25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Mr. Speaker, I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Did the Government, at a Cabinet meeting held in Sydney on 6th October, defer a decision on a recommendation from the Minister in favour of legislation for the operation of a wool reserve price auction plan for Australian wool? If so, will the decision prevent such a plan being introduced and approved by Parliament in time to apply it to the 1964-65 wool selling season?
– The Government has given preliminary consideration to a submission I made on a reserve price for wool but, as in many other cases where submissions are made to governments, further information has been sought. 1 would remind the honorable member that there is another factor involved, and that is the case taken out by the Logan Downs Pastoral Co. on the promotion levy. That could have a bearing on the levy suggested within the present scheme. Obviously, before the Government would legislate, or before I would recommend legislation, on this matter we would need to know the result of that case. This would not necessarily delay the final decision or prevent its implementation by 30th June next year, although the mechanics of the proposition are such that it is not going to be easy to conduct a ballot, if a ballot is decided upon, and complete the legislation by that date.
– I direct my question to the Attorney-General. In view of the impending restrictive trade practices legislation, has the Minister instructed a member of the Deputy Commonwealth Crown Solicitor’s Office at Hobart to hold a watching brief at the present Tasmanian prices inquiry? If not, is his Department considering the transcript of the evidence given before the board of inquiry?
– This is an inquiry established by the Tasmanian State Government and, as such, I have no connection with it. I have not thought it necessary to have an officer of the Deputy Crown Solicitor’s Office present holding a watching brief, or for any other purpose. As to the question of the transcript, I remind the honorable gentleman that quite apart from the fact that I have no direct connection with the inquiry, it would not be proper for me to comment in any way upon a matter which is the subject of inquiry.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Services. I preface the question by saying that last Friday I attempted without success to obtain clarification from both the Department of Labour and National Service and the Department of Social Services as to the payment of unemployment benefit to those General Motors-Holden’s Pty. Ltd. employees in South Australia who have been retrenched because of the current dispute in the G.M.H. plant at Fishermen’s Bend, Victoria. Will the Minister inform the House whether, because this company arranges its production on a national basis, these workers will be deprived of their legitimate entitlement for which they contribute by way of taxation?
– It has been a long established practice - originated by the previous Government - that where men are directly involved in an industrial dispute they shall not be eligible for unemployment benefit. If the employees mentioned by the honorable member for Bonython are directly involved in an industrial dispute, they disqualify themselves for the unemployment benefit. On the other hand, if they are not involved in an industrial dispute, their applications for unemployment benefit will be processed in the normal way and a decision will be made on the merits of each application.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question concerning the present stoppage at plants of
General Motors-Holden’s Pty. Ltd. Is there any evidence to suggest that this stoppage is another strike sponsored by a Communist influenced union and following the pattern of recent disputes whose object is to discredit the arbitration system and to harm our economic development? If the company succumbs to this pressure, will that not have serious repercussions on the motor industry as a whole and will it not result in dearer motor vehicles for Australian families?
– This is a strike that must be deplored by every thinking Australian.
– Answer the question.
– Yes, I will answer the question. You have not asked one. Somebody else asked this question. The history of this matter should be traversed. Initially a demand was made on General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd. for an increase in the wages of the foundry employees at Fishermen’s Bend. The company indicated that it was willing to negotiate and to conciliate on that issue. Subsequently, the dispute spread to the whole of the Fishermen’s Bend plant of G.M.H., with a demand for an overall increase in wages of £3 a week. Later still, the dispute was extended to other G.M.H. plants throughout Victoria. Later again it was extended to all G.M.H. plants throughout Australia.
This strike is being manipulated by Mr. Carmichael, a notorious member of the Communist Party in Victoria and a man whose name-
– That is not true. The Vehicle Builders Employees Federation is the main union, and it is not Communist controlled.
– No, of course the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation is not. But the dispute has been taken out of the hands of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation. Carmichael’s name should be mentioned because he is one of the most evil men in the trade union movement in Victoria. I can say to the honorable member for Higinbotham that the company was willing to engage in conciliation. The unions refused to conciliate on the foundry pay issue.
The second point that I wish to make is that G.M.H. is generally considered to be a good employer. For process workers, the over-award payments can rise to £6 a week; and for tradesmen they can go up to £7 a week. In terms of both service payments and merit payments, the average over-award payment throughout the company is about £4 5s. a week. So, I answer the honorable gentleman’s question in this way: First of all, as to arbitration, the company was willing to conciliate. The unions refused to take their claims to arbitration. The answer to the question, therefore, must be that in a condition of over-full employment the left wing unions want to exert their industrial power rather than use the system of arbitration. Their design is to destroy the system of arbitration itself.
In reply to the second part of the honorable gentleman’s question, I point out that this dispute can lead to tremendous suffering by the working men themselves and their families. No matter what happens, they will not be able for a period of many, many months to make good the wages losses they are now suffering. The honorable member asked about loss of overseas trade. Of course, increased wages must mean a higher price for vehicles and also a loss of overseas trade.
I conclude by summing up in this way: First, the company was willing to conciliate, the left wing unions refused. Secondly, the company is a good employer and is recognised to be a good employer. Thirdly - this is a fundamental point - this industrial action, if it is successful, could well be a blow to arbitration. The unions apparently think that having obtained as much as they can through arbitration they will use force and direct action to obtain whatever more they can from those companies that are weak enough to give in.
– My question, which relates to the same subject matter as the earlier question asked by the honorable member for Higinbotham, is also directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is the Minister aware that, for the year ended 31st December 1953, the average employment in General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd. throughout Australia was 11,035 and for that year the company made a profit of £7,236,239, whilst for the year ended 31st December 1963-
– Order! I point out to the honorable member that he is now giving information.
– I am asking-
– Order! I suggest that the honorable member direct his question.
– I ask the Minister: Is he aware that, despite the fact that from 19S3 to 1963 the number of people employed by General Motors-Holden’s Pty. Ltd. trebled, its profits rose from about £7,000,000 to about £19,000,000 and the percentage of the company’s annual income paid in wages and salaries was lower in 1963 than it was in 1953? In view of these almost unbelievable figures, will the Minister use his undoubted powers of persuasion and prevail upon the company management to re-open negotiations with the Australian Council of Trade Unions with the object of settling the current dispute by granting a wage increase commensurate with the increased productivity and profits of the company over the past 11 years?
– I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of most of the figures given by the honorable gentleman. In comparison with the profits of some other companies in the same field these results are a tribute to the efficiency of management and the technological expertness of General Motors-Holden’s Pty. Ltd. I have already said that the company has been and is generally accepted as a generous employer. I make this point - this is the critical point and should be recognised by the honorable gentleman: Any decision involving a large increase in wages at General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd. will have general repercussions throughout Australian industry. The problem does not relate exclusively to the capacity of the company to pay; it relates to the capacity of industry generally throughout Australia to pay. I am sure that an overall wage increase of £3 a week throughout Australia would have disastrous effects upon our economy and upon Australia’s export trade. My condensed reply to the honorable gentleman is this: The matter is now one between the A.C.T.U. and the company. The company has already made one application to the Commonwealth Industrial Court and an order has, I think, just been made, bringing into effect section 109 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. For the moment, that is where the matter must remain.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has he seen a report, attributed to the Sydney City Medical Officer, Dr. J. H. Hirshman, to the effect that a smallpox epidemic in Australia is almost inevitable? Is this the view of the Commonwealth medical authorities? Can the Minister assure the House that adequate plans are in hand to combat any epidemic? Are sufficient supplies of vaccine maintained to meet such an emergency?
– I had an opportunity to read the statement mentioned, and I have discussed the matter with my colleague in another place. At the outset, I can give an assurance that there are available in Australia sufficient stocks of the pharmaceutical preparations necessary to deal with any emergency that could arise. However, I should point out also that the quarantine arrangements maintained by the Commonwealth Department of Health and the State authorities that have been in force over the years have been so effective that there has not been one case of smallpox in th:country for more than 25 years. The same quarantine arrangements will apply in the future.
I think that in the statement it was suggested that some compulsory scheme of vaccination be introduced by the Government. The Department of Health is not in favour of this proposal for a number of very sound reasons. One is the enormous task that would be involved in undertaking such a compulsory effort. The second is the complexity of follow up procedures, because vaccination would be quite ineffective unless it were followed up every three years. A follow up campaign of this complex nature every three years would present considerable difficulties. However, Lt is believed that a voluntary scheme of vaccination should be undertaken as widely as possible throughout Australia. This should apply particularly to people who are at risk, such as those associated with overseas transport operations or working in hospitals for the treatment of infectious diseases and in other institutions of that type. The Commonwealth Department of Health believes that this should be sufficient, in conjuction with the present system of quarantine, to protect Australia as a whole against the dangers envisaged in the reported statement.
– I wish to ask the Attorney-General a question. I ask for your indulgence, Mr Speaker, should I transgress slightly in the asking of this question, which I preface by recalling the answer given by the Attorney-General to a question asked by me on 1st October concerning the political affiliations of Mr. E. S. Sachs, to whom the Minister referred as Mr. Solly Sachs. The Minister, in his answer, said -
I now ask the Attorney-General: Will he name the case in which Mr. Sachs gave this evidence, and will he produce the record or supply me with the appropriate reference? Has the Minister made any independent investigation of the facts on which he based his statement? Is he aware that Mr. Sachs was expelled from the Communist Party of South Africa in 1931? Is the Attorney-General aware that Mr. Sachs, on many occasions since his expulsion from the Communist Party of South Africa, has recovered damages in the South African courts in respect of allegations that he was a Communist? Has the Minister read the report of the case of “ Sachs v. Werkerspers Uitgewersmaatskappy (Edms.) Bpk.”. which was heard in the Witwatersrand Local Division in May 1951 by Mr. Justice Clayden, and in which Mr. Sachs was awarded £500 damages against persons making allegations of Communism against him? If not, will the Minister undertake to read the authorised report of the case in (1952) 2 South African Law Reports, at page 261? I now come to the conclusion of my questions. It is important that I place the record before the Australian people because Mr. Sachs has been libelled or slandered. When the AttorneyGeneral has read the report, will he explain how he reconciles his statement with that of the learned judge, who said in his judgment -
Uncontradicted evidence has been given . . . that it is common knowledge, very welt known, that Mr. Sachs was expelled by the Communist Party many years ago.
Finally, will the Attorney-General withdraw the reckless allegations he has made against Mr. Sachs without proper inquiry, and will he offer him a full and proper apology whilst he is still visiting Australia?
– With proper courtesy, Mr. Speaker, I tell the Leader of the Opposition that I am unable to answer immediately the tremendously long series of questions that he has put to me.
– I address a question to the Minister for External Affairs. Is the unofficial report correct that British nationals, and especially their families, have been requested to quietly leave Djakarta and Indonesia generally? If so, what protection and assistance have been given to Australians in the area, and what instructions have they received from the Government?
– The transactions of the United Kingdom Government are, of course, matters for that Government and do not come within our knowledge. The Australian Ambassador in Djakarta has been given authority, in a normal sort of way, to make arrangements, if circumstances should require them to be made, for the evacuation of Australians in Indonesia. I am sure that the Ambassador will be closely in touch with all Australians in Indonesia, and I am sure that he will act with discretion and efficiency if it becomes necessary for any Australians to leave the country. At the present time we have no reason to believe that any evacuation of Australians is imminent.
– I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether there is any truth in the report that the Government is actively supporting General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd. against that company’s employees and is using every means at its disposal to persuade the company not to negotiate in respect of the wage increases being sought by the unions. If the report is true, will the Deputy Prime Minister explain to the House the justification for the
Government’s taking the side of a fabulously wealthy combine against tens of thousands of good Australian workers?
– I can assure the honorable member and the country that the Government will act only to sustain the policy of arbitration and conciliation which is the policy not only of this Government but also of the Australian people.
– I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether he views as a sustaining of the procedures of arbitration the undertaking given to General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd. to back that company by every power that the Government can exercise on its behalf. Will he explain why such strong action is being taken on the side of a £100 million monopoly in an attempt to prevent wage increases being obtained, while the Government takes no action to regulate profits or prices or even to close loopholes for tax avoidance although the closing of such loopholes even in the case of this company alone would provide enough money to pay for the wage increases that are being claimed?
– The question is obviously a political one, as the latter part of it clearly discloses. I have nothing to add to my earlier answer that this Government does not take sides except on the side of law and order and of the system of conciliation and arbitration, as we have quite clearly indicated.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. Does the Minister know that shipping companies operating on the Australian coast have been negotiating with the Seamen’s Union with a view to reaching an agreement on matters which have been in dispute between the companies and the union, including the manning of ships and the hold-up of ships because of insufficient crews? If such negotiations are taking place, will the Minister say whether he proposes to take any steps to see that the Government’s views on these matters are not left out of account?
– Some time ago, at the request of Mr. Justice Gallagher of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, the unions and the steam ship owners were asked to negotiate about a future agreement as to manning and as to the allocation of labour. Because of the nationwide interests involved, and because of the interest of the Commonwealth Government, the Commissioner asked the Department of Shipping and Transport and the Department of Labour and National Service to give him some facts on manning scales and other matters that he regarded as important. As I understand it, an agreement is in the process of being drafted, or has already been drafted, and will be referred to the Commissioner on Friday of this week. There are two aspects that have to be considered. The first is for the Commonwealth to put to the Commissioner the facts and arguments requested by him. That will be done. The second very important question is the national interest. We are now looking into the question of the national interest involved in this type of agreement, and our views will be submitted to the Commission on this aspect also.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration. Is it a fact that the archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church who has been refused a visa by the Government to enter Australia for the purpose of contributing to world peace was a guest of the Archbishop of Canterbury only a month ago, and in recent times has been welcomed in the United States, France, Denmark and Greece? Can the Minister inform the House on what grounds this Christian, who enjoys worldwide respect, has been refused permission to come to Australia?
– I must say first that I have no knowledge of the peregrinations around the world of the archbishop. That has nothing to do with the refusal of a visa. It is the policy of the Government that where political events of an objectionable nature - mainly Communist controlled events - are concerned, those coming as delegates from Communist countries will be refused visas. The archbishop did not apply to come as a Church dignitary; the application for a visa was made on the basis that he was a member of a delegation. Accordingly, the policy of the Government has been carried out and the visa has been refused.
– I direct a question to the Attorney-General relating to the Australian Congress for International Cooperation and Disarmament about to be held in Sydney. Can the Minister tell the House which of the organisers of this conference have been connected with the antecedent conferences, and in particular the 1959 Melbourne conference, the World Peace Council and the International Peace Conference? Would it be possible for him, in addition to any information that he can give to the House now, to prepare a full schedule showing the names and connections with the previous organisations?
– On 3rd September this year I made a statement in this House which gave the Government’s policy in relation to the peace congress to be held in Sydney on 25th October and succeeding days. If the honorable gentleman refers to that statement he will see in it that I pointed to the line running through from the 1959 Melbourne conference to the conference this year in Sydney. He will see also that I pointed out the line that runs between the World Peace Council and various international peace conferences, and the Sydney conference. As to naming specific organisers of the conference, that information is contained in the statement and I refer the honorable gentleman to it. It is not my present intention to make available a full statement, but if the honorable gentleman chooses to place his question on the notice paper I will have to give him an answer.
– I ask the Leader of the Australian Country Party a question. In view of the need for stability and unity in government, will the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Australian Country Party state whether it is the intention of his Party to follow the lead of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Country Party and refuse to grant preferences to the Liberal Party at the forthcoming Senate elections?
– Order! I point out to the honorable member that the Deputy Prime Minister is not answerable to the
House for the actions of the Australian Country Party.
– I ask the Treasurer whether, after the introduction of decimal currency in February 1966, the Government will consider adopting the metric system qf weights and measures. I also ask whether it is in accord with authoritative opinion that the adoption of the metric system would result in considerable savings to the community in time and money.
– I cannot offer a useful opinion on the advantages or otherwise of a metric system, but speaking as a layman who finds great difficulty in remembering what rods, poles and perches are I must say that I incline favorably towards the metric system. I should point out to the honorable gentleman that this matter would not arise for decision within the Treasury. For my part I am as fully engaged as I would wish to be on the various problems associated with introducing a system of decimal currency. However, I have no doubt that those of my colleagues who may be more directly interested in this matter - the Minister for National Development perhaps, or some other Minister - will take note of the honorable gentleman’s question. I shall see whether I can secure an answer for the honorable gentleman either directly from the Minister concerned or using myself as a channel for the purpose.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral a question. Is the Government serious in its promise to amend the Broadcasting and Television Act to prevent trafficking in the shares of companies which hold licences in the lucrative and important fields of broadcasting and television? If the Government intends to amend the Act, when will the amending legislation be introduced?
– The honorable member will know that policy matters are not dealt with in answers to questions. The matters to which he has referred will be considered in due course.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Trade and Industry- It is the third of a series of questions about aluminium. It may be said to be part of a serial, and as a fellow primary producer the Minister will know that the word “ serial “ in this case is spelt with an “ s “. Is the Minister aware that increased protection for Australian users of ingot aluminium may lead to increased prices for aluminium goods? This matter was mentioned - perhaps jocularly - by the Minister on 30th September last. I am never certain whether the Minister is playing with me where some of these things are concerned. If there were an increase in the price of ingot aluminium would there not be a real danger of demand being switched from aluminium articles to articles made from substitute materials, particularly copper, the Australian price of which has been kept low? Would not this tend to reduce the demand for Australian ingot aluminium and so reduce the home market as well as increasing, instead of solving, the problems of those manufacturers who use ingot aluminium?
– I remember quite clearly the second series of questions. In my answer, I did make a facetious observation but, if the honorable member will look at it, I think he will find that the observation was made not with relation to the duty on ingot aluminium but with relation to fabricated aluminium. However, that is by the way.
The honorable member asks me to reach a conclusion on whether it would be good for the aluminium fabricators if there were a higher duty and consequently a higher price. I have two observations to make in that connection. The first is that a protective duty does not necessarily mean a higher price. I remind the honorable member that there has been protection on aluminium for several years now and that, during the currency of the present protection the price of aluminium in Australia has been reduced by £20 a ton. It could happen that a policy of protection which ensured a certain throughput for Australian factories, aluminium or otherwise, would lead not to higher prices but to lower prices. This experience is not unique.
The honorable member asks me to form an opinion on whether it would be good for certain sectors of industry if, arising from a review of protection, higher prices should follow. If I were to answer that question I would be answering without having had the benefit of the Tariff Board’s report or of the opinion of the particular industry concerned. My policy, and the policy of the Government, is that if a set of circumstances such as that referred to by the honorable member arises and if the industry concerned asks the Government to take a certain course of action, then, upon a prima facie case being established, the Government will refer the matter to the Tariff Board. The ultimate attitude of the Government will be determined only after perusing the report of the Tariff Board on that matter.
– I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether it is true, as reported, that the Vernon Committee of Economic Inquiry will be submitting to the Government either a full or an interim report covering the question of the inflow of foreign capital into Australia and the partnership of Australians in industries within Australia. If this is true, will that full or partial report be tabled during this week?
– To the best of my knowledge no report has been submitted to the Government by the Vernon Committee of Economic Inquiry and no interim report will bc submitted. When a report is received the Government will consider it and, I have no doubt, make it public.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether it is correct that of the large number of British migrants coming to Australia in the next few months some 60 per cent, of the adults are skilled workers. If so, does this mean that skilled migrants will take over, as artisans, highly paid jobs here which could readily be handled by unskilled Australians if the trade unions and the Opposition would agree to their training?
– My understanding of the figures is that about 50 per cent, of the migrants coming from the United Kingdom during the balance of this year will be industrial workers, and that somewhat less than 50 per cent, of those workers will be skilled. In other words, if my memory holds good, there will be about 7,000 skilled electrical and metal tradesmen and skilled building tradesmen amongst them.
I am sure it is correct that if strong support were given to us in an effort to adopt and have implemented the supplementary training scheme, we would be able to build up our own skilled component of labour in this country and there would be less necessity to go outside looking for skilled workers. As well, it would mean that the Australian working man, the process worker and the man who is potentially the skilled man, could receive something as high as £5 more in his weekly pay packet over what he would have received as an unskilled worker.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General, following on the reply which he gave to a question by the honorable member for Mackellar and his statement in relation to a report tabled in this House covering peace congresses. Will he arrange also, when he is compiling the report, for a report to be tabled on the activities of the pro-Fascist Australian League of Rights, particularly enumerating the prominent office holders of this group and also the prominent public figures in our community sympathetic to this group, especially those who have been sponsored by and enjoy valuable patronage from the group in return for public services rendered here and abroad?
– As I heard the question, it is based on a wrong premise. My answer to the honorable member for Mackellar was to the effect that I did not intend to make such a statement and that it was a matter for the honorable member to choose whether or not he put his question on the notice paper.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. As the right honorable gentleman is probably aware, a booklet said to be a guide to decimal currency is now on sale in Australia. I ask: Is it the intention of the Government to make available a booklet of this nature before the introduction of decimal currency? If so, if this were made known now many people would wait for the more authentic Government publication.
– I can assure the honorable member that there will be a very extensive campaign of public education sponsored by the Commonwealth Government, acting in association with the Decimal Currency Board, prior to the introduction of decimal currency; but some people, particularly those who have a commercial interest in the matter, may find it of advantage to study other material as it becomes available through publications of the kind to which the honorable member has referred. I assure him, however, that there will bc full and authoritative information available in ample time for the general run of members of the community before the system comes into operation.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Externa] Affairs. Has his attention been drawn to a statement by the Commander of the United States Naval Forces in the Philippines, Rear Admiral J. P. Monroe, in Sydney recently that America would welcome Australian participation in the use of the North West Cape communication base, “ because any agreement for co-operation between friends strengthens the free world “, but that Australia, as far as he knew, had made no approach for joint control of the centre? If so, what information on the question is the Government prepared to impart to the House and to the nation?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member refers, but the negotiations between the Australian Government and the United States Government were conducted by persons accredited by both Governments and resulted in an agreement satisfactory to both Governments; and under that agreement the North West Cape communication station operates.
– I ask the Deputy Prime Minister a question without notice. The right honorable gentleman will recollect that eight weeks ago the Prime Minister said that as soon as he had the approval of all the Premiers to publish his civil aviation proposals he would table them in the House and permit a debate on them. He will also remember that on 25th August the Prime Minister did table the proposals and said that he would facilitate an early opportunity to discuss them after the Budget debate. I therefore ask the right honorable gentleman why the Minister for Civil Aviation was authorised to gazette regulations embodying the proposals on the day after the Parliament last adjourned and before the Parliament had been given the opportunity to debate them as the Prime Minister promised.
– It is my understanding that the Prime Minister gave an undertaking that a debate on the general issue revealed in his letters to the Premiers would be facilitated. But it is not my understanding that he gave any undertaking that an opportunity would be provided for a debate in the House on the issues arising from the proposed regulations.
– The debate was to be academic.
– No. The debate was to be on the subject matter that was sought and to which the Prime Minister agreed. The Prime Minister volunteered that he had written letters to the Premiers, produced to the House the letters he had written, and said that he would facilitate a debate on this matter.
– And he said that the replies of the Premiers would be tabled.
– Yes. This question, to an extent, anticipated something that I had proposed to say at this point of time. I proposed to say that in reply to a question in the House by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on 26th August, the Prime Minister undertook to table replies received from the Premiers to his letters of 6th August on the matter of civil aviation control. In the unavoidable absence from the House of the Prime Minister this afternoon, I now table for the information of honorable members the replies received to date. They are from the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. In accordance with the undertaking given by the Prime Minister, the House will be afforded an opportunity to debate the matter.
Consideration resumed from 1st October (vide page 1792).
Department of Housing.
Proposed expenditure, £36,806,000.
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman, the discussion on the estimates for the Department of Housing will give honorable members on both sides of the House the opportunity to ventilate their opinions on the housing situation in Australia. I have no doubt that Government supporters will claim that the housing problem in this country has been overcome. I am of the opinion, however, that the greatest social problem facing this nation today is still the lack of housing for the people, particularly the low wage earner. I know it will be claimed, too, that there is money in abundance for the financing of home purchase. In this regard I agree. In fact, I have always said that there has been plenty of finance for housing, at a price. Unfortunately, the price is so high that most people have almost to beggar themselves to obtain this money. Indeed, throughout Australia there are thousands of people who, by reason of their circumstances, have been compelled to enter into agreements for home purchase and who are now finding it beyond their financial capacity to carry on.
A typical example of the plight of the low wage earner can be gained from a letter to the Editor of the Melbourne “ Herald “ published on 24th September under the heading “Living on £21 a week”. The letter reads -
Your leading article (Herald, 15.9.64) stated that a massive demonstration was the wrong way for Victorians to protest. As a young wife and mother, I say we should all protest about rising costs.
If the wives and mothers in Victoria had a protest meeting, perhaps something would be done to benefit all of us.
The working man receives for 40 hours about £21 a week after tax. He spends it this way: House repayment, £5; food, £9; gas, £1 10s.; electricity, 15s.; medical benefits, 6s. 6d.; rates and water rates, 12s. 6d.; fares to work, £1 10s. Totals £18 14s.
. how do you clothe three children, buy furniture and pay dental and medical expenses on £2 6s.?
We are a very average family, and there are thousands more like us in Victoria.
The churches say the mother should be home with her children. How can we stay home, if w’e want chairs to sit on, a table to eat at, and a bed to sleep in?
Like all mothers, I like to see my children with these things, also with clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet.
To get the furniture we do have, I had to work for 18 months, and now that I am not working, my husband has to work 60 hours a week. Sixty hours, not 40. And that is only to exist.
The circumstances of this family are the circumstances of thousands of families throughout Australia and they are the families for whom I desire to make a plea. They represent about 77 per cent, of the taxpayers of Australia and they earn less than £24 a week. It may be said that the Victorian Government is trying to help these people by offering them Housing Commission homes on a no deposit basis. This sounds good and it is a very creditable step but it must be understood that the lower the deposit the greater the weekly payments. It must also be understood that, on the budget presented by the young mother in the letter to the Melbourne “Herald”, it would be impossible for her to face up to higher payments.
It is reliably stated - and I am again referring to the low wage earner - that there are in Australia nearly one million people who earn less than £21 a week. The plight of these people, when looked at in the light of the letter I have read, shows without doubt that they could never hope to participate in the Commonwealth’s housing grant of £250. Secondly, it illustrates that, on present day costs for homes, they could never face up to the financial payments involved even if they were able to obtain a home on a no deposit basis. Virtually speaking, with land values for a suburban block standing at between £2,000 and £2,500, they have not even a chance of getting past first base.
The position in regard to these citizens is worsening every day. In fact, their position becomes even more desperate when it is realised that in 10 years time we will have about 1,200,000 people in the marriageable age group who will need homes, yet, as each year passes, the backlag of home building extends. On present day figures, the building rate will be about 98,000 homes this year. This figure falls about 8,000 homes short of the pent up demand. In addition to this shortage there are at the present time about 70,000 names of people on waiting lists for Government homes. In order to make things more difficult, you need at the present time a 25 per cent, equity to purchase a home on reasonable terms. Money of this type would take a young couple about 10 years to save.
Another frustration to the home seeker is the fact that the price of a home has increased by £200 and the deposit gap has jumped from £1,000 to £1,500. Another alarming feature also appearing in the homebuilding industry is the cancellation rate on home purchase due to the client not being able to obtain finance on second mortgage. At the present day, the cancellation rate on new homes is 41 per cent, and on old homes it is 35 per cent. The cancellation rate on land stands at 6 per cent. This is the state of affairs in spite of the £250 government grant and the fact that money is available for housing. As I said, it is available to people who are fortunate enough to be able to meet the demands for high deposits and exorbitant interest rates.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the home building industry is the fact that in Melbourne business is slow and builders are still going broke. Indeed, reliable sources claim that in Melbourne there is a mild recession. In spite of the Government’s claim of record home ownership, people in Melbourne consider that the home building industry could absorb a lot more labour than is employed at present. Tn fact, it can be said without fear of denial that there is no over-production in that industry. On present day figures, the backlog is not decreasing and financial resources are not being over-strained. It is true to say that there are no shortages of labour or materials. The only shortcoming is the Government’s failure to realise that the interest racket in Australia is a scandal and the greatest obstacle in the way of overcoming the housing shortage.
If the low wage earners are to obtain homes, the Government must eliminate the fiat rate interest racket which is flourishing at the expense of these unfortunate people. Deposits must be reduced. A standard rate of simple interest on a sliding scale should be made compulsory for all home purchases. The Government claims that there is record home ownership. But a home is never your own until you have finished paying for it. Today it is believed that many people will never fulfil the commitments into which they have entered. Whether the Government’s claim in respect of home ownership is valid is open to question. But one thing can be said with absolute certainty: In this country there is a system of home buying by compulsion.
To illustrate that, I point out that the only builders of homes for rental are the State housing authorities. Their waiting lists stand at about 70,000. That state of affairs makes the homeseeker an easy victim for the financiers who, knowing the urgent demand for homes that exists in Australia and knowing how desperate people are for homes, are capitalising on the plight of those people by charging exorbitant interest rates on the money that they are compelled to borrow in order to have a roof over their heads and a place in which to raise their families. I agree with the request made by Mr. Arneil, the president of the New South Wales Credit Union League. He is reported to have said -
Exorbitant interest calculations charged by some private lending institutions for home finance should be examined.
The report went on to state - . . Mr. Arneil said most people buying or building homes were forced to obtain second mortgage finance with exorbitant interest repayments.
He said these arrangements contained many “ hidden charges and pitfalls “ for the unwary.
A couple borrowed £3,200 repayable with interest over 12 years from a finance company to buy a house … “After 30 months, during which 28 payments were made at about £46 per month; a total of £1,287 had been paid to the finance company. “However, with the exorbitant interest rate the repayments had only reduced the debt by £34.”
If the couple had borrowed the same maximum amount of money allowed by .law from a credit union at the same repayment scale their debt would have been reduced by £726. “ I have personally spoken to the manager of the finance company concerned”, Mr. Arneil said. “ I have been astounded by the latter’s quite obvious belief that this was a normal case. “I would hasten to add that this is not an isolated case.”
I ask the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) to give heed to Mr. Arneil’s request and my request, and to institute an inquiry into this interest racket. I appeal to the Minister on behalf of the low wage earners - in fact, on behalf of all our decent young citizens who are being victimised because of their circumstances. I ask him to endeavour to introduce some common decency and feelings of humanity into the plight of the homeseekers of Australia. An inquiry should be held into the interest racket. The time to hold that inquiry is right now. I firmly believe that the only way to bring homes within the reach of low wage earners is to control interest rates. Interest rates should be within the reach of low wage earners. Simple interest should be charged. If that were done, the prices of homes would fall accordingly.
I do not desire to trespass on the domain of the honorable member of the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser); but some public servants in Melbourne have asked me to raise the matter of home purchases and land sales in Canberra. I have checked on these matters. I find that in some instances the Government is making a profit of about 100 per cent, on land sales in this city. Generally private companies are satisfied with profits of about 10 per cent. These public servants suggest that there should be a ceiling price of £800 on land in Canberra and that land should be allocated by drawing lots. I am informed that, from the point of view of home sales turnover, the Federal Government would be the largest public enterprise in Australia. I understand that its turnover is 100 a month. I am also informed - this is the basis for the fear of the public servants who are coming to Canberra - that recently a working class home in Canberra sold for £8,300. In checking that, I was informed that a similar home in Melbourne would sell for £5,400.
If that is the state of affairs in Canberra, it is no wonder that public servants are loath to transfer to this city from Melbourne or any other State capital. One can understand their anxiety. The majority of them have homes in the capital cities in which they now reside. Being transferred to Canberra at the Government’s request means that they have to face up to having to start another home. I ask the Minister to consider this matter. In fairness to the public servants who are compelled to transfer to Canberra from the State capital cities, this question should be considered.
.- The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) spoke, as he always does, very sincerely, about housing. But, at times, the case that he presents is slightly tinged by politics. He can always produce, as he has produced today, a particular case. Today he referred to a lady who has six children, whose husband has to work 60 hours a week, who has not been able to buy a stick of furniture, and so on. He went on to say that there are thousands of families in similar circumstances. He said that those families represent 77 per cent, of Australian taxpayers. However, I am sure that he knows and will admit that Australians are one of the highest home-owning races in t:.e world. The percentage of Australians who own their own homes is very high. I was interested to hear the figures that he produced on the average income of people in the group about which he was talking. I may comment on that matter later.
I think all of us, on both sides of the chamber, realise that there is great difficulty in any country in predetermining the housing goal that is necessary for the population. There is no doubt that this problem exists in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Sweden and many other countries; it is not peculiar to Australia. Australia, because of its Constitution, has many problems. The Federal Government cannot, except by rather devious means, enter into the housing field. In fact, the Commonwealth, with the States, has entered into the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement; it has entered the war service homes field; it has entered into the homes savings grant scheme; and very shortly a home mortgage insurance scheme will come forward. I think it can be seen that the Commonwealth Government is aware of its responsibility and has endeavoured to meet it.
I mentioned earlier the housing policies that had been tried in other countries and I would refer honorable members to a book called “ Housing Policy; the Search for Solutions” by Paul F. Wendt. The book compares the ways that have been tried to achieve predetermined housing goals in the United Kingdom, Sweden, West Germany and the United States of America. The author’s analysis produced three conclusions. I think they are interesting and relevant to Australia. The first was that large seals government intervention in the housing sector results in a larger volume of construction than would otherwise have come about. I do not think that anybody would disagree with that. This increment cannot apparently be achieved without some misuse of resources and without some inequity in the distribution of profits and rewards. The honorable member for Gellibrand spoke about the people who cannot afford to buy homes, the people who have not been able to save and perhaps the people who have not tried to save. The suggestion is that these people should be given certain things at a cheaper rate or free, or whatever it may be. We do not object to this, but sometimes we feel that those who have saved should also be entitled to some reward in some of the fields in which Governments are throwing money around at this time.
The second conclusion was that Government housing policies have been focused on easing the housing outlays of consumers rather than on reducing the real costs of construction. I do not think that anybody would disagree with that. We have tried to reduce the waiting list for housing, but in so doing we have in some ways created a shortage of labour and a shortage of material and have thereby forced up the costs to other sections of the community. The third conclusion was that the housing policy in a democratic society will be governed as much by political imperatives as by economic rationality. I do not think that anybody would disagree with that. At the moment the banks are saying that if the volume of housing loans is increased, or the limits on the loans raised, less money and fewer loans will be made available, that there are labour shortages and that there are dangers apparent in this. I think to a certain extent the banks arc right, but on the other side of the picture is the social service angle. People must be housed, and the Government must take the responsibility for housing them.
I think that there are certain fallacies in the propositions that are made about housing. Honorable members on both sides of the Committee should give some thought to these fallacies. The first is that more money from the Federal Government will cure all the ills of housing. I do not think this is true; indeed, it has been proved to be untrue. The second is that low interest rates, which are equal to a continuing subsidy, will ease the situation. The suggestion is that we should subsidise housing. But surely this means increased taxation for us all. All the people must pay for the low interest rates or for whatever subsidies may be given by the Government. Surely this eventually means higher costs of building and higher costs of the necessary materials for building. Amongst the facts about housing, it is worth noting that, according to the Auditor-General’s report, we have to date spent £574,945,000 on housing under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. To date another £507,651,000 has been spent through the War Service Homes Division on housing. The Division has been responsible for the construction of 260,000 homes, but there is still a waiting list. We know that the States too have waiting lists. The money that has been spent on housing has not overcome the great problem that we have, and it is obvious that extra Commonwealth expenditure is not necessarily the solution. As I say, extra Commonwealth expenditure means extra taxation for all the people and this means additional costs for most of the items that we all require.
I think it is reasonable to say that ample money is available for housing if incentives are related to realities. There is no doubt that we can build at an increased rate. Money has been found by private enterprise and by governments, whether they be State or Federal, but the reality of the situation as I see it is that the demand for home ownership exceeds the resources of the recognised financial institutions that invest in housing. There is no doubt that the cooperative building societies, the banks and other authorities that lend for housing could use more finance if they had it, and would be willing to lend it. Hence, we have rationed finance and the intrusion into housing investment of risk capital at high interest rates. We all know that hire purchase companies have been providing second mortgages at high interest rates, and I think this is wrong and should be obviated as far as possible in Australia. The honorable member for Gellibrand mentioned the activities of the hire purchase companies.
One solution to the housing problem surely is to encourage savings and the deposit with recognised financial institutions of money that is usually spent elsewhere. Taxation subsidies could possibly be provided, but let us go to the people and encourage them to deposit money with housing societies and other approved institutions. If they put their money into housing societies it can be spent for the benefit of the people. Indeed, I think one of the outstanding features of the policies of this Government is the home savings grant scheme. We say to the young people: “ When you first get a job and are not married, if you can afford to do so - and most people can - save a given sum each week. Put it aside in the bank until you want to marry and want to build your home. You will then be able to purchase a home and have the goods that you need.” The Opposition occasionally puts the case that nobody should save anything but everybody else - that is, the taxpayers - should give the young people what they want immediately they want it. There is no doubt that young people today have more money than they have ever had in our history. I do not think anybody can deny that. The young people today have much more than any of us had when we were young. We can see that this is so when we look at clothing stores, used car lots and so on and hear the transistor radios that youngsters all carry. It is clear that all the young people have money. It is mainly the young people who need a home at marriage. This is where the big demand arises. Surely if the young people can be persuaded or encouraged to save for home ownership much or most of the problem of housing finance will be solved. If they could be encouraged to save, or were given some incentive to save, for a home the money we are spending through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and in other ways could be spent on the other urgent requirements that we must meet.
The Victorian Government is introducing a scheme to provide homes without any deposit. I think this is a good scheme, but I rather agree with the comment of the manager of the Builders and Allied Trades
Association. He said that it is essential that people should have some equity in their homes. It is not good, much as we would all like to do it, to give people something for nothing. Something given for nothing usually is not appreciated. I think that the Government has done a very fine job in its efforts to meet the demand for housing. I compliment the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury), as I am quite sure honorable members on both sides of the Committee would do wholeheartedly.
The honorable member for Gellibrand talked about people in the lower income group and the problem they have in obtaining housing. 1 will refer to the report of a survey made by the Housing Industry Research Committee, which was sent to me last week. I have not time to read it all, but 1 think it is most interesting. The report referred to two distinct groups in the lower income bracket and said -
Early in the survey it became clear that there were two distinct sub-groups within the total group and that these could bc distinguished by their different patterns of financing their home purchase.
The first group comprised those who started off wilh a sufficient deposit, which, together with a standard long term loan, met the full cost of house and land (Full Deposit Group). The second group comprised buyers who were able to buy a home only with the aid of secondary finance. This group numbered 265 home buyers or 55.6% of the sample (Low Deposit Group).
In the full deposit group there were 211 home buyers or 44.4% of the surveyed group.
The report goes on to deal wilh incomes. I have time to read only a small section, which states -
Thus it cannot be said that the low deposits were due to low incomes - but rather to a different expenditure and savings pattern.
In other words, there are people who are prepared to save when they first get a job, and who, we admit, are able to save. There may well be some people who, because of family responsibilities, such as an obligation to support a mother, are not able to save as much as others. Admittedly, provision must be made for them, but let us not always talk as if nobody in this country is able to save anything from the time he first gets a job, because this is not so. I believe that, when one considers the volume of consumer goods purchased by the young people of Australia today, one has every reason to think that if the Government which has already encouraged people to save for a home after marriage gave further encouragement, by an incentive, to do this, we would go a long way towards solving the problems that confront us today. I do not think that giving something for nothing, in accordance with the part of Labour policy promoted by those Labour supporters who say that everything should be given away for nothing or for the bare minimum, would have the results that some honorable members opposite envisage. I wholeheartedly support the estimates for the Department of Housing. I conclude by again congratulating the Minister for Housing on the job that he has done so far. I am quite sure that, under his guidance in housing matters, the Commonwealth will go ahead with a very good and very understanding housing policy.
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman, this Government’s record in housing is a sorry one. I am sure that all honorable members share the hope of the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) that the newly appointed Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) and the newly constituted Department of Housing will at last come to grips with a very serious problem that is causing the people of Australia a great deal of consternation and anxiety. Let me summarise some of the shortcomings of the present Government over the years during which it has been in office. In the first instance, it has consistently denied the pleading of the State Premiers and Ministers in charge of housing concerning the need for special assistance to clear slums, particularly in the capital cities. This Government has abandoned the rent rebate scheme under which people on low incomes were assisted to obtain homes. It has diverted money from the State housing authorities to building societies and, in doing so, it has failed to ensure a steady supply of funds from the banks to enable the building societies to cater for their potential clientele. The Government refused, and still refuses, to grapple with rising interest rates. As a result, the cost of borrowing money for housing is becoming prohibitive and beyond the resources of ordinary people. More importantly, probably, this Government failed, and is still failing, to come to grips with the problem of rising prices. What is the point of giving £250 to a young couple for a home if the price of land rises overnight, as it did recently in many parts of Australia, as a direct consequence of the homes savings scheme? What is the good of giving £250 to a young couple for a house if the Government then permits an increase in the tariff on imported timber, as it did a short time ago?
There are many other shortcomings apparent in the record of this Government. It has legislated in such a way as to divert from people on low incomes, who ordinarily expect assistance from State housing authorities such as Housing Commissions, a substantial proportion of the funds previously available to such people. Those funds have been diverted to provide homes for serving members of the armed forces.
– What is wrong with that?
– It means that less money is available to provide homes for people on low incomes. The Commonwealth is responsible, of course, for meeting the housing needs of members of the armed forces. Another shortcoming of this Government is its failure to ensure that adequate numbers of building tradesmen are available. Honorable members contend that there are shortages of carpenters, bricklayers and other building tradesmen. I predict now that there will still be a shortage in five, seven or ten years from now unless the Government decides to do something entirely different from what it has done up to date - unless it embarks, as other countries have done already, on a scheme of economic planning. At present, we in this country are unable to say how many architects, engineers, carpenters or other workers will be needed and how many will be available at any given time. If this lack of tradesmen is a factor contributing to the housing shortage, we should like to hear from the new Minister for Housing what he proposes to do, in the long term, to overcome the shortage of building tradesmen. We should particularly like to hear what is being done to encourage employers to apprentice more young people to the various building trades.
I suppose that it is fair also to indict the Government for its failure to require the banks to do enough to finance the construction of houses. My colleague, the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Hayden), received some important information in a question on notice answered by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) on 23rd October 1963. The answer revealed that the banks, in 1962-63, supplied a smaller proportion of the advances to building and housing societies than in any other year for the ten years back to 1953-54. Advances to individuals for the building or purchase of their own homes totalled £101.3 million in 1962-63. This figure was higher than that in all but two of the previous years back to 1953-54, when the total was £102.9 million. Advances totalled £105.7 million in 1954-55. Who must take the blame for this situation in which advances are now less than in 1953-54 and 1954-55? The blame rests with this Government. The Minister for Housing must now fairly and squarely take on his own shoulders the responsibility for making good these deficiencies.
As my colleague, the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor), has pointed out, the real problem is rising interest rates. All honorable members are aware that the banks are charging as much as 5i per cent, and 5i per cent, on first mortgages for homebuilding at present. I mention particularly the National Bank of Australasia Ltd. and the English, Scottish and Australian Bank Ltd., which have led the field in this regard. Another problem is that there is a limit to the amount that one can borrow. Many young couples find that, if they have had good balances with a bank over a considerable period, they are able to attract an advance of up to £3,500, but rarely any more. One has only to look at the average cost of home construction given in the annual report of the Director of War Service Homes to ascertain that an advance of this magnitude is nowhere near enough to finance the construction of a home nor, probably, even the purchase of an existing one. So it is necessary for a young couple to obtain a second mortgage. Believe me, the terms imposed on these are now almost prohibitive. All kinds of sharks have moved into the field. I have heard of a case in which a young couple borrowed £800 on second mortgage and were required to pay back no less than £1,800. In these days, this situation is not unusual.
We have seen some effect given to the Government’s legislative programme on housing, which was announced by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in the last Federal general election campaign. It is apparent to all that the undertakings then given were hurriedly contrived. The Minister for Housing has experienced a great deal of difficulty in giving legislative effect to the Government’s vote winning gimmicks. In fact, only half its promises have been honoured at present. Heaven knows when legislation will be introduced to establish the proposed Housing Loan Insurance Corporation. We have been given no firm information about the Government’s legislative proposals in this matter, though the Government could certainly claim that its electoral success was in no small measure due to its undertaking to establish the Corporation. As the Sydney “Sun” said on 9th March, 1964 -
The bright housing promises made by the Government side before the last Federal elections are already being tarnished by mere platitudes.
One election promise has been implemented - the homes savings grant. We on this side of the chamber have, of course, deplored the anxiety of the Government to assist only those who are capable of saving £4 16s. 4d. a week for three years while it disregards those who cannot save that kind of money, either because they have low incomes or because they have considerable financial obligations. I understand that already many deficiencies in this legislation have come to light. I have heard that 30 interpretation directives have already been issued by the Department of Housing because the scheme is such a conglomeration, such a complex mess. Thirty interpretations have been given up to this point of time. Heaven knows how many more there will be if the scheme becomes further complicated, as it is bound to do. Later on young people will be required to have bank accounts separately identified for home saving purposes, and if they draw on those accounts or use them as working accounts their savings will not attract the home savings grant.
This is an amazing piece of legislation. The Government, wants people to save for three years in order to obtain the maximum grant, but what are they to do in those three years? They will be required to save nearly £5 a week if they want to obtain the maximum grant. They will have to live somewhere and will have to pay rent. Possibly they will also have the expense of raising a family. I hope couples in this position do not come to Canberra to live, because only a few days ago we heard of people paying £4,100 for blocks of land in the suburb of Campbell. If this is the sort of thing the Government stands for, and if these are the prices that it believes should be paid for land, then young people will really have their heads down.
I have been able to discover some of the apparent anomalies in this legislation. I was surprised a short while ago when a New Australian came to me and said that he had strong doubts whether he would qualify for the homes savings grant because he had owned two homes in other parts of the world before he came to Australia. I was not sure whether he would qualify for the grant, but I read the booklet that has been widely distributed in Australia and I found that if an Australian-born person has owned a home anywhere in this country he cannot establish eligibility for the grant, although people coming from overseas, including those from Great Britain, could have owned any number of homes in other countries without disqualifying themselves under this scheme. There seems to me to be a peculiar form of discrimination in such a situation, and this is something about which the Minister should give an account of himself.
It is an amazing fact that Australian citizenship is not needed under this scheme. The grant is available to people who do not have and may never have Australian citizenship. Immigrants need three years residence in Australia in order to qualify, but the situation appears pretty crazy when one thinks of it. If an English family is enticed by our efficient immigration officers in the United Kingdom to come to Australia the first thing they need when they arrive here is a home. They have left the home they occupied in the United Kingdom. There are thousands of families in inadequate migrant camps in which they cannot make their own cooking and eating arrangements. These are the people who need assistance but who have no prospects of qualifying under this legislation. I know that there appears to be some inconsistency as between the two points I have raised, but I have mentioned these matters to show that the legislation is deficient and does not by any means overcome the housing problems that are apparent in this country.
T am amazed to find that this homes savings grant scheme applies only to married people. Some time ago a lady in my electorate had the misfortune to lose her husband as a result of an injury he sustained at his place of employment. The first thing she wanted to do was to use the workmen’s compensation payment that was made to her in order to acquire a home so that her children could be safeguarded in the future. I was astounded to find that although she was under 36 years of age - and let me say that the age barrier itself is anomalous in a scheme of this kind - she was deprived of benefit under the scheme, because she was then unmarried. It is no wonder that the Minister for Housing in New South Wales, Mr. Landa, said that this scheme is so complex that only the most determined will ever reach the pot of gold. I have already encountered a large number of people who, because of technicalities, cannot reach the pot of gold.
It is an unfortunate fact that people who set out to buy Housing Commission homes are not eligible under the homes savings grant scheme. I have already referred to the age barrier. There are many people who have to move from place to place in the course of their employment. They include school teachers, policemen and other public servants, including Commonwealth public servants. They have no chance to settle in one place until they have reached 40 or 45 years of age. What a regrettable fact it is that these people are excluded from benefiting under this legislation.
I see that my time has almost expired. There are many other aspects of the housing situation to which I had intended to refer, and of which it is apparent that this legislation merely scratches the surface. I had intended to speak about war service homes, in connection with which the problems are many and varied. It is important for honorable members to realise that no fewer than 11,806 applicants are still waiting for loans under the War Service Homes Act 19 years after the conclusion of World War II. This Government steadfastly refuses to do anything about the long waiting period which faces even those ex-servicemen whose applications are acceptable. The waiting period is now 17 months, and this is quite unnecessary.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- In rising to speak on the estimates for the Department of Housing I want to reply to one of the statements made by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). I believe this Government has certainly scratched the surface, which is more than the previous Labour Government was able to do in removing some of the deficiencies in the housing field in Australia. I think the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) particularly deserves to be complimented on the way in which he has, in a very short time, been able to establish around him the machinery of a department that seems to be functioning smoothly and which is certainly giving effect to at least one of the Government’s policy undertakings entered into during the last election campaign. Unfortunately the Housing Loan Insurance Corporation scheme has not yet been implemented, but 1 hope that it will not be very long before this is done. I hope it will not be long before many other deficiencies that are still apparent in the Australian housing situation are rectified.
As I have said, the homes savings grant scheme has already been implemented. In this scheme the Government has discovered a worthwhile method of helping one of the most worthy sections of the community to establish homes. Australia has the reputation of being a country in which a very high proportion of homes are owneroccupied. I think this situation has resulted partly from the unfortunate Landlord and Tenant Act which still operates in New South Wales and makes it quite uneconomical for investors to put their money into premises to be rented. I believe that this is one of the reasons why so many Australians own their own homes. The Landlord and Tenant Act of New South Wales precludes any worthwhile investment in housing property, because of the existence of stringent rent controls. I do not for one moment claim that there are not some people paying rent who are in a most invidious situation because of bad landlords. At the same time, I think it can be taken as a fact, generally speaking, that most homes that are owned other than by the persons living in them are not yielding a reasonable return on the capital invested. This is the only standard by which we can look at homes as an investment, and I wonder to what extent this is the reason for such a high percentage of Australian homes being owner-occupied. I understand that in Australia about 80 per cent, of homes are owner-occupied. This figure is the highest in the world and is well above the figures for the United States of America and most other Western countries. This measure, by which the Government will make a maximum homes savings grant of £250, will assist in this trend.
On a number of occasions an economic argument has been advanced suggesting that to divert too much capital into the construction of homes could have unfortunate economic consequences. I believe that one of the features of the Government’s homes savings grant scheme is that it will encourage savings by people who wish to gain the benefit of the grant. The honorable member for Hughes said that payment of the maximum grant will mean that the recipients will have put by £4 16s. 4d. a week for three years, and he suggested that people in the lower wage earning group will find it very difficult to save enough to benefit from the grant. However, I remind the honorable member that the figure he mentioned is only a maximum figure. I appreciate how difficult it is to save. This seems to be one of the unfortunate trends of our modern age. We seem to find: so many alternative things on which to spend money that instead of saving we buy, as the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) mentioned this afternoon, such things as transistor radios and many qf the modern amenities of life. There is a tendency to have our intent diverted and, as a result, we find it a little hard to put money into the bank for a rainy day.
I believe that the homes savings grant is a notable way to encourage people to save. They will have the incentive of knowing that by saving a certain amount over a period of years they will be given something for nothing, and they will realize that they would be foolish if they did not put money away for this purpose. Above all else, this grant will encourage savings among that group of Australaians who are probably more inclined than others to spend all the money they earn. I refer to those in the 15 to 25 year age group in the Australian work force. People of both sexes in this age group earn big money and, without dependants, are more inclined than others to spend on luxuries. The homes savings grant will be a notable way to encourage the young people to put their money into the bank so as to gain the benefit of the grant in a few years time. It has been suggested that as this money would be in a special homes savings account there would be no other benefit in having it in the bank. However, if the money is in a borne savings account, as against an ordinary savings account, it will help to establish credit with the bank manager. This is another aspect of the Homes Savings Grant Act is its appliencourage people to establish an identity in the commercial world.
One notable thing about the operation of the Homes Savings Grant Act is its application not only to housing in the cities and in the suburban areas of the major capital cities but also to rural housing. This is something that I commend. I believe it will give country people an opportunity to participate in the scheme. I do not believe that rural housing needs will be completely satisfied by the scheme, but the scheme does show that the Government is prepared to extend to country people some of the benefits enjoyed by their city cousins.
I should like to refer now to some of the anomalies that unfortunately crop up in the operation of the homes savings grant scheme. One anomaly that has come to my notice and that I have taken up with the Minister before relates to the nature of a person’s investments prior to the date on which the Bill was introduced into the House. Unfortunately, in the terms of the Bill, although there are certain types of approved savings, these types were not known to future recipients of the benefit until after the Bill was introduced. As a consequence a few people, some of whom have been in touch with me in my electorate, have unfortunately had money invested in mediums other than those which would make them eligible for the homes savings grant. If a person had signed a contract for his home and had not made a payment to the builder until some time after signing the contract, yet before 5th May 1964 when the measure was made public, and at this stage converted into cash his “not approved” security, he would be precluded from receiving the homes savings grant. I have mentioned this anomaly to the Minister and I hope that it will be possible for him to rectify it in the near future. If it can be rectified only in respect of those investments which had not been transferred before the date on which the bill was introduced there could be no quarrel that this was not fair and equitable. There is no doubt that the Government has been particularly lenient in the extent to which it has been prepared to extend the field of acceptable savings. However, there are many investments that do not come within that term. For instance, just to name one, shares in a public company would not represent acceptable savings. Money invested in Commonwealth loans and in a number of other securities are not acceptable savings attracting the subsidy under the present terms of the homes savings grant scheme. These are anomalies which I feel could well be adjusted. This would enable not a substantial number of people, but at least a few people, who otherwise would be excluded from the grant, to receive it.
One other matter that I want to mention is the delay in the payment of moneys advanced as war service homes loans. War service homes loans over a period of years have enabled many ex-servicemen to build homes and move into them. Unfortunately, however, there is still a considerable delay in receiving advances through the War Service Homes Loans Fund. The problem is not only brought about by this delay but also by the delay between the time of approval of the application for a loan and the payment of the loan to the recipient. As 1 understand the position at the moment, a person buys a block of land and that land or lot must be approved. Then the plan for the house must be approved, and before my payment is made the house must be built. For this reason, in many instances alternative finance has to be arranged. But it is not easy to arrange alternative finance on a temporary basis. In many instances, no doubt, the person has to pay a higher rate of interest on the temporary finance than he would pay had the war service homes loan been available to him. Most building societies are prepared to make from the plans and the progress of the building a reasonable assessment of the building’s worth. There is room for the Government to look at the operation of the scheme and to consider whether or not it is possible to make the funds available earlier. If the plans have been approved, if the lot has been approved and if the building operations up to the stage at which the first payment has been called for have been approved, surely it is reasonable that funds could be made available. I do not know at this stage when the total loan is made available, but I understand that there is a considerable difference in the procedures operating for war service homes loans and the ordinary building society loans. I think this is a matter to which some attention could be given with a view to changing present procedures. It is unfortunate that so many applications for loans should be outstanding, but the Government through the War Service Homes Division has made a notable contribution over the years towards home ownership and deserves to be complimented. I compliment the Minister for Housing and the staff of his newly created Department on the effectiveness with which they have operated. They have overcome the difficulties of establishing a new department and working under new legislation. I hope that legislation to give effect to the national housing insurance scheme will be introduced before the end of this session.
.- I wish to direct my remarks this afternoon to the subject dealt with by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair) in the closing stages of his speech. This year the Government seeks to appropriate £35 million for the War Services Homes Division. This is the same amount as was appropriated in 1962-63 and 1961-62. The honorable member for New England said that the War Service Homes Division has an enviable record. I do not think any honorable member will disagree with that statement, but the honorable member should realise that anomalies arise in the operation of the Act. Those anomalies are largely the result of ministerial direction and they should be removed because they react most unfavorably so far as exservicemen generally are concerned.
The Act has been in force since 1918. The report of the Director of the War Service Homes Division for 1963-64 is not yet available.
– It has been tabled.
– Has it been circulated?
– It was tabled about a fortnight ago.
– I accept the Minister’s assurance. 1 regret that any figures I may cite this afternoon will relate to the year 1962-63. I assume that the figures in respect of 1963-64 are similar.
I think all honorable members appreciate that there are three methods by which an cx-serviceman may secure accommodation. An ex-serviceman may apply for a war service loan to purchase an existing home. He may seek to purchase a new home. This method of purchase may be separated into two categories. Finally we have the matter of a group home. Earlier speakers in the debate have referred to the waiting period for loans to purchase an existing home. I understand that the waiting period at present is between 1 8 and 20 months. Surely a waiting period of 20 months is too long 20 years after the end of the last war. The annual reports of the Director of the War Service Homes Division show that the Division has financed the building of many homes since the legislation was first introduced, but surely the reports should indicate why the waiting period for a loan is as long as 20 months. The Minister has given no explanation for the waiting period being so long. There has been no reduction in the waiting period during almost all of this Government’s term of office.
As long ago as 1955 I directed the attention of the Government to the anomalies under which ex-servicemen were suffering es a result of the waiting period which then existed and which still exists. But the waiting period has remained unchanged; it is still almost 20 months. What is the effect of this waiting period on applicants for a war service loan? An ex-serviceman who successfully applies for a war service loan in order to purchase an existing home must obtain finance from other sources pending availability of the loan from the War Service Homes Division. For 18 or 20 months he is denied the benefit of a low rate of interest and in many instances he must obtain a second mortgage. All honorable members will be aware of the interest rates charged on second mortgages. But this state of affairs has never been corrected by this Government. The Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) is well aware of this situation. The delay in obtaining finance from the War Service Homes Division and the measures which must be adopted pending the receipt of a loan create difficulties for ex-servicemen. First there is the matter of frustration, to which the honorable member for New England referred. 1 do not suggest that the frustration experienced by ex-servicemen is due entirely or at all to the actions of departmental officers. In my experience departmental officers administer the Act in accordance with directions laid down by the Government and they have shown themselves in the past to be most sympathetic and co-operative. Certainly this is the position in Tasmania and I have no doubt (hat it is the position elsewhere. But the lapse of time between lodging an application for a loan and receiving the loan leads to frustration.
Another cause of dissatisfaction is the inadequacy of the maximum advance that will be made by the Division. At present the maximum loan available to an ex-serviceman is £3,500. This has been the maximum available since 1961. Prior to 1961 the maximum loan was £2,750. When one compares the maximum loan available for a war service home with the cost of housing in Australia one will appreciate the difficulties faced by ex-servicemen endeavouring to secure a home. According to the 1962-63 report of the Director of the War Service Homes Division the average cost of a home in New South Wales was £4,918. In Victoria the average cost of a home was £4,956. The average cost of a home in the Australian Capital Territory in the year 1962-63 was £6,725. Yet the maximum advance is still only £3,500. It will be seen from those figures that the amount required as deposit to purchase a home through the War Service Homes Division in that year was £1,400 in New South Wales, £1,450 in Victoria and £3,200 in the Australian Capital Territory. I suggest, therefore that the Director of War Service Homes had good grounds for his . statement that at least 40 per cent. of the ex-servicemen who apply for assistance through the War Service Homes Division withdraw their applications. This requirement of such a huge deposit adds still further to the frustration experienced by ex-servicemen who wish to buy or build a war service home.
As the annual report for the year 1962-63 points out, there were 12,965 applicants for assistance through the Division as at 30th June 1963, and of that number 6,748, or over half, were persons seeking to purchase existing homes. The reason why such a large number of ex-servicemen are applying to purchase existing homes is obvious. The deposit required for a new home is far beyond their resources. I suggest, therefore, that the Government should give a clear indication at the earliest possible moment of what it intends to do about the deposit required for a home. A deposit of £3,500 is obviously beyond the resources of a great many of the applicants for war service homes.
In the few moments that remain to me I wish to refer to another point concerning applicants for assistance from the Division. When the War Service Homes Act was introduced originally in 1918 it clearly stated - and it does so just as clearly today - that an ex-serviceman who desired to transfer to the Division a mortgage held by some other organisation on an existing home need only to apply to the Division for assistance in the same way as the exserviceman who desired either to purchase a home or have one built. It was clear that the intention was that an ex-serviceman should be entitled to have the mortgage transferred to the War Service Homes Division. But ever since this Government came to office in 1949, there has been a ministerial direction which has prevented the transfer of existing mortgages and no Minister in the Government has given any clear or concise reason why such transfers cannot still be effected. Obviously, if an ex-serviceman has been fortunate enough to have left to him a home on which a mortgage has been taken out with some other lending institution, he is entitled under the Act to have that mortgage transferred to the War Service Homes Division. That principle has been adopted and conceded by previous administrations and I think that the Minister ought to tell us now why it is not accepted by this Government.
I have dealt with three points which I believe are reacting unfavorably against applicants for assistance from the War Service Homes Division. First there is the waiting period. We on this side do not believe that after 20 years of operation of this Act ex-servicemen should have to wait for 20 months. This Government ought to be able to provide the money necessary to abolish the waiting period. If the abolition of the waiting period means that the overall allocation of moneys to the War Service Homes Division must be increased, then the Government ought to take the first opportunity to move in that direction. My next point relates to the deposit. The maximum advance of £3,500 is certainly not sufficient to enable an ex-serviceman either to build a new home to his own design or to purchase a group home from the Division. The third point to which I referred was the transferring of mortgages on existing homes.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to raise one point with the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury). Some time ago, in this House, I put to the Minister a question without notice relating to funds available to rural home builders. When I refer to rural home builders I speak about farmers who want to build houses either for themselves or for their employees. It must be recognised by the Government that there is a great shortage of farm labour today and that one of the reasons for this is the difficulty farmers have in attracting suitable labour unless they can provide good housing for their employees.
I have made investigations into the availability of finance for farmers who want to build houses either for themselves or their employees and I find that there is no source of finance available to them other than by borrowing against the security of their own properties. Many farmers have borrowed up to the limit in order to improve their production and are therefore unable to borrow more money on the security of their properties to build houses for themselves or for their employees. For this reason, both the farmer and his employee are often inadequately housed. On 26th August of this year. as recorded on page 600 of “ Hansard “ I asked this question of the Minister for Housing -
Although the Commonwealth has made annual grants to the States for housing amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds over the years not one penny of the amount has been made available to house farmers or other rural workers. Accordingly will the Minister assure the House that the proposed Commonwealth legislation relating to bousing mortgages will pay due regard to the need of this vital sector of the economy?
The Minister said this in reply -
Once again I cannot emphasise too strongly that the distribution of funds provided under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is a matter for the State Governments concerned.
He went on to say -
Certainly, in considering the bousing loans insurance scheme we shall pay regard to rural areas just as much as to any other area.
I am very pleased that the Government does propose to consider the needs of farmers and farm employees when drawing up its housing loans insurance scheme, but I am very disappointed that there is not some other avenue available through which farmers may borrow money to build houses. Their need is just as great as that of anyone else. This year, we shall be spending approximately £97 million on housing. I note from a booklet issued by the Australian Bankers’ Association that in 1962-63 more than £299.9 million was made available for housing by all sources, including the banks, the building societies, the government housing authorities, life insurance offices, and so on. It is disappointing to me that none of this money was made available to farmers to house themselves or their employees on terms similar to those on which it was made available to other home builders.
I should very much like the Minister to study the United States Farm Home Administration Plan. The Americans have taken care of this need. They have special legislation relating to it, and I believe it to be within the competence of the Commonwealth Government to pass similar legislation. I do not think there would be any constitutional problems. Perhaps the Minister can tell me if there are. We seem to be able to provide finance for ex-servicemen under the War Service Homes Act, and for aged persons under the Aged Persons Homes Act. Therefore, I cannot see why it is not within the competence of the Common wealth Government, through the Minister for Housing, who has been very understanding about other problems relating to housing, to overcome this problem.
The idea behind the United States Farmers’ Home Administration Act is to provide individual farmers and rural residents with home buildings and improvements. Most decidedly many farmers today, who have had commitments to improve their production to meet the rising costs we have experienced over the years, are unable to find further money to effect improvements to their home buildings. Some sort of action is necessary, and I ask the Minister to examine the American Act to see whether it would be possible to introduce similar legislation here. The American Act could serve as a basis for study of what would be required in Australia. It provides for a limitation on the size of a dwelling. It provides for the repayment of the rural housing loan over a period of 33 years at 4 per cent. Loans are available to construct, improve, alter, repair or replace dwellings and other farm buildings whether for owners, tenants, lessees, sharefarmers or labourers. The security is on the applicant’s equity in the farm, and such additional security or collateral as may be required. The borrower undertakes to refinance when farm income makes alternate sources reasonable. I think this is a reasonable part of the Act. Many a farmer would be happy to refinance his home building once his farm became secure and his income was sure. However, it is for the first step that he requires assistance - the step of building a house for himself or for his employee. Finally, the American Act provides for deferment and repayment of principle and interest for a period of up to five years. This is also a Wonderful part of the American Act, because when a farmer settles on new land and is developing the property it is frequently up to five years before he is able to make plans to pay off his house or other commitments of that nature. Therefore, it is desirable that the Commonwealth Government should look at this matter, and I hope that the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) will examine the points that I have brought to his attention.
.- Earlier in this debate the honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair) repeated a story which has been discredited on many occasions here. He mentioned as the reason for the shortage of homes for rental purposes, particularly in New South Wales, the landlord and tenant regulations. The honorable member for New England and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony), who is interjecting, ought to know that it is 10 years since those regulations applied to new homes built in New South Wales. In other words, as from 1954 new dwellings erected in New South Wales have not come under such controls. Evidence of this, of course, is the number of people in that State who are today paying anything from 8 guineas to 12 guineas a week for home units, mainly because the Commonwealth Government has not been able, or prepared, to provide finance through the housing commissions to help people who are very much in need of housing. As a matter of fact, the Commonwealth Government is in no position to criticise any State after what we have heard about what has happened in the Australian Capital Territory and in the Northern Territory, which I visited a few weeks ago.
I should like to make some reference to the inadequate growth in the home building rate in relation to the increasing proportion of young people of marriageable age in our community. I should like also to speak of the shortage of homes for rental at reasonable charges and also of the special need for many more home units for aged people. I express concern regarding the increasing rate of interest which is being charged on loans to home builders and also about the worrying prospect of another credit squeeze coming into being.
However, first, I want to talk about three anomalies that have been brought to my notice concerning the operation of the home savings grant provisions. If I may, I shall quote particular cases. A young man and a young woman were the first couple to come to see me. The young man had applied on their joint behalf for a grant, but before the loan from the Commonwealth Bank came through he turned 36 years of age. In fact, he missed out by 10 days. Their only prospect then was that the wife could apply for at least half of the grant; she was still under 36 years of age, and was joined with him in the purchase of a block of land.
This was the point of their application. Unfortunately, as it turned out, their savings in the form of a bank account were held in the name of the husband only, despite the fact that they were a married couple who had been married for four years. Like so many other young couples, and older couples too, their savings were in one account in one name only. Always, or nearly always, in these circumstances it is assumed that the savings represent the joint effort of a couple. However, when the matter went before the housing authority the wife’s application was rejected.
I am appealing to the Minister to have regard to some of these situations during the early operation of the Act. Many people do not know the precise requirements of the Act, so there ought to be some leniency at this stage. In this particular case I am asking the Minister, if he is listening to the debate, to accept joint savings by a couple, if one of the couple is not eligible to apply because of age, as belonging at least half to the person applying for the grant, even though the account is not in the name of both cf them but in the name of one only. After all, in respect of other Commonwealth legislation - the means test applying in respect of social service and repatriation benefits is an example - it is assumed that irrespective of whether the bank account is in the name of one person or both persons, each is regarded as being entitled to claim half. I hope that the same provision can apply in respect of applicants for home savings grant.
The second case brought to my notice involved a sheer technicality which, I think, is defeating the whole spirit of the legislation. In this instance a young man had invested his savings over a period of years in the purchase of a block of land. As we all know, a block of land is an acceptable form of savings. In this case the young man decided in the long run to sell his block of land and buy an existing home. Unfortunately, not knowing the provisions of the Act, he signed the contract to purchase the home just one day before the proceeds of the sale of his block of land came through to him. In the ordinary run of events he would have banked this money in his bank account. In other words, the proceeds of the sale of the block of land were in transition between the solicitor acting on behalf of the purchaser of the block and the solicitor acting on behalf of the young man who had applied for the home savings grant. In this case, despite the fact that he was only one day late in having the money transferred, he was not allowed to claim the proceeds of the sale of the land as the basis for his applying for a home savings grant. He is under 36 years of age and up until the very time of his application he owned the block of land, and that block only, yet because he made this small technical mistake unknowingly in signing the contract to buy the home the day before the proceeds from the sale of his block of land came through, he was rendered ineligible for a grant.
The third kind of anomaly that has come to my notice affects persons purchasing homes through the provisions of the War Service Homes Act. I understand that there are two ways of purchasing a home under this Act. The first is by way of an advance on a mortgage. The second is by way of a contract of sale. Under the second method, a contract of sale, the purchaser does not get the estate in fee simple until the last payment has been made. I understand, however, that under the provisions of the Homes Savings Grant Act a person cannot receive a grant where he purchases a home under a contract of sale because he has not received the estate in fee simple. At the commencement of this scheme we were told with much gusto by the Government that even people buying homes under the provisions of the War Service Homes Act would receive this assistance. Well, this looks like a straightout case where some people, at least, who are purchasing their homes under a contract of sale are not going to get this provision.
I hope the Minister will look at these three different anomalies and see if something can be done to help these people. I think they have observed the whole spirit of the legislation. They have made their savings and therefore they ought to be eligible.
I want to talk also about houses for rental. One of the obvious shortages in our community is that of homes for rental at reasonable rates. There are, as I said before, many people in the community today who are renting home units for as much as eight guineas, ten guineas and twelve guineas per week. For people who have a salary of £22 to £24 a week this is, I think everybody will agree, a very high price to pay for accommodation. The shortage of homes for people who want to rent them is obviously indicated by the figures given by the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) on the 2nd September in answer to a question on notice. The figures, in respect of housing authorities in the different States, show that the number of unsatisfied applications for houses to rent has been increasing. To cite one particular instance, applications to rent houses in New South Wales in 1960 numbered 14,812. By 1961 the figure was 16,526; in 1961 it was 16,491; in 1963 it was 17,942; and by June this year it had risen to 19,636. I have not time io go through all the States but the recent figures available for the vast majority of States show this long waiting period for homes for rent from housing authorities. There are few other organisations in the community that are making homes available for rental purposes.
I know it is customary in this place to boast of the high proportion of Australians who own their own homes. This is, of course, a distortion of the truth in the first place. They do not own their own homes. They are in the process, over a long period of years, of owning their own homes. As a matter of fact, figures just released show that of £2,750 million of personal debt in Australia today, £2,200 million is owing on housing. We talk about people owning their own homes, but they do not own their own homes. They are in the course of paying off their homes and in most cases will be paying them off for the whole period of their life. I think there is a trend in Australia today to conscript people into buying their homes. If the choice were available to them many people who are forced into buying their own homes would not do so.
Other honorable members this afternoon have referred to public servants and to people employed by big private organisations which transfer their employees to different parts of the State. These employees include bank officers, insurance officers and even representatives of big private retailing firms. Many of these people, especially in their younger years, are not anxious to buy a home but unfortunately, as the system operates in Australia today, there is not much option for them. They have to buy a home or else go without. There is, of course, the other not very palatable alternative of paying 12 guineas and more a week to rent, in many cases only two rooms of a home unit.
It is obvious that there is going to be an increasing need for housing in Australia. The proportion of young people in the 20 to 29 age group is increasing again. It did come down for a while and in 1960 it dropped to 12.9 cent, of the population. But by 1970 it is estimated that 15 per cent, of our young people will be in this age group and we are told that 6 out of every 10 marriages come from it. Over recent years the marriage rate has been running at the rate of 75,000 to 80,000 a year, but by 1970 it is expected that there will be 100,000 young couples marrying each year. This is what we would expect. It is a few years since we had a big boom of children born after the war passing through primary schools. Then they went through secondary school. Now the explosion is at the tertiary level of education. Naturally it is going to pass on to the marriage market in the very near future and therefore there is an urgent necessity in Australia that we build many more homes. Any talk of credit restrictions and restraint on money available for home building is going to be at the sacrifice of homes for these many thousands of young people who will be needing them in the near future.
.- The Australian way of life today hinges around the family home and therefore this debate is a very important one indeed. I have mentioned some aspects of home life before in this place and the importance of homes, especially in country areas. Not that homes are not important in all areas. They are. But for some reason, in the past, country people have not perhaps had the same advantage as the people in the more heavily populated areas. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Nixon), I think, mentioned something of this and I wholeheartedly endorse his remarks. I would say at this point that, because of the situation in relation to homes in the rural industries which have not been able to participate in the cheaper money that has been available in most industries over the years, perhaps some consideration could be given to creating a special department of the Commonwealth Development Bank to take care of this particular need. I believe that all sections of the community should have the same advantages.
Perhaps the main reason for my rising to speak is in relation to war service homes. Of course, we know of the war service land settlement scheme which has been such a tremendous success in opening up such a vast amount of land, in increasing our balance of payments overseas, and in rehabilitating many returned men. But we have a situation - very similar, perhaps, to that concerning homes - in which a returned man sets out to win his own way in life by taking up land without taking advantage of the war service land settlement scheme. This man finds himself in the situation, in the main, where he is not able to take advantage of the war service homes scheme. I notice that the number of homes provided from the inception of the scheme in 1918 to June 1964 totals 236,934 and expenditure has reached a total of some £507 million. That is a very good figure. No doubt many men and women have received benefit from that expenditure.
But I wish to refer to the number of settlers throughout Australia who have been unable to take advantage of this scheme. I understand that the matter hinges, to some extent, on section 24 (c) of the War Service Homes Act which reads -
The word “him” refers to the Director of War Service Homes. The farming communities throughout Australia have proved that farming is a good risk; but the machinery of the Act puts farmers in a very difficult position. In my opinion, if a man takes up a block of land and sets out to carve out of it a property which is an asset to himself and also to his country, the Commonwealth Government should assist him, through the War Service Homes Act, to provide a home for his wife and family. But, the position as I see it at the moment is that that is not so. I know that there are difficulties, but I ask the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) to have another look at this matter and to endeavour to r’eframe the Act to cater for these men who are independent, who wish to live the Australian way of life and who have enough initiative and enterprise to take up a block of land and settle on it with their families. They should not have to live in sheds, as many of them are doing today. They should be able to take their families into reasonable homes. They should have at least some of the amenities that are available to men in towns and cities who live in homes for which the total capital has been supplied by the Government.
When we talk about risk in relation to the repayment of loans, surely we must agree that farming is a good risk today. If farming is not a good risk, what is a good risk in Australia today? Agriculture is much more solid today than it has ever been. The blocks of land that have been taken up, especially in Western Australia in respect of which I can speak with some authority, have been good investments. A home is a very good investment not only for the purchaser but also for the nation. Let us have contented farmers - farmers who have their families with them. I know of men who have not been able to take their families out with them while they have been carving out their properties. They have had to leave their families elsewhere, such as with their parents, because they have done the right thing in one respect by putting all the capital that they could get into development and production. But that has meant that they have been unable to build homes for themselves and their families. They have lived in tents. That is not a satisfactory way of life for a family. I suggest that the Government consider this matter and endeavour to broaden the Act so as to make its benefits available to these men.
.- It was rather strange to hear the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hallett) making pleas to the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) in relation to the war service homes legislation. During the last election campaign members of the Government parties told the people of Australia that if they were returned as the Government they would immediately introduce legislation which would be the means by which anyone who saved £750 for the purpose of home purchase or home construction would become eligible to receive a tax-free grant of £250. or one-third of whatever amount he was able to raise, whichever was the lesser.
It will be remembered that members of the Government parties also promised that the administration of the relevant act would be very sympathetic and very liberal. As a matter of fact, those words were reported in the “ Daily Telegraph “ on 1 5th November last year as being spoken by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies).
Quite naturally, many people, particularly young people, who heard the election speeches of members of the Government parties thought that under the Government’s scheme as many people as possible would be assisted to become home owners. Consequently, they were looking forward, with a great deal of happiness, to the day when they would be furnished with information setting out how, when and where they should make application to receive the £250 grant. But, of course, it soon become apparent to a very large number of people that what they had been led to believe prior to the election was vastly different from the legislation that was brought down after the election - and six months after that. The legislation was introduced not immediately after the election, as was promised during the election campaign, but six months after the election.
Many of the people who really need assistance and who were looking to receiving some help from the Government have been very sadly disappointed because they will never be able to qualify for even a substantial part of the £250 grant. Some of them will never be able to qualify for any part of the grant. The reason for that is that they will never be able to raise sufficient money of their own to qualify for the grant, even over a large number of years, let alone within the very limited time that is permitted under this Government’s legislation. It has become quite obvious that the type of legislation which this Government favours, and of which apparently it is quite proud, will never go very far towards making an impression on the needs of the Australian homeseekers. The Government has deliberately and carefully shut out a very large number of people who actually require this assistance.
Housing is in very short supply all over Australia, as previous speakers have pointed out. People who wish to become owners of their own homes should be given every opportunity to do so, irrespective of their age, social standing or anything else. They must be encouraged and assisted to buy or to build their own homes. The proper and only sure way to achieve that objective is to introduce a scheme with low deposits, low interest rates and reasonable weekly payments. Many more people would own their own homes, if such a scheme existed. Those people, if they were able to purchase or construct’ their own homes, would lead a much happier and more contented home life than they are able to lead in- the existing circumstances. I suggest that an article which appeared in a Western Australian newspaper earlier this year highlights the need for low deposits and low interest rates. It stated -
Real estate agents this week said the shortage was the worst for about 15 years, with up to 100 people listed for every house which became vacant.
The worst victims are families with one or two young children seeking a reasonable place in which to live while they try to save the deposit on their own home.
For most, it is a heart-breaking routine- a quick, unrewarding glance at the morning paper for vacancies, a couple of futile telephone calls and an endless trek from agent to agent in the city and suburbs. “ There are just not enough rental houses to go round,” one city agent said. “ We are lucky if we get four vacancies a month, and we average about 20 inquiries a day.”
Let us see what the rents would be if those families were fortunate enough to be able to find a house to rent. The article went on to say -
What does the home-seeker get for his pains?
In the beach suburbs he may be offered a comfortable, furnished, three-bedroom modern bouse for 12 to 15 guineas a week, probably on a limited tenancy . . .
A lucky tenant may get a somewhat older, but still reasonably tenantable, unfurnished brick house for six guineas a week . . .
The house hunter’ may find a place for £3 10s. week, but it will have the bare essentials - a wood stove, no hot water, no fly wire, shabby floor coverings (if any) and a chip bathheater.
A better house renting for £5 would probably Include a hot water system, three bedrooms or their equivalent, more amenities and would be in a reasonable state of repair.
In old-established Victoria Park, a modest twobedroom home, complete with Soot coverings, hot water and blinds, will bring £7 10s. a week, and a 20-year-old brick and tile dwelling about £5 a week.
The article pointed out that many young people wish to rent a house only until such time as they can save sufficient money to put a deposit on a home of their own. Surely it is obvious that if we had a low deposit scheme many young people who are still trying to save sufficient money for a home and are renting a house would at this stage have their own home or would be able to contract to buy one. Even if a young couple were able to obtain a rented house how could they possibly pay the rent that is being asked, buy a bit of furniture, live, and on top of everything else, still be able to save a sufficient amount to qualify for some part of the Government’s grant? If they are lucky they may save a sufficient sum after a number of years, but they certainly have very little chance of saving £750 or anything like it before they are 36 years of age. They would be able to do so only if both were working and receiving a good wage.
But many young couples, and very properly so, are trying to raise a family, and this is just as well for this country. Many of them can never hope to receive any worthwhile help from the housing scheme of this Government. Until such time as a scheme offering low deposits and low interest rates is introduced, that section of our young people will have little chance of ever living in their own home. They are the people who are in most need of assistance; yet the Government has deliberately and completely shut them out of its scheme. Today’s housing costs and the large deposits and high interest rates put a house beyond the reach of all except those people in the wealthier groups or those people with good and sure incomes. Of course, I agree that these people should have homes of their own, but equally the people in less fortunate circumstances should also be able to own their homes. To give some idea of the costs, deposits and interest rates, I want to quote from an article which appeared in the “ West Australian “ as recently as 28th April last. The article stated -
The Sales manager for one of W.A.’s biggest low-deposit package-home schemes said his firm built about 200 houses a year, catering for the £24-£29 a week sector not eligible for or not wanting a commission home. “We can provide homes on a 10 per cent, deposit, but most people’ who buy on these terms face very high repayments”, he said. “A couple buying a £4,250 home - including land - would have to repay more than £7 19.* a week for ten or 12 years. “ It is the struggle to do this that keeps the wives working.
All lending authorities prefer a deposit from 20 to 30 per cent, of the cost of the house and land, and most people need a second mortgage of up to £500 to build a £4,000 house on their own block.
The building societies are usually more liberal than the banks in their lending policies but their interest rates are also higher - usually about 7 per cent, reducible.
Insurance companies generally will advance up to £5,000 on a home, but because this has to be covered by life assurance the conditions are often more than the prospective buyer can meet.
A person wishing to purchase a bouse worth £5,000 - a man with two or three children certainly would not be able to buy a house to meet his needs for much less than that - either must find a deposit of £1,000 or, if he is able to do business on a lower deposit, must pay interest on the balance at amounts ranging from £4 to £6 a week. On the other hand, as the article pointed out, he would have to make weekly payments of more than £8 a week. How many young people who are not in the wealthy group or in highly paid jobs would be able to afford to buy or construct a house under any of those conditions? The Government’s legislation will not help them very much. Far too many people are shut out of the scheme and many people who thought they would be able to obtain a fair measure of assistance from the Government, following its promises, find instead that they are completely ineligible for assistance.
In July of this year the Department of Housing issued a pamphlet which carried on its cover in very large letters the title “ A Grant for your Home “. The pamphlet followed the issue of a brochure which was called “ A Reward for your Saving “ and which claimed to be an introduction to the Commonwealth Government’s home savings grant scheme. Actually, the brochure was a softening up process to prepare people for the shocks they would receive when they found they were not eligible to participate in the scheme. Many people who before reading the brochure and the pamphlet thought that they had a good chance of qualifying for the grant were very doubtful after they had read a few paragraphs. For instance, many people found that they were shut out of the scheme because they were over the age of 36 years. Up to that time they had considered themselves to be quite young, particularly when they compared their age with the age of many members on the Government side of the chamber, and they felt they had some 40 years of life ahead of them. It must have been a very great shock to them to find that not only were they debarred from receiving assistance towards the purchase of a home but they were also, according to the thinking of the Government, just about ready to be thrown on the scrap heap. Just how silly can the Government be? It has suggested that people are too old at the age of 37 years to be considered as future home owners. Of course, this is a very good letout for the Government. It realises only too well that many married people have found it impossible to save in the early years of married life because they have been raising a family, buying furniture, paying rent and so on. Therefore, the Government has shut them out at an age when they may be able to put aside £1 or £2 every pay day. The Government has made quite sure that calls for assistance under this scheme will not be very big.
Many people are, of course, shut out of the scheme at the age of 33 years. If both married partners reach 33 years before they are able to save anything, by the time that the savings period of three years imposed by the Government has elapsed they will both be over the age of 36 years and will not qualify. Even if they start saving at the age of 32 years they will have to save at the rate of more than £4 a week to qualify for the maximum grant before they reach their 36th birthday. People who are rearing a family, paying rent, paying off furniture and meeting the other expenses of early married life will be very lucky to qualify for the maximum grant unless they start to save before they are 26 or 27 years of age at the most. Very few of these people, unless they are very fortunate or have incomes of a reasonable size, will find it possible regularly to save £2 a week for seven or eight years, as they would be required to do to qualify for the maximum grant under this scheme.
Then we have another section of young people, still under 36 years of age, who at a very early stage in their marriage were willing or were forced, because of housing problems, to start buying a house through a State housing commission. By some means or other they managed to scrape up enough money for a deposit and perhaps made a few payments, but they may be finding it very difficult, perhaps because of increasing family commitments, to continue with the payments. But they cannot get one penny of assistance under the Government’s scheme. Those people still under the age of 36 years who have been prepared to scrape along for many years trying to provide a home for themselves and their children are unable to get any help under the scheme. Then we have another section of the community that is being unfairly treated by the Government. These are the people who, by the nature of their employment, are shifted from place to place and do not get a permanent place of residence until they have reached middle age. Because of the age limit in this scheme, when such people have been transferred to a place where they can take up permanent residence the Government says: “ You cannot get any assistance because you have reached the age of 36 years.” I suggest to the Minister that many points in the Government’s scheme need revision.
– The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) gave the impression that the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in his policy speech virtually promised to give £250 to everybody - to people of all ages, shapes and sizes, without any conditions. It is advisable, therefore, to remind the Committee of what the Prime Minister said in his policy speech. He said that the grant would be given to young married persons up to the age of 35 years who had saved for not less than three years in an identifiable account. They were promised a grant of £1 for every £3 they had saved, up to a maximum of £750 of savings. During the election campaign, this promise was extended to include as savings, money invested in land upon which their home was to be built. These were the terms of the Government’s promise, and the Homes Savings Grant Act, as passed by the Parliament, widened the electoral promise in many significant respects. The Act was not introduced with the idea that it would be the be all and end all of housing and that it would solve all housing problems in Australia. It was introduced to bring about a new pattern, particularly on the part of young persons leaving school, whose earnings often are quite high. It was introduced to induce in such people a habit of saving for a home so that, later, when they married and were therefore in a less favorable position to save, they would have saved already the necessary deposit to enable them to own their own home.
The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hallett) asked me to look again at the provision for war service homes in relation to the building of houses on farms, Sir. I shall certainly look at the matter again if the honorable member will see me and inform me precisely what he has in mind. The basic difficulty, of course, is that adequate security must .be obtained before a loan can be made. This is difficult where farmers have already mortgaged their land to some other lending institution. The War Service Homes Act, for the protection of the taxpayer, very properly insists on a first mortgage. However, I have an open mind and I shall be happy to consider the matter again and see whether there are ways and means by which the problem can be overcome.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) raised what he said were a number of anomalies. He mentioned in particular homes savings grants for houses being purchased under contracts of sale. He referred especially to war service homes being purchased by this means. This aspect is of more general application and is not confined just to war service homes The difficulty ocasioned by contracts of sale is that, in the event of default, if the person to whom the grant has been given is not protected the benefit of the grant may easily pass to the vendor instead of remaining with the person who was intended to benefit. These problems are at present being considered, and we are trying to find ways and means of overcoming them. The basic reason for the present approach is the need to protect the person who receives the grant. It would be most undesirable if, in the event of default, the grant were pocketed by the vendor.
The honorable member also mentioned two other matters about which I have already given some information. He asked whether a couple could quality for a homes savings grant when the savings were in fact made by one partner who was over 36 years of age or when the savings of a partner under that age had gone into the account of the other partner who was aged more than 36. This is a difficult situation.
The whole purpose of the scheme would be defeated if the holders of sole accounts, being above the age limit, could convey the benefit to their younger partners. If there is a joint account, on the other hand, half the savings in the joint account are attributable to the person under 36, provided he or she is otherwise qualified.
The honorable member also made a valid point about the shortage of houses for rental. Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the States, according to their own wishes, may provide houses for rental rather than for sale. In fact, however, they have chosen to do this only to a limited degree, and understandably so, because the role of landlord is extremely difficult for a government, as for private individuals. The expenses and difficulties of administering rental housing are considerable. The honorable member also made the point that in New South Wales restrictions imposed on letting had been removed, and rentals of new premises not previously let had been decontrolled for some years. The trouble is the whole atmosphere of rent control. The landlord and tenant legislation in New South Wales and, to a lesser degree, in other states, has produced an atmosphere of insecurity for landlords. Anyone who contemplates investing in housing for letting sees around him many glaring instances in which property, by legislation, has virtually been transferred from the landlord to the tenant. Some tenants have sub-let at very high rentals and, in fact, are conducting rackets at the expense of both the sub-tenants and the landlords. In this kind of atmosphere, one cannot expect the private investor to provide houses for letting.
The honorable member for Barton also touched on the waiting lists of people seeking houses from the State Housing authorities. Here, it is necessary to inject a note of caution. In many instances, these lists are not pruned at any time. They are not reviewed regularly. In many instances, no means test is imposed. People with their names on these waiting lists often are merely seeking cheaper houses. Many of them obtain other accommodation and fail to remove their names from the waiting lists. So these lists have to be regarded with a considerable degree of reservation. That is not to say, of course, that they are not much too long. However, the situation varies from State to State. Some States have done a relatively better job in housing than others have done. South Australia, for instance, has probably come very much nearer to solving its housing problems than any other Slate has done, despite its great growth in population.
The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Nixon) asked me to have a look at United States legislation relating to the provision of farm dwellings. I shall certainly examine it. The potential difficulty, of course, is a constitutional one. The Commonwealth has no effective power to lend money to individuals for housing purposes. We can insure other people who lend their money. In fact, legislation for this purpose is now in course of preparation. Unfortunately, the argument used by the honorable member is not valid. He pointed out that the Commonwealth already provides war service homes and homes for the aged. This is done under two specific powers. Homes for the aged are provided under the Commonwealth’s social services powers and war service homes under our repatriation and defence powers. So the position is rather different.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) discussed war service homes at considerable length. He dealt mainly with three matters - the waiting period for the purchase of houses that are not new, the inadequate maximum amount of loan, and the taking over of existing mortgages by the War Service Homes Division. It is necessary, Sir, for me to remind the honorable member that any change would involve the expenditure of a great deal of money. Nearly 20 years after the last war, the Commonwealth is still providing £35 million per annum for war service homes. It would cost about £16 million to eliminate the waiting period for advances for the purchase of used houses. If the Commonwealth were to provide another £15 million or £16 million the waiting period could, of course, be eliminated. But that would require another contribution from the taxpayer, and if the taxpayer were asked to provide such an additional amount he would be entitled to ask: “ What other fields are there in which an equivalent amount of public money could be spent? “ There is some kind of limitation on all these avenues of expenditure, but I believe that the £35 million per annum that is being provided is fairly generous. The honorable member also suggested that the maximum amount of a loan, £3,500, is inadequate, but to increase it would again require extra money. It is no use bandying these suggestions around as if they could be implemented without the taxpayer being called to account in any way.
The honorable member for Bass also made a point about existing mortgages being taken over by the War Service Homes Division. Provision for the transfer of such mortgages was eliminated in 1951 for the simple reason that in most cases persons who had negotiated such mortgages already had homes, and the provision under which the War Service Homes Division took over such mortgages was costing at that time £6 million a year. It is estimated that at the present time a restoration of the scheme would cost the War Service Homes Division another £10 million a year, and it would cost about £40 million to eliminate the arrears once this class of persons became eligible, for assistance.
What is wrapped up in the suggestions of the honorable member for Bass is expenditure of very many more tens of millions of pounds by the War Service Homes Division. The acceptance of the honorable member’s suggestions might be desirable, but we must remember that financial pressure is brought to bear on the War Service Homes Division for the simple reason that it provides by far the cheapest and most easily obtained loans in the country, with an interest rate of 3i per cent, and a repayment period of 45 years, or 50 years for widows. The person who transacts business and offers the most generous rates always tends to have the longest queue of applicants. It must be borne in mind that all the problems connected with war service homes revolve around, first, the provision of money, and, secondly, the determination of priorities for different groups and different demands.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair) said that there were delays in the payment of money by the War Service Homes Division. There is a delay - not of 20 months as the honorable member for Bass said, but of 17 months - in the provision of finance for the purchase of used houses. This is unfortunate and I have already pointed to the causes. But in the case o’ new houses or houses being built we normally meet requests virtually on de mand. I find it difficult to understand how delays have occurred in the particular cases mentioned, unless, of course, there were pre-arranged mortgages or some arrangements of a similar kind. Delays often occur because of hold-ups of legal documents or surveys or something of that kind, but I can say that on the whole the War Service Homes Division makes progress payments for new houses that it is financing, and I shall’ be very pleased if the honorable member for New England will bring to my attention individual cases in which delays have occurred, because we will certainly look into the causes very closely.
The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) made a number of points about the homes savings grant scheme. I must remind the honorable member and others once more that it is not necessary to save £750 within three years to gain the benefit of this scheme. The savings may be spread over any number of years, three years being merely the minimum period of time. The money could be saved over ten years or even a longer period. The amount of £750 is stated only as the maximum amount which will attract a grant. In fact the average amount being paid out in grants under this scheme is less than £250. The scheme is of use to anyone who has saved for at least three years and who has saved any amount of money at all over that period. Such a person gets £1 for every £3 saved. The scheme specifically provides a reward for saving and it encourages the making available of more money in the community for housing. It must be looked at in that light and not as a sort of be all and end all for all our housing problems.
The honorable member for Hughes mentioned the difference in the provisions governing those who had owned a house overseas before coming to Australia and those in Australia who had owned a house here. This scheme must look at individual citizens on the basis that they are all Australians and on the basis of what has happened in Australia. We cannot take into account houses that persons may have owned in other parts of the world. There may be all sorts of reasons why persons have owned houses in other countries before coming to Australia. What we must look at is the situation of such persons in
Australia and we must try to treat everybody equally. It has also been asked why Australian citizenship is not required in order for persons to qualify under the scheme. It is unreasonable to expect a person to wait five years for a giant, as he would have to do if Australian citizenship were made a requirement, while others in the community can get the benefit after three years. Behind this legislation has been a desire to treat newcomers and existing citizens on the same basis as far as it is practically possible to do so.
The honorable member for Hughes also made the point that the Commonwealth had rejected a number of claims by the States for specific assistance. It is very easy for the States to say, when confronted with a particular situation, “We will simply go and ask the Commonwealth for so much money in order to carry out our objective “. The States can do this in any circumstances, whether they want the money for the housing of aged persons or any other underprivileged group or any other group in the community. The fact is that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is specially designed to leave with the States the maximum initiative in housing. It is for the States themselves to decide, in considering their loan programmes, what proportion shall be devoted to housing. The Commonwealth does not lay down any amount in respect of any of the States, and the States use varying proportions of their money for housing. This is money provided at a lower rate of interest than applies in the case of ordinary loans. It is subsidised by the Commonwealth and the States can apply it as they see fit according to their individual assessments of their situations. The rental rebate system which applied in earlier times was abandoned in favour of a cut rate of interest which gave the States greater initiative.
The statement of the honorable member for Hughes that these homes savings grants of £250 had resulted in rises in the prices of blocks of land of £250-1 do not think I am misrepresenting him - is quite absurd. I have seen many statements to this effect, but the fact is that land prices were rising long before this scheme came into operation and unfortunately it seems likely that they will continue to do so. But the fact remains that this grant of £250 is important in the context of the deposit that purchasers have to put down in order to acquire homes in the first place.
The honorable member for Hughes also referred to money that is being provided for housing members of the armed Services - a most essential activity at the present time. I remind the honorable member that throughout the operation of the various Commonwealth and State Housing Agreements there has been a provision that tha Commonwealth may ask the States to set set aside 5 per cent, of the amount provided, which would be matched by the Commonwealth, and in fact the Commonwealth this year is providing extra money, over and above that which would be available under the provision I have just referred to, in order to ensure the carrying out of its programme.
The honorable member also referred to the shortage of tradesmen and what we are doing about it. As everybody knows, the shortage of skilled building tradesmen is a very difficult problem. The Government is certainly doing what it can to increase the number of apprentices by subsidising apprentices who live away from home. It has also tried to establish an adult training scheme. Whatever is thought of such a scheme, it is one means of helping to improve the standards of tradesmen working in the building trade. In fact the problem of the shortage of tradesmen is also being overcome in other ways. Fewer tradesmen are being used because many more process workers are employed on a limited range of functions, particularly on the larger building projects. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Opperman) is doing his best to encourage as many skilled building tradesmen as can be found to come to Australia. The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor), who opened this discussion, suggested that we on this side of the chamber would claim that all housing problems were solved and that all was well in the land. This, of course, is logically quite false. If the Commonwealth Government believed that all was well in the field of housing it would hardly have established a department especially to deal with the problem, and it would certainly not at this stage be bringing in new schemes. We have already brought in one scheme and we are about to bring in another, so it is certainly not true that this Government takes, in any degree, a complacent view of the housing situation.
The Government is acutely conscious that the demand for housing will increase very much in the last half of this decade. We have still a backlog to catch up and the amount of housing we can provide will influence very markedly the number and quality of immigrants that we can attract to Australia. Any suggestion of complacency or that we think there is a lack of problems in this regard would be quite misplaced. It is not true that, as the honorable member for Gellibrand said, the backlog of housing is increasing. It is not increasing. If honorable members look at the details revealed by the last two censuses they will see that there has been a steady improvement.
I believe I am right in saying that the honorable member for Gellibrand mentioned that there has been a shortage of labour for house building. Unfortunately over the whole of Australia there is a great shortage of building labour, particularly skilled labour. This shortage occurs in varying degrees in different States. What is true within one district of a State may not nececsarily be true in another district. That is always liable to be the situation but, overall, the big limitation now is certainly that the number of houses for which approvals have been granted will exceed the supply of labour available. We certainly cannot say that we still have pools of labour, except in odd places, which can be brought in to build still more houses. I wish this were so, but it is not. The honorable member asked about land sales in Canberra. Land sales in Canberra, and building arrangements in Canberra, come under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. I suggest that when the estimates for that Department are before the Committee the honorable member raise the subject at that point.
The honorable member for Gellibrand pointed out also, I think rightly, that housing, for rental, apart from housing commission houses, was very scarce. I have said before that this, unfortunately, is a fact. It will take a long time to introduce a new atmosphere in which investors will provide houses for letting. Before they do so there must be confidence that the laws of the States will treat them justly and preserve their reasonable property interests.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Social Services.
Proposed expenditure, £9,087,000.
Proposed expenditure, £120,678,000.
.- I wish to speak on repatriation and, in particular, the items referred to in Division No. 446 - War and Service Pensions and Allowances. The Committee will note that in 1963-64 the appropriation for pensions and allowances for incapacitated ex-servicemen and their dependants was £56,179,000. The amount expended was £55,754,254. The interesting thing about this is that for 1964-65 it is estimated that only £55,690,000 will be required for this purpose. This seems to indicate that there is a fall-off and that less money will be required than previously for pensions. I thought that as exservicemen grew older their needs were greater. I did not think we had reached the peak where the graph would be going downhill and the amount required each year would be less, but this is what appears in Division No. 446.
It has been pointed out to me that the annual report of the Repatriation Commission for 1963-64 at page 33 seems to show a similarity between Victoria and New South Wales in the number of claims accepted throughout the year. If honorable members look through the figures they will see that for those two States the figures approximate each other. It will be noted in Table 11 that 2,307 appeals were accepted and 14,988 were rejected. In New South Wales, 994 appeals were accepted and 6,039 were rejected. The percentage of rejections is about the same as in Victoria where 536 appeals were accepted and 4,328 were rejected. In Table 12, which lists the numbers of appeals to entitlement appeal tribunals, it will be seen that throughout Australia ex-servicemen from the 1914 war - this is most important - succeeded in only 332 appeals and had their appeals rejected in 2,320 cases. They ore the figures for the whole of Australia and represent elderly diggers who have been before the tribunal thinking that they have had a just cause. But as I said, only 332 appeals were accepted and 2,320 were rejected. For the 1939 war, appeals by 1,203 ex-servicemen were allowed and 5,896 were rejected. For the Korea-Malaya operations, 20 appeals were accepted and 95 were rejected.
Ti honorable members look at the figures for the individual States they will find that 102 appeals by ex-servicemen of the 1914 war were accepted and 861 were rejected in New South Wales. In Victoria the proportion was very much the same - 110 appeals were accepted and 835 were rejected. If honorable members go down through the whole of these figures they will find that the proportions for New South Wales and Victoria approximate each other. That is a rather odd coincidence. I would not like to suggest that there is some understanding by which only a certain number will be accepted each year.
– Only a percentage.
– Yes, that only a percentage will be accepted, and only enough to make up the amount that has been put aside each year in the Estimates. It is amazing that the figures in respect of New South Wales and Victoria are so similar. I hope that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) will be able to throw some light on this matter. I am amazed that so many claims by old and ailing exservicemen of the First World War should be refused by repatriation Tribunals.
I wish to refer now to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, which was before the Parliament not long ago. Twenty-four years have elapsed since this legislation was first enacted, but in that time it has not been greatly improved. The Act is intended to provide benefits for Merchant Navy personnel who served in a theatre of war during the last war. The Act contains several anomalies. It has been pointed out that the gun on a Merchant Navy vessel could be manned by one member of the Navy and six members of the Merchant Navy. Those six Merchant Navy men would not receive the same benefits now as are received by the bluejacket who was a member of the Navy. Many Merchant Navy men suffer the same disabilities as are suffered by men who serve in the Army, Navy or Air Force but they do not receive the benefits that are provided for former members of the Services.
When war broke out the present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) was leading the Government. Merchant seamen were immediately classed as protected persons, and rightly so. They were not able to join the Services but in their calling they endured the same privations and faced the same dangers as members of the Services; but now, in their hour of need, they cannot obtain the treatment that is given to former members of the Services. Former members of the Air Force Reserve are in a similar situation. Those men who flew the transports in New Guinea are not entitled to the full benefits of the Repatriation Act. I know that the Minister has said that he will look further into this matter. I hope that he will do something for these people. We are told that we live in grim and urgent times. Anything could happen. It is up to the Government to get these things in order so that if we go to war again - God forbid that we do - the necessary legislation to provide benefits to people who served in the war will be on the statute book. The only improvements made to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act have been the occasional increases of 5s. a week. This is not good enough.
I make a plea to the Minister for Repatriation about giving the benefit of the doubt in repatriation claims. I would like him to think about multiple and disseminated sclerosis. I know of an ex-serviceman who suffers seriously from sclerosis, but the disease cannot be proved to be war caused. My branch of the Returned Servicemen’s League wants something done about this matter but it has not been able to make much progress. It is thought that the disease may be caused by inoculation, but nobody knows for sure. Where a doubt exists the ex-serviceman should get the benefit of the doubt. For the sake of all ex-servicemen I hope that the Minister will do something to have sclerosis accepted as a war caused disease.
I think it is fair to say that the last increase given to repatriation and social service pensioners met with general disgust. I propose to quote from the “Canberra Times “ a report which typifies the reaction of the Press throughout Australia. Under the headlines “Government Showed Lack of Consideration. R.S.L. Protest at Budget’s Pension Rise.” the report reads -
The Commonwealth Government’s 5s. a week pensions increase announced in the Budget was attacked yesterday by both the R.S.L. and the member for the A.C.T., Mr. J. R. Fraser.
The report continues -
In Sydney at a State R.S.L. Congress yesterday delegates unanimously agreed to protest to the Government over the Budget treatment of the 1964 Pension Plan.
The J 964-65 Budget provides for a 10s. rise in the special war pension (T.P.I.) to £14 5s. and a 5s. rise to £6 in the general war widows’ rate.
That is not good enough. The judges of the Arbitration Court have recently said that the economy can stand an increase of £1 in the basic wage. But what has happened to that increase? Prices have run riot. The people who received 5s. a week and at the most 10s. increase in their pensions are asked to pay the same prices for goods as are paid by other people in the community. If they have children they have to rear their children notwithstanding their meagre incomes. This is almost impossible. Mrs. Vasey - I know she is a thorn in the side of the Minister - has said that war widows want the basic wage. She made the statement before Christmas last year. A report in the Melbourne “Age” of 15th Ocober last year reads -
The War Widows’ Guild (Australia) will ask the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) that pensions for war widows with children be raised to at least the level of the basic wage.
Mrs. Vasey referred to the struggle that war widows have in trying to get along on their pensions.
I do not know what happens when these matters are discussed in Cabinet but surely the Minister realises that no widow can get along on the present pension. I hope that he will look into this matter because these people are fed up. The Government should bear in mind what has happened at the last few by-elections held in this country. Unless the Government does something to alleviate the problems of these people it will find itself in trouble when next it goes to the people because pensions have not kept pace with the needs of the people. The people do not seek anything to which they are not justly entitled. All they seek is enough to live on. I hope that the Government will do something about pensions. Not long ago a delegation of blind people - ex-servicemen and recipients of social services - waited on me. Those people pointed out that the only way they may obtain goods from retailers is by giving an order on the telephone. But now that telephone rentals have been increased to as much as £20 a year these people can no longer afford this luxury. I have written to the Postmaster-General about this matter and have asked him to do something for these people, but so far my efforts have not met with success. I hope the Minister will think about the blinded ex-servicemen who are in a similar position and who have to ring up for their needs. I hope that he will look, too, at some of the other things such as funeral benefits which have not been increased for a long time and which need to be brought up to date.
– Order! The honorable members time has expired.
– I am a little disappointed that in this Budget the Government has not seen its way clear to do anything further about the alleviation of the means test on age pensions and widows’ pensions. On the other hand, I look forward with some confidence to the policy which the Government will implement in this regard because I know that a top level Liberal Party committee has been appointed to look into the matter and to suggest ways and means of dealing with the present situation. Whilst I say that I am disappointed that the Government has been unable to do anything at this time, I feel with some confidence that it will be able to do something next time.
There are two reasons why the means test should be alleviated. The first is because it is inequitable and unfair and leads to bad social and psychological consequences. It is not good that pensioners should feel always that they are people whose affairs are open to minute scrutiny by Government inspectors. This is something which robs them of some degree of their dignity. The first reason why the means test should be alleviated, therefore, is that it is inequitable and it has bad psychological consequences.
The second reason is one which should perhaps appeal even more to the Government. The means test, in its broadest sense, is an extravagance which the Australian economy can no longer afford. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, the means test prevents people who would like to work-perhaps part time - from working and using their capacity. In a growing and progressive country like ours, which is and should always be, short of manpower, it is surely idiotic to prevent people who want to work from working. Insofar as the means test prevents people who would like to work from taking employment, the means test is an economic anachronism and is one of the things which are eroding the root of the Australian economy. In this sense, it is an extravagance which we cannot afford. It is high time the Government realised how many of its economic troubles stem from the existence of the means test because the means test still prevents people from saving.
Let us be fair and agree that the merged means test which this Government brought in a few years ago was a great improvement; but also let us remember the number of years for which the basic top limit of £3 10s. a week has stood unchanged while prices were rising and - what is better - while real incomes were rising. The rise in prices is a bad feature and the rise in real incomes is a good feature, and both of these operating together, have tended to make this arbitrary level of £3 10s. a week somewhat out of date. After the suspension of the sitting, I shall have something to say about alternative schemes that could be used to alleviate the position.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was saying that I was hopeful that something would bc done about the means test, particularly in view of the fact that a top level Liberal Party committee is considering it. I believe that the means test in its present form is bad, because it is an extravagance and because it is inequitable. Other countries have arranged to do something about pensions without a means test, and I do not see why Australia should not be capable of working to the same kind of pattern.
The first cost seems high, but on the other hand against this must be set the economic gains through increasing savings and through increasing the workforce. This brings up one other question. Should the abolition be done in gradual stages or should it be done all in one stage? Logically, I suppose you would think of doing it all in one stage, were it not for the fact that if you do that the cost comes in in one block whereas the benefits come in only gradually. Over the long run the benefits will outweigh the cost, but if you do this suddenly then, in the short run, the cost may outweigh the benefits. So it is probably best to work gradually, but in accordance wilh a preconceived plan which does work towards the complete elimination of the means test.
I think there is one specially undesirable feature of the means test with which honorable members will be familiar. By reason of its nature it comes on to the individual not in a graduated way but in one single hit. If your income as computed under the merged means test is over a certain figure you lose 100 per cent, of the pension. It would be far better if we had some graduated scheme of tapering off. This could well be arranged by making pensions taxable income. As honorable members know, income is taxed according to a graduated scale. If this were done, some special rebate would have to be arranged for those people who have no income other than the pension, because I would not for one moment contemplate any scheme which left anybody worse off.
This removal of the means test is not really a hard thing to do; it is something which is fairly simple. There are many and various ways of going about this. It is not a case of not being, able to find the way; it is a case of choosing between the various ways available. One good device is to start by removing the means test for, shall we say, people over 72, 70 or some other named age calculated in terms of what we can afford as the first step, remembering that the cost is all paid straight away but the benefits accumulate only gradually. If you do this, you can start with the age of 70, 72 or at whatever age you might select, and then gradually move the threshold back a year or two so that the exemption age is reduced gradually. You might even combine this with a scheme which is used in other countries and which gives some kind of incentive by giving special concessions to people who do not take the pension until a year or two after the qualifying age. These are all acceptable variants of the scheme. It is a case of looking at them and trying to find out which one best suits our Australian conditions.
Another point I would make is that there are two classes of people to whom special relief should be given. First, there are the people who earn income by working, and since, with our manpower shortage, we want to have people working, these people are surely due for some special consideration. Just as, for example, we do not count in the value of a house in a pensioner’s property, so we might exempt from his income say £2 or £3 a week earned by work, so that in place of the £3 10s. exemption he would have a £5 10s. or £6 10s. exemption, or whatever figure you might find desirable when you looked at the thing in detail. In other words, we exempt from means as assessed a certain amount of earned income.
The other persons who I think deserve special concessions are those who have paid part of their own superannuation, perhaps over their lifetimes. In many cases these people get small incomes- £10 a week or something of this character for a married couple - and this disqualifies them from die pension, so that those who have saved and paid for their superannuation, perhaps into a government fund, are no better off than the people who have enjoyed all their income throughout all their life because they have not been paying superannuation. Now, this is inequitable, and it might be decided that £2 or £3 a week of superannuation which has been paid for in a recognised scheme should not be counted in - should be exempted income for the purposes of the means test. This is another angle of approach. I am giving alternative angles, because there are many ways of approaching the matter.
Another way of course, is to have an insurance fund financed perhaps by a regular payment per capita or a regular payment based on income. There is a lot to be said for the idea of the Chifley Government, I think it was, to have a national welfare fund in which these payments could be segregated. This would become a fund for the payment of pensions. The fund could, as I have said, be financed by some kind of special per capita levy or a levy of so much in the pound of income. Whichever way it was done, this would carry the cost of means test-free pensions.
We are in a good position because, as honorable members know, our workforce is increasing and therefore the number of people who are contributing towards the pensions remains greater proportionately than the number of people who are drawing pensions. When you have an increasing base in your workforce you get this desirable result, which gives you some manoeuvring room. We do not want to think so much in terms of the total cost of doing this or that for pensioners; we want to think of it as a percentage of the gross national product or some other relevant figure. As I have said, when you look at the fact that the base of our economy is expanding so that the people who are paying in in the lower age groups are proportionately greater than the number of people who are drawing out in the upper age groups, the thing becomes technically much easier to handle.
Let me just reiterate that there are many ways in which this could be approached. The important thing is that something should be done. This is something that I feel very strongly about. Even before I came into this Parliament I was advocating this, and ever since I have been in this Parliament I have advocated it. It is a matter of great gratification to me that the Liberal Party, at its top level, is now tackling this problem seriously. I hope that its deliberations will be fruitful and I do hope that by the time the next Budget is brought down we will be seeing some real and constructive move made by this Government for the alleviation of the means test as a preliminary to abolishing it altogether in accordance with some planned programme.
.- It was rather interesting to hear the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) because, after all, it is ten years since the means test was increased from £3 10s so that shows that very little is being done by this Government and there does not seem to be any indication, as far as I can see, that anything will be done. A couple of weeks ago a bill to amend the Social Services Act was before this chamber and many honorable members availed themselves of the opportunity of expressing views on those matters or sections of the Act which were up for amendment. However, on that occasion time did not permit us to deal with several other items of social services which the Government has failed to adjust and which we feel are very important items.
Therefore, 1 wish to take this opportunity of dealing with at least a few of the items which we feel require early attention.
In the first place I want to refer to the unemployment and sickness benefits. This Government claims that it has unemployment under control and that there is work available for anybody who wants to work and is capable of working. If this is so, then surely the Government should also be prepared to ensure that unemployment payments are sufficient adequately to support claimants and the families of those persons for whom, unfortunately, the officers of the Department of Social Services are unable to find suitable employment and who cannot, themselves, find employment. Yet we find that those people who, according to this Government it is impossible to place in employment, are still trying to exist on the very paltry amount provided under the Social Services Act. The payment at present is only £4 2s. 6d. a week for an adult or for a married person under the age of 21 years. Ah unmarried person in the 18 to 21 years group receives the small amount of £2 7s. 6d. a week and the person in the 16 to 18 years group receives the minute amount of £1 15s. a week. The dependant spouse of a sick or unemployed person receives £3 a week and there is an amount of 15s. a week for each dependant child under 16.
These payments show a very extraordinary position when they are related to certain other social service or pension provisions which Government supporters have applauded and claimed were just and equitable. Surely every honorable member must agree that £4 2s. 6d. is nowhere near sufficient for an adult person to exist upon under existing costs of living. If any honorable member on the Government side does consider that £4 2s. 6d. is sufficient for them to live on, then I hope he will stand in his place and say so.
However, apart from that, let us compare the payments for the sick and unemployed persons with the payments for single and married aged and invalid pensioners. As everyone knows, a single aged or invalid pensioner receives 10s. a week more than does the married pensioner whose wife either receives a pension herself or receives the £3 allowance, which is the same as the allowance paid to the dependant spouse of a sick or unemployed person. But the unemployed or sick person receives the same amount, no matter whether he is single or married, of £4 2s. 6d. a week.
Just at this stage I do not wish to argue whether that amount is right or whether it is wrong but at least the Government should be consistent. If the Government intends leaving the payments the same for the married and single unemployed or sick then k should be prepared to raise the amount of the pension for the married aged and invalid person to the same rate as for the single person. If, on the other band, the Government feels that the age and invalid pensioner rates are what they should be, then it should also increase the amount of unemployment or sickness benefit for the single person to an amount higher than is paid to the married person. Surely it must be one or the other. If it is correct for one section then it should be correct for the other.
There is another point I want to raise and that is in regard to those unemployed or sick persons in the 18 to 21 years age group. Right from 1945 when the Labour Government introduced the legislation up to the latter part of 1962, the amount paid to a single person aged 18 to 21 years was the same as that paid to the spouse of an unemployed or sick person, which was £1 from 1945 to 1952, £2 from 1952 to 1957 and £2 7s. 6d. from 1957 to 1962. In 1962 the Government increased the spouse allowance to £3 but completely ignored the single person in the 18 to 21 years age group with the result that we now have the ridiculous position of a man almost 21 years old receiving 12s. 6d. per week less than a wife - £2 7s. 6d. for a single man and £7 2s. 6d. for a married couple. This is completely contradictory to the Government’s view in relation to age and invalid pensioners. The relationship between the payments for persons from 16 to 18 years of age and the payment for a wife remained the same from 1945 to 1957. From 1957 to 1962 this relationship was upset to the extent of 7d. In 1957 the amount was raised to £1 15s. a week when, to retain the relationship, it should have been £1 15s. 7d. But in 1962 when the spouse allowance was raised to £3 and the rate for single persons below 21 years of age was left unaltered the relationship was completely upset. Today, to retain the relationship which applied for so long, the payment to a single person between 18 and 21 years should be increased by 12s. 6d. to £3 and the payment to the person in the 16 to 18 years group should be increased by 10s. to £2 5s. But it goes much further than that. Even if £4 2s. 6d. a week for adults were considered to be sufficient, the spouse allowance, to keep the same relationship as it had when the payments were first introduced by Labour in 1945, should be £3 2s. 6d. and, therefore, the 18 to 21 years group should also receive £3 2s. 6d. and the 16 to 18 years group should receive £2 7s. per week. So even if £4 2s. 6d. for adults were sufficient - and I am sure we will all agree it is nowhere near sufficient - the Government is still denying the wife 2s. 6d. a week, denying people in the 18 to 21 years group 15s. a week and denying 12s. a week to those in the 16 to 18 years group. This fact is further proof that the Australian Labour Party was on very firm ground when we asked for a complete review of all social service payments during the debate on the amendments to the Act.
The next matter I wish to raise is in regard to aged persons’ homes. The point I want to deal with is that under the Aged Persons Homes Act local government authorities are not eligible to operate as organisations for carrying out the purpose of the Act. Section 3 (1.) of the Aged Persons Homes Act reads -
The purpose of this Act is to encourage and assist the provision of suitable homes for aged persons, and in particular homes at which aged persons may reside in conditions approaching as nearly as possible normal domestic life, and, in the case of married people, with proper regard to the companionship of husband and wife.
Section 5 (3.) of the Act provides -
An organisation conducted or controlled by, or by persons appointed by, the Government of the Commonwealth or of a State or a local governing body established under the law of a State, is not eligible for assistance under this Act.
This means, as I see it anyway, that a local governing authority cannot receive assistance from the Commonwealth to build pensioner homes or units in the district over which it operates.
The eligible organisations to receive the assistance under the Act are a religious organisation, an organisation the principle objects of which are charitable or benevolent, or an organisation of former members of the defence forces established in every State or a State branch of such an organisa tion. In many country places there is no resident minister of religion who could be the one expected to lead a religious organisation. Church services may be held only once a fortnight or once a month. The members of religious organisations do not meet as frequently as they would be required to meet if they were to carry out this purpose. In those places it is most unlikely that any charitable or benevolent organisatio will be operating. By the same token, there is not likely to be a branch of the Returned Servicemen’s League or of any other such organisation - at least, not in sufficient strength to be able to carry out the requirements, such as collecting moneys from the residents of the district in order to obtain the Commonwealth grant.
Therefore, the restriction - in fact, the complete rejection - of local governing authorities as participating organisations limits very considerably what could be done for aged people in smaller country centres. In most country towns there are aged people. Some of them are living in conditions that are completely unsatisfactory to themselves and to the local governing authorities. But, because those people have no finance, they cannot do anything about providing for themselves. The local authority, in most if not all cases, would be only too pleased to interest itself in aged persons’ homes and to become an organising body for the purpose of raising funds and making all the necessary arrangements. But, as the Act stands at the present time, they are not able to do that.
An amendment of the Act to allow a local governing authority to be a participating organisation would not necessarily mean that all local governing authorities would have to participate; nor would it mean that religious organisations, the R.S.L. or other benevolent organisations would be forced out of the field. It would simply mean that a local governing authority, if it saw fit and considered that it was necessary, could step in and assist in the welfare of the aged people of its district. But, while the Act remains as it is, it simply denies many aged people the decent accommodation which they could receive. I ask the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is at the table, to consider that section of the Act because, if local governing authorities were given the opportunity to participate in the scheme, I am sure that many aged people, particularly in country areas, would benefit.
The next matter that I raise is the need for a provision granting a right of appeal to be inserted in the Social Services Act. This is a very necessary provision for a person claiming an invalid pension whose claim is rejected by the referee doctor although his own doctor, who perhaps has been treating him all or most of his life, is adamant that a pension should be paid. The referee doctor, who comes into the district or is a resident of the district, never may previously have had anything to do with the applicant for the pension, but he rejects the application. Such a case was brought to my notice recently. The doctor who had been treating the applicant practically all of her life was quite certain that, because of her nervous condition and the effect that the illness of her invalid pensioner husband was having on her, she also should receive a pension. He put in a certificate accordingly. The referee doctor, who had never seen this person before in his life, rejected her application. I took the matter up and it was agreed that she would go back to the referee doctor. But, naturally, he gave the same opinion as he had given previously. One would not expect him to alter his opinion unless there was some change of circumstance. So, that person’s application has been rejected.
I believe that in a case such as that there should be an appeal tribunal to which the applicant could submit his case. I suggest to the Minister that in a case of sickness the position is similar. A person’s claim can be rejected on a doctor’s certificate although the person honestly feels that he is not able to work. In many country areas there is only one doctor anyway, and if he refuses to give a supporting certificate a person has no chance of receiving the benefit. In those cases there should be an appeal tribunal. Such a tribunal would be of benefit when a person feels that he is much worse than he really is. His condition could be improved.
Another matter to which I wish to refer briefly is the funeral benefit which was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943 at the rate of £10. At that time the basic wage was £4 16s. Today the basic wage is £15 8s., but the funeral benefit remains at £10. The basic wage has increased more than threefold, and so, no doubt, have funeral costs. In 1943, £10 was of real benefit in meeting the cost of the funeral of an age or invalid pensioner. It helped considerably to give a pensioner a decent funeral as a last token of respect. Today, when a funeral costs about £70 or £80, the £10 does not mean a thing. If members of this Government believe in the benefit, they should increase it to an amount comparable with its value in 1943. If members of the Government do not believe in the benefit, they should have the courage to abolish it. Another matter to which I wished to refer was the permissible income of £3 10s. a week, but, as my time has expired, I shall be unable to do so.
.- Prior to the speech of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard), we heard another rabble-rousing speech from the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). In his speeches he endeavours to score off his mates, off his party, off anyone at all, as long as it suits the hair-brained ideas which he expresses in this chamber from time to time. I want to refer to his remarks about the abolition of the means test. Let me quote from the document entitled “ Rt. Hon. R. G. Menzies, K.C., M.P. - Joint Opposition Policy - 1949”. Let us see for how long members of the Liberal Party and the Government have been talking about the abolition of the means test. The honorable member for Mackellar will remember that this very important document, at page 22, says -
Australia still needs a contributory system ot national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test.
Does the honorable member remember that? That was said in 1949 - 15 years ago. Yet he is still talking about the abolition of the means test. The policy speech continues -
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem-
The honorable member for Mackellar says that the Government is still doing that-
Not one word of that promise has been carried out. The honorable member for Mackellar still talks about what the Government will do with regard to the complete abolition of the means test. All that I can say is that his remarks tonight were typical of the speeches that we hear from time to time from him and other members of the Government parties who continually talk about the abolition of the means test.
I want to refer to a few items that come under the administration of the Department of Social Services. Once before in this chamber I referred to what I regarded as the bad deal and poor treatment meted out to deserted wives and the wives of persons who are in prison. I referred to the fact that they have to wait for six months before receiving the widow’s pension. The only reply given by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) when I raised this question was that in 1942 a Socialist government introduced the delay of six months in respect of deserted wives, and that in 1947 a Socialist government introduced a similar qualifying period of six months in respect of wives of men in prison. All I can say is that the capitalist Government of which the Minister is a member has retained and maintained that anomaly, and it exists in the Act today. Due to the difference between State welfare and Commonwealth welfare, this is a very serious and important problem for these unfortunate women. If their husbands are inmates of a mental institution these women are immediately paid the equivalent of the widow’s pension. So I ask the Minister: Even though a Labour government introduced the qualifying period of six months, some 22 years ago for one class and 17 years ago for the other, after this lapse of time is it not possible for the Government to correct the anomaly and to recast the act so that these women may obtain assistance immediately? 1 have discussed the position of deserted wives with State social welfare officers. They have told me that they keep an eye on these women to make sure that they have definitely been deserted and that when they collect their money each week they sign for it and also sign a statement saying that the whereabouts of their husbands are still not known to them. If State welfare officers can do this, why can the Commonwealth social services officers not do it? Women whose husbands are in prison have no doubt where their husbands are. They do not have to sign a declaration to the effect that their husbands are still in prison. What is the difference between a man in prison and a man in a mental institution when we are considering the maintenance of his wife and family?
In New South Wales a deserted wife receives £7 5s. a fortnight. If she has children and pays rent, she receives an additional £6, making a total of £13 5s. a fortnight. The States have only limited revenue and this is possibly as much assistance as they can give to a woman who has been deserted or whose husband is in prison. We on this side of the Parliament do not agree that the amount now being paid to widows by the Commonwealth is sufficient. They should receive more so that they can maintain themselves and their children at a much better standard. A woman with two children would receive £13 5s. a fortnight from the State Government. If she was entitled to receive anything under the Commonwealth legislation, she would receive £20, assuming that she was paying rent and would be entitled to £1 a fortnight supplementary assistance. I again appeal to the Minister to correct the anomaly. The Government surely cannot excuse itself for continuing the anomaly by saying that a Labor government imposed the restriction in 1942 and 1947. I ask the Minister to give to deserted wives and wives whose husbands are in prison the same assistance as that given to the wife of a patient in a mental institution. Immediately a man enters a mental institution his wife is entitled to the equivalent of the A class widow’s pension. 1 want to refer to anomalies in the payment of unemployment and sickness benefits, and I shall deal with the sickness benefit first. A person who is ill has 13 weeks in which to submit an application for sickness benefit. An application submitted after 13 weeks takes effect only from the day on which it is submitted, unless there are extenuating circumstances. Knowing the way in which the Social Services Act is administered, I should think that a person who submitted an application after 13 weeks would need a very strong case before payment was made retrospective. This is an anomaly in the social services legislation. People who are entitled to sickness benefit may not know of this provision and may not make a claim until 14 weeks have elapsed. These people are not entitled to anything if they have returned to work when they submit their claim. The person who applies for sickness benefit after 12 weeks receives payment for 12 weeks, but the person who applies, say, after 14 weeks is not entitled to any retrospective payment. I consider that this is a serious anomaly and I hope that the Minister will try to correct it.
We have a large number of unemployed juniors in the community at present. At 31st January of this year 22,896 junior females were unemployed. At 28th February, 19,028 were unemployed. The figure has now been reduced to 10.157. I would like to mention two cases that have been brought to my attention. A man whose daughter was 16 years of age was unable to obtain employment for her and sent her to a business college. Another man in a similar position sent his daughter to a technical college. Both girls were being taught shorthand and typing. Their applications for unemployment benefit were refused because they were not available for full time employment.
The anomaly here arises in this way: A constituent of mine found that his 16 years old unemployed daughter was not entitled to unemployment benefit because she was not available for full time employment, although she had applied in writing for numerous positions. She spent the whole of her time on Saturday mornings visiting various employers seeking employment. We should not overlook the fact that she was attending technical college for one purpose only, and that was to obtain skills that would widen her field of employment. As a shorthand typist she would have a much better chance of obtaining employment than she would if she did not have these skills. When her father tried to obtain endowment for her he found that she was- not eligible because she was over 16 years of age and was not a full time student. When he claimed a dependant’s allowance in respect of his daughter on his income tax return he found that no deduction was allowed for her because she was over 16 years of age and was not a full time student. I ask the Minister to examine these anomalies. In a few months thousands of children will be leaving school and seeking employment. They will find that the restrictions I have mentioned apply to them.
I want to deal with one further feature of unemployment benefit. A strike is at present taking place at General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd. A considerable number of workers are on strike and others have been stood down. I ask the Minister: Is it not a fact that the workers who were stood down in Adelaide and Sydney have been advised that they will not be paid unemployment benefit because members of their union are basically responsible for the strike that started in Victoria? Not only is the Government encouraging the company to oppose the union and not to agree to the union’s demand for a wage increase but it is also refusing to pay unemployment benefit to workers who have been stood down. The company is well able to meet the union’s demand for a wage increase. Since 1953 it has repatriated to the United States profits amounting to £70,748,000. In addition, its undistributed profits from 1951 to 1963 amount to £73,959,000. Therefore it cannot be argued that the company cannot afford to increase the wages of its employees. But the Government, for some reason best known to itself, is trying to suggest that this strike has been inspired by Communists, that the Corns are behind it, prodding it along. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Birrell) was formerly an official of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation of Australia and he could tell honorable members that there is not one Communist on the Federal Executive or any executive of the Union. Yet the old Communist bogy is thrown up every time the workers make some attempt to better their conditions or to obtain more money. An attempt is made to scare the workers into believing that the strike has been inspired by the Communists.
Since it has been in office the Government has done nothing to control the profits of private enterprise or to restrict the exorbitant profits made by General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd. But once the workers make some move to inprove their conditions the Government encourages the company to oppose the union and to refuse to increase wages. Now the Government has refused to pay unemployment benefit to men and women who have been stood down as a result of the strike in Victoria. In Adelaide, one day after the strike began, 1,000 men were laid off. Before the end of the week, another 7,000 workers were laid off. In Sydney, 1,800 men have now been stood down.
I challenge the Minister for Social Services to tell the Committee that he will direct the officers of the Department of Social Services to pay to the men and women who have been stood down by General Motors-Holden’s Pty. Ltd. the unemployment benefit to which they are entitled. At no time have these workers voted for continuation of the strike or supported it. They are only its victims, though I do not deny that they may hope that their comrades in Victoria will succeed in obtaining the wage increase that they are seeking. I ask the Minister to intimate clearly this evening that he will direct his officers to pay unemployment benefit to these men and women who have been stood down and who have had no say whatsoever in the strike. I hope that the Government will not come down once again on the side of this company by placing the employees in the embarrassing position of being unable to obtain unemployment benefit although they are not on strike.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Mr. Temporary Chairman, I had not meant to rise again, but I do so to say that I take the strongest possible exception to one phrase used by the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones). This is a phrase for which I suggest he owes an apology not so much to me as to the Committee. He described remarks that I had made about helping the pensioners in relation to the means test as a rabble rousing speech. How did the honorable member describe the pensioners? He referred to them as a rabble. This kind of attitude is in line with the usual approach of the soulless socialists on the other side of chamber who regard persons in receipt of pensions nol as men and women but merely as votes to be exploited for their own nasty political purposes.
The honorable member for Newcastle accused me of rabble rousing when I was speaking on behalf of the pensioners and trying to do something to help them. I am proud to be trying to do something for those whom the honorable member has described as a rabble. His phrase is shameful. The pensioners are men and women and they are entitled to the respect of all members of this place, just as anybody else is. Yet honorable members opposite regard them mainly as votes - as something to be exploited. Those who take that attitude are not sincere. In a brief moment, the truth comes out. The honorable member for Newcastle described the pensioners as a rabble. I do not regard them as a rabble, and I suggest that the honorable member ought to apologise to the Committee for so describing them.
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman, first I want to comment on the remarks that have just been made by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). I think that all honorable members who have been listening to this debate will agree that the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) did not describe the pensioners in the way alleged by the honorable member for Mackellar. I suggest that the honorable member for Newcastle, on the contrary, implied that the honorable member for Mackellar was guilty of adopting this attitude towards pensioners, and I suggest that the remarks made by the honorable member for Newcastle had some substance in truth. He pointed out that since 1949 the honorable member for Mackellar has had many opportunities to propose in the Parliament a positive motion designed to help pensioners or, if he thought necessary, to submit a private member’s bill to do something about the means test.
The honorable member for Mackellar knows only too well that in 1949 the present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) - the Leader of the Government that the honorable member has supported since 1949 - promised that within three years the present Government parties, if elected to office, would introduce in this Parliament legislation based on a plan to abolish the means test. That promise has never been honoured. Yet, at the present stage, the honorable member for Mackellar wants to make political capital out of the situation. This is nothing new for him. When we on this side of the chamber, in an attempt to improve the circumstances of pensioners, have proposed amendments to various measures, particularly social services legislation, which is periodically introduced, the honorable member has always voted against our proposals. So I suggest that the remarks made by the honorable member for Newcastle will be accepted as correct by all honorable members on this side of the chamber and certainly by all people outside the Parliament who have some knowledge of the circumstances of the great majority of the pensioners throughout Australia.
I now turn to the estimates for the Repatriation Department. I relate my remarks particularly to applications by exservicemen for the acceptance as war caused of disabilities that they assert are due to their war service. I suppose one may concede, as most honorable members do, that the Repatriation Act of this country is in many respects very generous. Indeed, I suggest that the Australian repatriation system is far superior to schemes that exist in other countries. However, this does not mean that we cannot improve our scheme. I am sure that it can be improved. From time to time, honorable members on this side of the chamber have taken opportunities to point out how our Repatriation Act can be improved. On this occasion, I wish to discuss one or two of the possible improvements that have been mentioned in earlier discussions in the Parliament.
I propose to discuss particularly the acceptance of disabilities as war caused. The rates of pension payable under the Repatriation Act have already been discussed in this Parliament quite recently during the consideration of a measure to amend the Repatriation Act. So I take the opportunity now to discuss matters that, probably, are not so debatable as are the rates of pension, which periodically are discussed here. I think one can concede at the outset that applications for the acceptance of disabilities as war caused are dealt with effectively and considered in a comprehensive manner. I believe that every ex-serviceman who applies for the acceptance of a disability as due to war service is afforded every opportunity to convince the Repatriation Department that the disability is in fact due to war service.
What is the process by which such applications are made and dealt with, Sir? It is simple. First, an ex-serviceman merely asserts that he has a disability that he believes is due to his war service, and he makes the necessary application for it to be accepted as war caused. In due course, his application is investigated by the Depart ment. I have always subscribed to the view, which I believe is commonly held throughout this country, that a very thorough initial investigation is made. First, the applicant is subjected to a thorough medical examination and at that stage he is given every possible opportunity to establish that his disability is due to war service.
Sometimes, it can be shown immediately, by examination of an applicant’s file, that a disability claimed to be due to war service in fact existed during war service. In such cases, the Department usually comes down on the side of the ex-serviceman. It is generally conceded that the Department usually accepts the disability as being due to war service if the applicant’s file shows conclusively that he was treated during his war service for a condition that re-appeared after his discharge. But, in many instances, a serviceman has contracted a condition for which he has not received treatment in a hospital though he may, on many occasions, have reported to a regimental aid post to have it treated. In such cases, the records would not be so comprehensive as if treatment had been given in a military hospital. In these circumstances the condition might not appear on the ex-serviceman’s file, but there would be a distinct possibility that in the immediate post-war years the condition would continue to deteriorate. These, then, are the difficult cases and they are the ones that usually are the subject of appeal from the Repatriation Boards to the Repatriation Commission and ultimately to the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals.
I think most honorable members arc well aware of the procedure in connection with these appeals. One does not doubt the thoroughness with which cases are dealt with initially. One certainly does not doubt the integrity or the sympathy of the various authorities themselves. But we have frequently pointed out in this Parliament that sympathy is not enough. That brings me to the onus of proof provisions of section 47 of the Repatriation Act, which have been the subject of debate in this Parliament on many occasions. We have submitted from this side of the chamber that section 47 is not being applied in the way in which this Parliament originally intended it to be applied.
Before I develop this matter further I should, perhaps, turn to the report of the Repatriation Commission for 1963-64, which showed that of 48,096 applications lodged with the Repatriation Department in all States 41,760 were dealt with. Of these, 19,731 cases were accepted as involving war caused disabilities. In other words, 47 per cent, of the applications submitted to the Department and dealt with were accepted. I think this substantiates my argument that where it can be shown initially that an ex-serviceman has been treated for a disability during his service and that there has been a deterioration in his condition in the post-war years, the application is usually accepted. This probably accounts for the high proportion of these cases that are accepted.
Let me turn now to the appeal authorities. The first appeal is to the Repatriation Commission. It must be fully understood that if an application is rejected by the Repatriation Board the applicant has the right of appeal to the Repatriation Commission. If one looks at the figures in connection with these appeals one sees immediately that the proportion of appellants who succeed is far too small. Referring again to the report for 1963-64 we find that 17,295 cases were dealt with by the Repatriation Commission on appeal, of which 2,307 were accepted. In other words, only 13 per cent, of appeals from the Repatriation Board to the Repatriation Commission succeeded.
Then there is a further right of appeal to the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. I think all honorable members understand the duties of these Tribunals. They are appointed by the Minister for Repatriation, and in Australia today there arc four such Tribunals. Of the appeals rejected by the Repatriation Commission, 14,887 were referred to the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, 1,728 being allowed and 8,311 disallowed. The proportion of appeals accepted by the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals was far greater than the proportion accepted by the Repatriation Commission. But again I submit, as honorable members on this side have submitted on many occasions, that the proportion of appeals accepted by the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals is far smaller than one would expect to have been accepted if the onus of proof provisions of section 47 had been correctly applied. This section clearly lays down that when there is a doubt concerning a case before an Entitlement Appeal Tribunal the Tribunal must give the benefit of the doubt to the ex-serviceman. But unfortunately no appellant ex-serviceman fully understands the case built up against him in the first instance by the Repatriation Board and, in the second instance, by the Repatriation Commission on appeal. Then if the Entitlement Appeal Tribunal dismisses the appeal the ex-serviceman is given no reason for its dismissal. At no time is he told why his application had been dismissed. He is in no position to judge, from the information given to him, whether the onus of proof provisions have in fact been correctly applied.
As I have already stated, we on this side of the Parliament believe that the onus of proof provisions are not being applied in the generous way in which this Parliament originally intended they should be applied. We therefore suggest that a further avenue of appeal should be left open, particularly in matters involving questions of law, to a judge of the High Court of Australia or a Supreme Court of one or other of the States. Then the question of law involved could be dealt with in the same way that an appeal in a compensation case may be dealt with by a judicial authority. The ex-serviceman would then have the right to ascertain the reasons for the rejection of his appeal by the Repatriation Board and the Repatriation Commission. He would be able to present counter arguments. This opportunity has never been available to an ex-serviceman and we believe it has been completely unfair. The appellant has never before had the right to learn why his application or appeal has been dismissed, and we contend therefore that he should have a further right of appeal to a judicial authority.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It is most regrettable that members of the Labour Party should endeavour to exploit pensioners for cheap political purposes. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) delivered a most reasoned and thoughtful speech on the means test, and when Labour Party members criticise that speech it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Under the Labour Government we had probably the most vicious means test that the world has ever seen. If a man had £750 in assets he was not entitled to a pension at all. Now that the merged means test is in operation a single person can have up to £5,000 in assets before he is completely deprived of a pension, provided he has no income other than income from his capital assets. The honorable member for Mackellar pointed out that Australia cannot afford to retain the means test. He pointed out that the present means test represents a penalty on thrift, that it penalises the people who save and who provide capital for the development of this country. This country cannot develop unless we have capital. The choice is between capital from overseas and capital raised within our own country. Capital raised within Australia can be provided only by savings and, therefore, none of our legislation should in any way penalise people who save.
The honorable member for Mackellar in a most thoughtful address pointed out that the present means test does penalise people who save. He was courageous enough to point out the tremendous improvement that has taken place under the present Government. He pointed out that under the merged means test the penally on thrift is only a very small fraction of what it was under Labour. But the honorable member for Mackellar went on to point out that at a time like the present, when there is an acute shortage of labour and we are unable to get electricians and other skilled people in many of our industries, we could employ people who are over the age of retirement. However, at present, if they are employed and earn more than £3 10s. a week pensioners are penalised under the means test. Therefore, the honorable member for Mackellar based his thoughtful address upon the. good of Australia. He pointed out that if this country is to progress at the rate at which we all want it to progress we cannot afford to retain the means test any longer.
I have made so many speeches in this chamber on the need for a contributory plan of national superannuation that I do not propose to bore honorable members with another address on it tonight. Ever since I have been in this place I have advocated, and so long as I remain here I will continue to advocate, a national plan of superannuation on a contributory basis, free of means test.
– Now you are boring us.
– I am not the slightest bit concerned about whether you are bored or not, because there are many hundreds of thousands of Australians who are very interested in the abolition of the means test and in a national plan of superannuation. Under the laws of Australia at the present time we compel civil servants to contribute to national superannuation. If that is good for the civil servants of Australia I say it is good for the ordinary citizen of Australia. In my very long political experience I have never had a civil servant come to me and complain about the amount he has to contribute towards his national superannuation. Many of them have come to me and said: “ Can you urge the Government to allow us to contribute more so that we will receive more in the way of national superannuation?” Every member of this Parliament is compelled by law to contribute a very substantial amount to his own superannuation. I have never heard a member of the Parliament object to paying his contribution. On the other hand, I hear many of them say they would like to contribute more so as to receive more. If we recognise that national superannuation is correct for members of this Parliament, and if it is correct for Commonwealth and State civil servants, why is it wrong for the ordinary citizen? Therefore I believe that, as. the honorable member for Mackellar said, on national grounds we cannot afford to postpone the institution of national superannuation any longer. Everybody in this country should be compelled to contribute to a national superannuation fund from the day that he or she starts work. Everybody in this country should be entitled to national superannuation as of right, free of means test, from the time that he or she reaches the prescribed age until death.
Some most fantastic figures have been put forward by people who wish to cloud the issue. We have been told that it would cost £150 million to abolish all means tests in Australia. I have not heard of any thoughtful person that puts forward that proposition. At the time of the institution of the age pension in 1908 people lived many years less than they live today. Thanks to the great advances in medical science the average expectancy of life today is probably ten years higher than it was in 1908, and for that we are all very grateful. But that very fact makes it completely unrealistic that in any national superannuation plan the present age of retirement should remain.
A few years ago I put forward to the Government a submission, which had been actuarily tested by the best actuaries in Australia, to show that by a contribution of 4d. in the £1 of everybody’s income we could abolish the means test at the age of 70, retaining the present means test for persons under that age. I have not had the figures checked within the last two or three years and since then, of course, the pension has increased substantially. However, national income also has increased substantially, and I venture to say that an actuarial calculation would show today that a contribution of 4d. in the £1 of everybody’s income from the time they started work till the age of 70 would enable the abolition of the means test on pensioners aged 70. We would then retain our present pensions scheme for people under that age. That is inevitable, because once a right has been granted you cannot, and I say you should not, take it away. I would not support anything that took away any rights from those who are already pensioners.
I would say that we need, and need urgently, a national superannuation scheme which will provide from the age of 70 onwards a pension or superannuation free of means test. The result of that would be this: Many people at the age of 70 are quite competent to do a certain amount of work. They may not want to work as long as they worked before, but they want to work. They have very great skills that they could contribute to production in Australia. However, at present on reaching the age of 70 they say: “I have to give up work because if I don’t give up work I will not get the pension “. So they give up work and take the pension, whereas if there were a national superannuation scheme they would be able to continue work and still receive the pension. People would be able to do so much work, and for just so long as they wanted to work. That would increase tremendously the productive capacity of Australia. It is a dreadful economic waste when we are short of labour to discard men at the age of 65, and women at the age of 60, and say: “ Now, provided you give up work you can get the pension, but if you continue in work you cannot get the pension. If you earn more than £3 10s. a week your pension will be affected.” I support a scheme of national superannuation, just as I imagine the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who is interjecting, supports a scheme of superannuation for members of Parliament. The honorable member contributes to the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Fund because he wants superannuation free of means test on his retirement. I support that scheme for members of Parliament, but I support it also for every section of the community. I believe that everybody is entitled to the privileges enjoyed by members of Parliament and civil servants. I have supported this policy ever since I entered Parliament. I will continue to support it. I am confident that one day it will by the law of the land, supported by all intelligent Australians.
.- There is a story circulating that the Liberal Party social services committee in its preBudget discussions asked for three things. It asked first that the pensions increase be made worth while. I believe the committee’s definition of a worth-while increase was 7s. 6d. It asked secondly for the abolition of the means test. Thirdly, it asked that the present Country Party Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) be removed from office. The committee was singularly unsuccessful. It did not score at all.
One was almost impressed by the two Liberal members who have spoken in this debate - the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) - and their humanitarian desire to do away with the means test. I remind honorable members that the Chifley Government was aiming in a different way to abolish the means test when it was removed from office. Most of us will recall that the National Welfare Fund was established by the Chifley Government. We all remember that social welfare contributions were a separate and identifiable amount distinct from taxation revenue. In 1949, when the Chifley Government went out of office, more than £200 million had been accumulated in the fund for the distinct purpose of doing away with the means test as it was applied to many social service benefits. Came 1951, however, and this Government abolished the separate National Welfare Fund. It took the accumulated reserves out of the National Welfare Fund and put them into Consolidated Revenue. That is something honorable members should remember when they talk about removing the means test.
The sincerity of honorable members opposite would be tested if I reminded them that the Government is not doing the fair thing so far as some of the means tests that bear harshly on some people are concerned. An earnest appeal was made to the Government to ease the income means test as it applied to widows. Widows who do not have much money in the bank are restricted to earning no more than £3 10s. a week with 10s. a week extra permissible income in respect of each dependent child. Those amounts have remained unchanged since 1955. The same thing applies to invalid pensioners and age pensioners. Honorable members opposite may say that a single age pensioner may have £5,000 in the bank or a pensioner couple may have £9,760 in the bank before they are excluded from obtaining the pension. That is fine for those pensioners who have a lot of money but the vast majority of pensioners in Australia do not have even £200 in the bank. Nevertheless, they cannot earn more than £3 10s. a week without affecting their pension. This situation has existed since 1955.
When Government supporters talk about removing the means test they should remember that this Government has imposed one of the harshest and nastiest means tests in our whole social services calendar. In 1955 the Government introduced a means test that had not previously existed. Prior to 1955 every pensioner or person entitled to part pension participated in the very important pensioner medical service. Everybody knows how important the pensioner medical service is to people in their old age. It gives them more security than any amount of pension. They feel secure against the overwhelming costs of medical and hospital treatment. But in 1955 the Government said that any person in receipt of £2 or more a week in addition to his pension would be debarred from the pensioner medical service. If a pensioner earned £1 19s. 9d. a week he was entitled to participate in the pensioner medical service - to obtain free medical care, free hospitalisation and, generally speaking, free medicines. But if he earned £2 0s. 3d. he lost the lot. That policy was bad enough in 1955 but how much worse is it today when all costs have risen? Salaries have increased, superannuation payments have increased and pensions have increased. All of those increases serve only to make the means test harsher. Today, as in 1955, a pensioner earning £2 or more a week is not entitled to participate in the pensioner medical service.
The very existence of the means test is a scandal in this country today but the way the means test operates is an even greater scandal. Some people in this Parliament and certainly many outside it will be amazed to know that a couple with £9,000 in the bank, a beautiful home of unlimited value in one of the posh suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne and a brand new fine motor car may participate in the pensioner medical service even though one of them is not eligible for a pension or part pension, but the poor forlorn single pensioner with no money in the bank, no home and no motor car cannot participate in the pensioner medical service because he happens to be earning £2 a week or happens to be in receipt of superannuation or war pension amounting to £2 a week. That is a scandalous state of affairs, but it exists.
Let us take the case of a couple with £9,500 in the bank. They are entitled to a partial pension. Their money is earning them an income. If they put their money into a current account and reduce their income to less than £4 a week they become entitled to receive a pensioner medical card. Their application for the card will take about six weeks to process. When they obtain their card they can put all of their £9,500 back into an interest-earning account or into shares. They may earn as much as 10 per cent, interest on their money. They could have an annual income of £900 from their investment as well as their small pension and they would still be entitled to a pensioner medical card. Another pensioner couple with £400 in the bank may be earning, in addition to their pension, a total of £17 10s. between them. If they can arrange to give up work for five or six weeks they can obtain a pensioner medical card. Having got the card they can resume work for the rest of their lives. But the unfortunate person who is on a pension and getting additional income by way of fixed superannuation or war pension payments is unable to ask the Superannuation Board or the Repatriation Department to reduce his superannuation or pension for five or six weeks so that he may qualify for a pensioner medical card. He cannot do that. Repatriation pensioners, superannuation recipients, people who happen to have some kind of annuity which they are not able to change, and people who cannot afford to go off from work for five or six weeks are saddled for the rest of their lives with the disadvantage of being unable to get a pensioner medical entitlement card, while those privileged people who are able to re-arrange their affairs just temporarily are able to get free medical services, free hospital accommodation and treatment for the rest of their lives. As I said before, those people in receipt of an income of £900 or even a £1,000 a year from investment, who have their palatial home and all the rest of it will enjoy this benefit while the ordinary pensioners of whom I know many - people who are earning perhaps £2 3s. a week above the pension, who do not own their own homes who do not have motor cars, and who have no money in the bank - are denied this privilege so long as the present means test remains. I remind the Committee again that this means test has remained as it is for nine years now. Therefore one may be pardoned for doubting the sincerity of Government members when they get up and advocate the removal of the general means test on pensions.
But this was not the main topic on which I rose to speak. It was one of the things that I wanted to mention, and I think it is well worth talking about because the means test in the pensioner medical service is one of the most hypocritical, most scandalous and most inequitable things in our community today. These people who cannot re-arrange their financial affairs to qualify for a pensioner medical service card are mainly former public servants and others in receipt of superannuation payments. In June of this year, 105,000 pensioners or 13 per cent, of the total number of age, invalid and widow pensioners were debarred from enjoying this service.
To give some idea of how much harsher this means test has become simply because the limit of £2 a week has not been altered, I point out that in the financial year just ended, 86,224 people were granted invalid, age or widows’ pensions. Of those, 27 per cent, were debarred from the pensioner medical service, which indicates that this means test is becoming harsher still in its effect because it is not being altered to meet changing money -values.
I am afraid that I shall have to be content with little more than just mentioning the matter about which I really rose to speak tonight. Once again I make a plea to the Government to do something to help those people and organisations who establish sheltered workshops for disabled persons. In speaking of disabled persons I do not mean only those who are physically disabled; I refer also to the mentally retarded people in our community. Last year, the Parliament passed the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act which provided for the payment of a subsidy to voluntary organisations that were prepared to provide hostel or home accommodation for disabled people employed in sheltered workshops. That was a good measure so far as it went, but it was really only a drop in the ocean.
– Only one organisation benefited.
– I did not think very many would; but the principle was quite all right. What we want to see is the payment of subsidies to such worthwhile organisations in the community as the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association and the Aid Retarded Person organisation which are battling manfully in the community to help rehabilitate those thousands of people who so badly need rehabilitating. Compare the position here with what obtains in America. Let me do that by quoting from an article which appeared in the Brisbane “ Sunday Mail “ of 19th July last. It stated- “ If you want an efficient worker,” Dr. Howard Rusk assured me, “ get the man who is physically handicapped.”
The article goes on -
Rehabilitation of the handicapped in the U.S.A. has been a joint Federal-State programme since a special act of Congress in 1952 co-ordinated the independent and somewhat haphazard work of Government agencies and private organisations.
I have not the time to read the whole of the article, but, towards the end, it states -
Last year, it cost more than 103 million dollars to get 1 10,000 disabled persons back to earning their living.
But these were the returns on the investment: They are now earning at the rate of about 200 million dollars a year.
They will pay around 17 million dollars in
And so the article goes on. This is an investment. It is not just a humanitarian work. It could take off the invalid pension thousands of people, many of whom are now condemned to a lifetime as invalid pensioners. What I am suggesting would do something for them. It would put them into work; it would give them self-respect. Above all, it would help production in the community and even return revenue to the Commonwealth Government.
.- In speaking to the estimates for the Department of Social Services I wish to draw attention to the inadequacy of the present pension rates when considered in conjunction with the rapidly increasing cost of living today. At the moment, protests about rising prices are coming from all over Australia. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is very worried about the position and is saying that, because of the depreciation in the purchasing power of money, it will be necessary almost immediately to make application for another increase in the basic wage. That state of affairs in itself is condemnation of the Government for its failure to take steps to preserve and control the purchasing power of money and to protect the rights and interests of pensioners and other recipients of social service benefits.
We are concerned with retaining the purchasing power of pensions. The important question is not so much what the pension rate is but the actual value of that rate - how much food it will buy, how much transport it will provide, and how far it will go towards paying the rental necessary to keep a home over the heads of pensioners. With the rapid increase in prices of foodstuffs and in transport charges, the fleeting benefit of the recent 5s. increase is disappearing very speedily. It is no exaggeration to say that the pensioners are not one penny better off today as a result of the increase of 5s. a week in their pensions. In fact, it is more accurate to say that they are worse off.
On 16th September, representatives of the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation visited Canberra and stated that the increase would need to be at least 10s. a week if it were to be of any real value to pensioners. They also stressed the urgency of amending the means test applicable to the provision of pensioner medical services entitlement cards. This is a serious question at the moment. More than 100,000 pensioners are ineligible for pensioner medical services entitlement cards because of the application of the severe means test. At the present time, the Act debars anyone who is in receipt of over £2 a week from the benefit of a pensioner medical services entitlement card. In other words, the Government says, in effect, to these people: “ If you receive £2 5s. a week over and above the pension you are in a position to pay for your medical services. If you receive only £2 a week in addition to your pension, you are not considered to be in the financial position to pay for those medical services.” This attitude is illogical, and it is unjust to those 100,000 pensioners who are deprived of the benefit of a medical entitlement card today.
I want now to refer to the invalid pension rate. A married invalid pensioner whose wife is not of pensionable age is greatly disadvantaged. The invalid pensioner receives £5 10s. for himself and his wife receives a £3 allowance, a total income of £8 10s. for a married couple. There is no doubt that the wife of an invalid pensioner should automatically qualify for a pension once her husband becomes an invalid pensioner. Their £8 10s. a week income can be supplemented by not more than £2 a week without affecting the pension, thus making their maximum income £10 10s. a week. This is a grave injustice which should be rectified now, not in the future. We might compare this maximum income of £10 10s. a week with what the ordinary married pensioner couple can receive. They receive £11 a week between them as pension with the right to a further £7 a week income from all sources. This highlights the severe handicap of the invalid pensioner compared with all other pensioners. Moreover, the invalidity of a pensioner inevitably brings with it extra expense, and this again emphasises the urgent need for a review of invalid pensions.
I now refer to the case of a married pensioner couple who each receive £5 10s. a week as compared with the single pensioner who receives £6 a week. To refresh the memory of honorable members I shall quote from my speech on 16th September when discussing the Social Services Bill (No. 2) 1964. At page 1163 of “Hansard” I am reported as saying -
I might also point to the discrimination between married and single pensioners. The Government has made no provision for the hardships that art suffered from time to time when one partner of married couple both of whom are pensioners fa 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.
That portion of my speech is completely accurate and shows up one of the many anomalies in the present Act. To put the record straight I want to refer to an inaccurate statement made by the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) who followed me in that debate. At page 1166 of “ Hansard “ he is reported as saying -
I have just had pointed out to me another inaccuracy 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.
That statement is completely inaccurate, yet the honorable member for Bowman claimed to be correcting an allegedly inaccurate statement by myself. The plain fact is that a married pensioner couple must be permanently separated before the single rates apply to the other partner, so the statement of the honorable member for Bowman is inaccurate and misleading, and far from correcting an alleged inaccuracy of mine ‘he was only showing his ignorance by putting into “ Hansard “ a statement of that nature.
– He should have stuck to medicine.
– He may be learned in other respects, but not on social service requirements. The fact is that a married pensioner couple must be permanently separated in order to be treated as single pensioners. In other words, there must be some severe illness that will bring that situation about. If the illness is of a temporary nature only, and for a given period of time, then the married pensioner couple must each remain on the £5 10s. a week rate. Of that there is no question, because I have checked it with the Department of Social Services and it cannot be refuted.
Labour’s idea is that we should have an economic research programme into all social service recipients. Undoubtedly the legislation today bristles with anomalies. They are small in some respects, but in many cases they are of considerable moment. Take, for instance, the restrictions on the issue of the pensioner medical entitlement card, affecting adversely some 100,000 pensioners. In fact, the figure exceeds 100,000. The Minister will, of course, quote percentage figures in order to bolster his case. He will say that 73 per cent, or thereabouts of pensioners obtain this entitlement. But one must consider this in terms of individuals, not in terms of percentages, because you do not eat percentages and you do not get services from percentages. You must have the real thing. In other words, 100,000 to 105,000 pensioners today are deprived of a medical service to which they should be entitled. There should not be the severe £2 a week means test, because it is unreal and unjust. As I pointed out earlier, a person in receipt of £2 ls. a week is no better off financially than the person in receipt of £2 a week extra income. Therefore, the whole approach to this by the Government is one of unreality and injustice. We appeal to the Government to look again at this position in a more serious light. We heard rumours some weeks ago that there was to be a relaxation of the means test applying to the pensioner medical card and we hoped something would come out of it, but when the Minister replied to the debate it was crystal clear that he had not the slightest intention of relieving the burdens of that large body of pensioners who today suffer because of the means test applicable to this social service.
We hope that the many anomalies will, in due course, be rectified. We know perfectly well that if a Labour government graced the treasury bench the anomalies would be rectified very quickly. We would not have to appeal, as we have been doing over the years, to this adamant Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) who will not budge one inch - one-eighth of an inch - to meet the requests that we direct to him from time to time. It seems that the pensioners of Australia, who today suffer from these anomalies, must await the advent of a Labour government. Of course, if known public opinion is demonstrated as it has been demonstrated in Victoria over the weekend, that day may not be very far off. Let us hope that it will not be.
There are many other aspects of social services that we could talk about, but my colleagues have canvassed many of these points. One that we would all like to talk about is the treatment meted out in respect of unemployment benefit by the Department of Social Services in connection with the industrial dispute at General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd., but time will not permit me to enlarge on this. Many of the speakers from this side have dealt with it fairly fully, consistent with the time at their disposal. But again we see the evidence of the collusion between this Government and the monopoly employer associations when they line themselves up on the side of General Motors-Holden’s and tell that foreign firm, as it is now, not to budge an inch on the industrial demand of the workers of Australia. We see the Government lining up with other interests of course. There is an incident in New South Wales of which we will see more, I hope, in the next few days. Again, the Government will be shown up in its true light as to whether it is representative of the people of this nation or whether it is here to represent the financial monopolies and commercial combines of this country which exploit the people as they have been doing down through the years. I hope that the representations made by members of the Opposition in regard to the social service allocation will be heeded by the Government.
– There are just one or two statements in relation to repatriation that I want to correct. First of all, the honorable member Batman (Mr. Benson), who opened the debate on these estimates, devoted his time to repatriation matters and some of the other matters under the Seamen’s War Pensions ana Allowances Act First of all, he referred to Division No. 446, item 01, which relates to the war and service pensions and allowances estimates for this financial year. He asked why there was a decrease of £64,000 in this particular estimate when he understood that there was an increasing number of persons to receive pensions and that there was to be an increased rate for the year.
Perhaps it may be difficult to understand from the estimates, as they are set out, the reason for this. But, as a matter of accountancy, a number of payments are made throughout the year to people who elect to have the payments made by cheque and these are made as twelve-weekly payments. This particular item is different to that of last year because there are only four of these twelve-weekly payments to be made to the bank during the year as compared with an additional one in the previous year. In other words, five payments were made in the previous financial year and only four will be made in this particular year. That made a variation of £3,305,000. This, of course, was offset to some degree by other payments which are included and have been set out in a certain form and which can be seen in the annual report of the Repatriation Commission. In other words, there is an amount of £160,000, which was the effect of the full year of increases in the rates of pensions and allowances which were provided for in in last year’s Budget. An additional threemonthly period came over into this year. Then there is the provision for nine months of this year for the increases in the present Budget amounting to £2,090,000. There is also provision for an increase in the number of pensioners and for a greater proportion of pensioners to move into a higher bracket in this particular year amounting to £991,000 and making a total of £3,241,000. If you subtract that from the amount I mentioned before it leaves a net deficit of £64,000. So I hope that clears the point so far as the honorable member for Batman is concerned. It is quite an important one. There is a substantial increase in this particular item, not a decrease as the estimates, for accountancy purposes, show.
There was another point raised by the honorable member for Batman which, perhaps, could be a little misleading. I refer to the number of claims and appeals which have been approved over the last 12 months, as shown in the annual report for 1963-64. I think I should refer to these particular figures because they must be taken in total, not section by section. In other words, if you are looking at the picture for the total number of claims which have been approved you must look at the lot, right from those that have been submitted and considered by the Repatriation Boards through the two lines of appeal, and even consider those that have been resubmitted at a later stage to get a proper perspective of the position. I think that, to get the record straight, it would be just as well if I quoted these figures very briefly. Repatriation Boards and the Repatriation Commission dealt with 41,762 new claims. Of these, 19,731 were accepted and 22,031 were rejected. With regard to appeals to the Repatriation Commission against Board decisions there were 17,295 claims and of these 2,307 were allowed and 14,988 rejected. There were 10,543 appeals to War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals against Commission decisions of which 1,555 were allowed and 8,311 were rejected. Those that were referred back to the Commission and allowed numbered 173 and in this figure were 504 claims that were withdrawn, lapsed or outside the jurisdiction of any of these authorities. That made a total of 24,270 claims that were accepted for the year out of the 41,762 original claims. Added to this figure of 24,270 satisfied claimants there were 9,181 who decided not to pursue their right of appeal past either the Board or Commission level and that brought the total to 33,451.
So that, in itself, gives quite a different perspective when you consider that total in relation to the total number of claims that were originally submitted. I have merely interpolated at this particular stage to have those particular figures recorded because I feel they are quite important.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) next spoke on matters relating to repatriation and I was interested to hear his tribute to the officers of the Department and the work that they are doing. I know that the honorable member is quite sincere in this because of his experience in the past in relation to the Department. He did, however, go on to refer to the problem of the onus of proof or section 47 of the Repatriation Act and used some statistics and some arguments to show that he thought that section 47 was not acting to the benefit of the exservicemen claimants. The situation is, I suppose, always open to doubt, if I could use that term here. But without section 47 being in the Act I should say, on my own estimate, that at least 50 per cent, of the present claims would not be allowed. I think the section is working out satisfactorily from that point of view. There are always, of course, personal points of view in relation to all these individual cases but one must remember that the system is a pretty intensive one which allows for three separate determining authorities outside the control of the Department to examine all these matters very carefully.
To illustrate my point in relation to this, I would like to cite some figures which are slightly the reverse of those used by the honorable member for Bass. He said that the Repatriation Commission did allow, on appeal, approximately 13 per cent, of the cases which had been rejected by the Repatriation Boards in all the States. In other words, they agreed with 87 per cent, of the Boards’ decisions on rejected cases. Similarly, the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, when reviewing cases that had been rejected by the Commission, approved during last year 18.7 per cent, of the appeals from the Commission. In other words, they agreed with 81 per cent, of the Commission’s decisions on rejected cases. So, if those figures are used as I have used them - in reverse to the way the honorable member for Bass used them - they present quite a different picture.
The honorable member for Bass also raised the question of having an appeal to a court. I do not think he was suggesting that we should change the present appeal system and do away with the existing tribunals. Despite some particular problems, the system is working very much in the interests of ex-servicemen, as I know from my experience. Let us look at the system. On the Repatriation Board for each State there is a member selected from a list provided by the ex-service organisations. One member of the Repatriation Commission itself - one of the senior officers of the Department who control the administration - must be selected from a list provided by the ex-service organisations. One member of each Entitlement Appeal Tribunal is selected from a list provided by the exservice organisations. The chairmen of the Assessment Appeal Tribunals must be selected from a list of names provided by the ex-service organisations. So there is a link in the key positions where mcn nominated by the ex-service organisations are able to look after the interests of exservicemen.
This matter of a final line of appeal to a court, which is suggested by the honorable member for Bass, is of interest. In fact, there is no reason in the world why anyone who wishes to take court action should not do so. Any ex-serviceman has the right to take action in a court, just as any Australian individual has. In the past a few cases of this nature have been heard by the High Court of Australia. One case that I have in mind was lost. Perhaps that substantiates the statement that the existing system -this series of appeals - is pretty satisfactory from’ the point of view of safeguarding the affairs of ex-servicemen. I conclude on that note. I do not want to protract this debate. I merely wanted to clarify a few of the points that had been raised in relation to repatriation.
.- -I wish to address a few brief remarks to the estimates for the Department of Social Services. Earlier tonight several members of the Government parties, notably the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), made dramatic appeals to the Government in support of the claim for the abolition of the means test. They were taken to task - and rightly so - by members of the Opposition. I believe that it is appropriate to remind the Committee that, as the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) has said, as long ago as 1949 the present Government parties promised to present to the people by 1952 a proposal for the complete abolition of the means test.
Honorable members opposite completely overlook the point mentioned by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) that had Labour been in office the National Welfare Fund would have built up such a credit that well within 15 years after 1949 the means test on social service benefits would have been abolished in its entirety. Far from making any contribution to the abolition of the means test, this Government has put it further away than ever. Had the policy of the Chifley Government been followed, Australia today would be enjoying a system of social services free of s means test, and financed through the National Welfare Fund.
People today do not seem to realise that the only money that goes into the National
Welfare Fund is the money that is taken out - give or take a few pounds. Except for small interest payments and things of that nature, the Fund balance rarely varies from year to year. However, under the Chifley Labour Government’s proposals, the amount taken out of the Fund each year was reimbursed and, in addition, a substantial amount was paid into the Fund each year to give it a considerable credit. That policy has been destroyed by this Government. Now, no dramatic attempt is being made to abolish the means test. It is all very well for the honorable member for Mackellar to make pious statements, as the honorable member for Newcastle said. Again and again we have heard the honorable member for Sturt giving his support to the case for the abolition of the means test. Yet in season and out of season he supports the Government which has done nothing at all to fulfil the pledge on which it was elected.
I took this matter up with the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). I directed the following question to him -
That was 12 years.ago -
I refer the honorable member for Mackellar, in particular, to this enlightening reply, which was given by the Prime Minister on 15th April 1964 -
The answers to the honorable members questions are as follows: -
He did make the promise -
So he has achieved his objective, in effect - or so he said -
Could we, at the present very high level of taxation and social service expenditure, produce a practical scheme under which the means test was completely abolished (at an added cost of £100,000,000, per annum, even at present rates of pension) and a new tax in the form of a contribution created?
Whatever the position before the war, when the social services bill was £15.000,000, a year, we do not believe that the Australian people could now be asked to accept increased taxation on such a scale. Nor would we be guilty of pretending that £100.000.000 can be found without cither increased taxes or inflationary finance. Without increased production the earning groups just cannot go on carrying the enormous burden of age benefits which accrue to an increasing proportion of our population every year.”
If that is not a write-off of the pledge that was given to the people and on which the honorable members for Sturt and Mackellar were elected, at least it is a very strange reply.
Superannuated public servants and other people who are suffering under the means test imposed on pensions should remember that this Government has repudiated the pledge that it gave to the Australian people, and that the pious sentiments expressed by members of the Government parties make no contribution at all to the abolition of the means test which was promised by the present Government parties in 1949.
The policy of this Government is quite to the contrary of the abolition of the means test. Today a means test is imposed on the pensioner medical service. Since 31st August 1955, any pensioner who has a miserable income of £2 0s. 3d. a week has been denied the benefits that should be given to him under the medical scheme which the Government said would apply to all, without a means test. Because the Government can save a miserable £1.25 million, today 105,000 are denied medical treatment when they need it most. The Government saves that paltry amount in a £2,500 million Budget, while the drug houses fleece the Austraiian populace of countless thousands of pounds on drugs supplied at exorbitant prices. That means test is applied today, contrary to the announced policy of the Government. Even under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, you have to pay 5s. per prescription, no matter who you may be, in order to obtain what the Government terms free medicine. The whole pattern of the policy being pursued by the Government is contrary to the policy on which it was originally elected. I mention these matters so that no-one will expect any easing of the means test from this Government.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) constantly compares the expendi ture on social services in 1949 with the amount being spent today. He relies upon this comparison to support his contention that the Government has been generous. I think we ought to take the Government back beyond 1949. Let us take the comparison to its logical conclusion. The Prime Minister has told me that in 1939, before the war, the cost to the nation of social service benefits paid by the Commonwealth Government was only £15 million. That was the amount paid by a tory administration. It was forced to introduce social service reforms because Labour adopted an enlightened programme of social justice, but a paltry £15 million was all that it spent on social services throughout the length and breadth of the country. In 1934 the age pension under a LiberalCountry Party Government was 17s. 6d. a week. It was the same amount in 1935. In 1939, just prior to the war, all the pensioner received from this Government was £1 a week. Although large profits were being made in those days by the major monopolies the Government did not pay a penny more than it was forced to pay by the Labour Opposition at that time. During the bitter depression years the pensioners received no more than a paltry £1 a week from, in effect, this Government which today says that its social service record is magnificent.
The Minister will say that we should not compare 1964 with 1935. To do so is just as sensible as comparing 1964 with 1949. If we want to go back to 1910 or 1911, say, when the pension was first introducced, we can say that was only 10s. a week then. I make this comparison tonight to prove the fallacy of the Minister’s contention that the Government is main, taining the value of pensions. The Government should consider the real purchasing power of pensions. The amount received by pensioners today in the miserable benefits granted by this Government is only a fraction of the real value of the pension paid by the Labour Government in 1949. Never let the people forget that if it were not for the efforts of Labour Parties no social service benefits would be paid. All administrations of the same ilk as this Government throughout the world - that is, governments with the same views as this Liberal-Country Party Government has, no matter what names they may use - through the generations have condemned social services and medical benefits and everything associated with them. But when they take office they are not prepared to abolish social services because they know that the people will not accept governments that do not pay social services. Tory governments in New Zealand and Great Britain are fighting for their existence. They retain office by adopting social service policies that have been framed by Labour, though they condemn them. However, they are not prepared to abolish social services because they know the value placed on them by the people.
I cannot help but recall tonight a statement made in this Parliament not very long ago by a former Postmaster-General. On 29th August 1962, Sir Charles Davidson, who was then a Minister of the Crown and a member of the Australian Country Party, but had not yet been knighted, said -
I will go on record as saying - I do not care what it costs me - that if I could see another £40,000,000 in the economy available this year for purposes other than those specified in the Budget, I would put an increase in pensions and other such social services last on the list following developmental proposals. I go on record to say that, and honorable members opposite can use it as they like. I am looking ahead and I say it definitely.
– Who said that?
- Sir Charles Davidson, a member of the Australian Country Party. His spirit lives on in this Parliament in the Minister for Social Services. In this financial year the Government will spend £2,500 million, but the pensioners must exist on an increase of only 8£d. a day. They have been given an increase of 5s. a week. The funeral benefit remains at the amount it has been since 1943, 20 years ago. The maternity allowance has been unchanged for the best part of 20 years. Throughout the history of this Government, especially in its action in the Budget it presented for this year, we find evidence of the sentiment expressed by Sir Charles Davidson, who said that the very last people to receive assistance would be those dependent on social services. When people hear the Government boast of its huge expenditure they should remember that the many people who are dependent on social services do not receive any real assistance from the Government. What improvement in a pensioner’s standard of living will be effected by the increase of 5s. a week? A pensioner who smokes would spend the increase on a couple of packets of cigarettes. The basic wage has risen considerably and this has contributed to a big increase in the cost of living. The Government should not be proud, but rather should be ashamed, of the miserable contribution it makes to the welfare of pensioners.
My time is rather limited in this debate. I rose merely to place on record my views on the Government’s ineffective approach to social justice. The time is not far distant when the Government will have to stop using pensioners and others dependent on social services as a political football. These people should not have to wait until just before an election is held to receive some assistance from a Tory government. I am reminded by my colleague, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), that today the cost of dying has outstripped the cost of living under this Government. This is evident in the policy on social services that it espouses.
I place on record tonight my congratulations to the Government for at least refusing to abolish social services and for realising that its political survival depends on its implementing the basic structure of Labour’s policy which has resulted in many of the great social reforms in this country. No member of the Australian Labour Party could rise in this debate without condemning the meagre, miserable contribution made to the standard of living and welfare of the community in this Budget, which grants the pensioners an increase of only 8id. a day while huge, wealthy monopolies take unlimited sums from the people without bringing any challenge from this Government. I hope the day is not far away when we, as a Labour Government, can give expression to a policy of social services that will bring justice to the aged, the sick, the infirm and others dependent on social services.
– If this debate has a fault, and who am I to suggest that it has, it is surely that it is a regurgitation of all that was said during the debate on the Social Services Bill introduced in this financial year and during the debates on similar measures introduced in previous years. Everything that has been said tonight in criticism of the Government’s social service record has been said by Opposition members before and I have no doubt that it will be said again. But it gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction to note that during the debate no honorable member on either side of the Committee has offered the slightest criticism of the administration of my Department, one of the largest departments in the whole of the Commonwealth sphere of influence, if I may so describe it, and a department that has contact with some five million people who receive social service benefits in one form or another.
– That is in spite of ‘he Minister.
– Never at any stage of the proceedings has the Department or any of the officers of the Department come under criticism. The honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) says by way of interjection that the complaint is always concentrated on the Minister. I am well aware that I am described variously as a grim and terrible man, an adamant man, a man who will not move in any compassionate way to assist his fellows. Again it gives me some satisfaction to know that my wife and family do not agree with these contentions. Some honorable members on both sides of the chamber believe, in their innocence or in their folly, perhaps, that I have tried to do whatever lies in my power, within the legislative limits of the Social Services Act, to improve the circumstances of people who from time to time are in need of assistance. I have now been Minister for Social Services for a very long time, Mr. Temporary Chairman. There is no special virtue in that. But it gives me an opportunity to speak of social services with a degree of intimacy that has been denied to all my predecessors in this portfolio and will be denied for a very long time to anyone who may succeed me.
Tt is not my purpose this evening to go over all that has been said in this debate, because, as I remarked a few moments ago, it has all been said before. Perhaps there has been no real improvement in the criticisms that have been levelled in this debate at the Government’s policies with regard to social services. The debate, so far as I am in a position to judge, really opened when the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) raised the question of the abolition of the means test. Perhaps I may be permitted to say that no government has done more to liberalise the means test with respect to both income and property than the present Government has done. Nor has any government done more to widen the field of social services and to make them available to a greater range of people within the community. That very fact is the cause of much of the criticism and. indeed, the resentment that arises from time to lime when effective measures are taken to liberalise the means test. It is quite simple to understand that, when social service benefits paid by Commonwealth Governments in the past were of comparative financial and economic insignificance, noone worried very much about them so long as one was able to manage one’s own affairs without assistance from the Commonwealth and the Department of Social Services. There was then a degree of contentment in the community in these matters. It was not until the rate of pensions, benefits and allowances increased to a degree at which the cupidity of men and women was excited that these payments became associated with the kind of criticism thai has been levelled against me personally this evening. The same thing applies to the means test.
It took 40 years for the age pension to reach 42s. 6d. a week, Mr. Temporary Chairman, rising, now and then, by a few shillings a week from the original level of 10s. a week. On two occasions during those years, pension rates were reduced, though not very effectively. Because the rates were so low, less criticism was levelled at governments, regardless of their political character. Nor was there resentment on the part of people who were ineligible for age pensions in those days.
Precisely the same thing applies to the means test as it has always operated in our country. When the means test excluded most people except those who were in needy circumstances, no-one was unduly worried. Only when the present Government took office and the means test in respect of income was liberalised, thereby extending social service benefits to thousands of men and women who had previously been excluded, was there criticism from people who believed that an even greater number should benefit. When the means tests on income and property were subsequently merged, the result was precisely the same: The range of people eligible for social service benefits was widened and there were even more people who believed they had cause to criticise because they were excluded. In spite of these facts, the Government has applied itself to the task of liberalising and merging the means tests and raising social benefits of every kind, consistent with the increasing capacity of the community to pay for the higher benefits in the normal way by taxation.
National insurance and social security schemes operating in other parts of the world have been mentioned. I am not without experience of schemes of this kind. Indeed, I am in constant touch with governments in other countries and I am in a position to say with some authority that the Australian scheme of social services is envied by a great many countries where there are social security, national insurance and contributory superannuation schemes of every description. Only within the last few days, I have been asked: What should a country do to adopt the Australian system of pensions and to apply the means test in such a way as to enable the resources provided by the contributors to a scheme to be applied to the best advantage, giving the greatest possible assistance to those in the greatest need? I have done what I could to explain to the representatives of other countries throughout the world the system that obtains here. Despite the criticisms that are levelled at our scheme, it is of very great benefit to a large number of people.
It has been suggested that we ought to have a superannuation scheme covering age, invalid and widow pensioners, Mr. Temporary Chairman. Anyone who cares to study the superannuation schemes existing not only in other countries but also in Australia will realise that, without exception, they are full of imperfections, and will remain full of imperfections so long as there is no way of fixing the value of money and of contributions to such schemes. We have in Australia, today, superannuation schemes that are in desperate straits because of the movement of these two factors. The value of money and the value of contributions to superannuation schemes never remain constant. Only within the last few hours, I have received from the New South Wales Minister for Mines a communication directing my attention to the fact that the miners’ pension fund in that State is approaching a condition of comparative bankruptcy. That, of course, is due entirely to the fact that the number of contributors is diminishing, thereby diminishing the total value of contributions, while the number of persons qualifying for benefits under this scheme is, for the moment, increasing. I can see no way out of this difficulty, and so long as the present state of affairs obtains there will be cause for dissatisfaction with superannuation schemes of every kind, including the parliamentary scheme. The rates of pensions and contributions are fixed in all good faith but, with changing values of money and contributions, the schemes and their benefits prove to be entirely inadequate.
If a person is really interested in the question of the abolition of the means test in the present circumstances he must be prepared to face the fact that it would mean an increase in expenditure of £165.4 million. I have heard it said in the Committee this evening that it is wrong to talk of an increased cost of this magnitude as a result of the abolition of the means test. It has been said that if the means test were abolished and contributions were made to cover the amount .involved there would be no increased cost to the Consolidated Revenue Fund or the National Welfare Fund. But this is a delusion. Whether the cost is met by contributions made solely by beneficiaries, by contributions made in part by beneficiaries and in part by other people, or by contributions made by beneficiaries and by other people and by the Government, the cost remains the same, £165.4 million. This, of course, must be added to the current expenditure from the National Welfare Fund which is estimated in this financial year to amount to £452 million. So you arrive at a gigantic sum which has to be found by the valiant men and women in the community who employ their energies and resources to provide more than their immediate physical needs and by that very process render themselves liable to taxation in all its forms.
I know that the credulous and the uninformed are encouraged to believe that governments have mysterious sources of wealth available to them. But this, too, is another delusion. This Government and all other governments regardless of their political character, all Federal governments, State governments or local government authorities, depend for their financial resources entirely on the industry of the people they are designed to serve. Can there be any escape from this necessity so long as we remain a democracy? When the minds of men are engaged on the question of the abolition of the means test, and when the cost today is estimated at £165.4 million, it is very interesting to realise that in our country at the present time there are 1,166,000 people of pensionable age. A great many of them, of course, do not qualify for social service benefits of any kind, some of them because of their favorable circumstances and some no doubt for other reasons. But of the total number of 1,166,000 people of pensionable age, 623,000 are pensioners and 520,000 are not pensioners. So that if we were to abolish the means test the additional expenditure of £165.4 million would be of the greatest advantage to the 520,000 people who do not now receive a social service benefit of any kind, who do not want a social service benefit of any kind and whose circumstances render payment of social service benefits entirely superfluous.
That is one side of the story. What is more important to me, despite all the allegations made against me, is that the additional cost of £165.4 million, heaped on ro our people either in terms of taxation or in terms of contributions - call it what you will - would be of no advantage at all to the 623,000 people who are dependent on their pensions. This is the greatest of all the flaws in the argument for the abolition of the means test. You will bring half a million additional pensioners into the social services scheme, but you will not improve by a single hair’s breadth the circumstances of the men, women and children who have no other means of subsistence.
– Give them a bigger pension.
– And that has been the experience. My humorous friend, the honorable member for Grayndler, the funny man of the Labour Party, who leads for the Labour Party on matters concerning social services, says: “Give them another pension “. Well, that is what has happened in a great many other countries. That is what has happened in the United Kingdom. The Government there started with a national insurance scheme that was designed to solve the problem of social service expenditure once and for all, but it bad to superimpose on that scheme another scheme of national assistance to provide something additional for the people who could not possibly subsist on the national insurance payments that they received from time to time. What has happened in the United Kingdom is what is happening in other parts of the world and what undoubtedly would happen here if we abolished the means test tomorrow. Conceivably there would be a great advantage to the people) - 500,000 of them - who do not need these payments or do not want them, but the other 623,000 would be left exactly where they are, and then my friend opposite would say: “ Give them another pension “. Then we in this country, for the first time in our history, would do what has been done in other parts of the world. We would have two levels of social service benefits, one carrying with it degrees of odium that ought to be avoided by every self-respecting community. We would have one level where there would be poor law inquisitions that ought to be deplored by any self-respecting community.
So I say that the scheme of social services operating in our country, as I see it today after having been intimately associated with it for nine years, shows, when measured against all other schemes in other parts of the world, that the advantages are with our own people and our own Government.
The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Sexton) referred, as he did during the debate on the Social Services Bill, to the waiting period - if I may describe it as such - of six months before a deserted wife becomes eligible for a social service benefit appropriate to her circumstances. I explained during the debate on the Social Services Bill that that provision was introduced by the previous socialist government - the previous Labour Government as it is sometimes euphemistically called - for a very good and sufficient reason. It was deemed by the Labour Government at that time and by all reputable State Governments at that time that a period of six months should be allowed, for purposes of reconciliation if for no other purposes, in cases of temporary desertion, and that if at the end of six months there was no hope of reconciliation the deserted wives should qualify for the appropriate social service benefit. I can see no sound reason ‘ why that state of affairs should be altered. The same thing applies to women whose husbands have been convicted and sentenced to periods in excess of six months in gaol. The Labour Party, when it introduced that extension of the Social Services Act, created what came to be called an E class widow’s pension, heaping the odium on the wife and the children of a man convicted and sentenced to a period in excess of six months in gaol. I am happy to say that that odium was removed when that category of pension was removed, and these unfortunate women and children now qualify for social service benefits, again appropriate to their circumstances. No national government is in a position to keep in touch with the courts and the social welfare people who attend the courts in all the States of the Commonwealth, in all the capital cities, in all the provincial cities and in all the towns. No national government can undertake responsibilities of that kind, except at exceptional cost. The appropriate people to do that kind of work are the State authorities which are engaged in social welfare.
The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) spent some time on the question of unemployment and sickness benefits. Unemployment and sickness benefits were never intended to be continuing and permanent payments; they were introduced to meet emergencies that were expected to be temporary in character. The whole scheme of unemployment and sickness benefits was designed to get people back into remunerative employment as quickly as possible and to get the sick restored to good health as rapidly as possible. It is no solution to a great social problem of unemployment to multiply unemployment benefits, any more than it is a solution to ill health, to disease or to infirmity in any form to multiply payments to people who are stricken in that way. What needs to be done is for the community to undertake the responsibilities of helping the unemployed back into employment and helping the sick to be restored to good health.
My very good friend, the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Sexton), in spite of the intimate explanations that I have given to him, continues to forget that the pensioner medical service is provided not under the Social Services Act but under the National Health Act. When he complains bitterly that the means test applying to that service has not been abolished, he is speaking, if I may say so, in front of the wrong Minister and to the wrong estimates. Perhaps I could leave it at that, merely adding that I am inordinately proud of the record of achievement of the present Government in the field of social services and profoundly grateful to the officers of my Department
.- I wish to speak again principally because of one or two statements that were made by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz), but before dealing with those matters I should like to make some comments in reply to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). Much has been said in this chamber this evening about the abolition of the means test. Undoubtedly there is a strong feeling among honorable members on the Government side of the chamber, as there is among honorable members on this side, that the Government should move towards the complete abolition of the means test. In point of fact, this Government was elected in 1949 on a pledge to bring to the people of Australia within a period of three years a plan for the abolition of the means test. The Minister for Social Services was elected on that pledge which was made to the people of Australia in 1949. Yet tonight the Minister for Social Services has spent at least 10 minutes, when replying to honorable members on both sides of the chamber on reasons why the Government should not abolish the means test. It seems to me to be a strange set of circumstances in which we find ourselves today when we have a Minister who was elected on a pledge to abolish the means test advancing at this late stage all the reasons why the Government has no intention of abolishing the means test.
When the Minister began his reply, particularly to honorable members on this side of the chamber, he suggested that nothing new had flowed from this debate, that all the matters raised by honorable members on this side of the chamber had been referred to in a recent debate on social services. I remind the Minister that although he spoke for approximately half an hour nothing new came from him. First, he made no attempt to answer the criticisms of the Government’s policy in regard to social services. Secondly, he gave no indication that he intends to do anything to remove the anomalies to which Opposition members have pointed repeatedly in this chamber. A moment ago he referred to the pensioner medical card. The Minister has stated in this place before that this is a matter for the Department of Health and that it is a subject that quite properly, in his opinion, comes within the jurisdiction of his colleague, the Minister for Health (Senator Wade). But let me say to the Minister for Social Services that this matter comes within the jurisdiction of his Department. The Minister knows that when a pensioner medical card is issued to an age or invalid pensioner, or some other class of pensioner, it is issued by the Department of Social Services.
I have recently received information from one organisation which early this year asked for the issue of pensioner medical cards to the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. The Minister for Health, to whom it later made representations, referred the deputation back to the Minister for Social Services. So it is clearly understood by honorable members on this side of the chamber that this question is pushed from one Minister to the other. We say quite emphatically that the Minister for Social Services and officers of his Department must understand the problems of age, invalid and widow pensioners who have applied for the issue of a medical card but who have had their applications rejected, not by the Department of Health but by the Department of Social Services. It is the Department of Social Services that applies the means test and the Minister, clearly understanding this situation, should be in a position to use his influence within the Cabinet to see that anomalies are removed from the social services legislation.
The Minister knows that it was this Government which, in 1955, applied the means test. The excuse that was then given was that it had been requested to do so by the British Medical Association, or the Australian Medical Association as it it is now known. The Government must accept the responsiblity for applying this vicious means test since 1955 in such a way that any pensioner whose income exceeds £2 a week is denied a pensioner medical card. What does the Department of Social Services consider to be income? Does it regard as income superannuation payments for which people contribute compulsorily during their working lives? Does it regard as income war pensions, annuities and earnings from personal exertion? The Government takes into consideration all these forms of income when assessing a person’s eligibility for a medical entitlement card. This matter has been raised by honorable members on this side of the House on many occasions and, despite what the Minister has said tonight, we shall continue to raise it until such time as the Government is prepared to remove the anomaly that now exists.
My colleague, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds), pointed out earlier tonight how the Government applies the means test. Bank interest is added to a pensioner’s income. If the bank interest on the savings account of a single pensioner amounts to one penny a week and brings that pensioner’s income to £2 Os. Id. a week, the pensioner is not entitled to a medical entitlement card. I do not want to deal with the ways in which the legislation can be circumvented. After all, if any person can get round the provisions of the Act and secure a medical entitlement card, no honorable member on this side of the House would deny him the opportunity to do so.
Let me put it quite clearly to the Minister, as the honorable member for Barton has done already, that if a person is debarred from a medical entitlement card because his income exceeds £2 a week as a result of interest on a substantial savings account, all that that person is required to do is to change the savings account into a current account, which bears no interest. The Department of Social Services then must issue a medical entitlement card. In the case of a widow in employment who is denied a medical entitlement card because her income exceeds £2 a week, all she need do is give up her employment, even if only temporarily, and she will receive a medical entitlement card. Once she receives the card she may then return to work. The Minister must know that these things occur and that medical entitlement cards are being issued in these circumstances. This is an anomaly which no enlightened government should allow to continue. Therefore, I say again to the Minister that while we on this side of the chamber have the opportunity to raise this and other anomalies, we will continue to do so.
When I commenced my remarks I said that I wanted to refer to a matter that had been raised earlier by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz), following my comment on it. I refer to appeals to an entitlement tribunal and my suggestion that there should be a right of appeal to a further judicial authority. The Minister stated that one such appeal had already been made and lost, but I think honorable members should clearly understand the circumstances in which the appeal was made. At this stage 1 give the Minister full credit for the way in which he answers criticisms emanating from Opposition members. I am sure that he was referring to the case of the Repatriation Tribunal v. Bott. Bott was an exserviceman from the First World War who had been discharged with a disability for which a pension had been paid. The pension was subsequently cancelled, as the Minister must know. Later the exserviceman developed rheumatism. Ultimately a Commonwealth medical referee said that the rheumatism was attributable or related to the ex-serviceman’s war service and that he had orginally suffered from rheumatic fever during his service abroad. I cannot emphasise this point too strongly. The Commonwealth medical referee who accepted rheumatism as a disability and recommended the granting of an invalid pension on that basis said that the rheumatism was related to the exserviceman’s war service. The medical referee pointed out that the condition arose from the rheumatic fever which the man suffered while on service.
But the Repatriation Department refused to accept the disability. The ex-serviceman appealed to the Repatriation Commission. It in turn rejected his claim. He went to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal but his claim was again rejected. As a result of evidence made available by the Commonwealth medical referee further evidence was submitted to the Entitlement Appeal Tribunal and the case was again argued before that Tribunal. In this case the Repatriation Department adduced evidence from two other doctors to contradict the evidence that had been submitted by Bott. The Tribunal put the position to Bolt’s advocate in this way: “ Surely you do not regard Bott’s medical practitioner as being as expert as the man we have appointed from the Repatriation Department.” Bott’s claim was rejected.
Bott appealed to the High Court of Australia. He had to finance his appeal, and it failed. Although the judgment went against him, one of the judges agreed with Bott’s claim and said that the onus of proof had not been discharged. That was Mr. Justice Evatt. He agreed that the case should have been further considered by the Repatriation Department. But the remain ing judges said in effect that the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal had a right to make its own decision. They did not throw out Bott’s case; they merely said that the Tribunal had the right to make a final decision.
We believe that Bott’s case was a test case. It is a great pity that Bott did not take his case to the Privy Council because at that time many of the judgments that had been handed down by Mr. Justice Evatt were upheld by the Privy Council. I have every reason to believe that if Bott’s case had gone to the Privy Council the circumstances that apply today would be considerably altered.
The Minister must understand that if we are entitled to appeal to a higher judicial authority the machinery for that judicial authority must be established by this Parliament. Only in that way would the right of appeal be fully protected under the Repatriation Act. I think the Minister clearly understands the situation.
Honorable members on this side of the chamber are firmly convinced that in cases where a point of law is involved and where it is apparent that the onus of proof has not been applied, a further right of appeal should exist to a higher judicial authority. In saying so I refer not to the case of an ex-serviceman who adopts a disgruntled and dissatisfied attitude because his application has been rejected by a tribunal, but to the cases of responsible claimants. I urge the Minister to give urgent consideration to these matters.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate -
Without requests - -Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Bill 1964.
Without amendment -
Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Bill (No. 2) 1964.
House adjourned at 10.51 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated -
i asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
What was the (a) value and (b) quantity of (i) each type of conventional weapon and (ii) all kinds of ammunition, projectiles, bombs, &c, imported into Australia during the year 1963-64?
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Is it a fact that the total amount of Government subsidies paid to the airline subsidiaries of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. during the past five years is almost equal to the total amount paid by Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. in company taxation?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
I am not aware of the amount of income tax paid in any year by Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. The secrecy provisions of the income tax law prohibit the Commissioner of Taxation from supplying this information to me and I am not, therefore, in a position to answer the question of the honorable member.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information -
m asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What income does each university receive from fees and other charges on students?
– The following information has been supplied by the Australian Universities Commission in answer to the honorable member’s question -
The figures below refer to 1962, the latest year for which details are available-
These figures take account of all fees collected by the university from a student, including lecture, matriculation, degree and Conservatorium of Music fees. (Separate figures for each item are not available.)Fees collected on behalf of student bodies such as the University Union or Sports Union are excluded and also some fees collected for courses run by the universities on behalf of other bodies.
b asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Works in Darwin not now receiving the living away from home allowance of £200 per annum?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Juniors employed by Commonwealth Departments (including the Department of Works) in Darwin who are eligible for living away from home allowance are being paid the allowance in accordance with prescribed conditions. The honorable member’s question may intend to refer to “ boarding allowance “. This allowance was discontinued from 26th September, 1963. However, staff employed at that date and who were in receipt of boarding allowance, continued to receive the payment in accordance with the conditions of their employment.
m asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
General recommendations suggesting that financial, expert and technical assistance be sought from the specialised agencies of the United Nations were adopted by the Trusteeship Council at its 24th, 26th and 27th Sessions in 1959, 1960 and 1961. Recommendations proposing that assistance be sought from particular agencies and for specific purposes as stated below were adopted at the sessions indicated -
to provide additional teachers (29th Session 1962 and 31st Session 1964):
the recruitment of doctors (29th Session, 1962).
Australia on behalf of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea has sought and received the following assistance -
Two fellowships granted to enable special study and. research to be undertaken;
Two experts have visited the Territory;
Nine seminars have been attended by Territory personnel.
One seminar has been held in the Territory;
Two other seminars have been attended by Administration officers.
Thirty-two fellowships granted for special study and training in health matters not available in the Territory or Australia;
Two W.H.O. seminars have been held in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea;
Twenty-two other seminars or conferences have been attended by Territory personnel.
Two officers from the Territory are to attend a refresher course on treatment of tuberculosis later this year, and one officer is to attend a seminar on the Public Health Component in the Training of Medical Personnel.
Eighteen experts have visited the Territory to advise on particular health problems.
The services of an expert to assist in assessment of benefits deriving from malaria eradication were sought in July 1962 but to date W.H.O. has not been able to find a suitable consultant to undertake the required survey.
In June 1961 and again in May 1962 W.H.O. was asked to assist with the recruitment of a Specialist Medical Officer (Malariologist). The reply to the later request stated that the Organisation itself is in great need malariologists and that the Government’s advertising of vacancies in medical journals throughout the world should secure sufficient applicants to enable a suitable selection.
An economic survey of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea has been carried out by a Bank Mission at the Government’s request.
Territory representatives are included in Australia’s delegations or represent Australia at meetings of the specialised agencies when it appears that the subject matter for special discussion will be of interest to the Territory; the specialised publications issued by the agencies are received in the Territory and I am informed are considered of particular value.
The Territory has received considerable additional benefit from the United Nations Specialised Agencies through the South Pacific Commission. The Commission, which is not itself a United Nations Specialised Agency but was set up by countries responsible for territories in the region, collaborates closely with and frequently seeks expert help from the specialised agencies in providing assistance through its regional projects to meet the particular needs of dependent territories in the South Pacific region-including Papua and New Guinea. Assistance received by the Territory from this source includes specialised help from the following -
joint S.P.C./F.A.O. projects in a number of fields including:
joint S.P.C./U.N.E.S.C.O. projects concerned with -
maternal and child welfare.
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information -
The variance between the amounts approved and the amounts actually paid is due to the fact that the 1962-63 subsidy payment takes into account retrospective adjustments of the 1961-62 subsidy payment and the 1963-64 subsidy payment takes into account retrospective adjustments of the 1962-63 subsidy payment.
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information -
A service is regarded as developmental when it serves areas where other forms of transport are non-existent, or clearly inadequate, and where the cost to the Commonwealth is commensurate with the benefit derived by the locality served and there is a positive contribution to national development. The Government recognises that many rural services are incapable of profitable operation, and while they cannot be regarded strictly as developmental services, their cessation would cause great inconvenience and hardship to country centres. Accordingly, financial assistance is given in appropriate cases to ensure the continuance of these essential rural services. In each case, the Minister satisfies himself, before approving assistance -
m asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Money loaned by the Authority in connection with the functions of the Authority is authorised by the general powers pursuant to Section 18 of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act 1949-1958. 2 and 3. The information requested is tabulated in the attachment, “ Advances to Major Civil Contractors on Plant and Construction Equipment “. The Authority docs not regard these advances as money on loan in the normal sense. It is money provided to contractors under the terms of their contracts as advances against progress for the purpose of procurement of plant and construction equipment to be used in the execution of the works. Advances are interest free and are secured by mortgages over the particular items for which the advances are made. They are repayable progressively during the periods of the contracts by deductions from progress payments. The reasons why the Authority has adopted, in all its major contracts, a policy of financing purchases by the contractor of all plant and equipment necessary for the contract, may be summarised as under -
Loans have also been made to individuals and some local organisations. These have totalled about £13,000 over the last five years.
NOTE. - Moneys advanced to major contractors which were outstanding at the end of each financial year, in accordance with the Authority’s published balance sheets, were as follows-
Repatriation Department: Doctors. (Question No. 552.)
m asked the Minister for
Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
The average number of doctors employed fulltime by the Repatriation Department during 1963- 64 was 346, and the average payment to each of them £3,154. There were six part-time medical officers. In addition to the departmental medical officers, about 714 doctors held appointments under the visiting specialists scheme and 5,367 doctors provided service to repatriation patients as local medical officers.
m asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
How much did his Department pay to (a) pharmaceutical chemists, (b) wholesalers and (c) manufacturers for drugs and medicinal preparations in 1963-64?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
State Expenditure on Roads. (Question No. 557.)
m asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What amounts were spent per head of population in each State from State and local government tax revenues and loan funds on constructing and maintaining roads (a) last year, (b) five years previously and (c) 10 years previously?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows-
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
n asked the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Trade Commissioners: Applicants must be less than 30 years of age and have extensive experience in and understanding of Australian commerce and industry, or related experience in the Commonwealth or State Government Service.
Assistant Trade Commissioners: Applicants should be between the age of 30 and 40 years, possess high educational qualifications (preferably graduates in Arts, Economics, Commerce, &c ) and have related experience at executive level in commerce or industry, or in appropriate Government Service; proficiency in foreign languages is desirable.
Trainee Trade Commissioners: Applicants should be less than 30 years of age and have graduated in Arts, Economics, Commerce or other appropriate fields at university standard. Proficiency in foreign languages and experience in commerce, industry or government is desirable.
Term of Appointment: Appointments are for an initial period of three years, with reappointment for additional periods at the pleasure of the Governor-General in Council.
Salary: Salaries are determined in accordance with the applicant’s qualifications and experience within the limits of £1,604 to £4,785 per annum.
Allowances: In addition to salary, allowances commensurate with costs in the country of posting are paid whilst resident overseas. These cover living, rent and representational allowances with special allowances for children and, at some posts, their education. Assistance is also given to meet excessive medical expenses.
Superannuation: Applicants are eligible to contribute for superannuation or provident benefits.
Housing: At posts where housing is difficult to obtain, official residences are provided.
s asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
What numbers of (a) Aborigines and (b) Torres Strait Islanders have (i) enrolled and (ii) to far not exercised their right to enroll in each of the Queensland Federal electoral divisions since voting rights were extended to these people?
y. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Homes for the Aged. (Question No. 588.)
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
How many pensioners who have made application for admission to homes for the aged or infirm in the various States of the Commonwealth because they are unable to care fully for themselves have not yet gained admission to such institutions?
n. - The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The Commonwealth Government does not conduct homes for the aged and/or infirm. Under the Aged Persons Homes Act the Commonwealth Government does, however, assist approved organisations to provide accommodation for people of pensionable age. The conduct of these establishments is exclusive to the approved organisations concerned and the Department has no information as to the number of applicants seeking admission.
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The information extent that it is available, is contained in the sought by the honorable member, to the following table -
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows–
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
m asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
What International Labour Organisation conventions were considered at the meeting of the Departments of Labour Advisory Committee last April?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
No. 26 - Minimum Wage-Fixing Machinery, 1928.
No. 32 - Protection Against Accidents (Dockers),
No. 62- Safety Provisions in the Building
No. 81- Labour Inspection, 1947.
No. Ill - Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 19S8.
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice -
What has been the (a) quantity and (b) value of cheese imports in each of the last twelve months, and from what sources did they come?
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s question -
Schedule 1 shows the quantity and value of each type of cheese imported in each of Hie twelve months from July 1963 to June 1964.
Schedule 2 shows the sources from which these imports came.
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice -
What has been the (a) quantity and (b) value of pig meat imports in each of the last twelve months, and from what sources did they come?
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s question -
d asked the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
The Commonwealth Banking Corporation has advised that the maximum loan currently available from the Commonwealth Savings Bank for the purchase or erection of a new house is £3,500 or 75 per cent, of the Bank’s valuation of the house and land, whichever is the less. The maximum loan currently available from the Commonwealth Savings Bank for the purchase of a house previously occupied is generally £3,500 or 65 per cent, of the Bank’s valuation of the house and land, whichever is the less. There are no prescribed limits on the maximum advances or minimum deposits in respect of housing loans made by the Commonwealth Trading Bank by way of overdraft or made by the major private savings and trading banks. These are matters for determination by each bank concerned. In the case of the private savings banks it is understood that the normal maximum loan available for housing purposes ranges from £3,500 to £3,750, although these banks are prepared to consider higher loans in special circum stances. It is also understood that the amounts and terms of individual loans by the trading banks are flexible and are determined according to the particular circumstances of each case.
s asked the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 October 1964, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1964/19641013_reps_25_hor44/>.