25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lucock) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy: Has Captain Robertson tendered his resignation to the Naval authorities? If not, what is the position with regard to Captain Robertson? If the Minister is not in a position to make a statement on this now, when will he make the statement? When he makes the statement, will he make it in this House and not outside?
– I said last night that it was not the custom to reveal matters which are confidential and purely between an officer of the Service and the Australian Naval Board. If an officer submits his resignation, or applies for retirement, that matter normally goes through the usual channels to the Executive Council and to the Governor-General. After that, the result of the application is gazetted. If anything of this nature occurs in respect of Captain Robertson I am quite certain that I will be willing to give the honorable member the information he seeks.
– I direct two questions to the Minister for External Affairs arising from recent suggestions that Arab pressure is being brought on Australian exporters to prevent them from doing business with Israel and from widespread innuendoes that Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. recently abandoned, because of pressure from Arab countries, a plan to establish an office in Tel Aviv. My two questions are: Has the Australian Government taken any position at all regarding an economic boycott sought by the Arabs against the Israelis? Will the Minister give an assurance that the abandonment by Qantas of its plans for a Tel Aviv establishment - I understand that there was such an abandonment - in no way reflects an Australian Government policy to bow to a boycott?
– I will deal with the second question first, because I think it is quite separable from the first of the honor- able member’s questions. Qantas is an independent corporation which carries on its operations without direction from or consultation with the Department of External Affairs. As to any decision that Qantas may have made about an office at Tel Aviv, I can assure the honorable member and the House that no representations of any kind on this subject were made to the Australian Government from any quarter, and I understand that no representations were made to Qantas from any quarter. Leaving that question on one side, I turn to the first of the honorable gentleman’s questions. I have seen evidence that an organisation known as the League of Arab States, Council for the Boycott of Israel, has addressed letters to Australian businessmen saying, in effect, that if they trade with Israel they will be blacklisted. I should like to make it quite clear that this League of Arab States is not an official organisation. It has no international standing and is not recognised internationally in any way. It is a private organisation which, for its own purposes, is apparently carrying on this campaign against the State of Israel and against trade with Israel. The Australian policy is quite clear. We wish to live in friendly relations both with Israel and with the United Arab Republic. We believe that at present we have friendly relations with both. Matters relating to Australian trade and the freedom of Australia to trade with any country are matters entirely for the Australian Government. Though these matters fall principally within the control of my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Industry, I assure the honorable member that the Australian Government would carefully watch and carefully consider any attempts made to interfere with the freedom of Australian businessmen to trade freely in any part of the world.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Industry. When did he first learn that Australian firms trading with Israel had received letters from the Arab League’s Central Office for the Boycott of Israel threatening that if they did not cease trading with Israel they would be banned from trading with Arab States? Has the Minister inquired as to how widespread and effective these threats have been among Australian firms? In view of the fact that Australia and Israel exchanged trade missions last year, what steps has the Government taken to end this boycott and to assert the right of Australian firms to trade with any country they wish?
– I first learned of this matter by reading recent press reports. That is not to say that there may not have been some correspondence addressed to me, as Minister, or to the Department of Trade and Industry, which has not yet been before me. The fact of the matter is, as my colleague has pointed out, that the so called committee which operates in this manner, advising the Arab States on boycott measures - as I understand it - is not an official committee. Therefore, it is not a committee to which a government such as the Australian Government could direct communications. It is the policy of the Australian Government to facilitate free trade by the Australian commercial community both ways - exports and imports. Our policies and our influences are designed to bring that about to the extent that if any particular instance is brought before us it is examined in the light of the circumstances and on its merits. By and large, Australia is a pretty good customer of the Arab countries. The figures in my mind are that wc buy a total of about £45 million worth of goods a year from the Arab countries - mostly oil, it is true. In exchange, we sell to the Arab countries only £10 million worth of goods a year. With such a substantial adverse trade balance we have to search the world to sell our goods to other people in order to pay the Arab countries.
– I address my question to the Minister for Air and it refers to two reports regarding Royal Australian Air Force personnel. One report is that a number of R.A.A.F. personnel have been hastily flown to Butterworth, Malaysia; the other report is that all forces at Butterworth have been put on the alert. Can the Minister say whether these reports are accurate?
– Yes, I have seen these reports. I understand that the authorities in Malaysia have decided to put the forces stationed there on a higher standard of alertness. In order to meet this requirement our own squadrons needed some additional personnel. Such assistance was requested and I am happy to be able to tell honorable members that we are able to meet their needs.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration: Is it a fact that migrants are being encouraged to become naturalised citizens on the understanding that in doing so they are eligible to enjoy full citizenship rights? Is it true that many migrants are being wrongly advised in that regard and that many people, on becoming naturalised subjects, find that they not only lose their natural citizenship but also lose any income paid to them by way of pension by their own country? Will the Minister say what has been done about the case that I brought to his notice more than seven months ago of a German couple who, on becoming naturalised, lost their pension from Germany of £36 a quarter and who have since had no income at all? Will he take action to clarify the position of migrants who contemplate becoming naturalised British subjects and ensure that they understand the implications associated with the renunciation of their own nationality when they have lived in this country for less than ten years?
– We ask migrants who have been in Australia for five years to become naturalised citizens of this country, subject to certain qualifications. As a result of becoming naturalised, they receive certain concessions and privileges. However, any privileges or pensions that they receive from their country of origin are their own concern and not ours. I shall take up with the Department of Immigration the question of asking migrants who contemplate becoming naturalised to look into any private arrangement that they may have with their country of origin with the object of ensuring that they suffer no disability as a result of naturalisation. But, in the final analysis, as I have said, this is really a matter for themselves. The honorable member has asked me about the case of a German couple. I confess that I have no recollection of it. If he will give me full details, I shall go into the matter and see whether anything can be done.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. Commercial broadcasting licences issued by the PostmasterGeneral embody a condition reading
Can the Minister assure the House that this requirement is, and will continue to be, enforced, thereby ensuring that commercial broadcasting licences issued under a law of the Commonwealth shall not be flouted by a licensee?
– Any request in relation to this matter is referred to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, which tenders advice to me as the Minister who administers the Broadcasting and Television Act. It is then a matter for me to take action based on the recommendations made by the Board.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence a question. Will the Government state its intention in regard to the strengthening of Army, Navy and Air Force establishments on the north Australian coastline? Is it a fact that the only airfield on the north Australian coastline capable of handling modern fighters and bombers, apart from Garbutt at Townsville, some 2,000 miles away, is at Darwin? Further, did not the experience of World War II indicate that a single air raid on Darwin could put the aerodrome there, with its servicing facilities, completely out of action? As the Tindall air strip, some 200 miles south of Darwin, is being built for such an emergency, will action now be taken for an all out effort to complete the work as a matter of urgency instead of as a three year project as at present?
– I shall refer the honorable gentleman’s question to the Minister for Defence. The only comment I would make in passing is that the defence of Australia is planned as a total programme and not for any particular part of the continent. In the planning of the defence of Australia as a whole, one has to have regard to the total plan rather than to what may happen in one particular area.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs. I ask: Is it a fact that there appeared recently in the columns of “Pravda” in Moscow an article accusing Communist China of engaging in the narcotics trade for the purpose of acquiring foreign exchange and demoralising the people of the West? If so, will the Minister obtain a translation of the article as soon as possible and make it available to honorable members so that they may have the benefit of this information obtained from a source that must be well informed on this topic?
– I think the honorable member pays too high a tribute both to my industry and my linguistic ability in suggesting that I read “ Pravda “ every day. However, we do have, within the Department of External Affairs, persons who can and do read “ Pravda “. I will refer the question for examination by the department and if we can locate the article and translate it we will do as the honorable member suggests.
– My question is to the Minister for the Navy. Why was the former Commander of H.M.A.S. “Melbourne”, Captain R. J. Robertson, not restored to his command after being exonerated by the Royal Commission on the loss of the “Voyager”? Was this humiliation imposed by the Australian Naval Board because the Board disagreed with the Royal Commissioner’s report? If the answer to the latter question is in the affirmative, will the Minister inform the House where the Board disagrees with the Royal Commissioner and whether this disagreement is based on evidence available to the Board and not placed before the Royal Commissioner, Sir John Spicer?
– This question is the figment of a magnificent imagination. The point is that statements have been made and words have been used which have no relation to the facts of this case. The position is that H.M.A.S. “Melbourne” was scheduled to engage in exercises in tha
Pacific or the South East Asian area. Captain Robertson was needed, as everybody is aware, during the hearings of the Royal Commission, which lasted for some time. Even when the hearing of evidence was completed there was still the possibility, as was stated at the time, that the Commission would be called together again. It was necessary for the “ Melbourne “ to take part in the exercises with a captain who could bc assured of the control of the ship for the whole time. A captain was appointed, the ship was worked up with a highly successful crew, and it completed its exercises to the credit of everybody. I think honorable members will agree that if there were many capital ships to which captains could be appointed the problem could have been different, but there was only this one capital ship, and it was not the intention of the Board to remove the captain who had worked the ship’s crew up and restore another captain. The appointment of Captain Robertson to “ Watson “ was an appointment to a captain’s establishment and did not bear the’ implications thought of by the honorable member.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Trade and Industry relating to Commonwealth trading ties. Has the Minister seen a press report of a speech delivered by the permanent head of his department, Sir Alan Westerman, at a Commonwealth Club luncheon in Adelaide two or three weeks ago? In it Sir Alan is alleged to have said that -
Traditional Commonwealth trading ties held no future for Australia. The old form of buyerseller relationship between Britain and Australia was no longer strong, flexible or happy.
Does this statement represent a belated recognition by the Minister, as well as by the permanent head of his department, that Australia’s traditional pattern of trade could not withstand the currents of history - a fact accepted by some members on these benches and resisted by him at a time within recent memory? Does this policy mean that he is adjusting himself and the Australian economy to the realities of history by seeking as wide a variety of markets as possible?
– I find the question very interesting - and certainly critical of me and of the Government’s policy - interesting because the honorable member supports the Government. I have not seen details of the speech made by Sir Alan Westerman. 1 think I have the text of it, but I have not read it. However, I am familiar with, and have had experience of, necessarily curtailed press reports which do not necessarily present all that a speaker intended. I do not know which side the questioner is on. The historic fact is that I was the instrument of the Government in renewing the United Kingdom-Australia Trade Treaty, on which the whole of our trade is based, with preferences given to the United Kingdom. If that is the point in the honorable member’s mind, that is the answer. If the honorable member has any doubt whether there is a possibility of further dislocation of our trade with the United Kingdom I remind him of the incidents concerning the Common Market when the United Kingdom was prepared to follow a course which inevitably would have terminated British preferences.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Interior. By way of preface I point out that for Townsville and district there is only one part-time civil defence organiser who, to enable him to do his civil defence organising, receives from the State Government a handout which probably equals in amount the petty cash expenditure of a pie cart. Will the Minister see whether a more practical Federal approach can be made to civil defence, which is very important and urgent having in mind the shambles that resulted in Canada recently when an air raid alarm was set off by accident?
– I re-emphasise what I said in the House a couple of weeks ago: Civil defence is largely a matter for the State Governments. If the honorable member has a feeling that civil defence arrangements in his area are inadequate I suggest that he make submissions direct to the Queensland Government. The Commonwealth tries to help in matters of civil defence by providing certain equipment. The Commonwealth conducts a school at Mount Macedon, where people may be instructed in civil defence activities. The Commonwealth is responsible for numerous civil defence publications. But personnel is a matter for the States.
– My question, which is directed to the Postmaster-General, is consequential on the question asked by the honorable member for Moore relating to commercial broadcasting licences. Would the stacking of a company board with four new directors, each having transferred to him one share related to a purchase of shares not yet approved by the PostmasterGeneral, be in conformity with the licence of the particular commercial broadcasting licensee involved?
– I think the question refers to a matter that is now before the court. I do not think it is desirable at this stage to make any comment.
– I ask the Attorney-General a question. The honorable gentleman will recall that three weeks ago he told me that he would make inquiries as to the amount of costs incurred by the Commonwealth in successfully defending the proceedings brought against it in the High Court and before the Privy Council by the Ansett subsidiary, Airlines of New South Wales. I again ask the Attorney-General: How much did those proceedings cost the taxpayers? Why did he instruct the SolicitorGeneral to tell the Court that the Commonwealth would not seek costs against the company?
– The question asked today is distinctly different from the question asked earlier. I will give consideration to the matters raised in today’s question and will furnish a reply to the honorable gentleman.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether planning for phase 4 of national television stations is complete. Is it a fact that five major Upper Murray towns are not included in phase 4 and that they are outside the normal range of other stations in South Australia? If so, will the Government, when planning phase 5, give top priority to those high density population areas that are distant from existing transmitting ‘ stations and where little prospect exists of establishing commercial stations? Do modern technical advances, such as microwaves, offer an alternative to enable country people to enjoy facilities equal to those enjoyed by people living in city areas? Finally, will the Government permit people living beyond a reasonable transmitting distance from an established station to pay a partial licence fee?
– The answer to each of the first two questions asked by the honorable member is “ Yes “. I point out to the honorable member and to honorable members generally that the micro-wave system is very expensive, and before introducing it one would need to examine the economics of the proposal and assess the revenues likely to be derived from the area concerned.
In answer to the honorable member’s final question, I point out that there is no provision in the Broadcasting and Television Act for any reduction of licence fees. I would explain to the honorable member that although a distance of 70 miles from a transmitter might be taken to represent the viewing area, it is possible that some people residing within that area would not enjoy good viewing while some living outside it would enjoy good viewing. It is a matter for - the individual to determine whether, having regard to the distance he is from the transmitter, he feels that he will get value out of the purchase of a television set. If he does purchase a set, he must pay the full licence fee.
– I address a question to the Attorney-General. A fortnight ago, the honorable gentleman told me that the delay in introducing the restrictive trade practices legislation was due to physical factors associated with drafting that legislation. A week ago, he told the Bankers Institute of Australasia that he did not now intend to ban two of the four practices which the present Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia proposed to ban outright when he was Attorney-General. I ask him, therefore, whether this simplification of his drafting problems will enable him to bring in the Bill before the end of this year and thus permit the people to pass judgment on the Government’s sincerity at the third national election since the legislation was promised four-and-a-half years ago.
– When addressing the Bankers Institute of Australasia the other night, I stated that a very great volume of representations had been made and that many of those representations had very great merit. As an instance of the representations which had merit, I mentioned those which asked for the elimination of two of the categories of proposed prohibited practices.
As to the honorable member’s suggestion that the elimination of those two categories will simplify the processes of preparing legislation, I can assure him that that is only a relatively small part of the total amount of drafting that needs to be done, and I reiterate my previous statement that the legislation will be introduced when it is drafted.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether he is aware that most of the eggs produced in South Australia are produced by flocks containing fewer than 50 birds. Is the levy which, I understand, is to be the basis of the projected egg marketing scheme, to be paid on all flocks containing over 20 birds? Will this mean that each flock will have to be counted by an inspector? Will the Minister tell me how this will be done in my case, as most of my fowls live either in the header or in trees?
– The honorable member is asking for details of a bill which lias not yet been finalised. When we have complete agreement between the various State Ministers, we can give consideration to the introduction of legislation relating to this matter because all the details will then be known. As to whether the fowls should roost in trees, all I can say is that I think the honorable member can crow wherever he is.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Has he had discussions with the Victorian Premier, Mr. Bolte, in relation to the proposed entry of Victoria into the income tax field, this being contrary to the spirit and substance of the uniform tax agreement? If so, did he express his approval or disapproval to Mr. Bolte? Does he not agree that Mr. Bolte’s proposed action could seriously limit the future effective management by a Federal government of the nation’s economic affairs? If he did not state his attitude to the proposed move, will he now do so in order to clear up quickly the confused situation and, I hope, to reaffirm the need for the central management of our nation’s economy?
– I can, I think, relieve the honorable member’s mind. I did not have any discussion with the Premier of Victoria about this matter. He was good enough to give me a copy of his Budget Speech and he supplemented this wilh various observations to me. I said, of course, that I would not have any view about this matter until I had studied his proposals, had had the benefit of technical advice from the Treasury and had considered what the honorable member rightly refers to as the broader implications of this matter. All this will be done. When I have something to say about it, I assure the honorable member, I will say it.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. I refer to a statement by the New South Wales Premier that the Commonwealth had discriminated against New South Wales in the provision of telephone services. I ask: Has expenditure by the Postmaster-General’s Department in New South Wales in recent years far exceeded the expenditure in any other State? Is it also true that the expenditure by the department in New South Wales in this financial year will again be greater than the expenditure in any other State? Will the Minister make a full statement on this matter so that the New South Wales Premier may be suitably enlightened?
– It is true, as the honorable member suggests, that in recent years a greater percentage of money has been made available for the installation of telephones in New South Wales than has been made available in any other State. In the current year the percentage will be 37. This again will be higher than the percentage to be spent in any other State.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Can the Minister inform the House of any inherent or statutory powers in any Federal or State industrial tribunal for the automatic or periodic adjustment of award wage rates to compensate for the continuing price rises in goods, commodities and services affecting the consumer price index? Can he inform the House of any effective system of price control now operative in any State under the currently exclusive powers of the States in this field? What action does he propose to take through his department to correct this situation? In particular, will he provide the House with an estimate of the impact of the proposed Bolte Budget on the purchasing power of wage earners employed under Commonwealth awards in Victoria?
– I will answer the last part of the honorable member’s question first. I do not think anybody is capable of making an estimate of the effect on the cost of living of proposals that have not yet been fully spelt out by the Victorian Government. As to the substance of the question, I think the honorable member knows that the Commonwealth has power only with regard to industrial conciliation and arbitration under certain conditions which are defined in the Constitution. We have no other powers. Unless there is an award in existence of which I have not heard, and I would be fairly certain that there is not, I do not know of any inherent power anywhere which could decide that there should be rises in the basic wage parallel to or in some way associated with rises in the cost of living. What happened in the last basic wage case was that the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission decided that it was now up to the parties to make fresh applications as and when they considered it desirable to do so. If there is a rise in the cost of living and the unions wish to make an application for an increase of the wage, it is up to them to take the initiative. As to the second question asked by the honorable member, relating to the States, any one of the States can, of course, if it wishes to do so, exercise its price-fixing powers. But I do not think that any State Government could deny that, in addition to the big increase in the basic wage, one of the real causes of price rises that have occurred and are likely to occur in the future, has been the over-award payments that are being agreed to not only by private negotiation but also m many cases with the authority of the Commissioners themselves. Frankly, I have forgotten the third question asked by the honorable member, but I think I have given enough in substance to answer him.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Repatriation a question. Will the honorable gentleman make representations to the Cabinet with a view to granting an allowance to totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners to cover the whole of the cost of their telephone rentals?
– When the Budget was being prepared consideration was given to a number of proposals for the extension of benefits under the repatriation system. These include a proposal submitted by a number of organisations that concessions be granted in connection with telephone rentals as a form of repatriation benefit. Other proposals for concessions in connection with television and radio licence fees were considered at the same time. These proposals were examined in the same way in which similar proposals are looked at each year. It was decided that it was more desirable to extend additional benefits in the form in thich they have been set out in the legislation which is now before another place - that is, by way of increased pension rates over a very wide range. The only other thing I can say at this stage is that the suggestion of the honorable member will receive further consideration when the Repatriation Act is again reviewed.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister a question regarding the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act, section 10 of which provides for a penalty on an officer of the Public Service if he or she is convicted of a criminal offence. Is the Prime Minister aware that, under the Act as it stands, if an officer is found guilty of an offence and punished by a court he is automatically dismissed from the Public Service and, in addition, is automatically deprived of any money due to him in lieu of long service leave? The Prime Minister will understand that in those circumstances the officer is penalised three times for one offence. This, I think, is contrary to all legal principles. Will the right honorable gentleman consider this aspect of the legislation? I feel sure that if he does he will take action to modify the provisions relating to penalties because they bear harshly not only on the officer concerned but also, if such officer is married, on his family.
– I am very willing to have a look at the matter mentioned by the honorable member because 1 know of his interest in such matters. While I am on my feet I take the opportunity of welcoming him to the noble order of grandfathers.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Civil Aviation. Is he aware that two light gyroplanes manufactured overseas are being demonstrated here for sale promotion purposes? One is a “Beagle” aircraft manufactured in the United Kingdom, which will be demonstrated on 25th September in Sydney during the British Exhibition. The other is a South African plane which was demonstrated yesterday at Camden. The development of this latter aircraft has been substantially financed by the South African Government. Both these aircraft, it is estimated, will sell at about £2,500. Is the Minister also aware that a similar aircraft, the “ Bee “, which is manufactured by Australian interests and which would cost only half as much as either of the two aircraft I previously mentioned, cannot obtain type A approval from the Department of Civil Aviation until certain tests, estimated to cost £20,000 have been completed? Will the Minister request the Minister for Civil Aviation to consider providing some form of government assistance to the final development of this Australian machine so that the expected demand for this type of aircraft can be met from our own resources instead of from overseas?
– I was not aware of the facts contained in the honorable member’s question, but I will refer them to the appropriate Minister. It seems to me that it would be more appropriate to refer this question to the Department of Supply which, through the Aeronautical Research Laboratories at Fishermen’s Bend, may have an interest in it. As the honorable member knows, the Minister for Supply is abroad at present. So I will refer this question to the Acting Minister for Supply.
– My question, which is addressed to the Postmaster-General, relates to the television transmitter site on Mount Bartle Frere. Has the Minister seen a reported statement, attributed to the President of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce, who incidentally is an interested party in the successful applicant company for the Cairns commercial television licence, that it will probably be 1968 or 1970 before television will be transmitted from Mount Bartle Frere and that the company is applying for approval of a temporary site? If the company has so applied, what is the Minister’s decision? If he is still considering the application, will he make sure that the site will be only temporary and not in lieu of the permanent site on Mount Bartle Frere, because the use of the temporary site will exclude many country people from receiving a television picture? Has the Minister received from the survey team which is in the area at present any reports which will cause extension of the estimated time for completion of the station?
– The honorable member will know that Mount Barle Frere is the highest mountain in Queensland. To build a roadway and, subsequently, transmitters on that site is a very substantial contraction job. Substantially, the date on which the road and the transmitters will be completed will depend upon weather conditions. There has been a suggestion that a temporary station should be established at Cairns. I am having a look at that suggestion at the present time. I assure the honorable member that if the proposal were agreed to it would be on the condition that the station would be moved to Mount Bartle Frere the moment that that site was available for use.
– Is the Minister for Shipping and Transport aware that many shire councils in Victoria are financially embarrassed and are complaining that the amount allocated to them for road building and maintenance by the Country Roads Board for 1964-65 is much less than the allocation in 1963-64? Has any action of the Commonwealth Government made this necessary, or should recent Commonwealth legislation have had the reverse effect?
– I am not aware of the complaints by shire councils to which the honorable member has referred. I can assure him that no action of the Commonwealth Government could have contributed to the situation that he mentioned. As he will know, the amount allocated by the Commonwealth Government to all the States for road construction for this year and the succeeding four years is 50 per cent greater than the amount allocated over the last five years. So, if anything, larger funds should be available to the Victorian Government. But how that Government allocates those funds is purely in its own discretion.
– My question is addressed tothe Minister for the Navy and is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Newcastle. The Minister will remember that on 1st July I wrote to him concerning the transfer of Captain Robertson from H.M.A.S. “Melbourne” to a shore appointment and that on 7th July he wrote to me in reply -
To enablethe ship to meet her programme Captain H. O. Stevens, at present in command of H.M.A.S. “Sydney”, will temporarily take over from Captain Robertson. Captain J. P. Stevenson, the former commanding officer of “ Vendetta “, will temporarily assume command of H.M.A.S. “Sydney”.
What does the Minister mean by “ temporarily “? Is it his intention to reinstate Captain Robertson shortly?
– I may say that the meaning “ temporarily “ on 7th July was as intended. As I said before, the “ Melbourne “ has since been engaged in exercises. It is currently preparing for another series of exercises and, with no slur on any member of the Royal Australian Navy, it is considered to be in the best interests of the ship and the crew that the present captaincy be retained. However, I deplore the inference that because Captain Robertson has been posted to an appointment which carries a captaincy there is something violently wrong with this.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mr. Freeth, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Once again there is before the House a bill to give Australian mariners who were incapacitated by war injury, and their dependants, increases in the monetary benefits under the Act. This Bill follows in the wake of the Repatriation Bill, the two together implementing the Government’s decision to increase further the pensions payable to ex-service personnel and wartime mariners. It is, of course, the practice to maintain pensions and benefits payable under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act at the same levels as those payable under the Repatriation Act.
The Bill therefore provides for increases of 10s. per fortnight in the rate of pension payable to the wife of a totally incapacitated Australian mariner pensioner and in the rates of pension payable to a totally incapacitated mariner and to the widow on the death of a mariner covered by the Act. Clauses 2 and 5 ensure that the increases can be paid on the first pension day after the royal assent is given, and I trust that all honorable members will ensure that the Bill has a speedy passage.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 3rd September (vide page 951), on motion by Mr. Robert on -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I move -
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 opinion that the rates of pension for the aged, invalids and widows, and rates of maternity allowances, child endowment, sickness, unemployment and funeral benefits, are completely inadequate, and that there should be a review of all social service benefits, including the establishment of a base rate pension and supplementary assistance for special needs, in order that recipients may be able to meet the increase in the total cost of living; the increases to be retrospective to 1st July, 1964 “.
The purpose of the amendment is clear and to the point. It is a straight out condemnation of the policy of the Government in the field of social services and of the Government’s repudiation of promises given as long ago as 1949. It is a condemnation of the Government’s callous disregard for the aged, the sick and the needy, and it is a condemnation of its policy of discrimination against married and single pensioners and its policy and actions against all who are in receipt of social service benefits.
This Bill consists of seven small clauses. Its provisions are simple, limited, miserable and insulting. Some provide for an increase of 5s. a week for age, invalid and widow pensioners. The other clauses of the Bill are of a machinery nature and also provide for increases of the pensions of inmates of benevolent homes. The Bill provides that the increases generally shall become due and payable on the first pension pay day after the commencement of the Act. Miserable as the increases are, the recipients will still have to wait almost two months for them.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) took exactly 42 minutes to state the proposals in the Bill. He took almost three quarters of an hour to inform us that out of a Budget showing a total expenditure of £2,511 million the Government, in the coming year, will grant pensioners an increase of 8id. a day - 5s. a week, a percentage increase of between 4 and 5 per cent. May I paraphrase a statement by a famous statesman of our day by saying that never has so much been said about so little for so many for so long. The Bill is remarkable not for what it includes but for what is left out. No-one should be misled by the Minister’s rambling, pompous, egotistical, inflated and diversionary oration. For all the legislation contains the Minister’s speech might well have been confined to a few pages and a few minutes. In fact, I understand that that was the type of speech that the Minister’s officers prepared for him, but his egotism took him far afield for 42 minutes. The greater portion of his speech covered matters that do not come within the scope of the Bill - like the Pensioner
Medical Service, hospitalisation, the Aged Persons Homes Act, the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act and several other matters. What the Minister did not tell us is what could and should have been done for pensioners and those depending on social services. He did not dwell on the loss of purchasing power of social service benefits under this Government, the amount of poverty in Australia, the bitter struggle of many thousands of pensioners who are actually in want, even in this agc of affluence.
The Minister quoted the pension paid as a percentage of the basic wage in six capitals in 1949 under Labour as compared with now. It is not a question of what the percentage is or was; the question is: What amount is necessary to provide food, clothing and shelter for single and married pensioners? It is some percentage of what is necessary for the average person and what is accepted as the ordinary basis for the cost of living. It certainly cannot be estimated by guesswork, as the Minister evidently estimates it when deciding on the time of payment and the amount of increases to be given. The percentage basis of the basic wage of 1949 is not exactly a sound argument for this Government to rely on, particularly in view of the inflation that has occurred.
The Minister is all tangled up with his economics and, not only that, he is tangled up in the Bill. He does not know what is in it. Since the Minister gave over much of his discourse to the subject of economics I thought I would consult my colleague, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), who is an eminent economist. Having done so, I suggest that the Minister should bring his economics up to date before dealing with the provisons of the Bill. I thank the honorable member for Melbourne Ports for his contribution in this respect.
The Minister for Social Services, who is responsible mainly for age and invalid pensions, widows’ pensions and child endowment, as well as a few minor items of life and death such as funeral benefits, maternity allowances and unemployment and sickness benefits, has tried to divert attention from his Government’s poor record in this field by drawing comparisons between payments out of the National Welfare Fund in 1948-49, the last full year for which the Chifley Government was in office, and projected payments in 1964-65. To begin with, one quarter of the financial payments from this Fund are not within the administration of his department at all - so he is all at s:a there - but come under the control of the Department of Health. Many of the payments had not been introduced when Labour went out of office, not from any lack of intent on the part of the Australian Labour Party but because Labour’s national health plan had been sabotaged.
The Minister implied, from figures alone, that things under his Government are about five and a half times as good as they were under Labour. He did this by saying that £81 million was spent then compared with £452 million now. Such a crude comparison is, of course, just economic nonsense. Earlier in his speech the Minister stated that a large part of the increased expenditure on social services arose from natural growth and, of course, it docs. What he did not state was how much of the increased expenditure in 1964 is necessary because of the failure of the Government to control inflation during its term in office. To pay the same real benefit in 1964 as in 1949 twice as much money is needed. When you compare these two factors - more people and lower purchasing power of money - the statement that things are five and a half times better now than they were under a Labour Government does not look nearly so correct.
I hate to bore members with figures but it is necessary to do so in order to disprove the strange economics of the Minister. The consumer price index shows that the value of money is at present half of what it was in 1949. The 1949 £1 is now worth 9s. 8d. The deterioration in the food component of the index which is most significant to the pensioner is even worse. It shows that £1 is now required to purchase food that could have been bought for 8s. 7d. in 1949. To express the position in another way, £2 6s. 8d. is now needed to purchase what could have been bought for £1 in 1949 under Labour - two and one third times as much.
The population of Australia in 1949 was 8 million whereas it is now 11 million but there have been more than proportionate increases in the child population and in the population of pensionable ages. In 1947, for instance, only 25 per cent, of the population was under 15 years of age and now the figure is 30 per cent. There are now 12.3 per cent, of people over 60 as against 10 per cent, previously. In addition, inflation brings a higher proportion of women over 60 and men over 65 automatically into the pension field. Inflation has given more people the pension than the merged means test.
These circumstances are reflected in the figures for total recipients of age pensions and of child endowment. There were 321,000 age pensioners in 1949 compared with 607,000 in 1963, an increase of 90 per cent., although there was an increase of less than 40 per cent, in total population. I am quoting these figures to show that the increased expenditure cited by the Minister is mainly due to population growth and increases in the numbers of people entitled to benefits. In regard to child endowment there was an increase of 872,000 endowed families between 1950 and 1963 - an increase of 130 per cent. - and the number of endowed children rose by 1,518,000, an increase of 90 per cent. Figures for the year 1950 have been selected, instead of 1949, because endowment for the first child was not introduced until 20th June 1950.
These comparisons are naturally tedious bud they do show how futile are the comparisons made by a supposedly responsible Minister. If I wanted to make him blush I could have compared the 1949 figures with those of 1939, the last year this Government was in office prior to wartime. The Minister does not compare like with like. If we exclude from his comparison the benefits that? were not being paid under Labour and confine it to those that were being paid under Labour and Liberal Governments it will be seen that there has been no progress at all. Certain things, such as funeral benefits and maternity allowances, have not altered in money value for 15 years and in consequence their real value has more than halved.
In the field of child endowment, about which the Government brags so much, the total annual liability at 30th June 1950 was £39 million. It was only £70 million at 30th June 1963. The Government does not take into consideration the tremendous increase in the number of recipients of these benefits. Nor does it consider the fall in the purchasing power of money. To meet the increased prices of 1963, the total amount should have been some £60 million greater than it was in 1950. In other words, it should have been almost doubled. These figures indicate that the comparisons made by the Minister are all astray.
The Government also claims that in the same intervening 13 years the economic capacity of the country has increased, both absolutely and relatively, that is both in total and per capita. But the families of Australia have been denied their share of this increase and, in fact, they are getting less in real terms through child endowment than they were previously. The same applies to the age pension. No doubt, interesting comparisons can be made with the payments in 1949, or whenever you like to choose, measured against some convenient index in 1964, but the question that should bc asked is whether the basic pension for a married couple or the standard pension for a single person, as it is called, is adequate for the recipient to live as a decent and honoured Australian in 1964. That is the important question and the Opposition says it is not sufficient.
I have quoted those figures and facts in order that the Minister can bring his economics up to date. The figures are somewhat tedious but they are on record to disprove the arguments put forward over a long period by the Minister concerned. The figures to 30th June 1964 for child endowment and pensions are not available yet in regard to the numbers actually receiving the benefits. The year 1948-49 chosen by the Minister should really be compared with 1963-64 when National Welfare Fund payments were £416.3 million, including £95.6 million in respect of the Department of Health. This makes the comparisons used by me even better.
I turn now to the provisions of the Bill. This generous Government has increased the age pension for invalid, single and widowed persons to £6 a week. Those entitled to supplementary assistance will receive total payments of £6 10s. a week. The pension for married aged couples has been increased from £10 10s. to £11 a week. The Minister went to great pains to explain what the Government had done for widows. Of course, he did not say that the Government had stolen some of its policy in regard to widow pensions from the Australian Labour Party. One increase given was in accordance with Labour policy. I refer, of course, to the mothers’ allowance. The Australian Labour Party believes that this should not be less than £3 10s. Widows over 50 years of age with no dependent children will have their pension increased to £5 7s. 6d. Class C widows, those under 50 with no dependent children, who are in necessitous circumstances immediately following the death of the husband, will receive a similar amount. This means that they will still receive 12s. 6d. a week less than the base single rate of pension.
On what grounds does the Minister justify this discrimination? These widows have the same commitments as single pensioners and should at least receive similar benefits. Labour’s policy is that the widows’ pension for any category should not be less than the base rate of the age pension and legislation along these lines would be introduced if Labour were in office. Widows cannot be expected to live on a lesser amount. This is the first rise given to married pensioners for two years. In this time they have been called upon to meet all the heavy cost of living increases including those arising from the £1 a week increase in the basic wage recently. They have suffered the humiliation of the differentiation between single pensioners and married pensioners and all its consequent injustices. All pensioners have to bear savage taxation imposed in the present Budget. The increases of 4d. a packet on cigarettes and telephone charges have further reduced their purchasing power. The miserable increase of 5s. is absorbed overnight by increases for cigarettes and telephone calls and the basic wage increases.
Will the Minister state how he arrived at the figure of 5s. for all pensioners? What is his method of calculation? I suggest he has no method - that the figure is taken out of the air, as it were, without any sound economic basis or inquiry as to the needs of pensioners. Is it not time that this haphazard and unjust method of fixing pensions was abandoned? Is it not time, in this enlightened age, for the Government to make a new approach to this great humanitarian problem? In the United States of America it is estimated that an income below 3,000 dollars a year is the yardstick for poverty. In Great Britain it is estimated that 14 per cent of the people live in poverty.
There should be a searching inquiry into the problem of poverty in Australia to ascertain how many of our people are poverty stricken. The ultimate objective should be to give to all people, whether single or married, pensions or social service benefits adequate to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Australia drags a long way behind other countries in the proportion of national income spent on social services. Recent figures obtained from a publication entitled “The Cost of Social Security 1961 “, which has been issued by the International Labour Organisation, show that Australia, which spends 9.1 per cent of its national income on social services, is in twelfth place in a list of 14 countries. This country ranks below Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy. Some of those are countries that fought against us and lost in the Great War. Yet they lead us in the field of social services. Any selfrespecting Minister would resign before he would support policies that bring about such a situation.
Take Sweden as an example. There, a supplementary pension plan was introduced in 1960 to improve the living conditions of old and disabled citizens. This programme, which is financed by contributions from employers, is to be built up gradually until 1980. It guarantees that every Swede reaching the age of 67 will be entitled by 1980 to an age pension totalling at least two thirds of his income during his best 15 years. I do not say that this kind of scheme could be adopted here in its entirety. But the principle embodied in it would be more just and more equitable and could well be considered in Australia in this enlightened age.
It is all very well for Government supporters to compare the percentage of the basic wage represented by the pension in 1949 with the percentage today. Pensioners cannot live on percentages. Strange as it may seem, they must have housing, butter, tea, sugar, meat, clothing and health benefits. Can they afford sufficient of these items today? That is the question that we ask. I consider that they cannot, and all my Opposition colleagues believe likewise. These items are virtually rationed to pensioners because of the inadequacy of pensions. I have not sufficient time to run through all the foods that pensioners must have on their tables, but I shall mention a few items in respect of which figures are given in the “ Quarterly Summary of Australian Statistics” publishedby the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics. I am pleased to see that a number of members of the Australian Country Party are listening, because all the foodstuffs that I am about to mention are derived from products of the land. For example, between 1949 and 1964 the price of butter rose from 2s. 2d. to 4s.10d. per lb. an increase of 120 per cent. The price of tea rose from 2s. 9d. to 6s. 3d. perlb. an increase of 120 per cent. The price of sugar increased by about 100 per cent., from 5d. to11d. per lb. The price of sausages the poor man’s breakfast rose from1s. to 2s.1d. per lb., or more than 100 per cent. The cost of a 2 lb. loaf of bread increased by 170 per cent. In every instance, the prices of the commodities listed increased by somewhere between 100 and 200 per cent. In one other instance, the price rose even more. All these items must be on the tables of pensioners if they are to keep body and soul together.
What has this Government done to relate pension rates and the real needs of pensioners in the light of rising costs? The basic wage has increased from £69s. a week in 1949 to £15 8s. a week in 1964. It has more than doubled. The Government certainly looks after people on the higher scales of income when costs rise. Since 1950, the salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia has been increased by £70 a week. Yet he pays the same price as is paid by pensioners for each of the commodities that I enumerated before. The salaries of other justices of the High Court have been increased by £60 a week and those of Conciliation Commissioners by £40 a week. The salaries of heads of departments of the Commonwealth Public Service, including the Department of Social Services, have been increased by amounts ranging from £41 to £75 a week. Average earnings of male persons in Australia have risen from £17.17 a week in 1954 to £24.22 a week in 1964 - an increase of £7.5 a week. Yet pensioners today receive only 21 per cent., or a little more than one-fifth, of average male earnings.
If it is good enough to increase the salaries of those at the higher end of the scale by huge amounts, is it not reasonable to give to those at the lower end of the scale increases which are just as equitable and which will enable them to keep body and soul together, instead of giving them only a miserable percentage of the basic wage, as this Government does? Is it not time that the real cost of living was considered? Should we not once and for all dispel the unfortunate state of affairs under which pensioners from time to time receive a handout determined not on any economic basis but on the possibility of gaining a few votes at election time? I suggest that if a Senate election were not pending within the next few months, no increases would have been given to any pensioners - age, invalid or widow. This is typical of the whole of the present Government’s policies. This sort of thing happens every time an election is in the offing. The Government cares nothing for the needs of those who are less fortunate.
Labour’s attitude on these matters is clear. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), in terms that were concise and to the point, outlined our policy on these important subjects during the last Federal general election campaign, and the policy that he enunciated then still stands, taking into consideration increases in keeping with the rise in the cost of living since that time. We believe that there should be no discrimination between single and married pensioners. The Australian Labour Party believes that there should be a high and adequate rate of pension for all pensioners, married and single alike, with supplementary assistance in special circumstances and in special need. Labour would immediately increase the rate of pension in some instances by 30s. or more. We would see that the sacredness of marriage was maintained and not allowed to become a barrier to social justice, as it is under the contemptible policy of the present Government. We would remove discrimination and give justice to all pensioners, whether married, single or widowed. The Labour Party believes that no adult who depends on a social service benefit should receive less than the standard rate of age pension. This applies also to allowances for dependants and to the wives of invalid pensioners, who are expected at present to live on £3 a week. Labour would review the full range of social services and bring the benefits into line with the needs of the beneficiaries, thereby enabling them to live in comfort and security in this age of inflation and high costs.
It is of no use for the Government to say that the country cannot afford these improvements. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), when he presented his Budget before departing again for a trip overseas, spoke of the happy state of our economy. The judges of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission noted the state of our economy, too, when the basic wage increase of £1 a week was awarded. The Treasurer has budgeted for a surplus of £18.5 million this financial year.
Let us consider what will not be done by this Bill. I point out, incidentally, that the Minister for Social Services, in his second reading speech, did not discuss the Bill but spoke of all the things that were done under other legisation such as amendments to the National Health Act. Let me now turn to some social service benefits that arc to remain untouched. Tha rates of maternity allowance have remained substantially unchanged for about 20 years. Endowment for the first child has remained unchanged at 5s. a week for 14 years, and the rate for a second child has not changed since 1948, remaining at 10s. a week. The rates of unemployment and sickness benefits have not been increased since 1962, when the Government panicked after a general election. The rate of funeral benefit for pensioners remains at £10 - the amount fixed in 1943, or 21 years ago. This, I suppose, is recognised as one of the most shocking examples of neglect by a government in any civilised country. No provision is made in this year’s Budget for increased expenditure on the civilian rehabilitation service or for the removal of anomalies from the pensioner medical service and the hospital and pharmaceutical benefits schemes. Allowances for dependants, children and mothers in conjunction with all the various benefits remain unchanged despite the huge increase in the cost of living. What is the Government’s answer when it is criticised on these matters? Why will it not increase these benefits? It has no justification for withholding increases in the light of the buoyant state of the economy about which it talks so much. 1 have mentioned only a few of the items omitted from the Minister’s speech. I could continue indefinitely discussing the omissions. No wonder he occupied 42 minutes recording a long and painful story of false comparisons based on false issues in an endeavour to camouflage the Government’s sorry record. A wide range of social service benefits remains untouched. I point them out in order that all may know how the Government has failed. The fact that it has at the same time budgeted for a surplus of £18.5 million makes its failure in this respect all the worse.
I turn now to that section of the Bill about which the Minister said -
The Bill provides for the increased rates of pension to become payable on the first appropriate pay day after it receives the Royal Assent and becomes law.
On what grounds does this Government justify withholding this benefit for upwards of 90 days from the time when it was announced in this Parliament? This matter has been raised again and again by the Australian Labour Party on previous occasions. The Minister states that it cannot be done. As late as 18th September 1963, during a debate on similar legislation, when this proposal was made by the Opposition the Minister said -
It is, rightly or wrongly, the traditional custom of every government, when it makes alterations to the Social Services Act, to have those alterations take effect as from the first pay day after the Bill receives the Royal Assent.
He then went on to say -
These things have been done for the last 55 years, and they have been done for good and sufficient reasons.
– The Minister belongs to that age.
– Yes. The Opposition considers that the reasons are no longer good and sufficient. The precedent of retrospective payments has been set in legislation affecting other sections of the community, and it should bc applied to pensioners and other social service recipients. Here are are a few examples of how this Government considers, in preference to others, those who support it. The superphosphate bounty, announced in the 1963 Budget, provided for the payment of £9 million from the day of its announcement. This, of course, was going to many wealthy supporters of the Australian Country Party, without any means test. Numbered among them are people who exercise a powerful influence over the Government. The home savings grant - the result of a desperate election promise hurriedly given by the Government - was backdated to 2nd December 1963, although the legislation was not introduced until some months later. Child endowment for student children - another hasty and desperate election promise^ - commenced from 7th April 1964 but was backdated to 14th January 1964, giving parents a payment of 12 weeks’ arrears. The legislation, as a matter of fact, was not introduced until some time later. It affected 520,000 families, and the Minister stated that it was backdated to ensure- that the benefits of the Bill will accrue to eligible people as nearly as possible from the beginning of the school year.
We did not quibble at that, but why are not the pension increases backdated? We might ask: Why the discrimination against age, invalid and widow pensioners in respect of this paltry increase? The theory that backdating the increases is too complicated will not hold water. It has been done before, as I have instanced. It could be done again. It cannot be said that the Government cannot afford it, because the Government is budgeting for a Surplus of £1 81 million. It cannot be said that the pensioners are not entitled to it, because they are in dire need of financial assistance. What excuse will the Minister give? The Government’s attitude is completely unjustifiable, and we demand that the Government extend to pensioners, by backdating the legislation, the same consideration that has been given to more favorably placed sections of the community. At the Committee stage we will move accordingly. Unless the payments are backdated this Government will stand convicted of the worst form of discrimination against those who live in poverty in this country.
Let us look at the Minister’s reasons why he cannot give this concession. In an age when nuclear powered vessels circle the globe, when science has brought remarkable improvements to our way of living, when automation and the electronic brain have revolutionised business systems, when we are on the threshold of putting a man on the moon, the Minister says that we cannot backdate a 5s. pension increase for six weeks. Did you ever hear such rot?
The Minister’s oration was delivered with all the pomposity, pride and self satisfaction for which he is renowned, and the Bill leaves countless thousands of people without any benefit under it. He dealt at length with benefits given to certain sections 12 months ago. He gave no explanation of how those not benefiting under this Bill are to maintain their standard of living now, in view of the increase in the cost of living since that time. Those who are not benefiting, and those who are waiting for this increase for three months, are expected to eke out an existence on payments that are 12 months behind the increase in the cost of living. The only hope that these people have is an election before which, in the name of victory and not justice, a few morsels may come the way of the aged, sick, need) and unemployed, and their dependants.
I want now to speak on another aspect. My time is running out, but no doubt my colleagues will speak on it further. The Minister spoke of the means test. He said that the cost of abolishing the means test would be between £150 million and £160 million. He said - lt should be abundantly clear that such huge additional expenditure is out of the question at the present time.
This, in effect, means that the Government has abandoned the proposal for the complete abolition of the means test. I should like to refresh the Minister’s memory from page 22 of the Joint Opposition Policy 1 949 - the policy on which the Minister and the
Government were elected. In that document the following appears -
Social services: Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right and so get completely rid of the means lest. During the new Parlaiment-
This was 1949 - we will further investigate this complicated problem -
And there is no doubt about it being complicated, the way the Government is going - with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952-
A long time ago - a scheme for your approval. Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
This was the policy of the Liberal-Country Party coalition - the abolition of the means test and the maintenance of purchasing power - given in 1949 and promised for implementation by 1952 at the latest. On page 23 of that policy document the following appears -
This great human policy will have our urgent attention as a matter of priority.
Let us be honest: For a Liberal Government, the Government is making pretty good progress. It has not started yet, and it is only 15 years since the promise was made. However, we must be reasonable about this. In answer to a question I asked on 16th April, the Prime Minister confirmed that the promise had been made. The Minister’s statement now indicates that the Government has abandoned its proposal for the complete abolition of the means test. The real reason is not the cost, but the Government’s failure to put value back into the pound, to maintain purchasing power and the failure of its economic policy. So the Government’s pledge is to be repudiated. Let all members opposite realise this, because they occupy their seats as a result of that pledge.
The excuse for the repudiation of the pledge is that honouring the pledge would mean increased taxes. This ‘has not worried the Government previously when it has slugged everyone from pensioners to basic wage earners with indirect and direct taxation. Why should it worry the Government now, when it means a benefit in the field of social services? The Opposition accepts that it must be paid for, but with a huge increase in revenue each year this country should look after those people who cannot look after themselves. There is a huge untapped field of reserves of taxation. I do not think it would worry the Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd. if the Government took a few more pounds from it. General MotorsHoldens would not go out of business if more were taken from it. Imperial Chemical Industries and other big companies would not close up overnight if they were taxed more. For companies and individuals it would be like an insurance proposition. Those of us who are well and able to earn should contribute nationally to help our Jess fortunate fellow man. It is the obligation of a government to see that people are looked after and that proper provision is made. A glance at the facts I have stated indicates that this pledge has been repudiated by the Government in order to save itself from taxing some of the powerful financial interests.
I intend to take one or two minutes to refer to a couple of matters not specifically mentioned in the Bill. I shall not be like the Minister, who took about four pages to refer to them; I will occupy about one and a half pages only. I intend, however, to reply to the Minister’s long rambling diatribe on matters not contained in the Bill. First, I refer to the Pensioner Medical Service. What the Minister did not say was that more than 100,000 pensioners are not getting any benefits whatever because of the vicious means test whereby a paltry income of £2 a week, or £4 a week for a married couple, makes them ineligible. To give all pensioners the benefit of the pensioner medical service would cost the Government about £1,250,000, but the Government denies this benefit to many pensioners. Medical practitioners are compelled to treat pensioners as second-class citizens. Doctors are penalised because of their kindness to pensioners. Many pensioners are forced to suffer great pain and hardship due to the policy adopted by the Department of Health, not the Minister’s department. Not all necessary drugs are available even to pensioners enrolled in the pensioner medical service. This means added expense for pen sioners. Whilst doctors are alleged to be taking wrongly a few thousand pounds from the pensioner medical service the drug companies are plundering the Australian taxpayer by charging exorbitant prices for drugs supplied under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Whenever a row is made in this Parliament over drug prices, they are reduced. As I have said, not all pensioners come within the scope of the pensioner medical service. The least said about medical services for pensioners the better. The failure to provide pensioners with all the pharmaceutical benefits that they need and the deliberate denial to them of medical treatment by qualified medical practitioners is unjust, disgraceful and unforgivable.
The Minister proudly stated that pensioners were treated free of charge in the public wards of public hospitals. I do not debate that claim, but I point out that the Commonwealth pays to the States only 36s. a day in respect of beds occupied in public wards by pensioners whereas the cost to the States is about £6 a day. The Commonwealth also places on the States the responsibility for looking after mental patients. The Minister overlooks the fact that a Labbour Government provided free public ward treatment to everybody, without a means test. That benefit was abolished by this Government. The first government to provide free medical treatment for pensioners was a Labour government. That treatment was provided despite sabotage by certain people. The Minister has conveniently overlooked these matters. This Government will be remembered not for the things it has done in the field of social services but for the things it has failed to do.
The Bill deals with a few matters but the major aspects of social services are forgotten. I submit on behalf of the Opposition the point of view that I have expressed in the hope that the Government will realise what is needed to attend to the great problem of poverty in this country and that it will take appropriate action, even under this Minister. This legislation is remarkable not for what it does but for what it fails to do. The pompous pronouncements of the Minister cannot disguise the fact that the Government’s social security policy has failed to meet the needs of the people. The Government cannot eliminate from our minds the knowledge that countless thousands are living in a state of poverty. The legislation docs nothing to dispel the belief that a new dynamic approach to social security is necessary today. It should never bc forgotten that the foundation of our social security programme was laid by a Labour Government between 1943 and 1949 in the face of opposition from the Liberal and Country Parties. It should never be forgotten also that people of the same political ilk as those who sit opposite, whether they be in this country or in any other country, have never been. prepared to abolish a system of social security once it has been introduced by a Labour Government.
The amendment indicates Labour’s demand for a new approach to the needs of the aged. It indicates our demand for a realisation of our obligations to the aged. It indicates to the Australian people that Labour, when next in office, will give to all people that which is denied to them today by this Government - social and economic security.
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
.- It is always a pity when listening to a speech that has a good deal of merit, as had the speech we have just heard from the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), to find it so interspersed and distorted by exaggeration, overstatement and, one would feel, irresponsibility. Let me refer to one or two aspects of the speech which fall under the heading of irresponsibility. Later 1 will refer in a less critical way to some of the other matters raised by the honorable member.
Let me point first, while they are still fresh in our minds, to some of the things the honorable member said and to which I refer as overstatements and irresponsible exaggerations. The statement, which the honorable member made twice, that the legislation now before the House means no progress at all in the field of social services is one example of the kind of thing that rises to a crescendo in the allegation that countless thousands of people in Australia are living in poverty. I know that people in Australia are living in poverty. Some people are living in poverty in any country one likes to name. The honorable member enlarged on his statement by saying that Australia lags a long way behind other countries in the field of social services. That was a most interesting claim. I think he mentioned 14 other nations which spend more on social services than does Australia. Is that a fair way of looking at the situation? In many of the countries to which the honorable member referred there are countless thousands - countless tens of thousands - who would gladly migrate to Australia. The honorable member knows that day after day relatives of people in those countries clamour at his door seeking assistance for members of their families to come to this country so benighted and impoverished in the view of the honorable member. People in the countries to which he referred want to come to Australia not because of the amount that we spend on social services but because of the standard of living in this country and the fact that here there are tremendous employment possibilities. Today in Australia we have a situation of almost over-employment.
Australia is one country in which the average age of the population is tending to decrease. This contrasts with the position in some of the countries mentioned by the honorable member, where the population is an ageing one and where opportunities for growth and advancement are nowhere nearly as great as those to be enjoyed in Australia. It is totally misleading for the honorable member to paint the picture of Australia lagging behind the rest of the world in the field of social services or to suggest that countless thousands of people in this country are unemployed or living in poverty. In view of his experiences he surely must be aware that Australia is one of the favoured countries.
It is unfortunate that the honorable member should have dwelt on these aspects because there was in his speech a great deal to which every thinking person in Australia must pay due regard. Events are moving rapidly today and we must continually bring a new approach to many problems that arise. Let me deal with some of the remarks made by the honorable member which, in my opinion, tended to downgrade his case. Referring to payments provided under this legislation he said: “ If it were not for a pending Senate election there would be no increase in age or widows’ pensions “.
– Hear, hear!
– Perhaps the honorable member who interjected also cannot understand why a Government would honour its election promise. This is the significant and real reason why this legislation has been introduced at this juncture: The Government is honouring the undertaking that it gave on the hustings.
A good deal was said by the honorable member for Grayndler about the operative date of the increased pensions and about retrospective payment. I understand from those who are more aware of parliamentary history than I am that this comes from a rather dog-eared, twelve-year-old set of notes that has been used, year in and year out, by the honorable member for Grayndler. It was culled in the first place from arguments used by members of the present Government parties when they were in Opposition, because this is the kind of criticism an Opposition makes of a Government every time legislation such as this is brought down.
Another very important matter which has frequently been debated at great length in this House is the idea of paying a higher pension to single persons who pay rent or rates. The honorable member for Grayndler referred to this benefit, as others have done, as a kind of penalty on the sanctity of marriage. He, like the others, took the obverse view, the negative view, of the whole picture and spoke of the differential rates as a penalty imposed upon a person for being married rather than as a recognition by the Government of the hardship suffered by a marriage partner who is suddenly bereaved and is faced with the prospect of having his or her income sliced in half. In the context of all that has been said about the hardships of pensioners - I am aware of many of those hardships - is it reasonable to argue that the Government should not take action such as this to ease the tremendous burden imposed upon a single person, especially a woman who is living alone in a house and is faced with the additional expense of employing men to do the household jobs that have to be done by men?
I have an intimate knowledge of the incomes of one or two pensioner couples and I know their reaction to the question whether they would like to see their income exactly halved if one of them were to die. I do not believe that it is fair or reasonable to criticise differing rates as being a diminution of the payment to a married couple whereas, in fact, it is an additional payment to a single person or a person who is bereaved and is living alone.
The honorable member for Grayndler then turned his attention to the references made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in his second reading speech to the means test. I shall speak a little more fully about the means test in a moment, but, let us see again how exaggerated was the honorable member’s language. He said that the Government had abandoned its policy of the abolition of the means test. Indeed, he asserted that he understood the Minister’s second reading speech to be a proclamation that this Government has departed from one of its earlier statements of policy, namely, that it would work towards the complete abolition of the means test. But what did the Minister say? First of all, he pointed out that there had been a progressive liberalisation of the means test over the years. He dwelt at some length on that’ point, and this again, of course, was deplored by the honorable member for Grayndler who himself spoke, I think, for a full 42 minutes. Whatever the time was, it was very close to that taken by the Minister, but the Minister packed about four times as much material into his speech as did the honorable member for Grayndler.
After pointing out that in his judgment the complete abolition of the means test would cost between £150 million and £160 million, the Minister said -
Having regard to what I have said, it should be abundantly clear that such huge additional expenditure is out of the question . . .
Then he added these very important words - at the present time.
How the honorable member for Grayndler can say that the Government is abandoning its policy when the Minister has merely pointed out that abolition of tha means test is out of the question at the present time, I fail to see. Surely the
Minister’s use of the words “ at the present time “ clearly indicates that the ultimate abolition of the means test is very largely in the Government’s mind and that it is a very lively and ever present question. I trust that as I go on I shall be able to show that it is a question which should always be in the mind of any government when it is considering the social conditions of the people in this part of the twentieth century.
I shall attempt to make clear the changing role of pensions in society today. Over the years, we have seen changes take place in what might be called the social consciousness of this nation and of other nations. We know, for instance, of the change in the view taken by society of mental illness. There was a time when epilepsy was looked upon as a stigma. Today it is regarded, quite properly, as one of those very grave illnesses which should be looked upon in every respect as on a par with any other form of physical disability. A change is taking place, too, with regard to pensions. There are those of us who remember the attitude of our parents who regarded the acceptance of the age pension or similar benefit as being a slight on one’s character or social standing. That view is taken no longer. There has been a rapid change in outlook. A pension is no longer regarded as an emergency grant to the incompetent, the unfortunate, the prodigal or the ne’erdo.well. Today there is no suggestion behind the offering or accepting of the age pension that a person has done less than he was expected to do by society. Indeed, I might point out that in one sphere with which I am somewhat familiar, there is a whole category of persons who I think can quite properly claim some respect in the community. I refer to the members of the ministry of the Christian Church. It is regarded now as an acceptable practice for the superannuation plans of the various churches to provide a house and such additional means as will enable a minister to retire on the age pension. This is surely a very different attitude from that adopted at one time, and to my mind it clearly indicates the change that has come over the thinking of people about the place of the pension in society.
Indeed, one might say that the place of the pension is rapidly approaching the place of superannuation in our ordinary experience. Unfortunately, there are even some areas where there is some misconception arising out of the interchangeability of the words “ pension “ and “ superannuation “. Pensions are payable to all public servants - yes, even to the judiciary, to whom I thought the honorable member for Grayndler referred very slightingly in the course of his remarks. These are pensions paid under a superannuation plan. Unfortunately, when it comes to the pensions paid to members of Parliament, it is not very often that one reads the fair comment that parliamentary pensions are not pensions in the social service sense but are purely and simply superannuation benefits which are paid for by the members themselves in the same way as the contributors to other superannuation schemes pay for their pensions. However, that is merely an aside. The point that I wish to establish is that in society today, social service pensions are surely coming close to the concept of superannuation on a national scale.
In my view, there are two major reasons why pensions have become an indispensable part of society as we know it today. The first of these relates to the factor of progressive inflation. Only yesterday three or four of my constituents came to my home to see me and to talk about this very point. They are very dignified and well educated people who have a background of which they should be and are proud. They are forced to accept age pensions because, although the money which they had saved might have kept them under the cost structure existing at the time when they saved it, the depreciation in the value of money resulting from the progressive inflation which has taken place and which is now almost universally accepted as desirable in a growing economy, has so reduced the value of their savings that they have now reached the point where they desperately need additional income. So, inflation is one of the reasons why pensions are more and more in our consideration year by year and will continue to be so, whatever colour a government may be.
A moment’s reflection will indicate that another reason for the growing importance of pensions is the cost of complicated modern life, with all the paraphernalia that is part of our standard of living. These are the days when a refrigerator, a telephone, a washing machine and a television set are no longer luxuries but necessities in most homes. In some instances, certainly in the area in which I live in New South Wales, if families are to travel at all they must travel in their own car. These items are needed; they are no longer luxuries. Indeed, some of them are of the very stuff of people’s existence. I could go on to add to the list the differing attitude that we have to medicine and education and to the number of ways expenditure has changed in the upkeep of a family from the days of our parents and our grandparents. We have come to rely on these items as the stuff of living, as I have called them. To deprive a person of them because they arc luxuries or are not held to be necessary is to take content out of that person’s life. If people are to have these goods, and in this very expensive and progressing modern world in which we are living the number of items needed is increasing year by year, the savings of the past are all the more hopelessly inadequate.
I suggest to the House that we are concurrently in a very difficult situation because we are in a halfway house. I believe that the means test should be abolished. At the moment the means test results in many sections of our community being placed under an unfair disadvantage. An undesirable penalty is placed on financial responsibility. This leads many decent people to act as they would never have dreamed of acting in their lives before and in sheer desperation to adopt methods that would enable them to qualify under the means test. The Minister referred to this problem in his secondreading speech. Often the people who clamour for the abolition of the means test have no real concept of what it would cost to those in the community who are least able to afford it. This is an illogical clamour. Surely if the means test were liberalised those who would most suffer are those who now receive the full pension. These people must look forward to a future with fewer and smaller increases in the pension rate as the whole spectrum is spread more widely over the community. Therefore, we must take a responsible attitude to the question of abolishing the means test. Whilst we may rebel when we think of the penalty imposed on thrift in some areas, we must balance this against the need of persons in other sectors, for to increase the number of pensioners must surely decrease the amount of pie that can be divided amongst the whole.
I believe that the means test should be abolished as speedily as it is humanly possible to do so, and 1 say this with a complete openness about the matters I have mentioned, such as the inevitable cost to the taxpayer. I believe personally that a start could be made and should be made, with those who have reached the age of 70 years, shall we say. Then a person who has saved during his lifetime and has gathered together the means to face the future for a few years would be able to carry on supporting himself to the age of 70 years without the fear all the time that somehow he would fall between two stools in those much more advanced years when he is least able to withstand pressure.
Will the abolition of the means test cost as much as has been suggested? I believe that there would be a high rate of recovery in terms of taxation, if the pension were paid to the more well-to-do persons. Additionally, in the present situation in which Australia is placed, great advantage would derive from the encouragement to save that would flow from a more liberal view of the means test. We have a clamour for more and more employees and if we do more about calling people into the Services the situation will become increasingly acute in the nation, overfull employment will result and we will face real probems that will arise from payments above the basic wage or above the prescribed award rate. In a situation where there is a clamour and a competition for labour, the encouragement of people to retire later could be a decided advantage. People could contribute to the community to the full extent that they are able.
Whilst I say all this about the means test, I believe it would be completely wrong and unfair, and indeed a distortion of the situation, to take the view that this Government has done nothing since it came to office to ease the means test. This admittedly is very much in the minds of honorable members on this side of the House. The record of the Government over the years shows that there has been very realistic thinking about this subject, and this has culminated in the merged means test. Meanwhile, of course, there are some areas to which we would draw attention. Some people in the community are hit harder than others are. I have already mentioned a service which is one of the necessities of modern living, particularly for the infirm, those who are shut in, and pensioners who are ill. I refer to the telephone I do not disguise my view - I am not ashamed of it - that whatever the cost there is a section of our community that ought to have the telephone. It ought to be made available to them at the least possible cost. If they must do without the telephone because they cannot meet the cost of it, some form of subsidy should be discovered somewhere to enable them to have this very important modern necessity.
Turning to the Bill and to the second reading speech of the Minister, I want to point out one or two areas in which in recent times the actions of the Government, having been roundly criticised by the Opposition, now appear in a somewhat different light. I refer first to child endowment. The Minister quite rightly pointed out with pride many of the areas in which this new legislation has brought increased benefits, particularly to pensioners with student children over the age of 16 years. I can remember, as we all can, an outcry from Opposition members about student teachers. We were told how parents of these children were deprived, as Opposition members put it, of this benefit because they intended to follow this important calling. We were told that they were being treated as though they were employees of the Department of Education. I wonder whether we will hear any more of this since the recent agitation for the payment of workers compensation to these students has been successful. Surely this is proof positive that these students are, in fact, employees. I for one was inclined to sympathise with the case put on their behalf, but there is a very definite contractual relationship between them and the Department of Education. I believe that this is just one more instance of unfair, overstated and exaggerated criticism for the sake of criticism. The extra cost to the nation of this particular benefit in 1964 will be in the region of £18 million.
The honorable member for Grayndler used statistics to try to make the point with which he opened that there had been no real progress at all in social services. Let us refer once again then to the figure that surely ought to be writ large over this whole debate. Mention has been made of the percentage of funds spend on social services. In the last full year in which the Australian Labour Party was in government, 40 per cent, of income from income tax and social service contributions was spent on social services. In this current financial year, the 40 per cent, will become 60 per cent. Of the amount that the Government receives in income tax and social service contributions, 60 per cent, will go in social service expenditure. This is an increase by 50 per cent, in 16 years.
There is another matter to which I think reference should be made, although time will not permit me to go into it in great detail. However, having in mind certain publicity recently disseminated regarding the plight of pensioners, I believe that in all fairness, and having in mind particularly certain things we have seen on television screens and certain references we have heard to the inhumanity of the Minister, the other side of the coin should be shown. I do not contend that the cases to which I shall refer are average cases but I believe that, in fairness, they should be considered in any discussion of the position of pensioners and, incidentally, that they must be considered in any discussion of the desirability of the abolition of the means test. Let us take one or two instances of single or widowed persons without children. If such a person has been thrifty and has accumulated property and is able eventually to retire, he may have, in addition to the house in which he is living, property to a total value of £5,140 and derive income from that property and still receive a pension. Such a person may have an income of £9 10s. a week.
– A part pension may be granted.
– Yes, a part pension is available. As the Minister told us, in the case of a married couple, both being pensioners, the disqualifying limit of income, where there is no affecting property, will be automatically lifted from £17 10s. to £18’ a week. This is considerably more than the basic wage. The disqualifying property limit, where there is no affecting income, will bc lifted from £9,500 to £9,760. The position is that you can still get some pension - you can still get some social service benefit - while you own a house valued at £9,760 in addition to your home, your car and the other things that you may possess. If in the case of a married couple one partner is not qualified for a pension, the upper limit of the combined income which would exclude the other partner from some pension will be raised from £18 10s. to £19 a week. In such cases the disqualifying property limit, where there is no affecting income, will be lifted from £10,020 to £10,280. These are, of course, matters that should be considered in any discussion of the means test. It must be remembered that in the case of a married couple, when one partner is not receiving a pension, it is possible for the couple to own their home and their possessions and to have another house valued at £10,280, and to receive an income from that house without incurring disqualification. They are able to receive in all up to £19 a week.
This, surely, is the other side of the coin. I admit that I have referred to some of the most favoured of pensioners under the Social Services Act, but I believe it is absolutely essential that we look at these cases as indicating that the Government is not quite as heartless as it has been sometimes depicted - dragging the nation down, allowing countless thousands to live in poverty and making no actual progress at all. The honorable member for Grayndler should not have made the statements that he did make about Australia and Australian conditions. He would have served us better by relating his remarks directly to some of the particular areas in which improvement is needed and is possible rather than trying to paint with a broad brush a picture which was surely exaggerated and overstated.
.- The tragedy of the speech to which the House has just listened is that it has been made by an honorable member who succeeded one in this House - I refer, of course, to Mjr. Monaghan - who was a vigorous fighter for the rights of pensioners. This afternoon we have heard a diatribe which even the honorable member’s own colleagues would have found difficult to understand and comprehend. The problem for us to try and solve is why the honorable member’s speech was made. I think it is fair to say that the proposition put forward by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) on behalf of the Opposition was worthy of some serious comment. After all, what he suggested was that it is our opinion that the rates of pension for the aged, invalids and widows, and rates of maternity allowance, child endowment, sickness, unemployment and funeral benefits, are completely inadequate. In the half hour in which the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay) spoke he failed to slate where he stands on these issues. Is he prepared to interject at this moment and say that these allowances to which I have referred are adequate? Is he satisfied with them? It is significant that he avoided, in a calculated way, any mention of the proposition put forward by the Opposition. It has also been contended that there should be a review of all social service benefits, that a base rate pension should be established and supplementary assistance given for special needs. Where does the honorable member stand on these matters? After all, if we are to have intelligent debates in this House we expect from honorable members on the Government side a realistic approach to the Opposition’s point of view.
There were many other aspects of tha honorable member’s speech about which I could comment, but if I were to do so I would not have the time to put forward any positive propositions of my own. However, one of the last points made by the honorable member related to student endowment. I was staggered to note that he was concerned about the fact that provision has been made for workers compensation for people who are bonded students of the various education departments in the States. I would have thought that in this year of grace, 1964, this proposition would have been conceded even by the honorable member for Evans. I do not know whether he is aware that at the last election a bald statement was made by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) that student endowment would be granted in respect of any student over 16 years of age engaged in full time education. There was no qualification about it. All students between the ages of 16 and 21 years, if engaged in full time education, were to get it. But the fact is - and this has been revealed to the concern of many Australian families, let me assure the honorable member, and many living in the electorate of Evans - that there was a confidence trick involved in this proposition. Approximately 20,000 students are excluded from this benefit at present because it is said that they are bonded to the education departments of the various States - as if that means anything. The only way in which students can receive training as teachers is to bc banded in this way. i Dr. Mackay. - Now tell us their income.
– It would interest the honorable member to know that their income is in the vicinity of £5 a week, and it might also interest him to know that students getting their education by means of Commonwealth scholarships and who receive a great deal more than £5 a week in income are able to obtain student endowment. This is an issue on which the honorable member takes an alarming point of view. In fact, throughout his speech he seems to show a two bob each way complex about a Budget with a five bob complex. This Bill contains a couple of provisions for increases of 5s. a week for various categories of pensioners. This, in fact, is what the Bill is all about. This Government has a five bob complex, but the honorable member for Evans has a two bob each way complex. He mentions a number of things critically. He even speaks critically of the Government. But we would like to know what he does about improving the situation when he gets into the party room. Does he take the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is now sitting at the table, to task? Does he call him a humbug? Does he realise that the Minister represents a very substantial barrier in the path of progress for pensioners. It is not good enough merely to speak of the need to ease the means test and hope that pensions may improve in the future. The honorable members should be prepared to do something more effective in his party room and on the floor of this Parliament than he has done this afternoon.
Let us look at the provisions that are being debated at the present time. All of us would have expected that something more substantial would have resulted from the 1964-65 Budget because the preliminary remarks made by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget Speech were designed to give a glowing account of this nation’s prosperous condition. Some fortuitous circumstances have descended upon the people of Australia. We hear talk about our exports being high, our overseas reserves being at an unprecedented level and even budgeting for a surplus. In every respect, according to the Government, things look pretty good. In addition, last year 270,000 pensioners were denied any increase at all; the only increase given was to single pensioners. So it is with some concern that on the occasion of the presentation of this Budget we see the Government making provisions that are paltry in their perspective and pathetic in their pre-occupation with the status quo.
There seems to be an attitude of from him to whom it is given it shall be taken away. There is no question about that. The 5s. which has been given to age, invalid and widow pensioners, in fact is taken away before it is given. A short time ago the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ conducted a Press campaign on the need for increased pensions, with the object of encouraging the Government to do something worthwhile in this direction. Honorable members will recall the barrage of correspondence that resulted. In the course of that correspondence this point was made: That the quarterly adjustments of the basic wage had resulted in very substantial increases in the cost of living. Of course, in more recent times there has been an increase of £1 in the basic wage. It is a very conservative estimate to say that a substantial part of the pension has been whittled away. In fact, so much of the pension has been whittled away that the 5s. increase that has been given is useless on that count alone.
But many other things are happening in the community. There are the savage increases in telephone charges, to which the honorable member for Evans referred. He criticised them. But has he done anything about providing foc a rebate for pensioners, especially those who require telephones for medical reasons? I see many hundreds of such pensioners every month. They come to my office as I suppose they come to the office of every Labour parliamentarian. They complain very bitterly that as a result of the Budget they will have to have their telephone services terminated. Then there are increases in sales tax on some commodities and an increase in the excise on cigarettes. Pensioners are entitled to these commodities. An occasional smoke is not a luxury for someone who has given a lifetime of employment to this country.
One way and another, there has been a very serious deterioration of pension standards. I have in my hand at the moment a little booklet which indicates some of the provisions which State Governments, State instrumentalities and local government bodies make for pensioners. These provisions are designed to make up for the deficiencies of the pension. For example, some States give a heating allowance which enables pensioners to buy coal Or to burn radiators.
– That is in Tasmania.
– Yes. As the honorable member for Wilmot has indicated by interjection, the Tasmanian Government does a pretty good job in this regard. There is a hydro-electric allowance which is designed to assist pensioners to meet the cost of electricity. It is realised that pensioners cannot pay the same amounts as can other people in the community. Train and bus fare concessions are provided by a number of governments. Some Liberal governments do not give these concessions. Tasmania shines again with a unique provision in respect of the cost of removal and cartage of household furniture when a pensioner has to move.
The funeral expenses of destitute persons arc paid by the Tasmanian Government. I know that the Commonwealth pays £10 towards the funeral expenses of a pensioner, but that amount is just peanuts compared with the cost of a funeral, which often is in the vicinity of £70 or £80. So the Tasmanian Labour Government even has to bear the expense of burying a pensioner. Special surgical appliances, such as artificial limbs, are provided. There are land tax exemptions for certain people. Homes for elderly persons are provided by State housing authorities. As honorable members know, State Governments are dented the benefits of the Aged Persons Homes Act.
In my home State of New South Wales, the State Government makes provision for spectacles, dentures and dental treatment for pensioners. Local government bodies have to come to the rescue by giving rates rebates because the pension is so miserable. Of course, not all local government bodies give these rebates.
– Only the Labour ones.
– Only some of them, such as those in which there is a very strong Labour influence, as the honorable member for East Sydney says, give them.
-. - That is not so in South Australia.
– I am not sure that local government bodies in South Australia give rates rebates to pensioners. I doubt whether the honorable member for Angas would be very interested in whether they do or not. The fact is that these rebates are necessary in New South Wales and in other States because of the inadequacy of the pension, and the cost of them has to be borne by other ratepayers.
We also have schemes such as meals on wheels. The situation is pathetic; but the Minister for Social Services sits at the table with a smirk on his face when I point out that it is necessary for volunteers to give up their time so that pensioners, many of whom are invalids, can be given a meal which they would not be able to buy for themselves. It is not uncommon in most of the capital cities of Australia to see ambulance drivers on street corners, shaking collection boxes, running chocolate wheels and selling lucky numbers. The reason they do that is so that pensioners who cannot pay for ambulance services may receive some assistance. This is the state of the pensioner community in Australia at the present time.
The Government has fallen down on the job to a dramatic extent. What the honorable member for Grayndler said a short time ago was not an exaggeration, as the honorable member for Evans claimed. It was nothing like an exaggeration. The honorable member for Grayndler quoted figures, and I could quote many others to indicate that Australia’s expenditure on social services, as a proportion of the gross national product, is down to an infinitesimal level compared with the figures for many countries which are not usually regarded as prosperous in comparison with Australia.
I want to refer to some of the anomalies that exist at present. I understand that at the end of June 1963 there were 711,000 pensioners in our community. They are a very important section of the community. It is an unfortunate fact that they are paid discriminatory rates of pension and they live at varying levels. The amount that they receive is dependent on whether they are single or married. It is important to realise that the bulk of pensioners have no income other than the pension; so the pension is a very important consideration. About 68 per cent, of pensioners have no income at all apart from the pension; 78 per cent, have an income of no more than £1 a week in addition to the pension.
Is the Minister for Social Services proud of the fact that in 1964 the married rate pension represents a smaller proportion of average weekly earnings than it represented in bygone years? He has prated and prattled away about the accomplishments of this Government. He has indicated that this Government has a philanthropic attitude on pensions. Does he realise that, from the standpoint of purchasing power and the relationship between the pension and incomes received by people other than pensioners, the present position is worse than it was many years ago? These are not my contentions; they have emanated from the Minister himself. It must have been a shocking realisation for him not so long ago - I think it was on 11th August this year - when he was obliged to answer a question that I placed on the notice paper. . This can be observed by any honorable member who turns to page 107 of “Hansard”. It will be seen at that page that in March 1964 - this was the period that was referred to by the Minister in answering the question - ‘the pension was 21.7 per cent, of average male earnings. In 1962 it was 21.7 per cent. also. In 1958 it was 22 per cent., and in 1949 it was 22.9 per cent. It was the same in 1947, and in 1946 it was 23.2 per cent. This was soon after the end of the war, when the resources of this country were being deployed for the preservation of Australia, yet wc were then paying a higher proportion than we pay in 1964. I want the Minister to realise that when Labour was last in office it never contended that we had reached the pinnacle, the ultimate, the zenith of our aspirations in the field of social services; wc were in the process of providing people with a genuine degree of social security. As the years went by, obviously we would have provided more had we been given the opportunity.
The standard rate pension, which was £5 15s. and has now been increased to £6, also represents a smaller percentage of average male earnings than in previous years. But this is the standard rate and, of course, the married rate is a sub-standard rate. A lesser amount is paid to married pensioners. So there is nothing to crow about. Things are pretty grim for the pensioner community. Pensioners have less purchasing power today than they had in bygone times, and this Bill perpetuates the iniquitous penalty on marriage about which we have complained for so long. The new standard rate of £6 is paid to single pensioners only. That rate is paid even to a single pensioner who has assets worth £2,020 and an income of £3 10s. a week apart from pension. But a married pensioner receives only £5 10s. even if he has no assets and so separate income. This is very difficult for anyone to comprehend.
We on this side of the House commend the concept of a standard rate pension, but we claim that the standard rate should be the base rate only. It should be an income which will provide a real living, and the Government should define such an income. It should be prepared to say what it considers to be a reasonable amount for anyone to receive. But this has not been done. We believe that the standard rate pension should be a genuine concession to the dignity of human beings and a recognition of their rights. We believe also that there should be supplementary provisions for special needs. The Government should immediately raise all pensions- every one of them, without exception - to the standard rate and should supplement the pension in respect of the special needs that any pensioner may have.
Why is the criterion whether a pensioner is married or single? Does this make any sense? If two sisters live together in one house, is it reasonable to contend that they are living at a dearer rate than a married couple who may live next door? Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to answer that. Of course, if an unmarried pensioner lives in an aged persons’ home collectively with many other people, is it not reasonable to assume that he may be living at a cheaper cost than are married pensioners who are living together? This is one of the motivations of the aged persons’ home concept. It seems to me that the Government has made a serious mistake in distinguishing between single and married pensioners. Obviously the criterion should be whether or not people are living alone, not whether they are married. There is a case to be made out for people who are living alone, for example, if one pensioner is bearing the maintenance cost of a home or paying the rent of a home, paying electricity, the minimum water rates and things of this kind. Unless the Minister is prepared at some appropriate time to give some answer to these arguments that are constantly being put forward by the Opposition he should be big enough to do something about the anomalies at the first opportunity.
I ask the Minister: What is the Government’s conception of a living income? Is it £6 a week, which is the amount paid to single pensioners? Is this what the Government contends to be a reasonable amount upon which people can live? Or is it the £4 2s. 6d. paid to single unemployed people or those in receipt of the sickness benefit? Which is it? The Minister can take his pick. Is it £6 a week, which is the amount paid to the single pensioner, or £4 2s. 6d., which is paid to recipients of the unemployment benefit? After all, the unemployed have the same needs. Surely this must be conceded. In fact, it may be fair to say that people who are receiving the sickness benefit have greater needs than other social service recipients. They may be paying for medicines, treatment and so on. Is a reasonable living income the £3 a week that this Government pays to the wife of an invalid pensioner? Is the wife of an invalid pensioner capable of living on any less than a woman pensioner who is also the wife of a pensioner? Of course not. You cannot discriminate against the needs of people in this way.
– She cannot go to work.
– After all, as the honorable member for Grayndler has implied, if a woman is receiving an allowance of £3 a week it is only because it is necessary for her to stay at home to care for her pensioner husband who, in any case, receives only £5 10s. a week, which is the married rate. It is my belief that the pensioner husband should receive at least the standard rate of £6 a week.
Perhaps the reasonable living income is £7 12s. 6d. a week, which is the amount paid to single tuberculosis sufferers. The married tuberculosis sufferer receives £12 12s. 6d. a week. How does the Minister justify this in the face of the amounts paid to pensioner couples Do we pay more to tuberculosis sufferers because fewer people are involved? A single person suffering from tuberculosis receives £7 12s. 6d. a week, but if he suffered from any other complaint he would receive only £4 2s. 6d. a week. If the tuberculosis sufferer is married he receives £12 12s. 6d. a week, but if suffering from any other complaint he would receive not £12 12s. 6d. but only £7 12s. 6d. a week. What is this reasonable living income? Why does not the Government attempt to lift its comprehension so that it can concede that everyone is entitled to a decent living income? Is a reasonable living income the £5 7s. 6d. paid to B class widows, who are widows aged 50 years or more? These are matters about which we have the right to expect some comment from the Minister.
Some brief mention has been made by the honorable member for Grayndler of the pensioner medical service, and I want to mention it again because there is no question that this anomaly in our social service arrangements should be overhauled with the least possible delay. Before 1955 every pensioner was entitled to the pensioner medical service, which provided a very reasonable degree of social security since it provided free hospitalisation, medicine and pharmaceutical supplies. However, in 1955 this Government introduced a means test within a means test, and every honorable member knows the effect of that. There is now an income barrier of £2 a week. Even though pensioners are allowed to receive an income of £3 10s. a week and still receive a full pension, if they receive more than £2 a week they are denied eligibility for the pensioner medical service.
The income test that is applied to the pensioner medical service is quite unaccountable, because assets are not considered.
For instance, a pensioner may have £2,020 in the bank and still receive free treatment under the pensioner medical service, but if he receives £2’ ls. a week in income apart from pension he is not entitled to the service - unless he was receiving the benefits of the service before 19S5, in which case he continues to receive them. A pensioner who has been entitled to the benefits of the service because his income was below £2 will continue to be entitled to the service regardless of any increase in income. What an absurd situation this is. The Government should face up to this matter, because it is a subject about which it has received solid pressure from the pensioner community, who make Canberra their mecca every year. How pathetic it is to see these people spending their meagre income on a pilgrimage to Canberra. Very often they do not even see the Minister. Certainly very few of them would manage to see him. One or two of their representatives, perhaps.
– It is not true.
– If it is not true I apologise to the Minister. The fact is that the bulk of these people never see the Minister, nor do they see any Government members because they go helter skelter from King’s Hall as soon as the representatives of the pensioner community arrive. That is the fact of the matter.
One matter pensioners are concerned about is the pensioner medical service. In 1955 this Government invoked a barrier of £2. Surely it should have some regard for the fact that £2 is worth nothing near as much in 1964 as it was in 1955. There is a great need to overtake this gap. Why, when all is said and done, in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and a number of other countries everybody receives something in the nature of a pensioner medical service, not just the pensioners. This is the new 1964 concept. We ask the Minister to lift his vision a bit in respect of these things. Every citizen is entitled to what we are asking for in regard to our aged and invalid pension community.
I want to make a brief passing reference to the fact that this Government is still standing idly by - particularly the Minister at the table - in regard to a matter which to me represents the worst possible pro vision enacted by any parliament. The astounding fact is that age and invalid pen.sioners, and widows as well, who have the misfortune to be admitted to State mental institutions are automatically deprived of their pensions. In answer to a question almost a year ago the Minister indicated to me that over the last six years no less than 7,656 people had lost their pensions because of this misfortune. This cannot be justified. I ask that special consideration be given to this matter.
Before resuming my seat I want to mention a problem which concerns only a few people but, despite that, it is worth consideration. I refer to those .people who find it necessary to leave Australia and live permanently in some other country. They are not permitted to continue to receive an Australian pension. I have established that many countries pay pensions to recipients who find it necessary to go overseas. There are many people in Australia from Great Britain who still receive their pension. Such is the case in Italy, the Netherlands and Greece. I had occasion recently to mention to the Minister a problem which concerns a pensioner in my community Who is affected toy this problem. Her son and daughter are in the United States of America and she considers it reasonable that she should be permitted to continue receiving her pension when she takes up residence in the U.S.A., just as an American citizen has the right to receive his pension while in Australia. There is no reason why this right could not be conceded. It is conceded by the Government of the U.S.A. where the same problems prevail as in Australia. I ask the Minister to reconsider that matter.
My time has practically gone. I ask that the several matters I have raised might be the subject of some reasonable comment by the Minister when we get to the Committee stage. The increases provided for in this social service bill under review now are not sufficient to enable our pensioner community to live even at the standard it enjoyed in 1963. The sooner the need for a decent living wage for every Australian citizen is conceded by the Government the sooner the Minister - and, indeed, the Government he represents - will be able to hold his head high, because this would be the realization of the aspiration of every Australian.
.- The Bill now before the House is another step in the outstanding record of this Government in providing social security. Provision of social security is a dynamic thing. It moves from time to time according to the circumstances. The Menzies Government, since it came into office in December 1949, has continually improved rates and conditions for age pensioners, invalid pensioners and others receiving social service benefits. In 1949, after the Australian Labour Party had been in office for eight years, the pension rate was £2 2s. 6d. a week. Under this Bill it will be £6 a week. In 1949 the age pension represented 33 per cent, of the basic wage. When this Bill is passed, for single people - or where there is only one pension coming into the home - it will be 39 per cent, of the basic wage; and in the case of a married couple it will be 35.7 per cent, of the basic wage compared with 33 per cent, under Labour.
The speech we have just heard by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) must have made: that distinguished Australian William Morris Hughes turn in his grave. Above all things William Morris Hughes was a realist. He liked facts and he liked to deal with facts. The speech made by the honorable member for Hughes was far from the facts. There were so many inaccuracies in his speech that it would take me the whole of my time to correct them, and I do not propose to do so. I will deal with just one of his statements. He said the pensioners today have less purchasing power. That just is not true. It is completely false. I have already given the figures and they show that the pension in 1949 was £2 2s. 6d. If you adjust the rate according to the cost of living index the pension of today for a single person, as provided for under this Bill, is £1 15s. 8d. higher than it was in 1949. If you examine the rate for a married couple it is £1 5s. 8d. higher after all adjustments have been made according to the cost of living index. For the honorable member for Hughes to say that pensioners have no purchasing power is a cruel and untrue statement.
– You ask them.
– It does not matter whether you ask them or not. False statements like the one made by the honorable member for Hughes are cruel.
– Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I wish to take a point of order. The honorable member for Sturt has just contended that the statement I made was untrue. I ask that he be made to retract that statement.
– The statement is untrue and I will prove it is untrue.
– The statement is personally offensive to me, especially as I quoted the figures provided by the Minister for Social Services, and I ask the honorable member to retract the statement he has just made.
– (Mr. Peters). - I ask the honorable member for Sturt to withdraw the statement to which the honorable member for Hughes objects.
– If it is your wish, I withdraw it. But when he has said something that is entirely inaccurate he should be the one to get up and apologise to this House for making such a statement. I repeat, Sir, that the honorable member for Hughes stated that pensioners today have less purchasing power than they had in 1949. That statement is completely inaccurate, as I have shown by reference to figures cited by the Minister for Social Services in his second reading speech. The Minister pointed out that the rate of £2 2s. 6d. a week paid by Labour in 1949, adjusted in accordance with the consumer price index, would be £1 15s. 8d. a week below the proposed standard rate of pension for a single person and £1 5s. 8d. a week below the proposed rate for a married pensioner. So I suggest that the honorable member for Hughes should have his facts straight instead of making statements that are cruel and misleading to people listening, many of whom, because of his incorrect assertions, will believe that they are not getting a fair deal or not getting justice.
The Minister pointed out that 87 per cent, of all pensioners have a pensioner medical card, leaving only 13 per cent, of the total without the benefit of the pensioner medical service. These comprise a relatively small but nonetheless important group of people. Honorable members opposite should not suggest to the public that only a small proportion of pensioners receive the benefit of a pensioner medical card. I have continually made representations in this House for the granting of a pensioner medical card to all pensioners, because I believe that we have no room for privileged classes in a country like Australia, Sir. I believe that all pensioners, being on the same income, should receive a pensioner medical card. Not all receive a card today, lt depends on the date on which a particular pensioner first received a pension. Though I believe that all pensioners should be given a pensioner medical card, I do not believe that the present situation is as alarming as some people represent it to be, for, as I have pointed out, only 13 per cent, of all pensioners have not at present a pensioner medical card. Nevertheless, I hope that, as a continuation of the outstanding reforms that have been made by this Government in recent years, we shall see placed on the statute book before many years have passed a measure providing that all age and invalid pensioners shall receive a pensioner medical card.
The Minister for Social Services mentioned the very substantial improvements in child endowment that were made last year. He pointed out that they have benefited 900,000 children under 16 in 500,000 families with three or more children, together with an additional 120,000 student children. Honorable members will notice that the amending measure of last year provided that child endowment be paid in respect of student children until the age of 21. In the previous year, the Government made a very valuable reform by providing an allowance for children of age and invalid pensioners undergoing full time education. In that instance, however, the benefit ends when the child attains the age of 18. I suggest that this is a quite glaring anomaly. Endowment is paid until the age of 21 in respect of a student child but the allowance paid in respect of a student child of an age or invalid pensioner - this is not the endowment itself - cuts out at the age of 18. This anomaly has crept into the legislation as a result of two magnificent im provements made by this Government in recent years. I appeal to the Government to remove the anomaly by ensuring that ia each instance the payment continues until the age of 21.
The Minister pointed out that the additional benefits provided for last financial year will cost about £35 million this financial year. It is quite easy for honorable members to say that the Government should do this or that. But we must realise that the cost of every benefit given has to be met out of tax revenue and that substantial reforms such as those made last financial year create a permanent charge against taxation of £35 million a year. I have always approached this problem from the standpoint of equity. I do not think it is right simply to look at one side of the problem. We have to realise that the cost of paying increased benefits can be met only by first levying higher taxes, and both basic wage earners and those who receive margins above the basic wage are taxed to meet the cost of the social services provided by the Commonwealth.
As a result of the recent increase, the basic wage has now reached £15 8s. a week, and basic wage earners are taxed so that we may pay age and invalid pensions to people who may have a total income of £18 a week. Can you justify taxing the basic wage earner more so that we may give the pensioner more, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker? Can that be justified on the grounds of equity? I believe that we must look to the preservation of equity in the relationship between those who receive benefits and those upon whom taxes are levied so that the cost may be met. As honorable members know, I have always consistently advocated improvements in social services for the people of Australia. But I have endeavoured also to maintain a balance and not to make airy-fairy suggestions that some should receive large handouts while others pay the cost. I believe that pension rates always must have a particular relationship to the basic wage and to the rates of tax levied on basic wage earners and those in receipt of margins above the basic wage. We must endeavour to achieve a fair balance by paying pensions at rates that are fair in relation to the basic wage and the incomes of others on whom taxes are levied.
The Minister, in his excellent survey of the social services legislation, discussed the claims made from time to time for the total abolition means tests. He estimates that if all means tests were abolished the cost to revenue would be something like £150 million or £160 million per annum. I do not think that anyone at any time has suggested the total abolition of all means tests. What has been suggested is that we should have national superannuation or national insurance free of means test instead of the present system of pensions based on need. Anybody introducing a scheme of national superannuation today would make the age of retiring limits realistic and not as they actually are - entirely out of reality. Today people .live so much longer than they did when the age pension was introduced in 1910.
– How do you work that out?
– Life expectancy has substantially increased as a result of medical science, and men and women now live considerably longer than they did in 1910. Therefore, in any national superannuation scheme a realistic age limit should be adopted for the means test. A few years ago 1 put forward a scheme for the abolition of the means test at the age of 70 and for the provision of a pension equivalent to the age pension to everybody above that age. Its cost could have been financed by a contribution of 4d. in the £1 of everybody’s income. Since then, the pension has increased considerably, but so has taxable income, and I venture to suggest that today, with a contribution of 4d. in the £1 on everybody’s income, we could abolish the means test at the age of 70, leaving the present pension subject to a means test below that age.
The greatest cost of the age pension is for women between the ages of 60 and 65, obviously for the reason that there are so many of them. The next greatest cost is for men and women between the ages of 65 and 70. I think it is recognised that most people under 70 are able to supplement their income in one way or another: Ever since I have been a member of this Parliament I have consistently advocated the introduction of national superannuation or national insurance. I still believe it is the only solution to this problem. It rs very much better that everybody should provide for their own old age than that people should have to provide for other people’s old age. I believe we can have national superannuation. Almost every civilised country in the world has national superannuation on a contributory basis. The United States of America has it on a basis whereby the contribution is in proportion to income and the retiring allowance is in proportion to the average wage during the five years prior to retiremen. Holland and Germany have national superannuation schemes free of means tests. I believe that we are standing outside modern thought in not introducing national superannuation in this country. We have national superannuation for the civil service. If it is right for civil servants to be compelled to contribute for their own old age why is it wrong for the general mass of the community?
I have heard it said that the contribution, if compulsory, would be regarded as a tax. I have never heard a civil servant say: “ I object to paying a contribution to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund, because it is a tax “. All the representations that are made to me are from civil servants asking whether they can make higher contributions so as to get higher benefits. We have a parliamentary superannuation scheme to which members contribute £5 or more a week. As a result of that they receive superannuation on their retirement. This is a compulsory contribution. If it is right to compel members of Parliament to do this, why is it wrong to compel the average member of the community? Although I appreciate the figures which the Minister has given - and I do not question them - I point out that I do not think anyone has suggested that in bringing in a national contributory superannuation plan we would be adopting all the features of a plan which, in many respects, has become outdated.
The Minister dealt also with the nursing home benefit. I believe this Government has done an outstanding job in the provision of homes for aged and sick people. For those aged people who are well enough to look after themselves, through the medium of the Aged Persons Homes Act churches and charitable institutions are building most magnificent flats and providing accommodation at very nominal rentals. From my experience of the workings of this scheme I believe it is adequately catering for the aged people who are able to look after themselves and who want accommodation. I believe that within the next ten years the churches and charitable institutions, having accepted the challenge offered to them under the Aged Persons Homes Act, will eventually catch up with their waiting lists of people seeking accommodation. It is true that at present they all have waiting lists, but I believe they are catching up.
When we come to the care of the aged sick - those who are not able to cope for themselves - we run into a much more difficult problem. The public hospitals will not have them because they cannot cure them. They say that the job of a hospital is to cure people and not to retain the aged sick and the dying sick. Private nursing homes very often will not keep them because they have nothing but the pension, and the pension will not meet the cost of maintaining them. Therefore it was with very great relief that we saw the Government applying a nursing home benefit of £1 a day or £7 a week for each of those patients in a private nursing home. So the nursing home today is able to receive a nursing home benefit of £7 a week and up to £6 a week from a patient’s pension, making a total of £13 a week. I am, however, informed by those running nursing homes that this still does not cover the cost of maintaining a patient. It is essential for the patrons and proprietors of nursing homes to collect additional fees sometimes from the patient, sometimes from the relatives and sometimes out of the estate of the patient. They point out that they cannot always do that and that in many cases they have to rest solely on the pcr.sion plus the nursing home benefit. I hope the Government will go carefully into this nursing home problem, because I believe the greatest need in the social service field today relates to the aged sick and the chronic sick. If we could provide churches and charitable organisations with a subsidy of £2 for £1 for the erection of modern nursing homes in the way that we subsidise the erection of homes for aged persons who ari well I think the homes could be operated at a cost of about £13 a week. I am informed by the nursing homes that I have visited that their greatest difficulty is maintenance due to the age of the buildings that they have acquired. In addition, mortgages, rates and taxes and repairs arc a burden to the organisations conducting these homes. If churches and charitable organisations could obtain the £2 for £1 subsidy, instead of taking over old buildings they could erect modern nursing homes and equip them with modern facilities and could conduct them with the nursing home benefit of £7 a week plus the age pension.
A number of my colleagues have referred to the charging of rentals for telephones used by blind persons. I too have mentioned this matter in the House many times. For the blind a telephone is the most valuable thing in life. It is their contact with the outer world. We should endeavour to ensure that lack of finance shall not be a bar to a blind person having a telephone. I believe that blind persons should have the highest priority in obtaining a telephone so that although they cannot see people in the outside world they may at least talk to them. I urge the Government to give consideration to this matter.
I congratulate the Government on its outstanding achievement in the field of social services, but I do not believe and never have believed that we can be smug or self complacent. We should never say that things are good enough when they always can be made better. Year by year since the Menzies Government came to power our social services have been improved. I know that year by year my colleagues and I will urge that our social services be still further improved. I think we have done the big things and the fundamental things, such as liberalisation of the means test to remove the penalty on thrift. This was effected by the institution of the merged means test. We removed the ceilings which prevented people from obtaining pensions when Labour was in office. We instituted the pensioner medical scheme and the Aged Persons Homes Act. We reduced the residential qualification from 20 years to 10 years. We provided pensions for Aborigines. All those things add up to a magnificent record of achievement over a period of years. I hope that the Government will continue its record of improvement.
I have indicated the nature of the reforms which I think are most urgent today - alterations to the pensioner medical scheme, more assistance for nursing homes for the aged sick and attention to the matter of telephone rentals paid by blind persons. Of course, there are other matters to which 1 could refer but time will not permit me to deal with them. I think we should heartily congratulate the Government on an outstanding achievement in the field of social services. I ask it to continue the good work.
.- I welcome the opportunity to support the amendment moved and so ably spoken to by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). Broadly speaking, by our amendment we say that social service payments generally are completely inadequate to meet even the reasonable needs of those people who have been obliged to apply for and who are now in receipt of social service benefits. We do not oppose the proposed increase because, after all, I suppose a very small and thin slice of bread is better than no bread at all; but we say quite definitely that the increase is far too small. We seek also a general review of all social services payments in an endeavour to ensure that recipients in all categories are paid amounts in keeping with today’s normal living standards. I think this is a reasonable proposition.
In introducing the Bill the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) said that it provided for a general increase in age, invalid and widows pensions. I suggest that the increase could better be described as miserable. The increase is a miserable 5s. a week or Sid. a day. One would have expected Government supporters to hang their heads in shame, but instead they give the impression that they are proud to be denying pensioners a reasonable standard of living. Many pensioners will continue to live under sub-standard conditions. In many cases pensioners will continue to have many more meal times than they have meals. The increase has not been extended far enough. It has been restricted to age, invalid and widows pensions. Many other matters which come within the scope of the Social Services Act have been completely ignored. I hope to have an opportunity to deal with some of them at a later stage.
To satisfy to some extent public thinking on this matter the Minister, as is usual, relied on the total amount paid from the National Welfare Fund, which, of course, must be very considerable and which must increase as time goes by. The fact that total payments from the National Welfare Fund have increased does not mean that individual recipients of social service benefits are getting a better deal or are receiving a more adequate pension. It may simply mean that today there are more pensioners. The really important issue is whether the pension or the combined pension and allowance is sufficient to meet the needs of the pensioner irrespective of his or her circumstances and whether other social services recipients are being paid amounts in keeping with today’s standards. It is also important to know whether the purchasing power of today’s payments matches the purchasing power of payments made when the respective benefits were first introduced. In particular in this respect I have in mind the maternity allowance and child endowment. The Minister and his Government seem completely to have ignored these important issues, and they point solely to the overall amount being paid out. If regard is paid solely to the overall amount paid out and if the circumstances of the pensioners are ignored completely we will never reach the situation of pensioners receiving a proper and adequate amount because, obviously, overall payments must increase due to the increase in the population and to other factors, particularly as they affect age pensioners.
In an article in the “ West Australian “ of 21st August 1963, economist John Eddy wrote -
More and more people are going on the age pension. This is a result of the high taxation policy of the past 20 years now beginning to show its long-term effects.
Some people may have gasped when they heard Federal Treasurer Harold Holt mention that 786,000 people were getting civil pensions.
For a country with a population of not quite 11,000,000 this number of pensioners seems astonishing.
High taxation leaves too little scope for many people to put money aside for a rainy day. So they come to rely on the welfare State.
The number of age pensioners has been rising steadily year by year.
The number of invalid pensioners (about 100,000) and widows (about 58,000) has shown only a gradual increase, in line with general population growth.
But the number of age pensioners has grown from 2.9 per cent, of the population in 1935 to 5.6 per cent, today.
The proportion of pensioners in the population has almost doubled since 1935. The article continues -
Since the 1954 census the number of age pensioners has increased from 397,000 to 607,000. This is not because of an aging population. Both in 1954 and 1961 the number of people of pensionable age was a steady 10.51 per cent, of total population. This is calculated on the number of males over 65 and females over 60. These added up to 944,701 people in 1954 and 1,104,291 in the 1961 census.
By about the middle of last year, age pensioners numbered 607,350, or approximately 557 to each 10,000 of population. In 1935, they numbered only approximately 293 to every 10,000 of population, which indicates that the number of age pensioners is increasing beyond what might normally be expected with our present rate of population growth. Another interesting point to bear in mind when considering the Minister’s remarks is the fact that if the trend of the past ten years continues then, even though the rate of pension remains steady at £6 a week, the overall payout by 1974 will be £80 million more than it is this year for age pensioners alone. Again, over the next ten years, even if the rates of such benefits as child endowment, unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and so on remain unchanged, the total payout from the National Welfare Fund will be £120 million more than it has been in the last ten years, lt will be seen, therefore, that the mere fact that the total overall payment from the fund has increased does not necessarily mean that the conditions and rates of pay of the pensioners have improved in any way at all, although, from the way in which the Minister spoke about this point, he would like us to think so. The fact that there has been an increase in the number of recipients is a very good reason why the whole matter should be reviewed in order to ensure that payments are adjusted to meet the needs of all beneficiaries and not just a few.
In addition to endeavouring to prop up a very poor Bill with statistics relating to the overall payout, the Minister went to great lengths to explain how much money or property a person could have and still be eligible for at least part of the pension.
Apparently he considered it to be a great achievement on the part of the Government that in certain circumstances after the passage of this Bill a married couple may have property worth £10,280 before becoming ineligible for any pension at all. Me also went to great pains to explain what permissible income a married couple may have in addition to their pension; but he was completely silent about the effect of superannuation on pensions. He did not tell us, for instance, that superannuation payments for which a pensioner contributed in his earlier years can lead to a reduction in his pension. Nor did he tell us that an increase in superannuation can often mean a reduction of pension by an amount equal to the amount of the increase, so that there is no improvement whatever in the pensioner’s position. He also neglected to mention that in most cases recipients of superannuation have contributed twice to receive one payment in return. In other words although they have contributed to both a superannuation fund and to the National Welfare Fund by way of the social services contribution, they receive only one payment back.
The Minister neglected to mention also the large number of pensioners who, because of age or physical disability, or because there are no avenues by which they can obtain additional income, are forced to live on the pension alone. In some cases, a pensioner who has only his pension to live on, is eligible for a supplementary allowance of 10s. a week, but this is payable only to a single pensioner who is paying rent. A married couple who are perhaps paying two or three times as much rent and who have no income or means other than the pension, receive no supplementary assistance.
When the new rates provided by the Bill become payable, a pensioner couple will receive a total of £11 a week between them. Out of that £11, they may have to pay 30s., £2, or even more each week by way of rent. They are faced with the prospect of having to try to exist on a miserable £9 a week, which is less than the daily allowance received by some people to meet extraordinary expenses. Surely the recipients of such allowances should have more consideration for the needs of pensioners who have to try to live on such a small amount.
If these people do have an understanding of the needs of pensioners, if they believe that the pensioners or at least some of them are receiving a rough deal, they will have the opportunity of demonstrating that by voting with the Opposition in support of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler. We are asking for a review of social service payments generally for the purpose of correcting the obvious and the not so obvious anomalies, and also to ensure that a decent living pension is paid to all. That is a fair enough proposition for anyone who considers that the present payments are inadequate or far too restrictive.
Every honorable member in this House will have the opportunity to support our amendment. Those who do not support it will prove by their failure to do so that hi their opinion all pensioners in all classes and in all circumstances, mothers who receive maternity allowances and child endowment, and the recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits should not receive any further consideration. I have said that every member in the House will have the opportunity to show where he stands, but that is not quite correct because, duc to the action of this Government, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) and the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), both of whom are members of the Opposition and both of whom fully support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler, will not be able to vote on it. All other honorable members will have the right to vote, and it will be interesting to see how many honorable members on the Government side really feel that the pensioners should receive some further consideration.
It is quite obvious that many pensioners suffer from lack of sufficient food and clothing. Instances of this can be seen everywhere. Each year in Western Australia a blanket appeal is held. It is an appeal to the general public to subscribe money for the purpose of purchasing and distributing blankets to needy pensioners prior to winter. But even though the people always subscribe very generously, we always find that there are many pensioners to whom we cannot supply blankets, despite their great need for them. This, of course, is only one of many appeals made on behalf of pensioners, but it proves conclusively that the present pension rates are not sufficient and that a general review of the position is warranted. Surely it should not be necessary for pensioners to lower their dignity to seek and rely on the generosity of the general public, the semi-government authorities and others to obtain what is actually their right as good solid citizens of this country. By the same token, I do not see any reason why organisations should have to bc set up to conduct appeals. Nor can I see any reason why, after paying taxes for social services, the public should be obliged to make a further contribution for the same purpose.
I sometimes think that it is a great pity that the public is so generous. I sometimes think that it would be far better if the public refrained from giving so generously for perhaps the Government would then bc forced into giving something extra to the pensioners in order that they might live in a reasonable manner. It is completely wrong that pensioners many of whom, by their personal suffering and self denial in earlier years, have made it possible for us to enjoy a standard of living which is so much higher than that which they enjoyed, should now be placed in a position where, unless they accept charity they are unable to live in’ what might be called the normal Australian way. After the Budget was introduced last year, there appeared in the Sydney “ Daily Telegraph “ an article in which the secretary of a pensioner association in New South Wales had this to say -
Why can’t we live as independent Australians, instead of begging to local councils, water boards and electricity commissions for rebates and tq the’ Government for a decent pension?
Give us a decent pension and let us live like decent, independent Australians.
That sums the matter up very well. All they ask for is to be allowed to live as decent independent people. They do not want charity, nor do they want pity; but they do want a pension that will allow them to live as ordinary Australian citizens. The statement continued -
We wholeheartedly oppose this senseless discrimination.
He was referring there to the discrimination between the single pensioner and themarried pensioner, which has been made’ for the first time under this Government. The secretary added - :
Wc do not want to become de factos to get an extra £1.
He also said that his association was not concerned with moral problems but only with economic ones. “ Senseless discrimination “ is a pretty fair summing up, although I would have used stronger words.
Last year, for the first time in history, this Government decided that marriage would be a bar to obtaining what the Government apparently decided was an adequate pension. It decided last year that an adequate pension was £5 15s. a week, because it legislated for this amount to be paid to a single pensioner. It failed at that time to make any adjustment to the rate paid to a married pensioner couple. The rate for such a couple with no other income whatever remained at £5 5s. a week for each. However, two single pensioners living together, each with an income of £3 10s. a week, would each receive £5 15s. in pension. As a result, we witnessed the ridiculous position of a married couple having to exist on £10 10s. a week while two single pensioners living together next door received £18 10s. I am not suggesting that £5 15s. a week was too much to pay to the single pensioner. As a matter of fact, it is not sufficient. But what I do say is that if the Government thought that the most it could pay as a base rate was £5 15s., the married pensioner couple should also have received that amount each. Then, if the circumstances of the single pensioner or the married couple warranted some further assistance, a supplementary allowance should have been paid.
The discrimination is highlighted in many other ways. During the debate last year on the Social Services Bill, Opposition members put forward cases and arguments showing very clearly that the discrimination would prove to be very unfair in certain circumstances. I would have thought that, having had almost twelve months in which to examine the flaws and the unfair results of its legislation, the Government would have admitted its mistake and on this occasion would have corrected the position by bringing the rate for a married pensioner couple to the same level as the rate for a single pensioner. If the Govern ment thought that £6 was an adequate amount and the correct rate for a single pensioner it should have, realising the error it made last year, increased the rate for the married pensioner couple to this amount. But even though the married pensioner couple had been denied any increase since October 1961, the Government could see fit to increase the amount by only 5s. a week. An increase of 5s. a week, and this after three years, is an increase of 81d. a day. Anyone who compared the prices of goods three years ago with the prices today would soon realise that an additional 8Jd. a day would make very little impression on the higher costs.
Of course, if both partners of a marriage happen to smoke the Government would recover most of the 8£d. through the recent increase of the excise on cigarettes and tobacco. In many cases the Minister for Social Services will hand out Sid. a day through the front door and the Treasurer, with his evil look and avaricious eye, will sneak around to the rear door and pinch most of it back. But whatever happens, the pensioner will not win.
I want to refer again to the discrimination between pensioners. We now have the position where a married pensioner couple with no income and facing the higher cost of living will have to try to get by on £11 a week while another couple living together next door, though not married, will have a combined pension of £12 a week. A difference of £1 a week will exist between couples living in. the same manner, the only difference in their circumstances being that one couple is married and the other couple has not found it necessary to observe this nicety. If the unmarried couple also has no other income and both couples are paying rent, only the unmarried couple can claim the 10s. supplementary assistance. This is another result of the Government’s peculiar thinking. The married couple then would receive £2 a week less than the unmarried couple. Why a married couple should receive less is beyond my comprehension, and as yet I have not heard any member on the Government side of the House say why this should be. This is only one illustration of the absurd and unfair discrimination. There are many other ways in which anomalies can creep in. While this discrimination is allowed to continue we will witness many injustices.
Let me just say at this stage, to put it on record, that we believe that there should be a basic rate payable to all pensioners, whether they are married, single or widows, and without regard to any class. In addition, there should be a spouse allowance, a child allowance and supplementary assistance for those whose circumstances merit special attention. In this way we would ensure that all pensioners received an adequate amount for their needs, instead of the present situation where so many are receiving amounts that provide them with only a miserable existence instead of a fair standard of living.
As further proof that a general review of the whole position of social services is required, let us look at the position of an invalid pensioner with a wife and a child. As a result of this Bill, such a pensioner will receive only a further 5s. a week and his pension will be only £5 10s. a week. His wife’s allowance will not be increased at all. She will continue to receive only £3 a week. The allowance for the child will remain at 15s. a week, which is the same rate as it has been for several years. The invalid pensioner, his wife and child will between them receive the princely amount of £9 5s. a week. Of course, they will also have the magnificent amount of 5s. child endowment. The total income will be £9 10s. a week. Incidentally, the child endowment of 5s. for the first child has applied since 1950, 14 years ago. Nothing extra is being paid by way of child endowment, although the cost of living has increased substantially. The family to which I have referred could quite easily be without any income of any sort, having nothing in the bank and even be paying rent. This is quite likely to be the position, because a woman with an invalid husband and a child - perhaps a very small child - could not possibly take a full time job and might not even be able to take a part time job. Even if she did feel capable of doing some part time work she would be extremely fortunate to find a job of that nature. Yet this Government expects a family such as this to live on £9 10s. a week.
Under the terms of the Government’s legislation this pensioner will not receive even the rate of pension paid to a married couple where only one party is a pensioner, because in that case the wife receives an allowance. The allowance is 50s. less than she would receive if she also were a pensioner. The Government also refuses the pensioner the extra 10s. a week, if he is paying rent, because the wife’s allowance or the child’s allowance, in the view of the Government, are over and above the pension. The amount of £9 10s. a week for three people is £1 10s. a week less than the age married couple rate of £11 a week or £3 10s. a week less than the unmarried couple, who receive £6 a week each plus 10s. a week each if they pay rent. This ridiculous position surely proves quite conclusively that our amendment, which calls for a review of all social service payments, deserves support and should be adopted.
An even worse position can arise for an age pensioner whose wife is not old enough to receive a pension for herself and who, although physically fit, is unable to find a suitable job that she is capable of carrying out. This couple, unless exceptional circumstances are accepted for a special allowance, is forced to exist on one pension. Surely in such a case the spouse should receive an allowance, and a pretty substantial allowance too. In fact, I see no reason why she should not receive an allowance equal to the pension rate. Even such an allowance would provide only the barest living.
Now I wish to refer to the civilian widows. Last year an improvement was made in the mother’s allowance, but on this occasion no adjustment has been made except for the additional 5s. in the pension rate. Generally speaking, the rates are totally insufficient. Let us consider the A class widow - that is, a widow with at least one dependent child. It does not matter whether the child is one month old or 14 years old, the same allowance of 15s. a week is paid. In this case, a total of £3 15s. a week will be paid. If there should be other children a further 15s. will be paid for each of them. Just imagine a woman trying to keep herself and a husky young boy or girl on £8 15s. a week. The old days of bread and dripping would soon be back. Of course the widow would also receive the extra 5s. child endowment that I spoke of. If the widow had two dependent children she would receive a total of £10 15s. a week, including endowment.
If she had three dependent children she would receive a total of £11 15s. a week, including endowment. Here we would have a position in which four people would be required to live on 5s. a week less than the unmarried pensioner couple to whom I referred earlier, three of the four being growing children.
The action of the Government last year in introducing the mother’s allowance was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately it did not go far enough. And this year the Government has completely ignored the need to make further adjustments not only to the mother’s allowance but also to the allowance for children. Here we see another example of one of the failings of this Government. It may, after pressure from this side of the House, make a move towards improving conditions and correcting injustices, but after making the initial move it becomes completely paralysed and makes no further move for years afterwards. The amount of 15s. a week for the children was fixed in 1961. It is now three years later, and in the intervening period the cost of living has increased very considerably, but no adjustments have been made to the allowances to cover the extra cost of keeping children in food, clothing and education. This is further proof of the need to support the Opposition’s amendment and thus institute a general review of social service payments.
Widows in the B and C classes are now to receive £5 7s. 6d. a week, which is J 2s. 6d. a week less than this Government considers to be an adequate base rate. These widows will get 12s. 6d. a week less than single age pensioners. A B class widow 59 years of age, with no income or property, will receive the magnificent weekly sum of £5 7s. 6d. Then as soon as she reaches the age of 60 she can obtain an age pension and get an extra 12s. 6d. a week, the only difference in her circumstances being that she reaches 60 years of age whereas the week previously she was aged 59 years, 11 months and 3 weeks. Perhaps, only a few weeks or months previously she lost her husband. In that case there would have been no suggestion of any gradual process of ageing over a number of years alone. Her circumstances were just as bad when she was 59 years old and lost her husband as they are 12 months later; and it is obvious that from the time of her husband’s death she should have been paid at least the base rate of pension.
The B class widow, with no income and no chance of obtaining an income, with no money and quite likely faced with debts, will receive under this legislation the miserable amount of £5 7s. 6d. a week. Why should that woman receive less than the single age pensioner? Surely her needs are as great as those of the age pensioner. Her living costs would be no less than those of the age pensioner. Government supporters always dodge these really important issues. Then we come to the C class widow who receives a pension because she is in necessitous circumstances following the death of her husband. The fact that she is eligible proves that she is in very poor circumstances. Yet she receives 12s. 6d. a week less than a single age pensioner who could have either an income of £3 10s. a week or property to the value of more than £2,000. Yet this widow with absolutely nothing is to receive only £5 7s. 6d. a week. This is an absolutely disgraceful position.
But there could be even, worse cases. Take the case of the poor woman who at the time of becoming a widow is in an advanced stage of pregnancy and therefore quite unable to seek employment. She will receive only £5 7s. 6d. a week. When the baby is born she will receive a total amount of £9 a week. Surely that woman during the time of pregnancy, when she is a widow, should receive much more than £5 7s. 6d. a week. Surely she should receive at least the base rate of £6. I suggest she should get even more. Here again we have another good reason why there whould be an immediate review of all social service payments. I believe that no Government supporter who is honest could vote against the amendment which asserts that social service payments generally are completely inadequate.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Sinclair) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– by leave - On 26th August I presented to the House the report of the Royal Commissioner on the circumstances attending the loss of H.M.A.S. “ Voyager “. On that occasion I read out the Terms of Reference, which I therefore need not repeat. I also indicated that the Government had taken steps to obtain advice from the Naval Board, through the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney), upon the Commissioner’s findings and the implications of those findings. The Naval Board, presided over by the Minister for the Navy, consists, in addition, of the First Naval Member, Vice-Admiral Harrington, the Second Naval Member, Rear-Admiral Smith, the Third Naval Member, Rear-Admiral George, the Fourth Naval Member, RearAdmiral Peek, and the Secretary of the Department. 1 indicated that the Board had already begun this task, and had in fact begun when evidence was still being taken. I then said -
When the results are to hand, the Government will give prompt consideration to them and will then put itself in a position to make a further statement to the Mouse.
In reply to an observation by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), I made it clear that 1 did not undertake to present to Parliament the observations of the Naval Board since that body, through its Minister, advises the Government. This is true of all the Service Boards. For the effective discharge of their responsibilities they must be able to know that their relationship to the Government is one of great confidence and indeed secrecy. When the Government after receiving advice announces a decision or makes a statement of fact or of policy, it takes the responsibility for what it docs.
In the present case, we have been assisted by an elaborate examination of the matter by the Naval Board. After careful consideration, we are not prepared to establish what would be a harmful precedent by publishing the report of the Board. Honorable members, particularly those with ministerial experience, will I think agree, that if the Service Boards came to believe that their reports, to their Minister and through him to the Cabinet, would be made public there could in all human probability be some change in the nature of the reports. Human experience shows that where a document is designed for publication it may very well be written in a somewhat different way and perhaps be a little less frank than it would bc us a confidential report.
However, what I am about to put to the House has been greatly assisted, though of course not controlled, by the views and comments of the Naval Board, a body which I will hardly need to say is as much concerned by these tragic events as all the rest of us, and has displayed a marked willingness already to make changes in the light of the facts elicited by the Royal Commission.
It will be recalled that although the Royal Commissioner places the primary responsibility for the collision upon “ Voyager “, without feeling able to apportion individual blame among its bridge officers, he did make critical remarks about three of those on the bridge of “ Melbourne “.
In the case of Captain Robertson, the Commissioner said that in his view when “ Voyager “ turned to port her action should have created some doubt in Captain Robertson’s mind as to what her intentions were and the moment the movement to port passed beyond what would have brought her back on course Captain Robertson should have made some inquiry or passed some signal, whether by whistle or otherwise, to “ Voyager “. He went on to add -
Whether action of this kind would have avoided the collision 1 am unable to say, but I feel that the chances of a collision occurring might have been lessened if some such action as T have indicated had been taken by Captain Robertson.
In the case of Acting Commander Kelly and Sub-Lieutenant Bate, both of whom were on the bridge of “Melbourne”, the Commissioner said: “ The conclusion I reach is that the watch which was maintained on the bridge of ‘ Melbourne * by the Officer of the Watch “-Sub-Lieutenant Bate - “ and the Navigating Officer “ - Acting Commander Kelly - “was in the circumstances inadequate “. These observations by the Commissioner were made in the light of the evidence given by the three officers themselves and of Captain Robertson’s report after the collision.
The question at once arises, and did arise, as to whether charges of negligence or neglect of duty could or should bc laid before courts martial. This question was made the subject of legal advice, both from counsel and the Crown Law Department, and later from the Attorney-General. That advice is against court martial. The principal reason for this view is that, as a matter of law, statements made by any witness in answer to any question before a Royal Commission are not admissible in evidence against him in any civil or criminal proceedings, and that this rule, established by the Royal Commissions Act, should also apply to proceedings before a court martial. In the result, it became necessary for our legal officers to consider what evidence, if any, other than the evidence given to the Royal Commission, could be adduced on a court martial. Their short answer is that, the evidence given by these three officers before the Royal Commission being excluded and Captain Robertson’s report being excluded, there would be no evidence at all available to what might be described as the prosecution. As this may seem strange to those who are not lawyers, 1 will explain it.
At a trial by court martial, in which the officer concerned would be in the position of an accused person, the prosecutor (a) could not tender as part of his case the transcript of evidence before the Commissioner; and (b) could not call the accused, as I will call him, to give evidence for the prosecution, hoping to convict him out of his own mouth. For a man is deemed innocent until he is proved guilty; it is not for him to prove his innocence. This is one of the basic principles of the normal criminal law.
Honorable members will therefore agree that it would be grossly unfair and indeed completely improper to institute a court martial if competent advice was that not only would there be no evidence which could establish an offence beyond reasonable doubt, which was not the standard of proof which the Commissioner had to apply - his was a much easier standard - but that there was in fact no material admissible evidence at all. Strictly speaking, it would, of course, bc possible to amend the legal provisions retrospectively, so as to make the evidence of the officers concerned, and any report made by any of them, admissible against them. I am sure that nobody would support such an astonishing course. I do not propose to elaborate this. None of us would wish to conduct some form of prosecution against those on the bridge of “Melbourne” when such a prosecution would fail at the outset and would therefore achieve no result exexcept the somewhat inglorious one of creating an unproved slur upon their names.
The Government accepts the advice that has been given and confidently believes that there will be wide support for the conclusions I have just stated. Indeed I think that honorable members would agree that the important questions which arise are not to be answered by arguments about whether individuals made errors of judgment or observation. What we must do by all the means in our power is to ascertain whether in a general way there was or is something wrong with naval efficiency or in the procedures followed in the Navy. This, I think, is a legitimate inquiry; and, as I will indicate later, we propose to take steps to pursue it.
But justice to a very fine Navy requires that a proper perspective should be established at the outset. In all armed services, particularly those which must train and operate under circumstances of special difficulty, there will from time to time be human errors. This is, of course, true in every aspect of life. It is specially true of every air force, of every civil aviation network, of every navy. I do not seek to minimise the tragic nature of the “ Voyager “ collision, with its appalling consequences in lives lost. That is why we instituted the most searching public inquiry in the whole of our defence history. But I think I should point out to the House that experience in other and older navies supports the view that naval life has its own dangers and that, in spite of every precaution in selection and training, accidents will happen. For example, in the calendar year 1960, the Royal Navy had 17 collisions at sea and 25 groundings. The United States, whose records are not public, is known to have had collisions, including one of a similar nature to the “ Melbourne “-“ Voyager “ collision, in which there was a very much greater loss of life. Every year, around the Australian coast, there are, in the mercantile marine, ship mishaps.
None of these excuses the error or errors which led to the “ Voyager “ loss, nor should wc excuse any deficiencies in training, efficiency, or discipline that can be shown to exist. But the facts do emphasise that life at sea has its hazards, and that this is plainly true in the case of the Navy, which must prepare itself to fight by day or by night in all sorts of circumstances and weather and whose preparations can be effective only by practising by day or by night every sort of manoeuvre which may be needed in war. I therefore invite the House to look at the Navy as such, and not be led into what might be described as a campaign against individuals, some of whom indeed are no longer able to speak for themselves or to explain what circumstances of emergency or errors of observation or communication led them into the courses they pursued.
But in the interests of justice some individual observations must be made. Some criticism has been directed against what has been called Captain Robertson’s inexperience in the handling of an aircraft carrier or in tactical command of an operation involving an aircraft carrier and another vessel. We have discussed this matter with the Naval Board in order to ascertain the facts. As honorable members will recall, comments concentrated on three points - that Captain Robertson, though a very experienced naval officer, had joined “ Melbourne “, his first carrier command, only a month before the collision; that he had just finished three years ashore; and that he had never had tactical command of an aircraft carrier and another ship. In fairness to Captain Robertson, it should be stated that he had in fact been the executive officer and second in command of an aircraft carrier for 16 months, during which he was, as part of his duty, understudying the captain.
Three years ashore between commands has been common practice in the Royal Australian Navy and is dictated by the need to give a number of officers command experience at sca, while securing the great benefit of using recent sea experience in shore appointments. This has applied in each case of a carrier captain. It is interesting to learn that in the United States Navy the careers of nine of their better known admirals reveal that the average time they spent in shore duty before assuming command of a carrier was three years and four months. The practice in the Royal Navy is that carrier captains, as here, have only one carrier command in their career, and that the average time spent by each ashore before assuming command of his carrier is three and a half years. Of the general capacity, not only of Captain Robertson but of Captain Stevens, there cannot be any real doubt. Each had a splendid record and very considerable naval experience.
The judge found specifically that the ships and their equipment were in a proper state of preparedness for the exercise. There were, however, two criticisms made or suggested by the Commissioner which have attracted some notice. The first was that it might be advantageous to practise, by day, exercises which are likely to occur at night during the initial touch and go practice. We have examined the Naval Board on this point. Their answer as experts is that the work-up programme was a full one involving many exercises more complicated than the manoeuvre required on the night of 10th February. The programme stretched over four or five weeks. Any difficult exercises - for example, replenishment at sea, where ships sail close together, and touch and go landings by aircraft - were in fact done, first by day. If all the more routine ship manoeuvres involved in the programme first had to be practised by day, the work-up period would be so long as to reduce very considerably the period when ships were available for operations. This seems to us to be reasonable.
The other suggestion was that the exercise programme on 10th February commenced at 7 a m. and was still continuing at 8.56 p.m. when the collision took place, and that this was a lengthy period of time. But the whole point of these exercises is to equip the Navy for operations of war. The Naval Board believes - and we see no reason to disagree - that if it were accepted that 12 or 14 hours exercising so reduced the concentration of command teams as to render their judgment unsound, the Navy could not operate effectively in peace or in war.
I referred just now to the findings of the Commissioner to the effect that the ships and their equipment were in a proper state of preparedness for the exercise. The Naval Board, however, considering all the available evidence and findings, has concluded that the state of preparedness of “ Voyager “ could not have been adequate, having regard to some of the detailed matters dealt with in the Royal Commissioner’s report. In the view of the Board, the fact that “ Voyager “ had just completed a long refit during which she had a large change around of personnel, and that it is not possible now to discover where the weakness in her organisation lay, does not adequately explain the state of affairs existing at the time of the collision. The Naval Board, therefore, is instructing administrative authorities to carry out an inspection of ships on completion of refit and before commencing their work-up to ensure that ships’ companies and equipment are at an appropriate level of preparedness. In addition, reorganisation of the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet is being made which will enable increased visits by staff officers to be made to each ship while working-up, thus enabling an additional check to be made and remedial action to be taken if necessary.
I will now refer to various specific matters mentioned by the Royal Commissioner. I think I should recall to honorable members that in the early stages of the Royal Commission we became accustomed to somewhat sensational headlines. It is therefore important to recall that the ultimate findings were on a much more moderate scale. However, honorable members are familiar with the report. They will quite probably be anxious to know what action, if any, has been or is being taken by the naval authorities.
As soon as it was discovered that wheel spanners had been missing from “Voyager’s” escape hatches on the night of the collision, the Naval Board asked its technical branch to devise, as a matter of urgency, some better means of ensuring that hatches could always be readily opened. As a result, a’ new mechanism has been produced in the Naval Dockyard and the escape hatches in naval vessels have now been modified by fitting this improved securing mechanism, which docs not require the use of a wheel spanner At the same time, of course, it must be remembered that, like any other opening device in any vehicle, even this one may fail if badly buckled in a collision.
Although the Royal Commissioner found that at the time of the collision hot all of “Melbourne’s” boats were available, he said that there was no ground for criticising those in charge of “ Melbourne “ in that regard. He praised the work of the boats that engaged in the rescue operation. The findings of the judge have, however, not silenced criticism. It is therefore fair, that I should state a considered view. Boats in naval ships, unlike lifeboats of merchant ships, are not part of survival equipment. Inflatable rubber rafts are carried in naval ships for this purpose. Naval boats are carried in ships for three purposes -
On the night of the collision, the emergency boat in “ Melbourne “ was damaged in the collision but despite this, was in the water in a very short time. The boat’s rescue work was done, as the Commissioner found, with great efficiency. As soon as it became clear from evidence given before the Royal Commission that mcn were not familiar with the procedure for being winched out of the water into helicopters, arrangements were made by the Naval Board for all personnel already serving and for those who join in the future to be instructed in this procedure.
There were many publicised complaints about the travel arrangements made for survivors. The Royal Commissioner dealt with this quite precisely. He said -
In the main, survivors who had long distances to travel to their homes were permitted to travel by air, and others travelled by train. There were but few complaints from survivors in this regard, and I do not think any criticism can justly be directed against those responsible for the arrangements.
When one looks back at the headlines, one will see how significant that statement is. The Naval Board itself, however, looking at the matter in retrospect, feels that all interstate survivors should have been sent to their homes by air from the outset, in spite of the normal rules.
Although the Royal Commissioner found that it seemed unlikely that very many men were lost once they had escaped from the ship, he did have comments and suggestions to make about the nature of swimming tests. The Naval Board promptly initiated a review of the swimming tests and has sought advice from the Life Saving Association as a result of which the tests are being varied to require a man to be able to keep himself afloat for 10 minutes instead of 3 minutes. Almost every person in the R.A.N. can swim, probably not with the highest proficiency. The Board thinks it would be undesirable if the small minority who cannot swim, despite instruction, were prevented from serving in the R.A.N. We think that this is right.
The existing storage arrangements for life jackets were criticised by the Royal Commissioner. A review of the existing practices, which have been identical with those in the Royal Navy, was initiated following the collision. The Royal Australian Navy Life Saving Equipment Committee has recommended to the Board that life jackets should be stowed convenient to the escape routes from ships and not, as formerly, in a single store room. The Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet is currently and urgently preparing proposals on the resiting of such stowages. The task will take a little time, as space is, for obvious reasons, at a premium in all naval ships and it will be necessary to rearrange other stowage so that life jackets can be stowed in the most important places.
During the hearing, it was said by several witnesses that they did not know how to operate the inflatable life rafts. This could well have been the case with a number of those who joined the Navy before these rafts were introduced. Since their introduction, instructions have been given to all recruits as they join the Navy as to how to operate the rafts, and posters, showing the method of doing so, are displayed in all R.A.N, ships. The Naval Board, however, has taken steps to improve the position. Live demonstrations are now given on the workings of the inflatable life rafts and this, together wilh other routines, will be prac tised as early as possible in the working-up of a ship and at regular intervals thereafter.
I now return to the important general questions which have exercised the minds of all of us. The loss of “Voyager” and the report made upon that loss may have induced some to reach sweeping adverse conclusions about our Navy. This would, in our opinion, be grossly unjust and unwarranted, since, as I have pointed out, unhappy accidents occur in all navies and should not be hastily used as a reason for attacking our Navy as a whole. On the other hand, of course, it would be most unsatisfying to the public mind and to our own judgment for us to adopt the attitude that everything in the Royal Australian Navy is perfect and that what happened on the night of 10th February was just one of those accidents that must be accepted as the normal price of admiralty.
I have already said something about the changes made by the Naval Board in the light of the evidence before, and the report of, the Royal Commission. Before I conclude, I will say, on behalf of the Government, something about new steps that we think can be taken with advantage. But we do think that justice requires that I should set out certain facts which show that whatever improvement may on examination be found desirable in the overall organisation of the Navy and its officers, we have every right to be proud of the Navy for the way in which it has handled the problems which have come to it in recent years.
It should be remembered that since 1959 a new destroyer and four new frigates have completed their building in Australian shipyards and have been manned and commissioned, together with a number of smaller support ships. We have acquired a flotilla of six mine-sweepers which have been commissioned and steamed to Australia. Their base support has been provided and magnetic mine sweeping has been introduced into the R.A.N., Anti-Submarine Wessex helicopters have been introduced and H.M.A.S. “ Melbourne “ converted to operate them. H.M.A.S. “Sydney” has been brought out of reserve and has been converted to a fast transport. In this role, she has been effectively employed quite recently. A modernised replenishment tanker has been brought into service to complete the fleet’s mobility. A new specialised survey ship has been built in Australia and brought into service, while three frigates have been converted to oceanographic and survey work. New weapons and techniques have been introduced, such as the Seacat antiaircraft missile and variable depth Sonar. The first Australian designed naval weapon, the anti-submarine system Ikara, is being developed in conjunction with the Department of Supply. All this has been done since 1959.
In the introduction of all these new units and techniques, a very considerable training and logistic and administrative effort has been involved. Work is under way on tcn new ships for the fleet, three guided missile destroyers in the United States of America, four Oberon submarines in Great Britain, an escort maintenance vessel and two new frigates in Australia. Preparations are well in hand to cope with the greatly expanded training and maintenance requirements involved in absorbing these new and sometimes almost incredibly complex units in the Royal Australian Navy. All these things have put a great strain upon the resources of the Navy, because they have required not only steps to raise the general educational level but also provision for specialised training in the wide range of activities required. There is a junior recruit entry scheme which has involved the setting up of training establishments in Western Australia and Victoria. The Navy has set up an apprentices training centre, which is recognised as one of the largest and most efficient in the country, to meet the demands for tradesmen volunteers.
Large numbers of selected officers and men and technicians are receiving training in Great Britain and the United States. It is, I think, commonly agreed that R.A.N, personnel who are sent abroad each year to Britain and the United States are regarded as being well up to the standard of their counterparts in the British and United States Navies. For some years, at the request of the Government of Malaysia, the R.A.N, has provided the Commanding Officer of the Royal Malaysian Navy and seven other officers for that service. The manpower strength of the Navy has increased from 10,600 in 1960 to 12,870 at present. It is evidence of morale that the re-engagement rate has risen from about 8 per cent, at the end of the 1950’s to over 50 per cent, today. Two destroyers or frigates have served continuously since 1955, on a rotation basis, with the strategic reserve based on Singapore, and the aircraft carrier, wilh escort, has served a tour of duty each year wilh the reserve. The general standard of efficiency of these units and their crews has been the subject of favorable comment by a succession of British naval commanders to whose command they have been operationally assigned.
A Royal Australian Navy squadron has participated for several years with distinction in annual multi-national South East Asia Treaty Organisation and Commonwealth maritime exercises. On two occasions, the R.A.N, has been responsible for the planning and command of S.E.A.T.O. exercises, and with great credit. I need not elaborate these matters, Sir. The mere statement of them should be sufficient to show that we have a good Navy and that wc ought not to underestimate its quality and performance.
In considering whether new practices or procedures might be adopted in the Royal Australian Navy, it is perhaps as well to remember that our Navy began as the child of the Royal Navy, a very great Navy with centuries of tradition and achievement behind it. We have therefore had a natural tendency in Australia to inherit the practices of the Royal Navy and, to a considerable extent, vessel design. This, of course, has advantages; as a relatively young naval power, we cannot pretend that we have nothing to emulate or to learn. But it might turn out that it has some disadvantages, since it may lead us to believe that the problems of the Royal Navy are in substance identical with those of our own. We have learned something about this in the case of the Army, where, having regard fo our territorial situation, we have found it necessary to give particular attention to training soldiers for jungle fighting in tropical areas and have considered the weapons that we may require in the light of similar circumstances. In the Air Force, we have had our own problems. The kind of air force that might be required by Great Britain is not necessarily the same kind of air force that we feel that we need. To take a simple and quite recent example, any fast bomber we wanted would need ;o have a very long range and would need to have a speed and manoeuvrability that would enable it to foil attack at a long distance from its base. The point I am making is that each country must consider each of its own armed services in the light of its own particular circumstances.
Much of what I said earlier was somewhat detailed; and even then there are many minor aspects of the matter to which it has not seemed necessary to refer. But, in examining this tragic event, the Government had and has several duties. The first was to put in hand with all speed a searching inquiry into the causes of the collision. This has been done, without fear, favour or affection, by the Royal Commissioner. We now know as much as we are ever likely to know about what happened that night, and about the acts or omissions of those conducting the manoeuvres. The second is to restrain ourselves from harsh judgments upon individuals, and in particular upon those on the bridge of “ Voyager “, who arc lost and gone and cannot speak for themselves or personally influence our judgment. Nor, for the reasons I have stated, should we, having decided that no charge can legally be laid or supported against Captain Robertson, Commander Kelly, or Sub-Lieutenant Bate, seek lo condemn them for deficiencies of observation or action which the Commissioner has found were not the primary - which I understand to mean the effective - cause of the collision.
The third, and at this stage the paramount, duty is to establish and enhance the future efficiency and morale of the Royal Australian Navy - a military arm vital to our national security. This is a duty to be performed with understanding and judgment; its performance is not to be impaired by extravagant attacks, or to be abdicated by an uncritical defence of the status quo. The statement of this third duty, indeed, brings us to the nub of the matter. I think it is probably right to say that the people of Australia are not looking for individual scapegoats. They know that the Royal Australian Navy has a splendid record in two great wars, and that its international reputation is high. They have read with a mixture of pride and anguish the findings of the Royal Commissioner about the efficiency wilh which operations after the collision were conducted, the absence of panic among the men. and the outstanding gallantry of those to whom the Commissioner has directed attention. They will, no doubt, have properly concluded that a Service which can train men to this high point of discipline and efficiency has much in it to be recognised and praised. Clearly, the general morale is high.
But the Government is well aware of the existence of the feeling of uneasiness because of some recent incidents, of which the latest is the “Voyager” disaster, lt is not our practice in Australia to conceal such incidents. Indeed, in two which involved loss of life, the investigations have been conducted in public. This is not the normal practice in other navies. We believe that the uneasiness may arise partly from a natural failure fully to understand the hazardous nature of naval training and service even in time of peace, when preparations must be made for active service in circumstances of great menace and difficulty. But we also believe that there may be doubts, not capable of precise definition, as to the effectiveness of the naval organisation, including communication procedures, and as to the suitability of the methods of selection, training and promotion so far practised. To this criticism we have most anxiously directed our attention. For whatever the overall efficiency of the past - and I have made recognition of it - we must meet the challenge of the future. We will not be afraid to make changes where they prove desirable. In particular, we must not assume that practices followed by other and much greater navies are necessarily appropriate to our own, with limited numbers, a much smaller fleet, and peculiar geographical and strategic circumstances.
Steps will be taken constantly to review procedures in the light of the special character and circumstances of the R.A.N. lt would be wrong to say that the cause of the “Voyager” collision was maladministration on the part of the Naval Board, for proper look-out and navigational moves on individual ships are matters of individual efficiency and judgment on the part of those at sea. But it is right to say that much good may result from reexamination of methods of selection, training, and promotion, and of constantly improving general efficiency.
How should such review and reexamination be made? It has been suggested that we should seek the services of a British or American naval officer of suitable rank and experience. We reject this suggestion. What wc are looking for are Australian answers to Australian questions relating to an Australian service operating in its own special circumstances. There are plenty of Australian senior naval officers of ability, experience, and integrity, as capable of giving advice as any.
It would, of course, be quite unsatisfactory if changes in organisation or procedures were conditioned upon the occurrence of some mishap which directed attention to some defect in the Service. Our study must bc wider and more continuous. Yet we have noted that in the Air Force there is a Standing Committee to investigate air accidents; that it goes to the spot rapidly; that it concerns itself particularly with such problems as faulty construction or maintenance, defective communications, and inadequate control. Its reports are a valuable source of recommendation for improvements, and have contributed usefully to the increasing efficiency of the Air Force.
Inquiries are made by experts into naval accidents; but they are essentially ad hoc, and are made by varying groups of people. Wc have decided that there should be a Standing Naval Committee of Investigation, with as much continuing membership as the circumstances of the Navy will permit. But for a general review the Government must and will accept its proper responsibility. It will, through a Ministerial Committee presided over by the Minister for the Navy, the Chief of the Naval Staff being associated with him, and with the professional naval advice available to it, closely and regularly consider ways and means of reviewing naval organisation procedures and methods so as to make improvements where these are found to be desirable. Let me emphasise again that this is not a task which any government can delegate, because it is the Government which must have . the overall responsibility.
We believe that under these circumstances the Navy can go on with its vital service to the nation in co-operation with the Government and with the moral backing of the Australian people. I repeat that we have a fine Navy, with a gallant and devoted company of officers and men. It is the task of all of us in responsible authority to: remove any discoverable impediments to its full effectiveness.
I present the following paper -
Loss of H.M.A.S. “ Voyager “ - Ministerial statement, 15th September 1964. and move -
That the House take note of the paper.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney) and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Benson) each speaking without limitation of lime.
.- I, and all members of the Opposition, join with the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in the very nice things he said about the Royal Australian Navy, its record and its achievements. The Prime Minister pointed out certain things which are being brought into force or which have been brought into force. I feel it is rather tragic that it has taken a happening like the one we are debating for these things to bc brought in. They should have been done a long time ago. I will cover some of the remarks of the Prime Minister during my speech. The nation was distressed at. and is still sorrowing, the death of 82 of its finest citizens. This is a debate without precedent in the annals of this House. It arises from instructions given by the Prime Minister and the appointment of the Honorable Sir John Spicer as Royal Commissioner to inquire into and report upon the loss of H.M.A.S. “Voyager”. With the concur.rence of honorable members I incorporate in “ Hansard “ the terms of reference of the Commission -
To inquire into and report upon the following matters -
The cause or causes of the collision that occurred on the tenth day of February, one thousand nine hundred and sixtyfour, between the ships of our Australian Navy, “ Melbourne “ and “ Voyager “. and the resulting loss of “ Voyager “ and of the lives of persons on board “Voyager”;
The facts and circumstances leading up to, contributing to or otherwise relating to the collision and the loss including-, so far as is relevant to the cause of the collision, the nature of the exercise in which the ships were engaged and suitability and preparedness of the ships and of their equipment and crews for that exercise; and
The facts and circumstances relating to >he rescue and treatment of survivors.
The magnitude of this disaster, following other mishaps in recent years in the Royal
Australian Navy, left the Prime Minister with no alternative to that ordered by him. The inquiry sat for 55 days at a cost of nearly £50,000 without bringing down any recommendations for the future conduct of the Royal Australian Navy. This is to be deplored, because the Commission heard the sworn evidence and testimony of 1 56 witnesses and received in evidence some 207 exhibits. The latter included eight volumes of statements taken from officers and ratings from both vessels and 14 volumes of questionairs answered by officers and men of “ Melbourne “. We believe that the feelings that have been aroused throughout the nation similarly echo in this House, and that there are many honorable members on the Government side who are as sad at heart by what has been disclosed as are honorable members on this side of the House. There is the suffering of the families bereaved by this disaster to be considered, and it would be wrong of this House not to take steps to see that a similar tragedy docs not happen. This is our duty, because the Parliament is responsible for the Navy - and the Government is more responsible than the Opposition. It is the Government’s responsibility to see that the Navy is kept in such a state that the men are efficient when they take their ships to sea. This causes us grave concern. As the Prime Minister said, we are not here as a court of inquiry. We are not here demanding that punishment be meted out to those who may have caused the accident. At page 25 of the report of the Royal Commissioner, dealing wilh the facts and circumstances leading up to and contributing to and otherwise relating to the collision, the following appears -
Shortly prior to the completion of the refit of each vessel, there was a considerable change in complement. In particular, substantial changes took place in the identity of a number of the officers on each ship. ) will not read all of page 25, but the last paragraph, which is of importance, is as follows -
While it may be said, in the main, that each officer was experienced from an individual point of view, it will be seen that by the lime each ship was ready for sea it was officered by mcn who hail not previously worked with one another, except that Captain Robertson and Commander Kelly had been together on H.M.A.S. Swan, a frigate, some eight years previously.
To get a good understanding of this statement it must be taken in conjunction with the report of Rear Admiral Becher. On page 26, the following appears -
A work-up programme involves a number of exercises which … are designed “ lo turn a lot of individuals into one company “. The programme in this case was drafted initially by Captain Peek, as he then was. lt was completed by Captain Robertson and approved by Rear Admiral Becher, the Flag Officer commanding the fleet, lt seems to have followed the pattern of similar work-up programmes of the past.
It was at this point, in my opinion, that things started to go wrong. A programme had been drawn up and approved, lt is wrong to say that the captain of the “ Melbourne “, the navigator and the officer of the watch were lacking when persons senior to them had either drawn up or approved of an operation knowing full well the limited experience of the officers of both “Melbourne” and “Voyager”. “Melbourne “ is the flag ship of the Royal Australian Navy. Rear Admiral Becher is the Flag Officer commanding the Australian Fleet. For short he is known as F.O.C.A.F. When exercises are being conducted it is the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian ship so that he may personally evaluate the efficiency of the ships he commands. Why was Admiral Becher out of bis ship? Where was he on this important occasion? Was he sent on an errand by the Chief of the Naval Staff? Was his mission or his absence from the ship more important than the job he was appointed to do? The conduct of the fleet demands that the Flag Officer commanding the fleet be present on exercises with his ship. His absence is excused only when ships are passing between ports and not exercising.
On page 26 of the report Mr. Justice Spicer pointed out that when the ships sailed from Sydney on 6th February 1964 each had done certain post refit trials and “ Voyager “ had come up from Port Phillip to Sydney beforehand. Apart from this, however, the vessels, as then officered and manned, had not previously been to sea. We are told in the report that “ Voyager’s “ presence was necessary to act as plane guard destroyer, whose sole task was to be in a slate of readiness to pick up the crew of any aircraft which may be forced to land in the sea. The report, however, points out - lt will be seen that up to the night of the collision “ Voyager “ had not previously been required to act as plane guard, nor had turns together at a range closer than four miles been conducted.
I want the House to remember the distance of four miles. The report continues -
Such turns had not been carried out at speeds greater than 10 knots. Despite this, the two ships, travelling at 20 knots and 22 knots respectively, executed turns together of 180 degrees at 1750 hours and 190 degrees at 2042 hours on the night of the collision in what appears to have been an efficient manner.
I mention this because the programme as drawn up - it has not been denied in the report - must have contained instructions for night exercises to be carried out at speed when those concerned knew full well that either ship, by the standards of their known deficiencies was capable of carrying out such exercises. Those responsible for drawing up this programme were aware of the seagoing experience or lack of it of the officers concerned. Captain Robertson, it will be seen from page 3 of the report, had not previously commanded a big ship. Therefore, he could not be expected to have the feel of the ship, especially when manoeuvring at speed. He had not been to sea for three years. Yet his orders were to carry out night exercises at speed. Commander Kelly, the other navigator, had never been in a position to know how an aircraft carrier handled, although he had served on “ Melbourne “ previously in an executive position. He, therefore, would not bc in a position to appreciate the handling or seakindliness of such a vessel.
The senior officer of the watch, Acting Sub-Lieutenant Bate, as he was then, is the man in my opinion to be pitied, although I feel sure pity is not what he is seeking. He did his job to the best of his ability, but when his record of sea experience is understood it will readily be seen that such a responsibility should never have been placed on this young man’s shoulders by his superiors. It would appear from his record of naval service, as shown in the report, that his longest time at sea was on the voyage of H.M.A.S. “ Gull “ from the United Kingdom to Australia in December 1962. Since joining the Navy as a cadet midshipman in 1958 he has spent most of his time in shore establishments. This is readily understandable, because it is necessary for a young officer to spend a lot of time at these schools in his formative years. Surely it is wrong for a young man of such limited experience to be appointed to the position of senior officer of the watch. After all, the rank of Acting Sub-Lieutenant is a very junior one and to place so much responsibility on such a young man is out of all proportion. I remember doing naval training in H.M.A.S. “ Australia “ pre war when all the senior watch keeping officers were of much greater seniority than SubLieutenant Bate and they were men of much more experience. I am not suggesting that in these modern times the officer in charge of the watch should be a senior naval officer, but I believe that he should have more experience than that of an acting sub-lieutenant.
The report states that Acting SubLieutenant Bate had held a watchkeeping certificate since 1st September 1963 and that he had on occasions prior to the night of the collision kept watch on “ Melbourne “ as first officer of the watch but that he had not previously acted in that capacity while “ Melbourne “ was engaged in manoeuvres such as were being carried out on that fatal night. This undoubtedly was a glaring mistake. lt was a lack of appreciation and a lack of judgment on the part of those responsible for appointing this young officer to such a responsible position. As 1 have stated, he had held his watchkeeping certificate since 1st September 1963. It is well to know what the Navy means by a watchkeeping certificate. It is a piece of paper on which an officer has typed that soandso is competent to keep watch. These certificates are not worth the paper they are written on. In this case it was really a false certificate because it must readily been seen that Sub-Lieutenant Bate had limited time at sea and limited overall experience in the Navy. Yet, according to the way the Navy does things, he was issued with a watchkeeping certificate enabling him to take over the position of senior officer and first officer of the watch of a 29,000 tons aircraft carrier.
These circumstances do not obtain in the Merchant Navy, although after four years at sea a person may obtain a second mate’s certificate and therefore be eligible to act as second officer of a foreign going ship of any size. It is not until two more certificates - the first mate’s foreign going certificate and a master’s foreign going certificate - have been obtained that responsibility as far as watchkeeping is concerned is given serious thought. For instance, quite a number of shipping companies demand that where passengers are carried all the watchkeeping officers must be holders of a master’s foreign going certificate. Yet a naval officer with very limited experience at sea is issued, without examination, with a certificate saying that he is capable. I know that the officer who gains a watchkeeping certificate has passed certain examinations previously, but I consider it is wrong to issue a certificate saying that a person is capable when in this case the senior officer of the watch in charge of “ Melbourne “ had only a limited amount of experience and sea time. He could not therefore be capable of fulfilling the duty imposed upon him. This is not the fault of the officer concerned. It is the fault of the organisation which creates such standards whereby people arc expected to do a job without proper training. On page 26 of the report, Mr. Justice Spicer had this to say- 1 have already indicated that operations of this kind, being conducted at night, require the presence of a plane guard destroyer whose sole task it is to bc at readiness to pick up the crew of any aircraft which is forced to land in water. In other words, the presence of a destroyer was essential for this purpose whether or not that destroyer was otherwise engaged in the work-up programme. lt is on this paragraph that I draw the attention of honorable member’s to the relative positions of the two ships and to the reason why “Voyager” was acting as plane guard. It has already been stated that a ship in plane guard is so placed that, should an aircraft ditch on take-off or landing, the plane guard destroyer is in a favorable position for rescue work. In this case. “Voyager” was stationed some 1,000 to 1 ,500 yards on “ Melbourne’s “ port quarter. In sea terms, “ Voyager “ was stationed half a mile from “ Melbourne “, or five cables astern. If she were at 1,500 yards, she would be three-quarters of a mile or seven and a half cables astern of “ Melbourne “. Honorable members will recall that the ships were doing a shade over 20 knots. A vessel doing 20 knots would cover a sea mile in three minutes, or half a mile in one and a half minutes. “Voyager” was in position 1,000 yards astern of “Melbourne”. In my opinion, it is wrong to have a vessel stationed so close in plane guard position and expect that ship to pick up survivors from a ditched plane.
From my own experience, it would be impossible, in one and a half minutes, or 90 seconds, to reduce speed from 20 knots, manoeuvre into a favorable position, send a lifeboat away and pick up survivors. The rescue vessel, or the plane guard vessel as “Voyager” was termed, could not carry out the duty expected of her in 90 seconds because it would take some seconds - at least 30 - to realise what had happened. Then, in the remaining 60 seconds, the way or speed of “Voyager” would have to be so reduced, and she would have to so manoeuvre as to get into a favorable position to pick up survivors. Such action would be impossible. I would suggest, therefore, that the plane guard station between 1,000 and 1,500 yards was unrealistic, and that the station keeping distance between “ Voyager “ and “ Melbourne “ should have been greater. This point was not brought out at the inquiry, and I feel that it should have been. It is easy to see that had “Voyager” been stationed at a greater distance from “ Melbourne “, greater safety would have been provided and “Voyager” would have been in a better position to pick up survivors had that been necessary.
Pages 4 and 5 of the report deal with the signals given to alter course. We are told that several minor adjustments were made to the course and that a big alteration in course was made from 190 degrees to 060 degrees by turning together to starboard. This meant that the ships turned together some 230 degrees and, before commenting on this, I wish to read a letter which I wrote to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney) on 28th March 1964 while the inquiry was being held. On that occasion, I wrote in these terms -
Dear Mr. Chancy. 1 have been informed that when the Royal Commission on the Melbourne-Voyager collision has been finalised, the Prime Minister has agreed to allow this subject to be debated in the House.
Like yourself, I have been following the course of evidence very closely and I notice that the order to alter course from 190 degrees to 060 degrees and then to 020 degrees was given by “ Melbourne “ “ together “. As “ Voyager “ was keeping station astern of “ Melbourne “, “ the act of altering course together “ to a position more than 90 degrees would put, and actually did put, “ Voyager “ ahead of “ Melbourne “. It will readily be seen that any alteration of course “ together “ when ships are astern of each other, to a course of. say, 90 degrees, brings those ships in line abeam, but when the alteration of course “ together “ is more than 90 degrees, the ship in station astern becomes the new leading ship. During this exercise “ Voyager “ was acting a.t plane guard in a position astern of “Melbourne” so that she was in a convenient position to pick up any ditched aircraft. The action of altering course “ together “ put “ Voyager,” as stated above, in a position ahead of “ Melbourne “.
This evidence so far has not been questioned. Surely the other naval order in altering course, i.e., “ alter course in succession “ could have been, or in fact should have been the executive order. By altering course in succession, it will be clearly seen that the station keeping of “ Voyager “ in relation to “ Melbourne “ would have remained constant so that when the new course had been achieved, “Voyager “ would have been in her plane guard station astern of “ Melbourne “.
Your remarks on this letter would be greatly appreciated so that when the debate is held I will be in a position to know why the order to alter course “ together “ was given instead of “in succession.”
On 20th June 1964, the Minister replied in the following terms -
Dear Mr. Benson. 1 write in reply to your letter of 28th May, 1964, regarding the methods of altering course by H. M. A. Ships “ Melbourne “ and ‘’ Voyager “.
The methods of altering course “ together “ or “in succession” are both recognized as being satisfactory methods of performing the manoeuvres which were being conducted on the night of 10th February 1964. The decision as to which method was to be used was at the discretion of Officer in Tactical Command. On the night of10th February 1964, the Officer in Tactical Command elected to alter course “ together “. This was in accordance with normal practice and was quite a proper method to use in the circumstances.
Honorable members will see that I was greatly concerned at the method of altering course. That was why I wrote to the Minister. It was not my place to interfere, but I had an inward hope that he would ask the barrister representing the Navy at the inquiry to investigate why the order to alter course in succession was not given. It will be noted that in his reply to me the Minister said that both the method of altering course together and that of altering course in succession are recognised as being satisfactory methods of performing this manoeuvre. That being so, then, surely, the safer of the two methods that of altering course in succession should have been given because of the apparent inexperience of both ships.
In his evidence, Commander Kelly endeavoured to make light of the order to alter course together by saying that it was the first manoeuvre in the book. This seems to have been accepted by the Commissioner; but let me point out that the fact that it is the first manoeuvre in the book does not necessarily mean that it is the simplest manoeuvre in the book. When ships are in close formation, travelling at speed, and altering course together, a great hazard is created and danger abounds in all directions. I am sure this is appreciated by all persons who have had experience of altering course at speed while in close formation, but evidently this appreciation is forgotten.
I do not say this to score a point. I speak from experience as one who has kept watch in all conditions in the Atlantic, in convoys with big ships zigzagging for 14 days on end, carrying our emergency turns, turning together, turning in succession and performing other emergency naval turns. I therefore appreciate what a turn together really means. Here I again refer honorable members to my letter to the Minister in which I pointed out that where ships are stationed in line ahead, or a ship is stationed astern of another ship and an alteration of course is made of 90 degrees or more together, the formation is changed because the ships then take up a station of line abeam. Again, when an alteration of course if made of 180 degrees that is, a half circle the ship which was ahead becomes the ship astern.
In the case in question, the ‘alteration of course being greater than 180 degrees that is, from 190 degrees to 060 degrees or a total of 230 degrees “ Voyager “ which was astern of “ Melbourne “ would automatically take up a station forward of “Melbourne’s” beam. In other words, “Voyager” would, as a result of the orders given,take up a station ahead of “ Melbourne “. This is a point that has not been brought out by the inquiry. “ Voyager . “ was ordered to alter course together and so, in my opinion, was put in an unrealistic and dangerous position, because in this operation “Voyager” was to act as plane guard and the only way she could effectively act in this capacity was at all times to be in a position astern of “ Melbourne “. It could, therefore, be said to be elementary that if this was the job required of “Voyager” the alteration of course should have been, in naval terms, “Immediate execute, turn in succession to course 060 degrees. Ships turning to starboard. Stand by. Execute.”
If that order had been given, instead of the order “Turn together” as shown on page 6 of the report, a different and safer set of circumstances would have arisen. When ships alter course in succession the ship which is astern, to put it in the language of the landsman, just follows the leader and does not alter course until it gets to that position where the leader altered course. In this case, when “ Melbourne “ altered course from 190 degrees to 060 degrees, “Voyager “ would have constantly remained astern of and followed the movements made by “ Melbourne “. It is easy to see, following the manoeuvre which took place, that when the two ships steadied on the course of 060 degrees and then back by way of port to 020 degrees, “Voyager” was still ahead of “ Melbourne “. As previously mentioned, she was ordered into this position It is hard to say what happened from here, but the captain of “ Voyager “, knowing that his station was astern of “ Melbourne “ would feel compelled to take up his right station. But it must again be said that the placing of “Voyager” in the position ahead of “ Melbourne “ or forward of “ Melbourne’s “ beam was the action of “ Melbourne “ and “ Melbourne “ alone. It seems wrong, therefore, to criticise “ Voyager” when she was placed in this position simply by carrying out orders. “ Melbourne “ and “ Voyager “ were not carrying out exercises in naval manoeuvres. The main exercise was night flying with “ Voyager “ as plane guard. Therefore, a naval manoeuvre in changing formation, such as altering course together, was inconsistent. The report does not say who gave the orders, whether the Captain gave them to the Navigator, whether the Navigator gave them to the Officer of the Watch or whether the Officer of the Watch gave the order to alter course together at his own behest. This matter, I would think, should have been more fully investigated at the inquiry. The accident in the main was caused when “ Voyager “ was ahead of “ Melbourne “ and not astern in the plane guard position where it was surely intended she should remain.
It is the accepted practice of the sea for smaller ships to keep clear of bigger ships, because smaller ships are generally more manoeuvrable. No commanding officer, whether he be naval or merchant, likes a ship close to him especially forward of the beam. In this case, “Voyager”, as previously explained, was ordered to change her station from astern to ahead. The Royal
Commissioner has made three pertinent points concerning the Captain and officers of “Melbourne”. At page 18 he said -
On his own view of the matter, Voyager was engaged in an unusual operation. The turn to star board indicated to him a movement designed to take up the plane guard station. The moment Voyager turned to port forward of the beam her action should, as it seems to me, have created some doubt at least in Captain Robertson’s mind as to what her intentions were, and the moment the movement to port passed beyond such as would have brought her back on course, it seems to me that Captain Robertson should have made some inquiry or passed some signal, whether by whistle or otherwise to Voyager. Whether action of this kind would have avoided the collision I am unable to say, but I feel that the chances of a collision occurring might have lessened if some, such action as I have indicated had been taken by Captain Robertson.
At page 21, he said -
As in the case of Captain Robertson, I think, when he became aware of the dangerous situation, prudence dictated the desirability of some warning to Voyager. It is, I think, regrettable that none was given, but in the case of this young officer of limited experience-
He was referring to Bate - faced with an incredible situation, he may be. excused on this score when neither the Captain, nor the Navigating Officer took or advised action in this direction.
Referring to Captain Kelly, the Commissioner said at page 21 -
As I have earlier indicated Commander Kelly was a navigating officer of considerable experience. He had with him an officer of the watch of limited experience, a circumstance which called, I think, for special vigilance on the part of the navigating officer. He was unaware of the watch being maintained by the Captain and was unaware, whether the Officer of the Watch had Voyager, under observation. Prior to the moment of his exclamation he himself does not appear to have had Voyager in view since she relatively crossed the bow of Melbourne during the course of the turn from 060 to 020, except when the Captain directed his attention to the starboard turn. 1 think in all the circumstances Commander
Kelly should himself have paid more regard to Voyager’s movements than he did.
Again on page 21, the Commissioner referred to the senior Officer of the Watch, SubLieutenant Bate, in these terms -
The conclusion I reach is that the watch which was maintained on the bridge of Melbourne by the Officer of the Watch and the Navigating Officer was in the circumstances inadequate.
These statements are undoubtedly charges of neglect but, in the case of Captain Robertson, two ships were approaching each . other at a speed in accordance with plans, which must have been drawn up and approved by officers senior to Captain Robertson. The blame, therefore, must be shared by all concerned. The same can be said about Commander Kelly and the Officer of the Watch. They were appointed to the ship by the powers that be knowing of (a) Captain Robertson’s absence from seagoing duties for some three years and that he was experiencing his first command of a big ship; (b) Commander Kelly’s limited experience as a navigator on an aircraft carrier; and (c) Sub-Lieutenant Bate’s overall inexperience. It is accepted at sea that should the captain be on the bridge the overall responsibility is his and any blame that has to be taken is accepted by the captain. Captain Robertson is an officer of outstanding character and I know he readily accepts this fact and would be the first to say: “This is my responsibility. Do not blame the navigator and Sub.Lieutenant Bate.”
I feel that part of the blame lies with those in much higher places than the Captain, the Navigator and the Officer of the Watch, and these mcn must not be made scapegoats, for they are the result of bad management and planning. Therefore, the management and the planning must take the blame, and the Navy must be rearranged, lt is obvious that the Navy is not aware of its shortcomings. Therefore, the Government must set in motion the necessary machinery to re-organise the Navy. The Navy appears to be too aloof and unrealistic in these things. It is remote, it is out of station and for its own good must quickly get into line. Eighty-two men have lost their lives and this debate must not be turned into a political football match. We on this side of the House are not looking for gain but for action, and immediate action, by the Government to make the general conduct and command of the Royal Australian Navy more efficient. I have many pathetic letters in my possession from parents and wives and friends of those who were involved in this disaster. Let me quote from one letter from a mother who lost her only son. She said -
I am pleading with you to help and bring out the inadequacies to the fore during the promised parliamentary debate. I have long since given up any hope of the Navy Department and this includes the Minister, treating (his disaster other than, and I quote Captain Nave speaking in Brisbane a fortnight ago. “Just another very unfortunate accident “. To us it was unwarranted and sheer neglect, and the Department of the Navy must accept responsibility for 82 lives lost through carelessness, lack of training in her officers ami, last, but not least, regulations that have now been brought to light through this tragedy which proves that the senior service system must be reorganised.
The letter also directed attention to the fact that an officer had to read instructions on how to inflate a rubber raft, although this procedure should have been instinctive. This shows a definite lack of training and a situation that must be speedily remedied. The letter concluded -
Please do not treat me as a chronic letter-writer as before this tragedy I had never contacted a. department or parliamentary member in any way but since this tragedy I have practically developed writer’s cramp trying to get somewhere with (he Navy Department. In passing, 1 would like to advise that I have had very kind consideration shown to me by our local member, Hon. A. 1-ltilme, who has gone out of his way to help, also courtesy was paid by Commander Ferguson of Brisbane Navy Depot.
This letter shows the responsibility that the Parliament has. All of us will be kicking in our sense of duty if wc do not insist that the wrongs now prevailing in the Royal Australian Navy be quickly Tightened. The whole system of training of all personnel, from admiral to ordinary seamen, must bc overhauled and overhauled quickly. The Navy has failed to learn a lesson from the earlier tragedy involving the whaler from H.M.A.S. “ Sydney “ when five young officers lost their lives in Whitsunday Passage. To show the Navy’s muddled thinking 1 want to direct the attention of the House to the way in which the Navy thought about whalers at that time and the way in which it thinks now. At page 33 of his report on the “ Voyager “ disaster the Commissioner said - lt seems quite clear that the only boats suitable for use in the open sea were the motor cullers, lt was said that the motor boat and the Admiral’s barge were for use in harbour or calm waters only, and that the whaler and the sailing dinghies were for recreational purposes in calm waters.
I would like the House to note particularly the last remark. Compare that statement with one that appeared in the “ Sydney Morning Herald” of 22nd October 1963 under the heading “ Impossible to Sink “. The newspaper was quoting from the transcript of the inquiry held into the H.M.A.S. “ Sydney “ whaler disaster, and it said -
A Navy spokesman said tonight the two-masted whaler was 27 ft. long with a beam of 5 ft. 6 ins., built of wood ami fitted with buoyancy tanks. Whalers were the standard craft used for teaching seamanship, for lifesaving and recreation.
They were unsinkable and almost impossible to overturn, liven with both plugs open they did not sink.
This kind of whitewashing is unworthy of the Navy. When the Navy was in trouble over H.M.A.S. “ Sydney “ it said, to get out of a jam, the whalers were unsinkable. But in the case of H.M.A.S. “Melbourne” the nation was told that in fact the whalers did sink and that they were for recreational purposes in calm water. In explaining the use of the whaler in Whitsunday Passage the Navy had said that whalers were good in all types of weather, including the roughest.
The suitability of naval whalers has troubled mc for many years, and before this accident, on 16th December 1963, I wrote to the Minister for the Navy, then Senator Gorton, asking whether something could not bc done to make this type of craft more seaworthy. I. mentioned that in my own experience of many years in the Naval Reserve, during which I sailed whalers constantly in competition, I had found them to bc far below the standard outlined in the H.M.A.S. “Sydney” inquiry. Without prolonging this subject I may tell the House that I pointed out certain improvements which have been made to the buoyancy of lifesaving craft over the years in other countries and suggested that these improvements be made as soon as possible to the Royal Autralian Navy craft. I have with me the nebulous reply of the Minister. I shall not read it, but if any honorable member cares to read it he may do so. This kind of negligence, and also the practice of sending ships to sea without proper facilities for saving life, are unpardonable. Before one of the Queen’s ships proceeds to sca the officer commanding the area concerned sends a standard letter which contains the words “Being in all respects ready for sea “. In wartime the words “ and to engage the enemy “ are added. The several tasks that the ship is to cany out are then enumerated. I direct attention to the words “ Being in all respects ready for sea “. “ Voyager “ was not ready for sea. How can any ship be ready for sea when, as the Commissioner said at page 31 of his report -
The evidence indicates that in the case of three hatches which men sought to open spanners were not available. In truth, on the night Of the collision it appears that 11 hatches were without span ners. A muster carried out on the preceding Friday revealed their absence. A requisition for further spanners had been made but not mct at the time of collision.
I spoke a moment ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about unpardonable negligence. Could anything be worse than to order lifesaving spanners and then to be evidently not concerned to chase up the order and see that the spanners were on board before sailing? What would be said if a person deliberately held up lifesaving drugs ordered by a doctor, with fatal results? This would surely be comparable to the neglect I have just outlined.
It was wrong to have life jackets in a position in which they were not readily available. Now we are told by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) that steps are being taken to have life jackets placed in more suitable positions, but 82 men had to lose their lives before such action could be taken. We are told that the life jackets were locked up in a store. It seems a very stupid place to have them. The Manly ferries and other Sydney ferries and vessels operating under State and Commonwealth regulations are compelled to have lifesaving equipment in a handy position. It is odd that the Department of the Navy, which is controlled by the Commonwealth Government, is allowed to operate under safety regulations different from those adopted by another Commonwealth department, the Department of Shipping and Transport.
The House will remember that a few years ago the Department of Shipping and Transport fined the operators of several overseas ships many hundreds of pounds and kept their vessels in port until the lifeboats and the lifesaving equipment on them were brought up to international standards. Yet the Royal Australian Navy, still mourning the loss of five gallant young men, allowed H.M.A.S. “ Melbourne “ to go to sea knowing full well that the floats on board were not in first class condition. Why should the Government demand that one of its departments be efficient in this regard while it does not worry about another department? Is the life of a merchant seaman more valuable than that of a naval seaman? I would like to think that they are both equally valuable; but Government discrimination does not indicate that they are.
This debate has not been easy for me. I have had a long association with the Navy.
If my words have seemed hard and blunt, it must be understood that my contribution has been made in an endeavour to see that wrongs are righted and that those who suffer and mourn this tragedy will bc spared the anxiety and expense of litigation. I trust that the Government will not endeavour to find technical ways of getting out of its responsibilties. I hope that technicalities such as whether a man was on watch or off duty will not be considered, so that dependants who lost dear ones on “ Voyager “ will be spared years of writing through their local Member of Parliament to an unsympathetic government. 1 feel that I speak for all honorable members when 1 join in the tributes that have been paid by Sir John Spicer to the many acts of heroism on that fateful night. In dreadful tragedies such as this one, much goes unnoticed. Probably some of the bravest acts were unnoticed. But it would be wrong not to recognise the many brave acts which came under notice, lt is not necessary for me or any other honorable member to make a pica to the Government on behalf of the men who performed acts of heroism, because I am sure that due recognition will bc given.
Nobody can deny that on past performances the Royal Australian Navy has been in decline. The men at the head of affairs have failed to take remedial action and, because of that, we find this tragedy on our hands. The ships “ Melbourne “ and “ Voyager “ and their captains, officers and men are the victims of circumstance. If punishment or denial of promotion is handed out to the captains and officers of “ Melbourne “, the real problem will not be solved. It goes far deeper than that. There must be an overhaul of the top echelon, because its members, and its members alone, are responsible. “ Melbourne “ is the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, and she was sent to sea without her admiral. Surely the admiral, Rear-Admiral Becher should have been on board to watch and to pass on his experience, because it was well known that both ships were exercising with raw crews. Where was the admiral? What is the excuse for his absence? Was he sent somewhere else by the Chief of the Naval Staff? If he was, the nation wants to know about it. There has to be a very good reason for the absence of the flag - to use naval parlance. “ Melbourne “ is his ship and he should have been on her. I trust that the Minister will find out why he was not there and where he was, and let the House know. The Admiral’s presence could have prevented this accident, because his greater experience and authority surely would have prevailed. For instance, when no wind was apparent . he, undoubtedly, would have called off the operation.
Commanding officers and watch keepers in the R.A.N, must be as conversant as Merchant Navy officers with the rules of the road at sea. Everyone who wants to use the road should pass an examination, just as an applicant for a driver’s licence has to do. Naval officers in command should be compelled to gain pilotage exemption certificates by examination. Like Merchant Navy officers, they should not be allowed to bring their ships into port without a licensed pilot until they are qualified to do so. I. mention that because 1 have with me a file which is far too long to read and which deals with an occasion about 18 months ago when this very same ship - “ Melbourne “ - was nearly sunk because an officer in command did not know the regulations of the port. That file is here to be read by anybody who wants to read it. Naval ships should not be allowed to blunder into Australian ports unless their officers know the port regulations and have a thorough knowledge of the local conditions. Many accidents and near accidents have arisen from such lack of knowledge.
When the fate of New Guinea was being discussed between President Wilson and Prime Minister William Hughes on 30th January 1919, President Wilson said “You ask for mandate in order to satisfy the whim of five million people in the remote southern continent whom you claim to represent.” Mr. Hughes, with much emotion, begged to inform President Wilson that he represented 60,000 dead - people who were killed in action for their country. We in this House represent 82 dead. The cause of their death will never be completely solved because key men on “Voyager” did not survive the accident. Their dependants must not suffer unnecessarily.
In the House today we learned by innuendo that Captain Robertson has been shifted to another command. It appears to me that he is not to stay on Melbourne “, although we were told when he moved from “ Melbourne “ that it was a temporary move. I make a plea on behalf of Captain Robertson. If the Government wants to do what the Prime Minister says it will do, that is, put the Navy right, it should do as the Air Force does with a pilot when an aircraft prangs put him back where he belongs. Let us get this Navy of ours right. Everybody knows that it is no good humbugging about and saying that Captain Robertson will go back to his ship. He has been put on shore and, if the Minister for the Navy does not have anotherlook at the matter and if some action is not taken, he will stay there and will wither away. He should be sent back to his ship. If the Minister cares to look at this man’s fine record, he will see that Captain Robertson should be sent back to his ship. Men of his calibre arc too valuable to be left out of the Royal Australian Navy. I ask the Minister to have another look at this matter, in the light of the very fine remarks of the Prime Minister about this gentleman, and to sec that he is speedily replaced where he belongs.
.- I listened with a great deal of interest to the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Benson), who opened the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I must say that 1 regret that he did not pay more attention to what the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said in his statement to the House.I know that the honorable member very carefully prepared a case to present to the people of Australia and to the House. In the course of my speech tonightI hope to cover some of the points that he made as a result of, first, an erroneous reading of the evidence and, secondly, a lack of attention to the statement made by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government.
I am not speaking here on behalf of 71 members of the Government parties or 51 members of the Opposition. I am speaking on behalf of 12,000 men of the Royal Australian Navy. I resent the charge which is implicit in the honorable member’s speech, namely that something is wrong with the Navy and that it needs a considerable shake-up.
– Of course it docs.
– See how they rise. They sat in silent sleep for the whole 45 minutes of the speech of the honorable member for Batman; but immediately anyone says anything to protect the name of the R.A.N., up they rise like a pack of jackals. I knew that the honorable member for Hindmarsh would interject. I am very delighted. (Honorable members interjecting)-
– Order! I suggest that the House come to order. Honorable members listened to the case presented by the honorable member for Batman. I suggest that the Minister for the Navy, who is the responsible Minister, be given an opportunity to reply to that case.
– If he can.
– You can always pick the ones who are powerful in a pack.
– Calm yourself.
– As I was starting to say when I was interrupted by the cries from over the way, I am very pleased that the proceedings are being broadcast tonight. I am pleased that the people of Australia will know that honorable members opposite are not prepared to hear me answer some of the statements that have been made by the honorable member for Batman, probably in all sincerity but not founded on the pure facts of the case. I want to take one or two points raised by the honorable member. I hope that I will not take up too much of the time of the House, although I have been granted unlimited time. The honorable member said that what had been done should have been done a long time ago. It is interesting to note that all the navies of the world have adopted principles that have been tired and tested. These tried and tested principles get changed only in the hard field of experience. I wonder what the comment from the other side would have been if nothing had beendone if the Prime Minister had got up here and said: “We have had a look at the Voyager report and there is not much we can do about it “.
– What did he say?
– Well, there is another honorable member, the honorable member for Yarra, who has not even listened to the Prime Minister tonight, because if he had listened he would know full well what had been said in this House about the measures that the Government decided to take and the measures that the Naval Board had already taken. The honorable member for Batman, early in his speech, said that the report that was produced was after an inquiry lasting 55 days at a cost of so many thousands of pounds and with so many witnesses having given evidence, that had brought down no finding. He now in 40 minutes produces his findings. He says, in effect: “ I, the expert on these matters, will tell you what happened. I will tell you what no one else could find out even the most experienced naval personnel called before the Commission “. But honorable members opposite must realise.
– Do not get so excited.
– Get excited?I will get excited over any insult to the Service which 1 represent in this Parliament. I hope that every naval man and naval dependant in your electorate hears your interjections. The inference is that the Opposition intends to have a little each way. The Opposition says, in effect: “ There are some wonderful sailors in the Navy, some wonderful men who have been enlisted, but somewhere up top there is something very bad. The house is beautifully constructed and it will stand anything but, mark you, it has no foundations “.
– It has white ants.
– That is an extremely good remark. I ask honorable members to look at the report that we are supposed to be debating and see the tributes paid to the men. Look at the behaviour of the men on the night in question. Look at the tributes that were paid right through to the officers of the various ships for what they did under stress and strain. Could this happen if the men were badly led? There is an old adage in Australia that all you have to do is put a rifle in the hands of an Australian, or a uniform on him, and you have a natural born soldier.
– That docs not apply to admirals.
– What would you know about this. Unless the same man, as the honorable member for Batman knows.
– The Minister is all at sea.
– Yes, and he does not mind going to sea with the Royal Australian Navy, which is probably more than you are game to do.
– I am not going to sea.
– Look at them, the great men of courage, the yap yap men, including the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). The honorable member for Batman knows that you cannot have an efficient ship, you cannot have a fighting service and you cannot have men who are paid tributes by people all over the world unless the men are well officered and well led. 1 say that at the present time in Australia the Royal Australian Navy is well led.
Where does the “ top “ begin? Recently I was in Singapore with some members of this House and I visited the minesweepers of the Royal Navy that have been on an arduous task in that part of the world. The men on those ships were young boys of 24 and 25. My age permits me to say “ young boys “, although 1 would have been insulted by that term when, at the age of 24, I served with the Royal Australian Air Force. But these lads, young so far as we are concerned, were carrying out an arduous task. They are all right. A little higher up you have a commander in charge of a frigate or destroyer. The Opposition will say that he is all right. Then a little further up is a captain who, for a while, is on shore prior to a sea appointment. But suddenly something happens to him and, according to the Opposition, he is all wrong,he is rotten and there is something bad; but put him back at sea and he also is all right. The Opposition should make up its mind about this, because the Navy wants to know what the Opposition thinks.
– Who wasthe Admiral, though?
– Let us come to it. We do not have to answer everything in one minute. The honorable member for Batman took 50 minutes to put his point of view.
I have taken seven minutes and you are impatient because I have not covered a certain point.
– You are in hysterics.
– That is all right, old man. There is nothing that puts me into hysterics more than to see you in this House, and the unfortunate part is that I am now a little closer to you.
– Order! Once again I call the House to order and warn honorable members that if the House does not come to order the Chair will take action.
– What was the difficulty of this operation, about which so much criticism has been offered? What was the nature of the exercise? I admit the judgment, experience and knowledge of the honorable member for Batman in this field, but I also perforce bow to the knowledge, experience and judgment of four people who have captained an aircraft carrier, four people who have conducted exercises such as the one concerned. I am in the position of a Minister for the Navy of some six months’ standing, and I have probably had a crash programme of education in naval matters. 1 do not claim to have a knowledge of maritime operations superior to that of the honorable member for Batman, but at least from the layman’s point of view I probably, by reason of my position and because of this happening, have been forced to learn quite a lot about the Royal Australian Navy. I have found as time went on that the more 1 have learned about the Royal Australian Navy the more proud I have become of it.
– What about giving us the benefit of your knowledge?
– T want to say something about that. There has been talk around here that on this occasion the ships were half staffed and had not been in for a refit. There was great criticism because new crew members were on board. What would you expect, as an Opposition, if you were in government? Would you lay it down that a ship retain the same crew for its whole life, which might be a life of 20 years? Would you provide that members of the Royal Australian Navy stayed at sca all the time and did not have a shore appointment to enable them to be with their families and do other things that are certainly necessary in running a Service like ‘ the Navy?
The honorable member for Batman said that there was no consultation, that the captain of this ship had not discussed the exercise with the captain of that ship. The honorable member said that the captain did not know where he ought to be. He used technical terms which many people here did not understand. Recently we had here the biggest warship in the world - the 86,000 ton U.S.S. “ Enterprise “. Some honorable members opposite will not think much of it because of the purpose for which it is intended. A booklet was issued to every visitor to that ship and there was a picture in it of the most junior subaltern - -jg grade, I think the term is in the United States Navy - who was officer of the watch of the biggest ship in the world under the watchful eye of his captain. This was part of the publicity for the ship. The sort of thing that happens in the U.S. Navy is hailed with a great deal of praise from everybody, but because the Royal Australian Navy does the same thing and because we seem to be a nation that delights in knocking everything of our own, what we do is wrong.
– Cut it out.
– I did not use the term “ cut it out “ during your speech; I sat here making notes of statements to which I objected. In the mistaken belief that I would not mention it, the honorable member for Batman asked who the Flag Officer was on the night in question.
– The Admiral.
M,r. CHANEY.- The Admiral, the Flag Officer - it is the same thing. You see, we do not know much about these things. In my six months in office I have learnt this much. The honorable member for Batman said the Admiral was not on board the “ Melbourne “ that night. He was not on board that night because he had been summoned to the Navy Office in Canberra for important discussions on the whole operations of the Fleet. Even had Admiral Becher been aboard “ Melbourne “ in the working-up programme, he had appointed Captain Robertson as officer in tactical command of the workingup programme. Any captain is liable to be called upon to be officer in tactical command, as the honorable member well knows. The only way that experience can be gained is by practice, and the Naval Board felt that it was proper for an officer of Captain Robertson’s seniority and experience to be officer in command on this occasion. Another statement that astounded me was that had the Admiral been there, because of the wind conditions he would have called off the exercise.
– He might have.
– He might have. It is a wonderful thing to be able to hide behind the word “ might “. I remember someone saying to me: “ Don’t forget that long service leave’ might ‘ be granted.” Well I know what honorable members opposite would say if we applied that principle to any administration we cover. Let us accept that he may have called the exercise off. What was the purpose of the exercise on the 10th February? It was not an exercise primarily designed for the manoeuvring of ships. It was an exercise primarily designed for aircraft manoeuvres. In the Navy, training in peacetime as honorable members know is for one purpose and one alone. It is to train for war. The exercise during this workingup programme was merely touch and goes of the aircraft touching the wheels of the aircraft on the deck and going off again. There was no arresting and no catapulting. The pilots had to be perfect in these touch and go exercises before they could land at night. So what happens when there are light conditions? Do you say: “There is no flying tonight. Conditions are light “? The Navy is practising for war so you say to the enemy: “We are declaring a limited war on you. It is limited to rough flying conditions. If there is no wind we will not fight. We will go home.” It is as simple as this. I am just replying to the point made by the honorable member for Batman.
– I do not agree with you.
– I do not expect you to agree with me.
– You arc very hard to follow.
– I know you cannot follow it when you are half asleep or half stupid it is very difficult. But still, the average intelligent fellow can and there are a few on your side of the House. I am talking to them. I am not particularly talking to you. The honorable member for Batman said that the orders were for night exercises at speed. The speed was dictated by the amount of wind that was blowing and these exercises cannot be performed on a carrier travelling at15 knots or 10 knots not with the Venoms or the Gannetts that were operating that night. I think there has been an improper concept of the whole situation. A maritime exercise has been mingled with a flying exercise. The primary purpose of this exercise concerned flying operations. Captain Stevens, as a destroyer captain, was paid high tributes after this disaster. He had carried out this exercise with other carriers in S.E.A.T.O. manoeuvres, he had carried them out with the R.A.N.’s aircraft carrier and nobody would think that it was anything but a simple exercise for the rescue destroyer.
There is one thing that has to be kept in mind and that is that what happened on this particular night and I must emphasise this again and again did not occur over 55 days. These events occurred over a period that could have been from seconds to two or three minutes. To stand up here in the reasoned calm of this House, after having studied the reports for a week or for weeks, after having studied the evidence as I honestly believe the honorable member for Batman did-
– He certainly did.
– Well, I pay him this tribute. I don’t doubt this for a moment.
– The honorable member for Yarra will cease interjecting.
– I say that if you have done these things I think you will come to the realisation that it is a little easier to form your judgment under those conditions than to form your judgment under the conditions of this night. There was criticism, once again, as to who was at the top. The captain of the destroyer today or the. captain of a flagship today can move into flag rank tomorrow and I use those terms “ today “ and “ tomorrow “ literally. If you accept the fact that there are highly efficient and capable mcn at one level then you have to accept the fact that there is this same efficiency at a higher level because these same men have, with a great deal of success, carried out the very tasks about which we are talking tonight. I speak purely from memory on this, but the present officers comprising the Naval Board have all been in command of a flagship at some stage. They are people who have controlled a ship in exercises of this type and the advice they give is certainly based on experience of the kind of events about which we are speaking. The Royal Commissioner himself, in his report, stated that the appointment of Captain Stevens cannot be criticised. The argument from honorable members on the other side seems to be based on the fact that the people making these appointments could have been at fault. ] know honorable members opposite could say that that is just the opinion of the Commissioner and that they do not accept it but surely, if they are prepared to accept the Commissioner’s opinion on one point and use it as a valid aragument to press their views, then they must accept it, to some degree at any rate, when it supports views opposed to theirs.
The Commissioner said that, despite the limited experience of both officers of the watch, he did not think that any criticism could be properly directed against their respective appointments. He said that the inexperienced must gain experience and that in their case, it seemed appropriate that they should do so in the course of a work-up programme under supervision and wilh the benefit of advice from other experienced officers. Here again, I accept this because I have had ample experience myself that this is so in the Navy.
I think that the honorable member for Batman made a great play on the watchkeeping certificates and said they were not worth the paper they were written on. I think that things have changed since the time of which he spoke. Sub-Lieutenant Bate, one of the officers in question, who had a watchkeeping certificate, was examined in Melbourne before being awarded the certificate and he had had some years at sea. I think it is well to remember that the Commissioner himself, after hearing all the evidence presented and after hearing the cross-examination by
Mr. Smythe, did not come to the same conclusion as the honorable member for Batman.
– Are you going to try and-
– I heard with a great deal of interest the remark by the honorable member for Batman when he said: “ Well, I remember during training in 1940 “-I think it was-
– Before the war.
– I accept that. I trained during the war in the Air Force, certainly not in the Navy, and I am terribly careful if 1 meet the pilot of a modern bomber not to say: “ Well, I remember in my days, old fellow, that we used to do it this way “; because if I did he would look at me with a benign look on his face and say: “ Granny, just fade away”. I think one has to realise-
-Order! I name the honorable member for Hindmarsh.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I assure you that the honorable member for Hindmarsh did not interject as you appear to think he did.
– I accept that assurance given by the Leader of the Opposition. I call the Minister for the Navy.
– Before the interruption I said that there was a fundamental truth that one must adhere to: In this modern age of armour, weapons, armies, navies and air forces, the changes are so rapid that only the expert well versed in every facet is able adequately to keep up with them. I say this in no sense of criticism but I must say it in defence of the Service which I represent because at least we are making positive steps to try to keep our men, through attendance at courses both in Australia and overseas, up to date in the methods and planning and operational needs of a Service that has many duties to perform.
I bow to the professional knowledge of the honorable member for Batman in relation to technical terms such as turning together and turning in succession. He said that he had written me a letter to which 1 replied saying that I could not comment on the subjects before the Royal Commission, and that we in this House accepted that those subjects could not be commented on. I added that I would refer the matter to my advisers and get expert advice. What the honorable member said has gone into the record, and I should now like to have a few short comments on the matter recorded in the pages of “ Hansard “. I repeat what I said in my letter. It has been suggested that it would have been a more prudent manoeuvre if “ Melbourne “ and “ Voyager “ had turned in succession on the night of 10th February instead pf turning together when “ Melbourne “ was looking for the wind. lt has been suggested also that instructions should be issued making this mandatory. Both methods can be and have been used, and it may well have been quicker and simpler on 10th February to use turns in succession. The method to be used depends on the progress of flying operations, the actual station which the rescue destroyer is occupying - Station 1, which was being used by “Voyager” on the night of 10th February, is only one of several rescue destroyer stations, the others being further forward on the carrier - and whether or not aircraft are airborne. The Naval Board believes that mandatory instructions as to which method of turning should be used would be undesirable, as this would reduce the flexibility of operations without adding any additional safeguards.
I thought that the honorable member for Batman missed one point: The function of a rescue destroyer does not lie in the station that it takes under any method adopted. Aircraft are not kind enough to crash beside a rescue destroyer. As the honorable member must realise, although he seemed to forget it for the moment, aircraft that crashed on take-off would enter the sea forward of the ship; an aircraft that crashed on landing could well go into the sea prior to reaching the ship or to either side of it. The rescue destroyer has speed and manoeuvrability and is there for the simple reason that it can move to any position at any time to pick up air crew who are ditching. I noticed only last week that a Royal Australian Navy destroyer acting in this capacity with a British carrier in the South East Asian area picked up the crew of. 1 think, a Gannet that had ditched during night exercise. This incident was not the subject of headlines in the Press. No one expects that, of course, because this is a job that is quietly and well done by the efficient crew of an efficient vessel. But I think it is well to remind honorable members that one can find more cases of success and efficiency in naval operations in the Royal Australian Navy than there are instances in which criticism can justifiably be levelled at the Service.
It is wrong to assume that sympathy for the victims and the relatives and dependants of the 82 men lost rests with only one side of this House. I do not know of anything that has affected the present Cabinet more than this event has done. I do not know of any problem facing us that has been the subject of more intensive work by the Cabinet, the Government and the Naval Board, than the problems raised by this occurrence. It is wrong to convey to the people of Australia, over the air or through the medium of “ Hansard “, any impression that this Government is allowing the Navy to sink below a proper level of efficiency and is doing nothing about what a certain section of this House thinks ought to be done. If honorable members opposite only took a little time to read carefully what has happened over the last ten years, they would, I am sure, speak with a little more respect for the Royal Australian Navy.
Between the time of the “ Voyager ** disaster and the rising of the Parliament for the last recess, a series of questions was directed to either my colleague, the present Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes), who was then Minister for the Navy, or myself. The tenor of all these questions was: How many accidents have you had in the last ten years? How many of this have you had? How many of that have you had? I thought it was terribly interesting that the Royal Australian Navy had suddenly entered an accident prone period during the term of the present Government. So I undertook a little research on the subject, starting from the end of the war, so that wartime incidents would not be taken into account. I found that in a period of five or six years while Labour was in office there were 24 accidents, including collisions and all sorts of other incidents. I do not use this information to criticise the Government of that time.
If honorable members read carefully what the Prime Minister said earlier this evening, they will see that he made it quite clear that naval life is a hazardous occupation. The honorable member for Batman probably realises more than most of us the perils of the sea and knows that the Royal Australian Navy is not a Service that can be given notice that it will be wanted for action in one month, three months, or six months, lt is a Service that must be ready for action at a moment’s notice, lt constantly has two vessels in the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya, and it has minesweepers in the Borneo area. But for all this it receives scant credit from honorable members opposite, who say, in effect: “ These vessels may have been so operating, but they were operating there in spite of what we tell you is wrong. Mind you, we cannot tell you what is wrong. We only know that something is wrong somewhere.” This sort of thing affects quite a lot of people, from members of this Government to the 12,000 mcn of the Royal Australian Navy. 1 cannot forecast the future; neither can anyone else. But the Navy has to be at readiness at all times. As 1 have said, it may be called on at a moment’s notice to act to protect all of us. 1 suppose those who now yah and jeer at our Nav’y would then say: “ Thank goodness for the Navy “.
– We are jeering at the Ministry.
– I may say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that jeering at me does not worry me much. The Prime Minister earlier this week talked about the cut and thrust of politics. If the cut and thrust were taken out of politics, it would be a rather tame game. After all, nobody comes here with the idea that he has joined a ladies’ bowling club. At least, we in this Parliament arc in a position to protect ourselves, and for every cut we can make a thrust. I am speaking here on behalf of men who cannot thrust in reply when they are cut at. These men believe in their own Service as strongly as I believe in it.
As I said before, there appeared to be some doubt in the mind of the honorable member for Batman about whether enough evidence had been produced to establish conclusively what had happened. I repeat that anyone who read the transcript of all the evidence or even in some instances only the headlines of those parts of the evidence that the Press thought made goods news - they probably did at the time - would have known sufficient about the matter to believe with me that nothing had been left undone in an effort to find out whether anybody could be said to bc culpable, negligent or responsible for what happened.
The honorable member also mentioned the whaler incident. He apparently has forgotten the answer to one question that was given by either my colleague, the present Minister for the Army, or me during the last sessional period. After the tragic loss of a whaler crew from “ Sydney “, instructions were immediately issued to suspend the use of whalers for long passages out of sight. The honorable member made the point that at one stage it was said that whalers were not to be used in rough seas but that somewhere else it had been said that they could be used in such conditions. They may be used for recreational purposes and in calm seas, but their use in rough seas is not accepted. As honorable members oan well imagine, carriers are more likely to bc operating in rough seas. Lifesaving equipment provided in nav.il whalers is now the subject of an investigation. The importance of this is appreciated by the honorable member for Batman, I feel certain. This investigation is being undertaken so that we may solve the problems that arose in the use of whalers. But to say that we should have found out long ago how to solve those problems is to assume that neither the British Navy nor the Royal Australian Navy has the capability to find out what wc need to know.
I thought that a little too much weight was placed on this matter of wheel spanners on “ Voyager “. Action was taken immediately by the Naval Board. I notice that strong criticism was offered, too, by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) about the requisition for the spanners. As a point of interest, I inform the House that the requisition had not left “ Voyager “. So honorable members opposite apparently are criticising somebody for failing to supply equipment for which a requisition had not been received. A little more investigation on their part would have established the facts a little more convincingly than they established them.
– That remark points to a defect in the Royal Commissioner’s report, also.
– Well, I am here to answer charges against the Royal Australian Navy, and I will continue to answer them. The House has been most indulgent to me, and I have been given unlimited time, but the points I have made only go to prove to the House that so far as I am concerned the Royal Australian Navy is a highly competent service a service of which I am proud and of which some of you, including the honorable member for Batman, deep down are proud. How can the naval administration be so much at fault and so inefficient as claimed by the honorable member for Batman? I think he has come in with his mind completely made up. After vail, that is not a bad attribute to possess sometimes in this House. However, he was working from a fixed position, without waiting to hear what the Prime Minister had to say after a most comprehensive and searching examination by the Naval Board. J should have thought that this debate could have been adjourned for a week to enable the Opposition to really consider what the Prime Minister said.
– Were you caught on the hop?
– I do not think so. After all, I have had six months of waiting for this, and I have had dire threats from all over the place by way of interjection about waiting for the “Voyager” debate. The Naval Board made a most comprehensive and searching examination and its report was seriously considered by Cabinet. However, the honorable member for Batman has chosen to ignore completely the Prime Minister’s brief but impressive outline of positive achievements over recent years the Navy’s steady expansion, in new equipment and numbers, the prodigious task involved in training men for the complex modern navy, and the provision of the extensive and complicated but essential infrastructure required to keep an effective fleet at sea.
– This is irrelevant.
– It is as irrelevant as what you said. It has been necessary to train men for the infra-structure. The honorable member criticised the naval authorities for putting Captain Robertson in a place where, if regard is had to the final effect on the Navy, his services would be far more important than on board a carrier.
– I did not criticise Captain Robertson.
– I did not say you did for one moment.
– I did not criticise his appointment.
– You said he ought to go straight back, because this would do’ something for the Fleet. Thinking in terms of the future fleet, Ithink the decision we made was quite correct. The honorable member completely ignored the Navy’s ready availability to meet various commitments in South East Asia waters, through service in the Strategic Reserve based on Singapore, or on patrol duties in North Borneo or by transporting troops and equipment to these areas.
Without wishing to repeat what the Prime Minister has just said about these matters, I must ask the honorable member for Batman, and indeed all honorable members, how they can reconcile the charges of inefficient administration and maladministration of the Navy with the great success of this same administration in continuing the build up and development of the effective and modern force which the modern R.A.N. comprises. Secondly, I must ask the honorable member how he can possibly reconcile his charges of lack of leadership and of mismanagement at top naval quarters with the admission that the Service itself and men at all levels form it is capable, efficient and enthusiastic, but merely badly led. The. point is that a service is only as good as the leadership which controls, directs and trains it. The real facts are, of course, that the R.A.N. is well led and well administered. The facts are there to speak for themselves.
Certainly, as the Prime Minister has shown, certain important changes and improvements have been introduced as a result of lessons learned from this tragedy and the subsequent inquiry. I do not want anyone to think that I or any honorable member on this side of the House think any’ less deeply of the tragedy and of the way it cut into so many lives in Australia, or that we have any less feelings about the impact it made on Australia itself. Our inquiries and our submissions have been constructive and have been an attempt to ensure that a service which we believe has operated at great capacity and has strained all its resources can be improved in the future. This is not a matter of shame; it shows flexibility and readiness to learn from experience. This, I suggest, is a most healthy and encouraging characteristic. It does not manifest itself only at times following tragedies, but changes for the better are under review and examination at all levels at all times. Any changes in procedures, tactics, techniques or organisation which are shown to be desirable are introduced.
I note that in his concluding remarks the honorable member for Batman said that he did not want this matter to become a political football. This is also not the wish of any honorable member on this side of the House, Our deepest wish is that whatever comes from this debate will be of great service to the Navy and that it will encourage those men whose morale is high at present and those who will form the future sailors and officers of the R.A.N. Events in this House tonight, and on any succeeding days when we discuss this or other naval matters, are going to make a deep and lasting impression on their minds.
.- This is a sickening debate in which we must participate. We are, after all, debating the death of 82 men. We have before us the report of the Royal Commissioner. When the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney) was speaking he said that the requisition of responsible officers of the “ Voyager “ for spanners to open the hatches had never been despatched. This is a very relevant point. The Minister said it aggressively, but the Minister should recognise that the Royal Commissioner did not say that. When the Royal Commissioner said that a requisition was made for the spanners the assumption that a person reading the report would make was that a requisition was forwarded. The terminology should apparently have been that a requisition form had been filled in but it remained on board “ Voyager “. Few members on this aide of the House would suggest from those facts that a requisition could be said to have been made. I mention this because of the hostility in one or two things which have been said during the debate, particularly by the Minister for the Navy. We are debating a report to the Governor-General and we can only go on the words in this document. We cannot sit in technical judgment on officers of the Navy.
The Minister for the Navy was getting very close to arguing that we should not be discussing this matter at all. If you are going to say that the Parliament is not qualified to discuss any Service matter - and that would be true of a technical discussion - then, of course, there would be no civil authority in this country. There would be no supremacy of the civil arm in this country. If what is wanted is an absolutely technical discussion of the events of that night, then the matter should have been decided by a court martial. If a royal commission - as the Prime Minister has explained, and I accept his explanation - precludes a court martial and, hence, an examination by an officer’s peers and fellow technicians of the efficiency, skill and fitness of a man exercising command, or mcn exercising command, then one hopes that never again will a royal commission be used to inquire into technical operations in the Services, lt is an alarming thought that when two ships collide, whatever be the technical reasons for their collision, if a royal commission is appointed it precludes the appointment of a court consisting of competent officers to judge technical skill. If a royal commission precludes a court martial I hope we never have another royal commission on a like subject again. This plainly should have been a matter for a court martial. The Minister has practically denied our right to debate this matter. He has almost said that if we discuss anything at all we must be attacking the Navy. That is an absolutely absurd line of argument. What has happened should not have happened. There should not have been a collision between “ Melbourne “ and “ Voyager “. This is the matter that we are discussing tonight. All the officers concerned may have been technically highly qualified but quite clearly somebody made a mistake. If it was a mistake made by officers who are dead, tha mistake was still made. It is a tragedy that a court martial has been precluded.
The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) used this debate to mention the Government’s defence policy. It was completely improper of him to do that. We arc discussing the report of the Royal Commissioner who inquired into the loss of H.M.A.S. “Voyager”. The Prime Minister seized the opportunity of a tragedy to argue the adequacy of the Government’s policy on naval appropriations. If he is to deal with the adequacy of the Government’s policy let us look at one or two points of the policy. The Prime Minister said: “ We have bought six new minesweepers. We are buying three new destroyers. We have equipped the Navy with a new survey ship. We are getting submarines.” All of that relates to the Government’s defence policy. But the ships that were involved in the last two naval tragedies - “ Melbourne “ and “ Sydney “ - were purchased in the early days of the Chifley Government and the Chifley Government is now old history. We have a fleet air arm that does not believe that it has a future. If Admiral Burrells’s statement on his retirement means anything it means that he believes that the fleet air arm is not being permitted a future. He said in effect that we should not be buying three new destroyers equipped with rockets having a 30-mile range. He said that we should be buying new aircraft carriers and that we would then have the striking power of aircraft of a much greater range than 30 miles.
– He is a has-been.
– I suppose everybody must retire at some stage. The moment of retirement is a period when Service leaders are free to speak, and Admiral Burrell seized the opportunity of his moment of retirement.
One or two of the Prime Minister’s comments seemed to me strange. Strangest was his comment about inflatable rafts and the state of training in the Navy on the handling of inflatable rafts. It will bc remarkable if even a civilian parliament is satisfied by the Prime Minister’s statement on this subject. Honorable members will recall a campaign in this Parliament some years ago on the subject of inflatable rafts.
Carley floats were condemned by an Admiralty committee in 1919. They were condemned by another Admiralty committee in 1936. Other Admiralty committees found after the war - in 1947 - that the majority of men who sought to be rescued on a Carley float died from drowning or exposure. Our Navy was still using Carley floats into the 1950’s. This matter was raised in the Parliament. The Opposition sought the introduction of RDF equipment - automatically inflatable rafts. These later became standard naval equipment and the Navy, presumably believing that Parliament was interested in this subject, arranged for members a demonstration of automatically inflatable rafts, lt was clearly the intention of the Navy to convey to the Parliament the impression that this was the new form of training. We now find that many men were not trained in the use of this equipment.
In my view this involves a deception of Parliament. Parliament had been discussing the new equipment and a demonstration was arranged for the benefit of members of the Parliament. Tonight the Prime Minister referred to the fact, although the Royal Commissioner did not, that some of the officers on “ Voyager “ did not know how to inflate the rafts and that an officer is alleged to have stood in the crisis reading instructions. The Prime Minister’s explanation of all this is that new men coming into the Navy are trained in the handling of these rafts but that men who are already in the Navy are not trained. Is it an adequate explanation to say that when a new piece of equipment is placed on board ship only new men coming in are trained in its use? If the equipment is relevant to all men on the ship - surely something which saves lives is relevant to all of them - it seems an odd explanation which the Prime Minister has been prepared to accept. This is not a tremendously important point, but I am surprised at the Prime Minister being satisfied with the thought that when new equipment is put into the Navy only the new men should be trained in its use.
The Prime Minister dealt with the matter of some of the boats on board “ Melbourne “ not being ready for use. He explained that one of them was damaged in the collision. Nobody could complain that a boat damaged in the collision was not ready for use. But then the right honorable gentleman said that these small boats ‘ on board naval ships are not part of survival equipment. He said that inflatable rubber rafts are carried on naval ships for this purpose. Naval boats are carried on ships for three purposes, he said. One purpose is for use as sea boats in the case of some emergency, such as a man overboard or a ditched aircraft when it is necessary quickly to put a suitable boat into the water. Does this imply there is no need for the readiness of that boat? It must be said that even if it is not anticipated that the boat will be used because its mother ship sinks, it is equally necessary to be ready for use if somebody goes overboard. The boat must be fit for an emergency of that kind. This does not dispose of the argument that the boat should be ready, and one boat on “ Melbourne “ was not. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister accepted that explanation and another. He has not explained to the satisfaction of the House or, I submit, of the country why it was that “ Melbourne “ went to sea with one of its motor cutters not in an adequate state and why there was a half-hour delay before it could be used.
His other explanation is quite extraordinary. He said that as these boats are required for use in harbour their engine and hull maintenance must be done at sea. That is nonsense. The boat is not tearing around the harbour all the time. To suggest that you cannot sometimes pull it up and carry out engine maintenance on it in harbour because it is being used in harbour seems rather strange. It was clearly proven inadequate procedure that the engine maintenance was left until the half hour after the tragedy.
I am not technically informed on these matters but I do not believe that the Government would accept such explanations from a Merchant Navy captain. That is one of the important points that have been made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Benson). A malaise does seem to affect the Royal Australian Navy. There has been one naval tragedy or mishap after another. The Minister for the Navy and the Prime Minister spoke of collisions, and so forth, in other navies. The United States Navy is an organisation of more than 900,000 men and 70 times as many ships as there are in the Royal Aus- tralian Navy. Our Navy is a comparatively small force. I do not know the accident rate in. the Royal Australian Navy compared with that of other navies. To make a proper comparison you would have to do more than show that other navies have collisions. You would have to compare the rates of accidents. The same situation arises when we compare the number of road accidents in America with the number of road accidents in Australia. If by some fantastic turn of events Australia had as many road accidents as did the United States it would not be valid to say that we had equality in this respect with the United States because we must have regard to the fact that in this country we have far fewer cars than there are in the United States. We have far fewer ships involved. We need a comment from the Government on the question of accident rates. One recent tragedy involved the erstwhile aircraft carrier “ Sydney “. Another involved the aircraft carrier “ Melbourne “. Both ships were added to the Royal Australian Navy in the early days of the Chifley Government, which envisaged the addition of Daring class destroyers to the Royal Australian Navy and set in motion their purchase. The “Voyager” was a Daring class ship. It seems to me that some kind of a blow has been struck at naval morale by the pointlessness of Fleet Air Arm exercises since it is apparently not the intention of the Government to maintain the Fleet Air Arm.
The whole theory of the Navy, as propounded by the Government, is that it is an anti-submarine escort force, yet men cannot feel that in the current South East Asian tensions this is the role of the Royal Australian Navy at all. The Government planning originally seems to have been in terms of a European war. The carrier policy of the Royal Australian Navy - now fading out - as promulgated by the Chifley Government envisaged the possibility of conflict in the Pacific. Carriers were also relevant to the Atlantic. But the carriers have not been kept up to date for modern aerial warfare. I am not suggesting that some adjustments have not been made, but today their size is not adequate.
It is not the function of this Parliament to know all the technical details of any department, but we can assess the end product of administration. Just as the mutiny in the Pacific Islands Regiment, the mutiny in the New Guinea police, the riots by New Guinea students and the anti-European riots in markets add up to a picture of growing malaise in New Guinea, so in the Royal Australian Navy, a series of events occasions worry. In July 1958, the destroyer “ Vendetta “ crashed into the gates of Williamstown dockyard. This, except for some luck, could have caused serious loss of life in the docks. In September I960,, the destroyer “ Tobruk “ was holed by the destroyer “Anzac”-. In October I960, the ammunition carrier “ Woomera “ blew, up and sank. In May 1963 the frigate “ Queenborough” and the- submarine “Tabard” collided. In October 1963, five midshipmen in a whaler from the aircraft carrier “ Sydney “ lost their lives. The court martial verdict seems to have been set aside. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Benson) has already pointed out that for. the purposes of the “ Sydney “ inquiry whalers were held to be suitable for the open sea, while for the purposes of the “ Voyager “ inquiry they were not. ‘ ‘
Npt by any stretch of .imagination can the Royal Commissioner on the’ “ Voyager “ affair be held to have written an acid or critical report, but the same impression of malaise creeps in. The report discloses that on the night of the tragedy .wheel spanners to open 11 hatches oh the “Voyager” were lacking. I do not argue the relationship of the lack of spanners to any loss of life; I relate it to this malaise to which I have referred.
Often as we denounce the Press, I think the House must regard Press concentration on this as understandable. The Press natur-ally seized upon this question of hatches when it became perfectly clear that some men who lost their lives lost them because they were not able to get out from below the ship. It is one of the findings of the Commission that anybody who got out into the open air had a good chance of survival.’ People are worried about this question of hatches because of the peculiar horror of the idea of men losing their lives through being unable to escape. I realise that the Royal Commissioner has said quite clearly that these spanners were not involved in the loss of life, but, at the same time, the fact that they were not there is one of the things which leads to this impression of malaise.
– He also said if they had opened one hatch more lives might have been lost. . Mr. BEAZLEY.- That would be true if the hatches began to go under water. But there may be many circumstances where ships are sinking in which the hatches are the means of escape and there is not such a risk. I’ am not speaking about this matter as related to the deaths in this event; I am speaking about it as related to the equipment of the ship. At page 31, the report states -
The evidence indicates that in the case of three hatches which men sought to open, spanners were not -available. In truth, on the night pf the collision, it appears that 11 hatches were without spanners. A muster carried out on the preceding Friday revealed their absence. A requisition for further spanners had been made but not met at the time of the collision.
These are the words of the Royal Commissioner, and I think that if the Minister is fair he will recognise that the plain assumption that you would draw from those words is that a’ submission had . been made.
– I accept that.
– I am glad the Minister’ accepts it. The Royal Commissioner went on to say -
On this aspect it is”’ perhaps sufficient ‘ to say that the circumstances of this collision emphasise the need for wheel spanners, to be readily available. at all. times. and that hatches should themselves be maintained in such a condition that they can be readily opened in- case of emergency. There does not appear to have been any loss of life due to the absence of wheel spanners.
It is to be hoped that the Royal Australian Navy will not take advantage of this easy terminology; No merchant or passenger ship in such a state of preparedness would have been given the benefit, I feel, of such gentle words) How elementary to assert that in future hatches should be able to be opened. That is purely a kindergarten kind of comment on the equipment of a ship. Where are the standards we have been led to expect, if such an elementary comment has to be made?
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I think I should bring the House back to the realities of the Royal Commission into the loss of the “Voyager”. As has been pointed out by my colleague and friend the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney) and by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), what we are discussing at the moment are these questions: Which officers were responsible for the loss of the “ Voyager “? Were there any contributory causes and should anyone be court martialed? From my point of view and, from an Australian point of view, the most fundamental question is: What is the Government doing and what has been done by the Naval Board to ensure that the standards of efficiency, the standards of preparedness, the morale and the administration of the Australian Navy are kept at the highest level?
It is a great pity that instead of touching on these major questions, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), has touched upon some of the superficial points associated with the Royal Commissioner’s findings. I give the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Benson) full credit for the fact that he was sincere and for the fact that several of the points that he raised were of fundamental importance to this discussion. I want to touch upon some of those points.
First let me deal with the question of H.M.A.S. “ Voyager “ moving to plane guard station. I should explain to the House that plane guard station may be taken in several ways. This station is a protective station for aircraft that are carrying out touch and go operations, that is, letting their wheels touch down at the appropriate position on the carrier and taking off again. It is right that a destroyer of the “Voyager” class should act as plane guard in order to pick up any of the personnel of an aircraft who might be- ditched during exercises. There are several ways of getting a vessel like the ** Voyager “ into its proper position. One is by turning in succession, that is, one following the other. Another is by turning in what is called a “ together “ movement. This can be done in several ways; for example, by taking long roundabout turn or carrying out what is called a fishtail manoeuvre or a series of fishtail manoeuvres. This is, in effect, a zig-zagging movement to enable the main vessel, the carrier, to get far enough in front of the plane guard vessel to enable the plane guard vessel to fall in behind it and in the proper station. This can be carried out by one of two methods. Both can be equally efficient and there is no evidence whatever that can be produced by the honorable gentleman from Batman to show that the in succession method is to be preferred to the fishtail method which the captain of “ Melbourne “ thought was being carried out on this occasion. Of course, we have had discussions on this aspect and I can state categorically that on this aspect, despite the sincerity of the honorable member for Batman in producing this argument, on the best possible evidence Captain Stevens, the Captain of “ Voyager “, was justified in carrying out a fishtail operation if he wished to do so. It was an effective method of carrying out the movement and normally could have been done without great difficulty and without loss. So I dismiss that point raised by the honorable gentleman.
The second point I wish to mention is that the Royal Commissioner’s finding has disclosed certain deficiencies. The honorable gentleman said: “All of these should have been . discovered and attended to earlier”. Let us have a look at the finding of the Royal Commissioner. I agree with the comment of the honorable gentleman from Fremantle that what we are discussing is the Royal Commissioner’s report itself. We have little other evidence to go on. The only other facts are contained in what was said by the Prime Minister as a result of the report submitted to us by the Naval Board. What did the Royal Commissioner say? I ask honorable members to turn to page 27 of the report. I will truncate his comments, and I ask the House to forgive me for doing so. He said -
There can be no question but that the two ships were suitable for the task in which they were engaged. Indeed they were the very vessels required for touch-and-go exercises at night.
He then dealt with the preparedness of the ships and their equipment, and this is of vital importance. He said that the main engines of each vessel were operating efficiently, that the steering engines were in order and that the gyros were functioning properly. He then gave eight classifications of equipment that was in order and said -
I conclude therefore that the ships and their equipment were in a proper state of preparedness for the exercise.
I will not pursue this point to any great length, but I point outthat the. Commissioner also analysed the preparedness of the officers and crews. He said that no possible criticism can be directed against the appointment of Captain Stevens as captain of “ Voyager”,that both navigating officers appear to have been well qualified and experienced, and added -
Despite the limited experience of both officers of the watch, I do not think that any criticism can properly be directed against their respective appointments.
He had nothing but the highest praise for the discipline of the crews, for their actions under great stress and tribulation and for the enormous heroism that was shown by the men in very difficult situations. In view of this, could it possibly be argued that the state of discipline on either “ Voyager “ or “ Melbourne “ was . low? On the con- . trary, we are proud to be able to say that we believe that discipline, and morale within the Navy and the other fighting Services are high. For these reasons I dismiss the point raised by the honorable gentleman that all these deficiencies should have been discovered sooner.
In the third point he raised he said that the officers must not be made scapegoats. No one intends to make any officer a scapegoat. Both the Minister for the Navy and the Prime Minister have said enough to show that our primary purpose, and perhaps our sole purpose, is to ensure that the efficiency of the Navy remains high and that the standards of the officers are such as will truly mean that they are leaders. Finally, the honorable gentleman referred to deficiencies in “ Voyager “. I have already told the House what the Royal Commissioner had to say about the state of preparedness. He also referred to deficiencies within “ Voyager “. He said that there were deficiencies. He went on to point out, at page 27 of the report, that despite these deficiencies, the ships and their equipment “ were in a proper state of readiness “. The statement of the honorable member for Batman is therefore contradictory to the finding of the Commissioner. The ships were in a proper state of readiness. What can be said -with equal emphasis and certainty is that, although there were some deficiencies, none of them in any sense contributed to the loss.
I want to argue, and I want to argue as plainly as I can, that the points raised by the honorable gentleman from Batman have been based on a misunderstanding of the report and in one instance, I believe, are contrary to the technical and highly skilled advice that we have obtained from the Naval Board.
The honorable gentleman from Fremantle criticised the Prime Minister. He said that the right honorable gentleman had introduced general arguments relating to the appropriation for the Navy. What the Prime Minister did was to point out, as a general background against which this problem could be considered, the expansion that had taken place in the Navy during the course of the last few years. He did this for no other purpose than that we in the House and the Australian public should know that there bad been this development, that a great strain had been placed upon the Naval Board and Navy personnel and that it was understandable that strain had shown up on several occasions. He didnot mean to, and did not in fact introduce into this debate the whole of the Navy appropriation in order to permit the whole Navy programme to be opened up for examination. I want to refute one other statement that was made by the honorable member for Fremantle, and that is that my colleague, the Minister for the Navy, wished in any way to curtail the substance of this debate. That is untrue and would, I think, be known to be untrue. I have already said I do not want to touch on what had been said by the honorable gentleman from Fremantle in any great detail because I did not think he dealt with matters of real substance associated with this debate. However, he did raise this question and, having raised it, I think it is right that if contradiction is possible he should be contradicted. He can be and has been seen to be wrong.
The next point that I want to raise is the question of the efficiency of the Navy. Immediately after the “ Voyager “ disaster the Naval Board, without any prompting carried out a detailed and I believe a comprehensive investigation into the cause of the deficiencies. Despite the fact that (he
Commissioner had found that there were no deficiencies in “ Voyager “, contributing to the loss, the Naval Board decided that in future if a ship had been involved in long and comprehensive refit operations there should be a special inspection by administrative officers before it took part in working up exercises to ensure that the state of preparedness was at the appropriate level. The Naval Board took this action to ensure that after a refit every care was taken to see that the vessel was operationally efficient.
The next point I want to make is this: I must confess that I personally have had some misgivings about the appointment of officers to high command after a long period ashore, lt is my view that if one or other of these officers had had an experienced and operational officer beside him during the course of the working-up exercises this accident might not have occurred, that this collision and the subsequent loss of *’ Voyager “ might not have happened. In other words, I have personally felt that there was some ground for thinking that in the case of an officer who had not been at sea for three years and who had not had command of an aircraft carrier before, although he had been an executive officer of a carrier for 18 months, the Naval Board might, in its wisdom prescribe that during the course of working up exercises of this kind, under a new command, the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Area might be increased to permit increased visits by staff officers so that some guidance could be given during the initial working up period. lt should be pointed out to the House that the Naval Board has decided that in future when working up operations are to be carried out in this way specially appointed staff officers of high rank within the command of the Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Area will be available to give assistance to the officers carrying out the working up operations. If they find any deficiencies these officers will be able to recommend remedial action. I have pointed out certain changes that are in the course of being made at the present time and which will, I believe, do a great deal to ensure that the efficiency of the administration of the Navy is kept at a high level.
There are two other matters that should be mentioned to show what the Government has done in an attempt to achieve the purposes I have mentioned. First, following the procedure in the Royal Australian Air Force, a standing committee of highly qualified officers will be constituted to investigate accidents at sea. It will be not an ad hoc committee. It will be a standing committee - a group of officers well known to each other, who can meet frequently and who will know the kind of accidents likely to happen and what they should look for when they do. They will be experts in this field and experienced enough to make a quick decision. The Naval Board has decided that in the future this kind of standing committee will operate and wilt be ready to go into action if a collision unfortunately does occur.
The Prime Minister has already pointed out that a Cabinet sub-committee, with the Minister for the Navy himself as chairman, will have authority to make general reviews of the Navy organisation and methods, particularly where major matters of procedure are involved.
As I have already pointed out, when one looks at the report of the Royal Commissioner one finds that it docs not contain a single adverse comment on the appointment of the officers or the preparedness of the ships and crews. Admittedly the Commissioner did make comments that could not he regarded as highly favorable to Captain Robertson. The Commissioner also criticised the Navigation Officer and the Officer of the Watch on the night in question.
I now want to turn to the morale of the fleet itself. I have already mentioned the Commissioner’s comments about preparedness. I believe that those who have read the report of the Royal Commissioner could not help being inspired - and I use that word deliberately - by the devoted and courageous action of the men not only of “ Voyager “ but also of “ Melbourne “ in the most unexpected and difficult circumstances that could possibly be imagined. These were the actions of brave and disciplined men. They were, I believe, a true reflection of the standards of the Royal Australian Navy. The Prime Minister himself has pointed out that on two occasions at least during S.E.A.T.O. exercises our own officers have been in command of tactical exercises. This shows the confidence that other navies have in officers of the Royal
Australian Navy. We should have the same confidence in our Navy.
Naturally enough, we cannot say that we are satisfied. Neither is the Naval Board satisfied. The fact . that such a detailed investigation has been carried out indicates that we are not . satisfied. The Naval Board and the Government are doing all in their power to ensure that the operational efficiency of the Navy is kept high. This accident was not. related exclusively to failures in terms of the efficiency and preparedness of the vessels. It arose from a human factor. Something happened on the “ Voyager “ which may or may. not have been contributed to by something which happened on. the. bridge of the “Melbourne”. We do not know the real reason. We do. know that something unpredictable occurred. We do know that the accident was due to misjudgement by one or more of the members of the “ Voyager “ and it may have been due we do not know to misjudgement by one or more of the members of the “ Melbourne “. I conclude on this note: I think it is wise and in the interests of the Navy that the Comissioner’s Report should be debated in the House. The more if is discussed on an objective and common sense basis the more quickly we can hope that a better understanding will be achieved and the morale of the Navy will be lifted to a . high, level.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired’.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, it has now . become apparent that in the course of this debate we have been discussing a brilliant naval manoeuvre carried out by a highly efficient and magnificently led navy; we are not discussing an accident that could have been avoided and that resulted in the death of 82 members of the Royal Australian Navy. I think that is a fair summing up of the impression that the Prime Minister (Sir. Robert Menzies), the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) have given to the House tonight.
We are not discussing a brilliant naval manoeuvre that was. carried out successfully. We are discussing a very serious accident which was one of a series of accidents that have occurred to Australian naval personnel. It is not enough, as the Minister for the Navy chose to do, to treat any criticism of what happened on the night in question or on other occasions as being a’ deliberate and unjustified attack on the Royal Australian Navy. The Minister for Labour and National Service was not being accurate when he said that that was not what the Minister for the Navy did: Those of- us who listened to the Minister for the Navy knew that he had come quite unprepared to deal with the subject and that he deliberately chose to make an attack upon the Opposition to try to discourage any criticism that he was not in a position at the time to answer. That is not good enough.
It is not good enough to treat this exercise as a successful naval manoeuvre. Basically it remains a serious accident which could have been avoided. It is not good enough to suggest, as the Prime Minister and other speakers have done during this debate, that we cannot discover the cause of this accident. Of course we can discover the cause.
– Tell us what it was. -
– It is not my job to discover the cause. It is the responsibility of the Government to ascertain the cause of the accident.
– Will you bet £100 that you know the cause?
– You can give 100 bags of wind on any occasion you like.
– Unlike you, I would pay up-
– The. honorable member for Higinbotham is quite ill informed. I did happen to pay the sum of £100 that he refers to. He is uninformed on this subject as well as onmany others. The situation is that the Prime- Minister, the senior member of the Government, came into the House tonight and told us that as a result -of the inquiries that have been made by the Royal Commission and the Naval Board a number of very important things would be done. Let us refer to his speech to find out what these important things are.
A very serious accident occurred. A destroyer was sunk; an aircraft carrier was seriously damaged; and 82 men were lost in the collision. Now let me sum up the proposals that the Prime Minister says are being carried into effect as a result of this accident. He says that there will be training in the use of winches from helicopters so that in the future any seaman cast into the sea will be more accustomed to being pulled out of the water by the winches than the seamen were on this occasion. He says that when there is a serious accident in the future any seamen who have been involved in it will be permitted to travel to their homes by air. He says that from now on there will be swimming tests so that, as far as possible, everybody in the Navy will know how to swim; but if it is discovered that some men in the Navy cannot swim they will not be prevented from going to sea. He says that there will be some kind of change in the storage of life jackets; that instead of having them locked in some inaccessible place the genius of the Navy will now be put to work to find out whether life jackets can be stored in some convenient place, as they have been stored for years on merchant vessels.
– There is a slight difference between a merchant vessel and a naval vessel.
– Well, let us say that there is a slight difference. The Minister for the Navy has held that portfolio for six months. In the debate tonight he was succeeded, on the Government side, by the Minister for Labour and National Service who was Minister for the Navy for 12 months. The Minister for Labour and National Service proved that he knew twice as much as the Minister for the Navy, which is not very difficult because the latter proved that he knew nothing, and twice as much as nothing is still not very much.
Another change that the Prime Minister told us will be made in the Navy as a result of this accident is that there will be live demonstrations of the use of inflatable life rafts. So, five very important things will happen as a result of this accident and a royal commission which cost £50,000.
– What about the hatches? Don’t forget them.
– I am coming to them. These are the five things stated in this part of the Prime Minister’s speech. There will be training in the use of winches from helicopters after an accident; seamen will be able to travel home from the scene of an accident by air; there will be swimming tests; steps will be taken to store life jackets in convenient places; and there will be live demonstrations with inflatable life rafts. If that is the result of this accident, this Royal Commission and all the consideration by the Government of the circumstances, then the House ought to condemn the Government for its inaction. Three other things were suggested in another part of the Prime Minister’s speech. He said that at long last the use of the old method of trying to open hatches in the case of an accident will be discontinued. Apparently some new method has been devised and will be applied.
Then came the Minister for Labour and National Service, who seemed to me to offer some of the most positive proposals that have flowed from this accident. He said that the Naval Board had conducted a detailed, long and full inquiry in which all the circumstances surrounding this event were investigated. The Board has decided to do some very significant things. First, it has decided that after any future refitting operations and before tactical exercises are carried out it will send on board officers to carry out special investigations and to check the state of preparedness on board a ship after refitting. I would have thought, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that would have been art elementary thing for any sea scout to do, but it has taken an accident of this kind to get our Naval Board to take what seems to me to be a most elementary step.
– What does refitting mean, anyway?
– We do not know. Does it have to be a complete overhaul or what? If we have in this country a Naval Board that requires an accident of this kind to decide that officers are to board a ship after it has been refitted to ascertain whether it is seaworthy, it is a condemnation of the Naval Board.
What was the second point that the Minister for Labour and National Service brought in at a later stage of this debate as though it were an afterthought, as though it might have been decided upon only in the last few days? He referred to the case of an officer who had not been at sea for three years. This is the position defended by the Prime Minister, who quoted it as common practice in the United States Navy and the British Navy. An hour and a half ago the right honorable gentleman justified this position, which the Minister for Labour and National Service, following the Prime Minister, tells us the Naval Board finds at fault. The Naval Board will now ensure that in future when an officer who has been ashore for three years boards a ship for working-up operations, especially appointed officers will go on board with him to give him guidance and assistance. Captain Robertson, who had been ashore for three years before going on board the carrier that he had never commanded before, was at sca for only a couple of days before the collision occurred. He went to sea on 6th February and the accident happened on 10th February. He did not have, as the Prime Minister suggested, some two or three weeks of sailing on the “ Melbourne “. The accident happened within a couple of days of his boarding the vessel. When a captain is put in that position-
– Your speech is disgraceful.
– But that is the fact. The ship left Sydney on 6th February and on 10th February the accident occurred. The captain did not have some weeks of sailing in daylight at 10 knots. He was at sea on the day of the accident - 10th February - from 7 a.m., presumably sailing at 10 knots. He was then required by somebody’s decision to sail at night at over 20 knots in an exercise that he had never carried out before. This ‘ has been justified by saying that the men have to train under conditions of war. Do they have to do it in their first 24 hours” at sea after being ashore for 3i years? DP the exercises have to be treated so urgently? Is it not obvious that this second decision of the Naval Board that specially appointed officers should accompany the captain on board in such cases should have been the rule all the time? Is it not as elementary as the first decision of the Naval Board? What is more, if this is the case, is it not wise to conduct the working up. exercises a little more slowly than at the rate at which the “ Melbourne “ and the “ Voyager “ were required to work up? Instead of beginning operations at 7 a.m. on the second or third day out to sea, carrying out operations all day and then continuing-
– Ships do not work from 9 to 5. They do not knock off at 5 o’clock to go home.
– You do not work from 9 to 5 either, but the performance you put on tonight indicated that you had not worked at all. It is no good being brave and strong and sa’ying that because these ships might be engaged in hostile action at some time or other, on the first day that they begin exercises they must exercise under conditions they would encounter if they were engaged in hostilities. The next thing that the Minister for Labour and National Service told us would be done was to appoint a standing committee of highly qualified officers to investigate accidents. The Naval Board has decided that this committee will be formed and it will be ready to go into action in the event of another accident. Let us hope that it never has to go into action. But 1 should have thought that this was equally as elementary as the other two things that the Naval Board has adopted.- The Royal Australian Air Force has been using this kind of technique for a long time.
– That is not true.
– I happen to know that the Air Force has been using this method for a number of years., and the Prime Minister said so tonight. I cannot understand the attitude taken by the honorable member for Franklin. He never makes a speech; he comes into the House and makes interjections, and invariably they are inaccurate. When they are inaccurate on the only subject that we would expect him to know anything about - the Air Force - it is doubly puzzling. At any rate, one would have thought that the Naval Board would have had a specialist committee of this kind investigating the position before. Would it not have been a good thing if, instead of a royal commission which invariably is known as a whitewash-
– Invariably, if you want to cover up anything you have a royal commission. If you want to have no action taken you limit the powers of the royal commission so that it cannot really investigate the position. Is this not precisely what the Government chose to do with the terms of reference of this Royal Commission? ls it not a fact that the Government sought to confine the terms of reference of this Royal Commission so that it could investigate only the circumstances surrounding the accident and could not look into the efficiency of the Navy as a whole? ls it not clear that the Royal Commission was deliberately designed to restrict the scope of the investigation, and is it not clear that the Royal Commission has not really probed into the causes of the accident? Would it not have been so much, better if the Navy had had an expert committee which could have gone to the scene and made a report which could have been fully debated in this House?
– This was in the middle of the ocean. What would you expect them to do?
– When I listen to you, I sometimes wonder whether you know that ships go to sea. I do not know whether you are aware where they go. 1 do know that the position of one of the ships was given as somewhere in the Blue Mountains during this adventure. What has become apparent is that the case made by the honorable member for Batman was a case made by a man who is an expert in this field, whose experience is extensive. I do not think anyone has answered that case effectively.
The main criticisms made by the honorable member for Batman were that two ships were sent to sea in this exercise and that they had crews on board who had never worked together in an exercise of this kind before; that this programme had been drawn up by officers somewhere in the Royal Australian Navy who were not on those ships, and who required the crews of these ships to do things for which they were not equipped. Nowhere has the Royal Commission made any investigation of that aspect of the matter, and nowhere has the Government, or any of its supporters who have spoken during this debate, thought of dealing with that matter. The programme was drawn up and it was approved by officers ashore who knew fully the limitations of the officers and crews of the ships. A couple of days after going to sea the crews were required to do things that they were not equipped to do.
The honorable member for Batman said that the “ Voyager “ had not previously acted as plane guard in any of these exercises. That has not been denied, nor has it even been dealt with. He said that until this accident happened, the turn had never been carried out at more than 10 knots, and then only a day or so before the exercise. The Minister for the Navy may never have heard of these things, so far as his own speech was concerned, because he made io reference to them. Who told the carrier and its destroyer escort to exercise at night in excess of 20 knots? Whose responsibility was this? The Minister told us that Captain Robertson had never previously exercised command in a big ship of this kind and that he had not been to sea for three years. The honorable member told us that Commander Kelly had never kept watch on a carrier before and that Sub-Lieutenant Bate, who was on watch that night, had never been on watch in manoeuvres before. Yet, Sub-Lieutenant Bate was appointed, in this case, the senior officer of the watch. The honorable member for Batman told us that Sub-Lieutenant Bate had nothing but a watchkeeping certificate which, the honorable member said, was not worth the paper on which it was written. Nothing has been said by the Ministers who have spoken ‘ in this debate to refute that statement.
I come now to the most important point of all as far as the scene of the accident is concerned. The honorable member for Batman made this point very vividly. He said that this accident was caused by the fact that the. order was given to turn together instead of the order being given to turn in succession. The honorable member said that the order that was given was wrong and unnecessary, because the officer who gave the order had the choice of giving the order to turn together or the order to turn in succession. These are two practices which the Minister for the Navy said were regarded as satisfactory. But in this case, the officer who gave the order had an alternative. He could have chosen one or the other. It so happens that he chose the wrong order.
The honorable member for Batman made this point, which nobody has chosen, to answer. He said that the order was the wrong order because it was necessary to keep the “Voyager” in station, and this order took the “ Voyager “ out of station. The honorable member for Batman said it was necessary to give the order to turn in. succession because it was the simpler order. At that stage, these ships were in their development period when the most simple of the two alternatives available should have been adopted. The honorable member showed by his argument that if the more simple order, the one that would have kept the “ Voyager “ in station, had been in fact given,, the accident would never have occurred, because the “Voyager” would have been astern of the “Melbourne” all the way through the exercise. At no stage has the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Navy, or the Minister for Labour and National Service, all of whom have spoken tonight, dealt with this matter. I now challenge the Government to deal with these points and not ignore them completely.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Forbes) adjourned.
House adjourned at .11.18 p.m.
The. following answers to questions were circulated -
s asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1. (a) £10 (jute sacks) and £8 is. 6d. (bulk) less 3s. per ton for cash; (b) £9 9s. Od. Gate sacks) and £7 Ils. (bulk) less Ss. per ton for cash; (c) £24 Ss. (jute sacks) (no bulk handling facilities); (d) £27 3s. (jute sacks) (no bulk handling facilities).- 2 and 3. Yes; the Government meets part of the freight costs for all goods carried for private enterprise on the North Australia Railway, and for persons over ISO miles from a railway station a rebate ranging from 10 to 30 per cent, is allowed. For superphosphate from Darwin to Katherine the government subsidy is 10s. per ton. The total subsidy for fertiliser and other items for 1964-65 is estimated at £40,000.
am asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice-‘
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
d asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
b asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
This matter has from time to time been the subject of consideration by the Government but it has not felt able to agree that the concession be incorporated in the relevant legislation. The matter will be examined again when the income tax law is next under review.
b asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
-The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as. follows -
son asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What revenue in the form of payroll tax has been derived from local government sources in each State during each of the last ten years?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Statistics compiled from payroll tax returns do not indicate precisely the amount of payroll taxpaid by local government authorities. However, on the basis of such statistics as are available it has been estimated that the amounts of payroll tax paid by local government authorities in each Slate during each of .the financial years 1954-55 to 1963– 64 inclusive were approximately as follows -
y asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
The following table sets out the fines imposed on each union in each of the last ten years. It is not practicable to identify precisely the States in which the .breaches which led to the fines .occurred; in some cases they certainly involved more than one State -
i asked the Minister for National Development,upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
There are no major water storages being constructed at present north of the 26th parallel for which the Commonwealth Government has made specific financial provision in the current year. The Ord River Diversion Dam was completed last year, and the reticulation work in connection with the diversion dam is now approaching completion.’ The current Budget provides for a grant of £734,000 for this work. The first stage of this project, which will involve the Commonwealth in a total cost of about £6.3 million, was commenced in April 1961 and is now approaching completion. The Northern Division of my department is currently examining a number of proposals, including some water storage projects. Reports on these proposals are expected to be completed during the year, and will be taken into consideration when deciding upon the future programme for northern development.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will Ansett Transport Industries Limited be entitled for taxation purposes to offset any losses which may be incurred by its television company against the increased profits which are 6 per cent rise in air fares will give to its airline companies?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
A taxpayer (whether a company or an individual) is not entitled for income tax purposes to offset against assessable income losses incurred by another’ taxpayer. A taxpayer (including a taxpayer that is a public company or a member of a group of public companies) is entitled to deduct a loss incurred by that taxpayer from income derived by that taxpayer in an income year not later than seven years after the year of income in which the loss was incurred.
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is. as follows -
Details available at present come from the Commonwealth Office of Education Survey of 20th June 1963. Fresh figures are expected to be at hand during October of this year. The figures for June 1963 are as fallows -
m asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
Which of the International Labour Conventions listed in his reply to me on 18th August 1964 (“ Hansard “, page 338) has Australia not ratified on the ground that they are inapplicable to Australian conditions?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Plantations Convention No. 110.
Social Policy (Basic Aims and Standards; Convention No. 117.
m asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
At the 48th (1964) Session of the International Labour Conference, the Australian Government delegates voted for the adoption of a Convention and Recommendation on Hygiene in Commerce and Offices and for a Recommendation on Employment Policy. They abstained from voting on the adoption of -
Benefits in the Case of Industrial Accidents and Occupational Diseases because these instruments were directly at variance wilh long established Australian practice on a vital issue, i.e. in general they require compensation to be made in the form of weekly payments whereas the Australian system provides for lump sum payments for certain specified injuries and in the case of death.
a Convention on Employment Policy be cause it was considered that the subject matter of the instrument Icnt itself not to the Convention form but rather to a Recommendation or Resolution. It is worthy of note that the Governments of the Federal Republic of Germany, India, Nigeria. Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom abstained for like reasons.
m asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
m asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1 and 2. Under the provisions of Regulation 12 of the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Regulations, each Commonwealth authority or department furnishes a return to the Commissioner annually and from .the information thus provided the Commissioner compiles and submits a consolidated return in accordance with section 21 of the Act. lt has not been customary for this return to be published, nor is similar information published by any of the States in respect of compensation payments to State employees.
’ asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence has furnished the following answer -
Under reciprocal arrangements concluded some time ago two Indonesian Army Officers were accepted for the current course at the Army Staff College at Queenscliff in Victoria. This course commenced in June ‘ 1963 and will conclude in December 1964: It has been a long standing Government policy, to provide training at Australian Service Schools and Colleges for Servicemen from neighbouring countries in South and South East Asia, including India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Ceylon. As part of the reciprocal arrangements with Indonesia, the Government accepted a vacancy for an Australian
Army officer to attend the current course at the Indonesian Command and .General Staff College at Bandung. Apart from this limited exchange arrangement, no Indonesian Service personnel are being trained in Australia.
Local Government Finance.
– On 27th August, the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Hansen) asked me whether consideration had been given to a proposal submitted to the Commonwealth Government earlier this year by the Australian Council of Local Government Associations that a specific proportion of income tax revenue be allocated to local government authorities.
Successive Commonwealth Governments have consistently maintained that as local authorities are constituted and function under State laws, it is essentially the responsibility of State Governments to evaluate the needs of local authorities and to meet those needs from within their own resources. Any departure by the Commonwealth from this policy would irrevocably change the established constitutional division of responsibility and financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States.
The proposal .would also run counter to the Commonwealth’s general budgetary practice. The proceeds from income tax are paid into the general, revenues of the Commonwealth, -and are then used -, to finance, in part, its many expenditure commitments, including payments of a general revenue nature to State Governments. State Governments, in turn, are free to pass on to their local authorities whatever proportion of these funds they think fit. If the Commonwealth were to adopt the proposal it would be assuming!’ in varying degrees, reponsibility for reaching decisions that arc the prerogative of State Governments.
For the foregoing reasons the Commonwealth Government has been, unable to accede to the request and the Australian Council of Local Government Associations has been informed accordingly.
son asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport-, upon notice - .
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows-
son asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
r asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1. (a) Immediately prior to the redistribution of 1948-
In the case of the 1948 Redistribution:-1
See ( (b) (i).
See 1 (b) (iii)
In the case of the 1955 Redistribution: -
In the case of the 1962 Redistribution -
s asked the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1. (a) Permanent Air Force strength as at 30th June J963- 15,840; (b) Permanent Air Force strength as at 30th June 1964-16,564.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 September 1964, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1964/19640915_reps_25_hor43/>.