22nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Following upon the answer given the other day by the acting Minister for External Affairs concerning Formosa and the off-shore islands, when he indicated his opposition to breaches of international peace or threats to the peace taking place in that area by both sides, has he or the Government considered the desirability of placing that situation before the General Assembly of the United Nations for discussion with a view to directing a cease-fire, which is completely within the competence of that body to do?
– I will give consideration to the right honorable gentleman’s suggestion.
– In directing my question to the Minister for Primary Industry, I refer to representations which I have made to him during the past few weeks on behalf of maize growers in the Hawkesbury valley, in my electorate. I ask the Minister whether he has any comments to make in addition to his previous statements on this subject. More particularly, I should like to know under what circumstances licences were granted to import maize from South Africa. Is there any substance in the allegation that this permission to import whole maize was used as a cover, or to improper advantage, by breakfast food manufacturers and others to import several thousands of tons of processed maize in the form of maize grits? Will the Minister investigate this situation, which is causing concern in my electorate? Will he also state that no further imports of maize or processed maize will be approved during the Australian growing season?
– This is a clear illustration of the fact that once a rumour starts it is very difficult to stop it. I have previously made it clear to this House that import licences for 2,700 tons of maize and of maize grits, in total, were approved during December and January. No other licences, in fact, have been issued since then. The answer to the honorable member’s question as to large recent importations of maize grits is therefore, quite clearly, “ No “. I have heard statements that, during this Australian selling season, that is, since April, 1958, in one case 4,500 tons and in another 1,200 tons of maize grits were imported. Sir, those statements are not correct, and if the person making the allegations will furnish me with precise information, I will let him have a definite reply. I am not referring to the honorable member for Mitchell, but the honorable gentleman will know to whom I refer. I do give the honorable gentleman the assurance that when Australian maize is being sold after the producing season, licences for the importation of maize will not be permitted. I do not think that I can carry out any further investigations, because we have complete control of import licensing. However, I repeat the assurance that when Australian maize is being sold, import licences will not be issued for the importation of foreign maize or maize grits.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Primary Industry a supplementary question. Does his answer cover all import licences issued during the relevant period in respect of maize? Secondly, did the product come to Australia in pursuance of the licences to which he referred, and when did it arrive in Australia?
– The answer to the right honorable gentleman’s first question is, “ Yes “. The licences applied both to maize and to maize grits. As to the second question, I cannot give precise details of when each parcel arrived. I can give the right honorable gentleman the assurance that the imports arrived prior to the commencement of the Australian selling season for maize, and we have good reason to believe that they were disposed of before Australian maize came on to the market.
– I desire to ask a question without notice of the Minister for Labour and National Service, in his capacity as Leader of the House. What significance has the message which this House received from the Senate last evening in- relation to the proceedings and resolutions of this House? What action does the Government propose to take in relation to the message?
– Since the message was received from the Senate, I have given consideration to the appropriate course to be followed in this chamber. I think all honorable members are aware in general terms of the provisions of section 53 of the Constitution. This section provides, in part -
The Senate may not amend proposed laws imposing taxation, or proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys- for the ordinary annual services of the Government.
The Senate may at any stage return to the House of Representatives any proposed law which the Senate may not amend, requesting, by message, the omission or amendment of any items or provisions therein. And the House of Representatives may, if it thinks fit, make any of such omissions or amendments, with or without modifications.
In this case, the message does not fit into that pattern at all. It is not an amendment to any bill or even a request relating to a bill of this chamber. The Senate motion was one for the printing of papers, and attached to the terms of the motion was an expression of opinion on behalf of the Senate. Even an expression of opinion would not normally pass without comment from this chamber, both as a matter of courtesy and in the normal constitutional relations between the two chambers. But, Sir, in this instance the terms of the opinion are clearly covered in substance by the previous proceedings in this House, when the Leader of the Opposition submitted a motion of censure. The debate on that motion covered in very specific terms the items that are included in the expression of opinion from the Senate. Honorable members will recall that the committee of this House, by a vote of 57 to 36, rejected the censure motion of the Leader of the Opposition.
So it will be seen that the message received from the Senate merely refers to this House an expression of opinion. There is nothing of a novel character raised in that expression of opinion which would call for further consideration by this chamber. That seems to be the substance of both the constitutional position and of this actual episode.
I have refrained from making any comment on the circumstances in which the majority view of the. Senate came to be expressed. We are all aware of the normal relations that exist between members of the Labour party in the Senate and their colleagues in this chamber, and that decisions taken in caucus are binding on members in both Houses. What happened in the Senate was merely that a resolution was agreed to which amounted to a repetition of views that had been expressed iri this House. This episode clearly amounted to a somewhat theatrical and, indeed, callous propaganda move that has made no more impression on the general public than it has made on Government supporters in both Houses.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior a question without notice.- The Minister has informed me that Commonwealth departments in Adelaide are housed in thirteen separate buildings, the rent for which is approximately £155.000 a year. Can the Minister tell me when the new Commonwealth building will be commenced in Adelaide so that, when it is completed, at least a substantial part of the money now paid in rent will be saved to the Commonwealth?
– I can only assure the honorable gentleman that the matter is being given the closest possible attention by my department. As the honorable member will understand, the situation in Adelaide, as I have pointed out before, is repeated in almost every other capital city. The problem is to make provision in the Budget for capital so that we can proceed with these particular jobs. I also direct the honorable member’s attention to the fact that when the Government provides its own buildings for the accommodation of its staff, it does not necessarily save the whole of the amount previously paid in rent. The margin between the cost of rented accommodation and what it costs to occupy accommodation of your own is not a tremendously wide one. The honorable gentleman can rest assured that the Government has the requirements of Adelaide well in mind. As soon as it is possible to provide a Commonwealth centre in that city, it will certainly be done.
– 1 ask the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs whether it is a fact that about 4*000,000 East Germans have fled from the earthly paradise of a democratic socialist government. Is there any known case of an East German refugee seeking to return to East Germany? Can the Minister advise the House whether the policy of East German democratic socialism is identical with the policy outlined on television in Sydney a few days ago by a prominent member of the Labour party?
– It is a fact that a great many East German residents have gone over to West Germany territory. I understand that they are going over at a steady rate of something like 250,000 a year. As a consequence, the population of East Germany is decreasing whilst the population of West Germany is increasing very rapidly. That, I think, is a clear indication that the German people are not satisfied with the Communist regime in East Germany, and would like a change if they could get it.
I have no comment to make about the similarity between the policy of the East German Government and that of the Labour party, as referred to by the honorable member.
– I have received a letter from a correspondent in Bundaberg, Queensland, stating that in England, certain European countries, and North America, any person desiring to donate his or her eyes to an eye bank after death, for use by the blind, can do so. I ask the Minister for Health: Is any scheme in existence in Australia whereby persons can will their eyes on death to an eye bank for use by blind persons? If there is no such scheme, will the Minister take the matter up at a conference with State Ministers for Health to see whether a scheme can be introduced into Australia?
– The honorable member will appreciate that this is a matter that concerns State governments, and, as I’ understand it, not only is it possible for persons to contribute to the kind of eye bank that- the honorable gentleman has mentioned, but they are in fact doing so, and the scheme is operating quite satisfactorily.
– Can the Government do anything on a federal basis?
– I do not know that there is any need to do anything on a federal basis, because, as far as 1 know, the present practice is quite satisfactory.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Deputy Premier of Western Australia has returned to Australia after a three months world tour as leader of a trade mission, and that he is reported to have said that British and American firms intend to establish industries worth millions of pounds in Western Australia? Will the right honorable gentleman advise the House whether State trade missions are planned in close liaison with the Commonwealth? Do they affect the operations of the Department of Trade and, finally, has the Government been asked, and is it prepared, to assist the Western Australian Government to establish overseas industrial organizations in that State as part of an essential developmental programme?
– All I know of this matter has been derived from newspaper reports. I have had no official communication about it. When such delegations go abroad from the States, it is their practice to ask us to extend, through our diplomatic and trade posts, the usual courtesies and any assistance they may require. We do this, of course, very willingly.
– I address a question to the Postmaster-General. Has any survey been made to ascertain the effects of television on the studying, reading and sporting activities of children? Is the Minister aware that many schoolteachers report that examination results are the worst in the history of the various schools, because children have neglected their study in order to view the many inferior films screened on television? Is he also aware that many children- are unable to stay awake in class because of the late hours they keep while watching television? If no such survey has been made, will the Minister take immediate action to have a comprehensive inquiry made into this matter, and will he have the results published so that parents may obtain factual information on the effects of television on the studying, reading and sporting activities of their children?
– The Government realizes the importance of keeping a close watch ofl the impact of television on the youth of the country. Consequently, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, acting on behalf of the Government, has arranged for surveys to be carried out of the matters referred to by the honorable member. The board, some considerable time ago, arranged with certain university research groups, particularly in Melbourne, which carry out research into various social problems, to investigate the impact of television generally on the children in Sydney and Melbourne who regularly view television programmes. An interim report was received some months ago. I cannot give the honorable member offhand the contents of the report, but I shall be glad to look it up and let him have a precis of the initial findings. These surveys are still going on, and the matter is regarded as of such importance that a contribution is made from the Australian Broadcasting Control Board’s funds to the groups that are carrying out this important work on behalf of the board.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether it is a fact that certain Citizen Military Force personnel have, in the past, been attached to the Australian Battalion Group in Malaya for short periods. In view of the valuable service experience gained under such conditions, will the Minister consider the continuation and expansion of this scheme for selected officers and non-commissioned officers while the Australian unit continues operations in this area?
– May I, first of all, say how much I do appreciate the help that the honorable member for Darling Downs gives to me in connexion with C.M.F. matters. This is an innovation. It is true that we have sent quite a number of young C.M.F. officers to Malaya for special training. Each command has participated and a special selection of young officers is made in each command. It is true that we are going to extend that as far as possible, because we have found that it is very valuable indeed for young officers to get experience in tropical and jungle warfare. The honorable member may be assured that we shall carry on the practice to the fullest extent possible.
– I direct a question to you, Sir. I ask whether police or other inquiries have disclosed the identity of the miscreant or off-side humourist who recently hung the flag of a foreign nation on the flagpole of this building? Have inquiries disclosed who was responsible for the recent removal of a painting from this building? Could you say what action has been taken to strengthen precautions here so that such incidents will not be repeated?
– The subject-matter of the honorable member’s question has been referred to the police, but up till now no detection has taken place.
– As numerous unofficial suggestions are current for the stabilization of wool prices, will the Minister for Primary Industry strenuously oppose on all occasions, any move to abolish, or to limit the scope of our auction system of wool sales, which is of proven major importance in the marketing of our most valuable product?
– I agree with the honorable gentleman that the auction system has been of inestimable value to this country. I, personally, would take a great deal of persuading before I would agree to a change in that system. The honorable gentleman would, no doubt, like to know that no major wool-growing organization has submitted to me any proposal that the auction system be changed.
– I ask the
Postmaster-General whether it is a fact that his department has entered into an agreement with four private companies in respect of the supply and installation of private automatic branch exchanges and the wiring and connexion of instruments to those exchanges. Is it also a fact that this work was previously performed by the Postal Department and that, under the terms of the agreement, the department has relinquished a proved and lucrative business having a turnover of £1,000,000 per annum, without receiving any consideration in return? Has the installation fee for these units been increased since the companies took over, and does the Minister consider this issue to be one more example of this Government’s sell-out of public assets?
– Replying first to the last question asked by the honorable member, the answer is, “ No “. The action that has been taken in this regard does not amount to a selling out of governmental interests. The Government has not at any time sold out interests in the way suggested by the honorable member for Hughes. Explanations have been made in this House as to the sound policy pursued by the Government in any matter which comes under this heading. The installation of what we call P.A.B.X. exchanges in large buildings is a subject concerning which I made a lengthy statement at least twelve months ago, explaining the reasons for the department’s action. I shall recapitulate the various aspects. There were large numbers of applications from firms for P.A.B.X. installations which would have entailed capital expenditure by the department in excess of the fair share of the amount available to the Postal Department for all its capital works. The installation of those exchanges would have delayed other essential works.
The honorable member for Hughes is very insistent about the need for new telephone services in his own electorate, and claims that such work should receive more consideration. If that claim is justified, and if the honorable member makes it sincerely, as I believe he does, he should acclaim any action that we take to provide a proper proportion of the funds available for capital works for telephone services as distinct from P.A.B.X. installations. As what may be termed a compromise, in order to ensure that business firms that require them may obtain these large installations, some of which cost as much as £50,000, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department arranged with about four reputable firms to produce this equipment and to enter into better arrange ments, on a basis to be determined by the department, under which the equipment will be either purchased by the business requiring it or else leased from the manufacturing company. Any such installation, of course, is subject to departmental investigation, supervision and maintenance, and the subscriber is subject to a certain rental or charge commensurate with the work done by the department.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether the Australian Broadcasting Commission has surveyed the possibilities of using television for educational purposes in schools. I ask the question because of the obvious and growing need to find a means of supplementing teaching staffs in order to maintain Australian standards of education.
– The great value inherent in television for the dissemination of information, and particularly for education, is realized by the Government and its instrumentalities. Therefore, investigations and inquiries into the use of this medium for educational purposes have been made. The Australian Broadcasting Commission, for instance, is inquiring into the possibilities, and the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, during a recent visit overseas, investigated the use of television in the educational field in other countries. I am not in a position to inform the honorable member offhand of the result of these investigations, but I assure him that the matter is under consideration. I will see what detailed information I can get for him about the present state of the inquiries being made.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to the recent decision of the Graziers Federal Council that expanded research is necessary in the meat industry, and its proposals concerning the provision of funds for the purpose. Will the Minister say how far his consideration of these proposals has gone?
– I have been waiting for these proposals for at least two years. It is only in the last week or two that I have received them. So far, I have not been able to give them very detailed consideration, because they are complicated and require a great deal of thought. I have referred the problem to the Australian Agricultural Council, because that is the body that must make the preliminary decision before the Commonwealth takes action. I think the honorable gentleman will realize that it will not be possible for me to present any proposals to the Government before the House rises in a few weeks’ time.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Defence in his capacity as acting Minister for External Affairs. Is it a fact that the Prime Minister recently said at a press conference that Australia had no specific policy on the off-shore islands in the Formosa Strait? Is it a fact, also, that the Minister for External Affairs, while overseas, and the acting Minister shortly afterwards, stated that Australia’s policy on this matter was identical with that of the United States of America, in the sense that the Australian Government supports the efforts of the United States to ensure that there is no resort to force in any dispute over the Formosa Strait? Will the Minister say whether a policy was developed by the Australian Government between the time at which the Prime Minister’s press conference was held and the time at which the other two statements were made, or whether, in view of the fact that force is being used by both sides in the Formosa Strait, what was stated by the Minister for External Affairs and the acting Minister to be a policy is not a policy at all?
– It seems a little unfortunate if my colleague has to answer a question about a press conference of mine, so perhaps I might deal with this matter.
– The Minister for Defence is acting as the Minister for External Affairs.
– The question relates to a press conference at which the Minister was not present, nor, indeed, was the honorable member for Yarra. I was asked at the press conference, not whether we had some general policy on Quemoy and
Matsu, but whether we had formulated a specific policy. I said, “ What do you mean by a specific policy? “ The questioner then said, “ Well, do we favour retention of the islands by the Nationalists? “ I said, “ I have no comment to make on that”. I make that statement because it should be made quite clear that there has been a good deal of distortion on this matter. It happens that a verbatim note is taken of my press conferences.
The position was - and is - that the Government of Australia has said as little as possible publicly on a matter which it does not think will be assisted by a good deal of public discussion and public argument between governments, and agreements or disagreements freely expressed. The matter is too important for that. In point of fact, I have devoted an immense amount of time to this problem, both before the press conference and since. I have been in constant communication with the Minister for External Affairs. I have, in fact, been in communication with other responsible people in other governments, the whole idea being that we should endeavour by our communing with each other to secure two things, each of which was referred to very powerfully in a recent statement made by the President of the United States of America. The first is that there should be no encouragement to aggression as a means of establishing allegedly legal territorial claims. The President stated that. It is a proper statement. T believe it represents the common view of the entire civilized world. That appears to me to be a clear statement. The second was that, contingent upon or in consequence of that one, there should be, so far as possible, a settlement of all these matters by peaceful negotiation. That is now being tried in the conference at Warsaw, which we all hope will lead to some satisfactory result.
In the meantime, ideas that any of us might have, should, in my judgment - and I will stand on my own judgment in this matter - be expressed privately and, at this stage, confidentially to the people with whom we are concerned. Otherwise, we are going to promote a great debate on this matter - a debate which cannot help any solution in this case, because the whole problem that confronts the world is, first, how to secure peace; and second, how to avoid appeasement. This is a problem of immense delicacy. It is not to be assumed that the United States of America does not understand it or that the Government of the United Kingdom does not understand it. If I have any constructive ideas that may help on that matter, I like to put them directly to those great friends of ours.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. Is it true that alcoholism is grossly underestimated in importance as a disease, and that it is more widespread than tuberculosis or diabetes? Is it also a fact that while Canada has an Alcoholism Research Foundation established by act of parliament with funds appropriated by the legislature, in this country no nation-wide surveys have yet been done and public hospitals do not admit alcoholics for treatment? Would the honorable gentleman be prepared to investigate this situation and also the possibility of government financial assistance to the voluntary organization known as the Foundation for Research and Treatment of Alcoholism established in New South Wales to carry out this work in Australia?
– I think that we could usefully start off on a discussion of this matter only if we could begin with a definition of alcoholism. ‘ I am not aware of the position in Canada, and I would be extremely surprised to know that a public hospital refused to admit alcoholics for treatment. But I shall give some further consideration to the honorable gentleman’s question and let him have a considered reply.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army. Is it a fact that Colonel Ken Mackay, Army Personnel Administration Director, stationed at headquarters in Melbourne, has been, or is to be, transferred to another position? Is it a fact that this action arises from criticism by Colonel Mackay of service conditions, to which he attributed the lag in recruiting for the Regular Army? Is it a fact that the Minister called for a report in respect of Colonel Mackay’s alleged statements, and that it was as a result of action on a ministerial level that it was decided to transfer Colonel Mackay to other duties? Is it a fact that the Minister’s dictatorial attitude in this matter has led to a great deal of dissatisfaction in Army ranks?
– The question of the transfer of officers to their respective posts is a matter for the Chief of the General Staff and the Military Board. At this moment, I just cannot say what position Colonel Mackay occupies, but I do not interfere, unless a glaring irregularity takes place, with the movement of officers to positions for which they are best fitted. As to the honorable member’s other question-
– That is the interesting one.
– He calls me a dictatorial Minister and says that I am most unpopular. I suggest that he might make some inquiries about that and find out whether or not my popularity is O K.
– Can the Minister for Primary Industry give the House a picture of what is likely to happen to our export income, of which the primary industries produce over 80 per cent., if the Australian Labour party is ever given the opportunity to carry out the policy of land nationalization announced by the honorable member for East Sydney?
– Naturally, a question of that kind would take a great deal of time to answer, but it must be obvious that the honorable member for East Sydney has no historical sense and little knowledge of what has occurred in Soviet Russia as a result of the-
– I never advocated any such policy.
– You said you had a good giggle about it.
– I rise to order. Is the Minister entitled, under Standing Orders, to answer questions that merely result in the expression of his opinion on the matters put forward?
– The Minister is entitled to answer questions in his own style.
– I rise to order. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is permissible for a question based on a lie to be asked by a member and answered by a Minister.
– No point of order arises.
– I shall conclude by saying that I should have thought the experience of Soviet Russia in attempting to communize farms was so disastrous that no sensible person would ever wish to strike at the independence of farmers and the personal ownership of property used for rural production in this country. I am very glad that the honorable gentleman has asked this question, because I think it should be made clear to a great number of Australian rural producers just what the likely attitude of the Labour party would be if it ever again formed the government of this country.
– I ask the Prime Minister, who is also acting Treasurer, why he never persevered with the amendments to the Audit Act which auditors-general have advocated in their reports every year since 1952 and which he, himself, promised in November of that year. I ask him also why the Treasury has not yet presented for Parliament’s consideration the amendments which it promised the Auditor-General a year ago to have ready for the autumn session this year.
– I compliment the honorable member on his researches. I will have the matter pursued.
– Can I expect a reply?
– You always get a reply from me.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he will have investigations made into the degree of interference, probably caused by induction, between radio programmes on station 2CA and the Australian Broadcasting Commission station 2CY in Canberra. By way of explanation, the interference seems to occur when 2CY is operating on land line and 2CA is broadcasting direct. The Australian Broadcasting Commission programme comes in under 2CA at substantial strength and can clearly be heard.
– I shall be glad to have the matter raised bv the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory investigated by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board’s engineers. I thank thehonorable member for advising me of this trouble. He will realize, as will all honorable members, that from time to time certain difficulties arise, and it is the desire of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to assure top level service. Therefore, we like to have any reports of difficulties which occur so that action may be taken immediately to remedy the trouble. As the honorable member knows, the board’s engineers are extremely competent; and I am sure that their investigations will remedy the trouble he refers to.
– I preface my question to the Prime Minister and acting Treasurer by saying that from time to time criticisms have been directed against the Commonwealth for its failure to return sums to the States which are adequate. Is it not a fact that prior to the introduction of uniform taxation the States had to provide finance for unemployment relief, practically all hospitals, including mental hospitals, and also for social services, all of which is now provided in very large sums from the National Welfare Fund? To what extent does this fact condition the total amount of Commonwealth grants now made to the States as a return of a proportion of the national income to the States?
– It is entirely true that since the period of time at which the States levied their own income tax, that is to say since before uniform tax was established, there has been an acceptance by the Commonwealth Government, whatever side has been in office, of responsibilities on a large scale which were once treated as entirely within the domain of the States. To work out how far that has gone or what monetary value is to be attached to any of these matters is, of course, something I cannot do offhand. I will find out whether it is possible, without undue occupation of time within the department, to obtain that information. If it requires extensive analysis and research, I will have to consider whether it is worth while making the investigation.
– In view of the question asked a few moments ago by the honorable member for Barker, I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to Standing Order 144, which reads -
Questions should not contain -
Questions should not ask Ministers - (a) for an expression of opinion.
– If that standing order were observed, there would be no questions at all in this House.
– Mr. Speaker, my question is being directed to you, and your opinion is all that I desire. In future, will this standing order be ignored?
– When any question is asked which, in the opinion of the Chair, seeks an expression of opinion or a comment, it is ruled out of order.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act relating to the stabilization of the wheat industry.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill contains the framework of a stabilization scheme for the Australian wheat industry for a third five-year period. In 1948 the Commonwealth and the States, with the approval of the industry at a ballot of growers, passed legislation to provide for the first five years’ stabilization plan. In 1954 the current plan, which is due to terminate with the marketing of the 1957-58 wheat crop, was submitted to growers at a poll and approved by them. The complementary Commonwealth-State legislation necessary to make the plan effective was then passed.
The proposed plan provided for in the bill is in essentials in line with the existing one. It has been negotiated with all State Ministers of Agriculture in the Australian
Agricultural Council and with the Select Committee of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation representing the wheat-growing industry. While it does not fully meet the requests of the industry on all points, it goes a long way towards doing so.
The great value to the industry of the stabilization scheme now proposed is that it will ensure to wheat-growers generally for five years ahead, a guaranteed minimum price for up to about 160,000,000 bushels each year, commencing with the 1958-59 crop year. The Commonwealth guarantee will apply on up to 100,000,000 bushels of wheat exported, and the State legislation will provide for a home-consumption price for wheat sold in Australia for human consumption and as stock feed for the dairy, pig and poultry industries. In a normal year, about 60,000,000 bushels of wheat are sold within Australia for these purposes. A guarantee of security of this nature so far ahead would be of inestimable value at any time, but never more valuable to the industry than now, when huge wheat stocks are on hand in the world. It is reliably estimated that when the harvesting of the 1958 Northern Hemisphere wheat crops is complete, the total wheat stocks held in various countries will represent the equivalent of world requirements for well over two years ahead.
If it were not for the operation of the stabilization plan and’ the existence of an orderly marketing authority in the form of the Australian Wheat Board, which goes hand in hand with the plan, the outlook of our wheat-growers and their families, and also of the many other people who are dependent upon the wheat industry to varying degrees, would be vastly different from what it is to-day, notwithstanding other developments not directly linked with stabilization but nevertheless important to it.
I want to emphasize various actions of the Government designed to promote sales of Australian wheat and1 flour on overseas markets, and to maintain a healthy export trade in these products - a trade so important to the welfare of the Australian economy. The Government has been active in negotiating for assured overseas markets for wheat and flour. Worthwhile agreements have already been concluded with the United Kingdom, Japan, Malaya and Ceylon, and further possibilities arc being examined. The agreement with the United Kingdom provides in effect a guaranteed market each year for 28,000,000 bushels of wheat as wheat and flour. The agreement with Japan protects the opportunity for Australia to supply at least 7,500,000 bushels annually to that country. Malaya has agreed to assure Australia the opportunity to supply at least 80,000 tons of flour, and 14,000 tons of wheat in each year of the agreement. Ceylon has agreed to purchase 11,000 tons of Australian flour in the remaining months of 1958, and 100,000 tons of Australian flour in each of the years 1959 and 1960. I mention that one ton of flour equals a little more than 50 bushels of wheat and that one ton of wheat equals about 37) bushels. With the world wheat marketing situation as it is, and with the future of the International Wheat Agreement fluid at this stage, these bilateral arrangements assume enormous importance to us as a nation.
In addition to the agreements I have mentioned to protect the markets for Australian wheat and flour, every opportunity has been taken at international meetings to fight for the principles of fair and non-discriminatory trade. As efficient and relatively low cost producers, Australian wheat growers must benefit if unfair subsidies and non-commercial transactions can be eliminated from the world trade in wheat, or even substantially reduced.
With the knowledge that in the present highly competitive world marketing conditions each product must help to sell itself on its own merits, the Government has given special attention to the problem of wheat quality. Legislation passed by this Parliament some time ago provided for the establishment of a central Wheat Industry Research Council and1 for research committees in each of the wheat growing States. Wheat research activities in Australia are being intensified with the aid of finance contributed partly by the Government and partly by the industry itself. In addition, voluntary wheat production and wheat marketing committees were set up some time ago to examine the wheat quality and type requirements of the domestic and overseas markets and the production potential of the Australian wheat growing areas to meet those requirements. A comprehensive report of the results of these investigations is expected to be available shortly.
I trust that honorable members will forgive me for mentioning these matters which are, in fact, supplementary to stabilization rather than actually part of a stabilization plan. No stabilization plan could function successfully for very long unless it was supported by a satisfactory product and efficient marketing and sales promotion methods.
This bill repeals the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act of 1954. It is thought better to have a new act to implement the new plan rather than to make a large number of amendments to the earlier legislation. This will enable the plan to be outlined in a self-contained act and to be more easily understood. May I now outline the main features of the plan on which the Commonwealth and State governments and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation have agreed? They are -
Size of the fund: The ceiling of the stabilization fund is estimated at £20,000,000. Any excess beyond this figure will be returned to growers on the “ first-in-first-out “ principle.
Balance in present Wheat Stabilization Fund: The balance remaining in the fund at the termination of the present plan will be carried forward to the new plan as the nucleus of a new stabilization fund.
Use of the Stabilization Fund: When the average export realizations fall below the guaranteed return, the deficiency will be made up, first by drawing upon the stabilization fund, in respect of up to 100,000j000 bushels of wheat from each crop. When the fund is exhausted, the Commonwealth will meet its obligations under the guarantee.
These are the main features of the new plan. They follow closely those of the current stabilization scheme.
As I mentioned earlier, the wishes of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation have been substantially met in the new plan proposals. Following its original offer to the industry of a new stabilized plan, the Australian Agricultural Council, at the request of the federation, gave further consideration to two items related to the guaranteed return and the home-consumption price. The first item was the use in the costs of production formula of a yield divisor of 15.5 bushels per acre. The federation considered that 14.8 bushels should be substituted. The federation’s second request was that a higher margin of profit should be included in the base home-consumption price to increase it above 14s. 6d. per bushel. The Australian Agricultural Council did not agree to either request.
At the request of “the .Australian Agricultural Council and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, an industry survey was carried out by the Division of Agricultural Economics. This survey revealed fundamental changes in the structure of the wheat-growing industry in recent years. Smaller and more selective acreages, the use of modern machinery and equipment, the increased application of fertilizers, the use of ley farming practices and wider rotations have been responsible for improved production results. The Agricultural Council considered that to take an average yield for the next five years below 15.5 bushels per acre would be unrealistic.
The cost of production formula has been liberalized in some important respects for the purposes of the new plan. The industry now receives the benefit of fair market values for land, improvements and stock which results in a substantially higher allowance to the farmer for interest on the total capital value of his property. Previously, only security value was allowed for. In respect of depreciation, as in the previous formula the rather generous assumption is made that farmers regularly replace their depreciable assets over time according to the rates of depreciation allowed. All such assumed additions to assets are valued at currently ruling prices. In practice, farmers frequently extend the life of such items as fences, buildings and dams considerably through continuing repairs and maintenance which are themselves allowed as annual costs. Thirdly, the owner-operator allowance has been raised to £1,040 per annum for 1958-59 and will be subject to adjustments beyond that date in accordance with arbitration wage decisions. Again, the labour of the farmer’s family is costed at award rates whether or not they were in fact paid at such rates. Having regard to these and other items, I think it can fairly be said that the guaranteed return is a reasonably generous one.
The Australian Agricultural Council declined to agree to the federation’s request for the inclusion of a higher profit margin in the home-consumption price. The council did agree, however, that it would examine the federation’s proposal again before the 1959-60 wheat season commences.
The Select Committee of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation has since accepted in its entirety the new stabilization plan provided in the bill. When advising its acceptance of the plan, the committee indicated that the federation did not require a ballot of growers, and requested that all governments should proceed to legislate for the plan as soon as possible. The State Ministers for Agriculture were unanimous in the view that wheat-growers in their respective States were so anxious for stabilization to continue that there would be no point in conducting a poll.
It is with this background of full support from all Australian governments and the wheat industry leaders that this bill is presented to the House. It will preserve an efficient marketing organization and give the wheat-growers of Australia confidence that they will get a fair return for the wheat they grow in the next five years. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
– I move -
– (1.) That in this Resolution, unless the con trary intention appears - “ prescribed “ mean prescribed by regulations under the Act; “ season “, in relation to wheat, mean the period of twelve months, commencing on the first day of October, during which the wheat was harvested; “ the Act “ mean the Act passed to give effect to this Resolution; “ the Board “ mean the Australian Wheat Board proposed to be continued in existence by the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill 1958; “ the guaranteed price “ have the same meaning as that expression has in the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill 1958; “ wheat products “ mean a substance (other than bran or pollard) produced by the gristing, crushing, grinding, milling or other processing of wheat, and include -
Charge on export of wheat and wheat products.
Rate of the Charge.
– (1.) That the charge be not payable in respect of wheat of a particular season exported by the Board unless the average price per bushel, expressed in Australian currency, obtained by the Board for all wheat of that season exported by the Board exceeds the guaranteed price, and that the rate of the charge per bushel in respect of any such wheat be -
Payment of the Charge.
Sales by Board for export.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. McMahon and Mr. Harold Holt do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. McMahon, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill covers a particular aspect of the new wheat industry stabilization arrangements. It is complementary to the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill and gives effect to the Commonwealth’s part of the new stabilization plan.
It is a requirement of the stabilization plan that in times when wheat export prices are high, growers will contribute moneys which will be used for the benefit of the industry when prices are low. These moneys will accumulate in a stabilization fund and will then be used to meet the guaranteed return on export wheat. If the fund proves inadequate the Commonwealth then has the responsibility of meeting the guarantee on export wheat to the extent that the fund is not sufficient to do so.
The wheat-growing industry agreed to this principle some years ago and still regards the arrangement as a fair sharing of the risk by growers and the Commonwealth.
The bill imposes a charge on wheat exported from Australia. The charge will be paid to the extent that the export price exceeds the guaranteed price, but at no time can it be higher than the maximum rate of1s. 6d. per bushel provided in the bill. The present bill follows the lines of the 1954 act. It will apply to the 1958-59 wheat harvest and to the four crops that follow it. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to establish a Dairy Produce Research Trust Account and a Dairy Produce Sales Promotion Fund, and for purposes connected therewith.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Dairy Produce Export Control Act 1924-1954.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Re-establishment and Employment Act 1945-1956, as amended by the Reestablishment and Employment Act 1958, and for purposes incidental thereto.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill needs very little explanation. Its purpose is to extend for a further period the entitlement to preference in employment, which ex-servicemen of World War II., and certain others, have enjoyed under the Re-establishment and Employment Act.
Honorable members will recall that preference was originally granted for a period of seven years after the cessation of hostilities of World War II. This period ended on 2nd September, 1952. The legislation has already been extended on two occasions by bills introduced by this Government. The Government has decided to extend the legislation until 30th June, 1960.
The operative provision in clause 3 of the bill will be ante-dated to 2nd September, 1958, which was the date of expiry of the existing provisions. Clause 4 is designed to guard against any possible injustice arising from this retroactivity. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Tradesmen’s Rights Regulation Act 1946-1955.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This is a bill to amend the Tradesmen’s Rights Regulation Act 1946-1955.
This act was first passed in 1946. It dealt with the situation which resulted from the operation during the war of the agreements for the dilution of skilled labour made with the engineering and other unions concerned. There was, at the same time, the problem of the orderly introduction into trades where this dilution had occurred of those ex-servicemen who qualified for training under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. The act contained regulatory provisions giving to “ recognized tradesmen “, including exservicemen, a measure of preference in employment in the skilled trades to which the act applied. Provision was made for a system of central and local trades committees which had power, amongst other things, to issue certificates to those who satisfied the criteria of “ recognized tradesmen “ provided for in the legislation.
It was, of course, never intended that this legislation should operate indefinitely.
Primarily the legislation was concerned to protect the tradesmen who had given up something of their traditional status and position to aid the more effective prosecution of the war - but to protect them after the war in a transition period that was expected to present special employment problems, and against the competition of the dilutees brought into the trade during the war. So, the 1946 act was expressed to have the same life as the preference provisions of the Re-establishment and Employment Act, which had somewhat similar protection objectives.
Things worked out rather differently from what had been anticipated. I mention two points only. First, all the feared unemployment of the post-war transition did not materialize. Second, we embarked on the massive migration programme, and that meant the arrival of many tradesmen. It was against this background that, when in 1952 the act was due to expire, the Parliament decided instead to extend it, but with some changes. Shortly, what was done was as follows: The rights of “ recognized tradesmen “ were modified so as to restore greater freedom to the employer in relation to engagements and dismissals. The dilutees, or added tradesmen, who had worked as such for not less than seven years, were given tradesmen’s status. Provision was made for the entry into the trades of Korea and Malaya veterans. But the most notable of the amendments was that which enabled the machinery of the act to be used for the assimilation of tradesmen migrants. The local trades committees were empowered to grant a “ recognized tradesman’s “ certificate to a migrant when they were satisfied that he qualified in his own country for employment in one of the dilution trades and possessed the skill necessary for the performance in Australia of the work of a recognized tradesman.
Criteria were subsequently worked out by the central trades committees in consultation with my department for the selection of migrant tradesmen abroad, including trade testing, which ensure that migrants will be accepted as tradesmen on arrival here. The problem was, of course, that in some overseas countries tradesmen are trained differently from the normal Australian method of apprenticeship. The problem was to equate the methods used elsewhere to Australian methods. Throughout, the purpose was to avoid any lowering of our trade standards. By and large, the arrangements made have worked extraordinarily well. They have done much to allay the fears of governments of countries of emigration, and of the migrants themselves, as to their acceptance for work at their trades here, and have avoided obvious difficulties which could have arisen if some such arrangement had not been made.
I am bound to say that the present machinery under the act is largely devoted to dealing with migrants. There are, of course, some veterans who are still being trained. In addition, arrangements were recently made by the central committees to extend tradesmen status to members of the Permanent Forces, who receive trade training in the forces. We need to validate this, and I will return to it later.
There is one other general observation that I would like to make about this legislation. [Quorum formed.] It is that, throughout, we have been able to get a high degree of co-operation among the Government, the employers’ organizations and the trade unions concerned, in the administra-tion of the legislation, and of agreement about the provisions of the legislation as extended from time to time. Much the same spirit has been evident in the lengthy discussions my department has been having with the parties as to what should be the future of this legislation. In this current case, there was finally only one point of real difference between the employers and the unions, and this the . Government has resolved in a way which I hope will commend itself to all concerned.
I come now to what this bill proposes to do. In the first place, it proposes to continue the existing machinery of central and local committees which will have authority to issue tradesman’s certificates in respect of those who satisfy the criteria provided for in the legislation. This will mean that it will be possible for the good work that is now being done, particularly in respect of the assimilation of migrant tradesmen, to continue. All parties have agreed that this machinery should be kept. There will be no time limit on the operation of the provisions that are involved in this.
Secondly, the bill extends the range of people who can be given tradesman’s certificates to cover those men in the permanent forces who have received trade training during their terms of service. This will confirm legislatively the practice which has been followed by the trades committees for some little time now.
The third main matter that the bill deals with is the matter of preference in engagement and dismissal, which, until now, the legislation has given to “ recognized tradesmen “. As I remarked before, this preference was somewhat cut down in 1952.’ It is in relation to this preference point that there was the disagreement between the employers and the unions in the recent discussions with my department. As I have said before, nobody disputes that it was not intended that the rights conferred by this legislation should run on indefinitely. After a good deal of discussion between the department and the employers and the unions, it was agreed that, in future, the provisions of the act relating to preference to “ recognized tradesmen !’ in engagement and dismissal should only operate in respect of those who were “ recognized tradesmen “ on 2nd September last. But on their side, the unions wanted this provision to run on indefinitely, whereas the employers said that it should terminate at the end of next year.
As is well known to honorable members, there has been a tendency in the past to associate decisions affecting the future of the preference provisions of the Reestablishment and Employment Act with decisions affecting the Tradesmen’s Rights Regulation Act. As the Government has now decided that the preference provisions of the Re-establishment Act will be extended until 30th June, 1960, it has also decided that the preference given by the Tradesmen’s Rights Act to tradesmen, in respect of engagement and dismissal, shall run on until the same date.
In short, what this means is that those who were “ recognized tradesmen “ on 2nd September last will continue to have the preference that they enjoyed under the old tradesmen’s rights legislation, against all who are not “ recognized tradesmen “. until 30th June. 1960. Those who get tradesmen’s certificates after 2nd September last will not. however, have any rights to preference under this act. In other words, the situation for them from now on, and for all tradesmen as from 30th June, 1960, will be precisely what it was before the dilution agreements were initiated in 1940. Nobody can justly complain that these proposals are unreasonable. The legislation conferring rights on tradesmen was originally limited to seven years. In fact, it will, for all practical purposes, have run for more than fifteen years.
There is one further point for which the bill provides. It relates to the powers of the central committee. In the first place, the bill makes clear that the central committees do have power to give the sort of directions to local committees that they have been accustomed to give. This is just a confirmatory provision. In the second place, since the bill provides for continuing legislation, the Government has felt it desirable that there should be provisions which give the central committees power to cope with developing circumstances, rather than make it necessary for further amendments to be submitted to the Parliament from time to time. So it is provided that a central committee may enlarge the categories of persons to whom tradesmen’s certificates may be granted. I can illustrate the need for that in this way. Only quite recently, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) brought to my attention the cases of a number of men in his electorate who have been working at a trade for very many years, but have not been given recognition as tradesmen because of the specific provisions of the legislation.
Under the bill’s proposals, it will be possible for the relevant central committee to consider whether cases such as those brought up by the honorable member for Bendigo should be cases where tradesman’s certificates should be issued. I do not know whether the central committee will do so or not. We have entrusted the question of issuing tradesman’s certificates to committees composed of representatives of the employers’ organizations and unions concerned, with a departmental chairman. These committees should, after all, be in the best position to deal with matters like this. It will be the employers and the unions, and they only, who shall determine whether tradesman’s certificates shall be granted to other classes of persons, because the bill provides that, in effect, the departmental chairman shall have no vote when such decisions are being taken. And since it is somewhat unusual - though I think the circumstances in this case provide a perfect justification for it - for a bill to provide, in effect, for a body outside the Parliament to enlarge the scope of the legislation, 1 point out that the measure provides also that any decision of this sort by a central committee shall not be operative without the prior approval of the Ministers. I only need to add that the bill also removes some redundant provisions from the present legislation, provides a minor extension of the grounds for giving tradesman’s certificates in the boilermaking trades, which was asked for by the union and agreed to in the discussions I have mentioned, and makes some minor amendments of a consequential nature, I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 20th August (vide page 540), on motion by Mr. Townley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The purpose of this bill is to authorize the raising of loan moneys totalling £35,800,000 for the purpose of providing finance to the States under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Of this amount, £25,067,000 will go to the State housing authorities, whilst £10,743,000 will go to building societies and other approved institutions. This represents an increase of almost £4,000,000 in the amount allocated to building societies last year but, on the other hand, almost £1,500,000 less than was allocated to the State housing authorities last year. The reduction in the allocation to State housing authorities is to be deplored. This bill will certainly increase the difficulties of the States in providing homes for people in the lower income groups. It has become fashionable in recent years - in fact in recent weeks, in this House - to make slighting and sneering references to State housing authorities and to state that they cannot do the job as efficiently as private enterprise. Somebody has even suggested that the States should vacate the sphere of house-building altogether and leave it to private enterprise. I was glad, yesterday, to hear the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) say, in reply to a question, that it is not the intention of this Government to bring that about. But there are Government supporters who advocate this point of view and, in time, they might be able to exercise sufficient pressure on the Government to cause it to vacate entirely the housing field. If that ever comes about it will be most deplorable.
Private enterprise cannot provide for the needs of the lower income group in the community in as fair and as satisfactory a manner as do the State instrumentalities. I can speak with some authority concerning the housing commission in Victoria. That commission was empowered by the late Sir Albert Dunstan’s Government - a Country party government supported by the Labour party - to build dwellings for people who, by reason of their financial circumstances, were in need of housing assistance. In other words, the commission was authorized to assist people in the lower income group.
I cannot stress too strongly the point that housing commissions, in the main, alleviate the difficulties of people in the lower income group. I am afraid, after hearing the contributions of some Government supporters to this debate, that they entirely forget the existence of this section of the people. It is true that, in the early stages, housing commission houses were not the best kind of house. They were of the barrack type, and the rooms were very small. Their appearance was standardized. They caused quite a lot of dissatisfaction, not only amongst the people who went into them, but amongst people who lived in the surrounding areas. But that criticism cannot be directed at housing commission houses that have been built in Victoria in recent years.
Only recently, I spoke to some people who had just shifted into new housing commission houses in my electorate. I was intensely struck with the varied design of both the outside and the inside of the houses. They are well constructed and entirely modern in design. The interior decoration was well up to the standard of that of houses built by other authorities. But what was most satisfying to me was the sheer expressions of delight from the people who are buying them. When I mentioned to a couple of these new owners that Government members of the Commonwealth Parliament thought that the State governments should vacate the sphere of housing, they were very wrathful. They explained to me that they could never have afforded to buy a house other than through the housing commission, which requires a deposit of only £250. There is no private scheme in existence anywhere in Australia under which a person can get a house for a deposit of £250. Only the State housing authorities provide homes on such low deposits.
Not only do the housing commissions in the various States build homes that are very satisfactory for those fortunate enough to acquire them, but also those authorities are proceeding with slum clearance programmes. I can speak of the programme in Melbourne from personal knowledge. It is going ahead by leaps and bounds. Only yesterday, the Victorian Government, in its Budget for the current financial year, provided for the allocation for slum reclamation of ‘£500,000 of the funds being made available to that State under this measure. I should say that this provision will be hailed with delight by the people of Melbourne. Any one who has been to Collingwood, Carlton, Fitzroy and North Melbourne in the last year or two will have seen large areas where slums have been razed to the ground and excellent Housing Commission flats constructed in their place. This indicates the splendid job that the Victorian Housing Commission is doing. It is true that these flats are not of a luxury type, but there would be a lot of criticism if luxury flats were constructed by the commission. The flats being provided in Melbourne are of solid construction, and roomy, and they adequately meet the requirements of people who like flat life. The Victorian Government is contemplating slum reclamation schemes, in addition to those that I have already mentioned, in Brunswick, Collingwood, Fitzroy, North Melbourne, Northcote, Williamstown, South Prahran, South Melbourne and Port Melbourne. The formula adopted in this bill will not provide the Victorian Housing Commission with ample funds for these schemes, but slums in these suburbs will be a thing of the past when a progressive Commonwealth government provides ample funds for these purposes.
The Victorian Housing Commission has constructed 35,000 homes and home units at a cost of £84,000,000. These have helped to meet a great need in the community. However, the present rate of building by the commission is not appreciably reducing the housing shortage. On the contrary, despite the construction of 35,000 homes by the commission, the number of applications that it has on hand is increasing. In 1953, there was a waiting list of 11,000. In 1956, the waiting list was 12,000. I obtained the latest figures from the commission last Friday afternoon. The commission at one stage had 18,000 applications on its books, and it sent out a questionnaire in order to ascertain the number of genuine applicants who wanted their names to remain on the list. As a result, the list has been pruned to bedrock, and it now shows that the genuine applicants number 13,340. So that, over a period of five years, the number of applicants has increased by 2,340, for, as I have indicated, there were 11,000 on the waiting list in 1953.
I should say that most of the applicants for Housing Commission homes are people who have no other chance of getting homes. I should say that they are people whose circumstances are such that they can never accumulate, in the foreseeable future, enough money to pay a deposit on a home - even if the deposit required were only £200 or £250 - and their only hope of fulfilling their desires is to seek the help of the Housing Commission.
– What about the Home Finance Office?
– That meets a need, up to a point, but its funds are much more limited than are those of the Housing Commission. The Home Finance Office was launched with a fanfare of trumpets by the Victorian Premier some time ago. Many people found, on lodging applications with it, that they would have to wait for two years to get satisfaction. I myself made representations on behalf of a number of .people who had heard of the establishment of the office, and who had been told that their applications would be considered in due course. Many people are still waiting for their applications to be considered, after a delay of fifteen months. So the Home Finance
Office is not achieving wonders. On paper, its terms are not quite as good as those of the Housing Commission, because the deposits required are a little higher, but the terms are certainly better than those of any other authority except the commission. And there is still a long waiting list for assistance. Unless the Victorian Government can provide much more money tor the Home Finance Office, it will not be able to do the job required of it. In any event, in my opinion, the Housing Commission should get the greater share of the available funds. It has the necessary machinery, administrative and otherwise, the technical knowledge, and the experience of dealing with prospective tenants and owners. The commission is doing a firstrate job, and I see no reason why it should be pushed aside in favour of another body.
Two years ago, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945 came to an end. The new agreement that was then entered into differed in certain particulars. It provided that 20 per cent, of the money allocated to the States under the agreement should go to building societies for two years, and that for the next three years, beginning this financial year, the proportion should be 30 per cent. The allocation of so much of these funds specifically to co-operative building societies will accentuate the problem of people who want their own homes but have a verylimited income. I am not opposed to cooperative building societies. Indeed, I have shown a great deal of interest in several in the municipality to which I belong, and have taken some part in their affairs and helped some people to obtain finance from them. But I contend that the allocation to these bodies should have been additional to the funds provided for the housing commissions. It should not have been taken out of the allocation to the housing commissions, which is already too meagre. An additional allocation to co-operative building societies could have been made at no great sacrifice to anybody. As it is, the money has merely been taken from one pocket and put in another. Very few more houses will be built as a result, although there may be a few more, because the cooperative building societies require larger deposits than are- required by the housing commissions. Apart from this minor result, the present procedure will serve no useful purpose.
At this stage, I want, once again, categorically to nail the lie, which often emanates from people opposed to the Australian Labour party, that that party is opposed to home-ownership. At every stage of Labour’s political history, it has encouraged home-ownership. Members of the Australian Labour party in this Parliament, as representatives of the people, realize that the ambition of most Australians is to acquire their own homes. The pride of private possession, and the feeling on the part of a home-owner that he has a real stake in the community, have a very marked effect upon individual and national morale. 1 say now, as I have said a dozen times before in this chamber, that the Australian Labour party would give every family its; own home, if this were possible. Labour believes that every available means, both government and private, should be adopted: in order to enable people to achieve their heart’s desire and buy their own homes.
About three years ago, the housing commissions adopted a plan for the sale of homes to tenants. Under the 1945 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, tenants of housing commission homes could buy the homes that they occupied, but not-, on such easy terms as were agreed upon.* three years ago. Under the new scheme, housing commission homes may be bought on deposits as low as £100, although, inmost instances, the deposits amount to- £250 or £300. In Victoria, Mr. DeputySpeaker, housing commission homes arebeing bought on deposits of £100. Private enterprise cannot provide houses at suchlow deposits. Only government instrumentalities can do it.
– No deposit is required’ for a housing department dwelling in Tasmania.
– I am glad to hear that. It is a very desirable state of affairs. But deposits of even £200 or £250 are not excessive.
– They are reasonable.
– That is so. A married manwith two or three children, who has not been able to save much before marriage, and who- receives a wage of £15 or £16 s- week, cannot, with prevailing living costs, save enough to pay a deposit of £800 or £1,000 to buy a home through a cooperative building society or some other kind of housing society. No other class of housing authority will accept deposits as low as those required by the housing commissions. This scheme has given complete satisfaction to thousands of people, and I cannot understand why this Government claims that the housing commissions should spend less.
As a matter of fact, this is a time when we should be building more houses, but because this Government has a fetish that everything should be left to private enterprise, and because it does not believe that any good purpose can flow from any State authority, it believes that home ownership through a government instrumentality should not be encouraged. Supporters of the Government believe that the less we can do from that point of view the better, even though the housing commissions are providing houses for persons who could not get one otherwise.
I cannot understand the logic of the Government supporters, because we must realize that there are many persons in the community who will never be in a position to buy a home. We have to make provision for those who can buy only on a small deposit as required by the housing commissions, and for those who cannot buy a home at all. We must ensure that that section of the community has attention. Before the depression, homes could be rented for about one-fifth or one-quarter of a worker’s income. A home could be rented for 20s. to 25s. a week, but after the depression, private enterprise did not cater for the lower-paid workers with properties that could be rented. As a matter of fact, private enterprise vacated the field of home building after the depression. There were many reasons for that change which were acceptable from the point of view of private enterprise, but the result was that a vacuum was created. That was the reason why the Housing Commission was established in Victoria about 1937, by the Country party government supported by the Labour party. I strongly suspect that it was done at the behest of the Labour party. The government had to fill the vacuum, and that is why we have in Victoria now a State housing authority.
We must recognize that while private enterprise is not in a position or a frame of mind to provide rented premises for the lower income group, somebody else has to do it. Only government authorities can do that. There is a need in this community for an acceleration of both housing commission and co-operative building society activities. They should not operate as rivals, but should run together in double harness, because they are both serving a very useful purpose for the benefit of the most deserving sections of the community. Cooperative building societies have a splendid and proud record in providing homes, but unfortunately their rules provide for a deposit of £800 or £1,000, and many persons in the lower income group cannot find that money. There must be realization of the fact that the accumulation of £800 is beyond tens of thousands of persons who are seeking homes. The allocation of money for building societies this year is to be increased. Last year, 80 per cent, of the allocation went to State housing commissions, but this year they are to receive only 70 per cent. The reduction of the allocation will cause grave distress to many persons whose only hope of securing a house rests with the housing commissions.
I direct the attention of honorable members to the annual report of the Housing Commission of Victoria for 1956-57, which is the latest available. Reference was made in the report to the new housing agreement, and I cite this report to show how the number of houses to be erected by the Housing Commission in Victoria will be reduced. The report stated -
The new agreement has resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of housing units constructed by the Commission and after making provision for the allocation to the Services of 242 units, resulted in a net total of 2,338 units being available to eligible families as compared with 4.152 in the previous year.
In other words, about 1,800 fewer houses were to be built. That was bad enough, but this year, instead of 20 per cent, being taken by co-operative housing societies, they will receive 30 per cent. Therefore, it is safe to say that, for the Housing Commission in Victoria with 13,340 waiting and only 1,800 or 1,900 homes to be built, the situation will be aggravated. Is this a positive contribution to the housing problem when the
Housing Commission in Victoria, with a long waiting list, will have to build fewer houses?
In Victoria, unfortunately, the housing situation has deteriorated. Eviction notices granted by the courts are increasing. Every week when I go home, I can be sure that two or three unfortunate citizens will come to my door and tell me that they have been served with an eviction order granted by the court giving them a few weeks or months to get out. They have been to the housing commission. They have had their names on the list for a year or eighteen months, but they are told by the commission that they have no chance of getting a home for at least three years from the date of their application. Until a few years ago, emergency housing was provided in Victoria. I admit that it was not of the best type. I do not approve of Camp Pell or Fawkner Park, but those emergency housing settlements did provide some temporary accommodation until the occupants could acquire housing commission houses. Now, there is no temporary accommodation and the commission is building fewer houses than ever.
The position has deteriorated in two ways. Because the State Housing Commission cannot accommodate people, their goods and chattels can be put on the footpath and the commission cannot even find them accommodation. This is a dreadful state of affairs in a civilized community. While eviction orders are increasing in Victoria, the number of houses built by the Housing Commission is decreasing. The complacency of this Government towards housing is fantastic. Despite reminders by social workers, building industry executives and State housing Ministers, this Government contends that the position is well in hand. I cite the opinion, not of a member of the Labour party, but the Minister for Housing in Victoria, Mr. Petty, a member of the Victorian Liberal Government. As Minister for Housing, he has directed the attention of the Commonwealth Government to the housing position, particularly in Victoria. He has been worried about the increasing number of persons who want homes that he cannot supply. This report appeared last week in the Melbourne “ Herald “-
The Minister for Housing, Mr. Petty, called on the Federal Treasury to-day to make money available through the Commonwealth Bank to finance an Australia-wide house building program . . .
The only reason there was a housing shortage to-day was that the building industry and people wanting to build or buy houses could not borrow money.
The Federal Treasury should be realistic in its approach to the house-building problem.
Experienced builders and an abundance of materials were available.
But house-building was being held up because the public could not get money to build or buy and co-operative housing societies were starved of funds, Mr. Petty said.
Financial organizations would not lend money for housing when there were more lucrative fields of investment such as hire purchase and other public companies.
The Federal Treasury should release immediately special funds to be restricted to house-building for the people, especially those in the lower income group.
The Liberal Minister in the State Government of Victoria has added his voice in protest against the meagre amounts of money that are doled out for housing. If the Government is not prepared to take notice of members of the Opposition in this House, surely it should take notice of the man who has been entrusted by the Liberal Government in Victoria to deal with the housing problem. From that statement by Mr. Petty, it is quite obvious that the Victorian Liberal Government is entirely dissatisfied with the Commonwealth Government’s approach to the whole housing problem.
I should like to understand the extraordinary frame of mind of the Government in relation to housing, because the figures issued from year to year show a marked diminution in the number of houses being built. All the factors point to the need for an ever-increasing number of houses. In 1952, 79,000 houses were constructed, and in 1955, 78,000. In 1956 the number took a nose dive to 70,000. In the year ended 31st December, 1957, 67,000 were constructed. Over a period of five years, from 1952 to 1957, the number of houses erected annually dropped by 12,000, despite the fact that the population had increased in that period by 800,000. Our population is now increasing, by immigration and by natural increase, at the rate of 2.5 per cent, per annum. The important fact that is apparently overlooked by the Government, in its complacence over these alarming figures, is that age groups that will be seeking homes will increase at a greater rate in the next ten years. The numbers in the age group from 20 to 24 years will increase in ten years by 55 per cent.
These are the facts that are facing the Government. It can verify these figures from the Commonwealth Statistician, if it disbelieves me. At present, there are 1,400 marriages each week, but only 1,300 houses and flats are built each week. Immigration is proceeding at the rate of 1,660 a week, and deaths number 1,800 a week. Babies are being born at the rate of 4,000 a week. Therefore, it requires no great mental effort to realize that the present rate of construction is altogether inadequate. The problem will become even more acute in the next decade, because of the increase in the numbers of persons in the marriageable age group.
Knowing these facts, the Government should have made plans to meet the state of emergency. Construction should have been stepped up by a mobilization of men and material. But what do we find? In June, 1951, 123,000 people were employed in the building trade, but in June. 1958, the number had fallen to 117,000. The incontrovertible fact emerges that there has not been an increase in the number of workers in the building industry, quite apart from any increase commensurate with the large increase in the work force generally throughout the community. The proportion of the value of new private dwellings constructed to the value of fixed capital equipment produced each year has declined. In 1948-49, the percentage was 22 per cent.; in 1951-52, 23 per cent.; in 1953-54, 23 per cent.; and in 1956-57 it was 20 per cent. From whatever angle one looks at this subject, there is an unanswerable argument that the construction of new houses has lagged in recent years.
What are the future requirements? At present, even Government members admit that there is a shortage of 100,000 houses. The latest figures show that the number of houses constructed this year will be between 67,000 and 70,000. The current rate of demand is 53,000. Taking into account the increase in numbers in the marriageable age group, it is estimated that the current demand will be 60,000 in 1961, 65.000 in 1965, and 80,000 in 1970.
Surely the Government, recognizing these facts, should have made efforts during the last three or four years to reduce the lag, because even when the lag is reduced we shall have a man-sized problem on our hands in meeting future requirements. When any suggestion has been made for additional money to be channelled into the building industry, the Government has advanced two main reasons for saying that that is not possible. The first is that any increase in money would mean a rise in labour and material costs, that is, that an inflationary position would develop. The second is that an acceleration of home building to clear up the backlag would weaken the future position of the building industry. That is a unique argument that I have heard advanced by some honorable members opposite.
I want to answer those two contentions by saying, first, that the decline in the general level of employment, brought about in the main by a decrease in our income from overseas exports, gives an opportunity to plan for an increase in home construction. This will not bring an increase in wages. Sufficient men are available, because there is at present unemployment of fairly large dimensions in the building industry. Secondly, on the testimony of Mr. Petty, ample material is available, and there will be no decrease in that amount. In 1952, during an inflationary period, we built almost 80,000 houses. This year when, we are told, the inflationary trend has been arrested, we shall build 67,000. Surely we could attempt to reach the 1952 figure, as from two points of view conditions are better now. According to Government spokesmen, inflation has been arrested, and men and material are available.
What is required is a national approach to cover present and future requirements. It is high time that the Government gave attention to this problem, instead of drifting along from year to year, cutting down allocations to Government authorities, and making appeals to private authorities to lend additional money. I read recently in the press that £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 had been granted by private banks for homebuilding purposes. But that is only looking at the problem, not tackling it.
– Is that for the whole of Australia?
– I think the figure will be £4,000,000 for the whole of the Commonwealth. It is only begging the question. In support of a national plan, I submit for the consideration of the House, first, that the housing problem is still a vital issue. The number of people requiring homes is still as high as ever. Secondly, there will be a rapidly expanding demand for new houses in the immediate future, because of the increase in population and the increase in the mimer in the marriageable age group during the next five or ten years. Thirdly - this is a most important factor - if immigration continues at the rate of 1 per cent, per annum, the work force will increase from 3,940,000 in June, 1957, to 5,370,000 in June, 1967. That increase of 35 per cent, in the work force will have a dual effect upon housing. It will provide labour for an expanding housing programme, and it will set up a demand for a steadily increasing number of houses from those who constitute the work force. The correct course for the Government to adopt is to build to meet both the current and the prospective demand, and also to make up the shortage over a reasonable period. I put it to the Government that the lag should be entirely overcome within the next five years. If that is not done by 1962, formidable problems will face whatever government is in office in its attempts to deal with housing. The Government’s duty is clear. This bill is only tinkering with one of Australia’s greatest social problems. If the Government wishes to come to grips with it, it has to do far more than introduce a nominal bill of this character. It must do something far more practical. This bill will have the effect of reducing the amount available to State housing authorities with which to build houses for people in the lower income groups. It will make the position of the housing commissions untenable. It will also aggravate bad feeling existing within families which is largely due to the fact that they cannot obtain homes.
I suggest that if we allow the present system to be perpetuated we will only cause a worsening of the social problems in the community. All honorable members will have had experience of cases of broken homes. The wife and a couple of children may be living with her mother, or the husband and a couple of children may be living with his parents. I know of several cases of that kind. But this bill will not improve that position. The housing problem strikes at the very root of family and social life. I hope that the Government will realize that this is not a problem which can be tackled by pious attempts to induce men in authority to put more money into housing. We know perfectly well that lending authorities are far more inclined to invest in more lucrative fields such as hire purchase.
This bill is a disgrace to the National Parliament. Instead of providing more money for the housing authorities it will have the opposite effect. We cannot oppose the bill in principle, but we feel that because it reduces the finance which will be available to housing, authorities the Government ought to be thoroughly ashamed of it.
.- The first comment I wish to make in connexion with the bill is to endorse the sentiment with which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) concluded his speech. The Opposition does not oppose this bill, but we deplore entirely the inadequacy of the amount which it will provide for State housing instrumentalities to assist in home building in Australia during the financial year 1958-59. We do not object to the amount which will be made available to private lending institutions, but we most emphatically oppose the principle that the amount which they receive should be increased at the expense of the amount to be made available to State housing authorities.
I should have thought that this debate would have presented an opportunity to Government supporters to discuss the housing situation generally. But we find that the Minister’s second-reading speech occupies no more than three-quarters of a page in “ Hansard “. This indicates to me that the Government is not sure of its position in regard to housing. Time and again during the last two years in this Parliament, the desperate shortage of housing has been emphasized, but the Government is not facing up to its responsibility. Every honorable member in this Parliament has had representations made to him about the conditions under which people are living, not only in the major cities, but also in every outside area. The Government has refused to face up to this situation, and it may be concluded that members on the Government side, since none of them is prepared to participate in this debate, are willing to leave unsaid the things which ought to be said in the interests of the homeless people of Australia.
The bill deals with the amount which will be made available to State housing authorities and approved lending institutions. It provides for loan moneys, totalling £35,810,000, to be made available to the States to assist State housing programmes. This is an increase of £2,650,000 over the corresponding amount provided in 1957-58. In the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1956 provision was made for a certain amount of the money made available to the States to be channelled into approved lending societies. That figure has been increased from 20 per cent, in 1957-58 to 30 per cent, this year. This means, in effect, that a sum of £10,743,000 will be channelled into private building societies and approved lending institutions for the purpose of home building. But State instrumentalities will receive £1,000,000 less during the current financial year than they received last year.
The honorable member for Batman has already pointed out that the various State housing authorities have insufficient funds for home construction in order to catch up with the backlag that exists in every State. He referred to the position in Victoria. I wish to direct attention to Tasmania. I do not overlook what has been achieved by various State instrumentalities. Tasmania has made remarkable progress generally with housing, particularly for people who have not been able to find sufficient finance or obtain a loan from either a private institution or the Commonwealth Bank. People in the lower income group in that State have been able to obtain a home from the State housing authority without any deposit. It is true that, because of the high interest rate applied by the Commonwealth Government, many of them will be in the unfortunate position of never owning their homes, but at least they will have the opportunity to secure a home in which to live.
In this respect I pay tribute to what has been achieved by the Tasmanian Government. The Australian Labour party has always believed that home-ownership is of vital importance to the people of this country. That is one of the reasons why the Tasmanian Government originally withdrew from the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. It believed that the people in the lower income category ought to be able to secure a home without any deposit, and that condition has obtained in Tasmania ever since the 1945 agreement. People in Tasmania are able to obtain a home without a deposit. That is entirely opposite to the conditions laid down by the Commonwealth Bank or by private banks or lending institutions when people seek to obtain from them financial assistance with which to build or buy a home.
For example, the maximum amount which the Commonwealth Bank will advance for a home is £2,500. If an applicant wishes to build or buy, he must therefore find the difference between the maximum advance of £2,500 and the purchase price. The average cost of a home is clearly indicated in the report of the Director of the War Service Homes Division for 1957-58, which was tabled in this House only yesterday. The report shows that there has been a tremendous increase in the average cost of houses throughout the Commonwealth in recent years. To illustrate the point, I shall deal with only one State - Tasmania. In 1952-53, the average cost of a home in that State, including the land, was £2,654. By 1957-58, the figure had risen to £3,389. In the Australian Capital Territory, in 1952-53, the average cost was only £3,687, but by 1957-58 it had risen to £5,002. Those figures could be accepted as a reasonable average of the cost of a home and land in this country. The figure for Tasmania is greatly in excess of £3,000 and an intending purchaser, through the Commonwealth Bank or another approved lending institution, would have to find the difference between the maximum loan available and the high cost of a home. I hope to have an opportunity to return to this point later in my address.
I want now to reiterate that, despite the shortage of homes, the amount being made available to the State housing authorities has been reduced by £1,000,000 in this financial year, compared with last year. I said earlier that we are not opposed to this money being made available to approved lending institutions, because we believe that private enterprise can play a part in the construction of homes. However, the Government should have some say in how that money will be made available to intending purchasers through those institutions. As I have said, if the maximum advance is fixed at £2,500, obviously the number of people who can secure finance through lending institutions is very small. A man with a limited income cannot hope to find the difference between such a relatively small advance and the amount required to build a home. So, in that respect, the Government ought to be able to say to those institutions, “ We believe that the maximum deposit should be no more than 5 per cent, of the capital cost of the home “.
That position applied as far back as 1939, when a person who wanted to build a home was able to obtain finance through the Commonwealth Bank, or through some other approved institution, provided he had a block of land or an equivalent amount as a deposit. In those days, the average cost of a block of land was £150 or £200. That meant that even the person on the lowest income was able to secure a home because he was able to find the deposit and obtain an advance from the Commonwealth Bank or some other lending institution. The Commonwealth Bank is under the direction of this Government, and it should be able to exercise some influence on the policy of the bank.
– The Government will not admit that, though!
– As the honorable member for Wilmot points out, the Government is not prepared to admit it. As far as I am aware, there has been only one increase in the maximum advance made by the Commonwealth Bank since I have been in the Parliament. Originally, the advance stood at £2,250; to-day it is £2,500. But that still leaves a lot to be desired. No person on a low income can find the difference between the maximum advance and the amount needed to build or to purchase a home at present costs.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I was discussing the need to make adequate finance available to those people who desire to acquire homes through sources other than State housing institutions. 1 had indicated that to-day far too many young people in this category are not able to secure sufficient finance to meet the extremely large deposit required by the Commonwealth Bank and other financial institutions. The Government should investigate this matter if it desires an increased proportion of loan funds to the States to be made available to approved lending institutions. The Government should have some control over the manner in which those funds are made available to the people seeking finance to build a home.
The present housing plight in Australia has been highlighted by the Minister in charge of housing in Australia, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) who, in 1956, issued a statement about the housing situation in which he said -
The majority of home seekers in most States to-day would, from their experiences, challenge any claim that the “ housing problem “ is well on the way to being solved or that the “ housing shortage “ is fast being eliminated.
Nobody could agree more with that point of view than do honorable members on this side of the House. The housing problem is not being solved. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) this morning pointed out that each year we are falling further behind in our efforts to provide homes for the people. The statement continues -
They are still confronted with difficulties in obtaining finance for house building or purchase.
To-day, far too many people are unable to secure the finance necessary to build a home.
A large deposit must be saved.
I have shown how large is the deposit required to-day.
Costs have increased.
Earlier, I quoted from a report submitted to the House by the Director of War Service Homes, showing how costs have increased enormously since 1951-52.
Houses for renting from private owners are scarce. Rents (where not controlled) are high. The waiting period for State Housing Authorities* rental houses is still long in most States.
Despite the number of homes that have been built in each State under the CommonwealthStates Housing Agreement of 1945, and the number of homes that have been built in each State by the various State housing instrumentalities, the wailing period for a home is increasing year by year. In Tasmania, because of the large number of applications for homes, special consideration to people in desperate circumstances has to be given in the allocation of homes. With the limited funds available to them each year, State housing authorities can . only construct a limited number of homes. They must deal with applications for homes in the light of the particular applicants’ circumstances. In Tasmania, one of the requirements necessary to obtain a home is that a couple must have at least one child. That is the minimum requirement, and for those persons a special type of home has been constructed. For the usual type of house constructed by the department in Tasmania, the minimum family unit is man and wife and two children.
I refer again to the young people who desire to get married and raise a family. Under present circumstances, they have no hope at all of obtaining a home in Tasmania. I refer only to Tasmania, because I have no idea how homes are allocated in other States, but I think that the circumstances that apply in Tasmania are generally applicable to the other States. I consider the report of the Minister for National Development to be an extremely important criticism of the serious housing shortage in this country. The report states further -
While there remains a shortage of homes, no matter how large or small that shortage is, the difficulties and, indeed, distress of numbers of home seekers are a reality. The home seeker therefore derives no consolation from being told that “ the shortage is not as bad as it was “, if, in fact, he is unable to find a home.
That is the position that applies to-day. Prior to the last war, there was a shortage of approximately 200.000 homes in this country. During the war years, when it was practically impossible to embark on large-scale home-building, the shortage remained at approximately 200,000. To-day, the shortage is still in the vicinity of 200,000 homes, and this Government is allocating the same amount of money each year to the various State housing authorities. No attempt whatever is being made to tackle seriously the shortage that exists to-day in Australia.
The housing shortage could be described as one of the greatest social blots of our time. I agree with the Minister for National Development that it is no consolation to those people who desire to secure a home to be told that the Government is giving some attention to this problem. The number of homes that have been constructed each year since 1951-52 has steadily decreased. By 1 949, approximately 80,000 homes were being constructed yearly by the Labour government. When this Government assumed office, that figure was almost maintained for the first year, when approximately 70,000 homes were constructed. Since then, there has been a gradual decrease in the number of homes constructed yearly. In 1952-53, the year in which the inflationary tendencies were making themselves felt, the number of homes constructed dropped to 66,340. In 1953-54, there was a further decline to 65,650 homes. In 1954-55, the figure showed a further downward trend. In that year, only 60,902 homes were constructed. By 1955-56, the figure had fallen to 54,971 homes. In 1956-57 there was a small increase of approximately 1,000, but only 55,863 homes were constructed during that year.
I believe that the figures prove conclusively that since this Government has been in office home-building activities in this country have steadily declined. Despite this fact, the Government has applied severe credit restrictions which have made it practically impossible for those in the lower income brackets to obtain finance for homebuilding. It is perfectly true that there has been some improvement in the first quarter of this year. I understand that the number of homes under contraction during that period showed an increase of about 11.7 per cent. When the figures are compared with those for the previous financial year, however, it is seen that there has been a substantial decrease, and it is clear that although there has been an increase of 11.7 per cent, in the first quarter of this year, we will not reach, by the end of the year, the high home-building rate that obtained in the days of the Chifley Government.
Let me remind honorable members also that the Chifley Government had to conduct its home-building programme in a time of shortages of materials, man-power and everything required for home-building, while to-day the position is exactly the opposite. Despite what was said by the Prime Minister about twelve months ago, there is no shortage of man-power and no shortage of materials. Indeed, as was shown this morning by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), there has been a serious decline in the number of persons employed in the building industry. Although there is an abundance of materials and labour, the Government has decided in this financial year to reduce the amounts available to State housing authorities by about £1,000,000.
The Government must face the facts of the position. It must suggest to its own instrumentality, the Commonwealth Bank, that the credit restrictions should be’ revised and that finance on more reasonable terms should be made available to potential home-builders. Unless it is prepared to do this, and to make more money available to the State instrumentalities, our serious housing shortage will continue for many years. Despite what the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said some years ago, to the effect that the housing shortage would disappear within five years, and despite the promises of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) and the assurances of senior members of the present Government, the serious housing shortage is still with us. Those who are eager to secure homes know only too well how difficult it is to get them through the State instrumentalities, because a means test is applied, and family circumstances are investigated. This fact, together with the severe credit restrictions imposed by the Commonwealth Bank, has made it difficult to obtain a home.
The seriousness of the housing problem is demonstrated, I believe, by the significant increase in the number of applications for financial assistance under the War Service Homes Act. In 1955-56 there were about 21,000 applications for war service homes. In 1956-57 the number increased to approximately 23,000, and I believe that the number of applications will be at least as high as this in the current year. I have no doubt that the reason for this large number of applications lies in the favorable circumstances under which money is made available through the War Service
Homes Division. If we could make money available generally on the same terms as apply under the War Service Homes Act, and having in mind the abundance of manpower and material that is available, we should be able to overtake the housing shortage that has plagued Australia for so many years.
Let me say at this stage, Mr. Speaker, that since I have been a member of this Parliament, I have never believed that the financial circumstances of the average man are favorable enough to enable him to obtain a home. It is possible for this Government to increase the amounts of money available to the States. Despite the statement made by the Prime Minister on another occasion, we know that there are no constitutional difficulties in the way of providing the States with money for this purpose. All that is required is the adoption of a policy which will allow us to tackle the problem and apply ourselves to the task of providing homes for the people. Unless the Government is prepared to pursue such a policy, we must expect to have the housing shortage with us for a great many years.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Osborne) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the law relating to income tax.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is designed to give effect to the income tax proposals outlined in the course of the Budget speech last month. For the assistance of honorable members, a memorandum has been prepared explaining in detail the technical aspects of the clauses of the bill. That memorandum is being circulated for the information of honorable members.
One of the important amendments relates to depreciation allowances in the primary industries. In 1952, this Government introduced provisions which authorized the deduction of depreciation at the annual rate of 20 per cent, on plant and structural improvements used for agricultural and pastoral purposes. That basis of depreciation is operative, under the existing law, until next year. It is proposed, however, that the period shall be extended for a further term of three years so that the 20 per cent, depreciation rate shall apply to plant acquired and improvements constructed to 30th June, 1962. The allowance will also apply to improvements in course of construction at 30th June, 1962, if construction is completed in the following year.
In conjunction with these amendments, it is proposed to extend the 20 per cent, depreciation allowance fo plant used solely in the fishing and pearling industries. The allowance will also apply to structural improvements used wholly and exclusively in the pearling industry. In addition to workshops, storage accommodation and similar buildings used directly for the purposes of pearling operations, the special allowance will extend to housing provided for employees and tenants engaged in those operations. As in the case of the agricultural and pastoral industries, the maximum amount on which 20 per cent, depreciation will be allowable on housing will be £2,750 for each employee or tenant. Expenditure on housing in excess of £2,750 will, of course, remain subject to depreciation at normal rates.
The special allowance in relation to the fishing and pearling industries will apply to plant acquired for use or installed ready for use after 30th June, 1958, and before 1st July, 1962. The allowance will apply also to structural improvements used in the pearling industry which are constructed between the dates I have mentioned. Structural improvements commenced before 30th June, 1962, and completed in the following income year will also be subject to the 20 per cent, depreciation allowance.
It is also proposed that individual taxpayers carrying on the business of fishing or pearling shall be classed as primary producers for the purposes of the averaging provisions. Under those provisions, subject to certain limitations, the rate of tax payable by the taxpayer for each year is determined by reference to the average of his taxable incomes of the current year and the preceding four years.
In the case of the fishing and pearling industries, the first income year to be taken into account in applying the averaging provisions will be the current year 1958-59. Averaging will thus commence in assessments on income derived during the year 1959-60, so long as it is not to the disadvantage of the taxpayer. As in the case of primary producers, a taxpayer engaged in fishing or pearling may elect at any time to withdraw permanently from the averaging provisions.
A further provision of the bill relates to the development of rural lands acquired as part of a profit-making undertaking. In common with other primary producers, taxpayers engaged in such undertakings are allowed deductions, in the year of expenditure, for costs of clearing, draining and otherwise preparing the land for agriculture or pasture, for combating soil erosion, water conservation and similar improvements.
Where a primary producer sells land other than as part of a profit-making plan, any capital profit he derives from the sale is free of income tax. That is describing the present position. The deductions allowed for the costs I have mentioned are not written back as assessable income, even though the improvements may, of course, have enhanced the sale price of the land.
Where, on the other hand, the land is sold as part of a profit-making plan - we have seen some spectacular examples of that for the purposes of subdivision and sale - the profit derived on the sale of the land is taxed. In calculating the taxable profit, however, the present law precludes any off-set of the developmental expenditure on the land, and the benefit of the deductions is, therefore, in effect, nullified.
The amendment proposed in clause 10 of this bill will remove this anomalous discrimination. The amendment will apply to sales of land during the current income year 1958-59 and in subsequent years. As honorable members will recall, the whole purpose of that amendment is still further to encourage the improvement of land, because it is realized that this is of very great importance in the over-all national asset.
The opportunity is also being taken to extend the allowances for developmental expenditure on rural land to expenditure incurred on land in the Territory of New Guinea. As the definition of “ Australia “ for income tax purposes includes the Territory of Papua, such expenditure is already deductible where incurred on land in that Territory. The deduction does not apply in relation to land in the Territory of New Guinea, and the proposed amendment will remove this discrimination. The amendment will apply to expenditure incurred during the current year 1958-59 and future years.
I turn now to proposals designed to encourage the investment of Australian capital in companies engaged in the search for oil in Australia and Papua-New Guinea. Under the present law, a deduction is allowed for one-third of calls paid on shares in such companies. It is proposed, in relation to shares allotted after this bill comes into operation, to allow a deduction for the full amount of calls, as well as application and allotment moneys, paid on the shares.
Entitlement to the increased allowance will be subject to the company to which the capital is subscribed electing to forgo, to the extent of the deductions allowable to shareholders under the new provision, the exemption of profits provided under the present law. That is, of course, so that there will not be a deduction of the same amount of money twice. In the event of the discovery of oil in commercial quantities, this exemption will apply to profits arising from the sale of petroleum mined in Australia or Papua-New Guinea and will operate until these profits restore in full the capital invested in the mining and treatment of the petroleum.
– What are the chances?
-I wish I knew. As indicated in the Budget speech, the new provision will not apply to capital invested by non-residents or by Australian companies controlled from abroad. In these cases, and also where no election is made under the new provision, the present allowance of one-third of calls will continue, as well as the exemption of the companies’ profits and dividends paid out of those profits.
The remaining provisions of the bill relate to the special zone deductions granted to residents of remote areas of Australia and to members of the Defence Force serving at declared localities overseas. Honorable members will recall that these allowances were last increased in 1956. It is now proposed that they be further increased. There is to be an all-round increase of 50 per cent, in the existing allowances, to which will be added an amount which will be based on the dependants’ deductions allowable to the taxpayer. In the case of zone A, the total zone allowance will be increased from £180 to £270 plus an amount equal to one-half of the total deductions allowable to the taxpayer for the maintenance of dependants. That is a 50 per cent, increase in both categories. A corresponding allowance will be available to members of the Defence Force serving at declared localities overseas.
In the case of zone B. the allowance will be raised from £30 to £45, plus one-twelfth of the deductions allowable for dependants. The increased allowances will apply in assessments for the current income year, 1958-59, and subsequent years.
As I said at the beginning, a memorandum explaining in more detail the technical aspects of the clauses of the bill is being circulated for the information of honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
– I move -
– (1.) That, in this Resolution - “ co-operative company “ have the same mean ing as in Division 9 of Part III. of the Assessment Act; “ friendly society dispensary “ mean a friendly society dispensary to which Division 9a of Part III. of the Assessment Act applies; “ life assurance company “ have the same meaning as in Division 8 of Part III. of the Assessment Act; “ mutual income “, in relation to a life assurance company (other than a mutual life assurance company), mean -
Imposition of Income Tax and Social Services Contribution.
– (1.) That a tax by the name of income tax and social services contribution be imposed at the rates- declared in this Resolution. (2.) That, notwithstanding anything contained in this Resolution, income tax. and social services contribution be not imposed upon a taxable income which does not exceed One hundred and four pounds derived by -
Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by Persons other than Companies.
Limitation of Tax and Contribution Payable by Aged Persons.
– (1.) That this paragraph apply to a taxpayer who -
Minimum Tax and Contribution.
Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by a Company.
Elimination of Pence.
That where the amount of the income tax and social services contribution which a person would be liable to pay under the preceding provisions of this Resolution, before deducting any rebate or credit to which that person is entitled in his assessment, is an amount of pounds, shillings and pence or shillings and pence -
Tax and Contribution where Amount to be Collected or Refunded would not exceed Two Shillings.
– (1.) That, notwithstanding anything contained in the preceding provisions of this Resolution, where a person has, in accordance with section two hundred and twenty-one H of the Assessment Act, forwarded to the Commissioner a tax stamps sheet or group certificate issued to him in respect of deductions made in a year from his salary or wages, and the difference between the available deductions and the income tax and social services contribution which would, but for this sub-paragraph, be payable by that person in respect of the taxable income derived by him in that year is not more than Two shillings, the income tax and social services contribution payable by that person in respect of that taxable income be an amount equal to the available deductions. (2.) That the last preceding sub-paragraph do not apply -
Levy of Tax and Contribution.
Provisional Tax and Contribution.
General Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by Persons other than Companies.
The rate of income tax and social services contribution for every £1 of each part of the taxable income specified in the first column of the following table is the rate set out in the second column of that table opposite to the reference to that part of the taxable income: -
Rates op Tax and Contribution by Reference to an Average Income.
In the case of a taxpayer to whose income Division 16 of Part III. of the Assessment Act applies, the rates of income tax and social services contribution are -
Rate of Tax and Contribution by Reference to a Notional Income.
For every £1 of the taxable income of a taxpayer deriving a notional income, as specified by section fifty-nine ab, section eighty-six or section one hundred and fifty-eight d of the Assessment Act, the rate of income tax and social services contribution is the rate ascertained by dividing the tax and contribution which would be payable under the First Schedule upon a taxable income equal to his notional income by a number equal to the number of whole pounds in that notional income.
Rate of Tax and Contribution Payable by a Trustee.
For every £1 of the taxable income in respect of which a trustee is liable, in pursuance of either section ninety-eight or section ninety-nine of the Assessment Act, to be assessed and to pay tax and contribution, the rate of income tax and social services contribution is the rate which would be payable under the First, Second or Third Schedule, as the case requires, if one individual were liable to be assessed and to pay tax and contribution on that taxable income.
Rates of Tax and Contribution Payable by a Company other than a Company in the Capacity of a Trustee.
This resolution is submitted to the committee for the purpose of declaring the rates at which income tax and social services contribution shall be payable for the current financial year 1958-59. As indicated in the course of the Budget speech, it is not proposed to provide tax concessions of a general character. Accordingly, the rates proposed in this resolution are the same as those declared last year.
The rates set out in the schedules to the resolution will be applicable to income derived by companies during the 1957-58 income year. In the case of individual taxpayers, however, the pay-as-you-earn system operates so that the proposed rates will be applicable to income derived during the current income year ending on 30th June, 1959.
As the provisions of the resolution now submitted declare the same rates as were discussed and adopted by the Parliament last year, I do not propose to discuss in any detail the paragraphs of the resolution. I submit the resolution for the consideration of the committee.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Osborne) read a first time.
Debate resumed (vide page 1397).
.- Mr. Speaker, this bill provides for an allocation of £35,810,000 under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in the current, financial year. This represents an increase of £2,650,000 over the allocation made last financial year, and I am sure that honorable members generally will be pleased at this fairly substantial increase.
I should like to make a few comments about the achievements of this Government in relation to housing since it took office in 1949. I think that when one looks in an unbiased way at the record one must come to the conclusion that the Government’s achievements have been outstanding. 1 here was a deficiency of 250,000 homes in Australia in 1947, and the position had changed little, if at all, when this Government took office in 1949. It is estimated that the deficiency at the present time is only 80,000 homes. So honorable members will see, Sir, that during the nine years in which this Government has been in office, the backlag has been reduced by no fewer than 170,000. Broadly speaking, onehalf of the backlag, or a deficiency of 40,000 homes, is in New South Wales. In this connexion, it is particularly interesting to note that evidence given before the Public Works Committee only a few weeks ago indicated that the average cost of a home in Sydney was £5,100, compared with £3,500 for a similar home in Perth, in Western Australia. A little mental arithmetic will show that, on that basis, a sum of just over £10,000 would provide three homes in Perth and only two in Sydney. This fact suggests to me, Sir, that the long term of the Labour Government in New South Wales has caused building costs to rise to such a degree that the best economic value is not being obtained for money inVested in housing in that State - money which, in the main, is being provided by the Commonwealth for government home building. Approximately one-third of the housing backlag - about 27,000 homes - is in Victoria. So that, in the remaining four States, there is a deficiency of only 13,000 homes. This indicates a fine achievement on the part of the present Commonwealth Government over the last nine years.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who preceded me in this debate, suggested that we were falling further behind the demand for homes. In the Petrie electorate, the voters enrolled have increased by about 8,000 or 9,000 in the last three years. This is one of the biggest increases that has occurred in that electorate in any three-year period since 1949. Most of the homes in the constituency are privately owned, and I suggest that if the increase in the number of privately owned homes in the Petrie electorate is comparable with the increase in similar electorates, the honorable member for Bass is entirely wrong when he suggests that we are falling further and further behind in the construction of homes.
In the financial year 1956-57, 68,000 houses and flats were completed. In 1957-58, the number increased by 8.6 per cent, to 74,000. I think it is well worth while for honorable members to consider this increase. It is believed that, in the current financial year, the number of houses and flats completed will increase still more. I recall that, a few years ago, approximately 80,000 homes and flats were being completed each year, and that the number declined slightly. But I think it is important for us to remember that we cannot economically devote more than a certain proportion of our resources to building construction overall. During the period when home completions fell slightly, commercial building activity increased greatly. This increase of commercial building caused a decline in the number of building workers employed on the construction of homes, but the trend is now away from commercial construction. Many building workers are returning to home construction, and, year by year, the number of homes built is increasing.
It is interesting to note the total investment, both government and private, in home-building at the present time. In the financial year 1956-57, it was £216,000,000. That represented a very substantial part of the Australian community’s resources. Total investment in home-building in 1957-58 was £234,000,000- a substantial increase over investment in the previous year. Of the amount invested, the banks are lending approximately £60,000,000 a year. Honorable members who have studied the report of the Commonwealth Bank Board for the year ended 30th June, 1958, which was published only a few days ago, know that the central bank made a suggestion to the private trading banks as to how they should use the funds recently released from their special accounts with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. This is indicated in the following passage from the report: - the Central Bank had stated that it felt there was scope for some increase in loans for housing . . .
That was stated to the private trading banks. The Government, too, has been instrumental in encouraging banking institutions and financial institutions .generally to lend more and more money for home construction. The Commonwealth Government itself is providing approximately £79,000,000 this year, under, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, for war service homes and homes for aged people, and also for construction of houses in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. But against the amount of £79,000,000 that the Commonwealth Government is providing, the States themselves are providing only £6,000,000. In New South Wales, where the housing deficiency is worst, the State Government is spending nothing on housing.
If honorable members would look at the report of the New South Wales AuditorGeneral, they would find that last year a very substantial profit was made by the New South Wales Government on the sale of homes built some years ago under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. This amount runs into several hundreds of thousands of pounds, but not a penny of it is going back into home construction in that State. Yet, honorable members from New South Wales in this Parliament make a great song and dance about the funds that this Government should provide. At the same time, the New South Wales Government is doing absolutely nothing itself in relation to housing. The profit to which I have referred was made by the New South Wales Government because it has been selling, on to-day’s market, houses which were built at lower cost several years ago.
I emphasize that the amount that is made available under this agreement is not determined by the Commonwealth Government. I think that members of the Opposition have given the impression that it is this Government which determines the amount that is to be provided year by year under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. But that is a determination of the States themselves, and if they desire to provide more than the £35,000,000 which is provided this year, that is their responsibility.
I should- like to correct the wrong impression honorable members opposite have given that the Commonwealth Government, in some way, has a good deal to do with it. It must be remembered that the States get all the loan moneys that are raised at present, and have been doing so over a period of years. Honorable members opposite have been reminded of that fact on many occasions. This year, of the £35,800,000 for which approval is being sought, 30 per cent, will be allocated for private home ownership. That is equal to approximately £10,700,000. There has been criticism by the Opposition from time to time in relation to this provision under this agreement, but last year a similar provision, which was then only 20 per cent, of the total, permitted 2,925 homes to be completed or purchased through building societies. Last year, there were 187 of these institutions, and this year there will be 242 of them operating. Because the amount of money available to them has increased by approximately 50 per cent., there should be a substantial increase in the number of homes built.
As a supporter of the Government, I support the provision of this proportion of the money available for home ownership. I come from Queensland, where no less than 73 per cent, of people either own their own homes or are purchasing them. Statistics for the other States indicate that the vast majority of Australians desire to buy their own homes. They are not concerned with the rental of a home from a State government if they can possibly find the money to purchase a home of their own. Lest New South Wales members should be under a misapprehension in this connexion, I point out that, under the housing agreement, provision is made for the States to sell homes built under the agreement on terms and conditions that the State government may lay down. In New South Wales, in the two years from the inception of the agreement to 30th June, 1958, 68.6 per cent, of the houses completed were sold. That means that of more than 6,000 homes, no fewer than 4,500 were sold to the occupants. That is a clear indication that the people of Australia desire home ownership rather than rental.
I believe that, when we come to a substitution of the present agreement by another one in three years’ time, there may be room for an increase of that proportion to more than the present 30 per cent., because the figures indicate that, in New South Wales, a substantial proportion of the persons who go into housing commission homes buy them. The figures from the other States are comparable.
– That demand has to be met from the 70 per cent, that is allocated.
– That is all right, but I am talking in terms of the desire of the people not to have rental homes.
– Why not increase the amount available and let more houses?
– I think that is a responsibility of the State governments themselves. They determine the amount that will be taken and used by them out of the funds available for the purposes of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
I want to refer now to a section of the agreement which, perhaps, is not well known. It is the provision in the agreement for extra assistance by the Commonwealth in relation to homes which are provided under the agreement by the States, to the limit of not more than 5 per cent, of the total funds, for serving members of the forces. Such amounts as the States allocate for this purpose must be matched £1 for £1 by the Commonwealth. The result in this financial year will be that 374 more dwellings will be completed at a cost of more than £1,000,000. Some of these details are overlooked by members of the Opposition when they are criticizing this agreement and the record of the Government in relation to housing.
I should like to make one final comment concerning what the Netherlands Government is doing at present to assist its nationals to obtain houses in Australia. That provision, of course, will help the overall situation in Australia. Recently, the Netherlands Government approached the United States of America Development Loan Fund for a loan of 3,000,000 dollars which was to be used in Australia for the housing of Dutch nationals. The only condition imposed by the fund was that the amount must be matched from resources within Australia. Negotiations have been proceeding - they may be concluded at this stage - with private sources in Australia to match this amount. I feel that this Parliament should compliment the Netherlands Government on the way in which it has tried to assist the establishment of its nationals in this way. I feel that we as a Parliament should recommend to any other government whose nationals are coming here under the immigration scheme, that it might find ways and means of assisting its people to become established in Australia.
So I support the bill which is before the House. I do feel, as I have said once or twice during my remarks, that this Government has nothing to be ashamed of in its housing record over the years. I repeat that the backlag, which in 1949 was 250,000 houses, has been reduced to 80,000. Of that 80,000, a half is attributable to New South Wales, where costs are high, and a third to Victoria. In the other four States, overall, there is very little backlag to be taken care of. The number of homes being built at the present time will be quite sufficient to overtake the backlag in those places within two or three years. In New South Wales and Victoria, it will take a little longer, but I do suggest that the government of that State has a responsibility in relation to costs. If it reduced costs to a level comparable with that in Western Australia and some of the other States, it would get more homes for the total amount of money that is being invested in New South Wales.
.- The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) commenced his speech by asserting that this bill authorized an increase in the funds provided for the States for the purposes of their housing. That statement, like so many of the other statements which fell from the honorable member, and with which I shall deal, misrepresents the position. The actual fact is that fewer pounds will be available for the States for the purposes which we envisage as their housing responsibility than in any year for some years past.
– That is distorting the position.
– Let me recall the very brief and perfunctory second-reading speech by the Minister for Supply (Mr. Townley), who has charge of this bill in the House. The honorable gentleman pointed out that there would be available this year for the erection of dwellings by the States the sum of £25,067,000. I hope that the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) is listening to this. The Minister said that the corresponding sum for 1957-58 was £26,528,000. Quite plainly the Minister himself admitted that the funds available to the States for the erection of houses by the States are smaller this year than they were last year. The sums I have quoted included amounts for service dwellings, for which the States have to divert 5 per cent, of the funds we give them, and to which the States cannot allocate tenants, but only the Commonwealth. The position is that this year only 65 per cent, of the funds given by the Commonwealth to the States will be available for their housing commissions, trusts and departments. In the last two years 75 per cent, of those funds was available, and in the previous eleven years 100 per cent, of those funds was available.
Next, the honorable member for Petrie said that the States determine the amount of the grants which the Commonwealth will make to them for housing. That is a half truth. It is true that the States determine the proportion of loan funds made available by the Commonwealth to the States for all purposes that will be spent on housing. But we know that the decisions of the Australian Loan Council are completely nugatory unless the Commonwealth supports them; and they are nugatory except insofar as the Commonwealth supports them. There have been two or three occasions in the last half-dozen years when the Loan Council passed resolutions on how many pounds were to be loaned to the States for housing and for other purposes, “but when the Commonwealth did not carry out those decisions.
One has only to read the Budget papers to see the Commonwealth make that clear admission. As regards housing, if the honorable gentleman will look up the answer which was given to me by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), who, in 1956, represented the Minister for National Development in this House - it was given on 11th October, 1956 - he will see that therein the Minister admitted that the States did not get for 1956-57 the number of pounds that they, in the Loan Council, resolved could and should be made available for housing.
It will be noticed that I give chapter and verse for the assertions I am making, and I propose to continue that course throughout my speech this afternoon. The honorable member for Petrie made many allegations. He quoted reports of AuditorsGeneral, and so on. But he did not say whether he was referring to reports of the Commonwealth Auditor-General or those of a State Auditor-General. He did not give the date, and he did not give the page. It is impossible for honorable gentlemen to check up on these statements. Similarly, he made many assertions concerning the number of houses which will be provided through building societies, and as service dwellings, and so on. He never quoted his authority. He made allegations that none of us can check.
One of the faults of this act - the Housing Agreement Act 1956 - is that this Parliament, which has to appropriate and allocate the money, is never told how many houses were provided in the preceding year, how many people are wanting houses, or what sort of houses are being built. We have to rely for all that information on the housing reports of the States, and they are as dilatory in presenting to their parliaments the annual reports for which their statutes provide, a9 our Government is in presenting our statutory annual reports to this Parliament.
But one can check on some of the allegations of the honorable member for Petrie. He used this bill as an opportunity to attack the New South Wales Government; I should have thought that he would have grown out of that. He referred to building costs in New South Wales. I do not know where he got the figures. Let me quote the figures which were made available to us yesterday, and to another place the day before, in the report of the Director of War Service Homes for the last financial year. There one can see that the average cost of houses erected last year by the division, apart from land, was as follows: - In New South Wales, £3,313; in Victoria, £3,168; in Queensland, £3,056; in South Australia, £3,387; in Western Australia, £2,982; in Tasmania, £2,925; and in the Australian Capital Territory, £5,002. If one turns to the next page of the report and looks at the comparison of the average costs of dwelling houses and land - they are not separated in this table - one sees that in 1952-53, the first year for which figures are given, in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia the average cost was something over £2,900, and that, in the last financial year in New South Wales it was £3,763; in Victoria, £3,665; in South Australia, £3,782; and so on. So far as the War Service Homes Division is concerned, one cannot discern any significant difference in the cost of dwellings in the manufacturing States over the last few years, or in the last year.
This report was presented to the Parliament, and it is available to every honorable member. I suggest that the holeinthecorner report, to which the honorable member referred, either does not exist or does not bear out his allegation. He referred to the profit made on the sale of housing commission houses. Where did he get those figures? The plain fact is that the conditions under which housing commission houses are sold in every State are determined by agreement between this Parliament and those States.
– But not the amount of profit.
– That and other subjects are covered by the agreement. If the Minister does not like the way the States are implementing it, that is the fault of the agreement. There is no question that the agreement is being carried out, otherwise one insinuates that the Commonwealth Auditor-General and State AuditorsGeneral are not doing their job.
– There is no obligation under the agreement for a State to make a large profit.
– One must accept the fact that the money allocated is spent in accordance with the law and the law, in this case, is the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. There have been three such agreements. They were entered into in the years 1945, 1955 and 1956. Very belatedly, in the middle of 1955 the States were permitted to sell housing commission houses built under the 1945 agreement. For several years they had urged the Commonwealth to amend the agreement to permit people living in the houses to buy them. Up to that stage people could buy the houses only if they paid the full lump sum. They were not allowed to buy them on terms. Until the middle of 1955, those were the conditions until the agreement was reviewed by Parliament.
In the 1956 agreement, once again the conditions under which a person would be allowed to buy a housing commission house which he occupied were set out. I assert, and I would be amazed if anybody could refute the fact, that the AuditorsGeneral have certified that the money that was provided under this legislation and which is being provided under this bill has been spent in accordance with the law. One can search State housing commission reports in vain to find any record of profits being made by State housing authorities.
– Look at the New South Wales Auditor-General’s report.
– I have it here for 1956-57. No State has yet presented its report for 1957-58.
Let me detail the decrease in the grants to the States under the 1956 agreement. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) referred to the record of his Government. In 1946-47, the first full postwar year, the Commonwealth made available for housing for the States of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia a total of £11,015,000. For the next four years which I shall mention the amounts will cover all States except South Australia. In round figures the sum rose from £13,305,000 to £14,492,000, to £17,215,000 to £21,640,000. In 1951-52, Tasmania fell out, and the remaining four States of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia were granted £26,547,000; in 1952-53, they received £30,000,000. In 1953-54, when South Australia came in, the amount increased to £37,200,000. For the two succeeding years the totals were £29,150,000 and £32,200,000.
In the last two full financial years the States were allowed, for the purposes for which the previous sums I have read were made available, the sums of £24,523,000 and £27,357,000. This year they will receive £23,869,000. That shows a considerable drop. Fewer pounds are being made available by the Commonwealth for housing authorities in the States for the erection of housing commission, trust or department dwellings than in any year since 1950-51. In that year there was no appropriation for South Australia and only a residual amount for Tasmania. I assert that this Government is making fewer pounds available for housing commissions in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia than at any time since it has been in office.
– Give the totals.
– I have given the totals. Let me give the figures for the individual States to show how they have dropped in. the last few years and will drop again this year. Two years ago, New South Wales’ received £8,208,000 “and last year £8,360,000. This year it will receive £7.980,000. In the same three years the respective figures for Victoria are £7,600,000, £7,600,000 and £6,850,000; for Queensland £2,090,000, £2,401,600 and £2,201,150; for South Australia £2,769,000, £3,040,000 and £3,325,000- the only rise in the whole of Australia this year; for Western Australia £2,280.000, £2,385,000 and £1,995,000; and for Tasmania £1,576,000, £1,570,250 and £1,519.500. In each case, except South Australia, the number of pounds being given this year is lower than in either of the two previous years. If one chose to go through the whole of the years that this Government has been in office one would see that the amount has never been lower.
– Those amounts relate only to rental homes.
– They do not relate only to rental homes; they apply to dwellings erected by State housing authorities. In the case of New South Wales, 80 per cent, of the dwellings erected by the housing commission last year, and the year before, were given to people on condition that they purchased them. They did not go into them until they entered into a contract to purchase them. They are not for rental at all.
– Be honest!
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member for Petrie has already spoken and must remain silent.
– If the interjection had come from anybody less egregious than the honorable member for Petrie I should ask for it to be withdrawn, but the honorable member is the dishonest one. In the last two years, 80 per cent, of the housing commission houses built in New South Wales have been given to people on condition that they purchase them. It is not such a high percentage in the other States, but I think there is no State in which fewer than half the houses are made available purely on condition that they are purchased. Most of the houses are not for rental at all.
It is about time that the Government appreciated the position that the housing commissions, trusts and departments of the States are the only sources these days from which people who wish to be tenants can obtain premises. They do not get the premises without any charge; they get them under certain conditions. Under the 1956 agreement, they are allowed to go into occupation provided they are able to pay the full rent as assessed from time to time. There are no longer any housing rental rebates and no sharing of the losses between the Commonwealth and the States. If a person secures a house he has to pay the full rent, and if he can no longer pay it he has to go out. It does not matter whether he goes on to a pension, or is incapacitated by an injury, or whether any other vicissitude of his economic life prevents him from paying the full amount of rent.
The Commonwealth is not making any charitable gesture. Rented houses are completely repaid at the end of 53 years, by which time the Commonwealth recoups the whole of the capital cost plus 4 per cent, interest. Honorable members will remember that two years ago the interest rate was increased from 3 per cent, to 4 per cent., which meant an extra 10s. a week had to be found by the tenant. As regards the people who purchase houses from State housing authorities, this is the only opportunity they have of buying a house unless they have £1,000 in cash.
– That is not true of Victoria.
– Unless war service homes, for which I have quoted figures, cost very much more than any other houses in Victoria, nobody in that State can buy a house without having £1,000 in cash. I do not think that the interjection of the honorable member is accurate. I do not say that it is not honest, because I know that the honorable member is an honest, though deluded, member. The plain fact is that you cannot buy a house through the War Service Homes Division in Victoria unless you have £1,000 in cash. There is no difference between the States in this respect; I say that as one who was born in Victoria and represents New South Wales in this House and lived many years in the Australian Capital Territory. We are all Australians; and no Australian can now buy or build a house unless he has £1,000 in cash. If he has not got that cash his only recourse is to go to a housing commission or trust, which will sell on a deposit of £50 or £100. In the case of Tasmania he is not required to provide a deposit. But he will have to pay the full cost of the house plus interest. This means that the amount to be provided under this bill, the diminished amount, the record small amount which it makes available, provides the only opportunity for accommodation for people who have to rent premises and are able to pay full rent or who wish to purchase premises but have not got £1,000 in cash. It represents their only opportunity to get accommodation which they can call their own.
Under this bill we are reducing the opportunities for good housing to those who need it most. Are we going to introduce a means test for housing? Are we going to say that people should have good housing, as we say they should have good hospitalization, only it they can pay an extra amount for it? Where do we go from there? Do we introduce a means test for education and other things? Surely it should be the birthright of everybody in this community to have decent hospitalization, decent education and decent accommodation! This bill provides the only possibility for people who are the least privileged in the community to get it.
I referred to the fact that no reports were made available to the Parliament. Let me quote the last available reports from each of the States on this subject. The report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales stated -
The number of Housing Agreement dwellings completed was 2,992, some 537 less than the previous year.
The report also stated -
Let me quote the need in New South Wales for housing. During 1956-57, the commission conducted a review of some 28,539 tenancy applications in the two, three and four bedroom categories. It found that 11,998 applicants did not wish to proceed, that 6,766 wanted to rent houses, and that 9,775 wanted to purchase houses. In the same year, 13,308 applications for housing were received. Of those, 47.9 per cent, were husbands and wives with one child or two or more children of the same sex, 24.6 per cent, were husbands and wives with more than two children of different sex and 23.7 per cent, were childless couples. It was found that 80 per cent, of those applicants received less than £20 a week, 57 per cent, being in the £15 to £19 a week bracket, and over 70 per cent, were family cases.
It is quite plain that the people who were then applying for houses were people who had no opportunity, because of family commitments or income limitations, to accumulate the £1,000 needed to buy or to build a house with finance from sources other than the State housing commission. Of the applicants for new houses, 84.5 per cent, in the Sydney area wanted to purchase and, in the whole State, 73.6 per cent, wanted to purchase. Amongst all the applicants, there is an overwhelming desire to purchase a home, and they cannot do so except through the housing commission. That is why the report of the Director of the War Service Homes Division, who said the fact caught him by surprise, shows that last year the number of applications to the division for assistance had increased over the previous two years. The Government is always astray in its estimates for war service homes. No wonder it does not give an estimate of the needs of the State housing commissions.
Let me refer again to the report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales. An opportunity to purchase houses was given to 4,567 tenants, who had been tenants before 1956. Of these, 1.555 said that they wanted to purchase their homes. Do not let me concentrate on New South Wales alone. One finds the same position applying in many industrial cities of Australia. The housing position is acute in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. It is not acute in the country area9 of those States or in the other States. I will concede that in Newcastle, Wollongong, Geelong, Port Pirie and the other industrialized parts of Australia, there is a large unsatisfied demand for housing. The report of the Housing Commission of Victoria for 1956-57 contains the following passage: -
The new agreement has resulted in a substantia] reduction in the number of housing units constructed by the Commission . . 2,338 units being available to eligible families as compared with 4,152 in the previous year. The 1 per cent, increase in interest rates has resulted in an increase of lis. to 12s. approximately, per week.
The commission said that there were some 17,000 unsatisfied applications on hand. The honorable member for Petrie would have us believe that applications to housing commissions are the only unsatisfied applications. Now let me refer to the report of the South Australian Housing Trust. This is the’ oldest housing trust in Australia. Its report for 1956-57 stated-
The Trust completed 3,140 houses. . . . This is something of a decline from the figure of 3,238 which was the preceding year’s total, but that a figure of over 3,000 houses was achieved is very gratifying in view of the reduction in the amount of money made available by the Commonwealth Government under the Housing Agreement Act, 1956, as compared with that advanced in the previous three years. . . . The trust received £2,880,000 (that is £720,000 less than the previous year).
The honorable member for Petrie said that in all States other than New South Wales and Victoria only 13,000 people wanted houses. He will be amazed to learn from the report of the South Australian Housing Trust for 1956-57 that the number of applications for houses in that State alone was 9,684 in that year. The number of applica tions for rental houses was 5,417, for purchase 2,547, and for emergency dwellings, 1,720.
I have not the time to go through the housing commission reports for the other three States, but I think it clearly emerges that for this year less money is being made available for the purposes of housing commissions than in any year that the Government has been in office. It is charging more now than was charged for loans early in its career. The commissions have been compelled to increase the number of houses constructed by using cheaper materials which require more costly maintenance. Secondly, there is a continuing demand for houses, particularly in the large industrial metropolises and, for the people there who are crying for housing as they cry for so many other community services, we are providing less assistance. Thirdly, this bill provides the only means by which those who have to rent houses and can afford the full rent, or those who want to buy houses but have not the £1,000 in cash, can get decent accommodation.
There is no respect in which this Government has failed so signally in its political responsibilities and its social conscience as in the field of housing. This bill is in keeping with its parsimonious and dilatory attitude towards every responsibility which every civilized country now accepts in regard to hospitalization, education and housing, and which every country in western Europe and in North America has long ago accepted. In this bill the Government is repudiating its obligations indirectly, surreptitiously and in the most cavalier fashion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1953, 1 bring up the report relating to the following work: -
Proposed erection of a Mail Exchange at Redfern, New South Wales.
Ordered to be printed.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Roberton) read a first time.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment: -
Superannuation Bill 1958.
Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill 1958.
Debate resumed from 20th August (vide page 541), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- I do not wish to speak for very long on this bill, but I have one or two things to say about the operation of the land settlement scheme in South Australia. It is a matter for congratulation, particularly to this Government, which has had most to do, since the war, with the administration of the war service land settlement scheme from the Commonwealth angle, and to its predecessor in office, which inaugurated the scheme in the way in which it has since been carried on. I do not think honorable members always realize just how remarkable this scheme is, or how very successful it has been. The success of the scheme is made more apparent if we regard it as another closer settlement scheme. The remarkable thing is that this scheme has been, without doubt, one of the very few really successful closer settlement schemes that have been undertaken in this country, whether by the Commonwealth or by the States. I am left in no doubt as to why other closer settlement schemes failed and why the present scheme, in the guise of a war service land settlement scheme, has succeeded. The reason, I believe, is that, for the first time, economic considerations rather than political considerations have been pre-eminent in the running of a closer settlement scheme. In the past, governments - and I think particularly Labour governments - have tended to base land settlement schemes on what might be described as arbitrary farm areas. The cry that 200, 300, or 400 acres is enough for any man has, in the past, been the primary consideration in closer settle ment schemes in Australia. Farms were allotted on that basis irrespective of the type of land, its stage of development, or the use to be made of the land. Land was allotted irrespective of the amount of capital a man had, what kind of equipment was available to him, or the number of farm buildings and structures on the land. As a result, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although a very large number of people were settled on the land in the past, a very small proportion of them remained on the land. The number of people who are put on the land is not as important as the number who stay there.
It has been said, quite wrongly I think, that we have not been as successful in settling ex-servicemen on the land since the last war as we were in settling them on the land after the first world war. People point to the very much larger number of people who were settled on the land after the first world war, compared withthe number that have been settled on the land since the last war. But if we look at the proportion of people who stayed on the land as a result of being settled there after the first world war, compared with the number of people who stayed on the land after the last war, it will be seen that a very small proportion of those who were settled on the land after the last war have left their properties. But after the first world war well over half the number of people who were settled on the land left their properties.
A major step was taken by the Labour government when it decided to base this scheme on economic considerations rather than on political considerations. The Labour government laid down as a basic principle that the number of farms made available under the scheme would depend on the number of properties, which were considered to be economic propositions, that could be obtained, rather than on the number of prospective settlers available. As far as I know, that principle has been rigidly adhered to ever since - certainly it has been in South Australia, where, as far as it has gone, the war service land settlement scheme has been outstandingly successful.
What it means to base farm size on economic considerations can be illustrated by reference to a wool and fat lamb proposition, which is something about which I have some knowledge in South Australia. In South Australia, it is estimated that a settler needs to be able to run 1,200 breeding ewes or their equivalent on his property in order to maintain himself and his family in the manner laid down in the act. That is the guiding criterion - not the size of the farm, but the number of breeding ewes or their equivalent that a settler can run. The size of the farm allotted, therefore, depends on the number of acres that are necessary in the particular kind of country concerned to carry the required number of sheep. In parts of my own electorate the required farm size is as large as 2,000 acres, while in other parts it is as small as 400 acres. Much depends on the kind of’ country, the rainfall and other considerations. Similar principles, of course, apply to other kinds of land use, such as fruit-growing and dairying.
The determination to uphold the principle that economic considerations are paramount has, naturally enough, caused a good deal of heartburning. The. person who is very eager to get onto the land and start farming tends to ignore such considerations. He thinks that he is able to make an economic proposition of his venture, and to some extent his eagerness runs away with his judgment. I believe that the rigid adherence by the authorities, and particularly by the Commonwealth, to this principle has paid. off. It is much better for a person not to go on the land at all than to go on to it, to work, hard for some of the best years of his life and then to fail.
The unique quality of this principle in our Australian experience is demonstrated by the fact that when the decision was taken to adopt it there were no clearly defined methods of applying it. The necessary skills and techniques for assessing the capacity of a particular piece of land did not exist, or if they did, they were not particularly refined. The various bodies responsible for war service land settlement had to develop these techniques and methods of making assessments for themselves. Most of what had been done in the past had been by rule of thumb. Some experienced farmers were able to look at a particular piece of land and assess its capacity. Something more was required.
It is not surprising, Mr. Lawrence, that in those circumstances mistakes were made - some quite serious ones. Certainly some serious mistakes were made in my own district. It is worth mentioning that one mistake that 1 believe was made, at least in South Australia, was the result of a reluctance on the part of some of the officers concerned to take into account the experience of established farmers in the areas in which land was obtained for war service land settlement. Some of the officers considered that the approach of these farmers was not scientific enough and that, although they were successful, they did not really know what they were doing, and that, therefore, their experience was valueless for the purposes of the officers concerned. I think it can be clearly established that if the experience of these farmers had been sought and heeded, many of the mistakes that were made, would have been avoided. Fortunately, these mistakes have not had disastrous effects, because the authorities erred on the side of giving people too much land rather than too little. If they had been prepared to pay more attention to experienced farmers in the areas concerned, 1 believe more people would have been settled, on the land.
The point I want to make, Mr. Lawrence, is this: An enormous amount of experience has been gained during the administration of the war service land settlement scheme. It has been hard-won experience. That it is valuable experience is proved by the fact that the scheme has been successful. I would like to suggest to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) that we should not lose the value of that experience now that the scheme is coming to an end. I hope that it will never be necessary for us to undertake another war service land settlement scheme, but there will and must be other, closer settlement schemes to which the experience gained by the Commonwealth and the States can be applied. I would like the Minister, as the scheme is running to a close, to make an effort to gather together the experience that has been acquired. I suggest that some officer in the department, or a historian, should put on paper in permanent form all this painfully acquired experience, so that in future closer settlement schemes, whether they be undertaken by the Commonwealth or the
States, we will not make the mistakes that have been made in the past.
Recently, Mr. Lawrence-
– I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we ought to put this young member on the right track. It is not usual, I think, to address you, when you are occupying the chair, as Mr. Lawrence. I have not previously heard such a method of address used by honorable members. If it is wrong, I think this young man should be corrected. He has used the expression at least three times.
– The honorable member for Barker will address the Chair as Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is it proper to refer to an honorable member as “ this young man “?
– I do not think the honorable member for Barker will object.
– I accept the correction, but deplore the motives of the honorable member for Hindmarsh in making it.
– As the honorable member has driven so many of his fellow members out of the chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think we should bring them back again. I direct your attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– As I was saying, recently, in this House, I asked the Minister if he would agree to continue the war service land settlement scheme insofar as it applied to South Australia beyond June, 1959. Subsequently, in a written reply, the Minister indicated to me that the Government was not prepared to do that. That did not mean, of course, that all war service land settlement activity would cease in June, 1959, in South Australia, but only that no further propositions would be considered after that date.
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will apologize for making an offensive noise in the chamber.
– I only-
– Order! The honorable member will apologize or I shall name him.
– I apologize.
– My reason for asking this question of the Minister was the special! circumstances which exist in South Australia compared with the other States in relation to the amount of land available. In South Australia, the availability of suitable land for war service land settlement, or for any other purpose connected with agriculture for that matter, is limited, mainly by the fact that only a very small proportion of the large land area of South Australia is in an assured rainfall zone. If the war service land settlement scheme is discontinued after June of next year, many people will not receive farms under thescheme. Probably 200 people who are classified for war service land settlement purposes would be available to go on the land to-morrow if farms were available for them. If there were no more land available for this purpose, I would agree, reluctantly, that the scheme should be wound up after all applications lodged up till June of next year had been satisfied. But I do not believe that no more land is available. Driblets of land have been becoming available over the last few years from the most surprising and unanticipated quarters. These driblets have enabled farms - admittedly not many - to be provided for exservicemen. I emphasize that the availability of this land was unanticipated and unexpected. Surely if the unanticipated can come about in 1958, it might do so in 1959, in 1960, in 1961 and in future years. In other words, small areas of suitable land will continue to become available, and if the scheme were continued, more ex-servicemen could be settled on farms. Of course, a time will come when the eligible people are too old to take advantage of the scheme. I do not suggest that the scheme should be continued beyond that point. Certainly, that point has not yet been reached, and I do not think it will be reached next year, in the year after, nor for many years to come. I think that we should be prepared to continue the scheme for as long as the South Australian Government is prepared to put up propositions for consideration.
Even if only 30 or 40 persons were settled in the next five years, surely the continuation of the scheme would be worth while. Why not continue it? If the South Australian Government were able tomorrow to find land on which to settle all the people on the waiting list, the Commonwealth Government should cheerfully pay for it. Why not continue for a further period that readiness to pay? The sum of money involved would be no greater over the longer period than if it were all paid next year.
The purpose of the war service land settlement scheme, as I understand it, is to settle eligible ex-servicemen. That is our responsibility, so far as it is possible to carry it out. We should, I believe, continue to accept that responsibility so long as it is within our power to do so. So long as there is a possibility that land will become available, we have it in our power to exercise that responsibility, and we owe it to the ex-servicemen to do so.
I have been told that one of the reasons for wanting to wind up the scheme in June of next year is that the governments of Victoria, New South Wales and other participating States desire it to be wound up and that, for the sake of tidiness, it should be wound up. To me, a more important aspect than tidiness in a matter such as this is the question of whether we have fulfilled our obligations to date, and whether there is an opportunity for us to continue the scheme. Whatever the governments of New South Wales, Victoria, or the other States may desire in this respect, the fact remains that the South Australian Government does not want the scheme wound up next year. The South Australian Government is responsible for finding the land, for administering the scheme in South Australia, and for putting up propositions to the Commonwealth. If that government, as the responsible authority, thinks ‘ that land might become available in the future, I feel that the Commonwealth Government should accept its opinion. It is much more important that some of the remaining eligible exservicemen should be given an opportunity to settle on the land than that we should end the scheme for the sake of tidiness. I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision to wind up the scheme in June, 1959.
– The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) rightly said that the success of the war service land settlement scheme could be gauged from an answer to the question: “ Has it settled on farms those who are eligible and eager to so settle? “ I refer to the returned soldier population. On 26th August, in an endeavour to secure information that would enable me to make an up-to-date analysis of the success or otherwise of the scheme, I placed the following questions on the notice-paper: -
Those questions have not been answered. They should have been answered, because the Minister for Primary Industry has had ample time to answer them. Through the years, in order to assess the progress being made with the land settlement of exservicemen, I have asked numerous questions about the subject.
During World War II., the Rural Industries Committee of this Parliament was appointed with the object of ensuring that those who desired to settle on the land, and were suitable, should be able to obtain farms after the war. I believe that the committee estimated that 80,000 rural workers had left the primary industries in order to serve their country in one or other of the fighting forces, and that at least 50,000 of them would want to return to the land after the war. When the war ended, soldier settlement schemes were initiated in all States, with the assistance of the Commonwealth. Applications for settlement on the land were invited. Figures supplied to me indicate that nearly 39,000 ex-servicemen were accepted as suitable and eligible for settlement on the land. The number of applicants, of course, was very much greater. It was probably more than 50,000. Many of the eligible applicants, because of their youth, were sent to work for experienced farmers, the State governments paying part of their wages, while they gained experience. We have recently been told that the soldier settlement scheme is to be wound up almost immediately. The Minister for Primary Industry has told us, in his second-reading speech, that it is expected that 9,200 farms will have been provided by the time the scheme comes to an end. Although approximately 39,000 applicants were accepted, after a rigorous screening, as likely to make successful farmers, only 9,200 will have been placed on the land by the time soldier settlement comes to an end!
I have some figures relative to the agent States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania that were given to me in 1955 by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who was then Minister for the Interior. Since that time, not many more ex-servicemen have been settled on the land. These figures indicate that up to 1955 the number of ex-servicemen settled on the land was 658 in South Australia, 711 in Western Australia, and 217 in Tasmania. I was informed that, although it was difficult to arrive at the cost for each settler, it was estimated that it was £14,500 in South Australia, £15,300 in Western Australia, and £16,000 in Tasmania. Those estimates were in fact much below the actual cost, because many ex-servicemen were settled on the land in those States before 1948. There was a ceiling on land prices up to 1948, and up to that year settlement was made at relatively reasonable costs. Before 1948, the average price of land acquired for soldier settlement in Victoria was about £1 1 an acre. After 1948, that figure nearly doubled, and the price has continued to increase ever since.
In reality, of course, there are in Australia considerable areas of land suited to the settlement not merely of ex-servicemen, but also of civilians who desire to go on the land. Land settlement has been almost static since about 1939, despite the settlement of 9,200 ex-servicemen since World War II., because there are no more farmers in Australia to-day than there were in 1939, although the population has increased by approximately 2,000,000 since the war. Is it not an indictment of this Government that we are unable to populate the open spaces of this continent of 3,000,000 square miles? Not only are we unable to settle civilians in our great open spaces, which to-day are practically unoccupied, but also we are unable to pay the debt that we owe to those who fought for us, because we cannot settle all the ex-servicemen who wish to go on the land. As I have said, 9,200 will be settled, and approximately 30,000 have been disappointed, and are now disgruntled and no longer wish to settle on the land. They have been kept waiting too long. Although ample land was available, it was not acquired for soldier settlement.
This is a terrible indictment of the Government. It should have acquired the necessary land within a reasonable period after the termination of hostilities so that all the ex-servicemen who were qualified by experience to be rural producers could have been placed on the land to make their contribution to Australia’s economy by producing commodities that we could sell in overseas markets. We are continually told by the Minister for Primary Industry, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and other Ministers that we must sell more commodities overseas, because it is necessary to increase our exports in order that we may import more of the things we need in the present state of our economy and cannot produce here - oil, rubber, raw cotton and other goods essential to progress, development and the employment, of the people in a country such as this. But, no, nothing is done. Why? Of course, we have vast areas in outlying parts of Australia, such as northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia, which are largely Crown lands and could be given to settlers for development. But in places like Victoria and New South Wales the most fertile land and that most suitable for settlement, was taken up many years ago by members of the military caste and those who had served some governor in this or that capacity. They received large areas of the most fertile land at a peppercorn rental. That happened in Victoria from Geelong to the South Australian border. It happened all round Sydney and through the Riverina. Of course, the families of those early settlers who were placed in such an advantageous position, have hung on to that land to the detriment of the nation. They have not used it to its full productive capacity.
– They are still following the same course.
– I am reminded by the honorable member for Port Adelaide that they are still doing it. I believe the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) also interjected to the effect that the big stations had been cut up.
– I did not say that. I said that most of them had been cut up.
– The honorable member now has said “ most of them “. He is only a little less inaccurate than I thought he was. When the Cain Government was in control in Victoria, there was an investigation of land in the western district of Victoria suitable for settlement but which was not being used to its full productive capacity. Actually, the land was practically unused. It was discovered that there were 600,000 acres of the most fertile land in Victoria that could have been made available, and should have been made available, for soldier settlement, not only in the interests of soldiers but also in order that the progress and development of Victoria should not be impeded. But, of course, that is only a small portion of the continent of Australia. When the western district of Victoria is multiplied by the vast fertile areas available in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, as well as some areas in little Tasmania, we find that a private squattocracy in Australia still holds vast areas of land that should be cut up, mainly by processes of taxation, so that others might occupy it and add to the progress and development of Australia.
As every additional man comes to Australia from overseas, the danger that arises when land-hungry people are in the vicinity of land that is not being used to its full capacity becomes greater. Anybody who has read the recent story of Europe, and the story pf the Russian revolution in 1917, knows that the Communists used the existence of vast areas of land held by the few to rouse land-hungry people who had cast envious eyes on that land. The Communists used that fact to promote their revolutionary ideas. In every country that is a satellite of Russia to-day, agrarian policy was used initially to get the people to follow communism. In China, agrarian policy was used to rouse the ambitions and desires of the people of China, and the culmination was the revolution. If we do not see that this God-given land in Australia is used as fully as possible, we run the danger of experiencing here events similar to those which have occurred in those countries.
– The honorable member means’ the nationalization of land?
– The honorable member for Gwydir has said, “ You mean the nationalization of land “. I am opposed to collective farming whether the collective farms are run by a Russian government, an Australian government or a small squattocracy within Australia so that the men who do the work are merely chattels of those who own the land.
– The honorable member is a socialist.
– The Standing Orders forbid me telling the honorable member for Mallee what he is, so I shall proceed. The statements I have made are undeniable. A Labour government in Australia, in 1910, brought down land tax legislation; and its land tax put under the plough within a short period of years 19,000,000 acres of land.
– This is the worst speech I have heard the honorable member make.
– That is one of the greatest compliments that the honorable member could pay me. The legislation of the Labour Government in 1910 put a vast area of land under the plough. Within a short period, there were 30,000 more proprietary farmers throughout Australia than there were before the legislation was introduced. What happened? As soon as the Bruce-Page Government came into power, it showed that it did not have the courage to abolish the land tax but whittled it away at the rate of 10 per cent, in one year and 10 per cent, the next. Then when this Government, came into power, it also lacked the courage to abolish the land tax immediately, so it brought down legislation to increase the exemption. It led the people generally and the Labour Opposition to believe that that was all it intended to do about it. When introducing the legislation to increase the exemption, it did not suggest that there should be abolition of the tax altogether. No, it secured that reduction first, and then finally abolished the tax. The processes of the Government are the processes of white ants. The Government nibbles a bit away here, destroys the foundation of Australia’s prosperity, development, and progress there, and ultimately, when it has the courage to do so, it takes a bigger bite than is taken by the ordinary termite. So the structure of our prosperity becomes more and more insecure.
I have pointed out that taxation is a method whereby land can be made available. There are other methods. It can be made available by processes of resumption. Most people know the conditions that operated for many years in France, where there were vast estates and a land-hungry population. The French Government introduced legislation that prohibited landowners from willing their total land assets to one male member of the family, and compelled the division of land, upon the owner’s death, among the male members of his family. That was a method whereby land aggregation in France was stopped. Even in America, the home of rugged tree enterprise, the land legislation is much more advanced than it is in this country. The Tennessee Valley scheme, the Grand Coulee Dam, and other big American irrigation projects, were provided by the expenditure of vast amounts of the people’s money. In order to improve the productivity of the land and to enable more people to be settled upon it, the Americans introduced anti-land speculation legislation, under which a person could have and work under intensive culture 40 acres of irrigated land or, if he had a family, he could hold 80 acres. If he had bigger areas and wanted to dispose of them by either renting or selling them he had - and he has to-day - to do so at an appraised value, which is the value of the land as it was when it did not have upon it the water brought by the resources of the community.
Tn Australia, what has been done under a succession of Liberal governments? In Victoria, there are vast irrigation schemes. As a result of intensive culture, the productivity of the land has been increased tenfold. Big land holders have sold or rented land to farmers at the increased value brought about by the irrigation schemes constructed with government finance. The result is that whereas formerly a person would have gone upon the dry land and been a subsistence farmer because of the exactions of the land-owner, to-day he works the land as a wet or irrigation proposition, but still he is merely a subsistence farmer. When the prices of products shrink, and when there are bad seasons in Victoria, of course he cannot pay his instalments upon the land, which are tenfold what they should be, and he cannot pay for his water. The member of Parliament who represents the district points out these things to the government, and the government then has to reduce the water rate to the settler. In Victoria, the rate has been so greatly reduced down through the years that over £30,000,000 expended upon water supply schemes has had to be written off. In other words, irrigation - one of the most productive and profitable of schemes inaugurated in this country - becomes a loss to the ordinary man in the community because the land-owner gets the rake-off. When he sells the land, he sells not only the dry land he originally had, but in addition a proportion of the scheme put into operation by the government of his State and paid for by the whole community.
Those are not methods by which a nation like ours can progress. They are not methods whereby development of this country can proceed. Every water supply scheme initiated in this country has increased productivity immensely. Because it has resulted in increased productivity, it should be possible to more than pay for it from the resultant increased productivity. As these schemes are paid for, in other parts of the country similar gigantic schemes could be undertaken with the money derived from the schemes already in operation. But no! Ideas of that description cannot be conceived by the type of politicians that unfortunately we have to-day sitting, sometimes, on the treasury-bench. They are not often here. That, pf course, is very unfortunate.
– They are seldom in the country.
– As my friend says, they are seldom in the country. I see looking up from the table a gentleman who is sometimes in the country. I refer to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). He knows that if he travels from Orbost in Victoria to the South Australian border, in the whole of that long trek across Victoria he will see on every side vast areas of vacant land, and he will find very, very few farms. He will say to himself, “ Surely many of the people crowded into the suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney could go to populate this land “. How many people are there in rural occupations in Australia, out of the 10,000,000 people that we have?
– Fewer than there were before the war.
– The number is shrinking.
– Of course, they are getting fewer than before the war. There are approximately 444,000 people engaged in rural activities. That does not mean that there are 444,000 farmers.
– They work harder. They get more done. They carry the rest of the country.
– My friend says that they work harder.
– He knows. He is an absentee landlord.
– How would the honorable gentleman be if there were not people to consume the commodities he produces? How would he be if they were unwilling to pay the exorbitant prices that he charges for his commodities? Who carries him? Do the people who pay the prices that he charges for his commodities carry him. or does he carry the people? Of course, it is the people who carry the honorable member, and for too long in this country they have carried him and other members that belong to the same class as he does. I admit that he is a more genial type of the land pirateer, the squattocracy of this community, than most of them are, but nevertheless the sooner he does a useful job for the community and gets rid of a vast proportion of the areas that he has to-day, the better it will be for this country.
One of the gentlemen who preceded me in the seat which I represent in this Parliament, the Honorable Frank Anstey, wrote a book entitled, “ Land Monopoly “; I was reading it only the other day. In that book he gives the story of land development in the western district of Victoria. He shows how vast areas were given to small families and how they have been kept intact. I remember seeing the name of one right honorable gentleman on a plan of a particularly big and fertile property in that area; but his property was not the largest.
There were many larger ones. Those properties have remained at practically the same size from that period until now; indeed, many of them have been enlarged.
Why has it become impossible or impracticable to carry out any settlement of either ex-servicemen or others in those areas? It is because their owners are land-hungry. They want more and more land. In years when they make large profits because overseas prices are high, they buy a little bit of land adjoining their property and pay for it much more than its productive value. When the price of wool soared, and a benevolent government administered by the Right Honorable Robert Gordon Menzies in 1953 reduced taxation for land-holders, what did they do with the money they were thus saved in taxation? They sought to secure more and more land. So, they added to their areas.
When a government representative approaches them to buy land for soldier settlement or an ordinary civilian seeks to obtain an area so that he can make a living from it, these people will not sell at a price that would make it profitable for the intending purchaser to become a farmer there. There are small farmers whose sons want to go upon the land, but they are not able to do so for this reason. Many people who have lived in country towns and saved a few thousand pounds would like to become farmers. They have all the qualifications to become rural producers, but they cannot obtain farms because there is very little land of any use that is not locked up or which they can buy at a price that would enable them to make a profit and enjoy a reasonably comfortable existence as a farmer. This is due, as I have said, to the aggregation of land in the hands of the very, very few.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I regret the fact that soldier settlement is being terminated, but I admit that under existing circumstances and owing to the methods that are not only permitted but also encouraged by this Government, it is difficult for any State government to secure adequate areas for soldier settlement at prices that would make it a profitable venture for those who want to settle on the land. I ask any honorable member here to produce figures which would show that soldier settlement has been really successful, when out of 40,000 eligible and desirable applicants for land, only 9,000 have been accommodated. Has soldier settlement been satisfactorily carried out when fewer than 1,000 exservicemen have been settled in South Australia and Western Australia and fewer than 500 in Tasmania?
If soldier settlement, which is number one priority in land settlement, cannot be undertaken successfully, how can we inaugurate or embark upon the settlement of civilians so that Australians born in this country, or new Australians, can be scattered throughout the length and breadth of our country, to add to our security in time of danger, and to our prosperity in time of peace, and dot the landscape in every State with happy, comfortable, rural homes? Those ideals which men of vision had in the past and without the application of which this country surely cannot develop and prosper, but must ultimately decline, can only be put into operation, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would agree with me, as a result of the advent of a Labour government.
.- I had originally intended to ask permission of the House to have the remarks of the honorable member - for Barker (Mr. Forbes) incorporated in “ Hansard “ under my name so that I need not detain the House by repeating a speech with almost the whole of which I am in entire agreement.
– You are flattering him.
– 1 am not concerned whether- my remarks flatter the honorable member, but I am concerned with the feelings of honorable members, and I do not think that they would be very happy to hear me reiterate the views which the honorable member expressed.
However, I am provoked to go a little further in view of the remarks of the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters). I am provoked because of the complete lack of understanding which he has demonstrated in connexion with land matters. His complete misunderstanding has illustrated most clearly that if there is one party which is utterly and completely incapable of governing this country and ensuring the prosperity of people on the land, it is the Australian Labour party.
The honorable member blamed the Government* for the failure of what he calls soldier land settlement. But so far as soldier land settlement has progressed, it has not failed. The only trouble is that it has not progressed far enough, as the honorable member for Barker said. But the responsibility for that fact rests entirely with the State governments. On no ground can any State government or any member of this House point an accusing finger at this Government in this respect. The honorable member for Scullin needs to be informed of the fact that the fundamental basis of the soldier land settlement scheme, which was devised by a Labour government, was that the States, which are the only government authorities which have powers over land, should initiate soldier land settlement projects. Their’s is the responsibility of initiating and operating such schemes. Three of the States said they would operate the scheme entirely as free and independent principal States, whilst the remaining States agreed to act as agent States for the Commonwealth. But even the agent States had the responsibility of initiating and operating every soldier settlement project.
In no case has the Commonwealth restricted any of the States when they have asked for money for soldier land settlement. Not one iota of responsibility for any previous failure in connexion with soldier land settlement can be laid at the door of this Government. No doubt the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) could tell us much about the position in Queensland, which engaged my attention at one time. The Premier of Queensland attended a meeting of the Australian Loan Council at Canberra and secured an amount of money for war service land settlement. But what happened when he went back to Queensland? War service land settlement was suspended in that State. Land was frozen and ex-servicemen were denied the. opportunity even to go out on their own account. I do not know what has happened to the money. Perhaps that is a matter worthy of investigation.
In all the States, the position has been the same. Where there has been a failure to provide land for all ex-servicemen who want it - and there are plenty - the responsibility lies entirely at the door of the State government. That is one reason why I support the honorable member for Barker in asking the Commonwealth Government to be charitable and to honour its obligations to these ex-servicemen, instead of closing this scheme because the States have not done the job and want it terminated. If the States say they cannot do any more, the scheme will automatically terminate in each State. I realize that it cannot continue for ever. But because some exservicemen are still waiting to go on the land, it is entirely wrong to lay the blame on this Government. The honorable member for Scullin deceives no one more than he deceives himself if he continues with that argument.
The honorable member for Scullin made much of the fact that fewer people are engaged in rural industries to-day than were so engaged some years ago. Of course, that is possible. But he does not take into consideration that more land is under rural production to-day than there was at the time to which he refers. We have more land in production and we have a greater volume of production. The honorable member refuses to acknowledge the fact that to-day our farmers are using more efficient methods than they used before. He does not take into account that we are living in an age of mechanization, which reduces the amount of manual labour employed on a farm. The consequence is that while possibly fewer people are engaged in rural industries, nevertheless the area under production and the volume of production have increased. That must be the criterion. The rural industries do not recognize a 40-hour week or a darg. Let the honorable member remember that. If he wants those features introduced into rural production, the number of persons employed will increase tremendously, and no doubt costs of production will increase by an enormous extent.
The honorable member also said that very little land of any use is available to-day, and that all the good land is locked up. He made his speech about the locking up of land in the wrong place. The power to resume land and to compel the division of large estates, where that is desirable, rests entirely with the States. The Commonwealth can acquire land on fair terms for its own purposes. However, merely because it has some fantastic idea that land can be put to better use, it cannot go out willy-nilly and resume it. unless it introduces a scheme of land nationalization or farm nationalization. While the honorable member professes not to support the nationalization of farms, he advances here the basis of an argument which, if followed, must ultimately lead to that end.
– The honorable member is wrong.
– Of course, I am not wrong; I am right. The honorable member for Scullin must be careful about what he says. He should arrange his thoughts and express his ideas clearly. If he wants the National Parliament to do as he suggests, he must ensure that the Parliament has the power to do so. The only way to do that is through a system of nationalization. In Western Australia to-day, any amount of good land is available for use, and it is being used. A civilian land settlement scheme is operating in that State. Virgin land is being surveyed and allotted to settlers to-day. However, the limiting factor in our agricultural development is lack of finance - not only the finance of the individual who has not sufficient to meet the tremendous costs involved in developing land, but also the finance of institutions which have not the money available to do it.
– What is the Commonwealth Government doing?
– The honorable member for Grayndler asks what the Commonwealth is doing. I suggest that he go to his Labour party colleagues in the Senate and ask them why they denied to this Government an opportunity to do something about it by refusing to pass the legislation establishing the development bank. In that way, they denied the Government an opportunity to assist in the development of virgin areas.
– That is no answer.
– The honorable member says that that is no answer. Of course, the guilty man gets out from under the millstone around his neck. He cannot deny that his colleagues in the Senate refused to pass the bill.
– It was a monstrous bill.
– The electors should realize that, if on 22nd November the honorable member and his party gain the treasury bench, legislation to provide assistance for the development of the rural industry and other industries will not be introduced because it would be considered a monstrous proposition. The honorable member confirms in this place what happened in the Senate.
I ask the Government to give an undertaking that it will continue with its efforts to have the necessary legislation passed to permit it to do what it intended to do in the first place - that is, to provide assistance to those who cannot obtain assistance under the war service land settlement scheme. I refer to civilian settlers who want to develop land. In addition, we as individuals need to go out into our States to ensure that the State government is of the type that has confidence in the development of this country and will do all that is possible to extend land development. Opportunities for development are all around us, and we are faced with the question of providing assistance for land settlement beyond the war service land settlement scheme. That scheme needs to be continued so that this Government can claim at least to have honoured the undertaking given to exservicemen. It is not culpable at all for any failure of the scheme, but nevertheless eligible and suitable ex-servicemen are still waiting to go on the land. Although the Government stands blameless in that regard, it does owe a responsibility to exservicemen to do something with the States. It should say to the States, “We want to see that that obligation is honoured, and we are willing to assist you to honour it “. The Government should assist ordinary civilian land settlement, which the Labour party has opposed in the past.
.- I should like to reply to one or two extravagant statements made by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie). To-day I am in the happy position of following the honorable member in this debate, whereas in another debate last night he followed me. I do not know whether he has read the bill before the House, but I wish to correct one or two of his statements. He said that the Labour party was incapable of administering a scheme such as the one provided for in the bill. That is utter rot. It was a Labour government that instituted this scheme, just as Labour governments have initiated many big schemes. This Government has carried on where Labour left off. Sometimes it has gone backwards, and sometimes it has gone forwards. It has learnt from its errors. The honorable member for Moore made an irresponsible charge that Labour was incapable of handling such a great scheme. The fact that the scheme was started by a Labour government, and was well under way when this Government took over in 1949, is proof that Labour handled the scheme very well indeed.
I wish to say a few words about the Commonwealth Bank Bill, which was rejected in the Senate last year, and which will never be passed by the Parliament as long as the Labour party has its way. The honorable member for Moore, as a salve for his conscience, said that the Australian Country party supported the Commonwealth Bank Bill because the bill provided a special development section. His leader, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who has now left the Parliament, fought against the bill right up to the last stages, and he was put on the mat by the Government.
– By the banks.
– And by the banks. The Treasurer finally gave way. He only salved his conscience by putting a section in the bill which would enable special development to take place in Australia. The very things that that section of the bill was designed to permit can be done now under existing legislation. The Labour party will never agree to any phase of that infamous Commonwealth Bank Bill.
This remarkable war service land settlement scheme is drawing to a close. It will end in the next two or three years, according to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). It has been in existence for thirteen or fourteen years. The bill before the House makes available £7,000,000 of loan money for acquisition of land, development of land, and for the provision of funds to ex-servicemen for working expenses and purchase of stock, plant and equipment. Added to that sum will be £4,330,000, which will come from repayment of advances to ex-servicemen, plus State and Commonwealth contributions over and above valuations, and for sale of surplus lands, &c. That will make a total of £11,330,000 to be spent in the next twelve months. The Opposition is grateful that this amount is being provided. A definite move is being made to push the scheme to a conclusion, and adequate finance must be available to do so.
I want to assess the scheme, first on the credit side and then on the debit side. On the credit side, the scheme will have provided 9,200 farms for ex-servicemen by the end of this year. That is a very remarkable performance, and it has been achieved since 1946 or 1947. The scheme has opened up thousands of acres of land for rural production. But for the scheme, it is most unlikely that that land would ever have been opened up. Some of that land is first-class land, some of it is second-class, and a little of it is third-class land; but the overall average is somewhere between firstclass and second-class.
In Tasmania, most of the vast areas of soldier settlement are in my electorate of Wilmot, which covers half the island. I have seen the scheme develop since its inception in Tasmania, and particularly in my electorate, where there has not been one failure in choice of land or choice of settler. All the settlers have done well, and the scheme has been eminently successful from every point of view.
Very remarkable progress has been made in cutting up large areas of land. The scheme has increased production to a very great extent throughout Australia at a time when the country needs more rural production to meet the needs of the world’s increased population, including Australia’s increased population. Under the scheme, big estates have been cut up, and this is in line with Labour’s policy. There has been a lot of ridiculous talk recently in this Parliament about television shows and nationalization of land. Much of that talk has been irrational. A lot of it was loaded with propaganda. A lot of it was deliberately designed to misinterpret the words of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) on a television programme.
The cutting up of large estates under this scheme has given a tremendous fillip to the expansion of rural production. There are some vast areas of land in Tasmania under one ownership. One property contains 85,000 acres; another 74,000 acres. There are several properties of 20,000 acres and quite a few of from 10,000 to 15,000 acres. Some of those properties have now been cut up. One 70,000-acre property in the southern part of my electorate, called “ Lawrenny “, was cut up. It was one of the first to be dealt with, and it has now given way to 70 farms. This cutting up of land has done a lot towards implementing Labour’s policy in regard to large estates. If honorable members want to call that socialism they can do so, because I guess it is pretty near to being socialism for the Government to take land from private individuals and cut it up for use by many people. That is a form of socialism in any language. This Government has put its stamp of approval on that policy. Despite the hypocritical stand taken by the Government on this land question, it has carried on this form of socialization up to the present. It has cut up big estates and made them available to many small farmers.
These large estates would never have been utilized fully had they not been cut up. In my electorate there are thousands of acres of land that have never been worked. The native grasses that grew there 150 years ago are still growing there. Those acres have never been sown. When this scheme was being pushed into effect in Tasmania and large estates were being cut up, one would see strip development along the highways. The large land-holders would get into their tractors and plough 50 or 100 acres along the highway. When the land settlement man came along he would say, “ This farmer is developing his property. We will not touch his estate.” That was probably the first time that the land had been touched by a plough for 50 years. The taking over and cutting up of large estates has benefited Australia as a nation and the ex-servicemen as individuals.
The policy of the Labour party is opposed to the existence of big estates that are not being used. If they are not being fully used for production, they should be cut up, by some means or other, so that full production may be achieved. Tn Great Britain to-day there is a scheme in operation which is socialism par excellence. It is administered by the British Agricultural Committee, which actually has the power to put men off the land if they will not work it. Since 1947, when the scheme was inaugurated, about 3,000 farmers have been put off their land because they would not carry out the policy of the agricultural committee. That scheme was introduced by a Labour government, but it has been carried on by the Conservative Government.
In Australia we have no such thing as socialism by comparison with this scheme that is at present in operation in Great Britain. I studied it at first hand in 1952, and when I told people in Tasmania that the Conservative Government in England was putting men off the land because they would not work it I was told that I was a liar, or that I did not know what I was talking about. I then gave chapter and verse, and it had to be admitted that what I said was true. Under that scheme, if a man is not doing his job properly, he is put on probation for a year, and at the end of that time his case is reviewed. If he has not done what he was instructed to do, he loses his land, and it is given to somebody else. A government of the same political complexion as the Australian Government is sponsoring that vicious form of socialism in Great Britain to-day.
– A terrible thing for a Liberal government to do!
– That is why I say that Government supporters are being hypocritical when they speak of socialism in this country. The honorable member for East Sydney has been chided for allegedly saying that the Labour party’s policy includes the nationalization of farms. This is completely untrue. I have been on the federal executive of the Labour party for years. I have attended the federal conferences since 1948. At no stage have we contemplated taking over the farms of Australia in any way. Any such statement by a Government supporter, either in this Parliament or in the election campaign, is an absolute lie. As the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) reminds me, if honorable members opposite have to resort to this kind of propaganda, it shows how desperate they are, and how short they are of arguments and of policy.
– The Government owns all the land in the Australian Capital Territory.
– As the honorable member for Shortland has reminded me, the land in the Territory is held in perpetuity by the Government, and no person is allowed to buy the land, although it can be leased for a period of 99 years. This, of course, is socialism. The Government owns the land, and it will allow people to rent it. Yet we are accused of an intention to nationalize the farms. We are certainly going to do all we can to cut up big estates, but the small farmers will be left as they are. We encourage the small farmers of Australia. We encourage farming as farming.
– What does the honorable member call a small farmer?
– Well, he is not a big farmer. The small farmers include those engaged in dairying, in potato, maize and sugar growing, in wheat-growing, in poultry farming, and graziers on small properties up to, say, 10,000 acres. Those are the persons to whom we refer. The only big farmers in this country are graziers and squatters with large holdings. There are not many of them, in toto, throughout Australia. I suppose that 80 per cent, of Australian farms would be run and worked by what we call small farmers. It is only the other 10 per cent, or 20 per cent, that we are concerned about. To say that we stand for nationalization of farms, as distinct from the cutting up of big estates, is to misinterpret completely and deliberately the policy of the Australian Labour party. All that the honorable member for East Sydney was trying to do in the television programme was to explain to the questioner that we believed in the cutting up of large estates, not that we were going to nationalize small farms.
Another point I wish to make, on the credit side of this scheme, is that it has increased the number of rural family units. It has developed new country towns, built new roads and circulated currency in completely new areas. It has resulted in the building of schools, hospitals and private buildings. It has added a new and proud chapter to the rural story of the Commonwealth.
A further point I make is that farms have been brought to the stage of production before occupation by settlers. This is a completely different procedure from that which was in operation under the scheme that followed the first World War. Admittedly, it has slowed down the scheme. When the settler goes on to his farm to-day, the fences are up, the farm is subdivided, the dams are provided, creeks have been diverted or dammed for the purpose of irrigation, the house has been built, the out-buildings are in existence and the stock is on the property. The occupier takes over a working unit, a producing unit. This has been an outstanding feature of the scheme.
I now come to the debit side. First, in some cases the amounts paid for land acquired have been less than reasonable. I am not going to dwell on this matter.
– The honorable member had better not dwell on it as regards New South Wales.
– Secondly, in some cases certain huge estates which should have been acquired for soldier settlement have been bypassed. For some reason or other the owners have been able to avoid having their land cut up.
The third comment, on the debit side, is that the bureaucracy, in handling the affairs of the soldier settlers, has sometimes discouraged them by undue delays and vacillations regarding important decisions affecting their welfare. I suppose that with a bureaucracy, as we call it - in other words, a public service - this is inevitable. In each State the department concerned is handling such a tremendous job that there must be some delays and vacillations. I must, however, make the criticism that in some cases red tape has adversely affected a man’s future and has delayed his plans and his development. In some cases I believe that injustice has been done to soldier settlers in this regard. On the whole, however, the men in charge of the scheme, from the Director’ down, have, in my opinion, genuinely and sincerely tried to bring this great scheme to fruition. If there have been mistakes, they have been human ones that- must necessarily occur when a bureaucracy handles a job of this magnitude.
Fourthly, I wish to criticize the system of fining men who, after working their properties for several years, are accused of not keeping their farms clean. An official may come and inspect a property, and he may consider that it is not being kept sufficiently clean. There may be re-growth on some sections of it. I have had such matters brought to my notice in connexion with properties on King Island. This district is not in my electorate, being in the electorate of the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Luck), but I lived there for two years, and I know it very well, particularly as my wife comes from King Island. I can tell honorable members of one man who worked hard on a property there for five years and who did well. Then the assessors swept in, and later he received a bill, worked out on the basis of £1 an acre, for what they called alleged neglect of property. That fine appeared to be completely arbitrary. There is nothing in the act to stipulate that a fine shall be at the rate of £1 an acre, or that a man shall be punished in a specified manner. I believe that this system of punishment has operated very cruelly in the case of certain soldier settlers in that area. I mention it here on the debit side.
Fifthly, I want to criticize the tough, unyielding policy of the Commonwealth valuer in many cases in Tasmania. This man believes in the law of the Medes and the Persians - the unchangeable law. To my knowledge, he would not compromise with a farmer on any occasion in relation to the price at which he might be prepared to sell his land to provide single unit farms for soldier settlers. Many good farms in Tasmania have been lost to this scheme because of what I call the unchangeable, the incorrigible attitude of the federal valuer. I have had personal experience of that, and I know what I am talking about.
In valuing a farm, he might not even walk over it. He might look at the farm from the front gate, or from near the outbuildings and decide that the place was worth £20,000. Then he would ask the farmer how much he wanted for the property. If the farmer said that he wanted £22,000, that would be the end of the matter. There would be no compromise. The valuer would not explain how he arrived at his valuation of £20,000. This is the type of thing that has slowed the scheme down - the unyielding, tough policy of the federal valuer. I believe that compromise is often valuable and, in these cases, compromise could have got much good land for the scheme. But the valuer has said, “ This is what we offer you. Take it or leave it.”
My sixth critical point is that, in some cases, excessive rentals have been charged. My seventh point is that, in other cases, the farm units have been too small to be an economic proposition for the soldier settler. Settlement on King Island provides another illustration of this. When the settlers went there about six years ago prices were booming, particularly the prices of dairy products^ - and most of the men are dairyfarmers. They were doing well. But now that the prices of dairy products have fallen, in some cases disastrously, those men find that they cannot use their property for anything bin dairy farming.
It should have been taken into consideration that, at some time or other in the future, it would not be possible to carry on dairying on these properties because of falling world prices. Consideration should have been given to how those farmers could have undertaken diversified farming. Perhaps, in another five or six years it will be impossible to use this land for dairyfarming. Consideration should have been given to whether the farm would be big enough to be used for raising fat lambs, fat cattle or sheep. Because that was not taken into consideration, some of those farmers are going to be caught because the farms are not big enough to undertake the raising of sheep or fat cattle on an economic basis. That is one of the criticisms I make of some phases of the scheme. The unit has not been quite big enough to allow of diversified farming, should the original plan fall flat through a fall in world prices.
My final criticism is that not all the applicants will obtain farms before the scheme ends. This is not a very severe criticism because far more men have applied for soldier settlement farms than it has been possible to put on the farms. Some will be unlucky to miss out. Unfortunately, some of them have been applicants for several years. They have been waiting and waiting; they are now seven or eight years older. It is pretty hard that those chaps have not got what they wanted and that they will have to continue working for other persons on other properties. But perhaps that is inevitable under a scheme of this magnitude. Before we talk about civilian settlement on the same lines as this, we should make sure that soldier settlers who are still eligible by age and experience for settlement should not be left out in the final phase of the scheme.
Finally, I want to say that the balancesheet as far as the soldier settlement scheme is concerned falls down heavily on the credit side. There is a credit balance, when we compare the credits with the debits. Definitely, it is a scheme that has worked. The scheme is heavily weighted on the credit side, in spite of all the difficulties, criticisms and mistakes that have been made.
– You might be expelled from your party for comments like that.
– I do not think so. Have you some inner knowledge of our policy that I have not?
– You should be on television.
– I am not able to go on television. I am only a little shot. I am not a big shot. I do not think that you will be on television either.
When we compare this scheme with the First World War scheme we find that it is vastly superior. I remember that while the chaps were away fighting in the First World War, certain men in the Gippsland area of Victoria selected land in order to sell it for soldier settlement. The land was filled with bracken fern and bramble. When the servicemen returned from the war, they were sold this land. At Fish Creek, 55 farms were made available for soldier settlement after the First World War, and by 1932 only five settlers were still there. That sort of thing went on all over the place. In Tasmania, at a place called Maitland, west of Cressy, five farms were made available for settlement, and to-day not one of them is owned by a soldier settler.
I do not think that that will happen as a result of this scheme. It is stable and it is on an economic basis. The men go on to an economic unit. They are not shoved out to isolated areas without proper assistance, without fences, without a decent home, without outbuildings and without half a dozen other amenities that were lacking after the First World War. It is no wonder that when the depression hit the land, between 1930 and 1934, thousands of ex-service settlers joined the 20,000 farmers who walked off their farms. Among them were thousands of exservicemen, who would not have left their farms if the scheme had been as sound as this one has been in spite of the mistakes that have been made.
– It was not my intention to rise and speak on this legislation, which provides for one of the ultimate payments towards the war service land settlement scheme throughout the Commonwealth in the form of £7,000,000 of loan money, and £4,300,000 which will be received back from the settlers. But I was moved by some of the remarks made by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) and by the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters). The first thought that flashed through my mind related to Labour’s land policy. We had, on the one hand, the rather outspoken remarks of the honorable member for Scullin. Anybody who did not see in those remarks a sinister meaning, as I understood them, would think that he was a great supporter of war service land settlement. But underlying his remarks was a concern for the acquisition of land for political purposes. It is this sort of statement that is responsible for the confusion that exists in the minds of the public in regard to Labour’s policy generally.
Not so long ago, we heard the opinions of that eminent spokesman for the Australian Labour party, Dr. John Burton, who said that Labour would have to drop its socialist policy, that it was unrealistic and did not appeal to the Australian voters. Then, on another occasion recently, we were told about what may be termed the Ward land seizure plan. The House has just now been given the benefit of the Duthie interpretation of the Ward land seizure plan. This reminds me somewhat of the watering down of Labour’s general socialist platform by what is known as the Blackburn interpretation.
This contentious subject is one about which, as I well realize, the Australian public is probably vastly confused. Without going into it any deeper, I should like to correct one or two of the misstatements made by the honorable member for Scullin. Every time a measure of this kind comes up for discussion, the honorable member gets out the old speech, shakes a few moth balls out of it, and gives it another go. Each time, unfortunately, he repeats the same inaccuracies. The first inaccuracy that I should like .to correct concerns the number of ex-servicemen who have been settled on farms under the war service land settlement scheme. The honorable member said that 9,200 out of 39,000 ex-servicemen classified as eligible for settlement will be settled under the scheme. Without going to a great deal of trouble, I have obtained some figures to refute some of the assertions made by the honorable member, and these figures show that his whole argument was without foundation. Under the general schemes of war service land settlement directly assisted by the Commonwealth under the terms of measures such as this, some 9,200 ex-servicemen have been placed on farms. In my own State, Victoria, under what is called the single-unit farm scheme, which is provided for in State legislation, some 2,715 ex-servicemen had been settled on farms up to 30th June of last year. In addition, by means of loans or allowances, some 14,313 ex-servicemen have been assisted to obtain or conduct farms. Here again, Sir, confusion may exist, because it is not possible to ascertain what percentage of the 39,000 who were classified as eligible have been assisted in this way, although I think it is reasonable to assume that many of them would have been included in the 39,000. These figures, Mr. Speaker, give a total of 26,228.
There are various reasons why all the ex-servicemen who were classified as eligible for settlement were not eventually settled on the land. One of the major stumbling-blocks originally - I think it was mentioned by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) - was the complete lack of co-operation by the Labour government in Queensland in the early years of the war service land settlement scheme. That government was completely indifferent to efforts to help ex-servicemen to settle on the land, and any sub-divisions of land that it made for settlement were qualified by the provision of only a very small proportion of the blocks for ex-servicemen.
The second reason why I think these figures are inclined to be misleading is that the figure of 39,000 would include a number of ex-servicemen who felt that they had nothing to lose, and possibly something to gain, by putting down their names for the scheme, many of them being well suited to farming by their previous experience, and by the fact that they had lived on farms. It cost them nothing to put their names down, and, if their turn came round, they could then decide whether or not to take up land. Many of these men, having put down their names for settlement on the land, found other vocations in life and abandoned the idea of going farming.
The third reason why I think the figures may be misleading is that, owing to delays in the early stages of the scheme, many applicants, unfortunately, became impatient and decided that they would have to wait too long. Many of them married and had to engage in other pursuits in order to provide for their wives and their growing families. A flow of applicants away from the scheme in that way is only normal, and could not have been avoided.
Since we are reviewing the entire scheme, it may be appropriate for me to say that, in the initial stages of such a scheme, caution was probably necessary, particularly in the early post-war years, when there was a serious shortage of building materials and a tremendous demand for all the available supplies of farm materials and equipment so necessary for the improvement of pastures and of farm properties. In those circumstances, any violent hurry to get on with the scheme would probably have imposed impossible strains on Australia’s resources. It would be only fair to take account of these factors in .assessing the record of the Labour Government in war service land settlement; not that the Commonwealth had much direct control over the scheme in the two principal States. Victoria and New South Wales, but it certainly bad considerable responsibility in the three agent States. I think that the previous government was probably right in assuming that it was better to go a little slowly and make sure that the job was properly done rather than to rush ahead and, in the process, to force up the prices of building material and other things, thereby allowing the land to become greatly overcapitalized by making improvements at too high a cost. For these reasons I do not blame the previous administration for proceeding slowly. But I think it was probably the slowness in the early stages that led a number of ex-servicemen who had been classified as eligible to participate in the scheme to take the view that it was lagging too much and that they would be better advised to seek other pursuits.
Sir, I resent intensely the remarks made by the honorable member for Scullin about the attitude of many land-owners in Victoria. As a member of a family which has made available the major part of its land for soldier settlement - I remind the House, at prices considerably below current prices - I feel that I must speak up for a section of the community of which I am a member. The honorable member’s arguments and criticisms were so much coloured by an ancient grudge, and the inability to see any good in anybody else, that one is forced to doubt their veracity.
In conclusion, Sir, I should like to congratulate particularly the persons associated with the war service land settlement scheme. The scheme may not have settled the vast numbers of ex-servicemen that we should like to see settled on the land, but the reasons why many of those who wanted to go on the land fell by the wayside or turned to more profitable pursuits are clear. Generally, the administration of the scheme has been good. I should like to mention particularly the Victorian Soldier Settlement Commission, which has done a splendid job within the means at its disposal. Finally, I should like to put on record the hope that the commission will not detract from the magnificent work that it has done in the past by placing too much emphasis on the development of dairy farms at this time, when the situation in the dairying industry does not encourage anybody to enter it.
.- Mr. Speaker, I should like the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), in closing this debate, to shed a little more light on the number of applicants who are still waiting to be settled on the land.
– I have already done that in answer to a question asked by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). If the honorable member for Werriwa listened to the answers given to questions, or read the answers to questions on notice, he would have the information that he requires. He can get it from the honorable member for Melbourne.
– But the Minister was unable to give me such an answer before when I asked a simpler question.
– If the honorable member had asked it on notice, he would have got the information that he wanted.
– The Minister will have an opportunity to address the House later. I hope that he will not get testy when he gives the information that we want. In order that the Minister may be prepared to give an answer on this matter, I refer him to the answer which he gave me on 19th August - it -appears at pages 522 and 523 of “ Hansard “ - when I asked this same question before. I realize that it is not easy for him to say how many applicants are still waiting to be settled. I see considerable force in his reply that he depends for his information on figures given by the five participating States. Nevertheless, it is surely important to get some idea of how many are still to be settled because that is the only way we can learn when soldier settlement will be completed and when our responsibility will have been fulfilled.
It ought to be trite, but few people seem to remember, or to make reference to the fact, that the Commonwealth is interested in land settlement of ex-servicemen as part of its defence power. That is the power under which it prepares for the defence of the country, carries out the defence of the country and rehabilitates those who have participated in the country’s defence. We would not be concerned with war service land settlement, war service homes or repatriation if it were not for the fact that defence is the Commonwealth’s obligation. Consequently, the settlement on the land of ex-servicemen - the only form of land settlement, of breaking up estates or intensified use of our land, in which we can participate - is achieved under the defence power.
Those whom we are proposing to settle were demobilized, in general, thirteen or fourteen years ago. We have the responsibility of settling them, and it is important to know to what extent we are discharging that responsibility. It is difficult to get satisfactory figures as to how many persons have, in fact, been settled even in recent years.
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that on 15th September, 1955, the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who was then Minister in charge of this matter, enunciated a plan under which it was hoped that the settlement of soldiers would be completed in three years; yet we find that it has not been completed. The Minister of that day did not give any precise estimates, but he recited this passage, and I suppose that he was referring to New South Wales -
In one State it has been estimated that approximately 1,200 genuine applicants, who have made the land their main occupation since the end of the war, are still waiting for blocks. It is hoped that that State will be able to allocate 400 new blocks each year for the next three years.
If the honorable member was referring to New South Wales - and he did not say exactly - there is no doubt that that objective has not been achieved. If he was referring to any other State, still less has it been achieved. I shall refer the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) to two groups of figures, and I should be glad if he would reconcile them for me. First, I refer to the number of persons who had been settled under this scheme in the various States at the time the three years’ period commenced; that is, at the beginning of July, 1955. Here I quote the figures in the “ Commonwealth Year-Book “ for 1956. One can find the figures for the ensuing year - that is up to the end of June, 1956- in “ Hansard “ of 9th October, 1956, when the present Minister gave an answer to the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters). He repeated the figures in his own speech two days later, as reported at page 1377 of “Hansard”. One can find the figures for the year to the end of June, 1957, in the Department of the Interior’s publication, “ Facts and Figures No. 54 “. I do not know where one could find the figures up to the end of June, 1958 - the concluding period of the three years. One can find them up to the end of December last in the report by Mr. Colquhoun, Director of War Service Land Settlement, to the National Executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, which appears in the executive’s annual report for the year ended 31st December, 1957, to be presented at the league’s congress on 27th October next.
Let me cite the case of New South Wales. At the beginning of the three years and in the following periods the figures were -
In the answer that the Minister gave me on this matter on 19th August last, he told me the holdings allotted in New South Wales in each of the last financial years were -
You will notice, Mr. Speaker, that the figures do not tally. I now give the respective figures for Victoria from the sources that I first cited -
According to the Minister’s reply to me on 19th August, the figures for Victoria relating to holdings allotted were -
The same disparity occurs in the case of all five States which participated. I have not mentioned Queensland. I would be interested to know how many actually have been settled and how many holdings actually have been allotted. I have given the Minister chapter and verse for all the government publications and reports concerned. As for the number of ex-servicemen still to be settled, when this matter was before the House last year, my deputy leader, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) asked the Minister, by interjection, how many still had to be settled. In answer to his question, the Minister sent a letter giving estimates. I will not give the figures for the individual States. The Minister will be assisted if I remind him that the letter he sent to the honorable member for Melbourne was dated 10th October, 1957. The number that he estimated in that letter still to be settled was less than 4,000 in the five States. If there are fewer than 4,000 still to be settled it will still take many more years than the one for which we are making an appropriation to settle those persons on the land, because in the last year or so we have certainly settled them at only a fraction of that number.
Before I sit down, there are two other matters to which I wish to refer - war service land settlement in Queensland and in the Northern Territory. I refer to the Queensland position purely as a matter of argument because this is the first year I can remember this annual bill coming forward when honorable members from Queensland on the Government side have not accused the Queensland Government of falling down on its responsibilities concerning soldier settlement. They have not participated in the debate this year because there has been a Country party-Liberal government in Queensland for the past thirteen or fourteen months. It is led by a member of the Country party. He is a returned soldier from the first war and, I believe, a thoroughly honest, decent man. The Queensland Government has, I understand, taken no steps whatever in the field.
– It approached the Commonwealth Government to come into the scheme, but permission was declined because the scheme is on the way out.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member’s interjection that the reason for there being no war service land settlement in Queensland is not the responsibility of the Queensland Government, but of this Government.
– You have not bothered to ask for the facts. You are now jumping to conclusions, and you do not know what you are talking about, as usual.
– You are losing your block.
– No, I am as cool as I can be.
– The Minister said that I have not asked for information. I did ask for information, and he gave none.
– About Queensland?
– If the Minister will look at “ Hansard “ of 19th August, at page 522, he will see where I sought the facts, and I was given no facts about the Queensland position. Sir, let me repeat the question, and you might calm the Minister down, if you can, in the process. I asked the honorable, but choleric gentleman -
He gave me no information about Queensland’s position.
– Now you are crawling out of it on a different basis.
Order! I think the Minister would do better to remain silent.
– I was referring to the fact that for the first time for many years when we have been considering this matter, no Government member from Queensland has participated in the debate. I pointed out - the honorable gentleman was seeking advice from his advisers while I did so - that the reason was that those Queensland members could not blame the Labour party for the fact that Queensland did not participate in soldier settlement last financial year and is not participating this financial year. I pointed out that for the whole of last financial year there was an Australian Country party-Liberal party government in Queensland, led by an Australian Country party member, a returned soldier of the First World War, who, I believe, is a property owner and has country interests. I pointed out that this year, too, no appropriation is being made by this Government for Queensland. Is it now quite clear that the old complaint no longer holds water? If this Government really wants soldiers to be settled in Queensland, soldiers could be settled in Queensland directly, in the same way as the Government settles them directly in South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, or it could come to the same agreement with the Queensland Government as it has reached with the New South Wales and Victorian Governments for those governments to carry out the scheme.
The honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) interjected, stating that it was not the fault of the Queensland Government which had made an approach but of the Commonwealth Government which said that the scheme was petering out and therefore it was too late to come into it. It is quite plain that, whoever is to blame, it is not the Labour party, because the whole of last financial year has gone without anything being done, and the Queensland Government and the Federal Government are alike conservative in complexion and they get on fairly well together. In this financial year, similarly, the Queensland and the Federal Governments are of the same complexion. The responsibility is a Liberal-Country party one, or a Country party-Liberal one.
The old anti-Labour argument will not wash. There is no excuse now, if these governments want to settle soldiers in Queensland. It is in many ways the richest agricultural State in Australia and the part of this country which needs most development. If we are to justify holding such vast tracts in the northern part of this continent, particularly in the tropics, we should spend money on Queensland settlement and on developing the land. We can do it in respect of soldiers, but we are failing to do it.
– What would you know about it?
– I would know very little more than the Minister. I will concede that. I now turn to the Northern Territory. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) asked the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) what was to happen about land settlement in the Northern Territory. That is not a State matter. It is a Commonwealth matter, as it was in the First World War, after it, in the Second World War, and after it, and we have done nothing about it. The honorable member for the Northern Territory, in a question asked without notice on 13th August, said that some months previously he had asked the Minister for Territories whether he would extend the provisions of the scheme to ex-servicemen in the Northern Territory. The honorable member went on -
Tn his reply, the Minister stated that he would ask the Minister in charge of war service land settlement whether he would extend the scheme, now in operation in all parts of Australia, to the Northern Territory so as to allow land settlement benefits to be given to ex-servicemen in that Territory. I now ask the Minister whether he hat had a favorable reply to the representations that he made.
The Minister for Territories replied -
I am grateful to the honorable member for reminding me of this matter. I will pursue it and let him have an answer.
The honorable member for the Northern Territory is not in the chamber at the moment, and I do not know whether he has received an answer, but it is significant that the Minister in charge of war service land settlement (Mr. McMahon), who has been listening intently for the last few minutes, and not interjecting for at least two of them, has not referred to the question of soldier settlement in the Northern Territory, that great tropical area where, if anywhere, soldiers are entitled to be settled, because that Territory is entirely a Commonwealth responsibility.
– And had the highest enlistment record.
– Indeed, and it is represented by a returned soldier in this House. Ever since the last war, returned soldiers have represented the Northern Territory. If the Minister who is listening so intently at the table had given an answer to the Minister for Territories in regard to this proposal, I am sure that he would have interjected ere this.
– It is outside my jurisdiction.
– The Minister for Territories did not say that He said that he would ask the Minister in charge of the scheme about the matter which the honorable member for the Northern Territory had raised with the Minister for Territories some months before. I do not know whether the delay was the fault of the Minister for Territories or of the Minister at the table, but in either case there has been a delay now of some months. The Government cannot plead State responsibility in regard to that area. It cannot say that we have not the finance or the responsibility. There are returned soldiers there whom we are obliged to rehabilitate. We have that large Territory which we should settle if we are to justify our holding it.
Let me recapitulate the points on which I should like the Minister to give a little more information. First, why is it that a year ago he gave the honorable member for Melbourne an estimate of the numbers of those still to be settled, and last month, in answer to my question upon notice he would give no estimate at all? Secondly, how does he reconcile the numbers of those already settled, which he gave in his answer to me, with the figures which appear in Commonwealth publications and which were given by Mr. Colquhoun, the director of the scheme, to the returned servicemen’s league? Thirdly, why is it that in the last year the Government made no provision for a resumption of soldier settlement in Queensland, and why does it make no such proposal this year? Fourthly, why is it that no proposal is yet made by this Government, after nine years in office, for soldier settlement in the Northern Territory? Lastly - this is the real crux of the matter - how long will it be before the Federal Government can estimate when the exservicemen, whom it has promised to rehabilitate and whom it has the constitutional power to rehabilitate, will in fact be rehabilitated in this fashion, which they desire, and which the country requires?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 16th September (vide page 1240), on motion by Mr. Hasluck -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition has no objection to the bill. We give it our full support.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 16th September (vide page 1248), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– When the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) was speaking to the motion for the second reading of the bill, I was led to comment that he was a humbug. I think that is a parliamentary expression.
– I was very interested afterwards to find that Opposition members who had heard the Minister shared the feeling of disgust which animated me at his performance. In this House, one learns to respect opponents who have completely different views but who express them honestly and with conviction. I feel that many members on the Government side had some disdain for the performance of the Minister, because it seemed clear to me - I think it must have been clear to the Minister himself - that many of his statements were false, that he must have known that the House knew they were false, and that the House knew that he knew that they were false when he made them, and that they were calculated, perhaps, to deceive some people outside.
– Order! The honorable member is getting a bit close to the line.
– I shall go no closer, Sir. I merely proceed to observe that the Minister has been a lifelong proclaimed enemy of the welfare state and of socialism, of which social services of this kind involving a redistribution of the national income form a part, and that he did his utmost to obtain the defeat of the referendum to give social service powers to the Commonwealth - powers which he now administers. The fact that the Prime Minister entrusted this gentleman with this portfolio seems to me to indicate a cynical attitude towards social services in this community.
I propose not merely to state that position regarding the Minister but also to examine many of his utterances and to show exactly how false and how unfair they were. The Minister began by saying that year by year, and Budget by Budget, this Government had brought down legislation to improve the circumstances of persons dependent upon social services. That statement was inaccurate. When the Government took office, we had various rates of social services which this Government has left completely unchanged during the whole of its nine years’ tenure of office.
– That is not quite right.
-The honorable member for Franklin says that that is not right. It is right of child endowment, of the maternity benefit, of the funeral benefit and of other social service benefits: It is perfectly right. During those nine years, the value of money has been more than halved. So, in fact, the Government has connived at a reduction by more than half of the value of a number of social services and has failed to make any increase in a number of other social services comparable with the demonstrated increase in the cost of living. I think only one exception to that statement can be claimed, and that is the unemployment and sickness benefits.
The Minister proceeded to say that the means test, both with respect to income and to property, had been liberalized by this Government to include an increasing number of people. That statement is demonstrably false. When this Government took office, the permissible income was 30s. a week; to-day it is £3 10s. The Commonwealth Statistician’s figures show clearly that £3 10s. to-day will, at least, buy no more than 30s. would when the Government took office, and on many estimates it will buy considerably less. Therefore, the claim that the income means test has been increased is also demonstrably false.
The Minister then proceeded to make a statement which I feel sure he must have known was without any basis whatever. He said -
The total cost of providing social services has mounted progressively from £81,000,000 in 1949 . . to a sum that will exceed £273,000,000 in 1959, or more than one-fifth of the national Budget. If social service progress can be measured in terms of pounds, shillings and pence . . that is the measure of our progress during the last ten years.
I will give the Minister the benefit of the doubt, but he understated by £10,000,000 the expenditure in 1949. It was £91,000,000, not £81,000,000. Secondly, the population in the ten years from 1949 to 1958 has grown from 8,000,000 to 10,000,000, an increase of exactly 25 per cent. If regard is had to the changing value of money and to the increase in population of 25 per cent., there has been no real increase in the expenditure on social services during the whole of that time.
– That is not correct.
– The Minister for Labour and National Service says that that is not correct.
– I do: there has been a real increase in social services.
– All right; let me take the figures again, because they are very interesting. In 1949, the Budget figure for social services was £91,000,000. The exactly corresponding figure in the Budget for this year is £273,000,000. The Minister will agree that the £1 in 1949 was equal to two and one-third times the £1 of to-day. That is the official figure, I think. So, we simply multiply £91,000,000 by two and one-third and have regard to the fact that the population has increased by 25 per cent. That is not a difficult sum to work out.
– But at that time-
– Just let me finish this sentence. If we work out that little sum, we will see that £91,000,000 in 1949 for the population of those days is the full equivalent of £270,000,000 to-day. Now come in!
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not accept that in relation to such basic items as rent and foodstuffs. They have not moved in that degree. The overall price level may have done so, but not the basic items.
-The interjection of the right honorable gentleman is pertinent. It concedes that my figures are correct as regards the general value of money, but he says that they are not correct in regard to the special needs of pensioners. Apparently he claims that pensioners need only rent and foodstuffs.
– Perhaps I am not quite clear what the Minister means; perhaps he himself is not quite clear what he means. However, a correct examination of the figures shows that there has been no improvement whatever in the total expenditure on social services. At the best, there has been a standstill; at the worst, the position has gone back.
The Minister for Social Services also made this most extraordinary statement -
But time and experience have revealed that there are both people and families entirely dependent on a single pension . . .
How much time and how much experience was needed before the Government realized that fact? It has been in office for nine years, yet the Minister speaks of the fact that families are dependent on a single pension as a revelation.
– I said a great deal more than that.
– The Minister said -
But lime and experience have revealed that there are both people and families entirely dependent on a single pension and, when they are required to pay rent, their circumstances are not comparable with those of people and families not entirely dependent on a single pension. . . .
– Read on.
-The Minister has made his speech. I read to the end of a sentence. There have always been people in the position referred to by the Minister, and he cannot use this sudden revelation, this sudden discovery of something that has existed for all the years that the Government has been in office, as an excuse for failing to adjust the general rate of pension by the 10s. that is required to restore its purchasing value to what it was when the Government took office. To make any such excuse is palpably false.
– It would have been true even when Labour was in office.
– Of course it was true when Labour was in office. When Labour was in office the pension had greater purchasing value than it has now. What the Minister is proposing to do now, under the cover of this discovery that has suddenly hit him, is to confine the 10s. increase to a particular small class of pensioners.
– That is a discovery that Labour never made.
– The Labour Government provided a rate of pension which the Minister now proposes to adjust to provide an additional benefit for a very small section of pensioners in this community. Despite the fact that the Minister describes this proposal as a spectacular achievement - as a milestone in the history of social services - the small nature of the benefits to be given is highlighted by the Budget, which shows that the total sum involved in all social service adjustments this year, and in all additions to the national health service, is £9,000,000. All these new benefits will come from a total of £9,000,000. In other words, very few pensioners will benefit from this supplementary allowance. T *
– That is not true.
– What is not true?
– Your calculation of the difference between £240,000,000 and £273,000,000.
– The figure of £9,000,000 in the Budget is true.
– Order! The Minister will remain silent and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro will address the Chair.
– Certainly, Sir; through you always. In his second-reading speech, the Minister said -
This Government has decided to amend the act by introducing another new feature to the spectacular programme of social services, most of which has been written up in the last few years.
How false that statement is! When Labour came to office in 1941, there were three Commonwealth social services - the age pension; the invalid pension; and the maternity bonus. When Labour left office in 1949-
– There was also child endowment in 1941.
– Yes, that is so. When Labour left office in 1949 there were sixteen major social services. This Government has not introduced one new major social service during the whole of its nine years of office. It has introduced a few trimmings at very small cost.
– What about homes for the aged?
– I am reminded by the honorable member for Calare about homes for the aged, a valuable provision that costs this Government at the most £2,000,000, £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 a year. That can by no means be considered as a major social service.
– What about the medical schemes?
– I am talking about social services now; not health. I shall have the privilege of dealing with the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) on another occasion.
– Order! I ask honorable members to cease interjecting, so that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro may continue his speech.
– In introducing this measure the Minister said -
The importance of the bill lies chiefly in the fact that, for the first time in our history, a Government recognizes that, even within the general scheme of social services, there are groups of pensioners with special needs.
That is a great many words, but as far as I can see it means exactly nothing, except what I have said before - that the Government proposes to confine the general increase, which all pensioners deserve and need, to a very small section indeed of the pensioner community. The Minister, before returning to the question of the supplementary allowance, dealt with the property means test. It is because of his statements in this regard that he most deserves the comment that he is a complete political humbug. He said -
The property limit - that is, the value of property a person may own and still be eligible for a proportion of the full pension - will be raised by £500. This is the second increase of £500 to be made by the present Government, and the fourth substantial increase since it was elected to office in 1949.
The fact is, and this is known to every honorable member familiar with social services, that all that the Government has now done with respect to the property limit is to adjust an obvious anomaly. There has been no alteration whatever of the general property limit. It remains at £200 for a single pensioner, reducible by £1 a year for every £10 of property beyond £200. The anomaly was that with property worth £1,750 a pensioner could obtain a pension of approximately £72 10s. per annum, but with property worth £1,751 he was completely cut off from the pension. That was a ridiculous anomaly, and it was pointed out to the Government year after year by the Opposition. All that the Government has now done is to correct that anomaly. It has made no real addition to the generosity or liberality of the property means test. For the Minister so to claim is, I suggest, an attempt to deceive either the House or the nation.
To give a further example of the kind of propaganda that the Minister dared to indulge in, I quote again from his secondreading speech -
This new limit is three times more liberal, appropriately enough, than the limit of £750 imposed by the socialist party during that unhappy period prior to 1949.
That statement could only be correct if there had been no change whatever in the value of money. The Minister knows perfectly well that there has been a great change in the value of money. He knows that since his Government has been in office there has been almost unrestricted inflation in this country. It is therefore completely false to claim that £2,250 is to-day worth three times as much as £750 was worth prior to 1949.
– The Labour government was the only government to reduce the age pension.
– The honorable member for Robertson interjects and says that the Labour government was the only government to cut the age pension. I am glad that he has made that interjection. The truth cannot be told often enough. The pension was reduced by the Scullin Labour Government at a time when there was an anti-Labour majority in the Senate, which rejected the Scullin Labour Government’s proposal for a fiduciary currency o* £15,000,000. lt also rejected the Scullin Government’s proposal to shift £5,000,000 worth of gold to England. The Scullin Government at that time had no control whatever over the Commonwealth Bank, such as the present Government possesses to-day. The cut in pensions, wages, and other services at that time was made as a result of a written ultimatum to the Government from the Commonwealth Bank and the associated banks, backed by the anti-Labour majority in the Senate, that unless those cuts in social services were made, all financial assistance to the Commonwealth Government would cease.
If that is not enough, let me add this: When the Lyons Government succeeded the Scullin Government, it proceeded, without any such compulsion, because it had a majority in both Houses, to reduce the rate of age pension by a further 2s. 6d. a week, bringing it down to the wretchedly low figure of 15s. a week.
– It was the only government that put a lien on pensioners’ property.
– That is so. As the honorable member for Port Adelaide reminds me, the government at that time provided that when a pensioner died, any property that he possessed would revert to the Commonwealth, so that it could recover what it had paid him in social service benefits. I thank the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) for his interjection and for giving me the opportunity to correct his misconceptions. The Minister proceeded to make another claim which appears to me to have been entirely misleading in its effect. He said - 1 remind the House that, in 1954, this Government exempted from the means test income derived from property and, as a consequence, thereby increased the permissible income by the amount of any income received from property.
The Government did this, and I am the last person who would wish to deprive the Government of any credit to which it is legitimately entitled. But any person who is acquainted with the subject of social services will know that it is practically meaningless to cut out the means test on income from property unless, at the same time, you adjust the property means test also. Let me put it in this way: If a person has £3 10s. a week income from government bonds - and that is the maximum permissible under the income means test - he would need to have bonds to the value of £3,600 paying interest at the rate of 5 per cent. This would make him ineligible for the pension anyhow. As a matter of fact, if a person was receiving anything over £2 4s. a week in income from investments at 5 per cent, he would be completely debarred from the pension under the property means test, because £2,250 invested at 5 per cent, will bring in £2 4s. a week income. To claim that you are doing something really valuable for the pensioners, if you exempt income from property, without, at the same time, altering the property means test limit, is to make a most misleading claim indeed.
But this, of course, was not the last of the claims made by the Minister in this regard. He said -
The supplementary assistance is designed to relieve hardship and improve the circumstances of those who are entirely dependent on their pensions, and the lifting of the property limit is designed to assist those who, by their industry, thrift, good health or good fortune, have been able to make some provision to meet the contingencies of life and living.
I hope I have shown that the Minister has made no real adjustment to the property means test whatever, except to eliminate an obvious and very unjust anomaly, and that the supplementary assistance is not designed to relieve hardship and improve the circumstances of those who are entirely dependent on their pensions, but only of a very small number of persons who come within the category defined. In order to qualify for this new supplementary allowance of 10s. a week a pensioner must be entirely dependent on his pension, The pensioner must be a single man or a single woman, or else one of a married couple, the other one of the couple not being a pensioner. If both of them are receiving the pension they do not qualify. Finally, the pensioner must be paying rent. There are, of course, some who come within this category and who are suffering severely and need additional assistance, which could have been given by means of an increase in the general rate of pension. But, as we all know, they are not by any means the only pensioners in this community who are suffering very grievous hardships indeed.
The proposal brought forward by the Minister is crude. It has not been properly thought out. It rejects the cases of many persons who are in equally dire need and it concentrates on only a particular class of pensioner. Why would he cut out, for example, the pensioner couple who are compelled to pay a high rent and who have no income whatever apart from their pensions? Is not their position desperate in this community? Why are they to be excluded and the supplementary assistance given when only one of the couple happens to be a pensioner? Is not the case pf a widow endeavouring to pay off a home left by her husband, and who ‘has rates, maintenance and other charges to meet, equally as desperate as that of the pensioner living in a room and paying rent? Why, then, has that class of pensioner been excluded from this provision?
One could go on and cite dozens of similar illustrations. This bill will cause a feeling: of increased injustice and unfairness among hundreds of thousands of very worthy senior citizens in this community. I think it is unfortunate indeed that the Minister, in entering this very valuable field of supplementary assistance, has not bothered to think it out first and to bring down a proposal that would have been fair and equitable in all respects. If he had first of all adjusted the general rate of pension to restore its purchasing power in accordance with the promise made by the Government when it took office, and then proceeded to evolve a fair and reasonable scheme to help people in special need, he would have been doing a service to the pensioners of Australia. As things stand, however, I believe the bill that he has brought down will do them a particular disservice and, as I say, will create further anomalies, a deepening sense of injustice among pensioners, and, of course, involve many of them in increased hardships.
The Minister went on to deal with another amendment which he described as very important, applying both to pensioners and those who receive unemployment and sickness benefits. This amendment provides that amounts received from organizations registered under the National. Health Act will in future not be included in the income of a pensioner for the purposes of the pensioner means test. That is the most nominal amendment that. could be made to any legislation. It is a good idea to make the provision, because in some cases a pensioner may be receiving a few shillings more in benefits from these organizations than the actual amount paid out for hospital or medical treatment. But the amount involved would be very small, and such cases would rarely occur. If the Minister had said that the amendment was. designed to correct a small anomaly,, fair enough; but the Minister’s description of it as a further important amendment was again, I think, calculated to deceive the House and the Australian people.
I believe that a useful amendment is that which widens the provision for exemption of gifts and allowances to pensioners. From now on, pensioners will be able to receive gifts from brothers and sisters as well as from parents or children without those gifts being regarded as income. That is, I think, a useful provision. It will cost very little indeed, but it has a certain value.
The Minister referred to the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. He said that it is perhaps the least known but unquestionably the most humane of our activities in the field of social services. He went on to claim a lot of credit for the rehabilitation service, but what he forgot or omitted to mention was that this service was established, not by his Government, but by the Curtin Labour Government, away back in 1941, that it was extended to its present form by the Chifley Government in 1948, and that all that this Government can claim is that it has made further minor improvements which have been found desirable in the light of experience since those days. This bill proposes to abolish the thirteen weeks’ waiting period which, up till now, has been necessary prior to acceptance for rehabilitation. That is a useful provision, and I commend the Minister on having made it.
– The honorable member is praising the Government!
– No. I wish that this Government were entitled to more credit. No one would be better pleased than I should be if it really would do justice to the recipients of social service benefits*. Where I can encourage the Government, I shall do so. But where I feel that it is deserving of admonition, I hope that I will be unsparing of it, in the interests both of itself and of the community which it is supposed to serve.
The Minister made a great point of the fact that the powers of the Commonwealth had been expanded by the constitutional referendum which finally gave the Commonwealth complete power in relation to social services. As a result, he said, it was possible to liberalize the means test both on income and property and to extend benefits in regard to various other things. I remind the House that the Minister is the man who fought up and down this country to persuade the people not to give this power to the Commonwealth. In fact, the Country party as a whole did so.
– This is all rubbish. I was in the Army when the referendum was held.
– Will the Minister tell me that he was in favour of the referendum and did not both speak and write against it?
– I never spoke and I never wrote against it.
– May I say, in fairness to the Minister, that I trust he was loyal to his colleagues in the Country party who solidly and unanimously endeavoured to persuade the Australian people to vote against it.
– I had other loyalties at that time. I was in the Army.
– I am reminded that the referendum occurred in 1946. The war, I understand, was over a little before that.
– I was still in the Army.
– It must have been the Salvation Army.
– I will leave the Minister to work that one out. Maybe his memory is at fault. I think I can be confident that from the moment the Army released him he endeavoured to prevent the development of the welfare state, to prevent the improvement of social services, and to prevent the increase of the constitutional power of the Commonwealth. Perhaps that would be a fair statement of the situation.
The Minister went on to make another claim which is entirely false. He said -
It was inevitable that the increasing number of people qualified to receive a pension would reach the point where every ls. increase in the weekly rate - although I emphasize that no ls. rises have ever been contemplated by this Government - involved the people of our country in additional expenditure exceeding £1,600,000 a year, and it was inevitable, too, that the increasing rates of pensions would reach the point where a married couple, both in receipt of the pension, could, with permissible income, exceed the basic wage . . .
Despite the fact that the Minister was in the Army he ought to know, as the occupant of the Social Services portfolio, that that point was reached long before the Government took office. When the basic wage was £5 16s. a week, a pensioner couple was entitled to £2 2s. 6d. each in pension, and £1 10s. a week each in permissible income, a total of £7 5s. a week. The error into which the Minister has fallen is due to the fact that during the early years of this Government it allowed inflation to take so much value out of both the pension and the permissible income that the point was reached at which the permissible income plus the pension was far below the basic wage. Of course, it had been well above the basic wage long before this Government took office, as a result of the adjustments both to the pension rate and the permissible income made by the Labour government of the day.
I have contented myself, to-night, with criticizing the speech of the Minister and showing the errors of fact contained in it. I have not indicated, and I have no intention of indicating, the alternative proposals of the Labour party with regard to social services. There is a very good reason for that. In an ordinary year, it would be proper to move amendments to this bill and to seek from the Government a proper provision for social service recipients. But very fortunately this country is on the eve of a general election. Very fortunately, every member of the Parliament will soon have to account to the electors for his deeds and misdeeds.
The full policy of the Australian Labour party in relation to social services will be presented to the people of Australia by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in the policy speech that he will deliver in the Assembly Hall, Sydney, on Wednesday, 15th October - in approximately four weeks time. The speech to be delivered by the Leader of the Opposition will be a convincing demonstration to the people of Australia that the Labour party, on its return to office, will resume the policy of progress in social services which animated it during all the years of the Curtin and the Chifley governments. The policy of the Labour party has always been to provide a basic rate of pension, just to the people who receive it and within the competence of the Australian community to provide and, at the same time, to take progressive measures towards the amelioration and abolition of the pension means test.
One thing the Labour party has proclaimed over and over again is that it will adjust the rates of social services which this Government has failed to adjust. In particular, it will do justice to the mothers and families of this community who have been completely deprived of any adjustment of child endowment rates during the whole nine years of this Government’s term of office. Furthermore, the social service policy which the Leader of the Labour party will announce will give justice to every section of the Australian community.
.- I do not think that we have heard the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) at his best to-night. He made a long speech, rather repetitive I thought at times, and he began it by a personal attack on the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). Now, if there is one thing that characterizes a weak case, that is it. I thought, as he went on, that he did not make his case any stronger. He began, as I say, by making a personal attack on the Minister. That carries conviction to no one. The next thing he had to say was that the Menzies Government had very little regard for the welfare State. It is very easy to make doctrinaire statements of that kind. Let us look at what the present Government has done about the welfare State or, to put it in other terms, what it has done for the social services of this country. The Government has a great record of social services. In the financial year 1948-49, expenditure from the National Welfare Fund was approximately £81,000,000; in 1950-51 it was £115,000,000. I am citing round figures. In 1952-53, it was £166,000,000, in 1954- 55, £189,000,000, and in 1956-57 it was £223,000,000. In 1957-58, it was £247,000,000 and, in the present financial year, it will be nearly £274,000,000. It is a little idle to say that a government that provides finance of this order for the social services of a country out of a Budget which, in this financial year, totals approximately £1,500,000,000, has no interest in the welfare State. I do not think, Sir, that any one who looks fairly and squarely at the position will be deceived by the statements made by the honorable member for EdenMonaro and other Opposition members.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro then went on to make some very complicated statements about the value of money to-day compared with what its value used to be, about whether the pension is worth as much to-day as it used to be worth, and so on. That, of course, is a kind of financial legerdemain, but it does not carry much conviction with it - especially for the pensioners. If we are going to get onto that basis, Sir, let me just point out to the honorable gentleman that the present weekly pension rate, related to the C series index - which is the only real measuring stick to which we can relate it - has a value of 9s. Hd. in excess of the value of the pension when Labour went out of office.
– What nonsense!
– These are the cold facts in relation to the basis on which the honorable member for EdenMonaro put the matter.
Let me say something about what this Government has done, Sir, because the honorable gentleman seemed to think that it had not done much. Let me just recount for his benefit what has happened to age and invalid pensions while this Government has been in office. In 1950. they were increased by 7s. 6d. a week. In 1951, there was an increase of 10s. a week. In 1952, there was another increase of 7s. 6d. a week. In 1953, these pensions were increased by 2s. 6d. a week. In 1955, there was an increase of 10s. a week, and in 1957, there was another increase of 7s. 6d. a week. These are facts, Sir, and it is quite idle for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to say that a government with a record like this pays no attention to social welfare. The honorable gentleman then made a most extraordinary statement, Mr. Speaker, when he went on to say that this Government had not introduced one new social service.
– One new major social service.
– The honorable member now says that this Government has not introduced one new major social service. I want to direct his attention, and that of the House, to a number of new major social services. The first is the Pensioner Medical Service. If that is not a major social service. Sir, then I do not know the meaning of the words “ major social service “.
– Is it not administered by the Department of Health?
– It is provided by the Government, and the honorable member said that the Government had not provided one new major social service. This, I venture to say, is not only a major social service, but also a pioneer social service, and an example to many other countries.
– And a major success.
– And a major success. This Government has provided not merely a medical service, but a domiciliary medical service for pensioners in their own homes. No longer do they have to trudge their weary way to the outpatients’ departments of hospitals. No longer do they have to rely on the charity of their relations or their medical attendants. They are provided by this Government with a first-class medical service. That is one new major social service. Let me recall some others for the benefit of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. One has been mentioned already in this chamber this evening - that provided under the Aged Persons Homes Act. The honorable member must know very well that something like £3,000,000 has been spent under the authority of that act, and £3,000,000 provides a lot of comforts for old people in the way of accommodation. The honorable member has only to move about the country a little to see the immense benefits that have been given to old people under this very fine scheme, which is another new major social service provided by this Government.
Let me remind the honorable gentleman of one or two other new major social services, Sir. When this Government came to office, there was no national health scheme. The honorable gentleman’s party had endeavoured to introduce such a scheme, and its futile attempts to do so represented one of the main reasons for its dismissal from office. The present Government, Sir, has introduced one of the finest national health schemes in the world - a social service of the best type. And if that is not a major social service, Sir, again, I do not know the meaning of the words. Let me remind the honorable member for EdenMonaro of yet another new major social service introduced by this Government - the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme - under which benefits are now provided on a very wide scale to all members of the community.
So the claim that this Government has ignored the welfare state and introduced no new social services, major or minor, simply does not bear examination for one moment. I attribute the remarks made bv the honorable gentleman to the extreme poverty of Labour’s case. In fact. Labour has had nothing but a sort of little running stream of criticisms and grumbles to offer from time to time. When Labour was in office, it introduced no social services of this kind.
Let me now remind the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and his party of one or two other things, Sir. This Government has created an atmosphere in which social services can be effective. In fact, by budgeting for a deficit of £110,000,000 in the current financial year, it has virtually provided £110,000,000 of additional spending money for the community in order to ensure the country’s prosperity. And it is only in a prosperous and expanding economy that social services can be of real value. This Government, Sir, not only has tackled the problem in the particular, as I have just recounted, but has tackled the whole problem of maintaining and expanding a progressive economy in which social services can have their real value. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro can juggle with figures as much as he likes, and say that the £1 does not buy as much to-day as it used to buy. The plain fact is that, in terms of living standards, every one in this country, including the pensioners, is a great deal better off than when this Government came to office.
I see a great many pensioners during the course of each year, Sir, and I see the conditions in which they live. I would say that, although one can perhaps never be satisfied that enough has been done for them, far more has been done by this Government, at any rate - and in a far more understanding way - than by any previous government. The present Government, in the first place, has understood that only in a prosperous country can social services be of real value; and, in the second place, the Government has tackled the problem by providing social services in the best possible way. It has provided those that are most needed and has not just made a sort of blanket provision on a hit or miss basis, which was all that Labour ever thought of.
This Government has really examined the problem carefully. It asks the question: “ Do old people need better homes to live in? “ If the answer is “ Yes “, it provides the finance necessary to enable aged people to have better homes. It asks: “Do the pensioners need a medical service? “ If the answer is “ Yes “, it provides such a service. This Government has approached social services on an intellectual plane in a way that the Australian Labour party will never approach them, and in a way that Labour never thought of when it was in office. Labour has never really comprehended what social services or welfare mean. It is hidebound by doctrinaire considerations, and it has taken a Liberal party and Australian Country party Government to give Australia the kind of social services that it needs, by interpreting the needs of the people and meeting them.
.- lt appears to me that the general theme of the two supporters of the Government who have already spoken on this bill is that the social service benefits since this Government was elected to office have been of greater value than those provided under the Chifley Labour Government. That is untrue, and those who make such a statement know that it is untrue, as I shall prove. The fact is that every recipient of social service benefits since this Government has been in office has been short-changed. Increases to which the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) referred have not kept pace with inflation. The fact is that the people have been and are still paying more for the shrunken benefits they actually receive. Taxpayers are passing into higher income tax groups, and although they pay more in taxes for the benefits they receive, they get less in their pay packet and actually lose in social service benefits.
I shall deal with a few of the Minister’s statements as I proceed. There is only one way to compare the basis of social service benefits with those that were provided in 1948-49 under a Labour government. The Minister for Health said that age pensioners to-day received 9s. lid. a week more than they received in 1948-49. Even supporters of the Government will admit that pensioners to-day are entitled to enjoy the increased prosperity that this Government has been talking about over the years. There is only one way to make a comparison. Let us consider the basic wage of 1948. under a Labour government, when social service benefits reached their peak. The basic wage then was £5 10s. a week. If the basic wage had not been pegged by mis Government, it should now be £13 9s. or 131 per cent, higher. On that basis the age pensioner who was receiving £2 2s. 6d. a week in 1948 and is now receiving £4 7s. 6d. should be getting a pension of at least £4 18s. to correspond with the level of the basic wage as it should be now. The age pensioner, therefore, is actually losing 10s. 6d. and not gaining 9s. lid. as the Minister has claimed.
That applies also to the widows. A class A widow pensioner was getting £2 7s. 6d. in 1948, and is getting £4 12s. 6d. to-day. On the difference in the basic wage, she should be getting £5 10s. The class B widow was receiving £1 17s. 6d. in 1948, and is now receiving £3 15s., but should be paid £4 6s. So, the class A widows are losing 17s. 6d. a week and the class B widow is losing lis. a week. That applies also to all other social service benefits. They are all losing because this Government is in office and values have declined.
The Minister did not mention the maternity allowance which reached its peak in 1948 under a Labour government and has not been increased since. The maternity allowance should be doubled at least to give a value equivalent to the benefit that the expectant mother received in 1948-49.
A comparison of child endowment payments is interesting, and it is very important to-day because the burden of the family is becoming increasingly heavy. The parents of two children received 10s. in child endowment in 1948. To-day, they receive 15s. a week under this Government, but on the basis of the basic wage, they should be receiving £1 3s. and so are losing 8s. a week or more than £20 a year. A family of three children was receiving £1 in child endowment in 1948 and is now receiving £1 5s., but to retain 1948 values, the parents should be receiving £2 6s. So they are losing £1 ls. a week, or £54 a year. The parents of four children received £1 10s. in 1948 compared with £1 15s. to-day; but as they should be getting £3 9s. they are losing £88 a year. Child endowment for a family of five children in 1948 was £2 a week and is now £2 5s., but it should be £4 lis.; so that family is losing £2 6s. a week or £119 a year.
Is it any wonder that families are suffering because this Government is in office?
The bigger the family the greater its loss as a result of this Government’s administration. In addition, the families are paying more in taxation while missing out on benefits. The taxpayer on the basic wage with a family of two children paid 16s. a year in taxation in 1948. To-day, the same taxpayer pays £14 12s. a year. That is how this Government is helping the family group. I direct attention to that situation because it is important that the people should realize these things. It emphasizes the big lie that was told in 1949 when the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) went to the people and said -
The value of social services will be at least maintained. Indeed, they will be increased. Pensioners can rely upon us for justice.
That was part of the right honorable gentleman’s policy speech in 1949. If the policy speech had made it clear that the reference was to the Liberal and Australian Country parties and their friends, and that the people could rely upon “just us “, meaning themselves, that would have been a truthful statement; but it is clear that the pensioners did not get justice and neither did any other recipients of social service benefits. Actually, the people are paying twice for social service benefits, and I refer to the unemployed, widows and families. If the lid had been kept on prices, the money paid by the people for social security would buy just as much to-day as it would when it was paid out. When they were contributing to the National Welfare Fund in 19418-49, the people believed that they would receive something near the value of the money they were paying to the fund. Since this Government has been in office, the people have merely been sending good money after bad. They paid away good money by way of taxes and what they receive back by way of social service benefits has lost its value.
During the debate on the Budget, 1 emphasized the serious plight of the pensioners, and I want to express my disgust at the attitude of this Government which has disregarded the dozens of petitions that have been presented to this Parliament seeking increases in pensions for the general pensioner. For two years running, these petitions have been before this Parliament and for all practical purposes, they have been ignored to the everlasting shame of this Government. We must keep in mind that scientists and medical practitioners have improved health standards to such an extent that people are living longer than the average age 60 years ago. Since 1900, the number of persons over the age of 65 years has been steadily increasing. Larger numbers are living today in their nineties. That is evident from birthday greetings that are broadcast. That is very good. We want to see our people living longer, but we should be more concerned about the conditions under which they are living. A great number of them are suffering poverty and living in dire straits, which is a reflection on our society. It is suggested that a country’s standard of civilization is assessed upon the way it treats its aged people. If that is the case, Australia has not a very high standard. Science is enabling people to live longer, but the policy of this Government is being directed towards making their extended lives on this earth a misery to them. Whenever one goes to meetings of aged people, they ask whether it is a crime to grow old. Every week, they find that their meagre pensions are buying less and less. Food prices have risen since the present rate of £4 7s. 6d. was determined, and no increase is to be made this year. This simply means that the pensioner has a continual worry in his effort to make ends meet.
The rent allowance, so-called, about which we have heard so much, is not a very important matter to the pensioner. It will apply to single pensioners paying rent and to married couples, one of whom is a pensioner. It might be of value if rents were pegged. The pensioners would then get some benefit. But it is quite apparent that, where rents are not pegged, the landlord will simply put up the rent, and he, rather than the pensioner who may be one of the few qualifying for the allowance, will get the benefit of the allowance of 10s. a week.
A pensioner who has a wife aged under 60 years, receiving a wife’s allowance of £1 15s. a week, cannot receive a rent allowance. This seems to me to be pretty hard on a pensioner who may in his early years have married a woman some years younger than himself. It simply means that, as a wife, all she will receive will be £1 15s., if he is an invalid or has reached an age where he cannot work. Because she is receiving £1 15s. a week, no rent allowance is payable, even though the couple may be paying £2 10s. or £3 10s. a week in rent. Surely a government that was humane in its viewpoint on pensioners would at least extend the rent allowance to people in that category. I emphasize again that this rent allowance will merely assist the landlords, which, of course, is the intention of this Government.
Another illustration of the three-card trick that has been played by this Government is the lifting of the property limitation by £500 to £2,250. The Minister, when telling us about that, did not say that the amount of pension that would be paid to a person who had property valued at £2,250 would be only about 8s. 6d. a week, so this provision is really of no benefit to existing pensioners. It brings a few more within the very small range of those who benefit.
Another point that is worthy of emphasis during this debate is the loss of value of the funeral benefit, to which this Government has not given any thought since it has been in office. Both the Minister for Social Services and the Minister for Health have said that the standard of social services has been maintained. What about the funeral benefit for age pensioners, which was introduced by Labour in 1943, when the basic wage was £4 16s.? The benefit was then £10. The unpegged basic wage now should be £13 9s. On that basis, a pensioner should receive from this Government a funeral benefit of £26 or more. To-day, a funeral costs well over £30. The cheapest funeral that one could get might cost £30 or £35. If the Government thinks that an age pensioner should be buried in a pauper’s grave, the Government’s attitude to the funeral benefit is understandable. But if the Government had humane feelings towards pensioners it would increase the funeral benefit to somewhere near the value it had when it was first introduced.
The Western Australian Pensioners League has a funeral fund that pays £11 towards the cost of a funeral. This and the £10 provided by the Government together amount to £21. The balance of the cost of the funeral has to be met from the pensioner’s savings for the purpose, by relatives, or in some other way, otherwise the pensioner’s burial is not up to the recognized standard. These are matters which we should consider at the present time, because many people are not in a position to belong to organizations providing funds of this nature for funeral purposes. For instance, in the country districts of Western Australia a funeral costs about £60. Surely it is not expected that any pensioner would be able to afford so much for a funeral. The funeral benefit of £10 is not enough.
The wife’s allowance is another very important matter to which this Government should have given some attention. This point should be emphasized in relation to the statement of the Minister for Health that the standard of these benefits has been maintained. In 1952, when the pension was £3, the wife’s allowance was £1 10s. To-day the wife allowance is £1 15s., but it should be at least £2 8s. in order to retain the same relativity to the pension as it had in 1952. This Government has done nothing about it. My personal view is that the wife of any age pensioner should receive the equivalent of the age pension. She may have to look after an invalid husband. She is not entitled to the wife’s allowance unless her husband is an invalid or is very old. A wife who has been married for possibly 25 or 30 years cannot hope to qualify on the labour market again when she is aged about 58 or 59, and I think that the Government is very harsh when it does nothing for that small number of wives who may have to live on an income comprised of the husband’s pension of £4 7s. 6d. and the wife’s allowance of £1 15s. a week. Even though they may be paying rent, they cannot receive the rent allowance.
The Minister for Health mentioned one or two matters on which I should like to comment. He said that health services are much more beneficial now than they were when the Chifley Labour Government was in office, but I would have the Minister remember that under the Chifley Labour Government there was free hospitalization.
– Paid for by the taxpayer.
– It was paid for by this Government in subsidy to the State governments, on the understanding that they would provide free hospitalization. That was the position then. Now, in order that a person may obtain free hospitalization, he has to have sufficient money to be able to subscribe to a friendly society or a hospital benefit fund, so as to insure himself for a payment of 16s. a day, and qualify for the full Commonwealth benefit of £1 a day. No person can receive the full benefit of £1 a day unless he is insured with a benefit society and so entitled to receive 16s. a day. That means that the total benefit he can get, if he can afford the contributions, is £1 16s. a day, but the cost of a bed in the public ward of a public hospital is £2 8s. a day, so the patient has to find the additional 12s. either from his own pocket or by increasing his insurance payments to cover that amount. The Minister for Health has the audacity to stand up and say that people are better off under the health services at the present time. Let us not forget that the medical entitlement card of pensioners was cut out by this Government in 1955. Before that date, any pensioner could get a medical entitlement card, but after October, 1955, the pensioner who was receiving an income of more than £2 a week could not get it. That has been due to action taken by this Government which claims to have done so much for the pensioner.
– It was instructed to do that by the British Medical Association.
– Exactly. The British Medical Association told the Government it had to do that, and it is one of the things for which this Government stands condemned. It is a clear indication that so far as health services are concerned, the Government is run by the British Medical Association.
This Government stands condemned not only for reducing the standard of health services but also for allowing the value of social service benefits to drop. It stands condemned for its inhuman treatment of pensioners, and I feel certain that when the pensioners of Australia and the recipients of social services benefits get the opportunity, on 22nd November, to express their opinion of the Government and the way it has treated them, they will give it the answer it deserves. They will kick it out of office.
– Since the resumption of the sitting, two members of the Opposition have spoken, the first being the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and the second the honorable member for Stirling (Mr.
Webb), who has just resumed his seat. Before going into the other matters I wish to discuss, I shall answer immediately two statements made by the honorable member for Stirling. The first thing that interested me greatly was that the honorable member let himself go to such an extent that he admitted that under this Government Australia is enjoying increased prosperity. That is so contrary to some of the things the honorable member has been saying in past months that I felt it worthy of directing the attention of the House to it. The other thing I wish to say about the honorable member for Stirling is that the last part of his speech consisted of an attack on the medical services and pharmaceutical benefits provided by this Government, among many other things, for pensioners. I briefly remind the honorable member that this Government has brought in a most successful medical benefits scheme and a pharmaceutical benefits scheme for pensioners and other people, which is something his Government could not do. I shall amplify that statement a little later, but I think it is necessary to remind the honorable member of that fact immediately.
A few moments ago I said that the House had been addressed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro also. Honorable members may recall that he began his remarks with a criticism of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I should like to reply to that immediately. Honorable members will be aware that I have several subdivisions in my electorate in which live a large number of persons who are either retired or are receiving a full pension or part pension. Opinion among those people reflects their appreciation of the service rendered and the understanding shown by the Minister and the Government in respect of their needs. I wish the House to know that, apart from party politics, there is a feeling of great admiration for the Minister for Social Services, because of the thought, energy, and understanding that he devotes to the everincreasing problem of providing social services in our community. Expressions of appreciation of the Minister’s work come from a wide section of the community, and, as I said at the beginning, they cannot be regarded as having any party political content.
The problem of social services is a very great one. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro quoted figures and said, among other things, that in this financial year the Government would be providing only an additional £9,000,000 to cover the cost of all the increased benefits that are necessary. That, of course, is not true because, in fact, the total sum provided for social services last year under all headings was approximately £240,000,000 whereas in the current year it is of the order of £273,000,000. I do not think it necessary at the present time to go into complete detail about these extra benefits.
I have said before that I do not think it is of advantage for us to delve into the history of social services to any great extent, and I do not intend to do so to-night. However, because of the speech just delivered by the honorable member for Stirling I think it is necessary for me to remind the House briefly of some of the benefits which have been provided by this Government. I shall do this under two headings. The first is what I might term the basic increases in the various forms of pensions which the Government has made available. Under the second heading, I should like to talk about the imaginative approach of the Government to this great problem.
– That is what it is - imagination.
– The honorable member who interjects was a supporter of a government which did not show any imagination whatsoever in its approach to the problem of social services. The comments and speeches of members of the Opposition during this debate have not shown any constructive or imaginative approach to this problem.
A little while ago the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) reminded us of the actual increases that have been made in the base rate of pensions. Without going into detail, I remind honorable members that he told us that in 1950 there was an increase of 7s. 6d. which raised the pension to £2 10s. a week.
– But what was the basic wage then?
– That was the first year in which this Government was in office. The Minister then pointed out that in 1957, an increase of 7s. 6d. was made bringing the base rate of pension to £4 7s. 6d. In the intervening period there had been two increases of 10s. a week each. The actual money increase during this Government’s term of office has been £2 5s. or 106 per cent, over the rate of pension payable in 1949, the last year in which the Labour Government was in office. The Minister for Health stated also, and this should answer the interjection just made by the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), that if this increase of pension is taken on the only true basis of comparison, it represents an increase of 9s. lid. on the C series index to-day compared with that of 1949. I hope that answers the honorable member. [Quorum formed.]
The second item under this first heading to which I wish to refer is the problem of the means test. I think it would be true to say that every honorable gentleman in this House, when he has a problem brought to him by a constituent, wishes to use every means in his power to assist the applicant because, on human standards, so many of the problems brought to us are worthy of consideration and of help. However, there is one thing that a responsible government must keep in mind. I thought it was put to us in a very good way by the Minister for Health, who said that only in a prosperous country can social services be of true value. Therein lies the difference between the approach of Government supporters and some of the irresponsible proposals put before us by members of the Opposition, because there is a delicate balance when one considers the amount of money that can be spent and the amount of money that can be drawn from the genera] community by means of taxation.
I referred at the beginning of my remarks to the large increase in expenditure during this current year from £240,000,000 to £273,000,000. To put it very briefly, it would be of no use and no benefit to the beneficiaries of social services if we were to adopt certain proposals which would increase the cost of living by such an extent that any money increase that we made to pensions would be to the disadvantage of the beneficiaries. Members of the Opposition have not taken that factor into consideration. Sir, I remind honorable members of the irresponsible proposals put before the nation by the Leader of the Opposition in the elections of 1954. Those proposals were not supported by a great number of the members of his own party, and indeed so irresponsible were they that the right honorable gentleman himself saw fit not to put them before the nation in the following elections. I bring that to the minds of honorable gentlemen opposite to remind them how irresponsible are some of the statements of their leader. Of course, I could take more recent examples of irresponsibility in other fields. However, I shall not go along those interesting paths at present.
I asked the House to remember some of the great improvements that have been made by this Government in relation to the means test. I am sure that all of us realize that it is not possible to abolish the means test in a short space of time. We realize the anomalies that will always exist as long as there is a means test. I do not wish to detail all the things that we have done in the past nine years, but I should like to give some examples. For instance, in 1953 this Government increased the limit of the means test by 10s., raising it to £2 a week. A single pensioner then could have a total income by way of pension and other income of £11 a week. Of course, the limit has been raised again by the proposals announced in the Budget and being brought into operation by this bill.
Certain anomalies still remain, and I should like to address myself to them for a few moments, because I think that this is the time for those of us who are with the Government and the Minister in their progressive thinking to express some of our own ideas on what should be the next step in overcoming these very difficult problems. I shall address myself to the problem of the person who. because he is selfemployed or is engaged in an industry which has not a superannuation fund wishes to provide for his maintenance in his years of retirement and invests his money in Commonwealth bonds, property, shares or in some other way. Several years ago we made it possible for a married pensioner who had contributed to a superannuation fund to receive an income of £7 a week without the rate of pension for himself and his wife being affected. In other words, they could receive a total income of £15 10s. a week. But the same consideration does not apply to the class of person I have just mentioned. lt is quite obvious that, under the present means test, a person who invests his savings is unable to obtain an income of £7 a week because the asset value penalizes his pension as soon as it reaches £200. Therefore, I suggest that one of the first things to which we as a government should direct our immediate attention in any further liberalization of the means test is the problem of these people. While we realize the need to assist those who through no fault of their own find themselves in embarrassing financial circumstances, we still must pay regard to those who through their own efforts and their own industry have saved. Being the type of government that we are, I believe that my suggestion will receive the sympathetic consideration of the Minister and of the Government.
The second main heading to which I wish to address my remarks is the difference between this Government and the Opposition regarding the approach and the imagination shown in formulating a forward policy on social services. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, when speaking to the House to-night said, among other things, that not one new benefit had been introduced by this Government, except for a few trimmings. I think that I have quoted him correctly. Sir, may I remind him, and other honorable members, of two very important and imaginative benefits that were introduced by this Government? Not only are they benefits; they also show the thinking of the Government as to the type of benefit that it will bring forward in the future. The first is the Aged Persons Homes Act, which first provided a £l-for- £1 subsidy to approved charitable organizations that were able to build homes for aged persons. That scheme was such a success that some years later the act was amended by this Government to provide a subsidy of £2 for each £1 instead of £1 for £1. That provision will continue. We are glad that it will, and we are also very happy about the great advantage that the various organizations are taking of this enlightened piece of legislation.
I would remind the honorable member for Eden-Monaro of the great advantages that flow from the medical and pharmaceutical benefits that this Government has provided for age pensioners. I think those two examples that I have cited answer the criticism that was made by the honorable member. Of course, other minor benefits have been introduced by this Government. As an example I remind honorable members of the benefit extended to age and invalid pensioners with respect to the payment of of broadcast listeners’ licence fees.
The main point I wish to make under this heading is that we on this side of the House have a thinking, an imagination, and an approach to this continuing problem that is not seen from honorable members opposite. I believe that if we continue along these lines, realizing the difficulties of the problem and realizing the amount of money required to solve any of these problems, those members of the community who, with us, wish to see these benefits continue will support this Government and give every assistance to it in solving the problems ahead.
– I am pleased to be following the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean). I am rather surprised at a man of his intelligence saying that honorable members on this side of the House do not seem to have any thinking ability or imagination when it comes to pension matters. I am one of the honorable members that he criticized, although he did not single out individuals. He merely said that honorable members on this side of the House did not have any imagination about these matters. In reply to the honorable member, let me say that, so far as pensions are concerned, our concern on this side of the House is for the man at the bottom. Whenever this Government has made any improvements in pensions it has always been the man at the top who has benefited. The man at the bottom gets very little.
– Could I ask the honorable member whether that applies to the proposal put forward in 1954 by the Leader of the Opposition?
– The honorable member speaks about the proposals in 1954 of the Leader of the Opposition. I take the honorable member back to an interjection he made this evening about a Labour government being the only government that ever reduced pensions. I would remind the honorable member of what happened in 1932, when Mr. Lyons was Prime Minister following the defeat of the Scullin Government. The Lyons Government decreed that if a person had an income of up to 2s. 6d. a week, his pension of 17s. 6d. a week would be reduced by an amount equal to his income. A pensioner at that time asked me, “What can I have in the bank before losing any of my pension? “ At that time £50 was the limit. If a person had more than £50 in the bank, his yearly rate of pension was reduced by £1 for every £10 above £50 that he had in the bank. This man said, “ I have only £50, yet they have reduced my pension by 6d. a week “.
– I asked the honorable member about 1954, not 1932.
– The honorable member does not want me to go back and deal with the things that a Liberal government did. I told this man who came to see me that the position was simple. I told him that he was getting savings bank interest of approximately 26s. a year and that the authorities had deducted 26s. a year from his pension, which at that time was 17s. 6d. a week.
Another man told me that he was living in a home of his own and had received a card stating that, unless he agreed that on his death any pension received would be a charge against his property, he would not be able to get a pension. He asked for my advice. I told him to continue to accept the pension. I said that the legislation would not last very long. I told him that even government supporters were appalled at legislation that inflicted such a penalty on the property of pensioners or provided for such a lien on their property. I told him that the Government would be happy quickly to amend the legislation. The Lyons Government remained in office, and was followed by another Liberal government, but before very long that lien was removed, because even government supporters were aghast at what had been done. When it suited his purpose the honorable member for Robertson went back to 1931, when the Scullin Government was in power, but he does not like to hear what the
Lyons Government did in 1932. I do not want to delve into history. I appreciate what has been done for pensioners. I appreciate the extra benefits that have been given. As I said last year, I appreciate the medical benefits that have been given to pensioners, whereby they are able to obtain medical attention that was previously denied them. But I do not give this Government full credit for those benefits. When Labour was in government in 1947 or 1948 and Senator McKenna was Minister for Health and Social Services, legislation was enacted to provide medicine absolutely free to everybody.
– But they did not get it.
– The people did not get free medicine. Why? Not because of any action by the Labour party. The Labour government sent books to the medical profession. It asked the medical profession to make out the order to the chemist for the supply of medicine absolutely free. The British Medical Association instructed the doctors not to take delivery of those books. It told the doctors to send them back to the department and not to be a party to free medicine. The honorable member for Robertson has the audacity to say that we on this side of the House have no imagination and that this Government was the only government to use imagination by providing free medicine and free medical benefits for pensioners. A Labour government put forward a scheme to pay half the medical fees of people in general, but the scheme could not be put into effect because the Government could not order the doctors, who were members of the British Medical Association to work under the scheme. Honorable members opposite talk about the dictatorial attitude of the waterside workers and the coal miners. But it was the British Medical Association that dictated to the Labour government and said that it would not co-operate with it. Four or five doctors in my own electorate did attend people and give them prescriptions to obtain medicine from chemists free of charge. There were a number of doctors who did this. At that time pensioners could go to a doctor, get a prescription and obtain medicine absolutely free. That practice continued until this Government came to power and introduced a different medical benefits scheme.
I do not want to devote my time to tracing the history of the medical benefits schemes, but it rather riles me to hear Government supporters claiming, “We have done this and that for the people; the Labour party would do nothing for them “. I know that the Labour party made every effort. It put the necessary legislation through, but the anti-Labour interests, particularly the British Medical Association, would not work under that legislation. The Constitution gave us no power to enforce the provisions of the scheme we had in mind. A referendum was held on whether the Commonwealth should be given power to legislate with regard to several matters, including health and medical benefits. The Leader of the Opposition at that time was Mr. Menzies, and the Opposition agreed to support the referendum only if the Chifley Government gave an undertaking that any legislation with regard to health would not involve the conscription of human labour, or words to that effect. In other words, the Opposition of the day required that no legislation should be enacted which would force the doctors to work under a particular scheme. We had to accept that condition, because everybody knows that if a major political party opposes a question put by referendum there is very little chance that the people will accept it, no matter which party originates the proposal. That has been the history of referendums
Let me now return to the bill before the House. As I said earlier, I give credit for what has been done, but I want to refer to the provision for 10s. a week supplementary assistance. This assistance will be available only to single persons, or to a married couple only one of whom is receiving the pension. In the case of a married couple, the supplementary assistance will not be available if the husband is receiving the pension and the wife is receiving the wife’s allowance. I believe that the number of persons who will benefit under this provision will be far less than many people imagine it will be. I admit that it is a step in the right direction. I applaud in principle the grant of supplementary assistance to those in the direst need. I say at once that this provision will be helpful to many persons who fall into the necessary category. But there are many others who will not be eligible for it. There is one class in particular that has been excluded, and never should have been excluded.
Last year, when the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) was ill, I led the debate on behalf of the Labour party in connexion with the social services amending legislation. I paid particular attention at that time to the inadequacy of what is known as the wife’s allowance. I directed attention to the fact that if a man was receiving the invalid pension and was not able to earn any money at all, his wife was allowed only 35s. a week. I moved an amendment designed to increase this by £1 a week. Although I did not believe that such an increase would b? sufficient, I moved that the allowance be increased from £1 15s. to £2 15s. a week. The Government decided to oppose the amendment and honorable members opposite voted against it. I pointed out that the figure had remained at 35s. a week since 1952, and I said that until the Government agreed to increase it I would continue to hammer away at it at every available opportunity. I am hammering at it to-day. 1 consider that these persons are receiving the worst deal of all under our social service legislation. For years I hammered away at the Government on the question of a direct payment for each child after the first of an A class widow. Eventually 1 was pleased to see, after the battle that we had put up - and I do not contend that some Government supporters did not also battle for it - that it was decided to pay 10s. a week to an A class widow for each child after the first. That did not serve to meet all the needs of the A class widows, but it was of considerable benefit to those who had four or five children.
The invalid pensioner whose wife is receiving an allowance of 35s. a week, must, of course, pay rent, but he is not eligible for the supplementary assistance of 10s. a week simply because his wife is receiving this allowance. I believe the Minister understands my viewpoint and that he sympathizes with it to a certain extent, but he has not been able to prevail on the Government to extend the supplementary allowance to persons in the category I have mentioned. Until now, the invalid pensioner with a wife to keep was receiving 35s. a week more than a single pensioner who had no other income. This legislation will have the result that the same invalid pensioner will be only 25s. a week better off than the single pensioner renting a room, and will still have to keep his wife.
I suggest that anomalies of this kind should be effectively dealt with. Whether it is the department, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) or the Government that is responsible, this matter should be given careful consideration. It is all very well to talk about the total pensions having increased from about £90,000,000 to about £270,000,000, but Government supporters must remember that the number of people receiving pensions to-day is very much greater than it was in 1948-49. People are continually approaching me and saying, “ I am 65 years old, or 68 years old, and I have been told to knock off”. Back in 1948-49, men of 68 and 70 were continuing in employment. There was a shortage of labour and there was work for everybody. Now, however, there is a shortage of jobs. The Government admits that there are 70,000 persons registered as unemployed, but it must remember that in earlier days many persons of 70 years and more were working. To-day they retire at 65 and cannot register as unemployed. They have to apply for the pension. For this reason there are many more persons receiving a pension to-day than would have been the case if conditions had remained as prosperous as they were previously. I am not suggesting that a man has to work until he is 80; I am merely stating the facts of the case.
Last year a man came to me and said, “ What about the pension? What can I get? “ He had worked for many years and saved up a bit of money. He said, “ Until now I have been working at the Farmers Co-operative Union, doing a job in the store, but I had to knock off. I am 78.” He did not want a pension, but he was forced to knock off. He said, “ I can go on a bit longer, but they tell me I have to knock off”. Because of cases such as this, the number of pensioners is increasing.
Let me refer again to the charge that the Labour party has shown no imagination with regard to social services. Honorable members may remember that when I was speaking on this matter about twelve months ago I suggested to the Government that it should increase the maximum value of property that a pensioner is allowed to possess beyond £1,750. As I said then, a man with property worth £1,750 can get £72 10s. a year in pension, but if his property is worth £1 more than £1,750 he cannot get anything. I suggested that a means should be devised of removing this anomaly. When the limit was increased to £1,750, I advocated that the amount of pension payable be reduced by £1 for very £10 by which the value of property exceeded that amount, in order to overcome the hardship caused by the loss of pension of £72 10s. a year when the value of a pensioner’s property exceeded £1,750 by even £1. I urge the Government to apply that principle to the new limit, to obviate a sudden loss of pension of £22 10s. a year when the property value reaches £2,250.
Honorable members on the Government side of the House should not imagine that all the brains and all the thoughts on these matters are possessed by them. It is my job, as a member of an Opposition committee to keep in touch with these matters. Quite a lot of anomalies will arise from this legislation. I foresee that the Minister for Social Services will have a lot of headaches in putting the 10s. a week supplementary allowance into operation.
The Minister has said that a single age pensioner with no income other than the pension, and who pays rent, will receive this 10s. a week increase. What does that really mean? If a person has other income of 7s. 6d. a week, will he get the supplementary allowance? If he cannot get it, but a pensioner with no income does, the latter pensioner will be 2s. 6d. a week better off than the former. We have been told that the Government, in assessing the number of pensioners who had no income apart from the pension, included in that figure pensioners with an income of up to 5s. a week. Of course, there has to be a line of demarcation, and it is difficult to decide where that line should be drawn. I am under the impression that a person may have £200 in the bank and receive the 10s. a week increase, if he is paying rent. Yet a married invalid pensioner who has to rent a house for himself and his wife will not receive the increase, even when he has no money in the bank. When I look at this problem I can see the difficulties that have to be overcome.
After my first year of membership of the South Australian Parliament, I was asked what impressed me the most in my parliamentary duties and the work of the Parliament. I said that what impressed me the most was the difficulty of setting the line of demarcation in legislation. I have already pointed out that under the present act a pensioner who has property to a value of £1,750 can receive £72 10s. a year in pension, but a person owning property to the value of £1,751 gets nothing. The necessity for a line of demarcation always makes it very difficult to frame legislation such as this.
The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) said that the Opposition had not stated what it will do if elected to office on 22nd November. Let the honorable member make no error about this: In four week’s time, when the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) delivers his policy speech, he will tell the people what the Labour party will do if returned to office. I do not know what the right honorable gentleman will say in his policy speech. I do not know precisely what he will say on Labour’s policy on social services, but I am certain that he will express our intention to remove some outstanding anomalies concerning social service benefits. I am sure that whatever he proposes will be an improvement on the present social services legislation.
The amount of 9s. lid. has been mentioned as the increase in the cost of living in 1949. Actually, that increase was based on 1948 figures. Honorable members opposite have stated that in 1949 the late Mr. Chifley said, in relation to pension rates, “ We are making no increases. We will deal with that matter after the election”. They ask why Mr. Chifley did not make an announcement about pensions before the election. The present Government has not increased age and invalid pensions this year and it has not even announced that it intends to increase them. But Labour will be returned to office on 22nd November, and the news of our sweeping victory will be flashed all over Australia on the following day. When we come back here early next year, we will do what the present Government did when it came to office. The Menzies Government increased pension rates in 1950, so it said, because the Labour government had not increased them in 1949. We will make increases in 1959, because this Government has not done so this year. I do not know what the increase will be, but it will be a reasonable amount.
– You would not encourage the pensioners to wait for that, would you?
– I would not encourage the pensioners to wait for anything. If they return us to office they will not have to wait for increases. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions that have been presented to this Parliament. We have received petitions from the great church societies and from other bodies connected with social services, pointing out the dire needs of the pensioners and asking the Parliament to increase their pensions. But there has been no response from the Government, or those who support it, apart from a certain Melbourne professor who put forward a scheme. As honorable members know, the petitions come here, the Clerk reads them out, and they are then put on a file. Sometimes the bundles of pages containing signatures are two or three feet high. Yet they are put on one side. This Parliament should bring down legislation to give the pensioners more money. That is the reply to which they are entitled. The only reply they have received to date is the proposed supplementary allowance of 10s. a week. I do not want to belittle that, and I want the pensioners concerned to get it, but surely we can afford to increase all pension rates.
In speaking yesterday on another bill I said that the Government recognized that the States were not getting enough money, and that although the Government would receive less revenue this year than it received last year it would give more to the States because it felt that the States needed an increased amount. I say much the same thing in this debate, Sir. Even if our revenue this financial year were no greater than that of last financial year, I for one would be prepared to accept a slight increase in taxes, if that were necessary, in order to raise the money needed to provide pensions on a more economic scale than those paid to-day.
I know the anomalies that exist. As the Minister for Social Services has said, a married couple with a total income of £15 15s. a week - £7 a week in income and £8 15s. a week in pension - are in a different category from a single person solely dependent on the pension. I know that. Anomalies arise, as I mentioned yesterday, and we cannot get over them all. I am not so foolish as to say that we can give everybody £15 15s. a week, but I do say that the economy of this country could provide far more than we are giving the pensioners to-day.
Ir am not prepared to say just what Labour would give the pensioners. That will be for my leader to say when he makes his election policy speech on the 15th of next month. In that speech, he will indicate what Labour will do. I believe that when the people hear what we propose to do, and what the cost will be, they will agree that our proposals can be carried out. That is the way I see it. It may be said that I am a simple person. Some people seem to think that we on this side of the House have simple minds. Whether or not my mind is simple, it gives a lot of thought to the people at the bottom of the scale. The subject of the welfare state is a big question in many countries of the world to-day. I ask the people of Australia to think about it carefully and to vote for Labour at the forthcoming election.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I approach this bill, not with any thought of asking the people to vote for the Government parties at the next election, but with the object of doing something that will be genuinely helpful to the people who are dependent on social services. I do not think it is fitting for the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) to make the debate on this bill the occasion for an appeal to the electors to vote for the Australian Labour party at the election.
This bill, Sir, does something that will be very helpful to a large number of pensioners. It gives something to those who are most in need, and that will help them greatly in their present circumstances. I think the House should be grateful to the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who is chairman of the committee that suggested the proposals embodied in this measure, and who has done so much to forward these proposals. The honorable member has pointed out that pensioners who live alone and pay rent are in need of special assistance. I think that we should look particularly to the requirements of those people who need accommodation, and that we should do something to ensure that all the available accommodation is used to the best advantage.
I know that in New South Wales and South Australia, for example - and, I dare say, in other States - there is accommodation which is vacant, and which would be acceptable to many pensioners, if the requisite machinery were provided to make it available to them. In towns such as Junee, in New South Wales, and Peterborough, in South Australia - and I have no doubt in towns in other States also - there are many houses which either are vacant or can be obtained at a small cost. There are houses available in many towns which have all the amenities such as a good climate, water, sewerage, electricity and hospitals - all those things that the pensioners naturally need. I do not suggest that we should compel anybody to go to those towns to live. [Quorum formed.]
I can well understand the attitude of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who called for the quorum to be formed. He belongs to a party which lives by exploiting the miseries of pensioners and others, and he is very annoyed at any concrete suggestion to improve the lot of the people that his party exploits. I am only trying to make such concrete suggestions.
Before the quorum was formed, I had said that, in the country districts of most States of the Commonwealth, there are available houses which can be obtained at small cost and which would provide good living conditions for pensioners. I mentioned Junee, in New South Wales, and Peterborough, in South Australia, but they do not make a complete list of the towns where water, sewerage, electricity, hospitals, shopping centres and the other things that make for a good life are available, and where houses could be obtained for the accommodation of pensioners. If we could afford people who are willing to move to those towns an opportunity to buy the houses which are available, we should be doing something to improve the lot of the pensioners without imposing additional strains on the supply of building materials and on other resources needed for housing. I suggest, therefore, that it would be a good thing for the Government to make special arrangements to guarantee, within certain limits, and with certain safeguards, loans to enable pensioners to buy houses in prescribed towns where they are available. I do not suggest that we should compel pensioners to move to those towns. All I am suggesting is that we should give them an opportunity to avail themselves of the available accommodation if they want to.
I suggest that a prescribed town should be a town which has the necessary water, sewerage and electricity services, hospitals, and so on, to enable pensioners to be comfortable there, and which has available empty houses, or a surplus of houses. In such towns, in whatever States they may be, pensioners who desire to buy the available houses should have their accounts guaranteed by the Commonwealth up to a certain amount, and perhaps pensioners living in those towns could have their pension augmented by a housing allowance. The idea of this would be simply to make the best use of our existing resources so as to raise the standard of living of those pensioners who wanted to take advantage of the offer.
May I emphasize again that it is not a proposal to compel pensioners to live in this place or that place. There are many pensioners who would like to move to a country town if they could, provided that that town could give them the necessary facilities and services, and provided that they could obtain accommodation at a reasonable figure. If we could do this, and do something concrete along those lines, we would be making the best use of existing resources. I know towns in New South Wales, and honorable members from other States would know towns there, where good accommodation is lying virtually vacant.
– Not in Tasmania!
– The honorable member for Wilmot has said that it is not so in Tasmania. I do not suggest that it would be applicable everywhere, but I know that this state of affairs occurs in New South Wales in a town I have named, and in South Australia in another town that I have named; and I have no doubt that it occurs elsewhere.
– Order! The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith who is continually interjecting must remain silent.
– I suggest that members of the Opposition should join me in trying to do something to improve the lot of the pensioners instead of trying to make party political capital out of the pensioners.
– You are only talking. What are you doing about it?
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney must cease interjecting.
– I realize that this is a concerted move to interrupt me. I know what the Opposition is up to, because it tries to live by exploiting misery. That is its stock in trade. I have suggested what we could do. First, the Commonwealth could make up a list of towns in which there were the necessary facilities and where there was a housing surplus. In respect of those towns, the pensioners might be given an addition to the pensions if they resided in those towns, and they might be guaranteed a loan for the purchase of thenown houses. In so doing, we would be making the best use of existing resources and would be raising the standard of living of the Australian people. I fail to see why the Opposition should be so indignant at a proposal of that character.
.- The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) began his speech by attacking the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) for attempting to make some political capital out of social services. I think that it ill becomes the honorable member who, to my knowledge, seeks to make more political capital out of his submissions to this House than does any other member. Some little time ago the honorable member for Mackellar offered to lead a march into Hungary. He has not yet done so. We have also just been informed that he is to lead a walk to the South Pole, followed by a party of rather aged honorable members from the Government side of the House. Now, the pied piper from Mackellar is going to lead a group of pensioners into prescribed country towns. I suggest that we will see as little of the pied piper from Mackellar in those country towns as Hungary has seen of him, or the South Pole will see of him in the future.
The honorable member makes his submissions to the House with the news sense of a journalist and his eyes on the front page of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “. He is the last one who should accuse the honorable member for Port Adelaide of seeking political advantage from social services. The honorable member sees opportunities for pensioners on £4 7s. 6d. a week to buy houses in country towns! The Australian pensioner has not got the financial background of the honorable member for Mackellar. One could test the sincerity of this dramatically-minded member of this House by asking him what he did for the pensioners previously. He has suggested that the Government should give some special allowance to pensioners if they would take one of these houses in the country. What did he do when the rent rebate was taken from pensioners living in housing commission homes? Did he protest against that action? No; he did not utter one word. There would not have been any political headlines in a protest of that sort. Now, with that record, he has risen in his place to-night with a dramatic proposal, the details of which were distributed, no doubt, to the press gallery late this afternoon so that he would get headlines in the morning press.
– He evicted pensioners from houses on the south coast.
– No doubt, he would evict other pensioners if he had his way. The attitude of some honorable members on the Government side can be likened to that of the pied piper of Mackellar, and I do not want to say anything more about that proposition now. The position that has been brought to the attention of the House tonight is that, although we have a social service system in Australia which is better than the comparable systems in most countries, and which has grown over the past 35 to 40 years, it must be admitted by every reasonable person that there could be great improvements, and that the age and invalid pensions should be increased. Child endowment should be increased also, and other social service benefits should be improved. There must be general agreement on that point.
Last year, more than 1,000,000 signatures were appended to petitions submitted to this House. Almost every church leader and many supporters of almost every church in the Commonwealth have supported moves in the past two or three years for increased social service benefits. Although I am prepared personally to say that the present Government has done better with regard to social services and the welfare State than I thought it would, I do say that there must be agreement among the great majority of supporters of the Government that it could have done better.
To-night we are discussing a bill in its second reading to analyse, as objectively as we can, what the Government, in fact, has done. The case made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in submitting the bill to the House is that more money has been spent on social services by this Government during its period of office than was spent by the niggardly and wicked socialists before this Government was elected to office. T want to say two things about that: First, I want to examine the record of the conservative parties briefly so that we can study the background of the position that they occupy to-day. I want to examine also the Minister’s statement in terms of events between 1949 and 1958. The Government parties are the logical successors of those conservative governments that have gone - whatever may have been their names. A study of Australian economic and political history shows that the conservative parties have had to be pushed every inch of the way to accept social services, even of a very minor and inexpensive nature. Tt took four or five years of constant pressure to get the Deakin Liberal Government to grant a miserable age and invalid pension of 7s. 6d. a week, and had it not been for the fact that in June. 1907. the tariff legislation of that government was in danger, the government would not have granted it then. The Deakin Government, in fact, decided to grant that pension without making any provision whatever for the financing of it. In the few years that followed, the conservative parties in this country had little power during the time in which age and invalid pensions were raised.
We come to the 1920’s, a period of great prosperity in this country, during which the Bruce-Page Administration occupied the treasury bench of the Commonwealth. In 1921 a national insurance scheme was proposed. At every subsequent election when those conservative parties submitted their policies to this nation, the national insurance scheme was in the forefront of those policies. For twenty years that went on, yet that scheme was not put into legislation. At the end of the 1930’s, after it had been promised at every election, and inquiries and royal commissions without number had been held, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) resigned ingloriously from the government in which he was the Attorney-General, because that government refused to introduce a national insurance scheme. We can test the sincerity of the right honorable gentleman in the matter. Nine months later he became the Prime Minister, but his government, for eighteen months, also refused to introduce a national insurance scheme. So we can ask ourselves: Was the right honorable gentleman concerned with national insurance or with becoming Prime Minister of this country?
At the beginning of the war, there was general agreement on the matter. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) was one of those who expressed the view - in his case to a conference of the Institute of Political Science - that once upon a time Australia had led the world in the field of social welfare and social services. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) also expressed the view in 1941 that Australia had slipped into a very backward position. At that time, just a fraction over 2 per cent, of Australia’s national income was provided for social and welfare services.
From that point onwards, the great event in the history of this matter was the establishment of the Joint Parliamentary Com- mittee on Social Services, which continued’ investigations for three and a half years and laid down the pattern of the social and welfare services of the Commonwealth. As I have said, in 1941, when the Curtin Government came into office, a fraction over 2 per cent, of the national income was going in social and welfare services. In 1949 when, after seven and a half years, the Curtin Government went out of office,. 5 per cent, of our national income was going in social and welfare services, that is, more than double the percentage of the national income had been transferred to those people who needed it most. This was a great movement of redistribution in the history of this country, and in a few moments I shall tell the House a little about what has happened since then.
When we come, upon the basis of that history, to try to judge what the present Government has done in its term of office, these are the propositions that are put to us: That this Government has maintained the real value of social services, as it said it would; and that it has spent more money on social services than was spent by the Labour government before 1949. These propositions are wrong. Time and time again the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and other Ministers, when quoting the amount of money spent on social services, have ignored completely two important things. First, they have ignored the vast increase in the number of people who received those social services. That omission on their part means that the increase in the amount is not because the individual is getting any more, but because there are so many more individuals. Secondly, speakers for the Government have consistently and knowingly ignored the fact that the number of pounds spent in social services in 1958 buys just a little more than half what it bought in 1949.
The occurrence of inflation during this Government’s term of office has struck at the very root of the social and welfare system of this country. It is useless for the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) to talk, as he did a little while ago, about the necessity for retaining prosperity in the country if social services are to be worthwhile. That is the very opposite of what this Government has done. The Government has permitted inflation to drain away the value of every social service, with the exception of only one, namely the unemployment and sickness benefit. That is the only social service benefit in this Commonwealth that has maintained its real value.
That is the record of this Government. Even the real value of age and invalid pensions, taking the most favorable measure, has not risen. Let us have a look at the value of the social services. If we think, as the Government encourages us to do, only in terms of the money value, we find a completely misleading position. In 1949, in the last year of Labour, nearly £91,000,000 was spent on social services. That represented 4.050 per cent, of the national income. In 1957, the corresponding figure was £183,500,000, and the percentage of national income was 3.916. I am quoting now from the report of the Director-General of Social Services. So, as a proportion of national income, the amount of money paid in social services fell in that period from 4.050 per cent, to 3.916 per cent.
If we take another standard of comparison - I shall take several before I conclude - and compare that figure, as the DirectorGeneral of Social Services does, with the amount of Commonwealth expenditure from revenue, we find that in 1949 it was 13.78 per cent., and in 1947 it was slightly more, 13.98 per cent. There was no advance even upon that figure. And let us not forget that the Commonwealth is drawing more upon the central bank and treasurybills for its resources than it did in 1949. But even if we look at that standard, there has been no increase. In the White Paper on national income, we are given a number of other figures. We see there that although the proportion of social services expenditure to national income has made no increase at all, and all Commonwealth expenditure from revenue has made only a slight increase, there has been a considerable fall, and fluctuation, between those levels in the years between. Even if we are prepared to concede that about the same -proportion of national income is being devoted to social services in 1957 as in 1949, if we contrast that position with the change that took place under the two preceding Labour governments, we will find that the -proportion of national income going in this direction was more than doubled. What the Government has done is to take the same proportion of national income, but as I have said it is considerably more than it was before 1949. But although the proportion of national income has, at best, remained something like it was, fluctuations have caused the pension rates to fall below the two constant figures at the beginning and end of the period under consideration.
What has happened to the proportion of people who are drawing upon that fairly constant figure? Has it remained constant? Of course, it has not. The proportion of age and invalid pensioners as a proportion of the population was 4.06 per cent, in 1948-49, but in 1957, at the end of the period, it was 4.83 per cent. The proportion of children receiving endowment in 1948-49 was 14.2 per cent, of the population, but it was more than double at the end, 30.4 per cent. On no test that you like to make has the Government’s undertaking in 1949 been maintained. It undertook to maintain the real value of the social services. In no sense, has the real value of any social service payment been maintained.
If one looks at the number of people involved one will see one of the main reasons why the money figure of the amount paid has, in fact, increased. In the case of age and invalid pensioners there were 403,022 in 1949, and 554,017 in 1957. The number receiving maternity allowances was 177,955 in 1949, and 216,617 last year. In the case of child endowment 1,105,299 payments were made in 1949, and 2,978,191 in 1957. In the case of widows’ pensions the number has not increased so much. There were 43,262 at the beginning and 45,416 at the end. The main reason why the Minister for Social Services can claim that the amount paid has risen to something like £273,000,000 lies in the increased number of people to whom these payments are being made and also in the inflation that this Government has permitted to take place in the meantime. The value of money is no more than half what it was in 1949.
Now let us examine the value of these social services. I will take the case which is best for the Government to begin with. The Minister for Social Services said, in his speech -
The rates of pensions benefits and allowances have been increased consistent with the increasing capacity of the community to pay them.
He chooses, at the outset, to take the increased capacity of the community as a measure of what the increase in social service payments should be. The only measure we have available to us is the Commonwealth basic wage. As the honorable member for Stirling pointed out earlier in the debate, if we take that measure we find that the age and invalid pension to-day is 1 8s. lower than it should be. So that on the standard which the Minister for Social Services lays down at the beginning of his speech, the most favorable pension unit in the social services of the Government is 18s. lower than it should be. But let us take the C series retail price index number, and see how the pension measures in relation to that. If we take the most favorable basis, as I have done, the 1958 level of pensions of £4 7s. 6d. is 2s. 6d. in advance of what it might be if it were adjusted to the C series retail index number. That is making a comparison on the most favorable basis and on the smallest rate of increase.
But having said that let us see what happened in the years that have gone by. Taking this most favorable comparison for the Government, the actual pension at the beginning was £2 2s. 6d., but the adjusted pension on that standard should have been £2 6s. Consequently, throughout 1950, the age and invalid pensioners of this country were 3s. a week down in purchasing power. In 1951, on the same standard, the actual pension was £2 10s., but the adjusted pension should have been £2 12s. In that year the pensioners were 2s. a week worse off. In 1952, the actual pension became £3, but -the adjusted pension should have been £3 4s. 6d.; so the pensioners were then 4s. 6d. a week worse off. In 1953, the actual pension was £3 10s.. and the adjusted pension should have been £3 12s., which meant that they were 2s. a week worse off. In 1954, the actual pension was £3 10s., which was 3s. 6d. a week less than the adjusted pension of £3 13s. 6d. In 1955, -the actual pension was still £3 10s., but the adjusted pension should have been £3 15s., making the deficiency 5s. In 1956, for the first time, they caught up. In that year the actual pension was £4, but the adjusted -pension would have been £3 18s., so that the pensioners were 2s. a week better off. But in 1957, they were 2s. 6d. a week worse roS. Applying that comparison to this year, at any rate to the beginning of it, the pensioners have been 2s. 6d. a week better off. That is the Government’s record in regard to pensioners so that while it talks about what it has done for them during these years it should realize that in every one of those years, except one, the pensioners have been worse off by 2s., 3s., 4s. or 5s. a week.
– We have never reduced it.
– 1. should not be surprised if the Government had.
– Well, we never have.
– 1 am surprised that the Government has not reduced the pension. But the position is infinitely worse for the Government if we look at child endowment payments. Child endowment is the abandoned social service of the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1950, the endowment was 5s. a week for the first child and 10s. for the other children in the family. If those figures were to be adjusted to the C series retail price number and the cost of living taken as the most favorable basis to the Government, the endowment for the first child to-day would be approximately 10s. and for the others approximately £1. But, throughout the term of office of this Government, in each year that has gone by those members of families who have taken their child endowment out lost several shillings each week.
It is unnecessary, of course, to go through the other social services which have been similarly abandoned. Maternity allowances of £15 and £16 should be at least £30 or £32, and funeral benefits instead of being £10 should be at least £18 or £20. These figures illustrate what this Government has done in relation to social services.
Now, let us look at the peculiar method of the Government in regard to rent allowances for single pensioners. I say that this method is unsound in economics and bad in principle. The Minister for Social Services, with his affectation of liberalism and generosity, had this to say in his secondreading speech on this subject -
I remind honorable members that the Commonwealth has no “ poor law “ tradition in the administration of social services.
I say that it has a poor law tradition from this day onwards. It has created a second-class, or low-caste, group among age and invalid pensioners, lt has selected a small number of people whom the Minister describes as being called upon to bear grim misfortunes. He said that he does not want - . . to draw odious comparisons between the people who, by their grievous circumstances qualify to receive this supplementary assistance and those who, by their more favourable circumstances, are excluded from it.
But that is precisely what the Minister is doing. He is making odious comparisons between the single pensioner living as a tenant and the rest of the pensioners. He is saying, “ Here is a perpetually depressed group of people “, and he is introducing the poor-law system into Australian social services. Although these single pensioners who are tenants are undoubtedly very badly off, my experience is that they are not particularly worse off than are other pensioners. I believe that the only group to recommend this allowance was the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence in Victoria. The only other people to mention it were the members of the University of Melbourne who wrote on the subject.
The Government has granted this allowance as a substitute for an increase in pensions, which would cost only a few miserable millions, lt has no real knowledge of these pensioners. Of my own knowledge of pensioners in my electorate - and I have been closely associated with them - I can say that the single pensioner who is a tenant is not significantly worse off than many other pensioners. The pensioner who is worse off than any other, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said, is the pensioner whose wife is not also a pensioner. He has to live on £4 7s. 6d. plus 35s. a week allowance for his wife. The single pensioner is very often in a relatively better position than is the married pensioner in regard to rent. Frequently, the amount of rent that he pays is not even half the amount paid by the married pensioner. In addition to having a larger room in which to sleep, the married pensioner must have cooking facilities which often cost more than the difference between his rent and the rent of the single person.
We also have the striking anomaly of the pensioner who is paying an uncontrolled rent in such States as Victoria, where there is a Liberal government, contrasted with pensioners who are paying a controlled rent. The uncontrolled rent is often two or two and a half times as much as the controlled rent. The difference between pensioners who are paying a reasonable controlled rent and pensioners who are paying uncontrolled rent is far greater than the difference between single pensioners and married pensioners. The whole basis of the Government’s case for the payment of a supplementary allowance to pensioners who are single and tenants disappears when it is examined. It is wrong in principle because the Government is introducing a lower class of pensioner. Tt is introducing a means test within a means test. It is introducing a workhouse principle in Australian social services. It is wrong in practice because these pensioners are not necessarily as badly off, relatively, as other sections of the community.
I believe also that it is unsound economics. It is difficult enough for a pensioner to retain a general increase in his pension when it is granted for no staled reason. There is a tendency then for landlords to increase the rents of pensioners, and for other people to increase their demands on pensioners. But when a particular allowance is given for a particular purpose, such as the payment of rent, there is a far greater probability that the demand made upon pensioners will be increased. I have already heard of dozens of cases in my electorate where, because of this increase of 10s., a demand has been made on pensioners.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I ask the House for leave to make a personal explanation. I claim that I have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Yarra. The honorable member said, in his opening remarks, that the concrete proposals T had made to help pensioners were made merely for the purpose of publicity and that no doubt I had discussed them with the press late this afternoon. That is absolutely and completely false. [Quorum formed.] I was saying that the honorable member for Yarra had completely misrepresented me. He accused me of making a concrete proposal for the alleviation of the lot of pensioners simply for the purpose of getting the front pages and he said that no doubt I had been in touch with the press late this afternoon.
– I rise on a point of order. In what way is the honorable member misrepresented when another honorable member interprets his action as being for a purpose other than he himself believes it to be?
– I have listened very carefully to what the honorable member has said. I believe that so far he is in order.
– The honorable member for Yarra said that no doubt I had been in touch with the press and given newspaper representatives advance information of what I was going to say late this afternoon. Those were his exact words, as far as I can recall them. They are utterly and completely false. Whether they are meant as an innuendo or a statement, I do not know, but in either case they are equally false. I do not know whether the Standing Orders of the House permit me to require an apology and withdrawal from the honorable member for Yarra, but if they do so, I now require that apology and withdrawal for this unwarranted slur.
– The Standing Orders do not so provide.
.- I am appalled at the poor attendance of Government supporters during this debate. The position that alarms me is that honorable members opposite are so disinterested in this measure that they are unable to continue the debate and I, as a member of the Labour party, follow another member of the Labour party. No honorable member belonging to either of the Government parties is interested enough to enter into this debate.
This is probably one of the most important bills emanating from the Budget - the last Budget of the Australian Country party Treasurer. At least 500,000 adult pensioners in the Commonwealth are affected by the bill. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) was at pains to remind us that an innovation has been introduced inasmuch as a supplementary allowance of 10s. a week, called a rental allowance, will be paid to a section of the pensioner community. The press blazoned this forth as some generous gesture by the Government, but statistics show that only one pensioner in sixteen will receive this benefit; fifteen-sixteenths of the pensioners will not receive any benefit from the Government’s proposal. For some considerable time, honorable members on this side of the House have appealed to the Government to consider the lot of those in receipt of social services - that is, the aged, the invalid and the widows - and to grant some increase in the rate of pension to this most deserving section of the community. But apparently our pleas have fallen on barren ground. The case that the Labour party has advanced has been a sound one.
The cost of living in Australia has increased in the last twelve months at a fairly fast rate. Being a Queenslander, I must speak particularly about conditions as they apply in Queensland. The cost of living in Queensland, since the advent of the Australian Country party Government, has increased in the last twelve months at a greater rate than in any other State. This is attributable to the fact that the Government of Queensland, which is of the same political faith as the Minister for Social Services and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who presented the Budget, has lifted rent control. Rents in Queensland are now running riot. The Government of Queensland has handled1 the prices control legislation in such a way that the controlled price of consumer goods has been almost completely abolished. The Government of Queensland has dealt with the price control of meat in such a way that the price of beef on the London market dictates the price of meat to the consumers of Queensland, including pensioners. Because of the increased cost of living in Brisbane, the Industrial Court has increased the basic wage for Queensland by 13s. a week in the last twelve months. This increase has not been occasioned as a result of any pleas by the industrial unions to share in the prosperity enjoyed by industrial and business undertakings in Queensland. It has been occasioned by the increase in the cost of living. Fortunately, owing to the basic wage not being pegged, those workers under the agc of 65 who are working under State awards have their interests safeguarded, because every increase in the cost of living is met by an increase in the basic wage. But those people who have retired - the men over 65 - are not in so fortunate a position. The cost of living has increased at a greater rate in Queensland than in any other State, and those people of pensionable age, drawing social services, are seeing the value of their pensions decrease because of inflation.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) said a few minutes ago that this Government had never reduced pensions. I say that this Government, because of the failure of its leader to carry out his promise, made in 1949 and in subsequent years, to put value back into the £1, has most effectively reduced pensions. The value of pensions has been reduced because of the decrease in the purchasing power of money.
The House is indebted to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) for a question that he asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) a few days ago. The honorable member told the Prime Minister that the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia had conducted a survey into the fall in the value of money and had discovered that the £1 had depreciated by 54 per cent, since 1949. So the £1 of 1949 is now worth about 9s. Whereas £1 could purchase goods to the value of 20s. in 1949, to-day that £1 will only purchase goods to the value of 9s. So the honorable member for Maribyrnong can leave this place to-night quite satisfied that the Government that he supports has in fact most effectively reduced all pensions.
– It is the Menzies blight.
– As the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith says, it is the Menzies blight. I am most disappointed that the Government has not increased all pensions. It is true that a section of the pensioner community - one-sixteenth - will receive some benefit from this legislation. But I feel that all people who are in receipt of social services are entitled, because of the inflationary blight that has struck this country, to an increase in the amounts they receive. Honorable members know that Government supporters tour the country addressing meetings and professing to be most concerned about the lot of the aged people who need some assistance. But when they come into this House they do not carry out the ideas that they promulgate amongst the community. If they did, we would not be facing the position to-day of only giving an increase in pensions by way of a supplementary rent allowance to onesixteenth of the pensioner community. I fail to see why a pensioner couple should not receive an increase, when a single pensioner who is living in a rented room or house, or is paying board, will receive this allowance. I grieve for that large section of Queensland pensioners who own their own homes. Queensland has the largest proportion of home owners in any State. As a result of the legislation that is being put through this House to-night, a large section of the aged community in Queensland will be deprived of this increase. That is a penalty on thrift. The Government is condemning the outlook of the people of Queensland who denied themselves many pleasures during their early married life and have achieved their objective of owning a home.
– What are the Queensland supporters of the Government doing about this?
– They are wholeheartedly behind this legislation. Take the tragic position of a married pensioner whose wife is receiving the wife’s allowance of £1 15s. a week. That pensioner will receive no rent allowance at all. Take the case of a pensioner couple who are paying rent. They will receive no assistance. I think this is a tragic state of affairs. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has coined a good phrase which applies to the tragic situation to-day. This Government is making a submerged section in the pensioner community. It is in fact establishing a means test within a means test. It is extending the means test in the Commonwealth, despite the fact that only a few years ago it proudly boasted that the means test would be abolished. I think the Government could quite safely have increased all pensions.
This Parliament is most indebted to the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) for the information that he has given showing how the Government could meet an increase of at least 10s. a week in all pensions. The honorable member for Petrie is one of the leading Liberal party members from Queensland. In fact I might say that he is the leading Liberal party member from Queensland. He hopes very shortly, if by some accident this Government is returned to power after the next elections, to be the the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. The honorable member stated quite recently that the benefits from tax concessions for the year 1957-58 amounted to £28,000,000, but that for this year the concessions will amount to no less than £57,000,000. He said that this has been brought about by the depreciation allowance, which is enjoyed mainly by big industrial undertakings, and by the reduction of company tax by 6d. in the £1. We find that £57,000,000 is to be given to the industrial and business community, and only £3,900,000 to those in receipt of social service benefits. I am reminded, Mr. Speaker, of the biblical quotation: -
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.
There is no doubt that this Government has taken heed of the sentiments expressed in that quotation, and I very much deplore the enthusiasm, the pride and the joy with which the honorable member for Petrie made this statement in the House. He was most enthusiastic about the action of the Government in handing back £57,000,000 to the industrial undertakings, and, in a miserly way, he approves of the minute sum of money that will be spent on increased social services in this year - less than £4,000,000. This is a shockingly inadequate amount when one realizes the way in which the cost of living is increasing.
– The Queensland people will deal with him.
– I should hope that the Queensland people, if they are determined to demand justice, will deal with the situation at the first available opportunity.
– They may deal with it in Griffith.
– I have no doubt that they will deal with the situation in Griffith by returning me with a greatly increased majority because of my expressed opposition to the Government in this matter and my demand that the next government, whether it be Labour or, by an unfortunate chance, Liberal, will deal justly with this very large section of the community which I feel is sorely in need of social justice, and which has been denied it by this Government.
In the present tragic set of circumstances, we have a coalition government of which, I believe, the Australian Country party is the more conservative section. Unfortunately the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is a member of the Country party, as is the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I offer no personal criticism of the Minister for Social Services, whom I regard as a gentleman of the first water, most courteous and most respected, sartorially splendid on all occasions, with a complete knowledge of his department, but, as one honorable member has said, with a heart of granite. I believe the Government chose the Minister for his position because of his extremely conservative tendencies. He, I believe, will bring down the judgment of the decentminded people of Australia upon his head and upon the heads of the members of the Government who support this measure.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that the bill we are discussing goes only as far as it does, providing supplementary assistance of 10s. a week to only one-sixteenth of the pensioner community. I do not propose to discuss the gradual killing of other social service benefits, because other honorable members have done this more effectively than I can. I refer to the maternity allowance, child endowment and funeral benefits. I confine myself to-night to the matter of age, invalid and widows’ pensions. I am proud to be here to-night, sending my voice forth - although I am afraid the words will fall on barren ground-on behalf of this section of the community that is being denied justice by the Government. I hope that one day in the very near future justice will be done, and that it will not only be done but will appear to be done.
– in reply - Mr. Speaker, I would not have addressed myself to this bill a second time during the second-reading debate but for the fact that when the debate was resumed some three hours and five minutes ago the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) opened the discussion on behalf of the Opposition with a vicious attack on my honour and my integrity.
– A shameful attack!
– It could be described as a shameful attack. But there is a complete explanation for the disgraceful behaviour of the gloomy member for Eden Monaro. He was forbidden to-night to make any reference to the Labour party’s record on social services, and he ignored that record. He was expressly forbidden by his leader to make any reference to the policy of the Labour party with regard to the future of social services, and he observed his instructions to the letter. Consequently, he had nothing else to do but to indulge in a vicious attack on me.
– What did he say?
– I shall tell honorable members some of the things he said in the few minutes at my disposal. He quoted these remarks from my second-reading speech - . . year by year and Budget by Budget. . . Rates of pensions, benefits, and allowances have been increased. . . . The means tests, both with respect to income and property, have been liberalized . . . social services have been extended and expanded, and new social services have been introduced. . . .
The honorable member also said that I stated that this bill was no exception. Hs said that my statements were untrue. He told honorable members that I had said that I did not believe that social service progress could be measured in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, and that my statement was untrue when I said that in 1949 the total expenditure on social services was no more than £81,000,000 but that it had increased until now it is £273,000,000.
Now, Mr. Speaker, it is my bounden duty, as a responsible Minister, to cite the figures given in an official document which I have before me giving expenditure from the national welfare fund under the Social Services Act. I do not wish to delay the House in a debate of this kind, but it is necessary to answer these allegations. I shall give honorable members the total expenditure from the National Welfare Fund in the years since 1949. In that year the expenditure was £80,777,000. In 1951, the total expenditure was £114,983,000, and in 1953 is was £165,511,000. In 1955, the expenditure was £189,319,000; in in 1956-57 it was £223,923,000; in 1957-58 it was £247,485,000; and the estimate for 1958-59 is £273,817,000. Those figures are not to be contradicted by any honest man. They are incorporated in the Budget papers.
– But the Minister-
Order! The honorable member for EdenMonaro has already spoken.
– Yes, Mr. Speaker, and he is very sorry about it now, but it is too late. The honorable member went on to say that it was untrue of the Government to say that the rates of pension had been increased, that the means test had been liberalized, and that social services had been extended and expanded.
– So it was.
– He repeats it! Could I cite one instance only to demonstrate the amount of movement that has taken place in social service progress in our country? Let us consider, perhaps, the most pitiful of all people in need of social services in our country - a young widow who is left with any number of children. I do not want to say these things but I am required to say them in reply to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. In 1949 a young widow with any number of children received £2 7s. 6d. per week. Whether she had one child or six made no difference. She received £2 7s. 6d. a week. That was the limit. There was not another penny to be found anywhere for a young widow with any number of children. When her youngest child became sixteen years of age, if she was still under 45 years of age, the Labour party said to her, in effect, “This is the end for you so far as social services are concerned. Now that your youngest child is over sixteeen years of age, you can go to work for the next five years. You will not get a penny from this Government. After five years, we will consider whether you will qualify for a B class, a C class or a D class widow’s pension “.
Those are the sad facts of this case. To-day, a widow with one or more children receives £4 12s. 6d. in her own right. That is the range of the increase, year by year and Budget by Budget. Under the Labour government, the limit was £2 7s. 6d. at 45 years of age. To-day, it is £4 12s. 6d. a week. A provision has been made that if her youngest child becomes sixteen years of age when she is between 45 and 50 years of age she shall be eligible immediately, in her own right, for a B class widow’s pension. This Government will also pay an additional 10s. a week for every child after the first. That is another forward step in social services of the greatest practical value to the weakest section of the community.
Then, this year, this Government has brought in this innovation of a supplementary allowance which will assist B and D class widows with one or more children who have to live on a single pension, who are entirely dependent on their pension, and who pay rent. They will receive ari additional 10s. a week. So the rate has changed from £2 7s. 6d. up to the age of 45 when the widow had to go heck to work for five years until, to-day, £4s 12s. 6d. is paid to a widow with one child, plus 10s. a week for every child after the first. The act has been amended to provide that when a widow becomes 45 years of age and her youngest child is sixteen years of age she can, in her own right, immediately qualify for a B class widow’s pension and an additional payment of 10s. a week.
I could give innumerable instances of the social service progress that has been made, year by year and Budget by Budget, by this Government. Indeed, I have prepared a document which I have called, with a great deal of personal and political pride, “ The Achievements of the Menzies Government in Social Services “.
– By Peter Snodgrass?
– I hear the bellows of honorable members of the Opposition. They hate these effectual statements from this side of the House. This document contains eight foolscap pages in single spacing setting out the achievements of the Menzies Government. It deals with the period from 1949 to the present day.
– Let us have it.
– Do not ask too much or you will get it. It records, line by line, year by year, and Budget by Budget, the tremendous progress in social services that has been made by this country in the most advanced social services period of our political history.
– You will not read it?
– Order! The honorable member for Eden-Monaro persists in interjecting. If he interjects again, I will have to deal with him.
– In 1950, this Government made the first increase to be granted in its administration - an increase of 7s. 6d. per week in age and invalid pension? In 1951, it granted an increase of 10s. per week; in 1952, an increase of 7s. 6d. per week; in 1953, an increase of 2s. 6d. per week; in 1955, an increase of 10s. per week; in 1957, an increase of 7s. 6d. per week; and now, in this year, it has provided for this supplementary allowance of 10s. per week.
Widows’ pensions have moved in the same way. The means test, both with respect to property and income, has also been liberalized substantially, as this bill indicates. As I have said, there are eight pages of this document, setting out the achievements of the Menzies Government, year by year, as it has increased the rates of pensions and social service benefits, and as it has extended the social services provision by the liberalization of the means test to include tens of thousands of people, year by year, who were previously excluded by the socialist government in the most generous year of that unhappy period when it was in office.
We have introduced new social service schemes, all of which were denied by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, but no one knows better than he that when the Chifley Government, driven to the final madness of socialism, introduced a pharmaceutical scheme, no reputable pharmacist would have anything to do with it. When it tried to introduce a medical benefits scheme, no reputable medical man or woman would have anything to do with it.
The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) referred to the hospital scheme to-night. Every hospital in the community was in a state of financial desperation when this Government came to office in 1949. This Government has entirely changed that situation by encouraging people to take some protection again the normal hazards to life and limb.
As I said, Mr. Speaker, I have no wish to detain the House any longer than is necessary. I should like to end on this note: Some people talk in ‘ extravagant terms of social service payments, and are inclined to forget that every penny spent on social services has to be found by the taxpayers, including the lowly workers who receive only the basic wage, and the considerable number of people who earn less than the basic wage. There are more than 300,000 men and more than 700,000 women in Australia who receive less than the basic wage to-day. That, of course, is due to the itinerant nature of their employment, and to other circumstances. Altogether, more than 1,000,000 people earn less than the basic wage. Fewer than 4,000,000 people pay the taxes from which are derived all the financial resources that are available to me as Minister for Social Services, in addition to the financial resources needed for all the other services of government. Loading the taxpayers with an intolerable burden of taxes against the savage incidence of which they would be forced to seek protection would only serve to destroy the social service scheme, and would do the greatest harm, in the humanitarian sense, to those people who are in need of social services from time to time.
I have no wish to prolong this debate, Mr. Speaker. I commend the bill to the House, and ask for its speedy passage in order that it may be proclaimed at the earliest possible date, since the supplementary rent allowance will be paid on the first pay-day after the proclamation is made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker, several weeks ago, I raised in this House a case concerning an exserviceman. This appears to be an appropriate time to revive it, since the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has just been busy telling us how generous the Government is to the people in this community who are in great need. This is the case of an ex-serviceman who needs assistance. When I discussed it before, I was unable to give his name, because I had not obtained his permission to do so. I now have his permission. The gentleman concerned is Mr. James Thomas, of 197 Glenmoreroad, Paddington, Sydney.
Here are the circumstances. I was inaccurate in one particular previously. 1 said that this unfortunate man had been receiving the total and permanent incapacity pension for eight years, whereas, in fact, he had been getting it for only five years. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) assures me that it is not a special rate pension on the ground of total and permanent incapacity, but that this man is receiving a pension at the equivalent rate under the second paragraph of the Second Schedule to the Repatriation Act because he is suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. Mr. Thomas has received a pension at the same rate throughout the last five years. Tn my opinion, a man in a condition such as his is totally and permanently incapacitated, and, to all intents and purposes, he was receiving the total and permanent incapacity pension.
I shall relate the details of the case again. This man served in World War I. Almost immediately after his discharge, he qualified for a war pension. As his condition deteriorated, the pension gradually increased. I said previously that, in 1950, he went onto the full-rate pension, or the special-rate pension, but it was actually not until 1953 that he went onto that pension, which he has been receiving for five years. He is now 65 years of age, and has received a communication from the Repatriation Department in the following terms: -
Following a recent review of your case, the matter of assessment of your pension has been carefully considered and, in view of the medical evidence that your condition has improved to such an extent as to permit you to engage in remunerative employment, a reduction in the rate of your pension is indicated.
At 65, the Department of Labour and National Service will not register him as unemployed and admit him as being eligible for unemployment benefit. He is told that, as he is 65, he is eligible for an age pension, and therefore should not be registered for employment.
It is a pity that honorable members cannot see this old chap and learn for themselves what his condition is. At 65 years of age, despite his incapacity, the Repatriation Department tells him that he is able to undertake remunerative employment! Why, there are 100,000 or more ablebodied men in Australia who cannot get work to-day; so what chance has a disabled ex-serviceman who has not worked for years, and who, for five years, has been on the full-rate pension!
On the previous occasion on which I raised this matter, I said that Mr. Thomas had been advised by the Repatriation Department that he can now exercise his right of appeal. I am of the opinion that this is a case in which the Minister for Repatriation should have acted promptly to see that the pension was restored to this unfortunate ex-serviceman. Why should he have to go on the appeals list and wait many months to have his appeal heard? I venture to suggest that, on his present inadequate income, he cannot get the proper care and attention that he deserves. Unfortunately, he is entirely dependent on the reduced pension that he now receives. A case such as this ought to have been treated as a matter of urgency. If the Minister did not feel disposed to restore the pension promptly, he should at least have had the appeal expedited. But this has not been done. This man has been relegated to the position of being just one of the many on the list, and must wait his turn to have his appeal heard.
The treatment meted out to this exserviceman is indicative of the attitude of this Government, despite all its talk about its consideration for ex-servicemen and those in the community who are in need. Government supporters pride themselves on the number of ex-servicemen who sit on the Government benches in this Parliament, but I venture the opinion that most of the ex-servicemen in the Government ranks probably served among the top brass, and that they have no consideration for the unfortunate men who did the real fighting and whose service undermined their health. If such unfortunate ex-servicemen want some amelioration of their situation, they cannot look to the Government for it. The Government gives them only promises and speeches. If ex-servicemen want positive action in these matters, they can get it only from the Australian Labour party, the members of which have real consideration for those in the community who are in distress to-day.
I take the opportunity now to raise another important matter. As this Parliament moves rapidly to its end, I want to direct attention to an important question asked by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) on 13th May this year, and to the interesting reply given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The question was in these terms -
I ask the Prime Minister under whose authority it is, or would be, possible, to intercept letters or tap telephones on security grounds. When the Prime Minister was asked questions last November by the honorable member for Hindmarsh and myself, arising out of the report of a committee of Privy Councillors on the procedure which should be followed in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister said that he proposed to have the report examined by the Cabinet to see whether there should be a statutory basis for the procedure in Australia. T do not canvass the right honorable gentleman’s repeated resolve not to discuss the operations of the security service; I merely ask him, firstly: Who, in Australia, gives or would give the authority to tap telephones or intercept letters which, in the United Kingdom, must be given by the Home Secretary; and, secondly, whether the Cabinet has considered, in the intervening six months, the introduction of legislation on the subject?
Now, listen to the interesting reply of the Prime Minister. Incidentally, this is all we have heard of the matter to date, because the Prime Minister has never returned to it. He said -
The first part of the question should go on the notice-paper, because it does not admit of a simple answer, as the honorable member will realize. As to the second part of the question: No, Cabinet has not yet given consideration to this matter, although I have personally given a good deal of attention to it.
I interpret that as meaning that the Prime Minister was actually considering the introduction in Australia of conditions whereby telephones could be tapped and correspondence opened and censored by the authorities.
The honorable member for Werriwa directs my attention to the fact that, on 26th August last, in this House, the Prime Minister was again pressed to give an answer to the questions which he had previously been asked, and on that occasion he said -
I am sorry that I cannot as yet say anything beyond what I have already said on that point. The matter has not yet reached finality.
In my opinion, it is about time that, on such a serious and important matter as the tapping of telephones and the opening of correspondence passing between people in this country and from people overseas, we ought to know what the Government intends to do.
On previous occasions, when the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) and I have raised this matter in the House, we have been assured by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government that there was no need for any of our fears, that no telephones were being tapped in this country, and that no letters were being opened and the contents perused by the security service. I say quite definitely that whether the Prime Minister is prepared to admit it openly or not, telephones in this country were and still are being tapped and correspondence interfered with. The matter has been raised on numerous occasions in this House.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired. ‘
Motion (by Mr. Cope) negatived -
That the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) be granted an extension of time.
.- I do not want to detain the House for long, but I wish to bring to the notice of honorable members a matter which I think is of considerable importance. Recently, speakers on the Government side of the chamber have been very concerned, it would appear, about the Labour party. They want to make sure that it keeps in good condition and does not do anything that is wrong. Well, Mr. Speaker, frankly I am a little concerned about the Government. Recently, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board presented a report, which was tabled in this House, concerning the issue of television licences in Brisbane and Adelaide, and I feel that what has happened with regard to that report shows that there is something seriously wrong with the Government in its relations with the television licensees. I suggest that the relationship of the Government with the television licensees has reached such a stage that it should be the concern of the Australian people, difficult as it will be for the Australian people to discover the facts, because the Government, no doubt, in relation to this matter, will be protected by a press curtain through which publicity will have great difficulty in penetrating.
The position, simply, Mr. Speaker, is that this Government asked the Broadcasting Control Board to inquire into the issue of television licences in Brisbane and Adelaide. It was the joh of the board, so the Government said, to ensure that those licences would be issued to companies made up substantially of local capital, and it was also the job of the board to make sure that those licences would be issued to companies which did not control one or more television stations in other parts of the Commonwealth. I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that only if the Government had the strongest possible reason for disagreeing with the recommendation of the board should it do so. But in this case, not only has the Government disagreed with the recommendation of its own board, acting upon its own principles, but it has completely reversed the decision of the board.
The board recommended that there should be only one television station in Brisbane and in Adelaide, and it stated in the report good reasons why there should be only one in each city. It showed that the population of those two cities was about a third of that of Sydney and Melbourne, and that the extent of retail sales, as a measure of how television sets would sell, was less than a third. For those reasons, the board stated that there should be only one commercial licence and, of course, one government licence, in each of those two cities. But the Government has instructed the board that two licences should be issued. It is interesting to notice that the board included in its report correspondence from senior officers of television companies, saying that if the board did recommend that there should be only one licence, then those companies should use their influence with the Government to ensure that two licences would be issued. I say, Mr. Speaker, that those companies have used their influence with this Government and that the Government has given way to that influence. I say that when this country has a government which will do precisely that, it is the concern of the people of the country to think about the nature of the government.
The second point is that the Broadcasting Control Board seriously and carefully examined the situation and found that if it granted a licence to any of the applicants - three, I think, in the case of Brisbane, and four in the case of Adelaide - it would be granting a licence to a company which already controlled television stations in Sydney and Melbourne. It showed in correspondence that these companies had collaborated together to submit their applications, and it showed in its report that some of these companies were jointly controlled. So, in view of the instruction that the Government had given to the board that it was not to grant a licence to these companies if they already controlled one or more television stations, the board recommended that licences should not be issued to any of these applicants.
On the very day that that report was tabled in this House, the Government issued to the board what in fact is an instruction that it is to select from those applicants the one to which this television station licence in Brisbane and the one in Adelaide will be issued - the very opposite to what the board has recommended, and the very opposite to the principles that the Government laid down to guide the board in its determinations. So I say, Mr. Speaker, that when we have a government in office which will seriously, and with consideration, not only make modifications in the report of one of its own boards, but also overrule the board and instruct it to do the very opposite of what it has recommended, we are in a very serious situation indeed. If there is not political corruption involved In this, I have never seen a case where such was involved.
The issue now is that of the independence and integrity of this board - a board of four men selected for their position in the community. They are being instructed to do the very opposite to what they recommended. The question that is before the people is whether that board will agree to reverse its decision. Is it going to take its instructions from this Government? Is this Government going to destroy the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, as it has permitted the independence of the Tariff Board to be destroyed? These boards are being made subject to the Government’s will, one after another.
This Government is serving, not the interests of the community, but the interests of the monopolies in all fields. One of the most effective of the monopolies, because of its power over public opinion, is the monopoly of television. If this procedure is allowed to go on much longer, control of public opinion in Australia will fall into very few hands; hands which do not represent the interests or the needs which should be of concern to the people. So, I believe this is a matter of first-rate importance. We have a board which has been over-ruled by the Government which has become powermad. A government which is prepared to put up a performance like this on the eve of an election has no regard for public opinion or the responsibilities of office.
I challenge the Government to give an answer that is more substantial than the Leader of the House saying, in effect, “ I am, and we are, the judges of television. We believe there should be two stations in Brisbane and Adelaide. We believe these licences should be issued.” What does the Government appoint a board for, if it is going to act completely contrary to the board’s recommendations? Why go through the farce of having boards which are supposed to be independent if they are to be treated in this way? This goes to the root of government in this country. The Government is showing all the signs of political corruption, and it will come to an end very soon.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has a curious mind. It is not a very pleasant mind, as we are discovering increasingly as he maintains his contact with this Parliament; but the impact that he is making on the Parliament is decreasing as his membership of it lengthens. The honorable member has used phrases, such as “ political corruption “, in relation to this matter. He used it as a blanket charge against members of this Government, lt has not been adopted in those terms by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) or, for that matter, even by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who himself was critical of some aspects of this business.
I can assure the honorable member for Yarra that, coming from him, these epithets do not make a very deep impression upon honorable members on this side of the House. This Government has not come before the people of Australia only recently. It has been before the people since 1949. It has been weighed in judgment by the electors on a number of occasions since 1949, and if it had created an impression in the minds of the Australian people that it was a government of political corruption, they would not have hesitated to record their judgment on us on any occasion when they had the opportunity to do so. The honorable member for Yarra will not have to wait very long before the people will again have a chance to record their verdict.
Passing from the honorable member for Yarra to the matter which he has brought before the House, might I say that it would be a useful exercise if honorable gentlemen opposite could make up their minds where they stand. At one moment, we are attacked because we are charged with being the dupes of the bureaucrats who run the country. It is said that we have no mind of our own; that Government officials direct us what to do and that we jump to their bidding. But when on an occasion such as this, having established a reputable and expert body of men and asked them for their views, we have, in the exercise of our own judgment, chosen to adopt a different policy from that recommended, we are then charged with political corruption.
That charge has been initiated with the argument that some sort of veil of secrecy is to be thrown over our proceedings. Yet, the very act we have taken has been an act to enlarge the range of public expression and opinion through these television stations. We have not adopted a recommendation that there should be only one commercially expressed viewpoint of public opinion in these two great capital cities. Is that the act of a government that is trying to avoid some variety of viewpoint?
We have in this House had the spectacle, as recently as this week, of one member - I might almost say a leading member if the term “ leadership “ could be related to the chaotic group sitting opposite - a senior member of the Labour 1 party, who was given, apparently, an open go on one of the major television stations in Sydney only last week-end, with results, apparently, not so happy for him or his colleagues. But, Sir, at least our experience has been that this variety of viewpoint has been allowed to express itself, whether it be political viewpoints or viewpoints on great social questions of the day.
I do not intend to cover again the answers I gave the other night. I believe they were answers which commended themselves to most people in this Parliament; and I am quite certain the attitude adopted by this Government would be endorsed by the overwhelming majority of prospective television viewers in Adelaide and Brisbane.
– Who made representations to the Government?
– So far as I am concerned, nobody made representations to me, and that is the experience of my colleagues as well. The first consideration I found it necessary to give to these matters was the Cabinet discussion in which we had a report before us and were able to deal with it on its merits. I said a little earlier that one would think that honorable gentlemen opposite could make up their minds where they stood. First, they charge us with being in the grip of the bureaucrats. Then they criticize us because we will not give a television licence to only one commercial operator. Yet, in the next breath they inveigh against the monopolists of Australia and say that our actions are promoting monopolies.
Of course, the real fact of the matter is - if you can go beyond this confusion of utterances which come from the other side of the printed word of the policy of the Australian Labour party and the platform to which every honorable member opposite has given his solemn pledge - that the policy of the Labour party is the nationalization of radio and television. About the only man on the Labour side who has been honest enough to stand up to his pledged word is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition will not openly subscribe to that policy because he has his eye to political repercussions. He sees how embarrassing it could be, with an election looming, to have the people in control of press, radio and television in Australia informed that nationalization of radio and television is the pledged policy of honorable gentlemen who would form the alternative government of this country. But is not that the fact? Is not that where their policy stands? Is not that the pledge they have given? It is open for them to make their denials or accept what they have put forward as their published policy on this matter. The honorable member for Yarra would be doing the country and his party better service if, instead of embarking on this range of invective which he has let loose to-night, he stood honestly up to the policy to which he, in common with the others who sit by him, are pledged to give effect.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.50 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: - 1 to 3. Apart from the State Government’s share of the proceeds of public loans in Australia and New York, the States were required to meet interest on their share of the proceeds of a special Commonwealth loan raised in June, 1958, and on advances for housing, war service land settlement and rail standardization.
Subscriptions to the special loan totalled £92,000,000 (face value), of which £82,400,000 was invested from the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve, and £9,600,000 by the National Debt Commission from the Australian currency proceeds of loans from the International Bank. The purpose of the special loan was to complete the approved Loan Council borrowing programme for States’ works and housing and to assist in the financing of expenditure on war service land settlement. The net cash proceeds of the loan (£91,381,000) were distributed as follows:-
Rates of interest payable on the amount of the special loan allocated to the States for works purposes were as follows: -
Total housing advances to the States in 1957-58 were £33,160,000 and, in addition, an amount of £1,200,000 was paid to the States from Consolidated Revenue under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement to provide housing for service personnel. The States pay interest on all of these housing advances at the rate of 4 per cent, per annum.
Advances to the States in 1957-58 for war service land settlement were £8,703,000, including £8,261,000 from the special loan and a further £442,000 from Loan Fund. Of the total amount, £4,989,000 was provided by the Commonwealth to the Governments of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, which act as agents of the Commonwealth for purposes of the scheme within those States. These amounts did not therefore involve the States in interest payments to the Commonwealth. The balance of £3,714,000 was made available as repayable, loans to the States of New South Wales and Victoria. These States pay interest on advances at the rate of 3) per cent, per annum. Queensland does not participate in the scheme.
In addition to the amounts mentioned above, an amount of £600,000 was advanced to South Australia during 1957-58 for rail standardization in that State and £470,000 was advanced to Victoria for standardization of the Albury-Melbourne line. These payments were made from Consolidated Revenue. Thirty per cent, of the amount paid to South Australia is repayable to the Commonwealth and bears ‘interest at 5 per cent, per annum. New South Wales and Victoria will each repay 15 per cent, of the total funds advanced for the Albury-Melbourne line. The rate of interest has yet to be finalized. 4 and 5. Commonwealth securities were issued to cover subscriptions by the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve and the National Debt Commission to the special loan. These securities are inscribed in the name of the Commonwealth Treasurer on behalf of the Reserve and the Commission.
No securities have been issued in respect of other advances to the States mentioned above and the position in these cases is as follows: -
Housing advances - Repayment of these advances is covered by the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which is printed as a schedule to the Housing Agreement Act 1956 and which has been ratified by Commonwealth and State legislation.
War service land settlement - Repayment of these advances on the agreed terms is covered by an exchange of correspondence between the Prime Minister and each of the State Premiers concerned.
Rail standardization - Repayment of the advances to South Australia is covered by the Railways Standardization Agreement (South Australia), which has been ratified by both Parliaments. Agreements with similar provisions are expected to be signed with Victoria and New South Wales.
Land Settlement of Ex-servicemen.
s asked the Minister for Primary
Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
There are many reasons for the difference between the number of applicants eligible for holdings and the number settled to date. Many applicants have either changed their minds or have not been prepared to wait for suitable farms to be available; some have either gone on to family properties or have acquired farms of their own independently of the war service land settlement scheme. As many as 14,300 ex-servicemen have received from the Commonwealth loans totalling £10,000,000 for agricultural purposes under the Re-establishment and Employment Act. Moreover, farms in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania which are occupied by exservicemen, but which have not yet attained the productivity necessary for formal allotment are not included in the above table of applicants settled on holdings. Before the scheme terminates further farms will be available for applicants who may still be interested in obtaining them. Advice from State authorities indicates that in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania, the farms at present in sight will satisfy the number of applicants still awaiting farms in those States. In South Australia, sufficient suitable land is not available to meet demand, but an all-out effort is being made this year to obtain as much suitable land as is possible. In New South Wales there is a considerable number awaiting farms, but it is pointed out that those who have been unsuccessful in ballots for blocks on subdivided estates, have also had the opportunity over the years of finding farms for themselves and applying for them to be purchased under the Promotion provisions of the State act.
d asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The following are the answers to the honorable member’s questions: - 1. (a) 33.9 lb. in 1937-38 (excluding the war period 1939-46). 27.6 lb. in 1957-58 (preliminary estimate).’ (b) 8.4 lb. (3.6 lb. table margarine and 4.8 lb. other margarine) in 1957-58. Figures prior to 1946-47 are not available. 2. (a) The federal basic wage (weighted average six capital cities) payable to an adult male in the periods mentioned was -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice: -
– The Minister for National Development has replied as follows: -
i asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
School Dental Services in Canberra.
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
n. - As this question concerns the Health Department, the Minister for the Interior has asked me to answer it. I do so in the following terms: - 1. (a) six, one of whom is temporarily overseas on a World Health Organization fellowship, (b) six female dental assistants and one female clerk.
m asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Outstanding applications at 30th June, 1955: - 1954:- Ashfield 661, Bankstown 649, City South 795, Campsie 517, Epping 1,197, East 1,129, Granville 622, Hurstville 1,430, Kogarah 541, Lidcombe 853, Lakemba 768, Miranda 1,249, Maroubra 570, North Parramatta 714, Peakhurst 565, Ryde 1,043, Randwick 952, Rockdale 655, Revesby 559, Sutherland 1587.
Outstanding applications at 30th June, 1955: - Bankstown 678, Campsie 655, Carramar 657, City South 814, Balgowlah 418, Cronulla 440, Dee Why 609, East 902, Epping 908, Guildford 558, Hurstville 1,453, Lakemba 706, Lidcombe 935, Miranda 1,803, Newtown 736, Randwick 621, Redfern 480, Rockdale 777, Ryde 792, Sutherland 719.
Outstanding applications at 30th June, 1956: - Balgowlah 627, Bankstown 1,309, Campsie 805, Carramar 1,131, City South 903, Cronulla 734, East 823, Epping 916, Guildford 792, Hurstville 790, Lakemba 951, Lidcombe 694, Miranda 2,264. Newtown 863, Parramatta 591, Redfern 629, Revesby 678, Rockdale 680, Ryde 1,359, Sutherland 921.
Outstanding applications at 30th June, 1957: - Ashfield 619, Bankstown 994, Campsie 450, Carramar 898, Cronulla 533, Dee Why 672, East 710. Epping 740, Guildford 815, Harbord 584, Hurstville 754, Lakemba 449, Miranda 2,177, Newtown 705, North Ryde 769, Parramatta 543, Pendle Hill 594. Revesby 735, Sefton 493, Sutherland 998.
Outstanding applications at 30th June. 1958: - Ashfield 335, Balmain 282, Bankstown 753, Burwood 198, Carramar 639, Como 249, Dee Why 239, Epping 674, Granville 203, Killara 309, Lakemba 390, Liverpool 341, Miranda 689, North Parramatta 219, North Ryde 371, Pendle Hill 617. Pymble 229, Revesby 585, Rydalmere 568, Sefton 281.
See 1 above.
n asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
How many applications for telephones are outstanding in the Sydney suburbs of Newtown, Erskineville, Marrickville, Stanmore, Petersham, Dulwich Hill and Summer Hill respectively?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The districts mentioned by the honorable member are served by the Newtown, Petersham, Under- cliffe and Ashfield telephone exchanges, to which 229 applicants for service are awaiting connexion, o
m 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, 18 September 1958, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1958/19580918_reps_22_hor21/>.