23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Defence a question. Is the honorable gentleman aware that Sir George Holland, National President of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, has alleged, in a statement reported in the forty-third annual report of the league, that “ there is a complete lack of uniformity and liaison in Australia’s present civil defence system “? If so, will the Minister indicate to the House what steps the Government is taking to ensure maximum co-operation and liaison in the civil defence service?
– If the honorable member will put the question on the noticepaper, he will receive a reply from the Minister who is responsible for civil defence, namely, the Minister for the Interior. I understand that the Minister intends to make a statement to the House on the subject in the near future.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Interior. Does the Department of the Interior impose any restrictions relating to the places where a member of this House or a senator may have an office for the conduct of his parliamentary work? In addition to office space, what normal office equipment is provided to assist members and senators in their parliamentary duties? Has the Minister recently received an application from any member or senator from the State of Tasmania for the provision of an office, or any equipment or facilities associated with an office, in the State of Queensland for the purpose of carrying out his parliamentary duties? If so, does the Minister consider that this is a reasonable requirement, or does he regard it as an abuse of the privileges granted to members and senators?
– The Government does provide members of the Parliament with parliamentary offices in which they can carry out their parliamentary duties in relation to their electorates. Certain basic office equipment, such as the normal office furniture, is provided with those offices, also. I do not know whether it would be gallant to refer to secretary-typists as basic office equipment, but they, also, are provided for the use of members in giving the service which members are expected to give to their electorates. There is no restriction in respect of the location of a member’s office, except that the usual practice is to provide it in the capital city of the State which the member represents. In certain instances, mainly for convenience in country electorates, offices are provided in the electorate of a member. It has seemed reasonable not to provide office accommodation outside the State which the member or senator represents. The facilities have been provided on the recommendation of various committees which have been concerned to see that members can give service to their constituents. My department administers those rules but cannot in any way be concerned with the extent to which any member or senator uses the facilities. lt may well be that a member or senator has an office in a capital city and uses it very little, but the facility is provided for him and the responsibility as to the degree to which he uses it is entirely his own. He is answerable first to his electorate and, I suppose, in some degree to the party whose endorsement he carries.
The honorable member has asked me a question in relation to a recent application. This matter concerns a member of another place, and although it also concerns the administration of my department I confine myself simply to stating the facts as they are known to me. I state them carefully because there has been, apparently a great deal of distortion, mis-statement of fact and rumour in the press about this matter. The position simply is that a senator saw me early in August and made certain requests. On 25th August, after considering those requests, I wrote to him. As a result of my letter he subsequently engaged a secretary-typist in Brisbane through the Department of the Interior in that city. He was also supplied with a typewriter and permission was given to> have his telephone account charged to the
Department of the Interior. On 9th September, the senator wrote to the property officer at Hobart and advised that he no longer required the parliamentary office provided for him in Launceston, but he did request that his post office box be retained in Launceston as that would be his only address in Tasmania.
Those, simply, are the facts as I know them. The department has merely applied the rules which exist, and, as I see it, the department has been correct in its application of those rules. The department is not concerned as to where any member or senator finds occasion to engage the services of his secretary-typist or to use a typewriter. It may well be that in his own judgment he can serve his electorate best by using them in some place other than his electorate. In the net result the Commonwealth has saved the expense of providing office space, cupboards, filing cabinets and the like.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral say when it is proposed that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will begin its hearings of applications for country television licences? Is it proposed that the board will hear evidence on all these applications in Melbourne, or will it move from State to State in pursuit of evidence? If, as has been suggested, the board proposes to hear all the applications in Melbourne, does the Minister regard this procedure as providing adequate opportunity for interested representatives of the public to give evidence?
– The final date for the presentation of applications for television licences in the third phase is 30th September. The board already knows that there will be more than 50 applicants in respect of the thirteen areas involved in this phase of the development of television. It is, therefore, setting aside four to five weeks to enable it to study the applications thoroughly before the actual hearings commence. I understand that it is expected that the hearings will commence in the first or second week in November. Because of the great number of applications and the fact that they will have to be very thoroughly investigated, it has been decided that it will be preferable in the interests of all concerned - not only the board but also the applicants - if the hearings are conducted in Melbourne. It is proposed, therefore, to adopt this procedure. I believe that the arrangements that will be made for the conduct of these hearings will afford all interested parties proper opportunities to present their cases. I believe also that, because of the number of applications and the wide range of the investigations that will be necessary, a better result will be achieved by holding the hearings in Melbourne than by requiring the board to spend a great deal of time in travelling through the various areas concerned.
– How long do you think it will take, six months?
– Not six months.
– I address a question to the Prime Miinster. I ask him why the Commonwealth does not contribute to such basic aspects of tertiary education as teaching hospitals and teachers’ colleges. Has the right honorable gentleman considered the measures now being taken by the United Kingdom Government to help hospitals and councils, and by the United States Government to help its State governments to meet the increasing cost of medical education and to relieve the acute teacher shortage, both of which problems are proportionately smaller in those countries than in our own? Knowing, Sir, how responsive the Prime Minister is to the views of professors and similar experts on university education, and hoping that he may be equally responsive to their views on training ancillary and preparatory to it, I ask him whether he will request the Universities Commission, which he has told us will be meeting about this time, to advise whether the Commonwealth should make grants to the States towards the cost of constructing, equipping and staffing teaching hospitals and teachers’ colleges, in the same way as it has, ever since the war, made such grants for universities proper.
– The honorable member falls into a grave error - even graver than usual - if he thinks that I get my opinions on university problems from universities. I would have him know that I am no longer an undergraduate. As for the other matters to which he refers, we have established a Universities Commission, and I happen to know that the problem of teaching hospitals, which is a real problem involving consideration of what can be regarded as an extension of university work and what is normal hospital treatment, is already engaging the attention of the commission. As for the matter of teachers’ colleges, to the extent that this involves what might be called in a broad sense the university field, the commission will undoubtedly look at it. I have no desire whatever to limit the proper scope of the work of the Universities Commission. Indeed, though I do not expect it to be inexpensive, I expect it to be very good.
– Can the Minister for Trade give the House some indication of the implications for Australia of the trade agreement which was concluded recently between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom?
– I think I can say, broadly, that there are no implications for Australia in the recent United KingdomSoviet trade agreement. No restrictions whatever are imposed upon the range of Australian exports to the United Kingdom so there is no question of the exclusion of any of our goods by any trade treaty such as this. The United Kingdom has customarily maintained some restrictions upon certain goods from the Communist countries and I know that the recent trade agreement liberalizes the provisions which have obtained hitherto. On the other hand, there are some items, such as grains, in which we are interested, in respect of which the United Kingdom has always accepted imports freely from the Soviet. That condition still obtains, and we will not be adversely affected.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral: How many people who have applied for telephone services have not yet received them? Were any or many of these applications received as long ago as twelve months to two years?
– I think it will be generally conceded that I have a fairly good knowledge of matters such as that referred to by the honorable member, but offhand I cannot give him detailed figures of the nature he asks for concerning outstanding applications. However, according to the last report, the number of outstanding applications for telephones was in the vicinity of 47,000. 1 will check that figure and let him know the exact number. As to the second part of the honorable member’s question, some applications which were received for telephone services in newly-developed industrial areas have been outstanding for more than twelve months or two years. These are regarded as deferred rather than as outstanding applications. They have been deferred because equipment is not available to install the services applied for. I will certainly obtain the latest figures and supply them to the honorable member. I point out, however, that within the last couple of years there has been a very considerable reduction in the number of deferred applications for telephone services throughout Australia as a result of the Government’s policy, and we expect to be able steadily to overcome the lag in the installation of telephones. This progress has been a feature of our policy over the last three or four years.
– Has the Minister for Labour and National Service made any further examination of the full High Court’s judgment in what has come to be regarded as the Hursey case? If these studies are proceeding, will the Minister have some regard for the particular point in which I am interested - whether a union may deprive a man of the right of employment because he refuses to pay a union levy to a political party with which he is not in sympathy?
– I stated to the House last week that I had read the judgment in the Hursey case. The issues raised are so complicated and the law so involved that I thought it would be desirable for the officers of the department to consult with the Crown Law officers so that we could come to a conclusion as to what the effects of the judgment were. As to the last part of the question, I inform the honorable gentleman that the court decided that levies for political purposes were valid, lt is a possible consequence that a person could be deprived of his employment if he refuses to pay a levy. This is one of the problems that are being investigated. As soon as I am in a position to do so, I will make a recommendation to the Government.
– J ask the Minister for the Interior: Is the Government considering a change in the management and control, and possibly the ownership, of the Canberra brickworks either to private enterprise or to control by a government or semigovernment authority of a structure similar to that of Commonwealth Hostels Ltd? Will the Minister say whether in recent years under the management of his department and with the co-operation of the employees at the brickworks, this concern has operated successfully, efficiently, profitably and with a minimum of industrial disturbance? If a change in ownership is contemplated, will the Minister say why this is considered necessary?
– It is quite true, as the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has suggested, that the Canberra brickworks have operated with a fair measure of success. The Government is not particularly anxious to go into business, and the problem of the Canberra brickworks is a peculiarly difficult one. We are not entirely satisfied that, although it has operated profitably, it could not be operated with a greater degree of efficiency and provide a better service under somewhat different conditions. Care is being taken to ensure that, under whatever system of control it operates, it will continue to provide the best possible service to people in the Australian Capital Territory who desire to obtain bricks. There is not much prospect of private enterprise taking over and operating under any conditions but monopoly conditions, and I agree that that would not be desirable. I assure the honorable member that full consideration will be given to all the aspects that he has mentioned.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Services. I refer to the many applications by pensioners for pensioner medical benefits. Is it a fact that when an application for such medical service is successful, the pensioner is advised that he has qualified and is sent a card which he duly fills in, but that when an applicant is considered to be ineligible he is left completely in the dark so that he has to inquire repeatedly whether he qualified?
– The honorable member’s question might more properly have been addressed to the Minister for Health. When a person in receipt of an age pension applies for a medical entitlement card under the pensioner medical service, his application is duly considered and if it is granted he receives a medical entitlement card. On the other hand, if his application is rejected, the reason for the rejection is almost invariably given. I will provide the honorable member for Calare with a more detailed reply.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Has the Cabinet subcommittee of six members that was appointed two years ago to suggest methods of improving Australia’s transport system yet made its report to the Cabinet? If not, when is it expected that the committee’s findings will be made public?
- Mr. Speaker, I have no disposition to discuss what is done or not done by Cabinet committees.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industry. I ask: Is the Minister in a position to inform the House when the second advance will be paid on the 1958-59 wheat crop? In view of the effect of drought conditions in certain wheat-growing areas will the Minister expedite the payment of this advance in order to enable wheatgrowers to finance their normal operations satisfactorily?
– It is approved practice that when the Australian Wheat
Board has sold enough wheat to accumulate sufficient credits to make a second payment the board makes a recommendation to the Government that such payment be made. Unfortunately, that position has not yet been reached in respect of the 1958-59 crop. Even on 1st September there was still an overdraft of £48,500,000. However, I assure the honorable gentleman that the board is adopting a very vigorous selling policy, and as soon as the requisite position has been reached a second advance will, of course, be recommended by the board, and I shall readily approve the payment of it. I regret the circumstances that prompted the question, in that certain districts are suffering as a consequence of seasonal conditions.
– I direct a question without notice to the acting Minister for External Affairs, whom I ask: Is it a fact that the Australian Minister for External Affairs, now attending the United Nations, has been instructed by the Government to support, without reservation, the policy of world disarmament suggested by the Russian Premier, Mr. Khrushchev? Is the reason for this prompt and unexpected action by the Government the fact that, despite the expenditure of £1,800,000,000 on defence since 1949, disarmament in Australia is an accomplished fact, so that the Government is in a position to give immediate effect to Mr. Khrushchev’s proposal?
– I shall send the honorable member’s question to Washington.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is the right honorable gentleman aware of the stimulated interest in the youth of the United Kingdom arising from the present election campaign there and of the proposal to consider giving voting privileges to people at the age of eighteen? In view of the announcement that the United Kingdom youth service will be expanded and measures taken to encourage youth leadership and to provide attractive youth clubs, will the Prime Minister agree that here in Australia the Commonwealth Government could profitably legislate to provide similar facilities in the interests of the youth of the nation, as has been done so successfully for the aged, under the Aged Persons Homes Act?
– I shall, of course, have a look at the proposal of the honorable member; but if it involves giving the vote to people at the age of eighteen ne can write me down as being completely against it.
– I preface a question to the Postmaster-General by saying that many television antennae, which have to be lifted to a considerable height when the receiver is some distance from the transmitter, are being erected by agents without the permission of local councils. As a result, many are unsafe and dangerous, which is detrimental to the wellbeing of the general public as well as to the interests of the owner. This fact was borne out during a recent storm in my electorate and the electorate of Shortland, when a considerable number of antennae were blown down, some falling across power lines in a manner which could have resulted in a fatal accident. My question is: Will the Postmaster-General instruct his departmental officers to refuse the issue of a television receiver’s licence until the applicant can produce a building permit from his local council showing that the antennae has been erected to the council’s satisfaction?
– In effect, the honorable member for Newcastle is asking me to instruct the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to intrude into the affairs of local authorities throughout Australia in the matter of the positioning of antennae. My reply is, “ No, Sir, I will not “.
– I take a point of order-
– Order! There is no point of order involved.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of the prevalence throughout Australia of the fruit fly which causes considerable economic loss? Is he also aware that Victoria has instituted a quarantine on interstate fruit, which causes considerable inconvenience to the interstate traveller and is ineffective because of the number of gaps in it? As the fruit fly has so far failed to recognize State borders, will the Minister consider tackling this problem on a nation-wide basis?
– The fruit fly problem is recognized as serious and has been discussed on several occasions by the Australian Agricultural Council. It was discussed as recently as last July when the council decided that I should call a conference of the Commonwealth and the States concerned. Having that responsibility, I contacted the several State Ministers who desire to clear their own thinking on this matter, and I propose to call the conference within the next few weeks.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether it is a fact that the Department of Works has issued dismissal notices to 61 of its employees to take effect at the end of October. Is it true that these retrenchments are the result of the department’s policy of farming out work to private enterprise? Is it a fact that all the employees concerned have given loyal and valuable service to the department over a number of years and that many of them have wives and children dependent upon them? If so, will the Minister give urgent consideration to this matter with a view to cancelling the dismissal notices and thus preventing much hardship and suffering?
– Careful consideration has been given over a long period to the number of employees employed under day labour conditions by the Department of Works in New South Wales. Some of those employees have been surplus for some time. Had the same policy been applied in New South Wales as has been applied in all other States, dismissals would have taken place considerably earlier. The utmost consideration has already been given to the position of the men concerned. I have met deputations and discussed this matter with the unions since April of this year. We have made every effort to avoid hardship wherever possible.
The plain fact is that a policy has been applied throughout Australia for some time now of employing only the day labour required for urgent maintenance work and to engage it only on these jobs and such other work as is necessary to keep the day labour force fully occupied. Other maintenance work is let by public tender. Thai is a policy which has applied all over the Commonwealth. We believe that it is the right policy to get the most effective result. It is only because a labour surplus has built up in New South Wales that there appears to be some degree of hardship in that State at the present time.
– I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Can the Minister confirm the statement that wool consumption is now running at levels considerably higher than those that applied at this period last year? Can he inform the House whether, despite a probable record clip in Australia, the world’s wool stocks will have to be reduced considerably to maintain the present levels of consumption?
– According to calculations, the wool consumption for the first half of this calendar year has risen by 14 per cent. The estimated production of wool for 1959-60 is 3,100,000,000 lbs. If the 14 per cent, increase is maintained throughout the year, consumption will rise to about 3,180,000,000 lbs., which means that this year’s production will be short of requirements. Having regard to the fact that the stocks that were available in South America have been practically used up, it appears that we shall have to depend upon stocks held by the wool commissions in New Zealand and South Africa to help us out. However, generally speaking, the answer to the honorable member’s question is. “ Yes “.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral inform the House what decision was reached by his department after its investigations into the question of whether it should exhibit on the national television stations the two Australian productions, “ Three in One “ and “ Captain Thunderbolt “?
– 1 shall obtain from the Australian Broadcasting Commission - I take it that that is the instrumentality to which the honorable member is referring - the information for which he asks, and supply it to him as soon as possible.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Has there been any recent change in the production estimate for the 1959-60 wheat harvest? Was the original figure in the vicinity of 250,000,000 bushels? Will the storage facilities in all States be adequate to handle the estimated deliveries and carryover?
– The estimates of production for the current wheat crop certainly have been amended in recent days owing to the deterioration of seasonal conditions. The latest estimate of about 160,000,000 bushels was made by the Australian Wheat Board. I do not think that the honorable member is correct in saying that the original estimated production was 250,000,000 bushels, although it was in excess of 200,000,000 bushels. I think that 215,000,000 bushels was the original estimated figure.
As for storage facilities, I think that even in spite of the deterioration of seasonal conditions there could be some problem associated with storage in New South Wales and Western Australia, where production may be in excess of the available storage capacity.
– Is the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Acting Treasurer, aware that the annual report of the Commonwealth Bank indicates that the bank’s participation in the lucrative field of hire purchase has been restricted in the last financial year to transactions to the value of £14,000,000? Is it a fact that for each of the last eight years the level of hire-purchase activity by the bank has been kept at approximately £16,000,000, while the trading banks have been permitted unrestricted participation? Is the right honorable gentleman prepared to give the Commonwealth Bank a fair go in the hire-purchase field? Will he endeavour to influence the bank to go after its share of hire-purchase business in the hope that competition may bring down interest rates, that the Commonwealth may benefit from the high profits prevailing in this field, and that standards in hirepurchase activities may be influenced favorably?
– 1 should like to examine the facts of this matter. I will do so, and provide the honorable member with a reply.
– I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industry, and in doing so I refer to the new process that has been developed in the United Kingdom of freezing milk by the use of radio waves which, I understand, will keep milk tor twelve months without changing any of its properties. Is the Minister aware of the process? As this process would appear to have very great value for Australia with the Asian market at its doorstep, is anything being done to investigate its possibilities?
– I am aware that this kind of treatment for milk has become available and that it will permit the time for which milk may be kept to be greatly extended. Present techniques enable fresh milk to be stored for at least three months, and commercial shipments of Australian frozen milk have been made to Singapore, but 1 am not aware that the ultra-sonic process has been tried commercially. However, I shall make further investigations and let the honorable member know the result of them.
– I ask the Minister tor tho Interior whether he is at all concerned about the statement on the Government’s civil defence plans in which the National President of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia is reported to have said -
There is complete lack of uniformity and liaison. In the event of nuclear attack, people would not know how to organize evacuation, restore public utilities, prevent panic, repair communications or do any of the vital things that must be done if the result is not to be complete disaster.
Does the Minister agree with the National President of the R.S.L. that complete disaster would be the result of nuclear attack in present circumstances?
– I think it is pretty well established that any nuclear attack would be a disaster almost too horrible to contemplate. Civil defence policy is a matter in which the States, as well as the Commonwealth, have large responsibilities, and the whole subject of the relationship between Commonwealth and State responsibilities, and the part that the Commonwealth should play, is currently under consideration.
– I address a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Have arrangements for the extension of the 1959-60 wool-selling season to handle the expected record clip been concluded? Also, was the United Kingdom the main buyer of greasy wool for the twelve months ended in June of this year?
– I understand that discussions are at present taking place between the parties concerned in regard to the final arrangements for the extension of the season. As to the second part of the question, the United Kingdom did take the greatest quantity of wool. I think that the amounts paid were £66,000,000 by the United Kingdom and £65,000,000 by Japan.
– I address my question to the Minister for Territories. Is there any truth in reports from Port Moresby that the Government proposes to establish its own newspaper in New Guinea? Has the Papua and New Guinea Administration prepared estimates for £38,000 for a building for the printing of a governmentowned newspaper? If this is so, will the Minister say whether the newspaper is intended to serve the native population and whether it will be printed in English, pidgin, police Motu, or a mixture of all three? Has the Minister any information on these matters which he can give the House?
– There is no truth whatsoever in the report, but I rather suspect that I know the quarter from which the honorable member may have received some information on which to base his question. If the House will bear with me a moment, 1 should like to tell it something about the problem which we are facing in relation to communication between the Administration and the indigenous people.
– The Minister talks pidgin very well.
– I do not talk pidgin at all. In a country where rapid change is taking place, where the vast majority of the population cannot read or write, and where there are about 500 different languages, we have a real problem of communicating with the indigenous people. In addition to that, in an administrative matter such as an attempt to introduce a new crop, we have a problem of persuading the people that the growing of that crop will be good for them. If we are trying to eradicate malaria, we have a problem of trying to get the indigenous people to understand what we are trying to do and to co-operate with us. That is what we call the problem of communication, and it is one of the most difficult and most fundamental problems that we are facing in the Territory.
After the Navuneram Commission of Inquiry had directed attention to some inadequacies’ in our communication with the native people, I asked the Administration to prepare a report on measures which we might adopt in order to tackle this problem. I asked the Administration, particularly, to give attention to what might be called some rather imaginative and unorthodox measures, and, in the report which the Administration brought to me, there was a proposal - I think this is the source of the honorable member’s question - that the only way in which we could reach certain classes of the indigenous people, having regard to the inadequacies of the local newspapers, was for the Government to establish a newspaper. I rejected that proposal immediately because I do not consider it to be the function of a government to run newspapers in direct competition with the ordinary newspapers of the country. However inadequate, however imperfect, and however malicious those newspapers may be, or, even, however false may be reports published in them, 1 think the traditional liberty of the press is something that has to be protected from the intervention of government news services. I know that that is a principle with which the Opposition has little sympathy, but it is a principle which we are trying to uphold.
The suggestion that a government newspaper should be established was rejected because I thought the running of such a newspaper would be contrary to Government policy. At the same time, we recognized that, in particular fields such as those of the Department of Education or the Department of Agriculture, there may be need for a certain amount of what may be called pamphleteering or for the preparation of special information sheets for particular purposes, and the item of £38,000 which appears in the Papua and New Guinea Estimates is solely to provide for that sort of printing. This is one minor part of a general programme of mass communication. The major part will be devoted to less orthodox measures such as the use of film strips, the cinema and tape recorders, and various methods by which we may communicate information to the native people. So I say again that although, as I think honorable members know, I personally have no reason to feel grateful to the newspapers of Papua and New Guinea - far from it - at the same time, we respect the old liberal principle of freedom of the press.
Dr. DONALD CAMERON (OxleyMinister for Health [3.20]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill which is now before the House has two purposes. The first is to give effect, where amendment of the Repatriation Act is necessary to do so, to the provisions made in the Budget for substantial increases in repatriation benefits. The second purpose is to make some minor amendments to other provisions of the Repatriation Act, and this I will explain in more detail at a later stage. I should like also to take the opportunity of outlining in some greater detail than was possible for the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) to do in his Budget speech, the additional benefits for which the Budget provides, including those which are not specifically mentioned in the bill, but which because of their nature are closely allied to matters dealt with in the bill.
Substantial increases are being made in the main rates of pension and allowances payable in respect of death or incapacity due to war service. This bill increases the special rate pension, commonly referred to as the T.P.I, pension, by 15s. a week. This is the rate of pension which is paid to ex-servicemen who are totally and permanently incapacitated, or who have been blinded as the result of war service, and also to certain war pensioners suffering from tuberculosis. This increase is provided for by the amendment which clause 9 makes to the second schedule to the Repatriation Act.
The new rate of T.P.I, pension payable to an unmarried person will therefore become £12 5s. a week. A married T.P.I, pensioner and his wife will now receive war pensions of £12 5s. for the husband, and £1 15s. 6d. for the wife, making a total of £14 0s. 6d. a week between them free of means test. They may also, subject to the means test, qualify for an age, invalid or service pension in addition to the war pensions I have mentioned. Following the increases provided in the Budget the maximum amount which a married couple will be able to receive from both kinds of pension will rise by 15s. a week to £16 10s. a week. This amount is of course free of of income tax.
At this point, Mr. Speaker, I should like to refer briefly to the additional amount of means test pension, that is age, invalid or service pension, which a married T.P.I, pensioner and his wife can receive, because it is found that the position regarding this additional pension is not always clearly understood. To understand the position it is necessary to go back to the Government’s action in 1955 when it amended the Repatriation Act and the Social Services Act to remove the special ceiling limits which at that time debarred a T.P.I, pensioner and his wife from receiving a service or social service pension in addition to their war pensions. With the repeal of that restriction they became eligible for the additional pension provided they could satisfy the conditions of the means test which takes war pension into account as income. Prior to that the special ceiling limits had prohibited them from having this additional pension even where they had no property or income other than their war pension. Their position now is that they may be able to receive an age, invalid or service pension up to the amount of the difference between the total of their war pensions and the maximum amount of income plus pension permitted to a married couple under the means test applicable to social service pensioners and which has been adopted for service pension purposes.
When the new rates of pension provided for in the bill come into operation a married T.P.I, pensioner and his wife may have between them a means test pension of up to £2 9s. 6d. a week which added to their war pension of £14 Os. 6d. reaches the means test limit to which I have referred, giving them an income of up to £16 10s. a week from Commonwealth pensions alone. These amounts are not affected by any pension or education allowances payable to a child, as such payments are not taken into account when assessing the parents’ pensions, nor are they affected by certain other allowances such as an attendant’s allowance or an allowance for recreational transport payable to disabled ex-servicemen. For example, a married T.P.I, pensioner eligible for those allowances could with his wife receive up to approximately £21 lis. a week, being war and service pension at the rates I have mentioned, an attendant’s allowance of £2 15s. a week, and £10 a month for recreational transport. In addition, war and service pensions are paid for each child under the age of sixteen years and an education allowance from the age of twelve years.
Before passing from the amendment of the second schedule I should like to mention that this schedule also enables the Repatriation Commission to determine a special rate of pension, not exceeding & T.P.I, rate, for sufferers from tuberculosis who, while not totally and permanently incapacitated, are for the time being capable only of performing work of a light to medium nature. This rate, which is known as the “ Class B rate for tuberculosis “, will be adjusted following the passage of this bill, to provide for an increase of 10s. a week, making the new rate £8 12s. 6d. a week.
War widows are also to receive a pension increase of 7s. 6d. a week, bringing the amount of their pension up to £5 5s. a week, while those who are entitled to a domestic allowance will receive a further 7s. 6d. a week. The new rate of domestic allowance will be £2 15s. a week, making a total for war pension and domestic allowance of £8 a week. Domestic allowance is paid to a war widow who is over the age of 50 years, or is permanently unemployable, or who has a child or children under the age of sixteen years. This allowance is also paid to a widow with a child over the age of sixteen years sg long as that child is continuing with its education or training. As over 90 per cent, of war widows receive domestic allowance the majority of them will receive a total increase of 15s. a week.
Where there are children, the family income of a war widow is augmented by the pension paid in respect of each child and by an education allowance which commences when the child reaches the age of twelve years. At the age of sixteen years, when the child’s pension ceases, the education allowance is increased and other appropriate assistance is provided which enables the child to proceed to higher education or training, including a technical or professional qualification. War pension for the first child is £1 Ils. 6. a week and for each other child £1 2s. 6d. a week. Education allowance is paid at the rate of 16s. 6d. a week for a child twelve to fourteen year, and £1 5s. a week for a child fourteen to sixteen years of age. The family income of a war widow and two children aged ten and fourteen years will therefore be £11 19s. a week from war pension and allowances. In addition they receive free medical, hospital and dental treatment.
The general rate - 100 per cent, rate - war pension for incapacity is to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, making the new rate £5 10s. a week. General rate pensioners may also qualify for an age, invalid or service pension subject to the means test provisions which I have mentioned above in relation to T.P.I, pensioners. It will now be possible for a general rate pensioner who is unmarried to receive from both pensions up to £8 5s. a week, and for a married couple to receive up to £16 10s. a week. Children of general rate pensioners also receive pensions to add to the family income. Under the fifth schedule to the Repatriation Act payments are made to those who have suffered an amputation or partial loss of vision due to their war service. These amounts which are paid in addition to war pension are all being increased. The increases range from 5s. to 15s. a week according to the nature of the disability. The new weekly rates will therefore range from 13s. 6d. to £6 15s. a week.
This would be an appropriate stage, Mr. Speaker, to mention a new benefit which is to be introduced although as it is being granted by way of regulation it does not form part of the bill now before the House. A special scale of allowances to be known as a “ clothing allowance “ is to be provided towards meeting the cost of repair or replacement of clothing, where deterioration has been caused by the use of oils, ointments or other substances used in the necessary treatment of an accepted war disability, or by the use of an artificial limb or surgical appliance consequent upon such a disability. This allowance will be paid in two different ways. All eligible amputees will be paid the allowance at rates which range from 3s. 9d. to 7s. 6d. a week according to the nature of the disability. In other cases where the damage is caused by the nature of the treatment - for example, the use of oils or ointments in treating a disease of the skin or the wearing of a surgical appliance - compensation up to a maximum of £9 15s. a year may be paid by way of either a lump sum or an allowance according to the nature and extent of the damage caused.
I pass now, Mr. Speaker, from war pensions to service pensions. Age and invalid pensions, as honorable members are aware, are to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, and this increase will also apply to the service pension of an ex-serviceman payable under the Repatriation Act. The new rate of service pension will become £4 15s. a week. The maximum amount which an unmarried service pensioner may have by way of income and pension before his service pension is reduced below £4 15s. a week will accordingly rise from £7 17s. 6d. to £S 5s. a week, and, as I have pointed out above, to twice the latter amount in the case of married couples.
Persons travelling in connexion with medical treatment or for pension purposes, or in order to attend at hearings before an entitlement appeal tribunal or an assessment appeal tribunal receive a travelling allowance. The maximum rate of this allowance is to be increased from £1 10s. a day to £2 14s. a day, and proportionate increases are to be made in respect of broken periods of less than one day. Also, the allowances paid as compensation for loss of salary or wages incurred because of attendances for medical treatment or for pension purposes are to be increased by 25 per cent. As both of these allowances are paid under the regulations they do not require any amendments of the act by this bill.
In addition to the increase in their pension and domestic allowance, war widows are to have the benefit of additional facilities for medical treatment. These additional facilities will apply also to children of deceased ex-servicemen and those widowed mothers of deceased ex-servicemen who, like the war widows, are entitled to free medical treatment from the Repatriation Department. The range of specialist treatment available to them is to be extended, and in addition to the medical and hospital treatment previously available for them they will now be able to receive treatment at the Repatriation Department’s out-patient clinics, and in certain circumstances, where the necessities of treatment require it, at non-departmental institutions, including country hospitals. Treatment in country hospitals will also be available where the transfer of the patient to a Repatriation General Hospital in a capital city would! cause unreasonable domestic hardship. This: particular concession will be welcomed bywar widows who do not wish to be separated by too great a distance from their children.
I pass now, Mr. Speaker, to the other amendments to the Repatriation Act to which I have already made a brief reference. Clause 5 proposes an amendment to section 83 of the Repatriation Act to ensure that the new clothing allowance, which I have mentioned, will not be taken into account as income when a service pension is being assessed.
Clause 4 will amend section 54 to remove an anomaly. An ex-serviceman who served in the forces of a part of the Queen’s dominions other than the Commonwealth, in an operational area, and who at the time of his enlistment was domiciled in Australia, and the dependants of such a person, are eligible for a war pension if the claimant for pension satisfies a further condition as to residence in Australia. In the case of service in the 1939 war - sections 102 and 107 of the act - and the KoreaMalaya operations - sections 107d and 107g - the residential requirement is that the claimant for pension is resident in Australia at the time of the grant of the pension. In the case of the 1914-18 war - section 54 - the pension is payable only while the person remains a bona fide resident in Aus-, tralia. Not only must the person therefore be resident in Australia at the time of the grant, but the pension ceases if he leaves Australia to reside elsewhere.
It is proposed that this anomaly, which imposes a hardship on the ex-servicemen of the 1914 war and their dependants, be removed by amending section 54 to provide that the requirement in regard to residence be residence at the date of grant of a pension. No longer will a war pension otherwise payable to such a person be cancelled because he or she ceases to reside in Australia.
The remaining amendments relate to the circumstances under which a war pension or similar payment payable under the law of another part of Her Majesty’s dominions is to be taken into account when assessing a war pension under the Repatriation Act. These payments arise where an exserviceman has served in the forces of another dominion as well as in the Australian forces, or has served in the forces of another dominion and he or his dependants are eligible for a pension under the Repatriation Act as well as under the law of that dominion.
Until recently it had been thought that all payments of this nature were to be taken into account. However, legal opinion has now been expressed that this provision does not apply to any war pension or similar payment made by another dominion government where there is a discretion in the appropriate government authority of that other dominion to cancel or withhold payment, but that it applies only where payment of the amount could be enforced by the pensioner as a legal right under the law of that dominion. It seems equitable that any such discretionary payment, in the nature of a war pension, should be taken into account, if it is in fact being paid, although there may be some possibility of this being cancelled or suspended at a future date. The amendment proposes that this be done.
The bill provides increased benefits for war pensioners and I commend it to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time. This bill, which has been received from the Senate, provides for increases in the rates of certain pensions which are payable under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. That act first came into operation in 1940, and has been amended a number of times in recent years. The main purpose of each of the amending acts has been to authorize increases in pensions as had been approved by the Government and provided for in the respective budgets.
Pensions payable under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act have always been maintained at the same level as the corresponding class of pension payable under the Repatriation Act. Following the Government’s decision to further increase pensions of incapacitated exmembers of the forces and war widows, as announced in the Budget, the Repatriation Bill which has just been before this House was introduced. It is therefore necessary to introduce this bill also, in order that similar increases may be granted under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act.
Australian mariners who are totally but not permanently incapacitated, and widows, are granted general pension rate pensions as specified in the First Schedule to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, and a partially incapacitated mariner receives a pension proportionate to the degree of his incapacity. A pension as specified under the Repatriation Act is paid to a mariner who is totally and permanently incapacitated or suffers from a special disability as specified. Under this bill an all-round increase of 7s. 6d. a week is to be paid to totally but not permanently incapacitated pensioners, bringing their weekly rates to amounts ranging from £5 10s. to £6 8s: a week. A similar general increase of 7s. 6d. a week is to be paid to widows of Australian mariners, whose rates will then range from £5 5s. to £6 3s. a week.
The Repatriation Bill provides for amendment of the Second Schedule to the Repatriation Act to increase special rate pensions by 15s. a week to £12 5s. a week, and also for increases ranging from 5s. to 15s. a week in the rate of pensions payable for amputations or partial loss of vision as prescribed in the Fifth Schedule to the Repatriation Act. Is is unnecessary, however, to include these increases in the provisions of the bill now under consideration as, by virtue of section 22a of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, they will be automatically applied to Australian mariners suffering similar incapacity or disability.
The bill includes the usual provision for the amending act to come into operation on the day on which it receives royal assent, and for the increased pensions to be payable on the first pension pay day thereafter.
The bill will, I feel sure, be supported on both sides of the House, and I commend it to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 17th September (vide page 1195), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Allan Fraser had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect from the first pension pay day in July”.
.- In introducing this bill the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) pointed out that the first social services scheme was introduced in Australia 50 years ago. So, this year represents the 50th anniversary of that event. He pointed out also that the pattern of our social services programme in Australia has been in keeping with that of 1909 under which the first pensions were provided. All governments since that time, whatever their political complexion, have adhered to that overall pattern which is designed to provide a high level of benefits to a limited number of pensioners and deserving people in the community. As the prosperity and productivity of the nation increase these limits can be raised, and they have been so raised over the last ten years during the life in office of this Government.
We find that not only have pensions increased generally in the amounts paid but also very substantially in range. There are substantially more people coming within the scope of our social services scheme in this year, 1959, than there were in 1949 when this Government assumed office. For example, the rate of age pension now paid is 123 per cent, higher than it was in 1949. If that rate is related to the C series index and to the rate that was being paid in age pensions in 1949, it will be seen that if the pension of £2 2s. 6d. in 1949 were brought up to the equivalent purchasing power of the present day, according to the C series index, it would be something less than £4 instead of the £4 15s. now proposed in this bill. In other words, this measure makes provision for an increase of 15s. 4d. above the rate that would have been payable if we had adhered closely and strictly to the changes in the C series index.
A similar increase is found if comparisons are made in respect of other benefits paid under this scheme. So far as the expansion of the total schemes is concerned, the Government has made various changes in the means test for pensions and this has meant a substantial increase in the number of pensions paid. Particular attention has been paid to the benefits available under the national health scheme. For example, nothing was paid for medical benefits when the Labour regime went out of office in 1949, but last year this Government paid out £7,780,000 in medical benefits. The sum paid for medical benefits for pensioners has been close on £4,000,000, but nothing at all was paid for this item in 1949. In 1948-49, the amount paid by a Labour administration for pharmaceutical benefits was £149,000 but last year this Government found £18,500,000. Nothing was found by the Labour government for pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners in 1949 but last year this Government found £2,500,000.
In regard to nutrition of children, last year this Government provided £3,000,000 towards the cost of free milk for school children but not a penny was contributed in 1949. Provision for tuberculosis sufferers has risen since 1948-49 from £156,000 to close on £6,000,000 last year.
These figures broadly indicate the kind of expansion that has taken place in our social services schemes in the course of the last ten years. The cost has increased from £80,000,000 to £300,000,000 a year. When this is related to personal income tax, taken together with repatriation benefits, the Government is now allocating 85 per cent, of income tax revenue for the provision of pensions or social service benefits of some kind or other enjoyed by 4,000,000 Australians. This is a very substantial scheme, and the benefits received by those who are eligible are very considerable and worthwhile.
To give some indication of the value of these benefits, I have taken out figures which illustrate this very clearly in regard to invalid pensions and particularly age pensions. In order to receive an income equal to the basic age pension, a married couple would have to buy an annuity, payable at age 65, for a price of £5,700. If they were to seek an income equal to the pension plus the allowable income, making a total of £16 10s. a week, they would have to find £9,900. The sum of £16 10s. a week is the amount which a pensioner may receive by way of pensions and other sources of income, tax free. Taken from the angle of the young man setting out in life to provide himself and wife with a nest egg on retirement at age 65 equivalent to the age pension, he would have to begin contributing at age 20 an amount of 30s. a week. If he wanted to receive the equivalent of £16 10s. a week, he would have to find, during the whole of his working life, a sum of £130 10s. a year.
– What about the 17,000 who do not receive free medicine or hospitalization?
– I thank the honorable member for reminding me of those people. I point out that the figures I have just quoted make no allowance whatsoever for medical benefits which are available to pensioners. They would not cover those costly items which are required in many families. I have been giving examples purely of the cash equivalent of our pension scheme - the amount a man would have to save to accumulate a sufficiently large nest egg to return him what he would get otherwise, so generously awarded to him by this Government under its social services legislation.
When we compare this high level scheme which, as I have pointed out, was established over 50 years ago, with the type of scheme which is operating in other countries we find that our standard of benefits compares more than favorably with those of any other country. For those who are eligible to receive them, those benefits are very substantial and generous indeed. Of course, the system cannot meet every circumstance which arises in life. However much we may wish it otherwise, there will always be a large field for the operation of the spirit of charity by friends, neighbours, charitable organizations and churches. There will always be the kind of personal distress which can be tackled only on a personal basis but never by an impersonal, comprehensive national scheme such as this one. In fact, if we attempted to tackle by means of a national, overall scheme, very many of the problems which are encountered by people and which cause distress at the present time, we might conceivably - and I believe we would - add to the distress of those whom fortune has deserted, either by accident or by mischance.
But the Government has done a great deal, without departing from the character of the scheme, to meet the special needs of these particular cases. I cite the Aged Persons Homes Act as an example. Under that measure the churches and charitable organizations select and look after the aged people for whom homes are provided, and the Commonwealth contributes a very substantial amount in cash. This scheme has been particularly successful since it was introduced in 1954 in Victoria. I could wish that New South Wales could claim pride of place in providing homes for the aged, but this has been achieved by Victoria. We are also helping special cases by extending the benefits of our social services to the aboriginals - the native people of Australia. We are able to do this only with the co-operation that is being freely offered to the Government by the missions, State authorities and private individuals with a special interest in the welfare of the aboriginals.
Apart from lowering the standard of benefits, another way in which the pattern could be distorted is by adopting some of the proposals of Opposition members. For instance, the honorable member for Eden Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) proposed that the age pension should be increased to at least £5 5s. If that were done, a married couple would be able to receive from the pension and earnings or other income the equivalent of £910 a year. That is £4 a week more than the basic wage and is more than the income of the majority of taxpayers. This proposal would give pensioners a tax-free income of £910 a year, and this would never meet with the approval of taxpayers. More than 2,500,000 taxpayers receive less than that amount before income tax is taken from them. The proposal would be quite unacceptable to taxpayers, and I am sure that it would not have been accepted by the former Labour Treasurer, Mr. Chifley.
Also in the realm of impractical finance is the suggestion, made by another member of the Labour Party, that the means test should be abolished forthwith. Abolition of the means test would cost in this year £136,000,000 and would mean the equiva lent of an increase in personal income tax of 35 per cent. The cost would go on increasing year after year.
– Is the honorable member opposed to the abolition of the means test?
– I am entirely opposed to increasing taxation in order to pay benefits to people who do not need them, and that is what is implied in this suggestion. The suggestion that the means test should be totally abolished and that personal income tax should be increased by more than one-third is in the realm of completely unreal finance. I believe in the goal of abolishing the means test, but that cannot be done in one fell swoop; it must be done gradually as the productivity and prosperity of the nation increases. I am firmly convinced that ultimately the goal will be reached.
I welcome the change of heart shown by some Opposition members who, during this debate, have pointed to the need for raising the property limit. I am gravely concerned about this property limit, and I welcome the change of heart by the socialists. It shows the degree of prosperity that has been enjoyed in this country during the past ten years. In that time, the number of people who could put aside a little nest egg has multiplied. The evidence supplied by Opposition members proves that more people now have a little nest egg of a few hundred pounds or a few thousand pounds than ever before. This is a far cry from the days when people who tried to put aside a few shillings for a rainy day or for their old age were called the little capitalists and were scoffed at by the Labour Party. These people are now a great force in the community and must be wooed; so we see a change of heart by the Opposition.
We are in fact now a nation of little capitalists. We are great savers. We have in the trading and savings banks some £3.300,000,000. We have in insurances almost £3,000,000,000. The value of insurance policies only four years ago in 1956 was £2,500,000,000, and this has increased substantially each year. About 1,000,000 of our work force of 4,000,000 pay into superannuation schemes, and we have the highest rate of home ownership in the world. Seventy per cent, of our people either own their homes outright or are paying for them.
We are a nation of thrifty savers; we are a nation of little capitalists. This adds point to the need to do something about the property limit. I know the difficulties and complexities that face the Government and I know that administering social services is an extremely difficult task. However, I strongly urge the Minister for Social Services, who is now at the table, to pay particular attention to the needs of people who own a little property or who have no income other than interest on a little capital. They are the most deserving and most worthy people in the community to-day.
Some Government supporters have suggested that a change should be made to benefit those who own property. However, the proposal of my colleagues does not, in the words of patent medicine advertisements, hit the spot. The suggestion is that those who own property to a certain limit should receive benefits. I disagree entirely. Only those who have no other source of income deserve special attention at this time. Instead of a small benefit being spread generally over a large number of people, I believe that the better way would be to give a large benefit to a limited number of people who own property but who have no other source of income. I suggest that the property limit for a single man be raised to £1,500 - this is £1.300 more than the present limit - and to £3,000 for a married couple. There would, of course, have to be a tapering off as there is now so that a little income would not deprive a man of benefits. There would have to be a tapering off at the rate of £1 of pension for every £10 of property, so that the effect of this provision would not be too harsh. My suggestion is that the full pension should be paid to a single man or to a widow with a small legacy, insurance policy or capital of some other kind not exceeding £1,500, and that a married couple should be allowed to have £3,000. It is, I believe, a useful figure which would, if this exemption were raised to that limit, confer a great deal of benefit right through the community, and would gladden the hearts of many families. At present a thrifty person who has put aside for his old age, and who cannot earn any money, is called upon to do one of two things: He either has to spend his money extravagantly - in effect, to go against the ingrained thrifty habits of a lifetime - or live on the bounty of his relatives. The little sum of money he may have saved represents dignity and independence to old people like him, and it is unkind, unwise and unnecessary to expect him to dispose of it in that way before he can qualify for an adequate income under our social services scheme. 1 believe that it is quite unnecessary for us to inflict this hardship on such deserving people. The cost of increasing the limit from £200 to £1,500 would be something less than £5,000,000 a year, which is a trifling sum when related to the total cost of £300,000,000 that we pay for our social services. The cost of increasing the limit is well within our means, and would be gladly borne by the taxpayers because it would beneficially affect so many homes in Australia. This proposal, moreover, is in line with a pattern of our social services scheme which was established, I repeat, 50 years ago. It is also the kind of improvement, expansion and extension of the scheme that we look for. 1 remind the House that we cannot do everything in one hit. We must make improvements gradually, find out the most deserving body of people and help them, and always progress towards filling out the total pattern and never depart from the pattern. We must always fill out and improve it. This procedure will be maintained, because it depends on three factors: First, the continuing generosity of the taxpayers, who have shown in the past that they are prepared to pay for a high-level social services scheme; secondly, it depends on the change in the age distribution of our people, which is gradually bringing a greater proportion of younger people into our work force, thereby increasing the number of taxpayers, so that in the course of time the burden of abolishing the means test and improving the scheme generally will become much less onerous than it is. The third factor that affects the progress of this programme is the maintenance of prosperity. The record of the present Government over the last ten years is such that we know that it will continue to maintain stable economic conditions, with increasing prosperity and production. So we look forward confidently to an equally steady and gradual, but progressive, improvement in our social services, under the guidance of this Government.
.- The Government’s case seems to be based on what the Labour Government did not do, or had not got around to doing, in the years 1945 to 1949. Any fair minded person would concede that during the six years of war the task of defeating the enemy was far more important than any other task that has ever faced an Australian government. As the people may well remember. Labour led Australia to victory during the major part of the war period, when we were engaged against Germany, Japan and Italy.
To me, it seems to be the very height of unfairness to suggest that the present Government’s record is a particularly good one in comparison with the Labour Government’s record between 1945, when the war ended, and 1949. It should surely be obvious to any fair minded person that this country after the war, when still led by the Labour Government, was emerging from the effects of the most terrible conflict that had ever come upon the world. I doubt whether any government in Australia had ever faced greater economic and social problems than we had to face between 1945 and 1949. Yet, as I have said, the basis of the Government’s case in this debate is what Labour had not got around to doing in the four years immediately after the war.
At that time, as we all remember, there were countless electricity power stations still unbuilt, there were thousands of miles of wiring to be installed in order that the ordinary services of life - apart from social services - might be extended to nearly 1,000,000 Australians who were without them at that time. The country was just settling down after six years of terrible and frightening conflict. But Government supporters always get around to saying what the pension was in 1949 when Labour was in office, completely ignoring the fact that since 1949 inflation has greatly increased and the value of money has greatly decreased. In those circumstances, the comparisons made by honorable members opposite between pension rates now and pension rates under Labour are, to say the least, very unfair.
I listened with a great deal of interest to a few of the remarks made by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan). His statement that the Australian people are great savers interested me, because there must be growing up now many people who will not be great savers, people who will deliberately abstain from saving. They will do this in the knowledge that many thousands of elderly folk have purchased tickets for trips to Europe or the Americas in order that they may spend the money they had set aside for their old age, because they know full well that otherwise, when they reached pensionable age, they would be punished for their thrift. It was interesting also to listen to the honorable member advocate increasing the property ceiling limit to £1,500 for a single man and £3,000 for a married couple, from the present limits of £200 and £400 respectively. It is all very well for individual members of the Government parties to speak in that vein, but when it comes to the bit they are always to be found sitting on the other side and voting for the bill as submitted by the Government.
The amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) requests that - “The bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect as from the first pension payday in July.”
The proposed amendment contains three point of great significance. The first point is that it refers to “ rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs “. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has proclaimed that in his opinion and in that of the Government the increase of 7s. 6d. will raise the pension to a level which will cover the increase in the cost of living since the last belated pension increase some two years ago.
It occurs to me that the sum of 7s. 6d., reduced to terms of the smallest silver coin in our currency, represents 30 pieces of silver. Thirty pieces of silver, in the minds of ali Christians, will always be associated with treachery and betrayal. The name of Judas Iscariot leaps to the forefront of one’s mind. There is no question but that this bill will pass through this House because the Government has the necessary numbers. Copies of the bill will roll off the printing presses, just luce any other bill, but each pay ought to carry, as a watermark, the signature of Judas Iscariot. It is just one further betrayal of the least fortunate people in the community, many of whom were induced to believe, when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made that famous promise in 1949 that he would put value into the £1, that their lot in life would be improved. In his remarks, by implication, he included pensions.
The basic wage provides the easiest way by which to measure the change in the cost of living since the Government took office. Year by year, it has gone up by leaps and bounds until, to-day, the cost of living, as revealed by the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures, is twice that of 1949 when we were obliged to surrender the reins of office. Government spokesmen have defended themselves by pointing out that they have succeeded in retaining the reins of office continuously since they were elected in 1949, as though this were the ultimate in proof that the majority of the people in Australia, including pensioners, were satisfied with them. A famous dictum of Abraham Lincoln was that you cannot fool all of the people all the time. Apparently this Government believes in a modification of that dictum - that you can fool enough of the people for enough of the time. I should like the Minister for Social Services to ask any pensioner whether he agrees that 7s. 6d. is an adequate increase and will restore the purchasing power of the pension which has been lost since the last increase was made.
Here, I want to discuss concealed taxation in the form of indirect taxes which have to be borne by pensioners and by every other citizen. Whether people be rich or poor, the amount of food that they eat is relatively the same, although I know some very rich people who consume much greater quantities of food than do quite a lot of poor people. But, taken by and large, the quantity of food consumed is the same. Consequently, the indirect taxation paid on such ordinary commodities as groceries is the same for the poorest as for the richest. I know that this is a matter apart from the social services legislation, but I think it is extremely unfair that the Government does not make provision for more adequate payments to pensioners in view of the fact that this taxation, which is very severe, falls as heavily upon the poor as upon the rich. Apart from the indirect taxation which widows pay on groceries, if they have small children they also have to pay, for instance, a 25 per cent, sales tax on baby powder. I do not know whether the Government could get down any lower than it does in requiring a widow with a small child to pay out of her most inadequate pension the same tax on the powder that she applies to the baby’s body as anybody else pays.
I think that the second point of great significance in the amendment moved by the Opposition lies in the words “ a fair and reasonable share of the national income “. In Australian industrial life, those words “ fair and reasonable “ have loomed long and large. 1 believe that they have their origin in the famous judgment of Mr. Justice Higgins in the early part of the century. He used them in attempting to determine what would be an adequate wage for the Australian worker. That wage was ultimately known as “ the basic wage “. The phrase “ fair and reasonable “ is peculiar to British speaking countries. I believe there is no other language on earth that contains a word like “ fair “. If the pensioners are to receive from the Commonwealth an income which is fair and reasonable it seems to me that the rates contained in the bill are hopelessly inadequate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the third point of significance in the amendment proposed by the Opposition lies in our proposal that the principle of retrospectivity should be observed by back-dating the increase to the first pension pay day in July last. But here again, I feel sure that the Government will not agree with this. Yet there is every reason why the Government should be in agreement with this proposal. We applied the principle of retrospectivity to ourselves and there have been occasions when even the industrial arbitration courts of this country have been induced to preserve that same principle in making awards. We feel that the principle of retrospectivity thoroughly deserves to be applied in this instance.
I want, now, to speak about the social services tax of the Chifley Government. It will be remembered that it commenced at the rate of 3d. in the £1 and went as high as ls. 6d. in the £1. I can say with great confidence that practically everybody whom I knew at the time this tax was imposed could not have paid it more gladly. 1 felt that way, personally, because I believed that, at long last, there would be some security in the lives of ordinary people. I am well aware from my conversations with people who have arrived in this country from Great Britain that the feeling of security in Great Britain among ordinary people vastly exceeds that of the ordinary people in Australia.
I said that a tax was never paid more gladly than the social services tax of from 3d. to ls. 6d. in the £1 imposed by the Chifley Government. It is saddening to reflect that in this Government’s recent proposal there had to be an income tax reduction of 5 per cent, for everybody. There would be very few people in this community who badly needed a 5 per cent, reduction in taxation. Nearly everybody could afford to pay that much. It is plain, however, that the only people who will benefit to any extent are those who are already rich. They will be £5 or even £10 a week better off than they were previously, but to others who are not so fortunately placed it will mean only an extra packet of cigarettes a week.
I wish to refer now to the 10s. supplementary rent allowance, and to mention some of the anomalies that have arisen as a result of the strings that are tied to the allowance. Large numbers of pensioners in the community have, by thrift and self-denial, managed to acquire their own homes, or are in the process of doing so. It is undeniable that the expenses of many such people are higher than those of the people who are paying rent. Yet the pensioners in the former category are denied the assistance. Many pensioners with their own homes have been faced with the prospect of painting the house or repairing the roof. They are fully entitled to the 10s. supplementary rent allowance, but they are denied it. Because so many strings are attached to the allowance, only a small proportion of the total number of pensioners are able to benefit from it. If the Government feels happy about that position, I do not know what to say. Many municipal councils have come to the rescue of pensioners by allowing them a rebate on their municipal taxes. On a previous occasion I have asked that the Government assist the municipal councils by abolishing the pay-roll tax thus enabling them to help the pensioners still further. My suggestion may have nothing to do with social services but it has a lot to do with the finances of municipal councils. In those cases where the councils are trying to help the pensioners, the least that the Government can do is to help the councils.
It is a fact that over 80 per cent, of pensioners are entirely dependent on their pensions. Yet only 14 per cent, can qualify for the supplementary rent assistance. The injustice is obvious. The Government should make the allowance available to all pensioners by cutting the strings that are attached to its application. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) during the course of his speech made some statements that I think are worthy of repetition. He said -
If a man receives a pension and his wife receives a dependant’s allowance they have a total income of pension and allowance of £6 2s. 6d. a week. But if they apply for supplementary assistance they are shut out, even though they are paying rent and have not a penny more of other income. Where could there be greater hardship than a man and a woman trying to live together on £6 2s. 6d. a week and having to pay rent out of that amount?
A pensioner who can pass all the other tests can receive supplementary assistance if his income does not exceed 10s. a week. If his income is 10s. a week he can receive an additional 10s. by way of supplementary assistance. But if his income is 10s. 6d. a week - an additional 6d. - he is cut off from the 10s. supplementary assistance. It is difficult to imagine a more harsh provision in any Australian legislation.
I wish to refer now to the widows’ pensions, which are regarded by the Opposition as being totally inadequate. A widow is subjected to many hardships. When the breadwinner goes, the handyman around the house disappears. I know of innumerable instances in which widows have had to pay for some trifling service by a tradesman which would not have been incurred had there been a husband in the house. Widows have to pay tradesmen to do such ordinary, mundane jobs as replacing a washer on a tap, fixing a jammed widow or repairing a handle on a door. A widow is in a different position from a married couple who receive a pension, because the elderly male pensioner is able to do many of the ordinary maintenance jobs around the house.
Not long ago, I had brought to my notice the case of a widow with two children, the elder of whom is now seventeen years of age and the younger almost sixteen. Because the mother will be under the permissible age at which she is entitled to receive the oldage pension she will not receive any pension at all when the younger child attains the age of sixteen years. The mother was a polio victim, and from the age of sixteen years was granted an invalid pension. With the prospect of the cessation of the widow’s pension on the younger child reaching sixteen years of age, the mother applied recently for the right to return to the status of an invalid pensioner, but her application has been refused. She has been subjected to a medical examination and, although the polio has left her with some paralysis of the fingers of her left hand and with one foot about 3 inches or 4 inches shorter than the other, she has been told that she should be able to take her place on the labour market and get a job. Any woman who has battled through life as she has should have received far more sympathetic treatment than she has received. I intend to take up her case at an early date by personal representations to the Minister for Social Services. I hope that he will give me a patient and sympathetic hearing when I approach him. I understand that recently a deputation from the civilian widows’ association waited on the Minister, seeking from him the right for widows to earn more than the permissible £3 10s. a week. I understand that their request was refused. There may have been a good reason in the Minister’s mind for refusing their request - J do not know - but I should like to know the reason. I hope that the Minister did not refuse the request because he feared that the widows might make further inroads into the already depleted labour market.
I wish to refer now to child endowment The proposals before us will not make any change in the existing payments. It is most curious that in New Zealand, a much smaller country than Australia, the Government is able to pay child endowment of 18s. 9d. a week for each child. The only social service tax in New Zealand amounts to ls. 6d. in the £1, yet out of the revenue obtained from that tax the New Zealand Government, as I shall indicate later, is able to finance social service benefits greater than those applicable in Australia, and to pay child endowment of 18s. 9d. a week for each child.
I deplore, too, the absence in the proposals of any attempt to ameliorate the means test. As I and other honorable members have said, the means test must continue to be regarded as the reward for lack of self-denial and the penalty for thrift. That is the way in which I, and countless thousands of elderly Australians who have put aside something from their earnings or their income over many years, which they could have applied quite well to some other purpose, view the means test.
I find it interesting to note that in Canada a pension equal to £6 a week is paid to persons aged 70 or over. That pension is completely free of means test. I do not think that Canada is so much richer than Australia, yet she can manage to do that At the age of 65 years people in Canada receive a pension equal to £6 a week - which is greater than the pension we pay - but it is subject to means test. The important thing is that Canada has moved further than we have towards the complete abolition of the means test. In New Zealand there is no means test applied to persons aged 65, and persons aged 60 may obtain a pension subject to a means test. Are those countries so much richer than Australia that they can do the things which we in this country cannot do?
I want to make a few observations about the Aged Persons Homes Act. A friend of mine recently purchased a residence at Sutton Forest for about £34,000. He refurnished and rehabilitated the premises at a cost of about £8,000. In all, he outlayed about £42,000. He could have taken advantage of the Commonwealth’s grant of £2 for £1, but he told me that he would have none of it. I think it is most curious that such a philanthropist should be prepared to provide a home for old people and, having carefully considered it, should be unwilling to take advantage of the Government’s offer of assistance. It is all very well to provide money to help in the purchase of a home for old people, but money is also needed to keep that home going. 1 want to conclude my remarks on this note: Any Christian country and any Christian government should be judged by the manner in which it treats the old, the sick and the unfortunate. By any criterion the social service policy of this Government stands utterly condemned.
.- The purpose of this bill is to raise the age pension by 7s. 6d. a week for a single person, widow or widower, and by 15s. a week for a married couple. I believe that every honorable member is aware of the necessity for an increase in the base pension. The Australian Labour Party has proposed an amendment to this bill, asking that it be withdrawn and redrafted. I will oppose that amendment, because I believe that the aged people in our community need this increase at the earliest possible moment. Any withdrawal of the bill at this stage must inevitably mean postponement of the increase provided in the bill.
The Opposition also says that the pension should be adjusted according to the cost of living. If we look at the pension as it was when the Australian Labour Party was last in office in 1949 we find that the rate was £2 2s. 6d. a week. We can only assume that the Labour Party regarded that as the proper pension, taking into account the then living costs. If we increase that rate of £2 2s. 6d. according to the C series index, which measures the cost of living, we find that the pension to-day would be only £3 19s. 8d. - not £4 15s. as is provided in this bill. The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Clay) apparently challenges the figures of the Commonwealth Statistician. He said that the cost of living has doubled since 1945. Even if he is correct in this respect I point out that the proposal under this bill is to more than double the 1949 pension. If the” 1949 pension of £2 2s. 6d. were doubled it would amount to £4 5s., whereas under this bill it is proposed to pay a pension of £4 15s. a week. Therefore, we can only assume that the Opposition’s proposal that the bill should be withdrawn and the pension adjusted according to the cost of living index is for the purpose of reducing the pension below the figure pronosed under this bill.
I do not intend to deal with the subject of the base pension. I want to deal with those people who do not receive the same amount as the base pension, namely those people who, during their lifetime, have been thrifty and have saved money. Under this bill and other bills that have been introduced in previous years, both by this Government and by Labour governments, the thrifty people in the community in many instances are worse off than those who have not saved anything at all. Every time you increase the base pension you place the thrifty people at a worse disadvantage in relation to the thriftless.
Australia is an expanding country. Above all we need capital. Capital is made up of the savings of the community. If the people do not save we cannot develop; we cannot build the great undertakings that we visualize in the future. Anything that discourages thrift is bad for the country and retards development. Dr. Coombs, Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, in an address given a few days ago to the Science Congress pointed out most forcibly the need for savings in this country. He pointed out that inflation has been going on in this country under various governments ever since the cessation of the war. Even when we have had periods of what might be called recession, although the rate of inflation has diminished, creeping inflation has still occurred. Dr. Coombs points out quite forcibly that creeping inflation will continue unless we have adequate savings in the community. How can we expect to have adequate savings when we penalize the thrifty? Our first step to encourage greater savings is to remove the present penalties on thrift. Dr. Coombs said -
We must be willing to provide the resource! for this capital expenditure by saving an adequate proportion of current income. The present level of savings almost certainly falls short of what is required to carry through capital development.
That is a statement by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, the man entrusted by this Government and previous governments with maintaining the stability of the economy, full employment and the stability of the currency. Can we ignore his warning that unless we are prepared to save we cannot expect to maintain our present rate of development?
– Does the honorable member accept Dr. Coombs’s other warnings?
– I do not accept all that Dr. Coombs says, but when he says that in his opinion the savings of the community are inadequate and that urgent and immediate steps should be taken to encourage savings, I think it is a warning that should not go unheeded.
I suggest that the first thing we must do is remove the present penalties on thrift. The means test, as applied at present, places the person who has saved in a worse position, with regard to income, than the person who has not. Proposals have recently been placed before the Government designed to remove this penalty on thrift, so that no thrifty person shall receive less, by way of total income, than the pension, if he does not receive more. I was delighted to learn that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), when giving a television interview in Adelaide on Sunday last, said that the Government was giving immediate and urgent consideration to this proposal.
I believe that the removal of the penalty on thrift will be the first step towards encouraging savings, which, as Dr. Coombs suggests, should be done to improve the capital structure of this country. We cannot afford any longer to penalize thrift. The proposals to which I have referred would allow the thrifty person to retain his investments, and not dissipate his capital, as is done to-day, by going on trips overseas or buying goods that are not needed, so as to qualify for the pension. The thrifty person will be able to retain his investments and if the income from them, calculated, say, at 5 per cent., does not equal the amount of the pension, then he will be granted a part pension to make up the difference. If the proposals were introduced, middle-aged people would not dissipate their capital when they were approaching pension age, as they do at present. They would be encouraged to retain their investments, because they would know that they would not be penalized by doing so. Young persons, also, would realize that saving was worthwhile. At the present time the young man receiving a small wage or salary asks himself, “ Is it worth saving? Can I ever save enough so that in my old age I will have more than the pension? “ If he decides that he cannot provide himself in later life with more than the amount of the pension, having in mind the way in which the means test penalizes thrift, he will say that it is not worth while saving. If the proposal T have mentioned were adopted, such a young man might decide that it was worthwhile to save, because he would be allowed to retain his capital, the income from it being supplemented to give him at least the amount of the base pension.
Dr. Coombs also said ;
Reasonable stability in the value of money can be achieved if we think it worthwhile.
How important it is to maintain economic stability! The man who controls the Commonwealth Bank to-day, who is entrusted, under Government supervision, with the responsibility of dealing with the economic future of Australia, says in clear terms that we can achieve stability if we think it worthwhile. He went on to say -
In other words, he says that if we save enough we can achieve stability of prices. Dr. Coombs went on to say what I have said in this House many times, that one of the ways of achieving this end is to introduce a contributory superannuation plan for the purpose of supplementing the present age pension. I have pointed out in this House many times the necessity for a national contributory plan to ensure financial security in old age. No means test should be associated with such a plan.
If we can introduce certain reforms at the present time we can remove the present penalty on thrift. Having done this, there is still, as Dr. Coombs suggests, an opportunity to provide a national superannuation scheme for the purpose of supplementing the base pension. Many people in the community will say that they want more than the base pension in their old age, that they are prepared to save for it and to make contributions towards it. We should, I believe, have a national superannuation scheme so that pepole will have the opportunity of providing themselves with something more than the base pension. Dr. Coombs has said that such a plan would help materially towards providing the savings necessary for Australia’s development, and I believe that the suggestion is well worthy of consideration.
There is one other aspect of the legislation with which I wish to deal. Experience in all countries has shown that whatever scheme is adopted, whether it be national insurance or a pension plan, there will always be certain hardship cases, among the few, rather than the many, who are not covered by the general plan. Until last year, for a period of some 47 years, governments had always provided for a base pension and had not recognized these marginal cases, lt is to the credit of the Menzies Government that, last year, for the first time, it acknowledged the principle that hardship should be removed where it existed, and that there should be some provision for the marginal cases, lt was quite obvious that most of the hardship in the social services field affected single people who had to pay rent, and so the Government provided a supplemental pension. It relieved the hardship of some 80,000 people by granting them a supplemental pension of 10s. a week. I believe that certain further liberalization is necessary with relation to that supplemental pension.
As the legislation introduced last year was new legislation, it inevitably had to be tried out to see whether all cases of hardship were covered. Experience has shown that while there are many single people, widows and widowers, who have to pay rent, there are others who have to pay rates, taxes, insurance and repair of their homes as great as would be paid in rent. The amendment introduced last year provided that those who pay rent or board shall receive the supplemental assistance, but that those who own their own homes and have to pay for rates, taxes and repairs shall not receive it. As our experience of last year has shown, it would not cost a great deal of money to extend this supplemental pension to all single pensioners. The need of the married couples is not as great as that of the single persons, because the couples have two pensions coming into the one home. They have two pensions to pay for the one amount of rent, or, on other hand, to pay for the rates and repairs on the one house. The single person, however, has had, and is having, a very tough time trying to live on the pension.
I do hope that in the near future the Government will consider extending the supplemental pension to single people, widows and widowers, who have to pay rates and taxes, as well as those who have to pay rent. In fact, the simplest way to handle the matter would be to extend this extra assistance to all single pensioners;” because they are in a much more difficult position than those who have two pensions coming into the one home.
There are many other aspects of social services which I would deal with if time permitted. I think that the increase granted to widows is certainly justified. The widow, particularly the civilian widow, has a difficult task trying to live on the present rate of pension. I am glad also to see the increase given to invalid pensioners particularly in cases where the wife is unable to go out to work because she is looking after her invalid husband. All these aspects have to be considered in relation to one another. I am grateful to the Government for increasing the base pension by 7s. 6d. and I hope that it will give immediate consideration to this most important matter of removing the penalty of thrift by providing that thrifty people shall receive in part a pension sufficient, when added to their other income, to bring their weekly payment up to that of the base pension.
.- It is remarkable to hear a member on the Government side expressing satisfaction at the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that the Government would give immediate and urgent attention to the amelioration of the means test. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who has supported the Government for a number of years, must realize that this is not the first occasion on which the Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet have expressed exactly the same thought. I recall that in 1954, the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley), who was then Minister for Social Services, indicated in a second-reading speech on a social services bill that a plan was in preparation for the abolition of the means test. Since that time the Government has done nothing at all about the matter. The honorable member for Sturt, who now says that he is pleased to hear that the Prime Minister intends to do something about this subject, will receive the same deal that the pensioners have received from this Government since 1949. He will be disappointed, because neither the Prime Minister nor any member of this Government has any intention at all of ameliorating the means test.
The honorable member for Sturt talked about the need for savings in the community and quoted at some length a speech made by Dr. Coombs a week or so ago. This Government has to realize that the only way in which the ordinary man or women in this community who lives on wages can save ‘s by receiving adequate pay for the work performed. People with large families, especially those with families larger than the average, must look to the Government for assistance by way of child endowment. That is the subject to which I intend to devote most of my time this afternoon. At the risk of being regarded as tedious and even as fanatical on this subject, I still intend to make a further appeal to the Government to do something about child endowment. Each year since I have been in this Parliament, in the debates on social services legislation I have emphasized the urgent need for an increase in child endowment payments. So far, however, my appeals have met with no success, and child endowment has remained at the level fixed in 1950 of 5s. a week for the first child and 10s. a week for the second and subsequent children. However, I have no intention of being dissuaded from endeavouring to obtain some measure of justice for the parents of young children.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has become so accustomed to my speaking and asking questions on this subject that he now has a hackneyed and far from humourous rejoinder to my questions. His answers take the form of offering to take over the cares and responsibilities of my children if I find the burden too hard to bear. I take this opportunity of informing the Minister that I am not the least bit interested in the payment of child endowment for my own children. I am in the fortunate position of receiving a salary which allows me to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter for my family without the necessity of making continual sacrifices. If the Government sees fit to restrict payment of child endowment to wage earners on the lower incomes, I shall be most happy to comply with that decision. I thank the Minister for his frequent offers to take my children, but after witnessing his cold, inhuman and unsympathetic approach in the field of social services, and knowing the brand of politics which he supports, I am absolutely certain that whatever my shortcomings any child would be happier and better treated in my care than in his.
During the Budget debate the Prime Minister mentioned the subject of child endowment and traced the history of this Government’s activities in this field. He said that there is a needs concept in the basic wage and that it is not now imperative to increase child endowment. A few days later he was followed by “ Little Sir Echo “, the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston), who reiterated the statements made by the Prime Minister. He also said that because of the needs concept in the basic wage there was no urgent need to increase child endowment. The position concerning the basic wage is that in 1907, in what has become known as the Harvester award, Mr. Justice Higgins set a just and reasonable wage. In doing so he said that he had no criterion on which to base his judgment. In his judgment, which was delivered in November, 1907, he said -
I cannot think of any other standard appropriate than the normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilized community.
In his judgment he also said that he had fixed the wage of 7s. a day for a family consisting of a man, wife and three children, not on what he had found to be the normal needs of the average employee regarded as a human being but on amounts that public bodies, which did not aim at profit and which were responsible to electors or others for economy, were paying. Consequently, his first statement, that he intended to set it on the needs of the normal average employee was disregarded when he finally gave his decision. From that time until 1930 the needs concept in the basic wage was based on the Harvester award which has been proved, time and again, to be inadequate and also not to have been based on the needs of a family of five. In making that award, Mr. Justice Higgins said also that there were a great number of commodities the cost of which he had not taken into account. Among these were light, clothes, boots, furniture, utensils, fares and holidays.
– He did not take those into account?
– No, he did not take those into account; but he allowed an amount of about 3s. 2d. over and above the ordinary needs that he had taken into account. But since that time, in this place and elsewhere the Harvester award has continually been quoted as adequate for the needs of a family of five. Until 1930, when the basic wage was adjusted and paid on a needs basis, that was the criterion on which it was fixed. It was not until 1920 that an investigation was made into the basic wage, and this was done by the Piddington Royal Commission. The commission, after extensive sittings, and the interrogation of numerous witnesses, suggested that the basic wage for a male worker should be £4 and that an additional 12s. should be paid in respect of each child. It had selected as its family unit a man, wife and three children, so the basic wage it suggested in 1920 was £5 16s. a week. Although that decision had been given, the Arbitration Court was still basing the needs concept on the Harvester award of 1907. It is interesting to note that the basic wage did not reach £5 16s. a week until about 1949.
When Government supporters speak about the needs portion of the basic wage, they should remember that the Harvester award was never fixed on an adequate base. In any case, our society, with higher standards of living, has advanced beyond the point where the standard set at the turn of the century could be regarded as adequate. Families have the right to expect the same standard of living as other members of the community, whether they be single, people or the parents of small families. The basic wage is not now considered as adequate for a family of five. Judgments that have been delivered since 1930 have revealed that various justices of the Arbitration Court have felt that the basic wage was not sufficient to meet the needs of a family of five. In 1940, Judge Beeby of the Arbitration Court said that the wage then operative met the requirements of a family with one child; if there were two children there was hardship, and if there were more than two, there was actual suffering. The judgment of the Arbitration Court in 1943 contained the following passsage - la this sense it can still be regarded as a family wage, inasmuch as it has been accepted as sufficient at all events to provide “frugal comfort” for a man, wife and at least one dependent child.
In 1952, in the basic wage and standard hours inquiry, the court said -
In this respect the Court declares itself to be in agreement with the attitude taken by 0’Mara J. in his 1941 judgment. If it is at any time asked to fix a basic wage on a true needs basis, the question of whether such a method is correct in principle and all questions as to the size of the family to be selected remain open.
Yet time and time again we are told that the needs concept in the basic wage is sufficient to provide for the needs of a family, and a family quite often is said to be a family of five. If the basic wage is sufficient to provide for any family, it is sufficient to provide only for a family with one child. The basic wage is not now fixed on the needs concept. There may be a needs portion in the basic wage, but, as I said earlier, that needs portion was fixed on a basis laid down by Mr. Justice Higgins in 1907. Even in 1920, only thirteen years later, the Piddington Royal Commission found that basis inadequate to meet the needs of the family unit. Section 33 (1) of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides -
The powers of the Commission to make an award, or to certify an agreement under section thirty-one of this Act -
altering the basic wage for adult males (that is to say, that wage, or that part of a wage, which is just and reasonable for an adult male, without regard to any circumstance pertaining to the work upon which, or the industry in which, he is employed) or the principles upon which it is computed;
That section was placed in the act in 1956. So, this Government holds that the basic wage is fixed at a figure which is just and reasonable for an adult male. No mention is made of a family unit. Since 1930, various justices of the Arbitration Court have indicated that the basic wage is now fixed on the maximum amount that industry can pay. Numerous passages from the basic wage judgments can be cited. Each one of them indicates that the main factor in fixing the basic wage at present is the capacity of industry to pay. Consequently, if the Arbitration Court is not now fixing a basic wage that will provide for the needs of a family, it is up to the Government to accept its responsibility. Child endowment on a federal basis was first introduced in 1941 after Judge Beeby and others had drawn the attention of the Government to the needs of the family. Not long before endowment was introduced for the first child in 1950, the Arbitration Court indicated in a judgment that the family needs were not being safeguarded. In fixing the basic wage, the Arbitration Court takes no account of any family unit. Consequently, single men in industry receive a base wage that is exactly the same as the base wage paid to a man with four, five or more children. The female basic wage is now set at 75 per cent, of the male rate, and few single females are required to provide for a family. If the Arbitration Court does not fix a wage that is just and reasonable for the needs of the average family, the Government should do something about it. lt did something in 1941, but it has not done anything since 1950 when endowment for the first child was introduced.
The needs of the family are now a matter for the Government, and it is time that a statement was made either by the Prime Minister or the Minister for Social Services as to the Government’s attitude on this subject. The Government has ignored child endowment since 1950. In that time the basic wage and age and invalid pensions have increased considerably, but child endowment has remained at the same level. Why has the Government not done something about this matter? Is it because it wants to jettison child endowment? Is it because it wants to allow the value of child endowment to decrease until it has no value at all to the parents of young children? It is interesting to read the comments made in this House by various speakers since the introduction of child endowment in 1941. There are hosts of examples in “ Hansard “ of people here eulogizing the family, saying that the family is the foundation of our Australian way of life. In 1941, the present Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), when introducing the Child Endowment Bill, said -
Child endowment can be rightly considered as a profitable national investment. A free enterprise economy such as ours provides inadequate incentive for investment in persons as compared with things. This is because it is rarely possible for people who make investment in persons to profit from it. For this reason governments subsidize education. For this reason also the investment of the Commonwealth Government in child endowment can be expected to make a high return in human happiness.
The present Minister for Labour anc* National Service (Mr. McMahon), whenintroducing social services legislation in. 1955, said-
We must recognize … the needs and claim* of our children.
He went on to say -
We have a duty to the old, the sick, the family unit.
Only a few weeks ago, one of the newest members of this House - the man who now holds the position of Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), when introducing theMatrimonial Causes Bill said that - . . One of the great foundations of ou: national life is the family, and in turn the familyis founded on marriage.
Members of the Australian Country Party and of the Liberal Party are alt recorded in “ Hansard “ as giving thei wholehearted support to child endowment:, but since 1950 the only people in this House, besides members of the Opposition,, who endeavour to obtain an increase it* child endowment, are those back-bench Government supporters who have larger than average families themselves, who understand the responsibilities and problems involved in raising a family, and who are aware of the cares and tribulations that are placed on parents. Each one of them is in exactly the same position as 1 am in - they do not wish child endowment to be increased for their own benefit, but for th<-* benefit of people who are expected to live on the average weekly wage paid in industry, or even less, and who have familiesof three, four or five children to keepThese people are unable to give their children the food, clothing, shelter and education they require. The larger the family becomes, the more services the parents have to provide for the children, the more food is required, the more milk is required, and the larger the house has to be. If the Government does not consider those factors, parents of young children will be continually called upon to make sacrifices in order that their children may enjoy some of the prosperity which abounds in this great land of ours to-day.
It is often said that parents should accept their responsibilities and be prepared to make sacrifices for their children. Any parent worthy of the name is prepared to make sacrifices on behalf of the children and to do without in order that the children may have, but parents arc also making other sacrifices. The very presence of children in a home means a restriction of freedom for the mother and father, lt gives them added responsibilities for the care, health, education and discipline of the children. All those burdens are readily and gladly accepted by parents because of the benefits that they reap from their children in happiness, contentment and kindness, and in everything else that a young child can give.
The parents of our larger families are doing their duty to the nation. They are adding to the population. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), who is now at the table, knows that this country must have more population. He is doing everything in his power to bring immigrants here. But what better immigrants are there than natural-born Australians, including children born in Australia of immigrant parents? In every child born in this country we get a person who grows up with his roots implanted in the soil of Australia, who understands our way of life and who will be able in the years to come to bring to industry, and to the defence of the nation generally, all those things that the nation expects of its citizens.
Surely it is time that we gave more consideration in the way of increased child endowment to the mothers who act as society’s trustees for Australia’s young children. I have said earlier that child endowment has not been increased since 1950. The value of child endowment has declined to such an extent that the meagre amount being paid at present - 5s. for the first child and 10s. for the second and each subsequent child - is almost not worth while accepting. The basic wage in 1950 was about £6 a week - to-day it is £13 16s. Since about 1930 the basic wage has been set on the capacity of industry to pay. If it was necessary to help the families in 1941 and in 1950 by giving child endowment surely the same necessity exists to-day, when the basic wage is still set on exactly the same base - the capacity of industry to pay. In fact, it is now more than important and more than urgent to increase child endowment.
There are many other aspects of social services, Mr. Deputy Speaker, upon which this Government can be criticized. There is the failure to do anything about increasing the allowance for the wife of an age or invalid pensioner. There is the failure to do anything about giving an adequate pension to class A widows. There is also the failure to liberalize the supplementary rent allowance to age and invalid pensioners. At the moment, any age or invalid pensioner with an income of more than 10s. apart from the pension is barred from receiving the supplementary allowance. I suggest that the Government should provide that the supplementary allowance be paid on a sliding scale. If a man has an income of lis. a week apart from his pension he should receive 9s. in supplementary allowance. That scale should continue until a limit of 19s. over the present permissible limit is reached, when the supplementary allowance would cut out.
– That is the only equitable way to do it.
– As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro says, that is the only equitable way. It is most unfair to give the supplementary allowance to people who have 9s. 6d. or 9s. 9d. a week apart from their pensions while withholding it from people who have 10s. or 10s. 6d. a week apart from their pensions.
– It could be done by regulation.
– As the honorable member for Port Adelaide says, this could be done by a stroke of the pen without further legislation. The Government has shown a remarkable aptitude for appointing committees from outside the Parliament to investigate matters of national importance. Some that come readily to mind are the committees of inquiry on depreciation allowances, defence and university education. Two more that have been foreshadowed are one to investigate the taxation system and one to investigate the accounting system of the P.M.G.’s Department. It seems to me that it would be more appropriate for the Government to appoint a committee of inquiry into child endowment, family allowances, and the principle of fixing the basic wage. It should also appoint a committee to investigate social services generally. It should appoint those committees before it appoints some of those foreshadowed. An inquiry such as I have suggested would undoubtedly prove that the Government has neglected its responsibilities towards the parents of our young children, and towards the recipients of social services.
– I desire to make a personal explanation, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– Does the honorable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do. In making my personal explanation I am trying to cure the habit of the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) of continually misquoting, for party-political purposes, members on this side of the House. The honorable member for Lang attributed to me the statement, which he said I made in my speech on the Budget, that there was no urgent need to increase child endowment.
– So you did.
– That is entirely incorrect. “ Little Sir Echo “ Daly, who is always echoing the thoughts of other people, will see, when I quote from “ Hansard “, that I have a clear case. I have been misquoted. I quote from “ Hansard “ of 27th August at page 651. Speaking during the Budget debate, I touched on child endowment and I said -
The pay-roll tax has quite frequently been related to the financing of child endowment. It has been said that child endowment is part of the wage structure and, therefore, a logical addition to the costs of the employer. The basic wage, however, is now fixed on the basis of the capacity of industry to pay and on the needs of the family wage earner, and therefore the employer virtually contributes twice, owing to the increased wages resulting from the methods of fixing the basic wage . . .
– Order! I think the honorable member may not read the whole of his speech.
– This is relevant. If I may continue, I also stated on that occasion -
As the basic wage takes into consideration the needs of the family man, child endowment becomes a straight-out social service obligation. I do not support the contention that any particular section of the community should be called upon to finance any particular part of social service benefits.
– I will read just one more sentence.
– Order! The honorable member has said enough to make his personal explanation. I call the honorable member for Bradfield.
.- Like the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) I propose to direct my attention to the needs of children - the children whose needs I believe are the greatest. Not long ago we read in the newspapers with horror how in New York a youth had poured petrol over two young children and set them alight, turning them into human torches. A little while before that we read that a gang of youths, going through a park in New York, coming upon an inoffensive elderly woman, without warning or provocation, kicked her to death. How can such things happen?
All social workers are convinced that the overwhelming majority of delinquents come from broken homes or from homes that are not functioning properly. Dr. John Bowlbie in his classic work “ Maternal Care and Mental Health “, published under the auspices of the World Health Organization in 1951, painted a picture of what he called “ the affectionless character “. This is the child who has never had the tender loving care of a mother, or a mother substitute for the critical first five years of his life; who has never received and who, therefore, can never give affection. People without feelings can and will do unfeeling things.
The old person, friendless, wandering and helpless, rightly evokes our pity. Few can look back on their lives and feel that their faults, sins and failings have contributed nothing to their plight or without recalling some moments of happiness. But how much more pitiable is the plight of a tottering bewildered child, condemned at the moment of birth or in his early years, to be imprisoned in a world where the light of love and affection, given and received, can never shine! If, his personality mutilated, twisted and embittered, he takes revenge on society, who is to blame? What are we doing to ensure that the widow with young children can keep her children and give them the maternal care, especially in the first three, four, or five years of their lives, which above all else determines their destiny?
I propose, therefore, to direct my attention to the problem of women who have the sole care of young children and who, through lack of other resources, are assisted with benefits, either pecuniary or otherwise, by the Commonwealth or State Governments or both. That is to say, 1 shall refer to those who are admittedly in need. For the sake of simplicity, I shall call all these women “ widows “ no matter what may be the circumstances that deprive them of assistance from a male breadwinner. My primary concern is with the children, both for their own sakes, and for the sake of the community. I shall ask myself, and the House, three questions and will try to answer them. First, why - in what way - is the problem important? Second, how - in what ways - are Commonwealth and State Parliaments attempting to solve it? Third, where have we failed and how can we remedy the defects?
I believe that the problem is important for three main reasons: First, it is important for reasons of mere humanity and social justice. These women and children are handicapped, through the lack of a husband and a father, in precisely the same way as others are handicapped by the loss of sight, or hearing or of a limb. They have the same kind of claim upon the sympathy and the help of the more fortunate. It is a moral duty which is imposed upon us.
Secondly, the problem is important because it is the considered and unanimous opinion, formed by observation and research, of all social workers that lack of security and of the tender loving care of the natural mother or of a mother substitute, especially in the early years, does irreparable harm to the child and prevents the development of a mature and stable personality in the adult. The evil fruits are unhappiness for the individual, delinquency to the hurt of society, and, later on, broken homes for the spouses and children of these unfortunates. The evil runs on from generation to generation.
Thirdly, the problem is important because so many children are in this unhappy situation. They include the children of de jure widows, of de facto wives, of deserted wives whether de jure or de facto, of divorced women, of women whose husbands are in mental institutions or in gaol, or of unmarried mothers. By “ unmarried mothers” I refer to cases in which the father and mother have never lived together as de facto man and wife.
The Commonwealth Social Services Department pays pensions to two classes of women who have the sole care of children under sixteen years of age, whom it describes as class .A widows and class D widows. The class A widows comprise, besides de jure widows and excluding war widows, a woman who is wholly or mainly maintained by a man as his wife on a permanent and bona fide domestic basis for not less than three years before death; a woman who has been deserted by her husband without just cause for not less than six months; a divorcee who has not remarried; and a woman whose husband is an inmate of a mental hospital. The class D widows comprise those whose husbands are in gaol for at least six months.
It will, therefore, be seen that the class A and class D widows include all the main types of women who have the care of children under 16 years of age whom I have already listed except the deserted de facto wives, the unmarried mothers, and the war widows for whom special provision is made by the Repatriation Department.
From data supplied to me by the Commonwealth Social Services Department, I calculate that in Australia the 22,449 class A widows receiving the widow’s pension on 3rd August, 1959, have a little over 45,203 children under 16 years of age between them, an average of about two each. The class D widows have between them approximately 600 children under 16 years of age.
Turning now to war widows - widows whose husbands died on or as a result of war service - I understand from data supplied to me by the Repatriation Department that these have between them about 8,000 children under 16 years of age. So, I reach the conclusion that there are in Australia about 46,000 children of civilian widows and about 8,000 children of war widows under the age of 16 years who are receiving Commonwealth benefits. That is a total of 54,000 young children.
These are fairly firm figures - other figures necessarily must be based on guesswork. I point out, first, that I have no accurate figures for the number of what the Repatriation Department calls “ wife widows” - widows of ex-servicemen who during their lifetime received war pensions, but whose death was not due to war caused disabilities. I believe that the number of these women receiving civilian widows’ pensions, in addition to certain repatriation benefits, would be quite insignificant.
Secondly, 1 have no figures showing the- number of young children in the care of deserted de facto wives, since these people do not receive any special social service benefits.
Thirdly, there are no statistics available showing the number of unmarried mothers who keep their children, and are in difficult financial circumstances, because they, too., do not receive any special social service benefits. In Australia, in 1957, the last year for which the Commonwealth Year Book, 1959, gives relevant figures, there were 9,362 ex-nuptial births, of which 3,439 were in New South Wales. The annual report of the New South Wales Department of Child Welfare shows that, in 1957-58, a total of 2,135 children of varying ages were adopted in that State, of whom the overwhelming majority would be illegitimate. Therefore, it would appear that over one-third of the 9,362 illegitimatebabies born in a typical year are retained by their mothers. Later, I shall have more to say about this problem but, at the moment, my conclusion is that an unknown proportion would swell the total number of young children in the care of women who are without male support.
I sum up this part of my argument b saying that the general problem of young children in the care of widows is important, not only on humanitarian grounds, not only because of the resultant emotional disturbances which lead to unhappiness in the individual and, in too many cases, to delinquency in the adult and to broken homes in the next and later generations, but also because not fewer than 60,000 children are involved. The problem, therefore, is important in absolute terms although it maybe pointed out that there are about 3.000,000 children under the age of sixteen years in Australia out of a total population of 10,000,000, so the problem is not one of unmanageable proportions.
I come now to my second question: What are Commonwealth and State Governments doing to solve this problem? A mere schedule of benefits tends to be meaningless since they vary so much having regard to the number and age of children, and to the application of the means test in particular cases. I shall, therefore, take two typical cases, first, the case of a widow with two children aged four and seven years - two children, because this is the average number in such families; one child aged four, because this is a pre-school age. I shall assume that this widow has no income except social service benefits. Secondly, I shall take the case of a widow with three children, a girl aged fifteen, a boy aged thirteen and a girl aged eleven, the two former children at the secondary school stage and the youngest at primary school. This will illustrate the problems at the school age, and at the stage at which some earnings are possible for the widow. In each of these two typical cases I shall consider the disparity of treatment as between war widows and civilian widows. Later, I shall consider the adequacy of the benefits.
In the first case where there are two children aged four and seven years, the war widow will receive a pension of £5 5s. a week, a domestic allowance of £2 15s.. a children’s allowance of £2 14s. and child endowment of 15s., making a total of £11 9s. a week. The civilian widow in the same circumstances will receive a pension of £5 a week, a rent allowance of 10s., child endowment of 15s., a Commonwealth child allowance of 10s. and a State child allowance in New South Wales of £1, making a total of £7 15s. a week. The contrast lies in the difference between £11 9s. and £7 15s.
In the second case, where there are three children aged fifteen, thirteen and eleven years, the war widow will receive a pension of £5 5s., a domestic allowance of £2 15s., a children’s allowance of £3 16s. 6d., an education allowance of £2 ls. 6d. and child endowment of £1 5s., making a total of £15 3s. a week. In addition, it is assumed that the boy of thirteen, who attends a high school, is earning 25s. a week delivering medicine for a chemist, and that the girl of” fifteen years is still at school intending to become a nurse. There being no means test applicable to the war widow, the total family income then will be £16 8s. a week. The civilian widow in the same circumstances receives a pension of £5 a week, a Commonwealth child allowance of £1, child endowment of £1 5s. and a State children’s allowance of £1. This allowance has been reduced through the means test because the boy of thirteen years is earning 25s. a week, so the total family income becomes £9 10s. a week. In this instance the contrast is as between £16 8s. and £9 10s. Here it should be said that the means test applies to the civilian widow in much the same way as it applies to an age pensioner, but I have not time to go into the details.
Before attempting to answer the third question that I posed at the outset - how far does the provision made by Commonwealth and State Governments meet the problem? - I shall make three preliminary observations. The first relates to the peculiar functions of each of the three agencies involved; the second to the needs to be met, and the third to the great variation of circumstances in the case of each particular family.
My first preliminary observation concerns the agencies that function in this field - the Commonwealth Government, State governments and voluntary aid services. Each has assumed a special role. First, the Commonwealth provides basic pensions and allowances to certain defined classes of people. The fundamental characteristic of this type of relief is its minimal nature, its regularity and its rigidity. Secondly, the State of New South Wales at least, seeks to fill in the gaps in regard to basic necessities. For example, it gives cash benefits to those awaiting Commonwealth benefits, such as deserted wives and wives of men in gaol, neither of whom receives Commonwealth aid until six months after the desertion or gaoling of their husbands. It gives also clothing, footwear and blankets in cases of dire necessity and pays bad debts for rent, electricity or gas where it is absolutely essential to prevent the break-up of the home and the placement of children in an institution. The State of New South
Wales also pays a small supplementary child allowance but, above all, it carries out through highly qualified social workers case work in respect of 2,700 families, helping with advice on all manner of domestic problems and mobilizing appropriate assistance from its own resources and through voluntary agencies. Thirdly, there are the voluntary organizations which in particular cases supplement the basic pensions paid by the Commonwealth and the assistance given in the basic necessities by the State.
This is the ultimate in what might be called tailor-made relief - fitting the appropriate help to the special need in the particular case. The war widows have the special aid of Legacy, the Red Cross and the services canteen fund; the civilian widows are helped by various church agencies, the food for babies organization, the Smith Family, the Lions Club, the benevolent society and so on.
My second preliminary observation relates to the needs to be met. Here one can draw upon the findings of research workers; upon common knowledge; upon the special experience of the Repatriation Department because, with general approval, it has extended a helping hand further along the road, and upon especially one valuable aspect of the aid given New South Wales Department of Child Welfare. The needs, of course, are a roof overhead; sufficient food; adequate clothing; such incidentals as fares; provision for schooling, and medical and dental attention.
My third preliminary observation relates to the great variation in the needs of particular families as a result of their own peculiar circumstances. For example, a widow who, with her child or children is able to live rent-free in the home of her parents or at a minimal rent with a married sister, is infinitely better off than a widow who has to pay exorbitant rent for a back room in a slum suburb of Sydney or Melbourne. Again, she is far better off if, even though she may have to pay rent, her mother or a trusted relative is able to look after her children while she is at work.
With all these considerations in mind it is possible to seek an answer to my third question as to whether what governments are doing is adequate.
I return to my typical cases. It will be recalled that the first case related to a widow with two children aged four and seven years, a widow who received social service benefits totalling £7 15s. a week. Let us now consider her food bill. The New South Wales Department of Health has worked out for this family a low cost diet scale at current prices based on the standards promulgated by the nutrition committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council. It adds up to £4 Os. 10 1/2 d. a week. Eggs, butter and biscuits have been excluded as being too expensive, and the grocer’s bill does not include such normal items as soap and matches. Moreover, it can hardly be assumed that, in practical circumstances, the family could rigidly adhere to such a monotonous diet or that the housewife would be such a perfect manager. This i means that a balance of, say, £3 10s. a week would be available for rent, light, heat, clothing, fares and all other requirements. Since rent alone will absorb the whole of the £3 10s. available, nothing is left to pay the electricity and gas bills, or for clothing and other incidental expenses. Therefore, the present social service benefit clearly contemplates that a mother with a child under five, or even under three, must go out to work.
The authoritative work of Boulbie published under the auspices of the World Health Organization, which I have already mentioned, makes it crystal clear that a child, in the first three years of his life, needs the undivided attention of his mother, otherwise he will grow up with a maladjusted personality. At the ages of four and five, he may, indeed, go to a nursery school, if one is available, at first for perhaps half a day, and later perhaps between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and the mother may earn something if she can get a job during those limited hours. I have made some inquiries as to her opportunities for earning in these circumstances. The only opening is for domestic work in some very limited localities, and - when there is a shortage of labour - there are openings for a few trained people. The mother may obtain work as a machinist in a clothing factory, if one is handy, or perhaps as a process worker in a light engineering industry. But she always must have had some years of training. The openings for employment as a typist are negligible.
In practice, if the girl seeks a job, it must be full time, and her children must be left with her mother - if her mother lives nearby - or with some other person, whom she must pay, or at a nursery school. The widow, of course, loses her pension, since the means test operates as soon as she earns weekly more than an amount equivalent to £3 10s. plus 10s. for each child. This advertisement taken from the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ a few days ago tells the story -
Kind reliable woman to mind affectionate 3i year-old schoolgirl while mother works. Pleasant room, keep and small wage; . . . near buses.
Here is Boulbie’s comment on the position of mothers with young children -
Husbandless mothers of children under five, and especially those under three who are still unfitted for nursery school . . . have the greatest difficulty in most countries in both making a living and earning for the children - activities which are impossible to carry on together when the children are very young.
He concludes -
Day care as a means of helping the husbandless mother should be restricted to children over three who are able to adapt to nursery school. Until the child has reached this age direct economic assistance should be given to the mother.
Now I take my second typical case - the civilian widow with three school-age children aged fifteen, thirteen and eleven. It will be recalled that her total social service benefits and the earnings of her son will bring in an income of £9 10s. a week. The New South Wales Health Department has worked out a dietetic scale for this family at current prices on the basis of standards laid down by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The weekly cost would be £6 17s. 4id. This leaves a balance, at best, in practical terms, of about £3 10s. to pay for rent, gas and electricity, clothes, fares and other requirements of the widow, and her three children whose needs, at the school stage, are very considerable indeed. Again, it is clear that the widow must earn something and that the children, whatever may be their abilities, cannot remain at school beyond the minimum leaving age. If the widow gets a fulltime job - probably the only kind that is practicable - the children are likely to run wild after school hours at a very vulnerable age - for the period of adolescence is only less important than the first three years.
How are the deficiencies in the aid now given by governments and voluntary agencies to be made good? First, 1 suggest that the case for special help to a mother with children under five or six years of age, and especially of children under three - children below the age at which they may attend pre-school establishments - has been made out. Here, the Repatriation Commission points the way. It pays a domestic allowance to war widows - something to enable them to keep a roof over their heads. I believe that a similar allowance should be paid to civilian widows with children under the age of six.
Secondly, when the youngest child attains the age of six and the widow is able to earn something, this allowance could be reduced, but, at the same time, the means test should be liberalized in order that the mother may earn at least £6 or £7 a week.
Thirdly, the various State government housing authorities should cater for widows as far as is practicable. At the present time, about 2,500 of the total of approximately 40,000 tenants of the New South Wales Housing Commission receive rent rebates. Some of these, no doubt, are widows. But surely more could be done along these lines. Soon, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will come up for review, and this need should be kept well in mind. After all, 7,200 aged persons have been housed under the Aged Persons Homes Act, and the needs of these widows with children are scarcely less; indeed, in my view, their needs are more.
Fourthly, more government assistance should be given to encourage the establishment of additional nursery schools - that is, schools for children from the age of three to the school age of five - and preference should be given to the children of widows.
Fifthly, civilian widows should be helped to obtain suitable employment, with due regard to their duties as mothers, by means of vocational training such as is given to war widows, and by a special survey and special efforts on the part of the Commonwealth Employment Service.
Sixthly, case work similar to that done by the New South Wales Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare should be undertaken in all States, since it gives the needed psychological support as well as practical aid to the fatherless family.
Seventhly, much research needs to be done. I do not pretend that what I have suggested, after a hasty and inexpert study, is a complete programme or one which is necessarily practicable in all its parts. The Council of Social Service of New South Wales has commissioned a very experienced research worker to conduct a two-year survey of the economic and social conditions of widows in that State. However, two years is a long time, and the field is limited to de jure widows - though this, indeed, covers the vast majority. Would it not be possible for the Commonwealth to give financial support to this project and to speed up the inquiry?
Again, as I have already pointed out, little is known about the position of illegitimate children. How many are adopted, and at what stage? How many are accepted into the mother’s family? How do those who are adopted fare? How many are boarded out by their mothers, and under what conditions? What ultimately happens to them? Experience points to the desirability of Adoption at birth. To what extent are adequate case work services provided to enable the mother to face her problem realistically before the birth of the child - the time when a fateful decision about its future must be made?
Finally - and this is the nub of the whole matter - from whence comes the finance to tackle, in the light of modern knowledge, the problem of the widow with young children? The field is divided between the Commonwealth and the States, and this results in the usual “ duck-shoving “, which is so familiar under a federal system. Placitum (xxiiiA.) of section 51 of the Australian Constitution, which was inserted in 1947, gives the Federal Government power to pay “ widows’ pensions, child endowment . . . and family allowances “. To my untutored mind, it would seem that the essence of a pension is that it is a fixed and regular payment. In other words, it does not permit the flexibility that is possible, for example, under section 27 of the New South Wales Child Welfare Act. Is it impossible, therefore, for the Commonwealth to adapt relief to varied circumstances? It seems to me that, under section 96 of the Constitution, the Commonwealth not only could, but also should, make grants to the States, on a per capita basis, laying down the terms and conditions, in order to enable an integrated social service system in relation to these matters to be planned and perfected.
Many may not be moved by mere humanity to incur, as they think, additional social service expenditure. Let me direct a few words to the hard-boiled. A little arithmetical calculation that I have made indicates that, in a very well run State home for small boys, in New South Wales, the cost of maintaining the inmates is £12 a head a week. Yet we boggle at the expenditure of less than one-third of that sum to keep the children in their own homes by means of a domestic allowance. And what is the cost to the taxpayers and the community of ill health, poor work, crime and the breeding of further deprived children? I ask the hard-boiled whether they are really being very practical. I am talking now of plain pounds, shillings and pence.
Then, of course, you have the stern moralist who says, “ By extending help to the widow with young children, you will undermine initiative and self-reliance “. Such a person does not understand that modern case work involves, essentially, the co-operation of the people helped. There is one further shot in the locker of the hard-boiled: The State should not intervene in family life. Very well; if the State does not value its children, it will not cherish their parents.
I conclude, Sir, by quoting the words of a wise man -
If you are planting for twenty years, plant shrubs; if you are planting for 100 years, plant trees. But if you are planting for 1,000 years, plant men.
.- One can commend the speech of the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) because it is true that wherever one goes one sees on many sides the need for the care of unmarried mothers and widows who are trying to rear young children. I have known of mothers whose husbands have been committed to prison for four or five months. While their husbands are serving their sentence those women have not been able to obtain a single penny for the maintenance of their young children. Many young mothers in this country are denied assistance to rear their children because those children are illegitimate, and it is time that the Government did something about those cases. The Government’s record with regard to many of the matters dealt with by the honorable member for Bradfield is indeed shocking to say the least.
I support the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and 1 shall endeavour to submit to the House arguments why the bill should be withdrawn and recast so that it may provide for more adequate social service payments - payments more in keeping with the high cost of living faced by pensioners from day to day, particularly those living on the base rate of pension. The bill should be amended to include payment of pensions to many people who today do not receive them. I shall endeavour to deal with that matter in some detail later. The amendment moved by my colleague is most timely because it pinpoints the failure of the Government to honour its 1949 promise to maintain a 1948 rate of pension, to present to the Parliament a national insurance scheme against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age and to present a plan for the abolition of the means test.
So far as the means test is concerned, I make it clear that with one exception I am opposed to any extension of the means test until the base pension has been considerably increased. The base rate pensioner without supplementary income finds it practically impossible to exist. The exception I make is that the property or asset limitation of £2,250 for single pensioners and £4,500 for married pensioners should be allowed to continue until the assets have been absorbed by the present ratio of £1 reduction in pension for every £10 worth of assets held in excess of £200 and £400 respectively. By that means many more persons would be entitled to receive some portion of a pension. The benefits contained in the Budget for people who are unable to work are shockingly inadequate and Labour’s amendment to this bill should be accepted by the Government.
The Government has done nothing whatever for the unemployed or the unemployable. This matter needs very urgent consideration. The Minister and his colleagues are continually lording it over the Opposition as to what the Government has done in the field of social services since it came to office, but they never admit the inefficiencies of the social service legislation. The Minister frequently compares the rates of pensions with those received in 1949, but to do so is distinctly dishonest because this Government owes its record term of office to the failure of the Chifley Government in 1949 to increase pensions. This Government has been most fortunate in that it has experienced a period of great prosperity with a rapid growth in population and economic expansion. Despite what its supporters may think or say, the Government is not responsible for the enormous development that has taken place in the last decade. The increases which pensioners have received over that period have been due entirely to excellent seasons and world demand for Australian production, assisted by the increase of our population.
I do not mind the Government claiming credit for what it has done with regard to social services, but when it exaggerates its achievements we on this side of the House are entitled to show what the Government has failed or refused to do. The object of this bill is to increase social service benefits. Although the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) promised on 11th August that pensions would be increased, these increases will not be made available until about two months after the introduction of the Budget. In the intervening period pensioners are required to wait for their increases and many thousands of them will suffer considerable hardship. They will suffer because their pensions, being their only means of support, are unable to provide them with anything like sufficient food, the increased cost of living having already reduced the meagre purchasing power of their money. The Government is utterly void of sympathy or honesty when it comes to dealing with the social welfare of the Australian people. The honorable member for Bradfield adverted to that fact only a few minutes ago. Were it not compelled through fear for its political existence, the Government would rarely, if ever, increase social service benefits.
Having sat only on this side of the Parliament I do not know whether Liberal and Labour governments alike adopt the same practice when presenting their Budgets, but from what I have seen I think it would be more desirable from the point of view of the general public, particularly pensioners, if the procedure with regard to the Budget debate were to be altered to enable money bills to be introduced, debated and resolved prior to the debate proceeding on the Budget. That would at least enable age, invalid, widows’ and repatriation pensions to be paid much earlier than is now the case. If an Opposition then wished to move an amendment to any of the bills or wished to submit a motion of censure on the government, it could do so during the debate on those bills. Repeatedly we see this Government amending excise and customs rates by regulation without waiting for months after it introduces a measure to do so; and, if it wanted to, it could apply the same principle to the payment of increased social service benefits.
The Minister in introducing this bill, as is usual, detailed how his Government throughout its term of office had looked after the recipients of social service benefits. He illustrated the difference between rates of pensions paid under a Labour government and the rates now paid. He compared the C series index of 1949 with that of 1959, but he said nothing about the reduced value of money to-day compared with its value when Labour was in office.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was pointing out that the Government had not made provision in the Budget for adequate increases in social service benefits. Although the value of money to-day is much lower than it was in 1948, the Government has failed to take this fact into consideration when assessing pension rates,, just as it has failed to consider the difference between the accepted standard of living at the present time and at the period immediately following the cessation of World War II. Whereas at that time there was an acute shortage of consumer goods and many services, to-day there is a plentiful supply of all commodities, and there are many new kinds of food available for consumption.
To-day there is no shortage of fuel or power. The consumption- of gas and electricity has trebled. Industry is now able to provide all the amenities that we require. It can give us ample supplies of refrigerators, washing machines, hot water services, radio and television sets, gas and electric heating appliances and modern cooking facilities of all descriptions. To enjoy any or all of these amenities a family needs a regular and substantial income. Thousands- of our pensioners have not got such an income, and apparently the Government and the Minister have no desire to> see them get it.
The base pensioner is worse off to-day than he or she has ever been. After the proposed increases have been granted, the pension will represent about 33 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1948 it was 38 per cent. That was at the time when the Labour Government last increased the pension. If it is correct, as asserted by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), that the economy is now stable, why should not the pensioners share in the wealth that they have helped to create? It is true that the Government has, from time to time, increased social service benefits. It is equally true that the Government has used social service legislation as a political football, and has kicked it around to suit itself. The Government’s record with respect to some social services is shocking. Its failure to provide increases this year in the allowances for wives of invalid pensioners is almost criminal. Similar remarks apply with respect to the allowance for the maintenance of an invalid pensioner’s children.
The Government’s record with regard to the payment of unemployment and sickness benefits is deplorable, to say the least of it. I shall deal with this matter more fully later on, if I have the time. Child endowment and funeral benefits have not been increased for many years, and the Government stands condemned on that score. When the: funeral benefit was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943, the cost of burial was only a quarter of what it is to-day. Yet the Government has consistently refused to recognize the need of pensioners with respect to increased funeral benefits.
Child endowment remains at the same rate as when it was introduced. This is. quite wrong, when one considers the increase that has occurred in the cost of living. No government has ever made provision for the wives of age pensioners who are under pensionable age, and when one remembers that the Government, through its Department of Labour and National Service, compels a husband to apply for an age pension on reaching the age of 65, because it will not register him for employment, the Minister and the Government stand condemned for their failure to make adequate allowance for the wives of such pensioners. I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that it is atrocious for a government to allow a law to continue in force which compels a citizen to accept the provisions of the social services legislation, and denies him the right to work or to receive the benefit that unemployed people are entitled to receive.
As the law now stands, Mr. Speaker, a worker who attains the age of 65 years and is dismissed from his employment, cannot receive a pension for his wife if she is under 60 years of age. But if the husband seeks to register for work he is told bluntly that he cannot do so because he is too old. Alternatively, he is told that if he registers for work he cannot receive the unemployment benefit. In the same way, he cannot receive the sickness benefit, because the legislation in that case does not apply to persons over 65 years of age. In these circumstances, naturally, the husband is left with no alternative but to apply for the age pension, which amounts at the present time to £4 7s. 6d. per week, whereas if he had been allowed to register for work and receive the unemployment benefit, he could have received £3 5s. a week for himself and £2 7s. 6d. for his wife, a total weekly payment of £5 12s. 6d.
But this is not the worst feature of the system that results in a worker being thrown on the industrial scrap heap when he attains the age of 65. If he and his wife have more than £400 in the bank, or if the husband receives payment for a maturing insurance policy, or if he is paid by his employer a gratuity in lieu of long service leave, then the pension the husband would ordinarily have drawn is immediately reduced by £2 for every £20 he and his wife possess over £400.
I submit, Mr. Speaker, that this kind of thing is conscription in its worst form. As a mark of appreciation of past loyalty many of our great industries keep in employment certain employees whose ages are between 60 and 65 years. They are usually kept employed on light duties. When finally the worker is told that he must retire, it is often because his health will no longer allow him to keep up with what industry expects of him. Nevertheless, his health is usually not so bad as to entitle him to an invalid pension, because for this purpose he must be considered to be 85 per cent, incapacitated.
Similar circumstances often apply in the case of the wife, who, year in and year out, has faithfully kept house for her husband, although she herself may be suffering from complaints such as arthritis, hypertension, varicocele or heart disease. Usually a doctor cannot certify her as being 85 per cent, incapacitated. I have seen applicants for pensions rejected by government doctors, although within six months they have died. In one instance a mother of eleven children was refused a pension, but six weeks later she was admitted to an asylum, and some months later she died. Time and again the attention of the Minister has been directed to cases in which wives of age pensioners, of ages between 55 and 60 years, have been forced to seek work although they were bodily ill. Otherwise they would have had to starve until attaining pensionable age. The whole system is wrong, Mr. Speaker, and urgent Government action is necessary to cater for these cases. Doctors have written to me time and again complaining that their patients have been refused the pension. I have before me a letter from one such practitioner, which I will read for the benefit of honorable members. It states -
I am again asking your help for one of my patients . . . aged 46 years. The following are several details about the case.
The patient has to care for her husband aged 68 years, who is an O.A.P. (old age pensioner).
She is under treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure) and has been treated for this complaint for over nine years.
She has a girl of thirteen years who is attending Girls’ High.
The family has a weekly income of £4 7s. 6d. and Ss. a week endowment. I asked the patient to apply for an invalid pension on the grounds of her hypertension, but this was refused. Would you be kind enough to give this matter your attention.
I must say that after representations extending over some months the Minister did see his way clear to help this woman. She was nearly 85 per cent, incapacitated, and she was finally paid a pension.
A lady at Attunga in the north of New South Wales, a place not in my electorate, wrote to me through her brother. In this case, the husband had been an invalid for many years and later took his life. The widow herself applied for a pension and some months later received a letter from the Department of Social Services telling her that as her husband was dead she could apply for a pension. She had already applied and although her husband had died in November, 1957, the pension was not paid to this lady until February, 1958. Only recently the Minister gave consideration to the application for the payment of funeral benefit and £10 was paid to this lady. But as to payment of the pension retrospectively to the date when she made her application nothing has been done. For the information of the House I will read what this lady wrote in a letter, dated 22nd June last -
I went up to the Post Office this afternoon to see the postmaster to see if I could get the information you wanted. He didn’t have Jack’s pension number but he was able to tell me when my pension started from. It was February 28th, 1958. I didn’t receive it until early in May in a lump sum but after all that time, Tom, it just had to go for debts. As you know, Jack died on 27th November, 1957. Only for Mary I don’t know what I would have done but she was only earning a junior’s wage and had to pay transport backwards and forwards to work. I sent the first application away early in December, 1957, was waiting a long time for reply, then got a notice to say husband now deceased I could apply for widow’s pension, and sent form to fill in and send to Armidale.
Further on in her letter she says -
Mr. Hill, from the Undertaker’s in town, rang me up a couple of days ago and said he got a reply from the Pension Dept saying that a claim had been put in to the Repatriation for funeral expenses for my husband and asked me if he had ever been in the Army. They said they couldn’t pay it twice, so it looks as if the pension dept is trying to wriggle out of it. They have had a member of Parliament trying to get it too, so I don’t know if ever they will pay it or not.
In this case 1 submit that the department itself could be in error. If it had received no notification of the husband’s death why was payment of the pension stopped after his death? Why did the department write to this woman and tell her she could now apply for a pension? I believe that the Minister could well have said that there was not the slightest doubt that this woman herself believed she had made application for a pension and therefore she should be paid. This matter is still unsettled, lt has gone on for months and months. How much longer it will be before it is finalized, we do not know. The Minister said further consideration was to be given to it.
I suggest that the degree of incapacity should be reduced from 85 per cent, to about 70 or 75 per cent, to enable persons to qualify for the invalid pension. No employer will employ any one who has an incapacity of from 50 per cent, to 85 per cent. I suggest also that the wives of invalid pensioners should be granted a pension equivalent to the invalid pension. In cases where wives are capable of working they should be allowed to do so without being subject to the means test in order to enable the family to meet the heavy cost of living expenses associated with ill health. I feel that the Minister for Social Services is, at times, completely lacking in real sympathy for the base rate pensioner, although he would have us believe otherwise. The Minister administers the Social Services Act in true Public Service spirit. He will not deviate to the right or to the left. In other words, he will not give away anything. He and the Government have used the Social Services Act to strangle the department with red tape, as I will try to show. I have no quarrel with the district registrars or their staffs. I believe that they do an excellent job. But the registrars are literally afraid to proceed beyond the regulations created by this Government. In Newcastle, the regional office serves an area from Woy Woy to Taree on the coast and beyond Muswellbrook in the north. The registrar is treated, literally, like an office boy. He has to refer his recom mendations to Sydney for approval. By that method pension applications take weeks longer to finalize than is necessary.
In cases where pensioners have been inmates of mental institutions, weeks and weeks elapse before pensions are restored to them. That sort of treatment is most depressing for the pensioner, especially in cases in which medical advise is that the patient should not have any mental worry. I want for a few moments to refer to cases of mental patients. It is well known that when pensioners are admitted to mental institutions their pensions cease. I should like the Minister to tell the Parliament and the country why the Government refuses to pay civilian pensions while a person is in a reception house yet it pays repatriation pensions into a trust fund during the period a repatriation pensioner is an inmate of a mental institution. Are not both of these pensions paid by the Commonwealth?
In 1948, the Chifley Government gave this matter special attention and the Mental Institution Benefit Act was brought into operation. This Government has repudiated a promise made by the Chifley Government in respect of the administration of mental institutions. At this moment I am interested in a case of a former friend of mine who passed away, and who was an inmate of a mental institution. His widow is now called upon to pay out of her late husband’s estate over £480 to the New South Wales mental hospital authorities for her late husband’s hospital costs. How many more people are in similar circumstances I do not know.
On 1st December, 1948, when Senator McKenna, who was then Minister for Health and Minister for Social Services, was introducing the Mental Institution Benefits Bill in the Senate, he said -
From time to time, however, representations have been made on behalf of relatives of patients in mental institutions for a benefit scheme which would enable those patients or their relatives to be relieved of the liability for fees for maintenance or treatment.
The Government accepts the view that such a benefit should be provided and has opened negotiations with the States with the object of reaching agreement on terms under which patients in mental institutions could be maintained without charge to their relatives or to their estates. The proposal made to the States was that the Commonwealth would pay to the States the equivalent of the fees received by the States from the estates and relatives of patients in return for the State authorities agreeing to remove all charges in respect of those patients.
Later, he said -
Each agreement will be for five years, and may be terminated thereafter after a specified period of notice of not less than one year by either party.
Following those statements, a number of senators, at the committee stage, including Senator Critchley and Senator Large, asked the then Minister several questions. Senator Critchley asked -
Can the Minister state definitely whether the passage of the measure will relieve the relatives of any further financial commitments to State mental institutions?
Senator Large asked
Can the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) say definitely whether the bill will relieve the wife of a mental patient of the necessity from contributing to the support of her husband? In a great many cases the relatives of those who are mentally afflicted have had to dispose of their homes and other assets in order to maintain their dependants in State institutions.
To those questions, Senator McKenna replied -
As J said previously, this is a benefit for the patients, not for the States. The States will not be in a worse position, nor will they be in a better position. Patients, and their relatives, and the estates of both patients and of relatives, will be completely free of liability for the cost of treatment. lt will be seen that that act was brought down specifically to provide relief for the dependants of persons who died in mental institutions. It was acknowledged that because pensions were not being paid to the inmates, their dependants should not be liable for their upkeep while inmates of the institutions. The act continued in force until 1955, when this Government deliberately allowed the agreement to lapse. In doing so I believe the Government has committed a grave injustice to the dependants in many of those cases. The case which I have just mentioned of a widow being called upon to pay ?480 for her late husband’s keep in a mental institution is entirely wrong. Hospitals cannot accommodate chronic or senile cases, and it is necessary for some old people to be placed in reception homes. In many cases they are not mental, but senile.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) added little to the official case put to this House by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) on behalf of the Labour Opposition, and it may be better if I restrict my comments to that case. None of us would deny that the honorable gentleman from Eden-Monaro is a technical expert on the problems of social services. He knows the act and the techniques, but in recent weeks some one must have been giving him a “ bum steer “ as to the formula he should use to support his case that pensions to-day are lower in purchasing power than they were in 1949.
I accept that the honorable gentleman is a technical expert, and that he speaks with vehemence when he puts his views in this House on the subject of social services. I shall say nothing of the intemperate way in which he has spoken about my colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I shall leave that on one side for the moment, but I do say that although the honorable gentleman may be a technical expert, to-day the recipient of social service benefits is not interested in techniques; he is interested in the value of his pension and in the social service benefits that supplement his basic rate of pension. Unless that lesson is learned, we can become immersed in techniques and forget the people we are trying to help. They are not interested for one moment in techniques. They are not interested in the means; they are interested in the results. And if electoral results means anything, they have shown what they think by consistently returning this Government to office. What are the main purposes of the bill that we are discussing now? There are two purposes. The first, if I can put it in general terms, is to increase the basic rate of pension by 7s. 6d. a week. That is an increase from ?4 7s. 6d. to ?4 15s. a week. Other changes generally follow the pattern that is established by the major change, which is the increase in the pension. The second purpose of the bill relates to aborigines. For the first time, they are given social service benefits. I speak about this subject with some enthusiasm and with some feeling, because when I was Minister for Social Services I tried to have aborigines granted social service benefits. I was advised that it was contrary to the Constitution, and I am glad that my colleague, the present Minister, has been able to find a means by which the Constitution can be, as it were, worked around, and these people at long last can get the benefits that they so richly deserve. I compliment the honorable gentleman on his achievement in having Australian aborigines classified as pensioners for the purpose of the Social Services Act.
Now, may 1 state the four issues that I. think the honorable gentleman from EdenMonaro raised? They are first, the value, or, as he chooses to call it, the purchasing power of the pension; secondly, the charge that it is the calculated policy of this Government to destroy child endowment; thirdly, the application of the means test, particularly the application of the property means test; and fourthly, a challenge that he issued to honorable members on the Government side of the House to state by a vote whether they think the social service payments are adequate. I shall touch each of these issues in turn.
The first issue relates to the value of the pension. I have said that the honorable gentleman from Eden-Monaro is something of a technical expert. In other days, I claimed too that I had a little technical knowledge of this subject, particularly when I was the Minister. However, I found that if you became wrapped up in techniques you could forget the substance; so wrapped up in techniques that you could forget the man. I think that is exactly what the honorable gentleman from EdenMonaro has done; he has forgotten the men and worried about a technical argument which, in the first place, is wrong in terms of fact, and which I hope to prove is wrong in terms of logic. What did he say? He said that the percentage of our national income that we apply to pensions has increased since 1938 only from 2.3 per cent, to 2.6 per cent., but the number of people of pensionable age has increased and the number of pensionable people who apply for pensions has also increased. On this basis he comes to the conclusion that the pensioner is worse off to-day than he was ten years ago.
For the moment, 1 ignore the fact that his figures are wrong. The increase in the amount of national income applied to pensions has increased not from 2.3 per cent, but from 2 per cent, to 2.6 per cent, since 1938, and that is an increase of something like 30 per cent. However, I leave that out of the question for the moment. I leave out of consideration the fact that his figures are wrong and that, therefore, the probability is that he would have come to a wrong conclusion. But let us answer the general question: Has the total provision for the pensioner been reduced since the date chosen by the honorable gentleman, 1938, or since 1948 the date from which I would start? Sir, I think his general argument must be answered. It can be answered shortly in this way: It is totally irrelevant to the problem of whether the pensioner is better off to-day than he was in 1949. In other words, this long, tedious, technical argument that he put before the House has no relevance whatever to the question of whether the pensioner is better off to-day than he was in 1949. I say that for two reasons. First, we are interested in the welfare of the pensioner; we are interested in whether he can purchase more, and whether in terms of food, housing and clothing he gets more to-day than he did in 1949. Of course, the pensioner is better off to-day, and of course those who interpret from the correct figures come to exactly that conclusion.
The argument of the honorable gentleman is a fallacy. It is a fallacy for these reasons: First, the greater the amount of poverty in a country, the more one would expect that country to apply to its social service benefits. Conversely, the wealthier a country is the less of the national income one would expect to be applied to social service benefits. So, there is no relation between the proposition that he puts and the welfare of the pensioner. Secondly, in a country such as ours, a country of increasing industrialization where productivity is rising, we expect an increasing proportion of our national income to go into investment for the future so that the country may grow great. Under these conditions, in terms of percentage, less will be applied to social service benefits. But that does not mean for one moment that the pensioner is worse off; indeed, I think the converse can be proved to be true.
Now, may I turn to the argument that was put by my colleague, the Minister for Social Services? He stated the facts clearly when he said that today the pension has a purchasing power of 15s. 4d. more than it had in 1949. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro in the most intemperate language expressed his doubts regarding the calculation made by my colleague from Riverina. But those estimates are not made by the Minister. They are made by highly technical, qualified officials in the Department of Social Services, and are supported by the official Statistician of the Commonwealth. So you get the picture, first, of an incorrect analogy, or of a fallacy if you care to call it that, supported by figures, used by the honorable member, which were incorrect. On the other hand, you get the statement made by the Minister for Social Services, supported by the department and by the Commonwealth Statistician, that to-day the basic pension has a purchasing power of 15s. 4d. more than the pension had when Labour left office in 1949.
Frankly, I do not like to quote statistics to any great extent, but if the Opposition wants clear proofs of what I say I shall give those proofs. The figures that I am about to give do not come from my head - they are not just a personal computation, but are compiled by highly qualified individuals in Commonwealth departments.
One of those proofs is that in the last ten years the Australian population has increased by 27 per cent. During this period the C series index of prices has increased by 90.8 per cent. Taking the total amount of national welfare payments into account and allowing for those two increases, the increase in social services per head of population has been from £15.03 to £18.20. That is a big and significant increase. It not only proves the case, but it also answers the question posed by the honorable member for EdenMonaro: Is the pensioner to-day better off than he was in 1949? The answer is, undoubtedly, Sir, “Yes, he is much better off than he was at that time.”
I quote only one more set of figures, and that relates to personal income. In 1949-50 the percentage of pension to personal income was 5.4 per cent. In 1958-59, before the present increase becomes effective, it is 7.3 per cent.
Those are the arguments that support the case made by my colleague that the welfare of the pensioner is our first concern, and that to-day the pensioner is significantly better off than he was in 1949. But that does not complete the case, because, since this Government has been in office, not only has it thought in terms of increasing the basic pension but it has also provided’ free medical attention for pensioners. So in addition to their pensions the pensioners have their health looked after. They also have free pharmaceutical benefits. In addition, this Government has provided assistance in the building of homes for elderly people, as a result of which more than 7,000 elderly people have been accommodated. This was done under legislation introduced by the Menzies Government providing for the homes for the aged scheme. So, looking at it in total, taking not only the pension but the welfare of the pensioner also, I am sure that any thinking person in this country will admit that under the Menzies Government the welfare of the pensioner has been one of the first considerations of the Government. The pensioners, I repeat, Sir, are much better off than they were in 1949.
Now, Sir, I move to the second, question raised by the honorable member for EdenMonaro - child endowment. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) had already dealt with this matter in his speech on the Budget. He took a quotation from the Prime Minister’s speech on the Budget, in which the Prime Minister related the new concept of the basic wage declared by the Arbitration Commission to the amount paid in child endowment. The Prime Minister said that undoubtedly if child endowment were increased and the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission retained its present method of computing the basic wage - which is on the maximum that industry can afford to pay - then, of course, some consideration would have to be given by the Commission to the amount paid by the Government in child endowment. This statement was distorted by the honorable gentleman from Melbourne to mean that this Government was not committed to child endowment - a totally false conclusion and one that 1 personally think was unworthy of the honorable gentleman from Melbourne. Carrying the argument one stage further, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro said -
If there is one charge that the Government can in no way evade it is that it has deliberately set out to destroy the system of child endowment in Australia.
He went on to challenge honorable members on the Government side to state where they stood in respect of child endowment. Now, what a barren argument to put in this House - that there has been a deliberate intention on the part of the Government to destroy child endowment. It was this Government, or at least a Liberal government, which introduced child endowment in the Feleral Parliament. I do not claim for one moment that we were the first to think of child endowment. It was thought of first by the Labour government in the State of New South Wales. But I do claim that we brought child endowment into the Federal Parliament. Later, the Menzies Government in 1950 extended child endowment to the first child. What arrant nonsense it is, therefore, to claim that we have deliberately set out to destroy child endowment, to take the benefit of child endowment from the mothers of Australia.
Sir, in order to meet the challenge put by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro that Government supporters state where they stand on child endowment, may I quote from the official policy of the Liberal Party, which includes -
Generous provision for family endowment. All children to be provided for.
So not only is it the official policy of this Government to provide for child endowment, but it is also its policy to provide it for all children. It was during the period of office of a Liberal or Menzies Government that both of these benefits were given to the mothers of Australia - first, child endowment for the second and subsequent children and later child endowment for the first child.
What is our position regarding an increase in child endowment? It is not that we have set our face against it. The fact is that if child endowment were doubled, as suggested by the Opposition, the increased cost would be something of the order of £65,000,000. When you are con templating changes in child endowment you are involved in changes of a substantial kind. We have always to weigh how we can satisfy the most needy in the community before we make provision for other sections. So we look at the matter from a double aspect - first, from the point of view of who are the most needy and, secondly, from the point of view of the large amount of money involved in increasing child endowment.
I turn now to something conveniently ignored by the Opposition. I might mention now that the honorable member tor Eden-Monaro has not bothered to state what the alternative policy of the Labour Party might be. He said, in effect, “ We do not intend to tell you specifically what we propose. What we do is to put to you a challenge that you tell us whether you think that pensions and child endowment are adequate.” But he did make one or two slips. He did say that he thought that the basic increase of pensions should be 15s. and not 7s. 6d. and, secondly, that he thought child endowment should be doubled. Now, what would be the cost of the changes suggested in those two slips of the tongue - slips made not by the Leader of the Opposition or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but by the honorable gentleman from Eden-Monaro who, I imagine, has no authority to speak on behalf of the Labour Opposition? The cost of those two changes would be £78,000,000.
Now I want to put this argument to the House, and I hope that it will be understood also by the people outside who are listening. During the course of the Cabinet discussions on the Budget, it became fairly obvious that the economy of the country was very delicately poised. A critical question was whether the economy was moving to a position where demand would exceed supply - in other words, whether we were moving towards a state of inflation. We had to ensure that we did not put the balance down very heavily on the side of inflation for the sufficient reason that the first people to suffer from inflationary forces are the pensioners themselves.
What was the decision that we had to make? We had these facts in front of us: While the work force would increase this year by about 80,000 people, while there is some surplus capacity in industry, and while imports would increase by about £50,000,000, all of which would add to the supply of goods available in this country, on the other hand we would have a substantial increase in farm income, a budget deficiency of £60,000,000 and we would most certainly find that there would be a total wage increase of at least £50,000,000 this year. When these forces on the demand side were added up and stacked against the available supply they indicated that this year we faced an excessive demand, particularly for labour. Therefore, the danger from inflationary forces was becoming significant. This would be happening at a time when inflation had practically ceased in our major competitor countries in other parts of the world. We had to be particularly cautious and to make certain that we did not give a boost to inflationary influences which already existed and which could change from the potential into the actual this year. We had that big problem in front of us. An increase of expenditure of the order of £78,000,000 was clearly out of the question. I believe that, if additional expenditure of this order had been approved the people who would have suffered most, those people who would have had to carry the greatest burden, would have been the pensioners. Each one of their pounds would have suffered a loss in purchasing power and they would have had to wait for at least nine months, or perhaps a year, before that purchasing power was restored.
Opposition members have not mentioned the specific amount of increase that they would recommend. They have not mentioned how they would finance the increased amount, knowing that we have a budget deficiency this year of £60,000,000. They have not mentioned, if we were to increase the benefits for one section of the community, from which other section of the community they would obtain the necessary funds. Would it be the taxpayer generally? Or would some other section of the community have to pay the piper?
Mr. Speaker, may I come to the last matter with which I want to deal to-night? I refer to the challenge by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro that we on this side of the House should state exactly were we stand in relation to social services, and in particular that we should tell the Australian public whether we think that social service pensions are adequate. He said that one of the pledges that the Government has dishonoured was its pre-1949 election pledge that all social service benefits would retain their value. I do not want to argue about this, but the Prime Minister’s (Mr. Menzies) pledge was to look at the problem of contributory national insurance schemes and, in the meantime, to ensure that existing rates of pensions were maintained.
We are invited to tell the Australian people whether we think that the pension is adequate. My immediate answer is that I do not think that that it is really the question that we have to answer. The questions that we have to answer are, “ Do we think that we have reasonably dealt with the pensioner? Have we provided for their basic needs? Have we provided for their housing? Have we provided the medical benefits a responsible and reasonable government should provide? “ In short - have we made those provisions? Leaving aside the techniques, I believe that the answer to these questions is undoubtedly, “ Yes “.
In a case like this, do not let me speak for the Government. In a House such as this it is difficult to get an opinion that is genuinely objective. We all take sides. So, let us, instead, seek the opinion of an objective observer, a person who has spent many years in considering the problems of pensioners, in making a positive contribution to a solution of the problem, devising a better means of financing pensions, and in suggesting novel methods by which the needs of pensioners can be met. Instead of arg ing about the matter here, let me quote from Professor Downing who recently published a pamphlet called “ National Superannuation: Means Test or Contributions? “ I do not want to quote him out of context. Every one interested in the problem of social services should read his pamphlet because it does make a notable contribution to the solution of the problem of social services in this country. After mentioning that he would like some changes to be made, particularly in the property means test, and after saying that he would like an index of average earnings to be devised and applied to changes in the basic rate of pension, he said -
These improvements are important and have to be fought for. If we could get them we would not need to feel our basic provision for the aged was mean.
Here is a clear statement by an independent and objective observer that after the most careful analysis he considers that if we could get these minor changes, we would not need to feel that our basic provision for the aged was mean.
The fourth question raised by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro relates to the means test. What did Professor Downing say about the means test? He said -
Poverty and improvidence may inhibit our savings, but I do not believe they are inhibited by the means test which leaves such great scope for savings.
In other words, with respect to at least two of the issues raised by the Opposition, an objective and judicially minded observer of great technical capacity has complimented this Government on what it has done.
Mr. Speaker, may I make a somewhat more detailed analysis of this case? The Minister for Social Services made one statement which should have been made before, when he drew attention to the fact that ever since pensions were first introduced into this Parliament in 1909 there has been a consistent policy concerning the pension and the means test. There have been during the last ten years some notable achievements and fundamental changes in the kind of social service benefits. But the spectacular fact is that not one worthy suggestion has been made by the Opposition in the ten years that I have been in this House. Sir, not one suggestion has come out of the mouths of members of the Opposition.
Let us look at some of the radical changes that have been made while the Menzies Government has been in office. Rehabilitation has become a great national asset. Special provision has been made for needy people particularly those paying rent. Medical and pharmaceutical benefits have been provided for elderly people. Homes have been built for the aged. Sir, when you look at the radical changes that have been made in social service benefits and payments during the last ten years, you are driven to the contusion mat, far from the pension having less purchasing power than in 1949, the pensioner is better off, both with regard to his pension and with regard to his general material welfare than he has ever been before. Sir, I commend the bill to the House.
.- I have listened with a good deal of interest to what the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) has had to say about this measure. I have listened also to his criticism of the speech made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). I disagree with many of the views that have been expressed by the Minister in regard to the purchasing power of the pension as it stands to-day. I express my very great regret that the opportunity was not taken by the Government at this stage to make a general review of social services and to correct many of the anomalies that now exist in our social service legislation.
It is wrong to attempt to assess the purchasing power of the pension by taking the year 1949 as a commencing point. If one attempts to assess the increase in purchasing power that has been secured as a result of an increase in pensions, one must measure such increase from the date on which the pension rate came into operation. As the pension that was operating in 1949 was actually fixed in 1948, we must take the commencing date of the pension as the date of measurement of any increase or decrease in purchasing power if we are to be fair and honest. Otherwise, we should not be playing the game fairly either with ourselves or with any one else.
The Government has failed to approach the whole question of social services from the correct stand-point. In 1944, an International Labour Organization convention was held in Philadelphia, the main object of which was to determine the conditions under which the great masses of the people living in the various democratic countries were to be treated after the war. One of the most important principles that was laid down at that convention - a principle that must never be forgotten by this Parliament when dealing with the question of social services - was the principle that it is the bounden duty of every nation to ensure that those who, through no fault of their own, are without income shall be provided with an income from the resources of the community. For that purpose the recommendation was made by the 40 nations which were represented at that convention by employers, employees and governments that, following the conclusion of the war, it was desirable m the interests of the community, and those who had promised a better world for the masses of the people, that social service legislation of a very wide character should be implemented to include all the principles that are contained in our present legislation.
The Australian Labour Party believes that the whole ‘question of social services should rest and be implemented on the principle that those who through invalidity, unemployment, old age or any other cause are unable to earn an income of their own, shall ‘be provided with a minimum income which shall be increased in accordance with the prosperity of the community. It is not a question of saying that the purchasing power of the pension shall remain static. For a government to say that in 1948 or 1949 when the cost of living was so much the purchasing power of the pension was so and so, and that that ratio has been retained in the year 1959, is getting away from the. real principle on which social services should stand. As the nation prospers, so should every section of the community prosper. Whatever prosperity the country is enjoying should be enjoyed also by those who are aged, those ‘who are invalids and those who aTe unemployed. They are entitled to receive their share of the nation’s prosperity.
I believe, and on more than one occasion I have stated in .this House, that since this Government has been in power .social services have not been calculated on the increased prosperity of the community. Rather have they been looked at from the niggardly stand-point of the .cost of living. We have .heard at great length for many years of the wonderful prosperity that Australia has achieved under the administration of the Menzies Government. We have been told that this Government has been responsible for the development of the country, for the investment of ‘foreign capital in Australia and for quite a ;number of other things. Nobody can deny that the productivity of Australia to-day has increased enormously in every direction as compared with 1948 and 1949, as a result of which we have a higher national income, and a greater capacity to increase the standards of living of our people, including those who are receiving social service benefits. Has the Government taken the opportunity to increase pensions? Between 1948 and 1959, the pension has increased from £2 2s. 6d. a week, at a time when the purchasing power of money was high, to £4 7s. 6d. a week, at a time when the purchasing power of money is low. When dealing with this particular problem we must bear in mind constantly that from 19.50 to 19.59 Australia has been hit very hard by a continuously rising spiral of inflation, which has cut down to a remarkable degree the income of those in the lower strata of society.
The government of the day has the task of ensuring that those who, through no fault df their own, have no income are not sacrificed as a result of the conditions that have developed during the past ten years, because in this country we have allowed inflation to run wild. As has been said on more than one occasion, a comparison of the inflationary conditions in Australia with those in other countries, reveals that in only a few South American republics where conditions are vastly different from conditions in Australia, have prices during the past ten years increased to a greater degree than they have in Australia.
Those are the matters that we must keep in mind. As a consequence of the changed conditions to which I have referred we must see that the living standards of those who cannot help themselves are .made a little better than they otherwise would be. Does this legislation now before us cover the whole field of social services? It does not! It is true that it deals with pensions - widows, age and invalid - and with certain repatriation benefits, but it leaves completely untouched the very important matter of child endowment and, as the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) has pointed out, the funeral allowance which has remained unchanged since it was fixed in 1945 or 1946. The Government has failed to adopt a bold policy. It has not said: “ This country has developed, and conditions are much more prosperous now than they were before the war. We have the opportunity now to show to what extent, out of the resources of the Commonwealth, we can improve the conditions of those who are dependant upon social services.” Instead of adopting that bold attitude, the Government has granted the minimum increase possible, which will do nothing to relieve the very difficult position in which many pensioners find themselves.
It is all very well to say that with the means test and income test as they now stand a pensioner husband may work and earn a certain amount, but only a few of those who receive a pension are in the fortunate position of being able to secure employment. Single persons, persons in the main who live on their own, form the overwhelming majority of pensioners. Their only income is £4 7s. 6d. a week. If they are able to qualify for the supplementary allowance of 10s. by reason of the fact that they pay rent, they are required to live and meet to-day’s rising costs for food, clothing and other things on £4 17s. 6d. a week. I defy anybody to say that a pensioner receiving £4 17s. 6d. a week is able to enjoy the standards that we in Australia regard as proper. I feel sure that most people will agree with me that a pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week or £4 17s. 6d. a week does not enable a person to live in any degree of comfort.
Social service legislation is not merely a matter of looking after the human rights of people who are entitled, -by reason of their citizenship, to receive some assistance. Our social service legislation has two aspects. In the first place it is legislation of a humanitarian kind - legislation that will provide for those who are indigent and not in a position to look after their own interests. Secondly, social service legislation has an economic effect in the community because social services offer means whereby a redistribution of the national income may be effected in order to spread purchasing power over the widest possible field. On more than one occasion in the last three or four years this House has discussed the problem of increasing unemployment. The number of people who are unemployed has risen sharply in recent times and in my opinion some of that rise is due to the fact that we, when passing legislation of this character, fail to realize the importance of a proper distribution of the national income.
Take child endowment for instance. In 1950, this House fixed child endowment at 5s. for the first child and 10s. for each additional child. Since 1950, the cost of living has almost doubled but the rate of child endowment has remained the same. A couple with several children must find it very hard to attain a decent standard of living to-day, taking into account the present level of wages and prices. The fact that families cannot purchase all the things they would like to purchase must have an important bearing on the employment position. The fact that pensioners cannot purchase the things they want in order to make life comfortable must have a similar effect. Families on the lower incomes are compelled to spend their earnings as they come in in order to buy the bare necessities of life. If their purchasing power could be increased their position would be improved and at the same time there would be a greater demand for the products of industry. This in turn would increase productivity and the prosperity of Australian industries. Resulting from that improvement in prosperity, the Government would obtain increased revenue from sales tax and other avenues which would help it to pay the very desirable increases in social services.
The amendment that has been proposed by the honorable member for EdenMonaro - that the bill should be re-drafted in order to provide pensions more in keeping with present-day conditions - should be adopted by this House. If it is, it will enable the measure to be reviewed. It will enable higher pensions to be paid. It will enable a consideration of increased child endowment. If social service benefits are improved, the economy will benefit. This bold policy should be pursued not only for humanitarian reasons but also for economic reasons. We must first of all consider an improvement in the pension rate itself. An increase of 7s. 6d. a week is not sufficient in existing circumstances. We must consider what should be done about child endowment, funeral benefit, unemployment benefit and sickness benefit. Those benefits are not affected by this legislation, but they are of tremendous importance to the Australian public.
Unemployment and sickness benefits were last increased some three years ago. Since that time they have remained stationary; whereas the cost of living has increased steadily. Since that time the unemployment position has deteriorated, yet the benefit has remained unaltered. I think there is a good case for a general review of social services to bring them up to date and into line with what is required for proper development of this community. No system of legislation gives greater emphasis to the Christian spirit and the belief that we have some responsibility to our neighbours than does social service legislation which is based on the theory that those who are not able to help themselves are entitled to receive assistance from those who are in a better position. Therefore, as we all find ourselves in a better position because of changing conditions of society, it is our duty to see that those who are not able to look after themselves as well as they might shall receive the benefit of our improved position. It is bad from the stand-point of the community to allow pockets of poverty to develop. But they do develop if the income that is received by way of social service benefits is insufficient to enable the recipient to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. To the extent that our social service payments fall short of what is required to ensure the improved social condition that is now possible, pockets of poverty can and will develop.
A classical illustration of this kind of development, of course, is to be seen in the fact that during the last few years the number of persons unemployed has steadily increased, just as the number of persons receiving the unemployment benefit has steadily increased. The last figures that I saw showed that between 50,000 and 60,000 persons are registered for employment, and that between 20,000 and 30,000 are receiving the unemployment benefit. The fact that so many persons are out of work and that the unemployment benefit they receive is so poor is in itself a cause of the growth of pockets of poverty, which, of course, is inimical to the interests of the Australian community.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). I believe that it constitutes the answer to the problems facing us in connexion with social services. It will also give the Government an opportunity to reconsider the whole position in the light of the views expressed by the Opposition on a very difficult and complex question.
Finally, let me say that we cannot escape our obligations in this matter. We cannot say, as was once said, according to the scriptures, “ Am I my brother’s keeper? “ In this community, as in any community that considers itself civilized, we are our brothers’ keepers. It is our task to see that those who have no income, through no fault of their own, shall receive an income from those more prosperously situated. Until that policy is carried out effectively by the Government of the day, the social service legislation that it introduces will be subject to the criticism of the Opposition. We will keep on criticizing until our social service legislation is made to fit the spirit of the time, is made more Christian, so that it will provide a better standard of living than it does at the present time.
.- One would think, to listen to honorable members of the Opposition, that members of the Government parties were hoary monsters, and that the members of the Opposition were suffused with sweetness and light. I am surprised that such an attitude should be adopted by honorable members opposite in dealing with a matter as serious as social services. I think all honorable members must readily agree that it is a subject that presents very great difficulties, while, at the same time, appealing to all our feelings of mercy. We all want to do the best we possibly can for those in need, for those who are ill and in want, for those who, through no fault of their own, are not well blessed with this world’s goods. But in this debate members of the Opposition have tried to give the impression that we on the Government side are not interested in these finer things. I propose, Mr. Deputy Speaker, very shortly to demonstrate that we are just as cognizant of these problems as are honorable members of the Opposition.
First of all I want to refer to some remarks made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). It was rather unusual to hear an honorable member who is normally of such moderation enunciate propositions which cannot be regarded as valid. The first proposition was that we should have a scheme in which pension rates were adequate to present living costs and represented a fair and reasonable share of the national income.
– What is wrong with that?
– Both, parts of the proposed amendment are, to begin with, too vague. The honorable member for Grayndler says, “What is wrong with that? “
– I did not say a word.
– I suggest to the honorable member for Grayndler that when he proposed to his wife he did not ask her whether she was adequate to present living costs. I suggest that what he said was, “ I love you. Will you marry me? “ If he did not say it in words he said it in actions, and actions speak louder than words.
Instead of putting forward a concrete proposition, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro gave us a vague proposal. He spoke of rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs. He did not say, “ The rates should be £5 10s. or £6 10s.”; he said “ Let us have rates adequate to present living costs, and let them represent a fair and reasonable share of the national income “. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) dealt adequately with the question of how you would arrive at a fair share of the national income. As he pointed out, the amendment of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro would mean that if the national income went up pensions would go up, and if the national income went down we would immediately reduce pensions. We know what the honorable member for Eden-Monaro would say if we on this side of the House tried to fix pensions on this basis. They would be going up and down, year by year, like a yo-yo. The fact is that the amendment suggested by the Opposition is vague and is based on false premises.
But the honorable member for EdenMonaro went a little further, and here again it was rather surprising to listen to his proposition. The honorable member said in this House on 17th September -
Opinions may differ as to what the exact rate of pensions should be, but on this occasion honorable members opposite will not be able to get out of it that way. They will have to vote on an amendment that brands the present pension and other social service payments as inadequate. How will they vote? It will be very interesting to see, after they have accepted the publicity that brands them as lions ready to challenge the Minister.
Let us examine that proposition. First of all, it assumed that the members of the social services committee to which he was referring had accepted the publicity. The honorable member said that the social services committee had not denied the publicity, that therefore the committee accepted it, and that therefore what had been published was correct. May I suggest to the honorable member that silence does not in all cases mean consent? In the first place, as the honorable member knows, meetings of such committees are held in camera. If the members of the committee were to deny everything published with which they disagreed, it would be very simple indeed to find out what was right and what was wrong because if one quarter of what was published was not denied and three-quarters of what was published was denied they would be telling the public that one-quarter of the report was right and three-quarters was wrong. Let us take it further than that. When the honorable member speaks of publicity, does he mean what is publicized in the press, over the radio or on television or by any other medium? If he does mean that, then in order to put everything right, the Government’s social services committee would have to deny everything that was wrong. This would mean that it would have to set up listening posts, reading posts and video posts because every newspaper in Australia that published a report about the committee would have to be read, every radio station that published anything about the committee would have to be listened to and every television session that published anything about it would have to be seen.
The honorable member might think that that is ridiculous on the assumption that we need consider only the leading newspapers. I then pose another question to him: Which are the leading newspapers? To some people in my constituency, the local paper is the most important. To the honorable member for EdenMonaro it is possible that the “ SnakeGully Advertiser “ may be the most important. But the point I make is that it is manifestly impossible for members of any social services committee with limited means and limited time to monitor all newspapers, radio stations and television sessions in Australia. Yet, unless they do so and make their denial, the honorable member seriously tells us that their silence gives consent. How ridiculous that is. As the honorable member for Grayndler said, it would be necessary to win the Golden Casket to pay the costs of such supervision for twelve months. It is sufficient to leave the matter there and say that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, on this occasion, in his anxiety to please failed to please any one.
There are many things we would like to do in regard to social services and other matters in this nation. Some of us might like to introduce a law to prevent unworthy persons from sitting in this House, but the question would arise as to who should decide who was unworthy. I certainly say that at least one honorable member would not qualify for a place if it came to a question of quality. We should all like to do more with regard to social services. I give way to no honorable member in this House in my advocacy on behalf of people in need. The question then arises as to what we can do to meet this desire for additional social service benefits. I have made a rough list of the desirable things which have been stressed by members of the Opposition both on the election platform and in this House. It is impossible to consider social services alone, because they must be fitted into government expenditure as a whole. It is necessary for the Government to look at what it will spend or save in its Budget. To present the question of social services in its proper perspective, I shall cite figures to show what it would cost to meet the desires of the Opposition.
My moderate estimate of what it would cost to raise age pensions to half the basic wage, in addition to the recent rise, is £70,00,000, or over £80,000,000 altogether. The cost of extra allowances for spouses under pension age would be, say, £20,000,000. The removal of the pay-roll tax, advocated by honorable members opposite, would cost £50,000,000, and the removal in part of the sales tax another £50,000,000. Extra unemployment benefits would involve £20,000,000, extra child endowment £50,000,000, extra repatriation benefits £10,000,000, extra education expenses £20,000,000 and subsidies for primary production another £20,000,000. The total, as the honorable member for Grayndler will see by checking my figures, would be £310,000,000.
The first question I ask honorable members opposite is this: If they do not support the provision of these extra benefits after having spoken in favour of them, will they indicate which one of them they wish to delete? If they do not wish to delete any of these items, costing, as I have estimated, a total of £310,000,000, the next question is how they would find that extra £310,000,000 per annum. According to their speeches they would do it in one of two ways,, by punitive taxation or by the old method of printing more notes - by inflation. There are no other ways. The only courses open are to increase taxation or to increase inflation by manipulating the currency.
– What about increased production?
– Increased production would certainly give us greater wealth but in this particular year, in order to find the £310,000,000 extra which would be necessary to provide for these items, further taxation would have to be imposed or our currency would have to be inflated. Honorable members opposite should not think that the only man they would soak by way of extra income tax to raise that sum would be the rich man. The wageearner, who pays income tax also, would be hit; otherwise it would not be possible to raise this sum. I am sure that honorable members opposite would not be ready to impose additional tax on the wage-earner receiving £15, £18 or £20 a week. The only alternative would be to inflate the currency.
What would be the result of doing that? The value of the £1 would fall to 15s., or 10s. What then would be the use of receiving more money? It is useless for members of the Opposition to try to laugh away that proposition. Those are the only ways in which this extra revenue could be raised to help the poor downtrodden people for whom they profess to be so concerned. I am sure that the honorable member for Grayndler, who is interjecting, is dissatisfied because he thinks my figures are far too low. He would like to raise an extra £400,000,000 or £500,000,000 a year. In addition to this sum there would have to be £137,000,000 extra for repatriation. This would be on top of the £400,000,000 which the honorable member for Grayndler would try to raise.
There is one further aspect. There is no need for me to remind honorable members of it because they know it well enough. The printing of further bank notes or the issue of treasury-bills is bad enough, but when they reach the community, even the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) will spurn them and throw them away. To issue £310,000,000 in one year, or £400,000,000 if the honorable member for Grayndler had his way, would result in galloping inflation. In case the honorable member for Grayndler has found it difficult to understand what I have been saying, I will make it very clear. This Parliament dot’s not exist for the purpose of running our country into bankruptcy or downhill by unlimited inflation, following Dr. Schacht’s method. This Parliament exists for the serious purpose of governing the country in the best possible way. We will not do so if we run it into bankruptcy, or what amounts to bankruptcy, by inflation, and we will not do it if we tax every one so heavily that even the honorable member for Grayndler will not want to live in Australia any more.
Having put the whole question Into proper perspective, let me say this: If we had the money and if we could afford it, there are plenty of ways in which we would improve social services. I, for one, would like to see a further close examination made of the plan mentioned by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes). His plan was that, having allowed a property limit of £200 as at present, the deduction from the pension should then proceed at the rate of £1 for every £20. To make the matter clear for the honorable member for Grayndler, I give this example: If the amount of a pensioner’s assets, apart from his house, its contents and his car, came to £1,200, £1,000 would be taken into account at the rate of £1 for every £20. So, the pension that he would otherwise receive would be reduced by £50 a year, because he had £1,200 in addition to his house, its contents and his motor car. At present the rate is £1 for every £10. As the honorable member for Maribyrnong said, adoption of his plan would cost an additional £2,500,000. I can see the honorable member for Grayndler looking at me in disgust; he is probably thinking that I am speaking of a minor figure, but to me it is a substantial amount. This plan is worthy of further consideration, even though it would cost an extra £2,500,000.
There are two reasons why I believe that it is worthy of consideration. The first is that those who have already saved a considerable sum of money will not be penalized. If they receive 5 per cent, on their savings and some part of the pension, they will get approximately the same amount as they would if they had no assets at all. Therefore, they will not be prejudiced by having saved. But there is a further aspect. The other and more important reason is that if people know that they can save all this money without being penalized, they will be induced to save. One of the most important factors from the national viewpoint to-day is that we should have the greatest amount of savings possible. The more savings we have, the better it is for our country, and this is one excellent way of encouraging people to save. They would know that they would not be penalized by saving.
One other suggestion that I consider worthy of consideration is that larger payments should be made to the single pensioner and to the pensioner husband who is the only member of the family receiving a pension. Before such a scheme could be implemented, it would need very careful analysis, because it would involve many complex considerations. I confess candidly that I am not, therefore, in a position to advocate such a scheme now; it should first be investigated very closely. Many other suggestions also could be investigated. I wonder whether honorable members opposite labour under the impression that the Minister for Social Services is not alive to his responsibilities. Do they think that he has not considered all these matters? Do they think that he has not considered whether it would be possible to introduce national superannuation? I feel sure that he has given full consideration to these matters in the light of the information that is before him. However, I suggest that the questions that I have raised are worthy of further attention in the future. I have no doubt that when they are carefully examined, those who need added assistance will benefit as time goes on.
Let me point out finally to the honorable member for Grayndler and to other honorable members that the Minister and the Government have continuously been alive to the necessity for improving not only the rates of pensions but also the range of pensions. From time to time, they have increased the rates and extended the categories of pensions, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so.
.- 1 thought for a moment that I would be able to congratulate the honorable member tor Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt) upon being able to silence the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) by making a comment to which he could not reply. He appeared to touch the honorable member on a very tender spot. I must confess that I felt that, instead of the honorable member for Grayndler proposing, he possibly was proposed to. That may have induced his inability to reply to the member for Wide Bay. However, the honorable member later got his tongue back and was able to take care of the honorable member for Wide Bay adequately.
After listening to the honorable member for Wide Bay, I can now fully understand what happened at Lismore a fortnight ago, because if ever any one made a doleful speech which lacked imagination, it was the honorable member for Wide Bay. He has adopted Goebel’s tactic of telling a lie by suggesting that some one had said this or that, and then proceeding to attack the statement falsely alleged to have been made. That has been, the whole basis of the speech of the honorable member for Wide Bay. He alleged that the Australian Labour Party wanted various things done. It is comical to listen to honorable members on the Government side talking about inflation. In 1949, the last budget of the Labour Government totalled £500,000,000; to-day. this Government, which came into office on a promise to put value back into the £1 and to stop inflation, has a Budget which totals £1,385,000,000.
– Increased population.
– Increased population my eye! The population has increased in that period from about 7,000,000 to 10,000,000; yet the Budget has gone up from £500,000,000 to £1,300,000,000. The real facts are disclosed in the Budget speech itself, where honorable members opposite can study them if they choose. The people to blame for inflation and the loss of the purchasing power of the £1 are the people who sit on the opposite side of the House - namely, the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party supporters.
I think that this House should congratulate the honorable member for EdenMonaro, first, on his amendment, and secondly, on the facts contained in his speech. He certainly placed before the House clearly, concisely and definitely the reasons why the social services legislation as a whole should be reviewed and why this bill should be withdrawn and redrafted, so that the people of this community may enjoy the results of the increased productivity of which the Treasurer was so proud when he brought the Budget down. I should like to give the House a brief quotation from the Treasurer’s Budget speech. He said -
Industrial progress was remarkable. To give only a few indicators - steel output increased by 171 per cent., cement by 143 per cent., and electricity by 133 per cent. Where, ten years ago, we refined only a small fraction of our petrol in Australia, we now refine more than 90 per cent. Rural industry has shown striking gains. In particular, the average wool clip has increased by 50 per cent, and average annual meat production by 44 per cent. In mining, there has been progress on much the same scale. These facts, however, are no more than pointers to the immense expansion and diversification of industry which has taken place and to the gains in efficiency which have been made.
Can this broad achievement be equalled or surpassed in the current decade? In some respects, conditions are more favorable than ten years ago. There are not now the crippling shortages of materials, equipment, fuel and power which then hampered progress.
He could have gone further and mentioned that those shortages of ten years ago were the aftermath of the war effort. He continued -
Because of the special character of migration and natural increase, our labour forces will be growing relatively to our population and it will be a better-balanced and more versatile labour force. This should help towards higher productivity - as also should the better equipment of industry and the new techniques now at hand. We seem also to have found in recent years a remarkable basis of stability - economic, political, social and industrial. These factors should all help us to achieve a rising national product and that in turn should make it easier for us to maintain and improve living standards, at the same time providing the additional capital faculties which expansion requires.
– Are you reading?
– I do not need to read my speeches although many Government members usually read theirs. The honorable member for Mallee does not like the facts to be tossed up to him. He likes to try to divert other members from giving the true story. Towards the end of the Budget speech the Treasurer said -
Over the last ten years, our national motto, “ Advance Australia “, has proved a stirring reality.
A stirring reality for every one bar those people who are entitled to social service payments! I shall proceed to give to the House facts and figures which cannot be denied. The progress and realities of which honorable members opposite boast have all been one way - namely in the direction of the big companies like General MotorsHolden’s, whose last profit was of 875 per cent, on capital, and the various hirepurchase companies like Customs Credit Corporation, Cambridge Credit and all the rest of them, which have made astronomical increases of profits over the years. We have the situation in which the Commonwealth Bank’s activities have been severely curtailed, as shown in the most recent annual report, in that the bank has not been permitted to go into the field of hire purchase and provide additional money in order to force down the profits of the private companies. That is the policy of this Government - it is a high interest and a low social service payments government.
Any fair-minded person who is prepared to examine the facts must come to the same conclusion as I have come to, which is that this is a government which gives more to those who have and takes away from those who have not. That is clearly shown in the Budget. For instance, the 5 per cent, reduction in income tax will mean more money for the people who already have plenty of money. The 57 fortunate people with incomes of over £50,000 annually will have another £2,093 a year as a result of this tax reduction; but the mass of the people who earn less than £1,000 a year will benefit by amounts ranging from only 16s. to £5 a year. That is what this Government believes in.
Let us see what the present Prime Minister said in the policy speech that he made as Leader of the Opposition, when he was seeking office in 1949. I feel that this Government must at all times be stood up to the promise that its leader made then to put value back into the £1 and to increase social service payments. Dealing with social services, the right honorable gentleman said in his 1949 policy speech -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right and so get completely rid of the means test.
What have they done about getting rid of the means test? I have here some facts and figures which will show that the means test is actually more harsh than it was when the present Prime Minister made his policy speech in 1949. Later in the same speech the right honorable gentleman said -
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval. Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
That was the old cry about putting value back into the £1. He continued -
We are deeply conscious of the frequently unjust operation of the means test, and of the penalty it imposes, in many cases, upon thrift. There are also grave anomalies associated with the position of persons who have contributed for their own superannuation benefits.
That is the expressed policy by which this Government persuaded the people to give it office. By making similar promises it has managed to retain office. By subterfuges like the Petrov show and the Democratic Labour Party set-up it has been able to fool the people into feeling that the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party are the right parties to govern this country.
The last speaker asked where the money to increase social services as we want them increased is to come from. He also asked where the astronomical amount of money required would go. What does he think the pensioners would do with the increased money that they received? Load it on the first available ship and export it to SouthEast Asia, Europe or America? The only people in this country who export money belong to the capitalist class which is represented by the Government in this Parliament. The pensioners would use any increased money they received to buy the very necessities of life, and the general economy of this country would thereby be boosted.
– That is what the Retail Traders’ Association says.
– Exactly. Nobody would accuse the Retail Traders’ Association of being a Labour organization, yet it advocated an increase of £1 a week in pensions, but the Government did not see fit to give that increase. It made the excuse that the community cannot afford the cost. Are we stagnating? In his Budget speech, the Treasurer indicated that steel production and coal production had increased. The Government boasts of various things for which it claims that it is responsible. Yet it is not prepared to force the people who are drawing the profits from the community to disgorge some of those profits so that the people who are in need of assistance through social service payments shall receive a little more. To-day, the various people in receipt of social service payments are getting less in terms of purchasing power, while these other people in the higher income groups are able to increase their profits.
In the last ten years better provision has been made for long-service leave, annual leave, and sick leave. These improvements indicate an increase in production. Automation and mechanization have become important factors. Time and time again, honorable members on this side of the House have drawn the attention of Parliament to the increase in coal production and the effects of mechanization on the number of people employed in the coal industry. Do these facts not illustrate the ability of industry to pay greater taxation which would enable an increase in social service benefits? Government supporters raise the cries, “ Advance Australia “ and “ Australia unlimited “. I say that in Australia there is unlimited exploitation of the community by overseas capitalist interests.
A great deal has been said about a national insurance scheme. In the Labour Party, we, too, believe in a national insurance scheme; but we believe in a scheme based on the principle of people making a contribution in conformity with their means. We believe that the principle to be observed should be, “ From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need “. We do not believe in a national insurance scheme on the basis laid down by the Government. The Government’s viewpoint is indicated by the fact that its recent taxation reduction of 5 per cent, resulted in the big fellow getting a great hand out while the little fellow got only a few pence a week. The Government applies the same principle to hospitalization and to medical and pharmaceutical benefits, as can be seen from its Budget proposal that 5s. should be charged for all prescriptions under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The Government’s idea of a superannuation fund is a fund to which everybody would contribute an equal amount. The fellow on £10,000 a year would contribute 10s. or 15s. a week, and the fellow on the basic wage would contribute the same amount for the honour and privilege of joining the scheme.
The Labour Party favours a national superannuation scheme based, as I have said, on the principle of “ From each according to his ability and to each according to his need “. Until the Government introduces a national insurance scheme on that basis, hardship will be felt by people in the community who are in the unfortunate position of having to go into hospital. To-day many people cannot afford to be sick. They cannot afford to go to a doctor. They cannot afford the hospitalization that they need. The Government has been in office for ten years during which time it has talked about a national insurance scheme but has not done one thing to bring it about.
I propose, briefly, to prove to this House that the Government does not believe in establishing a general standard of social services which would be in conformity with the increased productivity and the increased earning capacity of the community. The Government believes in keeping social services to an absolute minimum. Take, for example, the age and invalid pension. Honorable members may check the statistics that I am about to use and will find that they are correct.
Under a Labour administration, the age pension during the years 1945, 1947 and 1948 represented 32 per cent., 34 per cent., and 35.4 per cent., respectively, of the then basic wage. When this Government came to office in 1950 it increased the pension to 35.5 per cent, of the basic wage, which equalled the highest point under Labour, but from then on it deteriorated. In 1951 it was 29 per cent of the then basic wage; in 1952 it was 28 per cent.; and in 1953, 28 per cent. Government supporters make an inaccurate comparison when they compare the total amount paid in pensions by the Labour Government with the total paid by the Menzies Government which has failed to keep its promise to put value back into the £1. The purchasing power of the pension has dropped from 35 per cent to 28.6 per cent of the basic wage. Even with the increases that have been granted over the last two years, the pension represents only 33.5 per cent of the basic wage. I invite the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) to interject on this point, if he wishes.
– Where did the figures come from?
– You know. They come from the Budget papers. A wife’s allowance is given to a woman under 60 years of age who has to look after her sick pensioner husband. However, if a pensioner is able to get around and a doctor will not give him a certificate that he is in failing health and needs someone to look after him, this allowance is not paid. The wife then has to go to work and can earn up to the permissible income without affecting his pension. In 1943 when the wife’s allowance was 15s. a week, it represented 15 per cent of the then basic wage. In 1947 it was increased to £1 and represented 18.2 per cent, of the then basic wage. In 1949, the last year of office of the Labour Govern ment, it was increased to 24s., which represented 18.4 per cent of the basic wage. What has taken place since Labour increased the allowance in 1949? It was increased in 1951 by the present Government to 35s., which represented 15.5 per cent of the then basic wage, compared with 18.4 per cent under Labour’s administration. To-day, the wife’s allowance represents only 12.3 per cent of the basic wage. Obviously, the purchasing power of this allowance has not been maintained. It continues to be reduced, year by year.
Let us look at the means test. The permissible income in 1948 was 30s., which represented 25 per cent of the then basic wage. To-day, it is 70s., which represents 24.7 per cent of the basic wage. Yet, in his policy speech in 1949, the Prime Minister spoke of what the Government would do about easing the means test! It has done nothing, at least as far as permissible incomes are concerned.
Let us consider the property allowance. In 1948 it was £100 which represented 32 per cent of the then yearly basic wage. To-day it is £200, which represents 27.1 per cent of the yearly basic wage. Does that indicate that the Government is lifting the means test? Whilst social service payments are greater in pounds, shillings and pence, when measured against the yardstick of the basic wage, it is obvious that their purchasing power is far less than it was when this Government was elected to office in 1949.
In 1948, the maximum property allowance was £750 which was 240 per cent of the then basic wage. To-day, it is £2,250 which is 305 per cent of the basic wage. It is obvious that property which was worth £750 in 1948 would be worth far more than £2,250 to-day. Honorable members will see from the facts and figures I have quoted that the purchasing power of social service payments has been greatly reduced by this Government.
Let us now consider the limit of £4,500 as the value of property that a pensioner couple may own. If a person has that amount of money in cash, how could he invest it? He could invest it in hirepurchase companies and take the risk, as some people would suggest, of losing it. In fact, there is only one basis on which to assess interest rates, and that is the return from money invested in Government bonds - gilt-edged securities. If £4,500 were invested in Government bonds at 5i per cent., it would return £247 10s. But a pensioner couple receive £494 a year. The Government has said to the people who seek a pension, “ If you have £4,500 in cash you will not receive a pension “. The obvious thing to do then is to invest it so that some return will be obtained from it. But a person with that amount of capital is worse off than a pensioner because, investing his capital at 5i per cent, interest, he will receive less than half the pension that is paid to a married couple. The funeral benefit of £10 that was granted by a Labour government in 1943 represented at that time 200 per cent, of the basic wage. The Government has not seen fit to increase it, and to-day it represents 71 per cent, of the basic wage. Yet the Government has the audacity to talk about what it has done to increase pensions and social service payments.
Moving from that particular aspect and turning to child endowment, we find that in 1945, under a Labour government, the endowment of 7s. 6d. a week represented li per cent, of the basic wage. In 1948, when the endowment was increased to 10s. it represented 8.2 per cent.; but to-day, for all the Government’s talk of its magnificent record, it is 3.5 per cent, of the basic wage. That figure represents a percentage for endowment paid for all children. Following this Government coming to power on its promise to increase child endowment and to put value back into the £1, the endowment for the first child has deteriorated from 3.5 per cent, of the basic wage to 1.7 per cent.
The deterioration in the value of the maternity allowance is obvious from the figures I shall quote. In 1943, the allowance of £15 for the first child represented 300 per cent, of the basic wage, but to-day it represents 107 per cent. Yet the Government still has the audacity to talk about what it is doing to put value back into the £1. The same observation applies in respect of sickness and unemployment benefits. In 1945, at £2 10s. a week they represented 50 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day they have been reduced to 43.2 per cent., which is far less than the amount which the Commonwealth Court of Con ciliation and Arbitration has said should be paid to a man to maintain himself, his wife and two children. If a person is unfortunate enough to be sick and unable to work, the Government’s only interest is to tell him to make do with what he receives, that is £6 2s. 6d. a week. The Government has said that a sick man may earn £2 a week. How can a sick man earn £2 a week? In any case, why has that £2 not been increased? A pensioner couple may earn £3 10s. a week each, but a sick or unemployed man may earn only £2 a week. The Minister should give serious consideration to the question of increasing to a great extent that £2 limit, because it is harsh in its application and places the unemployed person in the most unenviable position of having to make do with £6 2s. 6d. a week or, if he is able to work, with a maximum of £8 2s. 6d. a week.
Another aspect which the Minister should consider is that as soon as a man is fortunate enough to obtain, say, two days, work in a week and earns £7 for that work, he does not keep that £7 and receive also three-fifths of the £6 2s. 6d. In actual fact he receives £8 2s. 6d. less the £7 that he has earned. Let me quote the example of painters and dockers in my electorate. Their work is spasmodic. Sometimes they are called up and work for two or three days and then they may be laid off for one or two weeks during which period they have to apply for social service benefits. They may almost qualify for the full amount of the benefit when a ship comes in and they are picked up for work. They then receive nothing from the Government for the whole of the period that they were unemployed. Because of the way in which the act has been worded they are precluded from receiving any social service payments because on some occasions they have earned in excess of the permissible amount they may earn.
The case that I have presented on the overall application of social services warrants the support of this House. I ask honorable members opposite to assist us to carry the amendment that has been proposed by the honorable member for EdenMonaro to the effect that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to give some real purchasing power to the pensioners, as promised by the Prime Minister when he was the Leader of the Opposition. Honorable members will remember that the right honorable gentleman promised to do something about social services, to relax the means test and to do something about providing a fair and reasonable income for those people who need it most - those in receipt of social service payments. If honorable members opposite support the proposed amendment it will mean that social service payments will be increased to a figure that will be commensurate with the productivity of this country. All honorable members will agree that as a result of mechanization and automation the community, industry and commerce can afford increased social service payments.
.- The two main purposes of this bill are to amend the rates of age, invalid and widows’ pensions, and to provide for the first time for the payment of pensions and maternity allowances to Australian aborigines. As is customary, both the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and the Government have been criticized for the proposals contained in the bill in relation to pension rates. But, as the Minister pointed out in his secondreading speech, criticism of this kind dates back to 1909 when social service payments were first made by a federal government. As I intend to be critical also of a few aspects of the Social Services Act, I feel that it is only fair to review what this Government has done for the pensioners during its term of office, and to give credit where credit is due. Let me first deal with a statement that was made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) who opened the debate on this legislation for the Opposition. He stated -
The fact which the Minister is obscuring is the dreadful fact that in Australia to-day a widow with three children to keep is compelled to endeavour to maintain her family not on £12 Ss. a week but on £7 5s. a week.
At the time that he made that statement the honorable member was perfectly aware that the State Governments, through their various child welfare departments, contributed to the upkeep of these widows. His statement was designed deliberately to mislead people who may have been listening to his speech or who may have read it subsequently. That is why I interjected by saying that the Victorian Government contributed to the income of widows with child ren. The honorable member, in acknowledging this and in admitting that the New South Wales Government also made payments to widows with children, indicated that he was well aware of these facts, but it did not suit his purpose to make the public aware of them also. I do not know what the New South Wales Government pays to a widow with three children, but I know that the Victorian Government makes a payment which, taken together with child endowment and the widow’s pension, amounts to a figure that is nearly equal to the basic wage. It was grossly misleading for the honorable member to speak as he did. In acknowledging the fact that State Governments do contribute to widows, he went on to say -
Does the honorable member think that excuses this Government from doing its duty towards the civilian widow?
He said also -
The position of the civilian widow with children is simply tragic to-day, and it has been brought about largely by the Government’s refusal to make any adjustment whatever to child endowment rates.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro is probably well aware that the rates of child welfare payments made by the Victorian Government, and probably similar payments made by other State governments, are based on the widow’s total income, including child endowment, and if this Government were to increase the rates of child endowment, the child welfare payments would be reduced accordingly and the widow would be no better off.
I want to say at the outset that I do not intend to support the amendments foreshadowed by the honorable member, because I regard them both as pure window dressing for political purposes, and 1 am sure that he does not mean them to be taken seriously. First, with respect to making the increases retrospective to 1st July, the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) stated, quite rightly, that, in 1948, the Honorable J. B. Chifley, who was then Treasurer, rejected a similar suggestion, stating that no previous government of any political colour had ever made increases retrospective. I acknowledge the fact that the amendment proposed by those who were in opposition in 1948 did not show the Opposition of that day in any better light than the amendments now foreshadowed show the Opposition of to-day. I think it is rather cruel to pensioners to build up their hopes of increases being made retrospective when every honorable member knows perfectly well that they will not be made retrospective.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro asked whether any member of this Parliament could conscientiously object to retrospectivity, knowing that the recent increase in his own salary was made retrospective, but I suggest to the honorable member that the two subjects are in entirely different categories, as the reason for nonretrospectivity is one of bookkeeping rather than of principle. In one case, the increases affected the accounts of fewer than 200 persons, but in the other case more than 500,000 accounts are involved. Some honorable members may not be aware that, although widows’ pensions are paid from the first pay period after the lodging of the application, age pensions are paid in advance, and if an age pensioner dies eight or ten days after a pension pay day, his widow is not paid for those days, since the pension is paid in advance. This is a legacy from an earlier New South Wales government, from which age pensions were taken over by the Commonwealth. Presumably, a change of the system would involve too much bookkeeping work. I should like to see a change made, because I think it is more important for a widow to receive the pension for the days between the previous pension pay day and the death of her husband than it is for the husband to receive the pension in the first week after he turns 65. I mention that point here because, in a sense, the problem is similar to that of making the proposed increases retrospective. Perhaps the Minister for Social Services could do something about it, because it involves only one pay period, whereas there are about six pay periods between 1st July and the time when this measure will become law.
As regards the other point covered by the other amendment foreshadowed by the Opposition - the tying of the rate of pension to the national income in order to give the pensioner, as the Opposition suggests, a fair share of the national income - I believe that the Opposition’s case on this point was very effectively answered by the
Minister for Supply. As the Minister for Social Services pointed out in his secondreading speech, this is the seventh increase in rates since the present Government assumed office nearly ten years ago. In every year during its period in office, substantial extensions and expansions of the social service programme have been made. In addition to the increase in rates which I have mentioned, this Government was responsible for the introduction of supplementary assistance to certain classes of pensioners, and also for additional payments to class A widows, invalid pensioners and permanently incapacitated age pensioners with two or more children under sixteen years of age. The Government is to be congratulated on these additional benefits and also on the introduction of the pensioner medical service and the Aged Persons Homes Act. Critics are inclined to overlook these facts when the subject of social services is being debated, and I want to give the Government full credit for what it has done before I refer to the aspects of its policy with which I do not agree.
When this bill is passed, a pensioner married couple will receive a combined weekly pension of £9 10s., plus, in many instances, the maximum permissible income of £7, giving them a total income of £16 10s. a week, together with the benefit of numerous concessions which are extended to pensioners in the form of the pensioner medical service, reduced radio licence-fees, reduced railway fares, and, in Victoria, exemption from rent for gas meters, and, in some instances, free firewood. I do not begrudge pensioners any of these benefits, but I do not think that we have now reached the time when annual increases in pension rates should not necessarily be granted without regard to need. Probably, many people will disagree with me, but I believe that if the Government has a certain amount of money to spend on increased pensions or social service payments, whether the amount happens to be £5,000,000, £10,000,000 or £50,000,000, it should be divided among pensioners according to their needs and not on a pro rata basis.
When we stop to think about it, a pensioner married couple in receipt of an income of £16 10s. a week, and, in many instances, owning their own home and having no rent to pay, are infinitely better off than are a couple in receipt of the basic wage and having to pay rent and feed, clothe and educate a family, and if we adopt the principle of a pension equal to half the basic wage, as we in this Parliament are continually being petitioned to do, these people will always be better off than are a couple in receipt of the basic wage, irrespective of whether the basic wage is £13, £30 or £50 a week. On the other hand, single pensioners not in receipt of any other income, and having to pay rent, will find it a terrific struggle to exist on £5 5s. a week, which will be the sum of the basic pension at the new rate and the supplementary allowance of 10s. a week. But if need were considered by the Government, instead of its handing out arbitrary increases to all pensioners, persons in this category would receive a pension of more than half the basic wage, without the cost to the taxpayer being increased. Certainly, this would involve the Government and the Department of Social Services in more work, but is that a consideration if justice is to be served?
At the same time, I do not believe that couples who have been prudent and have endeavoured to provide for their old age should be at a disadvantage compared with pensioner couples. In order to obtain an income of £9 10s. a week, which will be the amount of the pension that a married couple will receive under this measure, a couple would need to have nearly £10,000 invested at 5 per cent. Yet they lose their pensions altogether when their property subject to the means test exceeds £4,500. If the pension abated at the rate of £1 per annum for every £20 by which a pensioner’s property exceeded £209, instead of at the rate of £1 for every £10, as at present, the position would be much more equitable. To me, it seems ridiculous that couples approaching the age at which they will be eligible for the age pension deliberately spend their money in order to qualify for the pension. We all know that this happens every day. But who can blame them? Why should their thrift be penalized? The law says to a married couple, in effect. “ If you waste your substance, the Government will pay you £9 10s. a week, and give you free medicine and medical attention, and other conces sions, but if you are careful, save your money and put it in a bank, or invest it in properly, you will be penalized and you will not be paid a pension “. 1 believe that the only true and lasting solution to this problem is the introduction of a free-of-means-test contributory scheme which has been advocated for many years by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). I think that if such a scheme were properly explained to the public, and put to them at a referendum, they would vote overwhelmingly for it. Most countries in Europe provide social services on this basis, and the many migrants that we have received into Australia during the past ten years have already experienced the benefits of such schemes and would wholeheartedly support this proposal.
And speaking of migrants, it is my belief that they should qualify for age pensions on naturalization and not only after twenty years’ residence in this country as at present. If they were allowed to qualify on naturalization, the final barrier which separates them from the full privileges of Australian citizenship would be removed. The cost of this concession would not be great, because migrants from the United Kingdom already qualify under the reciprocal agreement. This immediately takes care of approximately 40 per cent, of our migrants. Of the remaining 60 per cent., the majority of men are under the age of 45, and the majority of women under the age of 40 - the ages at which they would have had to take up residence in this country in order to qualify, by twenty years’ residence, for the age pension at 65 and 60 respectively. Quite a number of the migrants who are over the ages I mentioned would be excluded by the present provisions of the means test. I hope that the Government give favourable consideration to this matter because our present policy is acting to some extent to the detriment of our immigration programme. At the same time the medical provisions of the Immigration Act could be used to protect the Australian taxpayer from being exploited by an influx of excessive numbers of aged migrants.
This Government is responsible for the Aged Persons Homes Act which, since its introduction in 1954. has provided accommodation for more than 7,000 aged persons at a cost of approximately £6,000,000. Grants made under the act have assisted approximately 100 organizations. This year the grant will be £2,000,000. The Government is to be congratulated on this very fine piece of legislation, and I should like to suggest a way in which the principle of the scheme could be extended. A couple of weeks ago most honorable members received a statement issued by the Slow Learning Children’s Group of Western Australia. That group seeks the support of the Commonwealth Government by means of an extension to the group of the building subsidy now provided for the housing of aged persons. In my electorate of Henty there is what I believe to be the foremost organization in Australia for the advancement of retarded children. At this centre training commences at three years of age in the kindergarten, through four progressive groups in the intermediate training school, and then to the handcrafts and vocational training sections. This centre recently built a sheltered workshop at a cost of £13,000. Each worker in the workshop is paid a wage according to the earning of the workshop, but more important than the fact that these retarded persons are earning money is the fact that they are doing work needed by the community instead of being a burden on it. In the August issue of “Industry To-day “ there is an appeal to industry from an organization known as the Victorian Aid to the Mentally 111 for work that can be done by specially selected persons from Victorian mental hospitals. The appeal sets out the type of assembly and dismantling work that can be done by these persons as part of their occupational therapy and makes it clear that industry will have to pay the unit cost of similar work carried out by the factory in its own workshop or the price that it would have to pay to an outside contractor for similar work. In his way the employment of the normal workman is being protected, but at the same time something tangible is being done for less fortunate members of our community.
At the time its last report was issued this centre at Oakleigh was training 147 children from the kindergarten stage, through the intermediate training section, embracing handcrafts and vocational training, and finally teaching them to become useful members of the community through its sheltered workshop. Industry is already satisfied with the work these children are doing and is willing to continue to provide work. The Oakleigh retarded children’s centre receives between £10,000 and £11,000 annual subsidy from the Victorian Government, but if these 150 children were inmates of government institutions, the cost to the State would be approximately £78,000 a year. This centre, which is setting a pattern for the rest of Australia, is endeavouring to establish a hostel to accommodate orphaned retarded children, or retarded children requiring temporary accommodation owing to some home stress or domestic upset. I should like the Minister to give consideration to the provision of a subsidy for this type of hostel in the same way that his department provides a subsidy for homes for the aged. It is far better for the Commonwealth and State Governments between them to provide day centres, sheltered workshops and hostels rather than to maintain a great many of these children in government institutions. As the States derive the greater part of their revenue from Commonwealth grants, I believe that in helping these institutions the Commonwealth will ultimately be helping itself.
There is one anomaly with respect to the Aged Persons Homes Act which I believe should be corrected. The act provides that where a grant is made to an organization for the building of or extensions to a home for aged persons, only females over 60 years of age and males over 65 years of age may be admitted to that home. Yet the Repatriation Act recognizes men of 60 years of age as qualifying for the service pension, which in reality is the age pension paid five years earlier to an ex-serviceman. Surely the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia or any other institution should be able to admit persons in receipt of a service pension to its homes for the aged without having to break the law respecting the age limit for admittance to the homes.
There is one important matter in particular to which I would like to direct the Minister’s attention, and that is the matter of the blind pension. The Social Services Act provides that an invalid pension shall not be granted to a person who becomes permanently incapacitated for work or permanently blind outside Australia unless that person has resided in Australia for a continuous period of not less than twenty years or for periods aggregating not less than twenty years. For persons blinded in Australia the qualifying period is only five years’ residence. The reciprocal agreement between the United Kingdom and Australia provides that for the purpose of this legislation, residence in the United Kingdom counts as residence in Australia, so a person blinded in the United Kingdom and who has had five years’ continuous residence there qualifies immediately for the blind pension if he or she migrates to Australia. This concession unfortunately does not extend to a person who became blind in any other Commonwealth country - with the exception, I think, of New Zealand, with which we have a reciprocal agreement - even though that country at the time the person became blind may not have achieved self-government. I refer, for example, to India and Pakistan. Even British Maltese subjects are excluded. I have previously suggested to the Minister that for -the purpose of the reciprocal agreements, residence in a Commonwealth country should count as residence in the United Kingdom; but he has replied that it would not be possible to amend the agreement as any alteration would also require the concurrence of the United Kingdom authorities and this would not be practicable. I would like respectfully to remind the Minister that only a short time ago he claimed that social service benefits could not be extended to Australian aborigines because of constitutional difficulties, but in this very bill that we are now debating, he takes credit - justly so - for having effected the necessary arrangements in that regard with the six State Governments - not just one government as is required to amend the reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom in the manner I have indicated.
I suggest to the Minister, with respect, that there would be fewer than 50 persons in the whole of Australia - probably fewer than half that number - who became blind outside Australia and the United Kingdom and who are now resident in Australia, who are over the age of sixteen years and able to meet the means test provisions. I have checked the position with the secretary of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, the secretary of the Home for the Aged Blind at Brighton in Victoria, the secretary of the National Council for the Blind and the Royal Society for the Blind in New South Wales. Between them those organizations have only three such persons from any country in the world. They are of the opinion that there would be less than twenty persons in the whole of Australia who are being excluded from the payment of the blind pension because of the twenty years residential clause. So, to extend the privilege of a blind pension to these people would cost very little indeed, but would correct what could be regarded as injustice and what is certainly a hardship for the people concerned. An amendment such as this would bring great credit to the Government. I hope that the Minister can see his way clear to make this necessary amendment in the committee stage of this bill.
Another humanitarian adjustment which could be considered by the Minister relates to age and invalid pensions for persons admitted to mental hospitals. If a pensioner is admitted to a benevolent home or a home for aged persons he retains his pension although portion of it is taken for his maintenance. This bill provides for pensions payable to pensioner inmates of benevolent homes to be increased by 2s. 6d., the balance going to the institution. Yet, when a pensioner enters a mental hospital, his pension ceases altogether.
Many patients in mental hospitals are entirely without pocket money. If they were to receive the pension to which they would have been entitled if they had been admitted to any hospital other than a mental hospital, they would be able to spend the additional money on extra comforts which are not now available to them.
One of my constituents once suggested to me that if the Government paid a certain amount of money into a special fund upon the birth of a child, the amount in the fund at the time that person had grown to the age of 60 or 65 years could be used to pay him or her the age pension. As I felt that the scheme might have some merit, I made a number of inquiries, and I now pass on the information that I have gathered, in the hope that the Government will give it some further thought.
As I said earlier, the age pension for a married couple, after this legislation becomes law, will be £9 10s. a week. To give an income of £9 10s. a week, a couple would require to invest approximately £10,000 at 5 per cent. I asked the Commonwealth Actuary what amount would have to be invested at 5 per cent, compound interest, with quarterly interest adjustment, to return £10,000 at the end of 60 years, the age pension being payable to women when they become 60 years of age. The answer was £507 4s. 4d. To return £10,000 after 65 years, when the pension is payable to men, the amount originally invested would have to be only £395 12s. 8d. To allow for a possible increase of up to 50 per cent, in the present pension rates, I asked for the amounts required to provide £15,000 at the end of 60 and 65 years. I was told that the amounts would be £760 16s. 5d. and £593 9s.
In the year ended 30th June, 1958, which is the last year for which I could obtain figures, there were 222,504 children born in Australia, 113,957 being males and 108,547 females. To provide 111,252 couples with a pension of £9 10s. a week at the age of 65 would cost approximately £45,000,000 annually, but this is. presupposing that every child born in Australia lives to the age of 60 or 65 years. In actual fact, as the Commonwealth Statistician informed me, of every 100,000 male babies born only 76,256 reach the age of 60, and only 66,651 reach the age of 65. Of every 100,000 female babies, only 84,665 reach the age of 60, and only 78,633 reach the age of 65. In round figures, therefore, not £45,000,000 but only £34,000,000 would be required annually to pay the present rate of pension to every person who reached the age of 65 years. There may be a fallacy in these figures, but if there is I have not been able to find it.
– What happens in the case of those who died before reaching 60 years of age?
– The money then goes into the fund. As I pointed out, roughly only 75 per cent, of the people live to the age of 60 or 65.
– What about immigrants?
– I think they could be looked after without any great change in the figures. I realize that such a scheme would necessarily be a long-term project, and that over a period of 60 years more than £2,000,000,000 would have to be appropriated. But when we consider that our annual budget is approaching this figure, the amount is not really so frightening. Of course, the money in the fund would not be lying idle, but would be usefully employed in housing or in any of a dozen other projects.
In conclusion, I want to congratulate the Minister on the extension of pensions and maternity allowances to the Australian, aborigines. I know that the Minister had many difficulties to overcome in bringing this legislation before the House, and, as he anticipates, he will probably experience many more difficulties in the administration of the act and the payment of benefits. But with the assistance of the various State welfare departments and the missions these difficulties will be overcome, and the Minister will have his reward in the knowledge that this bold move will bring the aboriginal one step nearer to receiving full citizenship rights.
.- The House is considering the Social Services Bill 1959. Let me say that no legislation has been more deeply disappointing to thousands of people in this country than the bill that is now before us. Its inadequacy and its incompleteness show it to be an ill-considered and ill-digested piece of legislation which requires now a good deal more consideration than has been given to it by ‘ members of the Government.
I fully support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and seconded by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). The speeches that those honorable gentlemen delivered in introducing the amendment gave a very good lead to Labour supporters, and demonstrated our attitude towards social service legislation and our sincere desire to give justice to the thousands of people who depend on these payments for their support. If any further arguments were required to justify the claim that this bill should be withdrawn, then the honorable member for Henty (Mr.
Fox) has shown how this proposed legislation fails in many ways to do justice to so many people, and that the Government should realize that it must consider the measure further.
Australia has a proud record of response to many international appeals based on humanitarian grounds. We have readily responded to appeals from people of other lands who have found themselves in all manner of difficulties, perhaps in seeking to establish a new way of life for themselves and in overcoming the backward conditions that existed. Australia has gained a fine reputation for its willingness to assist such countries with technical knowledge, and with supplies of food, clothing, drugs and everything else that can aid people in this kind of difficulty. These efforts have cost us considerable sums of money. Although we pride ourselves on our benevolence in assisting people of other countries, it is an astounding fact that we have failed to give full justice to our own people who are depending more directly upon us in this country. Although we have a proud record of helping other countries, we have no such proud record with regard to social service legislation in Australia. I find that the Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Finland. Norway and Sweden, are all ahead of Australia in this field.
– They are not!
– The honorable gentleman should read the official statistics that are published in the Social Security Bulletin, circulated for the information of members, which comes from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the United States. The bulletin shows that Canada and New Zealand also are ahead of Australia in social services. We occupy a very low position in the realm of social services in the register of the nations. The bulletin states -
Pensions are provided only on an income or means test basis in another small group of countries.
In that group of countries is Australia, Iceland, Ceylon, Iraq, Malaya and the United Arab Republic. Those are the countries “with which we are identified in our standard of social service legislation. That will not satisfy me, it will not satisfy other members of the Opposition, and it will not satisfy the people of Australia. Our standard of social services is below that which the people of this country rightly deserve. We claim that we have made great technical advances and that our economic circumstances are unparalleled in the world to-day. We claim that we enjoy great prosperity, yet we are not observing the common humanities by doing the fair thing for our aged and infirm people.
I shall indicate several ways in which the Government has utterly failed to give due consideration to the claims of these people. Furthermore, I submit that the present legislation is belated. For months the people concerned have had to bear increased living charges. They have had to exist on the meanest of fare. They have had to deny themselves the full measure of sustenance that rightly they should have. If it were not for religious institutions and organizations such as “ Meals on Wheels “, they would not receive even the sustenance they require. That reflects, not only upon honorable members on the Government side, but upon all those who accept without question conditions such as those. Whatever may be said by honorable gentlemen on the Government side, it cannot justify the poor conditions under which thousands of people are living in this country to-day. Members of the Opposition, because of what they see in their own constituencies, which contain a much larger number of people who are affected by the social service legislation, have a much more intimate knowledge of those conditions than have Government members.
It is proposed to increase the pension rate by 7s. 6d. in order, it is said, to meet the increase in the cost of living that has taken place. Not one member on the ministerial benches would pay less than 7s. 6d. for a single meal, but this increase of 7s. 6d. for pensions has to be spread over 21 meals during a week. Honorable members opposite cannot suggest that the proposed pensions increase is anywhere near what it should be. The increase should be double what is proposed, and possibly even greater than that. The Government should reconsider the position in the light of the information that has been made available to it during the course of this debate. The amendment that has been moved is justified. The bill should be withdrawn and further consideration given to these vital matters. 1 want to say further that any increase that is agreed upon should date back to 1st July. If there is any need for a precedent, the members of this House have themselves set such a precedent in regard to their own salaries. Because of that precedent, I feel that we have justification for making this payment retrospective so as to compensate at least to some extent for many of the added charges that pensioners have been required to pay.
Not only are the pensioners in an unfortunate position, but there are other sections of the community to whom greater justice should be extended. I wish to refer particularly to child endowment. We are prepared to expend large amounts of money on an immigration programme, to bring people from other parts of the world so that they can become citizens of this country. Some are brought here in early manhood and womanhood, while others are brought here at a much later period of life. We pay for these people to come here to become citizens of our country, yet we fail to give anything like the consideration we should give to the children who are born in Australia and who are a part of its very life and nature. We do all that we can for those who come here from abroad, but we do nothing for those who are a part of the life of this country. I feel that this Government has something to answer for in not giving consideration to those who are responsible for the family life of our country and who are providing the very best of all migrants, namely, the children born here. Matters such as funeral benefit and the maternity allowance certainly deserve some consideration, but no attempt has been made by the Government to give new thought to them. This must certainly be a very serious disappointment to many people who are responsible for the payment of funeral expenses, or who have to meet the heavy costs of maternity. No alteration has been made in the maternity allowance since Labour was in office ten years ago. It is obvious that no improvement will be made in any of these social service benefits until a Labour government is returned to office.
I support the remarks of the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) concerning assistance for the wife of the invalid pensioner. In recent years several cases of this sort have been brought to my notice. The wife suffers considerable hardship because, owing to her husband’s illness and need for her care, she is unable to go to work. The invalid pension is inadequate to meet their needs, and this is one of the most serious anomalies in the Government’s social service provisions. 1 earnestly hope that even if the Government will not improve any of the other social service benefits to which I have referred, it will at least amend the legislation to remove the anomaly in this most urgent and deserving of all social service needs. In addition to this, the widow has to try to make her future secure out of the pittance paid to her. Surely, the Government has an obligation to give her greater assistance also.
Honorable members on the Government side would be astounded if I were to suggest that the pensioners should share in the prosperity of this country by way of distribution of a national dividend to all people in our community. Every day the financial columns of the press contain reports of the amount of profit made by many commercial, industrial and financial concerns, indicating that they are enjoying a large measure of prosperity. Surely it is not too- much to suggest that a proportion of this prosperity should be shared by the wider community. This Government is failing in its duty by not obtaining from those who are making a real carnival of the present prosperous period and expanding their interests a greater share of their profits to meet the vital needs of people whose only means of income is social service payments.
Members of the Opposition feel a strong sense of indignation that the Government has offered this needy section of our citizens the scant consideration of a mere 7s. 6d. a week increase in the pension. It is all too inadequate to meet increased living costs which have resulted from growing inflation. I hope that the Government will realize the importance of giving further consideration to these matters and that in future we shall be proud of our reputation as a nation, gained not only because of the assistance we have given to people of other lands but also because we have met our responsibilities to our first charge. This can be done by not only providing adequate assistance for our own people in need but also by allowing them to share in the prosperity which the Government claims Australia is enjoying.
The amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, seconded by the honorable member for Port Adelaide and supported by members of the Opposition, should receive the earnest consideration of the Government because it seeks to provide a greater measure of justice for thousands of deserving people than they will receive under the bill as drafted.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Wentworth) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.59 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 and 2. The Australian Loan Council approves each year two separate borrowing programmes for semi-governmental and local government authorities. The first of these relates to such authorities with borrowing programmes of £100,000 or more in the year concerned. These are termed “semigovernmental authorities “ for Loan Council purposes, and are specifically covered by the gentlemen’s agreement referred to in the honorable member’s question. The second programme relates to authorities with borrowing programmes of less than £100,000 in the year concerned and Council purposes. This Loan Council classificathese are termed “ local authorities “ for Loan tion has been used in the following tables: -
Total programmes approved by the Loan Council for 1959-60 for semi-governmental and local authorities are shown below. No details of the separate programmes approved for “ semigovernmental authorities “ and “ local authorities “ will be available until after 31st October, 1959, by which date the Premier of each State is required to allocate the overall amount approved for his State between the two programmes and to supply details to the Chairman of the Loan Council. Details are as follows: -
t asked the acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. The pay and allowances of members of the Citizen Military Forces together with those aspects referred to by the honorable member are currently under consideration following increases approved for the Permanent Forces.
d asked the acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Exchange control limits in relation to private travel allowances and sustenance payments have been varied over the past ten years as follows: -
Throughout the whole ten-year period there have, with some exceptions in the entertainment field, been no restrictions on the provision of foreign exchange for payments of a current income nature accruing to overseas residents (such as interest, dividends, and royalties and licence-fees payable under approved agreements). In relation to capital transfers, residents of other sterling area countries have for the most part been able to withdraw their capital without restriction during the whole ten-year period. In the case of capital transfers by residents of non-sterling area countries, policy over the ten-year period has been progressively towards putting them on the same basis as capital transfers by sterling area residents. Policy in respect of capital transfers by Australian residents has not basically changed over the tenyear period.
m asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
On what subjects and in what publications has the Commonwealth Bureau of Dental Standards produced reports in the last ten years?
– The Commonwealth Bureau of Dental Standards has produced and had printed some 70 or 80 reports during the period in question, and I will supply the honorable member with a list of relevant references.
s asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the acting Treasurer, upon notice -
What percentage of the National Debt is held by (a) private banks, (b) private insurance companies, (c) other financial organizations, (d) Commonwealth trust funds, (e) the general public and (f) other creditors?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The classification of holdings of the National Debt along the lines sought by the honorable member cannot be provided fully from the available statistics. The Commonwealth Bank prepares a classification of holdings of Commonwealth Government securities in Australia as at 30th June each year on broadly similar lines but this classification is not yet available for 30th June, 1959. When it does become available, I shall see that a copy is supplied to the honorable member.
A classification of holdings of Commonwealth securities in Australia at 30th June, 1958, excluding treasury bills, debentures and savings certificates, is shown in the following table: -
s asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
e asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Overseas Entertainers in Australia.
s asked the acting Treasurer, upon notice -
Can he state whether there are any means by which entrepreneurs who are bringing important vaudeville and stage stars to Australia can make deals which benefit the recipient to an extent beyond that allowed by the monetary control authorities?
Me. Menzies. - The honorable member’s question seems to be based on a misunderstanding. There have never been any restrictions on the remittance from Australia of the net earnings in this country of visiting entertainers from countries outside the dollar area, and the restrictions that used to apply in the case of visiting entertainers from dollar area countries were removed as a consequence of the decision taken late last year for convertibility of sterling on non-resident account. In these circumstances the matter to which the honorable member refers does not seem to arise.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19590922_reps_23_hor24/>.