24th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. GRAY presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the pension increase of ten shillings proposed in the 1963 Budget be granted to all age, invalid and widow pensioners.
A similar petition was presented by Mr. Coutts.
Petitions severally received.
– I desire to inform the House of the ministerial arrangements during the absence of the Minister for External Affairs and Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) on official business overseas. The Minister has gone to Kuala Lumpur as special representative of the Commonwealth at the celebrations marking the establishment of Malaysia. He will return to Australia on Friday next. On Monday, 23rd September, he will again depart for a period of some three to four weeks, when he will lead the Australian delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. During the Minister’s absence I am acting as Minister for External Affairs and the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) is acting as Attorney-General.
– I address a question *o the Prime Minister. He will recall that I wrote to him on behalf of the Opposition on 30th April, expressing the view that alterations should be made to the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Fund, to provide for increased benefits and contributions. I enclosed with that letter a copy of a report prepared by a committee of the Labour Party which has been unanimously endorsed by caucus. In requesting the introduction of amending legisla- tion, I referred to our wish that included in the matters to be covered there should be retrospectivity for those who were either defeated or retired before the commencement of the Twenty-fourth Parliament and are still alive and for the widows of those who were not members of the Twenty-fourth Parliament. I now ask the Prime Minister whether the Government has given consideration to the views of the Labour Party as thus conveyed by me and when we can expect from him a decision by the Government.
– The Leader of the Opposition is quite right in saying that he wrote a letter to me and enclosed a copy of a report made by a committee of members of his party. There is no doubt that the matters raised by him are of substantial interest and importance. Whether they should be dealt with during the sittings of the current Parliament is a question which requires a great deal of further examination and thought on the part of the Government. I hope to be in a position to offer a more positive view, one way or the other, in a few weeks’ time.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. I preface it by saying that the economy of France has been repeatedly referred to in this House as a model for Australia of the advantages of central economic planning. We have been told that in France the widespread disease of “ stop and go “ has been miraculously eliminated, with the economy moving for ever upwards in resplendent growth and without any need for the application of brakes, although the fact is that consumer prices in that country have risen by about 40 per cent, since 1958 and by more than 10 per cent, during the last year, with a strong tendency for these increases to accelerate. Has the Treasurer yet received details of the strong deflationary measures, including restriction of bank credit, increased taxation and tightening of the budget, which the French Government has just found it necessary to impose so as to stop inflation getting out of hand? If so, or when he does receive those details, will he direct to the attention of the House those elements of the situation to which Australia should give particular attention so that it may avoid an unfortunate experience similar to that which France has suffered?
– It is a fact that the French Government has found it necessary to adopt a wide range of measures to deal with rising costs and prices. I shall not attempt to enumerate them or give details of them at this moment, but I shall examine the practicability of preparing a suitable statement which could be made available for those honorable members who are interested.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. It relates to decimal currency. Is the Treasurer aware of recent criticism of the Government for its failure to state clearly its decision on one aspect of the proposed change to decimal currency? Is the announcement about the naming of the new coinage to be taken as a firm decision on the part of the Government? In view of the confusion that has arisen following a later report that the Government proposed to review this matter can the Treasurer state in unequivocal terms what the decision of the Government is on this subject?
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that I do not require any spur to proceed as rapidly and effectively as I can with the successful introduction of decimal currency into this country. This is a complex matter in respect of which a wide variety of measures must be taken before we can bring the system successfully into operation. I have already stated, on behalf of the Government, that we are aiming at the introduction of the new system early in 1966, if this is practicable, and I have given a certain amount of detail as to the measures already adopted to produce this result. The mint, for example, which is an essential part of the system for the production of coins, is being constructed, and its construction is proceeding, so far as I am aware, to schedule. In addition, we have set up the Decimal Currency Board, which will give advice to the Government on the important question of compensation for businesses required to convert their accounting machines. We have, already functioning, advisory bodies dealing with the designs of coins and of notes. Later in this sessional period legislation will come forward to give the authority necessary for the carrying out of certain decimal currency proposals.
The honorable member mentioned the matter of the name of the major unit of currency. Cabinet took a decision on this matter, which was announced. It turned out that the name selected was not a popular choice. That quickly became evident. This Government, being a democratic government, would not seek in a matter of this kind to impose an unpopular choice on the Australian public if a more practicable and serviceable name could be found. It is well known that this matter was discussed by the Government with its own supporters in the party rooms. At that time we informed our members that we would be giving further consideration to it in Cabinet. As soon as I am in a position to make an announcement on behalf of the Government I shall do so.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Interior. I refer to the decision by the Minister to introduce fluoride into Canberra’s water supply. Has he taken into account the division of professional opinion on the efficacy of fluoridation? If he has, will he say on what basis he has rejected that section of professional opinion which has reservations on the matter? Can the Minister say whether the advice tendered to him was that the majority opinion favoured fluoridation and that the propriety and benefit of therapeutics and prophylactics may now be determined by having numerical superiority? Finally, will the Minister give the House an opportunity to debate the decision?
– I can assure the honorable member that the decision to permit fluoridation of the Canberra water supply was not taken lightly. This matter has been the subject of considerable study, not only by myself but by officers of the various departments involved. It was only after a very careful weighing up of all the evidence that I finally decided that the weight of the evidence was strongly on the side of the benefits of fluoridation. The honorable member may recall that when the matter was first raised by the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council a considerable time ago 1 was not in favour of fluoridation because I was not convinced that it would have some beneficial effects and no harmful effects. After twelve months of fairly constant study of the problem, and after advice from officers of the Department of Health and other departments, I am satisfied that fluoridation will have no harmful effects and that it will be for the benefit of the people of Canberra. As to a debate on fluoridation, that is a matter for the honorable member.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. In view of his repudiation of the restrictive trade practices proposals of the Attorney-General in a speech that he delivered to the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures last Thursday, will he take immediate steps to cancel the penal provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and thus help to no small extent the promotion of peace in industry?
– It is quite obvious from the honorable member’s question that he did not hear my speech, that he has never read the text of it, and that he has picked up a little bit of gossip. All I can tell him is that the relations between the Attorney-General and his colleagues in the Cabinet could not be better. Let me repeat what I said. The Manufacturing Industries Advisory Council, which is an adviser to the Government and does not represent other industrial groups, put some views before the members of the Cabinet, including my colleague who is now absent. These views were put at some length, very clearly and very interestingly. I venture to say that we all found them most constructive and most valuable. That is what I said before. The honorable member must not allow his enthusiasm for office to run away with him.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Trade. Will he tell the House what provision has been made, in the new Japanese Trade Agreement recently negotiated, for increased sales of Australian butter and other dairy products to Japan?
– The Japanese Government, within the ambit of the trade treaty, has undertaken to endeavour - more than to endeavour, to arrange - expanding opportunities for the importation of Australian butter and cheese, which are still under import licensing control in Japan, principally, I gather, as a measure to protect the local industry. The licensing opportunities for these products are being widened, with some success from our point of view. For instance, two years ago, we sold 290 tons of cheese to Japan; last year, we sold 2,200 tons. The sale of our butter to Japan diminished somewhat in the last year because of a quarantine problem. My advice is that that problem has now been overcome, and I look forward with some confidence to increased sales of butter also to Japan.
– I wish to ask the PostmasterGeneral a question. Were representations made to him to issue a stamp in conjunction with the Freedom from Hunger campaign and, if so, with what result?
– Representations were received by me from various sources a considerable time ago for the issue of a stamp to commemorate the Freedom from Hunger campaign. This, of course, was an important matter. I treated it as such and had certain inquiries made, and I have prepared replies to several people who have written to me on the subject. Those replies include details of the reasons why the stamp was not issued, and I shall be glad to give the honorable member a copy of the reasons for his information. The main point that I recollect was that, unfortunately, the requests came along at rather short notice. We have a great number of issues of special stamps, and I think it is not generally realized that the decision to issue a commemorative stamp is followed by a quite lengthy period of designing, preparing dies and finally preparing the stamp. The procedure generally occupies something like twelve months. This was not the only reason, but it was one of the main reasons why the proposal was not agreed to. I shall be glad to let the honorable member have more complete details than I have just given.
– I wish to ask the Minister for the Army a question. Is it a fact that Australia has agreed, or is about to agree, to join in a quadripartite standardization agreement relating to the armies of the United States of America, Britain, Canada and Australia? Is the purpose of this agreement to ensure that there are no difficulties in respect of co-operation in organization and equipment between these armies? If this is so, does this mean that the Australian Army will now be reorganized on a basis similar to that of the armies of the other countries that are members of this agreement, that basis being the triangular concept rather than the pentropic form?
– About six months ago, an invitation was extended to the Australian Army by the Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada to join what is known as the A.B.C. agreement. This invitation was accepted. The agreement is designed to achieve standardization in equipment and in technical matters. This is of great assistance in achieving economy and it helps in other ways. The agreement is not at all inconsistent with our having what we describe as our pentropic Army. The other armies may be engaged in various countries throughout the world in a much wider role than that of our Army, which has one particular role. I have discussed the matter at great length with my military advisers and I am told that our pentropic Army organization is not at all inconsistent with this agreement in relation to standardization in equipment and technical matters.
– My question, which I direct to the Minister for the Interior, is supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Moreton. Is the Minister aware that the natural fluoride found in drinking water in some areas of Australia is calcium fluoride, whereas the fluoridation of drinking water that is proposed for Canberra will be carried out with sodium fluoride? Does the Minister know that the addition of sodium fluoride or calcium fluoride to drinking water has no beneficial effect whatever on a person who has passed out of childhood? Does the Minister know that sodium fluoride has a cumulative and very damaging effect on the human body? Is the Minister aware that Sir Arthur Amies, Professor of Dental Medicine and Surgery at the University of Melbourne, has expressed grave doubts about the advisability of using fluoride to combat dental decay, and that other leading dental authorities have stated that to provide a sensible diet for children is a more appropriate course to follow than to fluoridate drinking water? Finally, does the Minister know that in some parts of the world where drinking water has been fluoridated for some years the authorities are now discontinuing fluoridation and are going back to the old methods of preventing dental decay?
– The honorable member conveyed a great deal of information in his question. I can assure him that all of the matters to which he adverted were taken into consideration when the decision to fluoridate Canberra’s water supply was made. The introduction into the water supply of sodium fluoride at the rate of one part in a million parts of water should harm nobody. It is true, as the honorable member pointed out, that parents can, by providing a suitable diet, considerably reduce the incidence of dental decay in their children. The trouble is that parents do not do this. If only they would do so the position might be different.
– Is the
Prime Minister able to tell the House anything about the conversations which the Minister for External Affairs has recently had with Indonesian leaders?
– I will give some thought to the matter raised by the honorable member. Conversations of the kind referred to usually take place privately and there might be little room for discussion. Some people on one side or the other may say things that they do not want to see published. I would not like to say offhand, “Yes” to the honorable member’s question, but I shall look into it.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services a question. As the introduction of a new standard-rate pension for single age and invalid pensioners seems to indicate that the Minister is at last aware that certain categories of social service recipients have difficulty in leading even a meagre existence, will he undertake to have a full-scale investigation made into the needs of parents with larger than average families so that urgently required increases in child endowment payments may be made? Further, is it a fact that the new standardrate pension will not be paid until the last pension pay day in October?
– I assure the honorable member that when the Budget was under discussion the subject of child endowment was given the consideration that was its due. Child endowment presents a very difficult problem but I am not without hope that the problem ultimately will be solved by this Government, just as so many other perplexing social service problems have been solved by this Government since 1949. The honorable member for Lang will appreciate that no work could be done by the Department of Social Services to advance the introduction of the new standard rate of pension until the announcement was made by the Treasurer in his Budget speech. Since then officers of the department have been engaged in examining files and establishing eligibility for the increase. It was thought that payment of the increase could not be made before 28th November, but I am now proudly able to say that the new standard rate of pension will be paid on 14th November.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Repatriation. Is it a fact that a conference sponsored by the repatriation artificial limb centres is being held at present in Melbourne? Will the Minister give the House some details of this meeting and of its objects, in the light of the fact that several conferences of a similar nature have been held in other countries?
– It is a fact that such a conference is being held this week in Melbourne. It is being attended by medical officers and managers of repatriation artificial limb and appliance centres throughout Australia. The conference is mainly of a technical nature, dealing with the manufacture and fitting of limbs and appliances. To-morrow a seminar will be held which will be addressed by Dr. Robert Klein, who, as the honorable member knows, recently returned from an extended visit to Europe and the United States of America, where he studied these matters. This seminar will be attended by leading members of the medical profession, by members of the para-medical profession and also by persons associated with the care and welfare of disabled people. As a result of this conference, which, as I have said, is of a highly technical nature, I am sure that it will be shown that the standards of manufacture and fitting of artificial limbs and appliances in Australia are equal to those of any other country.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that a number of men recently travelled from Australia to Yugoslavia with the intention of carrying out assassinations and terrorist activities in that country? Were any of those men among the picnickers shown in a photograph in the Sydney “Daily Telegraph “ of 7th September, 1963, some of whom were actually carrying arms and being led in an exercise by officers of the Citizen Military Forces, contrary to what has been said about what happened on that occasion by the Minister for the Army? Is it true that money was raised in Australia to send these men overseas and that organizations concerned with this activity and with the training of the men in Australia were supported by Australian military personnel and also by Ministers of this Government? Has the Croatian independence movement in Australia, with which this activity is concerned, been the subject of official observation and investigation? If so, will the right honorable gentleman inform the House of the results of the official inquiries?
– The honorable member has me at a complete disadvantage because I had not heard of any of these things until he mentioned them. If he will be good enough to place his question on the notice-paper I will be happy to secure any information that I can about the matter.
– Has the Treasurer any information to give the House regarding the Bills of Exchange Act 1909-1958? Has the committee which was formed in 1962 to investigate this matter recommended any changes in the act which might speed up the drawing and clearing of bank subscribers’ cheques?
– I do not recall any recent report to me from the Treasury on this matter, but I shall make inquiries and advise the honorable gentleman of the stage that has been reached.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. In view of recent disclosures in this House and by the DirectorGeneral of Health concerning the structural organization and ramifications of overseas drug companies in Australia, and their concerted attempts to fleece the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and the Australian taxpayers of millions of pounds, will the Prime Minister agree to the appointment of a royal commission with terms of reference wide enough to allow a thorough and complete public inquiry into the operations of overseas drug houses in Australia?
– The honorable member will be glad to know that the question of the cost of drugs is really one that has been exciting the attention not only of the Minister for Health but also of the Government. In fact, we were having some elaborate discussion on it only yesterday. We are quite aware of this problem. I am not prepared at this stage to say what steps will be taken about it. But I can assure the honorable member that we are well aware of the existence of the problem and that some arrangement will have to be made or something will have to be done about it. However, at this moment I am not in a position to say what will be done.
– Mr. Speaker, my question is directed to you. Will you consult with the Speakers of the various State Parliaments to see whether arrangements could be made under which papers laid on the tables of their Houses could be made available for the information of honorable members of this House on the table of the Library; and reciprocally, if the State Parliaments were interested, whether papers laid on the table of this House could be laid on the tables of the libraries of the various State parliaments? May I say that I am referring, not to formal papers, but only to reports of substantial interest. If you are prepared to have such consultations, will you advise the House of the outcome of them?
– I will give attention to the question asked by the honorable member. If, after consideration, it is decided that anything can be done, it will be done. If necessary, I will report to the House on the matter.
– My question, which is directed to the Prime Minister, is supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Wannon. Will the right honorable gentleman consider making a statement to the House, at the first opportunity, covering not only the discussions between the Minister for External Affairs and President Soekarno of Indonesia but also the whole of the Minister’s trip to Malaysia, and giving details of Australia’s commitments to Malaysia, including any possible future commitments, thus allowing members of this Parliament and the nation generally to have first-hand information from the Government instead of having to rely on newspaper speculation?
– A great number of the matters in which, very properly, the honorable member is interested will be better known when my colleague comes here on his brief return visit. I myself would think it most desirable that a statement should be made on these matters, insofar as they lend themselves to a statement. 1 think I ought to take this opportunity, since the honorable member raises this matter, to say that there is a BritishMalayan defence agreement, which was made in 1957. That agreement makes provision for the maintenance of Australian forces in the Malayan Federation within the Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve, which is the particular structure. That arrangement has been in force among the four Commonwealth countries concerned - that is to say, Britain, Malaya, Australia and New Zealand - for a number of years. It has served its purpose well, too. Under that agreement Australian forces in Malaya took part in putting down insurrectionary activities, as the honorable member knows.
I am pleased to say that there has been mutual acceptance of a proposal, and ready agreement among these nations, following discussions in recent weeks, that the arrangement should carry forward into the future. Specifically, that means that the Australian and Malayan Governments consider that the proposed course of action which is to cover the situation now that Malaysia has come into existence, is the most satisfactory. In other words, our arrangement, instead of directing itself to Malaya, will now direct itself to Malaysia - the enlarged unit. I am not saying this because I want to prevent honorable members from having an opportunity to discuss this matter. I expect, at any rate by the beginning of next week, to have the full text of the documents that have been exchanged, and other documentary material, which will enable honorable members to see the full force and effect of this matter. I propose, as soon as that material is available - I hope on Tuesday of next week - to table it and thereby provide facilities for honorable members to discuss it if they feel so disposed.
– I preface a question addressed to the Postmaster-General by stating that as a result of great improvement in Australian telephone services trunk line calls over long distances are now, generally speaking, as readily available as those over short distances. In these circumstances, I ask the Postmaster-General whether he will consider establishing a low flat rate as the particular person call charge.
– I am very glad to have that acknowledgment from my friend the honorable member for Mallee of the improved services which are now available on the trunk lines throughout Australia. He asks whether, as a result of these improved services, it will be possible to introduce a flat rate for particular person calls.
– A low flat rate.
– I am sorry that I cannot say just offhand that I am prepared to meet the honorable member’s request although I know it arises from his very keen interest in his country supporters and his desire to reduce costs to them as much as possible.
I must point out to the honorable member, and to the House, that the present system of particular person charges offers certain advantages to the caller which I think justify the rates now operating. The rates charged for particular person calls are based on the same principle as are those for ordinary trunk line calls. That is to say, there is a sliding scale of charges according to the distance between the caller and the person called. The charges vary, I think, from ls. for distances up to 50 miles to about 6s. for distances of 400 miles and over.
It must be recognized that certain charges are incurred by the department in putting through a particular person call which are not applicable to a straight-out trunk line call. For example, the operator is required to spend certain time, which varies in each call, in attempting to locate the person who is being called. During that period, the caller is not charged for the use of the circuit involved. Consequently, there is a loss of revenue to the department, and it is considered equitable that the loss should to some extent be carried by the caller, because there is an offsetting advantage to him. First, the caller is not required to wait for the call to be put through. He is told that he will be called back. Secondly, if the person being called is not available, no charge is made for the time spent by the telephonist in trying to locate him. All the caller is required to pay is not the trunk line charge for the particular area but only the particular person charge which may be involved. I think that is a very fair system and one which I cannot see any prospect of being altered at the moment.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for National Development whether he has yet given consideration to the question of means of transport to bc used in the haulage of materials required in the construction of the Blowering dam. ls consideration being given to the question of bringing the material by rail to Tumut, which is only 7 miles from the dam construction site, thereby obviating road haulage involved if the materials required are sent via Cooma and over mountain roads?
– I will pass the suggestions on to the Minister in another place whom I represent here. However, I would think that the contracting authority, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, would consider these matters before moving the material required for the Blowering dam.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the Minister had an opportunity to study the report on automation of the New South Wales judge, Mr. Justice Richards? Is it true that after a five-year inquiry the judge is of the opinion that workers have not been importantly affected by automation, that their interests are being protected and that many things are being done to protect them from future upsets? In view of the great importance of these findings, would it be possible for the judge’s recommendations to be. brought before the House for consideration?
– I have not had an opportunity to read the report nor, during the last three weeks, have I had any overwhelming desire to do so. I have had prepared in my department a resume’ of the recommendations and the report of Mr. Justice Richards. I have made the resume* available to some of my colleagues on the Government side of the House and I would be only too happy to make it available to any other members of the Parliament who wanted to read it. I have been informed by my department that the findings and the substance of the report in broad terms accord with the report submitted to my colleague, the Treasurer, when he was Minister for Labour and National Service, by the Ministry of Labour Advisory Council. That report was, I think, a landmark in the consideration of the problems of automation. Any one interested in this subject ought to read it. Copies are readily available. I doubt whether it would be a good practice to have the report and recommendations of Mr. Justice Richards discussed by this House. However, if the honorable gentleman likes to read the resume prepared by my department, he can then discuss the matter with me and I will take up the suggestion of a debate on it with the Leader of the Opposition or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Services and is supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Lang, to which the Minister replied that increases in pensions would be paid about 14th November. I ask the Minister: Is it a fact that the payment of the £9,000,000 subsidy on superphosphate was made retrospective to the day after the Budget was introduced? If it was all right for the wealthy supporters of this Australian Country Party Minister to have the payment of the subsidy made retrospective, why cannot the increases in social service benefits also be made retrospective to the date they were announced, in the interests of the little people who need the increases?
– The procedures for the payment of pensions following alterations of pension rates were established and laid down by the previous socialist government and have been maintained ever since. There is no easy method of getting away from such procedures when the Treasury is involved in providing for the payment of vast sums on certain fixed and irrevocable dates in the current financial year.
– I desire to address a question to the Minister for Immigration. In view of the fact that in two States the number of persons not in employment is below the percentage stated by Mr. Monk, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, as that necessary to enable us to provide labour for seasonal occupations, will the Minister suggest to the Government that the immigration target be increased?
– As my colleague, the Treasurer, said in his Budget speech, the Government, anticipating the increasingly buoyant state of the economy, felt that it was expedient to take another move forward. We decided, therefore, to increase the overall immigration target in terms of long-term and permanent arrivals by another 10,000 a year. But certainly the figures released by the Minister for Labour and National Service yesterday are most inspiring, not only to the Government but also, I should think, to every well-wisher of the Australian nation. They show full well that the Government’s hopes for the continued pulsation and progress of the economy are to be fulfilled. Against that setting, we naturally look forward to what 1 believe to be the fulfilment of this year’s migration target, but beyond that at this stage I would not be able to give the honorable gentleman any further assurance.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment: -
International Development Association Bill 1963.
International Finance Corporation Bill 1963.
International Monetary Agreements Bill 1963.
World Health Organization Bill 1963.
Debate resumed from 12th September (vide page 1007), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Daly had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, this House is of the opinion that-
increases should be made in -
child endowment which has remained unchanged for the first child for 13 years and for subsequent children for15 years;
maternity allowances which have remained substantially unchanged for 20 years, and
pensioners’ funeral benefits which have remained unchanged for 20 years;
there should be a standard rate for all pensioners and supplementary assistance for special needs, thus removing the discrimination against married pensioners;
other social service payments and qualifications including permissible income should be adjusted to compensate for changes in the cost of living;
Australia now lags behind most comparable countries in its expenditure on social welfare, and
research and enquiry into social welfare in Australia is inadequate “.
.- I am very pleased to have this opportunity to support the amendment so ably moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) to the motion for the second reading of the bill. I want to point out that the general theme of speakers in support of the Government during this debate has been that social service benefits are of greater value to-day that they were when Labour was in office. That is untrue, and it is known to be untrue by those who make the claim. Every recipient of social service benefits has been short-changed ever since this Government has been in office. The increases in social service benefit payments have not kept pace with inflation, so the recipents of the benefits are continually dragging behind increased costs. At the same time the people are paying more for the shrunken benefits that they receive. As the result of inflation over the years, the taxpayer has passed into higher income tax ranges and although he gets less in terms of real value in his pay packet the Commonwealth has reaped more from him and has given him less in return. This emphasizes the misleading statement made by the present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in 1949 when, in order to buy a few votes, he said -
The value of social services will be at least maintained. Indeed, it will be increased. Pensioners can rely upon us for justice.
I wonder how the married pensioners and other recipients of social service benefits feel now about the statement that they can rely upon this Government for justice. They have not had justice since this Government has been in office. If the Government had kept the lid on prices during the years of its office instead of letting inflation run riot, the money paid by the people for social security would have had the same value to-day as it had when it was paid out. When people contributed to the National Welfare Fund before 1949 they believed the money they were paying into it would retain its value and that they would be able to get as much out of the fund as they were paying in, but they find that they are now getting bad money in the place of good. They were paying good money into the fund years ago, but now, in the form of social service benefits, they are getting a return of considerably less value. During the period this Government has been in office, the value of the £1, as honorable members know, has shrunk from 20s. in those days to 7s.
The people are now losing in two ways. The value of social service benefits has been clipped, just as though an extra tax had been placed upon the people. As I proceed, I will show how social service benefits have shrunk in value. The existing rate of the maternity allowance was laid down by the Curtin Government twenty years ago, in 1943, at from £15 to £17 10s., and it has not been changed since then. During that period, the basic wage has risen from £4 16s. to £14 8s. for the six capital cities. That illustration gives an idea of the loss of value of that benefit, in particular.
The Australian Labour Party has already announced that, when it becomes the Government, the range of the maternity allowance will be increased to from £30 to £35 - which is double the present amount - to cover the cost of the birth of a child. From the inception of the maternity allowance in 1912 until this Government came into office the allowance would always pay the expense associated with the birth of a child. It took this Government to break that principle down. Due to the cost involved, married couples are now putting off having children. At one time there was little or no financial burden associated with the birth of a child, but to-day the joy of having a family is clouded by financial worries. Economic reasons delay many newly married couples from having their first child. In many cases both husband and wife have to work in order to establish their home, before they can even consider having a child. So much for the maternity allowance.
Let us now look at child endowment, another benefit which has lost its value under this Government. With the exception of the payment for the first child, child endowment has not been increased for fifteen years. Big families were the order of the day at one time, but most married couples are now doing little more than replace themselves. The average number of children born into a family to-day is 2.19 and fewer than one Australian couple in five is now interested in having a family of four children. Married couples will not have big families because their spending power is reduced as additional children come along. Parents know they cannot do justice to big families. I will draw an illustration to show how family spending power is reduced as additions to the family take place. A man earning £25 a week marries and, with taxation deducted, receives £22 8s. 8d. a week. That gives him and his wife £11 4s. 4d. each a week. The first child comes along, income tax payments are then reduced to 8s. 3d. a week and they get 5s. a week in child endowment. The net amount received each week is then £22 16s., which gives an income per head of £7 12s. Making similar calculations for reduced tax payments and increased child endowment, the advent of the second child reduces income per head to £5 19s. a week. When the third child arrives the income per head is reduced to £4 18s. a week, and when the fourth child comes along there is an income per head of a little more than £4 a week. This clearly shows that there is no encouragement at all for people to have children. The inflation that has occurred under this Government’s administration has meant that more income tax has had to be paid by those on low-wage levels, while a smaller amount of goods can be purchased with the same amount of money. In 1949, a family receiving the basic wage and having two children paid 16s. a year in income tax. To-day a similar family pays £20 16s. a year.
In order to lift the burden from families the Government should surely have increased child endowment rates. Such an increase is long overdue. In 1948, when the basic wage was £5 16s. a week, a family with five children received £2 a week in child endowment. To-day, with the basic wage for the six capital cities at £14 8s., a family with five children receives only £2 5s. a week in child endowment. The basic wage has increased about twoandahalf times over the period, so that to maintain the purchasing power the amount of child’ endowment paid to that family should be at least £4 10s. a week. The policy of the Australian Labour Party is clearly laid down. We say that endowment should be paid at the rate of 1 ls. a week for the first child, 19s. for the second and 22s. for each other child. The total for a family with five children would then be £4 16s. It now stands at £2 5s.
It is very important for us to increase child endowment so that people will be encouraged to have children. We say that besides making increased payments we should extend the payment of endowment to cover all children up to the age of sixteen years attending school. I mentioned earlier that families now have, on the average, 2.19 children. It is not difficult to realize why families have so few children when one sees how this Government has treated large families since it has been in office. There is no encouragement for families to produce Australian children. I have with me an extract from the Perth “ Daily News “ of 16th August, 1963. It is headed, “Child Endowment - See How It Shrinks “, and it reads -
When Treasurer Holt left child endowment rates unaltered in the current Budget it meant that payments had not changed in 13 years.
In Western Australia 113,000 families are affected- last year they collected £5,400,000 in endowment money.
The money - 5/- for a first-born, and 10/- for each addition - was paid to the parents of the 267,000 for whom endowment is claimed in this State.
The last change in endowment rates was made on June 20, 19S0, when in addition to the 10/- for every child after the first, the 5/- allowance for every first-born was introduced.
At that time, butter sold at 2/2 a lb., milk at 6id. a pint, bread at 10 1/2 d. for a 21b. loaf and best eggs were 3/6 a dozen.
Today butter is 5/- a lb. (increase of J 30.7 per cent.); milk is 10 id. a pint (61.5 per cent.); bread is 1/7 (80.9 per cent.); best eggs are 6/- (71.4 per cent.).
A further illustration of the shrinking value of endowment is provided by a comparison of wages in the 13 years.
The metropolitan women’s basic wage has jumped 140.4 per cent, from £4/14/1 to £11/6/1.
The metropolitan basic wage for men has increased 80.1 per cent, from £8/6/6 to £15/1/6.
The Commonwealth basic wage for Perth mcn has increased 8G per cent, from £8 to £14/8/-.
But the child endowment rates are where they were 13 years ago, now with a much lower spending power.
That “ Focus Inquiry “ as it is called, compares living costs at the time when the 5s. endowment payment was introduced for the first child with present-day costs. It is a very good comparison and shows clearly how people have been missing out in respect of child endowment. It also shows clearly that this Government is not very interested in aiding the families of Australia.
Some time ago the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council investigated nutrition levels in our community. It found that 73 per cent, of families with two children enjoyed a firstclass diet, but that only 62 per cent, of families with three children kept to that standard. For families with four children the figure was 38 per cent., for those with five children 27 per cent, and for families with six children 16 per cent. Big families cannot afford fat, fruit and milk products in adequate quantities. They must settle for bread and cereals as substitutes. The picture is not of a few isolated cases, but of the entire community. If you have four children the odds are six to four against you being able to feed them well. Have five children and the odds lengthen to seven to three.
We heard the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) saying a little while ago that people were not feeding their children properly, and that if they did so the question of fluoridation of water supplies would not be so important. I suggest to the Minister that the reason why people are not feeding their families in the way that they should is that they are not getting enough money in their pay packets and in child endowment to purchase the food that is necessary. This Government should do something to increase the amount of money going into homes so that families will be able to afford the food necessary to keep up their Jiving standards.
We are to spend £13,000,000 this year in bringing immigrants to Australia. The Australian Labour Party is not opposed to the immigration programme because we realize that wc must increase our population. But surely consideration should be given to encouraging Australian mothers to bring children into the world. Australian children, it must be agreed, are the best citizens that we can get. But what encouragement does this Government give families to have additional children? It gives none at all.
So much for child endowment. Now I want to deal with pensions. I have said before that this Government has not the interests of pensioners at heart, and I say now that it stands condemned for not increasing the standard pension rate. It is the considered view of the Labour Party that all pensioners should have been granted an increase. In addition, we believe that the supplementary assistance should have been increased from 10s. to 30s. a week, with additional payments in cases in which there are special needs. If our proposals were accepted the single pensioner living alone would be better off, because he would get a more generous increase by way of supplementary assistance than is to be provided by this measure. It would also mean that the general body of pensioners would get increases.
The measure now before the House, as has been pointed out by other speakers on this side, creates anomalies. For instance, two single pensioners living together will get £1 a week more than a married pensioner couple will receive. Scientific and medical knowledge has been responsible, to some extent, for improved health standards in this country, so that people are living longer. Some are living into their eighties and nineties. We should be particularly concerned with the way in which they are living, and if some of them are povertystricken or in dire straits it is a reflection on our society. Yet there are many to-day who are in such a position. Thousands of age pensioners these days are asking whether it is a crime to grow old. They are having a struggle to exist on the pensions that this Government gives them.
A little while ago the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) announced that increased pensions would not be paid until 14th November. That is a shocking decision, and there is no good reason for it.
– I did not say that. I was referring to the introduction of the new standard rate.
– Whatever you referred to, the fact is that the increases will not be paid until 14th November. I say that that is a shocking decision. The increases should be paid from the day of presentation of the Budget, when they were announced. I drew this matter to the attention of the Minister when I questioned him about it. He is a member of the Country Party. It is noticeable that supporters of his paTty received a superphosphate subsidy of £9,000,000 in the same Budget and that the payment of that subsidy commenced from the day after the legislation was introduced. It was introduced on the day of the Budget. Why should the pension increases be treated differently? These increased payments also should be made retrospective to the day that they were announced. Pensioners should receive the same treatment as recipients of the superphosphate subsidy. If that treatment is good enough for the big man, why is it not good enough for the little man? Why grease the fatted pig all the time?
I turn now to the funeral benefit, which has lost its value, as all honorable members realize. It seems hardly necessary to mention that. When introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943, twenty years ago, this benefit was £10. At that time the basic wage was £4 16s. To-day the basic wage is £14 8s. but the funeral benefit remains at £10. Surely there is every justification for an increase. In 1943 a funeral cost about £10. To-day it is very difficult to find a funeral director who will conduct a funeral for less than £70. In some cases it costs much more than that. Does this Government want pensioners to be buried in paupers’ graves? The Australian Labour Party considers that the funeral benefit should be increased to £50. That is little enough, but at least some increase will be made when Labour comes into office.
The allowance for a dependant wife has been increased from £2 7s. 6d. a week to £3 a week. This means that an invalid pensioner and his wife are expected to live in sub-standard conditions on a pension of £8 5s. a week. Can anybody justify that? The only way in which such a couple can increase their income is by the wife going out to work and earning the permissible income, but if she goes out to work she loses the wife’s allowance. In many cases, however, the husband is too sick for the wife to leave him alone. She cannot go to work. Another factor is that a wife may not have been working for fifteen or twenty years. When her husband becomes an invalid and receives the invalid pension, how can she be expected to go back into industry? But this Government says that she must or that the couple must live on £8 5s. a week. This illustrates just how hard-hearted the Minister for Social Services is in these matters. They have been brought before him time and time again.
In this debate the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) said -
Where a pensioner’s spouse does not receive a pension, a married pensioner will receive the increase as if he were a single pensioner.
I have quoted a case where that does not apply. Where a wife receives a wife’s allowance of £3 a week, her pensioner husband will not get the 10s. increase. I believe that the Minister ought to have another look at that point. Surely the minimum that a couple in those circumstances should receive is £10 10s. a week. In such cases the wife should get a full pension. When Labour comes into office, that part of our policy will be implemented and no pensioners will have to live at a sub-standard level.
I am sorry that the honorable member for Moore is not in the chamber at the moment. During the course of his speech he revealed that his attitude is similar to that of the deputy leader of his party, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson), who is reported in “Hansard” of 29th August, 1963, as having said -
I will go on record as saying - I do not care what it costs me - that if I could see another £40,000,000 in the economy available this year for purposes other than those specified in the Budget, I would put an increase in pensions and other social service benefits last on the list. . . .
– Who said that?
– The Postmaster-General and Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party made that statement. He said -
I go on record to say that, and honorable members opposite can use it as they like.
We are using it, and I hope that people outside this chamber are listening. If honorable members opposite had their way there would be few social service benefits. If they had the courage to do so, they would reduce social service benefits. Certainly they would not have increased them as they have done except for the pressure exerted on them by people on this side of the House, and by organizations outside. I think it is a reflection on the Parliament that we have a Country Party Minister in charge of the Department of Social Services, particularly when his head is as hard as his heart.
The next matter I wish to refer to is the permissible income. In my view, consideration should be given to raising it from £3 10s. a week. I believe that the present limit is unfair to many people. I have in mind the worker who has paid into a superannuation fund. He has paid twice. He has paid his contribution to the superannuation fund and has paid into the National Welfare Fund. Recently in Western Australia contributors to the Government superannuation fund received increased units. The minimum payment received weekly rose to £4 7s. 6d., but single people did not get a benefit because their age pensions were reduced by 17s. 6d. a week. The result was that the total they received did not change. The permissible income should be increased in order to overcome such circumstances. Labour’s policy is the gradual elimination of the means test, but unfortunately, due to this Government coming into office, that policy could not be carried out. It was the aim of Ben Chifley, when Prime Minister, to abolish the means test over a period of eight years, but he did not get the opportunity to achieve that aim.
I have dealt fairly well with all the items that appear in the amendment so ably moved by the honorable member for Grayndler. I repeat them so that the people listening will know what we wish to provide. The amendment states that -
increases should be made in -
Dealing with the fourth item, I will quote some figures from an International Labour Organization publication, “ Cost of Social Security “. The following figures show the expenditure on social services expressed as a percentage of the national income of comparable countries: Austria, 17.6; Chile, 9.7; Finland, 12; Germany, 20.8; Italy, 15.2; The Netherlands, 12.3; Norway, 10.1; the United Kingdom, 12.1; Belgium, 16.3; Denmark, 12.0; France, 18.9; Ireland, 11.5; Luxembourg, 17.0; New Zealand, 13.0, and Sweden, 12.9. Australia has the lowest percentage. In case the point is raised. Mr. Deputy Speaker, let me say that Australia’s expenditure includes expenditure made by the States and by public authorities generally. We are now a bad last in expenditure on social welfare, whereas some years ago, we were well up in the list and were looked up to as a country that could boast about the provision that it was making for social welfare.
The Government boasts about its expenditure on social services and cites a comparison with 1949 to bolster its case. I think that this was adequately dealt with the other evening by the honorable member for Grayndler. However, let me briefly mention some of the matters that he raised. In 1949, expenditure on social welfare totalled £74.600,000. At 30th June, 1962, the annual rate of expenditure on social welfare totalled £282,600,000 a year. What Government supporters forget to say is that between 1949 and 1962 the population of Australia increased from 7,800,000 to 10,600,000. Also, in this period, we experienced inflation under this Liberal-Australian Country Party Administration - so much so that the consumer price index rose from 61 to 124. So the value of money diminished considerably. Therefore, it is ridiculous to speak of the actual sums spent on social services.
What we have to think of is the amount that the individual receives in the form of social service benefits. We have to ask ourselves: Is the individual receiving in terms of social service benefits as much in actual purchasing power as he received in earlier years? The answer is quite easy to arrive at. Are the recipients of child endowment receiving as much in actual purchasing power as they received in 1949? Obviously, the answer is, “ No “. The same applies to the maternity allowance, pensions generally and the funeral benefit. The value of all these benefits has been reduced since the present Government came to office. That is why Australia has slipped from first place to about last in terms of provision for social welfare. That is why we on this side of the House strongly support the statement in paragraph (5) of the amendment that research and inquiry into social welfare in Australia are inadequate. We call on the Government to institute an inquiry in this matter. We strongly urge a full-scale inquiry into our standards of social welfare.
I say finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government stands condemned for its attitude to social welfare because it has allowed the value of social service benefits to be reduced while it has been in office. The Australian Labour Party is pledged to restore the value of these benefits - to restore to the people of Australia that which is rightly theirs. Under Labour, Australia once again will lead the world in social service benefits, as it did when Labour was last in office in 1949.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I cannot go all the way with the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) who has just been exuberantly handing out social service benefits. Perhaps the only possible comparison that one can make is between him and Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer. My purpose will be much more limited than was the honorable member’s. I believe that improvements in social services can be made, and I want to say something about those improvements on a more limited scale. I hope that I will be constructive.
First, let me congratulate the Government on some of the measures that it has taken, particularly the increase in the benefit payable to widows, which I think will be supported by everybody. I thoroughly congratulate the Government on having taken this step. Secondly, I believe that the Opposition has been niggardly, to say the least, in its failure to support and congratulate the Government on the introduction of an increased benefit for a pensioner where there is only one pension going into the home. Pensioners in this position have been subjected to the greatest hardship. It is true that married couples have some advantages over the pensioner in a home in which only one pension is received.
When the cost of living has been stable and we are able to give something more, surely the Government has properly directed the additional benefit to the quarters where it will do the most good. I do not believe that married pensioners will grudge this, especially since they, in the unhappy common lot of the lives of all married couples, have to expect singleness when one partner in the marriage dies. The introduction of the increased benefit means that, when they most need money, extra money will be available to them. I thoroughly congratulate the Government on these two steps - increases for widows and single pensioners. They are part of a plan to raise the level of our social services. As our productivity rises and we become a richer nation, obviously, we can raise the level of our social services. lt seems to me that one of the most desirable things to do now is to make a concerted attack on the means test. The honorable member for Stirling paid lip service to this proposition, but we can see that it stands low on his list of priorities, lt does not even appear in the somewhat lengthy list enumerated in the amendment to the motion for the second reading of this bill that the Opposition has produced.
– It is to be found in paragraph (3).
– That means test is not mentioned as such there. The paragraph hedges round it, though perhaps that paragraph could be stretched to cover the means test.
As I have said, the means test seems to me to be the main thing that we should attack. Why? The first reason is that it is inequitable. Where it applies, it puts the person who has saved and made full provision for the future on the same footing as the person who has not done this to the same extent. It leads to all sorts of anomalies and injustices and is the occasion of a good deal of resentment against the administration of social services that naturally must be felt. The means test is psychologically bad and wrong.
The second reason why we should attack the means test is that it leads to manipulation. Every honorable member knows this. Our constituents come to us and say, “ Can you help us to arrange our affairs in such a way as to enable us to draw the pension? “ We help them - or most of us, I think, help them - to do just that. We are, in a way, encouraging a kind of snide performance in the community. I can understand how this happens and why people want to take advantage of every loophole in the law. I for one help them to do just that, because I believe that the means test is unjust, and I know that other honorable members on both sides of the House do the same as I do. However, this in itself leads to contempt for the law and to some kind of semi-legal approval of sharp practice.
The third reason why I think the means test is bad is that it leads to deliberate dissipation of assets. How often do we find people saying, “ I shall spend my money on this thing or that thing that I do not really want, in order to qualify for the pension”? This is economically bad. It is an extravagance which the country cannot afford. It means that people are spending money - their own money - not in ways which are really of their own choosing, but in a way forced on them by the means test.
The fourth reason why the means test is bad is that it represses saving. We want savings. The Australian economy is endemically short of savings. It is for this reason that Australia is forced to import overseas capital. It is for this reason that we are always worried about the shadow of inflation hanging over our heads. Because people feel that there is no point in saving - because by so doing beyond a certain point they will deprive themselves of their pensions - they reduce their savings and the economy becomes chronically sick in consequence.
In the fifth place the means test deprives people of the opportunity to earn and, by their productivity, to increase their general dividend in the economy. If you get people working they are producing real wealth. To deny them an opportunity to work - to introduce a system which artificially stops them from working - is crazy. That situation makes for national poverty. We want people who desire to work to feel that they can do just that. Very often people are less happy if forced into premature retirement than they otherwise would be. We want people who desire to work to be able to work free from the feeling that they will lose their pensions by working. Many people do not want to work full time. They want to work at a reduced capacity and pressure. It is perfectly natural and proper for them to feel that way, but they fear that, by so doing, they will lose their pensions.
The existence of the means test imposes a ceiling on our ability to raise pensions and other forms of social services because the means test - even in its ameliorated form of the merged means test - in point of fact reduces the difference between the person who has saved fully and the person who has not. The means test therefore reduces incentive. By reducing incentive it reduces productivity. By reducing productivity it reduces the ability of the economy to provide for all kinds of social services and other governmental spending. For all these reasons I say, not for the first time, because I have been trying to bring this matter before the House for the past thirteen years, that the means test is not economically sound. It is an extravagance which Australia can no longer afford. The sooner it goes, the better.
The means test is objectionable not only in itself but also because of its form. As we apply the means test now, after a certain level of earnings is reached the pension is reduced 100 per cent, for any additional earnings. In this way the application of the means test is different from the graduation that we apply on income tax, for example. In a sense, I suppose, a graduated income tax is a means test, but in this case there is not a 100 per cent, ceiling. As the income rises the percentage taken in tax increases, but the amount of tax never reaches 100 per cent.
The means test is doubly objectionable because of the crude and inefficient way in which it is imposed. The formula under which it is imposed is wrong. There should not be a cut-out at any point. If necessary there should be a gradual tapering off. If this were done the objections to the means test that I have detailed earlier would be far less cogent.
Now let me make some concrete proposals. To do so may I divide social services into two categories? First, and immeasurably the more important, is the case where eligibility is determined by an event certain - by attaining a certain age, by having a child or, for example, by losing a spouse. Those are events certain and not matters that are questions of opinion.
The second type of social service is of the nature, for example, of the invalid pension, which does entail a question of opinion as to whether a man is capable of full-time work or whether he is really trying to get employment. Let me direct my remarks entirely to the first category, namely to those social service benefits which are determined by an event certain and where a question of opinion does not enter into the eligibility of an applicant.
I want to talk mainly about age pensions. I have been provided with a most interesting table, prepared by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Statistical Service. The table shows the number of persons in receipt of age pensions in each of a number of years and also shows the number of persons in the population of pensionable age. The table shows the percentage of persons of pensionable age who are in fact drawing the age pension. The figures are most interesting. In 1947, for example, of the persons qualified by age to draw a pension, only 371 per cent, actually drew it. The percentage has increased year by year. By 1953 it had increased to 41 per cent. By 1959 it had increased to 49 per cent. By 1962 it had increased to almost 53 per cent. This year the figure will be about 55 per cent. With the concurrence of honorable members I incorporate the table in “ Hansard
– Would not liberalization of of the means test and the merged means test account for some of that increase?
– Liberalization of the means test and the application of the merged means test would account for some of the increase, but the honorable member will see from the figures that the increase in the number of persons drawing the pension progresses steadily, and not all of this progression is due to the merged means test because it is not confined to the time of the introduction of this new merged means test. No doubt the merged means test has helped, but a perusal of the table will show that it has not been the main factor in the increase in the number of persons of pensionable age drawing the pension. Of course, what has happened is that an increasing number of people are deliberately arranging their affairs to qualify for the pension.
When you look at this table you can calculate from it the cost of removing the means test from age pensions. Although the departmental figures for this year have not yet been published, I understand that there are about 630,000 age pensioners. This means that if every one over a certain age qualified for a pension there would be something like an additional 510,000 pen sioners. From this number certain deductions must be made. In the first place, about 30,000 would not qualify for a pension by reason of not being naturalized or of being recent comers to Australia who had not completed their necessary period of residence. About 40,000 would be service pensioners. If honorable members look at the table relating to service pensions in the last report of the Repatriation Commission, they will see that about 40,000 service pensioners are ex-servicemen of the First World War. It is obvious, therefore, that very few of them are in the 60-65 age group. So about 40,000 service pensioners would have to be deducted from the figure that I have mentioned. There are about 10,000 persons in mental hospitals who, under the existing legislation, do not receive pensions, and about 5,000 others in miscellaneous categories. These deductions together add to 85,000, so, taking them away from the original figure of 510,000, there would be about 425,000 additional pensioners from the complete removal of the means test. Taking an annual cost per pensioner of £273, means that the additional cost would thus be about £116,000,000. To this you would have to add a little for widows qualifying for a pension and for those people - there are not very many of them - who at present receive only a part pension but would qualify for a full pension if the means test were removed. It appears, then, that the maximum gross increase in expenditure would be of the order of £130,000,000. But from this you would have to deduct about £4,000,000 for a saving in administration costs and about £10,000,000 for the tax paid on the additional earnings of people who want to work but at present are debarred from working by the means test. So you would get a net cost of about £1 15,000,000 a year.
This is a very large amount of money and some compensation would have to be made for it. First, I think it is reasonable to expect that these new social service payments would be taxable. This taxation would be imposed, not by the block means test of which I have spoken, but by what virtually amounts to a properly graduated means test. It would mean, of course, that the very rich would obtain practically nothing, because most of the pension that they would receive would be added to their taxable income and would bear tax at a high rate. It would mean that those lower down the income scale - the medium income group - would receive perhaps one-half or three-quarters of the pension, because they would pay their income tax upon the pension on the graduated scale. It would mean that those at the bottom - of the income scale, who have little other income, would receive the full pension, because, in concurrence with my proposal, we would have to simplify the provisions of the income tax legislation and make a flat deduction for people of pensionable age. This could be done in such a way as to avoid any possible inequity in the lower income groups and could be adjusted very easily so that the extra taxable income arising from the inclusion of the new pensions would produce additional revenue of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 a year.
This would still leave about £80,000,000 or £90,000,000 to be found. This also is a large amount of money. If it were thought to be too large, it could bc reduced by increasing by a year or two the qualifying age for pensions. Let me make this clear. I want honorable members to examine sympathetically the age difference for qualification between men and women. This difference was fully justified in the old days because then there was no widow’s pension. The general age gap between men and women at the time of marriage was about five years, so, to provide for the widows, the difference in qualification age between men and women very rightly was inserted in the act. With the adoption of a widow’s pension the justification for this discrimination appears to be very much less. It may well be that to reduce the amount to which I have referred we could raise the qualifying age for men and women by perhaps a year or two. I do not claim that this necessarily should be done; I claim that it is one of the questions that we might examine, together with the overlapping of repatriation and other pensions and the expenditure provided for the States. On the whole, I think you could get the net cost down to about £60,000,000 or £70,000,000 a year without much trouble.
This would still leave a net additional cost. With this I would agree. There is no use in talking about the liberalization of social services unless you are prepared to spend additional funds. I would face up to this. We have a limited, not an unlimited, amount of money, but a case can be made out for some increase in expenditure. One factor which must be taken into consideration and which very frequently is overlooked in the consideration of the abolition of the means test is that this Government, from its taxation revenue, finds some hundreds of millions of pounds a year for capital works. Some of the money is used for its own capital works and some is loaned in various ways to the States for their capital works. This appropriation from revenue would not be necessary if more loan funds were coming in. It is necessary now because loan funds fall short of requirements.
One of the results of the abolition of the means test would be an increase in savings, which, I suggest, would go very largely into government bonds, especially if there were government bonds designed to take advantage of the new savings and to give the greatest possible convenience to the people who make the savings. Added to this, of course, would be the cessation of the present tendency of elderly people to dissipate their savings - to make an act of disinvestment - to qualify themselves for a pension. The additional savings generated would go a long way towards meeting the cost of my proposal. When you look at the abolition of the means test in terms of the net cost rather than the gross cost, the amount would not be so very high.
It is perfectly true that the increased savings to which I have referred would not occur overnight. There would be some time lag between the removal of the means test and the generation of new savings, but I do not think that the time lag would be very large.
We should now have a plan to phase out the means test in three years. I ask the Government to do something about this matter. I believe it is high time the Government started to re-think its position. In the past I have spoken in this House about an old model car which, if it is patched up, can keep going for a time, but then the time comes when it has to be traded in on a new model. I believe we have reached that latter stage in our social services legislation. It is time for the Government to re-think this matter, to have an entirely new approach and to say that the old model was a good model which served us well, but the time has now come to trade it in on a new model.
I ask the Government to do that, because it is obvious that the constructive thinking on this matter must come from the Government side and not from the Opposition side. In recent debates in this chamber, even in the debate on this bill, we have had too much evidence of members of the Opposition scattering largesse without any consideration of what is involved; simply trying to buy votes without any constructive or coherent plan. But members on the Government side can look at this matter in a balanced way and so bring before the House and the country a new plan, a constructive plan, a plan which not only will remove the inequities of the means test but also will generate new forces of production and saving in the economy, and thereby make more tractable all the financial problems that face Australia. I commend this proposal to the Government not only as something that should be done on humanitarian grounds - although I believe it should be done on humanitarian grounds - but as something which is practicable and which, if approached in a constructive way and with a coherent plan, can be put into effect without any wild extravagance and in a way which not only will make the economy healthy and more progressive but also will enable Australia to carry on with the record that this Government has of increasing, liberalizing and improving our social services.
.- I rise to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) last Thursday evening. That amendment was a very comprehensive one. It typified and explained the attitude of the Labour movement to social services. The honorable member moved the amendment in a very creditable manner when he opened the debate on this bill for the Labour Opposition. Before making my remarks and criticisms in relation to the amendment and the bill before the House, I want to make a short reference to the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). He has just given us a testimony in favour of the abolition of the means test. It should not be necessary to remind him that the Labour Party’s policy is the gradual abolition of the means test, and also that the last Labour Government, which was the Chifley Government, set out a programme to achieve that object. That Government established the National Welfare Fund. Contributions were to be paid into that fund annually and the fund was to be built up until it was capable of withstanding the financial impact of the abolition of the means test. I say with all sincerity that, had Labour remained in office since 1949, to-day we would probably have reached that very desirable stage at which the means test could be abolished outright in one year.
But the Australian people were not fortunate enough to reach that stage, because they listened to a lot of hocus pocus in 1949, put out the Labour Government and put this miserable Government in its place. For the last fourteen years this Government has adopted a policy of paying into the National Welfare Fund each year only enough to meet the annual commitments. That means, in effect, that this Government has sabotaged the long-range plan of the Chifley Labour Government to abolish the means test. To-day supporters of the Government verbally support the abolition of the means test. The present annual payments to the National Welfare Fund make it almost impossible for the government of the day to abolish the means test immediately. If a Labour government took over to-morrow it would be in that position. It would have to start all over again with the very sound basic economic plan that was commenced by the last Labour Government under the prime ministership of the late beloved Ben Chifley. It is interesting to recall that in the 1949 election campaign the present Government parties promised to abolish the means test by 1952. The honorable member for Mackellar was a member of one of those parties at that time. As such, I presume he subscribed to that promise and to that policy. It now seems that he has woken up, as a rather belated rebel, to the fact that the means test has not yet been abolished.
This afternoon the honorable member, in his usual way, made some unusual suggestions. We have come to expect unusual suggestions from him. I suggest that he should make these impassioned pleas first to his own caucus, because that should bc the genesis or starting point of all these reforms that he expounds so volubly in this House before members of both the Government parties and the Opposition. He knows full well that he will achieve nothing by expounding them in this House. His only chance of real progress lies in his using his persuasive powers within his own caucus and persuading sufficient members of his party to follow the lines that he suggests from time to time. In that way he may make some progress. At present he is making progress backwards, if I may use contradictory terms.
Last Tuesday evening we listened to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) deliver to this House an outline of the proposed changes in social services arising from the 1963-64 Budget. His speech indicated the new rates that will apply, as compared with the old ones. In the dying moments of his speech he treated us to a philosophical talk. He sought to tie in the largesse of this Government on this occasion with the evolution of the progress of mankind on the theory, “I am’ my brother’s keeper”. This may have sounded interesting to some, but to me it did not convey any idea of advanced thinking by successive governments of the type of which the honorable member is a member. The history of Liberal governments discloses that most of the social service benefits introduced by them were introduced under pressure from the Opposition and from the public and not by way of spontaneous action emanating from any goodness of heart on their part towards the less privileged sections of our community. I feel that a more accurate picture of the Liberal Government’s policy on social services was revealed in a paragraph of the report of the Minister’s philosophizing speech last Tuesday night. To emphasize my point, I quote the following statement by the Minister as reported on page 781 of “Hansard”: -
Human nature being what it is, there have always been (hose who have opposed the intrusion of the State, and there have always been those who have suggested that the poor and the unfortunate should accept their fate and (hat they should be left to the tender mercies of the traditional charities with all their palpable imperfections.
That line of thought has been voiced constantly down through the years by many members of the Government parties both inside and outside this Parliament. There are still thousands of Liberals who would follow such a policy if it were not for a vigorous and vigilant opposition. As the Australian Labour Party grew in stature and influence, the selfishness inherent in the attitude and thinking of the Liberal and Country Parties has been gradually changed and the welfare state has developed with its human compassion to care for the sick and the needy in the community. I am sure that the Labour Party will continue to lead the fight in this great humanitarian work notwithstanding the fact that it may not always be a Labour government which introduces the amending legislation designed to effect improvements in our social service structure. As has happened before, enlightened public opinion backed by continued advocacy from the Australian Labour Party will force antiLabour governments to take action. The welfare state in Australia is certainly growing and expanding, and it will continue to expand while the Labour movement continues to raise its voice against the anomalies and injustices which still cry out for attention. There are also other smaller organized groups of interested social service recipients who play an important part by continuing to conduct campaigns for a fairer deal for their respective members.
Listening to the Minister, I felt that there was a tinge of sadness in his voice when he was philosophizing on the development of the welfare state, the name which we now give to the application of the socialist policy of looking after our under-privileged citizens, of taxing the more affluent and distributing some of the proceeds amongst the poor. We do know that the Minister has been very stubborn in not acceding to the many pleas made by members of the Opposition in their endeavours to have anomalies corrected from time to time. Indeed, his stock answer to our many requests has been, “ The matter will receive sympathetic consideration when the next Budget is being prepared “. This answer has been given over a number of years prior to the introduction of many budgets.
It is interesting to record the barren nature of the Government’s social service policy. In fact, if we are to judge from the many points taken by this Government from Labour’s policy, we may reasonably assume that this Government has no real policy of its own at all. If it has any policy, it certainly has kept it in cold storage because almost every improvement made by this Government to our social services has been in ways that the Labour Party has been advocating for many years.
Last Thursday night, the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) graphically described how this Government had filched one of Labour’s policy planks in easing the property means test. Many months before the Government announced that it proposed to introduce legislation to ease the property means test, the parliamentary Labour Party’s social services committee had written to the department seeking the estimated cost of the very proposals which the Government later introduced and claimed as its own inspiration. At that time, the Minister would not supply our committee with an estimated cost, his excuse being that the question was too hypothetical. Yet, some months later, the Government introduced what was, in fact, Labour’s original proposal, and also supplied the cost. That action demonstrates the game of hide and seek which this Government adopts over social services, and many of the increases now proposed are but copies of what Labour has been advocating for many years. Another recent provision pinched from Labour’s policy was the reduction of the residential requirement from twenty years to ten years to qualify for social services.
I want to say something now about some of the things this Government has failed to do. This Government will go down in history for its shameful record on the question of child endowment. Despite the glowing pictures it has painted from time to time about Australia’s prosperity, this Government has never attempted to allow the mothers of Australia an opportunity to share in this alleged prosperity by granting them an increase in child endowment. Apart from granting 5s. for the first child 13 years ago, the Government has left for dead those families which really needed the increased endowment to overtake a little of the inflation that had taken place and to compensate them for the loss in purchasing power of the money they received. Year after year, the Government has completely ignored this very important social service, and it is to its shame that, while ignoring the needs of the families during that period, the Government has given many millions of pounds by way of concessions to the wealthy classes and made it so much easier for those classes to add many more millions of pounds to their private wealth. The moneys saved to the wealthy classes by the abolition of the federal land tax and the granting of income tax and other concessions that meant something worthwhile to them would have been much better distributed amongst the mothers of Australia by way of increased child endowment, with special emphasis placed on the needs of the larger families who, after all, are Australia’s best immigrants. That would be Labour’s approach to child endowment, and one day when Labour again occupies the Government benches the people of Australia will enjoy this advanced social service.
Closely allied to child endowment is the question of maternity allowances which have not been changed for twenty years.
Hospital charges to-day are out of all proportion to the allowances granted for maternity expenses. Again, the funeral benefit has not been changed for twenty years. This unchanged benefit is also completely unreal when compared with presentday funeral costs. Indeed, the whole pattern of social services and the welfare state emphasizes the sharp difference between the thinking and action of the Labour Party and the Liberal Party. I feel sure that many Australians must have fervently wished that, despite its many handicaps, the Labour Party had won the last federal election. I am sure, too, that they will never forget that the Menzies-McEwen Government was saved by only a handful of Communist preferences cast in favour of the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). Those preferences were just sufficient to enable the honorable member to hold his seat and thus allow this Government to continue to function with a majority of only one.
One of the finest planks in Labour’s platform is the provision of supplementary assistance to meet the varying needs of pensioners. Honorable members know only too well from their experience that the circumstances of pensioners vary considerably. To meet this situation, Labour would vary the present flat rate of 10s. a week supplementary assistance and would make it elastic enough to extend from 10s. to 30s. a week, with the right to make provision for special needs, if the circumstances warranted doing so. In this way most, if not all, of the existing anomalies would be eased and we would have a much happier band of elderly people enjoying the eventide of their lives.
Another anomaly is the continued restriction of the permissible income for pensioners. Whilst it is true that many pensioners are unable to earn anything in addition to their pensions, others are still physically able to earn more than the present permissable income of £3 10s. a week. Increases in the cost of living have reduced the value of the present rate of permissable income and it needs to be altered urgently. This restriction often creates hardships for widowed pensioners who could earn much more than the present limit if they were permitted to do so. The present rigid system of applying social services needs a thorough overhaul so that the varying circumstances found amongst the pensioner community may be mct.
I have shown how Labour’s policy of supplementary assistance with an elastic range from 10s. to 30s. would cater for the varying needs of pensioners. Similarly, Labour’s policy on child endowment would provide greater benefits than does the existing system of almost flat rate payments. Labour would increase the payment for the first child from 5s. to 10s. a week and would provide 17s. 6d. for the second child and 20s. for the third and subsequent children. In this way, we would be meeting the greatest need wherever it existed. This is always Labour’s approach to this human problem. As we go through the whole list of social services, we will find that Labour’s approach is that of providing for the greatest need. The Government’s policy of discrimination can lead only to confusion and some ill feeling amongst pensioners. It is a step backwards. Instead of cementing friendship and creating harmony amongst pensioners, the Government’s latest action will breed suspicion and distrust.
The Labour Party proposes a basic rale of pension tied to the basic wage and payable to all pensioners, with supplementary assistance to those in special circumstances and in special need. The expansion of the national assistance system for those suffering special hardships would be a welcome innovation and a relief from the Government’s present rigid flat rate system. Some honorable members opposite have tried to misrepresent Labour’s approach to this matter. They have tried to imply that we would penalize the single pensioner in order to help the married pensioner. Nothing is further from the truth. All pensioners would receive the basic rate, and those with special needs, including single pensioners, would receive special assistance. If a single pensioner in certain given circumstances needed more assistance, he would be catered for under the elastic system proposed in Labour’s policy. If the Government remains in office long enough - I hope it does not remain in office for very much longer - we may see more of Labour’s reforms adopted by it. But this is very chancy and a remote possibility. Under a Labour government, these reforms would become reality. The pensioners would be much better off if Labour were in power and these improvements were introduced. Any pension increases would be applied immediately, just as the superphosphate subsidy and other similar benefits are applied from the day following the introduction of the Budget.
Widow pensioners have been treated with some justice in this Budget, and this will help them in their onerous task of raising a family on limited means. Here again, the latest increases granted by the Government arc not as generous as those that would be granted by a Labour government. Our policy is that the widows’ pension should not be less than the basic rate of age pension. B and C class widows, who were ignored on this occasion, would particularly welcome Labour’s policy. These classes of widows have the same living expenses as other widows have, and they deserve more consideration. The many pensioners who have been shabbily passed over by the Government must be disappointed and disillusioned. An outstanding anomaly overlooked by the Government is that the dependant wife of a pensioner to-day receives only the equivalent of the extra allowance to be paid to a class A widow. We do not criticize the widow for what she will receive, but we do condemn the Government for ignoring the needs of a dependant wife.
Other facets of social services could be canvassed on this occasion, but I think that one point ought to be emphasized. For fifteen years, the Government has refused to increase child endowment. If money were provided through this channel, it would be immediately circulated amongst the business community and throughout the economy generally. I believe that the present stagnation in the business community is largely due to the fact that the prosperity that Australia is allegedly enjoying does not result in more money being placed in the hands of those who spend readily and so stimulate the economy. This prosperity is being enjoyed mainly by the wealthy people who do not need more money and who only place any extra money in some form of investment. That is why to-day the ordinary business man is marking time and speaking in terms of stagnation. The Government should take heed of this fact. But in this Budget it has done nothing to correct that anomaly.
Order! I point out to the honorable member that this is not a debate on the Budget. The House is discussing the Social Services Bill.
– I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I was making passing reference to this matter by way of illustration. I do not want it to form part of my main address, but I thought it was worth making this passing reference during this debate.
It is unfortunate that there are in the Cabinet Ministers who have expressed themselves as being unenthusiastic about the whole of the social services legislation. That, in itself, must retard the progress of social services under this Government. I believe it is the wish of the great majority of the people of Australia that this Government should be replaced, at the earliest possible moment, by a Labour government which will be deeply conscious of its responsibility to the people whose needs are greatest. I think we will all feel very happy when Labour comes to office, not only because we will then occupy the treasury bench and the back benches on the government side, but also because the little people, the people who make Australia a great nation, will receive the benefits that are their just due. They will receive the social justice that is due to them from any Commonwealth government, whatever its political colour may be.
.- When the honorable member for Adelaide, (Mr. Sexton) rose I think we all realized that he would advocate the normal, usual socialist Utopia. I did do him the credit, however, of thinking that he would not have imbibed from his older colleagues the sour milk of envy at the glorious record of the Menzies Government in the field of social services.
I shall not use my time in giving the Government any more praise, because I believe actions speak louder than words. One has only to look at the actions of this Government in the past twelve years or so in order to realize what it has done in the field of social services. However, there is one point which the honorable member for Adelaide and some of his colleagues have made with regard to the percentage of the Commonwealth’s revenue - they allege it is a comparatively small percentage - used for the payment of social services. They quoted the expenditure on social services in some sub-standard countries - I know those countries will forgive me if I use that term loosely - such as Chile, Peru and Italy, where there is great need for social services. The honorable member for Adelaide did not quote as a percentage of gross revenue the expenditure on social services in the United States of America, Canada or any other prosperous country like Australia. In a country with a prosperous economy, the amount of money allotted for social services in relation to gross revenue is not so great because the need is not so great as is the case in less-prosperous countries. That is something which the honorable member for Adelaide and his colleagues would do well to remember.
We have before us at the moment the enabling bill to give force to the recommendations for increases in social service payments as outlined by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) during his second-reading speech on the Appropriation Bill, to which the Opposition has moved a lengthy amendment. I want to speak about several of the paragraphs in the amendment, but first I wish to say something about this Government’s recognition of the plight of the civilian widow. This is a matter which it was necessary to deal with and it has been very ably handled by the introduction of the mothers’ allowance of £2 a week. In effect the civilian widow with one or more children will now receive an increased payment of about £3 in addition, of course, to the benefit of continuing to receive the payment until her children are eighteen years of age, if they remain at school. I would like to see that principle extended further, and perhaps that extension will come about in the future. I do not think any child should be denied education if he or she has the intellectual ability to undertake it.
We have heard a lot to-day, and in the debate on the Budget, of the differential rate of pension for the single pensioner. I remember that as far back as 1957 I stood up in this place and severely criticized the Government for its un scientific approach to social services. I criticized the principle of raising a pension by a flat rate all the way through and I said then, as I believe now, that that is the easy way out. The only way in which to handle the problem properly is to judge where the need is greatest and to adjust the benefit to that need. Undoubtedly this is what has since occurred. A major step forward was the introduction - effective from March, 1961 - of the merged means test, but in this step forward something happened.
In my opinion, the merged means test gave a much greater benefit to a married couple than to a single pensioner, and I shall illustrate my point by a short example. Let us take the case of two couples, both the husbands being aged 65 years and both spouses aged 60. Both couples live in equivalent houses, or if you like, pay the same amount of rent or own their own homes. Both have equivalent worldly goods and both have £4,000-odd invested or outside property to that value. One man has the misfortune to lose his wife just before he applies for the pension. The other man is a breadwinner and he and his wife can receive £10 10s. a week in pension and he retains the right to the income from the investment of his £4,000. The other man, who has the misfortune to lose his wife a few days before he applies for the pension, now finds that he is completely ineligible for it because until he has spent £2,020 of his £4,000 he cannot he granted the pension of £5 5s. a week, although he is still faced with the same expense in running his house as is the other man.
I am endeavouring to prove to the House that the merged means test does weight the benefit in favour of the married couple. Consider the case of a married couple who are living in a home and either paying rent, or meeting rates and taxes if the home is their own, and are receiving £10 10s. a week pension together with the return from £4,000 invested. Unfortunately, if one of them dies, the survivor is placed in a position where he or she can receive no pension at all until the £4,000 invested has been reduced below £2,000. After it is reduced below £2,000 the pension payable drops immediately to half that received by a married couple and is reduced further either by the return being only from the £2,000 invested or from the lower permissible income from personal exertion, although expenditure remains the same. There is not a great deal of difference between the amount of food needed for one person and the amount needed for two. Honorable members know that while they are in Canberra their wives still buy the same amount of foodstuffs as when they are at home, and rates and taxes go on just the same,
– That is not right, at all.
– Your wife might buy another pork chop when you are at home, but there is not much difference in her household expenditure when you are away.
The point I am trying to make is that the Government showed that it recognized the tremendous difficulties that have to be faced in certain circumstances when one of an elderly married couple dies and the survivor is left to cope with all the resultant problems alone.
There is another matter of which the Government took cognizance. That was what might have been considered an anomaly in respect of supplementary assistance, which was limited to a single pensioner paying rent, with an income of not more than 10s. a week and with property to the value of not more than £200. I have many people in my electorate who have been affected adversely by this provision. Take, for instance, the case of a daughter who has looked after her mother and father who have owned a small cottage. They have died and left the cottage to the daughter, who then has to pay the rates and taxes on the property. She cannot go out to work and experiences a great deal of difficulty. But because she owns the property she cannot get any supplementary assistance at all. The increase of 10s. a week to a single pensioner will be of great assistance in alleviating hardships in such cases and placing such a person in a position similar to that of the one who is receiving supplementary assistance. The application of the differential rates has been scientifically studied in an endeavour to give back to the single pensioner a little of the advantage that the merged means test originally gave and which it still gives to the married pensioner couple.
I would have thought that this was fairly obvious, and I was amazed to hear the honorable member for Grayndler, in his opening speech after having been elevated to the Opposition front bench, declare that the Government proposed that marriage should be a bar to the receipt of an adequate pension. I thought that was fairly childish until I read a report in the Melbourne “Sun” of Monday, 16th September, reporting a broadcast statement by one of the colleagues of the honorable member for Grayndler in another place, Senator Sandford. On a programme known as “ Labour Hour “ Senator Sandford made certain remarks which appeared in this newspaper report under the heading, “Divorce ‘encouraged by Menzies Government ‘ “. The report reads -
The Menzies Government seemed to be encouraging divorce or de facto associations, Senator Sandford (Labor, Vic.) said yesterday.
Speaking on the Labor Hour on 3KZ, he condemned the Government’s provision for pensions in the Budget.
It was ridiculous to give single pensioners a 10/- increase but award nothing to the married pensioner, he said. “ The Menzies Government appears to be setting out to encourage divorce or de facto associations by this policy,” he said.
Senator Sandford urged that some of the millions of pounds spent on migration be diverted to lifting child endowment. 1 do not know how men of mature age, if not judgment, can make allegations such as this. The legislation is quite clear on this matter, lt says quite definitely that when a man and woman live together in a de facto association they are recognized, for the purposes of the merged means test and social services, as being a married couple. This gives them the advantage of having their assets merged and held jointly, which is quite a benefit in a case in which one does not qualify and the other does.
Senator Sandford suggested that the Menzies Government is encouraging divorce among pensioners. Suppose a man over the age of 65 and a woman of more than 60 years decide to become divorced so that they can get an extra 10s. a week each. What do they do? They either allege misconduct by one of them - at their age! - or they decide on separation for five years. This is completely and utterly stupid. The legislation makes it quite clear that a break-up of marriage by separation is not recognized unless there is a registered, written deed of separation, and one of the terms of that deed of separation is that the parties shall not live in the same menage. They must be domiciled separately.
– In New South Wales a judge recently ruled contrary to that.
– I cannot help what a judge did in New South Wales. This is what is laid down in the act. I know the case that you are talking about and it was slightly different. You are talking about a ground for divorce; I am talking of a ground for the receipt of social service benefits, which is an entirely different thing.
When we have these facts before us it is hard to understand how men of supposedly sound judgment could make such allegations. Yet this is the sort of trash that people are reading and believing. It is in line with the propaganda that we usually hear from members of the Opposition on these subjects.
We have heard something about Labour policy. I have before me some notes regarding the Labour Party conference held in Perth in July and August of this year, and I also have before me some notes on Labour policy as pronounced in the 1961 election campaign. We have heard honorable members opposite tell us that Labour policy is that age and invalid pensiones should be fixed at half the basic wage. I do not see this in the policy announced in 1961. Labour’s policy then was that age and invalid pensions were to be increased to £5 10s. a week, representing an overall pension increase of 5s. a week, as against the Government’s provision for an extra 10s. a week for more than two-thirds of all pensioners. At the conference in Perth in July and August of this year Labour Party policy again envisaged a basic pension rate of £5 10s. a week.
We have heard a good deal about widows’ pensions. The Labour Party proposed to increase all A, B and C class widows’ pensions to £5 10s. a week. I think we have lifted the A, B and C class widows by 10s. a week. Honorable members opposite have also spoken about the extension of the domestic allowance for war widows to class A widows. The domestic allowance paid to war widows at the moment, I think, is £3 7s. 6d. a week, and I think I have shown that the mother’s allowance and other additional benefits give about an extra £3 a week.
But I have before me a note on widows’ pensions which I must accept as referring to a decision made at the Labour Party conference last August. If I am wrong in this respect I hope someone will deny what I am suggesting was decided at the conference. My note says, “ Widows’ pensions to be fixed at a date nearer the elections”. That is a damning decision to make. I am very pleased to say that the present Government would not do anything of that kind.
I would like to refer for a moment to child endowment, about which the Opposition has proposed an amendment. I shall give, very briefly, the history of child endowment. It was introduced by the Menzies Government in 1941 at the rate of 5s. a week for each child under the age of sixteen years in excess of one in a family. Since then the rate has been increased by 2s. 6d. a week on two occasions, in 1945 by the Curtin Government and in 1948 by the Chifley Government. In 1950 the Menzies Government extended endowment to the first or only child under sixteen years at the rate of 5s. a week. Members of the Opposition have very conveniently overlooked the economic factors that were operating at the time of the introduction of child endowment on a Commonwealth level, on the two occasions it was increased by Labour governments and at the time of the endowment of the first child in 1950. They should realize that the arbitration tribunals of those times approached the basic wage on the basis of what was required for a man, his wife and - I am open to correction on this - two children. In their deliberations they always took into account the amount of child endowment that was payable, representing the difference between the incomes of a single man and married man with a family. Times changed and because of pressures from unions and from other sources a different criterion was introduced - the capacity of industry to pay. When the arbitration tribunals introduced the factor of the capacity of industry to pay in increasing basic wage and marginal payments, the circumstances operating at the time of the origin of child endowment, referred to in, I think, the Draper report, changed.
When child endowment was introduced, a new tax - the pay-roll tax - was brought into being to pay for it. The pay-roll tax has never been liked. We have heard talk of relieving municipalities and industrial organizations of it. The employer, it is said, is penalized, and he passes the tax on. Of necessity, the pay-roll tax will be reduced progressively until finally it disappears. Then where will the funds come from to pay for the child endowment scheme proposed by the Opposition? The increase in cost would be colossal.
One feature of child endowment is that it is drawn by the mother of a child, whatever her circumstances. Most mothers faithfully apply their child endowment to benefits for their children, but the better the circumstances of a family, the less benefit there is from child endowment. I have discussed this matter with people in my electorate and the general opinion is that a means test is necessary. With such a means test the funds available for child endowment could be used for the benefit of the most needy families. Child endowment could be paid where income does not exceed, say, £1,800 or £2,000 a year. I believe that people earning above £2,000 a year would not miss child endowment, and the money previously paid to those people could be used to give increases to families with incomes of less than £2,000 a year.
– Do you know how many you would exclude if you set the income level at £2,000?
– I am only plucking figures out of the air. The point is that this method would enable more funds to be made available to the needy families. This is a matter which requires a more scientific approach.
Let me return to the differential rate of pension for single people. I have here a circular letter from the National Pensioners Society.
– Do you know what it is?
– I know that the society does not think very much of the Opposition.
– Do you know how many members it has?
– I know that a representative said -
I definitely think that this outcry against a differential rate of pension, which is the first breakthrough for the needy, is deplorable.
The letter goes on to make the point that I have been trying to make - that the single pensioner is the person who is in the greatest difficulty. This differential rate is, in my opinion, a major step forward. I hope that the married couples, who will not receive an increase, will remember the benefits that they get from the merged means test. I endeavoured to show those benefits earlier. I believe that married couples have been treated equitably, and I hope they will not feel that they have been left out. As soon as somebody believes that his hip pocket nerve has been touched, he becomes vociferous, and he is not without champions among members of the Opposition, who seek to gain political capital from his grievances.
I hope that sanity will prevail and that the Opposition will realize that several parts of its amendment are frivolous, immaterial and irrelevant. I hope that no time will be wasted in passing this legislation and that the increases will be paid with no more delay than is necessary for the change-over of the machines to issue the cheques.
.- I hope that the pensioners of Australia were listening to the remarks of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes). I hope they heard the honorable member say that the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) is frivolous. I hope the pensioners of Australia and the people of Australia generally will be made aware that a member of one of the Government parties has said that our requests to the Government for justice for pensioners are frivolous requests. It is vitally important that the people of Australia should know that when the honorable member commenced his speech he said that the Opposition’s references to the injustices dealt out to pensioners were symptomatic of a desire for a socialist Utopia. If equitable treatment of pensioners, recognition of mothers’ claims and recognition of the need for increased funeral benefits for pensioners are the bases of a socialist Utopia, then let us have it, and the quicker the better. The honorable member for Maribyrnong said that the needs for social services in Australia are not so great now. I hope that the pensioners who rely on social services from the Government listened to the honorable member when he said that their needs were not so great.
The Social Services Bill 1963, presented by the Minister with very great pride, deals with the advantages given to certain types of pensioners. It is a clear indication of muddled thinking and is obviously not the result of any searching inquiry into the social welfare needs of the community. I support the amendment so ably moved by the honorable member for Grayndler. He pinpointed many grave omissions and referred to many anomalies which will obviously result from this bill, many of which have existed since this Government came into office. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has recited with many words the special features of his bill, but he makes no effort to recognize that its implementation will mean a complete contempt for the many classes of social service recipients whose position is unimproved or who receive very little recognition in the bill. The amendment that we have proposed clearly demonstrates the great and important need for research and inquiry into the social welfare requirements of the citizens of the Commonwealth.
The Government’s refusal to recognize this special and important need for research and inquiry into social welfare is characteristic of a phobia that the Government exhibits whenever the citizens of Australia or members of the Opposition suggest that there should be research and inquiry into any of the many aspects of Commonwealth administration or into any of the many aspects of the special needs of various categories of citizens’ interests throughout Australia. When al! the education Ministers throughout the Commonwealth - I refer to this only in passing, Mr. Speaker - and, in addition, the Premiers of all the States asked for the appointment of a committee of inquiry to investigate primary, secondary and technical education, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) refused to appoint such a committee. Every parents and citizens’ association and all teachers - indeed, every educationist - supported this request, but the Prime Minister rejected it. The National Education Conference held in Melbourne last March, which was attended by 4,000 representatives of organizations interested in education, pressed for a committee of inquiry, but was met with a flat refusal.
The reasons for the rejection of the requests are quite obvious. They are the same as the reasons for the refusal to undertake research and inquiry into social service needs. On the occasion when an inquiry into education was requested, the Prime Minister said that such an inquiry could mean that large sums of money would have to be spent to achieve a reasonable situation in education. This is typical of the Government’s attitude every time it is asked to appoint a committee of inquiry. The housing Ministers in all the States unanimously requested the appointment of a committee of inquiry to investigate the housing needs of the nation. The Commonwealth Minister responsible for housing, the Minister for National Development (Senator Sir William Spooner), pointblank refused to appoint such a committee of inquiry. The Government suffers from a phobia which makes it opposed to the appointment of such committees, because it does not want made public the evidence of the lack of facilities and the inadequacy of the efforts made to meet the needs of these aspects of development that are the Commonwealth’s responsibility.
Last week, in this House, the Government was asked to appoint a committee to investigate the anomalies and weaknesses of the Repatriation Act and especially of the administration of the act. All the present anomalies and weaknesses were pointed out to the Government plaintively and feelingly by Opposition members. The onus of proof and the acceptance of cancer as a war-caused disability-
– Order! I remind the honorable member that we are not now dealing with repatriation.
– I am just making passing reference to it, Sir.
– The honorable member must not revive debate.
– The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) rejected the request that be appoint a committee. He did so because the phobia from which the Government suffers causes it to reject proposals for searching inquiries into the weaknesses of its administration. The fact is that this Government does not believe in planning. To it, “ planning “ is a dirty word, whereas the word really connotes an ordinary, thorough examination of a situation and a systematic attempt to overcome any weaknesses inherent in that situation.
In the proposed amendment to the motion for the second reading of this bill, the Opposition asks for research and inquiry into social welfare in Australia. We maintain that social welfare is at present inadequate because of the lack of recognition of the principle of equality of hardship among those who are compelled to seek what is rightfully theirs. There should be a recognition that, because of age, ill health, motherhood or widowhood, the community must accept an obligation - not out of charity, but because it must rightfully accept responsibility for solving the problems of its citizens.
The Australian Labour Party recognizes certain inalienable rights that belong to every citizen. It agrees that every citizen has certain responsibilities and believes that any government, irrespective of its political colour, should readily recognize both the citizen’s rights and his responsibilities. Every citizen must obey the laws of the country, must fight in times of war and must serve his country when its security is at stake. He must pay the taxes prescribed by the law and must do all the other things that are obligatory on him. In return, he is entitled to obtain employment, if he requires it, and, in return for that employment, he should receive sufficient recompense to enable him to maintain his wife and family in reasonable comfort. Men and women, as they become old, are entitled to be cared for by the community. If a citizen becomes an invalid, he is entitled to receive sufficient recompense to maintain him at a reasonable standard. If, unfortunately, a woman is widowed, her position should be recognized and she should be adequately compensated. Likewise, a mother, who has an obligation to bring up her children as decent and honorable citizens, should be encouraged. This Government has failed to recognize so many of these important obligations of mass civic responsibility.
When we request, as we do in our proposed amendment, research and inquiry into social welfare in Australia, we expect the Government to accept our proposal as an honest attempt, in a constructive manner, to arrange for a survey of the situation. We hoped that the Government would accept the proposal and that such an inquiry would enable us to pinpoint all the things in social welfare that are not being done at all or are not being done satisfactorily at present. The proposed inquiry could be conducted by a select committee of this Parliament or by an independent committee of experts in social welfare. But the Government has rejected the proposal for the same reason that it rejected complaints about the other aspects of its administration that I have mentioned: It does not want to discover weaknesses, for it fears the cost of remedying its own inadequacies. If the committee asked for were appointed, its findings would compel the Government to adopt a plan. An inquiry by a committee such as that proposed would mean that, in the light of the need of the community for social welfare, there would have to be an overall and fair programme which would give justice to the people who should be served.
The Labour Party, in the proposed amendment, asks for increases in the rates of child endowment. The facts relating to child endowment are well known to every member of this House, The rate of 5s. a week for the first child was introduced in 1950, and there has been no change since. There has been no change since 1948 in the rate of 10s. a week for the second and subsequent children.
– That is a disgrace.
– It is disgraceful. This Government will not remedy its own weaknesses. Even Government supporters have recognized that, during the present Government’s term of office, inflation has been rife in this country. Even the newest member on the Government side of the House must accept the proposition that inflation has been rife while this Government has been in office. Government supporters know full well that a promise made by the Prime Minister on behalf of his party in 1950 has never been fulfilled. That was the statement, “Elect us and I will put value back into the £1 “. The value of the £1 has depreciated during this Government’s term of office by more than 50 per cent. - indeed, by almost two-thirds - and the rates of child endowment have remained unchanged. If the Government recognizes the principle that mothers are entitled to benefits that will help them to overcome the tremendous problems of rearing their children, one must inevitably look at the inadequacy of the rates of child endowment now being paid.
If, in 1950, 5s. a week was considered to be a sufficient contribution by the Government to the upkeep of the first child of a family, to be of equal value in 1963, the rate would have to be at least double that of 1950, and probably more. Similarly, if, in 1948, 10s. a week was considered a sufficient contribution by the government of the day towards the upkeep of the second and subsequent children, in 1963 the rate would have to be at least double, perhaps more, to be of equal in value to the rate paid in 1948. If the Government were to say openly that it does not believe in child endowment and that it objects to the method by which this benefit is paid, and if the Government would fight to establish its case, one could at least respect Government supporters for their opinion, even if, like me, one could not agree with it.
If the Minister for Social Services were to say that the Government would abolish child endowment or did not believe that it should make such a contribution to the welfare of families, one could say that this was a matter of opinion, but at least one could have some respect for a straightout declaration of policy or principle. But the Minister does not say that at all. He never has had the courage to say it. Nor is he prepared to take the electoral risk of declaring his attitude. But he makes no increase in child endowment, thereby, in effect, saying to the mothers of all the families in Australia: “If we cannot, for fear of incurring your direct hostility, abolish the payments that are being made, we shall continue to pay what you received in 1950 or 1948. Although we admit that the purchasing power of child endowment is less than half what it was when the present rates were introduced, we shall not increase the rates. We shall continue to ignore or reject your claims for a justifiable increase in the rate of this benefit.”
For some years now - in fact, since the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) became Australia’s first Minister for Immigration - we have been embarked on a costly but worth-while effort to build up the population of Australia by bringing migrants here. The present Leader of the Opposition, as our first Minister for Immigration, originated the whole policy of encouraging people to migrate to Australia and build up our population. The present Government, however, refuses to encourage parents to have larger families. It does nothing to encourage the natural method of increasing our population, by stimulating child endowment and encouraging married couples to have children. In fact, the Government rejects the whole system of child endowment by ignoring the reasonable and logical case for bringing the system up to date and into line with the present cost of living. The parents of Australia should know very clearly the attitude that this Government adopts towards support for families in the rearing of their children. The Government is opposed in principle to such support. This Government will not recognize the changes in our economic life and the need for a re-orientation of its thinking on child endowment. The amendment proposed by the Opposition states quite clearly that the rates of child endowment should be increased. As I have pointed out, the rate for the first child has remained unchanged for thirteen years and that for the second and subsequent children for fifteen years.
In 1943, the maternity allowance was provided towards the costs that faced a family when a baby was born. The amount, which ranges from £15 to £17 10s., has never been increased during this Government’s term of office. The same principle applies to the maternity allowance as applies to child endowment. If we accept the principle that some contribution should be made towards the costs associated with the birth of a baby, surely the sum provided should be more realistic and have some regard to the rise in the cost of living since 1943. Since that time the cost of living has increased threefold. If it was right to provide £15 in 1943 there must be a logical claim for the allowance to be increased in 1963. The cost of hospitalization, the charges of doctors and the purchase of layettes and other appurtenances necessary when a child comes into the world have more than quadrupled in the last twenty years.
What can the Government say in answer to our proposed amendment? In principle the Government opposes the payment of the maternity allowance. If the Minister were to say, “ I object to the principle of paying a maternity allowance”, he may be wrong but one could at least say that he was prepared to state the things in which he believed. But the Minister remained silent. He did not recommend any increase in the allowance and he did not suggest that it be abolished. He can win friends on neither side. Parents with families are well aware of the inevitable costs associated with childbirth. The workers of this country, who receive barely sufficient to maintain their families, must weigh the consequences of producing a family. They get no encouragement from this Government and the unsmiling Minister for Social Services gives them no support and offers them no future prospect of help.
The amount of the funeral benefit for pensioners has remained at £10 since 1943. I suppose there is no more tragic period in family life than when one member of an age or invalid pensioner couple passes on. The bereft widow or widower is consumed with understandable and sincere tragic grief at the permanent separation from life’s partner. These people are faced with the problem of attending the last rites of their loved ones. There has to be a funeral and, amidst all the grief and sorrow, they ascertain from the undertaker that the minimum cost of a funeral is more than £50 and sometimes as much as £100.
– And how much does this Government give them towards the cost of the funeral?
– It gives them £10 - the same amount that it gave in 1943. The cost of the funeral is at least £50 and probably as much as £100. I have in my hand a receipted, invoice for a funeral. The date of the invoice is 20th March, 1897. The total cost of the funeral, which included making the coffin, re-opening the grave, the minister’s fee, hire of a hearse and funeral notices was £7 0s. 6d. Just compare that cost with the cost of up to £100 to-day. If we bear in mind the fact that the bereft widow or widower - the relict of the pensioner couple - has had to exist for many years on the pension it is obvious that he or she does not have any savings to meet this heavy burden. Despite this the Government pays only £10 towards the cost of the funeral. The amount paid by this Government, of which the unsmiling, sad and tragic-looking Minister for Social Services is a member, has not changed since 1943. The Government will not even recognize the justifiable claims that it should properly support the funeral costs of a pensioner. In 1943 the Government provided £10 and in 1963 it still provides only £10. Is the principle right? Is it proper that the Government should make a contribution n funeral benefits for a pensioner? Why does the Government maintain its present hypocritical approach. It should either make a realistic contribution or be brave and say that it will not pay anything because it does not believe in funeral benefits for pensioners. So in our amendment we seek increases in funeral benefits for pensioners. The benefit has not changed in twenty years.
The Minister has announced with some pride an increase in the standard rate of pension, which is to be paid to single pensioners. In introducing the legislation the Minister said -
This bill introduces a new standard rate of pension which will be paid to single persons.
My colleague, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) speaking in the Budget debate recently, made this point very clear and the Minister has lent strength and support to the honorable member’s statement. The bill introduces a new standard rate of pension for single persons. This means that anything lower than the standard rate is a sub-standard rate. So now we have reached a stage of positive and self-confused discrimination by this Government. There is to be a standard rate of £5 15s. for single pensioners and a substandard rate of £5 5s. for married pensioners.
– That is logical from this Government.
– It is illogical. We believe that there should be a standard rate for all pensioners. The Minister’s action will cause discrimination among pensioners and will divide pensioners. The Labour Party stands for a set standard rate for all pensioners and a special authority provision for the special recognition of hardship cases or the provision of extra benefit for those in difficulties. Who in this Parliament can say that he does not have in his electorate hundreds and perhaps thousands of pensioners who have found it impossible to live on what is now a sub-standard rate? I am pleased that the standard rate has been increased to £5 15s. That is still a minimal recognition of the needs of the single pensioner and I believe that every pensioner should at least receive the standard rate of pension. Of course, there are many anomalies in the present proposal and more and more will result from this piecemeal legislation.
It is easy for the Minister to tell us of the many married couple pensioners who, if they have an outside income or superannuation of £7 a week, will have £17 10s. a week to live on and how well they can live on that sum, but I have in my electorate hundreds of married couples and others who have no additional income and who are compelled perforce to live, in the case of married couples, on £10 10s. a week. Out of that sum they must pay rent and provide all of the necessaries of life. There is a tremendous mass of discontent both in the pensioner movement and from individual pensioners who are upset and bitterly opposed to this new method of sectionalizing the people. I have received letters from pensioner organizations in my area. In my electorate there are four branches of the Original Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association. The secretaries of each of those branches have written to me in similar terms expressing the violent opposition of their members to the proposed legislation. I ask for leave to incorporate in “ Hansard “ the letter written by Miss E. Le Vine, secretary of the Bondi Beach branch.
– Order! What are the contents of the letter? Does the letter contain statistics?
– No, it is a letter dealing with a class of pensioners.
– Leave will not be granted unless we see the letter.
– Leave is not granted.
– As leave is not granted I will read the letter. I have other letters also. One is signed by Mrs. L. Stevens, secretary of the Bondi JunctionWaverley branch of the association. Another is signed by Mrs. A. Brien, secretary of the Bronte-Clovelly branch. Those letters come from branches of the Original Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association. They do not come from the National Pensioners Association, which has less than 50 members. The Original Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association has branches in every city and town in Australia. The national secretary, the treasurer and other officers of the association are to-day in the precincts of this Parliament. The association represents thousands of pensioners. In her letter Miss Le Vine states -
The above association views with alarm the Federal Government legislation to differentiate between the single pensioner and the aged and invalid pensioner to the detriment of the married pensioner.
We contend that the basic pension rate for all must be maintained as an integral part of the pension with supplementary assistance to single and widow pensioners and elderly people in dire need of assistance.
Therefore as pensioners we call upon our Federal member and senators as responsible and humane parliamentarians by word and vote in Parliament House to see that the proposed legislation be reframed to grant a basic rate pension of £5 15s. to all social service pensioners and supplementary assistance be granted to single and widow pensioners and elderly people in dire need of assistance.
I have received hundreds of letters from individual pensioners. Probably every other honorable member has received similar letters. I propose to read one of those letters because it highlights the difficulties in which pensioners find themselves and the worry and concern with which they are faced. A pensioner writing from an address in Fletcher-avenue, Bondi, states -
I am interested to know whether a pensioner couple living most of their adult life on what is described as a de facto basis are eligible for the increase of £1 a week while a so-called respectable couple having received the benefit of clergy with bell, book and candle thrown in, are debarred. This could be a curly one for the unctuous Mr. Roberton at question time.
As an octogenarian I have a clear recollection of politicians, of whom Mr. Holt is in the direct line of descent, arguing in the debate on the baby bonus bill that unmarried mothers should not be eligible on the ground that eligibility would be an incentive to immorality. Mr. Holt’s discrimination appears to be in reverse. Perhaps Sir Garfield might be asked to amend his divorce bill so that married pensioner couples who are not inhibited by religious scruples could get a quick and cheap divorce to reach that de facto basis and so become eligible for the much trumpeted couple of royals a week.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong rightly pointed to the fact that if a couple are separated but not divorced, they would not get an increase of 10s. in their pension.
I have in my hand an article which appeared in the Sydney “Sun” of Friday, 13th September, 1963, relating to a decision by Mr. Justice Selby in the New South Wales Divorce Court. The heading of the article is “ Divorce Grounds: Separate Lives in the Same House “, and the article is in these terms -
Lawyers say a decision by Mr. Justice Selby clears the way for “respectable “ quick divorces for people who live together but can’t get along.
An article in the “ Sydney Morning Herald” of 11th September, 1963, on the same subject had this to say -
He was the petitioner in a divorce case - said in his petition that he and his wife still lived in the matrimonial home, but that they had lived separate lives in different parts of the house since August, 1962.
What problems confront the Minister? He will have to set up a department of private eyes and send investigators to see whether pensioner couples are living together. If they are divorced and still living in the same house he will have to decide whether they will receive the additional 10s. a week. When many Government supporters are defeated at the next election they will be able to set themselves up as a private investigation department to look into the sexual habits of pensioners.
Co many absurd situations will arise as a result of the legislation that they will make a mockery of it and will highlight the discrimination which will be forced upon the pensioner community. A single pensioner who receives £5 15s. under the new legislation and has a permissible income of £3 10s. a week will receive £9 5s. a week. Such a pensioner could own his own home and a motor car. A married pensioner couple who have no other income will receive £10 10s. a week, and if they do not own their own home they will have to pay rent. After the rent is paid - it might be anything up to £4 a week for a couple of rooms - they will have much less left on which to sustain and provide for themselves than will a single pensioner.
One could recite many cases, such as the case of two brothers or two sisters living in a home and earning the permissible income, who would receive far more than a pensioner couple. Of course, if one took the case of a pensioner who could let a room or two in his house the position would become almost ludicrous and laughable if it were not so tragic. What about the married pensioner couple, one member of which has to live in an aged persons’ home? The other spouse is faced with paying the same rent as they both had to pay and will have to live on the sub-standard pension of £5 5s. a week without receiving the muchheralded increase of 10s. a week of which the Minister is so proud. The Labour Party stands firmly for a standard rate for all pensioners. We stand for a special provision to provide, where necessary, supplementary assistance for special needs. We are positively opposed to any discrimination against married pensioners.
It is true that by this bill the A class widow will receive an additional £2 a week as a domestic allowance. This is good. But what about the B class widow and the C class widow? This bill provides for an increase in their pension from £4 12s. 6d. to £5 2s. 6d. a week, but is a B class widow over 50 years of age with no dependent children able to live more cheaply than is an age or an invalid pensioner? Has a B class widow a smaller mouth than has an age or invalid pensioner, or does she require less clothing? Does this person, just because she is a widow, need to eat less food than does an agc or invalid pensioner? Does she need to pay lower fares? Is she some special person, far apart from the others, who, in the estimation of the Minister for Social Services, has different needs from those of the age or invalid pensioner? B class widows - widows over 50 who have no dependent children - and C class widows - widows under 50 with no dependent children - who are in necessitous circumstances require at least the same amount of money on which to live as do other single pensioners. Why should there be any discrimination? How can this Government claim that the needs of the widows to whom I have referred are different from those of other pensioners? This bill completely ignores the fact that widows who receive pensions must receive the same standard rate as do any other pensioners.
Miss Jean AitkenSwan, in a survey called “ Widows in Australia “, uses the following passage at the close of her study -
There is so much a widow lacks. She needs to efface that sense of being unwanted, of being an “ odd man out “ in society, and while this is not a material need, I feel that the first step in its eradication lies in material independence.
There is another case not dealt with in this or the previous legislation. If a husband is arrested for some crime and is sentenced to a gaol term his wife, who may have three or four dependent children, cannot receive any allowance from the Department of Social Services for six months. I have in my electorate at least one such family. The husband was sentenced recently to a gaol term. He was a first offender but nevertheless he has to serve twelve months with hard labour in a penitentiary. For six months his wife is precluded from obtaining any benefit from the Commonwealth for herself or her children. In those six months, deprived of the wage-earner in the family, she must go to the Department of Social Welfare in her State, which is able to make only the barest possible contribution to her. The department provides a weekly grocery order and makes some small contribution towards her rent, but under the provisions of the present act she cannot receive any benefit whatever from the Commonwealth until six months after the commencement of her husband’s imprisonment. Even the stony heart of the Minister might be softened by this extraordinary denial of social justice.
Many other aspects of the bill must be looked at. One is permissible income, about which the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) had something to say. Like other Government supporters, he tells honorable members of certain weaknesses in the legislation, but he does nothing about it in the party room and will not vote against the Government in the House. Government supporters say quite openly, “ We would like this and that to be included in the bill but we cannot move the stony heart of our Minister, so we shall support him, not the worthwhile amendment which has been proposed by the Opposition “.
– They have not the courage of their convictions.
– They have not the courage of their convictions and they do not recognize the social injustices inherent in this legislation and in the Government’s attitude to the social needs of the community. We ask the Government to accept our amendment. We ask the Government to set up a committee of inquiry to investigate all the questions which have been raised and the weaknesses which have been pinpointed by the Opposition’s case. Let the committee invite the worthwhile pensioner organizations which represent hundreds of thousands of pensioners to appear before the Minister or the committee and state what they believe to be the weaknesses in the legislation. Let us find out what is wrong with it. Let us find out how many injustices and inequities this Government has allowed to arise and to continue. If the Government sets up the committee and allows the pensioners and other interested organizations to pinpoint the anomalies, and if it does the things that should be done, as was mentioned by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), this social services legislation will be a worthwhile thing for the people of this country.
.- The honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Einfeld) concluded his speech by claiming, in effect, that pensioners’ associations and people interested in the welfare of pensioners have no avenue for representation to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) or to his department. Of course, this is rubbish. We all know that the Minister is always willing to receive representations from individual pensioners or from pensioner organizations.
The honorable member read his speech so quickly that it was pretty hard to pick out any of the points that he was trying to make, but one basic point that he made was that this Government has an inhuman approach to social services. What was the attitude of the last Labour Government when it was approached in 1949 to increase the age pension, which then stood at £2 2s. 6d. a week? To the request that the age pension be increased the then Labour Government replied, “We will not increase it “. Opposition speakers have also asked why this Government has not increased child endowment. What was Labour’s attitude to child endowment when it was in office? For many years it resolutely opposed child endowment for the first child and it was left to this Government to introduce child endowment for the first child when it came to office in 1950. In 1949 the Returned Servicemen’s League made 36 requests to the then Labour Government relating to pensions. The Labour Government did not grant one of them. The following year the MenziesFadden Government granted every one of the 36 requests.
The honorable member for Phillip referred to the plight of pensioner couples who at present receive £10 10s. a week. He claimed that they cannot possibly live on this so-called sub-standard pension. How does he think pensioner couples managed in 1949, when they received only £4 5s. a week, which is actually equivalent to about £2 4s. 2d. a week less than the pension they receive now? They now can earn £7 a week in addition to the pension of £10 10s. a week. What about the pensioner medical service and all the other benefits that this Government has introduced? The speech made by the honorable member for Phillip was full of hyprocisy. He was trying to mislead the people of Australia into thinking that the Opposition has more sympathy than this Government has for people who have had misfortune in their lives. We deny that implication which the Opposition is trying to lay at our door.
Members of the Opposition have criticized the Minister for Social Services. From my observations - I am sure honorable members who really know the Minister will agree with me - I believe that you could not find a more humane man or a man who is more sympathetic to the plight of the pensioners of this country. He has shown that by his actions. There has been constant progress, on a widening scale, in the penions paid in Australia. Let us look at a few of the improvements that have been made. The Aged Persons Homes Act, under which this Government has paid out about £18,000,000, was introduced in 1954. The pensioner medical service entitles a qualified pensioner to free hospital and medical treatmest and the payment of his chemist accounts. The allowance for dependent children was introduced in 1956. Supplementary assistance, at the rate of 10s. a week, to help in the payment of rent was introduced in 1958. All aborigines were granted entitlement to social service benefits in 1959. The merged means test was introduced in 1960. The residential qualification was reduced from twenty to ten years in 1962. Now, in 1963, the single pensioner will receive an extra 10s. a week and civilian widows are being treated as they are entitled to be treated.
The constant theme of the arguments advanced by the Opposition is that the increase to single pensioners represents discrimination. Do not members of the Opposition agree that the single pensioner is under a more severe financial handicap than the married pensioner couple? No member of the Opposition is game to say that he does not agree that that is a fact. As many of us on the Government side of the chamber have been saying for some time, the single pensioner incurs the same expenses on certain commodities that he uses as a married pensioner couple incurs. He has to meet those expenses out of a single pension, whereas the married couple have the combined pensions out of which to meet them. I refer to such things as firewood, electric light and power. There are many other commodities that one person must use in the same quantity as two people. I ask the next Opposition speaker to stand up and say that he does not agree that single pensioners should receive itv re proportionately than married pensioner couples receive. 1 think we all agree that the extra benefits to civilian widows were overdue. We all compliment the Government and the Minister on their introduction. There is a mother’s allowance of £2 a week. That allowance will be paid to every widow with children. A widow will receive an extra 10s. a week for her first child and an increase of 5s. in the base rate pension. That gives her a total increase of £3 a week. Actually, that is more than 50 per cent, of the pension now paid to a widow with one child. It is noticeable that most members of the Opposition, in their speeches, have ignored that considerable improvement. In 1949 a widow with one child received £2 7s. 6d. a week. This year she will receive £8 10s. a week. That represents an increase of 258 per cent., compared with a rise in the basic wage of only 100 per cent. Surely the Government deserves commendation for that improvement. It was mentioned that not many pensioners would benefit from these increases. I do not think any one could say that 516,000 pensioners is not very many people. That number is approximately two-thirds of the total number of pensioners in Australia. About 454,000 single pensioners, 35,000 widows without children and 27,000 widows with children will benefit from this measure.
The whole question of social services, as I see it, involves us - the people who are responsible for allocating the money that can be made available for the payment of social services - in a problem which relates to a very fundamental of life, namely, human nature. It seems to me that pensions should be provided for people who have not enjoyed the good fortune that the average man and woman enjoy during their lifetime. All of us who, up to date, have been able to enjoy the good fortunes of life should be prepared to pay in order to ensure that the people who have not been so fortunate enjoy a reasonable standard of living.
There has been talk about the abolition of the means test. I am not certain that I would be completely in favour of that. This is a matter on which the Opposition has not given an answer. The abolition of the means test would mean that we would have to raise much more money. There is only one way in which the Government can raise extra revenue; that is by increased taxation. I am not certain that the Australian economy could stand such an increase or that the Australian taxpayers would be prepared to pay the extra tax that would be necessary to meet the extra payments that would have to be made as a result of the abolition of the means test.
As I see the overall social services picture at the moment, under the administration of the Minister for Social Services, this year the Government will pay out more than £400,000,000, compared with an expenditure on social services of about £81,000,000 in 1949. This year’s expenditure is an enormous sum. It calls for extremely able administration and an extremely sympatheic approach to the problems of people who are qualified to receive pensions. In the whole social services picture, more than 80 per cent, of the benefits that pensioners have received have been allocated over the years by LiberalCountry Party governments. So I believe that this Government can look back with pride on its achievements in the field of social services, particularly those contained in this year’s Budget. I think we all agree that some overdue innovations have been introduced. There is no doubt that this Social Services Bill has been well received by all concerned.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.
.- I enter this debate to support the amendment so ably submitted to the House on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). Let me make it perfectly clear- to the House at the outset that it is not the intention of the Opposition to delay the passage of this Social Services Bill, for one moment longer than is necessary; but, as the Opposition in this Parliament, we on this side feel that it is our bounden duty to move the amendment we have proposed. We feel that in preparing the bill the Minister has introduced a line of discrimination never before known in any measure such as this. If the bill is permitted to pass in its present form it will bring in its train not only discrimination but segregation and untold misery to many of our people. In the time allotted to me, I hope to make my case quite clear on this point.
First, I propose to deal with part (3) of the amendment, and I read into it unemployment benefits as provided for by the Department of Social Services but for which no provision for increases has been made in the bill under discussion. The Budget 3n presented to the House, and from which the Social Services Bill stems, rnakes provision for the payment of an unemployment benefit of £4 2s. 6d. a week to a male recipient, £3 a week to his wife and 15s. a week for each child under sixteen years of age. It also makes provision for the payment of varying amounts to single persons and persons under 21 years of age.
For the purposes of illustration, let us consider the position of a married man with a wife and two children who, for reasons beyond his control, finds himself unemployed and obliged to draw unemployment relief. He will receive £8 12s. 6d. a week. Out of that, he will have to house, clothe and feed his family, pay fares and meet all the other charges associated with his position in life. Every honorable member of this House knows only too well that we have permanently with us a registered pool of approximately 80,000 unemployed. Slight reductions of that figure were recorded in to-day’s press; but it must be remembered that, according to events and times of the year, it rises to over 120,000. I pause here to remind honorable members that this is the pool of unemployed that the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) promised the people of Australia in 1961 he would abolish in twelve months. Now, two years later, we still have 67,229 persons registered as unemployed in our country. So much for the Prime Minister’s promise. For the benefit of those who understand, I liken his promises to pie crusts that contain too much shortening and not enough flour.
Let us turn back to consider the plight of the unemployed man with a wife and two children who receives unemployment benefit of £8 12s. 6d. a week. Does this Government believe that this sum is sufficient to maintain such a man and his family? How does it reconcile its reckoning of this amount with the other benefits that are payable? On closely examining the Budget and the bill, we learn that an age pensioner is to receive £5 5s. a week, a married age pensioner couple £10 10s. a week, a single pensioner £6 5s. a week, provided he is in receipt of supplementary assistance, a class A widow with dependent children £5 a week plus £2 a week mother’s allowance and 15s. a week for the second and subsequent children, and a class B widow £5 2s. 6d. a week. I would not suggest that these amounts are sufficient; I cite them solely to illustrate the meagre amount being received by an unemployed married man with a wife and two children.
In his submissions to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) for the preparation of the Budget, evidently the Minister made no recommendation for an increase in the unemployment benefit. I ask members of the Government: What is this unemployed man to do if he is paying off his home at so much a week or so much a month. What is he to do if he has bought goods on hire purchase, to be paid for at so much a week? And in what home in Australia today have some necessaries not been the subject of a hire-purchase agreement? What is this man to do to meet his contributions to a medical benefits fund? The figures disclose that 70 per cent, of our people contribute to this kind of fund. How is he to meet his land rates and electricity bills when they fall due? Where is he to find 5s. or more for the dispensing of a doctor’s prescription if a member of his family should fall ill? And where is he to find the 6d. to make a telephone call in his endeavours to find a job? I remind honorable members, before they start submitting their answers, that so far I have mentioned only essential costs that have to be met. As yet, I have made no reference to the purchase of food and clothes; nor have I mentioned the cost of fares, entertainment and the many other items that have to be provided for from day to day when a couple is running a home and raising a family.
To save honorable members on the Government side the mental and physical exercise required to arrive at and put forward their answers, let me, as one who has spent a lifetime amongst the workers, and as one who was obliged to work with his own hands before coming into this place, answer for them. This unemployed man has no alternative but to let his commit- ments fall into arrears. As men in the position of this unemployed worker are basic wage earners in the main, they have no possible chance of escaping from or catching up on the debts incurred while they are unemployed. The position of such a man is entirely different from that of most members on the Government side who either have interests in large profit-making concerns handed down to them by their parents or own one or more lucrative farming or grazing properties, in addition to receiving their parliamentary salary. They can well withstand a fall in the value of shares on the stock exchange or a bad season or two on their farms or stations. But not so the worker who depends for his entire existence upon a pay packet coming in each week. To him a break in the continuity of pay packets, or a reduction in the amount contained in a pay packet has tragic results. The only way he can hope to recoup his loss is by working additional hours, thus running the risk of undermining his health. Even if he is prepared to take this risk, where is he to find work when there are no jobs available even during normal working hours? He is faced with stark, tragic reality. I often wonder why there are not more suicides, more murders and a greater demand upon our mental institutions. Let me quote from the second-reading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I will quote the Minister, but not in his brogue. He said -
I must stress at this point that the consumer price index has remained more or less stable over the last two years . . .
From my observations and experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Items that play a very important part in our daily lives - meat, fruit, vegetables, fish and eggs, to mention just a few of the items of food that a good housewife and mother would purchase for her family - are not items with a stable price; the prices fluctuate from day to day according to supply and demand. Nevertheless, the people on fixed incomes, such as the pensioners and the unemployed, must have these items if they are to have a healthy staple diet. They are compelled to pay the ruling prices and on many occasions are forced to go without b:cause their pen sion or unemployment relief is not sufficient to meet the cost.
I say without fear of contradiction that the Minister and his advisers are completely ignorant of the facts They do not know the extent of the costs that must be met by people on fixed incomes. If they did know this, the bill now before the House would provide for substantial increases in social services. I regret that not one mention is made of the unemployed in the community. According to press reports to-day, the number of registered unemployed is now 67,229. If I include the wives and children, I do not think I could bs accused of exaggerating the position if I charged the Government with sending 150,000 of our people to bed hungry every night that they remain on unemployment relief. Early in my speech, I referred to the promise of the Prime Minister to abolish unemployment within twelve months of being returned to office. We all know that he has failed to do this and he docs not appear to be greatly concerned at his failure.
I was alarmed to note in the Budget Papers that the Government’s failure to abolish unemployment cost the Australian taxpayer £10,650.000 for unemployment relief in 1962-63 and that provision is made for the expenditure of £7,000,000 in 1963-64. This will give honorable members some idea of the Government’s views on unemployment. Taking these figures and assuming that the Government will remain in office for its full term, the expenditure on unemployment relief during this Twenty-fourth Parliament will be about £25,000,000. In a young country like Australia, where so much remains to be done, there should be no unemployment and no need for the expenditure of £25,000,000 on unemployment relief. But if the Government’s inability to honour its promise to abolish unemployment means that we will have an unemployment pool of about 80,000 people, then for heaven’s sake let us provide adequately for ‘.hem. Let the Minister withdraw the bid and redraft it to provide for increased unemployment relief. Even if the increases go only as far as bringing unemployment relief on to a level with other social service payments, this would remove discrimination.
Unemployment is a stigma upon our society. It is the cause of many broken marriages and many broken homes. It brings with it disappointment, frustration, delinquency, much mental illness and many other social problems. It is the duty of the Government to abolish it and to abolish it quickly. Special grants to State governments to relieve pools of unemployment are not the answer. What is needed is sound government planning, rapid development and, if necessary, a reduction of our immigration target so that our unemployed may be absorbed into full-time employment. The Government proposes to bring into this country 135,000 new Australians in the current financial year, and we must find jobs lor them. What is to be the position of native-born Australians who are unemployed? We have no system of preference for jobs. Or have we? When I visit the Commonwealth Employment Offices in Brisbane and in my electorate, I often wonder. I am completely convinced that the unemployment benefit is inadequate and that it is a physical and financial impossibility for our people to live on this amount.
After the last election, the Government borrowed from the 1961 policy of the Australian Labour Party and put a portion of our proposals into effect. Now that provision for increased benefits is being made in this bill, it is natural to assume that a further twelve months will elapse before any more relief is offered to unemployed people. I am afraid that the unemployed are faced with a grim future, unless the Minister withdraws the bill and redrafts it to include the proposals put forward by Labour in its amendment or unless some Government supporters listen to their conscience and vote with the Opposition for the amendment.
I draw the attention of the Minister and his supporters to an anomaly in our present social services structure. This anomaly is referred to in our amendment. It is the £3 a week allowance paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner or a permanently incapacitated age pensioner. This £3 a week includes the increase of 12s. 6d. a week provided under the bill. The increase brings the amount payable to these women into line with the amount payable to the wife of an unemployed .worker. But we find that it is £2 2s. 6d. a week less than the amount payable to a class B or C widow and £2 5s. a week less than the amount payable to a married age pensioner.
A question that has exercised my mind for some time is how the Minister for Social Services and his supporters in the Government arrived at £3 a week as being sufficient to support a woman who is unfortunate enough to have to rely on it to maintain herself. Surely it is only reasonable to assume that if £5 5s. a week is the minimum figure for an aged married pensioner and that £5 2s. 6d. is the minimum for a class B or C widow the same minimum would be required to support the wife of an invalid pensioner, the wife of an unemployed worker or the wife of an incapacitated age pensioner!
The Government claims, Sir, that under its existing social service measures and the proposed increased benefits contained in the bill now before us, there are no anomalies or discriminations. I claim, on behalf of the Australian Labour Party, that the existing legislation and the bill are riddled with anomalies and discriminations and that the latter is a complete departure from our Australian democratic Christian way of life. I claim that the Labour Party, as the alternative government in this country, will not accept it, nor will the people of Australia. Does the Government think for one moment that the wife of an invalid pensioner or the wife of an unemployed worker is worth £2 per week less than is any other wife in this country? Yet that is what this legislation implies.
Is any honorable member on the Government benches prepared to stand up and say that £3 a week is sufficient to keep these women? I challenge honorable members opposite to do so. Is any honorable member on the Government side of the House prepared to stand up and tell the House that he can keep his wife on £3 a week? If there is any such honorable member, let him take up my challenge. The sum of £3 a week would barely be sufficient to buy her food requirements, let alone provide for her clothes, cosmetics, an occasional hair wave and the other little items she may require from time to time to maintain her feminine charm and, in return, the admiration and respect of her husband. Evidently the Government considers that, because she is the wife of an unfortunate invalid pensioner or the wife of an unemployed worker, she is not entitled to have these things, as other women do. No, Sir, if one follows the Government’s line of thinking, its attitude towards these women is “ Take this £3 and live in the best way you can, as your circumstances permit “. Is it any wonder that we have so many broken homes and so many mentally sick women?
This is a glaring example of why this bill should be redrafted so as to bring these benefits into line with others provided under our social services structure. This, Sir, is why I mentioned, at the beginning of my speech, that we in opposition in this Parliament know that it is our duty to move this amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill. The people of Australia expect it of us. 1 appeal to those honorable members on the Government benches, who have any feeling for their fellow men, to display that feeling by preventing this bill from passing through this House without the terms of the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition being incorporated therein.
Sir, the wealth of our country can never be judged on the number of our factories, our oilfields, our water conservation schemes or our pastures. It will be judged by our true wealth - the standard of housing, schools and hospitals provided for our people and by our social service structure for our aged, our infirm, our unemployed and our under-privileged people. We should be doing our utmost to take foremost place in the eyes of the judges of world prosperity.
I am honoured, Sir, in being afforded the opportunity to participate in this debate and to support the amendments moved on behalf of my party for the benefit of our people. 1 trust that the Government will accept the amendment for the same reason.
.- For the last 25 minutes, Sir, we have been regaled with a very sad speech. One was almost reduced to tears by listening to the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Don Cameron) give his version of what he regards as the situation which obtains in Australia to-day. The most remarkable statement he made - surely he could not have been sincere when he said it, unless he has a very poor regard for our womenfolk - was there are so many mentally sick women. Surely the honorable member cannot be sincere when he says there are so many mentally sick women in Australia!
– Their condition is brought about by frustrations caused by this Government.
– The situation is not as the honorable member has painted it. He was particularly out of line when he talked about the employment situation. He made a mouthful of the number of people unemployed and the hardships which they suffer owing to the poor unemployment benefit provided by the Government. Perhaps the honorable member has not read the newspapers to-day. If he has done so, he will have seen that the incidence of unemployment has now been reduced to the remarkably low figure of 67,229, spread over all the States of Australia. One is amazed to see that the incidence of unemployment in Queensland, whence the honorable member for Lilley comes, is only 1.4 per cent. What a remarkably low incidence of unemployment! Surely the honorable member must be very happy about it. Surely he is pleased to be able to go back to the sunny State of Queensland with the knowledge that there is only 1.4 per cent, of unemployment there! May I add that perhaps the honorable member is overlooking the fact that the report by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) yesterday referred to 25,885 job vacancies? Generally speaking, the story which the honorable member related is completely out of character with the true position which prevails in Australia to-day.
I support the bill. In my humble view it represents another milestone of achievement in fourteen years of development of a social services programme which is worthy of this Government. We are very proud of it. We are proud of our Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is a gentleman of great human understanding. He is not the type of gentleman that honorable members opposite have endeavoured to paint. He is not the image that they have attempted to form. He is a man who has done a lot for this country through progressive social service legislation. Let the chamber be reminded also that the Minister has held his portfolio sin;e 1956, which I think is a record in this sphere.
In the compilation of my speech I took the opportunity to do a lot of research - perhaps more than honorable members opposite have done, because the speeches I have heard read on that side of the House all seem to have the same pattern. Perhaps they all come from the same author; 1 do not know. But if that is so, honorable members opposite have not done their proper research. In doing my research I paid particular attention to this question: What did the Labour Government do in the eight years it occupied the government benches? It did not do anything. In 1949 the total expenditure on social services was £81,000,000. The estimated expenditure on social services in 1963 is £411,000,000. There is a tremendous difference between what the Labour Government spent in 1949 on social services and what the LiberalCountry Party coalition Government is spending in 1963. Sir, I came to the conclusion, as a result of my research, that the benefits bestowed upon the people of Australia by the Labour Government and by the present Government differ from one another as chalk from cheese.
It should not be overlooked that the benefits made available by this Government affect the lives of nearly 5,000,000 people, men, women and children. They all receive benefits in one way or another. The legislation of the Labour Government - and surely you will accept what I am saying as being correct - was riddled with restrictions and conditions. By comparison with the way in which pensioners and aged persons are treated now, their treatment by the Labour Government was miserly. I would say, as a matter of fact, that it was cruel and harsh. Since the Menzies Government has been in office there has been a considerable easing of restrictions and other conditions applying in the field of social services. The means test has been liberalized. Another point that should not be overlooked, because we have heard criticism from honorable members oppo site about this matter, is that aborigines now enjoy social service benefits which were denied them by the Labour Government.
Let me deal with the position of civilian widows. I am very pleased to see that this bill shows recognition of their needs. In my opinion and, I feel sure, in the opinion of all reasonable-minded men in this chamber, these are very deserving persons. They are perhaps the most deserving in the community, apart from the war widows. They have responsibilities for children who are left fatherless. They have been given substantial benefits under this legislation, through the mothers’ allowance which has now been provided for at £2 a week, through the grant of 15s. a week for the first child and also through an increase of 5s. in the base rate. We on this side of the House, very humanly and in due conscience, have recognized the struggle of the civilian widows to bring up their families. We hope that the position of these women will continue to receive the close attention of the Government and that, as time and money permit, they will be assisted even further, so that they will be brought into Une with war widows and enjoy similar benefits and conditions. I hope that the Government will make this one of its objectives.
We do not want the children of civilian widows to be looked on as second class. We could have a situation in which children of war widows are considered in a different light from those of civilian widows, the latter being considered second class. I believe that the Government will watch the interests of these children and ensure that whenever it is financially possible in the future their condition will be improved by the extension of improved social service benefits.
Honorable members opposite have referred to what they call discrimination. The honorable member for Lilley spoke of segregation, whatever that may mean. He was referring to single pensioners receiving 10s. a week more than married pensioners who live with their pensioner spouses. 1 believe that this controversy over differential rates of pension is being carried to a ridiculous extreme. I feel sure that it is being promoted by honorable members opposite simply because they think they can gain a political advantage. They are making a political football out of this topic. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) made some rather cryptic comments which, in my view, did not carry much weight. He made statements which I thought were wild and extreme. Generally speaking, honorable members opposite who have dealt with this subject have endeavoured to stir up hatred between single pensioners and married pensioners.
– That is what you are doing.
– That is what I do not propose to do, because it is essential that this matter of differential rates be discussed so that everybody will understand the position. We must avoid the woolly kind of talk that we hear from members of the Opposition because it does not succeed in making out a case for one or the other group of pensioners. All it succeeds in doing is creating an atmosphere in which hatred can be inflamed.
The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) who, has just been elevated to a very worthy position on the Opposition front bench, had a good deal to say about what he called the discriminatory attitude adopted by this Government in giving single pensioners 10s. more a week than married pensioners. I direct the attention of honorable members to the fact that a certain form of words has been used by two or three honorable members opposite, who have spoken of standard and sub-standard pensioners. They have done so only to create a certain image in the minds of the people. It is an old trick, it is a trick which, as I have said before, is used by the Communists. Honorable members of the Opposition have used this trick now in order to create a certain image in the minds of the people.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said that the pension system, as it has developed over the last 50 years, has always retained the same pattern, and he has suggested that by laying down differential rates in this bill we are making a change so drastic that it will bring about chaotic conditions. This, of course, is not what is going to happen at all. The honorable member for Grayndler said that this is discrimination of the worst kind against helpless people, and that it should have no place in our social service structure. Then he said - and I ask honorable members to take particular note of this, because he was leading in this debate for the Opposition - “ Labour will vote against this proposal “. When we conclude the second reading stage and pass to the committee stage it will be interesting to see, when the particular proposal is brought forward, whether the Opposition will do what the honorable member said it would. In other words, is the Opposition going to vote against the granting to 570,000 pensioners of this extra 10s. a week? If it is not going to vote in this way, then what the honorable member for Grayndler said is a lot of poppycock, and there is no sincerity about the honorable member. He has just been using words for the sake of using them.
– He is just insincere.
– He is most insincere. The Opposition proposes, in the second amendment that it has foreshadowed, a standard rate of pension, subject to the addition of certain supplementary payments. We are told that honorable members opposite will not vote for the differential rate and thus will try to deprive 570,000 pensioners of the increase of 10s. I imagine that there will be a great hue and cry if the Labour Party acts in the manner which has been suggested.
On this side of the House we have a very human understanding of the situations of single pensioners and pensioner married couples. We want to see justice done to these good folk. Some one may say that I am not sincere in what I say and that I have not the interests of the senior citizens at heart. If any honorable member feels that way it will be as well for him to know that during my period as an alderman of the Sydney City Council I influenced the construction of welfare centres in that city. No one can deny the truth of that. It is on record. I was responsible also for the introduction of the mobile library for senior citizens. I say that because it is evidence of my sincerity. May I say also that I had some influence on the establishment of the first “ meals on wheels “. On the day of the introduction of this service I took the opportunity to meet the people who were being served. I and the other Government members are very sincere in saying that we want to ensure that the senior citizens, the people eligible for pensions, will get the best possible deal.
Whenever pensions as a whole have been Increased - generally by 5s. - that has always been a matter of great controversy. Single pensioners have been aggrieved because they said they were at a disadvantage when compared with pensioner married couples. No one can doubt that this disadvantage existed. This bill seeks to balance the lot of the single pensioner with the lot of the pensioner married couple. If honorable members opposite are observant and have been observant over the years, they will know that social workers have advocated for years differential rates of payment for married and single pensioners. I have heard various statements by pensioner organizations, probably inspired by honorable members opposite, protesting about the way in which these pension increases have been made. However, I have here a letter from the National Pensioners Society of 297 Elizabeth-street, Sydney. It is not an anonymous document. lt has been signed. When I say that it is not anonymous, I have in mind an anonymous document read by the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Monaghan). I understand that the honorable member is a barrister. Why he should read an anonymous document, I do not know. I shall quote from this letter from the National Pensioners Society.
– Who signed it?
– I will even tell you the name. It is H. Dougan.
– I knew that would happen. I knew that somebody would say “ Ah “. I will read the letter because it reflects the opinion of a lot of people. Honorable members opposite are really battling in trying to counter this sort of advice to the Parliament. The letter reads -
The Government made a wise move in its breakthrough for single and widow pensioners. Let the Opposition go on from there and not kill the good that is being done for so many thousands of really deserving pensioners.
It should be remembered that 570,000 pensioners will receive this increase of 10s., so the word “ thousands “ is correctly used. The letter continues -
The plight of the single pensioner living solely on his pension without other means of support is the most tragic aspect of our social services.
This is a true picture of the situation. The letter goes on -
He is unable to exist on his pension which brings about a state of physical and mental deterioration. If he desires to maintain his dignity as a human being and not seek charity, then he becomes a charge on the Federal and State Governments because he is forced then to make many visits to his doctor or hospital and often ends up in an institution. If he has a family he sees very little of them, because in to-day’s society nearly all family life - which includes the aged parents - has gone, and the old person has no place in the home of his children.
I heard raucous laughter from across the chamber when I mentioned a certain name, but will honorable members opposite laugh raucously at and deny the facts stated in this letter? Will they say that the letter is not correct and paints a wrong picture? They cannot do so, because they know that what the letter states is the truth. They realize that the injustice done to single pensioners in the past is reflected in the letter. The Government has tried to remove that injustice by the payment of a pension described by Opposition members as discriminatory. So it is, but it is well merited, in my view.
We have heard speakers from the Opposition ridiculing the statement that two can live as cheaply as one. Two can live almost as cheaply as one. Honorable members who are married realize that that is so. Let us examine the situation. If a married pensioner couple live in their own home, the rates, insurance, repairs and other expenses relating to the upkeep of the home are paid out of the total pension payment of £10 10s. If they pay rent, that payment comes easier out of a double pension than a single pension. I know of a lady living in Bondi whose husband died about a year ago. They had lived together in a flat for which they paid a rent of £4 a week. Her husband retired and became a pensioner, and she also became a pensioner. Out of the double pension they continued to pay the rent of £4 a week, leaving them with £6 10s. a week for living expenses. Now that her husband is dead she receives only a pension of £5 5s., plus a supplementary payment of 10s., but she still has to pay rent of £4 a week. She is left with only £1 15s. a week on which to live. Surely that illustrates in very graphic fashion the difference between the situations of a single pensioner and a pensioner married couple. Some one may ask why the lady I refer to continues to live in a flat for which she has to pay £4 a week rent instead of moving to a cheaper flat. The obvious answer is that she lives in Sydney and it is hopeless to try to get cheaper accommodation because of the iniquitous Landlord and Tenant Act, which unquestionably inflicts hardship on pensioners. Many people are aware that pensioners particularly suffer great hardship as a result of the continuation of this act by the New South Wales Labour Government.
Let me continue my illustration of the difference between the situation of single pensioners and pensioner married couples. The expense of heat and electricity in a home is the same whether one or two people are living there. Two people who share the heating and electricity costs manage more easily than does one person who has to meet the entire costs for himself out of a single pension. There is also a greater saving in foodstuffs by a couple living in married bliss. Invariably, a single pensioner living in a room has no refrigerator, whereas a married couple always have one. The wife does the cooking and looks after things in a proper manner, keeping food in a refrigerator. A single person, on the other hand, living in a room, as one finds if one goes about the city of Sydney, cannot keep food without a refrigerator. Either the food goes bad or it has to be eaten up very quickly to prevent it from doing so. However one looks at it, a married couple is able to buy food more cheaply and use it more economically, relatively, than is a single pensioner.
Take shoes and clothing, for argument’s sake. A married couple fares better because the husband is usually a jack of all trades, and if there is need, can mend shoes. A single pensioner living in a room, especially a woman, would have to buy a new pair of shoes. Furthermore, a married couple have another advantage because the wife can mend or even make clothes. That is another saving that a single pensioner has no possibility of effecting. All these things illustrate the great benefits that accrue to married couples by contrast with single pensioners.
This brings me to one of the most important problems that face single persons - a problem that influenced me, at any rate, in advocating welfare for citizens in Sydney some years ago. I refer to the problem of loneliness. Two partners in a marriage living together are company for each other, but a single pensioner living in a room has no company and, as a consequence, has to seek the company of others to get away from loneliness. Every time the pensioner goes out he has to put his hand in his pocket to meet extra expenses. So, however one looks at the situation, a married couple is in a much better position than a single pensioner. Therefore, I say, with great feeling and sincerity, that the additional 10s. a week conceded to single pensioners by the Government will be money well spent. In my view, the spending of public money in this manner is fully justified.
There has, of course, been a malicious suggestion that pensioners will live together in sin because, in effect, it is a cheaper way to live. It has been said that single pensioners of opposite sex will live together and benefit by a combined total of £1 a week. Has any one ever before heard anything so ridiculous or so unreasonable?
Time will beat me, I know, Mr. Speaker. I just want to say that it is worth noting that we have been given to understand that this payment of an additional 10s. a week to single pensioners will cost about £12,000,000 a year. If a similar amount were paid to pensioners who are married couples, a further £7,000,000 a year would have to be spent. Opposition members, of course, do not care how they spend public money. They have little regard for proper principles of expenditure. They can become very irresponsible without any need to worry. They can propose the expenditure of whatever sum they like without any thought of responsibility.
This attitude of Opposition members that whatever sum they like to name can be readily spent is typified by all the talk that we hear from honorable members opposite about child endowment. The Australian Labour Party, in its policy for the last general election, promised certain increases in the rates of child endowment. On examination of Labour’s policy, it was estimated that these increases would cost the country an additional £63,000,000 a year.
– Sixty-three million pounds!
– Yes, £63,000,000.
– What is wrong with that?
– What is. wrong with it? That is just what I want to find out. If the Government had to raise an additional £30,000,000 a year, it would have to increase taxes by 5 per cent. If an additional £60,000000 a year had to be raised, taxes would have to be increased by 10 per cent. So, if the Government had to raise an additional £63,000,000 a year to meet the cost of the increases in the rates of child endowment proposed by the Australian Labour Party, the taxes paid by the community would have to be increased by 10 per cent, or more. I think that that would be a shocking imposition on the community, particularly on young married couples.
I support the bill and strongly oppose the amendment, Mr. Speaker.
.- Mr. Speaker, I support the amendment that was proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) in the following terms to the motion that the bill be now read a second time: -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, this House is of the opinion that-
increases should be made in -
child endowment which has remained unchanged for the first child for 13 years and for subsequent children for IS years;
maternity allowances which have remained substantially unchanged for 20 years, and
pensioners’ funeral benefits which have remained unchanged for 20 years;
there should be a standard rate for all pensioners and supplementary assistance for special needs, thus removing the discrimination against married pensioners;
other social service payments and quali fications including permissible income should be adjusted to compensate for changes in the cost of living;
Australia now lags behind most compar able countries in its expenditure on social welfare, and
research and enquiry into social welfare in Australia is inadequate “.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Cockle) endeavoured to create a feeling that the amendment meant that the Opposition would vote against the second reading of the bill and thereby cause a delay in the payment of the increased rates of social service benefits. That sort of suggestion is typical of the manner in which the honorable member usually mixes up the facts or deliberately tries to mislead. If he studies the amendment, he will see that, right at the outset, it clearly indicates that the Opposition will vote for the passage of the bill. The amendment goes on to state that we believe that the Government should be severely criticized for the slap-happy way in which it has gone about the preparation of this measure. However, we would not expect the honorable member to be able to interpret a document properly, even if he honestly wished to do so - something that is extremely doubtful, anyway.
I want to reply also to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver), who, in what seemed to me to be a rather sneering manner, said that we on this side of the House had proposed a typical Australian Labour Party amendment. We freely admit, Sir, that our party, typically, presses for and supports measures that will give a better deal to the little people, the people in poor circumstances, those on small incomes and those who are unable to fend for themselves. Apparently, the honorable member for Swan is astonished and upset to see and hear us pressing for a better deal for the pensioners, and I should like to take the opportunity to assure him that we are very proud of our action in relation to this measure. If he has any belief in fair play and any feelings of decency in his attitude towards the pensioners of Australia, he will cross to this side of the chamber and vote with us in favour of the amendment.
The first matter with which the amendment deals is the Government’s failure to measure up to its responsibilities in regard to child endowment and the maternity allowance. This Government has failed, not only on this occasion, but also on every other occasion since it took office almost fourteen years ago, to live up to its responsibilities in relation to child endowment. The only improvement that it has made in child endowment was made away back in 1950. Both child endowment and the maternity allowance are of great importance to the home life of the married people in the community, and especially to couples who are just starting on married life and are planning the raising of a family. Child endowment is particularly important in helping parents of large families to provide for the upbringing and education of their children. The honorable member for Warringah said that he was proud of the Government’s achievements. We criticize the Government not so much for what it has done as for what it has failed to do. Fancy an honorable member claiming to be proud of the Government’s record in child endowment! The Government has done next to nothing in this field. It has done practically nothing in the field of child endowment for fourteen years. How can anybody be proud of a record such as that!
I would expect the honorable member to hang his head in shame when social services is being discussed in this Parliament. This Government has completely ignored the needs of social service recipients. It has treated them with studied contempt. We all recall that in his Budget speech the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) was careful to direct our attention to the fact that the Government had given very close and long consideration to all aspects of social services. If the Government gave full consideration to all aspects of social services it must have given full consideration to child endowment and the maternity allowance. That being so, is it not fairly obvious that the Government must have become aware that rates of child endowment and maternity allowance were lagging and were in urgent need of substantial adjustment? Despite that, the Government took no action whatever. That is why I say that the Treasurer, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and the rest of the Government have treated child endowment and the maternity allowance “with studied contempt. “]
Let us examine child endowment a little more closely. Child endowment was first introduced in Australia in July, 1941, by a Labour government. A rate of 5s. a week was fixed for each child other than the first. At that time the basic wage was £4 7s. a week, so child endowment represented approximately 5.7 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1945 - still under a Labour government - the rate was increased to 7s. 6d. a week. At that time the basic wage was £4 16s. a week, so the child endowment represented 7.8 per cent, of the basic wage. In November, 1948 - again under a Labour government - the rate was increased to 10s. a week. The basic wage was then £5 19s. a week and the child endowment represented 8.4 per cent, of the basic wage. That rate of 10s. a week for children other than the first has not been changed since it was fixed in 1948. In 1949 the Labour Government was defeated. During its fourteen years of office this Government has made no change in the rate of child endowment for children other than the first. The rate now represents only 3.4 per cent, of the basic wage. Even in 1941, when child endowment of 5s. for children other than the first was introduced, the rate represented 5.7 per cent, of the basic wage and in 1948 the rate of child endowment for children other than the first represented 8.4 per cent, of the basic wage. If the rate paid in respect of children other than the first bore to-day the relativity to the basic wage that it bore in 1948, it would be 24s. a week. But the rate is still 10s. a week.
In June, 1950, shortly after this Government took office, it set out with a great flourish to try to win some favour in the eyes of the electors. It granted endowment of 5s. a week for the first child of each family. At that time the basic wage was £5 2s. and the rate of 5s. for the first child represented 3.5 per cent, of the basic wage. Since 1950 the Government has gone completely cold on child endowment and has not increased the rates further. For children other than the first there has not been an increase for fifteen years and in respect of the first child there has not been an increase for thirteen years. If the endowment paid to-day in respect of the first child bore the same relativity to the basic wage as it bore in 1950, it would be 10s. a week - twice as much as is in ‘fact being ‘paid. As I have said, if the endowment paid in respect of children other than the first had kept pace with the basic wage, the rate now would be 24s. a week. In failing to attend to this aspect of social services the Government is denying the family with one child 5s. a week. In the case of a family with two children, the Government is denying it 19s. a week. The amount in respect of a family with three children is 33s. a week. 1 think we must regard child endowment in terms of its value to the recipient. After all, most people are interested in child endowment only because of the things it will buy. It is obvious that the purchasing power of child endowment has declined year by year since its introduction. When Labour is returned to power we will treat the matter of child endowment as it should be treated. We will make necessary adjustments in the rate in accordance with to-day’s living costs and thus restore to families the purchasing power that child endowment had when Labour was last in office.
The next matter referred to in the Opposition’s proposed amendment is the maternity allowance. The Commonwealth “ YearBook “ states that the purpose of the maternity allowance was to provide financial assistance towards the expenses associated with the birth of children. I cannot imagine what other purpose the allowance would have, but as it definitely had that purpose in 1943, I suppose it has the same purpose to-day. That being so, we must decide whether the amount paid in 1943 is sufficient to meet to-day’s needs. If we apply that test it is immediately obvious that the allowance does not in 1963 have the purchasing power that it possessed in 1943 and accordingly needs substantial adjustment. In 1943 the Curtin Labour Government fixed the amounts of maternity allowance at £15 for the first child, £16 for the second and third children and £17 10s. for each subsequent child. The allowance has not been changed since this Government came to power. It has been the same for twenty years. The amounts paid in 1949 are the amounts that are paid to-day. The allowance to-day has a purchasing power equal to about one-third of the purchasing power of the allowance in 1943. In other words, if in 1943 some purchase associated with a confinement cost £15, you could expect it to cost at least £45 to-day. Medical fees alone have increased considerably since 1943. Why, to-day it would cost you £5 5s. just to walk into a doctor’s surgery and look at the pictures on the wall! Despite these facts the Government sees no reason why the maternity allowance should be adjusted.
According to the Treasurer the Government made a very thorough examination of all aspects of social services. But in the final result it made no attempt to adjust the maternity allowance, so we must accept - this cannot be denied - that the Government has decided not to increase the present rates, which have been in existence for so long. What does the Government say about the maternity allowance? Does it say that the amounts fixed by a Labour government twenty years ago are sufficient to-day to provide financial assistance in respect of confinements? Does the Government say that the fact that costs have increased threefold is no reason why parents should receive an amount greater than they received in 1943? Or is the real reason for the Government’s refusal to adjust child endowment and the maternity allowance the fact that it does not believe in these benefits but has not the courage to remove them altogether? Personally I am of the opinion that the Government could not care less about the whole business. The Government has very little interest in child endowment and the maternity allowance, because they are of most value to the little people - not to the rich friends of the Government. The Labour Party has also made a very close examination of this matter. We appreciate the value of the maternity allowance to the low income group and our view is completely different from the Government’s view. It is obvious that a very substantial increase in the maternity allowance is necessary. We believe that it should be doubled.
In our proposed amendment we refer to pensioners’ funeral benefit. This is another matter which the Government either has ignored or believes is not worthy of concern. Funeral benefit of £10 was introduced by Labour in 1943. It has not been increased since this Government has been in office. Every one realizes .that to-day £10 will make very little impact on the cost of a funeral. In fact, it means almost nothing when measured against the usual cost of a funeral, which is about £100. It is paltry to tell the survivor of a pensioner couple that you are giving him £10 towards the cost of the funeral of his spouse. However, the Government has stated that for income tax purposes it will allow a deduction of £50 for a funeral. Apparently it admits that the cost of funeral to-day is well and truly above £50 and that is why it has allowed that amount as an income tax deduction. It is not prepared to do anything for the poor old pensioner but it does not mind handing out £50 as a tax rebate to its influential friends. We have examined this position and we are completely dissatisfied with the Government’s attitude. We believe that the benefit should be increased as as to meet a very substantial part of the cost of a funeral, not a very small proportion of it.
I move now to that part of our proposed amendment which states that there should be a standard rate for all pensioners, with supplementary assistance to meet special needs. At the outset let me make it clear that I have no argument against age and invalid pensioners receiving £5 15s. a week. In fact, I welcome that but I believe that in a large number of cases the amount is insufficient. For instance, there are many pensioners who have no source of income other than a pension. On to-day’s costs, it is obvious that £5 15s. will do no more than allow them to live a pretty miserable kind of existence. It certainly will not be sufficient for them to live as any normal Australian citizen should be able to live. I do not deny the single pensioner the increase; I welcome it. Neither do I take exception to the increases which have been granted to widows, or in relation to dependant’s allowances and so on. However, I take strong exception to the fact that no increases have been granted to the pensioner married couple. Why has not their pension been increased? If £5 15s. is the standard rate for a single pensioner, irrespective of circumstances, then £5 15s. should be the standard for a married pensioner in similar financial circumstances. Why should a married pensioner be denied the 10s. a week supplementary rent allowance when a single pensioner- rightly so - receives that assistance? The honorable member for Warringah referred to married people being able to keep their food in refrigerators so that it would not go bad. If the Government continues along the way it has been going the pensioners will not need refrigerators; they will have to sell their refrigerators because they will have no food to put in them.
By this bill the Government has shown conclusively that in its opinion a married pensioner should not receive more than £5 5s. a week. The Treasurer made this quite clear in his speech. When you examine the Government’s record in all aspects of social services, you find that without a shadow of a doubt the Government has loaded its actions against the married and family people in the community. There has been no increase for the married age or invalid pensioner. There has been no increase for the wife of an age pensioner when the husband alone is eligible for a pension. The wife of an invalid pensioner will receive a slight increase but it is nowhere near sufficient when measured against what is necessary to give her husband the required attention. Child endowment has been completely ignored for years - for almost the entire life of this Government. The maternity allowance has been treated with contempt. There was not even a suggestion that it would be reviewed. There has been no increase in the funeral benefit for pensioners. The result is that many pensioners stint themselves in an effort to put away a few shillings every pay day to provide for their burial. As to unemployment relief, or the dole as it is more correctly called, the amount granted to both married and single men is completely inadequate and should be increased. When one looks at the specified payments in the different social service provisions the whole thing takes on the appearance of one of those raffles in which you take names out of one hat and the numbers out of another hat and then hope for the best. The Government took one section of social services out of one hat and an amount of money out of another hat. If the amount was two quid, that was it. If the amount was three quid, there was no argument. No consideration was given to the question of whether an amount was equitable.
I should like to know how the Government arrived at the conclusion that two married pensioners living together shall receive only £10 10s. a week, while two single pensioners living together shall receive £11 10s. a week and an additional 10s. each if they pay rent, making a difference of £2, even though the financial circumstances in each case would be exactly the same. The only reference to this discrimination in the Minister’s second-reading speech was when he said -
But, when a married couple is bereaved - and, sooner or later, every married couple must be bereaved - the household’s pension income, payable to the survivor, is immediately cut in half and, in that most catastrophic way, the circumstances of the survivor are reduced to the level of the single pensioner without any compensating reduction in the fixed charges of normal life and living. These are the stark realities of the present situation.
The Minister’s reference relates to a situation in which single and married pensioners received the same amounts. But what will be the stark realities of the situation for pensioner married couples following the passage of this bill? A large number of them will be simply existing - not living - in most deplorable conditions while both spouses remain alive. Plenty of them are now living in those poor conditions, and while they continue to live they will continue to live in poor conditions. But when one dies, instead of the survivor having natural feelings of loneliness and sadness at the loss of his partner this Government apparently expects him to be filled with great joy, jubilation and enthusiasm because he will receive a few extra shillings in his pension. That is the only way in which one can view the Government’s proposal. When one partner to the marriage dies the survivor will receive a little extra pension benefit.
In determining this important matter of pensions, the first consideration should be to ensure that all pensioners in the very poorest circumstances receive an amount which will be sufficient to allow them to live in a reasonable manner. We should never accept the position, as this bill expects us to do, that the maximum amount that some pensioners will receive from all avenues will not be sufficient to allow them to live in reasonable comfort and to retain their natural dignity. To my mind, one of the important aspects of pensions is that they should be always sufficient to allow age and invalid pensioners to retain their natural dignity. As honorable members know, most age pensioners, probably because of their early struggles in life, have a very deep sense of independence. Many to-day are too proud to accept charity and are content to try to get along on the few shillings that they have. It 2s shameful and pitiful to see many of them being gradually broken in spirit and health simply because they are not getting a sufficient pension to allow them to live the normal life of an Australian citizen. I do not think how the required amounts are arrived at or what formula is used matters very much, provided we achieve the desired result; that is, ensure that all pensioners receive an amount on which they can live reasonably well.
In the second point in our amendment we say that there should be a standard rate for all pensioners and supplementary assistance for those with special needs. I have not heard any honorable member opposite say that that is wrong. Surely that is the only logical way to handle this matter. We should strike a pension that is suitable for the average pensioner or the majority of pensioners and then make the necessary adjustments. There may be some pensioners who will receive a little more than they actually require. They will be the few who have the maximum property and income allowed under the means test. There will not be very many of those people. But there certainly will be a very large number of pensioners who will require some supplementary assistance because their needs will be greater than those of the average pensioner. Surely it is much better to have some people receiving a little more than they require than to have thousands of pensioners receiving too little to meet their needs.
This Government has dodged its responsibilities. It has simply fixed a pension of £5 5s. a week for married pensioners. It has given no consideration whatever to those pensioners whose needs are such that they require additional assistance. The Government has completely disregarded those people. There are many pensioners whose needs are such that they require quite a bit more than the £5 5s. a week that this Government allows them. We know that this is not a matter that can be examined and fixed overnight. We know that it requires some attention. We also know that this Government has made no effort to arrive at a proper solution of the pensions problem. That is why we say finally in our amendment that research and inquiry into social welfare in Australia are completely inadequate.
The Government should not think for one moment that its social services provisions have met with the approval of pensioners generally. I noticed a report in the “ West Australian “ newspaper to the effect that the Western Australian division of the Combined Pensioners League is not happy about these provisions. The league held its annual general meeting in Perth last Tuesday. The delegates, who came from about 44 branches in Western Australia and represented about 13,000 members, signed a petition asking this Government to grant the increase of 10s. a week to all age and invalid pensioners, not just some of them. The delegates said that in the opinion of the league the proposed increases did not meet the requirements of a just pension. So, apparently, that large number of pensioners in Western Australia are not satisfied with what the Government has done on this occasion.
The newspaper report also directed attention to the fact that a large number of married couples in Western Australia will now be paying £2 a week rent. In those cases married couples, after paying that rent, will be trying to exist on £8 10s. a week, whilst two single pensioners living together and paying rent of £2 a week will have £10 10s. between them, after paying their rent, simply because each of the single pensioners will receive 10s. a week more than the married pensioners in receipt of the standard pension, and in addition each of them will receive the 10s. a week supplementary allowance because he or she is paying rent.
I do not know whether the £2 a week rent is fair and reasonable or whether it is more than they should pay or less then they should pay. I do not think what the rent is makes any difference to this argument. The point I am getting at is that married pensioners are paying rent in the same way as single pensioners are, and therefore it is only right and proper that they should receive the supplementary allowance. The position is - too silly for words’, when Such married ‘pensioners do. not receive that allowance. It is no wonder that the pensioners’ organizations throughout Australia are hostile towards this Government.
The Government should also discard and forget its old, worn-out references to married couples being allowed to have an income of £7 a week in addition to their pensions, because for every couple with any income at all, let alone £7 a week, there are hundreds who have no income at all. It is also idle to talk of the amount of money or property that pensioners are permitted to have, in discussing the needs of pensioners, because as in the case of permissible income there are thousands of pensioners who cannot earn anything and have no chance of ever earning anything. But the Government has not done anything at all about the permissible income on this occasion. Supporters of the Government are always very keen to use it as an escape clause. When one considers the value of money to-day in comparison with its value when the amount of £3 10s. a week was set; it is easy to see that the £3 10s. will not buy anywhere near as much as it would buy when the amount was set. The permissible income should have been increased.
All in all, this is a pretty sorry piece of legislation. It grants a few shillings to a few people, but it does not grant much to the great many people who should have received increased benefits. This bill was designed to split the pensioners’ organizations. That is quite obvious. Those organizations are becoming united. They are speaking with one voice. They are able to put a bit of pressure on this Government. The Government did not like that. This bill represents one of the Government’s ways of trying to split up the pensioners’ organizations.
.- I do not know how many people listen to the parliamentary broadcasts or how many of the people who do listen to them take the trouble to turn the dials of their radios when the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) is speaking. For the benefit of the people who may have been grossly misled by him last Thursday evening, I wish to put the record straight. I wish to answer the charges, that he made against this Government.
According to the honorable member for Grayndler, every social service benefit that has been introduced has been introduced either by Labour or by pressure from Labour on a non-Labour government. He made much of what the Labour Party will do, if returned to office. But. I seem to have read these words somewhere: “ By their actions they shall be judged “. I intend to show that the speech made by the honorable member for Grayndler was full of inaccuracies. If I make him the target of my remarks to-night, it is because he is the spokesman for the Australian Labour Party in the debate on this Social Services Bill. I propose to show that his speech was full of misrepresentations and inaccuracies. I believe that his language was extravagant; his criticism was unfair; and his general attitude) was one of insincerity. If any one is prepared to form an order of humbugs, I will have pleasure in nominating him for president of that order.
The honorable member criticized the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) for pointing out in his second-reading speech that expenditure from the National Welfare Fund had increased from f 81,000,000 in 1949 to £411,000,000 this year. The honorable member for Grayndler preferred to refer to the value of benefits paid under the Social Services Act. He pointed out that in 1949 the figure was £74,600,000 and in 1962 it was £282,600,000. He said that that was not a fair comparison and. that certain factors had to be taken into consideration. I agree with him. He pointed out that in 1949 the population was 7,800,000 and in 1962 it was 10,600,000. So there was an increase of 26.4 per cent, in the population. If we take into account that population increase, the expenditure in 1962, without allowing for any change iii money values, should have been a little more than £94,000,000.
The honorable member then referred to inflation. He said that the consumer price index had moved from 61 to 124. Actually, according to figures that I have obtained from the Bureau of Census and Statistics, the index moved from 65.1 to 124.9. But I will not quarrel about a few points. I am prepared to settle for the figures that the honorable member used, which show an increase of 103 per cent, in the consumer price index. Therefore, allowing for the increase in population and in the consumer price index, on the basis of the expenditure in 1949, the expenditure in 1962 should have been a little more than £191,000,000. But, according to the honorable member himself, the Government provided £282,600,000. So that still leaves £92,000,000 in our favour.
The honorable member for Grayndler explained away £13,000,000 of that amount by saying that in this period child endowment was extended to the first child. That still leaves us with £79,000,000 in our favour. He tried to explain that amount away by referring to two reasons which I believe, for his own good, he should have left unsaid. First of all, he said that the difference was due largely to the fact that there were more pensioners. He quoted the figure for 1951. Why he took that year I do not know. He said that in 1951 there were 417,000 pensioners and in 1962 there were 691,000. Those figures show an increase of two-thirds, whereas the population increased by only one-quarter. But let us go back to 1949 when a Labour government was in office. In that year there were 403,000 pensioners; at 30th June, 1963, the number was 711,000. So let us accentuate the position even more in his favour and say that under the Menzies Government there are 308,000 more pensioners than there were under a ‘ Labour government. Does the honorable member for Grayndler ask himself why there is a greater number of pensioners now? Probably not, because he would not know, anyway. The answer is that the Menzies Government has so liberalized the means test that more than 300,000 additional people have qualified for pensions.
Let us consider the property means test. In 1949, under Labour, a married couple who had property worth £1,500 in addition to their own home received no pension whatsoever. What is the property limit under this Government? Is it £1,500? Is it £3,000? It is not even £6,000; nor is it £9,000. The property limit over which no pension is payable to-day is. £9. 500, .whereas under. Labour, it was £1,5.001.- The figures with relation to the single pensioner are even more in our favour. In 1949, a single person who had property worth £750 in addition to his home received no pension whatever. To-day, he is allowed to have additional property up to a value of £5,010.
Now we come to the income means test. Labour cannot have this both ways. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) claimed that we should not take this into consideration, when trying to point out what we have done. Later he said that we have not increased the income figure anyway. Let us have a look at the facts. In 1949, a Labour government permitted a married pensioner couple to have an additional income of £3 a week and still receive the full pension. This Government has moved the figure from £3 to £7. What is more, it has excluded from consideration all income from property, whereas the Labour Government included income from property in arriving at permissible income. Those are the reasons why there are more than 300,000 additional pensioners to-day.
The honorable member for Grayndler would have been well advised not to make his second point which was that unemployment and sickness benefits cost £1,000,000 in 1949 whereas they cost £16,000,000 in 1962. Here, I should like to interrupt my argument for a minute to refer to the statement made to-night by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Don Cameron) that the unemployment benefit was inadequate - that it was impossible to live on it. Does he know what the Labour Government paid to the unemployed? In 1949, under the Labour Government, a married man with one child received the. magnificent sum of £2 10s. a week! Under this Government, he receives £7 17s. 6d., which represents an increase of 215 per cent. Let us consider the case of the married man with four children whose needs are even greater. The Labour Government also paid him only £2 10s. a week because it paid no additional money for children after the first. This Government pays a married man with four children £10 2s. 6d. a week, which represents on increase of 305 per cent, over what the Labour Government paid. And I point out to the honorable member for ‘ Grayndler that in the meantime the basic wage has increased by 123 per cent, and that on his own figures the consumer price index has risen by 103 per cent. Yet he said - and I am sure that he must have had his tongue in his cheek when he made the statement - that the unemployment benefit is not to be increased under the policy of this Government! He also said that these unemployed men are entitled to a payment as close as possible to the living wage. Yet, in 1949, the Labour Government paid a married man £2 5s. a week, or 35 per cent, of the then basic wage of £6 9s. To-day, this Government pays £7 2s. 6d. or just on 50 per cent, of the basic wage of £14 8s. Again, the Labour Government paid a married man with four children £2 10s. a week, or 39 per cent, of the basic wage. Under this Government, he receives £10 2s. 6d., which represents 70 per cent, of the basic wage. Surely those figures speak for themselves and show that Labour’s record is very poor indeed when compared with that of this Government.
The honorable member for Grayndler then referred to widows’ pensions, and I am sure that here again he must have been talking with great insincerity. He pointed out that widows in classes B and C are now to receive £5 2s. 6d. a week, which is less than the base rate pension. He pointed out also that the Australian Labour Party’s policy on this aspect of social services is that the widow’s pension should not be less than the base rate age pension. Surely Labour must have changed its policy since 1949, because it paid the class B widow £1 17s. a week, and at that time the age pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. Again, Labour paid the class A widow £2 7s. 6d. a week whereas this Government pays her £7 15s. As a matter of fact, in its official journal the Labour Party has said that it believes that the rate of benefit for a widow with two children should accord with that payable to a pensioner couple. But what did a Labour government pay? It paid a widow with two children £2 7s. 6d. a week, or 56 per cent, of the then base rate paid to an age pensioner. This Government is paying £8 10s. a week to the widow with two children, which represents 81 per cent, of the base rate pension. Again, in 1949, under Labour, a widow with four children received £2 7s. 6d. a week, because Labour did not recognize any children after the first. This Government pays a widow with four children £10 a week. As I have said, the Labour Government paid nothing for any children after the first. In fact, a widow with eight children still received £2 7s. 6d. a week whereas this Government will pay her £13 a week. What is more, this Government has extended the age limit from sixteen to eighteen years where the child is a full-time student. Further, this Government has excluded war pensions and income from property from consideration in arriving at permissible income.
The honorable member for Grayndler also said that this Government has not looked at supplementary assistance for pensioners and that the special rates are unchanged. The Labour Government paid no supplementary assistance whatever. This Government introduced payment of supplementary assistance of 10s. a week for single pensioners paying rent and deemed to be almost entirely dependent on their pensions. Labour gave nothing, but still criticizes the Menzies Government for not giving enough.
The honorable member for Grayndler said -
I cannot mention my next point except in passing, or T will be out of order.
It is a pity he mentioned it at all, because he was out of order. He said -
One of the worst features of the social service structure to-day is the national health scheme. No less than 12 per cent, of the pensioners are denied free medical benefits under the Government’s means test.
Does the honorable member know what percentage of pensioners did not receive medical benefits under Labour’s scheme? It was 100 per cent. - all of them - because Labour did not have a pensioner medical scheme. The honorable member for Grayndler criticizes us again for not giving enough, when labour gave nothing! To-day, more than 800,000 persons who are either pensioners or dependants of pensioners are enjoying the benefits of the free medical services provided by this Government. There are more than 6,000 doctors participating in the scheme and pensioners are entitled to the benefit at a hospital, at a surgery, or in their own homes. It may interest honorable members to know that for the year ended 30th
June, 1962, over 7,250,000 services were provided for pensioners under this scheme.
The honorable member for Grayndler said that this Government, with a majority of one, supports the welfare state because it is afraid to do anything else. He said -
I believe that the benefits granted have been forced from the Government.
I would like to remind him that the greatest step forward in the history of social service legislation - the introduction of the merged means test - was made when this Government had a majority of more than 30. Did the Government do this because it was afraid? Certainly not! Certainly not! It introduced the merged means test as it has introduced other improvements in social services, because it has the interest of the underprivileged people at heart. It does not have to talk about what it will do; it is entitled to point with pride to what it has done.
Allow me to recite just a few of the new benefit’s introduced by the Menzies-McEwen Government. First is homes for the aged. Up to date, more than 900 grants involving an expenditure of over £17,500,000 have been made. Now, of course, under this legislation that scheme is being extended to assist organizations which are prepared to provide accommodation for handicapped persons who are employed in sheltered workshops. This Government introduced the merged means test which greatly liberalized the means test for pensioners. It introduced the supplementary pension to assist pensioners paying rent. It extended the payment of social services to aboriginal natives. It removed the means test completely in the case of blind persons. It disregarded income from property in assessing permissible income, and, in the case of widows, it also disregarded war pensions, lt also disregarded payments from friendly societies and hospital benefits organizations in assessing the permissible income for the unemployed; but Labour took both of these payments into account.
It has reduced the qualifying period for the age pension for immigrants from twenty years to ten years, and it has reduced from five years to one year the period for an immigrant to qualify for the widows pension if she became widowed whilst residing in Australia. The MenziesMcEwen Government has extended pay- ment to invalid pensioners for the second and subsequent children; but Labour gave nothing at all. This Government introduced the age allowance, which is designed to extend to persons of pensonable age, who have been fortunate enough to be able to provide for themselves through superannuation schemes or investments, the same taxation concessions as are extended to pensioners, who may receive up to £17 10s. a week completely free of income tax. Under this Government, single persons of pensionable age are able to earn up to £481 without being liable for income tax or £910 in the case of a married couple.
I ask pensioners to remember all these points and to remember also that it has been the Menzies-McEwen Government which has provided these benefits. Pensioners may be sure that this Government will continue to do its best to cater for their needs, as it has in the past, and that wherever possible and whenever, possible, benefits will be improved by this Government.
The honorable member for Grayndler said that the dependants’ allowance has been increased by the princely sum of 12s 6d. a week for the wives of age and invalid pensioners. He said that the Government believed an adult could live on £3 a week. The honorable member for Lilley also made this assertion to-night. Evidently, in 1949 Labour believed that an adult could live on 24s. a week, because that is the amount Labour paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner. As a matter of fact, Labour paid to an invalid pensioner and his wife £3 3s. 6d. a week or 52 per cent, of the basic wage at that time. This Government pays £8 5s. or 57 per cent, of the basic wage. I would like honorable members to listen carefully to the next figures I give. In 1949, Labour evidently expected an adult to live on 24s. a week and children to live on air, because it paid an invalid pensioner 9s. a week for the first child and nothing at all for the second and subsequent children. This Government pays 15s. a week for every child. An invalid pensioner with four children received the magnificent sum of £3 lis. 6d. a week or 55 per cent, of the basic wage when Labour was in office. This Government pays £11 5s. or 78 per cent, of the basic wage.
In speaking of the wife’s allowance, the honorable member for Grayndler said that the policy of the Australian Labour Party was that no adult recipient of a social service payment should receive less than the basic age pension rate and that this applied to the dependants’ allowance. Labour must have changed its ideas since 1949, because when Labour was in office it paid the wife of an invalid pensioner 24s. a week, although the base rate of pension for an age pensioner was £2 2s. 6d. a week. Apparently Labour has one policy when it is in Opposition and another policy when it is in office.
The honorable member for Grayndler suggested that we should have a base rate of pension tied to the basic wage. This is a beautiful theory, but like similar arrangements it works well only when the basic wage is rising. Can any one imagine the scream that would come if the basic wage and the pension were reduced? As a matter of fact, this has happened twice previously in the history of the age pension, and we are fortunate indeed that on each occasion it happened when Labour was in office. When the age pension was tied to the cost of living, it was reduced by 2s. 66. a week in July, 1931 - this was a large sum in those days - and 2s. 6d. a week in October, 1932. Labour was very happy in 1944 to get rid of the provision tying the pension to the cost of living.
– At the request of the pensioners’ associations.
– You were very happy to get rid of it because it works all right when the basic wage is going up but it does not work all right when the basic wage is coming down. This Government believes in paying the highest rate of age pension possible, irrespective of the basic wage, and as a matter of fact it is paying a higher percentage of the basic wage to-day than Labour ever paid.
The honorable member for Grayndler criticized the principle which underlies the payment of an additional 10s. a week to single pensioners. He suggested that a national assistance system should be set up for hardship cases. Again, this is a very beautiful theory; but I ask him to say who will decide whether there is hardship. Presumably, this decision will not be made by members of the Parliament; it will be made by an independent tribunal. If we follow Labour’s thinking a little further, we will find, presumably, that if the tribunal decided that there was no hardship, Labour would provide for an appeal against the decision of the tribunal. Perhaps even after that, an appeal would be provided to a court of law. How far would this go? This Government believes that most single pensioners suffer hardship when compared with married couples who have two pensions coming into the home If there are cases of single pensioners living together and both receiving an additional 10s. a week, surely it is better for these pensioners, who, according to Labour’s argument, would not qualify for the additional 10s., to receive the additional amount than for the many single pensioners who are experiencing great hardship to be denied it. I want to read again from a letter which has been quoted quite a few times in this debate and in the Budget debate. It is a letter from Mrs. Dougan of the National Pensioners Society of Sydney.
– She is the only one in the society.
– Whatever honorable members opposite may think of this lady, I completely agree with her sentiments. She said -
The Government made a wise move in its break-through for single and widowed pensioners the plight of the single pensioner living solely on his pension without other means of support is the most tragic of our Social Services. This payment of differential rate is welcomed as a first step towards a fair deal for the single pensioner. It is welcomed by all fair-minded Australian citizens.
The honorable member for Grayndler in his speech said that at every opportunity the Government has destroyed the purchasing power of social services.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member says, “Hear, hear”. That this statement is pure bunkum is easily proved. This Government has increased the rate of pension paid to a pensioner couple by 147 per cent. I want honorable members to remember here that in the meantime the basic wage has increased by 123 per cent, and, according to the honorable member for Grayndler, the consumer price index has increased by 103 per cent. We have increased the rate of pension payable to a single pensioner who qualifies for the additional 10s. by 171 per cent. If this single pensioner is also paying rent, his pension has increased by 185 per cent, on the rates paid by Labour. The class A widow has received an increase of 258 per cent, and a class B widow has received an increase of 177 per cent. I have already referred to the amount paid by Labour for unemployment benefit. The wife’s allowance, which has been criticized by the Opposition, has been increased by 141 per cent. Therefore, the Opposition should not try to suggest that this Government is destroying the purchasing power of social services.
The honorable member for Grayndler drew attention to a number of European countries and said that the percentage of our national income spent on social services compares very poorly with the percentage spent in other countries. He cited Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Ireland. But he very conveniently forgot to tell the House that in each of these countries, there is either a national insurance scheme or a contributory scheme. In quite a number of them, the contributing parties are the employer, the employee and the Government. Obviously, the more money a Government takes from employers, employees and taxpayers the more it can afford to pay. France, which the honorable member says is spending 18.9 per cent, of its national income on social services, includes in these benefits family allowances or child endowment which is taken into account in the wage structure. Labour does not want this, or at least that is what Labour said in 1950 when this Government extended child endowment to the first child. Let me put the record straight and correct what the honorable member for Kalgoorlie said. He said that Labour introduced child endowment. The present Treasurer when Minister for Social Services in the Menzies Government in 1941 introduced child endowment in the Commonwealth sphere. This Government has extended child endowment to the first child. Labour was not happy to support the legislation extending the benefit to the first child, because it was afraid that the Arbitration Commission would take this into consideration in fixing the basic wage.
During this debate Labour’s spokesmen on social service matters have held up France to us as an example in the field of social services. There are two classes of persons affected by the bill - those who pay and those who receive. Of course, in many cases they are the same people, but unfortunately, human nature being what it is, people tend to judge a budget by the manner in which it affects their pockets. If the taxpayer has to pay increased taxes he thinks it is a poor budget. If the Government fails to increase the particular benefit in which an individual is interested, in his judgment it is a poor budget.
As I said during the debate on the Repatriation Bill, governments do not create money. The cost of any benefit provided has first of all to be taken from the taxpayer in some form or other. If people want increased benefits they must be prepared to pay for them. This Government, during its term of office, has consistently endeavoured to give the greatest assistance and pay the greatest benefits to those whose needs are greatest. It has followed that policy in this Budget by greatly increasing the rates to be paid to class A widows and making a general increase in the rates for single pensioners. Labour talks of increases in child endowment, but let me remind honorable members that there is no means test whatsoever in relation to child endowment. That benefit is paid to the parents of all children, irrespective of their means or income. Some people may argue that that is a bad thing, but Labour cannot have it both ways.
During this debate, members of the Opposition have said that the increase of 10s. which this Government proposes to pay to single pensioners should be paid to all pensioners. They have also suggested that the permissible income should be increased. To follow this argument to its logical conclusion, I point out that it could mean that the pensioner couple whose home is paid for, and who therefore pay no rent and receive the full pension, plus permissible income, would receive £18 10s. a week. How would honorable members opposite explain that to the people whom they claim to represent in this Parliament - the workers on the basic wage who try to pay rent and feed, clothe and educate three or four children? Even though there may be many anomalies in the scheme executed by the Government in this measure, which has invited such unfair and unjust criticism from the honorable member for Grayndler, who referred to it as “ unprecedented, unjustified and discriminatory “, I believe that on balance it is both realistic and just. I have pleasure in supporting the bill and I oppose the amendment.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to join in this debate and I support the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). Before I direct my remarks to the amendment and to other relevant matters connected with the bill, I want to make a few observations on the speech by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox). The honorable member has convinced me - as indeed have most honorable members on the Government side in this Parliament - that he has no real conception of the problems of the aged people in this country or of those who are recipients of social service payments of one kind or another.
In the same way, I have been convinced more during this debate than at any other time since I entered this Parliament that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is probably the most disinterested member in the House. I have had opportunity of listening to a great number of speeches on social services in this Parliament. The Minister, who now sits at the gable. has shown a complete disinterest in and disregard for the points of view expressed by honorable members on this side of the House.
I invite honorable members to reflect on the Minister’s attitude. They will recall that whenever an honorable member on this side of the House has spoken on this subject the Minister has been very busily engaged at the table. I have heard very few speeches by my colleagues that have at any time engaged the attention of this Minister. Either he believes that it would not be possible for any worth while suggestion to come from this side of the House, or he is completely satisfied that no amendments to the bill are necessary - or possibly both. I deprecate his attitude on this important legislation. I think the Minister, who is obliged to sit at the table - probably he has been directed to sit there - ought at least to show that he is interested in what is being said by honorable members on this side of the House.
Having said that, let me return to the comments made by the honorable member for Henty. As I said a few moments ago, he convinced me that very few honorable members on the Government side of the House have any clear understanding of the problems of the people with whom this measure deals. There may be some honorable members opposite who are diligent in their duty and have a fair and reasonable understanding of some of these problems and are prepared to deal with them, back in their constituencies; but the fact remains that most of them have no real understanding of these problems. At no stage did the honorable member for Henty criticize the action of the Government in completely disregarding, for the second year in succession, the needs of the married pensioners in our community. At no stage did he express any sympathy for those people. I will concede at once that this measure contains some concessions that will be genuinely applauded by the people as a whole throughout the Commonwealth of Australia. I think that ought to be said in fairness to the legislation which we are now debating. But the fact remains that for the second year in succession this Govern ment has completely ignored the needs and requirements of the great mass of the pensioners.
During his speech the honorable member for Henty referred to medical entitlement cards. This is a subject with which I shall deal - I hope quite adequately - during the course of my remarks. The honorable member suggested - probably quite properly - that during the period of the preceding Labour administration there were no medical entitlement cards. Let me remind him - he knows this and he may have stated it - that during the period of office of Labour administrations in this country there was no charge for pensioners in public wards of public hospitals. The honorable member knows, as does every other honorable member on the Government side of the House, that a former Minister for Health, the late Sir Earle Page, abolished free medicine and free hospitals in this country. I say to the honorable member for Henty that when a Labour government is returned to the treasury bench in this Parliament it will again legislate to provide free hospitals and free medicine for the people of Australia and not merely for the pensioners. I shall return to the question of medical entitlement cards shortly.
Let me now turn to the terms of the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition. Parts of it can be stated in several ways. First, there is the point, made by the honorable member for Grayndler, which demonstrates this Government’s complete disregard for the decline in the purchasing power of child endowment.
This has been the subject of debate during the general discussion of this legislation by various honorable members on this side of the House, who have said time and time again that this Government has not altered child endowment payments since 1950. In that year a payment for the first child was introduced by this Government. Nor have payments for the second and subsequent children been altered since 1948. This means that no changes have been made for thirteen years, in the case of the first child, or for fifteen years in the case of other children. One might fairly ask why this Government, which has departed from the principle of a basic pension rate, should, on the one hand, acknowledge that there is a need for additional pension payments to certain classes of pensioners, and, on the other hand, ignore the fact that child endowment was originally introduced in Australia to assist, people with large families, people in the moderate income group who have had to accept the responsibility of rearing large families, and who were compensated therefor by child endowment payments. But every honorable member of this Parliament knows, as do the people of Australia generally, that the purchasing power of the money received by way of child endowment has declined considerably since the benefit was last amended in 1948 and 1950. Nevertheless, this Government makes no effort to legislate in respect of child endowment. It makes no attempt to restore the purchasing power of child endowment payments.
Secondly, our amendment points to the need to increase the maternity allowances, which have not been increased for twenty years. It also points to the need to adjust’ the funeral benefit which, after twenty years, remains at £10. I need hardly point out that since the funeral benefit for pensioners was fixed at £10 twenty years ago there has been a considerable increase in the cost of funerals. But this Government has refused p acknowledge that increase, and so the funeral benefit remains as it was twenty years ago.
Referring again to the amendment proposed by the Opposition, we believe that there should be a standard rate of pension, with adjustments to be made when special supplementary assistance is required - not on the basis that this Government has accepted, and which I submit is not acceptable to the pensioners, who are so vitally concerned, and is most certainly not acceptable to the people of the Commonwealth who have some interest in these matters.
For the three reasons that I have given, the amendment proposed on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Grayndler should receive the support of Government members when the vote is taken on this measure. This bill provides some relief for a few but ignores the needs of a great many. It is quite true that the Government has approved of some increases for widows. This is in accordance with the policy of the Australian Labour Party, as expressed in our policy speech in 1961. But even with the increase of £2 a week the provision for widows is still £1 10s. a week less than the amount suggested by the Labour Party in 1961. Under this legislation a widow with a child or children will receive a mother’s allowance of £2 a week, with an additional 15s. a week for the first child. The Government has accepted the principle of the domestic allowance, which has been applicable to war widows in Australia for many years. This is what the Opposition suggested in its policy speech in 1961. But the domestic allowance is paid to all war widows over the age of 50 years, or to those with children who are under the age of sixteen years. So it might be reasonable to suggest that this Government should have considered extending the principle that has always applied in respect of war widows in Australia. We have always recognized that such a widow, having reached the age of 50 years, finds it extremely difficult to compete on the labour market. Every honorable member of this Parliament knows the difficulty of a widow under the age of 50 years, perhaps between 45 and 50 years of age, who is forced to seek employment. We all know the great difficulty experienced by a widow in these circumstances. As this Parliament has for years accepted the proposition that domestic allowance should be paid to war widows, surely we should agree that the same conditions now should apply to civilian widows as to war widows.
However, as I have said, the Government has made a concession, which is long overdue, and I am sure it will be appreciated by the widows of Australia. It still leaves the B and C class widows, the widows with no children under the age of sixteen years, at least 12s. 6d. below the new base rate of pension, even with the increase of 10s. a week. The B and C class widows’ pension will be increased by 10s. a week, from £4 12s. to £5 2s. 6d.. This is 2s. 6d. less than the base rate of pension, or the sub-standard rate of pension for a married couple, and 12s. 6d. less than the new base rate of pension. I say that a widow in this category should receive at least the equivalent of the new base rate of pension.
– The standard rate.
– Well, the standard rate of pension. Labour suggested in 1961 that widows should be treated in this way, and we feel, even at this late stage, that the Government has every opportunity to legislate in the proper way. But is refuses to grasp this opportunity.
I turn now to a very important feature of this bill. I refer to the basis upon which the pension will be payable to people who are regarded by the department as coming within the single pensioner category. This is another matter which has been given attention on many occasions by the Labour Party, but we did not suggest, nor did we envisage, that an overall increase should be granted to single pensioners at the expense of married pensioners. We believe that there are many single pensioners whose special circumstances warrant the granting of supplementary assistance. My experiences in recent years - I have no doubt that other honorable members could refer to similar experiences - lead me to believe that it is a step in the right direction to pay a supplementary allowance to a person who has no income other than the base rate of pension and is paying rent or board, but 1 have always felt that it is discriminatory not to pay such an allowance to widows or single persons living in homes which they are obliged to continue purchasing. There are probably good reasons why they must continue to purchase their homes. A single pensioner without any such obligation receives a 10s. a week supplementary assistance, but that is denied to the person who is obliged to continue to make payments on his home.
The legislation we are now debating will foster social service anomalies. I agree that there is a need to assist pensioners in special circumstances, but I suggest that no responsible government should have approached the problem in the way in which this Government has approached it in this legislation. The types of anomaly that will stem from the legislation have been referred to by honorable members on this side of the House. I can see that such anomalies will arise. It is true that any legislation to provide social service benefits or repatriation benefits in this country always gives rise to some anomalies, but I do not believe that any social service bill introduced into this Parliament in the past has created so many anomalies as this one will create. Despite what has been said by the honorable member for Henty, the fact is that pensioners’ organizations throughout Australia are incensed at the actions of the Government.
That is not to be wondered at when it is realized that a single pensioner who owns a home or has a life interest in a home and is receiving a pension of £5 5s. a week will receive an additional 10s. a week, giving him a total pension of £5 15s. a week. If he receives superannuation payments or an annuity of £3 10s. a week, bis total income will be £9 5s. However, a married couple living together next door to him, committed to purchase their home, will continue to receive a pension of £5 5s. each. They will not receive any increase. Their combined income will still be £10 10s. a week. It is true that a married pensioner couple may supplement their pension by £7 a week, if they have the opportunity to do so, but this is possible only in extreme cases.
As the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) said earlier this evening, most pensioners have no opportunity to supplement their incomes. The anomalies I refer to must have been known to the Minister and to the staff of his department. Therefore, one wonders why the Government proceeds with legislation of this kind. I think it was the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) who referred to a married couple who will still receive between them a pension of only £10 10s. a week, yet they live next door to two single people who will each receive an increase of 10s. a week, giving them a combined income of £11 10s. a week.
The Minister said when he introduced this bill that he had accepted the principle that two people can live cheaper than one, but I believe it can be shown quite conclusively that in a great number of cases that would not be possible, because of the peculiar circumstances involved. The Minister knows that that is so, but he ignores it in framing this legislation. I was very interested in the definition of a single person given by the Minister, because I have in my mind an anomaly that will cause great injustice. The Minister said -
The bill before the House provides for this change-
He was referring to the additional 10s. a week that will be paid to single pensioners - by introducing a new standard rate of pension for single persons who, for this purpose, will include widows and married pensioners where the spouse is not in receipt of a pension, wife’s allowance, service pension, an unemployment or sickness benefit, or a tuberculosis allowance.
The Minister referred to “ a new standard rate of pension for single persons “. Let us take the case of a married pensioner who is admitted to an institution for the aged or for the care of the sick. The husband is no longer able to care for her and she is admitted to an institution. He continues to live in the home and will continue to receive a pension of £5 5s. a week. His wife will pay the normal fees to the institution, and her income will remain at £5 5s. a week. The Minister cannot deny that such a situation could exist. His definition of a single person places such people in great difficulties. The bill creates these anomalies, and pensioner married couples have every reason to ask why they have been completely disregarded for the second year in succession.
When I commenced my speech I said I wished to refer to the question of the medical entitlement cards issued by the Department of Social Services. I acknowledge that the issue of these cards is a joint responsibility. I have raised the matter in this Parliament on several occasions. Recently I addressed a question about it to the Minister for Health (Senator Wade). He referred me to the Department of Social Services, saying that it was not his responsibility. The Minister for Social Services said - he was quite facetious in his answer, I felt - that it was a matter of Government policy. The means test applied by the Government in 1955 is vicious in that it denies a medical entitlement card to a pensioner whose income from sources other than the pension exceeds £2 a week. Can any honorable member conceive of a more ridiculous situation than that in which a pensioner receiving £2 a week in addition to his pension is entitled to a medical entitlement card, but a pensioner in receipt of an income of £2 Os. Id. in addition to his pension is denied a card?
The Minister for Social Services knows that if, for example, income apart from the pension is exactly £2 a week, his department ascertains whether the applicant for a medical entitlement card has a bank account and that, if any interest is received from a bank account, no medical entitlement card is issued.
We tell the Government that no more than £1,500,000 would be required to provide every pensioner in this country with a medical entitlement card. The Minister is not so naive as to fail to appreciate that a single pensioner or even one of a married couple who is receiving an income of more than £4 a week from employment and has therefore been denied a medical entitlement card may cease employment, apply for and receive a card and return to work a few weeks later, if he feels so disposed, and still retain the medical entitlement card.
A means test of the kind that I have described should not be allowed to remain under our social services legislation. Any person who qualifies for a pension under the terms of the Social Services Act should immediately be granted a medical entitlement card. That was the case up to 1955. The Government should see that the act is amended to provide for the issue of medical entitlement cards on the same conditions as applied up to 1955.
Every Opposition speaker in this debate has demonstrated that this measure leaves a great deal to be desired. We have shown quite conclusively that very few honorable members on the Government side really understand the problems that beset the great mass of pensioners in this country. The question is not merely whether more money is being spent out of our national income each year to provide for the needs of pensioners. I think that the real test is whether people who are in receipt of an age, an invalid or a widow’s pension have sufficient to maintain themselves in reasonable circumstances. Members of this Parliament on both sides, pensioner organizations and other interested people throughout the Commonwealth have shown that there are people in receipt of benefits paid under the terms of the Social Services Act who are not receiving sufficient to maintain themselves and their dependants.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) followed much the same line as was taken by previous Opposition speakers. The Opposition’s whole policy now seems to be to concentrate social services where the greatest number of people will receive benefits rather than to apply the proper principle of giving help where the need is greatest. The Opposition seems to be concentrating on giving help to a majority rather than thinking about a minority who may be in very difficult circumstances. This is borne out very clearly by the glib talk of honorable members opposite about increasing all pensions and child endowment, regardless of what the financial commitment may be. They just want to pour out money wherever they can. I say quite emphatically that I believe that we, as a government, do the best job if we give help where it is most needed and try to remove the anomalies that already exist in our social services scheme.
I believe that the record of this Government in the field of social services will go down in the history of Australia as one that cannot be rivalled by a government of any other political persuasion. We have done a great deal. I believe that the people of Australia, who once might have been blindly led to believe that only the Australian Labour Party thought of social services, have now rightly accepted the idea that the present Government parties have given the Australian people the greatest benefits in social services. If one examines the whole field of social services legislation, one finds that much of it has been introduced during the period of almost fourteen years for which the present Government has been in office. Much of this Government’s legislation has been quite original.
I cannot let the occasion of this debate pass without paying personal tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I am sure that everybody will support me in this. I believe that Opposition members - privately, that is - will agree with me that the present Minister attends to his department extremely well. There are few other Commonwealth departments that give better attention to correspondence and do better work than is done by the Department of Social Services under the present Minister. He can take credit for some of the most original social service legislation that has come before this House. The Minister introduced the supplementary . assistance to help pensioners living alone to pay their rent. He was responsible for extending the whole range of social service benefits to aborigines. Furthermore, the present Minister has been responsible for what is probably the greatest advance in our system of social services - certainly the greatest advance during the time that I have been in the Parliament. I refer to the merged means test, under which both property and income are combined. The Minister has also halved the period of residential qualification imposed on people who have migrated to Australia. He has been responsible for the greatest single increase in the unemployment benefit, thereby showing his sympathy for the unemployed.
This Government’s record of spending on social services is almost fantastic. When Labour went out of office in 1949, expenditure on social services totalled . about £80,000,000 a year. This financial year, expenditure will amount to £411,000,000. That illustrates the degree to which spending on social services has increased during our term of office. The pension paid to a single pensioner, for instance, has risen over the same period from £2 2s. 6d. a week to £5 15s. a week. In addition, pensioners receive free medical and pharmaceutical benefits if they are not in receipt of income above certain limits. This Government has also provided funds for aged persons* homes and has greatly increased the tax allowances extended to pensioners. The property and income limits under the means test have been considerably raised since Labour went out of office. In 1949, a person was disqualified from receiving a pension if he owned property worth more than £950. To-day, one is not completely disqualified until property totals £5,010. This represents a tremendous easing of the property means test. This Government pays to the State governments 36s. a day for each pensioner in hospital. All these increases in benefits represent a vast improvement on what Labour left behind when it went out of office in 1949.
Honorable members opposite talk about the cost of living having gone up, but, as the Minister pointed out in his secondreading speech, if the pension rate is adjusted according to the change in the consumer price index, the rate of pension paid to-day is worth £2 4s. 2d. a week more than the rate paid when Labour went out of office. None of these great advances in social service benefits would have been possible, of course, had not the country been managed well over the period during which the present Government has been in office and had we not seen terrific national growth and expansion. ‘For a nation is able to afford such great increases in social service benefits only if it is prosperous. You must build up the nation from the grass roots,- making it strong and stable. As we increase-
– There is more unemployment in Lismore than there is anywhere else in New South Wales.
– The honorable member for Macquarie should know the situation in New South Wales. Lismore has a bad unemployment record, but that is the responsibility of the State Government. If the New South Wales Labour Government would do more to attract industries to Lismore and other northern areas of the State the employment situation in those areas would be much better than it is. This is not a Commonwealth responsibility; it is a State responsibility. Look at the situa*tion in Lithgow. It is a pity more was not done about unemployment in Lithgow. It is a pity that the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), who represents the Lithgow area, did not do more to alleviate the unemployment problem in that area. I concede that this is not his responsibility; it is the responsibility of the New South Wales Government. At least the New South Wales Government gave a grant of £50,000 to stimulate industry in Lithgow. It did not give a similar grant to Lismore, but I would have liked to see it do so.
To get back to the subject of social services, I think all of us agree that the payment of social services should be in accordance with the relative needs of the people in the community. The Budget has provided for the relative needs of those who are most in need - the single pensioner and the widow pensioner, particularly the widow with a young family. The cost of running a home - of paying rent, for example - is the same for a single pensioner as it is for a married pensioner. It is quite unfair that a pensioner whose partner in life has died should be forced to bear the cost of running a home on a pension of only 50 per cent, of the amount that was received by the couple when the pensioner’s partner was alive. Special consideration should be given to the single pensioner because of the increased difficulties that confront him in living alone. Loneliness is a sufficient burden in itself, but when financial burdens are added, they are more in many cases than the pensioner can take.
The gallup poll has shown that the Labour Party is clearly out of step with the thinking of the Australian people, but I do not think that the Labour Party thinks very deeply on these matters. Its constant endeavour is to try to win votes - to pander to the majority of the people. In July, 1963, the gallup poll conducted a survey. It may do the Labour Party a lot of good to read the results’ of that’1 survey. The question asked was,r,”‘Do you- think all pensioners should get the same pension or should those living alone get more than each husband and wife living together? “ The results of the poll showed that 67 per cent, of Australians believed that the pension paid to single persons should be increased. Twenty-nine per cent, thought that the increase should go to single pensioners and to married pensioners also, and 4 per cent, were undecided. There were other startling revelations in the result of the poll. The result showed that 68 per cent, of Labour voters thought that the single pensioner should get an increase, but only 63 per cent, of Liberal and Country Party voters thought that single pensioners should get an increase. The Labour Party is not in touch with realities. All the time it is thinking in terms of winning more votes.
As I stated in my speech on the Budget, I am particularly pleased with the introduction of a mother’s allowance for widow pensioners. This is another original contribution from the Minister for Social Services. The mother’s allowance, in addition to the increased allowance for the first child, will provide the biggest single increase ever granted in a civilian pension in Australia. That is something to place on record. The class A widow with one child will receive an increase in pension and allowances of 50 per cent. - £3 a week. This increase will go a long way towards overcoming the hardship and handicaps with which widow pensioners contend. I am sure all honorable members have had experiences of widows with young families coming to them seeking assistance because of the dire straits in which they were living. I am sure all of us have wanted to give some help in some way but the legislation did not provide any means of assisting these people. To-day in Australia there are about 27,000 class A civilian widows. They are rearing more than 50,000 young Australians. Those children are being reared in very hard conditions. At one time we used to talk of benefits to the needy as being benefits to the great majority of Australians. To-day I think the needy are in the minority. I think the civilian widows are a minority group, as are the single pensioners. Because they are a minority group the Labour Party overlooks them. Hardly a - Labour supporter in this debate has pleaded the -cause’ of the civilian widow.
The honorable member for Watson (Mr Cope) is interjecting and claiming that he spoke up for these people. I have listened to speakers from the other side of the House and they all got on their ponies and talked about child endowment and general increases in pensions. They are not genuine when they say they represent the underdog in Australia. The underdog is now in the minority in the community and the Labour Party is not prepared to defend these people. Honorable members opposite years ago should have been making out a case for civilian widows. Several honorable members on this side of the chamber have been interviewing the Minister for Social Services and his departmental officers for years seeking increases in this field. The Labour Party has neglected these people because their numbers are so small. There are only 27,000 civilian widows with young families compared with about 600,000 persons in receipt of the age and invalid pensions. I do not have much respect for a brand of politics that bases its entire philosophy on the winning of votes without seeking to grant benefits where they are not needed.
At present a married pensioner couple receives £10 10s. a week. A civilian widow with two children receives £7 a week - 33J per cent, less than the married pensioner couple. Personally I think a young widow rearing two children is in greater need of financial assistance than is an aged couple. It is a very poor show that the widows’ pension was not increased years ago. I notice that war widows have received a higher pension than have civilian widows. There has probably been some justification for this, but perhaps the main reason has been that the war widows have more friends to fight for them. They have the great Returned Servicemen’s League to present their case. They have the wonderful Legacy organization working for them. But the poor old civilian widow has been on her own. She has not had many friends. She has not had the support of powerful organizations like the R.S.L.
I want to pay a compliment to the Apex organization of Australia. In 1957 the Western Australian section of the organization decided that one of its national projects would be the formation of/ civilian, widow organizations throughout, Australia. so that widows may be a force in the community and may present a case and explain the difficulties under which they are living. To-day there are well over 200 civilian widows’ organizations in Australia, with a membership of over 12,000 persons. These organizations have done a great deal to make the people of Australia aware that civilian widows are in difficult circumstances and need help.
In the course of history widows and their children have been classed almost as outcasts. This is most unfair. Widows have a very difficult row to hoe. Other women do not want to be friendly with widows because they fear that the widows may run off with their husbands. This is one of the facts of life. Widows find it very hard to make new social contacts, simply because they are widows. They need a lot of consideration and help. They were neglected and overlooked, but this Government, by the Budget which was introduced recently, gave them more sympathetic consideration than they had ever received before. We should welcome the fact that the widow’s payments have been increased by 50 per cent.
I should like the means test on civilian widows to be eased. I realize that that would conflict with the philosophy that we should give help where the need is greatest and that if people have adequate means they should not be given pensions, but I think that civilian widows should be the exception to the rule. A widow should be encouraged to have as much dignity as possible and should be helped to stand on her own feet. If she is prepared to go out to work, she should be encouraged to earn as much as she can so that she can educate her family and give her children the best possible start in life. I agree with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) that we should not talk glibly about easing the means test. Why should a person who has more than adequate means receive a pension? The philosophy of social services should be to give a benefit where it is needed, but, as I have said, civilian widows should be the exception to the rule.
Another pleasing feature of this legislation is that a special allowance will be paid i.to civilian widows;, if they, have children at school, until, the end of the year in which the children turn eighteen. This will be a considerable help to widows. If they have more than one child at school, it will be paid in respect of all of them. Previously if a widow had only one child and that child was at school beyond the age of sixteen, the benefit would not have been paid. These additions to widows’ pensions now put our benefits in line with those which have been granted in recent years by the governments of the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
The history of widows pensions in Australia is interesting. In 1942 the Curtin Government took over from the States the responsibility for the payment of these pensions. Prior to that, only two States gave many benefits to widows. New South Wales had a fully fledged scheme, introduced in 1926, and Victoria had a scheme to provide a certain degree of assistance. Other States gave some assistance from their charitable funds. Even to-day the States help widows in desperate circumstances, particularly when young children are involved. If a widow has not sufficient means to educate her children and ensure that their health is maintained, the State governments try to fill the gap. I pay a tribute to the State governments which are doing this work.
– New South Wales particularly.
– Yes. New South Wales has a very generous welfare organization which helps children. Other States do likewise. I give credit where credit is due. I am not biased, as Opposition members are.
I have no desire to speak at great length. I rose mainly to state a case for the civilian widows. I am pleased that our work has been recognized. I have a letter from the national secretary of the Association of Civilian Widows, Sydney, which was addressed to the Minister for Social Services. It states -
On behalf of the State officers and members of this Association and all civilian widows throughout this country, 1 wish to convey our thanks for the changes in the social service benefits pertaining to the civilian widows.
We would particularly like to mention the mothers’ allowance and the continuance of the child’s allowance for all children up to the age of 18 years while they are full-time students.
Miss Jean Aitken Swan, who was, asked by an Australian organization known as the
Council of Social Services to do a survey of widows in Australia, brought out some facts relating to the hardships which civilian widows are experiencing. It is pleasing to note that the Council of Social Services wrote a letter to the newspapers expressing its appreciation of what the Government has now done for civilian widows. There was also a letter in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of Monday, 16th September, 1963, written by Mr. T. H. Kewley, a senior lecturer in Public Administration at the University of Sydney. He stated that we are now doing something that we should have done years ago - granting social service benefits where the need is greatest. He said that we have departed from the principles of social services which have been adopted over the years by giving additional benefits to those who really need them. Mr. Kewley was referring to the single pensioner and the widowed pensioner with a family.
The proposed amendments to the social services legislation will be of great benefit and I have pleasure in supporting them.
.- It is rather difficult to know where the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) stands in relation to this matter. He expressed the principle that he thinks underlies social services in Australia - that increases should be granted where the need is greatest. He spent a lot of time in supporting the application of this principle to civilian widows and to single pensioners by this measure, but he said he approved strongly of the alteration of the means test in 1960 by which pensions were granted to persons owning property to the value of ?9,000 and having incomes from that property. Clearly, on whatever ground such an alteration of the means test in 1960 and subsequently might be justifiable, it is not justifiable on the ground of the principle that the honorable member for Richmond mentioned. His suggestion that the Labour Party think a little more carefully about where it stands applies with great force to himself, because he has shown himself to be in completely contradictory positions.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), in the second-reading speech that he made on Tuesday last, argued that this Government has a record in social services far superior to that of any other government in Australia and, in particular, far superior to that of Labour governments from 1941 to 1949. He said-
It is wrong to imagine that social welfare is a concept exclusive to any particular age or generation, or to any particular political ideology.
The Minister meant that the Government possibly deserves more credit for social welfare measures than any other government now or in the past. The honorable member for Richmond also took up that argument and that position. Indeed, every year this argument has been raised by the Minister for Social Services, who makes his rather guttural criticism of the “socialists who were in office”. Every year he tells us the same old story.
At this stage I want to take up the challenge, as it were, that is implicit in the position of the Minister and, with the honorable member for Richmond, look back into history a little in order to see what, in fact, has occurred in this country. It is not wrong to imagine that there are differences between countries, ages, generations and spiritual or political ideologies in their attitudes to social welfare. It is only too clear that there are differences between ages and differences between generations. Any one who knows the history of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries knows that to be true. Every one knows that people who shared the political ideology of the Minister for Social Services had to have the social welfare programmes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries forced down thenthroats. Every one knows that people who shared the political ideology of the Minister have resisted the development of social welfare all the way through. A careful examination of Australian history - such an examination is long overdue - will show that not all Australians have been equally anxious to see governments provide for social welfare. On the contrary, social welfare has been provided mainly because of action by the beneficiaries themselves. It has been achieved mainly by trade union organization and by the political Labour Party. I will not have time to prove that thesis in full. In order to indicate the nature of the proof, I will take three periods briefly - first the nineteenth century; secondly the years between the two world wars; and thirdly the years since the Second World War.
In the nineteenth century Australia - particularly Victoria - became known all over the Western world as an originator of factories acts and similar legislation. The idea was put forward that that was the result of the beneficence of employers. The facts show that the contrary is true. The Victorian factories acts were the result of the influence of the beneficiaries and they were gained in spite of the resistance of employers. That is indicated by many events and also by the conclusion stated by William Collard Smith, who was the member for Ballaarat and the member most closely associated with what happened. He pointed out that these laws had remained in the legislative programmes for fifteen years and eventually, when they were introduced in 1873 and 1884, they were met by allegations by conservatives, who shared political ideologies similar to those of supporters of the present Government, that they would lead to a police state and that they were the most dictatorial and inquisitorial measures ever submitted to Parliament. They were measures to control slightly the operation of private factories. Each bill took more than a year to pass. The first bill was amended 44 times in the Legislative Council in Victoria. When it was passed it had to be enforced by strikes and picketing. The beneficiaries under that legislation were the people who were responsible in the first place, for its enactment and, in the second place, for its enforcement. They were just like the pensioners’ associations who, by their deputations and delegations to Canberra in recent years, have created a situation without which the improvements that have been made in pensions would not have been made at all.
When we examine the second period - that between the two world wars - we find that the achievements up to 1914, which led Australia to be described as a social laboratory, had come to an end. Even the present Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) made this admission in 1941 -
In the ten years before and after the beginning of the century, Australia won a considerable measure of international respect as a laboratory of social legislation, but since that time we have tended to rest on our laurels.
Mr. T. W. White, who was a member of the same party as the Treasurer, went further in 1941 when he said -
There was a time when Australia was a pioneer of social legislation . . . to-day we lag behind not only other pans of the Empire but also the world generally.
Professor F. A. Bland, who was to become a Liberal member of this Parliament, went even further in 1939 when he said -
Measured against the scope and content of social services in older countries, such as Sweden or Great Britain, ours in Australia are rudimentary. Once famed as pioneer workers in the social laboratory, we have fallen far behind.
This decline in Australia’s position, about which in 1939 or so there was general agreement, had taken place in the preceding twenty years. During that time antiLabour governments had been in office and in power for more than seventeen and a half of those twenty years, and Labour had held office but not power for only less than two and a half of those years. It was quite clear that anti-Labour parties had been responsible for the failure of Australia in social welfare which was so much lamented by all in 1939.
This decline is indicated most vividly by the complete failure of the anti-Labour parties to enact their own ideas of social welfare - the national insurance scheme to which Lord Bruce, Sir Earle Page, and the present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said they were so much dedicated. The fantastic record of delay and prevarication, of which national insurance consisted, began in 1922 when this subject was included in the policy of the Nationalist Party in the election campaign of that year. A year later the Nationalist Party Government set up a royal commission to report on national assurance. Two and a half years later the royal commission recommended consolidation of all services in a national insurance fund. Apparently that was not enough for the Treasurer of the day, then Dr. Earle Page, who appointed three actuaries to investigate the matter. They worked during 1927, 1928 and 1929.
Just before the election of 1928 the then Treasurer introduced a national insurance bill. He said that it was “ the most comprehensive and progressive measure of social reform that has ever been brought forward in any Parliament in Australia”. The government of the day was re-elected. It remained in office for a’ full year, but that bill - that most important bill, according to the Treasurer of the day - was never again mentioned. Nothing further was heard of national insurance until 1934, when the Prime Minister of the United Australia Party Government appointed an actuary to examine national insurance. In 193S the matter was investigated by Treasury officials. In 1936 three actuaries were appointed. Also in 1936 the then Leader of the Opposition, John Curtin, summed the position up by saying this -
Later the Treasurer of the day, then Mr. R. G. Casey, announced that an expert was to be invited to come from England. Asked how long the expert would take to study the matter, the then Treasurer said, “ Only an hour and a quarter to read the available data”. But, several weeks later, he announced that two experts were to come from England. The experts did come. It was not until June, 1937 - more than a year later - that their reports were tabled. Again that was not enough, because in August of that year the then Treasurer announced the appointment of a committee of experts and a Mr. Fairbairn, a member of the Government parties of that time, warned the Government not to be “ stampeded into precipitate adoption of a half-baked scheme of national insurance”. That was said after fifteen years of inquiries, reports and commissions.
On 14th March, 1938, the heavens began to fall for national insurance. On that date it was announced that the Right Honorable R. G. Menzies, P.C., M.P., had resigned following the Cabinet’s decision to abandon the contributory provisions of the national insurance scheme. But, in May, 1938, a national insurance bill was introduced by the Treasurer of the day, Mr. R. G. Casey - 26 years after his party bad first proposed it.
– They really got going, didn’t they?
– Yes. Echoing the words of Dr. Page ten years before, the then Treasurer said -
The bill is one of the most far-reaching schemes of social reform that has ever been presented to the Federal Parliament.
But after the bill had passed its second reading, the then Treasurer announced that the federal council of the British Medical Association had asked that negotiations with the Government be re-opened. Then he announced that the Government had decided to set up a royal commission, but the two acts on which the national insurance scheme was based were proclaimed to operate as from 11th January, 1939. On 7th November, 1938, Mr. R. G. Menzies, as he was then, rejoined the Cabinet as Attorney-General, and from this we might have concluded that the cause of his earlier rejection of a national insurance scheme had been removed. However, on 23rd November, a not uninfluential member of the Cabinet, the then Mr. A. W. Fadden, announced that the Government should postpone, if not repeal, the National Health and Pensions Act at least until there was some evidence of the recovery of commodity prices and improved economic conditions. By 8th December, 1938, it was being published that “ differences over national insurance may lead to the resignation of Mr. Menzies and Mr. Casey “.
– Yes, again. Nevertheless the press reported the following day that the differences had been resolved; but by March, 1939, there was general press agreement that the Government had abandoned the scheme of national insurance. The Treasurer, Mr. Casey, then asserted at that time that neither the Government nor the people could afford to embark upon the scheme. All the way through this period men who shared the political ideologies and outlook of this government - some of them are now sitting on the Government side - were arguing that the country could not afford this scheme of national insurance, just as in every election year- 1951, 1954, 1956, 1958 and 1961 - every proposal that the Australian Labour Party put forward to improve the social welfare structure of this country was met by the argument advanced by this Government, and often supported by the press, that the country could not afford such progressive measures. In this respect, the Government and its supporters are in exactly the same position now as they were in the thirties.
By June, 1939, it looked as if this national insurance scheme had been saved again because the then Minister for Social Services, Sir Frederick Stewart, introduced a bill to annul the two acts of 1938; but at the same time he said that not only was the Government not abandoning the scheme but a wider one was to be introduced. So a joint committee was proposed in June, 1939. This was the tenth committee and fourteenth inquiry in 27 years. The then Leader of the Opposition pointed out that Mr. R. G. Menzies had resigned in 1938 from a government that was doing far less against national insurance than the one of which he had now become Prime Minister was doing. Mr. Curtin quoted the letter of resignation written by Mr. Menzies in 1938 in which he said -
I frankly do not think we can expect to be taken seriously if we start off again with conferences and drafting committees at a time when we have already so notoriously failed to go on with an act which represents two years of labour, a vast amount of organization and a considerable expenditure of public and private funds.
But, then, in 1939, one year later, this was precisely what Mr. Menzies’ own Government was doing. He was Prime Minister of a government that was putting aside this great national insurance scheme altogether.
– Is he still in exactly the same position?
– Yes, he is still in exactly the same position. He was Prime Minister of a government that was putting aside a great national insurance scheme when, twelve months previously, he had resigned because of the absence of a contributory provision. Was it any wonder, then, that Mr. Holt, Mr. T. W. White, Professor Bland and everybody else contended in 1939 that Australia had fallen so far behind. Was it any wonder that the Victorian Institute of Public Affairs, specially formed to produce a new image for big business, announced that -
Judged in the light of national objectives, it is clear that the ordering of our economic affairs before the war was, in some respects, seriously defective.
Was it any wonder that Rydge’s Business Journal put it this way in October, 1941 -
Business cannot afford not to have a social policy.
Was it any wonder that an acute businessman, Sir Herbert Gepp, in the same year concluded -
Business has been lacking a comprehensive social and economic philosophy. In its tireless pursuit of profits and material rewards, it has been partially blind to its responsibilities for employment, social security and economic stability.
If we analyse carefully the events since 1949, we will see that what Sir Herbert Gepp said then applies with equal force to-day. I shall do that in a moment or two. What followed between 1943 and 1949 was the establishment of full employment and the welfare state in Australia. But this was not done by big business, or the Liberal Party, or the Country Party; it was done by the beneficiaries of those measures, acting through the trade unions and the Australian Labour Party. The structure of full employment and of the welfare state in Australia was established between 1943 and 1949 by the Australian Labour Party. All that the present Govern.mest can claim to have done is to have accepted the institution of those things; and it is unwilling to run the risk of electoral discord by moving away from them.
The proportion of the national product spent on social security in Australia was raised from less than 3 per cent, before the war to about 7.6 per cent, by 1948-49 when Labour was in office. In other words, it was more than doubled. This was a great advance, but it did not in fact place Australia in any way ahead of a number of other countries. But it was the foundation of the welfare state of which the Labour Party was the architect and which the Labour Party brought into existence. What has happened since? I think it is essential to emphasize to the people to-day, especially to those who did not live through that period or who have no knowledge of that period, that what the Labour Government did represented the foundation of Australia’s social welfare security to-day.
Since then, the Minister for Social Services has argued that social welfare has been revolutionized since 1949. Let us have a look in particular at the attitude of the Minister, as indicated by two points to which I shall refer. First of all, in the course of his second-reading speech, he gave a very dramatic, indeed, almost a tear-jerking description of the position of the surviving member of a married couple, one of whom had died. He said -
But, when a married couple is bereaved - and, sooner or later, every married couple must b» bereaved -
A statement typical of the very keen insight and intelligence behind most of what the Minister says in connexion with other matters-
– There is a lot of thought in that.
– Yes, there is a lot of thought in that. He went on - - the householder’s pension income, payable to the survivor, is immediately cut in half, and in that most catastrophic way, the circumstances of the survivor arc reduced to the level of the single pensioner without any compensating reduction in the fixed charges of normal life and living. These are the stark realities of the present situation.
If there are those who cannot understand the tragedy of that situation, then they can have no comprehension of the inexorable processes of old age and the economic consequences which follow in their train.
The Minister proposes to put this situation of tragedy right by the payment of an extra 10s. a week. According to him, the tragic situation is vastly improved by the payment of the extra 10s. a week. So, 10s. a week is the measure of the Minister’s evaluation of that tragedy and of what he thinks can transform this catastrophic situation into what he believes is a satisfactory position.
We have another measure of the Minister’s attitude towards social services in the fact that he is a member of the Government which has introduced legislation designed to pay £7,000,000 by way of bounty to farmers using superphosphate. And that measure is to have retrospective operation to the date on which the Budget was introduced. Yet the Minister was proud to announce to-day that this extra social service payment which the Minister says is so necessary to remedy a catastrophic and tragic position is not to be paid to pensioners until 14th November - three months later. If any one wants a measure of the attitude of the Minister for
Social Services and the Government towards different classes in the community one clearly has it in the difference between the date on which the Government proposes to commence payment of the £7,000,000 superphosphate bounty and that on which the 10s. a week increase is to be made available to pensioners.
The Minister for Social Services argued that social welfare has in effect been revolutionized since 1949. He supported his argument by saying that expenditure on social welfare in Australia was £81,000,000 in 1949, and in 1963 it had risen to £411,000,000. Other honorable members on the Government side, including the honorable member for Richmond who spoke earlier this evening, have taken up the same argument. However, this contrast must not be allowed to stand, and it cannot stand, for two very good reasons. First, there has been a fantastic rise in money prices and money incomes between 1949 and 1963. Much of the increase of expenditure from £81,000,000 to £411,000.000 has been nothing more than an increase in money prices and has not involved any real increase in the living conditions of pensioners and other beneficiaries of social services.
The second factor that is involved is the very large number of people who receive social service benefits in 1963, compared with the number in 1949. The Minister argued that a pensioner married couple - a couple, not just one person, as the honorable member for Richmond made out - now receive £2 4s. 2d. more a week than they would have received had the rate of pension payable when the Government took office been adjusted with retail prices. But what retail prices must we consider? The Minister recognizes the weakness in his own argument because he said in his speech -
The index, rightly or wrongly, has some sort of acceptance as the measure of the purchasing power . . .
This “ some sort of acceptance “ is sufficient for the Minister to use as the basis of his whole case that the social services structure has been revolutionized between 1949 and 1963.
What is the measure of purchasing power? If we look at the retail price index number we see that it is made up of a number of things. We find that the cost of food has increased between those years by about 68 per cent., and rent also by about 68 per cent. I know many hundreds of pensioners, but I do not know one whose food bills have not more than doubled during that period. I do not know one whose rent has not increased two-fold or three-fold during the period. So, there has been an increase, not of 68 per cent., but of 100 per cent, and 200 per cent. I do not accept the retail price index number as any measure of the increase of the cost of living of pensioners in our community to-day. So much for retail prices. As I have said, the Minister recognizes the weakness of that argument.
Leaving aside the very doubtful cost of living factor, I think that the most important factor is that of income. The question we should be asking here is: How have pensioners fared in relation to other people? The Government is responsible for them. We must ask: How has the Government looked after the interests of pensioners in relation to the interests of other people? Let us take average weekly earnings - an indicator used by the Government and by the Treasurer in particular, with great pride - to see what has happened to the standards of Australian people. Taking the pension of a married couple in 1949 as 100, we find that it had become 280 by 1963; but if we take average weekly earnings of £8.44 in 1949 as 100, we find that at the end of 1962 average weekly earnings were £24.97, or 295, an increase of 15 per cent, more than the increase in the pension of a married couple. The income position of the married couple has fallen by at least 15 per cent, in relation to the average weekly earnings over that period. Average weekly earnings are not by any means the most rapidly increasing factor in assessing the income position of members of this community.
The next factor to consider is how Australia compares with other countries. The International Labour Organization prepares each year, in its publication “The Cost of Social Security”, comparative tables. Let us see how Australia compares with other countries, taking the figures for 1948-49 and also those for 1956-57, which are the last available. There has been no difference in the trend in the meantime. The figures relate to the percentage of gross national product expended on social security and are as follows: -
In 1948-49, Australia was sixth from the bottom of that list, and in 1956-57 it was fourth from the bottom. We have slipped down two places in that time.
Another significant factor is that, between 1948-49 and 1956-57, the increase in the Australian percentage of the gross national product going into social security was only 1.5 per cent. Of the 21 countries to which I have referred as comparable, in only four - Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia - was the percentage lower than that in Australia. All the other seventeen countries I have listed have made more rapid advances since 1949 than has Australia. So, I say that, just as in 1939, it is fair to say that Australia is no longer a social laboratory and that we have not built upon the post-war welfare state to keep up with the rest of the world. Our achievements have never been outstanding, but they have been allowed to decline.
The second main reason why social security expenditure is not worth as much as the Minister makes out to-day, is to be found in the increased numbers receiving social service benefits. In 1949, for instance, there were 403,000 age and invalid pensioners. In 1962 there were 691,000. In 1949 there were 1,083,000 children receiv ing child endowment. In 1962 there were 3,395,000. Most of the increase in expenditure to which the Minister referred has been due to the increased numbers of recipients. There has been an increase of more than 70 per cent. in the number of pensioners and an increase of more than 200 per cent. in the number of endowed children. If we examine the matter we see that the increase in money figures is pure puff. It is time that the whole system of social security in Australia was reviewed and lifted as a whole to a new and higher level.
I support the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), who introduced this subject for the Labour Party in the debate, by saying that it is necessary that we have an inquiry into the whole structure of social services in order to get rid of the anomalies and the discriminations that have been imposed on the system by the present Government.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Daly’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Sir John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
House adjourned at 11.26 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
h asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The variations in unit rates between the parties are not significant as the rates will tend to even out in the long term. This is because the actual cost of production each financial year is apportioned between the parties according to long term averages of their respective entitlements, under the Commonwealth/States Agreement, to the energy produced. Up to the time that the Tumut 1 and Tumut 2 power stations came into full operation on 1st April, 1962, the output of energy was restricted in order to build up the authority’s water storages. The first complete financial year of full operation was, therefore, from 1st July, 1962, to 30th June, 1963, when the equivalent unit rates were -
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The following answers to the honorable member’s questions have been supplied: -
” Drilled “ means drilled to final depth and abandoned or completed as oil or gas wells.
d asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information: -
r asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What was the number of outstanding applications for telephones in the 82 and 56 areas in New South Wales at 31st July, 1962, and 1963?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
In the 82 (Balmain) exchange area at 31st July, 1962, there were 10, and at 31st July, 1963, 175. In the 56 (Petersham) exchange area at 31st July, 1962, there were 299, and at 31st July, 1963, 479. The increase in the number of outstanding applications was due to the installation rate being retarded by exceptionally wet weather in Sydney.
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Navy has furnished the following information: -
y asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information: -
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
What is the total number of airports in Australia and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea served by (a) Ansett-A.N.A. and (b) Trans-Australia Airlines?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information: -
The total number of airports in Australia and in Papua and New Guinea served by (a) AnsettA.N.A. is 69 and by (b) T.A.A. is 144.
s asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following reply: -
Mist gentian alkaline P.L., 8 ft. oz. (dispensed price), United Kingdom 2s. 3d., Australia 8s.
Prednisone, 30 x 5 mg. tablets, United Kingdom 8s. 2d., Australia 18s. 6d.
Cortisone, 40 x 25 mg. tablets, United Kingdom 31s.11d., Australia 50s.
Ferrous sulphate, 100 x 3 gr. tablets. United Kingdom1s. 5d., Australia 2s. 6d.
Ethisterone, 5 mg. tablets, United Kingdom 5s. 5d. per 25, Australia 21s. per 50.
Mersalyl, 6 x 2 ml. ampoules, United Kingdom 3s. 7d., Australia 7s.
Procaine penicillin, 5 x 300,000 units, United Kingdom 5s. 3d., Australia 14s. 7d.
Erythromycin, 250 mg. tablets, United Kingdom 26s. 7d., per 25, Australia 51s. 9d. per 16.
Methylandrostenediol, 100 x 10 mg. tablets, United Kingdom 24s. 8d., Australia 41s.
All prices are in Australian currency and, except where shown, are at wholesale rates.
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following replies: -
At 30th June, 1963, there were 110 hospital benefits organizations and 78 medical benefits organizations registered under Part VI. of the National Health Act. The break-up between States is as follows: -
South Wales, 30; Victoria, 44; Queensland, 3; South Australia, 13; West Australia, 10; Tasmania, 10.
South Wales, 25; Victoria, 21; Queensland, 6; South Australia, 8; West Australia, 8; Tasmania, 10.
Although each organization is required to furnish annual membership returns under the provisions of the National Health Act this information is regarded as confidential. It is not the practice to publish membership figures for any individual fund. Total membership figures at 30th June, 1963, were-
These figures exclude the deficits incurred in the special accounts since 1st January, 1959, such deficits being reimbursed by the Commonwealth. 1962-63 figures are not yet available. 6 and 7. This information is not available.
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following replies: -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following replies: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 September 1963, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1963/19630917_reps_24_hor39/>.