22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Defence a question in relation to methods of defence and preparations for defence. Has he given consideration to the effect, or probable effect on the use of what are called intercontinental missiles of the recent launching of a satellite into space by the Russian Government? Has he yet considered that matter in relation to the problem of negotiations dealing with disarmament that were interrupted in London and subsequently renewed at the United Nations? Can he state his views on these vital matters to the House?
– Continuous consideration is being given to the developments that take place from time to time, but I hardly think that the launching of a satellite has any real relation to the intercontinental missile.
– Do you really think so?
– I doubt very much whether there is much connexion between the two matters. In any event, as I have already said, consideration is being given continuously to these matters as they arise.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether he can give the House an estimate of the amount of floor space that will be returned to private enterprise when Government departments occupy the new Commonwealth building in Springstreet, Melbourne. When will the space become available? Is the Minister able to cite any of the major buildings now occupied by the Government in the city of Melbourne that will be returned to private owners?
– I should say that the first unit of the Commonwealth building will be available about the end of 1958. This will enable the Government to relinquish about 100,000 square feet of floor space for re-allocation to private enterprise, from whom we took space during the war. At this stage, it is not possible to indicate what particular buildings will be returned. That will be the subject of negotiation, particularly as the availability of office accommodation has changed considerably since the war ended.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to a statement, made on Monday last by the Victorian Liberal Housing Minister, Mr. Petty, that home-building throughout Australia had not been well sustained over thepast year, largely because of Federal Government policy on housing. Does the Prime Minister agree with this comment, and if so, what does the Government propose to do to correct the position?
– I saw the statement to. which the honorable member has referred.. I do not agree with it.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry a question in reference to fish farming. As provision is now readily available in certain country centres for thetransfer at a very low cost of young fish, from hatcheries to country dams and’ streams, and as there are many advantagesto be derived from this, can the Minister tell the House whether his department canassist in promoting this scheme so that farmers and graziers may be informed?
– I have seen some very interesting demonstrations of the use of plastic bags both in the breeding and in. the movement of small fish and eggs. I take it that that is what the honorable member has referred to. The process is now well developed beyond the scientific stage, and has been practically applied. In particular, I looked at the demonstration that took place in Manjimup, in the electorate of the honorable member for Forrest. This is a very interesting development, and one which I am glad to know is proceeding satisfactorily, but I do not think that it needs any practical help by the Commonwealth Government. Nonetheless. I shall see whether the Division of Agricultural Economics can refer to it in its next journal so that farmers and graziers may be well informed as to where they can get the fish and what the prospects of using them may be.
– I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he made a statement to a meeting of Australian retailers on 7th October that the answer to inflation was the development of the highest possible competitive skill in management and techniques. Did he say, further, that he believed in the competitive system, and that one of the fundamental duties of businessmen in a competitive system was to sell to the public at the lowest possible price? If these statements reflect the Prime Minister’s views of the proper functioning of a free enterprise system, how does he reconcile them with the Government’s decision to encourage monopoly control by the support given to Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited to absorb Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, with the likelihood of its absorbing Butler Air Transport Limited? Also, how can his statements be reconciled with the Government’s decision to legislate to restrict competition by Trans-Australia Airlines with the private monopoly? Is the announcement by Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited of higher charges to the public compatible with his view that service to the community must be given at the lowest practicable price? Does he not regard the Ansett-A.N.A. deal as a major step towards the creation of a giant monopoly, which will be inimical to the interests of the Australian people?
– I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Darling on having read the report of my remarks in Melbourne. I take it from the rest of his statement that he agrees with my remarks. This I regard as a valuable advance in knowledge because, up to this stage, I had not thought that the Opposition did agree with the views that I expressed about competitive, free enterprise. But when the honorable member got on to the question of the Government’s supporting a monopoly he seemed to me to be on dangerous ground. T remind him that his government, in dealing with the airlines, set out to create a government monopoly and to extinguish two private, interstate airlines. That was the whole purpose of the legislation passed by bis government, and it failed to operate only because of the legal challenge in the courts and the point that was taken under section 92 of the Constitution. So far from supporting that Labour monopolistic idea, we have made it clear throughout that we wanted to see, not the destruction of TransAustralia Airlines, but the establishment of it.
– Not much!
– There is nothing in the history of T.A.A. to indicate that it has suffered from attempts at destruction. I thought that honorable members opposite were constantly saying how successful it was.
Dr. Evatt interjecting,
– If I can be heard over the noise made by the right honorable gentleman opposite, I will continue my answer, because after all, the honorable member for Darling “ bought “ this, and I am sure he would like me to deliver the goods at the lowest possible price. We have said that there ought to be competition, and we have set out - as we have stated repeatedly - to have, on the main trunk routes, two competing airlines, one conducted by T.A.A. and the other by a private group capable of carrying on an efficient air service in competition with T.A.A. That has been the whole object of the exercise, and I am happy to say that everything that has occurred lately supports the view that the objective has been attained.
– By way of a supplementary question, I ask the right honorable gentleman whether it is not a fact that the legislation that he has brought in has been designed for the very purpose of preventing competition between Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited by restricting T.A.A. in all its efforts. Is it the intention of the Government to repeat that legislation with regard to the new competitor?
– Again, the Opposition is a little out of luck, because if the right honorable gentleman is referring to the legislation that has been introduced lately, and to the imposition of taxation-
– I am referring to the legislation of 1951, when you prevented competition.
– Of 1951! Now we are going back. I have forgotten what the legislation was in 1951, but I very well remember the subsequent legislation, in 1953. That legislation, the airlines agreement legislation of 1953-
– Of 1952!
– With respect, of 1953. lt was designed, in terms, to improve the competitive position of the airlines and to bring about the very result to which I have referred - the preventing of a monopoly.
– To prevent competition!
– To ensure that there would not be a monopoly. This indeed is a miracle. A socialist Leader of the Opposition who would, if he had his way - and he tried to have his way when he was the Deputy Prime Minister - destroy all competition with the government airline, is now, 1 suppose, professing to be a champion of competition! He will not deceive anybody with that. The fact is that the 1953 arrangements were made to enable competition to be maintained. Competition has been maintained. As it is, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited has sold to Ansett Transport Industries Limited. There will be, in the result, one major private airline competing with one major government airline, and if that is not competition in the airline services of Australia 1 would like to know what is.
I can understand the anger of the right honorable gentleman, and of his alleged supporters, because if they had had their way, there never would have been an Ansett airline or an A.N.A., after the legislation that they passed. Now, in their disappointment, they are switching right round. Dear me! I did not think I would live long enough to find myself an agent of monopoly and honorable gentlemen opposite saying every night a prayer for the continuance of the competitive system!
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that the Victorian Housing Commission is to build a satellite town at Frankston, to consist of 3,500 houses, a shopping centre and factories? As work will start this year, and as the first lot will be ready at the end of the current financial year, will the Minister plan to have lines of communication ready for the needs of the 14,000 people who will be living there in the near future? Is the Minister aware that a women’s relay team recently delivered a letter from the Lord Mayor of Melbourne to the Mayor of Chelsea in one hour 45 minutes twelve seconds, and can he inform me whether this is a postal record?
– I shall deal with the first part of the honorable member’s question first. I can inform him that, as usual, the Postmaster-General’s Department, in its policy of keeping pace with progress, has been making plans for the development of the necessary telephone and other services for the new satellite town to be established at Frankston. The first requirement in carrying out these plans is to erect all the necessary buildings for the local automatic exchange and semi-automatic trunk exchange. That work has, I think, just been completed. The task of installing all the equipment needed will proceed, and will take some time, as the honorable member will realize. It will involve the expenditure of an amount of about £170,000 in this year and in part of next year. When completed it will cater for about 3,000 subscribers which, the department believes, will meet the needs of that area for some con.scribers. This, the department believes, will associated with cable reticulation which are at present under investigation. As to the women’s relay team, I confess that I do not know very much about things like that, particularly in this respect. I should think, however, that if this team is in any way comparable with the teams which won world-wide acclaim for Australia last year, its efforts would also, no doubt, constitute a record in this particular sphere.
– My question to the Prime Minister concerns the recent rise of the bank rate in the United Kingdom. I should like to state in explanation of my question that it is difficult to judge the overall effect of such incidents on the Australian economy. I ask the right honorable gentleman, however, in view of the great importance to Australia of attracting and retaining overseas capital for our development, whether he has any information that would indicate whether the rise in the United Kingdom bank rate, which could be expected to lead to the repatriation to the United Kingdom of British money invested overseas, has already been felt in Australia, and whether recent falls recorded on the Australian share market, which have continued, have been the result, to a significant extent, of the selling by British interests or others wishing to reinvest their capital in the United Kingdom at the new rate.
– There is no information before the Treasury which would suggest any appreciable volume of repatriation of funds because of the alteration in the bank rate in Great Britain. It is quite true that there has been, of late, some fall in the local stock exchange quotations though, even at that stage, the quotations were approximately the same as they were six months ago. There had been a sharp rise some little time before; and that rise has ceased and there has been a slight fall to about the same average level as at six months back. That does not suggest that there has been some large impact as a result of the alteration of the United Kingdom bank rate. There are, of course, some companies listed on the stock exchange - pastoral companies, for example, and companies particularly associated with rural investment - which are, no doubt, affected to some extent by the seasonal doubts and difficulties about which we all know. There are other companies on the exchange which have shareholders both in Australia and in London, and which may be called Anglo-Australian companies for this purpose. No doubt, in the case of such companies, there will have been some fall, not because of what is happening in Australia, but because of the direct local effect in Great Britain of the alteration in the exchange rate.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Army. Is it a fact that discharges from the Australian Regular Army are much greater than enlistments and that the situation has worsened of late? If so, what steps are being taken by the authorities to discover the cause and apply a remedy? I am given to understand that the desire to leave the Army is not due entirely to the belief that civilian employment offers greater incentive to these men than service in the Army.
– It is quite true that there has been some diminution of the numbers. There have been more discharges than re-engagements and enlistments over the last year or so. I could make the exact figures available to the honorable member if he would like to see them. The position now is that we have 21,251 in the Australian Regular Army, and we expect that the figure will run down to an average of about 20,800 during this financial year. That is the figure disclosed in the Budget. This run-down was not unexpected. As the honorable member, who takes a great interest in this matter, will understand, in 1951 and 1952 recruitment was heavy because of the then international conditions. Those engagements were for the six years’ term and many of them are now maturing. That is one of the principal reasons why we are affected at this time. There is, of course, a variety of reasons why soldiers do not engage or re-engage. It is very true that opportunities in outside industry have been very great in the last few years - to the credit of this Government, I may say - and that has been a retarding factor in relation to enlistments. Then there is the question of age. A soldier who is reaching a certain age, knowing that he will retire from the Army at perhaps an early date, seeks to establish himself in a permanent way for the rest of his life, because conditions in industry at this moment are good. There are also housing difficulties and family considerations. Everything is being done to deal with the matters raised in the honorable member’s question. Great opportunities in trade courses are being offered to young men, and those courses are quite successful. Considerable improvements have taken place in amenities provided for soldiers and, generally speaking, conditions are on a par with outside employment. Recently a new agreement for the provision of housing has been concluded with the States and that is having some effect. The Minister for Defence recently announced the appointment of a special committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Allison to inquire into the conditions of service. This committee will cover a wide field and the result of its inquiries should have an excellent effect upon future recruitment.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation by saying that of the 2,269 nurses who served overseas during World War I., fewer than 700 are left to-day. Some of these women are more than 80 years of age and the majority are in their seventies and are suffering from the ills which accompany old age, such as rheumatism and arthritis. Will the Minister give consideration to the extension to these women of hospital benefits for the complaints L have mentioned?
– The proposal submitted by the honorable member has been considered on a number of occasions. I know that, on several occasions, the present Minister for Repatriation has given it the usual sympathetic consideration for which he is noted. However, the problem cannot be determined by itself because it impinges on a number of other problems. As a result, it has not yet been possible to take the action suggested by the honorable member. I am not in possession of all the facts that have actuated the Minister for Repatriation in his approach to this matter, and I think that it would be preferable for me to refer the question to him. I can assure the honorable member for Henty that he will then receive a detailed reply covering all aspects of the question.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Supply. Can the. Minister inform the House whether the Australian Atomic Energy Commission plans to produce isotopes for medical, industrial, agricultural, and other research purposes, in quantities sufficient to meet Australia’s requirements? Will the Minister inform the House generally about developments in this field? Further, will he arrange with the Atomic Energy Commission for an exhibition at Wollongong covering the industrial and other uses of isotopes, and could such an exhibition; be arranged to take place during this year?
– The honorable member may have forgotten, or have overlooked, the fact that the industrial uses of atomic energy are the concern of my colleague, the Minister for National Development. I will refer the honorable gentleman’s question to my colleague, and will see that a reply is given as soon as possible.
– I address a question to the Minister for Trade who, yesterday, concluded an answer- to a question by saying -
But in certain circumstances it is true that Australian coastal shipping rates are, by and large, and over an average period, very high indeed, in’ comparison with overseas shipping freight rates.
Does the Minister consider it to be desirable, in the. interests of Australian trade, that the cargo traffic on the Australian coast should be opened to ships of the conference lines, with an: associated operational differential subsidy to the Australian coastal shippingcompanies to compensate them for their higher cost structure on short hauls?
– The question clearly raises an issue of policy, and it is not customary to answer such questions at question time without notice.
-.– Does the Prime Minister recall the. many reports received some time ago from people in various parts of Australia who claimed to have, seen in the sky strange objects which were, described as “ flying; saucers “? In view of the successful launching of the satellite that is at present circling the globe, can the right honorable gentleman assure the House that the alleged flying saucers were not some form of satellite, or similar object, set in flight by this Government, or by the government of some other country?
– I can answer for this Government, but I cannot answer for all the other’ possibilities that the honorable member calls to mind, because, quite plainly, I. do not know. The current object certainly seems definite.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service in his capacity as Minister at present in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Can the. right’ honorable gentleman tell me what action has been taken regarding the establishment of a pastoral and agricultural research station in western Victoria? Has the C.S.I.R.O. recommended that such a station be established, and has the Wool Research Committee, decided to give financial support to such a. project?
– HOLT. - I understand that, in November, 1955, discussions took place between officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and representatives of the Victorian Agriculture Department, following a request from the Victorian Premier, and that those discussions examined the practicability and desirability of having a pastoral and agricultural research station in the area mentioned. Although the C.S.I.R.O. was willing to cooperate as far as it could do so, it considered that the project was essentially one for the Victorian Government. I gather that this aspect of the matter has been pursued by the Victorian Government, and that its representations have induced the Wool Research Committee to agree to make a grant of £5,000 from wool funds to meet establishment costs, and to contribute £3,000 per annum towards expenditure on salaries and maintenance. I am informed that the Victorian Agriculture Department is at present looking for a suitable area that might be used for the purposes which were outlined in the survey made by the officers concerned.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that there are more outstanding telephone applications from addresses within the Hughes electorate than there are from any other electorate in Australia? As many applications have been outstanding for the eight years that this Government has been in office, and having in mind the unprecedented rate of new applications, I ask that some special developmental priority be afforded to the Hughes electorate. As Postal Department facilities generally in the electorate are outmoded or inadequate, will the Minister give sympathetic consideration to my request to him to visit the Hughes electorate at the first opportunity?
– Some time ago the honorable member for Hughes submitted to me a question on notice regarding the number of outstanding applications from persons in his electorate, and I remember that the number that I cited in reply was large. I told him at the time that there were plans in existence for remedying the situation, dependent on the availability of funds during this financial year. It has already been disclosed, and the statement will be amplified during the debate on the Estimates, that the Postal Department has an increased allocation this year, and I have given a direction that attention should be paid to such areas as the honorable member’s electorate, and a number of other areas in which the position is critical. Further to a discussion which the honorable member had with me a few days ago, I can, within the next few days, supply him with the over-all plans of the department for this financial year. That information, of course, is available to any other honorable member who requires it. The honorable member also asked me about paying a visit to his electorate. I shall be delighted to do so at some time in the future, because 1 believe in moving around and seeing different areas, but I can give no indication as to when I shall have time to do so.
– I address a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to the report on the school milk scheme issued by the New South Wales Milk Board. This report gives the alarming number of eligible children - totalling 100,000 in New South Wales alone - who do not derive any benefit from the Government’s provision of this health-giving food. Will the Minister investigate the desirability of having school milk homogenized in order to remove one of the main objections of those who do not drink it, which is that the milk is too watery or too creamy, and to allow them to learn to appreciate this delicious beverage when it is presented in such a way as to bring out its true rich, creamy flavour?
– I have no doubt that the milk that comes from the electorate of the honorable member has that rich, creamy flavour, and, therefore, I will take up with the department the question of whether school milk can be homogenized so that it can be more widely distributed. If there is any useful information that I can subsequently give the honorable member I will do so. If I find, on the other hand, that there is no such useful information, I hope the honorable member will not mind if I do not communicate with him again.
-I ask the Minister for Trade a question concerning the appointment of an arbiter of peril points in trade between Japan and Australia. First, what act or legislative procedure covers the appointment of the arbiter? Secondly, what will be the terms of his appointment, what salary will he receive, what staff will he control, and where will his office be located? Thirdly, what will be the powers of the arbiter, and, in particular, what will be the definition of “ industry “? Fourthly, has any work accumulated for the arbiter to the present date?
– I appreciate the question because it gives me an opportunity to correct a false impression that has resulted from some press reports. I have never spoken of an arbitrator or arbiter; nor has any other honorable member on behalf of the Government. The person appointed has been described always as an advisory authority, and he will be no more than that. He will be an adviser to the Minister. He will not have absolute power. At this stage, and I think for a continuing period, Mr. M. E. McCarthy, chairman of the Australian Tariff Board, will be the advisory authority. Mr. McCarthy feels that he will not need much staff for this purpose. He is, of all the people available for the purpose, in the best position to judge the circumstances and needs of Australian industry. The cases that will come before him will be those that arise as a result of a section of Australian industry considering that it may be adversely prejudiced by the operation of the Japanese Trade Agreement. The arrangements are that if, after negotiations and discussions with manufacturers in the broad, and in particular, specialist discussions with the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia and also the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia, a section of industry believes it may be seriously harmed by the operation of this agreement, it will appoint on a federal basis some representatives who, with the support of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, will confer with the Department of Trade to bring out the relevant facts - the facts that are known to the department, and the facts that are best known to industry. It may well be that after such a discussion no fear will remain. I allow myself to believe that that will happen quite frequently. But if the Associated Chambers of Manufactures and the section of the industry concerned consider that the operation of the agreement may seriously harm that section, then the case may be taken to Mr. McCarthy, who will, in due course, after informing himself - without any restriction by the Government as to what course he takes to that end - give his advice to the Minister. The Minister, equipped on the one hand with advice from Mr. McCarthy and, of course, not without advice from the other side, the Associated Chambers of Commerce, will have power, under legislation passed a year before the agreement was negotiated, to deal with the matter, and I have no doubt that Australian industry will be adequately protected.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question without notice. Has the Government made any investigation into the allegations of secret payments to maritime unions by some shipping interests? If so, what were the results of these investigations? What action, if any, is contemplated by the Government in this matter?
– From the time when these matters were first made public by Mr. Justice Foster the Government has been following developments very closely and has not been inactive. It has made such inquiries as seemed profitable to undertake. But the Government has taken the view from the outset that it is desirable in the first instance for the trade union movement to put its own house in order, if that is deemed desirable on an investigation of the facts. To my knowledge, a committee was set up by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It was a committee of senior members of the trade union movement. It has been conducting investigations, which I gather are likely to be completed next week. When this Government has in its possession all the information that it can gather on the matter, it will then decide what course of action is proper in the circumstances.
– My question, directed to the Postmaster-General, arises out of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board’s annual report which he tabled in the House yesterday. The Minister will remember that the report reveals that 49 out of the 107 commercial broadcasting stations failed to devote at least 5 per cent, of their music programmes to the works of Australian composers, as required by the Broadcasting and Television Act, and that the report referred to the fear that last July’s increase in thequota of films for television would reduce the opportunity for Australian writers and artists in that medium. What stepsare being taken to see that all commercial broadcasting stations comply with the letter of the law and that all television stations comply with the spirit of it?
– The honorable member’s question embraces a subject, particularly as far as television is concerned, to whichI haveaddressed myself in this House on several occasions. Over the years, the broadcasting stations have shown a desire to observe the actual letter of the law. After I read that section of the report to which the honorable member has referred, I got in touch with the board and asked it to give me a further report on the reason why some stations had failed to maintain the proportion of Australian music on their programmes at the stipulated 5 per cent, of the total.
– Will the Minister table that supplementary report?
– I have not asked for anything in the nature of a supplementary report, but for further information on that particular section of it. If the information supplied by the board contains anything that may be of interest to the honorable member I will let him have that information. The part of the honorable member’s question regarding television refers to a matter which, as I have said from time to time, is under constant supervision by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. It is not a matter which can be rectified in a few minutes or by waving a magic wand. It calls for co-operation on the part of the commercial stations, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, and some of those other bodies which are interested, if we are to achieve the result which we all want, that is, the utmost use of Australian talent.
– The PostmasterGeneral will recall that yesterday I mentioned to him a recorded broadcast by the British Home Secretary, the Right Honorable R. A. Butler, M.P., entitled “ The Part of Civil Defence in the Defence System “, given in the home service of the British Broadcasting -Corporation on 28th September last and reported in the London “ Times “ of 30th September, copies of which paper are now in the Library. I ask the Minister: In view of the great topical importance of this address and its practical lessons for us in Australia, will he arrange for its rebroadcast over the network of the Australian Broadcasting Commission?
– I regret that I have not seen the address of theRight Honorable R. A . Butler, to which the honorable member has referred, but I shall certainly look at it. The honorable member has asked me, because of the importance of this subject, whether I will arrange for its rebroadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I must point out to him, as I have pointed out to other honorable members, that I have no authority to direct the Australian Broadcasting Commission in matters of administration or. of programmes. The chairman of the commission, as is well known, is always desirous ofcontributing towards the excellence of the programmes broadcast by the commission. It occurs to me that the subject of the honorable member’s question is a matter which I could well discuss with my colleague, the Minister for the Interior, and also with the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and submit the honorable member’s proposal to him. Beyond that, I cannot give any undertaking.
Report of the Public Accounts Committee - Procedure - Statement of Expenditure 1956-57.
– As Chairman, I present the following report of the Public Accounts Committee: -
Thirty-third Report - Expenditure from Advance to the Treasurer and Variations under Section 37 of the Audit Act 1901-1957, for the financial year 1956-57.
Ordered to be printed.
Mr. BLAND (Warringah). - by leave - Mr. Speaker, because this is the first of the reports presented under the new dispensation, the Public Accounts Committee thought it would be wise for me to explain to the House the reasons for making the changes involved in approving the allocation of expenditure from the Advance to the Treasurer. These changes involve matters of substance and questions of procedure.
If honorable members have had time to read the thirty-first report, which 1 presented in this chamber last May, they will have seen there some of the details of the changes which are now being put into effect. The change in substance involves discontinuing the presentation of the Supplementary Estimates and substituting therefor a formal statement of payments under this particular section. The change in procedure is to present to the House a statement of the allocations of expenditure under the Treasurer’s Advance Account, as soon as possible after the close of the financial year to which the expenditure relates.
Since 1906, when this advance account was established, the Supplementary Estimates have served the purpose of informing the Parliament of the manner in which the Treasurer’s Advance Account has been spent. Since 1953-54 the amount of the annual vote has reached £16,000,000. By glancing at the current Estimates on page 103, Division 232, it will be seen that the notation to the vote “ Advance to the Treasurer “ is different from what it has been in other years. There has always been the implication that the advance would be available to meet, among other things, emergent or unforeseen expenditure. While that condition still remains, I would remind honorable members that the notation was changed in 1954-55 when the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) undertook, among other things, to use the advance “ to meet expenditure, particulars of which will afterwards be included in a parliamentary appropriation “. That was the authority for presenting the Supplementary Estimates Appropriation measure.
Last year, when the Public Accounts Committee was examining the form in which the Supplementary Estimates should be submitted to the Parliament, we were advised by the Treasury, the Parliamentary Draftsman and others, that the practice of including the expenditure from the Treasurer’s Advance in a supplementary estimate was legally unnecessary as well as ineffective. The argument put to us was that since the advance had already been appropriated when the Estimates were passed, there was nothing to be gained, legally or otherwise, by appropriating details of the expenditure.
The committee was anxious that, by adopting this contention, it should not in any way derogate from the rights of the
Parliament to be informed of the manner in which the Treasurer had spent the advance voted to him. If there was no need to pass .another appropriation measure, the .committee felt that there was every reason why the Parliament should be told how the money it had appropriated had actually been spent. Your committee considered a number of ways in which the information could be submitted to the Parliament and decided that a satisfactory procedure would be for the Treasurer to submit, as soon as possible within the following financial year, a statement of the .allocations of the expenditure authorized by him from the advance, and also to move a. resolution seeking the approval of Parliament for those allocations. The committee undertook to report on each statement of allocations as early as possible and, if it could be done, by the date on which the Treasurer tabled it. That undertaking is being carried out. We have brought down our report, and the Minister representing the Treasurer will submit the statement to the House later on.
Honorable members will see that in 1957-58 the notation to the vote, “ Advance to the Treasurer “ has been amended to give effect to this change and to read, inter alia, “ to meet expenditure, particulars of which will afterwards be submitted to Parliament “. The Parliament will, therefore, be in exactly the same position as formerly. It will have before it the report of the Public Accounts Committee on matters which seemed worthwhile reporting upon to the Parliament, for example the report that I have just tabled, and it will have a complete catalogue of the things upon which the Treasurer’s Advance has been spent. But instead of being asked to pass another Appropriation Act, it will have for consideration a resolution submitted by the Treasurer. The 33rd report of the committee was drafted along those lines.
– by leave - I move -
That the House approves that, in lieu of the presentation of Supplementary Estimates and the introduction of Supplementary Appropriation Bills, the following procedure be adopted: -
that there be presented to the House after the end of each financial year a Statement prepared by the Treasurer showing the Heads of Expenditure and the Amounts charged thereto pursuant to section 36a of the Audit Act 1901-1957.
That the Statement be referred for the consideration of the Committee of the whole House.
That a resolution of the Committee be reported to the House for its adoption.
I wish to explain, very briefly, the Government’s attitude to this matter. Honorable members will already have observed evidence of the manner in which the Joint Committee on Public Accounts discharges the duties placed upon it by the Public Accounts Committee Act 1951. In addition to particular items of expenditure, the committee has periodically considered matters of principle affecting the accounts of the Commonwealth. In its 31st report, the committee discussed at some length, as its chairman has just pointed out, the practice that has hitherto been observed in this Parliament of presenting, after the end of the financial year, supplementary Estimates of expenditure during that year. Their inquiry led the committee to the conclusion that the present form should be discontinued and replaced by an alternative consideration by Parliament of the expenditure. This afternoon, in presenting the 33rd report of the committee, the chairman has elaborated upon the committee’s proposal which my colleague, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), has already accepted.
I shall not repeat the considerations of the committee which have already been presented to Parliament, but shall confine myself to recording, at this stage, the proposal for the future procedure. In lieu of the Supplementary Estimates, the Treasurer henceforth will submit a statement of expenditure as at 30th June, allocated to various heads of expenditure under Section 36a of the Audit Act. The expenditure will already have been appropriated by Parliament under the head, “ Advance to the Treasurer “. The statement will be considered by a committee of the whole House, which will subsequently consider the adoption of a resolution approving the statement. The Government believes that the recommendation of the committee, although it represents a departure from the procedures of the past, is an improvement.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Statement for the year 1956-57 of Heads of Expenditure and the Amounts charged thereto pursuant to Section 36a of the Audit Act 1901-1957. (Advance to the Treasurer.)
The statement provides details of expenditure totalling £3,707,089 from an appropriation of £16,000,000 made available to the Treasurer to meet expenditure which could not be foreseen when the Estimates were prepared. Full details of the expenditure for 1956-57, which includes these items, are set out in the Treasurer’s financial statement, which has already been tabled for the information of honorable members. Any further details of the various items of expenditure will be provided at a later stage.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - agreed to.-
That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
Debate resumed from 8th October (vide page 1160), on motion by Mr. Davidson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . ..17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Debate resumed from 3rd October (vide page 1057), on motion by Mr. Davidson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill is one of the budgetary measures which are necessary as a result of the decision of the Government to increase payments to persons entitled to pensions and allowances under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. The legislation was first enacted in 1940 for the express purpose of giving assistance to and denning the rights of persons engaged in the maritime service and, consequently, exposed to injury as a result of enemy action. I think that all honorable members will agree that those who manned the ships which plied round the Australian coast during the war faced hazards and took risks that would not normally be expected to be a part of such employment. Because the merchant service men were subjected to the risk of injury or death by the action of enemy submarines, surface ships and mines, it was essential that legislative provision should be made to enable their interests and rights to be protected.
The bill with which we are dealing relates to only three types of persons. The principal act, in addition to determining rates of pension for injured mariners and widows of deceased mariners, also makes provision for allowances for the wives and children of injured mariners. The first type of pensioner to which the bill refers is the mariner who, as a result of enemy action, has been reduced to a physical state that prevents him from following employment of any kind. Under the provisions of the Repatriation Act, this type of person is classed as totally and permanently incapacitated. In this legislation, therefore, the totally and permanently incapacitated mariner receives the same rate of pension as that granted to a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman of either World War I. or World War II.
There are, however, two other types of persons dealt with by this legislation. One is the person who is suffering from a total incapacity at present, but whose incapacity is not permanent. The other kind of injured person is the person who is suffering from a permanent incapacity which is not a total incapacity. It is necessary for us to decide whether the provisions of the bill are sufficient to give adequate pensions to those persons. The rate paid to the totally and permanently incapacitated mariner, which is determined by the Repatriation Act, is from £19 10s to £22 a fortnight. I mention that in connexion with this measure, although these people are subject to the Repatriation Act.
As to the other two classes of pensioners, who are dealt with under this bill, our problem is to decide whether the provision made for them in the bill is satisfactory. The best way to test that is to refer to the First Schedule to the bill. The measure provides for the payment of three different rates to the three kinds of persons covered by that schedule. The rate for a widow is to be £4 17s. 6d. a week and for other dependants the total pension payment is to be £3 10s. a week. The rate for a totally incapacitated mariner is to be £5 2s. 6d. a week. Now, let us compare those rates with the rates fixed when the original measure was passed in 1940, in order to see whether the new rates are sufficient to enable the recipients to have at least the same standard of comfort as they had in 1940. The original legislation in 1940 provided that ihe payment to a widow was to be £1 3s. 6d. a week. This bill brings the rate to £4 17s. 6d. The rate for other dependants was £2 in 1940 and is now £3 10s. a week. It is interesting to point out that the £3 10s. rate was fixed in 1952, and, although this is the fifth amending bill since then, the rate is still £3 10s. The rate for a totally incapacitated mariner has gone up from £2 2s. a week in 1940 to £5 2s. 6d. under this measure.
The Opposition regards these increases as totally unsatisfactory, lt matters little what measuring rod is used in a comparison of the rates provided in the bill with the rates provided in the original legislation; they are still unsatisfactory. In 1940, when the rate for a totally incapacitated mariner was fixed at £2 2s., the basic wage for the six capital cities was £4 a week. The merest mental calculation will indicate that a pension of £2. 2s. a week was a fraction over 50 per cent, of the then basic wage. The bill provides that the. rate will now be £5 2s. 6d., an increase, of £3 2s. 6d. over the seventeen years. But in the meantime the basic wage has risen from £4 a.week.to.£12 16s. a. week, that being the present wage as fixed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which is generally referred to as the pegged basic wage. The. adjusted basic wage, which, so far, the court has not allowed to operate, and which is. generally termed the unpegged, basic, wage, should be now £13 5s. a. week. So, whether, we look at the pegged or the unpegged wage, we find that the basic wage has increased in seventeen years by about three and a quarter times, whilst the pension for a totally incapacitated mariner has- increased only from £2 2s. to £5 2s. 6d., an increase of less than two and a half times in the same period. Had the pension increased since 1940 in the same ratio as the unpegged basic wage of £13 5s. it would have risen from £2 2s. to £6 19s. a week; or, had it increased in accordance with the increase of the pegged basic wage of £12’ 16s. it would fta ve become £6 14s. 9d.
I suggest; Mr. Speaker, that persons who have- been affected as a consequence of enemy action while in the service of their country should not, under any circumstances; lose the standards given to them in the- original legislation. 1 think everybody will agree that if the prosperity of the: community has- increased - if production has been greatly enlarged, and if the prosperity of individuals has substantially improved - those who are suffering as a consequence of enemy action are entitled at least to share in the increased prosperity and in the fruits of increased productivity. One needs only to look round to find to what extent increased prosperity is being enjoyed by the great mass of the people but cannot be enjoyed by the pensioner unless his rate of pension is increased proportionately so as to give him a greater purchasing power. That has not been done in similar legislation in the past, and it is not being done in this measure. Let us compare the. position of the pensioner with the position of the basic wage-earner. In addition to the fact that there have been real increases in wages during, the last seventeen years, the basic wage-earner has received substantial benefits such as the reduction of working hours from 44 to 40 a week, an increase in annual leave from one week to two weeks, and the introduction of long service leave and things of that description, which mean that as- well as- a monetary gain there have been social and other gains which have given him greater happiness and contentment. The people who are the recipients of pensions under this measure are entitled to’ share in the increased prosperity. This measure does not give them that share.
In seventeen years, the maximum amount for dependants has risen from £2 a week to £3 10s. a week, but the rate of £3 10s. a week has remained since 1952. The position of widows has certainly been improved since 1940. The rate of £4 17s. 6d. fixed by this measure, when compared with the amount allowed in 1940, is an improvement and. indicates that some shares in the increased prosperity of the country is being given to widows. However, one cannot say that in- respect of the amounts allowed under this bill for a wife and children. The allowances for a wife and for children are determined by section 18 of the principal act. The increases granted have been sparing and have been given at very lengthy intervals. In 1940, the allowance for a wife was 18s. a week, and for a child 7s. 6d. a week. In legislation passed in 1946, the rate for the wife remained at 18s. and for the child at 7s. 6d. It was not until 1952 that any alteration was made. The rates have remained the same since then, and this bill does not increase them. In 1952, the wife’s allowance was increased to £1 15s. 6d., the rate for the eldest child was increased to £1 6s. 6d., and the rate for other .children was increased to 18s. 6d. The basic wage has increased three-fold since 1940, but obviously the wife’s allowance of £1 15s. 6d. is not three- times the 1940 rate of 18s. The position of the eldest child has been improved and the rate of £1 6s. 6d. is more than three times the original 7s. 6d., but the rate of 18s. 6d. for other children is considerably less than three times the original rate. What is more regrettable - and I stress this point - is that, though this measure increases the rates in the first schedule, it makes no provision for an increase in the allowances for a wife and for children.
There is a further way of testing- whether those covered by this, measure have received the justice they should receive. Generally speaking, in 1940, workers’ compensation rates were very low, but since then the responsibility of industry to those injured in the course of -their employment has been more fully recognized. As persons covered by this bill are either temporarily or permanently and totally incapacitated or permanently but not totally incapacitated, it is interesting to see how they fare when .compared with persons injured in the course of their employment under the various workers’ compensation acts of the States and the Commonwealth. The rate for a totally incapacitated mariner injured in the service of his country is £5 2s. 6d. The rates under the various workers’ compensation acts are as follows: -
In ^addition to those amounts, during total incapacity of the worker, allowances, ranging ‘from £2 5s. to £2 10s., are paid for a wife and additional allowances are paid for .children. However, the main reason .why I mention workers’ compensation payments is to indicate the inferior position of a person under the Seamen’s War i Pensions and Allowances Act who is not -totally incapacitated but who has a permanent incapacity which lessens his earning power. ‘Under the act, those persons receive a proportion of the £5 2s. 6d., according to their incapacity. If the incapacity is 90 per cent., they receive 90 per cent, of £5 2s. 6d.; if the incapacity is 50 per .cent., they receive 50 per cent, of £5 2s. 6d. But a person in the same position under a workers’ compensation act would receive 50 per cent, or 90 per cent, of whatever rate was fixed either by the Commonwealth or a State. Therefore, persons who are suffering as a consequence of war action encountered while carrying on a section of industry essential for the protection and the welfare of Australia - that is, the merchant marine - are worse off to-day than those who are injured during the course of their employment. in industry generally. »One can view this bill only with a great deal of dissatisfaction. One cannot oppose it, -because if one -did the very meagre increases ‘that are granted by the measure would not come into operation. However, one can express intense dissatisfaction and the hope that a more reasonable and more generous : attitude will be taken by the Government towards these pensioners when the next amending bill comes before the House. We feel that the provision that the increases specified in this bill will be payable only as from the date on which it receives Royal Assent is not satisfactory, and at the committee stage I propose to move that the payments shall operate from 1st July, 1957. On behalf of the Opposition, I express dissatisfaction with the measure. We are dissatisfied -with the inability of -the Government to -recognize that persons who after –seventeen years are still suffering as a result of -injury through service in World War II. are not receiving rates commensurate with the generally improved standards throughout the community, the increased prosperity of the nation, .and our considerably increased and high productive power. On the contrary, the purchasing power of the pensions and allowances is well below the 1940 standard.
– I listened with very great interest to the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey). I must admit that in some ways the arguments he put forward appealed to me. They appealed to me particularly as an ex-member of a seamen’s union, but I do not know that they are completely watertight. The implication is - and it has been made fairly consistently by the Opposition - that this Government is niggardly in its repatriation treatment when, of course, the opposite is the fact. Australian repatriation benefits are among the best in the world. Indeed, Australia is among the two or three countries that lead the world in this respect. But that does not mean that our repatriation benefits cannot be, or should not be, improved from time to time. 1 entirely agree with the remarks made by the honorable member for Bendigo about that aspect of the matter.
When we talk about seamen generally, particularly in time of peace, we are inclined to allow our thoughts to be influenced by the behaviour of some of the present leaders of the Seamen’s Union of Australia. I believe that, in considering repatriation matters, we should completely divorce from our thoughts the fact that the seamen’s union is under Communist leadership, and that’, at present, that leadership is damaging, not only our shipping industry, but also other industries. We must remember the splendid work that has been done by men of the merchant navy, particularly during World War II., because the principal act came into effect in 1940. However, that work is often forgotten, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. Many people forget that the casualties suffered by the merchant navies of the British Empire were among the highest suffered by all the forces that took part in the last war. We are inclined to forget that, without the work done, and the support given, by the merchant navy, the Allied nations would probably have lost the war, because Britain would not have been able to carry on during the times of very grave peril early in the war after some of our allies had been knocked out of the field, and while others were a little tardy in entering it.
The fact that we tend to overlook the work of the merchant navy is borne out by the difficulty of ascertaining, from Commonwealth publications in the Commonwealth National Library, the casualties suffered by the Australian merchant shipping service during the war. Indeed, my efforts to ascertain the exact figures have been completely unsuccessful up to the present time. Tt seems that successive Commonwealth governments have been at fault in not including merchant navy casualties with the casualty figures of the armed forces, as is done in the United
Kingdom. In the details of the war casualties given in the “ Commonwealth Year-Book “, there is no reference to merchant navy casualties. The omission is most regrettable.
The fact that the principal act has been amended some seven times - admittedly, four of the amendments were concerned merely with financial adjustments - indicates that seamen have not received, in the past, the full benefits to which they were entitled, and in fact, are still not receiving benefits equivalent to those received by other returned service personnel. Only a year or so ago, 1 made representations to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) for the amendment of the principal Act to provide that eligibility for pensions should be extended to the wife and children of an Australian mariner incapacitated by war injury, or to the widow and children of an Australian mariner whose death resulted from war injury, regardless of the date on which the marriage took place. Similar benefits were enjoyed by members of the other services for some time prior to this benefit being extended to merchant seamen.
In the latter part of last year, I wrote to the Minister requesting that consideration be given to the establishment of some form of appeals system in relation to repatriation benefits for merchant seamen. As the principal act stands, a claimant for a repatriation pension, and medical benefits, who is a merchant seaman, has no right of appeal when a claim is rejected. He can make one claim only, and if it is rejected, he has no right of appeal. It is quite wrong that that should be so. Consequent upon my representations, the Minister has informed me that the act at present provides for the appointment of a pensions committee to deal with applications for pensions and benefits under the act, or, alternatively, for such applications to be dealt with by the Repatriation Commission. The Minister has told me, also, that it appears that, up to the present time, all claims have been dealt with by the commission. Therefore, it has been decided to establish, in the near future, a pensions committee to examine and determine all claims for pensions or benefits under the act. Any appellant whose claim is rejected, will then be eligible to appeal to the Repatriation Commission. So, at last we are getting somewhere by having merchant seamen given the right of at least one appeal to the commission. I can see no real reason why they should not be given rights of appeal equal to those enjoyed by men and women who served in the other services.
This bill is to be taken in conjunction with the Repatriation Bill 1957, which is in the process of being considered by the House. Like that bill, as I pointed out last evening when I spoke to it, this measure is a further indication of the Government’s intention to keep its pledge to review repatriation matters constantly. The fact that, almost every year, amendments of the acts dealing with repatriation benefits become necessary, is indicative of the need for a constant review of the repatriation legislation in its various forms.
It gives me very great pleasure to support this bill. I trust that the proposed pensions committee, which the Minister for Repatriation has assured me will be appointed in the near future, will be appointed very soon, so that former merchant seamen may enjoy the full benefits that they should receive.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
– I move-
That, in clause 2, omit “ come into operation on the day on which is receives the Royal Assent”, insert “ be deemed to have come into operation on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven”.
I think that only by agreeing to this amendment can the committee, in some slight measure, give to the persons affected by this bill the benefits that they have been denied because the increases of benefits made from time to time have not kept pace with the cost of living. I think that I have already indicated clearly to honorable members the deterioration over a long time of the position of the persons covered by this measure. The bill does not make their position any better, and therefore I have proposed the amendment in order to give them some slight relief. The object of the amendment is to make the payment retrospective, and, as a consequence, to give these pensioners a little more purchasing power than they have had for some considerable time. The adoption of the proposal would help, in some slight manner, to make up for the decline in living standards of these pensioners. I think the amendment is a reasonable one, and one that should be agreed to by the committee. 1 sincerely hope that the committee will accept it.
– In introducing the amendment the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) said that he sincerely hoped that the Government would accept it. I have to inform him that the Government does not propose to accept the amendment. I do not think it necessary to speak for very long on this amendment, because it is of a similar nature to an amendment to a bill which could be described as a companion bill, which has already been decided by this Parliament. It is also similar to an amendment which we have been given to understand will be moved to a third bill, which will deal with various kinds of pensions. I content myself, therefore, with saying that my arguments against the amendment are the same as those that have been and will be voiced by Government supporters in relation to the proposals that have already been and will be determined by the committee.
I am afraid that I regard this proposal, to a certain extent, as window-dressing of the kind that can easily be indulged in by those who have no great degree of responsibility in the matter. We would all like to see more funds made available for the people whom we consider deserving, but we must exercise some degree of responsibility in determining how pension rates shall be increased and the time from which the increases shall become effective. I point out that the practice of introducing a bill to amend the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act at Budget time is in conformity with the practice that has applied throughout the years in matters of this kind. In the middle of the year the government of the day turns its attention to the question of the expenditure of the moneys that will be available to it during the forthcoming financial year. It considers the myriads of claims made on the total amount available, and it allocates the funds accordingly. No one item of expenditure can be regarded as being in a watertight compartment and without any relation to the other financial matters that are considered in the Budget.
If the practice of preparing an annual Budget, showing expenditure in various directions, is to be carried out properly, then after the overall determinations have been made there can be no adjustments of the various elements that would have the result of disturbing all the other elements that have been, in some cases, already decided upon by the Parliament.
I see no merit whatsoever, therefore, in this proposal. The practice that the Government is following is, one might almost say, an age-old practice. It is one that has been followed by many other governments before this one. I admit that the cost that would be incurred by the adoption of this proposal would not be very great, but one. must consider the effect upon all the other elements in the Budget. If the proposal were adopted, similar proposals would have to be adopted with regard to repatriation pensions and the various kinds of social service pensions. I have not worked out what the total cost of this proposal would be, but it would certainly be more than £4,000,000 per annum. That may not appear to be a very large amount, when considered as a proportion of total expenditure, but if the principle were applied in all other cases which appeared to be equally deserving, that amount of £4,000,000 would be multiplied until it reached an impossible figure.
The Government must, therefore, say, “ We have considered all these aspects. We have set out to improve the. situation of the, mariners in the. same way. as we have improved the lot of social service pensioners and. repatriation pensioners, and, on this occasion at any rate, we do not propose to go any further, even by the indirect method of making the payment retrospective to 1st July “. For these reasons, which I believe are quite cogent, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted. (Mr. Clarey’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority. . . 19
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken together and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill- by leave -reada third time.
In committee: Consideration resumed (vide page 1175).
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
ThisAct shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the. Royal Assent.
.- I propose to move on behalf of the Opposition an amendment, which hasbeen drafted by the Parliamentary Draftsman. I believe that this amendment, if agreed to, will confer a great benefit on recipients- of the various classes of repatriation payments. On behalf of the Opposition I move -
That in clause 2, omit “ come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent “, insert “ be deemed to have- come into operation on the first day of July-, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven “.
The. amendment is in conformity with those moved to the other measures implementing. Budget proposals, and is in accordance with the principle that has been adopted by the Opposition in. recent years. I indicate to the House at once, that this is not the first occasion on which this form of amendment has been moved.. Indeed, the principle was adopted three years ago and on each occasion when a repatriation bill or a social services bill has been before this House the Opposition has moved that the payments be made retrospective to the 1st July. To accept the amendment on this occasion would not involve the Commonwealth in any great expenditure, because, as has-been indicated by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in his Budget speech, the actual cost of. the repatriation proposals will be £4,100,000 for a full year but only £2,737,000 in the. current year. This bill provides that the increases shall operate from the first pension day after the commencement of the. measure. Therefore, the first payment should.be. made within, the next two. weeks, so. that if the Opposition’s amendment were accepted, as it should be, the. retrospectivity wo.uld.be. for. only about three months.
I emphasise at. this point that there is. one class-of pensioner-in particular which would appreciate, these payments being made retrospective, to. the: 1st. July. I refer, to those pensioners- who are..- in receipt, of- a: service, pension, because: they are totally incapacitated, but, who, because, their disability, has noi . been- accepted . by. the commission or by the. tribunals, as. being attributable to their., war service, can, receive no more than the service. pension. Lam particularly concerned, with the. married, man who is in receipt of the service pension and who, under this legislation, will receive an increase to only £4 7s. 6d. a week. If he is: no longer employable, his wife, if she has to care for him, receives an allowance of only £3 10s. a fortnight. Perhaps I am wrong, but I have not been’ able to find in this- legislation provision for any increase of this allowance. Those classes particularly would benefit greatly by the Opposition’s amendment. I commend the amendment to the House.
– I feel that, having addressed myself less than fifteen minutes ago to an exactly similar proposal, it is not necessary for me to delay the committee very much’ on this amendment. Exactly the same reasons actuate the Government in saying that it is not prepared to accept this amendment. I was interested to hear the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) say that this proposal represents a principle which has been adopted by the Opposition, and that this is not the first occasion on which the Opposition has expressed its support of retrospectivity. That may be so, but it is only in. the last year or two that we have seen any indication of it. Certainly there was no application of that principle when those now in Opposition were in: a position- to apply it for the benefit of the. people whom they now propose to assist. So,. I. feel that there is no great degree of sincerity in . this amendment and that once again there is a certain amount of windowdressing -about it.
I” refer again briefly to this question of cost. The honorable member for Bass says that the cost would, not be very great in this instance. No, it would not be, but if such a’ principle were adopted, in. one case it would have to apply in a number of others and we. would have to go through the whole range of the services, including, social, services; for which, this. Government must provide, in. its. annual budgeting. Let it be remembered, that this Government helps, to. finance, through its loan, allocations and. other avenues, many of. the. essential, services carried, out by the States, such: as .hospitals: and schools. This: comes from, the total, sum which, this Government has. available to. distribute, for. various- purposes when it is. determining its Budget requirements.- As. far as. Common wealth, expenditure, is concerned the. Government has to provide: finance for such/ items as war service, homes, and this year, it will be remembered,.it increased, that amount by £5,000,000. Many of us would like to-do more. Some might say that another £1’,000,000 is not very much. By itself,’ as an’ item, it may not be. We’ would’ like to have more money available for the Commonwealth-State home-building plan. I should greatly enjoy being able to get another £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 for developmental work in the essential communications services of this nation.
The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) reminded the committee last night that this Government has a very important task to which it must apply itself in making proper provision to meet repayment or redemption of the various loans which will become due within the next two or three years. It is planning for all these things, and if the proposal which the committee is now discussing were adopted, although it involves only a comparatively small amount, it would affect a number of other items which could claim equal consideration for a little bit more. The result would be that the whole of the Budget allocations for the year would be thrown out of order. For those reasons, the Government is not able to accept the amendment.
.- In supporting the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) I am rather gratified to notice that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and many honorable members on the Government side continually turn back the pages of history to see what Labour governments did during the period from 1941 to 1949. I only wish this Government would copy some of the constructive and creative schemes of those governments and apply them to the present needs of the country. But the continued reference to what the Labour party or any other party did, eight or nine years ago, in considering a principle such as that now before the committee, leaves me cold. I remind honorable members opposite that they are speaking to a group of members on this side entirely different from those who were present in this Parliament eight or nine years ago. Furthermore, circumstances to-day are entirely different from circumstances existing eight years ago. If, in the intervening period, little progress has been made in the matter of social service and pension payments under this Government, it is time that the people of Australia looked more closely at the way in which this country is being run.
The time has come when we should apply the principle embodied in the amendment to the payment of increases of social service benefits and pensions and make 1st July last the starting point. It is not good enough that these people should have to wait until the budgetary whims of the Government are made known by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and until social service measures which are presented by various Ministers have been passed and received the Royal assent. We are dealing with a matter which affects a large proportion of the Australian population. The total number of recipients of war service benefits runs into something over 600,000.
If 1st July were taken as a starting point it would place the payment of these benefits on a sound basis. That would be far better than worrying about making the commencement of the increased pension payable from this or that pension day. To use that sort of argument as an excuse for gagging social service measures through Parliament and preventing proper discussion is entirely wrong. The pension with which this measure deals concerns a large proportion of Australians and deserves more consideration than is being given to it. I discard the traditional argument that the Labour government did not do certain things when it was in office. Labour will do these things when it again assumes office, because Labour is sincere in this matter. Members of the Opposition know full well the commitments involved in regard to administration and finance, and f would not mind betting that within the next year or so this Government, if it survives that long, will carry this principle into operation, just as ten years after the necessity arose it has accepted many of the principles that Labour has advocated in the past.
The argument as to cost also leaves me cold, and the suggestion that the financial structure of the economy would have to be re-arranged has no validity whatsoever. Last year this Government had no difficulty in finding £500,000 to assist in the clearance of the Suez Canal, and that was done without reference to Parliament. A few years ago it found no difficulty whatsoever in
Guaranteeing; £4,000,000 for Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited.
– Order ! The honorable member is getting wide of the clause.
– The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) raised the matter of administrative and financial difficulties that would be involved if the principle of this amend ment were applied.
– The honorable member may not raise outside issues in this debate.
– I think it is valid to point out that in the past the Government has been able to overcome financial difficulties arising in similar circumstances, and it should be prepared to do so on this occasion. This Government has no difficulty in making taxation concessions, such as depreciation allowances, retrospective. It is proper that the increases of pensions should be made retrospective to 1st July, which is the first day of the financial year. I make the prophecy that although the Government is at present opposed to the principle contained in this amendment, eventually it will adopt it and put it into practice. Why should it not adopt it now and implement it this year?
.- I am disappointed that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has not seen the wisdom of accepting the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) which provides for the payment of the new rate of pension to be made retrospective to 1st July.
– If a reduction were proposed, would the honorable member and his party suggest that it should be made retrospective to 1st July?
– The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence) is not entitled to interject, particularly from the treasury bench, which is not his proper place in the chamber. Although the PostmasterGeneral seeks to justify the attitude of the Government upon a policy followed in earlier times by another government, composed of honorable members now on this side of the chamber, I remind honorable members that at that time this country was passing through a period of war and it had to face also the complications of the post-war period. It was not reasonable to expect that money could be made available for the payment of amounts for social services over and above those which were immediately granted, because of the heavy drain on the resources of the country in meeting imperative and urgent needs imposed by war. To-day, however, it is claimed that the finances of the country are buoyant. The Government points with pride to a surplus this year of about £100,000,000, a similar sum last year and an amount the year before that of at least £80,000,000.
I suggest to the Government that in view of these tremendous surpluses coming into the Treasury, it should give more thought to the great debt this country owes to those men who undertook its defence. They were prepared to face whatever risks and dangers were involved and suffered great disabilities as the result. No provision that the Government could make for pensions for these men could be too great. It is remarkable that so many ex-servicemen on this side of the chamber should have to plead with so many members on the Government side who, themselves, are returned soldiers. One cannot understand their approach to this proposal which affects so many of those with whom they possibly served as members of the same company.
Ex-servicemen who are suffering hardship because of the increased cost of living and because of increases in the cost of all forms of community service, are handicapped in providing what is essential for their own care and the care of those who are dependent upon them.
– Order! The honorable member is discussing rate of payment. I ask him to get back on to the time of starting payments.
– I am endeavouring to bring to the notice of honorable members opposite that it would be a great benefit to the people concerned if payments could be made retrospective to the 1st July. This would provide them with extra money to meet the added burdens that have been placed upon them. I have never been able to understand why governments do not date all financial transactions from the first day of the financial year. It would be quite reasonable to do so. The whole community would then understand exactly how it was likely to be affected either by imposts or rebates of payments.
– Does the honorable member suggest that sales tax should be collected retrospectively?
– I say to the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) that where there is a will to undertake these duties and do justice to people a way can be found to do it. It is a question of the willingness of a .government to undertake the -responsibility that we owe to our exservicemen to provide them with adequate payments. I join wholeheartedly with the honorable member for ‘Bass (Mr. Barnard) in presenting to this .committee a claim on behalf of men who are well deserving of it, and who have. -not received, by any means, adequate compensation and acknowledgment for the services that they have rendered in the defence o’f this country.
.- I feel sure that the .ex-servicemen of Australia will not be misled by the propaganda of the Opposition. At any rate, I hope that they will noi. A motion similar to the one before the committee -has come up year after year since I have been in the Parliament. When -non-Labour members were in opposition, it was brought forward by them. As 1 have said before in this chamber, it is just a political move whether it is made by an Opposition consisting of Labour members, Liberal members -or Australian Country party members. I am not saying this now for the sake of convenience. I have said it in this chamber long ago. Yesterday, I offered to take the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) to the Library and show him the record of what I said years ago. I shall not vote for the proposed amendment.
When the honorable member .for Bonython (Mr. Makin) was speaking, he said that whether the Government was collecting money or paying it, it should do so from the J st July. By way of interjection, I asked him whether he considered that the Government should collect sales tax retrospectively, which would involve the collection or repayment of tax on sales that had been made three months previously. He said, “ Where there is a will there is a way “. It is quite easy to use a cliche and say, “ That settles the argument “. It would be impossible to implement the suggestions made by the honorable member for Bonython. Every honorable member understands that. However, let us.get away from these paltry political motions.
– Why does the honorable member not get away from them?
– I have suggested that members of the Government parties should get away from them as well as members of the Labour party. I have stated long ago in .this chamber that I am opposed to this kind of :motion, -.and will vote against it. I shall illustrate that shortly.
.- If this committee required an exhibition of brazen political expediency, I believe that we have had it this afternoon. The honorable member ;for ‘Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has confessed that when he was in -Opposition he, without any reservation at all, proposed to the committee that pensions should be paid -retrospectively. This afternoon, he has stated that that was quite all right, but that it is entirely wrong to put forward the same proposition to-day. Tie said that the Opposition’s proposal could not be justified and, furthermore, that it could -not work. The whole of his argument fails because not one reason -has ‘been presented ‘to the committee by one member from the Government side which could sustain it.
The honorable member for Mallee, like the majority of members on the Government side of the chamber, would like to vote with us for this amendment. They refuse to do so, however, because they have been directed which course they should follow. We have heard an extraordinary admission that this -proposal cannot be accepted because the Treasury has prepared the Budget. It has been stated that a certain sum of money has to .be voted, and that if the committee does anything different there will not be sufficient funds to implement its decision. If Parliament itself cannot determine these matters because the Treasury has determined them, the sooner we revise our system of Parliamentary democracy the better it will be for all concerned. I submit to the committee that there can be no valid objection to the acceptance of the amendment that has been proposed. In order to have a clear-cut method of making these payments they should start from 1st July each year. Such a method of payment should appeal to every one of us. We have had a report from the Joint Committee on Public Accounts, which has directed attention to the fact that Budgets could be brought in earlier, and should be brought in earlier. If the Budget could be and should be brought in earlier there is no reason why there should not be a new appraisal of this situation, and there is no reason why we should not face our responsibility to the pensioners, including soldier pensioners and others in receipt of repatriationbenefits.I have suggested on other occasions that other people are involved in this matter because payments to them have been back-dated. This proposal does not break new ground. The public servantswhohave recommended that we should not do this were very happy, themselves, toreceive payments which were back-dated by the Parliament. We ourselves, as members of the Parliament, have been happy to receivepayments of allowances which were back-dated. We have accepted them gladly. Of course, selfrighteous people on the Government side, although they have pocketedthe allowances, will now say that the principle is wrong.
– So it is.
– If we, as members of this Parliament, are prepared to accept retrospective payments, then we have a responsibility to give similar justice toeverybody else who receives payments at the hands of the Parliament. What is good for us should alsobe good for soldier pensioners and all other pensioners.
We ought to adopt an attitude which, in the eyes of the people, will appear to be just. If we fail to accept the amendment that has been presented by the honorable member forBass (Mr. Barnard) on behalf of the Labourparty, we shall reveal to the people of Australia that we are shockingly inconsistent; that,so far as we are concerned, what is sauce for the goose is not alsosauce forthe gander; that we are not prepared to make afair appraisal ofthis matter; and that we are prepared to do for ourselves, and for judges and public servants, things that we are not prepared to do for the people who fought, suffered and bled for us. If we are not prepared to give pensioners the same degree of justice that we assume for ourselves, we ought to consider our position in the future, when we appeal to the young men of the country to offer their services to the nation. We ought to let them know where we stand in relation to this matter.
-I wish to make a personalexplanation. My remarks were grossly misrepresentedby the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti)when he said that,during my short speech, I stated that, when theLabour government was in power here and I was a member of the Opposition,I had asked that government to make repatriation payments to exservicemen retrospective. I did not say that at all, as “ Hansard “ will reveal.
– What did the honorable member say?
– Order! The honorable member for Mallee will tell the Chair what he had to say.
– I did not say that at all. Also, the honorable member for Macquarie said that I would like to vote with the Opposition, but had been directed not to do so. I should like to see the member of this Parliament who could direct me to vote in a certain way! Some time ago, a person said to me, “ You will vote just as you are told when the whip is cracked by the Whip “. I replied, “ I certainly will not “. However, the position is that I am now the Whip for the AustralianCountry party, andno member of thatparty has any instructions as to howhe should vote on this or any other matter.
.- Mr. Chairman-
Motion (by Mr. Davidson) put -
That the Question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 to 7 - by leave - taken together.
.- I rise to refer to certain matters that were brought up in the Parliament yesterday concerning the Repatriation Act and the functioning of repatriation tribunals in relation to section 47. I want to say at the outset that, having listened to and studied it, I am appalled at the speech of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen).
– Order! I want the honorable member to understand that as we are in committee, he may not answer second-reading speeches. The honorable member may refer to any matter pertaining to the clauses now before the Chair.
– If I may, I should like to say that the appreciation of the honorable member for Parkes of the position will affect his point of view in relation to these particular clauses. The tribunal, as a tribunal, functions nominally outside the Repatriation Commission. That was intended by the original act. It was always, I believe, intended that the whole of the law would be considered by the tribunal in arriving at decisions. Therefore, I submit to this committee that it distorts the entire position if a section of the law is taken and considered on its own without relating it to the spirit of the act generally. I believe, therefore, that these clauses, which, of course, concern particular procedures in relation to time and payment in a retrospective fashion, will encourage tribunals to follow the procedures that they have been following resultant on a consideration of whole of the law.
It is fair and, I think, relevant, to state that the Parliament arranged for these tribunals to come into existence in the first place because it understood that there would be applicants who would be refused. If it were reasonable to assume it was the intention of Parliament that every one who made an application should have his application accepted, then, of course, the tribunals and their part in the implementation of the complete law would obviously be quite unnecessary. The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) was very conscious of this fact when he made alterations to these sections of the act in 1941. I put it to you, Mr. Chairman, that, guided by the whole law, the tribunals can quite reasonably assume that the onus of proof is, after all, something that can shift within the very terms of those sections. In the first place, a doubt has to be established in the minds of the tribunals themselves, and it is certainly not established because, in the principal act, the right honorable member for Barton made no provision for the commission to be represented before these tribunals at the same time as the claimants appear before them. I suggest that the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, in re-considering their decisions, as they will in certain cases under clauses 3 to 7, will undoubtedly take advantage of opportunities to grant people retrospective payments. Even if they do so, the fact remains that they will continue to interpret the relevant section in the same way as in the past.
I emphasize that the whole of the law embodied in the Repatriation Act does not intend that no one will be envisaged as having lodged an application and failed before the tribunal.
.- I shall not delay the proceedings for long on clauses 3 to 7, but I believe that, whatever differences of opinion there may be between the Opposition and the Government on some of these matters, if there is a particular clause which deserves commendation it should be commended. I want to refer to clause 3, in which I understand an amendment has been effected which will provide that a member who has appeared before a tribunal and has been unsuccessful may have his case re-opened for a further submission to any of the tribunals should he secure additional evidence. In this respect I understand that provision has been made in clause 3 to provide that if, on a second occasion, he wins his case, the acceptance of his disability as war-caused may be backdated to a period of up to four years. I believe that this will provide a great measure of financial protection at least for a member who is endeavouring to have his disability accepted as being due to war service. In that respect clause 3 will be of great benefit to ex-servicemen generally who have occasion to appear before these tribunals on a second occasion, and I commend the Minister for it.
.- I desire to discuss clause 4, which seeks to repeal the First Schedule to the principal act and replace the scale in that schedule with a new scale. I should like an explanation of why a differential is applied in respect of the amount of pension paid to various ranks in the Army, Navy and Air Force and their dependants. Column 2 of the new schedule shows that in respect of all ranks and ratings below leading seaman, corporal and relative ranks and ratings the pension for a widowed mother on the death of a member is to be £4 10s., whilst the pension payable to a widow is to be £9 15s. and the pension payable to the member himself on total incapacity is to be £10 5s. We find that these rates increase as the rank of the member rises. We find that a widowed mother of a commander, lieutenant-colonel, wing commander and relative ranks will receive a pension of £7 lis. on the death of the member, a widow will receive £10 16s., and the member himself, in the event of total incapacity, will receive £11 9s. 6d. The rates continue to rise until the rate for all ranks higher than a naval captain, colonel, group captain and relative ranks are £8 6s. for a widowed mother, £11 lis. for a widow and £12 ls. for a member who is totally incapacitated. In each of these cases there is only one widowed mother or one widow. Why should the amount paid to the widowed mother of a private be £4 10s. whilst the rate payable to the widowed mother of an officer of a rank higher than that of naval captain, colonel, group captain or officer of relative rank is to be £8 6s.? There is one mouth to feed and a woman of 10 stone, whether she is the widowed mother of a general or of a private, requires the same food and clothing.
The same argument applies to a widow. Indeed, it could be said that during the war a man on the higher rank was receiving a higher rate of pay and would be in a position to place more money aside for the benefit of his wife when he died. But his widow is entitled to receive a higher rate than the widow of a private. As a matter of fact, the rate is £9 15s. for all ranks from private to captain in the Army, and equivalent ranks in other services. The rate then increases for ranks from major to colonel and for ranks higher than colonel the rate is £11 lis. I put it to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) that he and I at the moment enjoy the same standards of living. However, should I die from some injury caused through war service, my wife would be entitled to receive £9 15s. because I was a sergeant, but, because he was a lieutenant-colonel, his wife would be entitled to receive £10 16s. We enjoy exactly the same standards of living to-day; yet my wife would have to make some sacrifice should my decease be due to war service.
The schedule should be amended and the rates now applicable to the highest rank should be paid to every widowed mother, every widow and every member on the 100 per cent, pension. If I am receiving the 100 per cent, rate because of a gunshot wound in my left side and a lieutenantcolonel is receiving the 100 per cent, rate because of the same disability, I suffer exactly the same amount of pain and discomfort as he does, yet he is entitled to £11 9s. 6d. and I am entitled to only £10 5s.! The pensions are paid as compensation for the injuries and I cannot see why there should be any differentiation. The lower ranks should not be treated differently from the higher ranks. They were all in the Army, the Air Force or the Navy, whether they were privates or .generals, and they were all prepared to do a job for their country. There is no reason at all why the system that has grown up over the years should be continued. Now is the time for all widowed mothers, widows, and general rate pensioners to be placed on the same rates.
, I confine myself to pointing out that the scale in clause 4 does not introduce a new principle; it is a principle that has been applied, as far as I know, since the act was first introduced. It has been accepted without question by government after government throughout the years. However, though the disparity between the ranks is steadily disappearing, I think that there is some virtue in the fact that those who have served this country in a way to justify steady increases in rank and responsibility are entitled to recognition in matters such as this. That would not apply to an extreme extent, but I. think that there is sufficient justification for this system, as is exemplified by the fact that it has existed throughout a number of years and has not been questioned before.
Clauses agreed to.
Proposed new clauses.
.- On behalf of the Opposition, I move -
That after clause 2, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 2a. After section forty-seven of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 47a. - (1.) Where a claimant, applicant or appellant under this Act considers -
that, in hearing, determining or deciding his claim, application or appeal, the Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal or an Assessment Appeal Tribunal did not give to him the benefit of any doubt in respect of a matter or question referred to in. paragraph (a) or (b) of sub-section (1.) of the last preceding section; or.
a person or authority who contended that his claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed did not discharge the onus of proof placed on that person or authority by sub-section (2.) of that section, the claimant, applicant or appellantmay appeal tor the High Court, or to the Supreme Courtof the State or Territory of the Commonwealth in which he resides, againstthe determination or decision of the Commission, Board, Appeal Tribunal or Assessment Appeal Tribunal, as the case may be, on the ground that he was not so given the benefit of a doubt or that the person or authority did not so discharge the onus of proof. (2.) Jurisdiction is conferred on the High Court, the several Supreme. Courts of the States are invested with federal jurisdiction, and jurisdiction is conferred on the several Supreme Courts of the
Territories of the Commonwealth, to hear and determine an appeal under this section. (3.) The jurisdiction conferred on, or invested in, the High Court or a Supreme Court by this section shall be exercised by a single Justice or Judge, as the case may be, of the Court. (4.) The Court hearing an appeal under this section may make such order with respect to the appeal as it thinks fit and that order shall be final and conclusive. (5.) An order as to the costs of an appeal under this section shall not be made. (6.) The regulations may make: provision for the furnishing to a Court to which an appeal is made under this section of any records in the possession of the Commission which relate to the appellant.’.”.
That amendment is broadly in accordance with the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in 1955. It refers to the controversial section 47 of the Repatriation Act, which was referred to during the second-reading debate by me and by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), to whom we are indebted for a very full explanation of the section. I pointed out on that occasion that as far back as 1920 an all-party committee met because it was considered that a clause should be inserted in the act to provide that the onus ofproof shall rest upon the Repatriation Department and not upon the appellant or the ex-serviceman.Icontended that, after 37 years, we were in exactly the same position because the onus of proof is not being placed on the department any more now than it was in those days.
One must consider the whole procedure of determining claims for repatriation benefits. As all honorable members know, if a member of the forces decides that his disability is due towar service, he is entitled to apply to the Repatriation Commission for a pension. That application is considered in due course by a repatriation board. If it is rejected, the member has the right of appeal, and his case is then considered by the Repatriation Commission. If it is rejected again, the ex-serviceman has the right to appeal to a War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. In due course, after hehas submitted his evidence on the required form, the appeal is dealt with by the tribunal. However, that evidence does not amount to a great deal, because the form does not allow the appellant to submit much material. When he appears before the tribunal; he is entitled toname an advocate to appear for him, provided that the proposed advocate is not a legal practitioner.
As I stated at the second-reading stage last evening. I agree that the tribunals are most sympathetic and understanding. All honorable members who have appeared before them know that they give every possible consideration to the ex-serviceman in the presentation of his case. But I repeat that sentiment is not sufficient. The advocate presents the case for the ex-serviceman as well as he is able, and, in many instances, the tribunal questions the exserviceman himself. When he and his advocate leave the tribunal, neither of them has any indication whether the claim will be accepted or rejected. In due course, the claimant is notified by the secretary of the No. 1 or the No. 2 tribunal, as the case may be, whether his claim has been accepted, or rejected. I come, now to the point that I, particularly want to make: If- the claim is: rejected by the tribunal, the applicant merely receives- a short, note signed by the secretary indicating that his disability, whatever it be, has not been accepted by the tribunal as being due to war service, and that therefore the applica-tion is rejected. The ex-serviceman does not know why the: claim has been rejected. He is- not certain whether the benefit, of the doubt:has»been ex-tended to the-evidence submitted to the tribunal by him, and. by his advocate.
T have appeared before tribunals in cases where, on a consideration of the evidence prior- to the hearing, there was clear evidence by a medical practitioner that, in his- opinion,, the ex-serviceman’s disability was closely related to his war service, but, because a repatriation medical adviser suggested, on the contrary, that the disability was not” in- any way related to war service, the claim i was rejected. If it is right for one- doctor to declare that a disability was due: to- war service, surely the applicant ought” to be given the benefit of the doubt. I’ say ‘that; in many cases, the onus-of-proof provision is- not being applied in the generous’ way that this Parliament originally intended. I have pointed out before that there is no disputing the manner in which the- claims of ex-servicemen should be heard.’under section 47. It is perfectly true, of course, that the tribunal, having-rejected the. claim, advises the applicant that, if he can obtain further medical evidence - I: emphasize that - the case may be re-opened
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I firmly oppose the amendment, because I believe that the Opposition, in an attempt to rectify what it regards as an injustice done by wrong interpretations of section 47 of the principal, act,, will only make the positionworse.. If. the amendment is accepted, exservicemen wilL be penalized in all proceedings before, repatriation boards, the Repatriation Commission, and the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. Each of: those bodies - and especially the tribunals - would have it in mind that cases were to be. decided on legal points, and they would be inclined then to swing right away from a generous view of the benefit of the. doubt, which I believe they take now. I. know that it has been pointed out, as the Leader of the Opposition (Df. Evatt) pointed out last evening, how the English system works. T said in this chamber last year, that- there is absolutely no comparison between: the United Kingdom repatriation law and the Repatriation Act in this country. Any organization of ex-servicemen in the. United Kingdom would gladly adopt our act in place of the United Kingdom act. because the Australian act gives great advantages to ex-servicemen.
I think that, throughout this discussion about section 47 of the principal act, there has been a- tendency to throw the whole of the blame for any difficulties that have occurred on to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, and to ignore the fact that- this section applies to the three, stages of the proceedings taken in deciding. whether an applicant’s disability is due to war service. First, an independent repatriation board: - though it is called’ a repatriation board, it acts- independently of the Repatriation Commission - considers, a claim, which goes to the. Repatriation. Commission, if the board rejects it. If it is rejected by the commission, it goes to a war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal. It should be realized that the number of cases- that are disallowed at the third stage should not be emphasized without regard to the number of claims accepted by- boards in- which; though the members of a- board: had doubts in their minds, they have decided in favour of the applicant; and the number’ of cases decided in’ favour- of the-claimant, although a doubt exists,- at the second stage, and also- at the third stage. The overall figures, I think, are proof that, in most instances, ex-servicemen are well treated.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) stated that Opposition members were positive that the onus-of-proof section was not being properly applied, and that the situation was worse now than it was in 1920, when a committee representative of all parties in the Parliament considered the matter, and decided on a means of ironing out the difficulties. Honorable members should realize that, this year and last year, some ex-servicemen from the 1914-18 war had their claims accepted for the first time. lt is obvious that it is much harder, in 1956 or 1957, than in 1920, successfully to present a case to a tribunal, a board, or the commission, based on something that happened in 1916. The fact that claims of men from World .War I. have been admitted within the last two years is conclusive proof that the Repatriation Act is now being administered in the interests of exservicemen better than it was years ago. It is obvious to me that any meddling with the act in the way proposed by the Opposition would not achieve the objectives of Opposition members.
Last evening, the Government was accused of not doing its job properly, but it has done everything possible to ensure that the onus-of-proof section is interpreted by the tribunals as it should be interpreted. However, it cannot tell an independent tribunal how it should decide a matter, because the tribunal would then cease to be independent. I remind honorable members of the opinion given by a former AttorneyGeneral, Senator Spicer, who stated in the Senate, when a similar amendment was proposed there, that, even if the amendments appeared to favour ex-servicemen, he could say from his knowledge of the law in Australia that the proposal would not work.
– He was speaking as the Attorney-General.
– Yes, as the AttorneyGeneral, and he said that it was not a workable proposition. I feel very alarmed at the possibility that an attempt will be made to change a provision of the act which is of great advantage to the exserviceman. I do not suggest that the act will be interpreted on every occasion to the satisfaction of every ex-serviceman.
The only act that would satisfy all exservicemen who consider that they have disabilities that are due to war service would be one that provided for no appeals and that every claim should be accepted.
Some years ago, I think about twelve years ago, the chairman of a tribunal submitted a report to the Minister on the work of these entitlement appeal tribunals. He was Mr. G. J. O’sullivan, since Judge O’sullivan. In those days it was considered that because a great number of appeals were upheld by the entitlement appeal tribunals, the Repatriation Board and the commission were rejecting too many applications and were not administering the onus of proof section in the best interests of ex-servicemen. Some twelve years later we have reached the stage at which more cases are being accepted by the Repatriation Commission and by the repatriation boards, which seems to show that these bodies are now administering the onus of proof section to the advantage of exservicemen. Theoretically, if every board was working at maximum efficiency, there would be no applications accepted at the second or third level. The reason why the three levels operate, and why a claim may be accepted at the second level after being rejected at the first, or accepted at the third after having been rejected at the first and second, is that human beings differ, and we cannot legislate for such differences.
I believe that the act, as it stands, is designed to operate in the best interests of the ex-serviceman. The amendment suggested by the Opposition would not be to his advantage but would be, rather, to his great disadvantage. I should like to conclude with this remark: The tabling in the House last October of the report mentioned by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) last night would have been an ideal time for this Parliament to have a fullscale debate on the onus of proof section of the Repatriation Act. Every honorable member who is interested in this question should make a full study of that report. Disclosures that are made in it would show honorable members how wild are some of the statements that are made by honorable members on both sides of the House whenever a debate is held on repatriation legislation. I believe that the chairman of the tribunal in question should be congratulated, whether one agrees or disagrees with his report, on the courage that he showed in putting before the Parliament his impressions as a chairman of a tribunal over a period of many years. I commend that report to honorable members for their close study, particularly when the topics discussed in it are of such great interest to us all.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). It is idle to pretend that there is not very grave disquiet among ex-servicemen in particular, and in the community in general, concerning the application of the onus of proof, as defined in section 47 of the act, by the appeal tribunals. In this regard I need only refer to an answer given last Wednesday to a question placed on the notice-paper by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), which shows that of the appeals determined by tribunals in the twelve months ended 30th April last, 677 were allowed and 4,413 were disallowed. In other words, of every eight appeals determined by tribunals only one succeeded in that period of twelve months. It is commonly stated that such a result flows from the failure of tribunals, and of the Repatriation Commission and boards before them, to apply the onus of proof provision contained in section 47. Many allegations are made in the community, and widely believed, that results such as I have just mentioned are due to some administrative financial pressure put on the tribunals or to some administrative suggestions made to them.
– The honorable member would not say that, would he?
– I am not saying it, but I am suggesting that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass would clear away any such misapprehensions which exist in the community. These tribunals are not independent tribunals in the sense alleged by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney). They are administrative tribunals.
– I shall quote, in substantiation of that statement, the majority judgment of the High Court in the only case which has ever been taken on appeal under this act to the High Court or to any other court. It is the case of the King v. War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, ex parte Bott, reported in volume 50 of the Commonwealth Law Reports. At page 244 the judges who formed the majority, Mr. Justice Rich, Mr. Justice Dixon and Mr. Justice McTiernan, said -
The Tribunal is administrative in its character; it is not a Court of justice.
If these tribunals were courts of justice, or if there was an appeal on questions of law, on the interpretation of section 47, from them to the superior courts of the Territories or States or to the High Court, no such allegations as we all know are constantly made could be made. One would be content that the law was being applied. At the moment there is very grave discontent on that point, lt certainly would appear that one tribunal, the No. 2 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, does not understand section 47. The honorable and learned member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) last night read passages from the report of that tribunal, which was dated 18th September of last year and was tabled on 17th October last year, to show its interpretation was absolutely contrary to the law. It is quite plain, I submit with respect, that the honorable member’s contention is fully justified. He read a couple of passages from a ten-page letter which the chairman of the tribunal wrote to the Minister for Repatriation when the Minister invited his views on matters raised in a letter written by the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham). The chairman of the tribunal wrote his letter to the Minister on 28th October, 1953, and nowhere in the letter did he refer to the memorandum of the Attorney-General of the day, now Chief Judge Spicer, which was dated April, 1953. In other words, after six months had passed the tribunal had not yet become aware of the ruling on section 47 given by the chief law officer of the Crown in the Commonwealth sphere. I believe that the remarks made by the honorable and learned member for Balaclava were well founded and should arouse disquiet in all honorable members of this Parliament. One clear way to remove that disquiet is to accept the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass.
Let me refer to the ways in which these tribunals differ from courts. First of all, they hold closed hearings. The public does not know what goes on at those hearings. The consequence of this is that any appellant who is dissatisfied, including one whose case has ‘no merit, can make what allegations he likes outside the tribunal, and there is no way in which he can be refuted or confounded. Secondly, there is no transcript of the proceedings. Thirdly, the evidence is not usually taken on oath and there is no cross examination of any of the witnesses. The medical evidence is invariably given in the .form of written documents. As the honorable member for Bass has said, we have the extraordinary position of a tribunal saying there is no claim, that the onus of disproof has been discharged by the Repatriation Commission, when in fact there is a medical certificate which supports the claim. It is a clear case where the benefit of .the doubt has not been given. We all know cases such as that, where we have ourselves forwarded, in support of a- claimant, .medical .certificates from the highest authorities.
– Have you ever lost a case in court where you had medical evidence to support it?
– Yes, but there the evidence is given in person in public and tested, and I would not be believed if I were to maintain afterwards that the evidence had not been duly considered. But before a tribunal, when there are two certificates, the tribunal must give the benefit of the more favorable one to the soldier if section 47 is to be carried into effect.
I have said that there is no transcript taken. Then, of course, there are no reasons given for the decision, so again anybody who likes to make any allegation about a tribunal can do so. As nobody was able to attend the hearing or to read the transcript of the proceedings or the reasons for the decision, so nobody can say whether the allegation is true or not.
There are other unsatisfactory features of the proceedings before tribunals, but they too are not the fault of the tribunal. Sub-section 2 of section 72 says that the commission may be represented before a tribunal. In fact, it is never represented before the tribunal. We have the extraordinary position where the Repatriation Commission, which never ceases to bear the onus, is not represented before a tribunal which has to determine whether that onus has been discharged. “The tribunal itself is forced into the invidious position of being the advocate for the .commission.
Again, there is no appeal - Bott’s case makes that plain. At that time the appellant only .had to establish a prima facie case, and then the commission had to rebut if, .but even in those days there was no appeal where that onus, to all appearances, had not been discharged. It was a matter which the administrative tribunal itself determined without appeal.
Lastly, there is the fact that there is nosecurity of tenure for members of the tribunals. British war pensions tribunals are under the Lord Chancellor, who performs the judicial function of being the highest judge in England, and the political function of appointing the other judges. But in Australia a member of a tribunal is appointed for a term not exceeding five years, and at the end of that time he is put in the position of seeming to curry favour with ex-service bodies so that he will he again put on their nomination lists.
Mr. -Chaney. - That is a wicked statement to make.
– It is a statement which the chairman of the No. 2 War .Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal made in the report which many of us have quoted. That gentleman himself refers to the indignity and embarrassment of the position. I do not have time to look up the passage, but I will show it to the honorable member for Perth later and if I am wrong I shall withdraw my statement.
I commend the amendment to the House. It will cost Australia nothing. It would use the existing machinery of the courts and it would ensure that justice was done and obviously done.
– The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), in moving this amendment, said that it dealt with a controversial section. In submitting the amendment, that is about the only statement he made with which I can heartily agree. Actually the amendment is identical with an amendment moved in this committee in 1955 on exactly the same subject.
– I said it was.
– Yes, I know. As a matter of fact, I spoke .on both the debates on that subject in 1955 and if I wanted to save a great deal of the committee’s time, as I do, I could content myself by asking that my speeches appearing in “ Hansard.” of that time, be recorded again, because. I still hold the opinions I expressed then, and I see no cause whatsoever to alter them.
The amendment has three main points. It provides for a right of appeal against the determination of an entitlement appeal tribunal. It provides that the claimant may appeal to the High Court or to a Supreme Court if his claim has been dismissed by the tribunal, and if he considers that he was not given the benefit of the doubt or that the person or authority did not discharge the onus of proof. The second main point is that the order by the court shall be final and conclusive. The third point is that there can be no order for costs.
Before dissecting those three main points, let me point out that there have been certain statements made in this debate which are not correct and which are not fair to the entitlement appeal tribunals. I think it is proper to refer1 to these statements and correct them. One, which was made by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlarn), referred to the number of appeals which have been upheld by the entitlement appeal tribunals: The honorable member said that’ one in eight has succeeded. Other’ honorable members have said in this House that1 80 per cent, of appeals have been dismissed. That is an example of taking just one element of a particular structure and basing a calculation on it without- taking into account all the other elements in the structure. After all, when a claimant desires to obtain the benefits of the Repatriation Act, if necessary he goes through a series of procedures laid down by the act. His claim comes before a repatriation board, then goes before the Repatriation Commission, and finally comes before an entitlement appeal tribunal. The requirements of section 47, that, his claim should, be- given the benefit of any doubt, and that those determining his case should give him. the benefit of any reasonable inference to be drawn from his evidence, apply to all the authorities determining the case. Therefore, the charge that the onus of proof is not being properly discharged because the entitlement appeal tribunals are turning down about 80 per cent, of the cases dealt, with by them falls down when you. look at the matter in its proper perspective. The proper, perspective is a comparison of the number of cases which are dis missed with the total number of cases handled, by the repatriation : hoards, by the Repatriation Commission, ar J. finally, by the entitlement appeals tribunals. After all, more correctly repatriation boards and the Repatriation Commission apply the onus of proof and the benefit of doubt provisions the less likely it is that the appeals finally coming to the entitlement appeals tribunal will succeed.
Let us take the figures available for the last financial year and see how these various boards and tribunals and the commission are operating on the onus of proof benefit of the doubt provisions. For the year ended 30th June, 1956, approximately 20,400 claims were allowed by the boards, by the commission, or by the tribunals. During that same period 4,400 appeals were disallowed by the entitlement appeals tribunals, which would represent a considerable percentage of the cases actually submitted to the tribunals. But that is not the yardstick by which the actions of the tribunals and the proper application of the act must be measured. The yardstick is the total’ numbers of cases accepted or rejected during the year: Out of 24,750 cases dealt with by the various boards, the commission and the appeals tribunals 82 per cent, were successful. Only 18 per cent, failed. That is the true story; and in fairness to all those on the boards, the commission and the tribunals who are operating this very difficult matter with great sympathy to the claimants, it should be stated.
I have been associated for a considerable time: with investigations into cases arising under these headings. I was chairman of the repatriation sub-committee of the Government Members Ex-servicemen’s Committee for some time and we prepared a report on this very matter. I have found, as a result of. my own experience and the investigations we made, that a great deal of the adverse criticism, particularly against the entitlement appeals tribunals on this question of the application of the onus of proof, provision, arises from the fact that many people fail to realize that the requirement that the benefit of the doubt be given to the claimant refers only to a doubt in the mind of the determining authority. There is no question whatsoever that, a determining authoritymust, shoulder the responsibility of applying the. onus, oi proof or that any one opposing the payment must shoulder the onus of proof. There is no doubt anywhere that the determining authority might give to the applicant all reasonable inferences which can be drawn in his favour.
These matters do not come up for question at all. That is made plain in the statements by the then Attorney-General, and by the present Minister himself, which have been quoted. It was also made plain, but was not quoted last night, that the doubt referred to is only in the mind of the determining authority. There certainly will be doubt in the mind of the claimant. There will possibly be doubt in the mind of an advocate or of a doctor out of a number of doctors reporting on the matter. But irrespective of that, if, after sifting all the evidence, there is no doubt in the mind of the determining tribunal, then it is entitled to dismiss the case without being charged with having failed to apply the onus of proof provision.
The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart), who we all know is a very sincere man and does not attempt to put over any story, last night gave a classic example. He instanced a case and he said, “ To my way of thinking, this case was watertight, but the tribunal turned it down; therefore, obviously the tribunal was not applying the onus of proof provision “. The honorable member said, “ To my way of thinking”. That is where a great deal of criticism of this provision arises. I am not adversely criticizing the honorable member. I know he was sincere. I am pointing out that if it were fully realized that the act, in its reference to doubt, refers only to the determining authority, there would be far less criticism of those who are administering the act.
Turning to the proposed amendment, which proposes that there shall be a right of appeal, I have listed three main features. The first is that the claimant can appeal to the High Court or to a supreme court on the ground that, in his opinion, he was not given the benefit of the doubt. Let us examine, briefly, what that proposal means. It means that practically every claim could be expected to go to the High Court or to a supreme court, because the court itself is not required to grant the right of appeal. The act would simply provide that if the claimant had been turned down by the tribunal and he made a request to the court for an appeal, because he considered he was not given the benefit of the doubt, he must be heard. I invite honorable members to hear what the then Attorney-General had to say on this matter when it was debated previously. Dealing with an amendment then before the committee, which was in exactly the same terms as this one, he said -
As far as the proposed new clause 47a is concerned, I suggest, as the Leader of the Opposition thought it possible that some one would suggest, that the acceptance of this proposition would lead to a flood of cases going to the High Court and the Supreme Courts of the States. In every case which had been rejected down the years, the claimant would be entitled to appeal to the court, because all that would be required to establish completely a right of appeal would be that the claimant considered - not that he had proved - that there had been a departure from the express provisions of section 47a.
This appeal to a court is entirely foreign to the principle behind the act, which is that the claims of ex-servicemen should be determined in an atmosphere free from all legal technicalities which, as we know, can tie up appeals. I say that with all apology to honorable members who are members of the legal profession. It was desired to keep this matter free from that sort of thing. It was desired that the claims of ex-servicemen should be judged by men with specialized knowledge and experience gained in the services. That is why the commission and all these boards and tribunals are composed of ex-servicemen. Because of those features and the fact that this proposal would completely cut across that principle, the proposal for an appeal to a court is’ opposed root and branch by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. This matter was discussed by the league at its federal congress and the league would not have a bar of it.
The second proposal is that the determination of the court shall be complete and final. “ Final and conclusive “ are the words used. That means that once a matter was before the court and was turned down the claimant would have no further recourse to the commission or to a tribunal. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), when speaking on another point, said that clause 3 of the bill was worthy of support and commendation because it would allow a claimant to come back with fresh evidence and appeal successfully, and that he could so go back after four years. Under this amendment that right would be gone.
The third suggestion is that no costs should be awarded. The other night, some honorable member said, “ But the claimant would not be faced with heavy costs because he could not have the costs determined against him “. But neither could he have costs determined in his favour. If the court saw fit to have a complete rehearing, the claimant would have to bring along his witnesses and have legal men represent him and also have medical men speak on his behalf. Under this proposal we are to assume that all the costs for the services of these men would have to be shouldered by the claimant himself. Those costs would be so prohibitive that a proposal such as this would be of no use whatever.
For those reasons, we say that, although there are times when we feel that the determinations of a tribunal may make us wonder a little, this proposed amendment would, as the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) said some time ago, make the position infinitely worse than it is at present. Therefore, the Government will not accept it.
Several honorable members rising in their places,
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 17
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 6.10 to 8 p.m.
.- In the course of my remarks on the motion for the second reading of the bill I foreshadowed, on behalf of the Opposition, three amendments. I now come to the third of those amendments. On behalf of the Opposition, I move -
That, after clause 3, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 3a. Section eighty-seven of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section: - (4.) In this section, “ income “, in relation to a person who is in receipt of a pension or allowance under the Second Schedule to this Act, does not include the amount of that pension or allowance.’.”.
That clause relates to section 91a of the Repatriation Act. Last night, I told honorable members that section 91a of the act had been repealed in 1955 to enable the ceiling limit to be raised in order to bring the permissible income for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen into line with the readjustment made in that year to meet the needs of age and other pensioners. I made it perfectly clear that the ceiling limit had not been readjusted by this Government as a special consideration for the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. I stressed that it referred specifically to age and other pensioners. Under the previous legislation, a totally and permanently incapacitated married ex-serviceman, together with his wife, could have a combined income of £15 a week. Under this legislation that class of pensioner, together with his wife, will be able to supplement their income by means of the service pension and age pension, if they both happen to be over the age of 60 pears, so as to have a combined income of £15 15s. a week. That is an increase of inly 15s. a week. Of course, that has a special relationship to section 91a of the act under which the ceiling limit can be adjusted by the Government if it desires.
I believe that I said in the course of my previous remarks on this bill that I wanted to congratulate the Government for its action in 1955 in readjusting the ceiling limit.It may have been successfully argued on other occasions that previous governments had not always provided the necessary adjustments in relation to section 91a, but I believe that the point made by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) this afternoon was well taken. The honorable member for Wills, a few other honorable members, and myself, are not responsible for the actions of previous governments - certainly not for the actions of governments which preceded the Liberal and Australian Countryparty Government that first occupied the treasury-bench in 1949. The important effect of the amendment proposed on behalf of the Opposition is that it willcompletelyabolish the ceiling limit, and will enable all classes of totally and permanenty incapacitated exservicemen to quaify for the service pension.
I want to make it perfectly clear that all totally andpermanently incapacitated exservicemen are eligible for a service pension with the exception of those who have an income from a private source, those who have property disqualifications, those who have not served in a recognized theatre of war, and those who are single. But the important point is that the proposed amendment, if accepted by the Government, as indeed it should be, will enable the totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman who has no income apart from his service pension to receive the full benefit of a social service pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week. I believe that a majority of members on the Government side of the chamber will agree with that principle. It is perfectly true that if the ceiling limit is completely abolished, as proposed in this amendment, it will also be possible for the single totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner to receive the benefit of the social service pension.
Last night I stated that, in the opinion of the Opposition, a reduction inthe service pension was completely unnecessary. It meant, in effect, that the Government had not adjusted the ceiling limit. It was not providing for an increase of 25s. That means that the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, in all cases, will be placed on exactly the same basis as age and other classes of pensioners. Those who are married and in receipt of an age pension will be able to have an income from their pensions and other sources of £15 15s. a week. -So the totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen will receive no special concession whatsoever. The Opposition contends that the great majority of - people in this country would agree with the principle ‘involved m this amendment.
As I have pointed out on other occasions, the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, because of his war service, is no longer able to engage in a normal occupation. Therefore, the great majority of the people would support a measure which would enable him to receive the maximum income possible, and to enable him to take advantage of the service pension which is payable by virtue of the fact that he is no longer able to engage in a normal occupation. I have no desire to debate this matter any further except to state that, in my opinion, the amendment proposed by the Opposition will do no more than guarantee an increased income for a section of .ex-servicemen who have made a great sacrifice for their country. We propose, in this motion, that their incomes should not be subject to a means test in any circumstances at all.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) because of the fact that the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman receives his pension as a result of his permanent incapacity. He is unable. to work, and consequently has to rely on his pension to provide.for himself and his wife. Under this measure .he will receive £11 for himself whilst his wife’s allowance is to remain at £1 15s. 6d., makings total of £12 15s. 6d. In addition, he may receive an amount of £2 19s. 6d. by way of service pension, to “bring his pension income to £15 15s., which is the standard permissible income. Under the previous legislation such, pensioners were able to receive £3 9s. 6d. by way of service pension; but, because the means test is now applied in computing the service pension, these men are .losing 10s. of their service pension whilst gaining an extra 25s. on their total and permanent incapacity pension. I repeat .that these totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners receive their pen sion because of their total incapacity. It is a .compensation payment for injuries they received -while protecting this country. I feel -that “they are in a special category. Indeed, the name applied to the pension - the . special Tate pension - would also indicate that members of the Parliament agree that they are m a special category. But when it comes to giving these men an increase the Government gives them 25s. with one hand by increasing their total and permanent incapacity pension, while with the other hand it takes 10s. from their service pension.
The . general rate of pension under this bill will be £5 2s. 6d. a week. The rate for the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner will be £11 a week - a difference of £5 17s. 6d. .1 feel that if the totally and permanently .incapacitated pensioner is entitled to receive £5 17s. 6d. more than the 100 per .cent, general -rate pensioner his income should also be allowed to maintain the same ratio of difference. If that were the case the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner would receive £12 15s. 6d. for himself and his wife and would also be able to receive £8 15s. by way of service pension,making a total of £21 10s. 6d. At present the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner may receive an income of £15 15s., and the 100 per cent, general rate pensioner is entitled to receive a service pension which brings his pension income to £15 13s. if ‘his wife receives an age or invalid pension. The sum of £15 13s., plus £5 7s. -6d. would give the figure of £21 10s. 6d. which I and all honorable members on. this side feel is the correct amount that a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner should be able to receive.
I want at this stage to make an emphatic protest against the action of the Government in not allowing this subject to be fully debated. Many members on this side would have liked to participate in the debate and speak on the various amendments that we have moved; but because of the Government’s action the Labour party has been denied the right to speak freely in this House of the Parliament on this occasion. The Government deserves the utmost condemnation in that respect, and it would be interesting now to hear the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) say what he really thinks about this measure.
We have moved for the abolition of ceiling limits on the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, and if the members of the Government Members Exservicemen’s Committee were really sincere about doing something for the ex-serviceman then many honorable members on the other side of the chamber would be supporting us instead of, as they do from time to time, parading themselves in their braid with their pips up and their swords by their sides. They look very good as soldiers. Indeed, a lot of them were very good as soldiers. One has only to look at their records to see that they served this country with distinction. But when it comes to showing a little bit of courage in this chamber by getting up and opposing the Government in respect of the terms of legislation to help the men who served this country, they are conspicuous by their absence. I sincerely feel that there are many members on that side of the chamber who would have liked an opportunity to discuss this bill more fully; but, because the Government is hurrying this measure through in order to be able to pay the increased pensions on 17th of this month, it is not prepared to allow this matter to be discussed fully. I feel that the Government deserves the utmost condemnation for its lack of sincerity and its lack of sympathy towards our ex-servicemen. Government supporters, particularly those who belong to the Government Members Ex-servicemen’s Committee, can demonstrate their sincerity on behalf of the ex-servicemen by voting with the Opposition on this amendment.
– All reasonable people will agree with me that the concluding remarks of the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) charging honorable members on this side of the chamber with lack of sincerity in dealing with ex-servicemen have no basis whatsoever in fact or in history. Just fancy! When one looks through the history of this Government in its handling of social service pensions, particularly the way it has handled the pensions and allowances payable to exservice men and women, and the way it has built these up through various avenues, it must be conceded that any charge of insincerity against members on this side is laughable; and I think it will be laughed at outside this chamber.
The present proposal comes strangely from honorable members opposite. Let it be remembered that in 1955 we repealed a provision which had been put into the act by those honorable members who are now criticizing us. It was a provision which meant that war pensioners could get nothing more than their war pensions. As a result of our action it was made possible, by an amalgamation or combination of war pension with either service pension or a social service pension, for a pensioner to receive a considerable increase in the amount of his income from pension and. in effect, to be put into a position to receive some reasonable return for the sacrifices he made and the service he gave during war. I repeat, that is the first record in this matter which members on this side of the House can claim, and it is not one which justifies any charge of insincerity.
Leaving out of account, because time is limited, all the other actions taken by this Government steadily to build up the rates of pensions and allowances available to exservicemen, I pass now to the Government’s proposal which has been responsible for the moving of this amendment. That proposal is that the special pension will be increased by 25s. a week. Irrespective of what honorable members opposite who are criticizing us may say, the total and permanent incapacity pension is to be increased by 25s. Some members have charged the Minister who introduced this bill in another place, and me, with a certain amount of insincerity in that the effect of this increase coupled with other factors was not made plain. That is not true. Pains were taken in the second-reading speech to point out to honorable members that a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and his wife would now be able to receive £15 15s. a week instead of £15. No attempt was made to hide that fact. The position is that together with the increase in the total and permanent incapacity pension, the entitlement of a war pensioner to certain benefits under social service legislation has been built up so that nearly 50 per cent, of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners will receive an increase of at least 15s. a week. The remaining war pensioners, who have been in the rather unfortunate position that they have not been able to take advantage of the dual pension, will receive the full £1 5s. a week. The position of both those classes of pensioners has been materially improved, but all the Opposition can do is to say, “ An increase of £1 5s. a week is all right but a big percentage of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners will not get it”. That is not true. We have stated quite plainly, and the information has been given to honorable members opposite, that about 50 per cent, of married pensioners will receive £15 15s. a week, but the remainder, who previously had not been eligible, will receive £1 5s. and not 15s. only.
I turn now to the Opposition’s amendment. Though the Government has shown that it is prepared to do all that is possible and reasonable to assist the service and war pensioners, at the same time we make no bones about saying that we are not prepared to go beyond certain limits which are dictated by the overall financial position. So, we have said that this is as far as we can go at present. We point out, incidentally, that we have gone a great deal further than have any of our predecessors. Now we are faced with an amendment moved by people who were responsible for completely depriving totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners of any thing other than the inadequate rate which was paid previously. They say that we should lift what they call the ceiling limit - though that is a misnomer - on these people and provide the rates set out in the Opposition’s amendment. Let us look at the amendment from the financial point of view. I have had the opportunity of going quickly into the proposal that has been put forward. It would mean that an unmarried totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner would receive a special pension of £11 plus a service pension of £4 7s. 6d., making a total of £15 7s. 6d.
– That is no more than he is entitled to receive.
– It is a great deal more than he would get if he was still on the old basis which applied when section 91a prevailed. On the other hand, the married totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner would go from £15 15s., which we are now giving him instead of £15, to £18 12s. 9d. If that could be done without relation to any of the other commitments which the Government faces and which I have stressed this afternoon, it would be very good indeed, but it would mean an increase in this year’s Budget of between £1,000,000 and £1,500,000. We have materially increased every year the rates and allowances paid under the Repatriation Act. We have made a forward move in this bill. As a result of the reports that have come to us in recent weeks, we know that the representatives of the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners regard this as a very generous and satisfactory proposal. Therefore, for this year at any rate, we propose to leave the determinations that have been made as they are and not to accept the Opposition’s amendment.
Several honorable members rising in their in their places,
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 19
Majority . . . . 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Mr. Barnard’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided, (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave- read a third time.
Debate resumed from 1st October (vide page 897), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time:
– I should like to make it clear that, although the Opposition does not oppose the bill, it intends to offer certain criticism about the administration of the financial grants to be made by the Commonwealth to bodies that provide homes for aged persons. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has indicated that the main purpose of the bill is to increase the Commonwealth subsidy from £1 for £1, or one half, to £2 for £1, or two-thirds. No doubt that is a big advance.
I suggest to the Minister that the method adopted by him and by his predecessor for the presentation of government subsidy cheques for homes for the aged has a distinctly political flavour. The Minister knows, as do all honorable members, that when a grant has been approved for an aged persons’ home in a particular district, the Government makes great political capital of what has been done, not by the Government itself, but by the Parliament. In my own electorate there is a home for old people which has received a good deal of help from me over the years, even before there was any government subsidy of the kind outlined in this bill. Iwas very closely associated with this institution. After funds had been collected and a subsidy granted on the £l-for-£l basis, a member of Parliament who had no connexion with that district came along on behalf of the. Government, presented the cheque, and in a most patronizing way said, “ This is what our Commonwealth Government has done for you people in this home “, or words to that effect. I do not want any credit for presenting cheques on occasions such as this. I suggest that the same procedure should be followed as is followed in other like circumstances. The Government should send a communication, together with a cheque, to the organization concerned, without trying to make political capital out of it.
In similar fashion the Government tries to make capital out of naturalization ceremonies. The Minister nominates one of his supporters to attend one of these ceremonies, and the mayor of the town in which it is held feels that he should invite the Minister’s representative to welcome the new Australians. Very often the member of Parliament for the electorate in which the town is situated, the one who will have to look after the needs of these people, is ignored altogether.
It is high time that the Government adopted a broader outlook in these matters. If it is desired that a subsidy cheque should be presented by a member of Parliament, then let it be presented by the member in whose electorate the benefitting institution is located. After all, the local member is the man whom the people of the district have elected. If he is a member of the Liberal party, then the majority of the people in the district have elected him as their representative, and any benefits that are granted to the district by the Parliament should be presented by that local member. In making these remarks I do not wish it to be thought that I oppose the granting of the concessions outlined in the bill.
There is another matter in connexion with this measure to which I should direct attention. The Minister said, in his secondreading speech -
Honorable members may be interested to know that, of the £2,214,028 approved in grants under the act £1,298,992 has been approved for religious bodies, £812,889 for charitable or benevolent organizations, £52,055 for ex-servicemen’s organizations, and £50,092 for various other organizations approved by the Governor-General.
I should like to be informed how these other organizations receive approval. What do these bodies represent? It is easy to understand the granting of approval for well-known religious organizations. The work of those bodies continues from year to year, and there is no doubt of their bona fides. The same applies to the various exservicemen’s associations. Most of these organizations raise their funds from contributions of their members and donations from other people. In this way they obtain enough to apply for the government subsidy. If they have raised, say £50,000, the Government will advance them up to £100,000. That is quite good business, and I believe that it is a practice that has proved popular with most members of the community. But the bona fides of some of the lesser known organizations may be doubtful. I do not know what investigations are made of applicant organizations by the Minister or the department, but I and other honorable members have heard from time to time of funds being raised, for the purpose of providing homes for the aged, into which some persons pay money on the condition that they will be permitted to live in the homes after they have been built. In the Minister’s secondreading speech he said -
The past three years have indeed seen great achievements - tangibly in the form of homes, whether splendid communal buildings, selfcontained pottages or flats; and intangibly in the peace of mind and sense of security that their occupants enjoy.
Those are very nice words, and I agree with the Minister. But he goes on to say -
Many older persons are themselves making contributions towards the funds of organizations that are establishing homes.
That is what we have been told is happening in certain areas. A small organization may set out to raise funds to build half a dozen houses, rather than a large institution. Such an organization may be formed in any country town or city, the organizers merely saying, “ We want to do something for our old people, and we will build some aged persons’ homes “. They then start to collect money, and, on the Minister’s own statement, some persons contribute money so that they may be able to occupy the homes when they have been built. I think all honorable members have received a copy of a circular sent out by a lady in Sydney. I shall not quote it and thereby give it publicity, because it contains much that I do not agree with. I believe that the Minister, if he has seen this circular, will be of the same mind. I wish to make it clear that I am not trying to make political capital out of this matter. Some of these old people have used up their money paying into these schemes in the hope of ensuring that they will get one of these homes, but they have left themselves with nothing to enable them to battle along in other directions. I think that the Government should make sure that in granting £2 for £1, it will not do something which will enable one little section of the community to take money from old people who can ill afford to give it.
There is another aspect of this problem. I am not speaking of the big institutional homes or those run by the church bodies, even in a smaller way. I am speaking of people who band together in an organization. I do not know how the Government proposes to make sure that a home will remain continuously for the use of aged persons. Such a body may erect five or six homes and presumably appoint a committee to run them. Then we are told that the Government will approve a grant to that body. But how much will the Commonwealth really have to contribute? Suppose a target of £21,000 is set. If the organization can raise £7,000, the Government will subscribe £14,000. A wealthy man in the district may donate £2,000 of that £7,000 which the organization has to find. I do not wish to discredit such a man for a moment. All honorable members will acclaim him and agree that he is doing a good job, but the point is that quite likely that man would claim his donation as an allowable deduction for income tax purposes. As he would probably be paying 10s. in the £1, the Commonwealth would actually be finding half his donation. The result would be that the amount actually granted by the Government towards the erection of the homes would be £2 10s. out of every £3 that was spent.
Provided there is no favoritism or special eligibility in the allocation of homes to old people, and that the homes are made available to the people who most need them, I shall be very happy with the result. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) may be able to assure me that this is so. I am not saying that it is not, but I am merely pointing out what I see as a possible danger unless this legislation is thoroughly policed. I do not think the Minister is in a position to assure the House that control is exercised over admissions to the homes, even in the case of the bigger institutions. I do not know whether people are admitted to these homes according to their need or to the order of application, or whether the bodies concerned use their discretion and admit whoever they like, regardless of need. Perhaps I am a little wide of the mark, but the general opinion seems to be that the Government is pay ing a subsidy of £2 for £1 for homes for the aged, to give people who have no home, who cannot afford to rent a home, and who are living in the poorest conditions, a decent chance. I do not think the intention is that a person in a really good position in life, a person who has the necessary capital to be able to rent a home in the ordinary way, should be entitled to one of these homes which the Government is subsidizing. I think the attitude of the Government at all times has been that it will subsidize an approved body, and that such bodies have the right to determine who shall occupy those homes. I do not want the Government to say who is to have the homes, but I say there should be some conditions’ laid down to ensure that the homes are given to the people most in need of them. Perhaps the Minister can tell me that something of that nature is done - I do not know. We on this side of the House are not sure of the position, but we do want an assurance that, when we are increasing the subsidy from £751,136 to £1,800,000 this year, and providing for a further increase to £3,000,000 a year, we are not just making a lot of homes available for anybody who wants to go into them. We want to know that this money is going to meet a real need among the people.
I suppose all honorable members have had experiences similar to mine in my electorate. Admittedly, there are many very poor people living in my district. As it is a big industrial district, that can be expected. With the relaxation of State rent controls, quite a number of people cannot afford the increased rents and they are being pushed out of their homes. I do not want to argue about the merits of those increases. That is not the point. The point is that a lot of those old people cannot afford to pay the increased rents and they are in a very difficult position indeed. Some of them as I have said are being pushed out of their homes. They are the people I have in mind when I say that these homes for the aged should go to those whose need is greatest. From what the Minister has told us from time to time, I know that he is sympathetic towards these old people. But when the Government makes this grant, the Parliament is entitled to know that it is being made to assist those people who need the assistance most.
There is one point in the Minister’s speech which I would like him to clear up.
I do not see any authority in the bill to increase the subsidy from £1,500,000 to £3,000,000. I take it that the Government has a discretion in what it makes available. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten me on that aspect.
There is one other phase of the measure in relation to which I agree with the wisdom of the Minister. In the past if an organization was purchasing an existing building with a view to converting it into a home for the aged, then on the understanding that it was not an over-capitalized concern the Government would subsidize the cost on a £l-for-£l basis. That subsidy is now being increased to £2 for £1. But when it was intended to build a new place altogether and the organization purchased an area of land on which to build, the organization could not get any subsidy towards the cost of that land. Under this bill provision is made for a £2 to £1 subsidy to be calculated on the price of the land as well as on the price of the building that is built upon it. In the circumstances, I think that the Government can be reasonably satisfied that it is doing the right thing.
In connexion with the work of various societies to provide homes for the aged, I have seen evidence in many places of the wonderful places they have, built for the aged folk. This is particularly so in the case of the various religious denominations. I have no wish to advertise anything, but you, Mr. Speaker, are as familiar as I am with the Methodist Forsyth Homes in Adelaide and in particular with the infirmary section which has recently been added. This includes a doctor’s consulting room and other facilities so that aged pensioners may go there and receive medical attention and care. That was not possible previously. This infirmary ward, as it is called, is able to take a large number of patients - approximately 30 - and provides amenities such as baths and other comforts for the old people. This provides a wonderful service for them and it has been made possible by assistance from this fund.
I could mention other homes in my own electorate and in various suburbs of Adelaide that have also been helped by the Government in this way. Some of the smaller bodies to which I referred previously have built groups of cottage homes, and they too, have been assisted by the Government. I suggest to the Minister that when the Government is making advances to provide homes for the aged, schemes such as the Forsyth Homes be taken into consideration. As well as having a portion of the home to accommodate twenty persons in a building with ten- rooms on each side of a corridor, several selfcontained cottages have been built for married couples.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) says, “ Hear, hear! “. He knows, from the many cases that he has dealt with, the heart aches that have been caused to old couples when mum has had to go into one portion of a home for aged persons reserved for women and dad has had to go into the part reserved for men. When I was in Brisbane some years ago I took a trip up the river to an island where a home had been built for old people. When the superintendent was showing me around I saw a great fence like an iron curtain dividing the women’s section from the men’s. I thought what a shame it was that old people, having to go into an institution such as this, should be condemned to be parted in their old age bv being accommodated in separate sections. In the small cottage units at the Forsyth Homes provision is made for old couples to live together.
I have not been able to understand one of the provisions in this bill, but the Minister may be able to explain it. Government housing authorities in the various States - housing commissions, or the Housing Trust as in South Australia - are assisted with money by the Government. I should like to know whether, under this bill, the Government is prepared to assist in financing government homes as well as ordinary private dwellings. I do not think that any consideration has been given to assisting in the financing of State government homes in this way. I know that it has been laid down in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement that when money has been provided to the States for home-building, some of it should be used for building homes for aged persons. The Housing Trust in Adelaide has built many groups of homes. Some are blocks of six or eight flats surrounded by pleasant little lawns. They are mostly single story buildings and_the flats are self-contained. They are occupied by old couples, and this is an excellent provision to enable them to remain together. I do not know whether the Government has considered helping in the construction of such flats or cottage units for old people.
Perhaps the Minister may say that we socialists want socialism applied to such housing schemes. Well, if the provision of cottages for old people represents a little bit of socialism I would be pleased, if I were on the Minister’s side, to provide that little bit of socialism for the sake of these old people. The Government could tell the State governments that just as it is subsidizing the big church and charitable organizations to the extent of £2 for every £1 to enable them to build homes for the people, it is prepared to do something for the smaller organizations to provide cottage units or self-contained flats for the old couples. I am speaking not of government institutions but of self-contained homes for old couples. If the Government can get away from restricting assistance for housing schemes for aged persons to religious, charitable and other organizations approved by it and can widen its scope of assistance to other organizations which are doing equally good work, the value of this legislation would be greatly enhanced.
Harking back to what I said about the infirmary at the Forsyth Homes I am reminded of an instance that happened some years ago when I was first elected to this Parliament. One of the members of the South Australian Parliament was talking to me about these old folks and particularly about the lack of hospital facilities for them. They did not need medical attention so much as nursing care. When some of them went to hospital to obtain this service they were soon told that the hospital was not an infirmary but a hospital for the treatment of sick people, and they were turned out. I said to my friend, the State member, that if ever I had the opportunity I would do all I possibly could to have government infirmaries built for these old people where they would not have to be parted from their life companion, as happens to-day in other institutions. The Minister will see that I am not dealing with this matter from a party political angle. I am simply seeking to make a practical suggestion to meet a real need. It has been done in other countries.
The Minister may say that the Commonwealth has no housing rights because these belong to the States and, consequently, the provision of infirmaries is a State responsibility. I am well aware of that. 1 remember that when the late Mr. Chifley appointed me, as a member of the South Australian Parliament to the Commonwealth Housing Commission, the present Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, congratulated me and said, “ But remember this, we will not give up any rights with regard to housing. That is something that belongs to the State. You are the people who deal with the finance, but no State government, Labour or Liberal, will be prepared to give away its housing rights to the Federal Government “. In the light of that attitude the Minister might legitimately say that housing for old people as well as for the rest of the people is the State government’s job. I remind the Minister, however, that when the Labour Government in 1945 introduced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the Commonwealth took the responsibility to make finance available to the States. The Commonwealth is still doing that, but I suggest that that financial provision should be enlarged so that State governments might build homes for old people, of the type I have suggested.
There is a lot that one could say in connexion with housing for the aged. I appreciate what has been done, and I recognize that, in this matter, the religious institutions cannot be divorced from the work that must be done. Many elderly people are not able to go into homes of their own, and it is necessary for them to be cared for by those who have an interest in such work. I think that our religious bodies and the people who dedicate their lives to the care of elderly people in the community can do quite a lot, and for that reason I believe that the money that is advanced by the Government for this purpose is very valuable to the country. But I hope that the Minister, or the department, will give some attention to the matter that I have raised in connexion with old people who are contributing towards the cost of a home under this scheme. I do not believe for one moment that it is the intention of the Government that such people should have to give away the money that they have saved in the expectation of receiving preferential treatment in the allocation of a home.
I say to the Government: “ Go ahead, do the job, and make homes available. See to it that the organizations concerned have a proper system of allocating homes, so that houses will go to those who really need them. If you do that, then I feel that the people generally will have no objection to this legislation “. Finally, I ask the Government to get away from this idea - whether fostered intentionally, I do not know - that the presentation of the cheques can be an occasion for self-advertisement. We know that the Government is the only body that can introduce legislation to provide for the expenditure of money on projects such as this. Under our system of finance, an appropriation of public moneys requires a message from the Governor-General. The government of the day does the job of making the money available, but it is not its own money; it comes from the taxpayers and should be used for the benefit of the taxpayers. That being so, let us use the funds provided under this legislation in the best possible way for the benefit of those who need it most. The Opposition does not oppose the measure.
.- The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) placed a great deal of stress on this matter of handing over the cheques in connexion with homes for aged persons. With due respect to the honorable gentleman - and I have quite a lot of respect for him and his usually logical and tolerant outlook - I think that he has concerned himself politically with this aspect to a greater degree than has the Government in handing over the cheques. As one who has had some experience of this matter, I truly believe that those who devote themselves to raising sums of money and working to have these buildings constructed are inspired by the presence of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) when cheques are being handed over. I know that they desire to have on the spot a representative of this Government which has concerned itself so closely with this most desirable scheme, so that he may see what they are doing with the money that has been provided. There is no question of a closed shop, so to speak. The functions at which the cheques are handed over are not the prerogative of this side of the House, because members of the Opposition are invited to participate. As the scheme has spread throughout the Commonwealth, the Minister cannot attend all the functions, and when it is not possible for him to be present, the handing over of the cheque is delegated to another member of the Parliament. Members of this House, and also of the Senate, are invited to attend. The honorable member for Port Adelaide has been on the wrong track in his discussion of this aspect of the scheme.
In the course of his speech, the honorable member raised the question of socialism. One of the desires of the socialist is to identify social welfare with socialism. We on this side of the House have always contended that when we -to things for the people and bring advantages to them, that is social welfare, not socialism. We do not want to take the affairs of the people over entirely. Instead, we want to assist the people. That is a part of our plan; but socialism involves everybody in its plans. There is a distinct difference between the two systems. It is obvious that honorable gentlemen opposite wish to give socialism some mark of respectability when they endeavour to associate it with social welfare.
During the recent debates on social services in this House it has been said by several honorable members opposite that the trend of our social services is following that of years gone by. Whatever may be the merits or otherwise of that criticism - and I cannot deal with it while we are discussing the bill now before the House - it must be admitted that this legislation has everything to commend it because it is breaking entirely fresh ground and affords evidence of the desire of this Government to alleviate the plight of the helpless and homeless elderly people in the community. I say “ fresh ground “ advisedly, because although this scheme is almost three years old, as the Minister has stated, its excellent effects are only now beginning to be seen in their true perspective. Only now can we really appreciate its great value to the community.
It is now obvious that a scheme that was considered originally to be an experiment has developed into a very practical reality. That is confirmed by the extremely liberal extension of the grants which, as honorable members know, are to be increased from a subsidy on a £l-for-£l basis to a subsidy on a £2-for-£l basis. In addition there is the important inclusion of the price of the land in the capital cost on which the subsidy will be paid. I do not think that any words of mine, or of any other honorable member, possibly could convey the extraordinary stimulus and the sheer joy which these concessions have given to the hearts and minds of those people who work so earnestly and so capably for the aged people. Naturally, they are attracted to their task by real sympathy and understanding. They are drawn to this work and toil and plan to raise sufficient funds for their purpose. In the past, until the last three years, those funds always seemed inadequate. It was always so difficult to find the money required for all the buildings that were needed, with new demands continually arising. Now, almost overnight, their burden has been lightened, first, by the subsidy of £1 for £1, and, now, by the increase of the subsidy to £2 for every £1 raised by them.
While I speak, the example of the home for aged men at Alice Springs, constructed through the co-operative efforts of the Australian Inland Mission, comes to mind. Some years ago, before the government assistance was available, the necessity for a home of this kind was appreciated, and people with ideals and capacity had managed to build units of two rooms, each 13 feet by 16 feet, and of a value, at that time, of between £1,700 and £1,800. It is really a delight to see this home. The units are neatly furnished, each with a refrigerator and a wood stove, and they are set in 19 acres of ground. Perhaps I may digress and say that that ground is growing giant cauliflowers, weighing up to 14 lb., and glorious citrus fruits. The homes themselves are truly a credit to their designers and the very fine thought behind them.
I want to stress that immediately the Government granted a subsidy of £1 for every £1 raised, it enabled double the previous number of units to be constructed. When I inspected these homes in July their planners were most pleased and optimistic at the prospect of receiving that subsidy. I can imagine their grateful appreciation when they realized that their progress can be trebled by the Government’s present proposal. I feel quite certain that that sort of feeling will be evident throughout Australia.
I know personally the tremendous influence that this form of assistance can exert on money-raising efforts and how it inspires people to greater things. For example, in Bendigo, the well-known Lions Club recently set out to raise money to assist in the building of a new home for the Association of the Ageing Blind in that city. One of the greatest stimulants to their efforts was the knowledge that every £1” that they raised would be matched by another. 1 say to the Minister for Social Services that fortunately their efforts did not reach fruition before the Budget was introduced. The drive which netted £7,000 was not completed within the time which would have debarred them from participation and now they will get the benefit of the Government grant of £2 for each £1 that they raised. To their undiluted joy, their £7,000 has turned into £21,000. Despite the fact that the honorable member for Port Adelaide is concerned about the political aspect of this matter, the Bendigo people are not concerned about that side of it. They regard the Minister for Social Services as a fairy godfather. In effect, he waved the wand which produced another £7,000.
The success of this grant opens up thoughts concerning other spheres. It is difficult to know the number of pensioners who live in rooms and whose pension is inadequate because of the high rent that they are paying and because they have no relatives to assist them and no knowledge of where to go for assistance. To raise the pension so as to provide them with an adequate standard of living would require the allocation of a staggering sum, a large part of which would be paid to those who do not need the extra amount. Some thought should be given to this matter which I feel I must bring before the House and on which I have had some experience. The Association for the Ageing Blind provides an indication of what can be done in these cases. For example, blind pensioners living in rooms on their own are visited from week to week. Their resources are known to people who have the opportunity of judging and assessing them. A subsidy of 5s., 10s., 15s., or 25s. a week is paid to them at certain times, according to their circumstances, which change from time to time. In the winter they might receive 25s. for firewood or other needs. At other times they might have some extra revenue coming in from a small amount left by a relative. But their cases are personally known to those who assist them and, in effect, their pensions are subsidized.
It seems to me that the success of the subsidy for the homes for the aged is such an incentive to people to work for those extra amounts that it opens up a new field of thought. In future, perhaps reputable organizations in other spheres could be given responsibility on a similar basis. This would enable those who might be said to be on the bread line to be lifted into some greater degree of comfort. I do not think that this can be done under governmental regulations directed to the people concerned. It has to be done, as the homes for the aged are built, by the interest of people who are prepared to give their time and take advantage of the concessions that the Government gives under its legislation. The Apex organization comes to my mind as one that is already endeavouring to do something of that kind. I should like to bring the work of that organization to the attention of the House. The Apex organization lacks spectacular publicity, but it is doing spectacular things. It comprises approximately 200 clubs with some 6,000 members. It is Australia-wide and, above everything else, it is a young organization which is moulding the minds of its members to perform social services. It has been formed to develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive and serviceable citizenship, to render altruistic service, and to form more enduring friendships and build better communities.
The Minister for Social Services mentioned that this is a materialistic age. Every so often we feel that this is so. We see evidence of that in this mechanical age in which satellites go around the world in an hour and thirty-five minutes. But every so often one comes across evidence of service to the community which makes one feel that ‘there is still tremendous good and desirable sentiment in the world. There are young people who are prepared to give their time and their energy towards the betterment of others. When I say “ young “ I refer to people between eighteen and 35 years of age. They have to retire from the organization at 40 years of age. The Apex clubs commenced in Geelong in 1931. Perhaps, that is not strange because so many very outstanding and splendid things have commenced in that well-known city, which has a very wide coverage of excellent service to the community. True to their objectives of rendering altruistic ser vice, the members of Apex have announced their latest responsibility, that of interesting themselves in providing care and attention for civilian widows, probably along the same lines as the assistance that has been given in the past to war widows by Legacy. Their plan is to form a zone administrative committee and support the local Association of Civilian Widows, or, where no organization of this kind exists, to take steps to form one.
They propose to set up a free legal and advisory bureau; to make personal contact, where practicable, with each member or prospective member of Apex Civilian Widows; to carry our service work as required; to organize a central swap shop; and to establish a trust fund. It is intended that the trust fund should be used to provide immediate financial assistance to distressed cases; to provide loans on a small interest-free repayment basis; to purchase items of furniture, clothing, and bedding; to provide funds for the financing of larger service undertakings - the club’s service fund will cater for small ones; to provide outings and picnics for civilian widows and their children; to provide holiday schemes; and to support or initiate approaches to State and Federal governments with a view to improving the conditions of civilian widows. We shall have to face up to proposals such as these for subsidy if we accept the scheme that I have outlined as being logical and rational.
I feel that the progress of the homes for the aged is a signpost to the necessity for giving thought in future to government financial assistance, on a subsidy basis, to reputable organizations such as this. I believe that they have the necessary close personal contact to enable them to do the job properly. In addition, there is the very important fact that their own money is associated with the project. I want to emphasize that I truly believe that if the organization for the aged blind and the other building organizations for the aged that I have mentioned were receiving money from the Government by putting up a case for themselves, the amounts they would ask for and receive would be much larger than they receive now, and therefore would be spent more wastefully and without due regard to cost. It is the fact that the members of these organizations are dealing with their own money that makes the bargaining for the land, the instructions to the architects, the poring over the plans, rauch more thorough and responsible than they would be if the money were just granted to them. Giving these organiza”tions a straight-out direct gift is not the answer. I think that organizations which have proved their sense of responsibility and their capacity for handling money and doing good could well be embraced in the subsidy scheme. I thank you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, for the latitude you have allowed me, because I have to some degree departed from the bill.
I wish to emphasize again to the House, without casting any reproach upon the Opposition for what it did when in office, that the social services outlook of the Government is progressive. The Government instituted this scheme to subsidize homes for the aged. It is a curious thing, but we have discovered that people who are placed in homes and relieved of the strain of fending for themselves live longer thereafter than one would expect. For example, in the Ballarat blind home there are 28 people with an average age of 70. At the Brighton home there are 28 or 30 people with an average age of 71, and at the Bendigo home there are nine blind people every one of whom is over 80 years of age. It would appear that by giving them a sense of security and comfort the life spans of these people can be increased. Inevitably, of course, they come to the stage where they require hospital treatment, and it is a very great pleasure to find that the Government is now allowing 33£ per cent, of the beds in homes receiving grants under this act to qualify for hospital benefits. I should say that in specific cases in the future that percentage will have to be increased. If a blind person is taken away from his usual environment into a strange hospital ward, no matter how well he is looked after, he obviously cannot have the same facilities as he would have enjoyed in the home from which he came.
We spent a considerable amount of money, before this scheme came into operation, in establishing the old folks’ home in Geelong. Under the regulations as they stand now, that home does not come entirely within the eligibility provisions of the subsidy scheme. I know that the Minister is doing his best to investigate that position. Looking back, it would have been a magnificent thing for the home if it had been eligible for this subsidy. The Government’s policy in this matter should now give the citizens of Geelong an incentive to commence again to raise a fund, so that if they can raise £10,000, for instance, they will receive £20,000 from the Government in the way of a subsidy towards the home. This would be evidence of the impetus that can be given to collections for these facilities for the aged by the Government’s scheme. 1 cannot commend this bill highly enough. I think it represents a most progressive step in our social services, and I trust that further consideration can be given to government subsidies to augment money raised by public organizations for similar types of social welfare work. I stress again that the fact that these organizations are using their own funds imbues them with the greatest sense of responsibility. ,
.- I am rather surprised that the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman) accused the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) of seeking to make political capital from a statement that no Labour member of this House had been invited over the last three years to present a cheque on behalf of the Government to any of the organizations receiving the subsidy provided under the act. In answer to a question put to him in this House by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) said that 73 such cheques had been presented in the three years up to the time the question was asked. Forty-one of them were presented to organizations in electorates represented by members of the Liberal party. That is quite understandable. What is not understandable is that only one Labour member was invited in those three years to present such a cheque. Senators have been sent here, there and everywhere to present such cheques. So there is no justification for accusing the honorable member for Port Adelaide of seeking to make political capital out of this matter, or of bringing political patronage into it. Instead of accusing the honorable member for Port Adelaide, the honorable member for Corio should apologize to him.
Personally, I am not concerned very much about who presents the cheques; I am concerned that the cheques should be presented. Honorable members may recall that three years ago, when the Government initiated this scheme, I congratulated it on doing so. I have repeated those congratulations every year since. Originally, however, I stated that the scheme was too late and did not provide enough money. I pointed out that the Government was providing only £1,500,000 for homes for the aged at a time when we were giving every other organization under the sun millions of pounds. In 1954, the Labour party’s policy was that we would give £2 for every £1, and would invite the State governments to find that £1. Last week we had glowing speeches from Government supporters about what the Government was likely to do in the next twelve months. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) gave us speeches here that would do credit to any Labour man. A reverend minister of the Presbyterian Church in Glebe rang me and told me he had listened to two speeches in the House, and that he felt that at last something was going to be done for aged people. He asked whether he could come to see me during the week. I said that I. would call on him. I did that. He has taken advantage of the government grant on a £1 for £1 basis to build a home at Ashfield to accommodate some 60 people at a cost of about £60,000. He said that in the next five years it would be impossible for his church organization to add one more room to that building.
– Which building is that?
– At Ashfield.
– Which one? I know of five.
– I do not know, but it is being built by the Presbyterian Church and is at Ashfield.
– Is it the Pitt Wood Memorial Home?
– I do not know the name of it. T do not think that the gentleman would mind my mentioning his name. The Reverend D. G. Cole is responsible for it and he told me all about it. It is costing £60,000 and he is wondering what will become of his people, even though the Government has increased the grant to £2 for £1. He asked me whether it would be possible to make the increased payment retrospective so that it would cover this build- ing. I understand that no money has yet been paid. I told him that if this Government would not make the payment of increases in pension rates retrospective, he would not have much chance of getting £20,000 or £30,000 paid retrospectively. This Government should be big enough to pay the whole amount or at least to encourage State governments to pay the amount which has now to be collected by the organizations before the Commonwealth makes any payment. The religious bodies who look after these homes are giving a service that could not be given by anybody else because they are doing it for love of mankind. What chance has a religious organization which must collect £15,000, £20,000 or £30,000 and then wait for the Government to make a payment? It is impossible!
If the Government were sincere in its wish to house aged people, it would find all the necessary money. After all, State governments provide homes and pay for the upkeep of those homes. Surely the State governments could be encouraged to find one-third of the money for these homes and so give those who are prepared to look after the aged a chance to do the job. I am not concerned about whether a Liberal member or a Labour member presents the cheques. All these homes should not be built in the one area; they should be built on a regional basis. For instance, the Government should grant money to an organization to build a home in the north of New South Wales. The same should be done for the eastern and southern parts of the State, and we should not_forget West Sydney which has not yet received a shilling. The aged people would then be able to live near the districts where they were born and bred. We should not worry about a few pounds. We sent soldiers overseas to fight for this country and for our homes, and it is unbecoming of this Parliament to be niggardly in this matter. If a religious body approved by the Government is prepared to undertake the building of homes for aged people and to find money for the upkeep of the homes - after all they must be kept in repair - then it is the Government’s duty to find the money. We spend £20,000,000 on the Colombo plan and £200,000,000 a year on war preparations in peace-time. Surely the aged people should not be made to suffer.
Government supporters tell us what good fellows they are because they have given £700,000 in the last twelve months for the building of homes. This year’s Budget provides for the expenditure of £3,000,000, but possibly at the end of the year half that amount will not be spent because an impossible task is placed on these people in requiring them to find money. I congratulate the Government for the action it has taken in increasing the subsidy to £2 for £1, but the time has arrived when we should find all the money needed by religious organizations which are prepared to build homes, to maintain them and to offer hospitalization to aged people.
Government supporters say that we are making political capital out of this matter. In the West Sydney electorate, I have a majority of 25,000. Do honorable members opposite think that I am seeking votes there? I am trying to do something for these people. Many of them sleep and live in parks because they have not enough money to get a home. Government supporters have apologized for the way in which pensioners have been treated during the last eight years. Almost every member on the Government side who spoke during the Budget debate said that we should be ashamed because we have not done enough. What has the Government done? It has offered an extra 7s. 6d. a week to pensioners. The honorable member for Sturt suggested a special hardship pension. That would mean that inspectors would go around to find out whether pensioners were living with relatives or in rented rooms. If an extra amount were paid to a pensioner because he had to rent a room, the landlord would immediately put up the rent of that room. If that system were adopted, many inspectors would be needed to police it. It is not worth talking about, nor does it do any good to tell these people that everything will be all right in the next twelve months.
I am sadly disappointed in the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). I thought that he was big enough to say, “ We will pay for the homes provided that people are ready and willing to look after the aged “. After all, that is what counts. It matters not to me who hands over the cheque; but what will happen to aged people in the next twelve months while the Liberal party is arranging for the next election matters a lot. Government supporters will promise the pensioners a few shillings. Last year, the Government did not give them anything; this year, it is giving them 7s. 6d. a week. Therefore, taken over the two years, the increase has been 3s. 9d. a week each year. The cost of living has risen beyond the bounds of reason, and wages have increased to £13 or £14 a week, but these people are expected to live on an additional 3s. 9d. a week. I appeal to the Prime Minister and the Government to do something better for them. We are grateful to the Government for what it has done, but it has not done enough. In 1956, the Australian Labour party adopted the policy that the subsidy should be £2 for every £1 provided by the organization conducting the home. It was not until twelve months later that the Government was forced to do something; even now it has not done enough.
.- The bill will amend the Aged Persons Homes Act 1954. I am sure that most honorable members are appreciative of the objects of the bill, and, if I may say so, I think that it is an example of social service at its best. I regret that the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) were at times rather grudging in their praise of this measure. They raised all kinds of difficulties, which they said they could foresee. However, I think that all of us who have had some experience of the working of the .principal act realize that tremendous advantages will result. I think that we all congratulate the Government on having originated the principal act, and on the very sympathetic manner in which the Department of Social Services has administered it. Regardless of who has, or has not, given cheques to help pay for homes for elderly people, we all can agree that the department has administered the act splendidly, and has done a very good job.
The principal act was introduced by this Government only three years ago. Since it was enacted, the provision of homes for the aged has been accelerated to a degree that was never achieved previously. This is a new field of legislation, and I do not think that, when the principal act was introduced, any of us thought that it would have the tremendous impact on the provision of accommodation for the aged that it is now having. The fact that about 192 homes, or extensions of homes, have been provided in three short years is indicative of the progress being made, and the development that is taking place, in this excellent kind of social service. I do not think that the honorable member for West Sydney has a thorough appreciation of what is being done under the act. He stated that homes should not all be built in the one area. That is just what has not been done. The homes provided under this scheme have been distributed very widely throughout Australia. In the last three years, 1 1 8 homes, or extensions of homes, have been provided in the capital cities, and 74 in country areas. Honorable members will recall that the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman) mentioned a home that has been built at Alice Springs. The honorable member for West Sydney has a completely wrong appreciation of the effects of the principal act. Most of us who know anything about it can justly claim that it has done a great deal of good.
Last financial year, the amount expended on subsidies for the provision of homes for the aged represented only a very small proportion of the sum set aside for the purpose, as is indicated by the Estimates. This leads me to think that many philanthropic organizations are unaware of the financial assistance available under the act. I propose to say more about that later. I think that the Government has been very wise to choose philanthropic and religious organizations that administer homes for the aged to receive the subsidy in respect of homes which, as you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, very well know, are designed to keep aged couples together wherever possible. As the honorable member for Port Adelaide very wisely remarked earlier, that is what we have to do. We must try to get away from the old institutional approach to the care of elderly people. I think that, if we can do that, we shall make great progress in this field of social service. In the past, religious organizations have shown great devotion, and have gained much experience over very long periods, in caring for the aged. Their work is not only a voluntary service but also a labour of love. We all are acquainted with the kind of people who have done this sterling work for the community over long periods. We all have the very greatest respect for them.
Often, their efforts have been greatly handicapped by the lack of funds for the projects that are dear to their hearts.
I am surprised that more organizations have not availed themselves of the funds provided by the Government. According to the Estimates, only about £700,000 was spent under this scheme last financial year in providing subsidies. It would appear, from what the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has said, that more organizations are becoming aware of the principal act. The Minister stated that grants totalling some £2,214,000 have been approved. That clearly indicates that philanthropic organizations are developing an increasing awareness of the availability of a government subsidy for homes for aged persons.
This bill will raise the Government’s contribution from one-half to two-thirds of the capital cost. I think that it is very wise that the organizations conducting the homes should have to provide the remaining onethird of the cost, as they are asked to do, and the Government is to be congratulated on this procedure. Experience has shown that homes for elderly people are more successful when local interest is retained, as it will be by the requirement that the organization providing the home shall pay onethird of the capital cost. It is essential that this local interest be maintained. Philanthropic organizations may have been slow to avail themselves of the assistance provided under the terms of the principal act, but the new formula laid down in this bill should help to increase the incentive for such organizations to share increasingly in the social service of providing homes for the aged.
It is rather interesting to study the balance-sheets of benevolent associations and organizations that have been in existence for a very long time. Many of them have been left legacies dating from the early history of Australia, the original purpose of those legacies being no longer existent, or being now very limited. The trustees of the funds represented by such legacies would do very well to consider their position, and to make the legal arrangements necessary to free such funds, which are now lying frozen in bank accounts in all the States. Those funds could be used to make the initial subscriptions to local funds for the purpose of providing homes for the aged. Unfortunately, because many of these legacies have been left for specific purposes, the benevolent organizations controlling them take the view that the funds cannot be used for more modern kinds of social services such as the provision of homes for the aged. I think that the trustees of these funds would do very well to consider going to court, if necessary, to obtain permission to use these funds to meet more modern needs.
The Department of Social Services, which has shown great willingness to help the aged persons homes scheme, should consider publicizing the scheme appropriately in order to bring it more prominently before the notice of trustee companies, local government authorities, and other organizations that are in a position to assist very materially in the excellent social work of providing homes for the aged. If local authorities contributed to the capital cost of such homes, the organizations providing them, of course, would not qualify for as large a grant from the Commonwealth, but the local authorities could help very materially in other ways. Many municipal councils have sponsored schemes designed to provide homes for the aged, and have assisted materially, not only by providing administrative facilities, but also by helping with the furnishing of homes. In fact, I believe that when local councils have called public meetings to appeal for funds for charitable causes the success of the appeals has been assured.
The amount of £3,000,000 that the Government is prepared to make available annually, together with the £1,500,000 that the Government asks philanthropic bodies and charitable organizations to provide, will make possible the provision of a great deal of relief for those who, in their old age, seek homes. This legislation is revolutionary, and if one takes the long view one may realize what a great deal of assistance the scheme can provide. Of course, the Government may find it necessary to increase its contributions in the future, because people are living longer than they used to. Medical science is, year by year, increasing man’s span of life. Octogenarians and nonagenarians are no longer the curiosities that they were in the past. During the last 30 years the percentage of people in this country over 65 years of awe has doubled. These facts indicate very clearly just how much governments may be expected to provide in the future in the way of additional accommodation for old people, and I believe that this legislation provides something for us to build on. Good accommodation in peaceful surroundings can do more, I believe, to combat boredom and loneliness in aged persons than, for instance, a general increase in pension rates, about which we have heard so much. Geriatrics can also do much towards the rehabilitation of aged persons. This form of medical science is fast becoming a regular branch of activity in every major hospital, but it may be wise to consider attaching to the large homes for the aged some form of geriatric clinic. In this way I believe that the Government can do much towards meeting the requirements of the aged people in the community.
The debate on this bill has been somewhat novel, in that so many members on both sides of the House have stated that this kind of legislation can do much good in the community. I hope that honorable members on the opposite side of the House will join with us in helping to popularize this scheme designed to provides homes for the aged, so that we may considerably ease the present housing shortage in the community.
.- This bill meets with the approbation of all sections of the House. As a nation we have long recognized the needs of elderly people, and it can be truthfully said that the year 1954 saw the dawn of a new era for the elderly folk of our community. In that year the Government brought down its first bill to provide for a subsidy of £1 for £1 towards the building of homes for the aged. The only criticism that the Labour Opposition levelled at the bill at that time was on the ground of inadequacy. We claimed that the proportion of £1 for £1 was not sufficient. It might be truthfully said that the bill before the House has been introduced because the Opposition’s criticism in 1954 has been shown to be justified.
Although £1,500,000 has been made available in each of the last three years for this purpose, making a total of £4,500,000 that could have been called upon, the Minister has told us that only £2,200,000 has been taken up by interested bodies. In other words, £2.300,000 has remained unspent because the various organizations have found it impossible to raise sufficient money to apply for the subsidy. The honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) has said that a possible reason for this is that philanthropic bodies have been unaware of the extent of the Government’s generosity. 1 believe that this is not the reason at all. The reason is, of course, that although every philanthropic body in the Commonwealth has known of the provisions of the act, they have had a spate of worthy objects to support, and proposals for the building of homes for the aged have always had to battle for public support. If we open a newspaper on any day of the week we read of this or that body appealing for funds for most laudable causes. Consequently, those who have sponsored aged persons’ homes projects have not met with the success that they deserved, because of severe competition from other charitable projects that have held a greater appeal for the public.
Anybody who has the slightest knowledge of municipal administration and finance in Australia knows perfectly well that municipal government is fast approaching bankruptcy, because of the additional burdens that municipalities have been expected to shoulder during the past ten or twenty years. To expect them to accept responsibility in connexion with aged persons’ homes projects shows a complete lack of knowledge of the financial position of all municipalities in Australia. It is quite futile, in my opinion, to suggest that municipal councils should provide finance for this purpose. They can give moral support, but that is as far as they can go.
The State governments themselves, as everybody knows, are incurring huge deficits every year. We reach the inevitable conclusion, therefore, whether we like it or not, that the Commonwealth Government is the only government with sufficient money to do anything on a large-scale basis. It is a great pity that less than half of the money that has been available for aged persons’ homes has been used, because although much has been achieved in this field a great deal remains to be accomplished. I know from my own experience, and, no doubt, other honorable members have had a similar experience, that homes for the aged in every part of Australia have long waiting lists of people who wish to be admitted. I have tried to obtain admittance for some of my constituents to a home in my electorate and another home that I intend to refer to shortly - the Mount Royal Home for the Aged at Parkville, Melbourne - and on every occasion I have been told the same story. I have been shown long waiting lists and told that applicants have to wait for years before they can gain admittance. Some of them will probably expire before they are granted admittance to these homes.
While this subsidy of £2 for £1 will relieve the situation to a minor extent, we will find as times goes on that it will be necessary to increase the proportion of government support. We will have to make it £3 for £1, then £4 for £1, and possibly even as much as £5 for £1. Even then we will not be much better off because the elderly folk in the community are rapidly increasing in numbers. Every one applauds that fact, which has been brought about by improvements in medical science throughout the civilized world. In the United States of America, for example, there are at present 14,000,000 people over the age of 65 years. But it is contemplated that by 1975 there will be 21,000,000 Americans over the age of 65. A similar” increase in aged persons can be expected in this country and there must be an increasing recognition by the community that more and more homes must be built for the aged if the problem is to be tackled adequately.
To-day we must face the melancholy fact that the world is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for people over 70 years of age. People to-day are living longer. Whilst everybody hails this with delight, it brings in its train a number of perplexing problems. Under present conditions, we find that the increasing number of elderly people has become an intolerable burden upon world hospitals, because only a small minority of hospitals are equipped to deal competently with aged patients. This burden will grow with time. To-day every country is faced with a growing proportion of scares hospital beds being occupied by infirm old people. That is not a statement made at random. These are the conclusions thai were reached at a recent conference of 800 international physicians, representing 33 nations. These physicians gathered in Italy early this year to study the problems of old ase. They were very seriously concerned at the fact that the increasing number of old people means a correspondingly increased demand for hospital accommodation for them. The reports of this conference indicated that only in the United States of America has a widespread start been made to provide the special care which the aged need. At the conference doctors from all over Europe stressed the large number of elderly people who are inmates of hospitals for lengthy periods. It must be remembered also that increased medical care is needed with advancing age, when income is usually reduced.
The rapid increase in the number of aged people in the community presents two very urgent problems. The first is the invasion by old people of hospital beds which were intended for younger patients for relatively shorter periods. This invasion has meant very perplexing problems for the hospital authorities. The second problem is the provision of special care for the aged, whose medical problems and treatment are usually different from those of younger people. That is also a very great problem in hospital management. To-day, the proportion of Australians over the age of 65 is 8.3 per cent. By 1960 the figure will have reached 9 per cent, and it will not be long before 10 per cent, of Australians are over 65 years of age. Therefore, more and more attention will have to be paid to keeping old people healthy and keeping their morale high. With the necessity of erecting more homes there is now another problem, and that is to keep the old people well when they are in the homes.
It is pleasing to notice that we have acknowledged this problem in Australia, “by the establishment of the first geriatric unit in the Commonwealth. Geriatrics may be loosely described as the science of combating the diseases and infirmities of old age. Geriatrics applied intelligently gives a new lease of life to elderly people, many of whom formerly had become reconciled to being bedridden or semi-bedridden for the remainder of their days. It is most appropriate that on the very day that the House is discussing the care of the aged the first geriatric clinic in Australia has been opened. It is in Melbourne, at the Mount Royal institution in Parkville, and it has been opened by the Premier of Victoria. I had the very interesting experience recently of inspecting this unit and I saw and heard of the wonderful potentialities that it possesses. By a combination of specially trained medical attention, a skilled physiotherapist staff, and specially designed physical training equipment, all housed in a building designed and built for the purpose, geriatrics will do a great deal for the elderly people of the community. It must be appreciated that a geriatric ward costs a great deal of money, not only for the erection of the ward and the provision of equipment, but for the training of staff. It was only brought about at the Mount Royal Hospital by the marked generosity of several members of the committee, who provided funds out of their own pockets to send several doctors overseas to obtain the necessary training. In addition, the Victorian Government some years ago made a grant for the erection of the building. Because the geriatric ward has now been established at Mount Royal, it is certain that many inmates who are now virtually infirm will, by reason of the treatment given by this clinic, have an opportunity to lead active lives again.
The possibilities of the application of geriatrics cannot be over-estimated. It is a new science as far as Australian social welfare is concerned. It opens up for the elderly people a new vista - one could almost say a new deal. Happiness will be engendered that will be beyond calculation. This geriatric clinic programme that has been pioneered by the Mount Royal homes must be emulated wherever possible, otherwise the treatment for the aged will be totally incomplete. The Government must provide vast sums of money, and that is where I appreciate the provision of the £2-for-£l subsidy. But if the Government says that that is the limit of its activities, then it is not looking fairly and squarely at the question. I would say that a geriatric unit is a necessity in every large institution. The subsidy is more or less a waste of money if every effort is not made to put the old people back on their feet. That will cost a lot of money, but so does the present system under which so many essential hospital beds are occupied by those for whom a course in geriatrics could work wonders. They have to be provided with medical and nursing attention and this is expensive. This is a new stage in social welfare and it is obvious that State governments, by reason of their financial circumstances, have not the necessary finance to bear the entire cost. Although the Government of Victoria paid for the cost of the Mount Royal clinic, it could not take that course again if it wanted to, because of its insolvent position this year.
I ask the House to recognize the fact that geriatrics does much to make old age a period of contentment and happiness. We have only commenced to tackle the problem, which will grow with the passage of time. This is a very commendable aspect of social welfare activity and I know it meets with the approval of every honorable member in this House. Before I conclude my remarks I would like to pay a tribute to the Mount Royal home. It is not in my electorate but it is possibly the oldest home of this description in Melbourne, lt has 600 inmates and anybody who goes to the home cannot fail to be struck by the contented and happy look on the faces of the inmates. One is impressed with the very decent and humane way they are treated and the whole set-up is a credit to the authorities concerned. A good many public-spirited men are associated with this institution and they have made it to-day a refuge and a haven of contentment and peace.
What I have said about the Mount Royal homes applies equally to another institution, which is in my electorate. That is an institution conducted by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a remarkable international organization which has done a lot for people in the community who desire a roof over their heads in the twilight of their lives. This institution and countless others have set a splendid example of community service. They have in the past strained every effort to raise the required amount of money but the task is unfair when they are shouldering the community’s responsibilities. The cost of building today precludes any further substantial efforts, and I appeal to the Government not to rest on its oars at the prospect of granting a subsidy of £2 for every £1 collected, but next year, if possible, to bring down a measure to provide for a subsidy of £3 for £1 and even £5 for £1 later.
In conclusion, I commend the Government but I associate myself with the statements that have been made by other speakers on this side of the House about the presentation of cheques. This is a non-party measure and the whole problem to which it relates has been dealt with on a non-party basis. It would be deplorable, when subsidized cheques are presented to any organization to provide homes for the aged, if any discrimination were made against the federal parliamentary representative for the area. After all, the money is not being all provided by the Federal Government. One-third of it has been provided by the people in donations. Therefore, I hope that the pleasant ceremony of presenting the cheque will be the privilege of the parliamentary representative, irrespective of his party political affiliations.
– Unquestionably, this Aged Persons Homes Bill has received the heartfelt approval of honorable members on both sides of the House, judging by the speeches that have been delivered in this debate. Although, under this measure, the Government will give a subsidy of £2 for every £1 donated, actually it will be providing more than that proportion. As donations for aged persons homes are allowable as a deduction for income tax purposes, the amount which the Government will not receive in income tax revenue as a result must be added to the £2 subsidy which it will pay.
There are no aged persons’ homes in my electorate such as this measure will cover. Most of the area I represent consists of wide open spaces in the far west of Queensland, but many of the shire councils in my electorate are providing homes for age pensioners and they are deserving of some consideration. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in his second-reading speech suggested that, as far as possible, aged persons should be kept in the areas where they were born and bred and lived, so that they may continue in the environment to which they have been accustomed. Many of the shire councils in my electorate are providing homes for the aged on exactly the same basis as religious and charitable institutions are providing them. They have only limited financial resources but they are not entitled, owing to a constitutional difficulty, to a Commonwealth grant. Certainly, they receive a State grant of £1 for every £1 they raise. But, as I have just said, constitutional difficulties prevent the Commonwealth from making a grant to shire councils for this purpose. That is an anomaly which should be examined. An investigation should be made to determine whether money granted by the Commonwealth for aged persons’ homes could not be channelled through the State governments to the shire councils. These councils are doing all they can to provide homes and amenities for aged people in order to keep them in the districts where they have lived all their lives and in close proximity to their families. They would be greatly assisted if the Government could make some finance available for this purpose.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) made a plea that the homes for the aged should be spread throughout the country to a greater degree than they are at present. It seems to me that that is being done already. I notice that, in recent months, a donation was made to the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Mothers Hostel in Victoria, another to the Congregational Union of South Australia, and another to the Presbyterian Church in Queensland. Obviously, the grants are being spread fairly evenly throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in the bigger centres. I agree with the honorable member opposite who said that this bill is laying the foundation for a wonderful institution. I hope that as the years go by a worthy edifice will be built on that foundation. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), who has just concluded his speech, said that the latest census returns show that the life span of Australians is increasing. In that case, the Government, in future, will have to make money available to provide more institutions for the aged, and that will be a worth-while service.
I appeal to the Government once more to find ways and means of making financial assistance available to local authorities which are providing homes for aged persons in country areas. The homes may not be very large, and the townships where they are situated may be small and scattered, but, nevertheless, the principle on which they are providing these homes is the same as that on which the larger organizations work. When money is made available to State governments for particular purposes, the stipulation is made that a certain percentage of it should be diverted into particular channels. Surely, when the Government is making money available to State governments for housing and for aged persons’ homes, it should be possible to ear-mark some of it for homes provided by local authorities for aged persons in sparsely populated country areas.
.- I wish to associate myself with all the electors in the important division of Griffith in commending this very worth-while measure now before the House. I cast my mind back over the few happy years that I have been in Parliament to the time when this legislation was born. I am reminded that it was prompted by outside pressure. It did not have its origin in the mind of any member of this Parliament. On the contrary, we have been told that a very charming lady suggested the idea to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that such a measure should be introduced. That lady was Dame Pattie Menzies. I understand, from statements in the press, that the Prime Minister has been gracious enough to pay tribute to his charming wife for being responsible for the introduction of this legislation. She gave him the idea, and, consequently, the bill was born.
Tt is a very worth-while measure. In the initial stages, it was a good bill. It had some features, however, that some of us considered should have been greatly improved. I am one of those who felt that the legislation did not go far enough, but I am now happy to be able to support the bill because it provides a greater subsidy to those organizations which are prepared to erect homes for the aged. The bill that we are debating provides that the Commonwealth Treasury will subsidize the building of homes, on the basis of £2 from the Treasury for every £1 raised by voluntary organizations. This is a very generous gesture on the part of the Parliament. I think that every honorable member should support the bill most enthusiastically, or at least the provision to increase the subsidy.
Some criticisms have been made in relation to the presentation of cheques and the ceremonies associated with the opening of homes that have been built. There may be grounds for such criticism of this minor feature of the operation of the legislation, but I am not concerned with that. I am happy that a subsidy has been provided for those organizations which are prepared to make available homes for the aged.
The lot of the old person can be a tragic one. From my own observation, I can say with truth that one of the really sad features of old age is loneliness. The provision of homes such as those constructed with the aid of this subsidy tends, to a large degree. to overcome that grave disability of loneliness. These homes offer the opportunity for a degree of community life, and for preservation of marriage ties. The assistance that has already been given by the Government, and which is to be increased under this bill, has helped considerably to promote the desirable features that should be associated with these homes. But there is one feature in respect of which I have criticized the legislation previously, and in respect of which I shall do so again, in the earnest hope that, in the near future or at some distant point of time, whether I am here or whether I am not, improvement will be effected.
Since its inception, the act has provided that the Government will assist those organizations which raise funds for the provision of homes for the aged. I feel that the Parliament should assist organizations which are prepared to be bold in their outlook and their attack on this problem of providing homes for the aged, to incur indebtedness and to build homes with the aid of a bank advance, if, in these days of credit restriction, they can get a bank to advance money for the construction of homes. There are numerous organizations in this field, and many of them have been lauded most enthusiastically by honorable members, who have spoken this evening, for what they have done. I support those remarks. But, in the main, these organizations have accumulated the funds and have then built the homes. There are other organizations which are prepared to build homes and to permit posterity to pay for them. They will build homes now - and the need of the aged is for homes now. To a large degree, the Government recognizes that that is so. Why will it not go a little further?
In the City of Brisbane there are excellent organizations which provide homes of a very high standard for aged people. I shall refer to two in particular. First, there is the Marchant Home at Chermside, probably an example to all other similar organizations throughout the Commonwealth, which is providing homes of a high standard, in which aged couples can live as they did previously. Secondly, there is at Wynnum - not in my electorate, but just beyond it - an organization known as Nazareth House, which is probably the biggest organization run by a non-State instrumentality in Queensland. This house has been built with the aid of a bank advance, which posterity will pay off. That organization would receive no assistance under this legislation if it wished to extend its activities, but 1 offer no criticism in relation to this position.
I whole-heartedly support the measure, and 1 am most grateful to Dame Pattie Menzies for suggesting to her husband, the Prime Minister, the idea of granting a subsidy in order to assist in the construction of homes for aged people. I hope that, in the near future, the Government will be prepared - and I hope, too, although it may seem strange, that it will be the present Minister who will introduce the amending bill - to provide for the extension of the operation and the generosity of the act, based on the principles of which I have spoken tonight.
– in reply - I should like to offer my very sincere congratulations to honorable members for the splendid spirit which has pervaded the debate incidental to the introduction, and, I hope, the passing, of this most important piece of legislation. I am grateful, too, to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) for allowing me these few moments in which to reply to the observations that have been made in the course of the very helpful speeches this evening.
May I be permitted to refer to the speech of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) first of all, lest it escape my memory? I know that there are peculiarities in some of the States and in a great many of the electorates in the States, and I also know, from representations that have been made to me by the honorable member for Maranoa, that there is a peculiarity in his electorate-, in that homes for the aged are provided, to some degree, by local government authorities. He has been most eager, over a period of years, that the local government authorities might be included, as appropriate organizations to receive advances, if and when they make application. I say to the honorable member now, as I have said to him personally on a number of occasions when he has made his representations to me, that there are technical reasons why the local government authorities, up to this point, have been excluded from participating in these grants. These technical difficulties can be expressed in a very few words.
Local government authorities are appointed, after all, by the State governments and, in many cases, receive grants from them. The State governments, in turn, receive grants from the Commonwealth. Were the Commonwealth to match or subsidize by £2 for £1 of local government funds, the Commonwealth could find itself subsidizing its own money. No newly subscribed moneys might come into the projects at all. The Commonwealth, having imposed taxation to meet the cost of the grants to the States, would be imposing taxation to subsidize taxation already distributed in grants. In addition, one purpose of the bill is to encourage voluntary organizations of a religious or benevolent character. It was not intended to offer any inducement to governments, whether State or local, to impose taxation or rates. If the proceeds of local authority rates were subsidized, even if the proceeds were used for the construction of homes for the aged, it could be held that the Commonwealth was offering such an inducement. Those are the reasons why, up to this point, local government authorities have been excluded. So long as there is a demand from other, and in our humble opinion more appropriate, organizations, then the resources made available to the Department of Social Services will be concentrated on those more appropriate organizations.
I should like to reply to the observations made by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), who replied to my second-reading speech this afternoon. He prefaced his remarks by making some reference to what he deemed to be the fact that Opposition members seem to have been excluded from the invitations extended from time to time to make presentations of cheques. I cannot answer for what my predecessors did although I have no doubt that they followed the practice that I have adopted myself. But I have the most vivid recollection of the first occasion on which a cheque had to be presented in a constituency held by an honorable member of the Opposition. Invitations to present cheques are invariably addressed to me. It is one of the privileges of my office, perhaps, that I am offered by organizations which apply to the department for a grant which is subsequently agreed to.
– I did not include the Minister.
– I know. But I find that there are physical limitations even to what I can do. Because of that fact, and because of the vast territory that is covered by the Commonwealth, I find it convenient to ask honorable members, from time to time, whether they would be good enough to represent me. It was with some pleasure that I sent an invitation to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and asked him if he would be good enough to represent me and present a cheque in his electorate. He replied most courteously to me and declined the opportunity. I speak from memory, but I think he said that he did not think it was seemly that he should be associated with the presentation of the cheque. That places a Minister in a very difficult position. I get over the difficulty by extending invitations to senators in the various States if and when I think it would serve a useful purpose. Some senators are rather less party political in character than members of this chamber quite rightly are.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide also referred to what he considered to be a palpable injustice in that people should make contributions, perhaps giving their all, and that as a consideration for those contributions they should be provided with accommodation. He did not think that that was altogether a good thing. I should like to suggest, with very great respect, that there is no substance in the objection. Elderly people are at liberty to contribute to any organization. After all, the contribution is made to the organization for whatever purpose it wishes to use it. It is not “within my province, the province of the Government, or the province of the honorable member for Port Adelaide to inquire into the purposes of the donor. These contributions are made to the organization and, for all practical purposes, they are ever-lasting in character. The fact that the contributor may be provided with accommodation appears to me to be entirely beside the point..
I am quite sure that the honorable member for Port Adelaide would not suggest that, because a person has made a contribution in order to assist an organization to provide a home for the aged, the donor should be excluded from any accommodation whatsoever. I am quite certain that he did not mean that; but that, in fact, was the substance of his complaint - that people did make contributions and received accommodation and he thought that they should be excluded in some way. I assure the honorable member that the Government has explored the difficulties that are associated with running these establishments. The Government, in its wisdom, has decided not to interfere with the organization in any shape or form. The Government has never contemplated making a selection as between applicants for the accommodation that is available. After all, that is a privilege that rightly belongs to the organization, and the Government would never dream of taking it from the organization.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide exercised his mind as to the adequacy of the Budget appropriations for homes for the aged under this bill. I assure him that whereas the budget appropriation is confined, for the moment, to £1,800,000, it is stated in the bill that the maximum grant in any one year may be £3,000,000. I can assure the honorable member that if and when the budget appropriation is exceeded - and I hope it will be exceeded in each financial year - the responsibility will be mine to get some sort of additional appropriation so long as I remain within the maximum limit of £3,000,000 in any one year.
Having said that, may I be permitted to conclude with a few general observations. I am sure we are all grateful to the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) for having made generous reference to the wife of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was associated with the’ conception of this splendid proposal. After all, the principal act was largely experimental in character and it has been an unqualified success. Because of its success, this bill is now before the House. After all, there is a degree of futility in providing large pensions for people if they have nowhere to live. It was a recognition of that sad state of affairs, I suppose, that prompted the Prime Minister’s wife and other people to devise a scheme that would assist the aged who have no home. So the bill, experimental in character, was brought down to provide for a subsidy on a £l-for-£l basis up to a maximum of £1,500,000. As I have said, it has been’ an unqualified success. These homes have been built in every State of the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory. I think that honorable members will be interested to know that the purposes of the bill and the fulfilment of those purposes has excited the admiration of the world.
– There is a groan of despair from the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), but that is charactertistic of the man. The fact remains that this measure has excited the admiration of the world. All sorts of inquiries have been made of the appropriate officers of the department as to how it is actually working. It is our extreme pleasure to say that it is working with exceptional success. Now the Government might have been tempted to leave well alone, having introduced this measure nearly three years ago, and the measure having filled a very great need adequately up to the limit of the resources made available to the Department of Social Services; but it was anxious, because of the degree of success of the measure, to extend assistance under it wherever that could be done in a practical way. It has done that in the two main ways expressed in the bill. It has included the cost of land as part of the capital cost of the establishment, and it has increased the subsidy from £1 to £2 for each £1 raised by an organization.
Those are matters of great satisfaction to us all; but they have created some slight difficulties. One of them, of course, is the difficulty of the date of commencement of those provisions. When a government introduces an amendment to a splendid piece of legislation in order to make it even better then, of course, the date on which the new conditions shall operate has to be determined. The date determined will quite obviously exclude all those organizations whose applications were made prior to that date. That was one of the great difficulties that the Government foresaw, and that might have tempted a less valiant government again to leave well alone. But the Government tried to face up to that problem. It realized that there were two appropriate dates, and that it would be the height of folly to take an arbitrary date, three months, six months or twelve months ago, because, whatever arbitrary date was fixed for the commencement of the new conditions would be prejudicial to all the applications that preceded it. So, in the Government’s opinion, there were only two practical dates. One was the date of the commencement of the act, which is 4th May, 1954, and the other one was the date on which this bill received the Royal assent. I should point out to honorable members that if the former date had been selected, and expenditure on the purchase of land between that date and the date of assent to this bill was to qualify for the subsidy in precisely the same way as expenditure on the actual construction of homes for the aged has qualified, we could have expended our total budget appropriation for this year without building one additional home for any one. The Government did not want to do that. Indeed, the Government was most anxious to guard against that position arising. As a result, the only other practicable date to select for this purpose is the date on which this bill receives the Royal Assent.
Now, may I be permitted, Mr. Speaker, to end as I began. It comes to few Ministers of the Crown to introduce a measure that meets with the degree of general approval with which this measure has met this evening. 1 want to say, sir, that the measure is intended to be a spur to progress. We hope that in the next twelve months, or two, three or five years, we will see a multiplication of these homes in all the States, for the everlasing benefit of those who may require them.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time. ‘
– I should like the Minister to look at clause 5 (2), which reads -
The amendments made by section four of this Act apply in relation to an approved home only where the home is approved by the DirectorGeneral of Social Services on or after the date of commencement of this Act.
The purpose of clause 4 is to increase the subsidy payment from £1 to £2 for every £1 raised by an organization. I have in mind a property in my own district that was bought and was the subject of approval under the act some time ago. Two wings were erected, and subsidy was paid in respect of that work. A lot of building has been done on the Forsyth Homes. The organization concerned may want to make more extensions on the same property, and would raise further money for that purpose. Does clause 5 (2) mean that because that home was approved before the date of commencement of this bill the organization will not be able to qualify for the subsidy of £2 for each £1 raised by it for new buildings erected in the future? Perhaps the Minister would clear up that point for me.
.- I direct the Minister’s attention to the fact that Queensland is lagging very badly behind the other States in the provision of homes for the aged. I can illustrate that fact by giving the expenditure per head of population in each of the States in respect of such homes. The figures are as follows, with Tasmania easily in the lead: - Tasmania, 9s. 4d.; South Australia, 7s. Id.; Victoria, 6s. 9d.; Western Australia, 5s. 7d.; New South Wales, 3s. 7d.; and Queensland, 2s. 3d. I do not propose to attempt to diagnose the cause of this relative absence of philanthropy in Queensland, but I should be grateful if the Minister would cause inquiries to be made to discover whether there is any reason why Queensland has lagged, and is still lagging, so badly in this matter.
– I shall reply to the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) by saying that I have given an instruction that all applications that have been made under the existing act and which have been approved should be regarded as having been finalized. However, an application that has been made under what one might be permitted to call the old act, and has been approved, and the particular organization concerned proposes to extend its activities, the new application will be considered to be a new application, and will come under the provisions of this measure.
– Thank you.
– In reference to what the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) has had to say about the disparity that seems to exist between Queensland and the other States, so far as I am in a position to judge the enthusiasm in Queensland is commensurate with the enthusiasm that seems to exist in all the other States. I would be grateful for any assistance which he or any other honorable member could give in spreading wide the news that the Government has taken this first opportunity to increase the grants to approved organizations.
.- Did I understand the Minister to say that if an application was made several years ago, but had not yet been approved, that application, if it is approved in future, as it possibly will be in the case I have in mind, will be approved at the new rate provided under this bill of £2 for every £1 provided by the organization?
– I cannot imagine, nor would I speculate on, any case of an application being as old as a few years. It just cannot happen. But if there is a case in point, and there is some specific application that has not been considered and approved, we would have to look at it in the terms of this measure.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Children of Australian Servicemen in Japan - St. Mary’s Filling Factory.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Earlier in this sessional period I raised a matter that I regarded as of some importance. On that occasion I was met, as is not unusual in these matters, by a charge from Government supporters that I had exaggerated the situation. I am referring to Japanese illegitimate children of Australian servicemen, and deserted wives and children of Australian servicemen. On that occasion, we were assured that not only were the numbers which I had stated exaggerated but also that the Government was quite satisfied that these people were being well cared for and that the Australian Government had no reason to concern itself with the situation. Since the discussion in this House, evidently what was said, not only in the Parliament but also by church leaders outside the Parliament, has been noted overseas, particularly in Japan. 1 read in the press to-day that certain church leaders had received letters from the mayor of Kure, where the Australian forces were quartered. I have received a letter from the same gentleman, apparently in identical terms to that which was sent to the church leaders. In the letter, the mayor said -
As you know, the great majority of the occupation forces stationed in Kure City since the termination of the war were Australians. Consequently, it is certainly safe to say that the majority of the mixed-blood children in Kure were fathered by Australian Service personnel. However, those children and their mothers have been living a life of such extreme poverty and destitution that we cannot bear to think of their condition without deep sorrow. Even though our National Government has established a social security system for their relief, this has not been sufficient to allay their needs. Consequently they have continued to lead unhappy and hopeless lives since their desertion.
The letter goes on to say that information is now being gathered about numbers and so on. There can be no doubt about the situation that exists. Although I still contend that the number I submitted to the House was approximately correct - nobody could say to within one or two - the number does not really matter. The Ministers who answered the criticism seemed to imply that, because there were not as many as I had said, the position was exaggerated and there was no need to worry. In reply to a question on notice, the number was given as 40. I am sure that there are more than that and I am quite certain that the investigations now being undertaken by the mayor of Kure will disclose that the number is well in excess of that given by the Minister. However, assuming that there are only 40, does that absolve us from responsibility? Though the Japanese Government is not doing sufficient for these people, at least it is making some contribution. The churches have now declared that, unless the Australian Government accepts some responsibility, they will, on a voluntary basis, undertake the responsibility which should rest with the Government.
This matter is a disgrace to this country and to this Government. Wandering around in this part of Japan at least and probably in other areas are unfortunate kiddies of Australian fathers and Japanese mothers, with placards around their necks advertising the fact that they are the children of Australian servicemen. They have to beg alms in the streets in order to live. That is a dreadful situation and the Government should say what it proposes 10 do. The Government should indicate whether it proposes to make any contribution or whether it proposes to abandon these children who are just as much our responsibility as they are the responsibility of the Japanese Government. Does the Government propose to abandon them and forget about them entirely? The mayor of Kure has, I understand, been active in politics in his country as a Social Democrat. He was the chairman of the Diet on one occasion and is now the mayor of the city where the Australians were stationed. He is a man of some consequence in his country. He is now visiting Australia and I hope that those Government supporters who feel that some responsibility rests upon us will take the opportunity of discussing the matter with him while he is here.
I want to refer to another matter while I have the opportunity. It concerns the contemptuous attitude adopted by the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) on matters affecting the general community. Some time ago a public meeting was held in the Paddington Town Hall. Great concern was expressed at the failure of the Government to halt nuclear bomb tests. The gathering was very representative and the meeting was well attended. Certain resolutions were carried and a deputation was appointed to meet the Minister for Supply. At the request of the meeting, I sent a telegram to the Minister for Supply on 16th July and I received a prompt reply on the following day, stating -
Reply your telegram recent date. Am willing to meet deputation of twelve but cannot make appointment immediately owing to heavy Ministerial engagements. Would hope to be able to arrange appointment within fortnight and will communicate with you again.
I am still waiting for the Minister to fix the date, as he indicated he was willing to do. This is not an uncommon practice of Ministers. They make some sort of reply, sometimes after a considerable delay. In this instance, there was no delay in replying but there has been a considerable delay in the Minister fulfilling his undertaking to meet the deputation. As I have said, the deputation was appointed at a public meeting. At the time I raised the matter with the Minister, he intimated his willingness to meet the deputation. I want to know when the Minister proposes to carry out that undertaking.
Before I conclude I shall refer to one other matter. In recent weeks there has been a great deal of discussion through the press and in this Parliament about the St. Mary’s filling factory, as it is termed. That project is administered by the Minister for Supply. The strange thing about this matter is this: Members of this Parliament from time to time have brought to their notice matters which they consider warrant some investigation. On this occasion, the views of the Opposition are supported by the report of the Auditor-General. I do not propose to discuss the details, but merely to direct attention to one feature. When members ask questions, either without notice or on notice, they should not be cavalierly brushed aside as they have been in regard to the St. Mary’s project. Surely if the Government has nothing to hide when this matter is brought forward for a full debate in the Parliament, it should be prepared to make available to honorable members the documents that Ordinarily should be made available. I refer to the reports of the inspectors of the Audit Department on which the AuditorGeneral has based his report. Why can we not have the material made available to us? Why cannot members get answers to questions concerning certain activities associated with this very expensive and extravagant ammunition-filling factory at St. Mary’s?
– They are cooking up the answers.
– It is quite possible that they want any amount of time to think of the replies. When the matter comes up for a full debate in this House, the Government will have great difficulty in effectively answering the criticism that will be levelled at it. If we in the Parliament cannot obtain the information that we seek what opportunity has the general public of obtaining any information? Surely these records are not regarded as being highly confidential or secret. I remember that, when we were in office, if anybody questioned a project such as this and the reports submitted by the audit inspectors were requested, we never hesitated to make them available, because we had nothing to hide. I suggest that when we come to debate this matter fully, the Government should adopt an attitude different from that adopted up to this moment in regard to questions, because it will need to bring the facts here. We want to see the documents. Therefore, I inform the Government that we expect them to be made available to the Parliament so that they may be perused.
Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.10 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has furnished the following replies: -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has furnished the following replies: -
olt asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. Answers to these questions would involve the disclosure of secret information con cerning plans for military operations. I regret that information of this nature cannot be made available.
t asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 October 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19571009_reps_22_hor16/>.