25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lucock) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I should like to ask the Minister foi* the .Navy a question. Will compensation payable to dependants of those who lost their lives in the “ Voyager “ disaster be limited , to the amounts fixed by the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act as though the naval authorities were npt guilty of negligence? Will the Government, if it intends to contest claims by dependants for common law damages, undertake to meet- legal costs, as- it did in respect of counsel’s assistance for certain officers who gave evidence before the royal commission that inquired into the disaster?
– The Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act is administered by the Treasury and not by the Department of the Navy. The dependants of men lost in “Voyager” were paid according to the terms of that Act. The other issue raised by the honorable gentleman relates, I think, to matters not provided for in the Act, and this is. at present the subject of negotiation with the Attorney-General’s Department. I atn not in a position to say what stage the negotiations have reached.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service in his capacity as Acting Leader of the House. Will he advise me when it is decided that the debate on the “ Voyager “ incident will be continued? Is it the Government’s intention to allow back benchers to discuss the matter?
– It is the Government’s intention to give the fullest opportunity for debate on the paper presented to the House in the form of a ministerial statement on the “ Voyager “ disaster. The honorable member will be given an opportunity to speak on the matter. I am now looking at the notice paper, considering problems that have arisen and discussing them with various officials. As soon as I can I shall make known to the House the date when the debate will be resumed.
– My question is addressed to the Postmaster-General. By way of preface, I should like to state that I am informed that one of the major costs of industrial concerns in country areas is the cost of trunk line telephone calls. I ask the Minister: Will the Government grant concessions on trunk line calls to industrial and manufacturing concerns in country areas in order to encourage decentralisation and the establishment of industries in rural areas?
– If concessions were to be given to country users of trunk line services, this would inevitably mean an increase in the cost of metropolitan” calls. Such increases are not in accordance with the Government’s policy. Honorable members will know that charges for trunk calls are calculated on the basis of radius from the point at which a call is made. I see no reason why we should depart from this principle.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. I refer to the Bill introduced in this House yesterday to amend the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. I note that it does not contain any extension of the provisions of that Act to enable medical treatment to be provided at Commonwealth expense for general illnesses which are not directly attributable to war injury. In view of the requests which I know the Government has received, as some came through me, I ask whether consideration has been given to these requests and whether the Government intends to make the amendment asked for?
– The Bill I introduced yesterday follows the Government’s usual practice of bringing seamen’s war service pensions into line with the repatriation pensions provided for in the Budget. Had drafting time permitted, the Government would have included in the amendments to the Act a provision which would enable totally and permanently incapacitated seamen to receive medical treatment in repatriation hospitals for other than war injuries, but owing to the timetable having to be adhered to in order to bring the two pension payments into line for payment on the same commencing date it was not possible to do so. I hope to bring in a further amendment to the Seamen’s’ War Pensions and Allowances Act at a later date.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. Last night he informed the House that an opinion from counsel, the Crown Law authorities and the Attorney-General, was that as evidence given before a royal commission is privileged it cannot be used in a court martial. Does not this opinion cast a grave reflection upon the Government? Would not prudence suggest that this opinion should have been sought or offered before the hearing of the “ Voyager “ Royal Commission commenced instead of waiting until the Commission’s report was completed? If the Commissioner had found that neglect on the bridge of the “Melbourne”, instead of the “Voyager”, was the cause of the collision, are we to assume that the Government would have lacked the power to take action against those who were held responsible? If the finding had been as I have suggested, and if action would have been taken, would not this contradict the opinion that has already been given to the Government? Does not the Prime Minister agree that it is an extraordinary state of affairs, to say the least, that the Government should set up an authority with power limited to punishing the dead while permitting the living to go free?
– I am bound to say that this seems to me, coming from my honorable friend, to be a rather remarkable question. We appointed a Royal Commissioner; and the Royal Commissioner had all the usual powers of a royal commissioner. The honorable member seems to suggest that we should have made some arrangement, before the Royal Commissioner sat, that all the evidence given before him should be available at a court martial. If that is what he is saying, then I want to tell him that if plainly has been the law for a long time that it is not available for a court martial. I explained that last night. I am not seeking to conceal anything, or anybody, but I am a great believer in the proposition that when the law says that evidence given before a royal commissioner is not admissible before other courts, then that rule ought to be observed. Quite frankly it did not. occur to me on the 11th - not the 10th- to alter the rule. In fact, if it had occurred to me. I would not have altered the rule, because the Royal Commissioner should have the fullest opportunity of investigating the facts. So I do hot quite understand what the honorable gentleman is getting at.
Last night, having explained, for reasons that I had not previously understood to be challenged, that there could not be court martial proceedings, I rather thought honorable members had devoted their attention to the broad aspects of this matter and I listened to what was said by the honorable member for Batman and by other honorable members. Does the honorable member for Dalley seriously suggest that we should alter retrospectively the law about evidence given before royal commissions? I am sure he does not, because he is a man of generous instincts. He cannot be suggesting that. Therefore, I am at a loss to understand what it is that he says should now be done to put on trial, outside the existing law, people whose actions have been inquired into by a royal commission. Let me repeat that it is very easy to make a complaint about an individual officer. No individual officer will be placed on court martial with my approval except under the law of the land, or of the sea.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether any further progress has been made by tobacco manufacturers and tobacco growers on the subject of a stabilisation scheme for the industry. As one of the major obstacles to finalisation of any scheme is reported to be agreement on the total weight of tobacco to be grown in Australia, I ask the Minister whether he has any authority to direct the interested parties in this matter. Finally, has the Minister stressed to both parties that it is important that any scheme agreed upon must be introduced as speedily as possible, mainly because plans must be made for planting the new crop in the near future?
– Proposals for a tobacco stabilisation scheme were submitted recently to the Commonwealth and the States concerned. I am at present trying to follow up that move by negotiating for a conference of State Ministers on this matter.
The honorable member- asked whether I have power to give directions regarding the quantity of tobacco to be produced, which is an issue under consideration. In peace time the Commonwealth has no such power to direct. All parties should recognize the urgency of completing this stabilisation proposal. 1 for my part will do my best to help them.
” EMPRESS OF AUSTRALIA “.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport a question regarding the appointment of a freight agency for the “ Empress of Australia “, which is to come onto the Sydney-Tasmania run later this year. Have the principal freight agents for the vessel yet been appointed? Have any difficulties arisen concerning the appointment of agents because other shipping companies are operating similar vessels, such as the “ Seaway King “ and the “ Seaway Queen “ in direct competition with the “ Empress of Australia “ or because one of the members of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission is shipping manager of a large firm likely to be considered for the agency? In view of these difficulties, will the Government give consideration to amending the appropriate act so as to allow the Australian National Line to open its own offices and act as its own agent in connection wilh freights for this vessel? I have in mind the very fine offices that arc being built at Devonport in Tasmania for use as the headquarters of the Australian National Line.
– I do not know of the difficulties which the honorable member suggests may exist in appointing agents for the “Empress of Australia”. I shall have to make further inquiries. The Australian National Line conducts its business in the same way as an ordinary shipping company and no difficulties of the nature suggested by the honorable member have yet come to my notice, but that is not to say that they may not exist. As I have said, I shall have to make some further inquiries into that. I am unable to answer the other part of the question, but I shall look into the matter and see what information I can give.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Navy. As an industrial dispute at Garden Island is impeding efforts to send H.M.A.S. “Sydney” to sca and as members of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association have refused to crane up the vessel, will the Minister say whether Communists have been responsible for the dispute and will he tell us what steps will be taken to end the dispute so that the departure of H.M.A.S. “ Sydney “ for exercise purposes will not be delayed?
– There were two concurrent disputes at Garden Island. One concerned the matter raised by the honorable member and the other was a dispute between the iron workers and the boilermakers. I am pleased to say that the latter dispute was resolved at lunchtime, when a decision was reached to allow those people who had been declared black to work alongside others.
As to the other dispute, which is far more serious, the meeting failed to resolve the situation. A strike was caused by the refusal of the management to reinstate a delegate of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association whose appointment had been terminated for what I thought were fairly logical reasons. First of all, we made an application for one trained crane driver from the union to be allowed to work for a couple of hours in order that some ramps might be put in place on H.M.A.S. “Sydney” to enable it to be loaded and depart to take part in a rather important military exercise. This application was refused. The dispute has not been resolved, but the Government will certainly make every effort to see that this ship takes part in an exercise which is vital to Australia’s military preparedness.
– I address to the Prime Minister a question supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Dalley, as both the honorable member for Dalley and 1 feel that the right honorable gentleman misunderstood that question. Was the Government aware, when the Royal Commission to inquire into the loss of H.M.A.S. “ Voyager “ was appointed, that the holding of a royal commission would virtually preclude any subsequent court martial proceedings?
– The answer is that I was not. I had given no thought to that mailer. 1 think the honorable member should know that the morning after this disaster occurred the question arose, after some discussion in the Naval Board, whether the investigation ought to be on normal naval lines or whether it ought to be by a royal commission, with complete publicity. I decided instantly that it ought to be by a royal commission, and with all the attributes of publicity. I hope the honorable member will pardon me, but I gave no thought at that time to whether what came out would be admissible or not admissible against somebody. I was dealing with a very urgent matter, which had to be dealt with immediately. The question which arose instantly was whether there ought to be a sort of internal naval inquiry or a public investigation. 1 answered unhesitatingly that it ought to be a public investigation. The question as to whether evidence given before a royal commissioner would be admissible under some statute did not present itself to my mind and I would have hoped that the honorable gentleman would have believed that, instead of taking 24 hours to investigate legal contingencies, I would have said at once, as I did, that there must be an open public investigation by a royal commission. If what the honorable member is now saying suggests that there should not have been a public investigation by a royal commission, I am sure he does not mean it. On the other hand, he may mean that before the Royal Commission met steps should have been taken to make the evidence before it available in a private prosecution. All I can say is that, if that had been put to me, I would have had great difficulty in altering the normal rules on these matters in order to fit a particular case. I am sure the honorable gentleman does not mean this, but there is some suggestion in the question that T should have known something or I should have done something. If that is not the suggestion I would like to know what it is.
– Could courts martial be public? The essence of your argument seems to be that a royal commission is public and that this is essential. I agree with that. But could not a court martial have been public?
– I have an open mind on that matter, I assure you. But suppose we had an open court martial. That would not alter the rules as to the admissibility of evidence. That is the point. Therefore, with a court martial, open or private, we still meet on the threshold the proposition that evidence to be given before a royal commissioner under an act which has met with the approval of everybody in this House is not in itself admissible at a court martial. Let us pursue this matter a little further. I would like to know what the Opposition thinks about it. Last night I intimated that we took the best advice available to us. I am reminded that I was formerly a lawyer and I may say that I agree with the advice, which was that no court martial proceedings were valid. Am I to understand that the Opposition believes there should be a court martial?
– It might have been desirable.
– My taciturn friend from Bendigo seems to think that there might, with advantage, have been a court martial, although, as I explained last night, such a court martial would be doomed to futility from the very beginning. All this puzzles me. Of course, many things puzzle me, because of my deficient mental apparatus.
– We are aware of that.
– Order! The honorable member for Oxley will cease interjecting.
– I know. I thought I would admit it in advance of our juvenile delinquent in the corner. I was very puzzled last night when I tried to understand the attitude of the Opposition on this matter. I heard it said at one stage that people who as carrier commanders are the best of men become the worst of men, presumably, when they are rear admirals. Apparently there is some erosion of their mental faculties. I listened to all this very carefully. The honorable member for the Canberra Lake, who is interjecting, is not really a nautical authority. I am dealing with his distinguished colleague who sits next to him. I gathered at one stage that the honorable member was suggesting that Captain Robertson, who really ought not to be embarrassed by these suggestions, ought not to have been appointed to the “Melbourne “. If the honorable member did not mean that, he meant nothing. But later in his speech he said that Captain Robertson ought to be restored instantly to the command of the “ Melbourne “. These are things that puzzle the layman. All I can say is that this Royal Commission was appointed and the question whether evidence given before a royal commission is admissible in a court was determined many years ago by this Parliament. I am rather surprised to be told, by suggestion, that before I appointed this Royal Commission and threw open the doors to all this investigation and discussion I should have conducted a legal session to decide whether, by appointing a royal commission, 1 might embarrass some future proceeding. I go beyond the limits of an answer to a question when I say this, Mr. Deputy Speaker: I thought last night that everybody in this House was anxious not to engage in a manhunt but was anxious to discuss the broad problem. I hope we can continue in that way.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for External Affairs. Will he inform the House of the present position regarding the establishment of a definite borderline between the Territory of Papua and New Guinea and West Irian?
– The honorable member will appreciate that there is no matter in dispute wilh regard to the border between the Australian-administered part of New Guinea and West New Guinea. The only matter requiring attention is the marking of the border on the ground. Last June, when I was in Djakarta, I reached a very ready understanding with Dr. Subandrio that we could proceed with arrangements for the marking of the border on the ground. Subsequently, technical survey experts from both countries met in Djakarta and made a good deal of progress towards arrangements to proceed with the survey and the marking of the border on the ground. The reports from our delegation of experts are now being considered by the Government. The work, which will proceed of course over a period of two or three years, will be put in train in due course.
– I ask a question of the Minister for the Navy. Is it not a fact that Captain R. J. Robertson would have remained in command of the “ Melbourne “ until at least the middle of 1965 had the “Voyager” disaster not occurred? Is it not aso a fact that the Royal Commissioner made it clear that Captain Robertson was not to blame for the “ Voyager “ disaster? The crucial question I ask, therefore, is this: If it is true, as the Minister said yesterday, that the only reason why Captain Robertson did not command the “ Melbourne “ in exercises in which it has recently been engaged was that his presence was required by the Royal Commission, will he be reinstated to the command of “ Melbourne “ when the carrier’s present exercises are concluded? If he is not to be so reinstated, may we conclude that he has been relieved of his command as a humiliation?
– First of all, I direct the attention of the honorable member to the answer I gave at question time yesterday. All I would like to add is that if Captain Robertson on 10th February had suffered a serious illness or had broken a leg or experienced some similar injury so that we had been forced to appoint another captain to the command of “ Melbourne “, knowing that Captain Robertson would be unavailable for a considerable time, the necessary change would have been made and the ship would have been sent to SouthEast Asia. This is just one of those contingencies that I think people with some experience of these matters would understand quite clearly. To whatever end your efforts may bc directed I am afraid that you cannot impute any other motive to the action that was taken than the one which in fact existed.
– Does that mean that there is no reflection on Captain Robertson?
– As far as I am concerned, yes.
– I ask the Minister for National Development a question about the implementation of the policy of near uniform fuel prices throughout Australia. By way of explanation I say that in a letter which I received today the Minister states that the Government has had discussions with the States on an informal basis but that further discussions will be required before the legislation can be put into effect. Is the
Minister in a position to say when those discussions with the States will take place and also when the legislation will be introduced into this Parliament?
– A very considerable amount of work had to be done by the Department of National Development and by my predecessor and myself before the Government was in a position to decide on the form of the legislation for implementing the fuel prices policy. It was necessary to discover the wholesale price and the retail price of petrol in every place in Australia in which petrol is sold. Strangely enough, quite a considerable amount of the information that was required by the Government was not available from the industry. Not only were there great differences in retail prices in the one State, but even in one town there were different prices depending on whether a pump was in the main street or in a back street. After the collection of a considerable amount of information, finally the Government was in a position to decide on the plan. Tt has done that.
We expect to have final discussions with the industry and with the States in a very short time. I believe that after that we should be in a position to introduce legislation. As I informed the House earlier, having included an amount of £3 million in the Budget for the implementation of this scheme during the current financial year, we expected that it would be implemented about the end of this calendar year. Perhaps the scheme is running slightly behind that schedule; but we believe that it will be implemented very early in the new year.
– My question, which . is directed to the Deputy Prime Minister, is more or less supplementary to the question just asked by the honorable member for New England, although there has been no connivance. Is the right honorable gentleman satisfied with the answer given by the Minister for National Development to the previous question? Is it a fact that the promise to equalise petrol prices in city and country areas was given hurriedly during the last election campaign in order to get votes, and that the Government has no plan on how it can be carried out? If that is not a fact, will he confirm or deny that the reason for the delay is that the promise is one of the many matters on which the Liberal Party and the Country Party find it difficult to agree at the present time?
– The policy on this matter, which was announced by the Prime Minister, was agreed on by the Cabinet, and the Government intends to honour the promise. At all times it has been explained that this is not a policy which can be applied on a decision of the Commonwealth Government alone. It is quite clear that for constitutional reasons it is necessary, in certain respects, to operate with and through the State Governments and therefore to negotiate with them. For practical purposes it has been necessary to have discussions with the oil companies. My colleague, the Minister for National Development, has explained that. The answer to the question whether I am satisfied with the policy objective and that the Government intends to honour the promise is: “Yes”.
– This question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Industry, without notice. There have been suggestions that, following recent increases in the prices of certain grades of copper on the London exchange, many overseas manufacturers have developed techniques which result in the replacement of copper with plastic and aluminium. When and if copper prices return to more usual levels, what effects are such changes in manufacturing likely to have on the long term demand for copper?
– This is a very interesting question, but not one which lends itself to a satisfying or specific reply. It is one of the circumstances of industrial life that if a commodity passes a certain price level there is a search for substitutes and, substitutes being discovered, even a relapse in the price of the raw material does not necessarily mean a turning back to the use of that raw material. This may well happen, to a point, with copper. This is certainly a phenomenon that has been anticipated and, I think I am correct in using the word, feared by the zinc industry. As a result, leaders in the production of zinc, both in the United Kingdom and in Australia, have reduced the price of zinc below the
London Metal Exchange price, which is normally taken as the governing world value. 1 think this has been done partly from a sense of what is a fair value, but largely with the objective of avoiding a substitution for zinc by some other product. I believe that wise and experienced leaders of the copper industry will be conscious of the same circumstances and, to the extent that circumstances permit, may avail themselves of the same recourse.
– 1 ask the AttorneyGeneral a question. I preface my question by advising him that a Melbourne resident has designed a system for fully automatic transmission suitable for the full range of self propelled vehicles, but has been unable to have his invention adopted, or even examined, by Australian companies in this field. As a result, the invention has been accepted by the American gearbox monopoly of Borg Warner. I ask the Minister whether he will investigate this matter, on which I can give him further information, to see whether the attitude of Australian companies represents a restriction of trade and competition. I ask further: What official assistance, if any, is given to Australian inventors to secure acceptance and application in Australia of their discoveries?
– If the Leader of the Opposition provides me with the information .1 will be very pleased to investigate the matter raised in the first part of his question I will treat the second part of his question as a matter on notice, and make sure that the honorable gentleman gets a reply.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to the economic inquiry now being started on behalf of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in the leading dairy area of Australia - Gippsland. I would like to know whether the inquiry will cover the returns from solids not fat, and whether dairy farmers are securing an adequate return from the casein and/ or skim milk portion of their product converted into pig meat, as well as covering butter costs.
– I will get the details of the inquiry for the honorable member. I do not think the inquiry will go so far as the honorable member suggests it should, but I will set out the details for him in a letter.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Is he empowered to take any action with regard to the prices charged for essential food items, such as bread, in the Australian Capital Territory? If he does have power to control bread prices, what action, if any, does he propose to take following the announcement that bread prices will be again increased in Canberra as from tomorrow? If he has no power to control prices, is there any action that he can take in regard to the extraordinary situation that has now developed, in which bread baked in the Australian Capital Territory is sold in Queanbeyan, Yass and other nearby New South Wales towns at prices 2d. a loaf below the price charged for that bread in Canberra?
– I share with the honorable member this concern about the announcement which appeared in the Press this morning that the Canberra Bakers Association intended to increase the price of bread. Under the Australian Capital Territory inquiry ordinance, I can appoint a person or persons to investigate matters of this kind. As there do appear to be certain anomalies, as the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has pointed out, I do intend appointing an independent person to inquire into the situation and to report to me on it. As soon as I have any further details to give as to the personnel and the terms of reference of the inquiry, I will let the honorable member know.
– J would like to ask a question of the Prime Minister. I do so because I believe there is still some confusion as to whether the mere holding of the “ Voyager “ Royal Commission precluded any possibility of a court martial. Is it accurate to say that the holding of the Royal Commission did not in any way prevent the subsequent convening of a court martial but only precluded the use by such court martial of material elicited from witnesses which, for example, could jeopardise their position out of their own compelled evidence? If, however, matters and events were known to exist other than this personally tendered evidence, then these independently established facts could give rise to a court martial even if referred to during the Royal Commission. Is the present situation one where no or insufficient evidence exists other than the voluntary statements of witnesses before the Royal Commission whereby disciplinary action could be taken, and that this is the prime reason why no court martial is to be held?
– I am indebted to the honorable member for Evans for his question. I think that there is a good deal of confusion about this matter. First of all, we have had a Royal Commission and the results are as I stated them last night. But suppose we had not had a Royal Commission, and suppose the Naval Board, making its own investigation, had decided to put A, B or C on court martial on a charge. Then it is elementary that A, B or C could not be called to give evidence against himself on this charge. The Naval Board would have to look at something that did not come from A, B or C in order to support the charge.
All that has happened in this case is that after most exhaustive investigation it turns out that there is no evidence of any material quality relating to A, B or C other than what may be extracted from the crossexamination of A, B or C before the Royal Commission. So, had there been no Royal Commission, there would not have even been the beginning of evidence against A, B or C on a court martial. I am indebted to the honorable member for Evans, and I know that the honorable member for Denison has been interested in this aspect also. Really, above all things on these matters, we must be fair. I think I went to great pains last night to be fair about this matter. If anybody wants to tell me that but for the Royal Commission there would have been a ground for a court martial charge against any bridge officer on ‘* Melbourne “, the answer I would give is that there would not have been such a ground because had there been evidence other than the evidence given before the Royal Commissioner, I assume it would have been given before the Royal Commission. Therefore, I repeat what I said before: Do not let us wreck peoples’ lives for nothing.
– They are too big.
– Please do not say that.
– You do not hesitate to smear somebody else.
– I tell the honorable member for Yarra that he has no exclusive prerogative in his sorrow for the 82 men who were lost on “ Voyager I thought I had tried to make that plain. This was a terrible event. But if what you are after is to pursue a manhunt, then I am bound to stand here and say that so long as 1 am Prime Minister I will stand for the law, for justice and for fair play.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Having regard to the uncontradicted statement by the honorable member for Batman that it was the duty of Rear Admiral Becher to be aboard his ship, the “ Melbourne “, during the exercises that led to the “ Voyager “ disaster, and in view of the implication made last night by the Minister for the Navy that Vice Admiral Harrington was responsible for ordering Rear Admiral Becher to stay ashore, will the Prime Minister carefully examine the whole of last night’s debate? If he is then satisfied that there is a prima facie case of negligence or irresponsibility by Vice Admiral Harrington, will he consider a possible court martial?
– This is a fascinating question. I listened carefully to the honorable member for Batman last night, as I do usually. I know that he has some expertise in these matters and I was interested to listen to his views. If the honorable member for Hunter says that unless somebody, within the next 1 2 hours, contradicts an argument advanced by an honorable member in this chamber, the argument is uncontradicted, all I can say is that the honorable member for Hunter is putting a very heavy burden on me, because I would have to contradict everything he said day after day. This is not the rule of life in Parliament. 1 know that the honorable member for Batman said that Vice Admiral Becher should have been aboard “ Melbourne “. However, I am bound to say that I know of no rule that requires the flag officer commanding a fleet to be aboard one ship when it and another ship are practising a manoeuvre together. I am unaware of any such requirement. Is it suggested that Vice Admiral Becher ought to be court-martialled because he was not aboard? I thought that we tried to explain this last night in reasonably simple terms. You cannot lay a charge against an admiral for not being aboard on an occasion when two ships are practising a manoeuvre, any more than you can lay a charge against the First Naval Member of the Naval Board because he summoned Rear Admiral Becher to Canberra for a very important conference. These things happen time after time.
Really, I beg honorable members opposite to keep this thing in proportion. We all are human beings and we ought to have an infinite respect for the position of other human beings. This kind of nonsense talked by my friend opposite - I so describe it with great respect - about court-martialling the First Naval Member because he summoned the Flag Officer Commanding to a conference tills me with terror. If this principle were adopted, it would mean that the next time 1 summoned an urgent Cabinet meeting .1. would be liable to court martial if, in somebody’s view, one of the Ministers should have been doing something else. I wish the Opposition would make up its mind. It can attack the Government to its heart’s content. I do not mind that. I am not without experience of that kind of thing. The Opposition can attack the Minister for the Navy, though, poor wretch, he was not Minister for the Navy until after the incident had happened. Honorable members opposite can have a go, but before they put questions directed at individuals who cannot be heard to speak for themselves-
– People can be heard-
– The honorable member can be heard ad nauseam. The people whom honorable members opposite, in their juvenile ineptitude, attack cannot bc heard here at all. That is something for my friends opposite to remember. I simply will not succumb to this idea that we ought to have here a post mortem - a sort of informal court martial - with respect to the people involved in this matter. I devoted immense pains to what I had to say in this House last night, and I said it with all the care and precision that I could command. I will not add to it and I will not subtract from it.
– I rise to order. Is it in order, Sir, for the Prime Minister to refer to the Minister for the Navy as a poor wretch?
– So that there will be no ill will, I at once withdraw the expression “ poor wretch “ and say “ my very good friend “.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to make two personal explanations.
– Order! Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I am quoted in the “Daily Mirror” as having said that Captain Robertson has resigned from the Navy. This is incorrect. I was asked whether I knew anything about this and I said: .” No. All I know is the rumours that arc floating around this place.” But I did say that if I were in Captain Robertson’s position I would not resign, as, financially, there is too much at stake. At no time has Captain Robertson spoken to me on this subject or on matters concerning himself, the “Melbourne” or the “Voyager”. Likewise, I have not spoken to Captain Robertson.
I now come to my second personal explanation concerning a matter on which I claim to have been misrepresented, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister said that I had quoted the inexperience of Captain Robertson. That is not so. I was reading from the report of the Royal Commissioner. The Prime Minister said that I finished by saying that Captain Robertson should be reinstated. Of course he should be. I said that in all decency, because he has not been charged or found guilty. If he was temporarily removed from command of “ Melbourne “ and has not been charged, he should -be returned to his command. That was the reason for my statement.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to this House: - Development of airfield pavements at Cairns Airport.
The proposal involves runway strengthening and lengthening, taxiway and apron strengthening, the construction of blast areas at both ends of the main runway, drainage, clearing, extension of the access road to the approach lights and the construction and repair of levee banks. The estimated cost of this work is £643,000. The Committee has reported favorably on the proposal and, upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I support the recommendations made by the Public Works Committee. It is good to see that so much extension and improvement work is to be undertaken at the most northerly major airport on the east coast of Australia. It is a very valuable asset to that area and to the nation as a whole. More of this type of work should be done in the far northern part of Australia. I wholeheartedly support the recommendations of the Committee and trust that more such works will be provided in the remote areas.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr. Hulme, and read a first time
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act to give effect to the proposed changes in certain Post Office charges. The changes involve adjustment to certain telegram rates and the introduction of a 30 per cent, discount on the normal postage for the delivery of articles under the posting scheme commonly known as the Household Delivery Service. I. will refer to these matters a little later but, first, I would like to make some general remarks about the problems of the Post Office, its important role in the development of the nation and the necessity for the Government’s review of tariffs which I announced following the presentation by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) on 11th August last of the 1964-65 Budget.
In a balanced national economy the provision of communications must be phased with the development of other essential services. The resources available to the Post Office are therefore not unlimited. Its share of developmental finance has risen in the same proportion as the rise in the total revenues of the Commonwealth. Whilst this has not been sufficient to meet the present demand for telephones which, of course, require a very heavy capital investment, the Post Office needs must be viewed in the light of demands for other essential services. Over the last 10 years we have witnessed remarkable commercial and industrial expansion as well as intensive social development. A modern communication system is an integral part of this development, and in this period more than £550 million has been spent in expanding our national communication facilities. Last year a record number of new telephone services was installed but, at the same time, a record number of applications was received.
The Australian Post Office is an immense national trading organisation. Today its fixed assets stand at over £600 million; its revenue last year exceeded £160 million; its activities are extremely widespread and they vitally concern every member of the community. I wish to emphasise this role of the Post Office as a national business which should pay its way. I am not unmindful of its obligations to the community as a whole and particularly in the outback and in developing areas. The regular delivery of letters to scattered communities and the provision of telephone and telegraph services over great distances to serve relatively few people are very expensive; in many cases these services must continue to be provided to the community on terms well below cost.
I think it is appropriate that the Parliament, and through the Parliament the community at large, be better informed of the problems of the Post Office in endeavouring to meet the demands of a rapidly developing community for all of its services. The extension of telephone facilities is a very costly business. As each new subscriber is added to the network, it involves much more than the simple connection of a telephone to a pair of wires provided in a subscriber’s premises. First, with a few exceptions, each subscriber requires his own separate pair of wires all the way to his suburban or local exchange. Each subscriber must also be able to speak with any other subscriber, not only in the same local area, or town, city or country, but throughout Australia, or if he so desires, the world. As the network extends, an increasing amount of facilities must be provided by way of cables, junction and exchange switching plant to ensure that the subscribers may be able to call each other. The provision of plant, whether it be cables, wires or exchange equipment and associated buildings, makes a continuing and heavy demand for capital funds.
Today, each additional subscriber added to the telephone network costs the Post Office on the average about £570 to provide all the facilities which I have mentioned. This figure is arrived at by relating the net increase in investment in telephone plant and equipment for the year with the number of additional telephone subscribers added in the same year. The cost of adding an individual telephone service can, of course, vary widely and averages £620 for country services and about £540 for metropolitan areas. The overall average of £570 is made up o£ -
1 would emphasise that these are present day average figures, lt is obvious that services to some places would be provided for less but there arc others where it costs more than £1000 for the service.
In 1963-64 the Post Office spent £68.5 million on capital works. The Government intends to allocate £77 million in 1964-65, an increase of £8.5 million - 12 per cent, higher than last year’s record expenditure. Of this amount, £70 million will be devoted to the extension of the telephone network and the connection of new subscribers. It includes about £40 million £or material, £24 million for labour and associated costs and about £6 million for land and buildings. It is expected that a record .figure of more than 115,000 new services will be added to the network in the current financial year compared with 106,000 last year. The links between telephone exchanges and the trunk line network will also be considerably enlarged. In addition to the 115,000 increase in the total number of installed services, it is expected that 80,000 services, which have been disconnected after cancellation, will he reconnected. An estimated 115,000 services which customers have relinquished will be reallocated before disconnection, giving a record gross figure of 310,000 applications satisfied during the year.
It is worth noting at this point that, early in 1965, the Post Office will connect its two millionth subscriber. Australia with 24 telephones for 100 people is the sixth highest country in telephone density. Of those with a greater density only two other countries, the United States of America and Canada, have a comparable area to cover. It should be recorded that, of the £40 million allocated for materials for the capital works programme, about £36 million or 90 per cent, will be spent in
Australia. The development of a local telecommunication industry has been actively fostered by the Post Office. It should be stressed that 25 years ago practically all the materials required b’y the Post office` were imported.
Today, 11,000 people are employed in Australian factories solely on the production of material for the Post Office. The three factories manufacturing the most modern type of automatic telephone exchange equipment employ over 4,000 people exclusively on Post Office orders. Two other firms provide practically our full requirements for cables and wires. In fact, quite a large number of Australian firms depend heavily on the Post Office for regular orders covering an extremely wide range of products. This market for Post Office supplies has resulted in substantial expansion of a number of local industries. It has also attracted leading overseas organisations to establish factories in Australia for the manufacture of specialised telecommunication equipment.
The contribution of industry is not restricted solely to the manufacture of equipment. Some of our capital works are carried out by private enterprise. Many private automatic branch exchanges and some departmental telephone exchanges are installed by private firms. All electronic equipment on the Sydney-Melbourne coaxial cable was provided and installed by private enterprise and the same will apply to the installation of equipment in all the stations on the Brisbane-Cairns broadband microwave link. Private contractors erect all the Post Office building needs throughout the Commonwealth, including new post offices and telephone exchanges. At present, a £5 million project - the new mail exchange installation at Redfern in Sydney - is being carried out by contract. In addition, the carriage of mail is almost entirely carried out by contract. 1 might also stress that over and above expenditures incurred by the Post Office, approval has been granted to the communications industry to manufacture and install a wide range of specialised attachments for association with normal telephone installations. In all these areas of activity, the Post Office will continue to explore ways and means of securing the greatest possible assistance from industry.
Turning now to the Government’s review of Post Office tariffs, I point out that the last major increase in Post Office charges was in October 1959. In the five years since then there has been a substantial increase in departmental costs. With a full time staff of some 90,000 employees, even minor alterations in salaries and wages and general conditions of employment have a substantial effect on the Post Office wages bill. In the past five years there have been, as honorable members will be aware, a number of decisions taken by the wage authorities which have resulted in payment of higher wages and improved working conditions. These have in turn led to a substantial rise in Post Office costs, being factors beyond the Department’s control.
Progressive increases in salaries and wages and in prices of materials and supplies flowing directly and indirectly from these decisions added about £11.5 million to the 3963-64 operating expenditure, as compared with 1959 levels. The most recent wage decision will add a further £7 million a year, including £5.5 million in operating costs. It is not always necessary nor justifiable to increase charges simply because costs have risen. The duty of any undertaking, public or private, is to endeavour at all times, by increasing efficiency, to absorb as much as possible before considering increases in the charges for its services. One indication of the way in which the Post Office has done this is the fact that during the last five years business has risen by 40 per cent., but the administrative, operational and maintenance staff have risen by only 4 per cent. However, improvements in productivity and efficiency and the greatest practicable use of mechanisation have not been sufficient to absorb all the inescapable increases, and overall operating losses were shown in 1962-63 and 1963-64. With existing charges for services, a heavy loss would be inevitable for 1964-65.
The Government considers that the Post Office, as a business undertaking, should not continue to operate with recurring losses. It believes that the people who have telephones and who already get the maximum benefits from the services should provide sufficient revenue to cover the normal expenses that any business undertaking sustains. These include the actual operating costs, provision for depreciation of plant, and some allowance for a reasonable return on the capital that the undertaking is provided with. This is particularly so when, in the case of the Post Office, such a large investment is now involved each year.
Because of some recent criticism, I think 1 should refer to the interest charge against the Post Office. Honorable members who were in the Parliament at the time will recall that in reporting on its inquiries into the Postmaster-General’s Department in 1953, the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts, in its Twelfth Report, drew attention to the question of the capital of the Department and interest charges thereon and recommended that the matters should bc considered by the Government. The Treasurer in his Budget Speech of 1959-60 said -
It is clear beyond doubt that, since capital expenditure on the Post Office must continue to increase, the earnings of the Post Office should also be increased, not merely to meet the cost of its day-to-day services but to provide something by way of return on the additional capital.
The Treasurer then went on to announce that the Government would appoint an expert committee to examine these questions. A committee under the chairmanship of Sir Alexander Fitzgerald, O.B.E., was subsequently appointed to examine and report upon the financial relationship between the Post Office and the Treasury and other matters, including the basis for preparation of the commercial accounts and the general question of return on funds provided for Post Office purposes.
The Government accepted the recommendation of the committee that interest should be paid to provide a reasonable return on funds made available for Post Office use. Taking one year with another, this return was achieved up to the end of the financial year 1963. However, in the last three financial years the telephone service has incurred financial losr.es totalling some £5 million and unless existing charges arc increased the telephone service would show further losses in 1964-65.
– That is £5 million over the three years?
– That is right. The Government has therefore reviewed the existing tariffs. It has been decided that the local call rate of 4d. should remain unchanged. It has also decided to secure the additional revenue by increasing the connection fees and rentals for telephones and also for the various additional services and facilities that are available to all subscribers. At the same time the tariff structure has been simplified. The new charges will bring rentals more into line with the inescapable annual costs associated with providing and operating the services.
Under the new scale of basic rentals for telephones, there will be only three main rental groups, namely -
The lower rental for a residential service compared with business service has been abolished. The cheaper rental dates from the 1930’s when the government of the day introduced the concession in an effort to stimulate the demand for telephones. Today there is a high level of demand for new services, all of which necessitate heavy expenditure in additional plant and equipment. The average cost of providing a subscriber with a basic telephone service and access to his local exchange is substantially the same for business and residential users and it is considered that there should be no distinction between these services.
Other features of the proposed rentals are -
Charges for some miscellaneous subscribers’ facilities, such as extension telephones, cord and cordless switchboards, intercommunication units, leased coin attachments, portable services, alarm bells, &c, will bc varied and rationalised to bring the charges into line with present-day costs generally.
The existing telephone connection fee of £10 was introduced in 1956 so that new subscribers would make some contribution to the high costs of adding services to the telephone network. It has been decided to increase this fee to £15. Some adjustments will also be made in the charges for leased private telephone and telegraph lines which arc rented largely by the business community for both short and long distance requirements. Minor adjustments are also envisaged for trunk line fees with a reduction in the number of charging steps. As is customary, the proposed telephone charges will be introduced by telephone regulation or executive decision, but 1 have taken the opportunity of outlining them in some detail for the benefit of honorable members in order that the House may be properly informed on the Government’s proposals. They will bring in about £8.5 million in 1964-65 and £9.5 million in a full year.
The Bill provides for increases in cercertain telegram rates. Under the present rates ordinary telegrams cost 2s. 9d. for 12 words within a radius of 15 miles, and 3s. beyond that distance. The existing basic rates for telegrams were fixed in 1956. It is proposed to introduce a flat rate charge of 3s. for 12 words, regardless of distance. Over 80 per cent, of the traffic now handled is for destinations beyond 15” miles of the office of lodgement. It is expected that the extra revenue will amount to about £30,000 in 1964-65 and £40,000 in a full year. No change is necessary in the basic postage rate of 5d. which was introduced in 1959 in conjunction with the “ all up “ air mail arrangements for most of the ordinary letter class mail. Variations are proposed however, in the rates of fees for three other special facilities. These will generally result in reductions in the amounts paid by customers for these services.
The Bill covers a proposal to introduce a discount of 30 per cent, on the ordinary postage rate for the Householder Delivery Service, by which postal articles are delivered to every address in an area. They are addressed to the householder rather than to a specific address. It is expected that the increased business flowing from the lower rates will more than offset the loss of postage. The new rates will adequately cover existing and foreseeable increases in delivery costs.
The Postal Regulations are being amended to vary the fees for the registered post and the cash on delivery service. The existing sliding scales of fees for these two services will be replaced by flat rate fees of 2s. and 3s., respectively. The maximum compensation cover on such articles will remain at £50. The present minimum fee for registered articles is 2s. so that no customers will pay more for this service. The present fees for the cash on delivery articles range from 2s. 9d. to 3s. 6d. for the delivery of articles of value up to £2 with higher payments where the value exceeds £2. Under the revised flat rate charge of 3s. the charges on about 97 per cent, of cash on delivery articles will cither be reduced or remain unchanged.
The new charges will apply from the 1st October 1964.
I am satisfied that the Post Office is an efficient organisation. Its services reflect credit on those who plan and operate them but no business organisation could continue to absorb such large cost increases without some adjustment of charges. The adjustments have been carefully considered, and the new rates represent reasonable charges for the services which are available. I commend the Bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Hulme, and read a first time.
.- I move-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill which I am introducing is to amend the licencing provisions for radio and television sets as currently provided for in the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942- 1963. The significant changes proposed in this Bill seek to give effect to the Government’s intention of increasing the licence fees for television sets and of introducing a combined receiving licence for families who possess broadcast and television sets ordinarily kept at the same address. As indicated by the Right Honorable the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget speech, the collection of the excise duties on television picture tubes - cathode ray tubes - has been subject to serious administrative and legal difficulties. The Government has decided, therefore, to forgo the £6 excise duty on each television tube and to increase the fee for a television receiver licence by £1. The proposed fee Which will apply for a television viewer’s, a hirer’s or a lodging house licence will be £6.
The present basic licence fee of £5 a year has remained unchanged since its introduction in 1956-57. Since then the expenditure on the national television service has increased considerably due to the effects of wage rises and to the progressive expansion of the service. The yearly cash expenditure incurred on the operation of the service has risen from about £920,000 in 1956-57 to an estimated £9,173,000 in 1964-65. The Government has incurred substantial expenditure in the establishment of the national television transmitting stations as part of the planned extension of the national television facilities throughout Australia - plans which by the end of 1966 will have brought television to over 90% of our population. This year, it is expected that £3,688,000 will be spent on the establishment of new television stations, and on the improvement of stations which are already operating.
Notwithstanding the greatly increased expenditure on the national television service, the increase of £1 in the licence fee is not directed towards securing an overall increase in Commonwealth revenue. The additional revenue of £1,725,000 during 1964-65 from this measure is estimated to be the same as the revenue which the Government intends to forgo with the abolition of the excise duty on the picture tubes. It will result, however, in sufficient revenue being derived from those people who have television receivers to meet the cost of the national television service rather than have it financed by the community generally. The Government expects that the effect of the abolition of the excise duty will be passed on to the purchasers of television sets. I might add here that, although the excise duty on picture tubes was £6, consequential charges in the television industry increased the cost to the buyer by more than double this amount.
With the increase in the basic licence fee to £6 a year, the cost of. a concession licence for pensioners will rise to £1 10s. representing, as at present, a quarter of the normal fee as laid down in the Broadcasting and Television Act. This quarter-rate concessional payment by pensioners was approved by Parliament when television viewers’ licences were introduced in 1957.
Clause 6 of the Bill seeks to introduce a combined receiving licence which will be issued to cover those cases where broadcast and television sets are in the possession of a family and are ordinarily kept at the same address. Today something like 62 per cent, of Australian homes have licensed television receivers and, as it is probable that nearly all of these also have broadcast sets, it has been decided, following repeated requests from the public, to introduce a single combined licence to simplify the licensing system generally and, at the same time, give a reduction in the combined fee as compared with the total fee for separate licences. A person who has both broadcast and television sets will be required to take out a combined receiving licence for £8 10s. a year, which is 5s. lower than the cost of separate broadcast and television licences. The concessional payment by pensioners who lake out a combined receiving licence will bc £2 a year.
Because of the administrative procedures involved, the combined licence will not bc available until early next year. Broadcast or television licences due for renewal in the meantime, must of course, be renewed on the due dates. After the implementation of the combined licence system the combined licence for users of both broadcast and television receivers will be issued on the date that an existing television licence becomes due for renewal or when a new television licence is taken out. At the time of issue of the combined receiving licence, an appropriate adjustment will be allowed for the unexpired portion of the then current broadcast listener’s licence. Where the existing licences for broadcast and television sets at the same address are held by different members of the family, provision is made for the issue of a combined receiving licence subject to the consent of the holder of the licence to be surrendered. Persons who have broadcast sets and who after proclamation of these proposed amendments acquire a television set would, of course, be required to obtain a combined receiving licence.
While it is intended that it will be compulsory for a person possessing both broadcast and television sets to take out a combined receiving licence, provision has been made for separate broadcast listener’s and television viewer’s licences to be retained for issue to those who possess only one type of receiver. The only variation in the conditions governing the grant of these licences is that a person who applies for the grant or renewal of a television viewer’s licence shall be required to sign a statement to the effect that to the best of his knowledge neither he nor a member of his family possess a broadcast receiver of any kind or, if there is a broadcast receiver at the address, a member of his family is the holder of a broadcast listener’s licence in respect of the address concerned. The arrangement proposed should act as a deterrent to the evasion of payment of licence fees for transistor and other portable type broadcast receivers by persons who hold a television viewer’s licence only. I commend the Bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.
– by leave - I move -
That the Customs Tariff Proposals being part of Order of the Day No. 24 - namely, Customs Tariff Proposals Nos. 7 to 18, Customs Tariff (Canada Preference) Proposals No. 2, Customs Tariff (New Zealand Preference) Proposals Nos. 5 and 6 and Customs Tariff (Papua and New Guinea Preference) Proposals No. 2 - be discharged.
These proposals were incorporated in bills which have now been assented to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
[Customs Tariff Proposals (No. 20).]
– I move -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff 1933-1964, as proposed to bc amended by Customs Tariff Proposals introduced into the House of Representatives on the eleventh day of August, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four, bc further amended as set out in the Schedule to these Proposals and that, on and after the seventeenth day of September, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four, Duties of Customs be collected accordingly.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, Customs Tariff Proposals No. 20 relate to proposed amendments of the Customs Tariff 1933-1964 and, in the main, give effect to the Government’s decisions in respect of the following Tariff Board reports -
Drawing instruments and protractors, Internal combustion piston engines, Pulley blocks and chain hoists, and Road rollers, tractors and tractor engines, &c.
At a later stage I -shall table the relevant reports.
New protective duties are proposed for set squares, protractors and certain other drawing instruments. These will be at a uniform level of 17-i per cent. British preferential tariff and 40 per cent, most favoured nation, which is sliGhtly less than that now applying to school quality compasses and dividers. However, as the Tariff Board found that precision compasses and precision dividers arc not manufactured in Australia, these will be admitted at non-protective rates under by-law.
For the types of internal combustion piston engines which were examined by the Board, the tariff is being simplified. The rates of duty as recommended by the Board for all of these types except outboard engine units will be 25 per cent. British preferential tariff and 42i per cent, most favoured nation up to 60 brake horsepower, reducing gradually to free and 7i per cent, respectively as the horsepower increases above 60. On outboard motor units, it is proposed to provide a
British preferential duty of 15 per cent, as recommended by the Tariff Board. It is proposed, however, to introduce a most favoured nation rate of 371/2 per cent, by applying the general tariff to most favoured nation imports. The Government would be prepared to reduce the most favoured nation rate to the level recommended by the Board - that is, 25 per cent. - depending on the result of international negotiations.
In respect of chain hoists, the Tariff Board has recommended and the Government has adopted increased duties for lever operated types and for manually and electrically operated spur gear types. The new . duties will be 15 per cent. British preferential tariff and 25 per cent, most favoured nation on lever hoists and 271/2 per cent. British preferential tariff and 45 per cent, most favoured nation on spur gear types. Other types of chain hoists will be admitted at non-protective rates.
On road rollers, rates of 271/2 per cent. British preferential tariff and 421/2 per cent, most favoured nation are proposed. This represents an increase of 5 per cent, in the duties on road rollers from British preferential sources. These duties will also apply to any tractor imported for use in the manufacture of a road roller.
A further tariff change amends the wording of item 481 which covers embroidery and applique work. The item was inserted in the customs tariff following a Tariff Board report in 1959 on embroideries. Recently some doubts have been raised as to the legal interpretation of the item. The proposed wording will more clearly define the goods in relation to applique work. To clarify the tariff position in respect of static electric power supplies, a tariff item for such goods is now proposed. No change in the level of duties is involved. I commend the proposals to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.
Reports on Items.
Dr. FORBES (Barker- Minister for the
Army). - I present reports by the Tariff Board on the following subjects -
Drawing Instruments and Protractors.
Internal Combustion Piston Engines.
Pulley Blocks and Chain Hoists.
Road Rollers, Tractors and Tractor Engines for use in Road Rollers.
I also present a report by a special advisory authority on the following subject -
The reports on hydrofluoric acid and olive oil do not call for any legislative action.
Ordered to be printed.
Debate resumed from 15th September (vide page 1072), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Daly had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, this House is of 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”.
.- Yesterday afternoon this House was considering the Social Services Bill (No. 2) 1964, submitted by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), and an amendment moved by a member of the Opposition. The Bill itself is a simple one, containing only seven clauses. Those seven clauses represent another of the extensions of social security to the Australian people which have been provided by this Government since it came to office in 1949. There are two distinct phases of social security covered by the social services legislation of this Government. One concerns age and other pension benefits and the other relates primarily to child endowment. The Minister said in his second-reading speech that about half of the total cost of the increases envisaged by this Bill will be covered by each of the two phases I have just referred to. He said that the cost of the liberalisations would be about £35 million in all. Half of this will be taken up by increases in child endowment payments and the other half by the liberalisation of pension benefits generally. The position with regard to social service benefits has changed considerably since the Labour Government was last in office. It is interesting to look at the summary which the Minister has provided showing the amendments to social services legislation that have been enacted over the years. [Quorum formed.]
I am indeed grateful to a member of the Opposition for directing attention to the fact that the House was deficient in numbers. lt is rather interesting, now, to note how many members of the Government parties have come in and how few members of the Opposition. This is an important measure. The contributions that have been made by the Government over the years have shown the interest of the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party in social services. The interest of members of the Australian Labour Party is only too well mirrored by their attendance in the House at this time. At the time of the interruption I was about to list some of the improvements that the Liberal and Country Party Government has been able to introduce in the field of social services. It is notable that expenditure on social services in 1964-65 is expected to be about 60 per cent, of total receipts of income tax and social services contributions to be paid individuals. This compares with a proportion of about 40 per cent, in 1948-49. The total expenditure is estimated to be £452.1 million, and I believe that this is a most laudable effort.
In the course of their arguments, members of the Opposition have dealt with two main aspects of the Bill and of the existing social services legislation. First, they have said constantly that never is enough provided. We on this side of the House agree that there will always be new fields in which it will be necessary to extend social service benefits. I do not believe the day will ever be reached when we will be able to say that we are fully content with the amount of assistance being provided. Indeed, I think that in the Bill now before us there have been some omissions and I, for one, do not like to sec these omissions. But do not let us believe for a moment that a great deal has not been achieved. If we accepted only the arguments of the Opposition we would be in the unfortunate position of simply promoting new fields of discontent and extending existing ones. This, of course, is the major problem we face in any extension of social service benefits. It is very easy to say that there is a demand in this field or that. There are, indeed, such demands. There will always bc poverty in the Australian community. There will always be poverty in the communities of the world. This is something that this Government has tried to do something about. But there is no doubt that the proportion of people in the Australian community who are on the bread line or who are getting the basic wage is quite negligible.
– Why should there be poverty in this community?
– I am not saying that there should. I am lamenting the fact that there is. It is unfortunate that we cannot at this stage overcome the problem. While this situation exists, the people in the poorest circumstances are the ones for which most assistance should be provided. This brings me to the question of the abolition of the means test. I fully agree with the Minister that at this stage the cost involved, estimated to be between £150 million and £160 million, would preclude the immediate abolition of the means test. There is also the fact that if we did immediately abolish the means test we would place the people in the poorer section of the community in the invidious position of receiving no increased benefit. Those who would benefit from the immediate abolition of the means test would be the 10 per cent, who at this stage are excluded from receiving benefits, primarily because of their income or their capital assets. This is a situation that we on this side lament. We regret that it is not possible to abolish the means test immediately, and T believe that no rational Australian would feel that in present circumstances it would be fair and proper to abolish the means test. At the same time, however, the Government is proceeding progressively towards a position in which the means test may be abolished. It has considerably cased the restrictions that applied when the Labour Government was in office and I do not doubt that in due course the means test will be completely abolished. I feel, however, that there are alternatives to the immediate total abolition of the means test.
I was interested to hear the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) yesterday mention a national superannuation scheme. To me this has a great deal of attraction. He referred to the fact that we, as members of this Parliament are compelled to contribute £5 a week to a superannuation scheme. If we can be compelled to do that, why cannot members of the Australian community contribute to a national superannuation scheme? Surely there would bc no abjection to such a compulsory superannuation scheme. The receipts upon retirement would more than offset any disadvantages that might appear along the line.
If it is not considered possible to implement such a scheme immediately, the provision of some form of income tax concession to employers - whether they are companies or individual employers - might well be an alternative means of implementing a national superannuation scheme. I envisage that, by providing a scale of concessional income tax deductions according to the quantum of superannuation payments, up to a certain maximum, it would be possible to ensure that every employer provided for the superannuation of his employees. In that way, instead of the enormous cost of the abolition of the means test being loaded on to the Government overnight, the payments out of the employees’ weekly wage cheques would contribute to the cost of a superannuation scheme available to all. Such a scheme would adequately provide for the needs of the aged in the future.
Another aspect of this matter which causes me considerable concern is that, unfortunately, in our Australian community we seem to have reached the stage where people believe that after a person reaches the age of 65 years he can contribute very little to national production. I am afraid that I completely disagree with that belief. At the age of 65 years many mcn seem still to be able to contribute very notably to the commercial or professional concerns in which they are engaged. There is not doubt that Australia is very fortunate that many senior members of this House, including the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) himself, are still able to contribute to the government and wellbeing of the Australian community. I regret this labelling of the age of 65 years as the end of a man’s productive years.
There may be some merit in a scheme which was outlined in a letter to the editor published in this morning’s “ Australian “. The letter suggests that it might be possible to “ grant age pensions from say, 67 years “. If we are to alter the age, perhaps even a later age should be set. The letter also suggests that it might be possible to “ abolish the means test and make, instead, pensioners income subject to income tax with regard to the total of their pensions and supplementary earnings “. The letter also refers to a number of other matters. The proposal has considerable merit in that it suggests, instead of the immediate abolition of the means test, there should be a review of pension rates, abolition of restriction on supplementary earnings so giving an opportunity for a person over the retiring age to earn without restriction additional income while being taxed on his pension plus that income. That would mean that at a certain level of income the effect of the pension would be completely nullified. That produces the abolition of the means test in reverse form; but it is an interesting suggestion and I think it has some merit.
On the other side of the picture, the suggestion made by *he honorable member for Sturt yesterday - that there should bc provision for the abolition of the means test on pensions paid at a later age than at present - also has considerable merit. Whether or not the age of 70 years, which he suggested, is a right and proper age, I am afraid I would not be able to say. But I believe that there is a case for the abolition of the means test on pensions paid at an age later than 65 years.
At the other end of the scale, in the field of child endowment and student endowment, the Commonwealth Government has made a great contribution. But a couple of aspects of endowment give me some concern. One is an anomalous situation which the honorable member for Sturt mentioned yesterday. Whilst last year the Government made a very valuable reform of the then existing social services legislation by the provision of an allowance for children of certain age, invalid and widow pensioners undergoing full-time education, an anomalous situation exists in that the allowance is provided only up to the age of 18 years. In the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Services there is some mention of this matter. I believe that the amendment of 1963 should be modified not only by the implementation of the suggestion made by the honorable member for Sturt but also by the rectification of an anomaly which I see in the amendment. It appears to me that a person with a dependent child, who is a full-time student between 16 and 18 years of age and is an only child, would receive only 5s. a week, as I read the amendment. Under the student endowment the benefit should be 15s. a week. So, in the former case the unfortunate recipient would receive 10s. a week less than he or she would otherwise bc entitled to receive. That is one anomaly which the Minister might consider with a view to correction.
Another matter which there could be some merit in considering is also in the field of student endowment and child endowment. I make a suggestion to the Minister along the lines of a written submission which I made to him earlier this year and which was consequential on representations made to me by a member of the New South Wales State Parliament in my electorate, the member for Tamworth. He directed my attention to the fact that many members of the rural community in particular - I have no doubt that this applies also in outlying metropolitan electorates - attended technical colleges after leaving school. Unfortunately, such students who are 15 years of age are not able to receive any State benefits, at least within New South Wales. The benefits of £21 a year available to full-time secondary students resident away from home, and the travel concessions available to students who live beyond two miles from school are no ‘longer available. These students are excluded from receiving those benefits once they leave school. Students who, having reached the age of 15 years, are permitted to leave school and go to technical colleges to undertake full-time courses find themselves in the unfortunate position of receiving virtually no government assistance. For that reason I believe that there might be some merit in considering the cost of varying the age at which the student endowment begins and the child endowment ends. I suggest that serious consideration be given to reducing the age for payment of the new student endowment from 16 to 15 years and at the same time abolishing the payment of child endowment to children over the age of 15 years. I believe that there is considerable merit in this proposal, not only from the standpoint of these students attending technical colleges but also because in all States a boy or girl is able to leave school to commence full-time employment at the age of 1 5 years. I believe that in some States children are still able to leave school at the age of 14, which means that quite a number of children in respect of whom child endowment is paid are working. For this reason I feel that it is a little anomalous that parents should receive child endowment for children who have attained the age of 15 and are in employment while students attending technical colleges are not receiving the benefit of the 15s. a week which is paid as a student endowment.
Let us examine the cost of my proposal. 1 have been able to obtain from the “ Australian Demographic Review “ No. 1 88 of 22nd April 1964 figures which give some idea of the number of children who leave school at the age of 15. From these figures we are able to make an arithmetical calculation of the approximate cost of my scheme. If we look through the figures for various years we see that during the years covered by the graph there has been a tremendous fall in the number of students attending school at the age of 15 compared with the figures for those young people when aged 14. For example, in 1958 there were 137,789 children aged 14 at school. In 1959 the number of students aged 15 - these are the children aged 14 in the figures for the previous year - had fallen to 89,307. In 1959 the number of children aged 14 attending school was 147,791. In 1960 the number aged 15 was only 97,566. This pattern is repeated in each succeeding year, which indicates that between the ages of 14 and 15 there is a considerable drop in the number of students attending school.
It has been a little difficult to ascertain the number of students attending technical or agricultural colleges. However, some figures are available to indicate that approximately 60 per cent, of the total civilian population aged between 14 and 19 arc in the work force. I imagine that in that agc group there would be a bigger percentage in the work force aged between 17 and 19 than aged between 14 and 15. At the same time I feel that we can deduce something of the numbers to be affected by my proposal from this graph, and from another graph which gives us the estimated age distribution of population in Australia. We can see from those graphs the number of children who leave school each year. In 1963 there were 131,045 children aged 15 attending school. The total number of 15- year-old people in Australia in that year was 201,024, so about 65 per cent of those children were at school and presumably 35 per cent had left school and were engaged either in the work force or in some type of tertiary education. The number of students aged 16 was notably lower. Of a total civilian population of 216,289 in the 16 year age group, only 76,903 were attending school. In other words, only 34 per cent, of those aged 16 were still at school.
If wc take the group aged 15, of which 35 per cent, are either at work or at technical colleges, and try to calculate the number at work we run against some difficulty. lt is necessary to make an estimate if we arc to calculate the cost of my scheme. If wc estimate that 20 per cent, of the 35 per cent, of the civilian population aged 15 and who have left school are in the work force and 15 per cent, are attending technical or agricultural colleges or are engaged in other fields of tertiary education, we find that if my suggestion of varying the agc for eligibility for child endowment and student endowment for those aged 15 and 16 were implemented there would be a saving to the Government of approximately £25,000. If, on the other hand, only 15 per cent, of the 35 per cent, of this age group were in the work force and 20 per cent, were at technical colleges the saving would drop to about £10,000. Certainly it would appear that there would be no additional cost to the Government, whatever the percentage in the work force, if my scheme were implemented. On the credit side of the picture, if this proposal were implemented, we would again have the Commonwealth Government coming in to help those whom the State Governments - in this instance the New South Wales Labour Government - have not been prepared to assist. I feel that there is a field here which is worthy of investigation; it is one that I would like the Minister for Social Services to consider in the future. This is a field in which a notable contribution could be made by extending the present considerable benefits that are paid through the new educational endowment scheme.
The Minister referred in this second reading speech to the Aged Persons Homes Act and accommodation of disabled persons. There can bc no doubt of the notable contribution that the Government has made by subsidising homes for the aged. It is interesting that in 1964-65 the envisaged expenditure for aged persons’ homes will be £3.7 million. 1 know how much assistance this has provided in my own electorate. Indeed, only last Saturday morning 1 was speaking to a member of the Apex Club in Tamworth. He said to me that one of the main reasons why the club took on as a project the establishment of homes for the aged in Tamworth was that this LiberalCountry Party Commonwealth Government had instigated a scheme which meant that for every £1 raised by the Apex Club at Tamworth the Commonwealth Government would pay a subsidy of £2. This is a notable form of assistance to the service clubs and provides a considerable incentive to them to work for these very necessary homes for the aged. In this regard I was quite interested to hear the submissions of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). I agree with him that there is a need to extend these benefits to nursing homes which care for aged and sick people. The provision of geriatric wards in all hospitals, whether in country or in metropolitan areas, is quite a headache, and there is no doubt that the assistance provided through the Commonwealth Department of Health has meant that many nursing homes are able to provide some facilities. Unfortunately, the assistance docs not seem to be quite enough and most geriatric wards are overcrowded. There seems to be inadequate accommodation for the aged ill people in the community. I would like to see the Government accept the recommendations of the honorable member for Sturt in this regard.
I support completely the extension of social security in the manner that was envisaged by the Minister in his second reading speech on this Bill. I would like to see perhaps some modification of a couple of anomalies that I have mentioned.
I would certainly like to see serious consideration given to the variation of the age limit for child endowment and student endowment from the ages at present prescribed, and I would like to see some consideration given to the implementation of either a national superannuation scheme or, if this is not possible, to taxation incentive so that employers will be able to implement adequate superannuation schemes. If this is not possible 1 would like to see in the not too distant future the abolition of the means test for at least persons aged over 70 years. We might then bc able to encourage those aged between 65 and 70 to continue to pay their contribution to the commercial activities of this world. I feel that those people have a great deal still to contribute, and I would like to see them put in a position where they can continue to make this contribution.
Might I finally say that if we were to accept all the proposals which are continually put forward by members of the Opposition in this place, the taxpayers themselves would be the ones to suffer. The taxpayers are the people who provide the money out of which social benefits and social security payments finally are made. There is only a certain amount of money which can be provided for these purposes. I feel that the Government deserves to be complimented on the extent to which it has provided social security for the aged persons of this country and child endowment for the younger members of the community.
.- In dealing wilh the Social Services Bill (No. 2) 1964, 1 refer firstly to child endowment, the history of which is most interesting. Let me relate some of it.
– You told us this last year.
– Yes, and you are about to hear it again. In 1926, the New South Wales Labour Government introduced child endowment for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia. The payment at that time was 5s. for each child. I remind honorable members that, in 1926, 5s. would purchase what £1 will purchase today. Of course, the anti-Labour party using one of its many aliases - at that particular time it was the Nationalist Party - came out with the same old squeals. It said that the time was inopportune to introduce child endowment; that New South Wales could not afford the scheme; and that the innovation would bankrupt the State. Then, in 1927, with the defeat of the Labour Government, the Nationalist Party took over. Its first deed was to abolish the payment of endowment for the first child.
In 1941, the Menzies Government introduced child endowment throughout Australia. The payment at that time was 5s. for each child of a family under the age of 16 years, except the first child, lt is interesting to note that, although that Government introduced child endowment, it did not believe in the principle of child endowment. The Government was forced into this action because of a judgment brought down in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration by Judge Drake-Brockman. In 1941, the Federal basic wage was based on an amount that was sufficient for man, wife and three children. At that time, Judge DrakeBrockman said that the basic wage was sufficient for only a man, wife and one child. As a consequence, the Government of which Sir Arthur Fadden was the Treasurer panicked, because it knew that there would bc a large increase in the basic wage unless it introduced child endowment. So the Government immediately introduced child endowment, not because it believed in child endowment, but simply because it was forced into doing so. If that Government had not acted promptly, the basic wage would have been increased quite sharply.
In 1941, the basic wage stood at £3 19s. a week. In 1945, the Curtin Government increased child endowment from 5s. to 7s. 6d. for the second and subsequent children. At that time, the basic wage stood at £4 6s. a week. In 1948, the Chifley Government increased child endowment from 7s. 6d. to 10s. The basic wage was then £5 19s. a week. So anyone can realise the fact that over the space of seven years, during wartime when the basic wage increased by only £2 from £3 1 9s. a week to £5 19s. a week, two Labour Governments were responsible for the doubling of child endowment. They did so to assist the people-
– What about the payment for the first child?
– I am coming to that matter. The honorable member for raisins cannot contain himself. The fact remains that the rate of child endowment had been doubled by two Labour Governments in a space of seven years. In 1950, the Menzies Government introduced a payment of 5s. for the fust child.
– Hear, hear!
– That is correct. The increase from 10s. to 15s. for the third and subsequent children, which was granted only recently, is the only alteration that has been made in child endowment payments since this Government brought down its legislation to grant endowment in respect of the first child in 1950. This is despite the fact that the cost of living has more than doubled since that time.
The policy of the Australian Labour Party is the same as that of the Government on this particular thesis. Wc believe that it is necessary rapidly to expand Hie Australian population. There are only two ways of doing this. One is by the intake of migrants and the other is by increasing our birthrate. That is why the Labour Party, in post-war years, through the remarkable planning of the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), introduced the great migrant scheme. It was to increase the birthrate and assist parents to educate, clothe and feed their children that Labour doubled child endowment payments during the seven years from 1941 to 1948. Although this Government has carried on the immigration scheme with great success - wc frankly admit that, and we support this action - it has closed its eyes to the encouragement of the birthrate in Australia. There arc many thousands of young couples with one or two children who are willing to increase their families but cannot do so because of economic circumstances. This Government stands condemned for not restoring or maintaining the true value of child endowment since it assumed office in 1949.
Let us have a look at the maternity allowance. An amount of £15 is paid to a mother for the birth of her first child. She is paid £16 if she has one or two other children. She is paid £17 10s. if she has three or more children under the age of 16. This amount is increased by £5 for each additional child born. In other words, a woman with no other children, giving birth to twins would receive a maternity allowance of £20. For triplets, she would receive a maternity allowance of £25. In my opinion, this situation is ludicrous. The same maternity allowance should be paid for each child at birth. Tn addition, in the case of triplets, a gold medal should be presented to the family by the Father of the Year, Sir Robert Menzies. The maternity allowances to which I have referred are exactly what they were in 1949 when this Government assumed office despite the fact that the cost of bringing a baby into the world has more than doubled in the meantime.
Let us examine the funeral benefit. This benefit was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943, 21 years ago. An amount of up to £10 is payable to a person who has paid or is liable to pay for the funeral of an age or invalid pensioner. Despite the fact that funeral expenses have increased by over 400 per cent, since 1943, the amount of benefit remains unaltered. This is a scandalous state of affairs. The cheapest coffin available in Sydney today costs £15. yet the allowance made to any person responsible for the burial of a pensioner is only £10. I ask honorable members to imagine the situation where there is a married pensioner couple living together, who have no money in the bank and who arc paying rent for their home. If one of. the couple suddenly dies, the survivor is left with the financial burden of the funeral expenses of the spouse. Does anyone imagine that the present funeral benefit is enough to give much assistance? The amount should be at least £50, as has been advocated by the Australian Labour Party for a considerable time.
I turn now to age and invalid pensions. I have heard many speakers on the Government side of the House talking about the rates paid in the past, the rates paid today and the level of expenditure out of the
National Welfare Fund. But not one honorable member opposite, to my knowledge, has stated whether the rates of pension now proposed are adequate to sustain a person in reasonable comfort and in conformity with Australian standards of living. These are the things that we want to discuss, not what some Labour Government paid 15 years ago.
Two questions ought to be answered. First, are the proposed rates of age and invalid pensions adequate to sustain a person at a decent standard? Secondly, can the economy afford to pay more? Let us consider the first question in the light of the present cost of living. Will a pension of £6 a week sustain a single pensioner adequately, bearing in mind the high prices of meat, vegetables, fruit, clothing and other essential commodities? Let us not forget that pensioners pay the same prices for essential commodities as are paid by any other person in the community. Only recently, the price of a haircut in New South Wales has been increased to 7s. This is the price paid by an age pensioner as well as by everyone else. I am sure that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) does not like shelling out 7s. for a haircut when the time comes. A pensioner pays just as much for a haircut as does any other member of the community.
If a pensioner wants an occasional glass of beer or a cigarette, he pays the same price as anyone else. Furthermore, the Government takes in excise half of what he pays. For every two glasses of beer that he drinks, he contributes the price of one to the Government. Indeed, if one were to judge by the way Government supporters have been looking lately, one would almost think that they had been drinking al) the glasses of beer that, in effect, are contributed to the Government. I have stated the facts. Is it not true that no member of this House believes that the proposed rates of pension are adequate? If any honorable member considers that they are adequate, let him say so.
The second question that I posed in relation to pensions was: Can the economy afford to pay more? I believe it is scandalous for any government, whether it be Labour or Liberal-Australian Country Party, to budget for a surplus of £18.5 million while many thousands of people in the community are in dire circumstances. As we all know, too, the estimate of a surplus of this magnitude is very conservative. This is particularly evident when one considers what happened in the financial years 1962-63 and 1963-64. Honorable members will recall that in 1962-63 the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) budgeted for a deficit of £118 million and finished the financial year with a surplus of £16 million. He was £134 million out in his reckoning. In 1963-64, he budgeted for a deficit of £58 million and finished the financial year with a surplus of £28 million. On that occasion, he was a mere £86 million out. [ predict now that the surplus in the current financial year, which, as I have said, is estimated at £18.5 million, will in fact exceed £70 million and probably will bc as much as £100 million. The first Commonwealth loan of the current financial year, which was floated only a few weeks ago, was over subscribed by £21 million. This alone assures the Treasurer of a surplus of at least £39.5 million for the financial year. So the answer to the question about whether the economy can afford to pay more in pensions is definitely: “ Yes “.
Let us now turn to other aspects of social services. First, 1 mention class C widows. These usually number only about 700 or 800 at any given time. But the smallness of their numbers does not mean that the Government should not provide adequately for their welfare. A woman who is widowed and in dire circumstances but who is not entitled to a class A or class B widow’s pension may receive a class C widow’s pension on a temporary basis for six months. The Opposition agrees with this. The idea is sound. However, I have one criticism to offer concerning the position of the wife of a man who is sentenced to gaol. Again, women in this position are not many in number, but they arc nevertheless an important group. They have to wait six months to obtain a class C widow’s pension.
Let me give the House an illustration of what can happen. A lady in my electorate came to see me a week after her husband had begun a sentence of 12 months in gaol. She has four children under the age of 10, and she sought my assistance in obtaining social service relief. She cannot register for unemployment benefit because she has no one (o look after the children and is therefore unable to take a job if one were offered to her. She has no relatives on whom she can depend to help care for the children. She cannot register for sickness benefit. Yet she has to wait six months to obtain assistance from the Commonwealth in the form of a class C widow’s pension. I felt ashamed as I told her that she could obtain no immediate help from the Commonvwealth. All I could do was get in touch with her State member and arrange for him to have the New South Wales Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare provide her with some groceries and food.
I have mentioned this kind of problem to the Minister for Social Services previously. Yet he takes no action. He is prepared to see people struggle in circumstances like this for six months before receiving help from the Commonwealth. Why should not a person in circumstances of such dire hardship be able to obtain a class C widow’s pension immediately her husband begins to serve a gaol sentence? I believe that this humanitarian principle should be adopted immediately. The Government ought to act without delay to rectify the kind of injustice that I have just described.
Let me now discuss the means lest on pharmaceutical and medical benefits. These benefits were mentioned by the Minister in his second reading speech. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair), who preceded me in this debate, said that we should like to abolish the means test over a period. The Minister told us that if all means tests on social services were abolished immediately the cost to revenue would be about £150 million or £160 million a year. We realise that. The Minister’s estimate is factual, and we do not quarel with it. But Government supporters appear to be hypocritical when they support the gradual abolition of the means test over a period and refuse to support immediate abolition of the iniquitous means test on pharmaceutical and medical benefits. This is a proposal that would cost the Treasury only about £1,350,000 a year, or only about one twentieth of 1 per cent, of the total expenditure envisaged in the Budget for the current financial year. Honorable members opposite have the cheek to talk about abolishing means tests. Why do they not start by abolishing the means test on pharmaceutical and medical benefits?
The honorable member for New England said that we must be content to liberalise the means test as we go along. The fact is that in 1954 it was liberalised so far as to permit a pensioner to have an income of £3 10s. a week without any effect on his pension. Similarly, a married couple could have a total income of £7 a week. These limits remain unchanged after 10 years, despite the fact that the basic rate of pension has increased from £3 10s. to £6 a week for a single pensioner and to £5 10s. a week each for a married couple, these being the rates that will apply when this measure has been passed. Why should not these limits be liberalised? It works hard against the recipients of superannuation, particularly superannuated employees of the Public Service and the railways. These are people who have worked in their jobs most of their lives and who, by compulsion, have contributed to superannuation funds. When they reach the pension age they are penalised. Because they are drawing superannuation in excess of the amounts I have mentioned their pensions are cut accordingly. This should be looked into immediately. The allowable income should be increased to at least £4 10s. for a single pensioner and £9 for a married pensioner couple. If members opposite want to talk about liberalising the means test they should look into these things immediately, particularly if they seek to do justice to pensioners.
Over the years little attempt has been made to assist people in paying the rental of homes, except for the allowance of 10s. a week which is made to single pensioners who have no other income exceeding 10s. a week and have less than £200 in the bank. We believe that this allowance is not sufficient and that it should be determined according to the merits of individual cases and increased where necessary. In my electorate and in the electorates of East Sydney, Dalley and Grayndler, are as many pensioners as in any other part of Australia. So I know something about the great trials and tribulations of pensioners in trying to exist. If it were not for the assistance that they receive in Sydney from the Sydney City Council it would be extremely difficult for them to find enough food to live on. The City Council has established amenities centres throughout the city where pensioners can get a three course meal for 2s., and they look forward to getting it. It is a Labour-controlled city council which makes this facility available.
The member for New England (Mr. Sinclair) spoke about the £3 for £1 subsidy on aged persons’ homes. In 1956 this Government abolished the rebate system which compelled all housing authorities to erect sufficient homes, in accordance with the revenue they received, for age and invalid pensioners. As a consequence the New South Wales Government has since had to build over 2,000 homes, and is increasing the number annually, for age and invalid pensioners. These units are a great credit to the State Government, and they are made available at a rental of £1 a week for a single pensioner and £1 10s. for a married couple. In other words, the New South Wales Government is doing this out of the goodness of its heart because the Commonwealth Government abolished the rebate system. I agree with the principle of a subsidy for aged persons’ homes, but that is not enough. A person wants a home of his own, and the New South Wales State Labour Government is doing the job that the Commonwealth Government should be doing.
I support the amendment proposed by the member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) to the motion that the Bill bc now read a second time. It is as follows -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following word’s 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 a/id 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 “.
Until such time as this Government is sacked by the people of Australia you can rest assured that the recipients of social services will not get justice.
.- It does seem necessary, rather regrettably, to reiterate this Government’s policy in respect of social services. In the allocation of additional social services consideration must bc given to the revenue that is available - specifically revenue derived from income tax. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has placed before us a bill which is quite clear. He has explained this Government’s record in respect of social services. He is not afraid to put forward the Government’s record in the social services field. He has made it clear that we expect to incur an additional expenditure of £35 million in the present financial year because of the liberalisations introduced in 1963 and this year. As against his lucid statement we have the amendment from the Opposition, an amendment which is in accord with the Opposition’s previous preformances. The amendment is tremendous in scope, but it has lack of specific detail and there is no indication of what the Opposition believes widows, age and other pensioners should receive from the Government. Further, there is no indication of whence the Government should derive the money.
– We said it at election time.
– Yes, but what is wrong with saying it now, and giving specific details? Are you frightened of meeting the same result that you obtained on 30th November. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) sought the assistance of his colleague from Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) in tangling up the figures presented by the Minister. I suggest that the honorable member for Grayndler might again seek assistance from his colleague in working out specific figures to lay before the House and before the people of Australia so that we can judge exactly what the Opposition’s proposals are.
– You tell us all about them.
– I certainly will, before I sit down. The Opposition put forward nothing in figures, except in two respects. Reference was made to Class A widows and also to the Pensioner Medical Scheme. An increase to £3 10s. was recommended for the mother’s allowance. However, specific figures of the cost were not given nor were we told where we would get the money. Allow me to enlighten members opposite. This would cost £3£ million per annum. In respect of the Pensioner Medical Scheme a specific figure was given, of which the House is most appreciative. Actually, I find that this would cost £1.4 million. The honorable member for Grayndler also tangled up other figures relating to the relationship of expenditure on social services in 1949, which was £81 million compared with the revenue from income tax and the National Welfare Fund amounting to £199 million. That expenditure represented 40 per cent, of the revenue. The present figures are £452 million and £745 million respectively. The honorable member sought to mix the figures up, but they are quite clear as the Minister presented them. The honorable member for Grayndler said that the increase on this expenditure was due, in large measure, to the natural increase in young children and pensioners in this country. I point out that these persons represent about 50 per cent, of our population today - in other words about 50 per cent, of the population is in the pensionable age or is under 16 years of age. This, therefore, imposes a bigger burden on the smaller section of the community which pays income tax. With the assistance of his colleague the honorable member for Melbourne Ports he went to the trouble of pointing out that compared with 1949 the £1 today is worth only 9s. 8d. If I may digress for a moment, his colleague the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) indicated that compared with 1946 the £1 is now worth only 5s. Are we to assume from those two statements that between 1946 and 1949 the £1 decreased in value by about 100 per cent.7
– You are all mixed up.
– Not quite as mixed up as you were the other night. This Government is a mixture that has been acceptable to the Australian people for the last 15 years. I appreciate your references to the £1 being worth only 9s. 8d. compared with its value in 1949 because what you really want to tell the House is that the £6 that we are paying pensioners today has 36 per cent, more spending power than the £2 2s. 6d. Labour was paying them in 1949. Is this what you say? That is the only way I can interpret the figures you have put forward. Last night you proffered a mass of unrelated figures. You said that 3,000 dollars a year is required to keep a person above the poverty level in the United States. You said that 14 per cent, of the people in the United Kingdom live at the poverty level. What relation have those statements to conditions in Australia? What did you mean? Did you mean that 14 per cent, of people in the United States live on 3,000 dollars a year or did you mean something else?
You were followed in the debate by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). I was amazed at some of the statements he made. He said that the Commonwealth was falling down on the job as far as pensions were concerned and that the State and local government authorities were required to make up for the Commonwealth’s deficiencies. Will somebody tell me when and where the Commonwealth became solely responsible for social services in this country? Let us look at the position of local government authorities. The honorable member for Hughes told us about ambulance men shaking collection boxes on street corners. He referred to the Meals on Wheels organisation and to senior citizens’ centres. I speak from personal experience in my locality and I know that the Meals on Wheels organisation and the senior citizens’ centres are a great achievement in the local communities. Woe betide us in this country when we reach the stage of taking over by statute the rights of the people in the community - when we deny men the right to do something themselves for their underprivileged fellow men. These activities are tangible proof of the existence of the milk of human kindness. You know yourself that in your own community -
– Order! I ask the honorable member to address the Chair.
– I thank you, Sir, for directing my attention to my transgression. Honorable members opposite must be aware not only that the organisations to which I have referred bring great benefit to the members of the community whom they are designed to assist but also that there is a great sense of satisfaction to be gained from being able to participate in their activities. In this regard it was also pleasing to hear the remarks of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair) concerning service clubs and the provision of homes for the aged.
The honorable member for Hughes refered to the need for the New South Wales Government to make rate rebates. This is a good thing, but have we ever considered how today’s astronomical rates come about? A number of members of the Opposition could with benefit consider how valuations are made and rates levied on the people of New South Wales.
In supporting the bill and applauding the Government’s past efforts in the field of social services I do not think we can say that we have yet reached the stage where our social services scheme could be called perfect. There are ways in which it could be improved. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) referred to some of these matters. I commend him for bringing them to the notice of the House. I support a number of the proposals that he put forward yesterday. One matter that occupies the attention of so many of us these days concerns the pensioner medical card. 1 believe that the permissable income of a pensioner holding a medical card could be increased from £2 to £3 10s. a week, Not only would such action greatly benefit pensioners but it would benefit also the medical profession.
Another matter in which there is room for. improvement concerns the allowance paid to student children of civilian widows. The 1963 Budget extended the provision to apply to children up to 18 years of age. I believe that the civilian widow has a special problem. We would be rendering great assistance to civilian widows if the age of children for whom the allowance was paid were extended to 21 years. The Government established a precedent in its recent child endowment proposals. If a similar concession were granted to civilian widows it would be well worth the estimated cost of £15,000 a year.
At present a civilian widow is permitted to have an income of £3 10s. a week without affecting her pension. In addition she receives an allowance of 10s. for each child. I think the allowance could be increased to £1 10s. or £2 a week. For an annual expenditure of between £250,000 and £300,000 a deserving section of the community would receive tremendous benefit and substantial relief.
My colleague the honorable member for New England referred to the Aged Persons Homes Act. I support him and the honorable member for Sturt in urging that some financial assistance be given to people who are interested in the problems of handicapped persons working in sheltered workshops. The Government has assisted in the provision of hostels for persons working in sheltered workshops. A valuable benefit would bc obtained by handicapped persons if the Government provided similar assistance for the construction of sheltered workshops. There was a time when to have a handicapped person in the family carried almost a stigma, but in these more enlightened days we appreciate that these unfortunate and somewhat tragic people have a place in the community. We know that by extending a hand to help them they can eventually take their place in community activities, earn an income and become useful citizens. If a subsidy of £2 for £1 were paid towards the erection of sheltered- workshops the cost would be between £50,000 and £60,000 a year but these workshops would be a valuable asset to the community.
Let me refer to nursing homes for the aged and chronically sick. I support the suggestion that the Government subsidise the erection of such homes in the way that it subsidises homes for the aged. 1 do not know what the proposal would cost but there is no doubt that if effect were given to it, it would help to overcome a very difficult problem that I am sure every honorable member encounters in his day to day contact with his constituents. I refer to the problem of finding accommodation for elderly parents and other relatives who are in difficult circumstances or who are chronically ill and unable to look after themselves. I suggest that a scheme could be financed by a contribution of £2 from the Commonwealth for every £1 expended by the organisation concerned. It might even be that the States would find it to their advantage to contribute. Perhaps the finance could be provided by way of a contribution of £1 from the Commonwealth, £1 from the organisation concerned and £1 from the State. Certainly the States should be interested in such a scheme because the provision of homes of this kind would relieve them of much of their difficulty in finding hospital accommodation for such people. If finance was provided on the basis of £2 from the Commonwealth Government for every £1 provided by an organisation, the cost to the Commonwealth might run into something like £1 million a year but, as against this, it is probable that the organisations taking part in the scheme would not be making so many claims under the Aged Persons Homes Act and the cost of this scheme would be offset to some extent by a reduction in expenditure under that Act.
Those are proposals which I believe could bring great benefit to a number of indigent people in this country, and I suggest that their cost would not exceed £2.7 million a year. If asked how this money is to be raised, I could quite easily do as my contemporaries in the Opposition have done and mention General Motors-Holdens Ltd. No doubt I could also mention one of the great airline companies, as the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) often does, but I prefer to be more specific. 1 suggest that the more affluent people in the community could well bear this cost. For instance, an increase of perhaps 2d. in the excise duty on a nip of whisky would solve the financial problem.
– No member of the Liberal Party would support that.
– The honorable member will notice that I have suggested raising the revenue from the more affluent section of the community - the whisky drinkers. I have not suggested taxing people represented by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) - the beer drinkers - but I am becoming a little worried about the honorable member. I fear that I am encroaching on his domain a little and that perhaps the increase which I have suggested might have some effect on his enjoyment.
Honorable members opposite may challenge mc to prove my sincerity by fighting to have these proposals put into effect. The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) challenged the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay) in that way yesterday afternoon. Let me say to honorable members opposite that there will be no panic on this side of the House. As for myself, I shall certainly pursue my representations in the party room. I shall continue to put these proposals forward because 1 believe they would be of benefit to the recipients of social service payments. But I shall put them forward in a rational manner, after seeking out the facts. I shall put them before my party in the hope that other members of the party will agree with my reasoning and the reasoning of my colleagues the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair). If 1 am unsuccessful the first time, I shall continue to make my representations within the party room, fully confident that eventually the Government will see the light.
I support the measure put forward by the Minister and I reject the amendment proposed by the Opposition. I go so far as to suggest to the members of the Opposition that they work out the details of their proposals and tell us where they suggest the money is to come from to meet the cost. If they do that, then we and the people of Australia will be able to make a decision. This is a fine piece of legislation, and 1 have very much pleasure in supporting it.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). Before proceeding to comment on the Bill, I wish to refer to two points made by the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Bosman). His first point was that we of the Opposition have given no indication of where the money is to come from to meet the cost of improved social service benefits. I ask the honorable member for St. George and his colleagues on the Government side whether they asked that question when, they learned for The first time that child endowment was to be increased. This red herring as to where money is to come from is always raised in debate when suggestions are offered by members of the Labour Party, but we never hear anything about it when proposals are put forward from the Government side.
The next point made by the honorable member for St. George was that the Opposition had not submitted specific figures to the House. Let me remind this young member of the Parliament that we submitted figures a few years ago when we put forward a proposal relating to the liberalisation of the property means test. In 1960, the Labour Party’s Social Services Committee worked out what it would cost to liberalise the property means test and submitted a proposal, together with all relevant figures as to cost, to the Department of Social Services. That Committee received no reply from the Department. The Minister for Social Services (Mr.
Roberton) replied, stating that the proposal was too hypothetical for any accurate figures as to cost to be worked out. Yet, one year later, that same Minister introduced into this House that very proposal, the details of which had been worked out by the Labour Opposition. He introduced it with a fanfare of publicity and propaganda as being the brain child of Government members, when, in point of fact, the Government had merely stolen the results of the work done by the Labour Party’s Social Services Committee. The Minister claimed credit for the proposal. That is the reason why honorable members on the Government side are always so eager for the Opposition to submit detailed figures with relation to any proposals it puts forward. If we do submit figures, and if, after analysing them, the Government feels that what we propose is desirable it introduces our proposal as its own scheme.
The Bill before the House is remarkable for what it does not contain rather than for what it does contain. In this respect, it reminds us of the recent Budget introduced by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). The altered pension rates could easily have been stated in a ten-minute speech, but the Minister meandered on in an orgy of selfadulation in an endeavour to confuse and bewitch his listeners. For almost threequarters of an hour, he extolled his own virtues as a benevolent father to the recipients of social service benefits.
The increase of 5s. a week in age, invalid and widows pensions is no more than a sop designed to keep pensioners quiet for another 12 months. It certainly does not give any real benefit because, in the first place, it covers only the increase that has taken place in the cost of living during the past 12 months. When we consider the rat race of price increases over the past three or four months we see that the recipients of social service benefits are going backward, not forward. What is of vital importance to pensioners is the purchasing power of the pension. What would be the use of a pension of £20 a week if it did not buy more goods and services than the present pensions do? .
The Government itself has contributed to the inflation that besets people who have to eke out an existence on the miserable rates of pension they now . receive. The
State Governments, in their turn, have been encouraged to increase prices and charges for the services they render. In the private sector we see all sorts of food price rises, and many other commercial firms arc jumping in for their cut. So . the rat race continues. In the final analysis, the recipients of social service benefits will find that the Government is not a benevolent father, because what it gives to them with one hand it takes with the other. Therefore, the charge in the amendment submitted by the Opposition that the rates of pensions are completely inadequate is a justifiable one. There should be a review of all social service benefits, and there should be established a base rate of pension with supplementary assistance to meet special needs. It is well known that many people find themselves in circumstances in which they require special assistance. The Government has a pallid scheme of supplementary assistance of 10s. a week for single pensioners who pay rent. This is very restrictive and assists only a small number of pensioners.
Labour’s policy is to have a base rate pension payable to all recipients, as a minimum, with supplementary assistance up to 30s. a week to cover special needs. This supplementary assistance in Labour’s plan would cover a much wider field than does the existing scheme, which is limited to single pensioners. Pensioners have many and varied special needs, and under a sympathetic Labour government real benefit would be given to those in need. The special requirements could be handled by the trained and efficient officers of the Department of Social Services. Some extra work may be required in certain circumstances, but bringing a measure of social justice to suffering people warrants whatever work is entailed.
I would now like to examine some statements made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in his marathon speech when introducing the Bill. In his’ opening remarks he said - . . the Government has decided to introduce amending legislation to improve the position of social service beneficiaries.
I ask: Where is the improvement? Certainly the miserable 5s. a week is no improvement in the real sense of the word.
Already the purchasing power of pensions has been reduced by increased charges for food and services. I have already mentioned some of the increased charges. Other recent increases have applied to vital foodstuffs such as milk, bread, butter and meat. These are all very necessary requirements of pensioners. For the pensioner, this is something like taking one step forward and two backwards.
Then wc had this absurd and stupid statement from the Minister -
The conditions under which supplementary assistance was payable were not varied so that pensioners receiving the supplementary payment also received the increases 1 have just described.
This sounds like an Alfred Hitchcock production. Does the Minister mean that we should move a vote of thanks to him for not reducing the supplementary assistance from 10s. to 5s. a week simply because he has increased the pension rate by a miserable 5s.? If he does not mean this, what docs he mean. What a nebulous statement to come from a Minister. Truly, the Minister docs a lot of talking but says very little. This is to be expected when he speaks for three quarters of an hour to tell a ten minute story.
Again, in the course of his long speech, the Minister said -
Social services and similar benefits effect a redistribution of income and their cost must be mct from current revenue, from the taxes paid by the man … in the street.
That is substantially true and 1 emphasise the words “ from the taxes paid by the man in the street “. That is the average working man. He is the one who carries the heaviest tax burden. The Labour Party has been saying this for years; but rarely do wc hear a Government supporter admitting that this is so. The Government likes to create the belief that it slugs the rich equally severely as it does the man in the street. On this occasion, we find the Minister quite unintentionally, I think, supporting Labour’s claim that under a conservative government it is always the working man who is hardest hit under our present taxation laws.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), when speaking in the Budget debate, gave figures to substantiate Labour’s claim. He pointed out that under the Government’s constant rate of tax system, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) would take 2s. 6d. of the recent basic wage increase of £1 from every adult wage and salary earner and he would take a further 6s. 6d. of this £1 in various taxation slugs from the average income of wage and salary earners. The tax on the average weekly earnings of a married taxpayer with two children has risen by 179 per cent, in the last ten years, but the tax on earnings of four times the weekly average has risen by only 105 per cent. This clearly refutes the Treasurer’s claim to equitable taxation just as we refute the claim, of the Minister for Social Services to equitable pension rates.
While we are discussing percentages, I would like to mention another interesting exercise. This is a comparison of the pension rate and the average weekly earnings. This is an effective comparison, because a comparison with the adult average weekly earnings comes much closer to reality today than does a comparison with the basic wage. Only a small percentage of workers receives the basic wage today, and therefore the average weekly earnings give a much more practical test. Ten years ago, in 1954, the pension rate was £3 10s. and the average weekly earnings were £16 lis. The pension was 21.1 per cent, of the average weekly earnings. A table giving these figures appears at page 107 of “Hansard” for 11th August. In March 1964, the married pension rate was £5 5s. and the average weekly earnings were £24 4s. 5d. The pension rate was 21.7 per cent, of the average weekly earnings. At an interesting point a year earlier in 1963 the pension was exactly the same percentage of the average weekly earnings as it was in 1954. Even on the figures for this year, the percentage has improved by less than 1 per cent. The pension rate did not even reach a standard that is commensurate with the boasts made by Government supporters, and this is in a period which they claim is one of unparalled prosperity.
I put it to the Minister and the Government that they should not bury their heads in the sand and overwhelm themselves with self -praise. Rather should they apply themselves to sorting out the many injustices and inequalities that exist in our social services and set about correcting them in a practical way. The Minister spent some time boasting about the health services provided by his Government. These were not mentioned in the Bill, of course, but the Minister wanted to talk about something so he talked about the health services in order to fill in time. He told us that the Government introduced the pensioner medical service in 1951. He failed to say that, after introducing this much needed service in J 951, the Government in 1955 deprived many thousands of pensioners of it. The Government prevented some 100,000 pensioners from obtaining medical entitlement cards. It did so by applying a severe means test which meant that pensioners with an income of more than £2 a week could not obtain a card. Week after week I have brought to my notice, as I am sure other honorable members have, cases of pensioners who need the service.
Where docs the Government stand on this issue? We have heard rumours that it will liberalise the means test that applies to the pensioner medical entitlement card. But only yesterday I received from the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) a reply to a question I asked in this House some two or three weeks ago and he made no mention at all of any liberalisation of this means test. The Minister for Social Services ought not to boast about these matters; he ought to hang his head in shame. He always seems to disown any responsibility when I and other Opposition members have asked him about the pensioner medical service. He has always fobbed us off and said that it is not his concern but is a matter for the Minister for Health. Yet the Minister spent about two-thirds of the time that he took to introduce this bill in talking about the pensioner medical service and related matters.
Truly the Minister is a remarkable man. To use a wartime statement paraphrased to suit the Minister and the Bill we are discussing, never has so much been said for results so meagre as those contained in the Bill. If the Minister wants to do a good deed he might interest himself in the hospital and medical benefit fund organisations which now refuse to pay benefits to elderly people requiring nursing service but needing little medical attention. Many married people with family responsibilities now find themselves faced with heavy financial commitments because the benefit fund organisations will not provide for hospitalisation for aged sick and chronically sick people. The Minister should tell us why benefit fund organisations are allowed to refuse to cover elderly people for nursing home assistance under insurance schemes. Because the Governments last year discontinued the special accounts system for pensioners over 65 years of age, the hospital benefit fund organisations now pay pensioners only when they are receiving medical treatment. As soon as they improve sufficiently to require nursing treatment only, fund benefits immediately cease.
Despite this miserable treatment handed out to these people, the Minister still preens himself on his generosity to elderly people needing social services. All honorable members know that considerable numbers of pensioners need nursing attention because of their age. In many cases the daughters or sons of such pensioners try, wilh the help of their families, to cope with these responsibilities, but inevitably they find the tasks beyond them and have to look for nursing homes in which these elderly people can obtain 24-hour nursing service.
I have outlined a few questions that remain unanswered by the Minister. I could cite many other anomalies that should be attended to. Government supporters are satisfied when they can point to a proportion of 60, 70 or 80 per cent, of persons in relevant groups receiving particular social services. Why should not the proportion be 100 per cent.? Is there any just reason why 13 or 20 or 33 per cent, of pensioners should be deprived of social services that should be available to all?
Let me now make some comparisons of expenditure on social services in various countries. I have a list of 14 countries, giving the proportion of national income spent on social services. Australia has the proud honour to be third last on this list. The countries and the proportions of national income spent on social services are as follows -
These figures were compiled by the Social Security Department of the International Labour Organisation in 1961. They show clearly the attitude of the Australian Government towards expenditure on social services. There is obviously a much better developed social conscience in countries less favorably situated than Australia. Many of these countries suffered the ravages of war. They had their industries dislocated and, in many cases, totally destroyed. Yet they are more aware of their social responsibilities than is the Australian Government, although Australia has, comparitively speaking, enjoyed a sheltered existence. The fact that many people in other countries wish to migrate to Australia has nothing to do with our system of social services because, in point of fact, our welfare state is not as attractive as many others are. There are much deeper reasons for wanting to migrate to Australia, and the point made by the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay) is as weak as water. He tried to cover up Australia’s poor expenditure on social services, expressed as a proportion of national income, by claiming that many nationals of countries in which the proportion of expenditure is much higher want to migrate to Australia. In many cases, the homes of these unfortunate people have been shattered and disorganised, members of their families have been liquidated, and they want to get away from it all, try to start a new life and forget their earlier misfortunes.
The honorable member for Grayndler and other speakers on this side have shown UP the weakness of this Government’s approach to social services. They have pointed out the inadequacy of many services and the total neglect by the Government of maternity allowances, funeral benefits and other such services. I might also point to the discrimination between married and single pensioners. The Government has made no provision for the hardships that are suffered from time to time when one partner of a married couple both of whom are pensioners is taken ill and has to go to a hospital. This entails extra expenditure on the part of the other partner, but no supplementary assistance is provided by the Government. In these circumstances married couple pensioners are. at a distinct disadvantage compared with single pensioners. There is a very urgent requirement for a base rate pension - a minimum rate pension payable to all - regardless of whether they be single or married.
Honorable members on this side have pointed out how this Government completely neglected child endowment over a period of 14 years until it was spurred into action last year, not because of any sense of social justice but because it wanted an election victory. With a majority of only one in this House the Government realised that it must do something about child endowment if it wanted to be victorious at the polls. As a consequence, it made a belated proposal to improve the position, after having been inactive for such a long period. Incidently, it made the proposal to increase child endowment payments only two months after it had submitted a Budget which contained no provision at all for increased child endowment rates. Because the Government realised the possibility of defeat at the general election in 1963 it was generous enough to provide some improvement in the out of date child endowment system.
Let me sum up the position: What is all this benevolence that the Government and the Minister boast about? Do not these social service provisions reflect no more than the natural development of social services in our society? In fact, the services that are now to be provided fall short of those which a Labour Government would have provided if it had been in office, and certainly they fall far short of those available in many other countries, as I have already shown. The Labour Party has demonstrated how it views this Bill. I hope the amendment will be accepted so that social services will go further towards meeting the requirement of our elderly citizens.
.- We have just heard a speech by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Sexton) which was characteristic of speeches of honorable members opposite. It was couched in extravagant terms, it was vituperative and it was far from objective. Recently a friend of mine was speaking to me about parliamentary debates. He objected to them. He said that the standard was poor because it seemed to him that a speaker always criticised the preceding speaker. Of course, we speak according to the rules of debate. We expect a certain amount of cut and thrust; we expect erroneous ideas to be corrected; and we expect a speaker to state his own views in comparison with those of someone else who had preceded him. That is what I expected when I arrived here as a new member. But, unfortunately, I was appalled by the poverty of the views and the abysmal standard of debate demonstrated by honorable members opposite. We need a strong Opposition. I suppose the one misfortune of Australia, which is one of the most fortunate countries in the world, is that we have such a weak Opposition. 1 trust that in the not too distant future the front row of the Opposition will be improved somewhat. We cannot expect too much of a general improvement in standard, but I hope that a little more research will go into the remarks of members of the Opposition and that we will not see them just manoeuvring their political ships under a smokescreen of misleading statements. [Quorum formed.]
I thank the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) for calling for that quorum. I was about to deal with his speech and I am glad that I now have a larger audience than I had before. The honorable member in his speech used a tone of righteous indignation which sounded very well. But when one analyses what he said one sees that practically nothing was contributed. He said, amongst other things, that he would give the House a lesson in economics; but then he proceeded to read some material prepared for him by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). I took exception particularly to the tone in which the honorable member for Grayndler referred to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I felt that it was quite uncalled for and quite unjustified. Personally, I found his remarks offensive. There was no necessity for them; they got us absolutely nowhere; and they contributed nothing.
The honorable member dealt with the pensioner medical service and used the “ Four Corners “ television programme as his gospel. Of course, that programme was just as objective on this matter as it was previously in its report on pensioners, which we saw a week earlier. He mentioned that the Chifley Government had introduced a pensioner medical service. Of course, we all know that that service did not ever get off the ground. The Chifley Government endeavoured to coerce the medical profession into that scheme; it used a bludgeon. As a result, nothing eventuated. The honorable member might just as well have spoken about the Chifley Government’s attempts to nationalise the banks, because both efforts were still-born.
I found the honorable member’s remarks about the pensioner medical service personally objectionable. In the first place, he stated that the Menzies Government introduced a system which treated pensioners as though they were second-class citizens. That is not only a serious reflection upon this Government but also a serious reflection upon the medical profession. I would have the honorable member know that the medical profession has a very strict code of ethics. I can assure him that nothing would be more contrary to its philosophies than to treat one patient in one way and another patient in another way which was not as good. I have never had any experience of coercion. I have never had anyone ask me to treat pensioners differently from other patients. I have asked many of my colleagues about this matter and they have had no such experience. I rang the Secretary of the Australian Medical Association in Brisbane and he expressed exactly the same views. He said that no-one had complained to him about being made to limit visits to pensioners; that he had struck no such set of circumstances; and that in his opinion pensioners received a first class medical service which was second to none and which was curtailed in no way whatever.
The only limitation is that imposed by the pharmaceutical list, which is compiled,
Independently of this Government, by a medical committee and which comprises all the worthwhile drugs that the members of that committee consider should be placed on that list. The only occasions when action is taken are in dubious cases in which doctors have been shown by an independent committee to have visited pensioners far too often for unworthy reasons. This was merely another attempt by the honorable member for Grayndler to mislead the House. Would he have this service completely unsupervised? There must be some supervision of such a scheme. I believe that the supervision is carried out most fairly and most objectively and that only very guilty persons are dealt with. In my opinion they ure dealt with in a relatively mild manner.
I found it very difficult to find any concrete statements at all in the honorable member’s speech. He did tell us that in 1980 Sweden will have a supplementary scheme under which pensioners will receive two-thirds of their income. I have looked this matter up. Actually the proportion is 60 per cent. And who knows what the circumstances will be in 1980? No doubt pensioners in Australia will be doing very much better by then, as I hope to show later. The amount is to be 60 per cent, of income - but not all income, only income in the lower bracket averaged over 15 years. If we go back 15 years we get back to the black days of 1949.
– Under a Labour government.
– Yes. Comparing income now with income then, the honorable member for Grayndler is probably earning more now than the Prime Minister was earning then. We know that wages then were very much lower than they are now. When we realise that under the Swedish scheme the income is averaged over 15 years, we see that Swedish pensioners will not be doing so well, after all. But the scheme sounds good.
In addition, contributions to the scheme will be made by only one group, namely the employers. I believe that the employers must contribute a fair share to the economy, but I hesitate to think what the effects of this proposal will be in Sweden, which is far from being a Utopia even now. Sweden is a very high cost country. We do know that the birth rate in Sweden is very low. I do not think that that reflects any great satisfaction among the community; it shows that the community is not a happy one. Therefore, I believe there is much left to be desired in Sweden as a country, beautiful and all as it is. I feel that we should look at the comparison a little more objectively.
The honorable member for Adelaide spoke about pensions and social service contributions. His remarks were in line with the sort of stuff that we have served up to us here and that is intended to deceive. I have made a comparison between this Utopia, Sweden, and our own country, and it is a proper comparison. Anything can be proved by statistics. We know that there are liars and more extreme liars and then statisticians - that is an old story - but let us take some facts for a change. I looked up some figures for social service contributions and I shall state the source of my information so that honorable members can decide whether they will accept the figures. I have taken figures from the Swedish Budget and, to arrive at the total social service contributions, I have added together basic pensions, health insurance and medical services and general children’s allowances. If I may digress a little, the general children’s allowances in Sweden in the last year have dropped by 10 million kronor, which is more than 1 per cent. I shall advert to that in a moment. I have taken the Australian figures from the Australian Budget and have added together the figures for the Department of Health, Repatriation Department - mention of which was probably wilfully missed by honorable members opposite - and the Department of Social Services. I have left out the Territories, although a large amount of expenditure in the Territories is of a social service nature. Probably the inclusion of that expenditure in the Territories would help my argument, but I have not had time to extract the relevant figures. Nevertheless, from the figures that I have ascertained, I find that rather less than 25 per cent, of the gross expenditure in Sweden is spent on social services, and slightly less than 28 per cent, of the gross expenditure in Australia is spent on social services. Perhaps these figures will give us some real facts for a change. We should hear more facts. We hear plenty of facts from this side of the chamber, but we very seldom hear undistorted facts from the other side. There can be no argument that child endowment was introduced by the Menzies Government. 1 point out that in a Socialist country there has been a diminution in the payment of child endowment. That is probably a trend that one can notice under any socialist government. On the contrary, in Australia we have increased child endowment. We heard the Minister for Social Services tell us that we have now an increased number of children benefiting every year from child endowment, and the recent legislation has benefited a further 120,000 student children in Australia.
I have just had pointed out to me another inaccurancy which emanated from the honorable member for Adelaide. That honorable member said that if from a household where there were two married pensioners one married pensioner went to hospital, the pension rate for the remaining pensioner would be unchanged and so that pensioner would lose 10s. That is not correct. If one of the two pensioners in a household goes to hospital for a lengthy stay - in other words, if the period in hospital looks like being a significant one the pensioner left behind will be treated as a single pensioner.
– What happens when the pensioner goes to a mental institution? Can you tell us that?
– The same thing.
– No, you are wrong; the pension is cancelled altogether.
– I am just giving you the facts.
– That is-
– I am giving him the facts.
– The Opposition is trying to belittle the effort that we have made. I believe that we have already shown that our effort is, by world standards, very fine. In fact, it is the best in the world so far as I have been able to ascertain.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, before the sitting was suspended, I think there was some slight difference as to the matter of pension payments when one spouse is, of necessity, removed to a mental institution. I have checked on this matter and it is undeniably true that the remaining spouse is then treated as a single person and receives the extra financial aid which accrues to a person in those circumstances, including supplementary assistance should that be found necessary.
Sir, I think I have made plain the fact that the figures that we have had from the Opposition are specious. If they are looked at from the correct aspect, they show that Australian social services in fact are amazingly liberal. Our social service effort is magnificent and it compares more than favorably with those of the so-called social welfare countries which are predominantly socialist. I feel it is not inappropriate here to compare our pension rate with those which apply in other countries. I feel 1 must reiterate this matter because it is so important.
I will not mention our rates because they have been dealt with many times already. I will mention the rate in Sweden. Now, a pension is granted in that country at the age of 65 only if the recipient is willing to accept a reduced pension for all time. Consequently, the inducement is for a person to keep on working even though he may feel he is unable to, as some people are, until the age of 67. At that age, the full pension rate is paid in Sweden. That pension is at the Fate of £5 10s. for a single person and £8 13s. for a married couple. This amount is well below the pension rate in Australia, and is even further below it when one considers the difference in living costs which exist between Sweden and this country. I mention Norway also where a pension is not payable until the age of 70 years. Then, it is only £4 for a single person, and £6 for a married couple. In Great Britain, a pension is not received until a man has attained the age of 70 and a woman the age of 65, unless they have already contributed extra money to a pension scheme. Even then, they receive, whether they fall into either of those two categories, the princely amount of £3 7s. 6d. for a single person, and £5 9s. for a married couple. Do not let any honorable member be deceived into thinking that the cost of living in Great Britain today is so much less than it is here, because I can personally assure the House that such is not the case.
Australia has made a magnificent effort in the field of social services. How has this been possible? The reason is that this Government has been controlling the affairs of this country so magnificently. Every penny has been made to count. In these matters which we have been discussing, very little mention has been made of all the extra supplementary assistance which is given to homes for old people and for the sick aged. No mention has been made of all these things which together form a very formidable array of help given to old people, when compared with the help that is given in other countries for this same purpose. The socialist tends to attack this matter with a bludgeon. He says: “ All right, we will do this, and we will do that, and we will do the other thing”. In the endeavour to do those things, I think, the socialist runs the very grave risk of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. The provision of these benefits is only possible through careful and skilful management of the economy. The economy is a very sensitive thing. This is a fact which socialists do not realise. I have lived in a socialist country, and I can tell honorable members that it is not much fun. One of the reasons why I became so actively interested in politics is that I do not want a repeat dose of this type of government in my own native country.
– Where did you live in a socialist country?
– The country to which I referred was Great Britain.
– I only wanted to know.
– Although this is not germane to the debate, I can tell the honorable member that it was not much fun. By the consistently good management of the Government, this country has been able to put up an absolutely stupendous effort on behalf of its pensioners. I am sure that with continued good management there will be added benefits for pensioners as soon as this country can well afford them without altering this trend of upward growth. I will not deny the fact that many pensioners arc in want. 1 am not going to deny the fact that many more things could be done for pensioners. But I put it to the House and to you, Sir, that more will be done for pensioners as this country continues along this upward economic path, because these matters are constantly under review.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Bill before the House is an amendment to the Social Services Act. It basically provides for an increase of 5s. a week to age, invalid and widow pensioners, and commensurate increases for associated pensions such as T.B. pensions and the like. There are similar increases in the permissible income which can be earned by a pensioner before he is precluded from obtaining a pension. We listened to a long, dreary speech of 42 minutes from the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) when he introduced this Bill. In that speech, he indulged in all the propaganda around the place trying to tell the House and the nation as a whole what this Government has done with regard to social service benefits. Now, I propose in my contribution, to show to this House where and how the purchasing value of pensions and associated social service payments has deteriorated under this Government.
To indicate the extent of the propaganda which was indulged in by the Minister for Social Services, I point out that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) introduced the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill 1964, which, like the recently introduced Repatriation Act, provides for adjustments in pension payments, in a speech occupying a mere 23 lines - not 23 minutes - in “ Hansard “. The Minister for Social Services took 42 minutes, and as I said, indulged in all the propaganda around the place. I should like to read the amendment which was moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. It is -
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, arc 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 this total cost of living; the increases to be retrospective from 1st July 1964 “.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, it gives me pleasure to support that amendment. I believe that it sets out very clearly the attitude of the Opposition towards social service payments. As I mentioned earlier, I propose pointing out just where and how the purchasing power of social services in this country has deteriorated.
We have just heard a speech by the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs), which was typical of the attitude of this honorable member when he rises to speak on social services. He displays hatred, opposition and antagonism towards giving pensioners a fair go. He spoke about having lived in a socialist country. Let rae quote a few little figures to the honorable member about this socialist country.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
– Order! The honorable member for Bowman, if he desires to make a personal explanation, must wait until the honorable member for Newcastle finishes his speech. I call the honorable member for Newcastle to continue.
– The honorable member for Bowman said that he had lived in a Socialist country, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me point out to him that the Socialist country to which he referred has been governed by the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom, the counterpart of the party to which he belongs, for about 13 years now and, in that time, the present United Kingdom Government has not materially reduced the benefits under the system of social services introduced by the Labour Government under Clem Attlee. Statistics show that in 1960-61 Australia’s contribution to social services represented only S.8 per cent, of the gross national product, whereas in the Socialist country to which the honorable member has referred expenditure on social services represented 6.6 per cent, of the gross national product. These figures are available to all honorable members if they will only go to the Parliamentary Library and ask the officers there for the information. I shall deal with these statistics at greater length later to show just how badly Australia shows up by comparison with other countries throughout the world in terms of social services.
This Government does not appear to have any clear policy on social services, lt ought to have a clear plan for necessary increases in benefits and improvements in the general system of social services annually or every two or three years. Indeed, the Government’s lack of policy on social services is just like its lack of economic policy, for, in economic matters, it proceeds in spurts and squirts. The present Government is totally lacking the clear kind of policy that I believe is necessary. The time is long overdue for the constitution of an independent authority to review social services. You could make it an all party parliamentary committee, if you like, composed of members from both sides of this House and members from both sides of another place. This authority could investigate the whole question of social service benefits, not only age and invalid pensions but also the maternity allowance, child endowment and all the other benefits that go to make up a system of social services. I hope that, sooner or later, the Minister for Social Services will accept this proposition and attempt to formulate a clear plan on social services so that we shall know where we are going. This is the kind of approach that the Government should adopt instead of turning to election gimmicks of the kind in which it indulges from time to time when an election is pending.
At this stage, I. should like to read to the House portion of the joint Opposition policy speech delivered by the present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in 1949 when he was Leader of the Opposition. These passages will show how the Government has fallen down on the promises that the right honorable gentleman made then. At page 22 of the printed pamphlet containing the speech, under the heading “ Social Services “, we find these words -
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.
That is not bad going. Fifteen years ago, he promised to get rid of the means test. The right honorable gentleman continued -
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval. Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
We all remember that the Prime Minister came into office on a promise to put value back into the £1. I do not have to tell honorable members just how much the value of the £1 has deteriorated since this Government has. been administering the nation’s economy. The right honorable gentleman, in 1949, went on to say -
We are deeply conscious of the frequently unjust operation of the means test, and of the penalty it imposes in many cases upon thrift. There are also grave anomalies associated with the position of persons who have contributed for their own superannuation benefits.
What has’ the Government done about the means test? That it has done little is obvious to those who care to read. I conclude my reference to the Prime Minister’s promises of 1949 on this note -
This great human problem will have our urgent attention as a matter of priority.
I do not know what priority the right honorable gentleman gives this great human problem fifteen years afterwards, this Government having done nothing about it in the meantime. I propose to show just how much purchasing power has declined under the administration of the present Government.
Earlier, in reply to the honorable member for Bowman, I mentioned the percentage of gross national product devoted to social services. The latest figures that the Library could give me are for 1960-61. In that year, Australia spent 5.8 per cent, of the gross national product on social services, Austria 14.4 per cent., Belgium 10.3 per cent., Canada 8.7 per cent., Chile 6.5 per cent., Denmark 7.3 per cent., France 11.5 per cent., Germany 12.2 per cent., Greece 6.3 per cent., New Zealand 9.8 per cent, and Norway 8 per cent. South Africa spent 2.2 per cent. I think that is understandable. Sweden spent 8.3 per cent, the United Kingdom 6.6 per cent., and the United States of America 5.2 per cent. These figures are a clear indication of just what is taking place in other countries where governments are attempting to solve the problems of poverty and want, particularly among old people, but also among all others in necessitious circumstances. The honorable member for Bowman, of course, would be interested only in increasing doctors’ fees so that they can kick up their salaries from £5,000 or £6,000 to probably £10,000 a year. He is not interested in making any contribution toward social services.
– That remark is personally offensive to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– As I said earlier, I propose to show just how purchasing power has declined under the administration of the present Government. I have here some figures that I have obtained from an answer given on 11th August last by the Minister for Social Services to a question asked by my colleague, the honorable member, for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). These figures show what the present Government has done in relation to social services. Let us see what the situation was when the present Government parties were in office early in the war. In 1940, the basic rate of pension was £1 a week and the basic wage was £4 a week. So the pension represented 25 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1949, when the Labour Government went out of office, the basic wage was £6 4s. a week and the basic rate of pension £2 2s. 6d. a week, or 34.3 per cent, of the basic wage and 22.9 per cent, of average weekly male earnings. These figures were prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician.
I remind honorable members that this Government came into office on a pledge to maintain the purchasing power of pensions. But, in 1952, when the basic wage was £10 16s. a week, the basic rate of pension was only £3 a week, or 27.8 per cent, of the basic wage, compared to 34.3 per cent, of the basic wage in 1949 under the Chifley Labour Government. Furthermore, in 1952, the rate of pension represented only 20.1 per cent, of average weekly male earnings. Let us have a look at the position in 1964. Under the terms of this bill, the rate of pension for a married pensioner will be £5 10s. a week. This represents about 36.3 per cent, of the present basic wage of £15 8s. a week and only about 21.7 per cent, of average weekly male earnings. I remind honorable members that in 1949, under the Labour Government, the pension represented 22.9 per cent, of average weekly male earnings. These figures clearly establish that married pensioners are not as well off today as they were under the Chifley Labour Government in 1949, despite the fact that the present Government came into office on a promise to put value back into the pension £1.
As I have said, in 1949 the basic rate of pension represented 34.3 per cent, of the basic wage. Adjusted in accordance with the increase in the cost of living, the pension rate of 1949 would be £5 5s. 8d. a week now. The rate for a married pensioner now proposed is only 4s. 4d. a week more than this. The Minister cited an astronomical volume of figures in an attempt to show what the present Government has done to increase pensions, but the rate now proposed for a married pensioner is only 4s. 4d. a week more than the equivalent of the pension paid in 1949. The new rates now proposed, 1 may add, will be paid only from a date to be proclaimed by the Minister. The information given to the honorable member for Hughes shows that for ten of the fifteen years during which the present Government has been in office pensions have represented a lower percentage of the basic wage than they represented in 1949 under the Labour Government. These figures are available to all honorable members, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if they will only examine them. If honorable members opposite were to do so, they would be in a position to cite facts and not merely rely on a figment of their own imagination.
I turn now to the anomalies that I consider exist with respect to pensions. I have in mind particularly the married invalid pensioner, not so much the single invalid pensioner. When the provisions of this Bill become operative, a married invalid pensioner will receive a pension of £5 10s. a week. His wife will receive £3 a week. On the assumption that they have two children, for whom they will receive £1 10s, their total income will be £10 a week. Yet the wage fixing tribunals of this country have decided that the minimum rate for a married employee with two children shall be £15 8s. a week. The pensioner husband is not allowed to go out and work except in resticted classifications. Generally the only income that the invalid pensioner can earn is from work in a disabled persons’ workshop or from work of a type which does not return much income. His wife is not eligible to work because she has to be available to give constant care and attention to her invalid husband so as to be entitled to the £3 a week. If she docs go to work and earns £7 a week she immediately loses £3 by reason of the fact that she is no longer available to give constant care and attention to her husband and so loses her wife’s allowance. In my opinion this is a serious anomaly. Invalid pensioners and widow pensioners are concerned, and the question of the amount of permissible income should once more be closely examined. In any event, why is the wife of an invalid pensioner - and, after all, it is hard enough to get an invalid pension - given a miserable pittance of £3 a week? Later during this debate will the Minister please explain why the wife of an invalid pensioner is restricted to £3 a week when two married age pensioners are entitled to £5 10s. a week each? The Minister fixed that miserable pittance as the minimum amount for two agc pensioners to live on, so why did he nol fix a similar amount for the invalid pensioner and his wife? The wife of an invalid pensioner should be eligible to receive the same amount of pension as does her husband.
Furthermore, how would the Minister like to keep a child under 16 years of agc on 15s. a week? I have never heard of anything so stupid or ridiculous in my life, it is so long since the Minister has had children to look after that he has forgotten how much it costs. That is the trouble with the Government as a whole. Honorable members opposite do not know what it is like to look after young children, nor do they know how much it costs to maintain them. 1 guarantee it costs as much to maintain and look after a child of 12 to 14 years, let alone a. 16 year old, as it does to maintain an adult.
– You’re telling me.
– The honorable member has three children and he knows what it costs to maintain them. Yet this miserable pittance of 15s. a week is allowed for each child of an invalid pensioner. I ask the Minister to have another look at this and to bring down social service legislation whereby people will receive reasonable benefits. So far as the widow’s pension is concerned, once a woman becomes a widow pensioner she is like the invalid pensioner, doomed to a life of poverty and has to rely on handouts from the Smith Family, from the St. Vincent de Paul Society and from various other charities that do an excellent job in the community. For the rest of her life she has to rely on help to obtain clothing for herself and her children. The Minister cannot possibly contend that the pension paid to her is sufficient to enable her to maintain life and limb and to live decently, be clothed decently and to eat decently. I ask him to have a further look at this so that we can establish a decent social service system.
As I said earlier, the whole social service system of the Government operates in squirts and spurts. The entire system should bc tied to the basic wage so that when the basic wage is increased pensions are automatically increased. I do not suggest that 36.3 per cent, of the basic wage is a desirable amount for age, invalid and widow pensions, but it should be possible to determine a percentage of the basic wage to be paid, so that immediately the basic wage is increased pensions and social service payments increase accordingly.
Let us examine the present position so far as it relates to pensions. The proposed increases arise as a result of the recent £1 increase An the basic wage granted by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Whereas the workers in industry will have received 13 payments of £1 a week by the time the increased pension is payable, the pensioner who does not receive the increase for 13 weeks after the basic wage increase became operative will have lost £3 5s. because this Government is not prepared to tie pensions to the basic wage or to make the increased pension payments retrospective to the time of the increase in the basic wage. If the increases were made retrospective the total cost would not exceed £2 million to £2.5 million. This is what the Government is withholding from the people who definitely need some assistance.
I come now to the question of deserted wives and the wives of prisoners. I ask the Minister: Why must these people wait for six months before they become eligible for the widow’s pension? What is the explanation? If a woman loses her breadwinner - whether because of his imprisonment or because he has left her for what he consider to be a good reason - she then has to rely, for six months, on charity and handouts from relatives and others to keep her and her children.
I consider that this is a serious anomaly and I ask the Minister to do something about it soon. I realise that my words are falling on barren soil and that I have not much chance of success, but I do hope that some day the Minister will show a touch of humanity and do something about giving these people a little more assistance than he has been giving them in recent years.
– Let him have a spell in gaol to see what it is like.
– That would be an appropriate place to give him a try-out. We must also consider those persons who reach the stage when they are unable to look after themselves and must be placed in nursing homes, aged persons’ homes or, in many instances, mental institutions. At present if an age pensioner has to vacate his home and go to a nursing home or some other institution, or to live with relatives, after a short time the Department of Social Services writes wanting to know when the pensioner is going to reoccupy his home and how much longer he is going to let the home lie idle. Before the pensioner knows where he is, within five or six months the Department considers the value of the home and if that value exceeds £2,020 it sets about reducing the person’s pension. This, too, should be looked at, and something should be done about it so that the capital value of a home is completely disregarded and only the rent which is received for it is considered. This is an anomaly that should be looked at, particularly when it is realised that these people are in the unfortunate position, which most of us will reach sooner or later, of not being able to look after themselves. The same comments apply to aged persons who are placed in mental hospitals. Their pensions are completely stopped. I have never heard the Minister satisfactorily explain why the Government terminates the pension of a person who goes into a mental institution. The honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) could explain it better than I can, but many people, when they get old, lose their mental powers - their minds go on them. They do not know where they are and in their own interest they are placed in mental institutions. The moment they enter the institution payment of their pension ceases but the respective Masters in Lunacy charge against their estates the cost of their maintenance while in the institutions. This is an anomaly that should be rectified as early as possible.
Let me refer again to the matter of supplementary assistance, which the Government has mentioned from time to time. When the supplementary assistance was first granted in 1958 it represented 3.84 per cent, of the basic wage. Due to the increased cost of living resulting from the inflation brought about by this Government’s economic policy, today the supplementary assistance represents only 3.24 per cent, of the basic wage. If the amount of permissible income of a pensioner today held the same ratio to the basic wage as it held in 1958, when it was last increased, it would be about 92s. a week. This is a further indication of how the Government has allowed the purchasing power of pensions to deteriorate.
I do not think that the system of supplementary assistance is very good. I do not think it should be restricted to single pensioners who possess less than £200 or who have an income of less than 10s. a week The system should be further examined because I think that many married pensioners today are worse off than single pensioners. Most married pensioners live in the older suburbs, which, due to changing patterns of life, have been rezoned by the local government authorities. Those pensioners now find that they live in areas classified not as residential but as commercial or industrial. Accordingly, the value of their land has trebled or even quadrupled, resulting in the pensioners being forced to pay higher rates. I know some pensioners who are paying £2 or £2 10s. a week in council and water rates in order to live in their own homes. Those people are as much in need of supplementary assistance as are the single pensioners who have to pay rent.
Today, as a result of the medical system introduced by this Government, many pensioners are not entitled to a medical card, free hospital treatment or free provision of drugs that were formerly on the list pf pharmaceutical benefits. Some of these people have approached me and I have referred their cases to the appropriate Minister. Some of these people are paying as much as £3 or £5 for medical treatment.
This is a matter that needs attention. The supplementary assistance should be provided on the basis of the need of the individual pensioner. The flat rate system that has operated is not satisfactory.
Let me say, in the time at my disposal, a few words about retrospective payment of these increases. The refusal to make payment retrospective constitutes a real anomaly. When the Government announced the superphosphate bounty in the 1963 Budget it made payment of the bounty retrospectve. Payment of the homes savings grant introduced by legislation earlier this year following the Prime Minister’s policy speech was made retrospective to the first working day after the election, which was 2nd December 1963. Increases in child endowment for the third and subsequent children were made retrospective to 14th January this year when the necessary legislation was introduced on 7th April, Let us deal with some of the matters that arise out of the last budget. The Government has refused to make retrospective payment of social services increases but increases in income tax and company tax became operative from the night the Treasurer introduced his Budget and will have effect retrospectively to 1st July 1964. The increase in the sales tax on motor vehicles operated as from 12th August this year. The increase in excise duties levied on tobacco operated similarly from 12th August. Increases in telephone rentals and telephone installation fees became operative from the date they were announced in the Budget. It is obvious that the Government operates under one system when it comes to collecting revenue and under another system when it conies to giving material assistance to pensioners and others in receipt of social service benefits.
I turn now to the funeral benefit payable to pensioners. When the benefit was introduced in 1943 it represented 208 per cent, of the basic wage. The benefit has not been increased since the Curtin Labour Government - that Socialist government, I remind the honorable member for Bowman - introduced it in 1943. This capitalist Fascist Government has refused to increase the benefit and it now represents only 65 per cent, of the basic wage.
When the unemployment benefit was introduced in 1945 it represented 63.33 per cent, of the basic wage. Today, in this affluent society - this great land of Australia where the Government claims to have increased the purchasing power of the people but where in fact it has been responsible for allowing the greatest profits in history to be made by companies - the unemployment benefit represents only 51.13 per cent, of the basic wage. As far as the Government is concerned, £7 2s. 6d. a week payable as unemployment or sickness benefit is sufficient for a man and his wife. Surely a person in receipt of the sickness benefit is entitled to as much as an age, invalid or widow pensioner.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented. The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) said that I demonstrated hatred and an objection to giving people a fair go. On the contrary, I think I demonstrated clearly that I was fully in sympathy with the needs of the pensioners, that I appreciated all that was being done for the pensioners and that more should be done for them. 1 think I indicated that as soon as it was possible to do so, the Government would give greater assistance to pensioners. I do not think that anything I said could possibly indicate-
– Order! The honorable member is now entering into a debate on the subject on which he claims to have been misrepresented.
– 1 merely claim that I was misrepresented.
– I claim to have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs). I seek to make an explanation. In the course of his speech the honorable member said that 1 had cast aspersions on the integrity of the medical profession. 1 did no such thing. A check of the report of my speech will show that I said that this Government was taking it out on certain members of the medical profession who sought to give pensioners proper medical treatment. I correct the honorable member on that point. As he claims to be a man of integrity, honesty and impartiality 1 hope that he will withdraw and apologise.
– 1 do not wish to enter into a debate on this matter but the honorable member for Grayndler obviously misses the point that if the medical profession were forced into a position where it could have been under the-
– Order! The honorable member may not debate the subject matter of the statement made by the honorable member for Grayndler.
– Have I not the right to refute it?
– The honorable member may not debate the subject matter of the statement of the honorable member for Grayndler.
.- The Bill before the House is quite a simple one. Its purpose is to provide increased payments to pensioners of various categories. We have listened to a surfeit of speeches, some of which come from this side of the House and some of which came from the Opposition side. I think the Bill may best be dealt with - more briefly and with more emphasis - if I refer to certain salient points. I will endeavour to deal with one or two facts which I feel are important and I will endeavour to be brief. First, the approach of this Government to the payment of pensions and to increasing pensions has been a responsible approach. Members of the Opposition have made all sorts of wild promises which they could not have honoured, and it is obvious from the results of the recent elections that the electors saw through them, and, realising that they could not honour their promises, felt that they could not be entrusted to form a responsible government.
The number of people becoming entitled to pensions continues to grow, because the expectancy of life has increased over the last few years, and for many other reasons, with the result that the payment of pensions continues to become a heavier and heavier burden on the Government. When considering the overall needs of the country, no Government can afford to make rash promises as to what it will do with regard to any particular expenditure. Honorable members opposite have referred to the proposed increase of 5s. a week for pensioners as being miserable. I remind them that this represents -a total additional expenditure of over £10,500,000, which is by no means a small sum.
This Government has commitments with respect’ to many other things such as development and defence. If we do not continue to hold this country, to defend it and to develop it, we shall not be in a position to pay any pensions at all. The Government has a duty to maintain stability, and to govern with a sense of responsibility so that it may continue to increase pensions whenever possible, as it has been doing during the whole of its term of office. I do not think any
Of us will’ ever agree that the rates of pensions are all that we might wish to see. We are all aiming at increasing pensions and improving the conditions of the less fortunate wherever possible. The Government expects, to spend something in the vicinity of £450 million on pensions in the coming financial year. This represents approximately 60 per cent, of the revenue derived from income tax and social services tax sources. If we care to make a comparison with pre.vious years, as some members of the Opposition often do, we find that in 1948, the expenditure by the Chifley Government on pensions amounted to £80.8 million or only 40 per cent, of the revenue from income tax and social services tax sources.
I think we are reaching the point where we shall have to take stock of the whole position and try to do something about putting these increasing payments on a more solid basis. Although it is the aim of this Government to abolish the means test eventually, that is not as easy to do as has been suggested because many implications are involved. I believe that the time is coming when we shall have to study the practicability of introducing some form of superannuation scheme. Superannuation schemes have been successfully introduced in other countries. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has estimated that the abolition of the means test could cost somewhere in the vicinity of £150 million or £160 million and that its abolition would benefit only 10 per cent, of present pensioners as 90 per cent, are receiving full pensions now. But there are other things that should be taken into consideration. I mention first the cost of administration. I think every honorable member has some knowledge of the amount of correspondence involved and the frustration experienced in writing to the Minister or to the Department of Social Services in an endeavour to have anomalies corrected and other adjustments made for pensioners. There must be a tremendous army of administrators dealing with the adjustment of pensions, and with appeals, to say nothing of the inspectors who are sent out to ascertain whether pensioners are earning more than the permissible amount of additional income.
I feel, too, that the means test is very largely a tax on thrift. It discourages the man who tries to put something away for his later years. Quite recently in my own electorate I had brought to my notice the case of a Government employee who always lived a very careful life. He has been an excellent citizen, he always took an active part in almost every organisation in the town, he had some money invested, and he has his own home. During his working life he was in the receipt of the same wage as many other men in similar government jobs, but, he was careful and, because he was careful, because he denied himself most of the luxuries, amenities and comforts during his working life, he is not now entitled to any pension whatsoever although some of those of his own age who live in the same town are receiving full pensions. In other words, although during his working life he paid for the pension now enjoyed by these people, he is denied any pension for himself.
Many pensioners are afraid to take jobs because to do so might render them ineligible for the pension and, once they have had their pension taken from them it is most difficult to get it back. There is also a great body of aged people who are still fit to work. This country is in need of development and it is suffering a tremendous shortage of skilled labour. Only recently when I returned from a trip on a migrant ship I sat in at Bonegilla when Commonwealth Employment Officers were interviewing a number of migrants. I learned then that there are from six to eight jobs available for every skilled worker we can get. It seems to me to be a great waste of ability when men of over 65 years of age who are still fit to work are not allowed to work. Of course, the responsibility for that state of affairs to which I have referred rests very largely with the
State Government of New South Wales in particular. Many of these men over 65 years of age are skilled men who are still fit to work and it is unfortunate that they are not allowed to do so. In my view, if they were allowed to work they would enjoy better health for longer. I say that because of experience I gained when we established a senior citizens club in my own town. When, as a result of the formation of this club, some of these older people were given voluntary work to do, their health improved immediately. With elderly people in particular, health seems to be influenced by psychological factors. If they are given something to do, if they are made to feel that they are contributing in some way, they often enjoy better health because, in carrying out their part they have not the time to think about themselves. There are a great number of men and women who could be of tremendous value to this country if they were allowed to earn some additional income. In addition to their work being of value to the country, the extra income would help them to enjoy a more comfortable way of life.
This Government has done a great deal towards improving the lot of the pensioners. It is moving towards the abolition of the means test, but this cannot be done overnight without disrupting the economy. As I said before, the Government has many things to consider. It has the responsibility to govern wisely. That it has governed wisely is evidenced by the fact that we have progressed, by the fact that the Australian working man is better off today than the working man in any other country in the world, by the fact that we enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world and by the fact that we have been able to hold inflation while progressing.
In my opinion, what the Government has done in providing sheltered workshops has not been fully appreciated. Not only has it contributed much in the way of money, but it has done a great deal to give these people a feeling of self respect, a feeling of pride al their ability to take their places as worthy and able citizens of the community. This Government has found, just as Henry Ford did many years ago, that quite often people who are partly handicapped can do some jobs better than a man who has all his faculties. The provision of sheltered workshops is just another contribution made by the Go vernment since it has been in office towards meeting the needs of those who are not fortunate enough to enjoy the good health that most of us have.
I think we should look again to see whether we can move more quickly, at least towards abolishing the means test. The abolition of the means test would not only result in a saving of money and of administration costs, as I have said, but would also result in greater production. We would also have a saving in sickness benefits and the provision of hospitals for those who are not really ill but who suffer because they cannot find enough to do. A move towards the abolition of the means test would also enable funds to be found to provide concessions to pensioners who need telephones, just as we are now providing a concession to these people in the cost of television licences.
There is another very great need in our social services. The Government is endeavouring to cope with it, but I believe that there is much more” to be done. I refer to the provision of homes for the chronically ill and the aged sick. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair) referred to this matter earlier. Most of the homes provided for these people were not designed for this purpose when they were built. Very often they are old residences that have been converted in an effort to meet the need. I have one such home in my electorate. Additions have been made to it and beds are accommodated on enclosed verandahs. These are very difficult patients and the work of looking after them is made much more difficult by the inadequacy of the building. The need for assistance in this field is very great. I know that hospitals are primarily a State matter, but I believe that some assistance from the Commonwealth Government is merited. Hospitals providing care for these people have difficulty in obtaining staff. I have very definite evidence in my electorate of the difficulty of obtaining staff to look after elderly chronically ill people. This is not the sort of job that inspires everyone. The Government has done much in providing a subsidy of £2 for £1, but still homes for the aged sick and the chronically ill need more help.
Undoubtedly, the Government’s record in social services is excellent. The Opposition has criticised the Government, but this Government has a better record than any government before it had. I agree that there is still much to be done. We all realise this. But we must have a responsible approach to what has to be done, and I believe that the Government has such a sense of responsibility. We as individual members of the Parliament may feel that the Government should be doing more. But the provision of social service benefits does not depend solely on the decision of the Minister for Social Services. The Government must decide what benefits can bc provided, having regard to all the other commitments that it must meet. I believe that the Government has made a really serious attempt to do what it can for the pensioners. I support the Bill.
.- The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Pettitt) made one or two useful observations. However, he spoilt what was meant to be a constructive speech by inviting criticism in his opening remarks. The honorable member referred to promises that had been made by the Australian Labour Party, presumably at election time. He went on to refer to the abolition of the means test, a matter that is important to all honorable members and is certainly important to the public. If the honorable member wants to speak about extravagant promises, I invite him to read the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) at the 1949 election. He promised the people of Australia that he would report back to the electorate at the following election on a method of abolishing the means test. Fourteen years have elapsed since the Prime Minister made that promise to the people of Australia, but the Government has not made any suggestion that the means test will be abolished.
If the honorable member for Hume has studied and considered the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), as I hope he has, he must know that there can be no hope of abolishing the means test while the present Minister holds this portfolio. The Minister for Social Services has shown quite clearly in this House that he is traditionally opposed to the payment of pensions. Being opposed to the payment of pensions and being unsympathetic to pensioners generally, how can we expect him to introduce into the Parliament a reform that will abolish the means test? The honorable member for Hume invited this criticism. He spoke about the abolition of the means test. He referred to promises that had been made by the Australian Labour Party at previous elections. I remind him that initially the Labour Party suggested supplementing the pensions of those who desperately needed additional assistance. We suggested the supplementary allowance and the Government accepted our suggestion and provided for the payment of a supplementary allowance. Again, during an election campaign Labour suggested an additional payment to civilian widows. In 1963 the Government accepted the proposition that had been advanced by Labour and introduced an increased pension for civilian widows. We have no quarrel with the action of the Government. As a matter of fact, we applaud its motives; we are glad that the Government recognised there was a need for increased assistance for civilian widows. The Government’s failure to accept all the recommendations of the Labour Party is a matter for regret. Other recommendations that we have made have been mentioned during this debate by Opposition members.
I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). It clearly sets out the viewpoint of the Opposition and therefore the viewpoint of the Australian Labour Party throughout the country. We consider that payments are inadequate. The amendments set out quite clearly that we consider the base rate of pension now payable to age, invalid and widow pensioners is completely inadequate. We think the increase of 5s. about which the Minister for Social Services spoke for 42 minutes when he introduced the bill is certainly inadequate, having regard to the circumstances in which we find ourselves today with increased costs and prices, the increased basic wage and increased margins. When one has regard to all these factors one sees that the amendment of the honorable member for Grayndler clearly expresses the point of view of the Opposition.
The honorable member has shown that the Government has neglected child endowment, and although the Minister may talk about increases in child endowment rates in 1963, he has omitted to mention that this Government failed to increase child endowment payment for the first child during the whole period since 1949. The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) pointed out earlier this evening that the Government has ignored demands by honorable members on this side of the House, and also by pensioners’ organisations outside the Parliament, that some adjustment should be made to the funeral allowance, which has remained unaltered for the period of 21 years since 1943. The amount decided upon in 1943 by the Curtin Labour Government is the amount that is payable today. I say, therefore, that the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler clearly expresses the Opposition’s viewpoint.
The Minister’s second reading speech has followed the pattern of the speeches delivered by him in other years. One must concede that the Minister has become remarkably adept at delivering this kind of speech. He spent 45 minutes in talking about an increase of 5s. a week in pension payments to age, invalid and widow pensioners, which is really the only alteration that has been made to the existing social services legislation. He took 45 minutes to tell us that an increase of 5s. a week had been granted. One almost felt that he was reading the speech that he delivered in 1963. Obviously the Minister was much more at home in referring to concessions granted in 1963. The Opposition concedes at once that in the legislation that was before the Parliament in 1963 there were some useful
Amendments to the Social Services Act. However, as I have said, the Minister dealt almost exclusively wilh the amendments that were before the Parliament in 1963, when some improvements were made, particularly in respect of certain classes of civilian widows to whom I have already referred.
I have listened with amazement to this debate, and particularly to the arguments of honorable members on the opposite side of the House. We have heard not one but several speakers referring with complete satisfaction and in many instances with smugness to the Government’s action in granting this miserable increase of 5s. a week. A number of honorable members opposite have even said that they believe there is nothing wrong with the social services legislation and that the amounts now being paid are quite adequate. We on this side say most emphatically that we regard the amounts now being paid as being in many instances totally inadequate, having in mind the circumstances to which I referred a moment ago, of increases in costs and prices, a general spiralling of costs, increases in the basic wage and other increases granted to various sections of the communuty during 1964.
Probably the reason why many members regard the amounts now being paid as satisfactory, and the legislation generally as satisfactory, is that they have very little contact with the section of the community that will be affected. They have no clear understanding of the problems of that section of the community. But if they read, as I believe they do, and if they are as observant as they obviously should be, then they must understand that a great number of people receiving social service payments are facing a crisis. In many instances the amounts they receive are completely inadequate. We do not overlook the fact that for a small proportion of those receiving social service payments in one form or another the circumstances are quite good. As the Minister has told us on many occasions, it will be possible for an aged couple, when this legislation becomes effective, to receive a total pension of £11 a week and have additional income of £7 a week, giving them a total income of £18 a week. We do not deny that some couples will have such an income, but obviously only a small proportion of those now receiving social service benefits will get this kind of an income. The great majority of pensioners have no extra income and receive only the base rate of pension. Most aged couples will be restricted to £11 a week.
Surely the Minister and other honorable members opposite do not expect us to accept the statement that the great bulk of pensioners do not experience difficulties. Financial circumstances compel many of them to seek additional assistance from the sources referred to by honorable members on this side of the House. I refer to the organisations in the various States which supplement the incomes of these people because they know it is necessary for them to do so. State authorities, benevolent societies and private institutions all have found in recent years that they have had to meet greater commitments in helping these unfortunate people because of the inadequacy of social service payments granted by this Government. The Opposition has consistently contended in this Parliament that the base rate of pension should be increased, but the Government has refused to face its responsibility.
Having had the opportunity of seeing the Minister in his famous television interview I was certainly not surprised in Tasmania to find so much criticism in the Press and from various people who saw the telecast and who objected to the attitude displayed by the Minister. He was quite smug and he showed the people that so far as the Government was concerned and in his opinion pensioners were receiving all that they should expect. A great deal of criticism appeared in the Tasmanian newspapers concerning the attitude displayed by the Minister on that occasion and I believe that the legislation before us confirms that the Minister is completely unsympathetic in his attitude towards the great bulk of the people affected by the social services legislation. In the circumstances it is very difficult for members of the Government parties, particularly the Minister for Social Services, to say that the 5s. a week increase granted under this legislation will bc adequate having regard to the commitments that pensioners will be expected to meet.
As I have indicated, the basic wage has increased substantially. It now stands at £15 8s. a week. As a result of the increase in the basic wage there has been a general increase in costs and prices. As a result of that general increase, obviously pensioners and other people on fixed incomes will be expected to meet additional commitments. Already the £1 a week increase in the basic wage has been swallowed up by increases in cost and prices. Yet on this occasion pensioners are granted an increase of only 5s. a week, which is one-quarter of the increase that has been granted to people who are expected to live on what is regarded as the minimum wage. In addition, pensioners will be expected to wait for almost 13 weeks after the granting of the basic wage increase before they will receive their increase of 5s. a week.
The real test is: To what extent will the increase that the Government now proposes allow pensioners and other people of fixed incomes to meet their additional commitments? The Minister, during his second-read ing speech, said that he could not agree that a comparison of pension rates with the basic wage was valid. But, in spite to that, he then went on to make such a comparison. He said that in 1949 the pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week represented 33 per cent, of the basic wage, and that in 1964 the new pension of £5 10s. a week provided under this legislation represents 35.7 per cent, of the basic wage. That means, in effect, that the pension in terms of a percentage of the basic wage has increased by 2.7 per cent, in 14 years. But, as I have said, the real test is not the extent to which the pension has increased in comparison with increases in the basic wage or in any other set of index figures upon which the Minister may seize. The real test is: How much would the pension buy in 1949 and how much will it buy in 1964, if the Minister desires to use those years for purposes of comparison?
Other comparisons can be made which are not so favorable to the Government. As the honorable member for Newcastle pointed out earlier this evening, in 1949 the average weekly earnings of employed males in Australia were £8 7s. and the pension then was £2 2s. 6d. or 24.8 per cent, of average weekly male earnings. In 1963 the average weekly male earnings were £23 9s. and the pension then was £5 5s. or 22.3 per cent, of average weekly male earnings. In other words, between 1949 and 1963, in terms of a percentage of average weekly male earnings, the pension fell by 2.5 per cent. In 1964 the pension is down to 21.7 per cent, of average weekly male earnings. So, since 1949 there has been a fall of 3.1 per cent, in terms of real purchasing power. Therefore, the pensioners’ standard obviously had fallen between the years that the Minister chose to take for the purpose of comparing the record of this Government with that of the outgoing Labour Government in 1949.
No doubt other interesting comparisons could be made; but that is not the real issue that the Parliament faces on this occasion. In my opinion, the real issue is whether this Government regards the present base rate of pension as being adequate to meet the needs of the people to whom I have referred. The Opposition does not believe that it is adequate, and therefore we have taken the opportunity to move the amendment to which I have referred.
I turn now to some of the provisions of the Bill, particularly in relation to payments to civilian widows. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, referred to a number of payments, but he omitted to refer to the class C widow’s pension. Under this Bill class C widows will still receive only £5 7s. 6d. a week, which is 12s. 6d. less than the standard rate of pension paid to age and invalid pensioners, namely £6 a week. The Minister should tell the House why this rate should be 12s. 6d. less than the standard rate. He has offered no explanation of that discrepancy. I believe that we members of the Opposition are entitled to receive an explanation of that when the Minister rises to reply to this debate.
He referred to widows under 50 years of age with no dependent children, but there are other classes of widow pensioners. I refer to the deserted wife and the woman who receives a class C widow’s pension and whose husband has been admitted to a mental institution. This matter was referred to earlier by my colleague, the honorable member for Newcastle, but I want to refer to it in greater detail. I agree with the honorable member that this certainly is an anomaly which should not be tolerated by the Government. The Minister has never offered any explanation of why an invalid pensioner whose wife is under the age of 60 years and who therefore receives £5 10s. a week for himself and £3 a week for his wife - a total of £8 10s. a week - has his pension cancelled when he is admitted to a mental institution. He may be admitted only temporarily, but the fact remains that immediately he is admitted to a mental institute his pension is cancelled.
This afternoon I interjected when the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) was speaking. I asked him, as I now ask the Minister: What happens to a man’s pension in those circumstances? The Minister has never offered any explanation on this matter, and the honorable member for Bowman did not tell the House that when an invalid pensioner is admitted to a mental institution his pension is cancelled entirely and his wife is asked to apply for a widow’s pension and is granted a class C widow’s pension. That means, in effect that she is then entitled to £5 7s. 6d. a week and, as the Minister has indicated, she also becomes entitled to an additional 10s. a week. That would give her a total of £5 17s. 6d. a week; but the couple’s combined income before the pensioner was admitted to the mental institution was £8 10s. a week. Why should these conditions apply?
If an age pensioner is admitted to a public ward of a public hospital his pension is not cancelled. If a pensioner is admitted to a home for the aged his pension is not cancelled. Indeed, if a pensioner, who is admitted to a home for the aged and consequently receives a reduced rate of pension, is admitted to a public ward of a public hospital, his pension is immediately restored to the full rate. Yet this Government says that a person who is admitted to a mental institution should have no pension entitlement. Obviously the Government believes that because a person has been afflicted with a mental sickness, which may be of a temporary nature only, his pension should not continue, and the Government obviously believes also that the pensioner’s wife has no additional commitments. Such an outlook by the Government is fantastic and is completely wrong. Nevertheless the Minister has never offered any reasonable explanation to this House, to the people of Australia or to the various State Ministers who have made representations over a number of years for this anomaly to be remedied.
The Minister has never told us why a pension should be cancelled merely because the pensioner has been admitted to a mental institution. The Minister must be fully aware of the frustration and the delays that must occur when a pensioner has been admitted to an institution and his wife is obliged to appy for a C Class widow’s pension. Inevitably there is a delay before an adjustment is made to her allowance. I believe that it is time that the Minister adopted a sympathetic attitude and removed this anomaly. Irrespective of the attitude of previous governments - I understand that this is the only reason ever offered by the Minister to justify his policy - surely in 1964 the Minister should be in a position to reconsider his attitude to this question. I appeal to him, even at this late stage, to give some consideration to the representations that have been made by honorable members on this side of the House.
In the short time that remains to me I want to deal very briefly with pensioners* medical entitlement cards. This is a subject to which the Minister referred. I believe he said that 87 per cent, of people in receipt of social service benefits held a medical entitlement card. That means that 13 per cent, do not have a medical entitlement card.
– More than 100,000.
– Yes. To put it more specifically 105,000 pensioners in Australia do not have a medical entitlement card and therefore must make other arrangements in cases of sickness, admission to hospital, visits to the doctor and all those matters associated with illness. The Minister knows that the means test was applied in 1955, but during bis second reading speech he merely said that none of these provisions applied in 1949. He said that there was no pensioner medical service in 1949. We acknowledge that. But at that time every pensioner in Australia was entitled to be admitted to the public ward of a public hospital anywhere in the Commonwealth without any charge being made. The Minister knows the circumstances that applied in 1949. He knows also that the present Government was responsible for the abolition of the system of free hospitalisation that we enjoyed throughout the Commonwealth before it came to office in 1 949.
I say to the Minister that the means test which is now applied is vicious. It was applied in 1955 when the Government decided that a medical entitlement card would be available only to single pensioners whose income other than from pension did not exceed £2 a week and to married pensioner couples whose joint income other than from pension did not exceed £4 a week. Even if the Government is not prepared to abolish the means test completely, one would expect that after nine years it would at least adopt a sympathetic attitude and ease the means test. If £2 was the appropriate amount in 1955, surely that amount should not still apply in 1964. The Minister knows that some honorable members on his side of the chamber have referred to this matter during this debate. Those Government supporters know that the moves that have been made by the Opposition on numerous occasions to remove this anomaly have been sound and valid, and they know also that the Government stands condemned on this issue.
The amendment that has been proposed by the Opposition sets out the reasons why the Opposition disagrees entirely with the
Government’s attitude to social services. We do not believe that the great majority of the people now in receipt of age, invalid and widows’ pensions are receiving the justice to which they are entitled.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. W. C. Haworth). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) has, in typical fashion, taken this opportunity to make a full onslaught against the Government and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). He sought to condemn the Minister by stating that he had not been sympathetic and that he was unkind. I suggest that such expressions were completely unwarranted, because the history of social services over recent years, and the developments that have taken place, are testimony to the Minister’s human understanding and sympathy for the underprivileged and those who are in financial need. The honorable member for Bass advanced some points on which he claimed credit for the Labour Party, but of course it was rubbish and nonsense to claim that the supplementary allowance had been initiated by the Labour Party.
– I did not say that at all; I said it was suggested by the Labour Party in its policy speech.
Order! The honorable member has already spoken.
– It was not initiated by the Labour Party. The true history of the supplementary allowance can be traced back to a recommendation made by the Government Members Social Services Committee. The same goes for the widow’s allowance, which was improved following a recommendation by that committee. How can the honorable member for Bass claim any credit for his party by stating that it suggested these two improvements in social service benefits? Quite obviously, because of the situation in which the Labour Party now finds itself on the Opposition benches, it must try to jump on the bandwagon.
The honorable member for Bass referred to the basic wage and its relationship to the pension. There has been a clamour, supported by the Labour Party, from various pensioner organisations for the pension to be tied to the basic wage. But it is interesting to note, as has been said before in this Chamber, that in 1949, when the Menzies Government took over from Labour, the age and invalid pension represented only 34.3 per cent, of the Commonwealth male basic wage based on the six capital cities. With the new standard rate of £6 for the single pensioner the pension will be 39 per cent, of the present basic wage, which is £15 8s. Perhaps it is more significant that a married pensioner couple will receive 71.2 per cent, of the basic wage. These figures can be checked, as they were given in an answer to the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) on 11th August last as reported at page 107 of “ Hansard “. So we need say no more about that.
The Bill, which now has associated with it an amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), will implement the Budget proposals in respect of social services by providing an increase of 5s. in the base pension. There is no need for me as a speaker late on the list to traverse the various benefits which have been included in the Bill because these have been so adequately dealt with by the Minister for Social Services and honorable members on the Government side who have spoken. But I think it is very interesting to note the extensive field that the payment of pensions for age and invalid persons now covers. On 30th June 1963, a total of 711,388 pensioners received a benefit. On 30th June 1964, the figure was 724,911, which represented an increase of 13,523. That is quite an increase. Although honorable members have heard this before, I think it is worth while repeating that during the past 14 years of the Menzies Government, expenditure on social services has increased from £74.7 million in 1948-49, a significant year, to £324.4 million in 1963-64.
– What does that prove?
– It shows that we can now present to the country, particularly to members of the Opposition, a very impressive total which has been paid in respect of social services. But the figures also show in a very poor light the performance of the
Australian Labour Party during the time that it was in office.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on the provisions contained in the Bill. I know that similar congratulations would not come from honorable members opposite. I also take the opportunity of congratulating the Minister for Social Services and his Department on the very detailed and comprehensive second reading speech that he delivered. It was full of information which was most interesting. Of course, the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) is one of those hardy perennials by which he as the shadow Minister for Social Services, in the Labour Party, seeks, no doubt, with members of his Party to delay the passage of the Bill and to deprive by that delay the granting of the benefits of the Bill to those to whom they would apply.
This is a typical Labour Party amendment which, as usual, makes no endeavour to indicate the cost of the change which would be introduced if the amendment was carried out and the Labour Party had its way in the introduction of the benefits as they are now suggested. So one is prompted to ask: Where would all the money for these benefits come from? It would appear that where the money comes from is of no consequence to honorable members opposite. To me, as to all members on this side of the House, this attitude reveals the complete lack of a sense of responsibility on the part of honorable members opposite. As each honorable member on the Opposition benches has risen to his feet and delivered his speech, he has exuberantly handed out social service benefits with an utter disregard of the costs involved. So, it is just as well for the welfare of the country and for its stability that honorable members opposite do not represent a responsible government which would be called upon to put these ideas into operation.
Again, it is of interest to note than in 1964-65 it is expected that expenditure from the National Welfare Fund will reach a total of £452.1 million, which represents 60 per cent, of the estimated yield of £745.6 million from income tax and social service contribution payable by individuals. Let us contrast this expenditure with the effort of the Chifley Government. In 1948-49 the expenditure of the Chifley Government from the National Welfare Fund represented 40 per cent, of the combined yield from income tax and social service contribution. These are interesting but, in my view, damning comparisons in the face of the attack by honorable members opposite on this Bill. It is proper to say from this side of the House that the social service needs of the country are always under review by the Government. This is indicated by the fact that this is the second time this year that the social service legislation has been amended to provide increased benefits. This time, attention has been directed, as honorable members are aware, to age, invalid and widows’ pensions. The last time legislation of this type was dealt with, there were very liberal increases granted which were spread over a wide field. What hypocrisy it is for members on the Opposition side to criticise this Government for its social service legislation whilst posturing as champions of the needy and of the underprivileged. In my book, such posturing is contemptible because, as a political party in and out of office since the beginning of Federation, the Australian Labour Party has made a significantly small contribution to the granting of social service benefits in this country. To illustrate my point, I will take the year 1963-64. In that year, the total expenditure on social services amounted to £324 million. 1 would like the honorable member for Grayndler who is interjecting to take particular note of these figures. Now, £288 million, or 90 per cent, of the total expenditure on social services, was spent on social service benefits introduced by Federal Governments of Liberal complexion.
When the Chifley Government was dismissed from office in 1949, an age pensioner received £2 2s. 6d. per week. Today, by contrast, he is receiving £6 per week. In 1949, a married couple received £4 5s. per week. Today, a married couple receives £11 per week. In 1949, there was no Aged Persons Homes Act. There was no allowance payable to children of age and invalid pensioners. Of course, as I heard the honorable member for Bass say, there was no pensioner medical scheme. The honorable member did not explain the reason for this omission, but I suppose his answer would bc that the Labour Party had not had time to think about it. That party was so dull in ils thinking that, naturally, it would never get around to thinking about the matter. So, we find that members on the Opposition benches in this debate, as in similar debates on social services, use the old trick of emotional propaganda to try to stir up the emotions of pensioners. But this kind of appeal to pensioners has failed the Australian Labour Parly lamentably.
There are no pluses. Pensioners themselves can see through the actions of the honorable member for Grayndler and his honorable and merry men. Pensioners see through camouflage of the kind that the honorable member tries to provide by means of the amendment that he has proposed. They know that the pose of humanitarians adopted by honorable members opposite is demonstrably false and palpably fictitious. The role of champion of the underprivileged assumed by Opposition members docs not stand the test. Why? This is because most of the far reaching and worthwhile social services have been introduced by Liberal Governments.
Let us look at the history of the social service benefits introduced by Liberal governments. I remind honorable members opposite that the Deakin Government was a Liberal Government. In July 1909, that Government introduced age pensions. In the next year, it introduced invalid pensions. Then we come to the remarkable achievements of the present Menzies Government, which, in 15 years, has established an unchallengeable record. Time will not permit me to make a detailed-
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member would say that, because he does not want to hear what I have to say. I was about to say, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that time will not permit me to make a detailed survey of the record of this Government. But let us have a look at the highlights. The pensioner medical service, which was introduced in 1951, covers 87 per cent, of pensioners and relieves them of financial worry in time of sickness. Honorable members opposite talk so much about the means test. It has been considerably eased, first in 1953, then in 1954 and again in 1958. As honorable members are well aware, in I960 the Government introduced the new concept of the merged means test. At the same time it liberalised other provisions of the social services legislation. The result of all this has been a large increase in the proportion of people of pensionable age who qualify for pensions. Under the Labour Government, in 1947, only 37 per cent, of the people of pensionable age received pensions. I hope that honorable members opposite will make a mental note of the fact that today 53 per cent, of the people of pensionable age receive pensions. In 1954, the present Government abolished the means test for the blind.
Now I turn to child endowment. Here is a survey of history that is worth noting. It will be recalled that Commonwealth endowment for the second and subsequent children under 16 was introduced in 1941 by a Liberal Government - the first Menzies Government. The present Menzies Government in June 1950, introduced endowment for the first child under 16 and, in January 1964, increased endowment for the third and subsequent children under 16 from 10s. to 15s. a week and provided for the payment of endowment at the rate of 15s. a week in respect of all full time students aged from 16 to 21.
Then we come to a great benefit that has. been bestowed on elderly citizens by the provision of grants for homes for the aged under a humane and imaginative scheme introduced by the present Menzies Government in December 1954 in the terms of the Aged Persons Homes Act. As honorable members well know, the purpose of this Act was to encourage and assist the provision of suitable homes for aged persons, in particular homes in which they may reside in conditions approaching as nearly as possible to normal domestic life. The scheme provides for grants to charitable organisations on the basis of £2 for £1 to meet the capital cost of building or buying homes for elderly people. Honorable members should be aware that at 30th June 1964 the grants made under this scheme totalled £21,109,022. One thousand homes had been provided and these accommodated about 18,000 elderly citizens.
While I am on the subject of homes for the aged, let me say that two members of this Parliament deserve the congratulations not only of honorable members on this side of the House but also of honorable members opposite for the work that they have done. I refer to the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver), who have taken a very active part and shown great interest in providing homes for the aged. Swan Cottage Homes Incorporated, in Perth, and the homes for the aged in South Australia for which the honorable member for Sturt has worked so hard are something to marvel at. I wonder whether Labour members take the trouble to look at such places and whether they realise just what great benefits are to be obtained by members of this Parliament putting their own hands to the plough and helping charitable organisations to take advantage of the benefits by this Government under the Aged Persons Homes Act.
May I now sound a personal note, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. I have been told that I am rather callous in my approach to pensioners. For some reason or other, this has been said, but I do not know why. I should just like to tell honorable members that some years ago I was a member of the Sydney City Council, on which I served with a brother of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope). As an alderman, I took a very active interest in social work. Indeed, I can take credit for inspiring the establishment of amenities centres at which elderly citizens may fraternise and dispel their loneliness, for I was very much concerned about people living in their old age in lonely circumstances. I also played a part in the introduction of the service known as Meals on Wheels. I had the privilege of being the first alderman of the City of Sydney to take the trouble to go about and assist in delivering meals to elderly citizens when the Meals on Wheels service was introduced in Sydney.
In view of the interest that I have taken in social welfare and in the problems of elderly citizens in these and other ways, I consider that anyone who says that I am callous and have no regard for the needs of the under-privileged is not speaking the truth. However, let me take the opportunity to say that in my view the age pension in Australia is not intended just to represent a general handout to all and sundry on retiring. In my view, it represents minimum assistance granted to citizens who otherwise would be destitute. This assistance is based on the philosophy of helping individuals to help themselves. Honorable members will be aware that in the United Kingdom every wage earner is forced to pay a substantial weekly contribution which goes into a fund especially designed to provide benefits in time of sickness and in old age. Since everyone pays, everyone expects to take out his share of the benefits.
I should like to deal now with the establishment of pressure groups by old age pensioners. It is quite obvious that they are establishing themselves as a force in the land. The growing strength of pensioner organisations is noticeable. They have their own paper, and they have increasing numbers of branches. Nothing is wrong with this. It is legal and it is the right and privilege of folk living in a free democracy. It is good to see the pensioners enjoying their annual pilgrimage to Canberra. It is good to know that they are working together to assist themselves. This is the right spirit. It assists in dispelling loneliness and it gives the pensioners something to live for.
If this spirit can be injected into the lives of elderly citizens it is all to the good. But despite this show of strength the Government has to act responsibly. It would seem that members opposite would like the Government to succumb to the stresses that are applied for pensions which are not in accordance with what the Government believes pensioners are entitled to. There must be an equation of the increase in pension benefits with what taxpayers can afford. Many financial factors must be taken into account, as honorable members are fully aware - especially honorable members opposite. Regard must be had to defence and national development, and taxes should be maintained at as reasonable a level as possible.
My worry is this: I believe that the pensioner organisations are laying themselves open to providing opportunities for the Communist Party to tike advantage of the organisation to spread Communist propaganda. I suggest that pensioners be very careful of the manner in which they promote their organisations, and ensure that they have a security whereby the organisations are maintained for pensioners only, otherwise the Communists will take full advantage of them.
In conclusion, I pay my very warm tribute to the staff of the Department of Social Services whom I have found, in my close association with them, possessed of great devotion to the humane task of assisting the needy. They go about this task efficiently and in a heartwarming manner. From the opportunities I have had of seeing the Department functioning I am satisfied it is well organised and is a credit to the Minister and to the Director-General of Social Services. I conclude by again strongly expressing my support for the Bill and dismissing the amendment moved by the member for Grayndler as a piece of political humbug.
.- The speech of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Cockle) was very interesting in many ways. I was pleased that he concluded a serious speech on a humorous note. I refer to his warning to the pensioner organisations to beware of the Communists. I remember a distinguished back bench member of the Liberal Party who years ago discovered a secret agent of the M.V.D. under the ballet shoes of the Bolshoi Ballet Company which was then visiting Australia. The honorable member for Warringah discovers Communist agents under pension cheques. They would have to be slender agents to fit under the very thin cheques the pensioners receive from this Government. The honorable member made a number of points, some of which I will refer to but most of which do not warrant any further reference because largely they show a great degree of inaccuracy.
First, I suggest that the honorable member ought to refresh his mind on some of the historical facts about social services in this country. The Australian Labour Party can accurately and very proudly take credit for being responsible for the introduction originally of all forms of social services in this country, and I include the age pension which was introduced by the Deakin Government, for surely by now the honorable member is aware that the Deakin Government introduced that pension only as a result of the prompting and pressure it received from a Labour Party minority group upon which it was dependent for its political existence. Had the Deakin Government not introduced that pension then the Labour Party at that time would have withdrawn its support and the Deakin Government would no longer have existed. These are the simple facts of the historical development of the age pension.
Again, child endowment was originally introduced in Australia as a concept of the
Lang Labour Government in New South Wales. I think it is rather belated selfacclamation for the honorable member to suggest that the Liberal Party Commonwealth Government was responsible for the concept of social services. If we reflect and refresh our minds on the history of social services in this country, and the manner in which they have been introduced, we find repeatedly that the Labour Party has been the directing force, has supplied the initiative and the background, at first when it was a minority group, later when in opposition, through its repeated attacks and pressurings on the Government, and then also when it was in government.
We have found that members of this conservatively concepted Government have repeatedly rejected proposals for social services. In fact, implicit in the Government’s approach to assistance in various forms, as we heard tonight in a statement from the honorable member for Warringah, is that the Government would rather have needy people learn to help themselves than help them itself. On a previous occasion I heard another back bench member of the Government make a statement to this effect: “ We do not want to make lapdogs of the citizens of Australia by providing better health services “. What do they really mean by these things? What do they mean when they say they do not want to make lapdogs of Australians? What do they mean when they say they want to help these people to help themselves? What they are saying is: “We want to accept as little responsibility as we have to for the welfare of the broad mass of the people. The reason we do not want to accept this responsibility is simply that we do not want to have to pay for it, because if we have to pay for it we have to raise the cash from somewhere, and we have to dig into the pockets of our prosperous capitalistic friends in the community “.
I will deal with this point when I refer to aspects of the Minister’s second reading speech, particularly his point on taxation which was reiterated and endorsed by the honorable member for Warringah. The honorable member for Warringah made one rather dogmatic statement - a statement which has been echoed and re-echoed on many occasions during the course of this debate by members seated opposite: That is, that the record of this Government is unchallengeable. When he said this, he thought that his statement in itself was sufficient to substantiate the view. He did not endeavour to deal with and explain the existence of the innumerable anomalies in our social services structure today. I am certainly not going to deal with them all. I heard the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) give a very lucid and analytical dissection or the problems of our social services structure. Let me remind honorable members - and also for the benefit of the record - what the honorable member for Warringah had to say about some of the perhaps more salient anomalies. Let us consider the case of a man who has worked all his life, has toiled hard for nothing more than the basic wage, or maybe a few shillings extra earned from a little occasional overtime. Anyone who has had experience of living with these people, or being one of them, realises that you do not have much opportunity to save, particularly if you have a family or if you have been unfortunate to have had a serious illness in the family. When that man retires his wife, if she is under 60 years of age, is prevented from receiving a pension. Serious discrimination is practised against the poor woman. Why is this done? It seems grossly unfair that a woman should be prevented from receiving the age pension because of a matter of a few months.
Let us look at some ways in which the provisions in relation to the payment of the invalid pension operate. Take the disastrous circumstances that may arise, as they do from time to time, where a man of about 30 years of age suddenly becomes an invalid because of an accident or a breakdown in health. Suppose that he has a young family growing up and has to meet commitments in respect of their schooling, their health and their general welfare. All he receives from the Commonwealth is a basic pension of, I think, £5 10s. a week, plus £3 a week allowance for his wife. For his children he receives a miserable few shillings. All told an invalid pensioner with as many as six children to care for would obtain less than the basic wage. This is a deplorable situation. How can a person of that age be expected to meet the cost of living and the heavy charges that are thrust upon him? We must remember that people in the lower income bracket have, at this point’ of their life, usually entered into fairly heavy hire purchase commitments because of the tremendously inflated cost of living in the community, brought about largely by this Government’s refusal to accept responsibility and to take positive action. These people have no choice but to enter into heavy commitments, which each year are growing to a tremendous magnitude.
Take the case of a deserted wife. She cannot obtain a pension until she has waited six months, despite the fact that she may have children to support. I remember that I raised this matter shortly after I entered the Parliament and a very considerate, benign and charitable member opposite suggested that the State Governments provided assistance to women and their families in these circumstances, just as they provided assistance for the wives and children of men committed to prison. Such women would normally have to wait six months before becoming entitled to a pension. What the honorable member and others who feel as he does fail to appreciate i* that State aid, certainly as provided by a Liberal-Country Party Government as we have in Queensland, is tight-fistedly dispensed and does not provide a semblance of a living standard for these people. All too often these people are forced into the position of having to auction their furniture or enter into a commitment so that they may raise money to meet other commitments.
A person who suffers a breakdown in mental health - this is something that could strike any able-bodied man - and who is committed to a mental institution is deprived of social service benefits. I know from visiting some of these unfortunate people that they are more worried about the depleted income of their family than they are about their own welfare. The result is that their condition instead of improving is aggravated.
The honorable member for Warringah referred in a rather eulogistic manner to homes for aged people but he did not deal with the problem of the shortage of such homes. We do not want homes for the aged provided only on massive scales covering acres of land. What we need are neat compact little community homes in garden settings, not only in the large cities but also in the larger country towns. It is rather unfair and certainly inconsiderate that these people should be plucked up, as they often are, and taken away from the country towns to be incarcerated in one of the big institutions, often run by the State governments. It would be far more beneficial for these people and far more humane if they were kept near their families. Through no fault of their own, when many of these people reach retirement they find themselves short of cash and approaching a state of poverty. They have given long and meritorious service to the community and industry. It is very hard for them to understand how the Government can offer a paltry few pounds a week when they can read in newspapers report after report about the multi-million pound profits of the large concerns in this country and of the very healthy state of those concerns.
Whenever the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) refers to the problem of pensions he cries poor mouth and states that it is almost impossible for the Government to provide any better assistance for these people. I would like to deal with some of the points of the Minister’s second reading speech. His speech revealed many anomalies. He referred to the fact that child endowment is provided for student children over the age of 16 years but he did not say anything about the many mothers in the community who are upset because one child going to a university on a Commonwealth scholarship is receiving a student allowance while another child who is a student teacher is not receiving the student allowance or endowment. It is very hard for mothers to digest that situation and it is certainly hard for me to accept it. In his speech the Minister said that to increase age, invalid and widows’ pensions and child endowment by 5s. a week would involve an additional expenditure of £55 million a year. He obviously thinks that is a staggering amount - too tremendous to be borne by the economy at present. Let us keep in mind this matter of the capacity of the country to pay increased social service benefits, because I will return to it later.
The Minister does not say anything about the fact that last year, when the Government could not increase social services to a better standard, more than £111 million was spent on advertising and that by 1970 the amount will have increased by 102.7 per cent to £225 million. In far too many cases expenditure on advertising is undertaken as a tax let-out. In the majority of cases expenditure on advertising is wasteful because it promotes a deceitful proposition to the public. Without going into this matter in detail, because I do not think it is appropriate to deal with it fully here, let me refer to the deceitful packaging that is taking place in the community today. As an illustration I point to the fact that in Great Britain, I think it was, only a few weeks ago the Kellogg company was fined for practising this form of public deceit.
I return to the point about taxation, mentioned by the Minister. To pay for a more liberalised system of social services he said -
He further said -
Excessive taxation reduces productivity and defeats its own purpose. A responsible Government must always aim to strike a balance and this, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, the present Government can justifiably claim to have done during its fifteen years of office. 11 is true that there is a limit to the capacity of fiscal policy to redistribute income in a community, but that limit is a long way off yet in this community. If we look at the reports of the Commissioner of Taxation «c can sec how far off it is. We can see the room that exists for further redistribution of income in the community by way of taxation. There are a lot of other concepts that can be involved in this but which are urgently necessary in the community to break down the tremendous economic power of monopoly and quasi-monopoly organisations. It is a fact the 2.19 per cent, of companies in the community earn 62.43 per cent, of the profit earned by companies. To put the matter in a finer concept or spectrum, 1 mention that 0.19 per cent, of the companies - less than half of one per cent. - which represent companies earning £1 million or more profit a year earn one-third of the total company prom within the community. Surely this is a clear indication of the concentration of economic power in the community and of the need for some wealth to be drawn off and redistributed, for many obvious economic reasons but mainly for the benefit of the people on the lower income scale, who helped to create the wealth in the community.
If wc look at the report of the Ligertwood Committee on Taxation which was furnished a few years ago - the Committee was rather restricted in its field of investigation - we will find that in 1960, I think, about £14 million was lost to the national income through tax avoidance practices which had been engaged in by various people in business in the community. I emphasise that the practices investigated were only a few of the very many tax avoidance practices being used. Here again I mention the tremendous economic power which the top monopolies and companies in this country hold, the great profits they are earning, and the need to redistribute those profits through fiscal policies for the benefit of people at the lower end of the wage scale. There is a need for Government action to slop this tax avoidance in order to gain money which rightfully belongs to the community and to redistribute it to the people who need it and who will spend it, putting it back into circulation to help build up the prosperity and growth of the community.
The Minister also makes the point that to eliminate the means test would not help 90 per cent, of the present pensioners. His words were -
It would not improve by a single hair’s breadth the circumstances of the 90 per cent, of our existing pensioners who receive full pensions because their income and property arc wilh in the limits allowed.
That is true. No-one on this side of the House has denied it. What we say is that the Government should improve the situation of the people at the bottom end of the economic scale. The fact that elimination of the means test would not improve the position of 90 per cent, of the pensioners is no sound reason for neglecting to take positive action to overhaul the whole system of social services in the community. The Minister’s argument is something like what the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney) said when discussing the “ Voyager “ incident. They said: “These are the things we will do, which will be beneficial after the next lot of accidents “. They said nothing whatever about the cause of the accident or about what would be done to prevent accidents of that nature in the future. This is just another instance of the muddled and off-track thinking of members of the Government.
In his second-reading speech the Minister for Social Services also mentioned the increases which have taken place in invalid and age pensions since the Labour Government went out of office in 1949. He quoted those increases in terms of cash amounts. I have taken the trouble to work out the percentage increases, and I find that since 1949 the pension paid to a single person has increased by 42 per cent, and that the pension paid to a married person has increased 30 per cent. But the consumer price index, which reflects variations in the cost of living, has risen by 106 per cent, since J 949. So when we break the figures down to percentages, we find the pensioners arc slipping back.
I feel that the Government’s confidence in its health scheme is hardly justified. The Minister made great claims for it, but he omitted to tell the people, for instance, that before 1959 all pensioners were entitled to participate in the pensioner medical service and that now the only pensioners entitled to participate are single pensioners in receipt of £2 or less a week and married pensioners in receipt of £4 or less a week, and that even to enjoy that benefit they must carry a card about with them to prove their identity and their bona fides. But the services provided even to these few pensioners are restricted, and those who are in receipt of incomes in excess of the amounts which I have mentioned are often put to great expense when they find that certain drugs have been taken off the free list. I have had many pensioners coming to me - no doubt other honorable members have similar experiences - complaining that because a certain drug has been taken off the free list they have to bear a fairly heavy expense. If I remember rightly, largactil was taken off the free list in recent years and this caused heavy expense to many persons in receipt of a restricted Income. 1 come now to hearing aids, in connection with which a great racket is being worked in this country today. Exorbitantly high prices are being charged for hearing aids. The equipment and the labour content involved in manufacturing these little gadgets does not justify the high prices charged for either the instruments or for parts for them. Hearing aids- should be provided for pensioners. I understand that some State Governments do assist in this direction.
– The New South Wales Government does.
– The honorable member for Reid reminds me that the New South Wales Government does give assistance in connection with hearing aids. In my view, even the extension of the medical service scheme to cover participation by all pensioners would be too restricted. Our aim should be completely free hospitalisation and medical treatment throughout the community. If people want their own doctors, well and good; let them have them and pay for them. I believe that we should work towards a free health service for all people in the community, because, after all, health is of paramount importance to a strong community.
Let us have no more of these inaccurate reports from honorable members on the Government side about the British health scheme. Recently I attended a businesswomen’s luncheon as one of the speakers. On that occasion, I heard a lecture by an official of the Australian Medical Association. During the course of that lecture he spoke of all the evils, ills and woes of the British health scheme and concluded his address by telling those present that the scheme was neither desired nor appreciated by the people of England. Several members of the audience were English migrants. They promptly got to their feet and stated that this medical practitioner was wrong, that the people of England do appreciate the scheme. These members of the audience were not working class people from England; they were middle class people. In fact, some of them were wives of successful professional men. They stated emphatically that the health scheme in England has been of tremendous value to the people of England.
– The doctors even supported it there.
– It has been supported by the British doctors themselves, as the honorable member for Bass points out. I have a strong suspicion that, rather than being interested in the welfare of the people, the Australian Medical Association has developed into one of the toughest and probably one of the most efficient pressure organisations in the community. I often feel it rather overlooks the fact that the health of the community is of paramount importance and that it prefers to further the interests of individual members of the medical profession. Let me go no further on this sidetrack than to say that there is cause for suspicion in the fact that the members of the medical profession have seen fit to place a darg or restriction on a number of medical practitioners who graduate from universities to practise in the various States.
Another point that I should like to mention is the very definite need for tying pension payments to the basic wage. We find that despite the fact that over three or four years the basic wage may jump and there may be an increase of several points in the consumer price index, no comparable increase is made in pension rates. There is therefore a widening of the gap between the general standard of living and the standard of living which the rates of pension payments permit pensioners to have. Why does not the Government do something in this direction? There is a very definite need for action here. The pensioners themselves feel that there is a need for it, and ) think that, as a matter of justice, the Government should accede to the request of the pensioners.
There arc two other points that I want to mention before I conclude, and I shall touch upon them only very briefly. Firstly, ) feel that the time is overdue for changing the term “ pension “ to something far more suitable, something that does not carry the connotation that the term “ pension “ carries. I feel that sometimes there is an undesirable connotation to the term “ pension “. Why not call it a national security payment or a national superannuation payment? The term “ pension “ suggests that some kind of a gift is being made to the recipient and that he has to be carried along. Why should this be suggested? The people who receive social service payments have contributed towards the cost throughout their lifetime. Just as we now contribute for the support of our ciders, our offspring will at some future time contribute to our support when wc become elderly.
The other point I wanted to mention is the need for a superannuation scheme. The Minister has said that taxation cannot be increased much further. However, I have already pointed out that it can. I have here a table which has been included in an article written by Professor R. I. Downing. It shows the percentage of taxation in the gross national product of several countries, lt shows that Australia’s percentage is ex tremely low and that there is room to increase our taxation without it becoming unduly burdensome. The table also shows that our net of internal transfers is higher than that of only two other countries, Belgium and Luxembourg, where the percentages are 10.6 and 15.8 respectively compared with our percentage of 16.1. These transfers are largely the total payments by a nation in its various social benefits schemes and they are a good guide, therefore, to a nations efforts in social welfare. With the concurrence of honorable members, 1 incorporate the table in “ Hansard “.
I thank the Minister for Social Services for permitting me to incorporate the table.
I suggest that there is still plenty of room in Australia for manoeuvring and redistributing income by applying fiscal policy. At the same time, I think it is appropriate for the Government to look at the possibility of introducing a Commonwealth superannuation scheme. This should be considered in the long term as something that could be introduced, say, 10 years hence. My suggestion is that the contributions to the fund should come through taxation on a sliding scale and should be proportionate to the income of the contributors. Repayments should be at a basic flat rate, which should be at least half the basic wage. If people wished to have a higher return on retirement than the basic flat rate, they could contribute at a higher rate than is necessary for the basic flat rate. The rate of contribution would be related to the subsequent return and could be calculated actuarially. Contributions could bc worked out at so much for each unit above the basic rate. There would be no occasion for people with large incomes to complain on retirement that they had only £5 a week or were excluded from receiving a pension by a means test because they had been thrifty. Over the years they could contribute to the scheme at a rate commensurate to their income and on retirement have an income that would equal or exceed the present pension. There would be no means test applied to this scheme.
I would like to have referred to this scheme at greater length, but I have not sufficient time now to do so. Such a scheme as I have suggested should be thought out for the benefit of the community. I am certain that the social services at present provided are grossly inadequate. They do not enable the recipients to enjoy an adequate standard of living. It is disturbing to think that social service payments today represent the poverty margin of our economy. I wholeheartedly support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly).
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to speak to the amendment because I have beeninformed that members of the Opposition refuse me any other opportunity to speak and to reply categorically to some of the questions addressed to me by honorable members opposite.
– I rise on a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That statement is deliberately untrue and I ask the Minister to withdraw it because it is a reflection for which there is no justification. Had the Minister waited until the honorable member for West Sydney had spoken and’ resumed his seat, he would in the ordinary course of events have been able to reply to the debate. I seek an unqualified withdrawal of a most insulting and false remark.
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order raised by the honorable member for Grayndler, although I did understand that the honorable member for West Sydney would speak for a very brief period and that the Minister would then reply and close the debate.
– On that basis I shall gladly forgo and allow the honorable member for West Sydney to address himself to the House.
– In speaking tonight, I am carrying out the wishes of 2,000 pensioners expressed at the Sydney Town Hall on 8th September last. These pensioners carried a resolution seeking to have their wishes conveyed to the Government. I told them: “ You may as well bark against the Town Hall wall as expect anything from the present Government”. However, I will put the resolution of the pensioners before the House, as I promised I would. On 8th September in the Sydney Town Hall thousands of pensioners agreed to the following statement -
At no time has the present Government found itself in such an indefensible position as- over the miserable 8id. a day granted to pensioners.
The Treasurer, Mr. Holt, rather than accede to the widespread demands for an adequate increase in the pension said, The families should bear a certain degree of responsibility for their parents.
This meeting vigorously protests against this antiquated idea of placing an unfair burden on the family, and the granting of almost no help for tha needy pensioners which reveals a callous indifference to their vital needs.
Therefore, in a country enjoying unparalleled prosperity we . earnestly seek the assistance of members, that they by voice and vote support an Amendment to increase the Social Service pension by at least 10s. a week to all pensioners.
They referred also to a matter about which I would like something done. I would take a shade of odds that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) will not consider it. It is -
Also an Amendment recommending that entitlement to a pension should carry wilh it entitlement to a pensioner medical card.
This is a very small matter. The grant of medical entitlement cards to all pensioners would cost about £1 million, I understand, and after all the Government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds. The New South Wales Government will not grant pensioners a concession when travelling on buses unless they hold a medical entitlement card. A pensioner cannot obtain such a card if he has an income of more than £2 a week beside his pension. Without a card he must pay the full bus fare. If he must visit a doctor, he must pay 25s. or 30s. for the visit. If the doctor gives him a prescription, he must pay the chemist 5s. straight away for the right to buy the medicine that has been ordered by the doctor. Such a pensioner is well out of pocket because he has a little more than £2 a week. Despite this, the Government refuses the allotment of a paltry medical entitlement card. I ask the Minister for Social Services and the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) to grant this request. The Prime Minister of this national Government should not be shirking his duty to these people who are practically starving. At election time the Government makes many promises, but they aTe soon forgotten until the next election. I ask the Government in fairness to adopt Christian principles and to give a medical entitlement card to all pensioners. The meeting of pensioners on Sth September also resolved as follows -
That the blind pensioners, also the infirm and invalid pensioners, where a phone is essential, should be granted 50 per cent, rebate on telephone rental. 1 will not go through the figures that have been cited in the last couple of weeks in this Parliament showing what the pension was 12 or 14 years ago and what it possibly will be in 10 or 12 years’ time. I simply ask the Government in common decency to think of the men and women who reared families members of which fought for this country in two wars and who are now denied medical cards, even though we have been told that it would cost only £1 million to give cards to all pensioners who have been deprived of them since 1955.
It is obvious that there is nothing in this legislation except the increase of 5s. a week. I want to tell the House about the unfortunate handicapped people who cannot pay for ambulances to take them to hospitals. Day after day I receive bills from the ambulance authorities for services rendered for these people. It is of no use to send those bills to Canberra and I have to send them to the New South Wales Government, about which we have heard so much. Nine times out of ten that Government pays those bills for the poor pensioners who are wondering what will happen to them if they cannot pay their ambulance bills. Why should not this national Government ensure that these pensioners receive ambulance services?
There is another aspect of social services that needs attention. I refer to the funeral benefit. This may not directly affect the person who dies, but it is a standing disgrace that the Government will give only £10 to the person who pays to bury someone else. However, I will not dwell on that matter and, perhaps, distract attention from what I think is a more important matter. That is the granting of medical cards to those who have been deprived of them since 1955. I know of homes in West Sydney in which elderly couples live, and in some cases the husband has a medical card while the wife, who has reached pensionable age since 1955, cannot get a card. This is quite unfair.
Let me refer to one other matter: I know of a doctor in West Sydney who is one of the most decent men ever to practise in this country. He has been told that he must not visit pensioners more than about once a fortnight. This man has nothing to hide. He gave me his books to bring here to show the Minister for Health (Senator Wade). They have been with the Minister for over a week. The doctor has been told that he should not go and see these pensioners twice a week, and that once a week should be enough. The doctor gave me the names of six of his patients, whom I visited. Some of them were not able to open their doors. Two of them were sick in bed and they simply called out to tell me to push the door open. Another patient was suffering from arthritis and had to use two sticks to get about. He could not have reached his door in half an hour.
The Minister told us that the Government has never prevented a doctor from seeing a patient, but I know that orders have been given by some authority, perhaps by the Department of Health, that doctors are not to visit patients as frequently as they have been doing in the past, and doctors have been told that if they continue with frequent visits payment will be withheld. In many cases it has been withheld. It seems that if you have money you can ring up any doctor to come and see you.
If you have money to buy medicine you can get it. You can go to Sydney Hospital or to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and get medicine. But when your local doctor is trying to do a humanitarian job and help you along he is told that a visit once a week or once a fortnight is enough. This is a disgrace to the Government. I hope and trust that medical cards will be given to the pensioners who have not the benefit of them at present, and I also hope that doctors will be allowed to examine their patients when they think it necessary to do so. In the case of the doctor I have been speaking of I will stake my life that he is not interested in the few bob that he might get from treating pensioners. Every time you pass his door you can see that his waiting room is full of patients. He is not after the few bob he can get from treating pensioners. He sees them at times without charging them anything because this Government is so paltry that it refuses to allow doctors to do what their consciences tell them to do and visit the sick. I ask the Minister, once and for all, to do the right thing about these medical cards. If he does not, we will blackball him.
– I would gladly accede to the request of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) if I could have a few words with him in Erse to explain that the pensioner medical service is provided under the National Health Act and has little to do with the Minister for Social Services and nothing to do with the Bill that is now before the House. I take this opportunity to reply to one or two of the observations of honorable members, particularly honorable members opposite, because I think it is necessary to do so. If parliamentary democracy as we know it has a fault it is surely to be seen when a social service bill is under discussion in a Parliament of a democracy. The opposition - and I speak regardless of the political character of the opposition - has no fiscal responsibility in the matter. The opposition has unbridled licence to offer unlimited alternatives, designed not to improve the circumstances of those who may qualify for social service benefits of one kind or another but to improve the political image of a political party rejected by the electors. That is a simple statement of our own contemporary history. In all the election campaigns which have been fought during the last 15 years honorable members of the Opposition have gone to the people with the most flamboyant promises regarding social services particularly, and at election after election the Australian people have rejected the proposals of the Opposition. Now the Opposition has moved an amendment to this Bill and, no doubt, will move a series of amendments at the committee stage.
No one knows better than each individual member of the Opposition that no substantive amendment has any hope of success. This Bill in these precise terms was determined when the fiscal policy of the Government for the current financial year was enunciated by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) when introducing the Budget a few weeks ago. It is not possible to alter the financial provisions of this Bill without recasting the entire Budget. Every member of the Opposition knows this. All members of the Parliament know it. But there are people outside this place who do not know it, and in an attempt to confound and confuse them the Opposition resorts to these dubious practices. This shabby sham, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is designed to delude the credulous and the uninformed. I have no doubt that this kind of practice meets with some success from time to time. But the record of the Government can stand any examination. In the course of my second reading speech I said -
Rather the Government should be judged on the basis of the liberalisations, extensions and improvements it has made over the years since it assumed office in 1949, and they have been greater by far in the last IS years than in the preceding 40 years which followed the introduction of Commonwealth pensions in 1908.
That is true. I have in my hand now a document which was prepared by my Department for the purpose of informing honorable members in this chamber and honorable senators. It consists of 11 foolscap pages of single spaced typing. It records categorically and historically the vast scheme of social progress that has been effected in the last 15 years - greater by far than in the preceding 40 years.
The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), in the course of his speech in leading for the Opposition and in his humorous and inimitable way, described what I had said with regard to the increase in the expenditure from the National Welfare Fund as - I use his precise words - “economic nonsense”. In my second reading speech I said - and I repeat this reluctantly -
In 1948-49, the last full year for which the Chifley Government was in office, expenditure from the National Welfare Fund was £80.8 million, or 40 per cent, of the combined yield of £199.5 million from the then separate social services contribution and the income tax paid by individuals, lt is significant that in 1964-65 it is expected that expenditure from the National Welfare Fund will reach £452.1 million. This will represent 60 per cent, of the estimated yield of £745.6 million from income tax and social services contribution payable by individuals.
The honorable member for Grayndler described that general observation as economic nonsense. It is not economic nonsense to the workers of our country, the valiant men and women who go out into the fields, factories and workshops and engage their energies and employ their resources in order to provide an amount in excess of their own immediate physical needs, and by that very process render themselves liable to taxation in all its forms. It is not economic nonsense to those people who have to provide this £452.1 million, amongst other things. Before they make provision for anything else, they have to find this money for the National Welfare Fund. It is not economic nonsense to the working man who is struggling to provide for his family, struggling to have a home and struggling to acquire that status in the community which is the ambition of every reputable person in our country. It is not economic nonsense to him when he knows that the equivalent of 12s. in every £1 that he pays in income tax has to go into the National Welfare Fund to provide the social services and health services which rightly should be provided for people who need assistance. Yet the honorable member for Grayndler described it as economic nonsense.
Other honorable members opposite spoke in disparaging terms of the great improvements that have been made during the last 15 years, but they did not refer to the circumstances that obtained before this Government took office. A great many honorable members on this side of the House do not know, for example, that in 1948-49, the last full year of the last - and I speak prophetically - Socialist Government, the pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week and the level of the means test in respect of income was £1 10s. a week. If a pensioner earned more than £1 10s. a week, his pension of £2 2s. 6d. was reduced immediately by the amount of excess income. In 1948-49 the permissible property was £100. If a pensioner had £10 more than £100, that was the end of his £2 2s. 6d. It came climbing down.
The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones), in one of those bitter personal attacks on me, referred to the qualifying period of six months before deserted wives are eligible to receive a social service benefit appropriate to their circumstances. He blamed me for that qualifying period of six months. He does not know his political and parliamentary history. The qualifying period was introduced by the Socialist Government in 1942, and for very good reason. That Government insisted that there should be a waiting period of six months before deserted wives were eligible to receive social service benefits. The very good reason for that is that in the six States of the Commonwealth there are departments of child welfare and social welfare. They have officers present in the courts when these matrimonial cases are being adjudicated upon. Those departments are in a position to provide assistance to deserted wives, without prejudice to reconciliation, at least for the first six months of the desertion. Then after six months, when the deserted wife has exhausted all her opportunities and rights to protect her marital state, she becomes eligible to receive from the Department of Social Services a pension appropriate to her circumstances; that is, if she is a widow with dependent children she qualifies for a class A widow’s pension, and if she has no children and is qualified in every other respect she can receive a class B widow’s pension or a class C widow’s pension, as the case may be.
The honorable member for Newcastle went on, in exactly the same way, to refer to the same qualifying period before a woman, whose husband has been convicted and imprisoned for a period in excess of six months, is eligible to receive a social service benefit appropriate to her sad circumstances. Again the honorable member blamed me; again he blamed this Government. But the Socialist Government introduced that provision in 1947, again for very good reason - precisely the same reason as in the case of deserted wives. In all the courts of the six States of the Commonwealth the social welfare and child welfare departments have their officers in attendance. It is the primary responsibility of those officers to render what assistance they can to these women whose husbands have been convicted and sentenced to periods of imprisonment of less than six months. But if the imprisonment is for six months or longer, the wife becomes eligible for a pension appropriate to her circumstances and similar to that paid to a widow. These are the kinds of inaccuracies from honorable members opposite that are unpardonable.
Another offender, who I am very glad to see is now in the chamber, was the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) who said, in his most fervent way, that where a person in receipt of a social service benefit is admitted to a mental hospital the pension is suspended. It remains in a state of suspense until the patient is discharged, when he or she becomes eligible for a payment covering four weeks of the period of suspension. The honorable member went on to describe in most graphic terms how the wife of such a person may qualify for a class C widow’s pension. The honorable member for Bass ought to know that that is quite wrong, and a statement such as that made at any time since this Government has been in office would have been quite wrong. I have gone to great pains to inform the honorable member for Bass that it is quite wrong. In a simple and lucid explanatory leaflet on the point, widow’s pensions are classified A, B and C. In the subsequent paragraph of this explanatory leaflet there are these simple words, and I hope that the honorable member for Bass will listen to them -
For Classes A and B, the terra “widow” includes a deserted wife, a divorcee, a woman whose husband has been imprisoned for at least six months, and a woman whose husband is in a mental hospital. Certain “dependent females” may Quality for A, B or C Class pensions.
Nothing could be more simple than that, yet the honorable member for Bass, who has been a member of this House for a number of years, spent 10 minutes of his speech condemning the Government because these poor, unfortunate women are confined to a class C widow’s pension.
Let me deal now with the unfounded criticisms levelled against the Government. I shall deal with them just as I wrote them down. The honorable member for Bass and other honorable members referred to the sequence of events - 1 referred to them myself only a moment ago - when a person in receipt of an invalid pension, or a pension of any kind, is admitted to a mental hospital. Under the Social Services Act, when a pensioner is admitted to a mental hospital payment of the pension is, as I say, suspended. However, payment is resumed when the pensioner is discharged and the pensioner is then entitled to payment for four weeks of that period of suspension. I have said that before. That has been the position since 1909 when the Commonwealth pension legislation of 1908 became operative, and that position is largely due to the fact that the care and custody of the mentally sick is the exclusive responsibility of the State. Time after time the State health authorities have considered this question. Time after time they have appealed to this Commonwealth Government and preceding Commonwealth Governments for assistance.
When the Stoller report on mental hygiene was brought down the States were asked if they would care to state what kind of assistance would best serve them to improve their mental health services. They said: “We can manage the care and custody, but we cannot manage the capital cost of providing the buildings necessary to accommodate these people “. To that end, and at the election of the State Governments, this Government made £10 million available to the States for that purpose. I repeat the States said: “ We can give care and custody to people who become mentally sick, but we cannot provide the necessary buildings “. So these millions were made available, and are still being made available.
This traditional sequence of events - where a pensioner enters a mental hospital his pension stops - is levelled as a reproach against the Government. At the same time, as I have explained, the honorable member for Bass should know that when a married nian is admitted to a mental hospital his wife may become eligible for a pension at the rate applicable to a widow in similar circumstances. Do honorable members opposite want to deny a pension to that woman? Do honorable members opposite know that in a great many States of the Commonwealth it is not possible to pay social service benefits direct to the beneficiaries if they are inmates of mental hospitals? Do they know that much of the agitation for payment of social service benefits to these people is intended as a means of securing payments to the States? The previous Socialist Government resisted paying social service benefits to the States for people in mental hospitals. This Government has refused to pay pensions to the States, and I hope that it will continue to resist the temptation to increase in that way the funds made available to the States. They should be increased only by grants in the honest and forthright way, not by this subterfuge. If and when a pensioner is admitted to a mental hospital his payments will cease.
There are one or two other points that I want to mention. I know that honorable members are anxious for this debate to bc terminated, but some of these questions should bc answered. I am answering them as rapidly as possible. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) both drew comparisons between the rates of class B widows’ pensions and age and invalid pensions. Honorable members opposite have expressed the view that class B widow pensioners should receive the standard rate of pension applicable to single age and invalid pensioners. Again, they blame me. May I be permitted to remind them that when widows’ pensions were introduced by the Curtin Socialist Government in 1942, the maximum rate of the class B pension was £1 5s. a week, which was the same as that of the age and invalid pensions. Class B widow pensioners received the same increases as age and invalid pensioners until 1945. In that year the maximum rate of age and invalid pensions was increased by 5s. 6d. to £1 12s. 6d. a week by the Curtin Socialist Government, but no variation was made in the class B rate, which remained at £1 7s. a week. The class B rate was thus 83.1 per cent, of the age and invalid pension rate.
When the Chifley Socialist Government was defeated in 1949 the maximum rate of the class B pension - £1 17s. a week - was 87.1 per cent, of the age and invalid rate of £2 2s. 6d. a week. Under this Bill, the class B rate will be increased to £5 7s. 6d. per week and will thus represent 89.6 per cent, of the new standard rate of £6 per week applicable to single, age and invalid pensioners. The class B pension thus compares more favorably with the age and invalid pension rate than it did when the Labour Party last occupied the treasury bench. The arguments that influenced the Labour Government in fixing a class B pension rate lower than that of age and invalid pensions applies with equal force today. One argument is that the class B widow, by virtue of her age, is in a better position to supplement her pension by earning than is an age or invalid pensioner. Honorable members opposite ought to agree with that statement.
There is only one other matter to which I wish to refer. It has been referred to by honorable members on both sides of the House, and I think the facts of the case ought to be made known. Honorable members drew comparisons between international social service payments and social service expenditure in our own country. They referred to the International Labour Organisation publication with which my friend, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), is very familiar. The publication comparing international expenditures on social security draws attention to the dangers and weaknesses of such comparisons. It points out in precise terms that undue emphasis should not be given to comparisons of this nature. Informed honorable members opposite know that fact, but they never mentioned that qualification when referring to this document. The honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) referred to this matter. For example, a country which was so well off and had such a high standard of living that very citizen was able to make his own provisions against the various contingencies of life, and the normal hazards of living, would have no need for a social security system to provide protection against such contingencies. Thus, its social security expenditure would be nil or negligible. It would be unreasonable to describe such a country as backward because of these most fortunate circumstances. Conversely, and more importantly, a country with a low standard of living and a high level of unemployment would be required to devote a significant proportion of its national income towards the relief of distress. This does not mean that such a country should be described as advanced from a social security point of view.
There are other complications. In Australia, constitutional responsibility in the social security and related fields is shared by the Federal and State Governments, and local government authorities. Regard should thus be had to the expenditure of all of these levels of government in comparing social security expenditure in Australia with similar expenditure in other countries which have a unitary system of government. Yet, year after year, when a social service bill is brought before the House, these dreadful comparisons are raised by people who know the facts of the case. These are that in a country in abject misery where the people are subjected to degrees of penury and squalor, the expenditure on social security must be higher than it would be in a country where all the people are gainfully employed and have established themselves as reputable members of a democratic society. I do not want to labour these points. I replied to them only because direct questions concerning them were addressed to me by honorable members. The mild mannered honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) - and he was not the only honorable member to do so - raised the question of Commonwealth assistance to the States towards the -
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Daly’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. . (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
– Mr. Temporary Chair man, I suggest that, with the approval of the Committee, we take clauses 1 and 2 separately, 3 and 4 together, 5 and 6 together and 7 separately.
– Is it the pleasure of the Committee that the suggestion of the honorable member for Grayndler be adopted?
– I have no objection.
– There being no objection, the course suggested by the honorable member will be adopted.
Clause 1 (Short title and citation).
Mr. DALY (Grayndler) [11.141.- Mr. Temporary Chairman, I take the opportunity, during the consideration of this clause, which covers the title of the Bill and states the full extent of its purposes in amending the Social Services Act 1947- 1 963, as amended by the Social Services Act 1964, to register a protest at the method of putting through a measure with such extensive implications. Here we are at 11.14 p.m., on a Wednesday evening, with the Government rushing the Bill through and denying the Opposition time to debate it properly or an adequate opportunity at a reasonable hour of the day to put its case on behalf of the people of Australia, who arc vitally interested in this measure.
– Order! I direct the honorable member’s attention to the fact that the scope of the clause is very limited indeed.
– I point out, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the clause, as you know, covers age pensions, invalid pensions, widows’ pensions, the maternity allowance and child endowment.
– The scope of the clause is confined to the short title and citation.
– I bow to your ruling, Sir. On behalf of the Opposition, I briefly register a protest at the tactics adopted by the Government in rushing this measure through in this way and at the restrictions placed on the Opposition in debate. When other clauses are before the Committee, we shall take full advantage of the provisions of the Standing Orders.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
- Mr. Temporary Chairman, I move -
That the clause be postponed.
I propose this amendment in order to indicate the need to make the increased benefits for which the Bill provides retrospective to 1st July 1964. At the outset, I should like to say that we have just listened to a remarkable discourse by the Minister for Social Services at the conclusion of the second reading stage. He intimated in his closing remarks that the Government is not prepared to accept any amendments. The Minister made that announcement before ho had even had time to consider the amendments that are to be proposed by the Opposition. In a fashion typical of this Government, and characteristic of the Minister in particular, he stated in effect that the Opposition’s amendments will be dismissed out of hand. In other words, the Minister does not intend to listen to any of the arguments that may be advanced by Opposition members. He is content to dismiss our amendments out of hand.
The people of Australia will not accept the fallacious argument advanced by the Minister at the close of the second reading debate. He suggested that if an amendment such as this were agreed to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) would have to recast the Budget. I point out to the Minister that the Budget provides for a surplus of £18.5 million. If the Government were to accept this amendment, the result would certainly not be additional expenditure of £18.5 million by the Government this financial year. The Opposition is making a reasonable request. In other years, the Minister has said that there is no precedent for the retrospective payment of social service benefits. Indeed, I think he stated on one occasion that during the last 55 years in the history of this Parliament nothing of the kind had happened. Arguments such as that are not satisfactory in 1964 as justification for the Government’s refusing to agree to the retrospective payment of social service benefits. The Minister’s argument is certainly not valid.
When the Minister said that there was no precedent for the making of retrospective payment, he overlooked the fact that on a number of occasions this Government has agreed to retrospective payments. Let me remind him of one or two occasions on which payments have been made retrospectively in recent years. The Treasurer, in his Budget Speech in 1963, intimated that the Government had agreed to introduce a subsidy on superphosphate. That subsidy was paid from the day after the passage of the relevant measure by this Parliament. I remind the Minister that in the sessional period earlier this year the Government agreed to certain increases in child endowment. It agreed to pay additional child endowment to students receiving full time education, up to the age of 21 years. That amending legislation was made retrospective to January 1964. On that occasion the Minister was able to offer a very good reason for making it retrospective.
Again I remind the Minister of the Government’s action regarding home saving. The Government agreed, although the legislation was not introduced into this Parliament until early in 1964, that the operation of the law would be made retrospective to December 1963. So I remind the Minister of three occasions on which the Government agreed to retrospective payments. If the Minister wants any further argument to justify making a retrospective payment to pensioners I remind him that when the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) introduced his Budget earlier this session it provided for increased taxation immediately. It provided that as a result of the increased taxes the additional revenue would be immediately available to the Government. The Government did not wait for the 13 weeks for the additional taxes that it expects the pensioners to wait before their increased pensions will became available. The Opposition contends that the Government has no valid reason for not accepting the amendment to make these payments retrospective to 1st July. Let the Minister stand up and justify his refusal to accept the amendment. He did not supply any justification for it during the second reading debate. He certainly did not do so in his answer to the points liaised by members of the Opposition during the debate. He has offered no valid reason at all.
The Government would not be involved in any large expenditure if it were to agree, as the Opposition suggests, to a retrospective payment to July of this year. How can the Government justify its action when it has agreed, as I have already pointed out, to other retrospective payments. A few moments ago I mentioned the superphosphate bounty, The Minister’s own friends have benefited from legislation of that type. The privileged few of this country were able to gain immediate benefits from that legislation, under which payment was to become effective immediately the Bill was introduced into the Parliament. The Minister is not prepared to accept the Opposition’s amendment, yet at the same time he cannot advance any reasonable argument why the amendment should not be accepted.
I have already pointed out that precedents have been established for more privileged sections of the community. Having regard to the financial circumstances in which pensioners must find themselves today - if one considers the many points that were raised during the second reading debate dealing with general increases that have been granted to other sections of the community, including the increase in the basic wage and marginal increases that have taken place during 1963 and 1964 - the Minister surely can appreciate that the amendment would result in a measure of justice to a great many pensioners.
Even at this late stage we appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment. As I have already pointed out, the Government will not be involved in any great cost. Certainly the cost will represent only a small percentage of the overall expenditure that has been mentioned by the Minister in respect of social services generally. I suggest that the Minister reconsider his decision on this matter. Although be argues that no precedent has been established there are precedents which suggest that the Government can make the pension increases retrospective to July. No great cost is involved and I submit that the amendment ought to be accepted by the Government.
Motion (by Mr McMahon) put -
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Majority . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the clause be postponed.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 and 4 - by leave - taken together.
– I move -
That the clauses be postponed.
I move the amendment because the rates provided are completely inadequate to enable pensioners to meet increases in the cost of living. This amendment is the only method available to the Opposition, in accordance with the forms of the House, to register its protest at the inadequacy of pensions rates.
Clause 3 deals with the increase in invalid pensions. It is paradoxically appropriate that we should be registering our protest against the provisions of the Bill as they relate to invalid pensioners because this section of pensioners is the least fortunate of all sections of pensioners. An invalid pensioner who is not eligible for the age pension and who has a wife under pensionable age is in a very restricted class indeed. He receives £5 10s. a week pension and an allowance of £3 a week for his wife - a total of £8 10s. a week for a married couple. An invalid pensioner is always faced with expenses associated with his invalidity. This reduces the amount available to him and his wife to live on. Compare the amount that an invalid pensioner and his wife are forced to live on with the amount of £1 1 a week received by a married couple each of whom is obtaining the age pension. The Minister should take heed of the invalid pensioner’s situation. If ever there was a need for a liberalisation affecting invalid pensioners, particularly where a married couple is involved, this is one which is crying out for attention. An invalid pensioner’s wife should receive at least the rate of pension that her husband receives. Even then they would be worse off than an ordinary age pensioner couple who receive their £11 without having those extra commitments associated with invalidity.
The Opposition is concerned that the purchasing power of pensions shall be maintained in order that the recipients shall live a decent and full life free from the fears and frustrations that go hand in hand with economic insecurity. The Opposition claims that existing rates are insufficient, having in mind the almost alarming inflationary trend in the cost of goods and services. There is no doubt that deterioration is taking place in the purchasing power of social services recipients. We say that the Government should act now, not in the dim distant future, in order to control the position. We do not want social services recipients to suffer. Rather do we want the Government to bestir itself into the necessary action to correct and control the position.
Only today we met two representatives of the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation, who made a special trip to Canberra to impress upon members the need for a better deal for the pensioners. They stressed the plight of invalid pensioners and the disadvantage that they suffer. They advocated a rise of at least 10s. a week in all pension rates. They pleaded for liberalisation of the pensioner medical service means test. Members of the Opposition find their opinions in tune with those of the representatives of the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation. On the other hand, Government supporters are definitely out of tune with the aspirations of the Federation.
The pensioners’ representatives further pointed out the anomalies in the discrimination between married and single pensioners, and stressed that the alleged benefits flowing from the 5s. a week were now non-existent. Already the 5s. has been more than swallowed up in higher cost of living and rentals for housing. This is the voice of the pensioners speaking in similar terms to those of members of the Labour Party on this side of the chamber. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) mentioned items of foodstuffs which had been the subject of steep price increases - butter, tea, sugar, sausages, bread and milk. All these items one would find on the pensioners’ tables if their circumstances allowed them to purchase these items. We know that circumstances vary greatly and that many pensioners would be grateful for the supplementary assistance proposed by the Australian Labour Party. Judges, conciliation commissioners and high public servants have all received substantial increases in their incomes to meet the rise in cost of living. If it is right to grant steep increases to those on the higher rung of the ladder, it is equally right to give similar treatment to those on the lower rung. It does appear that an imminent election is the yardstick which determines pension increases under this Government. We are now approaching a nation-wide Senate election. Hence the measure before the Committee, small though it is. Generally speaking, increases arc on a hit or miss basis. They certainly are not based on any economic research into the needs of pensioners. A convenient guess is sufficient, and 5s. is a handy figure for use on such occasions. The Labour Party claims that there is an urgent need for economic research into the requirements of social service recipients. In this way we will catch up on our responsibilities and in turn provide economic security for those who need it. I have moved the amendment in the hope that our representations will bring the Government to a full realisation of the present unsatisfactory position. Since the Government has shown that it does not intend to allow any debate in Committee on these important issues, I move -
That progress be reported.
Question put. The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Majority . . . . 16
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I rise to support the remarks of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Sexton).
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) put -
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Majority .. .. 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Thursday, 17th September 1964.
Question put -
That the clauses be postponed.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Majority . . 16
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 - by leave - taken together.
. -I move -
That the clauses be postponed.
As honorable members know, this action is taken when it is necessaryfor the Opposition to make a point about the inadequacies of certain provisions. These clauses involve the welfare of widows and inmates of benevolent homes. I do not intend to say a great deal because the subject has been canvassed fairly adequately. However, I do want to protest on behalf of the Opposition at the fact that the allowance paid to inmates of benevolent homes has been increased to only £100 2s. per annum. This is a miserable and paltry amount to pay to people who are required to go into State mental establishments and establishments that cater for elderly people. The Commonwealth should provide more to enable them to obtain some of the necessaries and the comforts of life. However, we are principally concerned with these provisions and the widows who are affected by them. It is interesting to note from the Budget Papers that the cost of increases for widows this year is a miserable £630,000. This is a paltry amount when we think in terms of the £2,500 million Budget. It is apparent that the Government is grudgingly honouring the undertaking it was forced to give at election time to cater to the needs of widows. The Opposition set the pace in this regard and the Government has now given the least possible increase that it could, 5s. a week. Many widows are in fairly difficult circumstances. especially B class widows who, with this Ss. increase will receive only £5 7s. 6d. a week. As I am reminded, C class widows will also receive £5 7s. 6d. a week.
The Opposition has contended, throughout this debate, that there should be a standard pension of £6 a week and that this should be the minimum. If our request had been acceded to these widows would automatically receive £6 a week, There are large numbers of them. No fewer than 60,000 of them are receiving pensions and it is unfortunate that they are limited in their earning capacity. As is well known, the permissible income is £3 10s. a week. J suggest to the Minister that a very reasonable request has been made by the Association of Civilian Widows that widows be allowed to increase their earning capacity so that they can help themselves. It. is not always possible for these people to obtain casual employment so that they may earn £3 10s. a week. Regular employment would bring in a higher income but would result in the pension being taken - away.
There is not much more I want to say. When one looks at the various categories of widows’ pensions and sees the amounts paid, one find that widows are in a most unsatisfactory position. The basic wage today ;s £15 8s. a week. An A class widow is one who has the care of at least one child. Such a widow with one child receives only £8 15s. a week although she has the obligation either to pay rent or to maintain a home. She is in an almost impossible situation, and although the position has been considerably improved she is still left at a level well below that at which she can have a decent living standard.
Without going through the various categories of widows’ pensions and demonstrating again the inadequacies of these allowances, I shall simply make the point that the Opposition is concerned that not enough has been done. Having regard to the action of the Minister in gagging the debate, I want to be co-operative on this occasion and so I move -
That progress be reported.
Question put. The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I want to support the remarks of the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson)-
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) put -
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Majority .. ..16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the clauses be postponed.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Majority . . . . 16
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses agreed to.
Clause 7 (Application of amendments, &c).
.This clause, which has a close relationship to clause 2, refers to the date upon which the Act shall come into operation. Sub-clause (I.), which has an important bearing on the Bill, states-
The amendments made by this Act apply ia relation to an instalment of pension falling due on the first pension pay day after the date of commencement of this Act and to all subsequent instalments.
That sub-clause relates in particular to a matter that 1 raised early in the debate on this Bill. 1 suggested that the. amendments to the Act .should apply from 1st July this year. It is significant that Government supporters said, when they were in opposition, that pension increases should be retrospective to 1st July. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) is recorded in “ Hansard”, volume 199 on 17th November 1948 as having voted for the precise amendment that we have proposed tonight regarding the date of commencement. On that occasion in 1948 the amendment was moved by the present High Commissioner in London, Sir Eric Harrison. That amendment was in identical terms to the amendment moved tonight. Listed among those who voted for the amendment were the present Deputy Prime Minister of Australia (Mr. McEwen), the honorable member for Mallee, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). Yet tonight they say that the date of operation should not be retrospective- Did you ever hear such hypocrisy? No wonder they want to put this legislation through in the dead of night so that pensioners and others will not know how it has been done.
When in opposition the present Government supporters arc great reformers, but when in government they repudiate every pledge and everything that they, while in Opposition, thought was decent, lt would not be so bad if we had not been listening to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and honorable members opposite for the last day telling us that the pension in 1948 under the Labour Government was not worth collecting. Even so, in 1948 they thought that it was worth backdating to 1st July because there was real value in the pension at that time. There was real money in it. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney) is interjecting. I think that he ought to keep quiet. Fancy the Minister for the Navy bobbing up up in this debate! We do not want any hysterics at this late hour. He is bad enough at 8 o’clock at night.
– Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– I just point these matters out in order to show-
– How did you vote?
– You can make a speech after I have finished.
Order! The Chair must insist that the Committee comes to order.
– I would be delighted to have any honorable member opposite ask me questions when I have finished. If the Standing Orders permitted, I would be prepared to reply to them in detail. What I am pointing out to the Committee is the downright hypocrisy of honorable members opposite who, when in Opposition, moved this amendment, voted for it and criticised the Government for not giving effect to it. Yet tonight they are supporting a Government which refuses to give effect to the same proposal. Why should the pension increase not be backdated to 1st July? How does the honorable member for Mallee justify having the superphosphate bounty backdated and so benefiting wealthy country people, while opposing the backdating of the pension increase? How does the Minister for Social Services justify the backdating of child endowment payments when he will not backdate the pension increase for the needy and the sick?
There are other matters to which I could refer. Taxation increases announced in the last Budget commenced as from 1st July. The sales tax increase commenced from the time of the introduction of the Budget. Any imposition on the people commences forthwith, but any benefit that is granted to the needy and the distressed commences at the latest possible time. That is why we proposed the postponement of clause 2.
To show how frightened the Government is of the repercussions of its failure to back date the social service increases, I point out that the Government has gagged almost every honorable member on the Opposition side. Are honorable members opposite proud of their record in social services? Are they proud of the fact that they are robbing pensioners and others of a few pence. When all is said and done, the pension increase is only about Sd. a day, which is the equivalent of a couple of packets of cigarettes a week. In other words, the Government is giving them only a miserable dollar a week but refuses to backdate it for five or six weeks.
Do not tell us it cannot be done. Do not tell us that the increase cannot take effect as from 1st July, because it is only a machinery measure. With all the modern methods of keeping records, there would be no problem. Let the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr, Stokes) rise in his place and tell us why he will not backdate the increase for the pensioners in his district. Let the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Hughes) stand up and tell the pensioners that he does not believe they are worth the increase of a dollar a week, backdated for five or six weeks. Let every honorable member opposite who sits silent and allows the executive to perpetuate injustices on the people stand up and tell the pensioners that he does not believe they are worth having the increase backdated.
When the Minister for Social Services came into the House tonight he told honorable members that it was no good moving anything because the Government’s mind was made up, its fiscal policy had been decided and nothing could be changed. It only shows that he considers members of Parliament to bc a lot of puppets and that all of these matters should be dealt with by regulation. The members of the Liberal Party will take anything; they do not even see the Budget until it is introduced in the House. The Opposition will not put up with that kind of thing. We expect the Government to listen to our point of view and, where possible to give effect to it in the interest of the people of this country. We find tonight that the Minister at the table does not know what the Bill is about. He made a speech on health benefits a while ago which was spread over three pages. When one of our members referred to a certain matter, the Minister said it was not covered by the Bill. Did you ever hear of such a thing? I suggest to the Minister that he take notice of his advisers. I should say that the departmental officers wanted these payments backdated.
– I rise to order. The honorable member for Grayndler has advocated the backdating of these pension payments, although we have had a special appropriation under the Standing Orders whereby-
Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– I thank you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, for your just and impartial judgment on that matter. It is interesting to see that members on the Government side treat this as a frivolous matter. What is a dollar a week to them? They are receiving a substantial sum each week. I would like the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay) to say a few words on this matter. He is a great man for social justice, but his social justice does not include the backdating of pensions to 1st July. It starts six or seven weeks after the proposed increase has been announced. Why does not the Minister at the table inform his electors that he docs not believe people in his district are worth 5s. a week from 1st July. Let us advertise the fact that the chief executioner of the right of pensioners in this Parliament tonight is the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon). Let us understand also that those honorable members who sit silent tonight showing that they do not believe in dackdating pensions know that every wealthy interest in the community can get all the benefits which are necessary from the date on which legislation comes down. We have placed on record tonight our distress at the treatment of the Opposition and also the treatment of the pensioners of this country by this Government, and its failure to debate this Bill at a time when the people could hear the hypocritical approach which the Government and its supporters are making to the great problems confronting pensioners.
– It was very apparent when the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) rose that he thought he had something against me. Interjections from Opposition members were to the effect: “ We have caught him at last”. It must be remembered that I have been in this Parliament for 18i years, and Labour members have been trying to discredit me in all that time. This applied especially to the honorable member for Grayndler. He has not been able to find one thing against me, although I have thrashed him on many occasions. I say to honorable members on the Opposition side who are laughing, that they know nothing about this matter. Many were not even in the House at that time. This is a private fight between the honorable member for Grayndler and myself. He has been searching “ Hansard “ for years trying to find something against me. He has not been successful tonight. How often have honorable members heard me say, and how often has it been reported in “ Hansard “ - I say dozens of times - that it is my opinion that no government worth its salt will allow an opposition to take the business of the Parliament and of the nation out of its hands. But there is no harm in trying to do that.
I have not had the time to obtain the “ Hansard “ from which the honorable member for Grayndler read. Therefore, I am taking what the honorable member read from “ Hansard “ as being the truth. 1 am not doubting his word. I am only doubting his political aspirations and his political policies. I do not deal in personalities. 1 deal with policies, and that is what 1 shall refer to now. Let us get this matter clear. I believe that no government worth its salt, as I have said, will allow an Opposition to take the business of the country and of this Parliament out of its hands; but there is no harm in trying. I believe this is quite true. When certain members of the Liberal Party some time ago moved an amendment similar to the one which has been moved tonight, we thought that we might have a chance of taking the business of the Government out of the hands of the Government. But we were not successful. I am not objecting to the honorable member for Grayndler trying to do this. He will not be successful. But there is no great victory against me. I have been consistent on this thing. I would be very upset if this Government allowed the Opposition to take the business out of its hands. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) would have been upset when Labour was in office if we on this side, as the Opposition, could have taken the business out of his hands. We tried at that time to do it. Now honorable members opposite are trying to do it. We will both be unsuccessful.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) put -
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Mr. L. J. Failes.)
Majority . . . . 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) - by leave - proposed -
That the Bill be now read a third time.
.Mr. Deputy Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) put - That the question be now put
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read- a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Australian Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- On 3rd September the Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) made a statement in this House on the proposed Australian Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament, which is to be held in Sydney between 25th and 30th October 1964. He made the usual innuendoes and misrepresentations. He rolled out the old red herring of negative anti-Communism. May I say that I do not intend to enter into a counter smearing campaign, but intend to deal with the objective aspects of the proposed Congress. I am a sponsor of the Congress. I have assisted in approaching my fellow citizens to join with me as a sponsor. The Congress is based on two beliefs: First, that there should be a full and frank discussion in Australia on international co-operation and disarmament; and secondly, that no minority group should be allowed to dominate or should be excluded. Due to a certain section of the Government and a section of the Australian Press, the word “ peace “ has been given a dirty meaning. We will do our utmost during the Congress to rectify this misbelief.
The Congress will consist of two parts. In the first place, seminars will be open to delegates and the public on vital and controversial matters such as science and nuclear war, nuclear free zones, Australia’s relations with Asia, the economic and social consequences of disarmament, the population explosion, the maldistribution of the world’s wealth and its effect on world peace, International Co-operation Year in 1965 and the United Nations. I make clear to all honorable members that no resolutions will be adopted at these seminars.
– Why not?
– Autonomous conferences will be held representative of broad groups in the community such as churchmen, trade unionists, scientists, writers, artists, teachers and citizens. Each conference will determine its own credentialling procedures and decide what it will discuss and how. It will decide whether to issue a report - minority reports are expected and will be welcomed - and whether to subscribe to an overall Congress report or resolution. The reason why no motions will be proposed at the seminars is that it has been said that minority groups will control and use this conference as a propaganda medium. We believe that the Congress will not be used in that manner. The broad aim is to bring people together to discuss ways and means to maintain peace, to break down hatred and distrust and to build tolerance and understanding between the peoples and nations of the world. Every endeavour has been made to inform and to invite participation of as wide a section of the Australian community as possible. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), even the Attorney-General, members of Parliament, trade union leaders, church leaders and newspaper editors are only a few of those who have been approached.
At this stage I fee] that I must answer some of the Attorney-General’s allegations. He is reported on page 970 of “ Hansard “ in this way -
A National Sponsoring Committee was ** elected “ in July to direct and organise the Congress. . . .
Why did the Attorney-General use the smear “ elected “ in inverted commas? I attended the meeting at which the election took place, lt was a democratic election. I nominated certain persons to the committee and to the position of vice-chairman. I found no irregularity. Why did the Attorney-General use the smear “ elected “ in inverted commas in his speech? He is also recorded on page 971 of “Hansard” as saying -
The brochure seeking support for the Congress lists rather more than 100 sponsors. Twenty persons known to be sponsors from this brochure and otherwise have been identified as members of the Communist Party. . . .
The Minister knows that this is a smear and an untruth. He knew that he was hiding behind parliamentary privilege when he made that statement.
Within the last two days I have heard the Prime Minister ask honorable members not to use innuendoes or smears, but only last week one of his Ministers, the AttorneyGeneral, used the smear weapon of negative anti-Communism. What the Prime Minister had to say in the recent discussion about the loss of H.M.A.S. “Voyager” and about Captain Robertson and other officers of H.M.A.S. “ Melbourne “ is worth quoting from the “ Hansard “ report. He is reported on page 1074 of “Hansard” in these terms -
For a man is deemed innocent until he is proved guilty . . . This is one of the basic principles of the normal criminal law.
The Prime Minister said later -
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 except the somewhat inglorious one of creating an unproved slur upon their names.
I repeat the Prime Minister’s final words -
Except the somewhat inglorious one of creating an unproved slur upon their names.
This morning during question time the Prime Minister said -
We have to be fair.
He later said -
We do not want to wreck anyone’s lives.
He further said -
We are all human beings, and we should have respect for all human beings.
Those are fair words and I agree with the Prime Minister’s arguments, but docs he agree that it is all right for a Minister in such a position of trust to smear under privilege of Parliament?
The Congress now has well over 500 sponsors from a very wide cross-section of the Australian community. No minority group will dominate the Congress. It will not be used as a propaganda medium for any section of the community. All rights are not on one side, nor are all wrongs on the other side in this world struggle. I hope that this Congress will give the message that we all must learn to live together otherwise we will perish together.
Today I received some good news. I have received news that the Presbyterian Assembly has passed the following resolution -
The Assembly considers that the forthcoming Australian Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament offers an immediate opportunity for Presbyterians to enter into conversation with those who are not in the Church but who are yet concerned with the destiny of our society and sincerely hope that many Christians will avail themselves of the opportunity for personal participation. Request the Church and National Committee to appoint one or more of its members to attend Congress and participate in the Church conference.
That decision was arrived at by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Many other organisations have supported the Congress.
I know that there are narrow-minded men sitting opposite with hatred in their hearts who think that power comes out of the barrel of a gun and that there is no answer to the gun. I am also aware that there are members on the other side of the Mouse who are as sincere about peace as are members on this side of the House. I congratulated the Prime Minister when he returned from overseas supporting the idea of summit conferences. I stood by the former Minister for Defence, the late Athol Townley, when the Press of Australia accused him of committing supposed misdemeanours in Indonesia. Athol Townley was a fine man and it is on record that I had the courage to stand by him. There are men of good will on the other side of the House just as there are men of good will on this side. We must get together in the cause of peace.
.- I do not often speak and I will detain the
House only a few minutes. After I had made a speech a few days ago the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren) called me to order privately and claimed that I had overstepped the mark on the same subject that he has spoken on tonight - Communist peace movements. I have had talks with various people whom I am supposed to have maligned in my speech. I withdrew the word “Traitors” which I had used in my speech and substituted something else. One lady wrote to me and thanked me. She sent me a very very nice little letter. She enclosed in it a pro forma of what people who were asked to join were told, and there was nothing, as she said, to which one could take exception. But it did so happen that when I was filing it in the appropriate file I filed an invitation from the Rev. Mr. Dickie and Mr. Sam Goldbloom, who asked me to be a sponsor to this October meeting about which the honorable member for Reid has just been talking. It was very, very interesting. My secretary especially put it out for me because I was invited to go to this meeting to be a sponsor on the 11th of last month, but the postmark was the 13th. Therefore, they could say that they had asked me to be at it, but I could not possibly have been at it because I did not know it was on. So I would like to point out that the whole thing is just a method of whitewashing what everybody in Australia should know is a subversive movement to undermine the stability of Australia. As I said in my speech some people are the dupes of the various persons who are putting these movements forward.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 1.7 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated -
s asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
m asked the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
– The following answers are supplied to the honorable member -
Telephone Services. (Question No. 467.)
m asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Television. (Question No. 471.)
d asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice - 1.Is it a fact that recommendations furnished by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board are the main factors which influence the Government in determining whether television stations should or should not be set up in a particular area?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
s asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following answers -
s asked the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
s asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
What is the average number of outward calls made by a non-business telephone subscriber?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Statistics maintained by the Department on telephone calling rates do not differentiate between business and residence services. However, recent sample studies show average calling rates for resi dence services to be about 580 local calls yearly in metropolitan areas and 220 in the country, i.e., an average revenue of £9 14s. per annum for local calls from metropolitan residence subscribers and £3 14s. from country residence subscribers. The same studies revealed annual trunk call charges made against residence services to be approximately £3 for metropolitan subscribers and £3 19s. in the case of country subscribers. It is not practicable to express trunk calling rates in terms of number of calls made as, depending on the distance involved, and the time of day, call charges vary widely - from ls. to 15s. for each three minutes.
n asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
son asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following answers -
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following answers -
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
Committee yet considered and made a recommendation for including the drug voalastine as a pharmaceutical benefit?
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following reply - 1 and 2. I think it probable that the honorable member is referring to the drug Vasolastine, about which he has made written representations to me. 1 hope to be able to advise the honorable member in the near future of the results of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s consideration of this matter.
asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
Military Forces would be in the category of “ reserved occupation “ in the case ofan emergency?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 September 1964, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1964/19640916_reps_25_hor43/>.