not simply deposited in the metropolitan areas. What we need is the development of the outback. Some of these immigrants should be put on the land. The country should be opened up, and some of the land taken away from those people who are not using it fully. That is the way to handle the immigration policy.
Very little incentive is given to Australians to increase the size of their families. As has been pointed out previously from this side of the chamber, the money that has been wasted in the name of defence, and in other directions, could have been used to increase child endowment or to finance marriage loans - something that I first advocated in this chamber ten years ago. Other countries have introduced marriage loans and have benefited considerably. In a country which needs population as badly as does Australia, I think that such loans should certainly be made.
I regret having to refer to age and invalid pensions, because it is sometimes said that some politicians ride on the backs of the aged and the poor. But let me analyse the position in respect of these pensions. I listened to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) make second-reading speeches on two bills that he introduced in the Parliament this afternoon, and 1 heard him state the increases of age and invalid pensions that have been made since the Labour party was in office. Although he enumerated the various increases, he forgot to tell the Parliament and the people just how much value the pensioners have had from the increases.
– I told you that.
– No, the Minister did not refer to the increased costs for the Australian consumers at the present time. There is not a shadow of doubt that, with the benefits given to the poor and the needy during the days of Labour governments, the recipients were able to purchase more than they can with the present pensions. The sad fact is that although the Government grants increases, their effect is cancelled by increasing costs. As v/e all know, the responsibility for these increasing costs rests with this Government. In this connexion, [ again remind honorable members that had the Australian people supported the Labour party’s propositions at the prices referendum, in 1948, there would be real value in pensions to-day. This Government must accept responsibility for the defeat of the referendum proposals and for the unfortunate situation that has arisen since. We know that, deep down, most supporters of the then Opposition now appreciate the need for Commonwealth prices control. Although they knew, at the time of the referendum, that it was not possible for the States individually to control prices satisfactorily, foi the sake of political advantage they implored the people to vote “ No “. The people voted “ No “, and have since paid the penalty. The then Opposition hoped to damage the Labour government of the day, one of the grandest governments that ever graced the treasury bench, and a government which, as the people well know, did more for Australia than any other government before or since.
If there is one section of the community which has suffered severely through the defeat of those referendum proposals, it is the aged and infirm, because, although their pensions have been increased, the rising cost of living has taken away the value of the increases. I agree with the suggestion put forward recently by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). I like his idea for increasing pensions. It is not sufficient to say, “ We are going to give a 7s. 6d. increase to a whole range of individuals “. It is necessary to give assistance where it is most needed. Surely, the person who has only the bare pension of £4 or £4 7s. 6d. a week is in greater need of an increase than a married couple, particularly if that couple also receives superannuation. I ask the Minister for Social Services to consider this matter, either before the social services legislation that he introduced to-day begins to operate, or before this sessional period ends. I do not intend merely to continue until my Speaking time runs out. I say in conclusion that the Australian people are tired and weary of the present Government. I believe they are anxious to change the government of this country, and although I am placed in a rather peculiar situation this evening, this being the first time I have spoken from the back benches for more than ten years, my one hope is that the Labour party will go forward, will make great advances, and will soon; gain the treasury-bench, irrespective of what my position might be, because I am more concerned about this great Australian nation and its people than I am about my own aggrandizement.
.- I am the sixty-eighth speaker in this debate. I suppose I would not be exaggerating if I said that the speech which we have just beard from the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) was the most sincere that we have heard from any member of the Opposition. I believe that after that speech the Labour party may coin a new slogan, which will be “You can’t win without Chambers “, because the speech of the honorable member was significant for its sincerity. I believe that there is no more sincere man in this House - and many Labour men will agree with me - than the honorable member for Adelaide.
Much has been said to the effect that the increases of social service benefits granted under the budget should have been given long ago, and should be made retrospective to 1st July. I want to refer honorable members to what has happened in the past.
– Why do you not look forward a little?
– Order ! The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) must keep quiet.
– The date of payment of increases depends largely on the date on which the budget is introduced. In the last four years of the Labour government the budget was introduced on the following dates: 1946, 14th November; 1947, 19th September; 1948, 8th September; 1949, 7th September. During the last four years of office of the present Government, the budget has been introduced in each instance at an earlier date, the relevant dates being as follows: 1954, 18th August; 1955, 24th August; 1956, 30th August; 1957, 3rd September. Therefore, taking into account the time normally taken for debate, the increases of social service benefits given under these budgets have been paid to pensioners earlier than they were paid when Labour was in office.
Many statements have been made about the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I think that every man in this chamber realizes what a kindly gentleman he is and, although certain honorable members have said he is callous, we know that, in fact, if it were possible to do so the Minister for Social Services would increase pensions to perhaps three or four times their present rates. If the Government is to blame for failure to increase pensions the Minister for Social Services cannot be blamed, because it would be difficult to find an honorable member more kindly than the Minister for Social Services, or a man who would be so greatly touched by the lot or the plight of the pensioners.
I do not intend, in the time at my disposal, to attempt to bring much new matter into this debate. What I want to do is to rebut a few of the statements that have been made. I wish to deal first with the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) because I believe it contained one or two irregularities that should be righted. First, he said -
The average earnings of employees-
– Mr. Chairman, is the honorable gentleman quoting from the current debates? “Mr. TURNBULL. - Yes, I am.
– Then you are out of order.
– Order! The honorable member for Mallee is in order if the quotations are relevant to the subject-matter with which he is dealing.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) quotes :from current “ Hansard “ reports, but when I quote from them he takes a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition said -
The average earnings of employees, according to the budget and the paper on national income, have risen 5i per cent., and prices have risen 6 per cent.
– I rise to order, Mr. Chairman. Are you ruling - and quite frankly I think it would be a good thing if you did rule that way - that it is in order to quote from the “ Hansard “ report of a current debate?
– That has always been the position since I have been in the
Chair, so long as the quotation is relevant to the subject-matter under discussion.
– Then, a member could quote the lot, because it must be relevant.
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney is not in the -chair.
– The Standing Orders say quite clearly that it is permissible to quote from the current “ Hansard “. The Leader of the Opposition said that prices had risen by 6 per cent. On the other hand, his colleague sitting behind him, the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) said -
We claim the increase in the cost of living as being 5 per cent.
And I believe that by “ we “ he meant the Labour party. Whether or not we are having a run-down economy, as stated by the Leader of the Opposition, depended on that 1 per cent, difference. Of course, we have the difference in the Labour party over which figure is correct. I believe that the honorable member for Gellibrand brought that figure out of the party meeting and quoted it in this chamber. So, I accept his statement as expressing the true opinion of the Labour party.
– It was the honorable member for Yarra.
– No, it was the honorable member for Gellibrand. I am quoting his remark from the report of his speech in “ Hansard “.
I wish to refer now to the statement of the Leader of the Opposition on the subject of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. He said -
But it is now proposed that they should attempt to exist on approximately £3 a week less than the basic wage.
He was referring to the T.P.I, pensioners.
– How would you know what he was referring to?
– I will tell you how I know. He said -
It was said that these men would be the special responsibility of governments and of the Parliament after the war-
Earlier in his speech he said that totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen were unable to earn any income at all. Then he said, as I have already mentioned -
But it is now proposed that they should attempt to exist on approximately £3 a week less than the basic wage.
The basic wage for the six capitals is £12 16s. So, therefore, the Leader of the Opposition was indicating in his speech that it was expected that these men were to live on £9 16s. a week. Now, that is very wrong, because the T.P.I, pension is £11 a week. But it goes further than that. When I first came into this Parliament, I made the same reference. Mr. Barnard, who at that time was Minister for Repatriation, said that I had failed to draw attention to the fact that in one instance 1 had quoted the rate paid to the single pensioner and had then drawn a comparison with the basic wage, which provided for a man, his wife and at least one child. It was only right, he said, that I should refer also in my comparison to what the wife and one child would receive in the form of repatriation pension. Of course, I agreed with that. It is understandable when a new member - ».s I was at that time - makes such an error, but it is not understandable how the Leader of the Opposition, with his experience, could make such a mistake. But he has made it, and the point is that when one takes the other two payments into consideration one finds that the average basic wage figure for Australia is £12 16s., and the T.P.I, pension is £11, plus £1 15s. 6d. for a wife and 13s. 9d. for a child. So, the figure that the Leader of the Opposition should have given as the income from pension of a T.P.I, ex-serviceman is £13 9s. 3d., if that income is to be compared with the basic wage. His error is inexcusable. I want to be as kind as I can to the Leader of the Opposition, so I will say that his statement, to put it as mildly as possible, was grossly misleading. If the Leader of the Opposition can explain why he made that statement, and show that I am wrong, it means that Mr. Barnard, who was Minister for Repatriation in the Chifley Government, was also wrong. My belief, however, is that Mr. Barnard must have been right at the time.
– A point of order, Mr. Chairman. I ask you again to peruse Standing Order 71, which reads -
No Member shall allude to any debate of the same Session, unless such allusion be relevant to the matter under discussion, nor to any speech made in Committee except by the indulgence of the House for personal explanation.
I take it that the speeches that the honorable member is quoting from were made in committee.
– Order! I stand by my ruling. I have no reason to alter it. The honorable member is quite in order in quoting the speeches.
– It is well understood that when an honorable member on this side is winning a point, and especially when statements made by the Leader of the Opposition are shown to be wrong, then those behind him take points of order. I want to deal now with the employment position. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) said -
The miner says, “ Give us back our birthright - a job, the right to work that job in our own town; the right to live in the place we like, at the trade we are trained in”. Is that asking too much?
Of course, it is asking too much! That means that if a mine becomes unprofitable or cannot produce as much as it did in the past, it must be kept open so that the miners can continue to work there. The late leader of the Labour party, Mr. Chifley, on 18th October, 1948, said -
No guarantee can be given to anybody that they can stay put in any particular industry but there will be work for all. It is realized that there will have to be transfers of workers and in many cases transfers of whole communities to other forms of work. The most any government can do is to see that there is work for everybody. I am quite certain everybody will not be able to stay at home, because there will have to be transfers of labour if there is going to be an expansion. I am not going to fool any one in that regard.
But the honorable member for Parkes is not worried about fooling any one! Mr. Chifley continued -
It may even involve a plan of moveable towns to provide reasonable living conditions and amenities while big projects are in progress.
Yet people such as the honorable member for Parkes make statements such as he did. When we refer to the words of the man who is always being quoted in this chamber as the great authority, the late Mr. Chifley, we find that that is what he said. Mr. Chifley said, “ I am not going to fool any one “, but surely the honorable member for Parkes must have been trying to fool some one.
I shall refer now to war service homes. During this debate, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) said -
Many ex-servicemen who are without homes will still have to wait nearly IS months to get finance from the Government. They were hoping to see some extra provision for finance to enable them to obtain homes, but nothing has been done.
Surely the honorable member for Hindmarsh could not have been so unobservant as not to notice that an extra £5,000,000 has been made available and that the amount provided for war service homes for this financial year is £35,000,000. Yet the honorable member for Hindmarsh said that nothing has been done! It is bad enough for the Government to be criticized without statements such as that being made.
The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) referred to the petitions, which had been presented in this chamber, asking that pensions be increased to half the basic wage. “Hansard” records that on 10th September the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) said, “ Hear, hear! “. The honorable member for Canning said, “ You support that proposal? “ The Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not reply and the honorable member for Canning said, “ I was wondering whether the honorable gentleman would say ‘ Yes ‘ to my question “. Then the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, “ I am too shrewd for that”. The Labour party still hopes that some day it may be returned to power. 1 have noticed that only back-benchers on the Opposition side have supported requests for pensions to be increased to half the basic wage. The Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the two leading men, have said nothing about it. Back-benchers have made a big play of it, but it is not Labour policy or, if it is, we have not been told about it. We should like to hear about it, because if the Labour party holds that view on pensions now, people would call on it to honour the promise if it were returned to power. But it will not make that promise. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, “ 1 am too shrewd for that “. The honorable member for Kingsford Smith (Mr. Curtin) is looking at me, apparently amazed that such a statement would be made, but it is a fact that it was made in this chamber.
I refer now to the housing position. Opposition members have said that when Labour went out of office in 1949, a large number of houses was in course of construction. That is so, of course, but it is well known that those houses did not represent one year’s housing programme. Many had been commenced years before and black market operations and lack of materials had prevented them being completed. It is easy for Opposition members to say that many thousands of houses were in course of construction. That would be a valid argument, if they had been part of one year’s building programme, but on the facts it is a fictitious argument because honorable members opposite endeavour to lead the people to believe that those houses in course of construction in 1949 represented the building programme for that year. They were nothing of the kind! Travelling from Canberra to Melbourne in the “ Spirit of Progress “ one could see in places such as North Essendon and Pascoe Vale hundreds of houses in the course of construction for years. When this Government took office, it got rid of the black market and put the building industry on a businesslike footing. More material became available almost immediately and houses were completed. At present, if a figure is given as the number of houses in course of construction at the end of a year or during a year, that number represents that year’s housing programme. One can depend on that. The fact that a few more houses were in course of construction during the period when a Labour government was in office does not mean that that government was building more houses than this Government is. Every one knows that this Government has built a record number of houses during the time it has been in office.
Much has been said about the diesel fuel tax. The honorable member for Hindmarsh said - “ The Labour party cannot be blamed for the tax on diesel fuel.”
Some people know about fair play and others do not. However, we must remember that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) on 30th April, 1957, raised the question of roads as a matter of urgent public importance. During his speech he said -
I suggest that a tax on diesel fuel is a valid source of income that merits the attention of the Government.
– He is a prominent member of the Labour party.
– Yes, he is. The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) said on that occasion -
I believe that a diesel tax should also be imposed.
When the honorable member for Batman raised this matter, it needed eight honorable members to rise in support of it. I was observant on that day and noticed that every member of the Opposition rose. Yet the honorable member for Hindmarsh says that the Labour party cannot be blamed for the diesel fuel tax! No one wants to blame the Labour party, but it has advocated such a tax. Having advocated it and the Government having introduced it - the Government was cither thinking about such a tax or acted on the suggestion of the honorable member for Batman - the Labour party finds that some road users are not very happy, and then it wants to get out from under. As a consequence, we hear statements like the one made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh that I have just quoted.
Let me now get back to pensions. This seems to be rather a disjointed speech, because I have to turn continually from the remarks of one honorable member to those of another. I see that the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) is smiling. I shall take the opportunity, while he is so happy, to deal with some of his remarks about pensions. He said -
Let me say-
He paused for effect, and then continued - that the pensioners were never better oft than they were in 194S, under a Labour government when pensions reached their peak.
Opposition members always talk of the pension as it was in 1948, but we must remember that the Labour government remained in office until December, 1949.
– The Labour government would not bribe the electors.
– Why did not the honorable member mention the position that existed when Labour went out of office? Why did he go back to a time eighteen months before Labour left office, if he wanted to be fair? The simple reason is that when the Labour government brought down its last budget in 1949 it did not increase pensions, although prices were rising. The Leader of the Opposition stated that inflation began when the present Government took office in December, 1949. Nothing could be further from the truth, as one can see by turning to the remarks made in this chamber on 25th October, 1949, by Mr. H. C. Barnard, who was a Minister in the Labour government. He said -
It is true that in these days of rising costs, all persons on fixed incomes, including pensioners, are finding themselves in some difficulty.
Yet the Leader of the Opposition has the temerity to say that inflation began only when the present Government took office! Inflation began in 1946 or 1947, and once it began, it was hard to stop. It began while Labour was in office. Every one knows that, and the Leader of the Opposition should not try to make people believe something that is not true.
I propose now to refer to an incident that took place in this chamber during the debate on the Japanese Trade Agreement. The honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters), who sits near me, brought into the chamber a shirt which he displayed before honorable members. He said that, although it had been made in Japan, it would sell for 15s. 6d. in Australia, and that an Australianmade shirt of equivalent quality, such as was worn at the time by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), who was present in the chamber, would cost £2 2s. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not here to advertise the Japanese product. I examined it afterwards, and, in my opinion, it would be dear at 15s. 6d. It was made of the most shoddy material that I have seen for a long time, and it would not have fitted a boy of a little more than average size. Yet, Opposition members called “ Hear, hear! “ in response to the advertisement that the Japanese shirt was given. I advise the Australian people, Mr. Temporary Chairman, to look carefully at any Japanese product before they buy it. The demonstration shirt that I examined was, I imagine, like a demonstration motor car, supposed to be one of the best, but it was just rubbish. Yet, a responsible Labour member advertised it in this chamber as being equal in quality to the Australian product. It was sheer rot to say such a thing, and the honorable member did a grave disservice to Australian workers by advertising it in this chamber in such a way. Such an act can do nothing to create employment, although the honorable member responsible is a member of a party that claims to foster employment.
I have been greatly worried, recently, about the increasing number of public servants in Australia. I have noticed that whenever there is an increase in the number of public servants, either State or Federal, members of the Australian Labour party remain surprisingly quiet. Not one Labour member has ever mentioned the increasing number of public servants. Why?
– Tell us!
– I will tell the honorable member. It is because an increase in the size of the Public Service suits Labour’s programme. Labour hopes that governments will ultimately employ all the workers, and not just a proportion of them. We are facing the threat of a most serious drought, but the steps being taken by Labour to foster socialism are an even greater menace. What is this democratic socialism of which Labour now talks so glibly? The only democratic socialism that 1 can envisage is a form of socialism approved by the people. If the people were asked whether they wanted socialism, and they voted overwhelmingly in favour of it. and socialism were introduced, that would be democratic socialism. Labour wants to socialize those industries that exploit the people, and it assumes for itself the right to determine what those industries are.
– No, the people will say.
– Labour will say what industries are to be socialized. The honorable member said that Labour cannot be blamed for a great number of things. We can thank the good sense of the Australian people, the policy of this Government, and the Australian Constitution, for the fact that we have not a nationalized banking system. We can thank this Government for the fact that Australia, in spite of Labour’s opposition, has played its part in fighting Communist terrorists in Malaya by providing a unit of the British Commonwealth forces. We can thank the good sense of the Australian people, and the policies of this Government, for the fact that this is still a country of free enterprise, and upholds the principles that made the British people great. We can thank the Government, and the people, who have so faithfully supported it, for the fact that Australia’s prestige among the free nations is higher than it has ever been. On numerous occasions when it has been winning elections, Labour has said, “ We are satisfied with the decision of the people “. On four or five occasions it has advanced its socialist policy, and the people have rejected it. We do not want a policy of socialism in Australia. This is a free-enterprise country. Socialism has failed in every country in which it has been tried, and we do not want it here. Australia is progressing in a way that has never been bettered by any other country. All that we have achieved has been achieved by free enterprise. Let us stick to that principle. Let us, at every opportunity, fight the socialist creed that Labour advances, because, if the Australian people are not vigilant, and allow it to be put into effect, it will cause the downfall of this great country.
.- The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) described his speech most aptly when he said that it was disjointed. I entirely agree. He flitted from one subject to another in the most rapid and jerky manner, and there was no semblance of continuity in hi’, remarks, which were purely destructive. T suggest that his speech was perhaps one of the poorest that we have heard in this debate. The honorable member contributed nothing to the consideration of the great questions before the nation, but devoted the entire 28 minutes for which he spoke to an attack on the Australian Labour party. It is clear that he is obsessed with hatred of Labour, and is prejudiced against anything that Labour has ever done, or will ever do in the future. He contends that no good can ever come from anything advocated by the Australian Labour party.
The statements made by the honorable member do not take much answering, but I should like to deal with several of his remarks, and particularly with his concluding remarks in relation to free enterprise. He stated that the present Government’s policy favours free enterprise, and that the people were satisfied with free enterprise, and would continue to support this Government, because it has adopted a policy designed to maintain free enterprise. However, any student of Australia’s economic conditions knows perfectly well, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the day of free enterprise is fast disappearing - and not because of the administration of a socialist Government. It is disappearing because cartels and monopolies are increasing. In almost every industry, competing firms have combined to fix prices, and as soon as prices are fixed in this way, free enterprise is killed. After all, we were told in the past by the protagonists of free enterprise that one of the great virtues of competition is that the strong survive and the weak go to the wall. If the strong firm can produce and sell an article at a low price, the weaker firm that cannot produce and sell at that price obviously will finish up in the insolvency court. But today the tendency throughout Australia is to have price-fixing agreements. There may not be complete amalgamations of the stocks and shares of the various firms, but there is complete amalgamation so far as the interests of particular industries are concerned. There is price-fixing, and woe betide any retailer who sells below the stipulated prices, because his consignments of goods will be cut off.
Because of this tendency, the poor man is going out of business. In almost every suburb the tendency is to have chain stores, and shortly we will see a new development: in Australia, with the introduction of supermarkets. As soon as that takes place, with one big firm controlling 100 or 200 shops, the small shopkeeper will go to the wall. The free enterprise that we hear so much about from the honorable member for Mallee will not be very highly thought of by the small shopkeeper whose living will be wrested from him by the supermarkets. That is the trend to-day in Melbourne. The honorable member for Mallee should know, although he does not, that there are plans and designs in existence for a number of supermarkets to be situated throughout the metropolitan area of Melbourne. Business will obviously be taken away from the small, sturdy, independent shopkeeper. So much for free enterprise. In twenty years the average person may not understand the meaning of free enterprise. Unless the policy of the Labour party is given effect, within the next twenty years this country will be in the grip of monopoly capitalism, and the only enterprise will be that of a small clique of wealthy men who will control the commercial and industrial destinies of Australia. The small businessman, whether a manufacturer or a retailer, will be a thing of the past. I suggest that the honorable member for Mallee should forget about free enterprise, because the people who provide the sinews of war for his party are rapidly forgetting it.
I would like to mention two or three other matters that the honorable member for Mallee discussed, because I believe the people should be told the truth about them. He spoke, for instance, about war service homes, and said that the Government had increased this year’s grant by £5,000,000, making available a total of £35,000,000. All I can say is that the Government’s action is about seven years too late, because during the last six or seven years we have had the unedifying spectacle of men buying houses, or getting approval from the War Service Homes Division to build houses, and then having to wait for from eighteen months to two and a half years before getting their advances. Those men have had to go on their hands and knees to plead with money-lenders to lend them the money, at interest rates of 12, 14 and 16 per cent., while they waited to receive their advances from the War Service Homes Division. This has happened because the Government, although it has had huge surpluses over the last six or seven years, has not been prepared to make available an extra £10,000,000 or so for war service homes. The Government is now shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, because most of the men who want war service homes have already obtained them, and have paid for them much more than they would have paid if the Government had done the right thing originally. If the Government had provided sufficient money at the right time we would not have had the degrading spectacle of ex-servicemen pleading with people to lend them money for eighteen months or so at interest rates of from 12 to 16 per cent. It reflects no credit on the Government that at this late stage in the war service homes programme it has made available a miserable £5,000,000 extra.
The less Government supporters refer to the housing programme the better. Statistics recently issued by the Victorian Housing Commission show that the number of people wanting houses is increasing. A couple of years ago I cited in this Parliament figures which showed that there were 13,000 would-be tenants on the books of the Housing Commission in Victoria. To-day the number is 17,000, and it will continue to increase because the amount of money made available by this Government to the various housing commissions has been reduced by 20 per cent, for the first two years of the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and next year it will be reduced by 30 per cent. Obviously the State housing authorities will be able to build fewer homes, and they will have greater numbers of applicants on their books. If the Government wants a talking point for its next election campaign, it should forget all about the question of homes.
There is just one other matter that I wish to refer to before I address myself to the budget. The honorable member for Mallee suggested that inflation started during the regime of the Labour government.
– No! I said that the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) had said that.
– The Labour party explained in 1 948, during the campaign on the referendum on prices control, what would happen unless the Commonwealth Government had effective control over prices. We were told by the honorable member for Mallee and by his confreres who now occupy the Government benches that if prices were decontrolled they would automatically find their own level and would drop. Of course the reverse has happened. While it is true that between 1948 and 1949, when the Labour Government was in power, prices rose slowly, it is also true that after 1949 they rose rapidly. As a matter of fact, in the financial year 1952-53 retail prices rose in Australia by 23 per cent. That was during the regime of a government that promised to put value back into the £1. I suggest that the honorable member for Mallee should forget that argument also, because when the records are examined it is seen that the effects of inflation during the period when the Labour Government was in power were microscopic when compared with those that we have seen during the years that the present Government has been in office.
I have one other word to say about the honorable member for Mallee. He told us that the Public Service was increasing in size, and that we never hear any words of remonstrance from the members of the Australian Labour party regarding the growth of the Public Service. I should like to point out to the honorable member that this Government was elected on a promise, amongst other things, to reduce the size of the Public Service. We were told ad nauseam during the period up to 1949, no doubt by the honorable member for Mallee as well as by other honorable members opposite, that under the Labour government the Public Service was becoming a bureaucracy that was battening on the people and telling them what to do. Honorable members opposite said, “ Put us in and we will reduce the Public Service to reasonable dimensions “. But what has happened? The Public Service has increased year by year. Despite the fact that the Government’s own supporters, the daily newspapers, have become very sore about the whole position, and have pointed out with marked regularity that this increase is taking place, the Public Service continues to increase. It is obvious that this Government was elected in 1949 on a lot of phoney promises, very few of which have ever been implemented.
Now I wish to say something about the budget itself. It is very difficult to say much about it at this stage of the debate, when only one other honorable member is left to speak before the vote is taken. I suggest that this budget will not be looked upon with any favour except by a very small section of the population. Most budgets are remarkable for what they leave out or what they put in. As far as I can ascertain, this budget has made concessions, to some degree, to the companies. There has been a reduction in company tax and an allowance for depreciation. There has been no reduction in sales tax, although it is long overdue. Many household articles that the people are entitled to have in their homes are still subject to sales tax. Another promise that the Government made in 1949 was that it would reduce indirect taxation, and when the Sales Tax Assessment Act is being debated in this Parliament I hope to have something to say that will give the lie direct to any suggestion that the Government has attempted to reduce indirect taxation. Excise duty has not been reduced. In other words, this Government has not given any consideration to the interests of the average person. It made a paltry concession to the recipients of social services - 7s. 6d. to the old age pensioners - which is far too small and I know that most Government supporters privately think so. No doubt, the honorable member for Mallee privately thinks so. But the Government, with a callous disregard for the interests of pensioners, a section of the community which is not able to look after itself, has given this meagre amount. In other words, it has said, “ We are going to stay put and give nothing of reasonable size because we want to keep it all for next year “. The Government is guilty of sharp practices at the expense of that section of the community least able to look after itself. It is attempting to gain some paltry political advantage at the expense of the age pensioners. No doubt, next year there will be another 7s. 6d. increase in pensions but the whole amount should have been granted this year. The Government wants to announce an increase just before the elections, and therefore it makes the age pensioners suffer in poverty for a further twelve months.
The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) advanced several suggestions which he thought would improve the economy and he gave a dissertation on Australia’s economic position. A number of the conclusions he arrived at are most disputable. They are not backed by any argument, either from the Treasurer himself or from any subsequent speaker on the Government side. There are one or two matters I would like to mention and for which I think the Go- vernment should be indicted. I am sorry to see that the honorable member for Mallee is leaving the chamber, because he should be interested in what I have to say. Perhaps the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) will pass my comment on to the honorable member for Mallee. It was the Labour party’s policy at the last elections to impose a just tax on diesel fuel. The Labour party went to the country on that policy and we make no apology for supporting this tax now. It is one of the very few commendable features of the budget; but it opens up another large question, because the Government has altered the method of disposal of the diesel oil tax. Now. the amount collected in any one State will be handed back to that State. All the proceeds of the diesel tax will be paid back to the States. The Government expects the tax to yield £2,000,000 this year and £3,000,000 in a full year, but it will give back to the States the full £3,000,000 this year. The Labour party agrees with that policy. At the last elections we said that all the proceeds of the petrol tax should go back to the States. We believe in that, and apparently the Government agrees that Labour’s policy is the right policy. To use a colloquialism, the Government has pinched our policy on diesel fuel tax.
But in relation to petrol tax revenue, the -Government will continue to treat the States as unfairly as it has done for many years past. It intends to give the States £1,782,000 more than they got last year, making £34,000,000 in all. But in each of the next two years it is going to hang on to £17,000,000 which should be given to the States in order to relieve their roads problem. In two years’ time it will review the position, but Australia’s roads are rapidly falling to pieces. The huge increase in road traffic has made it imperative that on the main trunk routes we have divided highways. In Victoria, between Melbourne and Geelong, the State Government will he able to build only about three miles of such roadway this year, whereas if the Commonwealth Government paid out to the States the additional £17,000,000 this year and next year, making £34,000,000 for the two years, a terrific improvement in the roads position would be possible. But the Government, because of a spirit of sheer obstinacy, because it knows that the Labour party would say “ That was our policy. You have recognized it as the true and fair policy”, is prepared to make the States suffer the great penalty of having this money withheld. That is the sole reason why this money is not given to the States. In two years’ time the Liberal governments of the States will make it imperative that this money be given to the States. But in the meantime, the States must suffer because of this Government’s stupid insistence that it cannot act now because Labour might derive some small political advantage. That is the only reason why the Government is not giving the full proceeds of the petrol tax back to the States.
I was very unhappy to find no mention in the budget of the introduction of a decent health scheme. When I say decent I mean a health scheme on the same lines as that operating in Great Britain.
– All I can say is that the honorable member for Hume is on the outer in this regard, because I have conferred with many people who have had direct dealings with the health scheme in Great Britain and I have consulted many Australians who have made an on-the-spot study of the scheme. They all tell me that there is nothing in this country to compare with it. It is true that under that scheme there are a few anomalies. Human nature being what it is, one must expect a few anomalies, a few malingerers, and a few abuses in any scheme of great magnitude. But one would have thought, in view of the position hospitals are in and the high cost of medical treatment, with people deferring operations because they cannot afford them, that the Government would face up to this question and bring forward some scheme which would at least give people some hope for the future. But what do we find? The Treasurer said -
The Government also proposes to increase the assistance given by the Commonwealth to hospital patients to meet their accounts for hospital treatment. At present the Commonwealth pays a general hospital benefit of 8s. a day and, where a patient is a member of a hospital insurance organization, an additional benefit of 4s. a day. Legislation will be introduced providing for the payment of additional benefit of 12s. a day, in lieu of 4s. a day, where a hospital patient is entitled to receive hospital insurance benefit of 16s. a day or more.
In other words, only a section of those who insure now will get the increase. Those who pay the large amount will get it, but those who can only insure for a small amount will not get any increase at all. In other words, the people who should get it will not, and the people who can afford to pay a little extra will get the benefit. The time is long overdue for a review of the Commonwealth-State hospital position. This is an important subject and I think it should be discussed by this Parliament and by the respective State Parliaments with a view to determining a CommonwealthState policy. Members of the Government will say that the question of hospital finances is a matter for State governments. Everybody knows that the State governments are the poor relations of the Commonwealth. They come here once or twice a year literally begging. They put out their hands and hope that the largesse they receive from the Commonwealth will be sufficient to carry on their services. Everybody knows that the State governments are in a hopeless position. Victoria, under a Liberal government, has a deficit of £4,000,000. In other States, governments have also incurred large deficits, because the services they are expected to provide cannot be operated by reason of the financial shackles that have been imposed upon them by this Commonwealth Government. Because of that we find that the hospital position is deteriorating rapidly in every State and I hope that this Parliament will discuss, in a very sober manner, the dangerous drift in public hospital finances. In Victoria, the aggregate of cil a hospital deficits this year is in the neighbourhood of £3,000,000. It appears to me that these indispensable institutions are left to flounder from crisis to crisis. Nobody seems to worry about them. The State Governments cannot do much because they have not the necessary wherewithal; the Commonwealth is hanging on to the money. This state of insolvency has gone on for some years and it is getting worse. When one discusses the matter of hospital finance with a hospital board or with persons connected with hospitals, they all tell the same story. Rising costs are making the financial running of hospitals a most desperate job; they are living, literally, from hand to mouth. Unless we evolve some comprehensive programme to provide financial security for hospitals, very grave consequences for the health of the community will inevitably follow. That is not an overstatement or a prediction intended to causealarm. The sober fact is that the position of hospital finances is deteriorating rapidly.
The present system of financing hospitals is entirely unsatisfactory. We have a federal subsidy and we have a State grant. The State governments give what they can but because they have to finance the building of schools, roads and other public works there is terrific competition for money for hospitals. Then, there are charges for patients. Such charges are substantial. In. a number of States proceeds from lotteries are used to help hospitals, and although that is a source of great assistance it is not a solution to the problem. A large body of philanthropic citizens participate in. voluntary giving and various auxiliaries and other organizations make their contribution. But we have to face the fact that the present system of financing hospitals has failed lamentably and bitterly. It is useless to shut our eyes and ignore the situation.
It is impossible for hospital managements to plan ahead to meet the needs of an increasing population. Under the Government’s immigration policy, from 150,000 to 170,000 immigrants are arriving each year and a proportion of these seek hospital treatment. In some of the major hospitals in Victoria the number of immigrants attending hospitals is far greater than the number of Australians. As a result of this Government’s immigration policy the situation of many hospitals has become very difficult, and the Commonwealth should recognize its obligation to assist in financing them. Some hospitals in Victoria are able to carry on only as a result of the generosity of tradesmen, who allow their unpaid accounts to accumulate for many months, and they feel that the only way to get over this problem is to curtail hospital services. No one wants that to happen, because of the grave consequences of such a policy. No civilized community should be asked to accept such a situation but, in effect, State governments are being asked to curtail hospital services. Money must be found and the only source from which it can come is the Commonwealth Government.
The Commonwealth Government should do a lot more in relation to the subsidy of 8s. a day at present allowed. This rate has remained unchanged for the last twelve years. If the Government of 1945 which estimated that 8s. a day per bed should be paid because certain costs were incurred in that time, the rate to-day should be correspondingly increased. Everybody knows that costs have risen tremendously since 1945. It is true that a patient who is insured can claim 12s. a day and that rate will be increased for certain people covered by the budget provision. But to all intents and purposes the 8s. a day still applies to patients who are not insured. The increase provided for in the budget will not help the hospital but will help the patient to pay his hospital bill, lt will be of no real assistance to hospital managements. When the 8s. a day was provided in 1945, the daily cost of a bed in a Victorian hospital was 16s. 2d. The Federal Labour Government in 1945 paid 8s. a day, but now the daily cost is nearly £5. Yet, the subsidy remains at 8s. Surely the Federal Government should realize that there is a very good case for a marked increase in the subsidy paid to the hospitals per medium of the federal grant.
I understand that the present agreement has almost expired. It is not achieving its purpose, because the Commonwealth contribution is fixed at 8s. a day and has not been increased in proportion to the rapidly rising hospital costs. I suggest that it should be at least one guinea a day. That may appear to be a large sum, compared with 8s. a day; but unless the Commonwealth comes to the party in a big way it will not be possible to place hospital finances on a reasonable and sound level. Not only should the daily rate be increased to one guinea a day; it should also be made retrospective for a year. Otherwise, how on earth can the hospitals reduce their heavy debts? Costs are going up daily but receipts are not, and the deficits are becoming larger.
I appeal to the Government to look at this question in a broad, statesmanlike manner. This is not a party political question. People who are associated with hospital management in Victoria are connected with all parties and they do a wonderful job. They give their talents and their time and, to a very great extent, their money to help the hospitals remain solvent, but they are fighting a losing battle all the time. Hospitalization should become a national responsibility and I hope that this Government will give the matter very serious consideration. If it does not I am very much afraid that not only Victorian hospitals, but also Australian hospitals generally will become insolvent, which is a state of affairs that must be deplored by every rightthinking Australian.
In the few minutes that remain to me I wish to say something about the pay-roll tax. I notice that the Government has made a great fanfare of the fact that it is increasing the exemption to £200 a week. When all is said and done, that is a very small concession.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I think the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) earlier to-day felt that he had little to say about the budget and found it necessary to resort to personalities. Even at this late stage, with the time for the debate fast running out, I have a few things to mention which have not been said already and I will endeavour to present them in a constructive way. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has just given a long list of items for which he asks for more finance. He asked for more money for roads, social services, repatriation and hospitals; but at no stage did he indicate that he is prepared to recommend increased taxes to provide additional funds for these various purposes.
The budget, so ably presented by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is based upon revenue of £1,321,000,000 and an expenditure of a similar figure. Of this total, £1,176,000,000 will be obtained from taxes; that is £81,000,000 more than was received last year. Significantly, this increased revenue will be derived under existing legislation, for there is no provision for increased rates of income tax. This fact surely demonstrates that our economy is stable and developing and will yield a greater contribution. Where, then, is the economy running down? Where is the national income falling, as has been so plaintively alleged by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt)? The right honorable member made a caustic reference to a “ running-down economy “ and a “ falling income “. I suggest that the income and the stability of the nation has made possible very acceptable taxation concessions on this occasion. They will amount to £28,000,000 for the year that we have entered, and £57,000,000 in the full succeeding year.
I think that the honorable member who has just concluded his speech was hoping to say something more positive about payroll tax, but limitation of time precluded him from doing so. My remarks concerning pay-roll tax may be somewhat simpler than those which he had in mind. Relief given in the budget in connexion with payroll tax amounts to almost £3,000,000. I hope, most sincerely, that this trend will be sustained, so that within a reasonably short period this iniquitous tax, which is based upon the volume of a pay-roll without any relation to profit achievement by a concern, will be entirely removed. I am not blind to the fact that pay-roll tax involves a revenue of £50,500,000. That will have to be offset. Many people in this country consider that it should be offset, not necessarily by replacement revenue, but by economies effected on the expenditure side of the budget; and they fully approve the proposal that a committee be set up to review the functions of all Commonwealth departments. There are very many who feel that a review of economies with respect to the number employed, the number of departments operating, and the function of those departments would be well worth while.
I also note that some anomalies have been adjusted in the field of sales tax. The amount involved is about £4,000,000 in a full year. Surely, this reveals an awareness of the need for an equitable administration policy. The Government has also provided, after considering strong representations which, I understand, have been spread over a number of years, for lower duty payments in cases of quick succession. The recognition of adopted children in connexion with income tax exemptions is also very pleasing. I feel that the proposals contained in the budget indicate the value of debate in this chamber. They also indicate the value of committees of private members, which study various aspects of government policy, as well as the value of the pressure that comes from organizations and individuals.
About £50,000,000 of tax concessions is located in the income tax field. Direct assistance for the family man will absorb about £8,000,000. During the debate, Opposition members have criticized the reduction in company tax. The reduction of that tax by 6d. in the £1 represents a total concession of £14,500,000. A total of £26,500,000 in a full year will be involved in the long-awaited introduction of depreciation relief which some members on the Government side of the chamber have been advocating most strongly.
The constant, bitter attack on successful company operations by Opposition members leaves me, at all times, appalled. I say with all the sincerity I have that if Australia wishes to become a more progressive industrial nation in order to supplement its natural primary resources, greater recognition must be extended to companies which, under wise and efficient administration, not only provide splendid conditions for a large work force but, by making profits, also contribute to our overall economy. In August, prior to the announcement of the budget, the monthly report of the National Bank of Australasia Limited contained an article entitled “ Optimism Justified “. That article provides an effective reply to the Leader of the Opposition who handled so loosely such terms as “ a running down economy “ and “ a falling income “. The report by the National Bank of Australasia Limited states -
There would seem to be no valid reason why business and industry should not accept 1957-58 in a spirit that envisages further sound progress and growth. . . The general outlook is at present better than it was twelve months ago, and the slight easing in the previously over-strained employment situation should be accepted as giving scope for absorbing labour in further industrial and business expansion, without the instability and inflated costs that accompany excessively competitive bidding for labour common in periods of strong inflationary pressure. With care, the current financial year may well offer the prospect of healthy advancement without undue inflationary tendencies. Certainly, at this stage, a quietly optimistic outlook is justified.
The annual report of the Tariff Board provides confirmation, for thinking people, that this budget is soundly based. The fourth paragraph of the report refers to credit restrictions and the higher taxes resulting from the little budget of March last year, and suggests that the slowing down of expansion in some directions is natural. It points out that the year has been one of relative stability and wide, if not general, prosperity. The fifth paragraph of the same report mentions that the number of applicants awaiting placement in jobs is less than 2 per cent, of the total number of civilians in employment and slightly more than 5 per cent, of the number employed in factories. The sixth paragraph of the report states -
This mild disturbance of the employment situation had the effect of reducing the tendency of employees to shift from job to job.
Under the heading of “ Import Restrictions “ the Tariff Board stated -
In overseas trade during the year, two new records were established. Exports valued at £980,000,000 exceeded by £5,000,000 those in the boom year 1950-51, when wool prices reached their peak. The addition of £210,000,000 to overseas reserves was also a record and practically offset the decreases of £215,000,000 experienced in the two previous years.
If I have time, I should like to recapitulate the points that I have made. Despite the fact that Opposition members have called the budget a “ running down budget “ and a “ conservative budget “, I believe that, in the view of thinking people, this budget represents wise administration. That has been proved by the results of the last financial year. It offers the country a productive potential, not only for the year that we have entered but also for many years to come provided that the sound administration of the present Government can be retained.
I want to acknowledge what this budget provides in the way of grants to the State of Western Australia, particularly as I have the privilege of representing an electoral division in that State. There has been quite a lot of loose talk by Opposition members concerning payments to the States. I have made an analysis of those payments in order to ascertain the extent to which Western Australia has benefited. Tax reimbursement and supplementary grants, both of which are disbursed according to a specific formula, have come under constant criticism from honorable members from the larger States. The budget provides that Western Australia shall receive £14.974.000 from these sources. That formula is definitely weighted in favour of Western Australia and the other States with either smaller populations or wide expanses of territory. Western Australia, together with Tasmania and South Australia, shares in the special grants recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and this year we are to receive £10,150,000. As all honorable members should know - although sometimes, as I listen to some of the commentsmade in debate, I doubt whether they do - under the Financial Agreement there isdisbursed to the claimant States money for interest and sinking fund, Western Australia’s allocations for this year being. £474,000 and £498,000 respectively. The Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement also helps considerably a State such as WesternAustralia, and that is reflected in the figure for this year of £6,453,000.
– Does Western Australia get more than its share?
– Western Australia gets its share in comparison with the other States. Under the budget now before the committee, the comprehensive water scheme for Western Australia is to receive greater assistance than it has had in other years. It is interesting to note from the budget that the Government has approved a maximum figure of £5,000,000 for that scheme and that the ceiling previously fixed for annual disbursement to the State has been removed. The sum of £572,000 for the scheme will be received this year. Like other States, Western Australia receives a grant for capital expenditure on mental institutions and the erection of tuberculosis hospitals. The amounts for this year are £40,000 and £857,000 respectively. Provision for coal-mining industry long service leave will amount to £26,000, and university assistance, £192,000. I am most interested in the universities committee which has been established by the Government and which has already taken evidence. I hope that Western Australia, together with other States, will receive assistance by way of further university grants, particularly for university colleges.
When we total these figures, we see that this year Western Australia, the State that I and other honorable members here represent, is to receive £34,243,000 of an aggregate payment to all the States of £266,739,000. The State will receive this year 12.84 per cent, of the total disbursements, as against 12.7’5 per cent, last year. The trend towards Western Australia is therefore quite a healthy one. But that is only a part of the story. I wish to remind those who may feel that Western Australia has a just claim for more that we also receive fair treatment under the loan programme. We shall be participating in the £5,000,000 increased allocation for war service homes, the total allocation for which this year will be £35,000,000. With the commencement of the rail standardization scheme, provision for which is made in this budget, we surely should have a reasonably sound expectancy that our turn will come later.
Western Australia is most interested in the search for oil. From the £300,000 which is to be provided this year in respect of the cost of drilling each hole, Western Australia should benefit considerably. Of course, the increase of 15s. an ounce in the gold subsidy also affects Western Australia. However, Mr. Chairman, there is a major deficiency in the budget which I feel I am quite justified in pointing to specifically at this stage. Western Australia has a vast area for development in the north-west, and other honorable members have asked in this Parliament that Western Australia should be given special consideration in this connexion. A committee of thinking people in the north-west has put forward, in a genuine way, the request that there should be a period of complete tax exemption for that area of the State. There is, in my mind, some hesitancy regarding that proposal, because I know well the constitutional difficulty that is involved. I strongly believe that there should be a CommonwealthState partnership in a north-west commission for a prescribed number of years. That, I think, would be a far better way of tackling the problem. I believe that a development commission should find it possible, in a period of from ten to fifteen years, to open up this promising area and to relieve the Western Australian Government of a very heavy responsibility, other than the responsibility of its own financial contribution to the commission. Western Australia would find it possible to provide highly trained specialists to devote all their capacities to this neglected area. Quite recently, my attention was directed to the successful experimental work that has been carried out in the reclamation of washedout areas along the banks of the Ord River. The grasses which now grow on that reclaimed land are, in my opinion a pointer to the success of a developmental commission which would embrace work of that kind in the north-west.
The helpful assistance that is being given to Western Australia, which I have gladly acknowledged, and the provision of a visionary scheme for the north-west such as that which I have advocated are, I believe, fully justified. Western Australia is making an increasingly valuable contribution to Australia’s developing economy. These figures, which I give quickly in passing, will
Surely confirm that statement: The value of Western Australia’s exports overseas in 1956-57 was £81,000,000; exports interstate amounted to more than £34,000,000, imports from overseas amounted to £46,000,000, whilst the value of goods taken from the other States of Australia was no less than £89,000,000. The increased volume of exports resulted in a substantial reduction of the unfavorable trade balance, from the point of view of Western Australia, but trade with the other States showed an adverse balance of £54,300,000. This fact, I suggest, should never be overlooked when critics in the eastern States endeavour to reduce tax reimbursements to Western Australia.
In the time that remains to me I want to devote my attention to two other important aspects, one of which is receiving attention in this budget and the other, regrettably, is not. I am interested, as all honorable members should be, in social services. Recently, the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) ventured into dangerous waters when he criticized the Aged Persons Homes Act. The increase of the Commonwealth subsidy from £1 for every £1 raised by approved organizations to £2 for every £1 so raised, will provide a wonderful stimulus to the religious and other charitable bodies that are concerned with housing aged people. The new ceiling of £3,000,000 per annum from Commonwealth funds possibly could enable homes to be built of an annual value of £5,000,000. The figures for last year show that the sum of £700,000, provided for this purpose, was exceeded because of the number of claims lodged. The present budget increases the allocation for this purpose to £1,800,000. It therefore does not matter very much what the honorable member for Hughes thinks about this scheme. I suggest that the people generally acknowledge it to be a splendid scheme introduced by this Government, and that they have supported it in a very generous way through contributions to appeals by the organizations concerned.
Time will not permit me to deal with the complete record of the Government regarding social services. This record and the budget provision of over £243,000,000 from the National Welfare Fund for this year surely indicate that I am sound when I say that I have nothing but scorn for the most unrealistic request from the Opposition for a pension payment equal to 50 per cent, of the basic wage. I believe that it is more important to give any additional assistance to the people who really need it. In this respect I entirely agree with the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who has voiced strong criticism of the means test. It seems to me essential that a hardship fund should be available to social services authorities to assist, as revealed, those pensioners with no resources of their own who find the payment of rent such a drag on their pension income.
The present pension rate surely provides a very acceptable standard for many who have, through hard work and good fortune, set up their own home and personal assets. For others not so happily placed it is, of course, inadequate. The answer is not a blanket increase which would make the comfortable more comfortable, for no social services benefit has that intention. I suggest that an aged security allowance which could be progressively freed from any means test would be the answer. All members of the community must be encouraged to contribute during their working years to their own age security, and should not be penalized for their hard work, their thrift and success. So, I am disappointed that the Government has not, in this budget, planned in some more imaginative way to provide for the security of those who, giving their best efforts in their work at this stage, cannot help at times pausing to reflect on the pension qualifications which will apply when they retire. Therefore, I urge that a review be made of the whole plane of pension payments; and I hope that the next budget will bring in the very scheme which the honorable member for Sturt and others have proposed.
I said that I was also interested in something that the budget has not provided. I believe that, just as we have a conviction that we must do the right thing by the aged, who can be regarded as the senior citizens of this country, so this Government, and every government, has a responsibility to the youth of the country. During the last year we have seen a substantial reduction in the intake of young men for national service training. Those who have been alert to what has been happening in the United States of America may be aware that in this last year the President of the United States appointed a committee to report on the fitness of American youth, and that the report of that committee was most disconcerting. I have noticed, and I am sure that honorable members from States other than Victoria have also noticed, that the Victorian Government in the last twelve months has established an “ assistance to youth “ scheme, duplicating, I am afraid, much that has already been provided by the National Fitness Council. But we have seen no change in the Commonwealth Government’s policy in respect of the National Fitness Council.
– The grant is the same this year as it was in 1943.
– That is true. The last meeting of the council was convened in 1954, and no indication has yet been given as to when it will be called together again. The National Fitness Council, established by the Commonwealth in all States, is one of the few positive counters to the modern trend in youth delinquency. It has been one of the greatest single contributors to the health and fitness of young people, but it is being slowly killed by the apathy of this Government. So, I am greatly disappointed in the diminishing interest of the Government in this national movement. I shall suggest a few things that could be considered. The administration of the council should be removed from the Department of Health and transferred to the Department of Social Services. If the Department of Social Services can administer, with sympathy and good results, the Aged Persons’ Homes Act, I am sure it can do something constructive for the youth of this country. I recommend an increase of the static appropriation of £72.500, which is entirely inadequate at the present stage, to something like £150,000 for national fitness.
Finally, I believe that the youth of Australia, in the various national fitness movements - Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and every other movement that trains young men and women to be the citizens we desire for an expanding country - can be rightly assisted by grants from the Commonwealth for capital expenditure on the buildings that are so essential for this sort of youth work. I have had some personal experience of groups which have no satisfactory meeting hall or training hall. I have been associated with groups which have struggled for years to set up training camps. My proposition is that a subsidy on a £1 for £1 basis should be provided for this type of capital expenditure on youth centre buildings, training camps and meeting halls. That money would be very well spent indeed, and would provide a splendid stimulus to the people engaged in this kind of work. Of course, we have in the National Fitness Council a ready-made organization at present in existence in every State. So, at this late stage, when the debate is virtually closed, I commend the Government for the splendid items contained in the budget; but I also point out that there are still things left undone. I hope that my recommendations that something constructive be done for the development of the north-west of Western Australia and that far better provision be made for youth will be implemented during the ensuing year.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the item proposed to be reduced (Dr. Evatt’s amendment) be so reduced.
The committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 19
Question so resolved in the negative.
The general debate being concluded,
First item agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker, honorable members will recall-
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.11 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:-
b asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
How many men and women, respectively, are employed at this date in the (a) Commonwealth Trading Bank and (b) Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia, in all sections in Australia and abroad?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Commonwealth Bank group operates, at present, with a single staff known as the Commonwealth Bank Service, a large proportion of the officers of the service being engaged in composite duties involving both trading bank and savings bank activities. A distribution of the staff between the Commonwealth Trading Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank, based on the time occupied by officers in the performance of various duties of these two institutions, is as follows: -
z asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Commonwealth Bank has supplied the following information: -
d asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. I do not know. 3 and 4. Action to be taken for an offence against the income tax law is a matter for determination by the Commissioner of Taxation. If the Commissioner authorizes legal proceedings against an offender, those proceedings are taken, of course, in open court and the results become known publicly. If, on the other hand, action is taken within the taxation administration without recourse to legal proceedings, the secrecy provisions of the income tax law preclude the Commissioner and his officers from disclosing the nature of the action taken, except insofar as his report to Parliament refers to breaches or evasions of the law which have come under his notice.
y asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 4. Putting aside problems of definition, as I have recently pointed out to honorable members, there are available three sets of representative figures (a) those deriving from the census, (b) the numbers registered for employment with the Commonwealth Employment Service and (c) the numbers receiving unemployment benefit. Only the second and third series of figures are current. The number of persons registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service at 30th August, 1957, the latest date for which figures are available, and the numbers receiving unemployment benefit in each State and in Australia, were -
The figures of persons registered for employment are of persons who claimed when registering with the Commonwealth Employment Service that they were not employed and who were recorded as unplaced at the date shown. The figures include persons who have been referred to employers, but whose placement has not been confirmed, those who may have obtained employment without notifying the Commonwealth Employment Service and whose applications for employment have not been lapsed, and those receiving unemployment benefit. The figures of persons receiving unemployment benefit relate to the day following the date shown. 2 and 3. It is not practicable to give the numbers in each individual occupation. The following table dissects by the major occupational groups the number registered for employment at 30th August, 1957: -
d asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
These benefits are available on arrival.
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following reply: -
The agreement of course provides that the Commonwealth will match the moneys provided by the States for this purpose with an additional advance. The net result, therefore, is that an additional £1,171,150 is provided for Housing which would not be available were it not for this provision of the agreement.
New South Wales. - 69 co-operative building societies.
Victoria. - 81 co-operative housing societies.
South Australia -
The Housing Department in respect only of a loan of £200,000 made during 1956-57 repayable to the Home Builders’ Account in 1957-58).
Loans made by building societies or other approved institutions are to be principally (in two States exclusively) for the building or purchase of new dwellings.
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following reply:- 1 and 2. It is presumed that the honorable member refers to the recent discovery of bauxite on Cape York Peninsula, in Queensland. On this matter I am informed that a geologist of Consolidated Zinc Corporation discovered bauxite in that area during a reconnaissance undertaken in 1955. Following this discovery a subsidiary of the company, Enterprise Exploration Proprietary Limited, was granted rights by the Queensland Government to prospect for bauxite and other minerals on the west coast of the Peninsula. Subsidiary companies of the Consolidated Zinc group are also engaged in prospecting for minerals in the Northern Territory.
y asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– On the basis that this question relates to Hungarian refugees whose admission into Australia for permanent resettlement was agreed to in
November, 1956, following the uprising in Hungary, the answers as at 20th September, 1957, to the honorable member’s questions are -
son asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 October 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19571001_reps_22_hor16/>.