22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Consequent upon the answer given by the Prime Minister to a question that I asked yesterday about the new St. Mary’s ammunition filling factory, I now desire to ask the right honorable gentleman the following question: Is it a fact that the decision of the Government to construct the new ammunition filling factory at St. Mary’s was made in accordance with, or upon, the recommendations of the Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defence Production, the Director-General of Works, the Defence Production Planning Committee, or the Defence Committee?
– All that I can do is to re-state what I have already stated to the House - I hoped clearly. The first approach of the Government’s technical advisers - I shall group them in that fashion, because the Leader of the Opposition has described a number of them - including the Services, and the Service departments, was that the would prefer to have a new ammunition filling factory, but that, if they could not have one within a limited time, they would reluctantly recommend the re-possession of the old St. Mary’s factory. When the Government decided that it would not repossess the old St. Mary’s - for the compelling reasons that I have already described to the House, and which have not been challenged by anybody - the Government considered a proposition to build a new factory at St. Mary’s; obviously, since the old one was not to be re-possessed. The decision of the Government not to repossess was well known to the Services and to the technical people, because there was a constant process of consultation. When the Government decided that it would go into the proposition to build a new St. Mary’s, and an estimate of the cost was made - it was something over £20,000,000 - I myself specifically raised with the Chiefs of Staff the question as to what priority they gave to this very proposal. This was done by me orally. No MasterGeneral of the Ordnance was there; indeed, I do not think that I have ever seen him.
But the Chiefs of Staff were there. I said, “ Before we adopt a proposal for such an enormous expenditure, I want to know what priority you give to it “. The answer was, “ Completely No. 1 priority “.
– Why does the Prime Minister not produce the documents so that they may be examined?
– I have stated the position repeatedly. It has not been challenged by anybody who was present at the discussions, and it will be corroborated by everybody who was present, including my colleagues in the Cabinet.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question. About three weeks ago, I sought information regarding his friends, the Petrovs, and he then promised to obtain-
Order! The honorable member must withdraw that statement.
– Very well, then; they are not his friends.
-Order! The honorable member will withdraw the statement.
– I have withdrawn it.
-Order! The honorable member has not withdrawn it to my satisfaction.
– I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker.
– On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, I direct your attention to the fact that the honorable member has imported the names of private individuals into his question. Is it not the practice of the House that in such a case the question should be placed on the notice-paper?
-I think the honorable member for East Sydney is in order.
– About three weeks ago 1 asked the Prime Minister some questions regarding the Petrovs. Being unable at that time to furnish the information, the Prime Minister undertook to do so at a later date. I ask him now when he expects to be able to give me the information which I then sought.
– On the next sitting day. The information is practically ready, but 1 shall have it for the honorable member on the next sitting day.
– Can the Minister for Territories tell me what progress has been made in recent times with regard to local government in the territory of New Guinea?
– It is the policy of the Government to promote the political advancement of the people of Papua and New Guinea, and, of course, we pursue this objective in a variety of ways. We may start simply by appointing village councillors for the purpose of co-operating with the administration and for training the village in some measure of selfgovernment. It is only after considerable progress has been made in other directions that we come to the organizing and establishment of democratically elected local government councils. Although I give information relating to local government councils, I should like the House to regard it as being information concerning the culmination of a process which has many other humbler manifestations than the final democratically elected local government council. We have at the present time in the Territory seventeen local government councils, formed from among 437 villages serving a population of 77,000. The membership of these councils totals 400 councillors, all of whom are democratically elected by the people of those villages. In the last two years seven councils, covering a population of 37,000 in 250 villages, have been formed. That is to say, of the seventeen existing councils, seven were formed within the last two years.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. It would appear that the recent increase in the bank rate in the United Kingdom was made as much for external as for internal reasons, and that there has been speculation in the Deutsch mark as against sterling. I ask the Prime Minister to say, first, whether there is any evidence of speculation in the Australian £1 as against the £1 sterling and secondly, in view of the frequent appearance in Australian Treasury bulletins of such phrases as “ other movements of funds (net) “ in describing the balance of payments position, whether adequate machinery exists, either in the Treasury or the banking system, to provide sufficient information to show whether speculation, as against genuinetrade or capital movement, is taking place?’
– Dealing with the last, portion of the question first, I think the machinery is adequate. A pretty close study of movements of funds takes place, and a. fairly precise knowledge of them is available. I am not aware of any unusual movements of funds since devaluation or in any recent time, but I can check on that because ] shall be talking to one or two Treasury and banking people this morning. Of course, it is not for me to examine the reasons behind the raising of the bank rate in England, but I can confirm the suggestion made by the honorable member that there has been speculation in favour of theDeutsch mark as against neighbouring currencies, particularly sterling, though it Kas affected the franc, the guilder and all other neighbouring currencies. That has been due to the fact that the German trading position has been immensely powerful and’ Germany’s accumulation of overseas funds has been quite abnormal, with the result that the Deutsche mark has tended to be very strong. Therefore, speculators have undoubtedly been casting around for the opportunity of a devaluation in some adjoining currency. There has been a partial or rather a specialized form of devaluation in France, but the announcement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in England is common knowledge, and the honorable member knows asmuch about that as I do.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Interior. I preface my question by saying that theMinister will know that one of Australia’s most imaginative and significant national development programmes is being undertaken by a group of enthusiasts at Portland. Late in 1959 or early in 1960, stage 1 of the port of Portland development will be completed. The new port will be. the most modern in Australia, fully equipped to handle the produce of western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia. Foi some time I have been trying to persuade the News and Information Bureau to make a movie film of the harbour-
-Order! The honorable member is giving information. I must ask him to come to his question.
– I will come directly to the question. For some time I have been trying to persuade the News and Information Bureau-
– Order ! The honorable member will ask his question.
– I wish to ask the Minister for the Interior whether any decision has yet been made by the News and Information Bureau concerning a movie of Portland Harbour, so that Australia as a whole may know something of this great project that has been undertaken.
– I should very much like to give every assistance to the honorable member in securing some publicity foi this very worthwhile effort at Portland. My department has given consideration to the project, but as the honorable member will know, the programme of films to be produced by the department is dealt with on recommendation by the National Film Board. I regret to tell the honorable member in one context, although I am pleased to say it in another, that there are so many other worthwhile projects that priority cannot be given to Portland on this occasion. However, I have arranged that a film will be taken at Portland some time towards the end of November, v/hen port activities will be at a maximum. This film will be included in a news release in the “ Australian Diary “ series.
– 1 ask the Minister for Defence a question without notice. As much doubt exists as to the future of the Australian aircraft industry, will the Minister inform the House whether the Government has any long-term programme for this industry? In view of the fact that Trans- Australian Airlines has placed overseas orders for Fokker Friendship aeroplanes, will the Government give consideration to the building of this type of aircraft and the Handley-Page “ Dart Herald “ turbo-prop airliner? Will the Minister indicate whether the Government has any plans for this industry which will meet the civilian and defence needs of Australia, apart from the Sabre project?
– The Government has already announced that it intends that the aircraft industry shall be continued in Australia. Any long-term programme, of course, depends entirely on the demand for aeroplanes from time to time by the services or, perhaps, in the future, by civilian users. Projects are undertaken from time to time as needed. With respect to civil aviation, that matter is in the hands of my colleagues, the Minister for Shipping and Transport and U.e Minister for Supply. If the honorable member desires any further information he should direct his question to those honorable gentlemen.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. When the present Government came to office in 1949, had any special provisions been made by its predecessors with regard to the rights of South Australia to the waters of the Murray River? If there were any special provisions did the present Government make any alterations to them?
– The existing provision - and it has existed, now, for a long time, well before we came back into office - is contained in the River Murray Waters Agreement, which concerns the three States and has stood for a great number of years. I am advised that no alteration in the rights of anybody under that agreement will be affected by the Snowy Mountains agreement.
– In regard to the “ Bring out a Briton “ campaign, is the Minister for Immigration really satisfied that the Government is using all the forces at its command to tell the British people the facts about Australia? Will he confer with the officers of the Department of Immigration situated in Great Britain, with the object of devising further methods of informing the British people of the advantages of migrating to Australia?
– Yes, I will see if we can do anything more to tell the people of Britain what advantages Australia offers. I might say that I confer regularly with the publicity men of the Department of Immigration and we keep our pamphlets and brochures right up to date. If the honorable member is interested, I would be happy to let him have some literature of the type that we give away in Great Britain. I am sure that he would be interested to see the factual presentation our officers make. The “ Bring out a Briton “ campaign is in its infancy at the present time, but already there are most encouraging indications that it will be successful. However - this is something extra to our normal immigration programme - a great deal depends on the degree of co-operation we get from those who have jobs and accommodation available for people who come out under this scheme. Our officers have been to the various States and already have formed nearly 100 committees. This indicates that the people of Australia are behind the “ Bring out a Briton “ campaign. If the honorable member will see me later during the day, I shall be pleased to let him have some of the pamphlets and publicity material that we distribute in Great Britain.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that a conference will be held in Melbourne, early in November, of representatives of organizations in each State which conduct Australia Day celebrations? Has the Commonwealth Government been approached in connexion with this conference? If so, does it propose to be represented? Has any consideration been given to helping any bona fide movement for the better celebration of Australia Day in the several States?
– I cannot answer by the book as to whether we have received some notice or invitation although I think it is not improbable that we have. In common with the honorable member, we have quite a sympathetic interest in this matter.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral confer with the publishers of the “ A. B.C. Weekly “ to see if it is possible to extend that publication to include South Australian radio programmes so that it may be placed on sale for the public of South Australia? I point out that for many years South Australian people have enjoyed a publication setting out such radio programmes, but no longer is such service available. If the “ A. B.C. Weekly “ could extend its service to South Australia it would meet the needs of many people as well as make a worthwhile publication available in that State.
– I shall be glad to discuss with the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission the proposal put forward by the honorable member.
– But he is overseas.
– I am sorry, he is not.
– I am sorry he is back.
– My choice of words arose from the fact that the chairman of the commission returned some considerable time ago but unfortunately is not very well at the moment. The publication of the “A.B.C. Weekly” has been confined, I think, to New South Wales and Queensland, for various reasons, mainly reasons of economy; but if the honorable member can demonstrate that there would be a demand for this publication in South Australia as he has suggested, I am sure that the commission would be glad to meet his requirements.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question concerning the name of the central bank in respect of which it is proposed to introduce legislation in the near future. Instead of calling it a reserve bank, will the Government consider calling it simply, “ The Bank of Australia “?
– I would think that to give the bank such a name - 1 am only expressing an offhand judgment - would be rather confusing because there are several banks which include that phrase in their name.
– I wish to ask the PostmasterGeneral a question without notice. In the Cloncurry district, which has a population of approximately 10,000, there is a radio blind spot, and reception in the area is extremely bad during most of the year. I brought this matter before the Minister’s predecessor, the late Honorable H. L. Anthony, but nothing could be done at that time. Since then, I understand that it has been found that this trouble can be overcome. Will the Minister consider the installation of a low-powered radio transmitter? These units are said to be effective in boosting radio reception.
– I think it probable that the question of the honorable member for Leichhardt relates to certain representations which, I understand unofficially, are to be made by the Premier of Queensland regarding reception in some of the western areas of Queensland. I do not know exactly what the proposals are, but I know that in some of those areas the reception has not been the best. Some time ago, transmission power was increased at Longreach, and I believe that this considerably improved the situation. With regard to the representations made by the honorable member for Leichhardt, and others, I shall look into the matter and see whether anything can be done.
– Will the Minister for Immigration state whether it is a fact that his department’s activities in England concerned with the attraction of immigrants to Australia are, in large part, confined to London? If so, will he consider establishing branches of his department in other parts of England, Scotland and Wales?
– It is quite true that the bulk of the officers of my department in the United Kingdom are based in London for obvious reasons, but we do have lecturers who go all around England. We also have officers who regularly visit Scotland, particularly, and also Wales, as well as big centres such as Manchester and the other inland towns of Great Britain. I shall consider the honorable member’s proposition that we try to establish depots in places other than London.
– In view of the fact that the Joint Coal Board is a CommonwealthState authority, I ask the Prime Minister to give an assurance that no action will be taken by this Government to sell Newcom, Newstan, or Foybrook mines without consultation with, and the concurrence of, the Government of New South Wales. Further, if the Australian Government persists in its intention to sell these profitable collieries, will the Government give priority in buying to the Government of New South Wales or a State government authority?
– When I tell the honorable member that I have had suggestions of that kind direct from the Premier of New South Wales and that the matter is, practically at this very moment, under discussion between us, he will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to be saying at this stage what I ought to say to him in some other form.
– Supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Macquarie, I ask the Prime Minister whether he will look at the recent statement of the Minister for National Development, who has the Joint Coal Board matter assigned to him, when referring to one of these collieries - Newstan, I think - that under the Joint Coal Board the mine was being run very efficiently, production was at a high level, profits were being made and that the mine, in effect, was an example of what should be done in an efficient mine. Will the Prime Minister, looking at that statement, express his opinion as to whether that is a reason for selling out such an efficient mine to private enterprise, that being the statement attributed to the Minister for National Development? This is an important matter, and I would like the Prime Minister to give his view as to whether that principle represents Government policy.
– I am bound to say that the right honorable gentleman produces a very attractive dilemma. He appears to say this: If the coal mine is unprofitable, then it ought to be disposed of to private enterprise which, in those circumstances, would not be very likely to want it; if, on the other hand, it is profitable, it ought to be kept. Add those two propositions together, and all the mines would be kept. Apply that principle completely and the whole jolly industry ought to be nationalized.
– I preface a question to the Prime Minister by referring to the splendid booklet dealing with the national flag which was issued by the right honorable gentleman’s department last year. In that booklet, which has been widely circulated, I notice that one of the occasions on which it is recommended that the national flag should be flown is federal election day, whenever that may occur. Could the right honorable gentleman arrange for this suggestion to be discussed with his colleague, the Minister for the Interior, so that electoral officers across the Commonwealth might be asked, with some determination, to implement the suggestion?
– I will take that into account. I am bound to say that I very well remember practically all my colleagues in this House saying that on polling day they go around the booths to keep the flag flying. I shall consider the honorable gentleman’s suggested extension of that idea.
– I ask the Prime Minister a supplementary question in relation to the St. Mary’s filling factory. I am sure he understands the interest of the people in having precise information on this matter. Therefore, I ask him whether he will state the names of the defence advisers who recommended the construction of the new filling factory at St. Mary’s, the words, of their recommendations, and the dates on which they were made.
– Obviously, I cannot do that offhand. Indeed, I doubt the utility of producing masses of documents. I have already stated that, at the crucial time, the view of the Services was expressed orally in my presence in the Cabinet room, and was acted on by us.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Supply. Now that tinplate is being commercially manufactured in Australia, can the Minister indi-, cate the proportion of Australia’s current total consumption of tinplate which can be met by local production? Is lt a fact that a second plant also is under construction? If so, when it is completed will the total Australian production of tinplate meet all local requirements?
– I think it was about six months or twelve months ago that the Prime Minister opened Australia’s first tinplate factory at Tom Thumb Lagoon on the south coast of New South Wales. I should like to say that this, a Broken Hill Proprietary Limited project, is a very wonderful contribution to Australia’s economy, because all of us who went through the difficult days of 1950 and 1951, when we could not get tinplate. or had great difficulty in getting it, would not want to have that experience again. Now, thanks to the enterprise of that company, 60 per cent, of Australia’s consumption of tinplate is provided from this magnificent factory. It is true also that the company has plans for another factory which will cope completely with the Australian demand for tinplate and, indeed, I believe may also make some tinplate available foi export. I think that that factory will be ready by 1963 and, with the existing factory, will effect a saving of a very great sum in foreign exchange for this country and the complete removal of the anxiety which the great food producing industries of Australia, and other industries also, used to have about shortages of imported tinplate.
– Will the Minister for Territories say what rate of tax has recently been introduced in Papua and New Guinea by the Administration? Is it a flat rate, and has consideration been given to the introduction of a tax on excess profits?
– Answering the lastpart of the honorable member’s question first: A tax on excess profits has not beer considered, and I would venture the personal opinion that such a tax is a very doubtful method of raising money in any event. As to the main part of the honorable member’s question, I think the House will realize that residents of Papua and New Guinea have been subject to taxation for very many years; they have always paid taxes in one form or another. The House will also appreciate that over recent years the size of the Commonwealth grant to the Territory has increased year by year, and in the current year reaches the sum of £11,000,000, provided by the taxpayers on the Australian mainland for the benefit of the Territory. It has been the consistent practice of the present Government and was also, I think, the practice of the previous government, to try to maintain some sort of relationship between the revenues which are raised locally in the Territory and the Commonwealth grant, and, in general, year by year about 30 per cent, of the total of the Territory’s Budget has been raised from local sources. In the current year, as I have already said, Australian taxpayers will provide in the form of the Commonwealth grant about £11,000,000 and, consequent on the decision of Cabinet to make that sum available in the Budget, I gave an instruction to the Territory Administration that it should attempt to raise something in the neighbourhood of £5,000,000 this year, and thus preserve approximately the relationship of previous years between locally raised revenue and the Commonwealth grant, and for that purpose to consider extra means of raising revenue. One, but not the only, extra means of raising revenue in the Territory which has been adopted is the introduction of a capitation tax of £2 per head per year on adult males. That tax has been somewhat loosely described by people as income tax.
– Irrespective of what they earn?
– Irrespective of what they earn. It is a capitation tax of £2 a year on adult males over the age of eighteen years. I may mention that there is a reason in favour of such a tax in addition to the need to raise revenue. As I said in reply to an earlier question, local government councils are being promoted among the native villages, raising their own rates among the native villages. I think all honorable members will agree that it is inequitable that while the native people are being asked to pay a tax per head to do certain work in their villages, people who are not yet organized in local government councils and the European population should not be asked to pay something per head to provide for local services. The introduction of this capitation tax will enable us to extend, for the promotion of the political advancement of the people, a system of local government throughout the villages. In fairness, we could not tax the native people per capita for local government purposes while we refrained from asking Europeans to make a similar contribution. That is an additional reason why this form of taxation was imposed. In the levying of the capitation tax, contributions made towards a local government council will be allowable deductions for both natives and Europeans.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to the recent report of the committee on administrative tribunals appointed by the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and presided over by Sir Oliver Franks. I am sure the Prime Minister will recall that this committee was appointed as a result of the great anxiety and concern created by the Crichel Downs case in England a few years ago. Having in mind the importance of the preservation of democratic government in the activities of administrative tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies, will the Prime Minister give consideration to widening the terms of reference of the committee investigating public service organization and functions to include an examination of the nature, character and significance of administrative tribunals in the Commonwealth?
– I have seen the valuable report mentioned by the honorable member. I have not yet been able to devote sufficient continuous time to mastering it, but I propose to do so within the next few days. When I have done that, I will be in a better position to determine whether such an investigation might be added to those now in hand.
– My question isdirected to the Minister for Supply. Now that it has been established that the export, of coal from Newcastle has been suspended until March, 1958, and in view of the fact that it is contended that the suspension of exports is due to lack of shipping berths, will the Minister have inquiries made as to the correctness of reports by the waterside unions that already some 250 coal berth days have been lost to loading this year at Newcastle because of the lack of proper shipping movement? In view of the importance to this country and to the coal industry of a re-established export coal market, will the Minister confer with the Minister for Shipping and Transport to see whether more ships can be made available for the movement of coal, and better coordination arranged between shipping owners and the coal loading authorities at Newcastle to eliminate waste time and effect the greater utilization of coal loading, machinery?
– Surely this question should be addressed to the Premier or the appropriate Minister in New South Wales. The matters referred to by the honorable member are primarily those of shortage of berthing and handling facilities in the port of Newcastle. That is a very real problem and is, I believe, the real cause of the difficulty of exporting coal, to which the honorable member refers. I invite him to direct his question to the Premier of New South Wales, because that is fundamentally a State responsibility. However, some aspects of the question may call for an answer by the Minister for National Development, whom 1 represent in this House. I will refer those matters to the Minister and let the honorable member have a reply.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Navy. I refer to the forthcoming visit of H.M.A.S. “ Melbourne “ to South Australia. The citizens and school children of the important town of Victor Harbour having expressed a wish to see this ship, will the Minister arrange for it to anchor close inshore at Victor Harbour for an hour or two on its way to or from Adelaide?
– The honorable member for Barker mentioned this matter to me briefly a few weeks ago in personal discussion. I assured him then that this proposal commended itself to me because I believe there is a good deal of virtue in displaying the flag, particularly to the younger generation. Of course, I had to ascertain whether the proposal was practicable. I can tell the honorable member that H.M.A.S. “Melbourne” will stay off Victor Harbour for a period on its return journey from Adelaide to Melbourne shortly. At the moment. I have not the details of the time of arrival and departure, the date, and the distance that the vessel will stand from the shore. That information will be available to me shortly, and I will supply it to the honorable member as soon as I receive it.
– I address to the Minister for Territories a question that is supplementary to the one asked earlier today by the honorable member for Stirling. Has the Minister recently approved an increase in the rates of customs duties, and in the number of dutiable goods, in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea? Does he know that duty has now to be paid on many of the Christmas gifts made by Australians to the missionaries who so largely provide the school and health services in the Territory, and does he know that this duty is more than these missionaries can afford to pay out of their salaries, and, in many cases, is more than the salaries that they receive? Has the Minister had brought to his notice the warning which was given by the Australian Board of Missions in this respect, and the editorial comments which have been made on the matter by some church publications? I ask the honorable gentleman whether he will consider exempting from the payment of duty on genuinely charitable goods the persons who staff mission schools and mission hospitals in the Territory.
– I think that the honor able member has confused two entirely separate issues. In the Budget now before the Legislative Council of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, there are some proposals for increased customs duties, mainly on luxury items. That is part of the response by the Territory Administration to a request to increase local revenues. But the increased customs duties now being considered by the Legislative Council have nothing whatever to do with the other issue raised by the honorable member regarding the importation into the Territory of, and the levying of customs duties on, goods imported on behalf of the Christian missions. That has been the subject of representations to successive governments over quite a long period of years. As in all customs administration schedules, the customs laws of the Territory provide for a certain degree of discretionary power, and for some exemptions from duty for certain articles. For example, a non-controversial item is certain raw materials introduced for the purposes of industry. Agricultural implements are another. The Christian missions have claimed that certain articles introduced as gifts for missionary purposes should be totally exempted from duty. The subject is surrounded by very many complications. It has been studied carefully and sympathetically over the years, but it has not been found possible to do everything that the missions have requested.
In passing, I suggest to the honorable member that, if he based his question on an article that appeared in a publication called the “ Anglican “, it may be as well for him to know that that article was singularly ill-informed and unconstructive.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Supply a question. Consequent upon the question about tinplate that was addressed to the Minister earlier, and his very comprehensive reply thereto, I ask him whether it is a fact that it has been announced recently, on behalf of either himself or one of his colleagues in the Ministry, that it is expected that the imports of tin to Australia will be increased by at least 1,000 tons a year to meet the present demand. Is it a fact, also, that, at the present time, approximately two-thirds of the tin that we use is imported? Is it further a fact that the tin-mining industry, particularly in the lower-grade and the older fields, has had a most difficult time, and that dredges have been shut down and staffs dispersed? In view of the emphasis rightly placed by the Minister on the value of tin to our canning and other industries, particularly in time of war, I ask him to consult his appropriate colleague, if the matter does not come immediately within his province, and to ascertain whether relief such as has been given to the gold-mining industry could be extended to the tin-mining industry to encourage development and the expansion of production, and to maintain the industry’s solvency.
– I do know that the Australian tin industry has been having difficulties. However, the importation of tin is a matter between the Minister for Trade and the Minister for National Development, who is responsible for the industry. Therefore, I cannot take my personal knowledge of it any further. I will bring the honorable gentleman’s question to the notice of those two Ministers, and will see that he receives a reply.
– by leave - The purpose of the brief statement that I propose to make now is limited to conveying to honorable members some broad figures that I think they all will be glad to have. I have read from time to time statements about an alleged extraordinary rise in Commonwealth employment in recent years. The most recent statement of this kind to be brought to my attention was contained in a leading article published in a Sydney morning newspaper this week. It was in these words -
When the Chifley Government ended, Commonwealth employees totalled 141,716. In 1955 the total was 151,898.
That was an increase of about 10,000. The relevant passage from the leading article concluded -
Now it is 212,200.
That statement was completely false. Indeed, in its implication - it was in fact rather more than an implication - that the number of Commonwealth employees had increased since 1955 by no less than 60,000 persons, it was, I should have thought, plainly fantastic, even to the person who wrote it.
In dealing with Commonwealth Government employment figures, it is important to know that some employees are employed under the Public Service Act, and that others, such as those employed by the Commonwealth Railways, the Commonwealth Bank, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, and Trans-Australia Airlines, are not under the Public Service Act.
I will first give the comparable figures for December, 1949, and July, 1957, leaving out the odd hundreds for the sake of clarity. I am not making any party point about this matter. This happens to be the period selected by the critics. In December, 1949, 154,000 persons were employed by the Commonwealth Government under the Public Service Act. In July, 1957, at the end of the last complete year, the figure had risen to 159,000. This was an increase of something under 5,000 over that long period, although the Australian population had risen by 1,500,000, or more than 18 per cent. Of course, the demands upon government also had grown. In December, 1949, Commonwealth employees not under the Public Service Act numbered 41,000. In July, 1957, the figure had risen to 53,000 - an increase of 12,000. The total of both categories was: December, 1949, 196,000; and July, 1957, 212,000. These figures indicate an overall increase, therefore, of 16,000 in all the categories that 1 have mentioned.
I now add some further comments. Employment by the Postmaster-General’s Department is substantially under the Public Service Act. But the Post Office is a vast business undertaking - the biggest in Australia - and its employment, just like that of any other huge enterprise, including, I suppose, newspapers, must be expected to grow with the increase of its turnover, the numbers of its customers and the extended variety of services it provides. No sensible person, therefore, would imagine that employment by the Post Office could have stood still during the last seven or eight years, to say nothing of the years preceding them, of very great development. This fact is reflected in the figures. Since December, 1949, employment under the Public Service Act in the Postmaster-General’s Department has risen from 69,000 to 83,000, an increase of 14,000. Over the same period, all other employment under the Public Service Act has fallen from 85,000 to 75,000, a reduction of 10,000. This reflects not only continuous government policy but also the efficient work of the Organization and Methods Section of the Public Service Board, a section that we propose to develop more and more as time goes on.
Somebody may properly point out that the main increase since December, 1949 - except in the case of the Post Office, in which an increase must obviously have been expected - has been in categories other than those under the Public Service Act. That is true. There are 12,000 more people employed by or under the Commonwealth outside the Public Service Act than there were in December, 1949. But in this category we include several special authorities, the very nature of whose operations has involved expansion and, therefore, greater employment. For example - and these are only examples - employment by the Commonwealth Bank, a developing business, has risen over that period by 2,300; by the Commonwealth Railways it has increased by 700, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization by 700, the Snowy Mountains Authority by 2,000, and Trans-Australia Airlines by 500. These five statutory authorities alone, therefore, account for more than 6,000, or more than half, of the total increase in this category during the last seven or eight years. I may add at this point that I know of no reason to suppose that the standards of capacity in management in any one of those authorities is inferior to the standards in outside business in Australia.
Because my main business has been to produce a few facts worth remembering, I am not to be taken as being content to leave the problem there. We are, indeed, constantly engaged in examining the problem, in consultation with the Public Service Board. We already have in hand a close examination of the functions performed by departments. A business consultant to the Public Service Board has been appointed. He has already spoken highly of the work done by the Organization and Methods Section, and I have agreed that this work should be pursued and extended.
There is one further aspect of the matter that is worth mentioning. Whenever certain writers cite figures relating to the “ civil service “, as they call it - in their view, Commonwealth bank clerks, workers employed by the Snowy Mountains Authority and ground engineering staffs of TransAustralia Airlines are all “ civil servants “ - they concentrate their fire on the Commonwealth Government. It may not, therefore, be amiss if I tell the House that since December, 1949, a period in which total Commonwealth Government employment in all the categories I have referred to increased from 196,000 to only 212,000, State and semi-government employment rose from 386,000 to 458,000, and local government employment from 62,000 to 72,000. If we exclude rural industries and private domestic servants, about each of which the statistical problems are considerable, we find that, of the total wage and salary earners in civil employment in Australia 7.6 per cent, are employed by or under the Commonwealth - and the percentage would be lower if rural workers and domestic servants were taken into account - 16.5 per cent, by State and semi-government authorities, and 2.6 per cent, by local government authorities. In the case of the Commonwealth, the percentage has actually fallen since December, 1949, while in the other categories it has increased.
Debate resumed from 1st October (vide page 894), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– In rising to speak on this measure I wish to say that the Opposition does not oppose the granting of any increases that may be included in this bill, but it is concerned about the inadequacy of those increases. When the Minister introduced the measure he said -
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.
We all understand those remarks, but When the Minister continued with his speech he did not deal so thoroughly with the needs of the people involved. His speech throughout was a political speech, designed to convince the general public that the Government was carrying out promises that it had made in the past, and that the provisions of the bill are adequate to fulfil those promises. From time to time honorable members on this side of the House have asserted that the Government is not living up to the promises that it made when it replaced the Chifley Government in 1949. I know that figures will be cited to try to convince the people that the Government is giving to pensioners as good, if not better, treatment than they were receiving in 1949, but I submit that the Government has not fulfilled its promise to restore value to the£1, and that the pensioners are consequently worse off than they were in 1949. I know that Government supporters will cite the C series index. Indeed, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) dealt with the C series index and tried to show that the Government had given as much as could be expected. I do not intend to go through the C series index, or the other figures cited by the Minister in his second-reading speech, but I do wish to deal with portion of the Minister’s remarks. The paragraph I just read from the Minister’s second-reading speech implies that this Government is introducing this bill to give adequate remunerations to those people receiving social services benefits. The Opposition contends that the bill will not have this effect. The Opposition has, for the last two years at least, endeavoured to impress upon the Government the necessity to give greater increases and greater benefits than it has given in the past. To emphasize our view on this occasion, I intend to move an amendment to the motion that the bill be read a second time. I move -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be re-drafted to provide, as from 1st July, 1957, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, par ticularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948.”.
That amendment, which indicates to the House what the Opposition believes should be done, will be seconded by the honorable member for Eden Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser).
I will not go over the history of pension payments, but I point out that in August, 1948, the federal basic wage for the six capital cities was £5 16s. When the Chifley Government fixed pensions in August, 1948.-
– It was about 1949.
– The honorable Minister says it was about 1949. I know there is always a way out of these things. I have been a member of the Labour party for many years, and I have always been intensely interested in social service benefits. I put propositions to Mr. Chifley when he was Prime Minister and Treasurer in relation to increased benefits.
– Did you say anything about this in the House?
– Yes, I can give the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) the reference in “ Hansard “. I cited examples of what would be done if my requests were acceded to. They were partly acceded to, but not wholly. I believe that the present Minister for Social Services and the Government are influenced to a great degree by figures supplied to them by the Department of Social Services, and other departments. When any proposal is made, the question of costs arises and departmental officers go into the matter and determine costs. The very fact that what I personally advocated to Mr. Chifley was not granted in full, does not get away from the fact that I thought these increases were necessary, and I intend to show to this House that the increases proposed in this bill are totally inadequate.
In 1949 an election was imminent. The Labour party is frequently accused of holding out baits to the people in an endeavour to induce them to vote for Labour. It is said that we get into office by making promises that we do not intend to fulfil. I recollect that when the matter of pensions was raised in connexion with the 1949
Budget the attitude of Mr. Chifley was “ We are not going to the people holding out a bait to them, or trying to buy their votes. Directly after the elections this Government will review pensions and increase them to what they should be “.
The figures I shall mention to-day have nothing to do with 1949. In 1948 the Chifley Government adjusted pensions in accordance with the basic wage. If pensions to-day bore the same relation to the basic wage as they did in 1948, they would be much higher. I will give the figures to honorable members to show what pensions would be to-day if this Government had honoured its promise to maintain or increase the value of pensions. In 1948, when the basic wage was £5 16s. the age and invalid pension was £2 2s. 6d. The unpegged basic wage to-day would be £13 5s. This Government has been quite happy for the Arbitration Court to peg the basic wage. The Government has made statements from time to time that quarterly adjustments would bring about another era of inflation. That is an admission that a continuance of quarterly adjustments would have meant a higher basic wage to-day. As I have said, the basic wage to-day would be £13 5s., but in fact it is £12 16s. If the pension to-day bore the same relation to the basic wage as it bore when the basic wage was £5 16s., it would be £4 17s. Id., or, to the nearest threepence, £4 17s. This Government is increasing the pension by 7s. 6d., making it £4 7s. 6d., which means that the pensioners are losing 9s. 6d. a week in round figures compared with the value of their pension in 1948. The Opposition contends that this bill should make provision for what the people were promised by this Government when Labour was defeated in 1949. We say that should be done. That is why we are moving to have the bill redrafted to include that provision. When we look at the other figures, we find that, in some cases, the average is closer than I have mentioned, whilst in others it is less. A class A widow, in 1948 was receiving £2 7s. 6d., but under this bill she will receive £4 .1 2s. 6d.. which represents a loss in value of 15s; and a class B widow, that is, a widow without children, instead of receiving £4 5s. 8d., will receive £3 15s., which represents a loss in value of 10s. 8d.
Child endowment is a matter in respect of which this Government has failed entirely. The endowment provided by the Chifley Government was 10s. a week for each child after the first. If we take into account the increase in wages, the increased rate of taxation and also the present basic wage and compare them with the rates in 1948, we find that the 10s. a week child endowment was being paid when the basic wage was £5 6s., for each child after the first, and that such a rate on present figures does not meet the position to-day at all.
– The Chifley Government did not provide endowment for the first child.
– I admit that, subsequently, 5s. a week was allowed for the first child, but 1 ask the Minister how much value is that to the family that is most in need of child endowment? Does he suggest that the family with one child only is most in need of assistance? I think he will admit that the family with several children is the one that should bc given the extra assistance.
If the figures were brought up to date in accordance with the comparison I have given, endowment for the first child would be 5s., and that, of course, would be a gain on the arrangement when no allowance was made for the first child. But let us consider what would happen when a second child was added to the family. Under the present arrangement, such a family would receive 15s. a week in child endowment; but, allowing for the value of money in 1948 compared with that in 1957 and the rise in wages during that period, that family should be receiving £1 2s. lOd. a week instead of 1 5s. That means that the present provision is 7s. lOd. a week less on a value basis. A family unit with three children, again allowing 5s. for the first child, should be receiving £2 5s. 8d. a week instead of the £1 5s. now being paid; that is £1 a week more.
I know very well that it will take money to bring these payments up to a proper level. I agree with the Minister for Social Services that if we are to give these increases we will have to collect more from the people. 1 have no illusions about that, but honorable members on this side believe that the requisite additional money could easily be collected. I shall digress a moment to remind the Government of what Labour did by way of the National Welfare Fund.
– The honorable member must have a long memory.
– It is necessary to have a long memory. I do not know whether the Minister for Defence, who has been interjecting, has said so, but most members on the Government side have told the people that the only government ever to reduce pensions was the Labour government. They have made that statement time and again. I was very pleased to read in the Minister’s second-reading speech on Tuesday last, when he was referring to the allegation which Government supporters throw up from time to time that a Labour government reduced the pension, that it was away back in 1931 when the Scullin Government reduced pensions from £1 to 17s. 6d. The Minister, when dealing with the question of giving extra to those who have no income other than the pension and the difficulties of implementing such an increase, said -
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.
Six times 2s. 6d. is 15s. The Scullin Government reduced it, not willingly. The Minister for Defence may laugh, but he knows who went to the bar of the Senate to make a statement about making a fiduciary loan available at that time. He knows very well that Sir Otto Niemeyer, and those who came out here with him, said to Mr. Scullin, “ You have either to reduce your social service payments or stew in your own juice “. Those are not my words, but theirs. Mr. Scullin, at the risk of causing divisions in the Labour party and even smashing it, was forced by the banks, which controlled money at that time, to take drastic action. A statement was issued from Sir Otto Niemeyer that if the Government would reduce social service payments as well as interest rates the banks would make money available to carry on, but otherwise those organizations which had control of the purse-strings would cut off supplies of revenue and the Government would not be able to pay even a pension at the rate of 17s. 6d. a week. The banks and those in control of finance forced the Labour government to make that reduction.
I ask the Minister for Defence: What made the Lyons Government reduce the pension to 15s. a week? We hear Government supporters talking about abolishing the means test, and the Minister gibes me about having a long memory. I can remember that the pension in the days of the Labour government was 17s. 6d., not 15s., but under the Lyons Government if a pensioner earned any income up to 2s. 6d. a week that amount would be deducted from his pension payment of 17s. 6d. a week. 1 remember an old couple, the husband being a retired blacksmith who was making a few wheat hooks and earning 7s. or 8s. a week by selling them. Because he got those few shillings his pension and that of his wife were reduced by 2s. 6d. a week. The Minister for Social Services referred to the fact that the reduction of pensions in such circumstances was abandoned after a tenmonths trial. I know why it was abandoned; it was not because of the difficulty of implementing it, but because supporters of the Government objected to reducing the 17s. 6d. a week pension by anything up to 2s. 6d. a week earned by the pensioner. Le me give another illustration of that Administration’s sympathy for the pensioners. A man came to me and said, “ They have reduced my pension by 6d. a week. I have no income at all. All I have is £50 in the savings bank “. When 1 made inquiries I found that the £50 in the savings bank yielded him about 26s. a year interest, which was 6d. a week. On account of that fact his pension was reduced from 17s. 6d. to 17s. a week. That was because he had the allowable £50 in his bank account. Honorable members opposite know what was done at that time. They have spoken about the Labour government hitting pensioners. What did honorable members opposite do to people with property? They made them sign a form agreeing that when they died the amount of pension that they had drawn would be deductible from the value of their property. When pensioners came to me about that I said, “ Don’t worry too much about it. It will not last long. Even Government supporters will see the iniquity of this, and the dreadfulness of it, and they will knock it out “.
I was at a Liberal meeting during a State parliamentary election campaign at a time when there was no widows’ pension. The Labour party wanted to introduce widows’ pensions. The Liberal speaker at the meeting that I attended said, “ Look at what the
Labour party is doing. Look at the money that it has wasted on old-age pensions, and now they want to waste more money on widows’ pensions.” That was said by the Liberal candidate in a public hall. I was only a young man at the time. I interjected, “ Did you say ‘ waste ‘? “ He said “ Waste! What do you mean? “ I said, “ Did you say that the Labour party wants to waste money by giving pensions to widows and orphans? “ He said, “ Yes “. I said, “ Thank you “, with all the sarcasm that I could put into the words, and he did not speak very much longer.
An honorable member opposite mentioned long memories. In this movement we know very well who has raised pensions. I know that the Government has introduced measures of which it can be proud. It brought in medical benefits for pensioners. It made life-saving drugs available to pensioners, and I know what that means to them. But I say that honorable members opposite are only moving on, as all countries that have any social service or welfare legislation have moved on. The Government does not stand out above everybody else. It has simply followed a trend which, in all countries, has been led by those whom the Minister for Social Services described as socialists. From the way in which the Minister kept using the word “ socialist “ in his speech, on would think that socialism was some great evil.
When the Government tells us that it has provided more than £200,000,000 for expenditure on social services benefits in this financial year what does that mean? If that is not socialism, what is socialism? I have always been proud to be a socialist. Honorable members opposite are very glad when they can get anything in the form of socialism to help them. Every time that Australian Country party members get a subsidy on their produce, or something else to help them along, they forget that that is socialism. They just think of it as something that the Government or big business is prepared to do for them. But when such a measure does not assist them they regard it as socialism.
If the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) should be inclined to gibe at what I -am putting forward, let me tell him that the reason that Opposition members and t present this point of view is that we live so close to the people who are most affected by this kind of legislation. I do not say that honorable members opposite do not meet these people, but they do not live as close to them as we do. I admit that we do not live as close as they live to the big businessinterests and big financial interests.
Let me speak now on what the Government is doing for pensioners. I do not know whether members of the Government aregood mathematicians, or whether they forget their mathematics when it suits them to do so. The Minister for Social Services, in the course of his speech, referred to the fact that Liberal members, as well as Labour and Australian Country party members, had presented petitions to the House praying that pensions should be increased to half the basic wage. He said that those petitions were ill-considered. The Government, in. the past, has received deputations from primary producers’ organizations and others, who wished to have certain things done for them. The Government has said that it: could not do those things, but it has not suggested that the representations were illconsidered. Let us read what the Minister said concerning the petitions that were presented in regard to pensions. He said -
I must deplore the ill-considered petitions whichare presented to this Parliament from time to time requesting social service payments equal to half the basic wage.
If the Minister was a widower living on his own and receiving half the basic wage which, on the figures that I have used to-day would be £6 8s. a week, and if he could rent a room and pay for his light and food and clothing, he would be mighty clever. Admittedly, a husband and wife living together may be better off. The Minister went on to state -
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-
I do not know whether the Government is considering that - 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.
Let us regard the basic wage as being £12 16s. a week. In the same speech, the Minister said that a married man in receipt of £7 a week in superannuation would be- able to get £8 15s. a week pension for himself and his wife, which would represent an income of £15 15s. a week for a married couple. On the one hand, the Minister said that it would be unfair to other people to provide a married couple with a combined income exceeding the basic wage; on the other hand, he has gloried in the fact that, with permissible income, married pensioners will be able to receive £16 15s. a week in pension and other income combined. Where is the consistency in that argument? I am not saying that they should not get the £16 15s. What I am concerned about is the kind of argument that is put up in this place in an attempt to decry these people. After all, I suppose that at least 70 per cent, of them have nothing but their pension, and it is absurd to speak about the large amounts that they might be getting if the pensions were increased to half the basic wage.
I also intend to move other amendments. We take the attitude that the Government has introduced a bill which does not conform with our ideas on the subject, or with the arguments we advanced in this connexion last year. It may be said by honorable members opposite that because those arguments were bad, they do not agree with them. They are entitled to their opinion, as we are entitled to ours. We have put forward these arguments and nothing has been done about them, so we propose that the bill should be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide that the increase of pension rates will be the utmost that can be given having regard to the economy of the country.
When I spoke in this House recently, during a debate on social service payments, including age pensions, I said that I did not want to argue that the pension should be either 37 per cent, or any other percentage of the basic wage; what I wanted was that the country should pay to the people who are in need as much as it could afford to pay. I pointed out at that time that when an approach was made to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court for an increase of the basic wage, the court decided, not on the basis of need, to grant an increase of 10s. a week to all workers because it thought that the national economy was capable of bearing such an increase. My argument that this bill should be redrafted with a view to providing that the increase should be the greatest amount that the economy can stand is based on the principle adopted by the court in connexion with the increase of the basic wage. If the Government is not prepared to withdraw the bill and re-draft it I shall move further amendments at the committee stage.
I turn now to another aspect in relation to which I cannot understand the attitude of the Government, unless its attitude means (hat it does not wish to continue progressive abolition of the means test or amelioration of it. As the act stands at present, for a person to be entitled to an age pension he must not have capital of more than £1,750, if he is a single man, or twice that amount in the case of a married couple. Two hundred pounds of that £1,750 is exempt in calculating reduction of the amount of pension by £1 for every £10 worth of capital by which the capital exceeds £200, reducing the figure to £1,550. Therefore, if say, the Minister had exactly £1,750 in the bank and applied for the age pension, the maximum amount of pension - £208 - would be reduced by £155, so that he would be entitled to a pension of £53 a year, provided, of course, that he did not have other income of more than £2 a week. But if he had capital of £1,751 - only £1 more than the £1,750 - he would get no pension at all. That is an anomaly that has been brought about by the last amendment of this provision. In earlier years, the margin at the point at which the pension ceased to be paid was only roughly 5s. a week. With the proposed pension increase of 7s. 6d. a week, the £53 a . year to which I have referred will rise by £19 10s. a year, bringing it up to £72 10s.
I propose therefore to move that the figure of £1,750 be struck out altogether and that elimination from entitlement to pension be based only on reduction of the amount of pension by £1 for every £10 worth of property.
– This is a third amendment, is it?
– It is not an amendment yet. It will be moved at the committee stage. The amendments are being printed and I shall let the Minister have them before we reach the committee stage.
– That really means the abolition of the property means test, does it?
– No. At present, the act provides that the pension shall be reduced by £1 for every £10 worth ot capital in excess of £200, up to £1,750. If an applicant has property worth more than £1,750 he cannot get a pension.
This is not something new. I put forward this proposal years ago. Its adoption as I have said would mean that elimination from entitlement to pension would be based only on reduction by £1 for every £10 worth of property. Let me illustrate what I mean. I have said that an applicant who had property apart from a home valued at £1,750 would be entitled to a pension of £72 10s. a year. If my proposal were adopted, the calculation would continue until the sum of £2,475 was reached. At that stage entitlement to a pension would cease. I think that that is a fairer method than debarring a person from pension because he has property worth a few pounds more than £1,750. I believe that my suggestion is both equitable and just.
The Opposition considers also that increases of pension rates should date back to 1st July, and that proposal is embodied in my amendment.
– The honorable member did not support such a proposal when Labour was in office.
– I cannot say what was done then, but I think that I am pretty safe in saying that whatever the present Minister for Social Services decides to do, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) will support. If the amendment were accepted it would mean that the increase of 7s. 6d. a week would be retrospective by approximately fourteen weeks, which would be a godsend to a lot of pensioners. I believe that the other members of the community would raise no objection to that being done. In fact, frequently in conversation members of the public say that if the salaries of judges and other people on high incomes can be made retrospective, and if the courts can date awards back, surely this principle also should be adopted in respect of increases of pensions. I do not think that the Government would have any kick coming to it if it made the increases retrospective. Indeed, I think that it would receive commendation from the people outside this place for doing so.
There are one or two provisions for the inclusion of which either I or one of my colleagues will move at the committee stage. One seeks to abolish the existing maximum property limit of £1,750 and, instead, to provide for the reduction of pension by £1 a year for every £10 worth of property. An amendment will be moved providing for a minimum pension of 5s. a week, whereas under the Government’s present proposal the minimum pension could be only ls. a week. We say that any person who is entitled to a pension should receive a pension of 5s. a week as the barest minimum. I admit that the person who has some property or income rather than the person right down at the bottom will benefit from our proposal; but we seek to set a minimum pension regardless of income or value of property.
Another point we are very concerned with is the allowance paid to the wives of invalid pensioners, which is 35s. a week. We, on this side of the House, cannot understand, and I personally am amazed, why nothing has been done for these people. Sickness benefit is being increased, and we say that every penny of it is deserved; but when it comes to the wife of an invalid pensioner who has to look after her husband, she is to receive only 35s. a week. There has been no increase in this allowance since 1952. A man came to me recently and asked, “ Can’t you do something about the pension. I am about 45, and I am on an invalid pension. 1 get £4 a week and my wife gets £1 15s. a week, making a total of £5 15s. a week. Can’t we get something extra? “ The allowance provided for the dependent wife of a sickness beneficiary under the Labour government was £1 a week, which is now to be increased to £2 7s. 6d. a week. This represents a gain. If the increase of the allowance to the wife of a sickness beneficiary to £2 7s. 6d. a week is justified when the man may be on benefit only for a few weeks or two or three months, is it not essential that the wife of an invalid pensioner should have her allowance increased from £1 15s. a week? I intend to move at the committee stage to have the allowance increased from £1 15s. to £2 15s.. which would give it the same value as it had when it was £1 4s. in relation to a pension of £2 2s. 6d. during the Labour government’s regime. My proposal would simply bring the allowance to the same value it had under the Chifley Government.
I am not here just to have a smack at the Government on this matter. I am concerned about the people who are not getting the treatment they should receive. In conclusion, I do not think that the age and invalid pension rate of £4 7s. 6d. a week proposed by the Government is all that we can afford now.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired. Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment, and reserve until later my right to speak.
– It is very pleasing to see the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) once again participating in a debate on social services, because in other years I have always listened with interest to what he has had to say on the subject, since, in common with many of us, he shares the desire to deal with social services not only with logic but also with sincerity and sympathy. In the past we have co-operated on many occasions, and I am glad to see him here again after his illness.
I am not prepared to engage the honorable gentleman who led for the Opposition in a debate of the knock-em down and tear-em apart type about who has done best in regard to social services. I am not prepared to engage in tactics of criticizing what has been done in the past or engage too much in personalities. I think that social services are so important that, in truth, they could well be divorced from politics. We should look at these problems in terms of individuals and decency, and of all of us attempting to do our best for those who we think are in need. Now, what are we debating at this moment? The first problem we are debating is the question of an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the rate of age, invalid and widows’ pensions. The second thing we are debating is the increase in unemployment and sickness benefits; and the third is the change in the income means test applying to recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits. The Opposition has moved or forecast amendments to four or five of the Government’s proposals. I think I need touch on only two of them. The first concerns the question of whether or not the pension should be increased to what might be regarded as the Chifley percentage of the basic wage, or, as the Opposition calls it, the unpegged basic wage. The second concerns the question of whether or not there should be retro-activity in the application of the increases. The other three matters I shall leave my colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to answer, because they will demand examination on an actuarial basis. They will demand also that we look at many other factors besides those raised in the House to-day. I refer particularly to the Opposition’s proposal to raise the property limit from £1,750 to £2,475 and the proposal to increase the allowance of the wife of an invalid pensioner to £2 15s. a week. Both of these problems must be dealt with by my colleague.
I think we have to look at the problem of social services in terms of perspective. What are we, in fact, trying to do? It is no good coming into this House and saying, “ Let us make the pensions half of something, or a certain percentage of the basic wage or some other amount “. First of all, we have to establish what our objectives are in terms of all social services. What do we believe, in our hearts and souls, should be done - not according to a mathematical formula but something on a personal basis, consistent with the ideal that we, as members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, have cherished for a long time? Since the Government has been in office it has proceeded on the simple basis that pensions and benefits should be adequate to meet the needs of the recipients. Therefore, the first problem we have to consider is needs. We are looking at a problem of needs in reference to pensions which must be assessed in terms of food, clothing, housing and medical attention. The Government is providing a needs pension based on these particular requirements. Secondly, we have to think of the necessity to encourage thrift and savings, because it is out of thrift and savings that investment can subsequently take place to help in the development of this country. This is an important fact that was highlighted by the Minister for Social Services not only on this occasion but also on previous occasions when social services measures have been before the House. Finally, we must think of the problem of financing pensions and what that means in terms of taxation. Increased taxation, of course, would be a disincentive to that section of the community on which pensions depend - the producing section, which is responsible for the future of this country. Therefore, we should be debating not so much mathematical formulae as the adequacy of a pension based upon needs, and the various needs that I have mentioned.
When thinking of our social services scheme, I think it is right to do as my colleague the Minister has done; that is, to remember that other benefits have also to be considered. We have the national health scheme, and, as part of that scheme, the majority of pensioners are entitled to pensioner medical benefits of a general practitioner kind. Then we have the Aged Persons Homes Act, as a consequence of which increasing numbers of pensioners are being housed by charitable and church organizations. The Minister pointed out that 192 grants have been made, that £2,200,000 has been approved as grants and that 3,590 elderly people will be accommodated. This is a continuing measure and one for which we have great hope in the future. In time, one section of the community will be covered in a satisfactory way, and that is by the provision of homes. As one who has watched the Minister as he has administered this act and observed the great pleasure with which he has seen the amount of Commonwealth benefits increased, I was glad to hear him announce in this House that Commonwealth grants will henceforth be not on the basis of £1 for each £1 collected by charitable organizations but on the basis of £2 contributed by the Government for each £1 collected by the church or charity. In addition, my colleague the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) has inaugurated a home nursing service for pensioners. We should consider this matter in its proper perspective and view it not as a single item of pension but as one of a number of benefits such as free medical attention, housing and a home nursing service for elderly people.
Before coming to the arguments of the Opposition, I shall refer to what my colleague, the Minister for Social Services, has so frequently mentioned, and that is the need to recognize that the Government must form its social services policy against a broad national background. That background is the need to ensure that the country will progress and that we shall not place a brake upon our progress and development by excessive taxation. As I have said, it is only out of the material resources of the country and the expansion of those material resources that we can pay pensions and, what is much more important, that we can increase those pensions in the future.
It is against that background that I want to put the arguments in opposition to the propositions of the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). The honorable gentleman referred to what he called an inconsistency in the argument of my colleague. The honorable gentleman said that the inconsistency arose because the Minister had argued that a formula based on half the basic wage could not be accepted, but later had said that married couples could receive the pension and the benefits of certain means tests, and therefore could have an income of £16 15s. a week. Quite frankly, I do not follow the honorable gentleman’s argument. We are thinking about two different ideas: one is to base the pension on needs, and the other is not to discourage thrift and savings, but, on the contrary, to give some incentive to them. I see no inconsistency in the Minister for Social Services referring with pride to the fact that married couples, under the means test, can have £15 15s. a week between them; but 1 do see great cause for satisfaction on the part of my colleague.
I now come to the main argument put by the Opposition. I think it can be stated in this way: The Opposition would like the pension, as they call it, restored to the same percentage of the basic wage as prevailed when the Chifley Government was in office. I think that puts the argument fairly. Opposition members use the term “ unpegged basic wage “, and I have had some doubt as to what that term means. The simple fact is that, so far as the Commonwealth Government is concerned, there is only one basic wage, and that is the basic wage fixed by the Arbitration Court. That basic wage is £12 16s. a week. If Opposition members care to go to the other extreme and urge that it should be £13 5s. a week, I point out that that £13 5s. a week is a purely fictitious amount. The present basic wage contains two loadings of 10s. a week, which probably would not be incorporated in the basic wage if it were unpegged.
Therefore, we are playing with words; it is the mystical conception when we talk not about the basic wage but about the unpegged basic wage.
I come to the argument itself, and here I thank the Minister for Social Services for giving me the facts of this case. Let us apply the argument of the Australian Labour party. Let us give pensioners half the basic wage. What would it mean? The original Harvester basic wage was based upon what might be called the needs of a family unit of three. It was sufficient for a unit of three, and probably only a little less than was needed for a unit of four. The basic wage has changed; that is perfectly true. Let us consider the pension. The pension relates not to a unit of three or four, but to a unit of one. Therefore, a married couple would get at least the basic wage - a basic wage which, in its initial concept, was intended to cover not one or two persons but a family group. In terms of logic, therefore, that concept could not be applied to determining what the pension should be. 1 shall leave that argument for the moment, and shall deal with the actual figures. Again, I am indebted to my colleague for giving me the facts. He has pointed out to me that, if the percentage of the pension to the basic wage when the Chifley Government was in office were calculated, it would be found to be 33 per cent. On the other hand, the new rate will be more than 34 per cent, of the present basic wage of £12 16s. I should like to repeat those figures, because they are interesting. In 1949, the pension rate was 33 per cent, of the basic wage of £6 9s. a week, and the new rate will be more than 34 per cent, of the present basic wage, not of £6 9s. a week, but of £12 16s. a week. Therefore, I think that, in terms not only of logic, but also based on their own argument, we can take it as being accepted by men of common sense that the arguments of the Opposition are not valid criticism of the needs basis adopted by the Minister and the Government for deciding on the rate of pension, taking into consideration the fact that we must give incentives to those sections of the community that are producing and saving, and the various other demands made upon the economy as a whole.
The second point raised by the honorable member for Port Adelaide relates to the very important question of retrospectivity. We have heard that matter raised for many years. I have heard it brought up every year since I became a member of this House. It was certainly put up to me in each of the three years during which I was Minister for Social Services. This argument may be answered by reference to the actions of the Labour government. So far as I am aware, the Labour government did not make any of its social services legislation retrospective. Retrospectivity is avoided for very good reasons. The first is that, if the principle of retrospectivity were introduced in one field of legislation, there would be no telling where it would stop. There would be a clamour for retrospectivity in many fields and people would never be able to tell what were their liabilities or their rights from moment to moment. I personally think that it is a sound principle, not only of jurisprudence, but also of constitutional law, that the people should always know what are their rights from a given date, and that the government should not, as a matter of practice, make rights or liabilities retrospective.
A second reason for avoiding retrospectivity is that it presents very great difficulties in administration. It would be extremely difficult for the Department of Social Services to go back prior to the date on which this measure came into force to apply the benefits granted under it. Although I do not regard that as an insuperable barrier on its own, I think that it is a difficult hurdle to jump. Taking that fact in conjunction with the constitutional position, I think that retrospectivity should not be introduced. For those reasons, I think that the increased pensions should come into force on the next pay-day after the day on which the measure becomes law. In practice, that principle has been agreed to by the Australian Labour party, and it has been followed by this Government throughout its term of office. I think that this statement of the position has effectively dealt with the Opposition’s arguments.
I was much impressed by the observations of the honorable member for Port Adelaide about abolishing the capital limit of £1,750 and retaining only the provision for reduction of the annual rate of pension by £1 for every £10 by which the pensioner’s capital exceeds £200. I had not heard the honorable gentleman put that argument before, and I did not know that he had mentioned it in this House.
What is the Government’s record in relation to pensions? With respect to the application of the Chifley formula in relation to the basic wage, the Government’s attitude is clear: We do not believe in formulas. We do not think that these human problems can be satisfactorily solved by applying mathematical formulas. We think that the problem should be dealt with on the basis of needs. Despite the fact that increased pensions were needed in 1949, when the economy was subject to inflationary tendencies, the Labour Government shirked its responsibility and gave the pensioners nothing. I do not want to be drawn into an argument about what this Government’s predecessors in office did. However, let us deal with interjections as they are made, and on the basis of fact rather than as matters of politics.
May I now turn to another matter - the purchasing power of the pension. I have already mentioned the necessity to base the pension upon the needs of the pensioners, and the satisfactory attempt that the Government has made to meet those needs. Again, as to purchasing power, I have the benefit of information that has been given to me by the Minister for Social Services, who has pointed out that the purchasing power of the pension, as it will be when the increase of 7s. 6d. a week has been added, will be Ils. a week more than in 1949. So it is of no use for Opposition members to argue that this Government has not honoured its promise to keep up the value of the pension, and even to increase it. Under a Labour government, the pension would now be £3 16s. 7d. a week and not £4 7s. 6d. a week, as it will be when this measure becomes law. In addition, we must take into consideration the other benefits granted by the Menzies Government in the form of medical benefits, and assistance for the provision of homes and nursing services.
T join with the Minister and the Government in asserting that we always look at these problems sympathetically. Many of us on the Government side of the House have now had fairly wide experience in social services work. I personally spent three years as Minister for Social Services. My colleague, the present Minister, has now introduced two measures such as this, and others of my ministerial colleagues also have had experience in the administration of the Department of Social Services. I am convinced, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that the Government always views social services problems, not only with sympathy, but also with a real intention to do better as the years go by. We are always happy to do something more positive, if we can, in contributing to the effectiveness of our social services legislation.
I should like to emphasize two other aspects of this problem. The first is that, in debates of this kind, we are frequently a little too apt to forget, not only that benefits other than pensions are granted by the Commonwealth, but also that we must think in terms of the efforts made by the State governments, and of encouraging charitable and voluntary organizations to make their contribution to social services work. I think that it would be a pity if we discouraged voluntary organizations by making them feel that a benevolent government would provide. I know the feelings of the Minister in this matter, and I can assure the House that he has a real desire to inspire charitable and voluntary organizations to help. The Aged Persons Homes Act is a perfect example of the operation of the principle of encouraging such organizations, in which individuals of good heart, in a highminded spirit, give their services for the benefit of their fellow men. I am hopeful that the Government can continue that process of encouragement, and induce voluntary bodies to make a greater contribution to social welfare in the future.
In relation to the work of the State governments, I think that, in some fields, they can do more than the Commonwealth. In New South Wales in particular, the Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare has provided means by which it can meet the day-to-day needs of individuals for requirements such as temporary shelter, blankets, and clothing. I am hopeful that they can improve on these efforts, and, what is much more important, that the marginal efforts by which the State governments can play an increasingly important part in the promotion of social welfare will continue and develop.
I conclude on a note that has been emphasized so frequently by the Minister: We must remember, when we are dealing with social services, to deal with them as sympathetically as possible, but, nonetheless, we should keep two things in mind. The first is the real need to produce, and to expand our economy. Therefore, we must be always looking for ways of giving incentives to the producing section of the community. lt is true that social services represent a deduction from national production, and from the resources available to be ploughed back for our benefit in the future. Therefore, when we are deciding upon incentives, we must always maintain the most careful balance between the demands of other sectors of the economy, on the one hand, and the needs of those dependent on social services, on the other.
Lastly, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I was very pleased to hear the Minister mention the needs of people in special circumstances. I cannot remember the exact words, but I think the phrase he used was “ people with limited resources “. He mentioned the difficulties associated with considering the problems of people with limited resources. Nonetheless, he did give the assurance that the problems were being considered, and I am very glad to know that they are. I am glad to know, also, that in this House to-day is the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth), who has taken a leading part in considering this problem of needs and in asking the question: If a pension is based upon needs, what extra should we do and what avenues should we explore in order to see that a person in special circumstances is adequately looked after? I mention but two classes of people in such special circumstances, the single individual and the person who does not possess his own home. I am glad to know that the problems of these two classes of people are being looked at, because I. believe the avenues most worthy of exploration are those that are based on sympathy and need.
I understand the difficulties of my colleague, particularly in relation to administration, but I was glad to receive his assurances. As one who has not only taken a fairly prominent part in the formulation of social service policy but who also administered the act for some time, I believe that the Government is living up to its policy, and I applaud the Government’s endeavours to satisfy the urgent needs of the section of the community that requires social service assistance. I hope that the Government will be given at least another three or six years in which to carry out its policy. If it is, I venture to suggest that by the end of that time most of our social service problems will have disappeared.
– The kind reference which the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) made to me is very much appreciated. In the years when he was Minister for Social Services I had constant evidence of his fairness and sympathy in the administration of that department, despite the very bad policy that he was compelled to carry out. In return for the Minister’s kindly reference to me I can perform an equal act of kindness by proceeding immediately to correct some of the more serious of the misstatements that he made in the speech that he has just concluded. Doubtless, he would not like false impressions to be given to the community, and it will be my endeavour, when the debate is resumed, to set out the position clearly.
Sitting suspended from 12.43 to 2.15 p.m.
– This morning the Minister for Primary Industry made a very thoughtful and constructive contribution to this debate. In it he enunciated a series of propositions that were extremely interesting to me and which I think are worthy of further consideration. The Minister said that he felt that the arena of social services should be well nigh divorced from politics. That is an aspiration with which all honorable members will feel sympathy. I would like to see the day in this country when there is such common agreement on the need to provide for those who are unable to provide for themselves that the issue will be removed entirely from the political arena. At the same time I would remind the Minister that the word “ politics “, although it has come to be used in a somewhat debased sense, represents a very noble thing and a very noble art There is nothing shameful in a matter being political.
Further on this point, the whole history of social services in this country and in the
United Kingdom shows that they would never have been brought to anything like their present level had it not been for persistent and continued political agitation. One need only look back over the history of the march of social progress in Australia to see that every step was most bitterly resisted and condemned by the forerunners of the honorable gentlemen who now occupy the Government benches.
– Including Lord Shaftesbury?
– That is quite untrue.
– There have been two interjections. The Minister for Social Services says that my statement is quite untrue. I do not know how we are to settle this.
– I will settle it.
– The Minister says that he will settle it. I refer him to the debates that took place in this Parliament when it was proposed to establish the age and invalid pension system in Australia. I refer to press statements made by leaders of the non-Labour parties at the time when child endowment was first proposed to be introduced in New South Wales. I refer the Minister to every proposed advance in social services in this country and he will find that the same thing applies. Those advances were achieved by tremendous and persistent political agitation and effort. They were bitterly resisted by the non-Labour parties until such time as the community insisted upon them. When this happened the non-Labour parties changed their attitude. Since then they have been reluctantly forced to accept what has been achieved, but they have never progressed any further.
The Minister for Primary Industry said that the adjustment of social service rates should not be on a mathematical calculation of a percentage of the basic wage. I could not agree more heartily with him and that would also be the view of every honorable member on this side of the House. Opposition members wish to see these rates fixed in accordance with the needs of the people and having regard to the capacity of the national economy to provide for those needs. That being so, why do we consistently refer n these debates to percentages of the basic wage? The reason, I suggest, is perfectly ;lear. This Government was elected on a specific pledge to maintain and indeed to increase the true value of all social service payments. That was a pledge to which every Government supporter was a party. It has never been repudiated in words, although it has been repudiated in actions. Therefore the Opposition is perfectly justified in constantly impressing upon the Government the falling and fallen value of the purchasing power of pensions, reminding it of its pledge and seeking, by amendment, as we do year after year, to require it at least to live up to the terms of that pledge.
The Minister proceeded to say that all social service rates should be fixed on a basis of needs. I ask the Minister how he can reconcile that statement with the Government’s complete failure to adjust the rates of child endowment. It was the proud boast of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) when he moved the second reading of this bill that in every year but one in which the Government had been in office it had made some adjustment in the rates of age and invalid pensions. Obviously this was because the falling value of money required that an adjustment be made. Yet no adjustment whatever has been made by this Government since it took office to the rates of child endowment which existed at the time the Government took office.
– The Minister now says that the Government has made an adjustment of the rates of child endowment that existed at the time it took office.
– This Government introduced child endowment for the first child.
– That was not an adjustment of the rates of child endowment that existed at the time the Government took office. The Minister should not try to get out of it in that shabby way. Let him at least adhere to the high example set by the Minister for Primary Industry when he spoke this morning.
When this Government took office in 1949 endowment for the second child was 10s. It is still 10s., although in accordance with the present purchasing power of money it should be £1 3s. For a family of three children the rate to-day should be £2 5s. 8d. For four children the rate should be £3 8s. 6d. For five children the figure should be £4 lis. 4d. Even taking into account the 5s. granted for the first child in 1950, which has never been altered despite continuing inflation, the actual loss of purchasing power to a family with two children is 7s. lOd. a week. In the case of a family with three children it is £1 0s. 8d. j& week. With four children it is £1 13s. 6d. and with five children it is £2 6s. 4d. The larger the family, the greater the loss. The value of the widows’ pension has also been reduced by inflation and the plight of the widow with a dependent family becomes desperate indeed. The widows’ pension to-day should be £5 8s. 6d. to accord with the value of the pension as adjusted by the Chifley Government in 1948. Instead it is £4 12s. 6d., a loss of 16s. The only comment in justification which the Minister could make would be that the Government is now providing 10s. a week for every -child after the first. But that is a sop. It does not meet the position. It by no means meets the extent of the loss of purchasing power to the young and struggling family in the community.
It is significant that the other major social -service that this Government has completely failed to adjust during its whole term of office is the maternity allowance. The first grade maternity allowance was £15 when this Government came to office and it is still £15. Owing to the altered value of money to-day that allowance should be £34 5s. The Government is spending “huge sums on the immigration programme. It is spending a great deal, and properly so, on pensions for the aged and the invalid, but I charge this Government that it is abandoning social service assistance to the family. That charge cannot be denied. lt has abandoned the maternity allowance. It simply allows the old and outdated rate to continue. It has completely abandoned child endowment, because it has made no adjustment to the rates for the second and -subsequent children, ever since it came into office. It has not even adjusted its -own rate of 5s., made for the first child, in 1950. Not one member on the Government side would dare to get up and say that he does not believe in child endowment and that he believes it ought to be abolished. If there is such an honorable member on the Government side, I would like to hear him say it, because he would be an honest man. But every member on the Government side, who allows child ^endowment rates to be more than halved, as they have been over the last eight years, and remains silent, while still professing to believe in child endowment, strikes me as being in a very equivocal position indeed.
The Minister went on to say that the rates of social service payments should be based on a recognition of the need in this nation to encourage thrift and effort. Again, no honorable member in this House would disagree with that sentiment. However, it is not the expression of the sentiment but the action taken to give effect to it that counts. If that is the view of Government members, why has no move whatever been made in this Budget to ease the burden of the means test? In fact, the means test is exactly a penalty on thrift and effort. I can remember first the present Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) and then the present Minister for Primary Production (Mr. McMahon), in their respective terms as Minister for Social Services, assuring this House that the Government believed in the abolition of the means test and would press steadily towards that goal. Indeed, before this Government was elected in 1949, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a promise on its behalf that he would produce a plan by 1952 for the complete abolition of the means test. Yet, we have Government supporters rising in their places in this House to-day and saying that the social service system in this country should be based on the recognition of a need to encourage thrift and effort, but at the same time they maintain the existing means test and allow it to become increasingly severe, because of the decreased purchasing power of money.
In particular, if they believe, as they should believe, in encouraging thrift and effort, why are they going to oppose the very clear amendment enunciated this morning by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) to remove from the means test the present £1,750 property bar? Every honorable member who has to deal with pensioners will know what a severe injustice is involved in that bar. As they know, a pensioner can have £200 in property and receive a full pension. But for every £10 of value over £200, he loses £1 in pension a year. At £1,760 his pension cuts out altogether. At £1,750 he can have a pension, under the new proposal, of approximately £90 a year, but at £1,760 he loses the whole of that £90 a year. That is a most unjust, ridiculous and absurd penalty on thrift. For an extra £10 of savings, he is to be penalized by losing £90 a year in pension rates. I hope that the Government will see the logic of the amendment to be moved by the Opposition. Let the property means test continue to operate with the loss of £1 of pension a year for every £10 of property until the right to pension is exhausted. It would be exhausted at a value of about £2,400. The cost to the Government of doing that fundamental act of justice would be very little indeed.
The Minister for Primary Industry dealt with the Labour party’s arguments relevant to the unpegged basic wage. He had said earlier that he had been unable to follow one particular argument advanced by the honorable member for Port Adelaide. That honorable member’s argument was entirely clear to me. All I can say about the Minister’s argument on the basic wage is that I found myself in exactly the same position as he was - I simply could not follow the argument he advanced. However, I noted that the Minister for Primary Industry thanked the Minister for Social Services for providing him with that argument. That, to me, at least made the position a little clearer. I think the Prime Minister must have been in a strange mood indeed when he appointed the present Minister to the portfolio of social services. I have done the Minister the justice, over the years, of reading a good deal of his writings and of listening to many of his speeches. I hope that I should not be doing him an injustice if I described him as an old-time Liberal. Again, I hope that I should not be doing him an injustice if I described him as a mid-Victorian advocate of the doctrine of laisser-faire. I hope, also, that I should not be doing him an injustice by saying that it seems to me that, inherent in many of the speeches that he has made and the articles he has written, he believes in the social concept of “ Devil take the hindmost “. Such a man must find it difficult indeed-
– The honorable member would be a long way off the mark.
– I am only judging him on writings which are not signed by the Minister but are well known to be his work; and very bright and breezy writings they are.
– The honorable member is doing him an injustice, all the same.
– I hope I am not. I now wish to deal with the contention by the Minister for Primary Industry that this Government is actually providing a greater percentage of the basic wage in the age and invalid pension rate than did the Labour government. The Minister said that in 1949 the Labour Government provided 33 per cent, of the basic wage in the form of pension. He said that the basic wage was then £6 9s. and the pension was £2 2s. 6d. He then pointed out that this Government is providing 34 per cent, of £12 16s. I do not propose to devote much time to these figures because I agree with the Minister that percentages are not a basis on which to fix social service rates, but I must point out the error. In the very same sentence the Minister said that the Chifley Government shirked its responsibility to the pensioners by failing to increase the rate in 1949. Clearly, then, the Minister, and every member of the Government who takes the same view, agrees that the pension rate was too low in 1949. They cannot have it both ways. If they believe that the pension rate was too low in 1949, they are utterly wrong in contending, to-day, that they are doing justice to the pensioners by simply maintaining the percentage that operated in 1949.
– What is the honorable member’s view?
– What is my view? I am proceeding to enlighten the House on my views on this matter.
– Very slowly.
– Then I am sorry. We say that the proper computation is the last adjustment to the pension rate made by the Chifley Government in 1948, when it provided 37 per cent, of the then basic wage of £5 16s. Not one member in the House at that time said that the Government was doing too much. In fact it was generally considered that the Government was doing too little. If Government supporters believe that what the Labour government did then was the barest justice to the pensioners, they will agree that the present Government is not doing justice unless it provides an equivalent rate of the present basic wage. If we take the basis of the unpegged basic wage - and it was unpegged in that year - the pension rate to-day should be £4 17s., not £4 7s. 6d. as it will be under this legislation. Even now, with the new adjustment, the age and invalid pensioners will be underpaid by 10s. a week in comparison with the value of the pension they received at the 1948 adjustment. I am alarmed to hear Government back-benchers, in these circumstances, propose that some new pension rate should be adopted merely for those who have to live alone or who do not own their homes. I hope that those honorable members will realize what they are actually proposing when they put suggestions of this kind to the House. They are proposing a new means test within a means test. They are proposing a new form of governmental and departmental inquisition of pensioners. They are proposing a differential rate of pension whereby they hope to meet the needs of a few people in the community, whereas their proper task is to adjust the basic rate of pension for all pensioners in accordance with the pledge given and repeated on their behalf by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) at successive general elections.
– Would the honorable member not give anything additional to pensioners who are living on their own?
– I would do justice to all pensioners by fixing an adequate basic rate, equal for every one.
– It could not be done.
– It could be clone. A basic pension rate, equal for all pensioners, has been provided in Australia ever since 1911. I hope that we are not going backward, but that we shall go forward along the road of social progress.
May I proceed to a further point that was made by the Minister for Primary Industry when he opposed our amendment to make the new rate of pension retrospective to 1st July? He raised his hands in horror. He said that retrospective legislation was a very bad thing from the legal point of view. I agree that, in some respects, it is; but not in this case. Retrospective legislation which imposes retrospectively a duty on a citizen for the nondischarge of which he can be punished, even though at the time he failed to act as later prescribed and had no idea that he was breaking the law, is indeed most offen sive to every British concept of parliamentary government. But the practice of making payments retrospective is quite common in this Parliament. In fact, every one of us, as far as I know, has accepted retrospective adjustment of his own emoluments. Therefore, I was astonished when I heard the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) utter a fervent, “ Hear, hear! “ to the Minister’s announcement that the Government would not accept the proposal to make the new rate for invalid and age pensioners retrospective to 1st July. Since we have ourselves accepted retrospective payments, surely we should not say that it is immoral and unprincipled to provide retrospective payments for age and invalid pensioners.
– And to judges.
– And to judges, as the honorable member for Brisbane reminds me, and to many other top civil servants. It is a common practice.
– It has never been done before in a Budget session.
– Not for pensioners. I am going to anticipate the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) by saying that it has never been clone for pensioners by any Labour government in the past, but we never before had such rapid inflation as we have had in recent years.
– What about 1949?
– I remind the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) that inflation did not become really severe in this country until 1950, just after his government took office. However, I shall give him the benefit of 1949, and I shall stand on the other 48 years. There never was a time before 1949 when the cost of living advanced so rapidly as it has advanced since then. The pension adjustments necessary, prior to that year, were small. The issue was not of such importance. All 1 can say for the Labour party now is that it proclaimed at the last general election that when it became a government it would adopt the practice that adjustment of the rates of age and invalid pensions and other social services should operate from the beginning of the financial year.
In the few moments left to me I should like to point out that the Labour party, in its amendment, is nol proposing anything beyond what it, itself, performed when it was in government. It would have been comparatively easy for the Opposition to propose some further increase in the actual value of social service payments. We are not doing that. It is very simple for an Opposition to propose large increases in social service payments because it has not the responsibility of implementing them. We have been completely responsible in the drafting of our amendment. We simply ask the Government, as a minimum, to live up to its pledges, and maintain the value of the payments that we established at the time of the adjustment that was made in 194S. I hope that we shall hear no more about adjustment in conformity with the standards of 1949, since all of us agree that the rate in 1949 was inadequate. The Budget in that year was introduced about September, and an election was due in December. The Prime Minister and Treasurer of the day, Mr. Chifley, decided that he would leave it to the new government to adjust the rates. Whether he was right ox wrong in doing that we need not argue now. It is clear that if he had increased the rates two or three months before an election he would have been accused of deliberately offering a votecatching bait.
However, we all agree that the rate was inadequate in 1949. Therefore, the correct comparison is with 1948. I hope that, on this occasion, at least one member from the Government benches will have sufficient political courage and backbone to stand up and tell the Government that it has completely failed to honour its pledge with respect to child endowment, which it has not altered by a penny for the second and subsequent children; that it has completely repudiated its pledge with respect to the maternity allowance, which it has not altered by a penny in all its years in office; that it has completely repudiated its pledge with respect to the funeral benefit, which it has not altered by a penny; and that, with the exception of sickness and unemployment benefits, all other adjustments that it has made to social services have been less than what was required by the changed value of money.
There, then, is the charge against this Government. There, then, is the obligation which only its back-bench supporters can make this Government stand up to. We, in the Opposition, cannot because we have not the numbers, but the back-bench supporters of the Government could force it to do this act of social justice. On child endowment alone, the Government is saving itself £60,000,000 a year by failing to adjust the rate.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I desire to welcome back to this House the honorable member for Eden Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), and I trust that his health has greatly improved. I should also like to congratulate the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) on the very thoughtful speech that he made in this House when leading for the Opposition. The honorable member for Port Adelaide has been in this House for a great many years, and during the whole of that period he has taken a very great interest in social services. Therefore, he is competent to tell the House the reasons for the actions of the various Labour governments of the past in relation to social services. For example, he explained to the House why it was that the Scullin Labour Government reduced the pension by 2s. 6d. a week. He told us that the reason was that it was under pressure from Sir Otto Niemeyer. Then the honorable member told us that the reason that the Chifley Labour Government failed to grant any increase of pension in 1949 was that it was afraid of being accused of political bribery, or whatever we like to call it, if it gave an increase in an election year. I am afraid that neither of these reasons is very convincing, nor do I think that they do credit to the Labour governments concerned. Even if pressure was brought to bear on the Scullin Government by Sir Otto Niemeyer, why should that government have made the pensioners the victims of its weakness? Why, in 1949, if the Chifley Government thought it proper to increase the rate of pension - and surely it was proper to do so in a year in which the cost of living increased by 10 per cent. - should it fail to do so purely for political reasons?
I very much regret that I cannot support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Port Adelaide, because the effect of its adoption would be to deprive age pensioners, who so urgently need an increase of pension, of the benefit of it at the earliest possible moment. Obviously, if this bill were to be withdrawn and redrafted, delay would occur, and that would mean that these worthy people would not receive the increase of 7s. 6d. a week for a considerable time. Nor can I support the proposal of the honorable member, the effect of which would be to tax the people an extra £12,000,000 a year in order to increase the pensions of some pensioners, such as some aged couples, to £16 14s. a week, while leaving others, such as aged widows, with only £4 17s. a week. Is there any one in this House, on either side, who is prepared to stand up and say that a widow who is paying £2 a week rent can feed and clothe herself on the remaining £2 17s., which is the figure that the honorable member for Port Adelaide would leave her, or the £2 7s. 6d. which is proposed under this bill?
The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) gave a most thoughtful address, in the course of which he stated three general principles. He said, first, that the pension should be adequate to meet the needs of the aged; secondly, that the social services plan should encourage thrift; and thirdly, that ways and means should be provided for financing the plan. My complaint about the present proposal and all other proposals that have been brought forward since the age pension was first introduced in 1909, is that the social services legislation flouts flagrantly each one of those principles. Let us take the first one, that the pension should be adequate to meet the needs of the aged. At the present time, an aged widow paying £2 a week rent is expected to feed and clothe herself on the remaining £2. She cannot do it! To use the Minister’s first principle: Are her needs met by giving her £2 a week to feed and clothe herself, as is the case now, £2 7s. 6d. a week, as it will be when this bill is passed, or £2 17s. a week, as it would be if Labour’s amendment were given effect? In none of those cases is the Minister’s first principle adhered to. That is why some of us feel so strongly that the whole of the social service legislation, which really has not had any change in general principles sines 1909, is completely antiquated and flouts every sound principle, and that the time has come for us to try to provide a scheme of agc security that will be in accordance with the principles enunciated by the Minister for Primary Industry, instead of violently opposed to them.
The second principle stated by the Minister was that the plan should encouragethrift. Is there anything that discourages, thrift more than the present means test, which penalizes a person who saves anything over £209 and deprives him of the social services age pension entirely if he saves more than £1,750? At the present time, the people of Australia, the young men and women, are being taxed over £200,000,000- per annum more than they need be because we cannot get enough saving in the community. Because we cannot get enough saving, we cannot get enough money intogovernment bonds; therefore, v/e have to pay for all our Commonwealth works out of revenue, and we have to budget for a surplus of £119,000,000, so that we may be able to lend money to the States for their public works.
Why is there not enough saving? It is? because our social services legislation destroys thrift. It virtually says to the young men and women, and also to the elderly men and women, “ If you save, you will be punished by being deprived of the age pension and the benefits of the social services legislation “. For example, if a person has £1,700 in government bonds at 3£ per cent., bringing in about £50 a year, he is deprived of £208 a year in age pension. So, this present system of social services, which is destructive of thrift and which is not based! on need, must go. I believe that it is theduty of all members of this Parliament to work out a real system of age security, which will remove hardship and also the means test.
Having put those general principles - and,, in doing so, having criticized practically every other honorable member who has already spoken - I think it would be fair if I were asked to propound a fair and just system which would remove these anomalies. First, I want to say that the propositions I am going to put to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are not things that have been just thought up on the spur of the moment. For nearly ten years now I have made an intensive study of the problem of social services. I have studied the social services of every country in the world. I have seen the weaknesses in other systems, and I think. we are entitled to benefit from those weaknesses and produce a system that will be the most modern system of age security in the world.
One thing I want to say at the outset is that there is hardly any country in the world which still sticks to the antiquated system of pensions that we have in Australia. Practically every country in the world has, in one form or another, a contributory scheme for age security, free of means test. Therefore, I suggest to the House at the outset that two major reforms are necessary. First, we need a contributory scheme of age security which will provide, free of means test, an age security payment for all. Secondly, experience throughout the world has shown that in any system, whether it be a system of pensions based on need, or national insurance free of means test, there will always be marginal cases of hardship. So, a fund financed out of general revenue will be required to meet the fringe cases, if I may so term them. Those are not the majority of cases, but are cases that cannot be met by any general scheme.
The two reforms that I advocate are, first, the institution of a national contributory scheme for age security, which will provide for all, at a prescribed age an age security payment as of right and free of means test; and, secondly, a fund financed from general revenue, administered by a board predominantly derived from the Department of Social Services, which will pay special pensions according to the principles of proved hardship. Not a large fund will be required for this purpose. From my examination of the statistics and from my personal experience in moving among aged people, I believe that a fund of £4,000,000 or £5.000,000 a year would remove the hardship - I repeat, the hardship - existing among the aged to-day.
The Minister told the House that he was considering this problem, and I am sure that we were all delighted to hear his remarks. He stated, however, that there were certain administrative difficulties in the way. I think that that aspect is being magnified. I spent a number of years as a member of a regional committee of the Canteen Services Trust Fund, which administers a capital sum of £5.000,000. It pays out money strictly according to hardship or need. All I can say is that that fund did not experi ence great administrative difficulty in examining cases of real hardship. For many years I have been a member of Legacy, whose problem is to look after the widows and children of deceased servicemen. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that Legacy throughout Australia pays out £500,000 a year in respect of necessitous cases involving the children of deceased servicemen. It does not find any major problem in measuring real Hardship. Of course, it needs a body of intelligent men or women who will examine each case individually. But the Department of Social Services already has practically all the information it requires about a pensioner. It might need to ask a few more questions such as, “ What rent do you pay? “. But I do not see that there is any difficulty in having a committee of three or four in each State that will examine each application for a hardship pension. Obviously, the widow I have mentioned who pays £2 a week rent needs a considerable amount more to enable her to feed and clothe herself, whereas an aged couple in receipt of £7 a week superannuation and who will now receive pensions amounting to £8 15s. a week, giving them a total income of £15 15s. a week - about £3 more than the basic wage - obviously would not qualify for a hardship pension.
But we cannot limit this solely to people who are paying rent. There are some people living in their own homes who are paying rates and taxes and interest on a mortgage, whose expenses might be even more than those of a widow paying rent. So the fund I suggest must be flexibly administered by competent trustees who can examine the merits of individual cases. My personal appreciation of the position - and I am not speaking without some investigation - is that not more than one-third of pensioners at present are special hardship cases. Let me mention, for example, the case so often mentioned of a married couple living in their own home, owning their furniture and a motor car, receiving £7 a week in superannuation and a total income of £15 a week at present. Obviously, they would not come into the special pension class. Then, there are thousands of aged people living in those wonderful homes established by religious and charitable organizations, where everything is provided for them, and they still retain a considerable amount of their pension as pin money to buy odds and ends. Generally speaking, they would not come into the special hardship class. Then, you have the married couple living in their own home who are able to supplement their income to a certain extent. In most cases they would not come into the special pension class.
Therefore, I do not want the Minister or honorable members to magnify the socalled administrative difficulties. There are no real administrative difficulties if we are sincere in our desire to meet this hardship problem. Every year at Budget time we receive petitions from people outside. We have people coming to Canberra, sincere people, to put forward their claims. What case do they always cite? They always cite the special hardship case. They can prove the special hardship case, but they really have no case in relation to those who are managing reasonably comfortably on the pension at the present time. We must tackle the problem of special hardship, which, unfortunately, will exist whatever plan is adopted. England has a national insurance scheme free of means test, but in addition it has a special hardship pension, because the Government ‘there realizes that there are marginal cases which cannot be met in any general scheme.
The next part of my proposal is that provision be made for an age security payment free of means test on a contributory basis so that, on reaching the prescribed age, every one will be entitled to an age security allowance as of right.
– Does the honorable member propose a flat rate of contribution?
– I ‘ shall deal with the matter in detail if I am allowed to proceed in the ordinary way. I realize that this is a major problem. I believe that the people of Australia desire a scheme of this kind and I am sure that the Liberal and Australian Country parties believe in it. I do not think that I could state the beliefs more definitely than the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) did in his policy speech in 1949; he expressed these views far better than I could express them. Under the heading “ Social Services “, the right honorable gentleman said - -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test . . .
We are deeply conscious of the frequently unjust operation of the means test, and of the penalty it imposes in many cases upon thrift.
With those sentiments, I entirely and wholeheartedly agree, and I believe that they are the sentiments of the people of Australia. I am not unmindful of the difficulties. Indeed, I spent years examining those difficulties. But I am convinced that with courage and determination they can be overcome and that we can institute a sound system of age security. I have examined the difficulties so carefully that I agree that probably it is better to bring in such a plan in stages. I suggest that, if we introduce a plan providing an age security payment equivalent to the present pension at the age of 70 years, maintaining the present pension under that age, as a first step, we will go a long way towards establishing the principle of age security free of means test. The scheme could be added to in later years until we had a full system of age security throughout Australia.
I have been impressed by the statements made by various Ministers in the last few years on the cost of the total abolition in one fell swoop of the means test at present pension ages. Personally, I feel so strongly about it, that I would be prepared to support a move for the abolition of the means test, but I realize that strong reasons can be advanced as to why the contribution in the initial stages should not be too heavy. To make a system completely selfsupporting, the Government would simply pay into the age security fund the amount it now pays in respect of pensions for people of 70 years and over; no more and no less. That amount, added to by a contribution of 3-id. in the £1 of income by persons under that age, would provide an age security payment free of means test for every one over the age of 70 years. If that plan were adopted, each person from the day he started work would be providing for his old age. He would pay a contribution of 3id. in the £1. If he is getting £10 a week, he would pay 2s. lid. Would that hurt him? If he gets £20 a week, he would pay 5s. lOd. a week. That contribution would not hurt anybody. It would be very good for people to know that they were saving to provide their own age security. In exchange for that contribution, they would receive virtually an insurance policy which would say that, in consideration of their having contributed, they would be entitled as of right to an age security payment of £4 7s. 6d. a week from the age of 70 years until death.
I do not want this discussion to turn on the age. If the House adopts such a plan at a later date, it may feel that the age should be something different from 70 years. That is purely a matter of adjusting the contribution to the age security payment. The lower the retiring age, the higher the contribution must be. But I believe that if the proposals I have enunciated were adopted, we would do what the Prime Minister in 1949 suggested should be done.
– Surely he did not want to lave it at 70 years!
– I asked honorable members not to enter into the discussion on the basis of whether the age should be 70, 69, 65 or 60. The age could be lower than 70 years provided the contribution was increased at the same time. The contribution and the payment are directly related to each other.
I am sure every one would agree that the -superannuation schemes in operation in the Commonwealth and State civil services - -and they are really compulsory schemes of mational insurance - are good. They have given security to Commonwealth and State -civil servants. They are on a compulsory basis. If it is good enough for the civil -servants, why is it not good enough for the general public? Again, we are able to benefit by the mistakes that have shown themselves in superannuation schemes.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr. George Lawson) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on -motion by Mr. Davidson) read a first time.
[3.16J. - by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill which is now before the House gives effect to the increases in rates of war pension which were provided for in this year’s Budget, and makes some desirable amendments to the Repatriation Act. The bill therefore provides for an increase of 25s. a week in the special rate of war pension payable under the Second Schedule to the act - the rate commonly referred to as the total and permanent incapacity rate - and an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the general rate of war pension payable under the First Schedule to the act. The measure provides, also, for an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the rate of war widow’s pension. In addition to this increase, provision will be made to raise by 5s. 6d. a week the rate of domestic allowance which is payable under the Repatriation Regulations to a war widow who is over the age of 50 years, is permanently unemployable, or has a child which is under the age of sixteen years, or is still undergoing education or training. A consequential adjustment has also been made to the rates of pension payable under the first six items of the Fifth Schedule; so that members receiving those amounts will benefit by having their total pension maintained at the equivalent of the special rate.
The following new rates of pension will operate from the first pension pay-day after this measure comes into force. The special rate payable under the Second Schedule to a member of the forces who has been blinded as a result of war service, and to a member who, as a result of war service, is totally and permanently incapacitated, will rise to £11 a week. Under the second paragraph of the Second Schedule, rate of pension not exceeding the special rate may be paid to members suffering from tuberculosis. Under the provisions of that paragraph, the Repatriation Commission determines the rate to be paid to the two classes, which are commonly known as class C and class B. The new rate for class C will be £1 1 a week, and for class B £7 17s. 6d. a week. The rates payable under the First Schedule - the general rates payable for incapacity which is less than that which would entitle a member to the total and permanent incapacity rate of pension - are increased by 7s. 6d. a week, the basic rate for the 100 per cent, pensioner rising from £4 1.5s. to £5 2s. 6d. a week. The war widow’s pension payable under the First Schedule will be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, the base rate thus rising from £4 10s. to £4 17s. 6d. a week. With the increase of 5s. 6d. a week in the rate of domestic allowance, which will rise from £1 14s. 6d. to £2 a week, a widow entitled to that allowance will receive a total of £6 17s. 6d. a week instead of £6 4s. 6d., which she now receives. In addition to these increases in the rates of war pension, the rate of service pension will be raised by 7s. 6d. a week to £4 7s. 6d. a week. It is not necessary to amend the principal act for this purpose, because the increase will automatically apply under section 84 as a result of the increase in social services pensions.
I should like to remind honorable members that as a result of this Government’s having repealed section 91a of the Repatriation Act in 1955, thereby abolishing the ceiling limits, there is now a very large number of war pensioners who benefit by both the increase in the rates of war pension, and the increase in the service pension, or the age or invalid pension. For instance, the maximum amount which a totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioner and his wife will now be able to receive by way of war pension, and service, or age or invalid, pension, will be £15 15s. a week. Of this amount, the total war pension for the member and his wife is £12 15s. 6d. a week, being £11 for the member, and £1 15s. 6d. a week for his wife, and this, of course, is paid free of means test. There is a means test for a service, age, or invalid pension, and for this means test the war pension is taken into account as income. The result is that a totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioner who is eligible for a service pension can, with his wife, receive up to a total of £15 15s. a week from both pensions.
If th= totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioner is not eligible for a service pension, as in the case of a member who has not served in a theatre of war, he and his wife can receive up to the same -amount of £15 15s. a week between them, if the wife is eligible for an invalid pension in her own right, or if, being over 60 years of age, she is eligible for an age pension. On the other hand, in the case of a totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioner who is not eligible for a service pension, but is eligible for an invalid pension under the Social Services Act, the wife is not qualified to receive a wife’s allowance under that act, and their maximum combined total income from both pensions will be £14 5s. 3d. a week.
A married man who is receiving a general rate pension at the 100 per cent, rate, and who is eligible for a service pension on the ground of permanent unemployability, will, with his wife, be able to receive up to a maximum of £13 0s. 6d. a week by way of both pensions. This is made up of war pension for the member of £5 2s. 6d. a week; war pension for the wife of £1 15s. 6d. a week; member’s service pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week; and his wife’s service pension of £1 15s. a week. If his wife is over the age of 60 years, she will receive an age pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week, instead of her service pension of £1 15s., giving a combined weekly income for husband and wife of £15 13s.
The actual rate of the member’s and his wife’s service, or social service pension in a particular case will, of course, depend upon the extent to which their income and property affects that rate under the means test. Pension or education allowance payable to their children is paid in respect of the children in their own right and is not taken into consideration when the means test is being applied to the service pension.
In 1950, after the Government had granted all-round increases in pension rates, the total expenditure for war and service pensions was approximately £22,250,000. The estimated expenditure on war and service pensions for the current financial year is £59,250,000. I mention these amounts in passing only to remind the House that this Government has honoured its pledge to keep repatriation benefits under constant review. That review has not been limited to rates of pension only. New benefits have been introduced, and existing benefits have been extended. Some of those additional or extended benefits have applied generally to members and dependants, while others, such as the provision of a marriage gratuity for war widows who re-marry, and the supply of a gift motor car to war pensioners whose war-caused disability is either double amputation of the legs above the knees, or complete paraplegia, resulting in loss of the use of both legs, have been designed to meet the special needs of particular classes of persons. Overall, there has been a substantial expansion in both the range and the extent of benefits under the act.
The other major feature of this bill is the provision that it makes with regard to arrears of pension which may be allowed where a case is decided under section 64 of the act. It is felt that there should be some additional latitude with regard to the amount of arrears which can be allowed where a claim which had previously been disallowed by an Entitlement Appeal Tribunal is subsequently granted by the tribunal, or the Repatriation Commission, under the provisions of sub-sections (6a.), (7.), or (7ab,) of section 64 after further evidence has been produced. Those sub-sections enable a claim which, has been disallowed by an entitlement appeal tribunal to be re-considered in the light of any further evidence which might become available. At the present time the maximum period for which arrears are granted in such cases is six months prior to the date of production of the further evidence to the commission, or the lodgment of the further appeal to the tribunal, as the case may be. This amendment proposes to extend that period of six months up to a maximum of four years.
The principles upon which this amendment is based are these: A claimant should not be encouraged to delay in pursuing an appeal to the tribunal, but should rather be encouraged to press on with it. For that reason, no change is proposed in the present provision whereby the amount of arrears which can be made available when a claim is allowed by a tribunal or the commission under sub-section (3.) (5.) or (6.) of section 64 is fixed at six months. On the other hand, however, where such a first appeal has been rejected, and further evidence subsequently comes to light which was not known or was not available at the time of the rejection, and this leads to the claim being allowed, it is felt that the tribunal and the commission should not be limited to granting arrears for only six months prior to the production to it of the further evidence.
This bill, therefore, proposes to extend the period for which arrears may be granted in such cases from six months up to a maximum of four years, provided that the commencement of the period so fixed does not precede the date from which a repatriation board, the commission or the tribunal could have made the pension payable had the claim been allowed in the first instance. This amendment is to apply to all cases which have been decided under the relevant sub-sections of section 64 since 1st June, 1956. As soon as this measure comes into force all cases to which this amendment applies will be reviewed so that persons affected by it will receive the benefit it provides. This bill provides substantial benefits to war pensioners. I commend it to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Haylen) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Davidson) read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill, which has been received from the Senate, provides for increases in the rates of general pensions paid under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act to Australian mariners incapacitated by war injury, and to widows of Australian mariners. The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act first came into operation in 1940 and has been amended on seven occasions. Within the last five years it has been amended four times, and the main purpose of each of those amendments was to implement the Government’s decision to grant increases in the pensions paid under the act.
An Australian mariner incapacitated by a war injury receives a pension at a rate assessed on the basis of the degree of his incapacity. A totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner receives a special pension at the rate provided in the second schedule to the Repatriation Act. A pensioner whose incapacity is total but not permanent receives a general pension at a rate specified in the first schedule to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, whilst a partially incapacitated pensioner receives a pension based on the percentage of his incapacity.
The second schedule to the Repatriation Act is being amended to increase the rate of special pensions from £19 10s. to £22 a fortnight. Under section 22a of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act the increase will apply automatically to a pensioner who is in receipt of a special pension under that act. lt is thus not necessary to include provision for that increase in the bill now under consideration. Australian mariners in receipt of pensions at the general pension rates specified in the first schedule to the act at present receive pensions at rates ranging from £9 10s. to £11 6s. a fortnight. These pensioners will receive an all-round increase of 15s. a fortnight, and the rates will thus be increased to range from £10 5s. to £12 ls. a fortnight.
Widows of Australian mariners in receipt of pensions under the act will receive a similar increase. Their scale of pension, which now ranges from £9 to £10 16s. a fortnight, will be increased to range from £9 15s. to £11 lis. a fortnight. Certain widows who receive also a domestic allowance of £3 9s. a fortnight will have the allowance increased to £4 per fortnight. The increase, however, is not provided for in the bill as it will be authorized by regulation.
Clauses 3, 4 and 5 of the bill are drafting amendments only which do not vary in any way the application of the provisions of the three sections that are being amended. Provision is made in the bill for the amending act to come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent, and for payment of the increased pensions on the first pension pay day occurring after that date. The increases proposed will, I feel sure, be supported by all honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Haylen) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 1054).
– At the outset I wish to say that I wholeheartedly support the amendment which the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has moved on behalf of the Opposition. The increases proposed by this bill are totally inadequate, and they reflect clearly the utter and callous disregard of the Government for the plight and well-being of the unfortunate people of Australia, particularly those in need of social service benefits. I was very surprised to hear a reference by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in his second-reading speech to a number of peti tions that had been presented to this Parliament on behalf of the age and invalid pensioners. He said -
I must deplore the ill-considered petitions which are presented to this Parliament from time to time requesting social service payments equal to half the basic wage.
It ill becomes the Minister to speak in such a fashion of bona fide and wellconsidered petitions that have been presented to the Parliament on behalf of the aged and infirm of this country. I, personally, have presented two petitions to this Parliament, signed by at least 15,000 petitioners. I believe that this Parliament has received in recent weeks from honorable members on both sides of the House petitions from about 1,000,000 petitioners, praying that this Government increase age and invalid pensions to an amount equal to 50 per cent, of the basic wage. It ill becomes the Minister to belittle that large body of petitioners who are anxious to see age and invalid pensioners receiving a just and fair increase.
The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in his Budget speech said -
During the past year our economy has gained greatly in stability and strength . . . To-day it can be said that inflationary pressures have been reduced and the movement of costs and prices has slowed down.
That indicates to my mind, and to the minds of the pensioners, that the Treasurer admits that the economy of the country has considerably improved and that the inflationary trends, which in past years were playing havoc with Australia, have been stabilized. Even the Minister for Social Services in his second-reading speech said something similar. Dealing with pensioners the Minister said -
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.
So both the Treasurer and the Minister for Social Services have made statements in the House that the economy of the country has greatly improved. Despite that, we find that this Budget provides paltry increases to pensioners and other social services recipients. I said earlier that in my opinion the increases are totally inadequate. T listen very attentively to the speeches by members on the Government side of the House when they endeavour to sustain (heir argument that the pensioners to-day are better off than they were when Labour was in office. I say again, as I have said over a long period of years in similar debates, that those arguments are totally unfounded and not in accordance with the facts.
– Did you say that in 1948?
– Of course I did. While I admit that there have been certain increases to age and invalid pensioners and other social services recipients, nevertheless those increases have been totally inadequate. I will endeavour to substantiate this view, although it has already been clearly established by the honorable member for Port Adelaide and by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). The pensioners obviously will not be satisfied with this measure, although they will accept the niggardly increase as better than nothing at all.
The worst aspect of this bill is that no provision is made for an increase for the wives of invalid pensioners. There is provision made for widows and the wives of age pensioners, but the wives of invalid pensioners, in my opinion, are worthy of much greater sympathy than this Government has given them. The wife of an invalid pensioner, to-day, is receiving 35s. a week. Why does the Government pay her that 35s. a week? Is it not because her husband is an invalid and because she is compelled to remain at home and look after him? Of course, it is. She is not able to go out and work for an hour or two during the day in order to earn a little extra money. Her duty is at home, looking after her invalid husband. This Government has treated the unfortunate wives of the invalid pensioners very badly.
There is another anomaly in this bill, in that no provision is made to increase the funeral benefit, which has been £10 ever since it was first introduced by the Chifley Government. It is well known that the cost of a burial to-day is probably 100 per cent, more than it was in those days. Honorable members know that the majority of pensioners contribute a small weekly amount to a society in order to provide a decent burial for themselves. But, the amount the Government pays in no way compensates for the amount that the funeral company charges, and, in most cases, the pensioner’s relatives have to find the difference.
– The cost of dying is higher than the cost of living.
– That is quite so. I am very disappointed with the very meagre increase granted to pensioners and. other social services recipients. I refer again, as have other honorable membersover a period of years, to the position that existed with regard to pensions in 1948. I draw the attention of honorable members to the relation that the pension bore to the basic wage in 1948, and the relation it bearsto the basic wage in 1957. In August, 1948, when the last Labour Budget was presented, the basic wage for the six capital cities was- £5 10s. In 1957, the basic wage for the six capital cities would be £13 5s., if it were not pegged. In other words, the basic wage would now be 128.45 per cent, higher than it was in 1948. 1 remind honorable members that these figures were given by the honorable member for Port Adelaide, and. that they are absolutely in accordance with the facts. They have been scrutinized carefully, and the Opposition can certify as to their accuracy. Honorable members in this House, and others outside it must admit that the basic wage has increased to that extent. When this Government was elected in 1949 it made a very definite promise that it would put value back into the £1 and that it would decrease the cost of living. It has done nothing in respect of either of those matters. Naturally, as the cost of living has risen the basic wage has increased. If the basic wage had not been pegged, it would have been 128.45 per cent higher to-day than it was in 1948.
I now wish to deal with pensions paid to widows. In 1948, under the Labour Budget, an A class widow was receiving £2 7s. 6d. In order to correct the rate paid to-day, in 1957, the increase of 128.45 per cent, in the unpegged basic wage must be added. That would mean that such a widow would be entitled to £5 8s. 6d. a week. Instead of that, this Budget makes provision for her to receive £4 12s. 6d. That is a loss of 16s., due to the fact that this Government has not increased her rate of pension in accordance with the percentage of the basic wage on which it was based in 1948. The B class widow is in a similar position. Under the Labour Budget of 1948 she was receiving £1 17s. 6d. If to that were added the 128.45 per cent, increase I have mentioned, her rate of pension should be £4 5s. 8d. This Budget provides only £3 15s., so that on that basis she loses 10s. 8d. a week.
Turning to age and invalid pensions, in 1948 the rate under the Labour Budget was £2 2s. 6d. If the increase of 128.45 per cent, calculated in respect of an unpegged basic wage were added, the rate of pension to-day should be £4 17s. 6d. This Budget provides for only a 7s. 6d. increase to bring it up to £4 7s. 6d., so that age and invalid pensioners are losing in comparative value 9s. 7d. a week. That is a result of the Government’s failure to fulfil its promise to keep the rate of the pension in the proportion to the basic wage which was fixed when the Labour government was defeated in 1948.
Throughout this debate the subject of child endowment has been capably dealt with by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). I wish to add one or two comments. Unquestionably, the Government has forgotten about child endowment. The only thing it has done since it took office in 1949 has been to endow the first child at the rate of 5s. a week. It has not increased that payment to the amount paid in respect of the second, third or successive children by the Chifley Government; that rate has remained unaltered.
This Government has considerably increased unemployment and sickness benefits, and for that we are indeed very pleased. Unfortunately, a large body of unemployed workers are now dependent on unemployment benefit. We hope that their number will not increase, but it appears that within the next six or eight months many more will become dependent on unemployment benefits in order to subsist. Under this Budget that benefit will be increased by 7s. lid. and a dependent wife will receive an additional ls. lOd. It is not a very great increase, but still, it is something. The Government has also practically forgotten about the maternity allowance, which is a very important feature of our social service legislation. No increase has been made in the maternity allowance since this Government took office in 1949. That is a shocking state of affairs because we look to Australian mothers to increase the population of our country.
As I said earlier, both the Treasurer and the Minister for Social Services stressed the fact that the national economy had greatly improved and that inflation had been checked. The niggardly increase that has been granted to the pensioners will not affect the economy of this country to any great extent. As was stated here the other day, the 7s. 6d. a week increase has been granted to practically all recipients of social service benefits but it represents only one extra loaf of bread a day. That amount is infinitesimal and absolutely insufficient to help these unfortunate people, many of whom are living under extremely difficult conditions. The Minister pointed out that many of these pensioners, during their lifetime, have contributed to the welfare and economy of this country. That is true. Practically all who have applied for age pensions during the last eight or ten years have contributed to the National Welfare Fund. That being so, why should they not be granted what they are justly entitled to in the form of a much higher pension than they are receiving to-day?
I now wish to quote certain figures to show the percentage of national income paid in social service benefits in a number of countries overseas, as compared with the percentage of national income paid in social service benefits in this prosperous country of Australia. It is indeed very illuminating to compare expenditure on social services in various countries in relation to national income. These figures have been collected by the International Labour Organization. They show the percentage of social service benefits to national income as follows: -
Altogether, there are seventeen countries in the list, and Australia has the lowest figure of them all. The expenditure on social services was 6.9 per cent, of the Australian national income in 1949, 6.8 per cent, in 1950, and 6.1 per cent, in 1951. During the financial year 1955-56, the national income in Australia was £4,312,000,000. The amount spent on social services and health benefits was £220,000,000, or 5.1 per cent, of the national income. Therefore, the Government of this country is not dealing with social services in the same way as many other countries which are not so prosperous, and in which the national income is not as stable as that of Australia.
I now want to discuss pension payments to the inmates of homes. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) laid great stress on that matter, pointing out what his Government had done. The Government has done no more than any other government. This Government tells pensioners that they must and can live on £4 7s. 6d. a week. The Minister also stated that when this legislation became operative, the Commonwealth would pay to the States £2 17s. a week in respect of the inmates of institutions, and that the inmates would receive £1 10s. 6d., a slight increase, making the total amount paid £4 7s. 6d. for each inmate.
In Queensland, in order to maintain a person in a home for the invalid or aged, it costs the Queensland Government approximately £6 a week. That information was given by the Queensland Minister for Health and Home Affairs to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) in this Government only a short time ago. That is the amount required to maintain a person in homes at Sandgate, Rockhampton or Charters Towers. Over and above the amount that this Government pays in respect of the pensioner, the Queensland Government has to find £3 3s. every week to maintain each unfortunate person in one of these homes. No doubt those who live in the homes get very fine treatment, including free medical service, free medicine and free clothing and recreation, but it is impossible for those who live outside the homes, and who have to find their own accommodation, to exist on the paltry and niggardly amount of £4 7s. 6d. which the Government has provided in this Budget.
There is one other matter that I want to mention. Time and again honorable members, particularly from this side of the House, have requested the Minister for Social Services and the Government to pro vide further benefits under the Social Services Act. One of those requests has been for the provision of hearing aids for many unfortunate pensioners, both age and invalid, who suffer from deafness, and who are even unable to listen to the radio at night. I understand that the price of a hearing aid is too great for these unfortunate people to pay. After all, there are not very many such people, and I appeal to the Goverment to consider providing them with hearing aids.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Once again, the Opposition is using the debate on social services to bring out all the ideas that they have been expressing for the last seven years.’ In listening to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) I wondered whether the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) still subscribed to a statement on this very matter that he made in 1953. The honorable member for Port Adelaide expressed the hope that the House would reject the Government’s measure. His motion reads in part -
I admit quite frankly that I was not here during the whole of the speech of the honorable gentleman, but I did hear some of his remarks, and I was intrigued to find out how he could move an amendment in those terms and then argue a case on the basic wage of £12 16s. I hope that I am not doing him an injustice when I say that I did not hear him once mention what the unpegged wage might be. If we look at what the Leader of the Opposition had to say in 1953, we shall see that he claimed that any future Labour government would take steps to restore to pensions and other social service payments the purchasing power that they had when Labour left office in 1949. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), who followed the leading advocate for the Opposition, the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), this morning, showed clearly that, in 1949, the pension paid by the Chifley Government was 33 per cent, of the basic wage, whereas, to-day, any one who takes the trouble to work it out will see that the percentage is 34 per cent. As the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) reminds me, it will be even greater when the proposed increase operates.
I want to know whether the Australian Labour party proposes to indulge in the retrogressive step of reducing pensions. I remind the House that honorable gentlemen opposite are of the same political persuasion as were the members of the only political party in the history of the Commonwealth to reduce pensions.
– The Lyons Government did so.
– The honorable gentleman can argue the point as much as he likes. I have said what I want to say on the matter.
The Leader of the Opposition said, in 1953, that the permissible income of 30s. a week, fixed by the Chifley Government in 1948, was 26 per cent, of the basic wage; but if we move on to 1949 - :and I remind the House that the right honorable gentleman said that Labour, if elected to office, would restore social service payments to the 1949 position - we see that the permissible income was only 22.35 per cent, of the basic wage. Under this Government, it has risen to 27 per cent., which beats the Labour percentages in both 1948 and 1949. I am striving to work out just what the Opposition proposes to do in respect of pensions. We were reminded, very forcibly, by the previous speaker that, some time ago, a majority of the members of the Labour party in this place produced petitions regarding pensions. 1 agree, quite frankly, that those petitions would have been signed by a lot of humanitarian people who probably did not know the real position in relation to the matter. Honorable members will recall that, in the presentation of those petitions, all kinds of comments were made by honorable members opposite about the Government, and that some Government supporters were asked whether they subscribed to the petitions. But, when I asked the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), whether he believed in them, his retort to me - and it is recorded in “ Hansard “ - was that he was too shrewd for that. In view of the matters to which I have referred. I do not think that the people of this country would entrust to the present Opposition the solution of the pensions problem. Members opposite may go on the hustings and endeavour to get control of the treasury bench.
I express my pleasure at seeing the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) in the House again, and 1 hope that he is restored to health. When the honorable member spoke this afternoon, he commented on the speech of the Minister for Primary Industry and said that it was most thoughtful and constructive - an opinion with which I think most honorable members will agree - but he went on to discount the Minister’s suggestion that social services should not be a political football. The honorable member said that pensions and social service benefits stand where they are at the moment because of persistent and consistent political pressure. Be that as it may. We may accept the truth of that statement or reject it; but I say that the people who have proved themselves to be most humane and to have a high moral standing are the supporters of this Liberal party-Australian Country party Government which has been in office since 1949 and which has increased social service benefits more than any other government since federation.
If the Opposition accepts the argument of the honorable member for EdenMonaro that improved social services are obtained only by persistent and consistent political pressure, it proves to the hilt that when the acid test was applied to the Labour party it failed to meet the standards required of those who control the affairs of the country. That statement is supported by what happened in 1949, when the Labour government of the day refused to grant any increase of pensions. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro said that it had refused to do so because, otherwise, its action would have been regarded as a vote-catching stunt. T am reminded of a question asked on 14th June, 1949. by my colleague, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who was then the member for Wimmera. It can be found by any honorable member who is sufficiently interested to look for it, in “ Hansard “ for that date, at page 865 of volume 202. The honorable gentleman asked the Treasurer whether the then government intended to increase the rate of age and invalid pensions. As honorable members will see, the date on which he asked the question was in June, approximately three months prior to the introduction of the budget. The Prime Minister of those days, the late Mr. Chifley, answered -
No consideration has been given to a further increase of pension rates. The Government considered this subject not long ago and made a general increase-
That would have been in 1948, because the date to which I am referring is 14th June, 1949. The Prime Minister went on - - it is unlikely that a further increase will be considered so soon after that.
From what source does the honorable member for Eden-Monaro get this idea that the Labour government did not increase pensions in 1949 because, if it had done so, its action might have been considered a vote-catching stunt? It seems to me that the honorable member was worried stiff about finding an answer to this question, that he failed to find one, and that he pitched this excuse into the debate. The words of the Prime Minister of that day prove most conclusively the attitude of the Labour government. Despite the contention of the honorable member for EdenMonaro that all these benefits are the result of persistent and consistent political pressure, the Labour government of that day decided that, because it had granted an increase at least nine months previously, it would not consider the idea of a further increase.
– And it got the sack!
– Deservedly so. The people realized that not only was that government embarking on a scheme that would be harmful to the community, but also that it was not adopting a humane attitude towards the people who were in need - the people whom most governments do their very best to help, although at times they admit frankly that the assistance <?iven is not all that could be desired. If my friend, the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), wants any more information about what his colleagues thought at that time, and have thought since then, as expressed by some very prominent members of the Labour party, I have a small file here which I can show him. At the time, there was a great discussion about abolition of the means test, and the then honorable member for Dalley, the late Mr.
Rosevear, and the then honorable member for Perth, who was being groomed to become Treasurer of the Commonwealth, as well as by a lot of other supporters of the Labour government, showed just what the effect of that would be. But we will not go into that at the moment.
I now turn to child endowment, which was brought up by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. One would have been certain that the last people in this country who would raise the question of child endowment would be the members of the Labour party; yet they periodically attack the Government over child endowment. We all remember, as though it were only yesterday, that when this Government proposed to pay endowment in respect of the first child members of the Labour party, including, as I well recall, its deputy leader, the honorable member for Melbourne, said that the implementation of such a proposal would have an effect on the Commonwealth Arbitration Court’s determination of the basic wage, and that, therefore, every working man in Australia would suffer as a consequence. The stupidity of that contention was proved very shortly afterwards when the Arbitration Court awarded an increase of £1 a week in its determination following the provision of endowment for the first child.
The payment of endowment for the first child was advocated as far back as 1946, and we find that the honorable senator who at that time was Minister for Health in the Labour government had something interesting to say in another place, according to “Hansard”, volume 189, at page 718, when speaking on the abolition of the means test and payment of endowment for the first child. He said -
I put it to the Senate that the proposals made by the Opposition parties in these matters were insincere, and were completely irresponsible having regard to the finances of the country.
We all remember well the fight put up by members of the Opposition in the Senate when this Government brought down legislation to provide endowment - small as it might be - for the first child. The jockeying, the strategy and the bluff tactics they used were maintained until the Government told them that the measure had to be passed by a certain date or they would have to face the people, whereupon the
Labour party ran away from its own arguments and allowed the measure to go through.
I am surprised that members of the Opposition should raise this new argument in respect of child endowment. I pose this question through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to members of the Opposition: Despite the tumult they created a very short time ago over petitions in respect of age and invalid pensions, do they really believe in them; and, if they do not believe in them, is it not time they had very little to say about them?
As 1 have said, we hear members of the Opposition periodically accusing the Government of being insincere, inhumane - and various other adjectives - towards persons in receipt of social service benefits; but honorable gentlemen opposite know very well in their hearts that if they subscribed to a policy that would give age and invalid pensioners 50 per cent, of the basic wage they would be doing to the people whom they claim to represent one of the greatest possible disservices. So far, no honorable member opposite has said straight out that the Labour party really subscribes to such a policy, although they like to make a nice show about it. I leave it to them to tell the people, if they do not want to tell the Parliament, exactly where they stand. I suggest that when they give support to the agitation expressed in those petitions they get right down to tin tacks. and say what they really mean.
I now turn to the question raised by the honorable member for Sturt, who suggested the provision of a special pension to meet hardship cases. I really believe it should not be beyond the ability of the officers of the Department of Social Services to evolve a scheme whereby people who are suffering hardship under the present pensions scheme could receive some amelioration of their position. The point that is exercising my mind at the moment is this: I discount completely the idea of taking 50 per cent, of the basic wage as the basis for a formula for fixing pensions; but I do believe there are good grounds for an increase of the rates paid to single pensioners to something near 50 per cent, of the basic wage, if not actually to that figure, because it must be most difficult for them to carry on under present conditions. That might not apply to all single pensioners; it might apply to only a percentage of them. Any sliding scale that operated could surely be subject to some means test arrangement so that real hardship cases could be dealt with properly and such unfortunates could receive something which would make life a little more livable. If we fixed the pension; at 50 per cent, of the basic wage, what about the rest of the community who are living on the basic wage or something just above it? There are very few people today who earn only the basic wage. How do honorable gentlemen opposite support the idea of increasing the pension to 50 per cent, of the basic wage while, at the same time, they are urging young people to obtain their own homes and give their children the better education which they will most certainly need in the highly technical age we are now entering. So, I discount completely using 50 per cent, of the basic wage as an overall formula for fixing pensions. However, I repeat that it should not be beyond the ability of the officers of the Department of Social Services to evolve some sliding scale that would give a little more benefit and assistance to single age pensioners.
I heartily support the other contention, of the honorable member for Sturt, which is that we, at some time or other and the sooner the better, should make a start on a contributory scheme for age security. I know there will be arguments about that. Those of us who want to inform our minds on such a scheme need only read the debates in 1938, I think it was, on the National Insurance scheme, when there was before this Parliament a measure that was passed but never proclaimed. Had the powers at that time taken their courage in their hands and proclaimed that legislation and gone on with it, to-day we would have had in existence a fund that would have pretty well got rid of all the problems we are now facing.
– Hear, hear! But it was the Australian Country party which prevented the scheme from being carried out.
– If the honorable member wants to engage in tactics of that kind I am just the gentleman to accommodate him, because I have something to say on the matter to my friends and allies; but I shall restrain myself. I think we are all agreed, as was rightly said by the honorable member for Sturt, that the present position cannot be allowed to continue. I mentioned a few moments ago that I had prepared some notes on the abolition of the means test. Even as far back as 1946 the problem of abolishing the means test and giving everybody a pension, was colossal. Even in those days, when we were supposed to be approaching the Golden Age, it was a problem, and it will continue to be a problem. I agree that when abolition of the means test first becomes operative there is sure to be criticism of, and objection to, its abolition. But I think that now, while we have the chance, we should start some scheme, such as that mentioned by the honorable member for Sturt, with small contributions from youths starting work at the age of sixteen or seventeen years. This sort of scheme in other places has been engaged in for years under a voluntary system. I have never found any difficulty in subscribing to such a scheme. I can remember serving my apprenticeship at a wage of lis. a week from which I contributed 6d. towards a hospital benefit fund. For years I paid into the fund and drew nothing from it, but one day I needed the help of that fund and I have always been grateful to my father for persuading me to join it. The same applies to other schemes operated by various employers in order to help their employees. A small contribution, such as that recommended by the honorable member for Sturt, even from the child of fifteen or sixteen years who is just starting work, would not hurt any one at all, but would be of benefit in later years. Persons who had been thrifty and had amassed some assets might have to pay income tax when they were entitled to draw money from the fund that had been built up during their working years; but that would be nothing new to them because they would have paid that during the preceding years. Some arrangement could be made to provide an adjustment for age, as is being done now for those of pensionable age who pay income tax.
I heartily support the suggestion of the honorable member for Sturt, and I hope that the Minister will obtain advice from some one, either in the department or from outside the department, if he has not already done so. The time is propitious to act on this matter. In the minds of the people to-day the political climate is such that they would accept the proposal if the scheme were put to them. They are beginning to realize at long last that the overwhelming vote in 1946 at the referendum on social services is now beginning to catch up with them. Shortly, we will have more persons in receipt of social services than we will have people earning money to pay for them. As was said in 1946, and before and since that year, if we want to maintain our stability the only way to get money to meet these commitments, which unfortunately are increasing, is by taking it out of the pockets of the men and the purses of the women. I heard the Leader of the Opposition suggest at one time that this country could afford treasury bill finance to the extent of £400,000,000 or £500,000,000. Thank goodness the people of Australia do not subscribe to that view in their present way of thinking! We cannot obtain the finance from loans. The only way we can obtain it is by taking it out of the pockets of the people. The sooner we adopt some scheme such as that suggested by the honorable member for Sturt, the better the country will be.
I commend this legislation. Once again the Government has increased pension rates. Admittedly, the increases are not as large as we would wish. Perhaps they are not as much as the Minister would like to see, nevertheless they are a contribution towards making the lives of the recipients of social services much easier than they were in the past.
– Much easier?
– Did I say “much easier “?
– Let me substitute the words, “ more comfortable “. I thank the honorable member for Melbourne for correcting me. I am glad to see that this Government has increased the unemployment and sickness benefits; they were out of tune with the rest of our economy. Generally speaking, the increases will be accepted by the people at least as another contribution by this Government towards their welfare. This Government has made larger social service increases than any other government since federation.
.- I am pleased to see the honorable member for
Darling (Mr. Clark) in the chair again as Acting Deputy Speaker. I remember that in days gone by when he had the privilege to be in the chair, he demonstrated his fairmindedness and his ability to act as Speaker.
Before I commence the speech that I have prepared, I should like to make one or two comments on the remarks of the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton). He said that only one government had reduced pensions in Australia. That statement can be the gauge with which to measure the worth of the remarks of the honorable member. As he has not been truthful on that point, consequently, wc must expect that, in making other statements, where it has suited him he has decided to by-pass the truth in order to gain some advantage. It is true that in 1931 the Scullin Government reduced the pension from 20s. a week to 17s. 6d. a week. It is also true that in 1932 the Lyons Government reduced the pension from 17s. 6d. a week to 15s. a week in certain instances. So a reduction was made not only by a Labour government but also by a Liberal government, United Australia party goernment, or whatever its name was at that time. The remarks of the honorable member for Canning can be looked at in the light of the accuracy of his statement regarding the reduction of pensions in Australia.
I compliment the Director-General of Social Services and the departmental officers. They have a very difficult act to administer. Each honorable member considers that the case he presents should receive the utmost consideration and that undoubtedly the applicant should be given the benefit of the doubt. In my experience, the staff of the Department of Social Services has always received me very cordially and given me every courtesy, attention and assistance. I mention in particular the Director-General, Mr. Rowe. He is always particularly anxious to assist with advice and to give the applicant for whom representations are made the benefit of the doubt. I feel that Mr. Rowe and the officers of the department deserve the compliments of this House on the way they have administered the act throughout the years.
I intend to devote most of my time to discussing child endowment, because it has been far too long neglected by this Government. The honorable member for
Canning spoke about the Labour government and child endowment, but the time has long since passed when we should be harking back to 1949 or earlier to say that a Labour government did not do this or that. 1 remind honorable members that in 1949 World War II. had been concluded for only three years. The economic position had not settled down and consequently the Labour government was not in a position to do many things that it earnestly desired to do. There may have been a few shortcomings. Wrong decisions may have been made in a few instances. However, the fact is that this Government, which was elected on a pledge to maintain the value of social services, has failed to do so. It has failed to do so not only in the field of child endowment but also in all other fields of social services. However, I have decided to direct my remarks to child endowment and I shall spend most of my time on that subject.
Child endowment has long been regarded as a necessary part of social services. As far back as 1795, the younger Pitt in England, in advocating a system of family allowances, said -
There is a difference in the numbers which compose the families of the labouring poor. . . If the minimum wage is to be fixed upon the standard of a small family, those will not enjoy the benefit of it for whose relief it is intended. What measures then can be found to supply the defect? Let us make relief in cases where there are a number of children a matter of right and an honour, instead of a ground for opprobrium and contempt.
That was in 1795. In Australia, since 1919 active endeavours have been made to come to some agreement either on a just basic wage based on the needs concept or on some system of child endowment or family allowance payments. In 1919, the Piddington royal commission into the basic wage recommended that the wage should be £5 16s. a week. It took as the average family a man, wife and three children. Its recommendations were not implemented, but the Prime Minister of the day decided in 1920 to pay £4 a week at least to each male Commonwealth public servant plus an extra 5s. for each child. That was possibly the first example of child endowment or family allowances in Australia.
In 1927, a Labour government in New South Wales introduced legislation providing for the payment of 5s. a week for each child. In the same year, there was a royal commission on child endowment, but its recommendations were not implemented. We find, also, that, from time to time, the former Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration paid attention to this matter. In 1940, Judge Beeby, of that court, pointed out that the wage then operative met the requirements of a family with one child; that, if there were two children, there was hardship; and that, if there were more than two children, there was actual suffering. He stated that a needs concept should be taken into consideration in the assessment of the basic wage. In 1950, the needs concept was disregarded, and the court announced that the basic wage was based purely and simply on the capacity of industry to pay. Again, in October, 1953, there was a clear statement that the only principle taken into account in assessing the basic wage was the principle of the highest amount that industry could pay. In a judgment, the Commonwealth Court said -
As a result of the 1946 interim addition and the decision of 1950, the (needs) concept has no part in the assessment of the current basic wage.
However, the court seemed to envisage that the time would come when the basic wage would have to be fixed on a true needs basis, because it stated -
The question of whether such a method is correct in principle and all questions as to the size of the family to be selected remain open.
So, it has undoubtedly been proved that child endowment, or family allowances, are absolutely necessary under the basic-wage system, or any other wage system that may be adopted. Even the first Menzies Government recognized that fact, in 1941, when it introduced child endowment on a Commonwealth basis. In moving the second reading of the original Child Endowment Bill, in 1941, the present Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), who held the same portfolio then, said -
Child endowment can be rightly considered as a profitable national investment. A free enterprise economy such as ours provides inadequate incentive for investment in persons as compared with things. This is because it is rarely possible for people who make investment in person to profit from it.
The late John Curtin, who was leader of the Australian Labour party at the time, said, when speaking to the bill -
With this bill we are, for the first time in the history of this country - except for the Maternity
Allowance Act - writing into the statute-book our realization of the national significance of family life.
That is not a mere platitude. It really means something. There has never been any doubt of the value of the service, infinite in variety and extent, that the family renders to the nation. So both the Australian Labour party and the forerunners of the Liberal party were convinced, in 1941, that the introduction of child endowment would be of benefit to Australia’s economy, and particularly to family life.
The first Menzies Government was defeated in 1943, and the Curtin Government took office. Mr. Curtin, acting in accordance with the principles that he had outlined in 1941, raised the rate of child endowment for the second and subsequent children - at that time it was not paid for the first child - from 5s. to 7s. 6d. a week. In 1948, the late Mr. Chifley, who was Prime Minister at the time, raised the amount to 10s. a week. In 1950, the present Government introduced child endowment for the first child, at the rate of 5s. a week. Since 1950, this Government has taken no action to increase child endowment payments, although age, invalid and other pensions have been increased considerably. I make no complaint about the increases in pensions, because even now they are not as high as they should be. But why should a government elected on a pledge to maintain the value of social services - a government the Ministers in which have on many occasions proclaimed the value of child endowment to the Australian community - neglect to increase the child endowment benefit paid to the mothers of our children?
I propose now to indicate to the House the increases in age and invalid pensions, and in child endowment, since the introduction of an endowment of 5s. a week for the second and subsequent children in 1941, when the pension was 21s. 6d. a week. In 1945, the pension was 32s. 6d. a week, and child endowment was 7s. 6d. a week. In 1948, age and invalid pensions were 42s. 6d. a week, and child endowment was 10s. a week. In 1951, the pension was 60s. a week, and child endowment for the first child was introduced at the rate of 5s. a week, although the rate of 10s. a week for subsequent children remained unaltered. The present Budget increases pensions to 87s. 6d., but child endowment remains at 5s. a week for the first child, and 10s. a week for subsequent children. Age and invalid pensions have increased from 21s. 6d. a week in 1941 to 87s. 6d. a week to-day - an increase of 66s. a week - but child endowment has increased by only 10s. a week. The basic wage for the six capital cities has increased from £4 6s. a week in 1941 to £13 5s. a week to-day, if it is taken as unpegged - an increase of £8 19s. a week. Since 1948, when Labour was in office, the basic wage has increased by 128.45 per cent. Had child endowment been increased in the same proportion, a mother of two children would to-day receive £1 2s. lOd. a week; a mother with three children, £2 5s. 8d. a week; a mother with four children, £3 8s. 6d. a week, and a mother with five children, £4 lis. 4d. a week. On this basis, allowing for the fact that provision of 5s. a week is now made for the first child, mothers with two children are losing 7s. lOd. a week; mothers with three children, £1 0s. 8d. a week; mothers with four children, £1 13s. 6d. a week; and mothers with larger families suffer an even greater loss.
This Government, which claims that it is interested in the welfare of families, and that it is anti-Communist in its outlook, has never once lifted its hand to help those who so urgently need help, and who are most likely to succumb to the blandishments of the propaganda of the Australian Communist party that it can give them a better system of government than the present one. This Government has done nothing since 1950 to help Australia’s families. It has made no attempt to give to the mothers and fathers of our children an opportunity to enjoy some of the pleasures of life that, to-day, they have to sacrifice in order to buy food, clothing, textbooks, and other necessaries for their children. This Government, which continually harps about the Australian Labour party’s being communistic, has never once lifted its hand, in either the industrial field or the field of social services, to help the mothers and fathers of our children, who so sorely need help, and who are most likely to come to” the conclusion that this Government, and our present economic system, are not doing the right thing by them, and that we should find some other system that will protect them. We can dismiss entirely the catch-cry of this Government that the Australian Labour party is communistic, because the Government is making no effort at all to assist those who so urgently need an increase in child endowment.
Let me now make a comparison of the concessions granted to age pensioners and the amounts of money available to the average family. At the outset I make it quite clear that I have no complaint about the fact that concessions are granted to these pensioners. I believe that they should enjoy not only these concessions but also many more. I merely cite their case as a basis of comparison in my argument that this Government has failed lamentably to do anything for the mothers and fathers of our young children. A husband and wife receiving the full age pension can each obtain £4 7s. 6d. a week, or a total of £8 15s. They may receive an income, in addition, of £7 a week between them. They may, therefore, receive a total of £15 15s. a week, which is free of tax. If they were receiving a pension before 1st November, 1955, they are eligible for free hospital and medical benefits. If the pension was granted to them after 1st November, 1955, and they are now receiving only £12 15s. a week between them they may receive free hospital and medical benefits. In New South Wales they enjoy concession rates for travel on trams, trains and buses, and they are granted concessions in the payment of municipal rates. In some cases those rates are fully remitted. In most cases the pensioner couple who receive the full rate of pension, and in addition have an income of £7 a week from superannuation or some other income, have their home paid for. It should also be remembered that they have only two persons to feed.
Let us now consider the case of the average family. I have ascertained to-day that the average Australian family is generally considered as consisting of a man, wife and three children. The average weekly wage is £18.42, and the average yearly income £957.84. Out of that amount tax must be paid, although I admit that in some instances it might not be a very great amount. Such a family enjoys no concessions in regard to the payment of rates, nor does it enjoy travel concessions. In order to qualify for hospital and medical benefits the family must subscribe to an approved society, and the rate of contribution is 4s. a week for hospital benefits and 3s. a week for medical benefits. In most instances the young couple with a family is paying off a home, and we must remember that in that family there are three more members to be fed and clothed than there are in the family of the age pensioner and his wife.
Notwithstanding these facts, the average family has only about £2 10s. more a week than the pensioner couple. If we take into account child endowment, that £2 10s. is increased to £3 15s. a week. With this amount the family must keep three extra persons, pay off a home, and meet other commitments that do not have to be faced, in most instances, by the pensioners.
How can this Government explain its failure to increase child endowment? It was elected to office on a pledge to maintain the value of social services. It has not only abjectly failed to increase child endowment, but it has failed also in other branches of social services. Why did the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) make no mention in his second-reading speech of child endowment? ls it because the families with young children have not brought pressure to bear on this Government to obtain an increase? Must this Government be waited on by deputation after deputation before it can be induced to give justice to a particular section of the community? Petition after petition has been presented to the Parliament on behalf of age and invalid pensioners, and deputations of those pensioners have waited on various Ministers and on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). Generally speaking, when the pressure becomes so strong that it can be no longer resisted, the Government grants some minor relief. But because the mothers and fathers of our young children have not the time to take around petitions and to come here in deputations, the Government continues to ignore their demands for an increase in child endowment. If the Government must be forced into giving justice to the mothers and fathers in the community, then I am sure it will not be long before the Government will feel strong pressure from that section of our people.
Perhaps the lack of sympathy that is noticeable among honorable members opposite when we discuss child endowment can be explained by the fact that those of them who have young children have no particular need of endowment, because the salaries that they receive as parliamentarians are adequate to meet most of the demands made upon them in their family life. Most of their friends can afford to rear a family of three or four children without the help of child endowment. Honorable members on this side of the House have among their friends many people who are working for a living, whether they be white-collar workers, council workers, or employed in some other field. Those people have to raise their families on the average wage of about £18 a week. We understand their problems. We know of the sacrifices that they have to make. But the supporters of the Government, who in most cases can be described as silvertails, have no idea of the sacrifices made by people in the lower wage groups. If the Government really needs to have pressure brought to bear before child endowment is increased, that pressure will shortly be forthcoming.
– Do not spoil a good speech.
– The Minister for Social Services, who endeavours to give the impression of being hard-hearted, in fact can be quite sympathetic.
– Not very often!
– Perhaps not, but he has been known to be sympathetic on occasions. I think that once we penetrate his hard exterior we may find that he is prepared to do something for the parents of our young children.
– What would the honorable member use, borers?
– As a matter of fact, at the moment I am following the advice of Dale Carnegie, and I hope my methods will have some effect on the Minister. Let me give the Minister and other honorable members opposite some idea of the sacrifices that are made by the parents of our young children, particularly those who have to rear three, four or five on the average wage of about £18 a week. Those children must be fed and clothed. Their school text-books must be bought. In order to do these things, in many cases the mother must go without her new dress or the father without his new suit. If one of the boys wants a pair of football boots in order to play with his school team, the father must mend his own shoes just once more. The father or the mother must be constantly making sacrifices in order to give their children the things that are needed for their education and their maintenance. In many homes to-day, particularly those that are being paid for by the families who occupy them, sacrifices are made practically daily. This Government maintains that it believes in home-ownership. It has said, time and time again, that the man and woman in the community must do something for themselves, and cannot expect to be assisted by social services the whole of the way. No person in Australia wants to be assisted the whole of the way by social services. We on this side of the House, however, do not want to see the parents of our young children continually making sacrifices in order that those children may enjoy the same living standards as those available to the children of the next-door neighbour, who may be better off financially or who may have fewer children. I earnestly appeal to the Minister for Social Services to do something about child endowment. Nothing has been done about it since 1950, although the basic wage has, during the interim, increased from £5 16s. to £13 5s. a week. Age pensions have risen by a considerable amount but the payments for child endowment have not been increased one iota. If home life in Australia is to be happy and contented, parents must receive more assistance.
It is interesting to look at what has been spent on child endowment over the last two or three years. In 1955-56 the amount expended on child endowment was £60,380,685. In 1956-57 the amount dropped to £57,036,962. In 1957-58 it is estimated that the expenditure will be £59,600,000. So it will be seen that the estimate for this year is less than the actual expenditure in 1 955-56. The least that this Government can do is spend as much on child endowment in the future as was spent in the past, instead of allowing the expenditure to fall below that of 1955-56.
There are one or two other matters I should like to mention. One in particular is maternity allowances. These allowances have not been increased for quite a considerable time. I will show the House the amount by which these allowances should now be increased in order to bring them into line with the increases that have taken place in the basic wage. The first grade allowance should be increased by £19 5s. 4d., the second grade allowance by £20 1 ls., and the third grade allowance by £22 9s. 7d. This Government has failed dismally with regard to family allowances and child endowment, and I feel that the Minister for Social Services should do his utmost to convince Cabinet that the needs of the family are urgent. I understand that he did endeavour to do this, but that Cabinet decided otherwise. Consequently, the Minister is bearing the brunt of the criticism which rightly should be borne by the “ first eleven “ of the Cabinet. In the field of family allowances and child endowment this Government stands condemned, and I ask the Minister to do something as quickly as possible, because the parents of young Australians cannot be expected to continue to make the sacrifices they have been making owing to the increased cost of living, the restrictions on credits, and the various other things that have caused standards of living to fall over the. past six or seven years.
My remarks to-day have been devoted mainly to the needs of the family, because 1 feel that a strong case can be made for immediate and substantial increases. If the statements of many members on the Government benches are sincere, then the opinion of this House is that our family life must be preserved and that the parents of our children need and deserve assistance. However, in practice we find that although laudable sentiments are expressed by members on the Government benches, the Government as a body has not been prepared to increase child endowment since 1950. 1 firmly believe that we must do something to assist the parents of Australia’s families and that it must be done immediately. To quote again the words of the younger Pitt -
Let us make relief in cases where there are a number of children a matter of right and an honour, instead of a ground for opprobrium and contempt.
.- The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) has an infinite capacity for making bricks without straw. He endeavoured to castigate the Government with regard to child endowment. The truth of the matter is, as every honorable member knows, that had Labour been left to deal with child endowment, there never would have been such a thing as child endowment. Child endowment legislation was introduced into this Parliament by the first Menzies Government.
The plan at that time did not provide an allowance for the first child. Labour then came to office for quite a number of years. Did Labour do one thing about extending child endowment to the first child? It did not. The honorable member for Lang referred to the 1949 policy speech of the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). In that speech the Prime Minister said that if returned to power his Government would provide endowment for the first child. That promise was carried out. Therefore, the entire superstructure of the speech of the honorable member for Lang collapses about his ears, because there is no foundation for the criticism he has levelled against the Government
Let me pass now to something more pleasant - the speech made this afternoon by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). It was a magnificent speech. It may be said by the cynics, in criticism, that the honorable member for Sturt is an idealist. To my mind, and I believe to the minds of many other honorable members, no greater compliment can be paid to a man than to say that he is an idealist. But the honorable member for Sturt is a very practical idealist. If one tours the City of Adelaide, which is the honorable member’s home town, one sees many hospitals and homes for the aged. If one is accompanied by some one who knows something of the history of these homes, one is told that if the honorable member for Sturt had done nothing more than the part he played in the building and equipping of a particular home, that alone would be a monument to him. But this can be said not of only one institution, but of many institutions.
The honorable member for Sturt has, in addition, devoted far more study to this subject of social services certainly than any honorable member of this House, and probably more than any other person in the Commonwealth to-day. Early this year a report was published by a committee headed by Professor Downing, but it will be said by people who have had some association with the honorable member for Sturt, and who know his views, that that very useful report contains nothing new. Many of the opinions expressed in that report have been voiced in this House and on the hustings for years by the honorable member. Other matters dealt with in the report have been well known tn him.
I mention these matters because I do» not wish to go over the ground covered by the honorable member for Sturt. I merely say, speaking for myself, and, I believe, many other honorable members of theHouse, that I am thoroughly behind him in the views that he expresses with regard to a general review of the social services legislation of this country. Our social services legislation has to a great extent grown up piecemeal. As needs in certain quarters, have been revealed, legislation has been introduced to deal with them, but there hasnot been, as I understand it, a general overall review. I believe, and again I say that many honorable members of thisHouse are of the same opinion, that the time is ripe to have a thorough review of” the social services legislation. Therefore, honorable members on this side of theHouse welcome the Minister’s statement that he is having the position examined. We believe that the Government standsbehind those who believe that thrift is to beapplauded, who believe that in this country one should be provident and that those who< have been unable, during the course of their lives, to achieve a competence in their old’ age, should be protected.
The Minister, in a powerful speech, full’ of feeling, indicated that he had the matters which I have mentioned well in mind. Allow me to say to the Minister that if he is ableto produce measures along the lines he hasindicated, he will certainly win many plaudits, both within and outside this chamber. Two matters stand out particularly at this time with regard to social services. One is the inequality which exists under the present system of a flat rate of pension. At one end of the scale there is the married couple, living in their own home with superannuation, who, under measures now about to be put through, may receive as much as £15 15s. a week. They have a wellfurnished home, a motor car and so on. At the other end of the scale there is the person who receives £4 a week, out of which he is paying probably £2 a week for board in some cold, comparatively unfurnished room; and he has to struggle on only £2 for his food and clothing. That position is a very hard one indeed. People in such circumstances undoubtedly suffer considerable hardship. It is because of that inequality which does exist that honorablemembers, such as the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and, I believe the Minister, have in mind that another look should be taken at this legislation in order to see whether that sort of thing cannot be remedied by providing something in the nature of a special pension for hardship cases.
The other position which requires consideration is the perennial with regard to the abolition of the means test. I do not propose to go over the ground which has been covered so often before. I, myself, have been among those who have pointed out the effect of the means test upon the general economic state of the community, upon the difficulty of encouraging thrift and encouraging people to put their savings into loans, and so on. These are well known to people who have listened to these debates. I merely refer, once again, to the hardship of those people who have been thrifty during their lifetime and have been able to secure a small competence but who, because they have some sum over the amount of £1,750 a year in all, are unable to obtain a pension.
Some criticism was directed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) or the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) to the fact that £1,750 is the property limit. He said that at £1,751 one does not qualify for any pension at all. That is perfectly true. But what the honorable member did not tell the House was that when the Chifley Labour Government was in power, the amount of the property limit was only £750 and that a person owning property of a value of £751 received no pension at all. In this respect the Menzies Government has ameliorated the means test. Nevertheless, the positon still remains that a person who owns property of a value in excess of £1,750 does not qualify for a pension.
The pension is now £4 a week, and when this measure is passed it will be £4 7s. 6d. a week. A man who has invested £2,000 cannot receive, at the most, very much more than £60 or £70 a year from his investment. Apparently, he is expected to live on that £60 or £70; but the person who has no assets will receive £4 a week, or £208 a year. A man needs to accumulate something over £4,000 and invest it before his return can equal the full pension. It takes a great deal for the average man who is on wages - in fact I would say that it is almost impossible - to accumulate in his lifetime, anything like £4,000, particularly if he had to go through the depression of the 1930’s. The whole position with regard to the means test needs very careful examination.
– It is easy - abolish it!
– Last year I made the suggestion that it should be abolished in three stages, beginning at age 75, then at 72, and finally at age 70. I do not propose to go over the details I gave to the House last year. They are recorded in “ Hansard “ for any honorable member who cares to peruse them. Another method which might be suggested and which, without abolishing the means test in its entirety, would certainly result in much greater fairness than exists at the moment, would be to provide that a person should have an income equivalent to the amount of the pension, so that if he had £100 a year coming in from an investment he should receive an extra £108 from the Government or whatever additional sum is necessary to make the total £4 7s. 6d. a week. That would be most definitely a step forward and would greatly alleviate the hardship suffered by a considerable number of people to-day.
The third method which I put forward for the consideration of the Minister has been dealt with by the honorable member for Sturt. Because he dealt with it so well, I will not go into it in further detail. I refer to a contributory insurance scheme. Of course, the Australian Labour party would be opposed to such a proposal; but the British Labour party is in favour of it. I merely indicate these various methods for the consideration of the Minister, in the hope and belief that he does intend to treat both these serious matters of the inequality between needs, which results in the amount of the pension being so unfair in the case of certain members of the community to-day, and the need for the abolition of the means test as being matters for major consideration.
The bill before the House provides for many more millions of pounds to be spent on social services, and over £12,000,000 more money will be found in this year for pensioners. The individual pensioner is to be given an additional 7s. 6d. a week. Some criticism has been directed to that amount. I refer the House once again to the recommendation of Professor Downing, which was that the amount of the pensions for those in need should be increased, by 7s. 6d. That is the very amount that the Government has chosen. The Downing Committee, as I pointed out, was a committee of persons who studied this matter, and who may properly be regarded as experts.
Something has been stated in the course of this debate with regard to the policy of the government in 1949, when the present Prime Minister made his policy speech on the hustings. On that occasion, he said that his party would at least retain the existing rates of pension, and would endeavour to see that the pension granted was even better than the existing rates. Some criticism has been directed in an endeavour to show that that promise has not been honoured. Arguments have been based on the year 1948, and reference has been made to the basic wage. First of all, let me deal with the basic wage. Pensions have never at any time been pegged to the basic wage.- The suggestion, which is flung about nowadays, that the pension should be half the basic wage is not even believed in by our opponents. The amendment that has been proposed does not suggest that the pension should be half the basic wage. It suggests a figure that is considerably less than half the basic wage.
The reference to 1948 seems intended to indicate that the Government has not done what the Prime Minister announced it would do in 1949. As I have stated, on that occasion he said, in effect, “We will retain the existing rate of. pension “. The attempt by the Opposition to base its argument, not on the position in 1949, but on the position in 1948, is the trick of the confidence man. It is what is commonly called ringing the changes. It is well known that, during the year 1949, inflation caused prices to rise very rapidly indeed, and in 1949 the position was very different from the position in 1948. In 1949, the Prime Minister said to the people, in effect, “ Look! You will not be any worse off under our administration than you are now “. He did not say anything about 1948. The figures that I shall presently cite will show that the Prime Minister’s promise was fulfilled.
This attempt by the Opposition to ring the changes reminds one of nothing more than the guilty defendant in the dock - the man who, in order to try to prove he was not at a particular place on a particular day, proceeds to show that he was somewhere else, and produces witnesses to show that on that day he was somewhere else. In fact, it was on some other day that the witnesses saw him at the place at which he alleged he had been when the offence occurred. In other words, a false alibi is being put forward by the Labour party in order to endeavour to justify its failure in 1949. Opposition members say, “ Let us forget 1949. Let us consider 1948. What good fellows we were in 1948”.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) was put in the front of the Labour attack in an attempt to justify this false alibi. I can well understand why it was the honorable member for Port Adelaide who was put forward, because on various occasions in this House he has spoken in favour of more liberal social services. He has spoken in favour of the abolition of the means test. Unfortunately, in 1949. when the Chifley Budget was brought forward, a Budget which contained no provision whatsoever for increased pensions, the honorable member for Port Adelaide did not protest against the policy of the Chifley Government in not increasing pensions in a year of rapidly rising prices.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who seconded the motion submitted by the honorable member for Port Adelaide, was a member of the House on that occasion, also. Does history relate that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, with that great power of emotion and indignation which he at times endeavours to exhibit in this House, came forward and said, “ This is wrong. Why have you not given something more in the way of increased pensions? “ No. History does not relate anything of that sort. In fact, the honorable member for EdenMonaro was one of the silent, quiet beings on that occasion in regard to pensions. The truth of the matter is that, in 1949, when pensions should have been increased, the Labour government ran away from the matter. It is quite idle for Labour members, some eight years later, to say, “ Oh! Of course pensions should have been increased in 1949 “. They did not choose to increase them in 1949.
The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) quoted what was said by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, in those days. Mr. Chifley’s position with regard to pensions at that time was a churlish one. It amounted to saying, “We gave you something last year “. That was one of the reasons why the people were not prepared to trust the Labour government further in 1949, and why they got rid of it. The present Prime Minister went to the country and said, “ We will not let you down. We will give you at least what you are getting to-day, and we will probably give you more than that “. On the other hand, Labour was silent on the matter. That is the reason why people are not prepared to accept the protestations which one hears in the House to-day, and which have been heard through the years, that Labour is the pensioners’ friend. It is known that Labour is not the pensioners’ friend.
Let me come to the figures that I said I would cite with regard to the position of the pension in relation to the C series index. In 1950, the pension was 50s., and the C series index figure was 46s. 9d. In 1951, the pension was 60s., and the C series index figure was 57s. lOd. So it goes on through the years to the present time. When this bill is passed, the pension will be £4 7s. 6d., and the C series index figure, on the basis of Mr. Chifley’s day, will be 76s. 7d., or a difference of 10s. lid. In other words, as the Minister for Primary industry said this morning, it will be approximately lis. above what it would have been if the 1949 relationship had been maintained. The truth of the matter is that the Government has carried out absolutely what it promised to do. It has maintained the then existing rates of pension; in fact, it has bettered them.
Let me deal with one or two other matters on this point. First, with regard to the promise that the means test would be alleviated as that became possible from time to time, I have already mentioned the difference in the property provision, between the £1,750 of to-day and the £750 of Labour’s day. The amount of £100 which a pensioner could have without his pension being affected at all has been increased to £200, and the allowable income is now £7 17s. 6d. a week for a single person and £15 15s. for a married couple. In six out of the eight years this Government has been in office, it has given increases of pensions. Three of those increases were of 7s. 6d. a week, and two of 10s. a week. Labour has never on any occasion given an increase of pension greater than 5s. a week. On many occasions when Labour did give an increase, it was only 6d. a week. Of the total pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week, as it will be shortly, no less than £3 5s. 6d. has been granted by Liberal governments, and only £1 2s. by Labour governments. In those circumstances, one can have no hesitation in asserting, as I have been asserting, that it is not the Labour party that is the pensioner’s friend.
– I wish to speak in support of the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. 1 suggest that however much impressed the individual pensioner may be by a comparison of pension rates as they are now or will be, with what they were in 1949, 1938, or any other time, such a comparison is largely irrelevant. If I were a pensioner, the thing that would really concern me would be whether the pension I was receiving was adequate, decent and reasonable in 1957. References to the C series index in this connexion are useful only as guides. So far as this side of the House is concerned, they show that the pension should be increased to at least £4 17s. Id. a week, or to keep to half crowns, to at least £4 17s. 6d. a week, instead of £4 7s. 6d., as is proposed in this legislation. Even then, those people who are entirely dependent on the pension - and it seems that they constitute the great majority of pensioners - would experience extreme difficulty in maintaining themselves adequately in the face of the inflation which confronts pensioners just as it does every other section of the community. The difference between pensioners and wageearners in this respect is that at least the in-roads of inflation into pensions, child endowment and other social service payments can be redressed by legislation rather than by the action of an outside tribunal.
From time to time, the Director-General of Social Services conducts surveys in the various States with a view to ascertaining the circumstances under which pensioners are living. In the fourteenth report of the Director-General, for the year ended 30th June. 1955. it was stated, in relation to a sample of some thousands of pensioners in Victoria -
All these data point to the fact that only a small proportion of pensioners have income or resources of any extent apart from their pensions.
In other words, the majority of pensioners, whatever the liberality of the means test to-day, have nothing apart from their pension. The report continued -
This, however, is to some degree offset by the fact that almost one-third of the pensioners in the sample owned or partly owned their own homes.
I suggest that, of the total number of more than 500,000 pensioners, almost 350,000 have no income apart from their pension and do not own their homes. In other words, the majority of them are entirely dependent for their sustenance upon the pension, out of which they have to provide for food, rent, clothing and other items to which the Statistician rather genially refers as “ miscellaneous “. In using the C series index as the approach to this question it should be remembered that, after all, the index is only an average, subject to variation from time to time, of the prices of certain goods and services.
If we dissect the C series index, as is done in the “ Monthly Review of Business Statistics”, which is published by the Commonwealth Statistician - the most recent issue available to me being that for June, 1957 - we see that certain components in the C series index vary more than others. The category in the index that has increased more than any other is that of food and groceries. I submit that, from the very small amount of the pension, the average pensioner has to spend a higher proportion of his income on food and groceries than has, say, a person receiving the basic wage who has a wider field of economic choice. To rely solely on the C series index is to distort the picture of the pensioners’ present plight. For instance, if we start at 1949, where the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) would have us start, we find that the food and groceries component in 1949-50 was expressed as 1,664. At June, 1957, seven years later, that component had increased, if we include potatoes and onions in it, to as high as 3,429. I submit that, on the grounds of both humanity and reasonableness, potatoes and onions ought to be included in the pensioner’s diet. Pensioners, in fact, require more of those commodities than most other people do. An increase from 1,664 to 3,429 is an increase of more than double, in that seven years. The rent component, on the other hand, did not rise as much, because until a year or two ago in most States rents were pegged. The rent component rose, in the same period, from 1,063 to 1,483 - a much less steep rise. Clothing, on the other hand, showed a very steep increase, the figure rising from 2,626 in 1949-50 to 4,100 in June, 1957. The other component, “ miscellaneous “ - and I suggest there is not much of that left for the pensioner to indulge in anyway - increased from 1,443 to 2,468. Again, a much less steep rise. The average of the C series index over the period rose from 1,669 to 2,901, including the potatoes and onions components.
So, there has been a much steeper rise in food, groceries and clothing, the things on which the pensioner has to spend most of his inadequate income, than there has been in other things. I suggest that however much we may quibble in this Parliament about the point from which we should start in making comparisons, the question the Parliament in 1957 should ask itself is whether £4 7s. 6d. is an adequate sum to support a pensioner who is entirely dependent upon it. That is the sole income of two-thirds or more of the pensioners. As the cold, sober words of the DirectorGeneral’s report a year or two ago indicate, the majority of pensioners have nothing in the way of income from property or from any other source apart from their pensions. It is in this particularly significant watershed that we get the great social divisions so far as the future of pensions in Australia is concerned. There might be two broad streams. On the one hand there is the one mentioned to-day by a former Minister which might be called the needs approach to the question of pensions and on the other hand there is what has been described as the abolition of the means test approach, or what some one else described as rewarding the thrifty, or at least not penalizing them. There is much more division between those two approaches than is sometimes apparent.
With all respect to the great amount of work that the honorable member for Sturt might have put into examining various social security schemes in other countries, I submit that his approach is conditioned by his particular party political philosophy, and that the conclusions he would draw are entirely different from those which would be drawn by honorable members on this side of the House. I am not even suggesting that there is agreement on every point on that side of the House any more than there will be found to be agreement on all details of a question on this side of the House; and it is a healthy sign, despite what the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean), who is interjecting, has said that there should be differences of opinion in any political party on these social questions. There will continue to be differences of opinion about them, and uniformity is not always the best answer in these matters.
This afternoon the honorable member for Sturt propounded what might be regarded as the first instalment of the Wilson scheme, as we might call it.
– A very good name, too.
– Yes. If I am not interpreting the honorable gentleman incorrectly his scheme basically amounted to this: People would go along as at present receiving their pensions, but an attempt would be made to pay a pension at the present level of £4 7s. 6d. to people over 70 who at present are not eligible for a pension because of the operation of the means test. That is the interpretation I put on it. This, apparently would cost in the region of £55,000,000 or £56,000,000, and would be financed by a tax of 3id. in the £1 on income. I am not sure whether he means national income or only income from wages, income from wages and profits, and business income. I am not too clear on that point, but I suggest that all the details were not given. Broadly, that scheme would distribute the sum of £57,000,000 raised from a tax at the rate of 3id. a £1 on the income of the majority - that is, the income of the wage-earners. It would be a flat tax, and the £57,000,000 would be distributed among people over the age of 70 years who are already better off than the existing pensioners. That is the sort of choice which the community must face - whether it is going to fall on the side of amplifying the needs approach or come down in favour of modifying the means test. Personally, I am on the side of amplifying the needs basis. As I see it, the first concern is to make the pension adequate for the individual who has nothing but his pension on which to live; and that means the majority of pensioners. I shall not argue what might be an adequate pension other than to suggest that it should be at least £4 17s. 6d. Until that is done I. for one, would oppose the scheme pro posed by the honorable member for Sturt. I would probably oppose it in any event, but I would certainly oppose it on the basis that £57,000,000 would be taken out of the wages of people whose circumstances are worse than those of the people to whom the £57,000,000 would be paid. In my view it would be better that that sum, if it is to be used at all, should be. used to benefit people who have nothing else but their pension to live on.
– Where does the honorable gentleman get that figure of £57,000,000?
– I do not wish to be unfair to the honorable member, but that is how I interpreted his statement this afternoon.
– That is not correct.
– I understood that you proposed to finance the scheme by levying a tax of 3id. in the £1 on income. What income did you mean?
– All taxable income.
– On everybody?
– Everybody below the prescribed age.
– What sum would be raised by this process?
– About £30,000,000.
– I do not quibble about the amount; I am more concerned about the principle. Even if the figure is £30,000,000, it would still be taken from people on the basis of incomes, and be given to people who, at the present time, are better off than those dependent only upon the pension at the present level.
– That is the reason for the special pension in addition.
– That may be so. I am trying to get down to the basis of the scheme. Many implications are involved in it. I quote with approval from the rather conservative journal, “ The Economist “, of 18th May, 1957, the following statement: -
It is as well to understand from the outset what compulsory contributions to a national superannuation scheme would mean.
Whether the contributions are on the basis of wages or income does not seem to me to matter very rauch.
They would in part be a (ax on wages, however elegantly they may be set out as subscriptions from wages. They would represent, in another part, an increase in employers’ costs, and, therefore, an increase in prices … or a reduction in profits.
That seems to me to be a reasonable assumption, but it is sometimes forgotten by this Government. It applauds itself for introducing what it called a voluntary medical scheme, but that is only another way of taxing people 3s. a week. It is still a tax, no matter what attempt is made to cloak it. I hold, as do the majority of Opposition members, that, if revenue is to be raised, the most equitable method is a tax on income. I agree with the honorable member for Sturt on that point, but it should be not a flat tax on income but a progressive rate which becomes higher as the income increases. According to statistics, the average wage in Australia at the moment is £16 10s. a week. If a flat tax of 3id. in the £1 is applied to that income, an additional tax of about 5s. a week is imposed on a wage that is already inadequate to support the working man and his family. However grandly these schemes are described, they mean simply that income is transferred from one section of the community to another section. We must always ask the question: Is the person from whom the money is taken in a worse position than the person upon whom it is bestowed?
These are some of the implications that lie beneath the scheme and the ten years’ research of the honorable member for Sturt. I do not disparage his zeal. However, no matter what is said about the Labour party in Great Britain, the Australian Labour party has traditionally set its face against a contributory form of national insurance. Nine or ten years ago the Labour government had a kind of half-way scheme called the National Welfare Fund. A certain part of revenue from income tax in theory was set aside to be placed in the National Welfare Fund, but at least it was part of ordinary income tax. I shall not argue about how real in fact it was, but it was at least a recognition by the Australian Labour party that there was traditional oposition in this country to what is broadly described as a national insurance scheme. Such a scheme operates in Great Britain. There, every wage-earner pays 6s. 9d. a week, regardless of his income. That does not seem to me to be a very equitable method of providing for this very important matter. I say that because it seems to me that national insur ance or retirement schemes of one form or another are in the air at the moment. Much discussion has taken place about them, but intertwined with them are many rather nebulous social assumptions. If we are to get anywhere with this matter, we should get down to fundamentals. So far, the traditional approach to pensions in Australia has been on the needs basis. We say that on the needs basis, the age pension at its now proposed rate of £4 7s. 6d. a week is still not adequate, not decent, and not reasonable for the circumstances of 1957. We have launched our attack on that basis.
I have not attempted in the time at my disposal to go into all aspects of social services; I have concentrated on the age pension because it seems to be receiving most publicity at the moment. It is not the only important aspect, but some recognition seems to have been given to the fact that the previous level was not adequate. We say that the pension is not large enough and that even now, with the proposed increase, large numbers of good Australian citizens will still be faced with poverty.
Sitting suspended from 6.53 to 8 p.m.
– This bill is to authorize the payment of an extra £13,000,000 a year in respect of pensions, which has been agreed to by the Government, and I think that all sections of the House will want it passed and passed without delay. I support it, but not entirely with unmixed feelings. During the debate on this bill, we have had constructive speeches from both sides of the House, and I hope it will not be thought invidious on my part to single out the speech made by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), which, I think, showed a constructive approach to this problem.
On both sides, perhaps, the debate has been marred by some attempts to make political capital out of what should not be a political question, because it is a human question in very fact and deed. I hope that I shall not be guilty of that during my remarks to-night. I hope, too, that I shall keep clear of recriminations in regard to the past and, instead, use the past only as a source of inspiration.
I believe that the time is overdue for a complete review of our whole social services structure. Tt is now too much a thing of shreds and patches. We have, unfortunately, endeavoured to make ad hoc adjustments and have not undertaken in the last eight years the full review which is merited by the situation and which is necessary, if the limited amount of money at our disposal is to be used so as to achieve the greatest result, - and the greatest result in human terms, for all social services must be paid for and, in the long run, unless they are to be paid for out of inflation, they must be paid for out of taxation, or contributions from revenue raised in some way or another.
It is, therefore, not easy to discuss any concrete proposals without, at the same time, discussing overall Treasury policy, yet I feel that such a discussion might better find its place in the debate on the Estimates for the Department of the Treasury itself. I do, however, pass the remark that the root cause of all our budgetary difficulties and of our failure to make the most of our opportunities in Australia lies in the deficiency of savings compared with the need for capital investment.
In the Budget the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has endeavoured to make good that gap by using taxation revenue for capital purposes. In this Budget, in two items only, £240,000,000 is disclosed as the proposed expenditure on capital works from revenue, some on capital works of the Commonwealth and some from the Loan Reserve Account which, as honorable members know, is used for the capital works of the States. That figure of £240,000,000, roughly, is £22,000,000 up on the actual expenditure for last year. We are diverting from revenue very large amounts to capital purposes, and that would not be necessary if there were not in our economy a chronic savings deficiency. Anything, then, that is calculated to cure our deficiency will not, perhaps, cost as much as would appear at first glance, because from its gross cost must be deducted the gain to the loan funds in increased subscriptions, which obviously would lessen the drain on revenue at present used for those capital works. I hope to develop this more fully in the debate on the Estimates. At the moment I can only mention it and pass on.
Our social services cover a very wide range, but mainly they cover services for the young and services for the old and infirm. The two items, child endowment and invalid and age pensions, together amount to £180,000,000 out of the total of approximately £240,000,000 being spent from the National Welfare Fund this year. Therefore, they constitute about 75 per cent, of the whole. It is, therefore, reasonable that we should look mainly at these two items and not confuse the issue by looking at all the minor items, which are important in themselves, but which do not compare in consequence with those two.
For the young, there is family endowment. 1 must say that I found myself in some measure of agreement with the remarks made in regard to this matter by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) earlier to-day. I know that family endowment is the creation of this side of the House, but I do not want to labour any political point. I believe that family endowment is not keeping pace with the rise in prices, and that in this regard our social services fall short of what they should be.
When we came into office eight years ago in 1949, we set down a nominal scale of family endowment which has not subsequently been increased. I find, on consulting the papers, that in December, 1949, the C series index figure was 1466. In June, 1957, the latest date for which a figure is available, it had risen to 2901. It had nearly doubled. That means, in point of fact, that the effective value of family endowment has been halved, and this, I think, is a serious matter.
I know that family endowment, which will cost some £60,000,000 this year, is a major component of the Budget, and it is not easy to face up to the expenditure necessary to keep it in adjustment. I am well aware of the Treasurer’s difficulties in regard to it, but I feel that we should be thinking more in terms of a family budget. In this I refer, not only to endowment payments, but to the rebates that are given on the taxation scale, because in any reasonable consideration of these matters the two run hand in hand. It is not possible, of course, to think coherently in terms of family endowment without at the same time giving some’ consideration to the rebates for a family which are allowed in the income tax schedule.
The outstanding inequity in the Australian economic system is the bad position of the family man compared with the single man or woman. The family man is simply not getting a fair go. The roots of this lie deep, and the evil is not easy to cure. It is not only an inequity. It is also a source of inflation, and by being a source of inflation it reduces the capital amounts available to the Treasury. This evil feeds on itself and keeps on increasing. It is not an easy problem to solve, and it is for this reason that I believe an overall review of the whole system is not only necessary now, but long overdue. It is, to my mind, some reproach to the Government and the Treasury that that review was not undertaken on a comprehensive scale long ago.
Having made these few brief remarks about family endowment - which are inadequate, because, as I have pointed out, a proper analysis of the requirements would involve the consideration of matters that lie outside the scope of this debate - I pass to the other major component of the Budget, namely, pensions for the aged, the invalid, and the infirm. Here let me begin by complimenting the Government on what seems to me, though yet something much smaller than it should be, to be one of the really great and constructive things in the development of our social services - the provision of homes for the aged.
I think that, in relation to this problem, every honorable member should defer to the honorable member for Sturt, who has done a grand practical job in this sphere.
We all know that the most depressing problem for many old people is that of obtaining suitable accommodation. It is all very well to say that they can go into a home. How many of us would like to do that? We know that, in many homes conducted by the States, husband and wife are separated in their old age. That is inhuman, unjust, and inequitable. Therefore, we must compliment the Government for the move that it made in 1954, a further development of which is seen in the Budget for the current financial year, to help in the provision of homes for the aged. Until now, this help has been given by contributing £1 for £1, and henceforward will be given by contributing £2 for every £1 spent by private organizations. This scheme has not only the inherent merit of providing decent quarters for old people, but also the merit of conserving the community’s real resources in houses, because big houses should be occupied, not necessarily by old couples, who would leave rooms empty, but by young and growing families.
The Aged Persons Homes Act, in addition, encourages the wonderful work that is being done by voluntary organizations, which not only give of their time, but also - and much more important - provide the human contacts that are essential to better standards of living for old, and aging, people, lt seems to me that the scheme that the Government has devised has the merit that it takes the inhumanity out of social services and brings instead personal relations which, after all, are one of the most important weapons in the battle for the welfare of elderly people, for whom loneliness is very often the greatest and most insidious enemy.
This scheme is right, and will receive the support of honorable members on both sides of the House. It has only one regrettable feature: Not sufficient advantage of it has yet been taken by private organizations. Last year, the Government announced that, it would pay subsidies up to a total of £1,500,000. I think that, if honorable members consult the Estimates, they will find that only a little more than £700,000 was actually spent. We should be encouraging private bodies to take advantage of this scheme. It is not a matter merely for the Government. I believe that every honorable member has a personal responsibility to help people in his constituency to understand the opportunities offering under this scheme, and to have it availed of to the fullest possible extent. The scheme presents a challenge, and an opportunity to organizations distinct from government - the people whom we want to involve in the scheme, whom we want to induce to help, and who, in point of fact, are essential to the success of the scheme.
The Government proposes to do two things regarding houses for the aged in the current financial year. First, it will increase the subsidy from the present level of £1 for £1 to £2 for £1. Secondly, it will raise the subsidy ceiling from £1,500,000, which was not all spent last financial year, to £3,000,000. May I express the hope, Mr. Speaker, that £3,000,000 will be found to be inadequate, and that private organizations will take advantage of the scheme with great enthusiasm, crowd in with applications for subsidies, and make it necessary :for the Parliament to reconsider the subsidy later in the financial year, and increase it. Good luck to those who have achieved what has been done. All power to the elbows of those who have got behind the scheme, and done the work. We hope that more people will take part in it this financial year, and in the future, and make it a really magnificent show.
When we come to consider pensions, we find that the Government has increased them -a little more than was necessary merely to -keep pace with the rise in the cost of living.
– I rather thought that, earlier in the evening, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) spoke about this matter a little tendentiously. Let us remember that, so far as -we raise the general level of living standards, we reduce our ability to give relief to those who most need it. Therefore, I agree that the Government has done the right thing in raising the purchasing power of the pension a little, rather than keeping it constant. But I believe that the Government should he doing more in other directions.
Two things need attention - first, special hardship cases, and, secondly, the incidence of the means test, particularly where anomalies occur in its application. Special hardship cases will always exist, unfortunately, because humanity does not fit into the Procrustean bed that some people would like to prescribe for it. People are, thank heaven, different from one another, and “have different needs. No set pension can meet all those needs. Here again, I feel that the House is indebted to the honorable member for Sturt for his analysis of the problem. A number of special hardship cases, but not all, will be given relief by the Government’s proposals in relation to homes for the aged. Single persons, and widows and widowers, who in the course of nature, spend their last years in a single state, are hit with particular severity. Heaven knows, it is difficult enough for them to exist on their present pensions. If they are given proper accommodation at a reasonable cost, the whole picture becomes quite different for them. Many of them pay rents that are beyond their means for rooms that are often inadequate and uncomfortable. Elderly people need special accommodation with certain features - not greatly different from what we all are used to - but still special features such as few stairs, and a bath in a convenient position. Although most of us perhaps hardly notice such things, they make all the difference between comfort and discomfort for elderly people. But there are others. I feel that for these some supplementary pension is much more important than it would be to raise the general level of pensions in terms of real purchasing power. I should like any extra money to go where it would do the most good. There are other services they need - the district nursing service, for example, a volunteer service to which all members who have any knowledge of it would like to pay tribute. Then there is the feeding aspect, the Meals-on-Wheels organization - that concept. Surely these things can be developed.
We also need a special hospital situation because, unfortunately - and this is in the course of human nature and not the fault of anybody in this House or outside of it - unfortunately, elderly people in the last years of their lives often become bedridden. This is something that does not require always the full rigours of surgical nursing in a hospital. Some kind of an intermediate provision is needed in terms of nursing, to give to the people concerned a higher level of comfort, happiness and decency, and an essential feeling of not being entirely helpless themselves. Some kind of intermediate organization between the full hospital and the home should be created.
It should be the function of this Government to work, perhaps in co-operation with the States, to give a lead and see that this is done. There could be no better way in which real resources could be expended because, by so doing, not only would you help these people, but you would also help the hospital whose beds might otherwise be cluttered with people who did not require the full routine of hospital nursing. By so doing you would help the sick throughout the whole community, whether they be young or old, and at the same time you would help the States to carry on their functions more efficiently.
I do not want to-night to go into this question of the division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the States. All I am saying is that the time is ripe - and over-ripe - for some real action to be taken along these lines. There has been too much delay, too little done, and in consequence we even find that the allocation required in the Budget - the budgetary strain - is greater than it need be having regard to the amount of comfort and relief which it affords.
Of the means test, let me say this: The present means test penalizes thrift. It sometimes presses harder than necessary, because people sometimes do not realize how they can rearrange their property in order to take advantage of exempt income and exempt property. The cost of modifying the means test may not be as much as thought at first sight because this par excellence is something that increases thrift, and although I do not say it would give a magic and instantaneous cure, the modification of the means test would increase the capital resources available to the Treasurer, and, therefore, decrease the necessity to use taxation to provide money for capital works. This is an offset - it might be a considerable offset; in the long run, I believe it would be more than an offset to the gross cost; but in the short run, the benefit from the Budget point of view would take some time to accumulate. Sometimes it is put to us that here we must make a choice.
I have spoken about hardship cases. I have spoken about the means test. We must consider whether we are faced with the dilemma that there is no possible reconciliation of these viewpoints. If you give to the special hardship cases you are in a way imposing a means test; and if you take the means test off, you are in a sense giving to people who are not in the greatest need. This dilemma was posed for us by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) in his speech earlier in this debate. I believe it is not necessary for us to take this gloomy view. It is possible to combine the two things in a way which does not involve a conflict between them.
There are many ways of doing this. The honorable member for Sturt spoke of one way earlier in the debate. It is not the only way. It may be the best way; I do not know. But there are other ways of doing it. For example, we could have a graduated pension free of means test, which came on by steps as the pensionable stage was reached - a pension which only reached its full amount free of means test after the age of, say, 70 or 75 years, or any other arbitrary figure. In the meantime, we could maintain the present pension plus the hardship benefits with a means test, and also as an invalid pension, because in the nature of things an invalid pension must always be subject to a means test. We could also simplify the income tax provisions which are designed to help elderly people.
The point I make is, that there has been far too much delay in undertaking this comprehensive review. The Government should have done more in the eight years that it has been in office. We have had, on the whole, eight very good years. We may not have such good years immediately in front of us. It is a pity if these opportunities have been wasted. I believe that the time to have acted was soon after we came into office, in accordance with the pledge given. Honorable members will recall that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself is very much in favour of this kind of action. They will recall that he is so much in favour of it that in 1939 he actually resigned from the Ministry because this principle was not being immediately implemented. I am nol wedded to the 1939 scheme and, indeed, in many respects I regard it as a defective scheme; but I am wedded to the abolition of the means test in a way which does not conflict with special consideration being given to those hardship cases.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that there are still opportunities in front of us. I trust that there will be no more delay and that the Government will, at long last, put its hand to a proper, comprehensive and complete review of the whole position.
.- It is not very often that I can feel pleased at a statement made by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), but I do feel to-night that one can be pleased with the statement that he has just made, because it was well considered. It was a very fine contribution to this debate. However, I feel that there are one or two matters he touched on - one in particular in regard to the Government’s assistance in the provision of homes for the aged - which are probably wide of the mark. lt is not as easy as the honorable member believes to obtain finance from the Government for the provision of homes for the aged. Organizations that may have some association with State governments are ineligible to receive such assistance. Hospital boards and the like are denied Commonwealth assistance for the building of these homes. Many institutions, in New South Wales particularly, could well do with extra finance for this purpose, but they are denied this assistance by the Commonwealth.
I desire to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). I congratulate him on the way that he presented the case for the Opposition. I am sure that even Government supporters will acknowledge that the honorable member has a wide knowledge of social service legislation generally. His contribution to the debate, and especially his reference to the many anomalies in the act, must have impressed all clear-minded persons in this House.
The purpose of the amendment is, first, to influence the Government to make the increases in pensions retrospective to 1st July of this year. The amendment was also designed to secure increased benefits for other pensioners who do not participate in the increases to be granted under this bill. I believe that every member of the Opposition, and of this Parliament, is pleased that increases are to be granted, inadequate though they may be. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has told us that retrospective payments of pensions cannot be made. We, on this side of the House, insist that they can be made. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) pointed out in his Budget speech that the increases contemplated would cost the country £15,980,000 in a full year, and £9,531,000 in this year. A perusal of the records shows that in the year 1956-57, the requirements of the Department of Social Services were £2,697,404 less than the Government had budgeted for. I suggest that this money could have been used for the retrospective payment of the proposed increases in pensions. The remainder of the money required could have been obtained in several other ways. It could have been taken from the National Welfare Fund itself.
I suggest that the Minister’s secondreading speech was not sincere, and that it was designed to mislead and misinform the general public regarding the true plight of the pensioners. The Minister tied up his figures in such a way that it is quite understandable that so many aged people and invalids commit offences when applying for pensions, as a result of which they find themselves in trouble and have their pensions reduced. I suggest that the Minister’s speech was one of humbug and sheer hypocrisy. Over the years this Government, through the Minister for Social Services, has made a real political football of the sufferings of the aged and the infirm.
– I regret that it seems to be necessary to rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker, and to draw your attention to the fact that the honorable member for Shortland, having nothing better to say, has referred to my speech as hypocrisy. Is that in order?
– The honorable member for Shortland must withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw the remark in deference to the Minister.
– No, the honorable member will withdraw it unreservedly.
– I withdraw it unreservedly. You cannot stop me from thinking it.
– The honorable member will withdraw that remark, or he will be compelled to resume his seat.
– Very well, I wm withdraw that remark. The records show that year by year the Government has endeavoured to play one section of the pensioners off against another. In some budgets the age and invalid pensioners have received pension increases. In other budgets the repatriation pensioners have been given a rise. At another time the means test has been eased. While the Government is indulging in that kind of practice, the base rate pensioners and others are slipping farther back in their standards of living. The Minister must accept responsibility for the grave plight of many pensioners. He seems to derive great satisfaction from throwing a few “ bob “ here and a few “ bob “ there, while at the same time conveniently forgetting about the wives of invalid pensioners and the lower rates paid to B. C and D class widows. Apparently the wives of invalids, and the widows, are expected to live more cheaply than age pensioners and others.
The Minister also forgets that the aged must die, and that the pensioner must provide in advance for his burial by taking a certain amount each week from his meagre pension. Nothing has been done to assist spinsters, many of whom, because of ill health and advanced years, are unable to work or to obtain work. These women must wait until they reach the age of 60 before they can receive any pension. There are literally hundreds of women who depend on their relatives to throw them a few “ bob “ from time to time in order that they may subsist until they are old enough to qualify for an age pension. Others have been forced on to the streets because this Government and its Minister for Social Services have refused to help them.
I draw attention also to the plight of the unemployables, those who are too ill to work, but not so ill as to be certified as 85 per cent, incapacitated, and those whose physical make-up preclude them from obtaining employment, because employers will not take the risk of employing them. What has been done for those people? Nothing at all has been done to assist them. The Minister and his Government just do not care about them. They have to live on the charity of missions and benevolent societies, plus what they can scrounge from garbage tins. This can be verified by observation any day in Sydney and in other places. Many of these unemployed persons are in advanced stages of malnutrition. Yet the Minister speaks glibly of what his Government has done in the field of social services. The Minister is noted for his condemnation of the socialists, as he calls them, and for his repeated attacks on the previous Labour government for its failure to provide proper pensions for the aged and for invalids. Let me say this to the Minister: The Chifley Labour Government felt the wrath of the electors in 1949 for its failure to provide some relief in the Budget for pensioners, and it was removed from office. This Government and the Minister will ultimately meet the same fate.
Not only has the Government failed to maintain the pension rate, but it has also failed to restore the purchasing power of the £1, as it undertook to do in 1949. The failure of the Government to restore the purchasing power of the £1 and to halt the continual increase of living costs has demoralized tens of thousands of pensioners who live on the base rate pension.
They have not the means or the ability to supplement their incomes and they almost starve on their miserable pensions. Since increases in pension rates were granted in 1955 the cost of living has increased enormously. Council rates and water rates have also increased. Rents have increased, and the costs of household commodities have also increased. Those increases account for more than the 7s. 6d. a week increase that the Government now proposes to grant.
The Minister referred to the benefits received by pensioners through the Pensioner Medical Service. It is true that certain concessions are obtained by pensioners under that service. It is also true that this Government has disgracefully divided the pensioners with respect to hospital and medical services. Hundreds of thousands of pensioners who receive the maximum pension rate, and the maximum amount of supplementary income, have a weekly total income of £15 15s. On the other hand, the application by this Government of a means test has resulted in a few thousand pensioners, whose total incomes amount to only £12 a week, being compelled to meet their full medical and hospital commitments out of income. Free medical and hospital services are available to pensioners, but doctors frequently prescribe medicine which must be paid for. Such charges reduce considerably the value of the pension. Is it any wonder that, recently, hundreds of thousands of pensioners signed petitions seeking substantial increases? The base rate pension is entirely inadequate, and it is about time that the Minister forgot completely what the socialists failed to do in 1949, and came to grips with the problem of providing an adequate pension in 1957. The Minister can explain, for as long as he likes, how much better off the pensioner is to-day than he was under a Labour government, but he will not convince the base pensioner that he is better off than he was before the last two basic wage increases took place.
The Government last increased the general pension rate in October, 1955, to £4 a week. Two years earlier it had increased the rate by 2s. 6d. to £3 10s. a week. During the last two years base rate pensioners have had to exist on £4 a week, although the basic wage for the six capital cities has increased by £1 a week, or almost 10 per cent. An increase of 7s. 6d. in the pension is apparently expected to satisfy pensioners, though the worker in industry enjoys an extra £1 a week. The Minister informed the Parliament that the bill would provide additional comfort for the aged, the sick and the afflicted. The base pensioner and his dependant, and those on special benefits, are far worse off than they have ever been.
It is strange that, while base rate pensioners are required to reduce their living standards, the Consolidated Revenue Fund should stand at the highest figure on record, and the National Welfare Fund should stand at more than £240,000,000. In each of the last four years huge amounts have been added to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve. In fact, more than £300,000,000 has found its way into reserve funds in that period. Despite all this the Minister has the audacity and impudence to take to task the pensioners who recently petitioned the Parliament for an adequate increase in age and invalid pensions. The pensioners should be made aware of the Minister’s resentment at the petitions that were presented by many honorable members, from both sides of the chamber. He appears to lack sympathy for the pensioners and to be completely out of touch with what has happened administratively in the social service field during the last five years.
The Minister, speaking of the huge sum of £243,000,000 that was to be appropriated for social services this year said -
Every penny . . . 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.
All I can say is that those who provide, through taxes, the finance to meet the country’s requirements - irrespective of how it is applied - are extremely fortunate. Many thousands of pensioners would give anything to be in the same position.
I wish to refer briefly to the Minister’s statement respecting the huge cost of providing pensions. He said -
I must deplore the ill-considered 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. The Government will perpetrate no injustice on any wage or salary earner.
It will be seen that the Minister, who boasts of having humanitarian instincts, resents people taking a form of action which is designed to give them security in their old age. Apparently he thinks that because they receive £4 7s. 6d. a week, they are getting enough to live on. The Minister said that he would see that the pensioners did not receive a pension that would exceed the earnings of the basic wage or salary earner. Let me tell the Minister that this Government has already done that. Though some pensioners live in apparent comfort, others barely exist. Some workers are retiring from industry because, by going on the pension, they get a rise. Virtually, they are better off financially than if they had remained at work. That is an indication of how lop-sided the social service legislation has become. A supplementary income of £7 a week, when added to a pension of £8 15s., produces an income on which the pensioner can live in comfort. But it is significant that the Minister has neglected to tell the House how many pensioners are in that category. He knows that, in reality, the number is very small and that the greater number of pensioners are always up against it financially. He went to great lengths to explain that invalid pensioners and their wives could now have, between them, an income of £13 2s. 6d. a week. I wonder what was in his mind when he said that. He knows that, in more than 90 per cent, of cases, the invalid pensioner and his wife have no supplementary income and that, even after the proposed increase is given effect, they will have no more than a paltry £6 2s. 6d. a week on which to live.
Social service inspectors hound invalid pensioners and their wives to make sure that they do not earn a supplementary income. I have known cases in which the wife has had to go out to work and inspectors have told the husband that if he is well enough to do the household chores he cannot be classified as an invalid, and should lose his pension.
Recently, I had before me the case of an invalid pensioner who was given £4 a week for looking after, and sweeping, some club rooms. The money was a kind of ex-gratia payment for sporting service rendered years before. As soon as the Department of Social Services found out about it, his pension was suspended, pending further inquiries, lt is still under suspension, and apparently, as far as the department is concerned, he and his wife can starve until the investigation has been completed. How long that will take, goodness only knows.
Only last week, a widow, deciding that she could not live on the widows’ pension, decided to get a job. She notified the Department of Social Services that she was taking a position at Lord Howe Island. The department promptly stopped her pension. It was not decent enough to allow her to earn even the permissible amount before it did so. She remained at Lord Howe Island for six or seven months, and, on her return to Newcastle, applied once more for the pension. That was in November, 1956; but the review was not finalized until 23rd September, ten months later. The department’s excuse was that the lady in question had, in the meantime, sold some property. That is true, but the sale had been finalized in April.
As I see it, the problem of social services is a human problem, and money considerations should not interfere with proper administration. Those who need social services are mostly aged or infirm, or are widows who have lost their breadwinner. The only needs of those people are food, clothing, and shelter, and this country has plenty of all. However, before obtaining social service benefits, they must first of all comply with the provisions of the act, and rightly so. But quite often that is where trouble begins. Time and again it has been my experience that the human element enters into the considerations. In my view many officers of the Department of Social Services are not adequately or correctly trained. Some are not psychologically equipped to deal with the public. It is those officers who cause distress and discomfort to pensioners. For instance, my constituent should not have had his pension suspended because he was performing sedentary work, which was unavailable in any case to any other person. The Minister contributes to wrong-doing by pensioners. He tells the country that an invalid and his wife can have an income of £13 2s. 6d. a week, but he does not explain how that money can be obtained. I have dealt with hundreds of cases where applicants have been refused pensions for a variety of reasons. Many persons, especially women, have refused to go back to the department because of the treatment they have received. For the information of the Minister I will read to him a letter I have received from a person who recently obtained a pension. It states -
We are now in our new home and have taken your advice and bought a small place for just two, but if worst happens will be able to let a small sunroom. We are hoping to make both ends meet without doing so. As regards pension office, I have had a dreadful gruelling. My only fault was in being too honest and, in my opinion, meeting a man who was looking for trouble, the complication being the fact that a friend lent me £200 in case pension was delayed. As I had no intention of accepting it, or I should say of keeping it longer than a week or so, in order to appease my friend, I tried to replace it in her bank, but could not do so without her book. So until the excitement of moving was over I put it in Commonwealth Savings Bank for safety. This took place after our first interview in pension office. Second interview I told them of it and there was a dickens of a fuss. Pension delayed another six weeks and such a dressing down I felt like a thief. Bank manager of Double Bay Commonwealth Bank had only to be contacted to prove my effort to replace money lent by friend and it was his suggestion I bank it until I could contact her. He knew her and that she withdrew it from his branch, but, of course, could not accept replacement unless I had her bank book.
One phone message to him would quickly have cleared the air. Even had the money been mine we still had less than £400 permitted. Anyway, thank you for your help and I hope they will soon find out I am an honest woman, but am inclined to believe all the dreadful things I have heard about the pension office. Goodness knows when it will be settled.
That is the sort of letter that strangers write because of the attitude of some officers of the Department of Social Services. I suggest that those happenings occur because the magistrates, the examiners and many of the inspectors are not properly trained in their work. I go so far as to say that this even extends to the high administrative officers in some instances. Section 38 (3.) of the Social Services Act specifically provides that all applications for pensions shall be determined by the magistrate according to equity and good conscience and without regard to legal forms and technicalities. I submit that quite often the officers of the Department of Social Services do not act in keeping with the intention or the spirit of the act or with good conscience.
I recently had cause to refer to a matter in this House and the Minister for Social Services took me to task. In fact, he had the audacity to say that he was pleased that I could not dragoon his officers into making a favorable decision. I want it to be known that I never attempt to dragoon anybody. I have always tried to play the game in this House and with all departmental officers with whom I have had dealings. The Minister is very ready to accuse other people of dragooning officials, but he himself is not above dragooning people. I made representations to him recently about a certain matter and he indicated that he was trying to help me as a friend. However, because I said, “ It is with complete disgust that I refer this matter to you . . . “, the honorable gentleman took umbrage at my letters to him and he threatened me with sanctions. I only addressed the Minister in that way because I could not get satisfaction, as was the case when, during a recent adjournment debate, I drew to his attention the plight of a young lady who had been robbed of eight weeks’ pension because somebody had wrongly paid her long service leave in weekly instalments. Let me read the Minister’s letter. He said -
In your letters to me - and I suspect to the officers of my Department - 1 have noticed with much regret an increasing tendency for you to use both irresponsible and intemperate language.
It might be that you are not conscious of it, in which case no great harm has been done, but I would suggest that you give some consideration to the matter and endeavour to confine what you have to say within the limits of a simple statement of fact, when all your correspondence will be acknowledged and answered with the expedition and courtesy that is, I hope, characteristic of all my communications.
If, on the other hand, it is your intention to be both irresponsible and intemperate, I will have no alternative but to issue instructions that will meet the situation in so far as I am personally concerned and in so far as my department is concerned.
I am the kind of man that can get no great pleasure from writing a letter of this description, but it is designed to help you, and it has no other purpose.
So, the Minister can try to dragoon. He can do what he likes. But the matter on which I wrote was very simple. It concerned a man who had been robbed of 2s. a fortnight out of his pension. When I wrote further to the Minister he replied to me, and this is the last paragraph of his letter -
It is the manifest duty of the Director of the Department of Social Services in New South Wales to administer the Social Services Act in matters of this kind. However, I will review the circumstances of this case.
I am pleased to say that the Minister did review the case; but he cannot get away with what he wants to do. The Department of Social Services in Sydney assessed the pension of a man who had not retired until he was 72 years of age. He had no savings of any kind when he retired, but Rylands Brothers paid him £191 in lieu of longservice leave. For his last fortnight at work he received £31, which represented his wages and payment for annual holidays. The director of the department in Sydney held that as the man had about £20 more than the permissible limit, the pension should be reduced by 2s. a fortnight. This is what the director said -
Tt was subsequently established that on the same date he also received an amount of £31 in respect of annual leave due to him at date of retirement, but he apparently held this money and did not place it in his bank account.
Because I expressed disgust the Minister indicated that I was wrong.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- First of all, I should like to congratulate the Opposition on choosing one of its best members to lead the attack on this bill. I think all Government supporters have a lot of respect for the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). I say that now because a little later I want to say something not so -good about the honorable member. I also welcome back to the chamber the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). I hope he will stay long in this House and will recover from his illness, because I have found that the attacks of the Opposition these days are becoming excessively boring. The only bright player in the cast is the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). The Opposition attacks on the Government have lost all their force. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro is a good speaker. The last time he spoke in the House was when the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) introduced a social services bill during the Budget session in 1956. He made a very destructive speech then. I am pleased to see that he has mellowed somewhat since then, because on this occasion his speech was not so destructive. However, he and other speakers on the
Opposition side seemed to claim that the Labour party had a monopoly of all the good things that have been done for pensioners. Speaker after speaker from the
Opposition seemed to collect to himself an aura of humanity, claiming that good things come only from Labour.
The problem of the care of the poor, the indigent and the unemployed goes back many years. Recently I read Professor Trevelyan’s “English Social History” and was very interested to find that this problem goes back to the time of the Tudors. According to Professor Trevelyan, Gregory King said that in about 1698 the poor rate was a charge of nearly £800,000 a year on the country and rose to £1,000,000 in Ihe reign of Queen Anne. So, in those days, nearly 300 years ago, people faced the same problem as we face to-day. In those day the population of England was 5,500,000. A farmer, one of the wool barons, had an average income of £42 10s. a year and a rich man would have been receiving about £120 a year. We see that at the time of Queen Anne, when money was more valuable than now, they had to make provision to the extent of £1,000,000 a year for aged and indigent people. So the history of pensions goes back a very long time.
It is interesting to note that, according to Professor Trevelyan, Richard Dunning declared in 1698 that the parish dole was often three times as much as a common labourer, having to maintain a wife and three children, could afford to expend upon himself, and that persons once receiving outdoor relief refused ever to work and “ seldom drank other than the strongest alehouse beer or eat any bread save what is made from the finest wheat flour “. The historian warns us to receive that last remark with caution. Even in those days, they probably had taxpayers’ defence leagues.
We have seen that this problem of pensions goes back a great many years. The point I should like to make is that all honorable members, whether they belong to the Australian Country party, the Liberal party or the Labour party, are vitally interested in the problem of age and invalid pensions. It is time we stopped dealing with pensions from the political angle. Some people say that we are making a political football of the pensioners, but I believe that every member of this House is equally interested in the welfare of the pensioners. The honorable and youthful member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) said that we on this side of the House would not understand this problem because we were what he called “ silvertails “, suggesting that only members of the Labour party were the friends of the poor. He made those remarks with a poker face. I claim that all members of this Parliament are equally interested in the welfare of the pensioners. I find it very tedious that every time we debate social services we hear comparisons made of what Labour did when it was in office and what this Government has done. I believe that sometimes the debates become almost unreal. We want more of the kind of speeches that we had to-day from the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), and we could well do without the dreary sort of stuff spoken by the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths).
I have gained the impression, rightly or wrongly, that when some honorable members speak in this House about age pensioners they regard the pensioners merely as ciphers. They are not ciphers, they are human beings. They have the same fears, ambitions and worries as we have, who are trying to help them to fulfil their destinies. They are real live men and women. I have met many of them. I have found that most of the old people keep themselves very clean and take a real pride in their appearance. Some of them refuse to accept a pension because they think it would not be right to do so. As we meet all kinds of people, we come to realize there is a tremendous difference between various families and various people and that we cannot measure them all with the same yardstick. They are human beings, and we should approach the problem of pensions with that in view.
There are two factors, to my mind, that control pension rates - need and the capacity of the nation to pay. How can we raise pensions? Every one would like to make a good fellow of himself. We should all like to raise pensions to higher and higher levels, but there is only one way to do that, lt is to raise the standard of living for all. The higher you raise the standard of living, the more you can raise the pensions. There are no short cuts. The only way in which the nation can give higher pensions and a better standard of living to pensioners is by achieving greater production. I commend that thought to the Opposition, which claims to represent the workers, or, as I call them, the wageearners. It is in their hands to raise the standard of living for all. With increased production, we can increase pension rates.
This matter, to my mind, should be kept completely outside of politics. Let us see how the Opposition approaches the problem. We had the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) making an attack, as it has been called, on the social service legislation. Has anybody who has been in this House to-day heard any other form of attack on the Government’s proposals than suggestions that we should give more of this and that? The honorable member for Eden-Monaro talked about child endowment. He said that in terms of modern money values child endowment should be raised two, three or four times. The provision in this budget for child endowment is £59,000,000. He wants that sum to be doubled or trebled, but he does not say where the money is to come from. That is the point that interests me. It is quite easy to say that we should give more, but where is the additional money to come from?
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro as not alone in adopting that attitude. Every member of the Opposition who has spoken has chosen to point to one payment and say that it is not enough and that we must give more. But not one of them has said where the additional money is to come from. lt is quite easy to say that we should give more and to make a good fellow of yourself in that way. When we come to discuss the Estimates, members of the Opposition doubtless will ask for more money for roads, hospitals, education and many other things, completely irresponsibly. They say that they want more money to be allocated for social services. Here is the Budget. It is proposed to take this year £1,300,000,000 from the taxpayers of
Australia. If honorable members opposite want more money for social services, surely it would be reasonable for them to go through the Budget and indicate ways in which expenditure could be curtailed. They could say to the Government, for instance, that the vote for parliamentary salaries and allowances should be cut by £500,000 and the money saved used to make higher payments to age pensioners. They could suggest that money for that purpose be taken from the defence vote or from other votes. It is quite a simple matter. The national Budget is in many ways the same as the family budget. If a man’s wife wants a mink coat, an expensive refrigerator or something else, sometimes he goes to his boss and asks for more money. But we know what a boss is likely to say if an employee asks him for more money so that he can buy his wife a mink coat, and the same thing might be said to us by the tax-payers if we asked them for more money.
Members of the Opposition say that they think the Government is not providing enough money for social services. Why do not they say from where they think the extra money needed could be raised? If they cannot point to any items in the Budget that they say should be cut so that the money saved in that way could be used for social services, they are recommending that the Government increase taxes. But we recall that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), in his attack on the Budget, said that the Government was taking a scandalously large amount of money from the taxpayers by taxation. Here is the problem. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that the Government is taxing too highly, but other members of the Opposition say that the Government should make more money available for social services. They cannot have it both ways. The intelligent way to attack the Government’s policy would be to suggest how more money can be made available; there is no other way, but Labour has not done that.
This is the Government’s decision and, as far as I am concerned, I believe that the budgets produced by the late Mr. Chifley provided for the maximum which, in the opinion of the government of the day, the economy could afford. I do not say that the Chifley Government gave too little. I sincerely believe that Labour governments gave the maximum which they thought could safely be given out of the national income. I have no criticism to make in that respect; and I believe that this Government is actuated by identical ideas. The current Budget represents what the Treasurer and the Cabinet believe to be the maximum that the economy can stand. If we approach our consideration of this measure from that view-point we shall get on better together.
I have a couple of criticisms to make of the provisions of this bill. For one thing, I cannot understand why no increase is being made in the allowance to wives of pensioners. I know it would increase the cost, but I feel that the amount provided needs to be increased. The lack of such a provision should be explained. The other thing is the position of single pensioners with whom the Minister dealt in the latter part of his speech. I think the married pensioner has a much better opportunity of living decently on the pension than the unmarried pensioner has. A single person cannot share his rent or other costs as a married couple can. The single pensioner is at a disadvantage. However, I gathered from the Minister’s final remarks that this matter is under close examination.
The last speaker and several other members of the Opposition have referred to the number of petitions that have recently been presented asking for an increase in pension rates to half the basic wage. I agree entirely with the Minister that such requests are completely unreal. A married couple receiving the pension and the normal income allowed, receive more than a person who has to raise a family of several children. I cannot believe that the claims made in the petitions are worth debating.
– Did you not present a petition?
– Yes. I presented a petition simply because I am a representative of my electors. If my electors ask me to present a petition, it does not mean that I approve of it because I present it. I am in duty bound to do so, and if I did not accede to their requests I would be recreant to my duty. Several members of the Opposition have suggested linking the rate of pension with the basic wage. They have been trying to prove that the relationship which the basic wage bore to the pension when Labour was in office should be restored to-day; but they forget that they are comparing the present pension with a basic wage which was based on the needs of the family. To compare a rate of pension with the modern type of basic wage is a very different thing, because the present basic wage is based, not on the needs of the worker, but on the capacity of industry to pay. That makes a lot of difference. When you start using figures you can make them do anything you want them to do. All these protagonists of decimal points have forgotten to show that the basic wage in the late Mr. Chifley’s time was based on needs plus a 5s. prosperity loading in 1947. The present basic wage of £12 16s. is based on the capacity of industry to pay, whereas it would be only £9 19s. 6d. if it were a needs wage. Honorable members opposite forget about the loadings which have been added to the wage. If they want to make comparisons they should at least compare like with like.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) did something which, if any one else had done it, I would regard as fraudulent. He was talking about social services and socialism. He is a very simple gentleman, and I have often warned him that he does not really understand what socialism is. I have found a similar confusion far and wide in my electorate. I have heard the rather extraordinary argument that social services mean socialism. They do not; socialism is servitude. The most dictatorial tory government in the world could still provide social services, which are purely assistance for the indigent, the aged, and so on, and have nothing to do with socialism. Socialism is an ugly materialist creed. Consequently, when the honorable member for Melbourne Ports claims that socialism means social services, he makes a fraudulent suggestion. Such a claim has nothing to do with the truth.
There is a modern tendency, particularly in the Old Country, in England, to develop the welfare state. I have as much humanity as has any other honorable member, but I know that welfare states can be very dangerous indeed. One effect of the welfare state is that the old people are abandoned by the young people. Who looked after the old people at the end of the nineteenth century when there were very few pensions? The aged were cared for by their families. To-day, when people concentrate on material benefits, they lose sight of spiritual values. I believe that the welfare state, within reason, can make a very valuable contribution to our social life, but like all other things, too much of it is not so good. I warn honorable members that when they talk about the welfare state, they can do very great harm indeed. One of the finest social qualities is human charity, but the fountains of human charity are never dried up so quickly as when people renounce their responsibility to their elders and leave them to be cared for by the State, and say, in effect, “ They are now old enough to go to the State. Let them get the State pension; it is their right “.
Mr. Ward interjecting,
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Freeth). - Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will cease interjecting. If he thinks he can escape the notice of the Chair by turning away his head, he is mistaken.
– It is the duty of every civilized nation to care for the indigent, the old and those in need; but if it is not possible for them to be supported by the contributions of those who are earning, they will soon be in a sorry plight. I have good grounds for being fearful about the welfare state, and I regard the tendency to develop it as a grave danger. I had experience in prisoner-of-war camps, where there were Americans, Australians, Dutch, Colonial Dutch and British prisoners. Under exactly the same conditions and treatment the mortality rate among the British was much higher than that among the Australians - men of identical race but brought up under different conditions. In physique I would say that the men of the British Eighteenth Division were superior to the Australians. They had come from East Anglia and were younger than the Australians - some were drawn from the same age group - but the death-rate among them was from 25 per cent, to 30 per cent, higher than that among the Australians. What was the reason for that? The only reason was that those British soldiers were so used to being well cared for, having been brought up in a hot house as it were, that when they had to face conditions in a prisoner-of-war camp, it was too much for them. It is not easy to laugh off that fact. I fear that it is one of the effects of the introduction of the welfare state. But to suggest that any honorable member on this side of the House has not exactly the same sympathy for the poor as have Opposition members is silly.
We are building a young nation, and we want men of initiative; but we will not get men of initiative if they are allowed to think that they will be cared for from the cradle to the grave. How can we build men of independent thought and men who will go, not to the inner areas but to the outer areas, to do tough jobs to develop a young country like this, if we foster them in a welfare state hothouse. They just would not survive. We are in the critical situation of probably having to withstand the people of Asia who do not enjoy the sort of hothouse conditions that we enjoy here.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Do not try to distract me. I believe in social service benefits, but I believe that the people should contribute for them. Our problems are very great. In a nation of 9,000,000 persons, 556,000 draw age and invalid pensions. If the permissible income is raised, that number will be greater. Moreover, 45,600 widows are in receipt of a pension. That, too, is a growing problem, and it is necessary to make provision for it.
The honorable member for Mackellar, during the course of a very well-balanced speech, called for a review of the whole social service benefits system, and I wholeheartedly support him. One of the good aspects of the Australian medical benefits funds and hospital funds is that, for people to benefit, they must deny themselves something and subscribe to the funds. I believe that we would do away with some of the dangers of the welfare state if we were to introduce a fair and just pension scheme towards which people contributed as they do to a superannuation fund.
One of the best features of this Government’s social service policy has been the provision for giving assistance to house the aged. The raising of the Commonwealth contribution from £1 to £2 for every £1 subscribed by the various organizations will give an impetus to the building of aged persons’ homes. There have been one or two suggestions to the effect that local governing bodies are denied the right to participate in this scheme. It is time that people realized that it is not the task of the State to do these things; it is the task of the ordinary citizens of the country. If they perform that task, it is done properly and to the advantage of the aged. If the State and the bureaucrats interfere in the private affairs of people, initiative is killed and the benefits become a State right. Some responsibility must remain with the citizen. One result of the introduction of Commonwealth assistance in the provision of homes for the aged has been the encouragement given to private individuals to subscribe to the funds of charitable institutions so that the aged may be cared for by ordinary people with Christian feelings. I should like to see the State stay out of these things as far as possible.
I have listened to most of the debate, but I have been very disappointed with the efforts of the Opposition. It is time we got away from the thought that politics come into the provision of pensions. Politics should not enter into the matter. I cannot see why Her Majesty’s Opposition should not come into this House with fresh ideas for solving such important problems. If Opposition members think that the Government’s policy is wrong, why do they not produce a policy for improving the pension scheme? ls it because they have some secret plans of their own that they will not divulge until they are able to obtain political advantage from airing them? Is that what they think, if they think at all? If they were to bring forward new plans, they would get kudos. If they profess not to want to obtain political advantage from improving the pensions scheme, why do they not share with the Government any ideas that they have?
– Would it not be logical to expect the Government to ask for their ideas beforehand?
– If I were an Opposition member, and had any good ideas about these humanitarian matters, I think I should like to air them. If the government of the day was inefficient, I think I should be very proud of the fact that I could come to the National Parliament with my marvellous plans and announce that I would share them with the Government for the benefit of the people. If Opposition members have new plans in mind, I suggest that, if they do not share them with the Government, they are waiting to obtain political capital from them. The honorable member for Shortland criticized the administration of the Department of Social Services. I have had much contact with the department, and I say, without fear of contradiction, that I have not met better types of officers or more kindly and sympathetic officers in any other department with which I have had dealings during the years I have taken an active interest in. political affairs. I should say that the department can be proud of its officers, and that the country can be proud of the way in which the department is administering the policy of the Government.
.- I riseto support the amendment that has been proposed by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and’ seconded by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). I think it is advisable to remind the House just what the amendment is so that the people generally, when they peruse the “ Hansard “ report, will know what the Opposition considers social services recipients are entitled to and so they will see just how sincere are many Government supporters when> they vote on the amendment. The amendment reads -
That all words after “That” be omitted, with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “the bill be re-drafted to provide, as from 1st July, 1957, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and. particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was. under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948.”.
There is no one in this House who is more fitted to move that amendment than is the honorable member for Port Adelaide. No honorable member, irrespective of the party to which he belongs, has put up more battles on behalf of social service recipients and has studied the act more diligently than has the honorable member for Port Adelaide over the many years that he has been a member of the Parliament, whether Labour or the anti-Labour parties have been in office. He has constantly advanced suggestions to improve the act, and in proposing this amendment he has again shown his concern and has pointed out the need for a new approach to give justice to all social service recipients.
I do not know whether the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who has now left the chamber, is supporting the measure, because at one moment he -said that he wanted to do something for the pensioners and at the next moment he expressed his opposition to the welfare State. He suggested that we claim we have a monopoly in this matter and present ourselves as the only fighters for the pensioners. We claim no such thing. But it was pointed out by the honorable member for Port Adelaide to-day that it is only natural that we should come in closer contact with pensioners and those who are on the lower income groups. They are the people with whom we associate. They are the people from whom we ourselves have come and we know their problems.
People like the honorable member for Hume, speak of the poorer classes as if they are able to buy mink coats. It is the people who can buy mink coats that he associates -with. When the honorable member goes shopping, he can buy mink coats for members of his family. Honorable members on this side of the House are never able to afford those things. We associate with people such as the pensioners who are on the lower rungs of the income ladder. That is why, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide said, we have a real understanding of this matter.
The honorable member for Hume wanted to know where the money would come from to pay the increased benefits that the Opposition has advocated. I could suggest one small way in which the money could be provided. The Government has decided to reduce company tax on Big Business. The revenue that it will lose in that way could have been used to better advantage to provide increased benefits for pensioners.
– The Government could also leave the sales tax on mink coats.
– Yes. The honorable member for Hume claimed that the introduction of the welfare State might mean that the aged would be abandoned. The aged and the infirm have already been abandoned by this Government. I was disturbed to hear the remarks of the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) about the officers of the Department of Social Services in New South Wales. I believe that his charges call for an investigation. In South Australia, we are fortunate that the officers of the Department of Social Services are very helpful. I find that they go out of their way to give advice and do everything to assist social service applicants and to put them at their ease. So I regret that the honorable member for Shortland has experienced the difficulty to which he referred in New South Wales. I am pleased that the Public Service has provided able men in South Australia who are dealing very efficiently with the problems of the people who have to make approaches to that department.
The Opposition supports this bill because it provides increases of pensions, inadequate though they are, and because something is to be given immediately to people whose needs are so great. The Government has been forced to give this increase - a mere pittance of 7s. 6d. a week - because of the weight of public opinion. It has not been only the Opposition that has raised its voice on the need for increased social services. The plight of the aged and infirm has been so bad that the newspapers of this nation have taken up their claim. In every State in the Commonwealth, newspapers have waged a consistent campaign to keep our aged people alive. In South Australia, the evening paper, “ The News “, campaigned vigorously on this matter. The increase, though slight, will at least give some relief to those people who are forced to exist - because that is all they do - on the age and invalid pension.
Instead of dealing with the whole range of social services, the Government has again taken the easy way out. I had hoped that the Government, in preparing this Budget, would have looked to the near future and made provision for the creation of a national welfare fund, in spite of the protest that we have heard from the honorable member for Hume. I should like to see such a fund re-established, and machinery set up to protect it, so that no government could make inroads into it and use the money for other purposes. If we could arrange for a certain amount of money from taxation to be ear-marked exclusively for the purposes of a social services fund, it could be the foundation of a scheme which ultimately could give effect to many of the demands and requests that have been made in this Parliament.
The means test comes readily to mind. The National Welfare Fund was established while the late Mr. Chifley was Treasurer, and he intended, as a long-range plan, that that fund should be the means of abolishing the means test. Then a greedy government took office and raided the fund, and to-day there is no fund in existence. Such a fund should be the key to social services in this country. We must see that the National Welfare Fund is re-established and protected. Then we shall be able to look forward to social service recipients getting a pension with the purchasing power to which they are entitled. The money will be available to enable the means test to be abolished. In the meantime, it is the responsibility of this Government to institute a scheme, even if it only means increasing the rates now payable, that will provide a living wage for the sick, the infirm and the aged in this country.
In recent years, and in this debate, argument on social services in this House has been based on percentages. We, on this side of the House, claim that the purchasing power of the pension should be equal to that of the pension paid by the Chifley Labour Government. Surely, that is a reasonable claim. After all, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his election campaign of 1949, told the people from one end of Australia to the other that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, if they were returned to power, would at least maintain the value of social services. In fact, he said that those parties would increase them. So, the Opposition is perfectly justified in demanding that the Government should give to social service recipients the purchasing power that they enjoyed under the Labour government. We do not say that such increases, if granted, would be sufficient for the people who receive social service benefits, but at least they would receive better than the present rate.
Government supporters have replied to the Opposition by twisting figures, as the honorable member for Hume did to-day. They talk about the pegged basic wage, the needs basic wage, the C series index, and anything else which might confuse the issue. The Parliament must remember that people who receive social service benefits are human beings in this community. They cannot live on percentages. They need the wherewithal to buy bread, butter, meat, milk, and clothes, and pay rent. Members of this Parliament should take steps to provide them with the purchasing power to buy those things. All the arguments on percentages will get us nowhere. We must realize that these people are human beings, as we are, and that they need the money to keep body and soul together.
The honorable member for Hume has discovered that the pensioner is a live person. Some pensioners just manage to keep alive on the pittance that is handed out to them by this Government. We ask, in our amendment, that the increased payments be made retrospective to 1st July. Is there anything wrong in that? A great amount is not involved. It has been said already in this debate that legislation has been passed by this House making increases in wages and salaries retrospective. We do not say it is wrong when we make increases of salaries retrospective. That has been done in the case of the judiciary and heads of departments. Members of this Parliament have had their salaries increased retrospectively at times. The pensioners need the money, so what is wrong with placing them on the same basis as ourselves and the judiciary? There is nothing wrong with it at all.
How much would this concession to the pensioners cost? It would involve the payment of 14 weeks’ arrears at 7s. 6d. a week, or a total of £5 5s. That is all they would get; but £5 5s. would be a welcome extra payment with Christmas not far away. However, they are only pensioners, so it appears that the Opposition’s move for retrospective payment of the increase will fail. We have put this proposition forward because we think this concession should be granted, and we will continue to make a similar demand in future Budget debates while we remain in Opposition.
The Opposition challenges the Government supporters, who shed crocodile tears over the needs of the pensioners, to vote for the amendment. The supporters of the Government plead the cause of the pensioners and pretend to be upset about them. The test of their sincerity is the way they vote on this amendment. If they vote against it, they will show that they are not sincere, and that they have been presenting a false story to the electors. I hope the people in their electorates will remember how they vote on this measure. The aged and invalid persons in Australia are in real want. The Government has decided that an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the pension rate is sufficient for them. We say that the increase, instead of being 7s. 6d., should be 17s. Id - not a very great difference having regard to the fact that this Government pledged itself, through the Prime Minister, to maintain the value of the pension rate. We demand that the Prime Minister honour that promise.
I do not want to go into percentages and figures because they will not feed needy people. The pensioners are hungry, and statistics will not feed them or help the lonely pensioners and those who have not the means to buy an overcoat. I know one man who has had to give up his occasional packet of cigarettes because he can no longer afford it. There are pensioners who cannot afford to buy a newspaper and have to walk to a public library to read one. A newspaper costs only fourpence, but in six days that amounts to two shillings, and the pensioners cannot afford that amount because the Government has allowed inflation to run riot. It has hit the pensioners harder than any other section of the community.
The Treasurer, in his Budget speech, said that costs were fairly static. He does not live in South Australia, though the position there is probably no different from what it is in other States. In South Australia railway fares have risen by 1 24 per cent, under the Playford Liberal Government. The cost of tram fares, and of bread, beef and milk - all necessary commodities - has risen. In those circumstances the addition of 7s. 6d. a week to the pension will go nowhere. A pensioner who has to go to the out-patients’ department of the Royal Adelaide Hospital for treatment, and has to travel by train or tram, has to spend 7s. or 8s. a week in fares. He simply cannot afford it; He has to decide whether he will do without necessaries of life in order to obtain medical treatment. Whichever he chooses, he is in trouble. If he cannot afford to buy food to keep his body in a reasonable state of health, he is in a bad way. If he does not get hospital treatment, he is in an equally bad way. This increase of 7s. 6d. will be eaten up immediately by higher fares alone.
In South Australia, the position is worse in many respects than it is in any other State. The Playford Government has refused to amend the Local Government Act so that the various councils can give some concessions to pensioners who own their own homes. Repeated requests by the Local Government Association in that direction have been rejected. The pensioners are in a desperate plight.
I know a widow in my electorate whose husband died many years ago. She owns quite a nice home, but the charges for municipal and water rates and land tax have reached such a level that she can no longer pay them. Recently, the Minister who is in charge of water supply in South Australia threatened to prosecute her because she had not paid the water rates on her property. Is this woman to be forced to sell her house? She would get a few thousand pounds for it, but then the Government would refuse to continue to pay her pension because she would have money in the bank. In addition, she would have to find another place in which to live. If she purchased another home she would again be in the same plight. Eventually she will be forced to sell her property because she can no longer keep up with rising costs that have been brought about by inflation for which this Government is responsible.
I wish to direct attention now to the funeral benefit that is granted to pensioners. Let us consider its history. I have in my hand the booklet on the social services of the Commonwealth which was issued by the Department of Social Services, lt states -
A funeral benefit of £10 is payable to the person who has paid, or is liable to pay the cost of the funeral of an age or invalid pensioner or of a claimant who, but for his death, would have been granted an age or invalid pension. . . Funeral benefits were introduced by the Curtin Government in July, 1943.
The benefit was £10 in July, 1943. lt has not been increased in any of the Budgets that have been introduced since that year. The cost of burial is a source of considerable worry to pensioners. It is all very well to say that when a pensioner dies he is beyond worry, but the pensioner who has not the means to provide for his burial worries constantly about the burden that will be thrown upon somebody else after his death. The Government has failed again. In this respect, too, the Prime Minister has repudiated his promise to maintain social service standards at the level set by the Chifley Labour Government. lt is well to remind him constantly that just as he has failed to put value back into the £1, so he has failed the pensioners, not only in respect of direct payments to them, but also in relation to other payments, such as the funeral benefit. Just as the Government has neglected shamefully the aged in the community, so it has neglected the families and the young people.
Earlier to-day, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) gave a masterly address on the need for adjustments to be made to the rates of child endowment. In addition, arguments have been advanced from this side of the House for increased maternity allowances. Again, it is interesting to have a look at the booklet on social services and to see what has happened in relation to maternity allowances. We see that the allowances were first introduced in 1912. They were last adjusted by the Curtin Government in 1943, when that Government abolished the means test in respect of the allowances and increased the payments to £15 where there were no previous children under the age of fourteen years, to £16 where there were one or two children under that age, and to £17 10s. where there were three or more. Those rates are still the same. It is true that the Menzies’ Government, in 1956, made some slight alteration to provide for the allowance payable before the birth of a child to be increased to £10, but the basic amount has not been changed, despite ever-increasing costs. So, this Government again stands condemned on the score of failing to give adequate assistance to the mothers of the community and to the breadwinners who have to find the finance to meet the additional costs that are incurred in connexion with confinements.
The Government spends huge sums of money on immigration. I am not saying that immigration is not necessary, but surely the newcomers who are most suited to this country are those born of the people already in it. If we were to give our own Australian families some real assistance we could look forward to a significant increase of the birthrate. Just as maternity allowances have been neglected by this Government, so has child endowment, as has been stated earlier in the debate. Child endowment payments have not been adjusted while this Government has been in office other than by the provision of benefit in respect of the first child. A report recently issued states that the financial plight of even the moderate sized family is becoming critical, and that the consequences of this may already be affecting the health of the children concerned. A disturbing report issued recently by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council highlights this matter. The report has been given very little publicity in the press, but it reveals that big families cannot afford fats, and fruit and milk products in adequate quantities. It states that only 73 per cent, of families with two children enjoy a first-class diet. For families with three children, the figure drops to 62 per cent.; for families with four children, it drops to 38 per cent.; for families with five children, it drops to 27 per cent.; and for families with six children, it drops to 16 per cent. The trend of these figures indicates that the cause of diet deficiencies is a financial one. The MenziesFadden Administration is responsible for this position in Australia to-day, because it refuses to face its responsibilities and has shamefully and wickedly neglected the wants of the people. The Government has the numbers to defeat our amendment, but it in turn will be defeated. When the history of social services in this country is recorded, it will be written in very large letters that the present Prime Minister, who gave a solemn promise in 1949 that pension rates and other social service payments would be maintained and, in fact, increased, failed to honour that pledge. The Government will have to answer for that failure sooner or later.
My time is running out, but I propose to make just one comment on the widows’ pension. I consider that this pension should be at least an adequate living allowance so that widows will not be compelled to go out to work to supplement their income. The pension should be sufficient to permit them to stay at home and care for their children. We hear a great deal of talk of child delinquency these days. A mother’s place is in the home, and this Government should provide an adequate amount by way of widows’ pension so that widows may stay at home. I commend the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr.
Thompson), and I remind honorable members opposite that this is an opportunity to show their sincerity in relation to the recipients of social service benefits.
.- The problems associated with social services are great, and the solution of a large number of them is not easy. Therefore, I think it is a great pity that the contributions made to the debate to-day by many members of the Opposition indicate that they have not given a great deal of thought to the solution of these problems. We have listened to speeches such as that just delivered by the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) and the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths). It has been noticeable to every one who has had an opportunity to listen to the debate that there is a great division between the views of the honorable members opposite to whom I have just referred, and those of honorable members on the Government side. I think it is not unfair to say that the members of the Opposition have offered only one suggestion, and that is to increase the rate of pension. While it may be very necessary in some ways and to some levels to take full account of that suggestion, that is by no means the only solution.
Before I develop my own ideas in this regard, may I answer some of the matters that have been raised by previous speakers? For example, the honorable member for Shortland mentioned the free medicine scheme and said that the pensioners had to pay for a number of medicines that are prescribed by doctors. It is well known, I think, that the medicines that appear on the pharmaceutical free list are placed there on the advice of a panel of experts, consisting of both medical men and pharmacists, and after due consideration by them. The Government does not decide the medicines that will be on that free list, or those that should be taken off it. The people who do so are technical men, well qualified to determine these matters. T suggest to the House that this is indeed the only way in which such a scheme could be conducted.
The honorable member for Shortland also made an attack on certain officers of the Department of Social Services. In this respect I find myself in complete agreement with the honorable member for Kingston, who paid a tribute to the officers of the department. I am sorry that the honor able member for Shortland finds himself the odd man out. It is quite true that, every now and then, in the great number of cases that are dealt with by the Department of Social Services, some delay will occur in a particular instance or some irritationwill be caused to an applicant. But the officers of the department are only human, and I join with the honorable member for Kingston in offering congratulations to them for the fact that they deal with so large a number of cases so successfully. To provethat that is so, let me refer to figures for the year ended 30th June last. [Quorum formed.] In that year, 465,700 age pensions, 88,200 invalid pensions, 21,300- allowances for wives and children and 45,400 widows’ pensions were paid. Then, when one examines the particulars relatingto the controversial subject raised by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart)this afternoon one finds that 1,339,000 child endowment payments were made. I mention those figures merely to controvert thearguments adduced by the honorable member for Shortland.
Preceding the honorable member for Shortland was the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), who, in my view, made a very good contribution to the debate for the Opposition. He discussed some of the matters mentioned by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), but the honorable member for Melbourne Ports said he could not agree in general, with the suggestion made by the honorable member for Sturt that the means test be abolished gradually. He said that this suggestion seemed to him to be rather strange because in 1954 his leader spent a great deal of time and energy in attempting to convince the voting public of Australia of the need for the abolition of the means test in one fell swoop. When one of the supporters of the Leader of the Opposition, the then honorable member for Fawkner, Mr. W. M. Bourke, took it upon himself to say publicly that such a scheme was impossible, he was expelled from the ranks of the Opposition. Incidentally, he is not the first one to meet with that fate; others have met with the same treatment since.
Having mentioned those points, I come back to what I said in my opening remarks. The problems associated with the administration of the Social Services Act are great and not easy of solution. It is not sufficient merely to limit our thinking to increasing the amount of benefit to be paid under the various headings. As was pointed out earlier in the debate, it is necessary to encourage thrift, it is necessary to do what we can to create the right atmosphere amongst the earning section of the population to encourage those people to save not only for the present but for their old age. It is also necessary for us to give a great deal of consideration to the ways in which money should be provided for pensions in general.
We should consider whether the money should come from a national welfare fund, a national superannuation fund, or from a combination of the two. Over the last few years, the Government has been considering these matters. As was mentioned by my colleagues, quite a considerable increase has been made in the actual amount paid in pensions. I shall not go into those details because they were ably given by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and other speakers who supported him. I limit my reference to the subject merely to pointing out that in 1949, prior to this Government’s corning into office, the rate of age and invalid pensions was £2 2s. 6d. a week and that it is proposed in the bill now before us to pay £4 7s. 6d. a week. One notices also from the papers that there is to be an easing of the means test in that the amount of permissible income from property received by applicants for widow’s pensions is increased.
Three other most important improvements have been introduced. First, we have seen the introduction of the medical benefits scheme to which I have just referred briefly. We all know, too, of the great success of the aged persons homes scheme. The third improvement in benefits has been the great assistance given by this Government to the establishment of a free nursing service.
The reason why the Government has been introducing these added benefits is that it is anxious to see the money voted for age and invalid pensioners used in the way best calculated to serve the interests of recipients. We appreciate that as the years go by the community is coming to a greater realization of its responsibility to those people who, in many cases through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of assistance to a varying degree. For those reasons, I support a policy which has for its objective the ultimate abolition of the means test and the continued operation within the community of the three added benefits to which I have just referred.
To my mind, the way in which this could best be done would be first to abolish the means test for all persons of 70 years of age and over. Here, I should like to digress for a moment to mention another very important factor. I refer to the content of the age groupings within the Australian community. It is ever-changing at the moment. From my studies of the figures, it would seem that there will be a larger percentage of people in the age group of over 60 years for this year and next year and that this position will obtain until 1961. If the present Australian birthrate is maintained, and if the present rate of immigration to Australia is maintained after 1961, the content of the Australian population will have a new trend and the number of people under 60 years of age, the number in the employable group, will start to increase. Under those circumstances, if we introduce a scheme similar to that proposed by the honorable member for Sturt, the honorable member for Mackellar and other honorable members on this side, it must remain in a state of flux for a number of years.
I suggest that now is the time to introduce such a scheme. First, the means test should be abolished for persons of 70 years of age and over and all of them should be paid the full rate of pension or retiring allowance. In my view, this could be financed through a contributory scheme similar to that already outlined by honorable members on this side. I do not propose to go into those details again. If the scheme is to be financed by the contributory method, the contributions will have to be made by all earning sections of the community at a uniform rate. It will also be necessary to make a contribution to the fund from revenue from taxation. Therefore, we have the combination of the two principles - the voluntary contribution and the subsidy from taxes. Because of the point I mentioned a minute ago about the changing content of the age groupings in the community, as the years go by it will be possible to reduce the age at which the means test will cease to operate. So, I visualize that if the suggestion is acted upon, and if in the next twelve months a start is made on the scheme by abolishing the means test for people aged 70 years and over, within three or four years it should be possible to reduce the qualifying age for means test-free pension to 68, and then to 66 until finally it can be brought down to the present qualifying age for a pension for a male, which is 65 years of age.
There is an immediate problem in relation to the means test. That problem concerns the people who, as a result of their energy and foresight, have been able to save for their old age and have invested their savings in avenues other than superannuation or annuities. They may have invested in property or shares. As the means test operates at present they are penalized because of the property limit. Whilst, during the past few years, this Government has modified the means test to allow a married couple receiving income from, for instance, superannuation, to derive £7 a week from that source without their pensions being affected, the same consideration has not been given to people who have invested their savings and are receiving a small income as a result. I say to the Government, therefore, that this is an urgent matter needing immediate consideration because such people are among the sections of the community that are being hardest hit at the present time.
The position of single pensioners, especially those who have not the advantage of owning their homes and have to rent or lease accommodation, has been mentioned several times to-day. I do not wish to go into any detail on that matter, but I express my support for the suggestions made in regard to it by other honorable members.
The final thing I wish to say under this heading is that the proposals advanced by certain honorable members for the gradual abolition of the means test by way of a contributory fund and by way of taxation would require, running in conjunction with that scheme, a needs pension which, for a long time as I see it, would have to be subject to the operation of the means test. That pension, of course, would be payable from the age of 16 years to an invalid or a person not able to work, exactly in the same way as was provided in the amendment to the provisions for invalid pensions made some years ago.
So, in this consideration of the programming of future policy in regard to social services it is not sufficient to keep our minds on how much the community can afford to pay for increases in the rates of pensions. These other matters have to be considered. I mention among them the operation of the Aged Persons Homes Act. I should like to give an illustration of what I consider to be complete co-operation between members of the community and the Government in this matter. As has been pointed out in relation to the proposals now before us, recognized charitable organizations will be subsidized by the Government in the ratio of £2 for £1 to enable them to build homes for the aged. In the area comprising The Entrance and Long Jetty in New South Wales a group of aged persons have organized themselves to build a community hall. Those of them who were tradesmen during their working days have voluntarily built that hall, with the exception of putting on the roof. That they had to stop short of putting on the roof is understandable because their age and physical condition would not permit them to do such work. But the remainder of the building has been constructed by those retired persons in that district. They now find that they have created an asset of the value of about £6,500 which cost them about £2,400.
The uses to which they intend to put that building arc twofold. One is for holding social functions and community functions for the benefit of persons living in the area; and the second is for the running of functions to raise money towards a fund, which has already been started, to finance the building of homes for aged persons. They have already approached the shire council concerned, which has shown great interest in and sympathy with the proposal and is making land available, at most satisfactory rates, to the group for the building of homes. I have already placed the outlines of this proposal before the Minister for Social Services, who has shown great interest in it. and I hope that these people will gain recognition as an organization eligible to receive the subsidy.
I have cited that instance because it proves the point made by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) earlier to-night, to which I subscribe, that for the completely successful working of the social services policy of the Commonwealth, irrespective of which party might be in office, there is a twofold responsibility shared between the Government and the various sections of the community. That is why I support the proposals in the bill.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and seconded by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). In case its terms have become dim in the minds of honorable members I shall quote it again. The amendment reads -
That all words after “That” be omitted, with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “the bill be re-drafted to provide, as from 1st July, 1957, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948”.
The theme of the remarks just concluded hy the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) seems to be that there should be a contributory scheme in regard to pensions which would involve a flat rate of contribution. That proposal has been mentioned by several honorable members opposite. They want, in effect, the cost of social services removed from the wealthier sections of the community so that the burden will be borne by the workers. Each person in the community, irrespective of whether he has a large income from personal exertion and profits or a small income such as the ordinary worker has, would have to pay a flat rate. We believe that the cost of social service benefits should be provided for in accordance with the capacity of the individual to pay. The poorer sections of the community should receive social service benefits -without having to contribute anything towards them.
I do not want to deal extensively, at the moment, with the speech of the honorable member for Robertson. I prefer to deal with it as I go along. I should like to refer to the speech of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson). I do not suggest that very much can be said about his speech. He went back to the time of Queen Anne - that is too long ago for me to remember - and most of his speech was as dead as Queen Anne is. He men tioned that if pensions had been fixed in relation to the needs basic wage, they would be much less than they are to-day. He said, showing colossal ignorance, that, if the needs basic wage applied to-day, it would be £9 19s. 6d. I have never heard anything more ridiculous! He said that the basic wage to-day was fixed on the capacity of industries to pay. I tell the honorable member that when the Arbitration Court pegged the basic wage in September, 1953, with the applause of this Government, it was £11 16s. It has been increased twice since then on the basis of the capacity of industry to pay, so it is said. Those increases have been 10s. each and have brought the basic wage up to £12 16s. a week at present. But if the basic wage had been fixed on the needs principle, it would have been £13 5s. That illustrates the worth of the statement made by the honorable member. To show further how misleading his statements are, I draw attention to the fact that since 1953 the cost of living has risen by approximately 6 per cent, each year. The honorable member wants to know how we would pay for the benefits we suggest should be given. I shall tell him how we would pay as I continue with my remarks.
The general theme of the Government is that social service benefits are of greater value to-day than they were when Labour was in office. That is untrue and is known to be untrue by those who make such a claim. Every recipient of social service benefits has been short-changed from the time this Government took office. The increases that have been given in some categories of social services have not kept pace with inflation, so that the recipients of social services are continually lagging behind increased costs. At the same time, the people are paying more for these shrunken benefits. As a result of inflation, the taxpayer each year passes into a higher income tax range and, though he receives less in real value in his pay packet, the Commonwealth reaps more from him. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) said, in his second-reading speech, that age and invalid pensions to-day are more than double the maximum weekly rate of £2 2s. 6d. when the Government took office. Of course they are more than double! They should be more than double, because the cost of living has more than doubled since this Government took office.
I draw attention once again to the information that has been given showing what the social service benefits would be to-day had they retained the same value as they had in 1948, when they reached their peak. Of course, once social service benefits have reached a certain standard, there is no reason why they should fall below that standard at any stage, no matter what government is in office. In 1948, when social service benefits were last increased by the Chifley Government, the basic wage was £5 16s. In replying to the statements made by the honorable member for Hume, I said that, if it had remained unpegged, it would be £13 5s. to-day.
– If the honorable member thinks that is rubbish, he should ask the office of the Commonwealth Statistician what the figure would have been. Officials there will give him the same figure as I have mentioned, because that is where I obtained the information. Applying that increase to the social service benefits, we find that the class A widows’ pension, which is £4 12s. 6d., would be £5 8s. 6d. So, the widow is losing 16s. a week. The class B widows’ pension, instead of being £3 15s. would be £4 5s. 8d. Thus, widows in that category are losing 10s. 8d. a week. Age and invalid pensions, about which we hear such a lot in this chamber, instead of being £4 7s. 6d., when the increases come into effect, would be more than £4 17s. a week. Those pensioners are losing about 9s. 6d. a week. I do not say that £4 17s. is sufficient for the age or invalid pensioner. I do not say that the amount paid by the Labour government in 1948 was sufficient; but at least that was the highest standard that the pensioner reached under any government. There is no reason why the standard should be lower now. I agree that pensions should be considerably more than they are; but it is useless for the Government to say that the pensioner is getting more to-day than he was at any time in the history of pensions in this country.
I shall deal now with child endowment. This Government professes to be most interested in increasing the population of this country, but it places a burden on the family man. It is true that this Government introduced endowment for the first child. In 1948, a family with two children was receiving 10s.; it is receiving only 15s. to-day. If endowment had been increased in the same proportion as the unpegged basic wage that family would be receiving £1 2s.10d. In other words, the loss amounts to 7s.10d. a week. A family of three children was receiving £1 in 1948. To retain the same relation to the unpegged basic wage, the amount should now be £2 5s. 8d., but that family is paid only £1 5s., or more than £1 a week less than it should be receiving. The family of four children, which was receiving £1 10s. under the Labour government in 1948, is now receiving £1 15s. The amount should be £3 8s. 6d. and the loss is £1 1 3s. 6d. a week. The family of five children, receiving £2 in 1948, is now receiving £2 5s. whereas the amount should be £411s. 4d. Therefore, the loss is £2 6s. 4d. a week. That table shows that the family man is being hard-hit all the time and that the more children there are in a family the lower is the real benefit that is paid. An article, headed “The family man’s burden “, which appeared in a Western Australian newspaper, contained the following passage: -
Some time ago the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council investigated nutrition levels in our community.
It was found that 73 per cent. of families with two children enjoyed a first-class diet. But only 62 per cent. of families with three children kept to that standard. With four children the figure was 38 per cent, five children 27 per cent., six children 16 per cent.
Big families cannotafford fat, fruit and milk products in adequate quantities. They must settle for bread and cereals as a substitute.
This picture is not of a few isolated cases, but is true of out entire community.
If you have four children the odds are 6/4 against your being able to feed them well. Have five, and these odds increase to 7/3 against you.
Yet this is the Government that says it wants to do something for the family man. It never does anything for the family man, but continues to place burdens on him. The question of maternity allowances has been adequately covered and there is no need for me to say anything about them, except that they are the same now as they were in 1948 and that their value has been reduced tremendously.
I direct attention to the figures I have mentioned because they are very important. They are there for any one to analyse.
They show how the recipients of social service benefits have missed out under this Government. I agree with the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) should have acted in accordance with the pledge he gave in 1949. That pledge has been referred to by the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin). The Prime Minister said in 1949 -
The value of social services will be at least mtaintained. Indeed, it will be increased. Pensioners can rely on us for justice.
The got justice all right! That pledge was given during an election campaign merely to win a few votes. We find that nowadays people are paying twice for social service benefits. The aged, the invalid, the unemployed and all other recipients of social service benefits are paying twice. If the Government had kept the lid on prices, the money paid by the people for social security would buy as much to-day as it would when it was paid. When the people were contributing to the National Welfare Fund before 1949, they believed that the money they were paying into it would retain its value and that they would be able to get just as much out of the fund as they were paying in. What is happening now, and has been happening for some time, is that the people are actually sending good money after bad. They pay out good money in taxes for social service benefits, but they get back bad money of considerably less value. They lose both ways. The value of social services is being clipped in exactly the same way as if an extra tax were imposed on the people.
The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) drew attention to-night to the amounts that were being paid out in social service benefits and explained that they had increased. It is not a question of the amounts that are being paid out, but of the value of the social service benefits. That is what we are concerned with. Naturally, the amount that is being paid out at the present time is increasing. Inflation is running riot in this country, and it is necessary to pay out more to give the pensioners what might be considered adequate social service benefits.
It is important to know how expenditure on social services in this country compares with expenditure in other countries. I have some figures, taken from the “ International Labour Review “, which show the sums ex pended on social services by various countries. An analysis shows that sixteen major countries are devoting a greater percentage of their national incomes to social service benefits than is Australia. They are the German Republic, France, Austria, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Iceland, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Canada. In 19S1 the German Republic spent 17.5 per cent, of the national income on social services; France, 15.9 per cent.; Austria, 13.8 per cent.; Luxembourg, 12 per cent.; New Zealand, 11.5 per cent.; Belgium, 11.2 per cent.; Italy, 9.6 per cent.; the United Kingdom, 9.2 per cent.; Denmark, 8.7 per cent.; Sweden, 8.5 per cent.; the Netherlands, 8.3 per cent.; Iceland, 8.2 per cent.; Finland, 7.8 per cent.; Ireland, 7.2 per cent.; Norway, 6.5 per cent.; and Canada, 6.5 per cent. In 1951, Australia was spending only 6.1 per cent, of the national income on social services. In only six countries was the percentage spent in this field found to be lower than the percentage in Australia. Those countries were Greece, Israel, Switzerland, Turkey, South Africa and the United States of America.
The percentage of the national income devoted to social services in Australia is still falling. In 1955-56, Australia’s national income was £4,409,000,000, and the amount spent from the National Welfare Fund was £215,000,000, or 4.87 per cent. In 1956-57 the national income was £4,686,000,000, and the amount spent from the National Welfare Fund was £224,000,000, or 4.78 per cent. There has been a gradual drop in this percentage. The Minister drew attention to the fact that the amount expended from the National Welfare Fund this year will be £243,572,000. We do not know whether that amount will be expended, but that is the amount that is provided. We do not know either what percentage of the national income that will represent, but I venture the guess that when the time comes we shall find that the percentage of the national income represented by expenditure from the National Welfare Fund has dropped further down the scale.
I have already emphasized the plight of the pensioner, in the Budget debate. I want to express again my disgust, and the disgust of every honorable member on this side of the House, at the utter disregard by the
Government of the dozens of petitions appealing for special consideration of the pensioners’ needs. To its everlasting shame, this Government has ignored them. The miserable increase of 7s. 6d. a week means that the pensioner will continue to be short-changed. He does not get adequate value from his pension, because rising costs have again preceded pension increases. I draw attention again to the fact that the pensioner has not yet regained the standard which he was enjoying in 1948.
Before I conclude, I want to emphasize one or two more points. The first is the decline in value of the funeral benefit. When this benefit was introduced by a Labour government in 1 943, the basic wage was £4 16s. and the benefit was £10. It is still £10. To give the value represented by the payment in 1943 when compared with the 1943 basic wage, on an unpegged basic wage of £13 5s. the funeral benefit should be over £26. The cost of funerals has risen out of all proportion to other costs. Neither a pensioner nor anyone else can be buried for less than £30. That is why we ask that the funeral benefit should be £30. Surely the Government does not think that, in these days of inflation, a burial can be arranged for the paltry sum of £10.
I want to direct attention to what is happening in Western Australia in relation to this matter. The Western Australian Pensioners’ League, to assure that its members will not go to a pauper’s grave, has introduced a funeral fund. By agreement with certain undertakers, the league contributes a part of the cost of a funeral, but the balance has to come from the pensioner’s meagre assets, or be found by his family. That arrangement applies only to pensioners in the metropolitan area. A pensioner may be living in the country. On his death, it will be very unusual if a burial can be arranged for less than £60. I appeal to the Minister to have another look at this item to see whether he can possibly agree to accept the amendment that the Opposition will move in the committee stages.
I direct attention again to the meagre allowance that is being paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner. It has lost its value over the years. That allowance should be increased to £2 15s. It is true that that increase would not be enough to give the allowance a value comparable with that which it had when it was introduced, but it would go some way towards it. I think the last increase of the allowance was made in 1952.
The Opposition wants social service benefits increased to the maximum that the national economy can afford. We ask that these increases be made restrospective to 1st July of this year. As the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) so clearly pointed out, that would mean that a pensioner would receive an additional amount of only £5 5s., but it would at least give him or her something in the nature of a Christmas box.
The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), in answer to some comments from this side of the House, emphasized that the Scullin Government had reduced pensions in 1931. From this side of the House it was pointed out that certain pressure was brought to bear upon the Government at that time in an effort to force it to reduce social service benefits and wages. This statement was questioned by honorable members opposite, so to clear up the point I direct attention to a letter dated 13th February, 1931, that was received by the Commonwealth Treasurer of that time, Mr. Theodore, from the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board. The letter read in part -
Subject to adequate and equitable reductions in all wages, salaries and allowances, pensions, social benefits of all kinds, interest and other factors which affect the cost of living, the Commonwealth Bank Board will actively co-operate with the trading banks and the Government of Australia in sustaining industry and restoring commerce.
That letter, which gives the lie to those who say that pressure was not brought to bear on the government of the day to reduce social service benefits and wages, appears in “ The Crisis in Australian Finance “, by Shann and Copland, at page 182, if any honorable member wants to verify it. It clearly indicates the power of the banks over the community at the time of the depression, and the power that they will have in the future if the Government introduces later in this sessional period the banking legislation that it contemplates.
– In addition, the Lyons Government reduced the pension.
– Yes. It reduced the pension to 15s. a week in 1932, after the reduction that I have mentioned had been made. So, there were actually two reductions. I emphasize those facts, Mr. Speaker, in answer to some of the charges that have been made by Government supporters.
I ask the Government again to consider carefully the amendments that the Opposition proposes to move. Even if all of them are accepted, pensioners will receive no more in value, except by way of funeral benefit, than they received in 1948.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pearce) adjourned.
– I wish to make a short personal explanation. During the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House last evening, in the course of a reference to the recent biennial conference of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, I stated that a certain prominent Australian Labour party candidate for election to the interstate executive of that body had been defeated by a Mr. Seelaf, a Communist candidate, as a consequence of a combination of Communist and grouper support. I named the Australian Labour party candidate as being Mr. J. F. Walsh, of South Australia.
I am sorry that I did so, because I have since learned that the Australian Labour party candidate was not Mr. J. F. Walsh, but another prominent Australian Labour party member - Mr. A. J. Shard, of South Australia, who, like Mr. Walsh, had been at one time president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Labour party, and had been president of the South Australian Trades and Labour Council, and a member of the A.C.T.U. interstate executive. I apologize to Mr. Walsh for having mentioned his name instead of that of Mr. Shard.
House adjourned at 10.44 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following replies: -
m asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answer to the honorable member’s questions:
The numbers shown under the heading, “ Homes placed under construction “, are the numbers of homes for which contracts were signed. The “ Homes Purchased ‘ include also Mortgages Discharged. The provision of an additional £5,000,000, will, by 30th June, 1958, eliminate the waiting time for applicants who desire to build under ihe act. This forecast is restricted to those who have a definite proposal to build on a particular allotment of land, and is subject to the rate of applications continuing at the existing level. The improvement is due to the fact that the additional £5,000,000 will enable 6,000 contracts to be let and 5,608 homes to me completed this year by contrast with 5,426 and 4,187 respectively last year.
b asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
1949-50, £57,421,000; 1956-57, £60,980,000.
(a) 1949-50, £27,733,000; 1956-57, £68,009,000. (b) The information relating to interest paid by local governments for the years 1949-50 and 1956-57 is not available.
n asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Commonwealth Bank has supplied the following information: -
Snowy Mountains Scheme.
s. - On 19th September the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) asked the following question: -
I ask the Prime Minister a question without notice on the agreement that was signed yesterday with regard to extra water for irrigation purposes to be made available by the Snowy Mountains scheme. Is it not a fact that the terms of the agreement provide for the diversion of 400,000 acre-feet of water which now runs into the Murray River via the Tooma River? Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that before this water is diverted arrangements will be made to implement the proposal to divert 800,000 acre-feet of water into the Murray to replace the 400,000 acrefeet that will be lost as a result of the Tooma diversion?
My colleague, the Minister for National Development, has furnished the following information: -
The Snowy Mountains Agreement which has recently been signed provides that the Tooma water may be diverted from the Murray catchment to the Tumut catchment. In this respect the provisions of the agreement are similar to those of the River Murray Waters Agreement to which the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and
South Australia are parties. The River Murray Agreement provides, in normal times, for specific quantities of water to be passed to South Australia and for the remainder to be shared equally by New South Wales and Victoria. In a drought period, the waters of the Murray may be shared between the three States in specific proportions. In addition, the agreement allows New South Wales and Victoria to divert water from tributaries of the Murray above Albury provided that the amount of any such diversion is deducted from the share of the flow of the Murray at Albury to which that State would be entitled. This would permit New South Wales to divert water from the Tooma provided this was deducted from the New South Wales share. What the Snowy Mountains Agreement does is to set out that water diverted from the Tooma under the scheme is to be deducted from the shares of the river Murray waters to which both New South Wales and Victoria are entitled. In practice, the quantity of water diverted from the Tooma could never exceed the total shares of the two States. These arrangements apply both before and after the diversion of the Snowy River to the Murray River. Therefore, insofar as South Australia’s entitlements under the River Murray Agreement are concerned the question of replacing Tooma water by Snowy water does not arise. To put the matter in its true perspective, it should be mentioned that the flow which will be diverted from the Tooma is less than 10 per cent, of the flow of the Murray at Albury.
n asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Commonwealth Bank has supplied the following information: -
Following the commencement of the Special Account provisions of the Banking Act 1945-53, the Commonwealth Bank’s power to call to Special Account was exercised virtually to thefull extent for several months in 1953. Subsequently, there have been occasions when the balance held in the Special Account of an individual bank has represented approximately themaximum amount which that bank could havebeen required to hold in Special Account at that time.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 October 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19571003_reps_22_hor16/>.