25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for the Army a question. I have been requested by the Mayor of Townsville, who is gravely concerned about the current shortage of hotel accommodation in that city, to raise the matter of the Queens Hotel. Is the Army to buy this hotel? If so, for what price? Is the Minister aware that this establishment provides 13 per cent, of the total hotel accommodation in Townsville and that if the deal goes through it will certainly tarnish the image of the Army in Townsville?
– Some months ago the Army received from a firm of estate agents notice that the Queens Hotel in Townsville was on the market. The firm asked whether the Army was interested in buying it. As the Army, with the building up of its forces in north Queensland, has requirement for accommodation for personnel and their, families in transit, it was decided to examine the proposition. An examination was put in train and, somewhat later, as the honorable member has indicated, the Townsville City Council made clear its strong opposition to any proposal by the. Army to acquire the Queens Hotel. The examination of the proposal by the Army has now been completed. . It has disclosed that the hotel would not be entirely satisfactory for our purposes. Partly for this reason and partly because of the opposition of the Townsville City Council the Army has decided not to go ahead with the proposal to buy the hotel.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is he aware that the Mildura City Council has expressed dissatisfaction about the Mildura-Melbourne air service? Will he cause investigations to be made with a view to bringing this air service up to a standard commensurate with the importance of the area it serves?
– I understand that the honorable member lias made represent ations to the Minister for Civil Aviation who, I believe, is still investigating the problem. I shall see that as soon as he is in a position to make a statement he communicates with the honorable member.
– I direct a question to the Minister for National Development. I ask: Is it a fact that Dr. Patterson has been removed from the position of head of the Northern Division of the Department of National Development? Has he been removed from this post because he has announced his decision to stand as an Australian Labour Party candidate for the Dawson electorate at the next Federal general election? Does not the removal of Dr. Patterson from his position mean that the threat of dismissal or regression hangs over the head of any member of the Public Service who may indicate his intention to represent this Party at a future election? Will the Minister take action to arrange for the reinstatement of Dr. Patterson in his former position?
– As the Public Service Act comes within my bailiwick I will say something about this myself. Dr. Patterson has announced his candidature for the Commonwealth Parliament in the Labour interest and I understand has been endorsed for such candidature. The head of the Northern Division of the Department of National Development is a man who is in the direct area of advising governments, of being party to documents that go before the Cabinet, of being privy to the most intimate details from a Cabinet point of view concerning the department that he is in. In these circumstances it would be monstrous for any man to suppose that he could remain in that position while publicly devoted to doing his best to defeat the Government whose private communications he would be aware of. This is so monstrous that I find it hard to believe that any decent man could expect to be left in that position. I am delighted that Dr. Patterson has not been.
– I take a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right honorable gentleman has made a slighting remark about a member who is not in the House. That is in contravention of Standing Orders and the remark should be withdrawn.
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– Has the
Minister for the Army seen a report which has been published in which it is suggested that the increase of 1,000 in the Citizen Military Forces over the last three months is attributable to draft dodging? Can the Minister tell the House what proportion of the increase can be attributed to the C.M.F. option? Even if a proportion of the increase in the C.M.F. is attributed to the C.M.F. option is it not unfair to refer to this as draft dodging in view of the obligations inherent in membership of the C.M.F. over a period of six years, which must involve official service and the possibility of service outside Australia?
– I have seen this report. It is true that in the last three months there has been a substantial increase in the strength of the Citizen Military Forces. The increase amounts to about 1,000, as compared with substantial decreases in the corresponding periods in the last few years. I do not think this increase can be attributed to any one single factor but rather to a number of measures that have been taken by the Government and by the Army itself over the last eighteen months. These include the provision for the C.M.F. of a purposeful role in the current defence situation, the exemption of C.M.F. pay from income tax, the reorganization of the C.M.F. to provide smaller units and to have a more directly related. local support, substantial increases in pay and allowances, the C.M.F. option in place of national service training, which the honorable member mentioned and so on. Undoubtedly the present position is due to a combination of all these measures and some that I have not mentioned. I deprecate the description as draft dodgers of people who exercise the option provided in the National Service Act to serve in the C.M.F. for five or six years instead of in the Regular Army for two years. The option was placed in the Act deliberately by the Government in accordance with its view that the Citizen Military Forces have a valid and important role to play in the defence of this country and that any young man who exercises this option is in every way serving his country as well as if he carried out a two year period of service in the Regular Army.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is the Minister aware that approximately 800 workers employed in the Australian motor industry in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland are to be retrenched this week and that management is claiming that this is due, in the main, to increased imports by Australia of completed vehicles? In view of this serious position which will most certainly affect employment in the allied industries of rubber, paint, glass, etc., will the Minister confer with his colleague, the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry, in an effort to expedite the long awaited Tariff Board report on the motor industry?
– I was aware that there were to be some retrenchments in the Australian motor vehicle industry, mainly by General Motors-Holden’s Ltd. A check yesterday of the report in one newspaper showed that the figures presented by that newspaper were not accurate. The number of employees involved is substantially smaller than the number shown in the report. Although we were not able to ascertain the exact figure, we are now attempting to get it from the company itself. It has been expected for some time that there would be some retrenchments. However, I point out to the honorable gentleman that many other opportunities of employment are available, not only in South Australia but also in every other State of the Commonwealth, and particularly in those industries where, at the moment, there is. overfull employment. As to the last part of the honorable gentleman’s question relating to the Tariff Board inquiry, I will consult with the acting Minister for Trade and Industry and get him a reply.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is it a fact that honorable members cannot be issued with two copies of the Vernon Committee’s report? Does this mean that honorable members must carry the report backwards and forwards from Canberra if they are to give the report the study it deserves? Does the right honorable gentleman realise that this will mean that there will be approximately one ton of Vernon Committee report in orbit each weekend? What arrangements can we make to obtain copies of the report for interested people and organisations?
– We have not an unlimited supply of copies of the report in the form in which it has been tabled because, in due course, it will be printed in a permanent form. I am happy to tell the honorable gentleman that I have been making inquiries and I think that he can be supplied with an extra copy. Indeed, if any other honorable member, for similar reasons, wants an extra copy we will be able to provide one.
– I ask the Minister for National Development a question. Is it true that a new and very senior position has been created in his Department and will be gazetted this morning? When was it decided to set up the new position and what responsibilities and staff will go with it?
– This action has been taken by the Public Service Board and so is primarily a responsibility of the Board. If the honorable member is interested - he obviously is - I will give him full details later this morning.
– I also address a question to the Minister for National Development. As off shore oil search in Australia has reached sizable proportions, can the Minister advise whether any progress has been made regarding the overall conditions to be observed by companies and by the Federal and State Governments?
– Agreement has been arrived at between the States and the Commonwealth on the sharing of royalties. There is also agreement that the States and the Commonwealth should have a common code for mining under which a licence will be issued both by the State and the Commonwealth. We are in the process of proceeding to legislation, but this is incredibly difficult. It calls, first, not only for a delineation of the boundaries between the States - and the honorable member would realise that this is difficult enough - but also a delineation of the international boundaries in northern areas. This obviously will mean a considerable amount of work before we will be in a position to bring the legislation forward, but the honorable member may rest assured that both the Attorney-General and I are doing our utmost to see that it is brought forward at the earliest possible date so that people drilling off shore and discovering oil and gas will know what conditions of lease they may have.
– I ask a question of my friend the Minister for Labour and National Service. When does the honorable gentleman expect that he might be in a position to understand from his own experiences, the economic problems that have to be faced by the ordinary wage earner who has to maintain a wife and large family?
– I never let my expectations and ambitions run ahead of the possibilities.
– I refer to the shortage of labour in primary and secondary industry and ask the Minister for Labour and National Service: Can he give the House any information about future additions to the work force from migration and from school leavers that might relieve this serious situation?
– I am glad to be able to inform the honorable member that recently we carried out a survey of increases in the work force from various sources. As to migrants - and this comes within the bailiwick of my friend, the Minister for Immigration, but I am sure he will not mind my mentioning the figures - we expect to have the same figures for increases in the work force from migration this year as we had last year, that is, between 50,000 and 60,000 people. We cannot be certain of the figure, but I think that is a good starting point to take. What will be important from the honorable member’s point of view is that a large percentage of these will be skilled workers in the electrical and vehiclebuilding trades and the building trades. As to the second part of the question, we expect that this year we will have much the same increase as last year in the work force due to school leavers. This is so particularly because in New South Wales, instead of 60,000 school leavers as we had last year, this year, as a result of one of the provisions of the Wyndham report, we hope to have about 75,000. I will have a more detailed examination made of this question and make the information available to the House.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service: Is the Government greatly perturbed by the shortage of skilled tradesmen in the community? Can he give any reasons why only 1,499, or 60 per cent, of the 2,500 Commonwealth technical scholarships made available this year were actually awarded? In particular, can he say why only 292, or 31 per cent, of the 944 scholarships available in New South Wales were actually awarded? Finally, does he know why the Commonwealth, in the words of Senator Gorton to me, expects that it will be some years before the whole of the annual grant of technical scholarships will be taken up? Is it because the scholarships are poorly advertised or because the qualifying conditions are too stringent?
– I should have thought that enough has been said in this House and published in the Press to indicate that the Government regards as one of the greatest restrictions to development the inability to get enough skilled men into the work force. Although this is not a responsibility of the Commonwealth Government we have assumed responsibility for the training of greater numbers of apprentices and for better apprenticeship training. I thought it was obvious that we, like other great industrial countries, must have a skilled work force if our rate of development is to increase or even go on at the present pace. As to the last two parts of the honorable gentleman’s question, I was not aware of any statement made by my colleague in the Senate, the Minister acting on behalf of the Prime Minister, nor of its effect. I will find out exactly what he has said and will make the information available to the honorable gentleman.
– My question is addressed to the right honorable the Prime Minister. Is it correct that the very efficient, knowledgeable Director of the Northern Division of the Department of National Development is changing his occupation? Is it also correct that the Assistant Secretary, Policy Examination, has resigned his position in the Division? If so, do not these happenings indicate that the Government’s failure to formulate and implement plans for the proper development of Northern Australia has caused a general feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction throughout the Division? Finally, does the Prime Minister intend to clarify the position and take positive action in relation to this unhappy situation which is so detrimental to the development of the north and which is causing so much concern throughout Australia, particularly in Northern Australia?
– Some of the honorable member’s facts are a little astray. It is true that the head of the Northern Development Division of the Department of National Development has announced that he proposes to depart into politics. It is not true that the No. 2 man has resigned. He, in point of fact, being suitably qualified, applied for a post in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics which had been advertised in the ordinary way. He subsequently withdrew that application. He is still in the Department and I understand is doing very effective work in it.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs. I refer to reports of recent attacks by the Vietcong in which they are alleged to have used gas grenades. Are these reports correct? If so, has the Minister received protests similar to those which occurred earlier this year when the Americans used tear gas for humanitarian reasons? If so, have these protests emanated from similar groups, including a number of members of the Opposition?
- Mr Speaker, I have seen reports that the Vietcong used a disabling gas in some of their operations. Of course, last year it was well known that the forces supporting South Vietnam used a disabling gas. As I said at the time, the use of disabling gas is a method of warfare that in certain cases, such as where civilian populations may be mixed with soldiers, is more merciful and less harmful to the civilian population than if a lethal gas, or any other lethal form of warfare, were used. It is quite true that when the forces supporting South Vietnam used a disabling gas certain members on the front bench of the Opposition asked repeated questions about it. It is also quite true that when the disabling gas was used by forces fighting South Vietnam no member of the front bench of the Opposition raised any question at all.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Navy. Has the Department of the Navy called for tenders in Australia for the construction of patrol vessels? For how many of these vessels have tenders been called? When did tenders close? Are the vessels to be used only in the waters of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea?
– I think that if the honorable member refers to the statement on the three year plan for defence he will find that 14 vessels were to be ordered, five of which were for use in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea patrol force and nine for the Royal Australian Navy. Tenders have been called for these vessels and have now closed. They are under consideration and are subject to consideration by the Commonwealth Stores Supply and Tender Board, which is under the jurisdiction of my colleague, the Acting Minister for Supply. I think that within the next week or so an announcement will be made about these tenders.
– My question, which is addressed to the Prime Minister, is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Wakefield. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether he expects that the Vernon Committee’s report will be printed in time to be distributed, and to be available to the many members of the community who are interested in this matter, prior to the debate on the report in this House.
– I regret to say that that is not feasible. Arrangements were put in hand for the printing of the report. A great number of checks have had to be made. I am afraid that it is not expected that the printed copies will be available for a couple of months at least. Therefore, it will not be possible to have the report in print prior to the debate on it. I have the warmest sympathy with what I know the honorable member has in mind, because I find it much more satisfactory to read print than to read something that looks like a roneoed paper. However, with all the good will in the world, it is not feasible to have printed copies available in time for the debate.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Immigration. Is it a fact that next year’s world pentathlon championships will not now be held in Australia, as a result of the Minister’s decision to refuse visas to East German athletes? Is he aware that as a result of his decision there is speculation that the 1967 world table tennis championships, which have also been allocated to Australia, may be cancelled? Can he say whether Chinese players, who hold most of the world table tennis titles, would be granted visas to enter Australia?
– The honorable member has made a number of statements that I do not know anything about. I have made a statement concerning the issue of passports in connection with the world pentathlon championships. This is a matter of Government policy and involves international attitudes. I say to the honorable member that in this matter there are big world issues which are completely different from the naming of a sporting team. I do not want to be melodramatic about this matter, but the fact is that East Germany is still in a state of aggravation and tension with other countries. While I was there just a few months ago there was an incident in which a young fellow and a young girl were shot while they were drifting in a boat on the river towards East Germany. One has to be there to realise the tension and atmosphere that exist. I had the experience of talking to Willy Brandt, the Mayor of Berlin.
– What has this to do with the question?
– It has something to do with it. He said that the West Germans were still fighting the Communist issue; that they could do that themselves; but that all they wanted was for the rest of the world to understand and to be conscious of what they were doing. International sport is a marvellous thing. Of course it is. Everybody likes to see contestants on the fields of sport. But there are international issues which are bigger than sport. As I have said, this is a matter of Government policy-
– West Germany and East Germany-
– Order! The honorable member for Wills will restrain himself.
– I am carrying out Government policy in this matter; I point out that where international issues are involved they are often bigger than sport.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs a question. Further to the cease fire between India and Pakistan, has the Australian Government received any request from the United Nations for observers or peace keeping forces?
– No formal request has yet been received from the United Nations to the Australian Government to appoint members of a United Nations observer force; but our representatives at the United Nations have foreshadowed that such a request may be received.
– I direct to the Minister for Immigration a question supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Hughes. Will the Minister consult with the honorable member for Chisholm, who still plays a very important part in the world of sport, in order to ascertain whether the real reason why visas are not being issued to East German sportsmen to come to Australia is because of the inability of East Germany and West Germany to send a combined team here in 1965 as they did in 1956? Will he ascertain also whether the whole matter of sportsmen attending Australia is determined by the International Olympic Committee, over which Mr. Brundage presides, which accepts or rejects applications for teams from various countries to attend sporting fixtures in this country? If he does ascertain that it is the world body controlling sport that determines the matter, then the question of the attendance of teams from countries that are not accredited, or not accepted, could not arise because, if they did come here they could not take part in the sport concerned. The whole thing therefore has no security connotation. It is a matter entirely for international sporting bodies and not something arising from the tragedies that happen between East Germany and West Germany.
– Although the honorable member for Chisholm’s long and honorable association with sport will always be recognised, this is a question that is not decided by international sporting bodies. It is a question that is decided by countries which have an official government attitude towards this particular international situation, and we must take cognizance of that situation. I want to say that anything the honorable member for Chisholm would have to say on this subject would be appreciated, but it has to be recognized that the final decision is a matter of Government policy. The position is that we are not, as a Government, issuing passports unless, as I said earlier this week in reply to a question, a combined team from Germany can come and be accepted in Australia. In that case passports will be issued as has been done on other occasions.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. The delay in providing a television installation at Mackay in North Queensland is causing a considerable amount of criticism. Can the Minister inform the House what steps are being taken by the Postmaster-General’s Department towards providing an intermediate or temporary service? Also, what is the expected completion date of the final scheme?
– I realise the interest of the honorable member in this matter, as Mackay is an important town in his electorate. I mention that at the end of Stage 4 of the programme for the provision of television services there will be 33 national country stations. It was necessary therefore in the beginning to indicate a priority for their establishment. The Mackay station was expected to be completed by the end of 1966. It was desired that facilities should be provided at Mount Blackwood. When an approach was made about the availability of this site the national park authority said that it would give permission for the site only if a tourist road were built to it. Normally these facilities are serviced merely by a service road. The attitude of the national park authority created a situation in which the cost was such that it seemed necessary to forward the case to the Public Works Committee. This caused some delay but recently, because of arrangements with commercial stations for sharing the cost of facilities, it was found to be unnecessary to send this matter to the Public Works Committee. I regret the delay in this matter, but it has been caused by circumstances beyond the control of my Department. The delay in finishing the station will be about 12 months. It is expected that the Mackay station will be operating by the end of 1967. We do not feel that we would be justified in building a temporary station merely to meet a circumstance of 12 months delay in the final installation.
– I ask the Minister for the Army: Is he aware that, in an Amnesty Day debate at the Australian National University this coming weekend, a team from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, will argue the affirmative - “ That it is desirable that all academic institutions be co-educational “? Is the Royal Military College regarded as an academic institution? Will members of the team from Duntroon be seeking to improve conditions generally at the College, to widen the range of their Army experience and to encourage enlistment? Does their avid support of the proposal presage any change in recruitment and training at the College?
– The Royal Military College, Duntroon, is not entirely an academic institution but a considerable number of courses of an academic nature are undertaken there. We hope that the scope of these courses will increase and that before long courses of an academic nature will be given at Duntroon up to degree standard When that stage is reached no doubt consideration could be given in the spirit of the honorable member’s question to the co-educational future of the College.
– Is the Minister for Housing aware that in advertisements on television and through other mediums some banks are referring to the homes savings grant as “ the Government homes savings grant “ and that where the particular bank operates under a State Government guarantee the implication to the public is that the grant is sponsored by the State Government? Will the Minister take action to ensure that in further references to this subject the grant is designated as a Commonwealth Government grant?
– I have not seen any of the advertisements referred to, but I am acquainted with misleading advertising in various respects. Undoubtedly this occurs in the realm of public authorities as well as in that of private authorities. I will certainly look into the matter. If the honorable member cares to give me details I will take up the matter with the parties concerned. The grant is a Commonwealth grant. I suppose if you refer to “the Government” in Australia you should be taken as referring to the Commonwealth Government. This is certainly so in this House. I am glad that the honorable member has directed my attention to this matter. I will look into it further.
– In the light of current strong rumours I ask the Prime Minister whether the Vernon Committee’s report, or part of it, was made available to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission after the evidence for the employers and the Australian Council of Trade Unions had been completed but before the Commission handed down its decision.
– I assure the House that this is the first I have heard of this matter. I will find out whether there is any truth in the suggestion. If there were it would come as a very great surprise to me.
– I ask the Minister for Housing a question. As figures are not available to show the number of houses built on rural properties for which Commonwealth finance, through the War Service Homes Division and Commonwealth and State housing funds, has been used, will the Minister ask his Department to keep such simple statistics in the future so that accurate information may be gained as to the disbursement of Commonwealth housing funds?
– I cannot undertake to suggest to the States that they should keep these statistics. As far as war service homes are concerned, I can get recent statistics for the honorable member, but he will appreciate that, with so many tens of thousands of loans outstanding, to get all this information in detail would not be a worthwhile exercise. However, I will find out what kind of information can be supplied in future.
– A few minutes ago the honorable member for Blaxland asked the Prime Minister whether portions of the report of the Vernon Committee had been made available to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I think this suggestion is so important that it should be met with a categorical denial that anything of that kind has happened. I do not think that the Arbitration Commission had any warning at all of what was contained in the report.
– Mr. Speaker, I take a point of order. My question was addressed to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister told me that he had no knowledge of the matter I raised but would make inquiries. I think it is quite wrong, when the Prime Minister undertakes to make an inquiry, for a Minister to come in then and give a reply.
– Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could speak to what I believe to be the point of order. The obvious person from whom an inquiry should be made by me is the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is the Minister responsible for the industrial arbitration activities of the Commonwealth. Having expressed my own astonishment that such a thing could happen I at once turned to him and he said it had not.
– He said he did not think.
– He did not think?
– That is what he said; he did not think.
– What my colleague said will stand for itself on the record. If there is any further investigation to be made, I wilt certainly make it.
– On the point of order, I think the Minister for Labour and National Service, to a degree, cleared his action with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. However, the point is that in circumstances of this kind the Minister who is more fully informed should answer the question.
– Further to the point of order, am I to understand that the situation is that, although I ask the Prime Minister a question, another Minister can answer? Portions of the report of the Vernon Committee are now being made available to the Australian Council of Trade Unions as a result of a note received from the Department of the Treasury, which is now controlled by the Prime Minister as Acting Treasurer and not by the Minister for Labour and National Service. That is why I addressed my question to the Prime Minister.
– The honorable member is not getting angry with me, is he?
– No, certainly I am not. But I am entitled to put a question in this House to the person from whom I believe I can obtain the information. Another question was asked on the same subject this morning. The report of the Vernon Committee is now being distributed and it is not being distributed by the
Minister for Labour and National Service at this stage.
– Order! I think I have already answered the honorable member for Blaxland.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation. As there appears to be little information on the subject, I ask: In what circumstances is a war pensioner eligible for free motor car registration?
– Motor car registration is primarily the responsibility of the State Governments. It is also the responsibility of the Commonwealth within its Territories. However, I believe that concessional rates are generally available for various categories of disability, including, I believe, in the case of war pensioners, either total or partial immobility. I shall inquire particularly about the situation in Victoria, with which, I have no doubt, the honorable member for Mallee is especially concerned. If I can provide him with detailed information, I shall do so at the earliest possible opportunity.
– I ask the Minister for Housing a question. Is the New South Wales Government considering a proposal to provide prefabricated backyard outhouses for the accommodation of elderly persons under the provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement? Does the Minister consider such temporary and inferior housing to be in keeping with the dignity of old age? Is he prepared to relegate elderly people in our community to this backyard atmosphere? If not, will he intimate that the provision of this sort of accommodation will not be facilitated by resort to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement?
– I have no knowledge that the Housing Commission of New South Wales or the State Minister for Housing is considering such a proposal, though I know that somewhat similar provision has been made in South Australia to enable extra rooms to be added to houses according to varying family requirements. These rooms are of good standard and improve accommodation a great deal. They can be provided as a unit separate from the house and can be rented separately. The general idea has something to commend it. However, I know nothing of the details if a proposal of the kind mentioned has been made in New South Wales. The Commonwealth Government very properly is concerned that reasonable standards be maintained.
Royal Assent. Mr. SPEAKER.- I wish to inform the House that yesterday afternoon, accompanied by the Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden), I waited on His Excellency the Governor-General at Government House and personally presented for the Royal Assent the Loan (Housing) Bill 1965, this being the first bill ready for presentation following the swearing in of His Excellency yesterday morning. The Governor-General, in the name of Her Majesty, was pleased to assent to the Bill, which is now Act No. 55 of 1965.
– I present the following report of the Public Accounts Committee -
Seventy-first Report- Northern Territory Administration.
I seek leave to make a short statement.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– In 1957, the third Committee conducted an inquiry into the Northern Territory Administration following criticisms which had been made by the Auditor-General and the Public Service Board. Following that inquiry, the third Committee presented three pertinent reports to the Parliament - the 35th, 36th and 37th reports, relating to the Northern Territory Administration. The widespread nature of the criticisms raised by your third Committee and the persistence of specific criticisms being made by the Auditor-General some six years after that inquiry had occurred, caused the Committee to resolve that the circumstances of government and -its problems in the Northern Territory should be reviewed.
In this report, the Committee has sought intentionally to provide honorable members with a comprehensive record of the general improvements which have occurred in the development of the Territory’s resources and government in recent years. The report shows that, while much has been achieved since 1957, some problems to which the third Committee directed attention urgently are as yet unresolved and new problems have emerged to confront the Administration as the pace of development in the Territory has quickened under stimuli provided by both private enterprise and government. The Committee found no fewer than 21 matters requiring attention urgently either by the Northern Territory Administration or by Commonwealth departments and authorities represented in the Territory. The Committee found, for example that there is still an urgent need for a formal, authentic statement to be published in the Northern Territory “Gazette”, setting out the structure of the Northern Territory Administration and listing the Commonwealth departments represented in the Territory with their functions under both Commonwealth and Territory law. We believe that the Commonwealth Administrative Arrangements Order provides a ready precedent for such a statement. There is still an urgent need for the establishment of a Public Service Inspector’s Office in Darwin and there is still an urgent need to improve office and hostel accommodation in the principal centres of the Territory.
Although housing has been improved following the establishment of the Northern Territory Housing Commission and an increase in the supply of houses by the Administration, the problem of housing continues to have an adverse effect on the recruitment and retention of public servants in the area. We consider that the relevant authorities associated with the design of staff houses should give continuing attention to changes being made in the designs and construction of houses for use in tropical areas and that an effective and continuing liaison between the Administration, the Department of Works and the Housing Commission should be established to ensure that minimum housing costs consistent with housing requirements in the Northern Territory are achieved.
The evidence presented to the Committee shows that, subject to the electricity supply of Tennant Creek being resolved satisfactorily, further consideration should be given to the establishment of an authority to administer business undertakings in the Territory. In addition, the future brick needs of Darwin should be assessed by the Northern Territory Administration and a Determination should be made as to the advantages of the brickworks being brought under joint administrative control with other business undertakings.
The Committee also found that, arising mainly from increased activity by the Legislative Council, the resources of the Crown Law Office in Darwin require strengthening and that maximum assistance should be provided by this Office for the Darwin City Council, the only municipal body in the Territory, in regard to the drafting of bylaws and the appropriate redrafting of the local Government Ordinance to ensure that bylaws can be properly enforced. I am sure honorable members will agree that local government is an essential basic element in the structure of Australian government. In this regard, the Committee believes that as the Northern Territory moves forward to eventual State status as a partner in the Federal system, the Government and the Northern Territory Administration should actively and continuously seek to promote responsible local government in the area. I commend the report to honorable members.
Ordered to be printed.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960, 1 present the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works relating to the following proposed work -
Site preparation for the north-west building area at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport.
I ask for leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The work in this reference relates to the preparation of the low lying north west sector of Sydney Airport for the redevelopment in that area of the international and domestic passenger terminals and associated aircraft aprons and taxiways. The Committee agrees that there is a need to redevelop the terminal facilities at Sydney Airport and that the north west area is the best site for this to take place. It is the intention of the Government to build, as the first stage of the terminal buildings redevelopment, a new international terminal. A report by the Committee on these proposals is to be laid on the table shortly.
The Public Works Committee agrees that there is an urgent need for a new international terminal, but it also considers that there is an equally pressing need for the new domestic terminals. Both of the present domestic terminals meet present needs but neither will be adequate by, say, 1970, which is the earliest year the new terminals could be erected, unless costly and uneconomic expansion of the present temporary facilities is carried out.
There has been discussion in the House and in the Press recently about the relative capacities of Mascot and Tullamarine airports to cope in the future with the requirements of jet aircraft and civil aviation generally. The Public Works Committee is convinced of the ability of Mascot to cope with the requirements of the next 15 years or so, but it is equally convinced that the needs of civil aviation beyond that time have not yet been safeguarded. As a solution of this requirement will become more difficult as time passes, the Committee believes that the Government should take positive steps now to earmark the area which will be required for airport development when the present airport is incapable of further expansion.
In the House last week the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) drew attention to the erosion which had occurred on the beach front in Botany Bay following recent storms, alleging that this was caused by the dredging activities associated with the extension of the north-south runway at Sydney airport. As work in the present report includes some additional dredging of Botany Bay to obtain sand for filling purposes, and because the erosion referred to commenced during the period the Committee was taking evidence, we obtained advice from experts of the New South Wales Maritime Services Board and the Department of Works on the cause of the erosion and the likely effects of further dredging. The information given to the Committee was that there had been erosion in the area on occasions before work on the runway extensions commenced and that this had been followed by a return over a period to a state of equilibrium. It seemed likely that the recent erosion may have taken place even if the excavation had not been carried out. There was no conclusive evidence that the excavation had caused or had directly contributed to the erosion.
The Committee noted that there had been close co-operation in the past between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales Government authorities in determining the extent and contours of the present and future areas from which sand is drawn and that the New South Wales Government had no objection, even after the recent storms, to the continued excavation of sand as previously agreed.
Ordered that the report be printed.
.- I move -
That this House is of opinion that retention of appeals to the Privy Council from courts in Australia is inconsistent with Australia’s status as an independent nation and that steps should be taken as soon as possible to abolish such appeals.
The essence of British democracy is that laws should be made by a parliament which has been elected by all citizens and that laws should be applied by judges who have been appointed by a government responsible to such a parliament. In our tradition the rule of law requires that the governed elect the persons who make the laws and the government appoint the persons who apply the laws. Appeals from Australian courts to the Privy Council are not consonant with Australia’s nationhood. They do not comply with the rule of law and the British democratic system which we have inherited.
The Privy Council never sits outside London. The Privy Council very rarely includes Australian judges. The SolicitorGeneral for New South Wales in the
Sydney “Law Review” of March 1958 analysed the 33 Australian appeals to the Privy Council between 1946 and 1957 inclusive, 27 of them by special leave from the High Court and six direct from the Supreme Courts of New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. He reported that in no case did any judges outside Britain sit on the boards hearing those appeals. The judgments of the Privy Council take the form of advice to Her Britannic Majesty, not to the Queen of Australia. To point the contrast, the Privy Council does not hear appeals from Her Britannic Majesty’s courts in England or Scotland or Northern Ireland. Thus there is the appearance and the reality of a court hearing appeals from a dependent country.
What other independent country, one might ask, would allow decisions of its courts to be taken on appeal to a court sitting in another country, to a court comprising judges appointed by the Government of that other country, to a court giving judgment by way of advice to the head of State of that other country? Only New Zealand comes readily to mind. What impression of our independence and our adequacy does this practice give to our neighbours throughout the whole of SouthEast Asia? The great contribution we could make to this area, apart from industrial skills, would seem to be by adhering to the principles of making laws through elected parliaments and applying them through independent courts. We do not set a proper standard by retaining the system of appeals to the Privy Council.
The whole question has become much more prominent in the public mind since in the last month the third Commonwealth and Empire Law Conference in Sydney, the largest gathering of common law practitioners that has ever taken place in this country, discussed among other things intra-Commonwealth judicial machinery. At the conference the question of abolition of appeals did not arise because most delegates came from countries which had abolished such appeals or frankly admitted that when they achieved independence they would abolish them. The question did arise, however, of a Commonwealth court. The Lord Chancellor of Britain stated the British Government’s attitude on this matter. He said that his Government was prepared to meet the wishes of the
Commonwealth countries, that it wished to find out what the Commonwealth nations really wanted and whether there was a general demand for a court which would replace the functions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He said that the British Government appreciated the views of those newly independent countries which had abolished appeals to the Privy Council and that it viewed sympathetically the suggestion that a Commonwealth Court of Appeal should be constituted. He said that if there was a general demand for a Commonwealth Court of Appeal Britain would be happy to promote its setting up. He was quoted as saying, amid applause -
I am authorised to go further today and say that if it would contribute to the constitution of such a Court we in the United Kingdom, so far as England and Wales are concerned, would favourably consider giving up appeals from the Court of Appeal to the House of Lords and it may be that in that event Scotland and Northern Ireland would follow the same course.
I am not minded, Sir, and the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Connor), who will follow me, is not minded to disparage in any way the idea of a Commonwealth Court such as the British Government is willing to set up, and such as was discussed, but with very little enthusiasm, at the Commonwealth and Empire Law Conference in Sydney. We can understand the attitude of many countries, particularly the smaller and newer members of the Commonwealth, that they need a legal profession of greater numbers and longer traditions in order to safeguard their own laws. A Commonwealth court may not be practicable, but it certainly would not be objectionable. Sovereignty would be no more diminished for any country than for any other participating country in having a Commonwealth court hearing appeals from Commonwealth countries and consisting of judges appointed by the Commonwealth countries concerned. This proposition is completely different from the present situation under which the appeals go from each Commonwealth country to a court appointed by Britain but not hearing appeals from Britain. The Commonwealth court which has been discussed would certainly overcome all such objections. My Party is strongly internationalist in these matters. It has supported from the inception the International Court of Justice and it takes pride in the fact that a distinguished Australian is the President of the Court. It only hopes that the Government will see its way clear to remove the Connolly amendment limitations with which it accepted the jurisdiction of the World Court. I have digressed on this matter to make it quite clear that the Privy Council is, in our view, objectionable; a Commonwealth court such as has been proposed is not at all objectionable.
– What about section 74?
– This raises another question. Mr. J. D. Holmes, Q.C., said at the conference that it would not be possible for us to subscribe to such a court legislatively, but only after a referendum. I imagine that if we were minded to participate in the proceedings of such a court and we found that we could not do it by mere legislation, we could put a referendum to the people. I apprehend that we would all support it. This is a matter of machinery; it is not a matter of principle.
A very great number of matters can and do go on appeal from Australian courts to the Privy Council. In fact, it would be true to say that most questions which arise under Chapter I - The Parliament - of the Australian Constitution can go to the Privy Council. The Browne and Fitzpatrick case, the last privileges case 10 years ago, is an instance. Similarly, most matters arising under Chapter II of the Constitution concerning the Executive Government can go to the Privy Council. Most matters arising under Chapter HI - The Judicature - can go to the Privy Council. Under Chapter III it is still the practice that appeals which at the time of Federation lay from the Supreme Courts of the States to the Privy Council can go from those courts to the Privy Council. It is true that, under section 74, matters affecting the inter se rights of the Commonwealth and the States cannot go on appeal from the High Court to the Privy Council unless the High Court certifies. It has not certified for more than 50 years. All other matters, however, can go on appeal from the High Court to the Privy Council under section 74. In particular, these include the very great number of matters arising under section 92, the reason being that section 92 creates a legislative vacuum. There can be no question of the limits inter se of the Constitutional powers of the Commonwealth and the States since neither of them has powers. Moreover, whether a question is an inter se matter is determined by the Privy Council.
There are, accordingly, many matters which can, and there are many matters which in fact do go on appeal from Australian courts to the Privy Council. I apprehend that it is not our function today to deal with the. machinery for abolishing or limiting appeals to the Privy Council. Mr. Garth Nettheim, a lecturer in law at the Sydney University, discussed the whole subject in the June issue of the Australian Law Journal. He detailed the legislative means available to the Commonwealth Parliament and to the State Parliaments, with or without the consent of the British Parliament or the Australian people. In particular he makes an interesting excursus into the use which could be made of paragraph (xxxviii) of section 51 at the request or with the concurrence of the States. As politicians we might perhaps believe that if the consent of the States is required to the untried procedure under that paragraph, then there are other tried procedures for which the consent of the States could be as readily obtained. It does seem that there are no mere legislative means for Australian governments, with or without the consent of the British Government, to cut off some avenues of appeal. There are two very clear ways in which the matter could be solved. The British Parliament could abolish such appeals. This would emphasise our dependence. The Australian people could abolish them at a referendum, if this Parliament or either House of it put such a referendum to them. This would emphasise our independence.
Quite apart from the methods mentioned by Mr. Nettheim. there is a very simple procedural method available to us for limiting appeals since the creation of all judges of the High Court as Privy Counsellors. All judges now on the High Court are ex officio and instanter knighted and appointed Privy Counsellors. When the
Parliament first met two years ago I asked the then Attorney-General -
Since all the judges of the High Court of Australia have now been appointed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, I ask the honorable gentleman whether arrangements have been made for Australian Privy Counsellors to sit in Australia to hear appeals which lie from State Supreme Courts to the Privy Council.
Sir Garfield Barwick answered
The answer to the question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is, “No”.
Upon this the Australian Law Journal in April 1963 commented -
In giving such a precise answer to a concise question, the Attorney-General has perhaps left room for speculation as to whether the recent appointments are likely in the future to be of significance in relation to Privy Council appeals. It would we believe accord with the views of the great majority of persons having an informed opinion on the subject if by one means or another such appeals were with due propriety now to be brought to an end.
I interpolate that in March last year I asked the new Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) whether these arrangements had been made, and he said that he would give me a suitable reply. In answer to a question on notice he told me on 17th November last that no arrangements of the kind referred to had been made.
It will be noticed that the Australian Law
Journal expressed the view that the great majority of persons with an informed opinion on the subject believe that these appeals should now be brought to an end. This would seem to be the opinion of the Press as a result of the discussions at the Commonwealth and Empire Law Conference in Sydney a month ago. A report in the “Age” stated-
Australia . . . would have little to lose and something to gain by abolishing appeals to the Privy Council and recognising the High Court as the final court of appeal. Australia is one of the few Commonwealth countries that still allows appeals to the Privy Council, and probably has the least need for the practice.
The Australian High Court, all of whose present judges are entitled to sit on the Privy Council, achieved sufficient stature as a court of review long ago. For most litigants, appeals to the Privy Council are excessively costly in time and money.
The Australain Government has shown no enthusiasm for a Commonwealth court. Why, then, does it cling to the anachronism of appeals to the Privy Council? As an expression of sentiment and tradition, they are a needless and expensive luxury.
This is really in the Syme tradition. The “ Sydney Morning Herald “ at the same time said -
The older and more mature Dominions, like Australia and Canada, have no need of such a Court. They are well able to settle their own legal disputes (though Australia still clings to the anachronism of the Privy Council . . . ) and have plenty of able judges to do so.
The “ Australian “ said -
Much opinion in this country favours abolition of the Privy Council appeal. For disposition of the kind of appeals that today reach the Privy Council from this country, no court is better equipped procedurally and intellectually than our own High Court.
Ten years ago the Australian gallup poll ascertained that 65 per cent, of the Australian people were in favour of the High Court of Australia being our last court of appeal, 22 per cent, were in favour of the Privy Council and 13 per cent., mostly women, had no opinion. In every State big majorities were in favour of ending the right of appeal to the Privy Council. The vote for ending it came from 71 per cent, of Labour voters and 62 per cent, of Liberal and Country Party voters. The gallup poll is taking another sample of opinion on this subject this weekend.
The real issue we have to decide is: What is the virtue or the utility of maintaining the appeal? It used to be said that Australians were not competent to determine these supreme legal matters. There have been lawyers in this country from the early part of last century - some were sent out at the end of the century before and after some time were allowed to practise in New South Wales and Tasmania - but there have been locally born and trained lawyers of very great competence for a century and a half. Nobody believes that the supposed noncompetence of Australian lawyers in such high matters is now a valid reason for maintaining appeals to the Privy Council. Again, it used to be said that British judges were remote from the Australian political scene and therefore were better equipped and more impartial in deciding contentious matters - particularly political or constitutional matters - than were Australian judges, some of whom had been in politics and all of whom inevitably lived in the Australian community and took an interest in it. I do not believe that anybody now puts this argument. The judiciary was never meant to be independent in the sense that it was remote or ignorant. The judiciary is meant to be independent in the sense that the tenure of judges will not be affected in any way by the decisions they make. They are appointed by politicians. Once they are appointed they hold office without fear or favour and with complete security until the retiring age is reached or, in the case of judges in this country, as long as they live or choose to sit. Therefore I do not think anybody now urges this argument.
It is sometimes still said, however, that it is desirable to have a final British court of appeal because Britain has a more numerous legal profession, a profession with longer traditions, and it is the country where the common law was born; therefore it is the country which is best able to give authoritative and co-ordinated decisions on matters arising in countries which inherited British law. There must, in the case of appeals from Australia, be some qualifications to this. There is this ridiculous anomaly to which I have already referred concerning inter se questions and other questions under section 74 of the Constitution. In respect of inter se questions the High Court maintains the attitude - and has done so for over half a century - that it should have the ultimate responsibility to decide all such issues. In regard to other questions under section 74, however, it must defer to the rulings, and even the dicta, of the Privy Council. Some of these other matters are of just as great importance as the inter se matters. I repeat that every section 92 matter can go to the Privy Council. Again there is the anomaly that the High Court may take upon itself the responsibility of not following decisions of the House of Lords. Since the case of Parker v. The Queen in 1963 this is clearly established. On the other hand, it is bound to defer to decisions of the Privy Council which, in most instances, is composed of some of the same Law Lords who constitute the House of Lords in its legal capacity, whose decisions the High Court is at liberty not to follow. The idea that the Privy Council in some way was infallible - supremely authoritative - was surely given the coup de grace by an article which Lord Wright, after his retirement, wrote in the “Sydney Law Review” in 1954. I quote from it -
I feel great diffidence in approaching questions arising under section 92 of the Australian Coa-
F.1061 5/65.- /i. - £451 stitution. The Constitution was the creation of the Australian people and its meaning and its application are matters for Australia and the Australian courts. Of that fact I have always felt conscious even when in my judicial duty I was sitting on the board, as I did in the case of James v. The Commonwealth, where the Privy Council made a serious attempt to solve some of the problems of the section. I have no second thoughts about the judgment then given except on one very vital point, that is, the exact scope of section VI. The Board held that it was a laisser passer clause, not a laisser faire clause. They ought, as I now think, to have gone further and held that section 92 was a fiscal clause (for reasons which I will develop later in this article), and that its operation was there limited to fiscal matters. When I look back it seems to me now as a private person, and not even an Australian, that on that view it was wrong to invalidate an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament which was not fiscal in character but appertained to the State powers or fell within the governmental powers vested in the Federal Government. … All these could be affected by section 92 if the case fell within the range of fiscal matters, with which alone, as I think now, section 92 dealt.
James v. The Commonwealth was the case in which the Prime Minister appeared as Attorney-General for the Commonwealth, and it is to be regretted that Lord Wright did not at that time adopt the argument which our Attorney-General so cogently put to the Board. A great deal of the difficulty of governing this country in the succeeding generation has flowed from the decision made by the Board on that occasion.
The remaining argument that is used for preserving appeals from Australian courts to the Privy Council is that the unity of the Commonwealth is in this way preserved. This surely must be a receding argument. For many years one of the first actions by each British colony on achieving independence has been to abolish the appeal. The fact that Australia now maintains, or tolerates, such appeals is a ground which sets it apart from most Commonwealth countries. There is, therefore, no valid political purpose any more than there is a valid judicial purpose in preserving the appeal. The debates in the Federal Conventions were not wanting in colour and vigour. I shall indulge myself by quoting one phrase only by Mr. Isaacs - as he then was - in the Melbourne debates in 1898 -
I cannot bring myself to believe that the links which bind us to the Empire are in any way formed of lawyers’ bills of costs.
There are many opinions which one could quote in favour of abolishing the appeal. Academic opinions abound. Practitioners’ opinions are not so numerous, although Mr. J. D. Holmes, whom I have already mentioned in answer to the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Gibson), said six weeks ago that the appeal should be abolished. He is President of the Bar Council of New South Wales. He has as large a constitutional practice as anybody has had in this country except the present Chief Justice. I regret that the Parliamentary Library’s resources are so exiguous as to be unable to find the passage I wished to quote. The former Chief Justice Sir John Latham expressed the opinion to the Constitutional Review Committee that the appeals should be abolished. Professor Beasley, Dean of the Faculty of Law in the University of Western Australia, expressed the same view in an article in “Res judicatae” ten years ago. Professor Cowen, Dean of the Faculty of Law in the University of Melbourne, expressed the same view at the same time. The Professor of Law in the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University, Professor Sawer, spoke in his typically vigorous and valiant way at the beginning of August this year as follows -
There is no case for the existence of the Privy Council any longer. Originally it constituted a body of exceedingly well informed jurists who considered a wide range of problems. As such, the Privy Council served to stabilise jurisprudence throughout the Empire through the uniformity of its judgments.
Before the 1900’s the Privy Council, as the final legal authority, had a much wider range of experience and ability than existed in Australia. It was, therefore, important historically. However, the need for the Privy Council disappeared by 1914. By 1920 it could not be said to be better than the High Court of Australia, and by 1945 it was demonstrably poorer. It wouldn’t last 10 seconds if the Government took any notice of the administration of law.
The burden of appeals before the council has become monstrous. The Australian High Court is quite capable of dealing with appeals to it, and there is no conceivable justification for having more than one substantive re-hearing. A sophisticated country such as Australia should have its own legal system, a closed legal system.
By 1960 the greater part of the old Commonwealth and Empire had discarded the Privy Council. It is an expensive and unnecessary appendage of Australia’s legal system.
The founding fathers of the Australian Constitution wanted to abolish appeals to the Privy Council, but were forced to a compromise by strong British opposition to the move.
In constitutional law, on balance, I do not think the Privy Council has contributed anything or beneficially altered anything that could not in an obvious sense, have been left as the High Court wanted. The reasons for its continuation are purely sentimental.
The views of judges which cannot be quoted, except retired judges like Lord Wright and Chief Justice Latham - the views of law deans, the view of the president of the New South Wales Bar Council, all lead one to think that there is no valid reason why appeals to the Privy Council should be maintained. As politicians, we cannot, I submit, put any political reason why they should be maintained. I hope that the Government will allow a vote on this matter in which I know so many Government members as well as Opposition members are interested.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired. Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion and reserve my right to speak to it.
– Mr. Speaker, one thing emerges pretty clearly on this matter: There is no passionate interest in it on the part of honorable members of this House. I think we have rather less than a quorum present. Therefore it would be quite wrong to suppose that there is some great demand in this Parliament for this change. But be that as it may, I just want to say a very few things. First of all, I am not announcing any Government policy because the Government has attached as little urgency to this matter as does the House itself. Therefore, we have not discussed this as a matter on which we ought to arrive at a policy and I am not in a position to state one.
But having had some reason to be interested in these maters myself I am very willing to make a small contribution to a discussion which undoubtedly will have value for all of us. I am not at all resentful that this had been brought up, because it will add to the material upon which people will be able to form a proper judgment at the proper time. I must confess at the beginning that I am a little puzzled to follow the view of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) that, while the appeal to the Judicial Committee derogates from our independence, an appeal to the proposed new Commonwealth Court, one of whose judges may be appointed by us and five or six appointed by other countries, would not derogate from our independence. This is something that escapes me. I would have thought that precisely the same kind of argument was available in each case.
But in any event I do not think that people in Australia seriously worry about their independence. It has never occurred to me all the time that I have been here that we were not an independent nation. It never occurred to me at any Prime Ministers’ Conference - and I have now attended about 12 of them - to suppose that I was speaking for a country that was not independent because there was an appeal to the Judicial Committee, under certain conditions, any more than it would occur to me to believe that we were doing something limiting our sovereignty when we pass, with great regularity, in every session, acts of Parliament which begin with the words -
Be it enacted by the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, the Senate, and the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth . of Australia . . .
That does not derogate from our independence and this is not merely because the Queen today has a Royal style and title in this country which includes Australia because, after all, until a few years ago this change in the Royal style and title had not occurred. I do not think anybody worried about it.
I can understand this sensitiveness about independence on the part of countries that have newly come to their independence and, in some cases, have had to battle for it and have gone through dreadful troubles to secure it. I can understand that. They are sensitive about their independence and any hint that their independence is being qualified provokes at once a reaction. I understand that. But we do not suffer from any complexes of that kind in Australia.
Having said that, I just want to point out to the House that this is not a matter that will lend itself to being dealt with in a simple fashion. Section 74 of the Constitution has two provisions to which I want to direct attention. The first of them relates to the High Court giving a certificate to enable what is called by the lawyers an inter se question to go to the Judicial Com mittee. It is quite true that it did this once because it had a divided court and the matter went to the Judicial Committee. The Judicial Committee being at that time, if I may speak with retrospective respect, completely unfamiliar with problems of federalism, which are peculiar problems unknown in a unitary country like Great Britain, went on a frolic of its own, with Lord Haldane leading the hunt. Really the High Court of Australia was very annoyed when it came to read this judgment and I think most of the people in the profession were. The result has been that no application for a certificate has since been granted. That does not mean that it cannot be granted. It is still possible to conceive of a case in which’ you have a completely divided High Court oh a matter of immense public interest, with judgment going in accordance with the view of the Chief Justice, and in such a case the High Court itself might say: “We think this is a case in which finality ought. to be secured because the authority of an equally divided court is, whatever theorists may say about it, considerably less than the authority, for example, of a unanimous court”. Therefore it is quite on the cards that that might be done.
Section 74 goes on to say -
The High Court may so certify if satisfied that for any special reason the certificate should be granted, and thereupon an appeal shall lie to Her Majesty in Council on the question without further leave.
That creates a right of appeal to the Judicial Committee once the certificate is given. If the country wanted to abolish appeals to the Judicial Committee, quite plainly that provision, among others, would have to be deleted; there would have to be a constitutional change after a referendum. I need say no more about that. The final sentence of section 74 says -
The Parliament may make laws limiting the matters in which such leave-
That is, leave from the Judicial Committee, which is referred to earlier in the section - . . may be asked . . .
And then there is a provision that any such law has to be reserved for the royal assent. That is a matter of minor significance for my present purpose. I refer particularly to the words -
The Parliament may make laws limiting the matters …
I find it difficult to believe that, under a power to limit the matters, the appeal could be eliminated altogether. That is not limiting the matters; that is striking out all matters. Any one of the words “ limit “, “ limited “ or “ limiting “ seems to me to connote that although a boundary has been drawn there is something within it. Do honorable members see what I am getting at’ here? There is something within the boundary. Therefore, I would have no doubt whatever that we could pass a law saying that in certain types of cases it should not be possible to make an application for leave to appeal or that a certificate should be required from the High Court. But I do not think we could go the whole hog and, under the guise of limiting the matters, simply make it impossible for any matter to be taken to the Judicial Committee. 1 believe that that statement of mine carries fairly wide professional support.
However, I want to point out to the House - this is neither for nor against the proposition that has been put; it is in the course of examining this matter - that one way in which we could limit the matters that may go on appeal would be to provide that in relation to all matters arising under the Constitution or involving its interpretation, there should be no leave without a certificate of the High Court; in other words, abolish the distinction in respect of questions involving disputes as to the powers inter se of the Commonwealth and the States, such as any question arising under section 92 of the Constitution or any other question arising under the Constitution or involving its interpretation.
Of course, that would set a very deep limit indeed on the type of case that might go to the Judicial Committee; but I mention it as one point that sometimes I have found a little attractive. I do not commit myself to any view because I cannot commit the Government to any view. However, 1 personally have been not unattracted by the idea of working out something along those lines. Of course, that would still retain the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. There still would be many cases in which the Judicial Committee could grant leave to appeal because they did not arise under the Constitution or involve its interpretation.
Sometimes people forget that not all the business in the High Court and in the
Judicial Committee is constitutional, as we call it. Constitutional cases represent an important aspect of the work of the High Court and the Judicial Committee; but cases involving problems of common law, the interpretation of the common law, the principles of equity, company laws and masses of other matters, go to the Judicial Committee from one place or another. They are dealt with in the High Court. They are dealt with in the Supreme Courts of the States. Some of them are taken on appeal, under the existing law, direct from the Supreme Court of a State to the Judicial Committee. I gather that that has been a not uncommon practice in the State of New South Wales, for example.
Here we have something to think about. The common law has permeated the whole legal thinking of a score of countries, including Australia. Some of the greatest authorities and the greatest commentators on the common law have been in the United States of America and particularly on the eastern side of that country. Australia has had people who have made great contributions to the common law. New Zealand too, has had some great scholars in this field. A strong case can be made out for the proposition that it would be a great pity if we found that in the application of the principles of the common law - not a dead system of law, but one which grasps the facts as they come along and then applies certain principles to them in the light of past experience - one shape was developing in Great Britain as a result of judicial interpretation there and another shape in Australia as a result of a varying line of interpretation here. The same applies in respect of New Zealand’, Ceylon and whatever other countries may be involved. That is not conclusive, but it is a matter which it is proper to take into account when we are considering whether we will cut away all appeals to the Judicial Committee in whatever type of case, because we are moved by the idea that the very existence of the Judicial Committee derogates from our sovereignty.
I think the Judicial Committee itself more than once has made it clear that the appeal to it is part of the judicial structure of the country from which the appeal comes. In other words, the appeal to the Judicial Committee is part of our judicial structure. It is referred to and provided for in section 74 of our own Constitution, the chapter dealing with the judicature. Their Lordships have said several times that, after all, that means that the appeal is part of our judicial structure, just as in one case - I think I am right in saying this - they explained that the appeal was part of the judicial structure of Ceylon when somebody argued that such an appeal was inconsistent with the independence of that country. So, the appeal is part of our own judicial structure. I apologise for having spoken for as long as I have. All I want to say is that this is not a matter on which we ought to hurry. I welcome this debate. It will be very useful. But this is not a matter on which we ought to be rushing to a half-baked or hasty decision. Indeed, we cannot hurry because the Constitution exists, and if we are going to deal with it we ought not to deal with it hastily.
I believe that there is plenty of room for examining the extent to which some effective limitation might be placed on the type of case that would go to the Judicial Committee, having in mind the tremendous experience that Australian judges and lawyers have in federal problems, problems of public law and problems arising under the Constitution or involving its interpretation, and also having in mind the fact that, perhaps, such limits ought not to be placed on cases which may involve the whole current of the common law or the principles of equity. I merely suggest those matters as ones that might well be considered. I believe that it is useful to have a matter of this kind discussed. However, I am sure all honorable members will agree that if they were approached by a gallup poll representative - I myself have never had that privilege - and asked: “ What are your views on appeals to the Privy Council?”, most of them might say what I have said before today: “ I would like to have notice of that question “.
– I think we can readily infer from the remarks of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) that he is fighting a rearguard action against mounting public opinion. It was only yeasterday, Sir, that with due pomp and ceremony Australia witnessed the swearing in of the first Australian born GovernorGeneral ever to be recommended by the Australian conservative National Government. In its obstinacy, in its distaste for change, this obdurate government delayed the break with outmoded tradition in its choice of an Australian national for this position until an indisputably reliable poll showed that 88 per cent, of public opinion was opposed to the continued flouting of Australian national pride. Are we to wait for a similar expression of opinion to end the expensive anachronism of appeals from the considered judgment of the High Court of Australia to the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty’s Privy Council? They are appeals from a court whose jurists are held in international respect? In this regard, even in 1955 - I refer to figures supplied by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) - 75 per cent, of polled opinion was in favour of the abolition of these appeals. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said as between States there was unanimity of opinion and there was as great variation of opinion amongst the differing political allegiances. After a lapse of 10 years a further poll now in preparation will undoubtedly result in revealing an overwhelming trend in favour of abolition.
In the final analysis all governments exist only by the consent of the governed, and even this arch-conservative Government, clinging desperately to outmoded tradition and basing its actions on archaic sentiments, must conform to the national will. The recent Commonwealth and Empire Law Conference in Sydney has brought this issue into the foreground of public interest and scrutiny. In 1930 the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council extended over one-quarter of the globe in area, and over every quarter of the globe in variety including the Australian Commonwealth, the Dominions of Canada and New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State, numerous colonial territories, three protectorates, numerous groups of islands and sundry mandated territories. It extended over a total of 80 areas of the utmost diversity of race, economic development, culture and tradition. I quote from a joint paper by Messrs. Gardner and Graham who are both members of the House of Commons. They delivered this paper recently to the conference to which I have referred. In the paper dealing with intra-Commonwealth judicial committees the two gentlemen said -
In its capacity to deal efficiently with the appeals from so many countries of such diverse origin the Committee was a typical and, until the Second World War, a successful example of the traditional British adaptation of mature constitutional machinery to meet new constitutional development - evolution rather than revolution. But in that very process and because the Committee did - and has to the present day - retained the forms and fiction of the past, it has- not found favour in the eyes of the territories emerging, by a revolutionary process, into nationhood. To such nations it smacks of colonialism and is politically unacceptable and offensive.
If the system of appeal to the Privy Council gives offence to newly emerging nations as smacking of colonialism how much more is it an affront to, and inconsistent with, Australia’s status as a nation constituted in 1901? The operation of the Judicial Committee has been left almost entirely in the hands of the senior judiciary of the United Kingdom, with the sittings always in London. Thus, a truly Commonwealth judiciary exercising appellate jurisdiction has never been able to develop. The quality and integrity of the Judicial Committee have never been in question. The insuperable objection to its jurisdiction has been its unacceptability to even newly emerging independent States of the Commonwealth as a final court of appeal from their sovereign courts. Even the form of its decisions, in terms of “Advice to Her Majesty”, without expression of positive judgment, has been repugnant to the newly emerging nation.
Of the 80-odd countries linked to the Judicial Committee on appeal in 1930, only Australia and its States, New Zealand, Ceylon, a miscellany of the new Caribbean countries, the colonies of Mauritius, the Seychelles, Fiji, British Honduras and three African protectorates remain linked. With an agreed formula of judgment - not advice - appeals from Malaysia, Tanganyika and Uganda continue. From the succession of defections the proposal for a new Commonwealth court of appeal has arisen. If ever such a court had a real chance of acceptance, the considered opinion of the Chief Justice of Pakistan on mutilation as a punishment for certain criminal offences has, to put it in the most charitable terms, minimised that chance.
The abolition of appeals to the Privy Council has been a perennial topic in this country. There were strong moves during the Australian Constitutional Convention debates in the 1890’s to abolish such appeals. Sections 73 and 74 of the Constitution represent compromises, both between delegates at the Convention itself and later in discussions of the proposed legislation with Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State for the Colonies. I am concerned rather with the political, or politico-legal, approach by referendum to problems of abolition rather than to the refinements of constitutional interpretation and the problematic validity of suggested artifices to achieve that end. In 1901 the Australian Commonwealth was no more than a fledgling nation with a constitution which was the product of compromise between the jealousies and rivalries of six sovereign States. At the best the Commonwealth was considered a “ primus inter pares “ a first among equals, and at the worst a repository of the minimum of delegated powers which could justify its national status whilst retaining at the same time for the constituent States essential sovereignty in matters then of paramount importance to them.
Amendments to the Constitution by referendum have been few and tardy, but by an aggregation of High Court judgments, weighted by and in the national interest, we have achieved an amazing expansion of Commonwealth powers from the rigid letter and text of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. The High Court has, during its 60-odd years of functioning, established itself in the national consciousness as both the guardian and exponent of the Constitution, and the final Court of Appeal for all Australians. Australia, Sir, has been blooded in two world wars. It has survived major economic crises. It has faced and repelled the threat of enemy invasion. It has become the twelfth trading nation of the world. Until the fall of Singapore Australia was under the protection of British naval power. The realities of the post-Singapore era have welded Australia into a nation as never before. Grimly determined to survive, we have embarked on a programme of national development and industrialisation. To add to our numbers, we have launched and continued immigration on a greater percentage basis than was attempted even by the United States of America in the latter half of the 19th century.
One of our leading sons has been President of the United Nations. We have made the world aware of our separate identity and of our national pride. In the words of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), as a nation we have “ accepted primary risks, and primary responsibilities”. Our image as a nation is clear. We have, despite our critics, established an Australian national image, following growing development of a distinctive Australian national culture and tradition. We are, in fact, a people with a special destiny, as the most eastern of the western peoples and the most western of the eastern peoples. It is our special function to lead east and west along new paths of tolerance, mutual respect and understanding. The crossroads of the future of the world are at Singapore. The centre of world power is shifting to the Pacific and Indian oceans, around whose shores live two-thirds of the people of the world. Britain, with her economic problems, is hesitating to continue her posture as a major world power. She is realising that there is an even more honoured place in world primacy for her in the international acceptance of the English language. To speak English is to think English, and thus, above all else, to admire, respect and practice the English parliamentary tradition. Britain is learning that to rule the hearts and minds of men is more important than to govern their lands; that to have the respect of world opinion is more important than to have the power to determine the governmental and economic policies of countries subject to her dominion. It is not in the English temperament, nor does it conform with English tradition, for its progeny to accept legal, political and economic tutelage. Our links of language, sentiment and kinship with Britain will be the stronger for the abolition of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Respect must also be given to the opinions of those who have migrated to this country, renounced their former allegiances and thrown in their lot with us in building the Australian nation. While I have been able to interpret readily to candidates for naturalisation the special status of the monarch as Queen of Australia, I have received constant criticism and objections from them to the special powers of the Privy Council.
May I recapitulate the main objections of the vast majority of the Australian nation to the Judicial Committee? It is inconsistent with Australia’s status as an independent nation. It is an infringement of the sovereignty of the Australian Parliament. The Privy Council is not even the final court of appeal in England today. Above all, the Judicial Committee has the taint of colonialism. It is archaic. It is a costly anachronism based on resort to Royal prerogative. The membership of the Privy Council has never been filled, with notable exceptions, although the right exists for membership to come from the judiciary of other parts of the Commonwealth. The Privy Council has the disadvantage of geographical remoteness. It lacks touch with local conditions and national sentiment. Above all - this is a major objection in the minds of the Australian people - there is delay in the hearing of appeals. In many cases it is impossible to obtain speedy justice. The evils which it has set out to remove have become irremovable by the time final judgment is given. There is an objection to the Privy Council inasmuch as such appeals are an implied affront to the competence of the High Court of Australia to deal effectively and finally with all matters of Australian litigation. It is quite possible in this country to have successive hearings in four or even five tribunals. A matter may go originally before a magistrate. It will then proceed to a county or district court. From there it will go to the supreme court of the State and from there to the High Court of Australia. Finally, after a lapse of anything up to five years, the matter goes before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Is this in keeping with the Australian concept of justice for the people of this sovereign nation?
It is manifestly absurd that a sovereign Parliament with a written constitution alterable by referendum, and with the specific provision of a high court of national status, should continue to accept such a contradiction of its sovereignty. The differences of the fathers of our Constitution, as perpetuated in sections 73 and 74, must be resolved by a Gordian solution - by the complete abolition of such appeals. Moreover, the concept of the Queen in Council is antecedent by centuries to that of a limited constitutional monarchy, established at such cost in blood and turmoil three centuries ago. The exercise of the residual sovereignty by the Crown may have some conceivable application in supplementing deficiencies in the administration of justice in a protectorate or a crown colony, but can never be exercised in diminution of the sovereignty of the Parliament of the Australian nation or of its national court with clearly defined powers.
There was remarkable unity of opinion at the third Commonwealth and Empire Law Conference that the Privy Council as a final court of appeal had ceased to meet the needs of members of the Commonwealth of Nations, either existent or emerging, in a new political and economic era. The suggestion from the British Government of a Commonwealth court of appeal, to which Britain itself would resort, in substitution for the House of Lords is the ultimate argument for the termination of appeals to the Privy Council.
– Order! As it is now two hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, the debate is interrupted.
Motion (by Mr. Hulme) agreed to -
That the time for discussion of the notices be extended until 12.45 p.m.
– In conclusion, I feel that recourse must be had by the Government to the opinion of the Australian nation on this matter. Although in this debate we are discussing matters of principle rather than remedies to be applied, I feel that the appropriate remedy in this case is recourse to the opinion of the Australian nation, and that must be by referendum.
– This has been an interesting debate on an interesting subject. I remind the House of the terms of the motion moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). The motion is -
That this House is of opinion that retention of appeals to the Privy Council from courts in Australia is inconsistent with Australia’s status as an independent nation and that steps should be taken as soon as possible to abolish such appeals.
The honorable member’s argument proceeds primarily on the basis of inconsistency with independence, yet he goes on to say that steps should be taken to abolish appeals to the Privy Council. The argument negates itself because it proceeds on the assumption that there is power to abolish appeals to the Privy Council. If it proceeds on that essential logical basis, then to suggest that appeals are inconsistent with independence is to overlook the very thing which, in the terms of the motion, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition implies.
During the course of his remarks the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, in an interrogatory way: “ What impression do appeals to the Privy Council from Australia give to our South East Asian neighbours?” I think it may be an interesting essay at this point if I read to the House the names of those Commonwealth countries which retain full or partial appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. They are Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Malaysia–
– But in the case of Malaysia the advice is given to the King of Malaysia, not to the King of Britain.
– This is a list of the countries which retain appeals to the Judicial Committee.
– But in the case of Malaysia the Judicial Committee reports to the King of Malaysia.
– That is a distinction which the honorable member chooses to draw. I do not know whether what he says is correct. All I know is - this is incontestable - that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council hears appeals from the independent country of Malaysia. I will give again the names of the countries which retain appeals to the Judicial Committee. They are Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Malaysia, Gambia, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Malta, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Malawi and Uganda. I understand that Singapore also will retain appeals to the Privy Council. In considering what impression our South East Asian neighbours must get of us, let us ask who our Commonwealth South East Asian neighbours are. I should think they would be Malaysia, Singapore and Ceylon, all of which retain appeals, partially or fully, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Those countries which have abandoned appeals to the Privy Council are Canada, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana, Cyprus, Tanzania and Kenya. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition argues that we can emphasise our independence by holding a referendum to decide whether we should abolish appeals to the Privy Council. This is a rather immature point of view to put, because our independence stretches back over many years. I think the Deputy Leader of the Opposition may have had the opportunity to look at what is known as the Balfour report Lord Balfour was the chairman of a committee set up by the Imperial Conference of 1926 to consider these matters. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will, of course, remember the passage that is well known to every student of law, of government and of the development of constitutional processes. In referring to the Dominions, the report said -
They are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
In the same report, reference was made to appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Lord Balfour’s committee discussed this matter and reported -
From these discussions it became clear that it was no part of the policy of His Majesty’s Government in Great Britain that questions affecting judicial appeals should be determined otherwise than in accordance with the wishes of the part of the Empire primarily affected.
So, appeals to the Privy Council have continued for a great number of years without it being thought that this was in any way a reflection on the independence of Australia. Indeed, as I have pointed out in reading the list of names of those countries that retain full or partial appeal to the Privy Council, it is not correct for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to say that all countries becoming independent in recent years have abolished appeals to the Privy Council. I will take the example of Uganda, which is the country in Africa to attain independence most recently. The Constitution of Uganda specifically provides that there should be a right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on constitutional questions inter se. That is quite distinct and different from the Australian position, but nevertheless that is what the Ugandans in their constitution require. Nobody could suggest that, by that instrument requiring appeals to the Judicial Committee, the people of Uganda were in any way abrogating the independence that they were in process of acquiring.
I come to the question of the inconsistency of appeals to the Privy Council with independence. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) referred to a case before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which emanated from Ceylon. That case was Ibralebbe and another v. Reginam and is to be found in (1964) 1 All England Reports at page 251. I will read from page 261. The opinion of the Judicial Committee was delivered by Viscount Radcliffe. This was a case in which the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was contested because it was said to be inconsistent with the independence of Ceylon. The penultimate paragraph of the opinion reads as follows -
Their lordships must observe in conclusion, having agreed to one or two remarks that appear in the judgment of the learned Chief Justice, that it seems to them a misleading simplification to speak of the continuance of the Privy Council appeal as being inherently inconsistent with Ceylon’s status as an independent territory or as being bound up with a relationship between Her Majesty and colonial subjects. Historically, the assumption would in itself be inaccurate, and, constitutionally, it is unnecessary. For, if it is recognised, as it must be, that the legislative competence of the Parliament of Ceylon includes power at any time, if it thinks right, to modify or terminate the Privy Council appeal from its courts, true independence is not in any way compromised by the continuance of that appeal, unless and until the Sovereign legislative body decides to end it.
I move from the question of the inconsistency between the right of appeal and national independence and go to the other aspect of the motion, which is that steps should be taken to abolish appeals. I think it may be worthwhile to give the House at this time some details of the reported decisions of the Judicial Committee. I emphasise that the reported decisions do not in any way include applications for special leave that have been refused. These are the cases that have been dealt with on their merits. In the 19 years from 1946 to the end of 1964, 53 reported Australian appeals to the Judicial Committee were dealt with on their merits. Of the 53 cases, 35 were appeals from the High Court and 18 were appeals direct from the Supreme Courts of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland or Western Australia. Of the 35 appeals from the High Court, 11 have been allowed and the remainder dismissed. The number of appeals has been fairy constant, with a slight increase during the period in the number from the Supreme Courts of the States. In the 10 years from 1946 to 1955, there were 23 appeals to the Judicial Committee, 19 of these from the High Court and four from the State Supreme Courts. In the nine years from 1956 to 1964, there were 30 appeals, 16 from the High Court and 14 -from State Courts. It is interesting to note that in the past seven years. 1.1 of the 12 reported appeals direct from State Courts have been from decisions of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
I want to deal, not with- the principle of whether appeals to the Privy Council should be abandoned, but with the mechanics of appeals. Although the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said this was not the function here, I think it is important to look at the mechanics. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that there are really four categories of appeals. The first category is that of inter se questions in the High Court. As the Prime Minister pointed out, section 74 of the Constitution requires a certificate from the High Court before such a matter can go on appeal to the Judicial Committee, and only once has a certificate been given. There are other matters from the High Court which are not inter se matters in which special leave must be obtained from the Privy Council. The remaining two categories are appeals from the State Supreme Courts. The first of the two categories of appeals from the State Supreme Courts is when the State Court is exercising Federal jurisdiction and the second is when it is exercising non-Federal jurisdiction.
I think the last two categories - that is, appeals from the State Courts - need some little consideration. In relation to the State Courts exercising Federal jurisdiction, there are two aspects - constitutional and non-constitutional. The Commonwealth, by the Judiciary Act, has directed all matters involving the interpretation of the Constitution to the High Court, but the State Courts have concurrent jurisdiction in some matters that are Federal in origin. It is possible to have direct appeal on a Federal matter from the State Court because it is exercising a concurrent jurisdiction. The non-Federal jurisdiction of the State Courts relates to appeals direct to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council before Federation. -They were established by Orders in Council from the United Kingdom. So the question arises - it is a question that is not free from doubt - as to whether appeals from State Supreme Courts could be affected by a referendum under section 128 or whether there would need to be an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament. Because of the shortness of time, I shall not pursue that subject further. It is important to note that ‘there are two aspects. One is the limitation of appeals from the High Court and the other is the capacity for limitation of appeal from State Supreme Courts where those appeals flow as of right under United Kingdom Orders in Council.
– As it is now past 12.45 p.m., the time allotted for precedence of general business has expired. The Attorney-General will have leave to continue his speech when this debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under “General Business” for the next day of sitting.
Sitting suspended from 12.46 to 2.15 p.m.
– Mr. Speaker, honorable members will recall the circumstances in which this matter of the advertisement came to be referred to the Committee of Privileges. The Committee has sat and considered the matter. It has had before it a number of the people concerned. The facts were not really in dispute. In many instances, though perhaps not in all, apologies were made. The Committee has now reported to the House that there was in the advertisement in question a breach of parliamentary privilege. All I want to say on behalf of the Government is that we entirely agree with that view, and we have given some thought to what ought to be done in consequence.
This is not a case for any imposition of penalties, we think. Put this is an occasion on which the House should put on record its own belief about the matter. I gave myself the opportunity to confer with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who, after all, in a very real sense, is concerned about this matter, because he was the object of what, in my view, was a most defamatory publication. I think I may say that he and I agree on the terms of the motion that I am about to submit to the House. I do not propose to debate them. This is not a matter that will be improved by a lot of discussion. It is necessary that in simple, clear terms we record our view. So, Sir, I move -
That the House agrees with the Committee that the advertisement in question involved a breach of parliamentary privilege.
That in the opinion of the House the said advertisement was also defamatory of the Honorable the Leader of the Opposition, in that it falsely represented him as using his parliamentary position to advertise a commercial product.
That while the House accepts the Committee’s finding that the advertisement was published without malice, and recognises that most of those concerned with its publication have made suitable apologies, it is of opinion that it should record its censure of the advertisement and its reprimand to those concerned in its publication, namely -
Mr. Basil Alfred Williams, Managing Editor, “The Advertiser”.
Mr. Theodor Charles Bray, Editor in Chief, “ Courier-Mail “.
Mr. David Ramsay McNicoll, Editor in Chief, Australian Consolidated Press, “ Daily Telegraph “.
Mr. George Francis Davies, Chairman of Directors, Davies Brothers Limited, “The Merury “.
That in the opinion of the House those newspapers who published the advertisement should publish this resolution in full.
– Mr. Speaker, I second the motion on behalf of the Opposition. We all cherish the idea that democracy will continue to exist in its present form for many years to come. If it is to continue, Parliament must be jealous of its privileges and its rights just as much as of its responsibilities and its obligations. Democracy cannot continue to exist, let alone nourish, if certain people are free to bring it into contempt and ridicule it at any time they like or in any way they wish. The Opposition had thought that perhaps the right course to pursue would be to bring the offenders to the bar of the House and have them reprimanded there. But we agree with the course that the Government proposes to take. We consider that those who have offended against the dignity, the rights and the privileges of this Parliament should be censured and that they should be obliged to publish the censure of the Parliament.
Some people do not seem to understand just what parliamentary privilege is. I should like to read that part of the Constitution - section 49 - which states -
The powers, privileges, and immunities of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, and of the members and the committees of each House, shall be such as are declared by the Parliament, and until declared shall be those of the Commons House of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and of its members and committees, at the establishment of the Commonwealth.
So far, we have not denned our privileges. But we can rely with complete certainty on the Constitution for anything that we may do here today or whatever may be done at any other time for the protection of the rights of members and of the Parliament itself. “ May’s Parliamentary Practice “ describes parliamentary privilege as the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively as a constituent part of the High Court of Parliament and by members of each House individually without which they could not discharge their functions and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals. In another part of this authority, it is stated -
The distinctive mark of a privilege is its ancillary character. The privileges of Parliament are rights which are absolutely necessary for the due execution of its powers. They are enjoyed by individual Members because the House cannot perform its functions without the unimpeded use of the services of its Members; and by each House for the protection of its Members and the vindication of its own authority and dignity.
In that spirit, Sir, I second the motion.
– Mr. Speaker, I also wish to speak very briefly on this matter. Previously in this Parliament, I have expressed views that
I still hold on matters of parliamentary privilege, and there is no need for me to repeat them. The report of the Committee of Privileges refers first to the general character of privilege. Because some people object to parliamentary privilege in the belief that it merely provides personal benefits for members of the Parliament, I think it needs always to be stated on any occasion like this that privilege, in the parliamentary sense, belongs not to the member but to his constituents. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has pointed out, parliamentary privilege is no more than the sum of the rights that are absolutely necessary for the Parliament to perform its duties. Unless a right can be shown to be absolutely necessary for this purpose, it is not a parliamentary privilege. So privilege exists only to enable every member to represent his constituents without fear of the consequences, except at an election.
Since privilege is essential to parliamentary democracy, it is important that it be in step with the times. The Committee’s report is a reminder that this Parliament has never declared its privileges except in minor matters. Until it does so, its privileges are those of the House of Commons in 1900 - 65 years ago. And the privileges of the House of Commons in 1900 were the privileges of that House in 1704, no new privileges having been declared by the House of Commons since that time. I support the proposal of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and the Leader of the Opposition, which is now before the House. I point out, however, that it is under those 18th century English parliamentary laws that the Australian House of Representatives, in the 20th century, once again deals with a breach of privilege.
Sitting now as a court, and being required to pass judgment, some honorable members may feel themselves hampered because they cannot know the evidence on which the Committee of Privileges made its findings. Except for the brief report and minutes, the proceedings of the Committee remain secret. They were conducted in camera. The proposal before the House in this instance is one for leniency. But, if the House wished to choose otherwise, I know of no limit to the penalty that it could impose. In deciding the punishment to be imposed on those individuals who have been named by the Committee as being responsible for this breach of privilege, some members of the House may find themselves in a dilemma. The dilemma is that in accord with the eighteenth century English parliamentary procedures governing this matter none of those individuals has had in fact any of those rights which are accorded to the accused in any other Australian court. Those rights include the rights to be considered innocent until proved guilty, to have legal representation, to have a hearing in open court, to call witnesses, to cross-examine and face his accusers, and so on. So in passing I remind the Prime Minister of his promise of some 10 years ago, as I remember it - I have not looked it up - to consider action to have this Parliament-
– I take a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood the honorable member to say that the motion before the House is the motion of the Leader of the Opposition; I think the motion is that of the Prime Minister.
– Order! The motion was moved by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. I point out to the honorable member for EdenMonaro that the law of privilege is not set out in the motion or in the report. The honorable member will, therefore, be out of order if he chooses this opportunity to initiate a full scale debate on something that is not relevant.
– I realise that, Mr. Speaker, and I have only a few more words to say. I was reminding the Prime Minister, in the hope that he may take some action, of a promise that I recollect him making to this Parliament to consider action to have this Parliament declare its own privileges and establish its own procedures for dealing with seeming breaches. The Privileges Committee can meet and act only on matters referred to it by Parliament, and parliamentary action is urgently required to end what I feel is a reproach to the Parliament.
One reason why I support the proposal now before us is that as a member of the Committee I uphold its finding that publication of the advertisement was done without malice towards this House or any member of it and without intent to libel any member, and that it appeared through negligence and a lack of appreciation of what was involved. The number of witnesses will show the care the Committee took in this matter. Another reason why I support this proposal for leniency is that I consider this breach of privilege by newspaper publication far less serious than other breaches by newspaper publication which are now going unpunished. I think some newspapers in Australia report this Parliament fairly and honestly but I think that some other newspapers report the Parliament unfairly and dishonestly. It is a grave breach of the privilege of this Parliament for anyone deliberately to publish matter in such a way with a design to bring this Parliament into disrepute. This occurs, I think, every time when, in order as it seems to meet the political wishes of a proprietor, a newspaper reports statements made in this Parliament by taking them out of context and giving them a prominence which they would not possess as a part of the whole speech if it were properly summarised. It also occurs when one side only of a parliamentary debate is published. The obligation upon those reporting the proceedings of the Parliament is to report them honestly and fairly. The Committee in its report has directed attention to a resolution of the House of Commons of 1701 or 1702 on this subject, but I would point out that at that time the reporting of Parliament, either fairly or unfairly, was a breach of the privileges of the Parliament. This is still the position because as late as 1875 the House of Commons refused a resolution designed to confer the power to report the Parliament so long as it was reported fairly.
I feel that two things are necessary when we are dealing, as we are now, with a publication which was a breach of privilege. First, the privileges of this Parliament in such a matter should be declared; secondly, proceedings should be adopted which would give to those persons accused of breaches of privilege the ordinary rights of citizens while still maintaining, as it must be maintained, the final authority of the Parliament in all matters of privilege. Then when this is done steps should be taken to have an active watch kept on dishonest reporting of the Parliament designed and tending to bring it into contempt. The parliamentary system is being challenged very strongly in this country today and throughout the world, and the Parliament has enough faults without manufactured faults being laid at its door. I believe action should be taken by the Parliament to establish a committee or some such body to bring to the attention of the Parliament deliberate examples, or what appear to be deliberate examples, of parliamentary misreporting which has the object of bringing the Parliament or a member of it into undeserved contempt.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Order! I will transmit the resolution of the House to the offenders named therein.
– I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr. Speaker.
– Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. A mistake was made in yesterday’s “ Hansard “ report. I have discussed this with the “ Hansard “ staff which accepts that a mistake was made and will, I understand, have it corrected in the weekly edition. On page 1179 I am reported as having said -
Let me give an extract from the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition at the Federal Conference on the issue of unity tickets. He delivered his address with some courage, I will admit, and made certain statements about the State Executive in Victoria. Let me read what the honorable member for Yarra has to say -
Instead of “ the honorable member for Yarra” that should read “the Deputy Leader of the Opposition “. I apologise for the mistake, but it was not made by me.
One page 1180 I am reported as having said -
He refers in this statement to the fact that no branch of the A.L.P. in Australia has less members than the Victorian branch. I have not time to read everything the honorable member for Yarra has said, but I am sure that the gentlemen opposite have read it.
Again the “ Hansard “ report refers to the honorable member for Yarra when the reference should be to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I would like to make it clear that I would not want the honorable member for Yarra to be placed at a disadvantage by people gaining the impression that he had ever criticised the Communists.
Provision of Operations and Control Tower Buildings at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to this House:- Provision of Operations and Control Tower Buildings at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport.
The proposal involves the provision, at an estimated cost of £1.2 million of a twostorey operations building connected to a six-storey control tower by an elevated link, a power house, access road and associated engineering services. The Committee in reporting favourably on the proposal considered that as much of the foreshore as possible should remain available to the public and access to it facilitated. It is proposed to accept this recommendation and the fence will be set back sufficiently to enable the public to have access to the foreshore between Cooks River and the runway reclamation. It is also proposed to accept the Committee’s recommendation that aluminium be used for roofing instead of copper with a consequent cost saving.
The committee also considered that the electricity supply to the operations and control tower buildings should be taken from the St. George County Council provided the cost to the Commonwealth is no greater than from the alternative source of supply. The source of the power supply to the buildings will be determined after the Committee’s recommendation on the power supply to the terminal area is known and the whole of the power requirement at the airport can be considered together. Upon the concurrence of this House in this resolution the work can proceed.
.- I oppose the resolution now before the House. In my view the work in this reference is merely complementary to the other major works which are listed in other references and for which the approval of the Parliament has . not yet been sought by the Parliamentary Standing Com mittee on Public Works. I am aware that irrespective of whether the Parliament should reject any or all of the other references at a later date, the work in this reference and in the reference related to the instrument landing system will need to be proceeded with soon because both are very important to aircraft safety in movement in and out of Mascot.
Having heard and studied the evidence that was available to the Committee, I am of the view that in the event of Parliament refusing to give the go ahead to the later references, the control tower, power house and operations buildings could well be situated in a much more economical and. satis-‘ factory area elsewhere at the airport. However, what Sydney really needs is a completely new airport at some other place where it will be unrestricted in any way by land areas of any kind. The work in this reference, as I see it, enables the Commonwealth to filch from the general public further beach front land, irrespective of its undertaking not to do so, and will contribute to the further unnecessary erosion of the seafront. The control tower, which is to be about 64 feet high, is to be built within a few feet of the sea wall. Directly behind it the operations building and the power house are to be built. Thousands and thousands of pounds worth of valuable machinery and equipment will have to suffer the infiltrating and irresistable elements of every type of weather, including blowing sand, salt water spray, foam and the ever present destructive moisture that permeates the air and leaves a film of salt everywhere on the sea front in adverse weather.
The resolution, in itself, is commendable. It asks the Parliament to approve the carrying out of a work which will improve the inadequate airport facilities at Mascot. But because Mascot will always be limited in its future usage as an airport I suggest that it would be an irresponsible waste of public money to spend so much on this project now. There will be an additional £6 million or £7 million to be spent on the extension of the north-south runway and another £14 or £15 million on the new international terminal, in addition to the further £10 to £15 million which will have to be spent on the domestic terminals a few years later. Further, it is said that by about 1980 or before, dual runways will be necessary for Mascot. It will be anyone’s guess as to how much those additions will cost the general public, but we know that they will run into millions of pounds. After 1980 - in 15 years’ time - the Department of Civil Aviation will be faced with the problem of where to site a new airport. It is now known that a study is being made of a site at Towra Point, in the Kurnell Peninsula area, for a second airport. If that is the best area that the Department of Civil Aviation can find for an airport near Sydney then all I can say is: God help the people who reside in the Cooks River and Pagewood areas. It appears that those people are to be plagued forever with the whining of jet engines and the roar of all other types of engines which can be heard overhead almost incessantly, night and day.
Statistics show that the total number of people using Mascot airport in the 13 years between 1952 and 1964 almost trebled, rising from 850,702 in 1952 to 2,287,456 in 1964. It has been forecast that within another 15 years - by 1980 - the number of people using Mascot will have more than doubled to 5 million. Therefore, I ask: Is this Parliament justified in authorising this expenditure in the light of the limited area at Mascot, namely, 1,420 acres - Tullamarine in Victoria has 5,300 acres - on which to carry out its major air transport services for a meagre period of about 20 or 30 years? It is not expected that both the international and domestic complexes will have been completed before 1972 or 1973.
– I rise to order. The honorable member is debating the suitability of Mascot as an airport. This has very little to do with the motion which relates to specific work at Mascot airport.
– I rather think that the honorable member is making a reference to ways in which he can improve the measure.
– That is right. I am surprised at the Minister being so parochial about this matter seeing that he wants a 10,500 foot runway for Perth shortly. I was saying that the complexes at Mascot are not to be completed until probably 1972 or 1973. The Parliament is being asked to give its approval to the expenditure of as much as £30 million or more on a project which we cannot guarantee will serve the people indefinitely. What is to happen in the years after 1980 when, according to statistics, between 8 million and 10 million people can be expected to use air travel services from Mascot each year?
A few weeks ago I pointed out to the House the possibilities of future supersonic air travel. I said then that it was possible that aircraft flying from one continent to another might not be able economically to make landings at more than one airport anywhere in the eastern half of Australia. I repeat those assertions today. I ask all honorable members to study the possibilities that future air travel to all parts of the world will offer to Australia. If honorable members study this question I feel sure that ultimately they will agree that one big international airport, centrally located to suit the convenience of all people in the eastern part of Australia, will be the answer to our airport problems. A motion seeking parliamentary approval for other work that the Public Works Committee has been studying will come before the Parliament within the next few weeks. The Chairman submitted a report on one reference earlier today and commented on it. I shall have more to say about those references when they become before us for discussion.
One final criticism that I have to make at this time is that in my view various Commonwealth Departments project works for potential development over a period of years, and members of the Parliament are completely ignorant or uninformed of these works until approval is sought to proceed with them or, as in the case now before us, the Public Works Committee is asked to examine the proposals. In effect, the Parliament is being almost continuously bypassed until it is asked to approve of work involving the expenditure of huge sums of money - work in respect of which honorable members have very limited knowledge. On the other hand, if honorable members knew that proposals were afoot for certain types of undertakings to be carried out within a given period a much closer study could be given to them by those honorable members interested in them, and this study could extend over a longer period. They would gain thereby a greater understanding of the proposals. The latest report from the Department of Civil Aviation indicates that even in that Department the hierarchy has had to reappraise its thinking on airport developments. I quote from the report.
– Order! I hope the honorable member can relate this to control.
– Mr. Speaker, in this instance control includes the tower, which has an overall importance with Mascot airport and in civil aviation generally. The Department of Civil Aviation report shows that the authorities have had to think again about airport possibilities. The report states -
An unprecedented growth in international and domestic traffic made it necessary to reappraise,
And to a large extent, replan the Department’s current national airports programme which covers the years 1963-64 to 1967-68 inclusive. As a result of this reappraisal, the Government approved additional expenditure at Sydney and Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airports, mainly to enable the construction of larger terminals and supporting facilities than originally planned in 1962 when the five-year plan was decided upon. The total cost of these two projects alone is now estimated at over £34 million.
The reason I quote this, Mr. Speaker, is because as a member of the Public Works Committee I would not have agreed to the extension of the Mascot runway, to cost £6 million to £7 million, had I known in 1962 what is now proposed for the international complex with domestic additions to be made up until 1972. I cannot see why we need to spend between £30 million and £40 million on airport construction at a place which, before the turn of this century, will be absolutely saturated. I feel that the Government has fallen down in this respect. The Department has not let the Parliament know just what is in store, what it has in mind, and as a result we have different references brought before the Public Works Committee which is asked to indicate that it is expedient at some time or other to carry out the work. At this point I end my remarks, because probably within a fortnight other references connected with work at Mascot will come to the Parliament and I will then be able to have more to say against these references in the light of conditions now obtaining at Mascot.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Ground Preparation for Instrument Landing System at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport.
Mr. FREETH (Forrest- Minister for Shipping and Transport). - I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to this House: - Ground preparation for Instrument Landing System at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport.
The proposal involves the diversion of Alexandra canal and the filling and grading of portion of the canal to be closed; ground preparation for the glide path equipment area; construction of 600 feet of stockway pavement on the reclamation at the southern end of the extended 16/34 runway;’ and relocation of the airport perimeter road and the proposed access or public road between the north east area and the new terminal area. The estimated cost of the work is £850,000. The Committee has reported favorably on the proposal, and upon the concurrence of this House in this resolution the work can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
.- I should like to say something on this matter, having regard to the fact that we are to spend a lot of money, as the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffith) has just said. I have already indicated on my own behalf, and on behalf of interested bodies, that I regard the provisions that are being made at Mascot as totally inadequate for the traffic it will be required to bear even within the fairly immediate future. As a matter of fact, I think that only last week the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) referred to the Public Works Committee a proposal to extend the Perth airport runway to 10,500 feet. I registered same amazement at that time, because it was then within a matter of days of my having been advised by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) that 8.500 feet would be quite adequate for ali the presently foreseeable needs of an international airport at Mascot. I was further assured that the airport at Mascot would remain the main international airport for Australia. I am inclined to ask: If 8,500 feet is good enough for an international terminal runway to meet foreseeable requirements, why is it that the Government is proposing to extend the runway at Perth by 2,000 feet beyond that requirement?
– I rise to order. The reference that we are considering relates to the instrument landing system which is to help aircraft make safe landings at Mascot. Do I take it that the honorable member is trying to prevent safety precautions being taken? The runway length has nothing whatever to do with the instrument landing system.
– Order! The motion mentions ground preparation, too.
– It has nothing to do with the length of the runway.
– Mr. Speaker, I suggest that if the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) is concerned with safe landings he ought to be very concerned whether the runway is of adequate length to meet the requirements of aircraft that will be landing at Mascot under variable conditions.
– I am assured that the runway is not included in the reference, so any reference to the runway is out of order. The work relates to ground preparation for instrument landing, and I ask the honorable member for Barton to keep his remarks to that subject matter.
– With an deference, Mr. Speaker, I submit that provision of all these facilities, including the instrument landing equipment, will be related to the overall provisions at the airport
– Order! I point out to the honorable member that at this stage we are dealing with the instrument landing system and any general debate will be out of order.
– I rise to order. I think, Mr. Speaker, that you are perhaps not fully acquainted with the facts of this matter. The instrument landing system is related to the length of the runway because the shortness of the runway has a bearing on the proposed positioning of the instrument landing system.
– Order! I have already indicated to the honorable member for Barton what he can deal with, and whilst I appreciate assistance, I ask him to confine his remarks to the matter before the Chair, which is the instrument landing system. I cannot see what that has to do with runways.
– I rise to order. The site preparation for the instrument landing system is involved in the reference, and site preparation affects the runway.
– Order! I have already given a ruling on that. I think the honorable member for Shortland enjoyed a great deal of latitude when he was speaking.
– In view of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I think that the remarks I intended to make could be more appropriately made in the near future when we are discussing departmental estimates or on some other suitable occasion. I lodge my protest that these kinds of facilities are being provided in what I regard as an uneconomic way. It is costly instrumentation which is involved. Other facilities are being provided and I question the provision of expensive facilities at an airport where there is not adequate provision of runways according to international standards and international practice.
– I again rise to order. I understand that in this ground preparation of the instrument landing system it is proposed to extend across Shea’s Creek to one side of the aerodrome. It would be much better to extend the runway instead of doing this. There must be some kind of prejudice against extending the runway so that money is being wasted-
– Order! I have already given a ruling on that matter. The House is dealing with the instrument landing system, not with the runway.
– I agree with you, Mr. Speaker. What I am saying is that the money that is being spent in the way provided in this proposal would be better spent in another way. This is a very proper thing to argue at this point. Surely it is in order to argue that the money being spent in this way would be better spent in another way to give the same result.
– Order! I have already given a ruling on that matter and I ask the honorable member to respect it.
– I know that you have given this ruling without understanding the situation.
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– I rise to order. On reflection, I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that if it were proposed that we should put an expensive instrument system outside Parliament House we would be in order in discussing whether that location were suitable.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 16th September (vide page 984), on motion by Mr. Sinclair -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- Mr. Speaker, I move -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, this House condemns the Government for its failure -
to increase age, invalid and widows’ pen sions and other social service benefits to meet, at least, greatly increased costs and prices, and
to make retrospective to the 1st July 1965, the increases proposed by the Bill, and is of opinion that a Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee should be appointed -
to ascertain the extent and severity of distress, including distress due to poverty, within the community and recommend the provision of social services, community facilities and other assistance to ensure an adequate degree of wellbeing and security for the people of Australia, and
to review continually the operation of social service benefits “.
The records of the Parliament will show that every year since 1951 the Opposition has moved amendments to this legislation designed to force the Government to give justice to those dependent on social services. On every occasion, the Government voted against the proposals but ultimately, bit by bit in a niggardly way, it has thrown a few morsels to the pensioners, widows and other suffering sections of the community. Let it be understood that but for the Labour Party’s efforts very few, if any, changes would have been made in their conditions. This amendment means what it says: It is a condemnation of the reluctant, miserly and inadequate benefits handed out to social service recipients in order to keep at least a section of them quiet for another 12 months.
I propose to deal with the approach of the new Minister to this problem. The appointment of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair) as Minister for Social Services was greeted with acclaim by the Press, which portrayed him as a dynamic young personality who would bring to this important portfolio all the wisdom, energy, drive and capacity that it was possible to get. We on this side of the Parliament welcomed the change of Ministers after many years of struggle and suffering under the dour, unrelenting, obstinate Scot who dominated the Department for all too long. At least we hoped that the new Minister would give a stimulus to new thoughts and ideas in this Department and a new approach to the problems of the aged, sick and infirm and those dependent on social services throughout the nation. Now, in his first major presentation of Government policy on social services, our hopes have been dished. We have had presented to us the same miserable increases and benefits to a few, the same arguments about yesterday and today, the same illogical reasoning against increases and the same old facts and figures to bolster up the outdated approach of the Government to social service legislation.
– Does the honorable member think that he is related to Hugh Roberton?
– He might be. In fact, the former Minister, smugly settled in Dublin Town amongst the long suffering Irish, must be smiling at the thought that this speech by his successor of the Country Party would bear comparison with some of the old master’s doubtful efforts. In fact I think he would be proud of it. We might put it in this category: The Minister for Social Services might be likened to a new star with an old story. But there is this saving grace; at least we can understand him when he speaks because he seems to know the English language.
However, some of the phrases in the Minister’s speech bring us back to those days we want to forget when the former Minister was in office. The dour Scot, who was the previous Minister, was noted for some rather unusual phraseology in disguising aspects of the social service programme. A glance at the speech of the present Minister indicates that he has the same flair for this language or, at least, some of his advisers have. We find, for instance, these rather unusual phrases: “ Area of relative need “; “ pensioner households “; “ universal wellbeing “. No doubt there are others that I have not time to find today. I cite them only to point out the similarity in policy and preparation. I will deal with them, I hope, more fully in the course of my speech.
In the course of this speech it is my purpose to deal broadly with the proposals under discussion and the reasons prompting the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition. During the committee stages opportunity will be taken to discuss certain sections of the legislation in detail which we believe to be obnoxious and opposed to all the principles of social justice.
I would, in the first place, like to deal with the economic aspects of and the approach to, social services by this Government. In this regard I am indebted to my colleague, the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns), who is well versed in economics, for his help in a valuable survey of this problem which portrays for all to see the reasoning behind the social service programme. The submissions will be borne out by an analysis of the benefits covered by the legislation and which I will deal with later. I think it should be said in a survey of the economic situation that it appears to be admitted by everyone that there is insufficient money available - at least most people on the Government side seem to think so - suddenly to make vast and generous increases in social services. A deliberate choice has therefore to be made as to whether to increase benefits at all or whether to increase one social service benefit rather than another. The necessity for choice means that some principle or criterion must be used.
For years, now, the Menzies Government has made these choices and from the choices it has made we can ascertain this principle or criterion - the standard by which it chooses whether to increase social services or whether to increase one benefit rather than another. First of all, the Menzies Government has allowed social services as a whole to decline as a proportion of the gross national income. The percentage of the national income provided for the special services in 1961-62 was 4.4 per cent. It rose to 4.5 per cent, in 1962-63, then fell in the following year, 1963-64, to 4.1 per cent. It barely exceeded 4 per cent, in 1964-65 and will probably be less than 4.1 per cent, in the coming year.
This decline is in striking contrast to the changes in the relationship between those who receive social service and the total population. The proportion of most classes of persons receiving social services has risen, as figures taken from the social service report will show. In 1959, age pensioners represented 5.11 per cent, of the population; by 1964 the figure had risen to 5.52 per cent. In 1959, invalid pensioners represented .83 per cent, of the population; by 1964 the figure had risen to .99 per cent. Between 1959 and 1964, the percentage of the population represented by both age and invalid pensioners rose from 5.94 to 6.51. In 1961-62 age and invalid pensioners received 4.4 per cent, of the national income and in 1962-63 they received 4.5 per cent, of the national income. Now the percentage has fallen to about 4.1 per cent. A higher proportion of the population receives a smaller proportion of the national income. That is the standard set by 16 years of Liberal Party-Country Party government. With the concurrence of honorable members, I incorporate in “ Hansard “ a table which sets out the relevant figures for the years 1959 to 1964 inclusive.
Secondly, there are the children of people in the low income groups. According to the official statistics issued by the Commissioner of Taxation, in the assessment year 1961-62 there were 154,326 families “with an income of less than £1,000 a year. In those families there were 310,237 children. So, in all, probably 618,889 persons are members of families that have an income of less than £1,000 a year on which to live. We can add to that number the age and invalid pensioners who have no more than their pension on which to live. There are almost 1,250,000 men, women and children, who have a family income equal to or less than the age pension. Surely that is a scandalous state of affairs. Yet it exists after 16 years of Liberal Party-Country Party government.
Although, in fact and in principle, the people who receive social service benefits are the most needy people in the community, their share of the national income has been allowed to fall, whereas the share of those who are better off financially, has been allowed to rise. Despite the greater need of people receiving social service benefits, in comparison with some other income earners, the Government has discriminated against pensioners and children in favour of the better-off members of the community. It has been said that if we have to discriminate between, on the one hand, old people living in isolation and uncertainty and young children living in homes and, on the other hand, people who have plenty of money and are able to live in affluence, we will choose the affluent. Why is that so? Is it because this is just and fair? Certainly not. It is because the affluent have more votes.
Sometimes the Menzies Government has used the principle or criterion of need; namely, that people who are worse off should receive increases first. It used that principle when it increased the pension for single pensioners but not for married pensioners and when it increased supplementary assistance for single pensioners paying rent, living alone and who have very small income in addition to the pension.
The Government’s assessment of social service needs has always been made on a very narrow basis. The narrowness of that basis has shown not principle but meanness. Except in respect of a few insignificant increases, the Menzies Government has not observed the principle or criterion of need. Generally, it has taken the existing social services system as the foundation or starting point and eased the means test to bring in other people who are better off than the people who are receiving social benefits already. That is directly contrary to the principle of need. There is a case for including the people who have benefited from that policy, but not at the expense of the people who have been left out and whose needs are greater than those of the people who have benefited.
We may well ask this question: Who are the people who have been discriminated against? First, they are the pensioners with no income other than the pension. In 1964 about 75 per cent, of all pensioners were discriminated against because the basic pension has been neglected and child endowment has been ignored.
Choices have to be made. But is the social services system designed to move towards the people who are better off already, or is there to be a war on poverty in this country? In 1964 the then Minister for Social Services said that social services increases had been provided by the Menzies Government to the full extent that the community was willing to pay for them. But has the Menzies Government ever asked the community what it is prepared to pay for? Few of the Government’s proposed increases have ever been included in a policy speech. Few have ever been put to the electorate at all. How could the community say whether it is willing to pay for what, has been done, or for more or less, when it has never been asked by this Government. The community’s decisions on which political party should be elected to office have been affected by many matters other than social services. The Government cannot claim any mandate to do what it has done. Nor can it claim that a mandate could not be obtained to do much more.
The Australian Labour Party asserts that the basic principle or criterion in determining what should be done towards increasing or extending social services is the principle or criterion of need. The people with the greatest needs should come first. There are many people whose needs in the affluent society are great. They, as a category of persons, must be discovered, identified, and described. Our amendment would provide for that. Their suffering must be brought home to the community. We must seek out the old people whose lives are a tragedy of malnutrition and fear of isolation. Their relatives and friends have died or have moved miles away. They are alone, weak and worried. We must seek out the tens of thousands of mothers and young children who, through no fault of their own, have inherited an environment which ensures for most of them not only a poor education but also a life culturally denied or stunted. Their environment also ensures that they in turn will pass on their environment to their own children. Are we as a Parliament never to stop this process?
The broad categories of poverty and injustice must awaken the conscience of an affluent society. But the Menzies Government’s method of slanting its social services towards people who are better off ignores poverty and injustice. The Government has failed to put these questions to the community: Is the social services policy for which the Government stands the policy that the people want? Is what the Government is doing - discriminating between this group and that group, always at the expense of someone who is worse off - all that the community is prepared to support and to pay for? The Australian community must be asked this question: Do you want a social services system which is a hotch-potch of discrimination, or do you want one based on the principle of meeting the greatest need? The Menzies Government comes down firmly for the first proposition; Labour asks the community to rise to the second proposition.
Let me turn now to the actual provisions of this Bill. They were outlined in the Minister’s second reading speech. I quote them briefly merely to refresh the memories of honorable members. The Bill provides for an increase of 10s. a week in the supplementary assistance, together with a widening of eligibility by extending payment to pensioners whose resources exceed the present limits; the payment of a standard pension rate of £6 a week as well as supplementary assistance to a married pensioner - if otherwise eligible - whose wife receives a wife’s allowance; the payment of a wife’s allowance where the wife of an age pensioner has the custody, care and control of one or more children under the age of 16 years, or a student child under 21 years; the payment of child allowance and additional pension in respect of children where age pensioners have the custody, care and control of one or more children; an increase in the age limit from 18 to 21 years for student children of pensioners; an extension of eligibility for a widow’s pension where a widow has a student child; the payment of a guardian’s allowance of £2 a week to unmarried age and invalid pensioners who have the custody, care and control of one or more children; and the payment of a funeral benefit of £20 to a pensioner who is responsible for the funeral expenses of a spouse, a child or another pensioner. That is the full extent of the concessions provided under this social services legislation in a Budget of £2,600 million.
– The generosity of a miser.
– It is generosity unequalled, the Government would tell us. The total cost of these benefits is less than £4i million during the current year and less than £5# million in a full year. This expenditure is part of the expenditure of £471 million from the National Welfare Fund this year. At first glance, this expenditure may appear to be impressive; but, as I will indicate in the course of my speech, these benefits are paltry in the extreme and completely disregard the needs of countless thousands of pensioners and other people in receipt of social service benefits. In fact, the very minimum of benefits is given to the minimum number of pensioners for the express purpose, so it would seem, of winning votes. Justice and needs - growing needs due to a rising cost of living - are ignored. As in the case of discrimination against married pensioners, the Government divides those living on social services by giving small benefits to a few at the expense of the many. The Minister, of course, covers this up with camouflaged language that, as I said, would do credit to his predecessor. Listen to these words in his speech -
The extensions of benefits represent a further broadening of the social welfare measures available to the people of Australia. . . .
Each of the above measures is intended to remove an area of relative need.
What a brilliant endeavour to blind us with science. He said further -
It is a great satisfaction to me, in introducing this legislation, to know that it will not only be a contribution in the field of social services but will also facilitate the tertiary training of young Australians to provide them with those skills which are so essential to the continued development of Australia as a modern nation.
– Does the honorable member think that Hugh Roberton sent the speech out from Dublin?
– He might have sent it out from Dublin, as the honorable member says. The Government is giving a few shillings a week to pensioners. I will show afterwards that you can almost count on the fingers of one hand the number of pensioners at 65 years of age who have dependent children.
I want to say a few words now in passing about the supplementary assistance proposals in the Bill. This is discrimination that divides the pensioners. The supplementary assistance provision was first introduced by the present Government in 1958, and the Government almost lost an election over it later. It is payable at the rate of 10s. a week to single pensioners, or to married pensioners whose partners are not in receipt of a pension or an allowance, who pay rent and are entirely dependent on the pension. It is a form of additional assistance, so the Minister said, available to a clearly defined group of pensioners who have a particular and recognisable need. I think they were lucky to be seen by this Government. This Bill increases the assistance by 10s. a week to 20s. a week. It also lays down a sliding scale under which the maximum rate of supplementary assistance is reduced by the amount by which a pensioner’s means as assessed exceed £26 a year - about 10s. a week in this age when the basic wage is £15 8s. a week. At the present time an extra income of 10s. 3d. a week prevents the payment of supplementary assistance. Under these proposals, because of the tapering down process, some 34,000 additional pensioners with means as assessed of less than £78 will receive increases to their present pension which will range from 20s. down to ls. a week. Imagine a pensioner couple going mad with excitement to know that they are to get an extra ls. or 2s. a week out of this legislation under the new tapering down proposals and under the new enlightened approach since Hugh Roberton resigned.
In the tapering down basis on the means as assessed, 105,000 pensioners will receive 10s. a week and another 34,000 new pensioners will receive anything from £1 to ls. a week. Of course, an extra income of 10s. 3d. destroys the right to the benefit under the Act as it stands, and in that respect I suppose the improvement is desirable. Is it not a really Liberal government that lets a pensioner have an extra income of 10s. 3d. a week before it takes away 10s. from him? To say the least, the change being made is niggardly in the extreme. Let us look at some examples. The rate will vary, but the maximum benefits and income received by a single pensioner will be as follows: Pension £6, permissible income 10s., increase of supplementary assistance 10s., making a maximum total of £7. This could fall, under the proposal, as low as £6 lis. Do not forget that this is the maximum income of a single pensioner entitled to supplementary assistance. If we compare it with the basic wage in Australia of £15 8s., or the average income of £26 coming into a home we will see how the Minister is dealing with people who really need the money. Do not forget that the person about whom I am speaking is the person who, the Minister admits, is on the lowest economic strata. The Minister expects him to live on the amount I have just quoted in this age when costs are so exorbitant and inflationary According to the Minister, those receiving supplementary assistance will be getting it for the purpose “that it is intended to remove an area of relative need “. The pensioner I have given as an example is the worst off, yet the maximum he can get is an increase of 10s. a week, and in the case of a new pensioner the amount could be as low as ls. a week. This is the kind of justice that the Minister sponsors under these proposals.
Let us go a little further along the line. The twenty-fourth report of the DirectorGeneral of Social Services for the year 1964-65 shows that there were 735,573 age and invalid pensioners in Australia. Under these proposals 139,000 will benefit in varying amounts from 20s. to ls. This represents 19 per cent, of the pensioners, or in other words it means that 596,573 pensioners will receive no benefit at all. Of course, they are unfortunate enough in many cases to have got married, so the Government does not worry about them any more. About 630,573 pensioners have been getting no benefit by way of supplement, and now only an additional 34,000, or in other words five in every hundred, or 5 per cent., will get even this small morsel.
– And they have to cope with the increased cost of living.
– Yes, the increased cost of living comes into it. There are 596,000 pensioners who are completely passed over and left without any additional benefit whatever. In anybody’s language that is nothing short of scandalous treatment of people who, the Minister admits, are on the lowest economic scale in the community. The increased cost of living has been disregarded completely. The increases, small as they are, have to be accepted, of course, although they will not relieve the distress of these people. Labour believes that there should be a standard rate adequate for all pensioners, with increased supplementary assistance for the needy. The present method is discrimination of the worst kind against people who evidently in the eyes of this Government have committed the abominable sin of getting married.
On 21st September 1965 the Minister was good enough to write me a letter in response to an inquiry. I am grateful to the Minister for the information he gave me, and with his permission, or without it for that matter - I do not think he will mind - I intend to use it as a basis of truth for the argument that these benefits are inadequate and only scratch the surface of social service needs. I will be quoting from the letter, but with the concurrence of honorable members I incorporate it in “ Hansard “. It reads -
Dear Mr. Daly,
Recently you approached my Department for figures concerning the number of persons expected to benefit by this year’s Budgetary proposals and the estimated cost to the Government.
The information requested has now been compiled, as set out hereunder: -
Item 1 Supplementary Assistance (general increase): 105,000 payments now current Approx 34,000 more pensioners will become eligible
Estimated cost: £4 million (in full year)
Item 2A Supplementary Assistance to be payable where pensioner’s wife in receipt of Wife’s Allowance:
Approx 5,000 pensioner households Estimated cost: £275,000 (in full year)
Item 2B Standard Rate (£6) pension to be payable where pensioner’s wife in receipt of Wife’s Allowance:
Approx 18,000 pensioner households Estimated cost: £465,000 (in full year)
Item 3 Payment of Wife’s Allowance where age pensioner has child:
Approx 100 Wife’s Allowances
Estimated cost: £15,000 (in full year)
Item 4 Payment of Child’s Allowance and additional pension for children where age pensioner has child:
Approx 250 children
Estimated cost: £10,000 (in full year)
Item 5 Increase in age limit from 18 to 21 for student children of pensioners (with extended eligibility to Class A Widows Pension):
Approx 215 children and pensioners involved
Estimated cost: £20,000 (in full year)
Item 6 Guardian’s Allowance of £2 per week:
Approx 5,200 guardians
Estimated cost: £520,000 (in full year)
Item 7 Funeral Benefit (£20):
Approx 26,500 Funeral Benefits per annum
Estimated cost: £400,000 (in full year)
Total estimated cost: £5.7 million (in full year)
The first item in the Minister’s reply concerned supplementary assistance, with which I have already dealt. The cost of that item in a full year will be £4 million. In relation to Item 2a the Minister said that supplementary assistance was payable where the pensioner’s wife is in receipt of a wife’s allowance. He advised me that approximately 5,000 pensioner households - a very neat term - will benefit at a cost of £275,000 a year. Honorable members will note that 5,000 pensioner households are affected. Do not let us be misled by that figure, because it means really that only 2,500 pensioners will be affected. By using the term “ household “ the Minister gives the impression at first glance that there are double the number of recipients. This is not the case of course, because there is only one pensioner and his wife in each household. Under this proposal the maximum that can be paid to the household will bc 20s. a week. Let us consider the following example: Total pension including supplementary assistance, £6 10s.; wife’s allowance £3, plus new benefit of £1, plus permissible income of £1, making a total of £11 10s. This is for a husband and wife on the lowest grade of pensioner needs, according to the Minister. This proves that the benefit means practically nothing when we take into consideration rising costs and prices. In any case, in a full year, out of a £2,600 million Budget, it will cost only £275,000 right throughout the length and breadth of the country.
I pass on to item 2b in the Minister’s letter. He informed me that the standard rate pension of £6 was to be payable where the pensioner’s wife was in receipt of a wife’s allowance. Approximately 18,000 pensioner households are covered, at an estimated cost of £465,000 a year. Again, I suggest the number of pensioners affected can be reduced to 9,000. Let us consider the following example of a married man in this category. This is what he would get: A pension of £6, wife’s allowance of £3 and supplementary assistance of £1, making a total maximum payment of £10 if rent is paid. This is really a great step forward - a married couple in receipt of £10! In the Press the other day it was announced that the average income of a man and wife in Sydney was in the vicinity of £42. The basic wage is £15 8s. a week. According to the March figures the average income is £26 5s. a week. This Government expects the lowest category of pensioner to exist on £10 a week. The Government expects him to meet every cost involved in living, after paying rent. He has to pay rent in order to receive the supplementary allowance. What a scandalous state of affairs. It is worth recalling at this stage that in his second reading speech the Minister said -
I am sure all honorable members will agree that this will be a notable contribution to the finances of the households affected - households that are now doubtless in the “area of relative need “ to which I have referred.
That statement would do credit to Hughie Roberton. I think he must have written that passage for the Minister.
The next item covered by the Bill concerns the payment of a wife’s allowance when an age pensioner has a child. Now we are getting into the realm of big money.
There are about 735,000 pensioners in Australia and under this Bill 100 wives will benefit. The cost in a full year will be about £15,000. If costs almost as much to send the Prime Minister around the world. Dealing with this matter the Minister said -
The Bill before us also gives recognition to the special difficulties facing the household of a married pensioner whose wife is ineligible for pension and who has children in her custody, care and control. *
Those 100 people will be very excited about this provision. What has the Minister really done for these people? The benefit will apply to only 100 people out of a population of 11 million - to only 100 people out of 735,000 pensioners - and the estimated cost of the benefit is £15,000 a year. What a travesty of justice this is and what downright misrepresentation of the facts. Do not forget that this, benefit applies to age pensioners. It would be interesting to know how many people of 60 or 65 years of age in the community who are not pensioners have children under 18 years of age who would qualify for this benefit. The Minister must think that Australia is one of the weirdest countries otherwise he would not think that a benefit of this kind means much.
The fourth item in the Bill relates to the payment of a child’s allowance and additional pension for children where age pensioners have the custody, care and control of one or more children. In the whole of Australia this benefit will apply to only 250 children. We are told that Australia has one of the world’s youngest populations. This benefit will apply to only a few children in each State. If the matter were not serious it would be laughable to read the following extract from the Minister’s second reading speech announcing these benefits -
These measures will undoubtedly be welcomed not only by all families concerned and by all members of this House but by all those people of good heart throughout the community who recognise the necessity for the preservation of the family as the basis of our civilisation.
So 250 people are to receive this benefit. The Minister’s comments are almost too extravagant for Hughie Roberton of unhappy memory.
The fifth item in the Bill relates to an increase in the age limit from 18 to 21 years for student children of pensioners and extends the eligibility for a class A widow’s pension where the widow has a student child. This provision will benefit 215 children and pensioners in Australia. The numbers are getting fewer. The cost of this benefit will be £20,000 in a full year. The Minister said that this provision is in accordance “ with the Government’s endeavour to encourage all children to attain the most complete education possible . . . . “ This provision will certainly enable children to go through high school and university - the whole 215 of them. What weird reasoning. If there were only that many children involved whose parents are in the lowest economic strata in the community, the increase still would be a downright insult.
The sixth item in the Bill relates to the payment of a guardian’s allowance of £2 a week. This provision will benefit about 5.200 guardians. The estimated cost of the provision is £520,000 in a full year. The benefit will apply to a very small section of pensioners at a minimum of cost. Only 5,200 pensioners out out 735,000 pensioners will benefit. If we are to take the Minister’s words at their face value with respect to the needs of these people, in view of the small numbers involved the nation should have been able to afford greatly increased amounts for family purposes, including the guardian’s allowance.
I turn now to the increase to £20 in certain circumstances in the funeral benefit. I emphasise that the increased benefit will be paid only in special circumstances.
– Old Hughie had a hand in this.
– That is right. Dealing with this matter the Minister said -
While the Government does not propose to increase the existing funeral benefit or alter the conditions of eligibility when the person responsible for the funeral expenses is not a pensioner, it is proposed to ease the position where pensioners are responsible.
According to the Minister, the increase will apply to 26,500 funeral benefits a year and will cost an estimated £400,000 in a full year. The total cost of all the benefits provided under this legislation will be £5,700,000 in a full year. The funeral benefit must rank as one of the most disgraceful features of our social services legislation. It has remained at £10 since 1st July 1943. Pensioners, including women in receipt of a wife’s allowance, who have to meet the cost of the funeral of a pensioner may receive the increased benefit of £20 in special circumstances. This is a scandalous situation. Last year the total cost of funeral benefits was £433,082. The number of clamis granted was 43,707. None of those people would benefit from this proposal. I would like to know how the Government arrives at the cost of a funeral. The benefit was introduced in 1943; when the basic wage was £4 16s. a week. I am told by a Sydney undertaker that at that time the cost of a funeral, including advertisements, was between £33 and £35. In other words, the benefit at that time represented about 30 per cent, of the cost of the funeral. Today the basic wage is £15 8s. The cost of the cheapest respectable funeral is £116. The funreal benefit now represents only 8 per cent, of the cost of a funeral. If the benefit were increased to £50 it still would not be adequate. It appears that this benefit is determined in the same way as the Government conscripts men for overseas service - by drawing from a hat. We are forced to this conclusion by the Minister’s failure to state the basis of assessment. This is a scandalous state of affairs. Despite the new proposals, there can be no justification for failure to increase substantially the rate of benefit in accordance with the needs of the time.
The facts that I have stated bear out my contention that the basis of the Government’s policy is not to give benefits to the needy but to give benefits where the Government thinks it can distribute the minimum and gain the maximum result. As long ago as 1949, this Government promised that by 1952 it would bring down a scheme to abolish the means test. The Minister for Social Services and the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) have abandoned that goal. Honorable members opposite are continually apologising for the Government’s failure to honour its election promise. A perusal of the Prime Minister’s 1949 policy speech will show that he pledged to introduce by 1952 a scheme of national superannuation.
I wish to deal particularly with what has not been done in this legislation. I refer to those sections of the community which do hot benefit under the legislation. The Minister has told us that almost 800,000 pensioners arc cared for by his Department. Under this legislation, more than 600,000 age, invalid and widow pensioners will receive nothing. Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, these people constitute one of the most deserving sections of the community. The Government’s refusal to increase pensions has placed an intolerable burden on them and has reduced them to a level of poverty. As an example, let me outline the harsh treatment given by this Go-) vernment to pensioners who, unfortunately, in the view of the Government, are married. Between 1961 and 1964 they did not receive any increase in pension. Last year they received an increase of only 5s. a week, bringing the pension to £5 10s. There is no increase this year so, in effect, their pension has been reduced. In a letter to me, Mrs. I. Ellis, honorary secretary of the Australian Commonwealth Pensioner’s Federation, which represents 80,000 pensioners in Australia, wrote -
The Federation denounced the 1965 Budget as a “ death knell “ Budget for pensioners, for we believe many will sicken and die for want of nourishing food, and from the worry in their old age, and infirmity, to cope with the business of living and meeting weekly commitments. In sober judgment, setting aside party politics, can you condone the failure of the Government? The married pensioner has received since 1961 only 5/- a week rise - Sid. a day - is this just?
That is an impassioned plea made by a pensioner on behalf of her organization. I could give further details from her letter, which is a despairing and sincere cry and which condems the failure of the Government to provide for pensioners. I just briefly mention what is in the Bill compared to what is not in it - more than 600,000 pensioners receive no benefits; wife’s allowances are not increased; the funeral benefit is still pegged at £10; widows are still struggling to make ends meet; 228,139 maternity allowances are unchanged; 3,572,295 child endowment cases receive no increase at all; 26,706 people - the weekly average - recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits will not receive any increase; and apparently rehabilitation services will not be improved by this Government. I mention these matter so that the electorate will know that all is not as it should be with our social services.
I refer now to the final paragraph of the Minister’s letter. He said -
In accordance with the established practice, it is proposed that the increases in the pension and allowance rates provided by the Bill will come into operation on the pay day following the Royal Assent. The increased rates of funeral benefits will become effective on the date of the Royal Assent.
Our amendment provides that the increases shall be granted retrospectively from 1st July 1965. There is no reason why this cannot be done in this age or at the very least why they cannot be paid from the date of introduction of the legislation into the Parliament. This has been done with salaries, the superphosphate bounty and other increased payments. The Government’s deliberate policy over the years has been to refuse to back date the increases and so prevent us from criticising it, because we want the increases to be paid as soon as possible. Child endowment for student children was back dated to commence from 7th April 1964. It affected 520,000 families. The homes savings grant, that desperate bid for electoral support, was back dated to 2nd December 1963. In a dozen and one other ways, such as salaries for Ministers, parliamentarians and judges, payment has been back dated. But the poor old pensioner cannot have his increase back dated; he must wait for his miserly increase until the Government sees fit to give it to him.
I mention these matters so that people will realise that the Government is not sincere when it deals with social services. In the course of my speech today, I have not touched at any great length on the Aged Persons Homes Act or the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act. The Minister made passing references to these Acts, but as he knows they are separate legislation. Because I have not dealt with them now it should not be taken that the Australian Labour Party is in complete agreement with the Government’s policy on these matters. We believe that there are ways in which these Acts can be improved and at the proper time we will take appropriate action to put our views before this Parliament.
That part of our amendment which asks for the establishment of a standing committee of the Parliament to inquire into social services envisages a committee somewhat similar to the one that made notable contributions to social services legislation in the mid 1940’s. Only a few days ago the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), when addressing the Australian Metal Industries Association, which represents the metal trades employers, at a dinner held after its 21st annual general meeting at the Hotel Canberra, called on the Federal Government to establish a full scale national inquiry into poverty in Australia. He is reported as having said -
I am convinced that when the facts arc fully revealed, we will be amazed and appalled by the degree of poverty that remains hidden, or half hidden among us.
He went on to say that there are 900,000 people with incomes between £17 10s. and £21 a week. He added that about 725,000 pensioners were living in sub-standard conditions. He said that the United States of America had already set in train an inquiry similar to the inquiry we have suggested in order to determine where poverty begins. In this country, we do not know whether social services are working as they should do. We should have a full and complete inquiry now and a continual review by the Parliament of this field of human relations.
I submit these arguments somewhat hurriedly but as comprehensively as possible so that the point of view of the Opposition will be known. The Minister gave figures and made comparisons between conditions now and in days gone by. He compared 1949-50 with this year. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has pointed out in a document that I have not the time to read now that pensions have not kept pace with inflation, that the number of pensioners and other social services beneficiaries has increased and that the population has grown from 8 million to 1 1 million. The comparisons made by the Minister are not only unfair and unjust; they are not relevant to the issues before us. Today, more money is being spent on social services but they are worth less and less. Pensions alone would need to be almost doubled to restore their value.
In moving the amendment on behalf of the Opposition, I have tried to record fairly and impartially the evasive methods of the Government in the field of social services. We believe it is deserving of our condemnation for its neglect of the most needy section of the community and for its failure to provide adequate benefits for all in need. The distress, unseen in many cases, of hardship and suffering, the unfair operation of the Act in certain cases and the need to know how our people live demand full and searching inquiry. I ask the House to support our proposals and, by the appointment of a standing committee of the Parliament on social services, work for the betterment of our fellow men and the welfare of all our people, particularly those in need.
– Order! Is the amendment seconded.
– I second the amendment.
.- The speech that we have just heard read by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) lacks substance and contains most extravagant statements. Obviously it was not written by him. He could not understand it and he gabbled it so rapidly that nobody else could understand it. During the last quarter of an hour we did see some of the form of the honorable member when, for the first time, he came to matter that he had prepared himself. The honorable member is a powerful speaker and it is most regrettable that he should occupy the time of the House in delivering very rapidly a speech that he had not prepared and did not understand.
It may be important for him to point out to the writer of the speech that it contained many inaccuracies. I will deal with only one of them. In reading the speech, the honorable member referred to the reply of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) on supplementary assistance. The Minister had stated that supplementary assistance was to be payable where the pensioner’s wife was in receipt of the wife’s allowance. The Minister was asked to say how many persons would benefit and, in his reply, he said that it would assist 5,000 pensioner households. For some extraordinary reason, the prepared paper that the honorable member for Grayndler read as his speech gave the number as 2,500, whereas in fact 10,000 persons could benefit. Not only will pensioners benefit, but also pensioners* wives, who are entitled to a wife’s allowance, will benefit indirectly by the improvement in the income of their husbands. So we can see how totally unreliable is the paper that was prepared for the honorable member.
Taking into account the economic position of Australia at present, I believe that the Minister for Social Services has presented to the House a masterly Bill designed to relieve need and necessitous circumstances where help is most needed. At present, Australia faces a difficult international situation. Australians generally as well as people throughout the world appreciate that increased defence expenditure by Australia was not only desirable but also necessary. When the forecasters rushed to the Press to tip the kind of Budget we would have, it was generally predicted that there would be no concessions whatsoever and that there would be very substantial increases in taxation to meet our obvious defence needs. However, the Government, while appreciating its responsibility for undertaking substantial additional expenditure for defence, at the same time realised that those most in need must not be forgotten. This Budget was framed in the belief that notwithstanding increases in defence expenditure and in taxation there was still capacity to assist those in the community who were most in need.
After the Budget figures had been dissected, the Government decided that something like £5 million would be available for social services. It could have taken the easy line and simply said: “ We shall increase all pensions”. The additional annual expenditure of approximately £5.7 million on social services that is envisaged as a result of the benefits provided for in this Bill would have made possible an increase of only about 2s. 6d. a week in pensions. I venture to say that if the Minister had come into this House and said that the Government proposed to increase all pensions by 2s. 6d. a week and to provide no additional benefits for those in necessitous circumstances, all honorable members would have condemned him and the Government for such a proposal. In this instance, in the face of extremely difficult financial circumstances, the Minister has done what ought to be done. Additional expenditure of approximately £5.7 million annually is to be distributed among those sections of the community that most need help.
The first additional benefit is the doubling of the supplementary assistance. Up to the present time, this benefit has been paid where there has been only one pension coming into the home and where the pensioner had no income other than the pension. Actually, the words “ no income “ have been interpreted as meaning an income not in excess of 10s. a week, although pensioners have been entitled to receive the full pension of £6 a week and additional income of £3 10s. a week. So, on the one hand, we have some pensioners receiving a total income of £9 10s. a week and others receiving only £6 a week plus 10s. a week supplementary assistance. Would anyone in this House say that the pensioner receiving a total income of only £6 10s. a week is not in greater need of assistance than a pensioner who receives a total income of £9 10s. a week? Many times, I have heard honorable members opposite being very eloquent about the need to help those most needing help. This year, the Government has set out to assist those most in need of help.
The supplementary assistance is to be increased by 100 per cent., from 10s. to £1 a week. Furthermore, the means test has been substantially liberalised. Previously, a pensioner with assets valued at £209 or more was not entitled to any supplementary assistance. From now on, a pensioner who has no income other than the pension will not entirely lose the benefit of supplementary assistance unless he has assets valued at £980 or more. This represents a very substantial liberalisation of the means test. Previously, a person who had no assets was not entitled to supplementary assistance if he had income other than the pension, perhaps in the form of superannuation or wages, of 10s. a week or more. This limit is now to be raised to 30s. a week under the terms of this Bill - three times the existing limit. Under the merged means test formula, supplementary assistance will not cease entirely unless income other than the pension and the property component based on assets, which together give the means as assessed, total 30s. a week.
I venture to say that, despite the humbug we heard from the honorable member for Grayndler, the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), if he were Minister for Social Services would have adopted as his first proposal the liberalisation of the means test on supplementary assistance and the increasing of this benefit. It ill behoves Labour members of the Parliament to argue against their own convictions, to pretend that they are not in favour of this Bill and to ask that it be withdrawn. The amendment to the motion for the second reading proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler indicates that the Opposition reluctantly agrees to give the measure a second reading. Would it not have been better for honorable members opposite to have been sporting about the matter and to have said to the Government: “ We congratulate you on providing assistance for those sections of the community most in need “? Why is it that members of the Australian Labour Party, who talk so much about helping the needy, attack the Government when it introduces legislation to help those sections of the community that are most in need?
Now let us look at the reforms in relation to student children. Under the present Act if an aged person or an invalid or a widow has a- student child the allowance for that child ceases when the child attains the age of 1 8 years. The age, invalid or widow pensioner is then in a difficult position. Is he or she to allow Johnny to go on with his university course or other education and make further inroads into the pensioner’s meagre funds when the social allowance for the student child is no longer available? This Government not only introduced child endowment and provided a child endowment payment for the first child; it also a few years ago extended the child endowment to cover student children, and a student child does not lose the benefit of that endowment until he becomes 21 years of age. But under our Social Services Act the allowance in respect of the child of an age, invalid or widow pensioner ceases when the child reaches 18 years of age. Under this Bill that anomaly has been cleared up. No longer will the pensioner be in the predicament of having to decide whether the child should be taken away from school, because the allowance will continue as long as the child is a full time student until he or she reaches the age of 21 years.
Similarly, age pensioners with children under 16 and student children under 21 will now receive the allowances. A widow who previously became a class B pensioner when her student child reached the age of 18 will now remain a class A pensioner until that student child attains the age of 21 years. The Government is to be congratulated and commended for recognising the importance of giving Australian children, whether they are children of age or invalid pensioners or of widows, a chance to acquire a higher education. The Government has acknowledged the principle that lack of finance should not be a bar to those children’s opportunities to receive reasonable education. There will in future be no penalties imposed on the parents of full time students simply because they attain a certain age. This Bill removes the discriminations that were previously in existence. The allowances cease at the age of 16 if the child does not study full time, but if he continues full time studies the allowances will be payable unti he is 21 years of age. I think it can be said that as a result of the legislation now before the House no child will be prevented by lack of funds from gaining higher education. Another anomaly to be cleared up in this Bill is that which previously existed in the case of a man who lost his wife, who had dependent children and who found it imperative to provide a guardian for those children. A guardian’s allowance, similar to the mother’s allowance, is now to be allowed to widowers who have the care of dependent children. This is a very desirable and necesary reform, and just as the people of Australia gave the warmest congratulations to the Government when it introduced the mother’s allowance in relation to widows, I am sure the same warm approval will be shown in connection with the introduction of the guardian’s allowance provided under this Bill.
Another matter that is being dealt with is the funeral benefit. I believe the Government has adopted a very proper principle in connection with this benefit. It must be realised that it is the taxpayer in the community who has to pay all these benefits. If a person receiving social service benefits dies leaving assets, say in the form of a house, worth £6,000 or £8,000, is it right and proper that the community should pay the cost of his funeral? I do not believe that the basic wage earner should be taxed any more than he ls being taxed at present, or that his tax should be used, to pay benefits to relieve people or to give assets to people who are not in need. At present a funeral benefit of £10 is payable whether there are assets in the estate of the deceased pensioner or not, whether the person liable to pay the cost of the funeral is a wealthy person or not. We just have this carte blanche benefit and if a pensioner dies the £10 funeral benefit is payable. Do not let it be said that pensioners never have any assets. Some pensioners can quite lawfully, under the provisions of the means test, have assets of £6,000 or £8,000. They may be represented by a house or furniture or other such items. The Government in this case has tried to assist those in need. It has said that if a pensioner is liable to pay the cost of a funeral - and obviously a pensioner has needs - then the. funeral benefit will be £20. The Government has said, on the other hand, and I think quite properly, that where a wealthy person is responsible for the funeral costs, or where the estate is sufficient to cover those costs, the benefit will remain at £10.
As we look through the reforms contained in this Bill we find that the Government has given a tremendous amount of thought to them and that it has from beginning to end adopted the principle that as much as possible of the available money should be given to those most in need. We have had during the last few days the privilege of reading the report of the Director-General of Social Services, which has recently been tabled. It provides some very interesting statistics and is well worthy of being read by every honorable member. It has pointed out that the number of age pensioners has reached 628,000. That number represents, I think, a little more than SO per cent, of the total number of persons of pensionable age. It is interesting to note that of those who are of pensionable age, only a little more than half receive the pension. Therefore we can only assume that the remainder have property or income, or that by continuing in work they have income which under the means test disqualifies them from the pension.
The report states that 12,914 additional pensions are payable this year. It points out also that about 50,000 new pensions were granted. So, although we are granting an additional 50,000 pensions each year, because of deaths the net increase in the number of pensions being paid is somewhere in the region of 13,000. It is interesting to note also that two-thirds of all age pensioners are over the age of 70 years. An examination of the report shows that a very great number of people who attain pension able age remain in work for a considerable period after their age entitlement to a pension first arises. This is greatly to the good of the community. So, we find that twothirds of age pensioners are actually over the age of 70 years. It is interesting to note also that 70 per cent, of the pensioners are women. That, of course, is due to two reasons: First, women live much longer than men; secondly, women receive the age pension five years earlier than men. But one would not have expected,. even with those factors, that 70 per cent, of the pensioners would be women.
The report shows also that 84 per cent, of married pensioners have pensioner spouses, which means that only 16 per cent, of the spouses are under pensionable age. In those cases the married pensioner couple receives only one pension. One thing in the report which struck me most forcibly was the fact that whereas in 1958, 42 per cent, of age pensioners owned their own homes, the figure is now 52 per cent. This increase from 42 per cent, to 52 per cent, is a feature upon which not only the Government but also the whole community of Australia is to be congratulated. The Government is to be congratulated upon the fact that all the time a larger and larger percentage of Australians are owning their own homes.
In conclusion I should like to congratulate the Minister and the Government for the tremendous amount of thought that has been put into this legislation. As Chairman of the Government Members’ Social Services Committee I thank the Minister for the very great consideration that he has given to the Committee’s recommendations and for the thoughtful understanding he has shown to the Committee since has has been Minister. I feel sure that by continuing the very close liaison that has ‘been established, the Government Members’ Social Services Committee can help the Minister to assess the needs of the public for social services reform. If I may express my personal appreciation to the Minister, I say to him that his first Budget legislation is one of the finest social services measures that have been introduced, taking into account the limited amount of money available for this purpose. I think that even members of the Australian Labour Party will graciously admit that the Minister has, within the confines of the money that was available to him, done bis best to remove hardship where it exists.
.- I am pleased to have the opportunity to second the motion which was so ably proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). For the record I shall quote the motion. The honorable member moved -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, this House condemns the Government for its failure -
to increase age, invalid and widows’ pensions and other social service benefits to meet, at least, greatly increased costs and prices, and
to make retrospective to the 1st July 1965 the increases proposed by the Bill, and is of opinion that a Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee should be appointed -
to ascertain the extent and severity of distress, including distress due to poverty, within the community and recommend the provision of social services, community facilities and other assistance to ensure an adequate degree of well-being and security for the people of Australia, and
to review continually the operation of social service benefits”.
The honorable member for Grayndler very adequately explained the motion so I shall not reiterate what he said. However, I should like to pass one or two comments on the statements made by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). He said that the Australian Labour Party should congratulate the Government for its achievements in this legislation. Why should we congratulate the Government for, in effect, making the poor sections of the community even poorer? We condemn the Government for its action. We know now why the honorable member wanted congratulations. It was not the Government that he wanted to be congratulated; he wanted the congratulations for himself because he is Chairman of the Government Members’ Social Services Committee. One can understand why he so enthusiastically supported the legislation that has been introduced by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair).
The honorable member for Sturt said that the measure was to provide relief so that those most in need would not be for gotten. But his Committee obviously forgot them. The honorable member said that if all of the £5.2 million provided in the current Budget for improved social service benefits were applied to pension increases each pensioner would receive only an additional 2s. 6d. a week. He mentioned that that amount was paltry. We agree; but who has suggested that the total amount that should be provided for increased social service benefits should be a miserly £5.2 million? The honorable member for Sturt is interjecting, but I remind him that in the Budget there is no provision to increase company tax although income tax is to be increased by 2i per cent.
Despite the fact that the Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd. made a profit of more than £19 million last year and General MotorsHolden’s Ltd. made a profit of more than £18 million, there was no increase in tax which would affect those companies or the other companies that are making colossal profits. Defence was used as an excuse for increasing taxation, but it appears that those who have the greatest assets to lose in the event of this country being invaded - I do not suggest that this is likely - have not been asked to pay one additional penny piece towards the increased defence expenditure. They should have been taxed in order to provide not only for the defence of this country but also for increased social service benefits to those who need them. The fringe benefits that were provided were acceptable, although when analysed - as was done by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) - were shown to be paltry in the extreme. I do not intend to go through the document again; it was the Minister’s own letter from which the honorable member for Grayndler quoted.
The facts are, of course, that the important basic pensions were not dealt with in this legislation. I draw attention, too, to the fact that the usual theme from the Government side of the House is that social service benefits have a greater value today than they have ever had, that they have a greater value today than they had when the Labour Government was in office. This is untrue, and it is known to be untrue by those who make that statement and those who repeat it. One need point only to one or two factors to prove this. When one analyses the amount that has been spent on social service benefits - and the Government always points out the total expenditure is increasing - one has also to take into account population growth plus the fact that we have been passing through an inflationary period ever since this Government came into office. The total expenditure on social services in 1949 was £74.6 million; for this year the expected expenditure is £348.5 million. However, during the same period the population has grown from 7.8 million in 1949 to 11.3 million at present. Since 1949, too, the consumer price index has risen from 61 to 132.1, and we can see that as the population has grown tremendously over that period, and as costs have increased tremendously, so the amount expended on social service benefits has to increase.
During the course of his able address the honorable member for Grayndler compared as a percentage of the gross national income the amount that had been expended on social service benefits during the year. I intend to make a comparison not with the gross national income but- as Ministers in this chamber have done - with the gross national product, to show that the percentage of the gross national product expended on social service benefits is decreasing. Here again I want honorable members to bear in mind the difference in population between 1949 and now - 7.8 million as compared with 11.3 million. During the last Budget debate the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) said -
In the last Chifley Budget the proportion of gross national product provided for social services was 3.4 per cent. By 1959-60, the proportion had risen to 4.3 per cent., and in 1963-64 it was 4.8 per cent.
That has been recorded in “ Hansard “, but let us look at the present situation. The Budget shows that the gross national product now is £9,562 million, and the provision for social services is £348.5 million which, as a percentage of the gross national product, is 3.6; so we can see that we have almost the same percentage of the gross national product being expended on social services today as was spent in 1949. However, the important point is that the population has increased from 7.8 million to 11.3 million, which clearly indicates that the Labour Government was spending more, as a percentage of the gross national product, on social services.
The honorable member for Sturt says that we should congratulate the Government on its achievements in this field. We do not congratulate the Government; we condemn it for what it has done. We point out that every recipient of social service benefits has been short-changed since this Government assumed office. Increases have not kept pace with inflation; they have been continually dragging behind costs. At the same time, people have been paying more for the shrunken benefits they receive. As a result of inflation over the years, the taxpayer has passed into higher income tax ranges and although he gets less in real wages in his pay packet the Government reaps more off him in taxation but gives him less in return by way of social service benefits. This, incidentally, emphasises the misleading statement that was made by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in 1949 when he said -
The value of social services will be at least maintained. Indeed they will be increased. The pensioners can rely on us for justice.
Does the married pensioner get justice in this Budget? Despite increased costs since the last Budget they receive no pension increase, which means that today they have a lower standard of living - I am talking about the basic pensioner - than they had 12 months ago. This must be so if costs have increased, and the Government must admit that costs have increased. I emphasise that the total bill for social services, as given in this Budget, does not reveal the real value of these benefits to the recipients. I ask: Are mothers getting as much purchasing power in their child endowment today as they were in 1949? The answer is a definite “No”, and I will analyse the situation to show why. The same applies to maternity allowances, funeral benefits, despite the increase, and to pensions and other social services. The value of all these benefits has been clipped since this Government has been in office. When people were contributing to the National Welfare Fund before 1949 they believed that the money they were paying into it would retain its value and that they would get value back when they received their social service benefits in return. For some years now they have realised that they have become the victims of a thimble and pea trick. Actually, they gave good money in their contributions to the Nati’onal Welfare Fund and in return received bad money, because the value of the £1, compared to its value in 1949, has shrunk to 6s. People are losing both ways. The value of social service benefits has been clipped as though an extra tax had been imposed on the people. I repeat that people have moved into higher income tax brackets without getting any more purchasing power in their pay packets.
On this occasion the Minister has turned a deaf ear to the plight of the pensioner - particularly the married pensioner. Science and medical knowledge have been responsible for people living much longer nowadays than people did 65 years ago. Since 1900 the number of people over age 65 has been steadily increasing. Some are living well into their 80’s and 90’s. What we should be concerned with is not that they are living longer but how they are living. If any of them are suffering poverty or living in dire straits it is a reflection on our society and we should not allow it to happen. Our motion provides that it shall not happen.
Many people are asking: Is it a crime to grow old? They can ask that question when they know that today’s pension purchases less than the same pension did just 12 months ago. It is true that some of the fringe benefits are of value in some cases, but 1 emphasise - as the honorable member for Grayndler has emphasised - that only small numbers of people are involved, and that it is to the discredit of this Government and to the discredit of the Chairman of the Government Members Social Services Committee that recommendations should have been made on the lines of the proposals contained in this legislation. The increase in supplementary assistance for single pensioners solely dependent on their pensions, and paying rent was justified, but married pensioners should also receive supplementary assistance. Many of them require it. Even when they own their own homes they are up for all sorts of expenses that they have to meet from the pension of £5 10s. a week each. I refer particularly to those pensioners who have no other income, and I ask the Minister to consider the situation of some of these people. I am sure that if our request were adopted, that a committee be set up, as provided in the amendment, to go into the question of distress due to poverty, that committee would look at this very question and do something to relieve some of the distress that those people are suffering.
This Government stands condemned for not taking some action in regard to the allowable income for pensioners. The abolition of the means test was planned by a Labour Government and would have been achieved in 1957-58 if that Government had remained in office. That policy is part of our platform today just as it was in those days. It is an aim to which the Menzies Government pays only lip service. Since 1954 the allowable income for pensioners has remained at £3 10s. a week. Since that time the pension for single persons has increased from £3 10s. to £6 a week. That is the current rate. I ask the Minister to bear in mind that this figure is only 24 per cent, of the federal basic wage. In 1954 the pension was 30 per cent, of the federal basic wage. In 1954 £3 10s. represented 20 per cent, of the national average earnings. Today it represents 14 per cent. To meet that situation, the allowable income should be increased to something over £5 a week. These people are suffering when the standard of living of the community is supposed to be progressing. Whilst the Government is giving lip service to the abolition of the means test it does not ease it in actual fact. In real fact, it restricts it because it does not allow the allowable income to keep pace with the value of money.
There is a lot of talk about shortages in the work force, but here is a source of labour, much of it skilled, which is available and willing. The benefit of this labour force to the Australian economy would offset the cost to the Government to a large extent, if the Government allowed increased earnings to pensioners, who in many instances are skilled people, without portion of the pension having to be sacrificed. The view of the Labour Party is that the means test should not only be eased but should be abolished. Such a move would assist those who pay into superannuation funds because they now pay twice. They pay into the National Welfare Fund and into the superannuation funds as well.
The means test is a most frustrating and annoying factor with which retired people are faced. It makes a mockery of thrift and denies age pensions to those who save during their life. Honorable members on the Government’s side throw up their hands in horror if this matter is raised and say that to lift the means test is an economic impossibility. It is not an impossibility. It is not an impossibility in New Zealand where, since 19S8, age pensions have been paid to all citizens over 65 years of age, irrespective of income or assets. There is no means test in the United Kingdom. The same applies to many other countries which are advanced in the field of social services. In Canada there is no means test after the age of 70 and in Great Britain the age limit is 70 for men and 65 for women.
Let us examine the bad features of the means test. It is psychologically bad because it does not encourage thrift. The Minister would know, and other honorable members would know, that constituents ask Federal members how they can arrange their assets so that they may draw pensions. Honorable members assist them and help them take advantages of any weaknesses in the social services legislation. They tell them how to reduce their assets so that they can qualify for a pension. Many people are advised how to spend their money so that they can qualify. They are told to go on holidays before they are due for the pension and so qualify. This means that people are spending money, within the law, needlessly in order to qualify for a pension. That course is forced on them by the means test which this Government is doing nothing about. Some people even say: “What is the use of my saving money when, as a result of that saving, I lose my pension rights? “ The bad feature of it is that people are deprived of the right to earn above the permissible income.
I have a question on the notice paper at the present time asking the Minister whether the means test is preventing many pensioners from accepting employment, and whether an easing of the means test would not relieve the financial burden on pensioners and attract some skilled workers back to the work force. I have not had a reply yet. I hope the Minister looks at that matter very carefully because the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) recently mentioned the shortage of skilled workers. Are retired people coming back into the work force? I think that they should be attracted to do so but the fact is that they will not if it means losing their pension. Nobody could blame them for doing that. As as result of their leaving the work force, their productivity is lost to the country at a time when it is said that we have a shortage of workers, particularly skilled workers.
The Government has accepted a lot of the Labour Party’s social service proposals and I ask the Minister at the table to consider adopting another section of our platform - the progressive easing of the means test with a view to its ultimate abolition. Why not let the committee recommended in the amendment examine the question and report on how best the means test could be abolished? I am not suggesting that its abolition could be done overnight but a set period of years could be decided upon for its gradual abolition. This might not be as expensive, once the question were analysed, as the Minister may think. For instance, if pensioners were able to earn more they would immediately move into higher income tax groups. Rich people who might be drawing a pension would go into such income tax groups as would result in the cost of the abolition of the means test being returned to the Treasury in the form of taxation.
Consider the saving that there would be in administrative costs. The Government would not have to have officers to analyse the means of every age pensioner. All the Government would need to know would be the age of the person. The economy itself would improve because of the increased production. This Government, in my opinion, adopted a very mean and paltry attitude to a couple living in my electorate. The husband is a pensioner but the wife is under 60 years of age. I am talking about this matter generally but I want to use this case as an example. The Department in Western Australia was only carrying out the law in this regard, of course, and possibly could not do anything else! But this case, instances of which are fairly general, involved a man who received a pension of £6 a week. The wife’s allowance was not payable, he was not an invalid, and he had no children under the age of 16 years. If he were an invalid or permanently incapacitated for work, his wife would have received an allowance of £3 a week and his pension would be reduced to £5 10s. unless he had a child under the age of 16 years. Those figures apply under existing legislation. This provides a sub standard rate on which to expect a couple to live. I know that the Government does not expect them to live on it. The total benefits paid amount to £8 10s. a week but the Government expects the wife to find a job. It does not consider the fact that the husband might be too ill to be left alone or that it might be diffificult for a woman to get employment after being out of the work force for 10 or 20 years. That is an important point that the Minister should examine. A couple in such circumstances, with a child under 16 years has to live on £9 15s. a week, if I have my figures correct. That is -made up of £6 for the pension, £3 for the wife and 15s. for the child.
The case I have mentioned concerns a Mrs. D. M. Wilson whose husband has just gone on to the pension. I repeat that I am not suggesting that this case involves any fault on the part of the Department. It is the legislation which is wrong. If I remember correctly, Mr. Wilson is many years older than his wife but she has not been in the work force for over 10 years. Her doctor told her that she was at least 85 per cent, incapacitated. When she went before the Commonwealth Medical Referee and was examined it was found, according to that medical officer, that Mrs. Wilson was not permanently incapacitated for work and was not eligible for invalid pension. So, these two people have to live on the one pension. It is shocking that a woman who must be classed as being more than 85 per cent, incapacitated is expected to go out and seek employment. That is one of the matters that we want the Government to consider under the amendment that we have moved, which refers to “ distress due to poverty “. The Minister should have a look at those matters.
The Government has shown a callous disregard for people in necessitous circumstances. These days, when a man marries a girl who is 10 years younger that he is, they both should realise that they are saddling themselves with a financial burden in the years to come, when he is due to retire. For the sake of their economic security, no man should marry a woman more than five years his junior, because if he does so they are tying an anchor around both of their necks. That will become evident when he reaches the age of 65 years. Either he has to continue to work until his wife qualifies for a pension - that is, if he is able to do so - or she has to find a job although she may have been out of industry for some years.
Let us look at other social service benefits. Some of them have been mentioned already by the honorable member for Grayndler. Let us see how their value has shrunk while this Government has been in office. The funeral benefit is being increased to £20 when a pensioner is responsble for the cost of a funeral. In other cases it remains at £10. This benefit was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943 - 22 years ago. At that time the benefit was £10 and the basic wage was £4 16s. a week. The present basic wage is £15 8s. a week. The funeral benefit should have been increased not to £20 but to at least £30, in order to give it the same value as it had when it was introduced. Of course, on the basis of the cost of funerals today, it should have been increased to a considerably higher amount.
The existing rates of maternity allowance were fixed by the Curtin Government in 1943. They range from £15 to £17 10s. During the period of more than 20 years since that time, the basic wage has risen from £4 16s. to £15 8s. a week, or more than three times. From the inception of the maternity allowance in 1912 until this Government came into office, the allowance would always pay the expenses associated with the birth of a child; but it will not do so today. Consequently, married couples are putting off having children. At one time big families were the order of the day. Now married couples are doing little more than replacing themselves. More than half of the children born in Australia in 1894 were at least the fourth child in the family. Today fewer than one Australian couple in five is interested in having a family of four children, whereas about 60 years ago every second couple was interested in doing so. Couples will not have big families today because their spending power is reduced as additional children come along. Inflation has forced incomes into higher income brackets for taxation purposes, but less can be purchased with a given income.
I would like the Minister for Social Services to bear these facts in mind: In 1949 a family on the basic wage and with two children paid 16s. a year in taxation. Now the same family unit pays 10s. 6d. a week - not a year - or £26 13s. a year. In order to lift the burden from families, child endowment should have been increased in this year’s Budget. Some of the purchasing power that has been lost should have been returned. In 1948, when the basic wage was £5 16s. a week, a family of five received £2 a week in child endowment. But this year, when the basic wage is £15 8s. a week, a family of five receives £3 a week in child endowment. The basic wage has increased two and a half times. In order to return the purchasing power of child endowment, for a family of five child endowment should be about £4 10s. today.
Parents cannot do justice to big families. The family’s spending power is reduced as extra children come along. For instance, a man who earns £25 a week will pay £3 9s. fid. a week tax after 1st October. If he is a single man he will be left with an income on which he can manage. However, when he marries his tax is reduced to £2 16s. and his actual income represents £11 2s. each for him and his wife. When their first child arrives, his tax is reduced to £2 8s. 6d., but they receive 5s. child endowment. That gives them an actual income of £22 16s. 6d., or £7 12s. 2d. for each of the three members of the family unit. When their second child arrives, the tax is reduced to £2 3s., but the 15s. child endowment makes the family’s actual income £23 12s-, or £5 18s. for each member of the family unit.
When their third child arrives, the tax is reduced to £1 18s. and the child endowment is increased to 30s. That gives them an actual income of £24 12s., which represents £4 18s. 5d- per head. When their fourth child arrives, they have an actual income of £25 12s. after taking into account the reduced taxation and the increased child endowment. That represents £4 5s. 4d. for each member of the family unit. When their fifth child arrives, after taking into account the reduced taxation and the increased child endowment, the actual family income is £26 1 ls. 6d., or £3 7s. 6d. for each member of the family unit.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), at the commencement of his speech this after noon, bellowed very noticeably at my friend and colleague, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). I am reminded that when the honorable member for Stirling was in this House on his first visit he was known for his strong voice and strong attack. He was defeated; and when he returned to the service of the House he was noticeably restrained. My colleagues and I could not help wondering today whether the bellow that we heard might presage his decline at the next election. Today we are debating a vital measure.
– The honorable member’s decline will come about when the people know that he is a member of the Government Members’ Social Services Committee.
– Here comes the bellow once more. I will deal in due course with what the honorable member said. In an American magazine recently I noticed an item about an age pensioner who made a little money by regularly exercising the pet dogs of his working neighbours. He said that the idea was so popular that he had to turn down some potential customers. He added: “ I am looking forward to next year when I will turn 72. Then the social services people will let me earn as much as I like. At present I am restricted “.
Many people in Australia make similar statements. For example, one person in Western Australia asked: “ Why cannot I do something like that? Why cannot I go out and earn a few shillings over and above my pension, particularly when I am over 70 years of age? “ Why cannot we have a policy similar to the American policy? Obviously, a person who is over the age of 70 years or, say, 72 years - which is the relevant age in the United States of America - would not be capable of taking a job from a younger person. Surely there would be no harm in letting such a person earn whatever he could. Many members of the medical profession say that this restriction of earnings in our pensions system is a soul destroying factor. Pensioners virtually have to account to the Government for every extra £1 that ingenuity, as in the case of the American to whom I referred, might bring.
– I agree entirely with the honorable member.
– It is very nice to hear that from my friend from Tasmania. I assure him that I do not agree entirely with everything that he puts forward. But let me proceed and see whether I can gain his support for all the other matters that I want to raise.
The problem of the permissible income of the widow pensioner is particularly significant in this context. As my colleague from Sturt said, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) is rightly due for praise for the introduction of this legislation and is worthy of our commendation for his first second reading speech. We look upon him, as others have indicated, as a very understanding and sympathetic administrator. From my own experience I know that the Minister has a deep personal conviction as to the inequity of the existing means test. There are, of course, many in this House who hope that our pensioners, like the fellow with his pet dog care service in America, may be freed of the means test at some future date. The sooner the better. Being freed of the means test a pensioner could, if he so desired, engage in some reasonable form of income earning. If it proved possible to achieve as a first step the removal of the means test at the age of, say, 72, as in America, only in this programme, there are many of us who believe that the Minister would soon thereafter press for the entire abolition of the means test. We trust that the Minister’s advisers in the Department will encourage him in this direction. I might say at this point that I extend to the officers of the Department my congratulations for sound administration and I trust that they will not hesitate to provide all the facts to justify this proposal. If the Minister decides to do something about removing the means test, we would then have to wish him every success as he did battle with his Cabinet colleagues, because what he would be engaged on, would be a major amendment to the legislation - a very worthy one indeed, as many in this House have expressed on earlier occasions. I find no logic in the suggestion made by a few in the community that our pension scheme is niggardly compared with the schemes of some of the smaller countries. Our opponents, of course, use this argument constantly. We have had it placed before us today. We had it from the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) and it was presented in the tirade of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). This Government, irrespective of its social service achievements, would never satisfy the Opposition. We know that we cannot expect praise for anything we do and we know that we will get no support by way of expressions of thanks or satisfaction.
The amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler is not generous in the least degree. He has moved an amendment to the effect that this House condemns the Government for its failure -
That is just brought in as a red herring, of course. Then the amendment goes on - and is of opinion that a Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee should be appointed -
Listen to this -
Visitors from overseas can find very little, if anything, in this country that can even line up with the shocking living conditions reported in the Press a few days ago as being something relatively easy to find, unfortunately, in the United Kingdom where, as members of the Opposition know full well, there is a vast system of social services. Australia is a country where, thanks be to God, it is difficult to find the distressing conditions that are implied by the amendment moved by the Opposition. By far the majority of the pensioners in Australia are happy and grateful people.
– Do not be so silly.
– I am not being silly. I am beginning to think that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, busy as he is so often with his appearances on television and in using a capable pen to write his opinions, is not moving around among the elderly people in his electorate as much as he used to do. I sympathise with him because of his unfortunate accident recently.
– If the Minister will come with me one day I will show him something.
– If the honorable member comes with me I will work him to death for a day or two. The pensioners are grateful to the Government for what it has done for them and they are prepared to support their appreciation of the Government by their votes at elections, and well do the members of the Opposition know this. I assert, therefore, that our social service schemes are, in general terms, soundly based and relatively generous. If they were not, how would the recipients be as appreciative as they are today?
The Bill to which we are directing our attention this afternoon provides extra benefits which will further satisfy the needs, and ease the problems of, a large proportion of pension recipients. The annual report of the Department of Social Services is, as the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) said earlier in this debate, a praiseworthy document. I should like to refer honorable members to that section in the printed report which deals with pensions for widows. I suggest that the analysis that we find in this particular section is helpful as one endeavours to appreciate the difficulties in this area of social service benefits. The substantial increase in benefits for widows approved last year is reflected in the total cost of £23.5 million which is payable in respect of widows’ pensions alone. It represents an increase of £2.7 million since the last report was printed. As I have mentioned already, my voice will be raised constantly in asking for higher permissible income to enable a widow to supplement her pension. Members of this House are indebted to some of the community organisations that have conducted surveys and carried out research work in this field. We praise the Department for its own research, and we believe that more and more we will see investigations carried out in the various fields of social services in Australia so that anomalies - which, of course, will exist under any social services scheme - can be revealed and attention given to their correction.
The report of the Department indicates that telephone concessions to pensioners extended by this Government last year cost the Department £276,180 during the financial year. The House will shortly receive another report from the Public Accounts Committee. That report covers a general inquiry into the Department of Social Services. The Committee carried out an inves tigation into the ramifications of the Department virtually from top to bottom. Attention was given in that investigation to the efforts made to meet, courteously and efficiently, the approach of people who considered that they were justified in seeking a benefit under the existing legislation. I want to say that I believe that the general public will be reassured to know about this investigation of such a vast Department which, incidentally, is now paying benefits amounting to between £300 million to £400 million per annum. They will be pleased to know that the Department has been under close scrutiny. I believe that the report will reveal that many of the Department’s activities have been successful, efficient and inspiring. When I use the word “ inspiring “ I am actuated by the ready comments of so many visitors from overseas who say that we have one of the finest social service systems in the world. My reference to the printed annual report of the Department prompts me to say that the Department is served by a splendid team of highly qualified and dedicated officers.
The Bill before us makes provision for - and this is certainly highlighted early in the second reading speech of the Minister - the new increase in supplementary assistance. I know that my colleagues on this side of the House, along with myself, have been insistent over several years in requests for additional assistance in this connection. If we turn to what the Minister said, we may justifiably underline the value of the supplementary assistance. The Minister reminded the House that the Government has been guided by the genera] policy of ensuring that people in poorer circumstances receive most assistance. This is basic to the general concept of the means test and social services generally. An increase in the supplementary assistance of 10s. a week, together with a widening of eligibility by extending the payment to pensioners whose resources exceed the present limits, is the amendment to which I direct attention.
If we turn again to the Minister’s speech, we are reminded of how this extension of benefit will apply. Some 105,000 pensioners are currently receiving supplementary assistance. Under this Bill, they will receive an extra. 10s. a week. In addition, about 34,000 other pensioners with means as assessed of less than £78 will be brought into the supplementary assistance field for the first time and will receive increases in their present pensions ranging from 20s. down to a lower figure. The supplementary assistance has been extended to a married pensioner whose wife receives a wife’s allowance.
I move on to refer to something that has been criticised by honorable members opposite - the extension of the funeral benefit. Government supporters appreciate the Government’s decision in this matter. We hope that it was our recommendation of several years ago that was responsible for the amendment to the legislation in this form. We were not all desirous of the funeral benefit simply being increased to £20, £30, £40 or more because in so many cases the benefit would go to relatives of a deceased person who were not in need of this assistance. Over recent years, we recommended that the funeral benefit should be a means of relief to a pensioner called upon to pay the funeral expenses of a deceased spouse or some other dependant. Now, effect has been given to our recommendations. We are delighted at this. We are reminded of the details by the Minister, who said -
It is proposed that the £20 be paid where an age, invalid or widow pensioner, including a woman in receipt of a wife’s allowance, has met the cost of the funeral of a spouse within the previous six months. Therefore a pensioner who has to meet the funeral expenses of a deceased spouse, including a non-pensioner spouse, will be eligible for the new benefit. So too will the person who becomes a pensioner within six months after being required to meet the cost of the funeral of a spouse.
This is a breakthrough in the right direction. This benefit is designed deliberately to give financial assistance to the pensioner. The cost to the Budget of social services is a very significant matter. The Bill provides these new benefits at a cost of some £5.7 million above the Government’s previous commitments. We are reminded by the Minister that the normal annual increase accounts for an extra £9 million this year above last year’s total. A simple arithmetical calculation by reference to the annual report brings the current year’s cost for social services to about £350 million.
On many occasions over the last nine and a half years I have been delighted in the House, when dealing with social services measures, to pay a tribute to the value of the Aged Persons Homes Act. Unexpectedly the Minister, in his speech, raised a matter of very great importance concerning the Aged Persons Homes Act. We express our pleasure at the information conveyed to the House on this point. With rising costs for land and buildings, many of our churches and charitable bodies which have participated in this splendid scheme by cooperating with the Commonwealth Government in building modern homes, retirement villages and cottages for the aged, have found that the former figure which was approved under normal working regulations with the Department - a maximum of £2,500 per person housed - was very difficult to achieve. They often found that their costs were exceeding that figure and there was no subsidy of £2 for £1 for the excess. The Minister has indicated the Government’s agreement to increase the maximum figure per person housed to £2,700. This will be of great assistance to many organisations which have been embarrassed by the high cost they have had to face in the purchase of land before they could plan their village schemes for elderly people.
Caring for the aged in this country has become of far greater significance than it was 10, 12 or more years ago. It has been lifted, I suggest, from isolation to the forefront of public consideration. This has been done by the Aged Persons Homes Act. But we must go further in this field. Already, under this legislation, about £25 million has been provided and in virtually every provincial town and city, as well as in the capital cities, we may find today our elderly citizens living in far better housing conditions because of the operations of the Act. I have noted with interest that in Perth recently the Australian Medical Congress made some important points as far as care of the aged is concerned. One newspaper editorial written at about that time stated -
But the aged are prone to sickness or infirmity. Inevitably they make demands on hospital accommodation though most of them live and die in their own homes. There is a strong case for building groups of protective residences under the Commonwealth subsidy scheme for the aged who are frail in health and pocket.
They would be for people discharged from hospital or needing medical care which could not be provided satisfactorily at home . . .
This suggestion leads me to say, as I have virtually said on a number of other occasions, that such hospitals are beyond the present resources of churches and charitable bodies which cannot face the building of these facilities under the existing legislation. We must ask the Minister for Social Services, with his sympathy and understanding, to approach the Government for another independent piece of legislation designed to provide a subsidy, I suggest, of £2 for £1, for the building of such hospitals for the incurable sick. I am delighted to have been associated closely with a retirement village which, by Christmas, will house 400 people. Legislation of the kind I have suggested will enable a church or charitable body such as the one with which I have been associated to meet the demands for accommodation of the elderly sick by building, with the assistance of funds from the community, a hospital for the incurable sick. From the flats or homes of the aged persons’ village the elderly sick would be transferred automatically to their own hospital. But this will require from the Government, I suggest, planning and another piece of legislation which will stand independent of the Aged Persons Homes Act.
The annual report of the Department of Social Services shows that last year 76 per cent, of all pensioners qualified to participate in the pensioner medical service. Pensioner medical entitlement cards are handled, of course, by the Department of Social Services. I want to put on record that, as a result of the Budget announcement by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) a short time ago, hundreds of pensioners previously excluded from the pensioner medical service have expressed appreciation to me as their member because they are now included.
– Why did you take it away from them in the first place?
– Let me remind the honorable member that these people hail with delight the provision that has been made. All pensioners now will be able to participate in this very valuable and reassuring pensioner medical service, the legislation for which will come down shortly. I come to a conclusion in this very important debate-
– That is good.
– I know that the honorable member does not like my speech. He uses the subterfuge of a newspaper to cover his interest. If he were not interested in what I have said, he would not have interjected. The Bill is splendid, for it tends to remove anomalies that have existed. This will mean much to the recipients of our social service benefits. The censure by the Opposition falls to the ground as an unworthy gesture in the context of forward looking legislation of this kind. I am confident that the community will recognise that there is no virtue whatever in the amendment and that the amendment will attract little interest, whilst our measure will find a legitimate place in the history of social services in Australia.
.- One wonders whether the unpopularity of the report of the Vernon Committee, especially with the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) but also with his Cabinet colleagues, is due in some measure to the fact that it dealt very extensively with the big problem of social services. Rather than express contentment with the position, as the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) did, the Vernon Committee drew attention to the great need to survey the whole field and to overcome the disadvantage of the present conglomeration of pension rates. In this way we could have a decent living wage and the people would be able to enjoy a sense of real social security. The Vernon Committee referred to the reports of Professor R. I. Downing, the Professor of Research and Economics at the Melbourne University. I think that most honorable members know that the professor has delivered a number of papers over the past years. He has drawn attention in a forceful way to the problems that exist amongst social service recipients and has given statistics. Having had the benefit of receiving his expert views, the Vernon Committee reported that it did not, in its own view, have the capacity to make recommendations for the overhaul of social services, but it intimated that there is a desperate need for something to be done. I do not know whether the honorable member for Swan, who is shaking his head, has taken the trouble to read the report of the Vernon Committee.
– The honorable member has not read it at all. I have read the portion to which he has referred.
– I assure the honorable member that these matters are referred to very explicitly. The unfortunate fact is that some of the papers to which the Committee had access are not available to members of the Parliament, since they cannot be provided in the Parliamentary Library. We are at a disadvantage at present. We cannot give details of matters that have been referred to.
It is very hard to identify the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) as the member who, prior to his elevation to the Ministry, was so outspoken about the need to remove the pernicious means test. He showed that he had some concern for people who had practised thrift throughout their lives. He was eager to see that they were rewarded. Because of the lip service he paid to these principles, he was considered for and ultimately elevated to the Ministry. Soon after his elevation, I asked him in the House whether he intended to give effect to the principles that he had enthusiastically advocated previously. It is a matter of great regret, probably for his colleagues as much as for honorable members on this side of the House, but certainly for the people of Australia, that he showed no enthusiasm for honouring the principles he had advocated prior to his appointment to the Ministry. People who contributed to superannuation schemes when £1 was worth £1 and are now getting it back when it is worth 10s. or less must feel concern and consternation when they realise that they have been sold out.
We did not expect the previous Minister for Social Services to do anything about the means test. I think you, Sir, will recall the derogatory terms that were used by honorable members when they referred to him. However, we did have some expectation about the new Minister, but already we know that our hopes will not be realised. I can say to the pensioners of Australia that they can choose any member of the Australian Country Party to be the Minister for Social Services, but they will not come any closer to having their problems solved. If they still have some hope after suffering for years under this coalition Government, it is high time that they came to realise that the answer is in the ballot box.
If we go to the Library we can see the wide range of social service benefits that is provided in other countries. This Government’s attitude is that the people must live by bread alone, and it tinkers around with the Budget provisions for social services. If pensioners are lucky, they receive an increase of 5s.; if they are not lucky, they get nothing at all. Social services of a different kind are provided in other countries. In the United States of America, the attitude to social services is in keeping with the concept that it is possible to provide happiness in old age rather than degradation, misery, poverty and despair. The authorities there think not merely of the pension that is handed out but of the environment in which pensioners live. Action is being taken to create a shipboard atmosphere in pensioner communities. Even private building companies have been given money at low rates of interest if they conform to decent building standards, accept reasonable profits and provide the environment in their building developments that the authorities seek. It is not good enough simply to give people money for housing, if they have to buy a house with money that is provided at a dear rate. We think of pensioners going into boarding house accommodation or aged persons homes accommodation that has been provided at a fairly ordinary standard and we compare this with the environments being created overseas. A great deal remains to be done in this country.
These are only facets of the total problem. I would like the Minister to say whether he is enthusiastic about the idea of thoroughly investigating the complex problems associated with the welfare of underprivileged people in our community. I would like to know whether he is opposed to the idea put forward by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), on behalf of the Opposition, that a joint parliamentary standing committee should examine the ramifications of social services and the current trends in our community. We want to ascertain the extent of distress, including distress caused by poverty, within the community. The committee we have suggested could recommend the provision of social services, community facilities and other assistance to ensure an adequate degree of well being and security for the people. We want the committee to review continuously the operation of social services. There is nothing original about this idea. The Opposition does not claim great credit for it because it has emanated from all the councils of social service conferences. Such an investigation has been called for year after year by all the people who are qualified to know something about social services. We put this proposition forward in good faith. Do I understand that Government supporters who have addressed the House since the amendment was moved were speaking for the Minister for Social Services when they indicated that they had no enthusiasm for this proposal? One wonders what it is that causes honorable members opposite to engage in miserable partisan politics when the welfare of hundreds of thousands of people is involved.
The Opposition’s amendment, justifiably, goes on to condemn the Government for its failure to increase age, invalid and widows’ pensions to meet greatly increased costs and prices. I should like to know whether the Minister or any other honorable member on the Government side declines to agree with my contention, which is supported by the material provided in the Budget Papers, that prices have increased since general increases in pensions were last made. One wonders why, if prices have increased, there is opposition to the Australian Labour Party’s proposals. We are dealing with a matter that affects a large number of people. Sir. This Bill deals with the welfare of the aged and the invalid, among others. At present, age and invalid pensioners represent 6i per cent, of the Australian population. If the means test were eliminated, as the Opposition proposed some years ago, not by any means in one sweep, but in the sensible way in which Labour established that it could be eliminated progressively over a period, there would today be 520,000 more pensioners than there are at present. This would be the position if Labour had the opportunity to abolish the means test. Had it been abolished, instead of age and invalid pensioners numbering only 6i per cent, of the Australian community, one in every nine Australian citizens would be a pensioner. There are at present 735,000 age and invalid pensioners in our community.
Honorable members have heard the Minister’s second reading speech on this
Bill, and we all heard the Budget speech made by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). Both speeches served simply to demonstrate that this Government is bereft of both pity and concern for the aged, the invalid, the widowed, the sick and the unemployed. It is true that in this measure some additional benefits are provided for, but they are of the variety that may be described as gimmicks. In some instances, as the honorable member for Grayndler pointed out, only 200 or 300 people will be affected. In other words, these additional benefits may be described as little presents wrapped up in big parcels of pious platitudes. They are designed to give the unsuspecting the impression that something worthwhile is being done in the field of social services. I ask honorable members to think of the total expenditure proposed in the Budget for the current financial year - £2,667,030,000. The additional social service benefits provided for in this measure are estimated to cost no more than £4.2 million this financial year. The Treasurer has budgeted for a cash surplus of £19,415,000. If the Government had any sense of proper priorities, one would have expected that social services would have featured in the distribution of that surplus. The Treasurer has talked about the state of the nation. For example, in his Budget speech, he said - . . present conditions are far from ordinary . . . our economy had reached virtually full employment . . .
He went on to say -
He stated also that the Australian economy is running at full pitch. These comments could have been the prelude to pronouncements of benevolence. If this is the affluent age for Australia, is not this the appropriate time to meet the needs of people throughout the country who are dependent on social services? When will the Government consider that the time is ripe for an overhaul of the anomalous social services legislation?
Pensioners will be faced with harder times this year and in the future as a result of the lack of provision for additional social service benefits in this Budget. Total taxation increases imposed in the Budget represent £84,790,000 in a full year. Prices, which, according to the Government’s White Paper, rose 3.3 per cent, between March and December last year, will increase much more as a direct result of the Budget for the current financial year. We all recall how the prices of beer, spirits, tobacco and cigarettes rose recently as a result of the increased rates of customs and excise imposed in the Budget. These price increases, which will affect pensioners, alone justify some kind of increase in social service benefits. But there will be other price increases as well resulting from the measures adopted in this year’s Budget. We all understand the inflationary effect of the increase in petrol prices which result from the additional excise imposed on petrol. The higher price for petrol will rebound on all classes of people who are dependent on social services. The increased cost of transporting goods, especially in the movement of raw materials to the places of processing, will be reflected in the prices paid by consumers. The increase of 3d. a gallon in the excise on petrol will therefore ultimately hit pensioners. Already taxi and bus fares are being increased and increases in the prices of various commodities are looming. Margins above the basic wage were recently increased by li per cent. This alone indicates the need for pension increases. Why should those in our community who are least affluent be denied relief? The pensioners are disadvantaged more than anyone else by price increases. Everyone in this chamber, of course, knows that the price indexes indicated that the basic wage should have been increased by at least 12s. a week. Yet the Government offers virtually nothing to these underprivileged people who are dependent on social services.
I express concern, as numbers of my colleagues have done, at the Government’s persistence in maintaining discrimination between married pensioners and unmarried pensioners. We on this side of the chamber believe that this is ridiculous and that it is based on an entirely false and unfounded premise.
– The Government believes that two can live cheaper than one.
– I suppose this discrimination is based on that concept. But things just do not work out that way in fact. There are many pensioners who receive less than what is described as the standard rate of pension. I believe that the situation should be reversed and that the standard rate, the higher rate, should be received by the bulk of pensioners. Unmarried pensioners receive an additional 10s. a week because it is assumed that they live alone and have heavier burdens. Automatically, it is considered that an unmarried pensioner lives alone, but in many instances this is not so. I know of many people who live with a pensioner brother or sister. Indeed, in accommodation provided under the terms of the Aged Persons Homes Act, single pensioners live in the most economical circumstances. Some pay charges of no more than 10s. a week and live in homes with 20, 40 or 50 other pensioners. Yet, those among them who are unmarried, receive 10s. a week more than those who are married. If one wishes to take into account the fact that some people live alone, one does not categorise them as being unmarried. One categorises them as living alone.
Apparently, the Minister has not shown any interest in this matter previously. If he had, he would, I am sure, have made some attempt to overhaul the social services legislation to deal with this situation. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), in particluar, the honorable member for Grayndler and others on this side of the House have on many occasions raised this question of discrimination between married and unmarried pensioners. This discrimination cannot be justified if it is based on the premise that unmarried people encounter greater difficulties. There are many unmarried pensioners who do not live alone. As I have pointed out, this applies generally to those who live in accommodation provided under the terms of the Aged Persons Homes Act, and who probably live more economically than do most other pensioners. Not that I want to deprive anybody of 10s. a week. Both the £5 10s. a week for married pensioners and the £6 a week for unmarried pensioners are grossly inadequate in our view. As I stated earlier, a new concept of living income should be established. In the meantime, the anomaly that I have mentioned should be carefully examined. We on this side of the chamber should like the Government to state what it considers to be a reasonable income on which people can be expected to sustain themselves.
If honorable members go through the Budget Papers they will see in table form the various provisions under the Social Services Act. These are given on page 25 of the documents that accompanied the printed Budget Speech. Let me give the House some illustrations of the things that we find in this table. Married age and invalid pensioners receive £5 10s. a week each. Single age and invalid pensioners receive £6 a week. When we come to the class B widow aged 50 years or more, or a widow without children, we find that she receives not £5 10s. a week, as the married pensioners I have already mentioned receive, and not £6 a week as is received by the single pensioners, but £5 7s. 6d. Apparently that is considered a reasonable amount for a person in those circumstances. Many of them, of course, are unable to work. This is a common denominator with widows and age and invalid pensioners. Then we come to the tuberculosis allowance. If you are single and have tuberculosis you get £7 12s. 6d. a week. I do not consider that to be excessive but at least it is a lot more than we give to single pensioners. If you are married and have tuberculosis you and your wife between you receive from the Department of Social Services £12 12s. 6d. a week. The Minister for Social Services might try to justify this by saying: “ We do not want these people to work. We want them free from worry and we want to assist their rehabilitation.” But married couple pensioners are receiving only £11 a week between them and very often they are unable to work, sometimes because of age alone but in many cases for various other reasons.
I have mentioned already the range of pension rates. I want to refer now to the unemployed and the sick, many of whom receive benefits from the Department of Social Services for long periods of time. If you are sick and are receiving the unemployment and sickness benefit the rate of pension is as low as £4 2s. 6d. a week. I do not know whether anybody here could sustain himself on that weekly amount. It is not £7 12s. 6d. a week as the tuberculosis sufferer gets; it is £3 10s. a week short of that amount. If a recipient of the unemployment and sickness benefit is married he is expected to sustain himself and his wife on £7 2s. 6d. a week. I think I have given sufficient examples to illustrate the wide range of pension rates and the incredible conglomeration that has grown up over the years because, in my view, the
Government has resorted to these miserable, cheap electioneering gimmicks, throwing out little bits here and there and trying to make them sound like a great deal as every election comes along. The facts I have given justify the inquiry called for by the honorable member for Grayndler on behalf of the Opposition. There is a pressing need for a living wage concept so that every Australian may know that regardless of any unforeseen circumstances that may lie ahead of him he will have a good standard of living which will not be the target of political manoeuvre and manipulation but will have a firm relationship to the basic wage so that every person will be able to sustain himself and his family in decency and on a good standard.
I am talking of large numbers of people when 1 refer to age and invalid and tuberculosis pensioners and recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits. Many of these people have received very little consideration in this year’s Budget. But then there are 230,000 people who apply for and receive maternity allowances every year. The Labour Party saw the need a long time ago to double this allowance because of rising cost’s, but this Government has provided no additional benefit for many years although almost a quarter of a million people are obtaining the benefit every year. Then there are 1.7 million families who, in many cases, lean very heavily on child endowment. There are 3.7 million children in respect of whom child endowment is paid, but this benefit has not even been mentioned in the Minister’s speech this year and was not mentioned in the speech of the Minister for Social Services last year. The Father of the Year, or of last year, who leads this Government is unable to say, as the Father of old said: “ Suffer little children to come unto me “. He has disregarded them. He has also disregarded the 26,000 recipients of unemployment, sickness and special benefit. None of these categories of pensioners or beneficiaries has received any mention at all in the Budget.
There is another basis on which I might justify the proposed inquiry. I talk fo hundreds of pensioners every year and I have found that very few of them, and very few people, for that matter, who are not pensioners, are unable to understand the complexities of the means test. Any law which is not understood or not capable of being understood by the majority of the people is a bad law. We, as members of Parliament, are constantly engaged in writing little provocative articles in our electorates for publication in the local Press, to encourage people to apply for social service benefits and test their eligibility. There are thousands and thousands who are being robbed of benefits because of the great complexities that have grown up. This whole complex subject could be simplified in the way I have suggested. 1 am not trying to make any profound speech today, and honorable members will probably say enthusiastically that if I were I am certainly not succeeding. This is a simple proposition. There should be a good living wage for people and we should eliminate all these complexities and differential rates. This is something the Labour Party stands for. We believe that pensions should be on a scale that will give people some dignity in their retirement or sickness or in other circumstances in which they are entitled to receive pensions.
I suppose the highlight of this Budget is the provision relating to the supplementary pension which is going to be altered. It is to be increased by 10s. a week and extended to a wider category of beneficiaries. At present this benefit is paid to single pensioners who pay rent or board or are completely dependent on their pensions. Then the provision goes on to refer to married pensioners who measure up to the criteria I have already outlined, provided only one of a couple is a pensioner. This covers an almost non-existent category of people. When the Government continues to tell us about a supplementary pension for married couples only one of whom is a pensioner and the couple are completely dependent on their pension, it is recognising the fact that couples in this country are being required to live on £6 a week. This, of course, would be a disgusting state of affairs and one that should occupy the urgent and immediate attention of the Minister for Social Services. Only 11 per cent, of age pensioners and only 22 per cent, of invalid pensioners are eligible for this supplementary pension at present because it is the subject of a means test. To date, as I have said, married pensioners have found it almost impossible to qualify for the supplementary pension because of this means test. But there is an anomaly attached to this provision. The supplementary pension applies only to people who pay rent or board. I wonder whether any consideration has been given to pensioners like those in my electorate, most of whom do not pay rent or board as pensioners do in the inner city communities but are paying off a house. They cannot rent a house anywhere and the only way pensioners can live in a house in the Sutherland shire or other parts of the Hughes electorate or in many parts of the Cunningham electorate and other electorates is to pay off such a house. Many of these people who are paying off a house are contributing more for repayments and maintenance and rates and other things than is reasonable. As a result their living standards are often lower than those of the people who pay rent.
I cannot develop all of my attitudes towards this supplementary pension because I have not sufficient time. The Government has put up a proposition that seems rather plausible until we look more closely at some of its provisions. Similar arguments apply in respect of the wife’s allowance. The wife’s allowance is to be extended to wives of age pensioners who have dependent children. The honorable member for Grayndler has said, and I repeat, that only 100 people will benefit from this social service gimmick, so that the cost in a full year will be £15,000. Then there is provision for a child’s allowance in the case of an age pensioner with a child. This benefit will be received by no more than 250 persons in the whole of Australia. When we come to look at the facts such as these the whole of these provisions become quite laughable. The extension of the age limit for student children of pensioners from 1 8 to 21 years will affect only 215 such children. Yet a great fuss was made about it by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in the course of his Budget speech. I will not have time to develop any analysis of the Social Services Act, but I want to make a brief reference to several things.
I believe that the Government should broaden its vista and identify some of the very real problems with which pensioners are confronted at the present time. I think of local government rates, for example. These are soaring. Local government rates in New South Wales have increased by about 400 per cent, in the last 10 years and, in that period, Commonwealth taxes have increased by only about half that amount. Pensioners are being called on to pay these increasing rates and many are being rated out of their homes.
– They pay more than £1 a week in many cases.
– More than £1 a week? A payment of £1 a week is a common experience of pensioners in my own electorate. In some States the Governments, in their benevolence, provide 50 per cent, of the rates rebated by local authorities. Some States cannot afford to do this. I believe that this is a field in which the Commonwealth could move to provide some real alleviation of the hardships that are now being experienced by pensioners. Where States are contributing 50 per cent, of the costs borne by local government, I believe that the Commonwealth could make a contribution. I think that the Commonwealth should also consider subsidising the establishment of senior citizen centres because this, in the long run, would reduce the cost to the Commonwealth of looking after pensioners since their wellbeing and health would be contributed to by the existence of these establishments.
Many other benefits need to be overhauled. I should have liked to mention the inadequacy of the funeral benefit. I should have liked to refer to the Aged Persons Homes Act. There is so much to be done that one can only feel appalled that the Government has shown such tremendous indifference and disregard for the pioneers of our community, for the aged, the invalided and the weak, in this era of affluence. There has been an affront to those who need assistance most.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I support this Bill and would like to take the opportunity to extend my own good wishes to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair). I feel that he has brought to the administration of his portfolio a new humanity. His is an outlook which will have an increasing impact upon the improvement of our social service structure.
There are two features of this Bill which I would single out for special support. The first is the raising of the supplementary assistance from 10s. to £1 a week and the widening of the eligibility for that benefit. I do not think that this is a matter that we should be seriously arguing in this Parliament. Surely bo:h sides of the House are pleased that this has been done.
The second feature which I find should be especially commended is the removal of the obsolete means test on the pensioner medical service. This is a very great step forward and one on which the Government deserves full congratulations. We know that this has involved some difficulties, not entirely of a fiscal character.
One of the effects of the removal of this means test is to improve the social services means test situation as a whole. I am voicing, perhaps, a little disappointment that more has not been done in this regard, but I do believe that the ground is being prepared for a massive assault upon the means test next year by the Government and by those who support the Government. This is our policy and I am hoping that it will be further implemented.
Meanwhile, the removal of the means test on the pensioner medical service is a welcome instalment. I believe that the economic situation in Australia more and more emphasises the desirability of getting rid of the social services means test which is a disincentive to saving and which keeps out from the labour market many who would be willing and anxious to work and to earn. In these circumstances of straitened economic resources there is a particular emphasis to be placed upon the desirability of removing, or at least substantially alleviating, the means test.
I wish to say something about that at another time, but for the present I want to concentrate, if I may, upon one special aspect of the means test, namely, the way in which it bears upon the widows with children who, in the terminology of the Department, are known as class A widows. For reasons which I shall suggest to the House iti a moment, I believe that even now, at this late stage, it might be possible for something to be done to help class A widows. Whereas I believe that we should be attacking the means test problem on all fronts, this limited front seems to be one which is not only deserving of special attention because of the special position of these widows with children, but also is amenable to immediate action without putting any strain upon the Government’s Budget. I shall develop this as I go on.
First, may I say something about the numbers of these widows with children? In round figures there are 30,000 widows with children in the Commonwealth of Australia who are today enjoying pensions. Of these - I speak in round figures again - 3,900 are under 30 years of age, 13,500 are between 30 and 44 years of age and 12,600 are over the age of 44. They are the people about whom we are talking - these 30,000 widows. Rather, we are talking about them and their children because although thenchildren may not have a vote as yet, they are nevertheless among the most important people in our whole community. We must think of the future. These are the most important Australians because they have longest to be Australians.
Let me now subdivide the Class A widows, not in accordance with age but in accordance with the numbers of their children. Of the 30,000 widows, 13,200 have one child, 8,400 have two children, 4,500 have three children and 3,900 have more than 3 children. Again I emphasise that these are round figures. Altogether we are talking about, perhaps, in the neighbourhood of 100,000 Australians - widows and their children. I want to speak of the pension position of these widows at present and, in so doing, I want to remind the House that two years ago very great improvements to their position were made by this Government. We then made a very considerable step forward, so what I am suggesting is not a first step for this Government but another step. I ask the House to remember the very great strides which the Government has already made in regard to widows’ pensions.
I propose later to ask for leave to incorporate a table in “ Hansard “, but before doing so I shall read some of it. Class A widows receive a basic pension of £6 plus the new mother’s allowance of £2. In addition they receive an allowance of 15s. for each child. Of course they also draw child endowment at the normal rates. Those of them who have no outside income will get the extra supplementary allowance at the rate of £1. This will mean that such a widow with one child will have a total pension and endowment income of £10; if she has two children, it will be £11 5s.; and if she has three children it will be £12 15s. These are sums significantly greater in terms of purchasing power than they were in the past, but I think honorable members will agree that they are not sums that allow a widow to be outside the range of hardship if she has no other income and earns nothing.
A widow, like every other pensioner, is entitled to earn £3 10s. a week without deduction being made from the pension. Under the special provisions of section 64 of the principal Act a widow is also entitled to exempt from her income £26 a year - 10s. a week - in respect of each child, but if she has over 30s. a week she loses all the supplementary assistance. This means that the top level income of a widow pensioner with one child is £13 a week, with two children £14 15s. a week and with three children £16 5s. a week. With the concurrence of honorable members I incorporate in “ Hansard “ the following document -
Even these figures are not such as would enable a widow to live in any great comfort or to give her children anything more than the barest necessities in their home life. It would be better if the income restrictions were removed so that a widow could earn more without being penalised in her pension. This can be done very simply by amending one figure in section 64 of the Act. If honorable members have long memories they may recall that at some time in the past I moved an amendment in this regard, but the amendment failed. 1 moved it and voted on it, but it is not possible for me to move such an amendment now because the Standing Orders have been changed and such an amendment would now be out of order. All that I can do, and which I am doing now, is to appeal to the Minister.
The difference between this and other suggested improvements in social Services is plain. This will cost the Budget practically nothing. The official departmental estimate of the gross cost of this is something under £150,000 a year. It is a very small amount to give happiness to so many people - widows and children - but this is the gross figure and not the net figure. There will be extra taxation on the income they earn and extra sales tax on what they buy, so it can be said that the cost of what I am proposing will not really affect the Estimates at all. I think it would be out of place in the present state of the nation for anybody to suggest increases in social services that would place a big burden on the Budget, but what I am suggesting places virtually no burden on the Budget. It will be of particular importance to those widows - and there are many of them - who are enjoying small annuities that were left to them by their husbands who had the forethought to take out insurance or make some provision of that character. I am not worried about a widow whose husband has left her tens of thousands of pounds; she can look after herself and her children. I am worried about the widow whose husband, because he was a working man, made small provision - perhaps all he could make - for the future of his family. This widow has a small income of £3 or £4 a week. While her husband was alive she was used to living well, and she had hopes that her children would be brought up well. What happens now is that because she has this small extra income she is either forbidden to work or loses her pension. It is perhaps an exaggeration to say that the pension is no good to her, but it is very little good to her.
– Shame on the Government.
– The honorable member says: “ Shame on the Government.” Perhaps this matter has not been fully appreciated and when the Government takes another look at it, as I believe it should and perhaps it will before this matter is finally decided this year, it may see it as possible to make this small amendment which is virtually costless to the Budget but which means so much to the widows and their children. It is a terrible thing for a young woman to lose her husband. It adds to her burden if she knows that the standard of living of her children is going to be significantly reduced. It is not good for Australia that these young Australians should have to spend the whole of their childhood in some kind of near penury. The top level of income for a pensioner is £13 if she has one child, £14 15s. if she has two children and £16 5s. if she has three children. Honorable members may say: “ Well, perhaps this is not so bad when you compare it with the basic wage of £15 8s.” But remember that those who are earning the basic wage have two potential breadwinners in the family, and there is the possibility that the wife can help - and certainly she can - to reduce expenses by what she does about the house. Very few Australians today earn only the basic wage, I am glad to say. I should not like it to be thought that the widow was put permanently in this lower category.
Again I remind the House that it is not only the widow but more important, it is the young Australian in his formative years who is involved. I look to the typical widow and her family where the death of the husband has reduced their living standards, taken them down the scale and broken their personal ties. They are subjected to this income ceiling. This is surely ridiculous. It is doubly ridiculous when we find the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) saying, very rightly, that with the present labour shortage it is well for us to try to mobilise extra sources of female labour. It is better, of course, if a mother does not have to work, but in terms of budgetary possibilities the Government may not feel it possible to make available the millions of pounds necessary for that extra pension. I agree that the Government may not have resources of that character. What I am asking for is not money. It is humanity. What I am asking for does not involve any significant outlay by the Government. Nor does it create any significant anomaly. Who would begrudge the widow with a young child, or young children, doing a little better? It would be a mean person indeed who would say: “You cannot give it to her because you have to give it to me too.” But even that argument, I think, can be refuted on the figures. No anomaly is created by giving the widow an extension of the extra amount already allowed in principal in section 64 of the Social Services Act, raising it from £26 a year per child to something higher and more reasonable.
I do not believe that this position has been properly appreciated by the Government hitherto. I do not believe it has realised how much happiness - and not only happiness but extra social justice - it could give by a small amendment such as this which would cost practically nothing, which would create no problems, which would have no administrative difficulties because it simply means the changing of one figure in section 64 of the Act. I make this appeal to the Government. One of the most affecting duties which honorable members have to perform is to attend parties held by civilian widows. These are good people, people with children, people who should be helped and people who can be helped. Not only can it be done now virtually without cost, but in doing it the Government will be carrying out the economic precepts of the Minister for Labour and National Service and will be increasing the labour force in Australia. If a widow wants to work, she should be allowed to do so. She should not be frustrated when she wants to better herself. Such frustration is bad for her, it is bad for her family and bad for Australia. I ask the Minister, even at this late stage, to put to the Cabinet the possibility of an amendment of this section of the Act.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Devine) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
Motion (by Mr. Hulme) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) speaking for a period not exceeding one hour on the motion for the second reading of the Stevedoring Industry Bill.
Bill presented by Mr. McMahon, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
No industry, so far as I know, in the last 20 years has received more attention by the Government or this Parliament than the stevedoring industry. This applies particularly to its industrial relations. Industrial relations in any industry are always complex. Generally, one factor is dominant. The stevedoring industry is no exception. The dominant factor responsible for bad labour relations on the waterfront is the domination of the policies and actions of the Waterside Workers’ Federation by Communists in key positions, and the manner in which the Federation is used as an instrument of Communist Party policies.
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that the last Labour Government came starkly face to face with this in 1949. Then it was forced to dismiss from the Stevedoring Industry Commission the General Secretary, and the Assistant General Secretary of the Federation, Messrs. Healy and Roach. The Menzies Government has attempted on many occasions to find solutions to the industry’s industrial relations problems. Always, however, it has pursued a consistent objective - to secure efficient operations on the waterfront’, to ensure that awards and agreements will be observed, and to encourage the Federation to act responsibly. It has been patient, tolerant, and persistent in it’s efforts to try to find viable solutions. On occasions it has been criticised for being too patient and too tolerant.
As all honorable members will know, all trade unions in this country enjoy great rights and benefits. They enjoy special protection under the law to permit them to achieve their legitimate objectives. In the case of the Federation, this Parliament has conferred special rights and privileges, rights and privileges that go far beyond those enjoyed by other trade unions. We were surely entitled to hope that the Federation would exercise them with a sense of responsibility. I have already mentioned the disillusionment of the Labour Government in 1949.
Before I turn to the record, let me say something about the men who exercise the dominant influence upon the Federation’s policies. At the Federal level, there are five full-time officials. Three of them, Mr. Docker, the Industrial Officer; Mr. Roach, the Assistant General Secretary; and Mr. Wallington, the Federal Organiser, are all members of the Communist Party. Mr. Docker is a member of the Central Committee of the Party and has a powerful influence on its trade union activities. While professed Communists are in a minority on the Federal Council, more often than not issues sponsored by the Communists gain majority support. In Sydney, the Branch Executive is under the control of the Communists. In Melbourne, of the Branch Executive of 15, as of the moment, 6 are Communists. However, most of the other members have consistently acted in unity with the Communist members. In the other Branch Executives, professed Communists are in a minority. In some cases there are none.
The key to the power of the Communists in the Federation lies in the three federal officers named, supported by the professed Communists in other executive positions; in the influence they can exert on Party members and sympathisers and others who will not or cannot take an independent line; and in the apparatus they and the Communist Party control. Part of the apparatus is the Job Delegates’ Association and the Vigilance Officers in Sydney and Melbourne. These make certain that orders are translated into action on the ships and the wharves. The consequences of this can be considered under two headings. The first is the decline in throughput, and the second is stoppages.
Let me speak about work performances. A comparison made by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority of cargo handling rates for 1963-64, with the average of the three years ending June 1963, reveals that items representing 70 per cent, of the total man-hours worked showed a serious decline. There were increases in the remaining items. In almost every instance this was as a consequence of the installation of new equipment. We can concentrate on major operations which involve physical effort, where there has not been a great deal of progress in mechanisation.
Over the last 10 years average net gang rates of work per hour have fallen: in the case of general overseas loading, from 15.08 tons to 13.32 tons in Sydney and from 15.92 tons to 13.06 tons in Melbourne; and in the case of general overseas discharging, from 19.93 tons to 16.23 tons in Sydney and from 19.99 tons to 16.66 tons in Melbourne. I come now to two very vital cargoes, both of which are products exported from this country. In the case of wool, overseas loading dropped from 15.33 tons to 12.07 tons in Sydney and from 12.53 tons to 10.74 tons in Melbourne. In the case of meat and freezer cargoes, overseas loading dropped from 12.21 tons to 10.32 tons in Sydney. In Melbourne the rate rose from 10.65 tons to 10.74 tons. Not one of the reductions in Sydney and Melbourne was less than 11 per cent and they ranged up to 18.6 per cent. I think it is fair to draw the conclusion that it is not a coincidence that this deterioration affects cargoes of critical importance to our overseas trade. This frightening decline in productivity runs contrary to the performance of industry as a whole.
The decline in throughput and the stoppages to which I will refer in a moment, inevitably mean extra costs for Australian industry, additional costs and higher prices which must be paid in every Australian household; lower returns to our primary producers; and greater difficulties for the nation in its export drive and in its balance of payments. There is no doubt that the controllers of the Federation and the ports of Sydney and Melbourne know this only too well. That is precisely why they have deliberately organised go-slows, and stoppages, and why they use their carefully drilled job delegates and vigilance officers to get the results they want.
This cannot be allowed to go on. No democratic government can tolerate any section of the community dictating national policies, especially a section which does not have Australian interests at heart.
I turn now to work stoppages. Over the last 10 years to June 1965 time lost by waterside workers because of industrial disputes accounted for 21 per cent, of the total time lost by all workers in all industries. And this 21 per cent, was lost by decidedly less than 1 per cent, of all workers throughout industry. Put another way, for all industry all workers lost an average of less than two hours per annum because of industrial disputes. The waterside workers lost an average of 55 hours - a comparison between 2 and 55. The reasons for the waterfront stoppages have been many and varied. Reasons utterly unconnected with the terms and conditions of employment of waterside workers have been high on the list. There have been stoppages over Vietnam, over apartheid in South Africa, over amendments to Queensland and Western Australian Arbitration Acts, and over the increases in the salaries of Commonwealth Judges. All honorable members will note the close correlation of these reasons with the political policies of the Communist Party. There have been stoppages in defiance of the waterside workers’ awards. There have been repeated refusals to resort to machinery provided under the awards for the settlement of disputes. There have been repeated refusals to resort to, and to abide by, the industrial relations committee’s machinery - machinery set up, I remind the House, at the request of the Federation in 1963, endorsed by the membership in every port, and agreed to by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
Most stoppages have occurred in Sydney and Melbourne. Over the five years to June 1965 these two ports lost on an average 66 per cent, of all time lost in all ports. In July and August 1965, 78 per cent, of the time lost was in the two ports. These are the ports where the Communist Party is most strongly entrenched. The pattern of the last 15 years could almost be graphed. A crescendo of stoppages designed to cow the employers or bring pressure on the arbitration tribunals. Some concession or decision. Then relative calm for a brief period. And then the process all over again.
Let me illustrate with the latest cycle. Following several months’ disruption the A.C.T.U. - and I ask honorable members to note this particularly - requested me to call a national conference to consider the industry’s problems. This I did. As a result, agreement was reached. Unanimously, the A.C.T.U., the Federation, the employers, - the Authority and my Department agreed among other things on the setting up, in all ports, of industrial relations committees. The committees’ purpose was, through the processes of conciliation, to prevent disputes developing, and in the event of a dispute, to avoid stoppages while the matter was being determined, As part of this new look, which was widely applauded, I introduced legislation in this House to suspend the provisions dealing with port stoppages. The agreements were ratified by stopwork meetings of all branches of the Federation. In no time, stoppages built up again. The Sydney and Melbourne branches quickly showed that they were not prepared to give the committees a chance to prove their effectiveness.
In 1964 the Federation revived claims for a non-contributory industry pension and for a mechanisation fund, and early this year began to hold stoppages in support of these claims. Mr. Justice Gallagher suggested that the parties might confer and also consider matters the employers wanted to discuss. Conferences went on for some weeks. Despite understandings that there would be no stoppages, stoppages continued. The employers put forward proposals for permanent employment. They were told that the Federal Council of the Federation had directed that its officers were not to negotiate on any of the matters raised by the employers until they had given an answer to the Federation’s two claims. The employers, not surprisingly, rejected this ultimatum. The judge then offered to have the Commission consider the Federation’s industrial and pension schemes. Stopwork meetings rejected this offer and decided on direct action and non-co-operation with the employers.
Next, there was a spate of stoppages in Sydney over gang sizes. The Federation again refused to resort to the board of reference procedures for dealing with such disputes. These stoppages were only a pretext for disruption - and cost the loss of 148,000 man-hours in Sydney. When the Federation announced on 30th July its programme for direct action - and I want this to be noted - there was not one word about gang sizes. The climax came that day when the Federation announced its programme. Item one was the purely political objective of nationalisation. In statements made on 30th July to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and to the Press, the Federation openly committed itself to a policy of direct action to secure what it wanted, and of rejection of arbitration.
Mr. Docker, the Federation’s Advocate, told Mr. Justice Gallagher that it did not propose to bring its claims to the Commission; that it had a complete lack of confidence in the probability of its claims succeeding before the Commission; that it would determine how it would act to secure its claims; and that even if all its industrial claims were granted frequent disputes could be expected until the industry was nationalised. I cannot remember so blatant and so defiant a statement being made before. In short, the Federation refused to take its claims to the Commission because it knew they had no merit.
If one looks at the record, it would be difficult to argue that the Commission, and the Arbitration Court before it, have been niggardly in their treatment of waterside workers. I give two examples. Let me first compare the wages of waterside workers and fitters and semi-skilled workers under the Federal Metal Trades Award. Since 1935 the margins of fitters - and they are highly skilled tradesmen - have risen by 315 per cent. Over the same period the margins of waterside workers who are, at best, semiskilled, have risen by 1200 per cent. The welders 3rd class margin - one closely approximating the waterside workers’ margin in 1935 - has risen only by 400 per cent. Second, Mr. Speaker, if you look at the weekly earnings of waterside workers throughout Australia for 1964-65 you will find that they averaged £27 14s. 5d. for an average of 3 1 .4 hours’ work. These earnings were 33s. a week more than the average weekly earnings for the March quarter of 1965 published by the Commonwealth Statistician.
On 4th August, stopwork meetings, in all ports, generally endorsed the Federation’s attitude as expressed to Mr. Justice Gallagher and the press, and decided on regular fortnightly stoppages. On 4th August, Mr. Docker was reported as saying -
There is no future in the Arbitration Commission as far as wages are concerned. Anyone who sug gests we should arbitrate is either a fool or is misleading the workers. We are fighting the Government on these matters.
The second fortnightly stoppage took place on 18th August. Meanwhile, on 13th August, the Federation, despite what it had to say about the Arbitration system a few days earlier, sought before Mr. Justice Gallagher in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission the extension of the Commission’s li per cent, margins decision to the Waterside Workers’ Award. The Judge asked for an undertaking that the fortnightly stoppages would be abandoned, and there would be “ reasonable continuity of work”. Mr. Docker said that no such undertaking could be given. After an adjournment, Mr. Docker told the Judge - and I ask honorable members to note this carefully - . . . that the only circumstances under which the Federation would have a mandate from members to direct that the fortnightly stoppages should not take place would be if the employers indicated that they were willing to engage in bona fide negotiations about the claims the Federation had made. Then certainly no further stoppages would be held over this subject while an attempt was made to solve the dispute in that form of negotiation. One week later, the Judge again asked for an assurance that direct action had been abandoned. Again Mr. Docker said he was not in a position to give it. Yet seven days later, Mr. Docker told the same Judge - the federal officers of the Federation have completed consultations with the members of the Federal Council. I am now in a position to advise Your Honour that the 24-hour fortnightly stoppages . . . will not now proceed.
What a travesty. How dishonest and how inconsistent.
The reasons for the Federation’s climb down are clear. First, the Communists and others in the Federation and Communist Party headquarters had become apprehensive about the Government’s intentions - and rightly. Next, it became clear that a number of the branch executives and many of the rank and file were becoming restive about the course being pursued. They wanted to get the H per cent, increase in margins. Finally, the Federation had put itself out on a limb so far as the A.C.T.U. was concerned. Later - this is a matter of common knowledge - the Federation sought
A.C.T.U. support. The Interstate Executive stated that the Federation had broken A.C.T.U. rules. It also announced that the officers of the A.C.T.U. intended to seek a conference.
This is how the Federation works. It makes agreements and dishonours them. It defies the arbitration system except when it suits its purposes. It breaks the rules of the trade union movement, and then, when it is in difficulties, seeks its support. The Federation has not changed its strategy; it has merely changed its tactics. It has not - up to the present anyhow - renounced its intention to resort to direct action. It has not called off its campaign of noncooperation with the employers. It has not submitted its claims to arbitration. The General Secretary made it clear in a statement in Perth on 25th August that the Federation was not retreating. The Federation is simply biding its time. Later it will resume its all too familiar tactics of pressure and disruption.
This, in brief, is the background against which the Bill now before the House has to be considered. It is a Bill prepared after a great deal of careful deliberation by the Government, and after full consideration of possible alternatives. It represents the Government’s considered conclusions after studying the activities of the Federation over the last 20 years and reviewing all that the Government has attempted in the past. It is not a response to one strike or series of strikes. It is not a reaction to one particular set of circumstances.
I now turn to the Bill itself. Except in a few respects, the Bill does not deal with the many long term problems of the industry. These cannot be solved overnight. They are not all attributable to the Federation. One matter needing consideration is permanent employment on the waterfront. Prima facie, permanent employment should have decided advantages. This is one of the matters I have asked Mr. Woodward to look into. Clearly, if we are to have an efficient waterfront, and if proper regard is to be had to the interests of waterside workers, some changes in present arrangements are necessary. Some may call for legislation. Some may call for discussions between all the parties concerned, including the Government. Some may call for action before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. We will turn our attention to the remaining long term problems - and they are many - when we have Mr. Woodward’s report.
The Bill before the House falls into two parts. Part II deals with a few matters which cannot await Mr. Woodward’s report. Part III relates particularly to the Federation. The most important provisions in Part II are clauses 6 and 7. Under these the power to recruit waterside workers will in future be vested in the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority.
These are the reasons for this change. The Federation was first given the monopoly of recruitment, by statute, in 1947. The statutory authority, from which the then Labour Government dismissed Messrs. Healy and Roach, had power to fix quotas. When it fixed the quota, the Federation was to provide the required labour.. The 1949 Stevedoring Industry Act continued this. In its 1950 and 1951 reports, the statutory authority referred to the failure of the Federation to honour its recruitment obligations. They described an appalling record of appeals to the Federation and frustrating delays in bringing the quotas up to strength. The position reached a climax in mid-1951 when the Government decided to prepare amending legislation. However, after discussions with the A.C.T.U. and the Federation, my predecessor deferred its introduction.
In 1952, Mr. Basten, who made an investigation of the waterfront, reported that the Federation used its industrial strength to delay recruitment. By 1954, the situation had reached such a state that legislation was introduced. It never became effective because in February 1955, the employers and the Federation agreed on a procedure to be followed, pending the report of the Tait Committee of Inquiry. Under this agreement, the Federation acknowledged that once the authority had fixed a quota, waterside workers should be registered with a minimum of delay, and that it would do everything possible to facilitate registration. The Tait Committee reported that the Federation on occasions impeded, and on occasions delayed, the filling of the quotas and even the raising of strengths to levels short of quotas.
The 1956 Act gave effect to the Committee’s report. It left primary responsibility for recruitment with the Federation but provided that, if it failed in this, the statutory authority - that is the Stevedoring Industry Authority - should, after giving the Federation a last opportunity to do so, recruit itself. Except in Sydney in 1960, when the same problems emerged, no extensive recruiting was needed for a few years. Since 1963, however, the Federation has again resorted to its old practices - that is, attempts to induce the Authority to reconsider its decisions about quotas and delaying tactics in supplying men. As well, the Federation opposed proposals that there should be continuous recruitment to keep the labour strength at the quota level. These frustrations and delays were bad enough. More recently we became concerned about other activities of some of the branches.
Large numbers of men want to work on the water-front. This should never be forgotten. As one illustration only, when the authority sought 600 men in Sydney early last year, over 14,000 applications were distributed by the Federation. This was not abnormal. The Federation has been deluged with applications when it has been asked to recruit new labour - and when virtually every other industry in the country has been clamouring for labour and not getting it. This is one answer to the Federation’s claims that waterside workers are badly off.
Recently, some very disturbing suggestions about recruitment practices came to our ears. There were suggestions that men sponsored by waterside workers in some ports who were known to be critical of branch executives were not submitted to the authority, and that in some branches men with records of assault, thieving and receiving were being submitted. It has not been possible to investigate all of these suggestions. Some inquiries could be, and were, made. What I am about to relate is part of this sorry story.
A check of a batch of 990 names submitted recently to the Authority for recruitment in Melbourne revealed 260 men with criminal records. In Sydney a batch of 181 names included 33 with criminal records. In Gladstone 3 out of 12 had criminal records. There were men with long lists of convictions, up to the present time, of assault with violence, larceny, thieving and receiving; and this is an industry where pillaging is a problem. Some of the men whose names were submitted were actually facing criminal charges when they were nominated by the Federation. Two nominees had more than 30 convictions, including malicious wounding, stealing on a number of occasions, and assault. In the last few weeks at Port Kembla 12 out of 100 men submitted had criminal records.
No-one, I suggest, Mr. Speaker, can possibly condone this sort of action. It will be condemned by every decent person in our community. This cannot be a coincidence. It is just not true that one-quarter of our citizens have criminal records. Nor do I believe, for a moment, that this would be true of men seeking to become waterside workers. The Federation cannot say that it is altogether unaware of what has been happening. Bitter protests have been made because of the Authority’s endeavours to check the history of the Federation’s nominees. Only a few weeks ago Sydney and Port Kembla stopped work for half a day in protest at the Authority’s refusal to consider some men for registration. I say immediately that simply because a man has a criminal record is not a reason for saying that he should not be registered. What is important is the nature and character of that record. That will be the test which will guide the Authority in future. It has also been discovered that men previously deregistered have been nominated under false names.
These, then, are the reasons for clauses 6 and 7 in the Bill. The Federation has been given opportunity after opportunity to behave responsibly. It has betrayed its trust, not only to this Parliament but to the Australian people. From now on, I repeat, recruitment will be in the hands of the Statutory Authority, a body, which I point out to honorable members, includes one member from the trade union movement.
I next draw attention to clause 10 of the Bill. This provides machinery for the conduct of disciplinary inquiries by the Authority under section 36 of the Act, in relation to suspensions and deregistration. This amendment has also been forced on us by the tactics of the Federation. We have had case after case of disciplinary inquiries being prolonged with no other purpose than to frustrate proceedings and hold up work. Clause 10 will enable the Authority in future to conduct inquiries without being frustrated by delaying tactics by the Federation.
Clause 1 1 of the Bill deals with two points. First, it removes the right of appeal to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in respect of decisions by the Authority, to suspend men for seven days or less. The facts are that, in 1963-64, the latest year for which there are figures, there were only 13 appeals against 22,500 suspensions. Only six succeeded.
The clause also describes specifically the nature of appeal proceedings for the future. Under the present arrangements, appeals have been treated by the Commission as being by way of re-hearing. In effect, the Authority, when it holds an inquiry is, as it were, a judge of the situation. Then on appeal to the Commission it finds itself the defender of its own decision and prosecutor as well. This is an intolerable position. In future, appeals will in fact be appeals - the appellant will be required to show that the Authority’s decision was not justified or was too severe.
Clause 8 of the Bill is designed to ensure that the labour available is used to best advantage. Under this clause, employers must ensure that their stevedoring operations are at all times properly supervised and th: penalty for non-compliance will be increased to range from £250 to £2,500. There have been cases of employers failing to use waterside labour effectively. The standard of supervision in this industry is far below what is needed. Not nearly enough attention has been paid to the selection and training of supervisors. The clause is an indication that the Government expects employers to be more attentive to supervision and efficient stevedoring.
Mr. Speaker, I now come to Part III of the Bill. A few weeks ago, the Federation committed itself to, and went ahead with, a policy of direct action. It decided on a policy of non-co-operation with employers and holding fortnightly 24 hour national stoppages. At that time the Government might have been expected to take action of a drastic character.
As I have pointed out, the Waterside Workers Federation owes the rights and privileges it possesses in respect of labour in the stevedoring industry to statutes of this Parliament. I refer to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act which confers many rights and benefits on organisations registered under its provisions, and to the Stevedoring Industry Act which by specific designation confers on the Federation the special privileges it enjoys.
Just as it was for the Parliament to legislate to enable the Federation to exist and function under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and to give it powers and rights under the Stevedoring Industry Act, so it is in the hands of Parliament to deprive the Federation of registration under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and of its powers under the Stevedoring Industry Act. It has, of course, been a feature of our Conciliation and Arbitration Act since 1904 that, just as unions can gain the advantages of that Act by registering, so they can lose these advantages by deregistration. Deregistration has been resorted to on numbers of occasions. The Building Workers Industrial Union is one well known example.
The principal reasons for the provisions contained in Part III are these. Let us assume the Federation is deregistered under the normal processes of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It would still be left with all the powers conferred on it by the Stevedoring Industry Act. Action to deregister under the normal processes of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act would mean little. The Federation must also be deprived of its privileges under the Stevedoring Industry Act. The Bill covers this. Secondly, because this Parliament has conferred special rights and privileges on the Federation it is right that the Parliament should consider and make special provision for the circumstances in which the Federation should lose those rights.
My third point is that we think we should adhere to the long-standing principle that deregistration should be based on prior judicial investigation. In other words, no steps leading to the deregistration of the Federation, and loss of its rights under the Stevedoring Industry Act, should be taken unless a properly constituted tribunal finds that the circumstances are such as to warrant those steps.
Clauses 16 and 17 authorise the Minister to ask the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in presidential session to make this investigation to determine whether the conduct of the Federation has been such as to justify deregistration action. The facts which clause 16 requires the Commission to take into account are primarily those which have to be taken into account in deregistration proceedings under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. In broad terms, the Commission must be satisfied that the conduct of the Federation, or a substantial number of its members, has prevented or hindered the achievement of an object of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act; or overseas or interstate trade and commerce. Depending on its consideration of the Minister’s application, the Commission may make or refuse to make a declaration. I emphasise that only the Commonwealth can have resort to clause 16. Naturally the Commonwealth would not move unless it were satisfied there were circumstances that thoroughly justified it. Action by the Government depends on action by the Federation.
Even if the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission does make a declaration under clause 16 it still does not necessarily follow that the final and ultimate step for which clause 18 provides will be taken. The clause provides that where the Commission has made a declaration under clause 16 the GovernorGeneral may within six months - and I emphasise the discretion - by proclamation declare clause 18 operative. The consequences of such a proclamation are set out in clauses 18, 19 and 20. They include cancellation of the Federation’s registration, loss of all its rights and privileges under the Stevedoring Industry Act, loss of right to represent members of the Federation and termination of any leases the Federation has from the Commonwealth or the Stevedoring Industry Authority. The existing awards, as they apply to waterside workers, will also cease to have effect. However, to protect the men, clause 19 provides that the terms and conditions of employment of registered waterside workers operative at the time of deregistration continue in force subject to amendments for the making of which there is provision in the clause. Clause 21 makes provision for the registration of other trade unions on the waterfront in the event of the deregistration of the Federation. Provision is made for a new union or unions to be declared. It may be that a union would be declared for all ports, or a number of ports, or that separate unions would be declared at each port. Upon a declaration the new union or unions would be given the powers the Federation now possesses, subject, of course, to clause 7 of the Bill.
I cannot too strongly emphasise that the whole of Part HI of the Bill does not have immediate or automatic operation. Whether there will ever arise the circumstances which demand resort to Part III depends entirely on the Federation - or more properly, on the decisions taken by those who are determining the Federation’s fortunes - and in the long run on the attitude of the rank and file. No one questions that the majority of waterside workers, including many in executive positions in some of the branches, are good trade unionists and good Australians. Unhappily, for far too long, they have allowed themselves to be manipulated by a small clique of persons who are out to destroy both the arbitration system and trade unionism as we know it. The problem this Parliament faces tonight, Mr. Speaker, is not a new one. Exactly the same problem faced this Parliament and the then Labour Government in 1949. This Bill is being introduced because of the activities of the Communist controllers of the Waterside Workers Federation. The 1949 legislation was introduced because of the activities of the Communist controllers of the Miners’ Federation. This Bill is being introduced after exhaustive and patient efforts to find solutions within the normal framework of industrial law and practice. In 1949 the Labour Government, after equally exhaustive and patient efforts, introduced legislation far more severe, far more revolutionary in its concepts, than anything in this Bill. In 1949 the parties now in government supported the Labour Government. Today, the Australian community will expect the Opposition to be no less understanding of the threat to the nation posed by the Communists in and behind the Waterside Workers Federation. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Webb) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 1249).
Speaker, I support the amendment to the motion for the second reading of this Bill, which was proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and which is in these terms -
That all words after “Thar” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, this House condemns the Government for its failure -
to increase age, invalid and widows’ pensions and other social service benefits to meet, at least, greatly increased costs and prices, and
to make retrospective to the 1st July, 1965, the increases proposed by the Bill, and is of opinion that a Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee should be appointed -
to ascertain the extent and severity of distress, including distress due to poverty, within the community and recommend the provision of social services, community facilities and other assistance to ensure an adequate degree of well-being and security for the people of Australia, and
to review continually the operation of social service benefits “.
We thought that the predecessor in office of the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair), when he flew to Ireland to be our representative there, would have travelled on his broom or at least have taken it with him. Unfortunately, we find that he has. left it here. Although we have a new Minister who, we thought, would try to clean up the social services legislation and attempt to overcome many of the anomalies that exist, we find that the broom left to him by his predecessor was worn out and that, as a result, very few additional benefits are provided for in this measure.
Every year at Budget time, we have representatives of pensioners arriving from all over Australia to make representations for increases in pensions. Every year, this Government hands out only a few minor benefits. This year, the handout has been very poor indeed. The people who most need help are those who depend mainly on the basic pension. They represent 70 per cent, of all pensioners. We find that, once again, they have received nothing from this Government. Such people depend on social service benefits for their sustenance. But, once again, this Government has turned a deaf ear to their pleas for aid. The Government was able to find an additional £81,430,000 for defence in this Budget, but, apparently, it is never able to provide the little extra that is needed to give relief to the pensioner section of the community. The increased benefits provided for in this measure will cost the Government a total of only £5.7 million in a full year.
Sickness and unemployment benefits, which have remained stable for many years at £4 2s. 6d. a week, are to be unchanged. The wife’s allowance will remain at £3 and only a measly 15s. a week will be paid in respect of a child under the age of 16. How does the Government expect people who, perhaps through illness, have incurred heavy commitments to live on this paltry handout? We expect the Government at least to do something about the sickness benefit in the recent Budget. A person who is struck down by some illness that forces him to give up his employment is expected by this Government to keep himself and his wife on a total income of only £7 2s. 6d. a week. Money paid out in social service benefits is spread throughout the community. It is impossible for the recipients of these benefits to save anything. Whatever they receive goes to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker or to pay instalments under hire purchase agreements in respect of essentials such as clothing and even blankets. They can afford only a couple of shillings a week to pay for necessaries. Yet the Government continues to ignore their plight.
The rate of supplementary assistance is to be increased to a maximum of £1 a week, but not all pensioners will receive this amount. We sincerely hope that sums paid out in supplementary allowances will not be grabbed up by some of the money hungry landlords who today are overcharging pensioners in rents for rooms which are merely hovels and are unfit to live in. We hope that the pensioners will receive some benefit from this allowance. We are concerned also about pensioners in the community who own their homes. A great many today are finding great difficulty in paying their water rates and land rates. In some areas the local councils rebate half the rates payable by pensioners and in some States the State Governments pay the other half; but pensioners who live outside those areas receive no relief in the payment of rates. Why cannot this Government assist these people, either by paying in full or in part their water and land rates? It would be impossible for any pensioner who owns his home and is dependent on his pension to pay for any repairs to his home. He could not afford to pay someone to paint it. He could not afford to have any renovations or repairs effected. The Government could at least give some thought to assisting pensioners by contributing towards their land rates or water rates.
In the case of a married pensioner who is in receipt of a wife’s allowance, which remains at £3, the Government has decided out of the goodness of its heart that it will pay the pensioner at the single rate of pension instead of at the married rate and has decided also that such a pensioner may receive supplementary assistance. But even with this benefit, the most that such a couple can receive is £10 a week. However, a married pensioner couple today can receive £11 a week. So although the Government has eased the provision relating to a married pensioner whose wife receives the wife’s allowance, it has still left the couple with about £1 less than the amount received by a married pensioner couple. In this instance, again, the Government is showing discrimination. The wife of a married pensioner qualifies for a pension only by attaining the age of 60. If she has not worked for years and her husband is a pensioner she should automatically receive a pension. She should not be expected so late in life to try to earn additional income or to supplement the pension in any way. The Government pays to the wife £3 for looking after her husband. That amount is inadequate for any pensioner in Australia.
The Government should be ashamed of the handout that it is giving in social service benefits. Each year when the Budget is presented honorable members Have listened to the Treasurer explaining how the country is booming and the gross national product is increasing. On the last occasion the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said that the gross national product had increased by 9 per cent. Yet we cannot afford to pay reasonable social service benefits to people who have helped to make this country what it is today. The Government should be ashamed that people are living in such poverty on its miserly handouts. We find also that there is discrimination between the married and single pensioners. Married pen sioners receive only £5 10s. a week each, whereas single pensioners receive £6. If old people meet at one of the welfare centres it would not pay them to marry. They would receive higher pensions if they were to live in sin. They would lose, between them, £1 a week if they were to marry. These people are better off financially if they remain single rather than take a partner so late in life.
I refer next to the funeral benefit. Out of the goodness of its heart the Government has decided to increase this benefit from £10 to £20. Everyone knows that today it is practically impossible to bury anyone for less than £90. When a pensioner dies it is usually the son or daughter who is called upon to pay the funeral costs. But the Government does not say that it will pay the allowance of £20 to the son or daughter who has had to meet this expense; it will contribute only £10 to the person who pays the funeral costs, whether the costs have been met by another pensioner or a son or daughter of the deceased. The Minister for Social Services has said that the increased funeral allowance will cost the Government an extra £400,000 in a full’12 months. The Government could afford to pay the full benefit of £20 to any person who is called upon to meet the funeral expenses of a pensioner. Whoever meets these costs cannot claim them as a taxation deduction. There is no tax concession for meeting this expense. Young people today who are raising families are finding it hard to make ends meet. The Government could easily have undertaken to pay the funeral allowance to any person who meets the expense of burying a social service benefit recipient.
Since 1955 the Australian Labour Party has been moving amendments to Social Services Bills in an effort to have the medical entitlement card benefit provisions widened. The Government has denied this benefit to many. On every occasion such an amendment has been moved by the Labour Party, Government supporters have opposed it and have consistently voted against it. They have never supported it. We find now that Government supporters are praising the Government for the wonderful job that it is doing by granting the medical entitlement card to more people. I remind honorable members opposite that it is not the Government that is granting this benefit - it is the Australian Medical
Association. In the past the doctors in Australia have denied pensioners the medical entitlement card and it is only with the permission of the Australian Medical Association that, after a great many years, some pensioners are to be given this benefit. Government supporters in this chamber make the charge that members of the Labour Party take their directions from outsiders. But who has given the Government directions on this occasion? Directions have come from the doctors. We find also, as the Budget discloses, that doctors throughout Australia are to receive an increase of £6 million in fees. To get that increase they did not have to go before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission as the poor old workers have to do. All that the doctors had to do was to make representations to the Government which intends to grant them an increase in fees for attendances on pensioners and a general increase in their remuneration under the pensioner medical scheme. These rates are to be increased as from 1st October. I cannot see why the medical entitlement provisions could not have been introduced earlier so that a great many people who find it necessary to visit a doctor could receive some assistance. Some pensioners are now required to pay doctors’ fees and to pay for prescriptions if the drugs are not on the free list. The Labour Party has proposed the setting up of a committee to inquire into aspects of poverty in Australia. I have mentioned on various occasions in this chamber the poverty that exists in certain sections of the community.
In the electorate that I represent there are great numbers of pensioners living in poverty simply because they have to pay out a large proportion of their pensions in rent. Some of them are paying as much as £5 a week to live in single rooms with no services. Plenty of them are paying between £3 and £4 a week and they then have to live on what is left over. It is, of course, impossible today for a person to live on £2 10s. a week. If you move around these districts and talk to the women who do the shopping, even women who have the benefits of steady incomes, you hear them all complaining about ever increasing costs. You meet people doing the weekend shopping and trying to make ends meet and they tell you how much value they can get out of a pound. How much do we expect the poor old pensioner to get out of his pound? He has to pay the same for his food as any member of this House or anyone else has to pay, but he has not the advantage of a decent wage as others have.
These people today are certainly living in a state of poverty of which we should all be ashamed. The people who suffer under these conditions are able to carry on only because there are many charitable organisations that give them handouts, or who provide them with free clothing or meals at cheap rates. If these organisations did not exist many people would be undernourished. These are the conditions under which many people have to live in the Australian community today, and I feel that we should be ashamed of the situation. I cannot see why the Government could not hold an inquiry into poverty in Australia. On occasions when I have asked the Minister for Social Services about this he has told me that the University of Melbourne is conducting a survey but that it will not be completed for another 18 months or so. It does not take 18 months, in my view, to find out whether there is any poverty in Australia. There are plenty of charitable organisations that would give the relevant information within a month so that we could appreciate the conditions under which these unfortunate people are living and whether they are living in poverty.
I am afraid that, in the future, costs will continue to rise. We know that the price of petrol has increased because of increased excise rates provided in this year’s Budget. These increased petrol costs will be passed on to everybody in the community in the form of increased costs for foodstuffs which have been transported. The increased cost of cigarettes will place another burden on these unfortunate people. As to the increase in the price of beer, I suppose we do not give them money so that they can drink beer, but a great many of them who have worked all their lives have been in the habit of enjoying a little noggin, and I suppose the only time now when they can afford one or two is when they receive their pensions.
There is one other matter I wanted to raise in connection with this Bill. It has to do with people who apply for invalid pensions. Many members of this Parliament have constituents who have applied for invalid pensions and who have been rejected. Such people then go to their local members and complain about their rejection. The members then make representations on their behalf. A constituent may tell his member about the medical evidence that he produced to substantiate his claim, and the member may send him away to get further evidence to present to the department or to the Minister in an effort to have the case reopened. In most cases the people who come to see us with these complaints say that the doctors they interviewed in the first place assured them that they would receive invalid pensions. They were then greatly astounded to have their claims rejected by the Department of Social Services.
What I would like to know is how the doctors arrive at their conclusions. I may say that there are great numbers of doctors who do not work for the Commonwealth who give the applicants letters to the effect that in their opinion those applicants should receive invalid pensions. I would like to know how a Commonwealth doctor arrives at the conclusion that a person is, say, 85 per cent, incapacitated within the meaning of the Social Services Act. When there is any doubt about the findings of a Commonwealth doctor the person concerned frequently applies for an examination by an independent medical referee, and in about 90 per cent, of these cases the applicants finish up by being granted invalid pensions. I would like to know whether the decision is made by the doctor or whether it is made finally by some public servant. If the latter is the case it means, of course, that the public servant is overriding the doctor. Who would know more about a man’s medical condition, a doctor or a public servant? I think that this is something the Minister for Social Services should look into, because these applications take up a good deal of time and involve the Department in a good deal of money. If an applicant has to go to an independent medical referee the Government naturally must pay extra fees. I am sure that there are many other members as well as me who would like to know exactly how a doctor comes to the conclusion that a man is 85 per cent, incapacitated within the meaning of the Act.
There are many people in Australia today who are concerned about what is going to happen to them when they reach the retiring age. Many people look ahead and purchase homes so that they will have a place to live during their retirement. Many more are precluded from purchasing homes because of ever-increasing costs and the high interest rates they must meet if they borrow money. The result is that many people are dependent on the State Housing Commissions. There are also many people around the age of 40 years who see the great struggle that their parents are putting up to exist on their pensions and they are greatly concerned as to what is going to happen to them when they retire. Many young people today are not covered by superannuation schemes. When they retire they will not receive even a lump sum, let alone a weekly income. The majority of them will have to depend on what the Commonwealth hands out.
The work force in Australia today, males and females combined, comprises about 4i million people. Only about 429,000 of them are covered by superannuation schemes or retiring allowance schemes or similar arrangements. This means that in Australia today about 4 million workers are not covered by superannuation funds of any description. At present about 628,000 people receive the age pension and about 107,000 the invalid pension, giving a grand total of 735,000. The cost to the Commonwealth of these services is about £236 million a year or £4.8 million a week. In Australia today there are many business undertakings the employees of which are covered by superannuation schemes or retiring allowance schemes. The Bureau of Census and Statistics tells us that in 54 per cent, of all businesses in Australia the employees are covered by superannuation funds. Figures indicate that 93 per cent, of large businesses - those with monthly payrolls exceeding £20,000-72 per cent, of medium businesses - those with monthly payrolls of between £3,000 and £20,000- and 44 per cent, of small businesses - those with payrolls between £860 and £3,000 - have superannuation schemes. Of these schemes 62 per cent, are operated under life assurance without superannuation, 18 per cent, under life assurance and superannuation, 19 per cent, under superannuation without life assurance, and 1 per cent, by direct payments. The majority of these superannuation funds are conducted on a “ staff only “ basis, which means that a person working in a factory is not included in a superannuation fund unless he is classified as staff.
Recently the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia was successful in negotiations with the Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd. As a result a superannuation scheme has been implemented to cover all persons from the age of 15 years. It is time we looked to the future. The Commonwealth should establish a national superannuation fund. If we had a Commonwealth assurance company such a superannuation fund could be operated by the company, but we realise that this Government will not establish an assurance company, so a national superannuation fund would have to be operated by the fund itself or through the Commonwealth Bank. The work force of Australia could contribute to the fund as could the employers. Contributions to most superannuation funds are based on a sliding scale according to the age of the member at the time of his joining the fund, but if we take as an average contribution 10s. a week from the employee, with a similar contribution from his employer, we can calculate that the income to the fund would be about £4 million a week or £208 million in 12 months. This income could be subsidised by the Government on a £1 for £1 basis or, for that matter, on the basis of 10s. for every £1 paid into the fund. Payments would not be made from the fund until after a specified period - say five or ten years - and the age limit applied to the fund in the early stages could dictate the commencement time for superannuation payments to members.
We know that superannuation funds can invest their income. Today superannuation funds hold about £130 million in reserve. This is invested, and the interest received therefrom is paid back into the fund and is passed on as bonuses to fund members. The Government should give thought to establishing a national superannuation fund. We should look to the future. People should not have to depend on whatever handout a Government determines. Many people are compelled to take out insurance, and people are required to join medical and hospital benefit funds. If they do not join hospital and medical funds they cannot receive Commonwealth benefits. Membership of such a fund costs about £30 a year. I am not going to discuss the benefits paid by these funds, but I believe that for the money they pay in as contributions people do not get a decent return. The Government should start to think along the lines I have suggested and should take action to ensure that when people reach the retiring age they can receive a decent pension on which to live without the worry of how to exist on a Government handout.
.- In speaking to this Bill I should like first to congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) on his appointment to the portfolio and on the sympathetic and efficient manner in which he is administering his Department. I want also to refute the unfair and uninformed criticisms of the Opposition. Some of the statements made by Opposition speakers have been misleading to say the least. I do not object if honorable members opposite wish to fool themselves, because it is not unusual for them to be completely, hopelessly and utterly out of their depth when discussing social services. This has been their past form, and no doubt they will be wrong again. However, I object to their misleading pensioners on the very remarkable record of this Government.
The Bill introduces a number of new benefits which have never been thought of by the Australian Labour Party. These benefits will be of real value to persons in need, but the Labour Party describes them as miserable and cheap and as electioneering gimmicks. I want to refer at length to some of these new benefits, and first I should like to refer to the total expenditure from the National Welfare Fund and compare Labour’s record with the record of the Menzies-McEwen Government. I will be fair in my comparisons, which members opposite will not be able to refute. In the last year of Labour’s administration, 1948-49, the total expenditure from the National Welfare Fund represented 14.6 per cent, of the total Budget. This year’s expenditure from the National Welfare Fund represents 17.7 per cent, of the total Budget. Let me allude to the reference of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) that the only standard he accepts is the gross national product. When he spoke during the Budget debate he tabled a report, which is recorded in
*.’ Hansard “ at page 357, that showed the estimated expenditure from the National Welfare Fund for the coming year as .16 per cent, of the gross national product. I asked the Bureau of Census and Statistics to collate for me figures relating to the expenditure that Labour made in its last year of office and it was not .16 per cent, of the gross national product, but .11 per cent.
The honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) this afternoon referred to the percentage expenditure of the gross national product and said that expenditure on social services was declining. He quoted certain figures to show that the percentage of gross national product that is being spent by this Government on social services is greater than that provided by Labour in its last year of office, but he said, in effect: “ Oh, when we take into account the fact that the population has increased by about 50 per cent, over that period, Labour’s effort is very much better”. Obviously he did not know, or did not understand, the figures he was quoting, because a percentage is a percentage, and one would think from what he said that while the population was increasing the gross national product remained stationary. I remind my honorable friend that if he relates expenditure of money to a certain population figure he cannot draw a comparison unless he relates the increased population to the increased gross national product. If he does not believe me concerning this I suggest that he has a talk with his colleague the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) and he will tell him that I am right.
I want to refer the House to a number of new benefits in the field of social service which have been introduced by this Government. First of all, the Government extends to persons of pensionable age who, because they have saved for themselves do not receive a pension, an exemption from income tax for the amount of the joint pension plus the joint income. In other words, a married couple of pensionable age pay no income tax on amounts up to £18 a week. It was this Government which exempted from sales tax cars provided to certain disabled persons such as those who have lost a leg and who are not able to use public transport to go to their place of employment. It was this Government which introduced homes for the aged about which
I will say a little more later. It also provided accommodation for certain disabled persons. It was this Government which introduced the merged means test which benefited a great many thousands of pensioners. It was this Government which extended the payment of social services to Aborigines, lt was this Government which eliminated from the means test any income received from property by pensioners. It was this Government which increased the differential rate for single pensioners to which I shall refer a little later. It was this Government, the Menzies-McEwen Government, which extended children’s allowances to student children up to the age of 21 whereas the cut off age under Labour was 18 years of age. I will say more about this when. I deal with widows’ pensions. I was interested to hear the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) say that all widows received from this Government for children was a measly 15s. a week. No doubt he is completely unaware of what those people received under Labour otherwise he would not have been so silly is to make that remark. A class A widow is a widow with children aged 16 or under who are under her care. A class A widow under Labour received £2 7s. 6d. a week irrespective of the number of children she had to support. Let us take the case of a widow with six children. The Labour Government paid her £2 7s. Sd. a week.
– What did she get under the Lyons Government? Why not go back further?
– The honorable member for East Sydney said that all that would be paid in respect of children would be a measly 15s. a week and I am taking the case of a widow with six children. When Labour went out of office in an election year, it could have been expected to be generous. It paid a widow with six children £2 7s. 6d. a week, but this Government pays £12 10s. a week and if she receives a supplementary allowance for rent she receives £13 10s. a week. Honorable members opposite should try to relate that to the change in the cost of living. Labour has criticised the pensioner medical service. Again it was interesting to hear the honorable member for East Sydney say that it was not this Government which extended the benefit of the pensioner medical service but that it was the Australian Medical Association. In October 1955 when a means test was placed on pensioners it was not the Medical Association which got the blame. It was this Government. This Government was accused of imposing the means test. But when it was removed the Government did not get the credit. As a matter of fact, Labour did not even have a pensioner medical service.
It was this Government which concluded the reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom which is of benefit to pensioners in both countries. It was this MenziesMcEwen Government which abolished the means test for the blind and also gave a concessional rate for telephone rental. It was this Government which introduced the supplementary pension for certain pensioners paying rent which, under the current Budget, has been increased from 10s. to £1 a week.
Let us go back to the means test before there was the married means test. Labour, in its last year of office, said to the single pensioner, in effect: “ If you have £750 in addition to your home you do not get any pension at all “. What is that figure today? ls it £750? No. It is £5,140. Honorable members should try to relate that to the the change in the basic wage. If that single pensioner receives a guardian’s allowance because he has a child under 16 years of age in his care the figure above which he receives no pension at all is £6,180. Labour said to a married pensioner couple: “ If you have £1,500 in addition to your home we are sorry but we cannot give you any pension “. But this Government says that such people have to have £9,760 before it will take the pension away from them. If it is a married couple and only one of them is in receipt of the pension the Government says that they may have up to £10,280 before it will take the pension away - not £1,500.
With respect to class A widows, the generous Labour Government in 1948-49 in effect, said: “If you have £1,000 in addition to your home we are sorry but we cannot pay you any pension “. The corresponding figure today is £6,980. For the B class widow the figure has risen from £750 to £4,820. In addition to that Labour said to the single pensioners: “ If you are earning 30s. a week we are sorry but you cannot get any pension “. This Government has increased that figure from 30s. to 70s. For a married couple it has risen from 60s. to 140s. This Government has done more than that because if an aged person, in the days of Labour, was fortunate enough to be able to let a room or to receive income from property or money that he had invested, such income prevented him from receiving a pension. This Government said: “We will eliminate income from property from the means test”. In addition it introduced the merged means test which benefited a great number of persons.
– The honorable member’s halo is slipping.
– The honorable member for Wilmot has not a halo at all. It has worn out. Let me refer now to the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition. Labour has condemned the Government for its failure, among other things, to increase widows pensions. Let us go back over some of the figures I have quoted in regard to a class A widow. In 1949 the most she could receive irrespective of the number of children she had was 47s. 6d. a week, which represented 37 per cent, of the then basic wage. Today if she has one child she receives, not £2 7s. 6d. a week, but £8 15s., or 57 per cent, of the basic wage. If she is paying rent and receives supplementary assistance she gets 63 per cent, of the basic wage. If she had two children under the Labour Government, she would have received 37 per cent, of the basic wage. This Government pays her 61 per cent. Under Labour, a widow with three children received 37 per cent, of the basic wage. Under this Government she receives 67 per cent. A widow with four children, under the Labour Government in 1949 - an election year - received £2 7s. 6d. a week. This Government pays her £11, or 71 per cent, of the basic wage. If she is paying rent she receives another £1, making it 78 per cent. Yet the honorable member for East Sydney had the audacity to criticise the rates paid under this Government to class A widows. Labour paid only one child so that a widow with six children would receive no more than a widow with one child. This Government extended the benefit to all children and pays in respect of them 1 5s. a week. It has also extended the payment for student children to those up to 21 years of age whereas, previously the age limit was 18 years. Did the Government get any marks for this? Certainly not - not from members of the Opposition. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who is regarded as the spokesman for Labour on matters of social service, in referring to this benefit said -
The Government is really letting its head go. The payment to pensioners for children undergoing full time education is to be extended until the student child reaches the age of 21 years. I have not very many age pensioners in my electorate who have children of 20 or 21 years now completing their university courses. If other honorable members have such pensioners in their electorates, they should congratulate them because they are going to get something from the Government.
What this Government has spent with regard to children and student children should make members of the Labour Party hang their heads in shame. As I said, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is regarded as the spokesman for the Labour Party on these matters. He spoke in a very disparaging way of the rent allowance and said -
Admittedly 4s. a week is not very much but I say, in the most charitable way, that those were disparaging remarks. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro indicated that a Labour Government would have been much more generous. What amount did such a pensioner receive from the last Labour Government in addition to his pension of 42s. 6d. a week or 33 per cent, of the basic wage? Did he receive £1 a week? He did not. Did he receive 10s. a week? He did not. Did he receive 5s. a week? He did not. Did he receive the 4s. a week which this Government is giving him? He did not. He did not get anything at all.
– Is the honorable member running a quiz session?
– Yes. He did not get anything at all because the Labour Government did not pay a rent allowance. This Government pays the single pensioner not 33 per cent, but 39 per cent, of the basic wage, apart from the rent allowance which, to many pensioners means another 20s. a week, thus giving those pensioners more than 45 per cent, of the present basic wage. If the pensioner happens to have a child in his care he will qualify also for the guardian’s allowance of £2 a week, bringing his pension up to 60 per cent, of the basic wage whereas the most he could have got under the Labour Government was 33 per cent.
The rates of pension paid to age and invalid pensioners are worth repeating. In Labour’s last year of office, which was an election year and therefore one in which Labour could be expected to be really letting its head go, the single pensioner received £2 2s. 6d. a week or 33 per cent, of the then basic wage of £6 9s. a week. It paid married pensioner couples £4 5s. a week or 66 per cent, of the then basic wage. The Menzies-McEwen Government pays the single pensioner £6 a week or 39 per cent, of the basic wage of £15 8s. To those who receive the supplementary pension or rent allowance, this Government pays £7 a week or 45.5 per cent, of the basic wage. Those who receive the guardian’s allowance as well receive £9 per week or 58.5 per cent, of the basic wage. In total, a married couple receives the equivalent of 71 per cent, of the basic wage.
If honorable members will refer to the “ Monthly Review of Business Statistics “, which is published not by the Liberal Party but by the Commonwealth Statistician, they will see that over the past 12 years the basic wage has risen by 32.5 per cent, whereas the total wage, which is the basic wage plus margins and loadings, has risen by 44 per cent. Further reference to the same publication will disclose that over the same period the consumer price index has risen by only 30.4 per cent. I have taken that 12 year period because that was the term referred to by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) in his Budget speech.
The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) whom I am pleased to see sitting at the table, when referring to the single rate pension, said that we were discriminating against the married pensioners. He spoke of the abominable sin of getting married. It may be news to the honorable member that not all pensioner organisations agree with him or with others who have spoken in similar terms. I might explain for his benefit the reason why this special rate for the single pensioner was introduced by the Government. If a married couple is in receipt of the full rate of pension - that is, two pensions - plus, as is the position in many cases, permissible income of £7 a week and one of the partners, unfortunately, dies, the income is virtually cut in half. But the expenditure is not cut in half. If the couple happened to be paying rent, the rent is not reduced. If they were paying rates to the local council, the rates are not reduced, and I do not think anyone would believe that the electricity bill or the food bill would be reduced by half. In order to assist those persons, whom the Government considered to be in need, it introduced this single rate pension.
I should like to draw attention to a recent issue of the Melbourne “ Herald “ which contained an article headed: “Government to Get Charter for Old People”. The article sets out a number of reforms which are demanded in a charter of rights for the senior citizens of Australia. It suggests that the pension rate for single pensioners should be three-quarters that paid to a married couple. It also states that it costs a single person much more than half what it costs a couple to live. So, when the Labour Party speaks as it does, it is not speaking for all pensioner organisations. 1 suggest that the members of the Labour Party are most inconsistent because, for years now, they have risen in this House and asked for a pension equal to half the basic wage, even though they did not offer anything like that when they were in government. Speakers on this side of the House have consistently pointed out that if married couples whose families had grown up, who had no children to keep, who, as is frequently the case, had paid off their homes and therefore had no rent to pay, and who also were ic receipt of the maximum permissible income, were each to be given a pension equal to half the basic wage, together with all the concessions which go with pensions, the man on the basic wage whom the Labour Party claims to represent would be very greatly disadvantaged. A reading of “ Hansard “ will disclose that consistently over the years members on this side of the House have spoken in those terms. It was very enlightening to me, therefore, to hear the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) say during the Budget debate that the means test for the pensioner medical service was being abolished for no other reason than to attract the votes. He said -
In short, it will mean that after 1st January next year a pensioner and his wife who have a tax free income of £18 a week and who are in receipt of all entitlements, such as the transport and rate concessions that pensioners receive, will be ever so much better off in every way than a married basic wage earner who has children to support. The basic wage earner will be on the same income level as the pensioner couple, will be fully taxed and will have to pay full fares, municipal rates and hospital and medical fund contributions, which will cost him about £80 or £100 a year.
I am glad to see that even at this late stage at least one honorable member on the other side has seen the light in connection with this matter. Indeed, if he has any constituents who are on the basic wage, they will be glad to know he is speaking up for them. But I do wish that the members of the Labour Party would get together and decide just what their policy is on this matter.
I come now to homes for the aged. Assistance for this great work was introduced by this Government in 1954. Up to 30th June this year, the Government had made a total of 1,186 grants amounting to almost £25 million and had provided accommodation for almost 21,000 aged persons. Originally, the Government provided a subsidy of £1 for every £1 contributed to this cause by charitable organisations. Subsequently, that subsidy was increased to £2 for every £1 contributed by charitable organisations. This Bill, which the present Minister has introduced, raises the maximum amount to be expended per person accommodated, which will attract, subsidy, from £2,500 to £2.700. In effect, this means that another £200 is being provided for each single person accommodated and another £400 is being provided to help an organisation provide a home for a married couple. I congratulate the Minister on this achievement which will be of very considerable benefit to a great number of worthy organisations.
In trying to criticise what this Government has done in the field of social services, many references have been made to the funeral benefit. First let me point out that where the cost of a funeral is to be paid for by a pensioner, the present figure is doubled. If the cost is not to be met by a pensioner, we do not see that there is need to subsidise what, in many cases, could be fairly well placed estates.
From the figures which I have quoted, it should be obvious to all honorable members of this House that this Government prefers to extend benefits to pensioners while they are alive and able to enjoy them rather than wait till they die. If we compare the percentage of total Budget expenditure on social services by this Government with that expended by the Labour Government in its last year of office, this Government wins hands down. If we compare the percentage of gross national product spent by the respective Governments, the record of -this Government is so far ahead of that of the Labour Government that it should make honorable members opposite hang their heads in shame. If we make the comparison in terms of real value, in terms of purchasing power, Labour’s record suffers very badly. For those very adequate reasons, I fully support all the provisions of this Social Services Bill.
.- The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) spoke at great length about the social services legislation, with particular reference, of course, to what he regards as the great improvement that has been effected by the present Liberal Government. The honorable member chose one or two examples of actions for which the Government rightly can claim some credit. I do not think there is any honorable member on this side of the House, least of all myself, who would not be prepared to concede that the domestic allowance now to be paid to widows in certain circumstances is something for which the Government is entitled to some credit. But it should also be pointed out to all honorable members on the other side of the House that this proposal was first made by the Australian Labour Party. Indeed, the Australian Labour Party would have given effect to the proposal had it retained office. This Government is now giving effect to a recommendation that in the first place was made by the Australian Labour Party. But the important thing is that the Government is giving effect to the recommendation, and that as a result, widows obviously will be placed in a much better situation than they were in previously.
Nobody disagrees with the honorable member for Henty on this matter, but I think it was most noticeable that he did not devote much of his time to discussing the problems of pensioners who have no income other than their pensions. I refer to married couples who receive what is now known as a sub-standard pension because that is the correct title to give to this pension, which is 10s. lower than what the Minister calls the standard pension. The honorable member for Henty did not mention this very large group of pensioners. He knows that there are more than 800,000 people in this country who are receiving social service payments of one kind or another. I understand that as a result of this legislation increases will be given to 150,000 people who are now receiving a benefit under the social service legislation. That means, in effect, that there will be some 650,000 pensioners who will receive no increase at all as a result of the legislation which we now have before us. The honorable member for Henty did not refer to these matters at all. He chose to cite one or. two examples where the Government^ in my opinion, can rightly claim to have effected some improvement in the rates being paid.
The honorable member for Henty referred to the gross national product and pointed out with a great deal of pride that the amount of pension now being paid has greatly increased in comparison with the increase in the gross national product. In fairness, I think that the honorable member should have referred rather to the consumer price index, because this has a very important bearing on the matter. One must take it. into consideration when considering the rates that are now being paid to certain classes of pensioners. In 1949 the consumer price index for the six capital cities was 60.9. For the June quarter of 1965 it was 132.1, showing an obvious fall in the value of money by more than half. The 1949 £1 is, measured by this index, now worth only 9s. 3d. This is a very important aspect to which the honorable member did not refer.
Let me give figures which show the deterioration which has taken place in the food component of the index, which is most significant to pensioners. Here the situation is even worse. The index has increased from 54.1 to 133 in that same period. An amount of £1 spent on food in 1949 is now worth only 8s. 2d. or, to put it another way, one now needs £2 10s. for every £1 that was needed in 1949. Let me refer to another very significant point that was neglected by the honorable member for Henty when he was referring to the progress that the present Government has made in the field of social services. He should have pointed out that in 1949 Australia’s population was about 8 million whereas now it is 11.3 million. There has been a greater proportionate increase in the child population than in the population of those of pensionable age. In 1947 only 25 per cent, of the population were under 15 years of age whereas now 30 per cent, of the population are under that age. Now, 12.3 per cent, of our people are over 60 as against 10 per cent, previously. These are very important aspects that the honorable member could have referred to if he was endeavouring to prove that this Government’s legislation has improved the position of recipients of social services. One must have regard to the increase in costs and prices that has taken place in recent years. There were 321,000 age pensioners in 1949. The number has increased to 628,000 in 1965 - almost double in 16 years. It was in 1949 that this Government assumed office. If one wants to compare the payments now being made to the various classes of social service pensioners with those made in 1949 one must also compare the cost of living today with the cost of living in 1949, and also take into consideration the greatly increased number now receiving pensions compared with the number receiving them in 1949.
The honorable member for Henty found lt extremely difficult to devote any of his speech to married age pensioners. The Labour Party criticises this legislation because it does not believe that the great majority of age pensioners will receive any justice as the result of it. No increase is to be granted to married age pensioners, although they constitute, as the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) has said, the greatest percentage of the pensioner population in Australia. The honorable member for Henty did consider the question of medical entitlement cards. Honorable members on this side of the House consider that this is most important for pensioners gener ally. The honorable member for Henty said that when the present Liberal-Country Party Government assumed office in 1949 there was no pensioner medical service. That is perfectly true. It has been acknowledged by members on this side of the House that this Government introduced a system which provided for the issuing of medical entitlement cards. But the point that the honorable member for Henty ignored was that in 1949, when this Government assumed office, there was a system of free hospitalisation in public hospitals in every State of the Commonwealth. It was not necessary to have a pensioner medical service. Pensioners received free treatment in public hospitals in this country. But this Government immediately abolished the system of free medical treatment in public hospitals and in its stead introduced into the Parliament legislation providing for the pensioner medical service. As a result of that legislation every person in 1950, the first year of operation of the scheme, who applied for a pension of any kind was issued with a medical entitlement card irrespective of his income. So it will be seen that prior to 1955, when the Government applied the means test, all pensioners automatically recived a a medical entitlement card.
But in 1955 a means test was applied. We have been told consistently in this House by all Ministers for Social Services that this decision was made because of a request by the Australian Medical Association. That may be the Government’s contention but on every occasion when this legislation has been before the Parliament the Opposition has moved an amendment seeking to have a medical entitlement card issued to all pensioners. This Government refused to abolish the means test and it continues today. This is why the Opposition has consistently moved amendments seeking to have the medical entitlement card issued to all pensioners. But on every occasion all Government supporters have voted against the amendments.
In the legislation that we are now debating the Government proposes to abolish the means test as it is applied to the issue of medical entitlement cards. We acknowledge that this provision will be of great benefit to many pensioners but we repeat that the Government should not have waited 10 years before moving in this direction. The issue of a medical entitlement card is one of the greatest benefits that can be granted to any class of pensioner.
It is a great pity that in his first year in the Ministry the Minister for Social Services should be presiding over the type of legislation that we now have before us. The Bill contains a number of useful provisions. I have already acknowledged one of them and I am prepared to acknowledge that there is some improvement in other directions, but the improvements are small and affect only a limited number of pensioners. It is in this regard that the Opposition joins issue with the Government. Honorable members who have preceded me in the debate have pointed out that in a full year the cost of increased social service benefits will be £5.7 million. This is an insignificant amount having regard to the size of this year’s Budget. The Opposition does not believe that under this Bill the great majority of pensioners will receive the justice to which they are entitled. For this reason, the amendment circulated in the name of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has been moved.
What does the honorable member’s amendment propose? First it proposes that all pensions and other social service payments be increased to meet, at least, greatly increased costs and prices, In addition the amendment seeks to have the increases that are proposed in this Bill made retrospective to 1st July 1965. Finally the amendment states that we are of the opinion that a joint parliamentary standing committee should be appointed to ascertain the extent and severity of distress in the community, including distress due to poverty. I think all honorable members, no matter on which side of the House they sit, will have some knowledge of the distress that exists among pensioners. It is all very well for Government supporters to say that some pensioners are in very good circumstances. We would agree. For example, a married couple may each receive the sub-standard rate of pension of £5 10s. a week and may in addition have a total income of £7 from other sources, whether from superannuation or employment. Such a couple would have a combined income of £18 a week. That is the maximum that may be received without affecting the pension. But such people are in a minority group among pensioners. Very few pensioners are in this situation. The Minister’s predecessor has admitted on other occasions that the great majority of pensioners depend entirely on their pensions - that is, the basic or sub-standard rate of £5 10s. a week each. The great majority of them are married couples.
Under this legislation, no improvement is effected to the weekly rate of pension, despite the fact that a tremendous increase has occurred in the cost of living and that most other people in the community have received wage rises as a result of determinations of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It is true that in many instances the increases in wages have been very small, but the fact remains that these other sections of the community have received wage increases. This Government refuses to recognise the plight of married pensioner couples in this country. This year they will not receive any increase in the basic or sub-standard rate of pension. So their income will remain at £11 a week. On the other hand, the Government has decided that single pensioners who qualify for a rent’ allowance will receive an extra 10s. a week. A single pensioner who receives the standard pension of £6 a week and who qualifies for the rent allowance of 10s. a week may now qualify for a further 10s. a week rent allowance, making his total pension £7 a week. But how many people will be affected by this legislation. The honorable member for Grayndler has pointed out today that the payment of a rent allowance to a married pensioner whose wife is in receipt of the wife’s allowance will involve the Government this financial year in an additional expenditure of £275.000. About 18,000 pensioner households are involved in this category. 1 think that the point made by the honorable member for Grayndler this afternoon was well taken. The Minister has referred to households, but the fact is that only half the number he has given will receive assistance or, in other words, 9,000 pensioners. The estimated cost to the Government in a full year is £465,000.
– That is chicken feed.
– As the honorable member said, that is chicken feed. It completely ignores the needs of the bulk of pensioners. 1 have already said that the benefits conferred by this legislation will involve the Government in an additional expenditure in a full year of £5.7 million. Representations were made to the Government by pensioner organisations throughout the Commonwealth and by other interested organisations that knew of the need to increase the sub-standard rate of pension. I am, of course, referring again to married couples. If the Government had accepted these representations instead of brushing them aside, it would have been involved in an additional yearly expenditure of £2 million for each ls. a week by which it increased the pension. If it had increased the sub-standard rate of pension from £5 10s. to £6 a week, the Government would have incurred additional expenditure of £20 million a year. In view of this, it did nothing for the great bulk of pensioners, because it did not want to be involved in more expenditure than it has already incurred. Accordingly, it has confined the adjustments it will make to social service benefits to a small group of pensioners. I have no doubt, as Opposition members have said, that the adjustment made by the Government will generally be well received by those who will get an increase. 1 do not want to repeat all of the arguments that have been advanced in this debate about the supplementary allowance, but I think I should emphasise that there has been an obvious anomaly in the payment of this allowance since the Government introduced it in 1958. It is possible, of course, for three or more single pensioners to live in the same house. They may be spinsters or widowers, but they could all be living in the same house and be paying rent. All of them would be entitled to the supplementary allowance, if they could satisfy the means test. Their pension would be increased from £5 10s. to £6 a week because they are single, they would receive the supplementary allowance that was paid previously, making their rate £6 10s. a week, and they would receive another 10s. a week as a result of this legislation. Their total income would be £7 a week and three pensioners in the one home would have a combined income of £21 a week. Where is the justice in legislation which discriminates in this way? An aged married couple could be living in the adjoining home. They would continue to receive £5 10s. a week each, making their total income £1 1 a week. They will not receive any increase. I am sure that the Minister and his Department realise that this is so.
Let me take this point a little further. Pensioners who are purchasing the home in which they are living will not receive any increase. They must continue with the present rate for a married couple of £11 a week.
– This is sheer discrimination.
– As the honorable member for Wilmot said, this is discrimination of the worst kind. Let me take another example to show how unrealistic is the approach of the Government to the problems of pensioners. A widow or widower living in a home which he or she is purchasing will not receive any more than the standard rate of pension, which is £6 a week. Such a person would not be entitled to the supplementary allowance. I cannot understand the Government’s logic. We believe that there are anomalies and that the anomalies ought to be removed. Certainly, if it is good enough to provide a supplementary allowance for single pensioners who are living alone and paying rent or board, it should be good enough to pay a supplementary allowance to a widow or widower purchasing the home in which he or she is living. Obviously, the Government believes that these people should sell their home and get out of it. But it is just not possible for a pensioner to sell his home and find new accommodation. The best advice that could be given to a pensioner in this situation is to remain in the home. But the Government discriminates against these people merely because they are purchasing a home. We believe that the supplementary allowance should be paid to these people.
I could refer to many other anomalies in our social services legislation, but my time is limited. I said at the commencement of my speech that the Minister was unfortunate in that he had to introduce a bill that provided so few benefits to such a large and needy section of the community. We have already pointed out that the additional amount being provided by the Government for social services is insignificant. Married pensioners will not receive any increase. Some sections have been singled out for special consideration. The Opposition does not disagree with the contention of honorable members on the Government side that the increases that have been granted will be appreciated by those who will receive them.
I am sorry that I have not sufficient time to deal fully with the plight of pensioners who are admitted to mental hospitals. I have raised this matter on other occasions when social services have been debated. I have pointed out that when a pensioner is admitted to a mental institution his pension is immediately cancelled. If the pensioner’s wife were in receipt of a wife’s allowance, they would have been receiving £6 a week and the supplementary allowance, if they were qualified. The wife would have been receiving an allowance of £3. Their total income would be as high as £10 a week. If the pensioner is sent to a mental institution for treatment, his pension is immediately cancelled. If a pensioner is transferred from a home for the aged to a general hospital, his pension continues. But if he is transferred to a home for the mentally ill, the pension is cancelled. The Department then tells the pensioner’s wife to apply for a class B widow’s pension. The income they had been receiving is considerably reduced.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, it appears that no more honorable members on the Government side of the chamber are prepared to rise and defend the paltry additional social service benefits provided for in this Bill. This is no wonder, when one realises that these meagre increases in benefits will cost a total of £4.2 million this financial year and £5.7 million in a full financial year. I remind the House that the £4.2 million this financial year is to come out of a Budget that provides for a total expenditure of £2,667,030,000. Indeed, the additional £4.2 million represents an increase of only 1.25 per cent, on the provision made for social services in last year’s Budget. Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it seems no wonder that no other honorable member on the Government side, apparently, is prepared to defend this Bill tonight. Indeed, I understand that I am to be followed by two speakers from the Opposition side.
Probably the most spirited defence of the measure was made by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox). But what a boring mass of statistics he threw at us, supposedly relating existing benefits to those that obtained when the Labour Government went out of office in 1949. There are just a few things of which the honorable member ought to be reminded. First, there is the fact that the population was much smaller in 1949, and that our currency today has not anything like the purchasing power that it had then. The population has increased by the better part of four million and the currency has probably lost half its value. But, apart from this, there is a point which has not been mentioned in this debate and of which, I believe, honorable members and the people generally need to be reminded. This is that the Chifley Labour Government had adopted a policy of building up a National Welfare Fund. Honorable members may recall that when Labour was in office we paid a separate social services contribution. This was identifiably different from the ordinary income tax. The two were collected together, but each went into a separate and identifiable fund. I think that when the Labour Government went out df office it had built up the National Welfare Fund to £200 million or either a little more or a little less. The intention was to provide a comprehensive social security plan, free of the means test, for the Australian people. It was intended that when the Fund had been built up to a desirable level, it would be self perpetuating. As I have said, the purpose of this Fund was to provide a comprehensive social services scheme, as well as a full scale health service, free of the means test. Many people will recall that the Labour Government riad plans for and had partly brought into operation a completely free hospitalisation service and was trying to establish completely free pharmaceutical and medical services not only for pensioners but for Australians generally who were prepared to use the public facilities provided.
Another thing that the honorable member for Henty might have been charitable enough to remember was that the Chifley Labour Government had been engaged in the rehabilitation in civilian life in the immediate postwar years of something like one million service men and women - more people than the present Government provides for by way of pensions at present.
We remember the huge task that the Labour Government had to undertake in providing for the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, in providing tools of trade for men who had been in the forces and who wanted to re-equip themselves to take up peacetime occupations, in providing for the war service land settlement scheme and in many other fields. All of these things had to be undertaken in the immediate postwar years. The Labour Government also took on the further task in those years of launching the massive immigration scheme, on which all postwar Governments have been deservedly complimented. All these things were done in the four year? of postwar administration by the Chifley Labour Government.
There is just one other matter that I should like to mention in talking about the Labour Government. I have already mentioned the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, and I should like now to deal with class A widows. I listened attentively this afternoon to the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) when he discussed the position of these widows. This was one of the few times when I could say that I was an enthusiastic supporter of anything that he had said. I firmly support his remarks about class A widows. I hope the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) was listening to the honorable member and will take note of what he said. I do not want to go over what has been said by an earlier speaker, but I do want to endorse strongly the claim that much more must be done for class A widows. If we are honest about the matter, we must acknowledge that it is true, as the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) said, that it was the Australian Labour Party that first advocated the domestic allowance for class A widows on a scale comparable to that paid to war widows. It was only under pressure in the 1963 Federal general election campaign that the present Government yielded and likewise promised to extend this benefit to class A widows.
Another thing that we have to remember is that widows, off their own bat, along with other charitable organisations, subsidised a social survey which cost £5,000 and which was designed to make the urgent needs of widows made known to the public and the Parliament. This will bring me in a moment to the point that what is most urgently needed in Australia today is a comprehensive social services survey instead of the ad hoc, piecemeal kind of consideration which we have at present and which has developed higgledy-piggledy.
I should like to make one other point in answer to the observations of the honorable member for Henty, who eulogised this Government for having introduced the supplementary allowance for single pensioners who happen to be paying rent or board and who have not assets of more than a certain value and are not earning more than 10s. a week. I remind him that the Labour Government introduced a widespread scheme of rental rebates under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and that it was the present Governmentthe Menzies-McEwen Government, which the honorable member is so fond of praising - that compelled the abolition of that rental rebate scheme in 1955-56.
I was rather impressed by some words written by Dr. R. G. Brown, Reader in Charge of the Department of Social Services in the University of Adelaide, in an interesting and commendable article entitled “Governmental Reporting of Social Services “, which is contained in a journal entitled “ Public Administration “, in volume 23 of 1964. One of the extracts that I took from that article is as follows - (Social policy) may be unitary, rational, positive and explicit or piecemeal, irrational, negative and implicit. It is usually something between these extremes. This is so in Australia. Much of our social provision has developed piecemeal. Little attempt has been made to relate its’ different aspects within the same level of government, and between different levels the lack of co-ordination is even more evident.
Dr. Brown went on to call for a comprehensive survey of needs in Australia and to make the point that even before we engaged in such a piece of social research a lot more could be done with the material already collected by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services, the Department of Labour and National Service, other Commonwealth instrumentalities, the State welfare authorities and the various private welfare organisations that exist in the community. 1 endorse very strongly Dr. Brown’s observation. We could have available a much more comprehensive picture if there were more analysis of the vast quantity of statistical evidence that has been collected by these agencies. I am pleased to note that the latest report of the Director-General of Social Services shows that a greater attempt is being made to analyse the material that has been collected.
I only hope that the amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill proposed by the Opposition will be accepted by the Government and that it will reconsider the minor increases in social services for which this measure provides. As I have said on a number of occasions, there is no logical approach implicit in the adjustments of social services undertaken by the Government from year to year. One cannot say that our system of social services has been based on any systematic study of needs in the community. There is an utter complexity of social services law. Even more confusing to the public are the various interpretations given to it by officials of the Department. We cannot blame those officials if they are not given the direction and if it is left, as it is in so many cases, to their subjective judgment.
In my opinion there is a need for more literature than there is at present on social services law, regulations and interpretations. For instance, I find that many people in ray electorate have no idea of what is permitted by way of letting rooms in their homesSome of them are quite taken aback when they are told that a pensioner, without any intrusion on the means lest provision, can let up to five rooms to five different persons - one room to each person. They can do this without it having any effect on the means test calculation for their pension. But the illogicality of it to those who know about the provision is that you cannot let two rooms to one person. You cannot let one person have a bedroom and, say, a dining room-kitchen. If you do so the value of the part let becomes an assessable item. Although it may not affect the pension, it may do so as it is an assessable item within the terms of the means test. This seems quite illogical to many people.
The point that I want to drive home is that many pensioners who would like the opportunity to gain more money do not know that they are permitted to do this sort of thing. So far as I know it is not written down in any statement by the Department of Social Services. The same sort of thing happens when a pensioner mother or father wants to live with a son or daughter or some friend. Because of their age, or perhaps because of illness, they are compelled to live with their children. Often this means that they must sell up their own home. As the home may be worth £6,000, they could quite easily lose the whole of their pension by selling the home. Such people come to members of Parliament and ask what they can do to save their pension. Until recently it was a matter of what they could do to save their pension and medical card. The member of Parliament explains to them that they are permitted to purchase a share of the home belonging to the son, daughter or someone else under certain conditions.
Nowhere can one obtain a written circular from the Department which states just what those provisions are. As a result we have the illogical situation that I experienced only this week. A mother had taken out a mortgage of £3,000 on her daughter’s home. The daughter owed only £1,000 on the home so the Department ruled that only £1,000 of the £3,000 would be ignored for purposes of the means test. The mother had signed an agreement prepared by a solicitor to take up this mortgage. As I understand the situation, she could have had the whole £3,000 discounted so far as the means test was concerned if the daughter had raised a mortgage of £3,000 on her own home and then permitted her mother to release the mortgage of £3,000. This kind of finicky technicality is utterly confusing to informed people in the community. What chance have elderly people, invalids and widows of coping with this kind of technicality and finicky type of provision which determines, in many cases, very important questions for them? This provision could have a great effect on whether they continued to receive a pension and all the other benefits that go with it.
I feel that there is need for greater simplicity in the social services law and there is a need for more uniformity in the interpretation of that law. There is need for more publicity and for more printed and published statements outlining the various aspects of the social services provisions. Another aspect that comes to mind is the instance where a pensioner becomes very aged or very sick and has to enter one of the rest homes or convalescent homes. Most pensioners have been given to understand that if they leave their home for any length of time and go into a hospital their home, whether they let it or not, becomes an assessable item for purposes of the means test. Unfortunately, they are not to know that the Department can tell them that the recent interpretations have been that so long as a pensioner states that he or she has the intention of returning to the home when their health improves, the Department will take no account of the home in the means test for a period of at least 12 months. Then, after the 12 months has elapsed, the Department reviews the situation. Most pensioners are not to know this, nor is this interpretation written down anywhere, so far as I know.
It would be infinitely helpful to these people if they knew that they could let their home for £7 or £8 a week. This would help them to bridge the gap between the £7 that the Commonwealth contributes and the charges made for rest home accommodation. More often than not the rest homes charge £18 or £20 a week, but the pensioner receives a contribution of only £7 from the Commonwealth under the provisions of the National Health Act and a pension of £5 10s. or £6. But there is still a gap to be met and quite often the children are called upon to meet this cost. They are called upon to do so unnecessarily, simply because they are not to know that it is permissible for a pensioner to let a home in such circumstances. A similar situation applies to people who want to take a holiday abroad. In that instance it is permissible to let a home in some conditions without the rent that they receive being counted against them for purposes of the means test. These things can make all the difference. If these people had the information available to them, they would know whether they were able to afford hospitalisation or a trip abroad. But whether they have the information depends on whether they have been lucky enough to run into a member of Parliament or someone who has been to see a member of Parliament who has told them that these provisions do exist, even if they are not written down in any form that I am aware of. I shall not reiterate a number of things that other honorable members have spoken about, including supplementary assistance, and the lack of any increase in the base rates of pensions.
Most pensioners will receive nothing from this legislation. Last year they received an increase of 5s. Imagine their horror if the Government had said to them last year: “We are giving you 5s. now, but progressively over the next 12 months we will take it back from you and, what is more, by the end of the 12 months the value of your pension will be less than it is now.” That is precisely what has happened. They were given an increase of 5s. last year, but the real value of the pension has gone down simply because prices have increased by 4 per cent., according to the prices index. But the pensioner has received no increase to compensate for his loss. Many pensioners will face another year with continuing erosion of their pension through further and possibly more extensive price increases. This is the reason why so many pensioners and pensioner organisations are protesting to members of Parliament about what has or has not been done in the Budget.
The supplementary assistance is given to a restricted number of pensioners who are paying rent, but the amount of assistance is determined under certain limited income and asset provisions. I am sometimes confronted by pensioners, as many other honorable members are, and asked why they do not receive the supplementary assistance. They say: “ I am only just starting to pay for my home. I will never own it in my lifetime.” Or perhaps they say: “ I am virtually paying more rent than someone down the street. I am paying more off my home than someone down the street is paying in rent.” It could be that the person paying rent and receiving the allowance under this provision is an invalid daughter or son in a wealthy home. He or she can receive the full invalid pension and yet be paying only 10s. a week rent to the wealthy father or mother and still receive the supplementary assistance. Yet the same assistance is not available to the unfortunate widow or aged person who is paying perhaps £3, £4 or £5 a week off a home and is paying municipal rates and water board rates. One woman came in to see me on Monday morning with a bill for £39 for water board rates on a unit at Brighton-le-Sands. She was paying insurance on her home and paying for its upkeep. All these charges had to be met but no supplementary assistance was available. Yet the Minister tells us in his speech that the Government seeks to give aid to those most in need of it. I suggest that a thoroughgoing qualitative and quantitative research programme is needed covering the whole gamut of social services to determine exactly where genuine need exists - and I assure the Minister for Social Services that apparently a lot of it exists undetected by the Government or ignored by it.
I want to move now to the subject of rehabilitation services. The Government, with a good deal of gusto, brought in a Bill called the Disabled Persons Accommodation Bill, I think last year or the year before, in which was provided a £2 for £1 subsidy for a very limited number of organisations for the welfare of a very limited number of invalid pensioners in respect of their housing or hostel accommodation. The Bill provided that this £2 for £1 subsidy would be given to organisations who built hostel or home accommodation for invalid pensioners employed in a sheltered workshop. As a matter of fact the Government did not have very ambitious ideas of just how many people this would look after, but it did provide in last year’s Budget for £150,000 to meet this subsidy. How much was claimed of the £150,000? Only £6,000. Only one project has been launched under this scheme.
The Government may have had worthy intentions for the scheme, but it must realise that this kind of subsidy will not affect many persons. It will leave untouched a whole host of worthy persons in the invalid pensioner class. We said at the time of the introduction of the legislation, and various organisations are still reminding the Government, that what is needed is to bring invalid pensioners under the same terms as apply to aged persons under the Aged Persons Homes Act. In other words the benefits of this scheme should not be restricted to people working in sheltered workshops. There is a host of invalid pensioners who do not want to work in sheltered workshops and who in many cases are not able to do so but who urgently need housing accommodation. Into the bargain there are many invalid pensioners who would rather be employed at home than work in a sheltered workshop. They may feel sensitive about their disabilities or they may have other reasons for not seeking to work in sheltered workshops.
There is a further point; there is entirely insufficient sheltered workshop accommodation in the community to cater for anything like the needs of these people. A booklet entitled “ Trends “, published in March of this year, contained the following remarks -
In N.S.W. alone, there are probably more than 20,000 physically or mentally handicapped persons who could benefit from the facilities provided by “ sheltered “ or “ closed “ workshops. For Australia as a whole the number is probably about 50,000 to 60,000.
There is nothing like adequate provision in the community for all these people, and one good reason is that the Government is not prepared to subsidise it. The organisations involved have to go out and run street appeals and engage in all kinds of fundraising activities. Many of these organisations are the ones whose members help to train people in the sheltered workshops. In another publication, “ Rehabilitation in Australia” published in January 1965 the following appeared - .
Several organisations are completing plans for hostels and endeavouring to raise the necessary capital so that they can claim the Government subsidy. However, only those initiated into the fund-raising “game” will understand how much hard work must be done, not just on five days per week but often on seven, before anything like a worthwhile sum for a hostel can be made. Through sales of art union tickets, fetes, door-to-door collections and other methods, which take great personal effort, their targets will eventually be reached.
Is it not a poor thing for a country that lauds itself on having one of the highest living standards in the world to oblige people to help these disabled persons by going out and engaging in this kind of fundraising activity? Why is this not a burden on the whole community? Why is the money not raised in the normal way by taxation instead of by people being forced to provide sheltered workshops and then to raise one third of the cost of the necessary hostel accommodation? Why does the Government not come into the field and do the thing properly? Under the present programme it will be many years before anything like a reasonable fraction of these people are catered for.
I have in mind the plaintive appeals of unfortunate families who have in their homes youngsters who are not just able to be placed in sheltered workshops. They are often beyond the stage where they could be so placed. Some of them suffer multiple handicaps. They represent a burden on their parents. I hate to say this but I hope that honorable members will understand what I mean. They represent a very big burden on their parents and in many cases they cause great anguish, with the parents continually wondering what will happen to the unfortunate handicapped child, sometimes handicapped mentally as well as physically, when those parents pass on. This is a matter of constant worry to some people who I know well and who are most estimable citizens. This is the kind of misfortune that we are told by science could be visited upon any family, and there is an urgent need in the community for the establishment of a centre that will at least provide day care for these people, even if they are just given training in social habits, so that they can be taken off the hands of their parents - very often the mother - for at least part of the time. This would give great relief to the unfortunate parents.
But I want to come back to the subject of sheltered workshops and say that the rehabilitation of these disabled persons could represent a great investment for this country. In many cases it would relieve the Government and the people generally of the necessity of paying invalid pensions for the rest of the lives of the handicapped persons. In addition these people would be engaged in productive effort and would contribute to taxation revenue, both direct and indirect. Our Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service is vastly inadequate to cater fully for all requirements in this field of rehabilitation. This year’s report of the Department of Social Services gave us the following information -
Disabled people accepted for rehabilitation during 1964-65 numbered 1,447, a decrease of 188 compared with the previous year.
Our own Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service is quite unable to cater for these people, and that is why we have organisations like the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association, the Poliomyelitis and Physically Handicapped Society and the Aid Retarded Persons organisation. All these organisations have sprung up to try, in their humanity, to meet a need that we have not been prepared to meet.
There are many problems existing in the community but I think that this is one that does call for action, and I hope that it will be realised that Government subsidies, well meaning though the principle behind them might be, are totally inadequate to meet the great social problem represented not only by the unfortunate handicapped persons themselves but also by the resultant effects on their families. We frequently speak about the shortage of labour in the community. We have an opportunity to put many of these handicapped persons back to work. I would like to see the Government amend the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act along the lines suggested by a number of organisations which have recommended an amendment to the legislation to include the following definition - “ disabled person “ means any person who is or has been in receipt of an invalid pension, or any person declared by the Director-General of Social Services to be a disabled person on the ground that that person is, through permanent physical or mental infirmity, unable to live without assistance in housing accommodation normally available in the community; and includes any person under the age of sixteen years whose degree of permanent physical or mental infirmity, as certified by a Commonwealth Medical Officer is such that were the person of the age of sixteen years, such person would be eligible to secure an invalid pension.
In other words, they seek a considerable widening of the provisions of the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act, and if we follow their suggestion we will be doing something worthwhile to meet a great humanitarian need in our community. I think that the Government deserves to be censured for the many things it has not done, and I urge it, in the terms of the Opposition’s amendment, to carry out a social services survey.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Bill is the first relating to social services that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) has introduced since taking office. I am sure we must all agree that he certainly has the capacity required of him by his Government in one regard at least; that is, that he seems competent of saying a great deal, and speaking at great length, about absolutely nothing. His second reading speech occupied six pages of “Hansard” and it is a great pity that the Bill does not justify such a long speech. The Bill does not contain anything really worthwhile for people who now are, or in the future may be, recipients of social service benefits. Had there been something worthwhile in the Bill the Minister would most likely have created a record by requiring a separate volume of “ Hansard “ in which to record his speech. Of course, the Government’s decision on social services must place the Minister on record as a person who, when not in a position of responsibility, was very vocal about what should be done in social service legislation to remedy injustice, but when in a position where he should be able to carry out his proposals failed completely to do so. He has failed not only to make what he said were necessary alterations, but to make any reference to them now. I say this because on 19th August last year, when speaking in the Budget debate, the Minister - who was then a backbencher - said about child endowment -
By lowering to15 the age limit for children entitled to receive child endowment, and by extending the student training scheme to that age, we may be able to accomplish more. This is a suggestion which I trust the Government will consider when preparing the next Budget.
The honorable gentleman’s argument or submission to Parliament on that occasion was that when a child became a full-time student at the age of15 years an amount of15s. endowment should be paid each week as is the case with a full-time student aged 16 years. Of course, there may be some merit in that suggestion, but at the same time the Minister wanted a position where when a child who was not a student reached age 15 the endowment should cease and not continue to the existing age of 16. The Minister wanted to rob Peter to pay Paul and still have a little left over for the Treasurer. This was not just a passing thought of the Minister, because on 16th September last year - one month after his previous speech on the subject - when speaking on the Social Services Bill (No. 2) he said - 1 suggest that serious consideration be given to reducing the age for payment of the new student endowment from 16 to15 years and at the same time abolishing the payment of child endowment to children over the age of 15 years.
That meant that once a child who was not a student reached the age of 15 years child endowment would cease. The honorable gentleman continued -
I believe that there is considerable merit in this proposal, not only from the standpoint of these students attending technical colleges but also because in all States a boy or girl is able to leave school to commence full time employment at the age of 15 years. I believe that in some States children are still able to leave school at the age of 14, which means that quite a number of children in respect of whom child endowment is paid are working. For this reason I feel that it is a little anomalous that parents should receive child endowment for children who have attained the age of 15 and are in employment while students attending technical colleges are not receiving the benefit of the 15s. a week which is paid as a student endowment.
As honorable members are aware endowment is paid for the eldest and second eldest child under 16 years at the rate of 5s. and 10s. a week respectively. Last year the Minister claimed that when, at 15, they became full time students the student allowance of 15s. a week should apply. But now, when he holds a position of responsibility and can or should be able to do something about these things, he fails to do anything at all. It is obvious that parents are very fortunate that the Minister was not permitted to carry out his ideas on child endowment, because if he had been allowed to do so there is no doubt that he would have discontinued the payment of child endowment in respect of those children aged 15 years who are not full time students. This is quite clear, because last year he claimed that such a move had considerable merit. If the Minister acted as he would like to act it would mean that parents of one child under 16 years would suffer to the extent of £13 a year, parents with two children under 1 6 years would lose £39, parents with three children under 16 years would lose £78 and parents with four children under 16 years would suffer to the extent of £1 17. So the loss would progressively mount with larger families.
While the Minister, as he is today, advocated at least twice last year the termination of child endowment at age 15 years on the grounds that at that age children were able to leave school and obtain full-time employment, it is very significant that as far as I know he has never suggested altering the provisions governing unemployment and sickness benefits to enable a person of 15 years to become eligible for such benefits. An unmarried person unable to obtain employment or who, through sickness, is unable to offer for employment, does not qualify under existing legislation for either unemployment benefit or sickness benefit unless he or she is at least 16 years of age. However, until that person reaches the age of 16 years, his parent is entitled to receive 5s. a week child endowment. Admittedly this is a miserable amount that has not been altered in the last 15 years, but at least it is available. The Minister, however, would not only like to take away that 5s. endowment payment, but he would make no offer to provide unemployment benefits to that young person if he were unable to work. Someone has suggested that the Minister is adopting an attitude similar to the attitude of his predecessor in office, but for my part I would suggest that if the Minister is ever permitted to amend this legislation in a way that he claims has considerable merit the former Minister, hard as he was, would seem like Father Christmas compared with the Minister we have today. If we analyse the Minister’s remarks and examine the Bill and note its meagre contents, there can be no doubt that pensioners, parents and children will never receive justice while the present Government remains in office.
The Opposition’s amendment, which was moved and spoken to in such a capable manner by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and which should receive the support of every fair minded member of the House reads as follows -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, this House condemns the Government for its failure -
to increase age, invalid and widows’ pensions and other social service benefits to meet, at least, greatly increased costs and prices, and
to make retrospective to the 1st July, 1965, the increases proposed by the Bill, and is of opinion that a Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee should be appointed -
to ascertain the extent and severity of distress, including distress due to poverty, within the community and recommend the provision of social services, community facilities and other assistance to ensure an adequate degree of well-being and security for the people of Australia, and
to review continually the operation of social service benefits “.
No-one can honestly deny that social service payments today are generally below what they should be when compared with the increased cost of living. There can be no doubt that pensioners and other recipients of social services must be finding it increasingly difficult to obtain any reasonable purchase value from the amount of social service they are receiving at this time. Their purchases and needs must be gradually reducing simply because the pensions they receive are not adequate to meet costs that they actually have to meet. It becomes quite obvious that pensioners, on the amount they receive under social services, cannot live in a manner in which any citizen of this country is entitled to live and should be living. Surely no age or invalid pensioner should have to live under conditions which can only be described as disgraceful, even if measured only against conditions which the people of this country consider to be reasonable. Yet this state of affairs is apparent, is allowed to continue and will continue until something definitely is done to correct those conditions.
The amendment moved by the Opposition calls on the Government to act on the matter of poverty within the community. It cannot be denied that there is poverty which must be corrected, and we say that it can be corrected. The Minister for Social Services, when speaking in this House last year, admitted that there was poverty in Australia. He said that there would always be poverty in an Australian community. I agree that there is poverty but I could never agree that there always will be. Why should there be poverty always? Why cannot it be overcome? Of course, while the present Government remains in office and while it continues along its present line of doing absolutely nothing in regard to poverty and, in fact, increases the possibility of poverty by lowering the standard of living for so many people, then of course there certainly will be poverty. But if the Government is prepared to go along with the Opposition and do as we propose in our amendment - ascertain where poverty exists, why it exists and then take some action to correct the position - then I am quite sure that it can be corrected and will be corrected. As a result, of course, there will be a large number of people who will benefit from that action.
I agree that we could have, and no doubt will have, cases of people living in a manner which would suggest poverty when actually there is none at all. But this is not the position that we are concerned with. We are concerned with the circumstances where poverty does exist. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that everything possible is done to remove conditions of poverty and take action along the lines suggested by the Opposition. I doubt very much if any fair minded gentleman in this House would oppose our recommendation for this standing committee. I would not expect any to do so.
The Bill before the House, like many others introduced by this Government, will be noted and remembered, not for what it contains, but for what it does not contain. The Bill covers eight alterations to the Social Services Act but the total amount which will be paid out in a full year of operation in regard to these alterations will be only £5.7 million. This is a clear indication of what can be expected from the alterations and amendments and it makes quite clear that the amounts involved in each amendment are pretty miserable. The 24th report of the Director-General of Social Services shows that a total of almost four million people, which includes recipients of child endowment and funeral benefit allowances, are recipients in some way of, or are the means whereby someone else is receiving, some benefit. Under this Bill a total of just over 89,000 people will receive some additional benefit while 3,900,000 will receive absolutely nothing.
The total amount to be paid out over a full year is, as I said, £5.7 million. Averaged over the total number of people in receipt of some sort of social service benefit it amounts to 27s. a year or something like 6d. per week. But of course, as 1 said just now, there are about 3,900,000 people who will not even receive 6d. a week. The Government has completely disregarded the urgent need to increase the base rate of pensions. There has been no increase at all of that rate. In relation to age pensioners, the rate for a married pensioner couple remains at £5 10s. a week each. The rate for a single pensioner remains at the same figure of £6 a week. There is no increase in the case of a married couple where only one is eligible to receive the age pension. With regard to invalid pen sioners, the existing rate of £5 10s. a week each will continue for a married couple where both are eligible. This has not been increased. The rate for a single invalid pensioner remains the same. In the case of a married couple, where only the husband is eligible, there is to be an increase of 10s. a week providing that the wife is not in receipt of any allowance.
The total number of age and invalid pensioners at 30th June this year was 735,573. We find that this Government has failed to grant any increase at all in the base pension rate for those people who are definitely suffering the result of increased living costs and whose circumstances and living conditions must surely have deteriorated. The rate of child endowment remains at the same level although, as 1 said earlier, parents and children can say a blessing that the Minister did not have the opportunity to bring in his ideas otherwise there would have been a worsening of the position. There is no alteration of maternity allowances, even though it was as long ago as 1943 that a Labour Government under John Curtin, set the existing rates. Apparently this Government can see no merit in maternity allowances but apparently it does not have the courage to remove them altogether. Just think of it; there have been no increases over a period of 22 years even though the purchasing power of the amount those people receive, and which has applied for so long, has deteriorated immensely and is continuing to diminish every year.
The base rate of widows’ pensions has not been altered, nor has it been altered for class A, class B or class C pensions. This is a very bad position, particularly in relation to classes B and C. There is no good reason, in my book, why a widow of much less than 60 years of age should be expected to live on an amount which is 12s. 6d. less than a widow with a dependent child. I am not including the child allowance in this argument. Neither am I suggesting that the present base rate of £6 a week is sufficient. All honorable members know that it is completely insufficient and should be increased considerably. But there seems to be no reason why a widow in class B should receive a lower amount until such time as she attains the age where she qualifies for the age pension.
The class C widow, being a widow under 50 years of age who is in necessitous circumstances, also receives only £5 7s. 6d. a week, which is 12s. 6d. a week less than the A class pensioner. Surely if that woman is in necessitous circumstances - if her circumstances are so poor - there is no reason why she should not receive the maximum base rate. I think that for this to continue is a disgraceful state of affairs. At 30th June last there was a total of 35,574 widows and not one of them will receive any increase in pension. With regard to maternity allowances, which, as I said earlier, are not to be increased, last year there were 228,139 claims. As there seems to be no reason why this figure should not remain at about the same level we can safely say that expenditure in that category is not likely to increase. In fact I notice that last year the number of claims was lower than it had been since 1959. Surely that expenditure is not causing the Government any concern.
With regard to child endowment, I noticed that last year the number of endowed children was 3,546,040. So honorable members can see that of the total number of almost four million recipients in just one section of the social services scheme, not one will receive one penny more as a result of this Bill. So we can see that a large number of the pensioners are being completely disregarded.- I have dealt with some of the items of social services which have not been increased. Of course, there are others including unemployment and sickness benefits. But let us have a look at the items which this Government has amended. First take the supplementary assistance. It is estimated that approximately 143,000 pensioners will be affected, but this number includes the 105,000 who are already receiving supplementary assistance. Further, as this supplementary assistance is given only to certain pensioners who pay rent, we find that married pensioner couples, whether they pay rent or not, are excluded. We find also that of the 735,573 age and invalid pensioners and the 35,574 widows- a total of 771,147- this Government, with great generosity, is handing out, by way of rent allowance, amounts ranging from ls. a week or even less - the means test operates here - to £1 a week to only 143,000 pensioners. Almost all of the 771,147 pensioners really require additional assistance, but this Government, with its discriminatory legislation, gives something - not much, but something - to only 143,000 pensioners and refuses to assist the other 628,000, some of whom would be in circumstances as bad as, if not worse than, those of some of the 143,000 who are to receive the extra benefit.
The Government has also decided to pay the wife’s allowance of £3 a week where an age pensioner has care of a child. Government supporters hail this as a great step forward. The important point, of course, is that it should never have taken this long to introduce such a meaure. It is interesting also to note that only about 100 wives will bc paid the allowance and that the cost to the Government for a full year will be a mere £15,000. This in itself shows how harsh this Government has been with social service payments over the years. Despite the fact that only 100 wives are involved and the cost is a paltry £15,000 a year, it has taken this Government all this time to give justice to these women.
The same criticism applies to the next proposal concerning the payment of an additional allowance where an age pensioner has a child. This will affect only 250 children and the estimated cost is only £10,000 a year. That is only chicken feed. Again I say that the Government stands condemned for not granting this assistance much earlier. At long last the Government has made a move to improve the funeral benefit. But what a miserable move it is. It is the first alteration to be made since 1943. For 22 years, the amount of £10 has not been increased, and in a large number of cases no increase is being granted now. The Government now intends to increase the funeral benefit to £20, but only where a person who is a pensioner or a woman receiving a wife’s allowance meets the cost of the funeral. Not only is this increase of £10 a miserable move on the part of the Government, but many people who are actually entitled to the additional benefit are denied it. For instance, where the wife of a pensioner is not herself a pensioner or is not in receipt of an allowance, the extra £10 will not be paid if she is required to meet the cost of burying her pensioner husband. The same applies to the friend of a pensioner who has no relatives. If that person decides to meet the funeral costs of his pensioner friend he will receive only £10, not the £20. Of course, if we measure the £10 provided in 1943 against the funeral benefit of £20 proposed now, we realise just what a miserable and discriminatory effort this Government is making. To measure up to the value of the £10 granted originally, the funeral benefit should be at least £40 today.
All in all, the Bill now introduced by the Government is a miserable . document. It gives a little - not very much - to a few but denies anything at all to a large number. The strange thing about it is that Government supporters seem completely unconcerned about that. People who either heard or read the speech which the Minister delivered as a back bencher on 1.6th September last year must have been greatly surprised to find when he introduced this Social Services Bill that no provision was made for any easing of the means test. Indeed, no suggestion was made by the Minister in his second reading speech thai there was any hope that it would be eased in the near future. On 16th September last year, the honorable gentleman waxed quite eloquent on the subject of the means test. In fact, he spoke about it for several minutes. It is. interesting to note that while referring to poverty in the community he said -
It is unfortunate that we cannot at this stage overcome the problem of poverty. While this situation exists the people in the poorest circumstances are the ones for which most assistance should be provided. This brings me to the question of the abolition of the means test.
He then went on to speak about suggestions made by this person and that person about whether age should come into the question, and so on. Finally, referring to the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), another very generous gentleman on the Government side, he said -
Whether or not the age of 70 years which he suggested is a right and proper age I am not able to say. but I believe there is a case for the abolition of the means test on pensions paid at an age later than 65 years.
But what happens when, the opportunity arises to put his ideas into operation? Exactly nothing. That matter is not even mentioned. It was completely disregarded with the result that the maximum permissible income for a single pensioner remains at £3 10s. a week and that for a married pensioner couple is still to be only £7 a week. These rates were fixed in 1954 and there has been a considerable change in circumstances since then. I suggest that even to maintain the purchasing power of the 1954 figure, the means test should be eased to the extent of allowing the maximum permissible income to be increased by at least £1 a week for the single pensioner and £2 a week for the married pensioner couple.
We hear cries from members on the Government side about the country being desperately short of workers. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) says: “ Let women do more work”. Of course, he says nothing about paying them equal pay with the men. He merely says: “ Let women do more work. That will help to solve this problem.” But when the Government has the opportunity to allow pensioners who are able - and there are many of them - to work part time and earn a little more, it is not prepared to ease the means test to enable them to do so without suffering a reduction in their pensions.
Let me refresh the Minister’s memory about something else that he said last year. He said -
There will always be poverty in the Australian community. There is always poverty in the communities of the world. This is something that this Government has tried to do something about.
He went on -
But there is no doubt that the proportion of the people in the Australian community who are on the bread line or who are only getting the basic wage is quite negligible.
I draw attention to the words “ only getting the basic wage “. I suggest that when speaking last year the Minister admitted that anyone who was only receiving the basic wage was on the bread line and in very poor circumstances. This must surely apply also to pensioners, particularly married pensioner couples. But what does the Minister or his Government do about it? Surely some increase should be made. The basic wage is something like £16 a week today yet, under this legislation, a married pensioner couple will receive only approximately three-quarters of that amount. Where are all these efforts of the Government in relation to poverty? What are these means that it talks about using? The Government is doing very little to increase social service benefits; its talk is simply froth and bubble.
I think the Government has no imagination in regard to this matter, or it has a peculiar type of imagination that will not stand up to investigation. All I can say in conclusion is that this Bill is certainly no better than previous bills dealing with social services introduced by this Government.
Mr. SPEAKER__ Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- In speaking to this social services legislation I should like to pay a tribute first to the DirectorGeneral of Social Services, his officers and staff, who were responsible for the compilation of the 24th annual report of the Department of Social Services. The information contained in it is very lucid and enlightening. As Vice-Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee during a recent inquiry into the Department of Social Services it was my pleasure and privilege to acknowledge the efficient system used by officers of the Department in carrying out their duties. In addition, I should like to thank the officers of the Sydney branch of the Department for their courtesy and promptness in dealing with the many cases I have submitted to them from constituents of the Watson electorate. However, despite the efficiency of the Department of Social Services I believe it will be readily acknowledged by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) and by the Director-General that there is always room for improvement. In consequence I shall refer to the guide to entitlement leaflets issued by the Department and obtainable by applicants for social service benefits. Let me quote that section of the age pensions leaflet which applies to the operation of the means test, which I believe to be very confusing and not easily understood by the vast majority of applicants. As a matter of fact, I suggest that quite a few members of this Parliament are not fully conversant with provisions in relation to entitlement under the merged means test. I know that I learn something new about it myself every week.
In illustrating this point I shall quote portion of the leaflet. The leaflet from which I shall quote was issued in November 1963. Since then there have been various adjustments in the pension rate and 1 make allow ance for these in my remarks. The leaflet reads -
The pension payable is calculated by deducting from the applicable minimum annual rate of pension the amount by which the claimant’s means as assessed exceed £182. Thus -
Where the standard rate applies:
If his means as assessed are not more than £182, he receives the full pension of £312 a year (£6 a week). If his means as assessed exceed £182 and are less than £494 a reduced pension is payable. The rate payable is the maximum rate of £312 a year less the amount by which means as assessed exceed £182.
If his means as assessed are £494 or more, no pension is payable.
No pension is payable where the value of property is £5,140 or more.
A claimant who owns property valued at less than £210 may receive a full pension if the annual rate of his income does not exceed £182. If the annual rate of his income exceeds £182, the pension is reduced by the excess. He is eligible for some pension unless the annual rate of his income is £494 or more.
Similarly, a claimant with no income may receive a full pension if the value of his property does not exceed £2,020. The pension is reduced by £1 a year for each complete £10 of property over £2,020, but he is eligible for some pension unless the value of his property is £5,140 or more.
Where a person has income and his property is worth £210 or more, the rate of income which he may receive and still be entitled to a full pension varies with the value of his property. The rate of income which makes him ineligible for pension also varies with the value of his property. Conversely, the value of property which does not affect his pension, and the value which makes him ineligible for pension, both vary with the rate of his income. In all cases, property of £200 is disregarded.
Just imagine the average age pensioner understanding that. Can honorable members imagine it? I ask the Minister whether he would be good enough to devise some means by which information could be displayed at Post Offices so that people will know what their entitlement is.
I intend, to cite certain cases tonight. Every member of this House has experienced cases of people who have not known they were entitled to a pension before coming to their member of Parliament, and they are only the people who consult a member of Parliament. I suggest that there are tens of thousands of people in Australia entitled to at least a part pension who are unaware of the fact because they do not understand the meaning of the merged means test. Let me give the House some illustrations. Recently a couple came to me. They have a property, a home, in which they do not live, valued at £5,400. They have money in the bank amounting to £1,100. That means that under the present merged means test they have a property component of £6,500, and would be entitled to a pension of £165 a year or £3 3s. 6d. a week. However, this is the point I am making. These people had withdrawn about £1,300 out of the bank during the last two years to live on because they did not think they were entitled to a pension in view of the fact that they were receiving a rental of £3 10s. a week for their property. If they had applied for the pension two years previously, when the pension was £5 5s. a week each for a married couple they would have been entitled to a pension of £1 8s. a week for two years from 1954 and later would have been entitled to £1 13s. a week. The fact is that these people, not knowing of the merged means test, have robbed themselves of a couple of hundred pounds.
Let me give honorable members another illustration. This case is of a person already in receipt of a pension but who was unaware that she was entitled to receive income from property without affecting her pension. She was a lady who had nothing except the home she lived in at The Entrance on Tuggerah Lakes. The home was valued at £3,000. She had a married son living in Sydney and decided to move to Sydney to live near her son, because he was the only company she had. She went to Sydney and took a room, as there was no accommodation where her son was living. She paid 25s. a week for this room. Her home at The Entrance was valued at £3,000, and because she was not living in it she lost £98 a year from her pension because of the application of the merged means test. What she did not know was that she could have let her property at The Entrance. The property remained vacant for two years. She said to me: “ Mr. Cope, I did not know I could let it. I thought I would lose my pension.” I believe that she could have received an average of £5 a week for this property at The Entrance because the area is a holiday resort, but because of her ignorance she lost £500 in two years. She did not know anything about the merged means test. She did not know that she could obtain income from a home that she owned but in which she was not living.
Let me give another case of a person who was in receipt of a supplementary pension. This lady had £200 in. the bank. As honorable members know, under the merged means test a person who has more than £209 in the bank is not entitled to the supplementary assistance of 10s. a week or, as the position will be now, £1 a week. This woman had a money box in her home into which her sons and daughters, when they paid her a visit, would put a few shillings. After a certain time she found that there was £50 in the money box. When she put that money into the bank it brought her bank account to £250. She was honest, and when she filled in the yearly information sheet she showed that she had £250 in the bank and as a result lost her 10s. a week supplementary allowance. She also has to pay back about £13 because she had been receiving . the supplementary allowance while she had that amount of money in the bank. This woman is quite honest, but she does not understand the means test. These people are not supplied with any information. Why does the Department not send out the information to these people each year when it seeks from them details of their financial position? AH I ask is that the Department explain the means test in more easily understood language so that people may know their entitlement. It is the Government’s duty to supply this information. It is not the pensioner’s duty to run around trying to get a pension. It is the duty of the Government to let him know whether he is entitled to a pension.
Let me refer to another anomaly. At present if a person applies for an age pension he must wait for his first payment until the first pension day after his application is submitted. If he applied for an age pension and his application was received, say, last Friday, the pension would not be payable until Thursday of next week - a lapse of almost a fortnight. I realise that a line must be drawn somewhere but I do not think a delay of the kind I have referred to is justified. Only recently a case came to my notice of a man who posted his application for pension on the pension day. His application was not received until the next day - the Friday. He missed out on a fortnight’s pension. I think it would be fair if he missed out on only one week’s pension. As matters now stand this man and his wife are losing £11 simply because applications are not approved from week to week instead of fortnight to fortnight. These are anomalies which the Minister should rectify.
Let me refer now to the pension itself. In an affluent society in which the Government is budgeting for a surplus of £19 million it is appalling that the general rate of pension has not been increased. In the last 12 months, due to inflationary trends, encouraged by the stupid policies of this Government, the price of basic foodstuffs has increased. The price of meat has increased. Only recently the price of bread was increased. Record prices are being charged for vegetables, fruit and other essentials, such as clothing, footwear and shoe repairs. Yet there has been no general increase in pension rates. At present, many pensioners have difficulty in making ends meet. An increase in the pension rate will not be considered for another 12 months. It is dastardly for any government budgeting for a surplus of £19 million to wait until election year before increasing pensions so as to capture a few votes.
– It is scandalous.
– It is indeed a scandalous state of affairs. Because it wishes to gain a few votes the Government will make these people wait another 12 months for justice. How does any honorable member think that a married couple paying rent can exist on £11 a week? Of course it is impossible. Not one government supporter would dare suggest that this amount is sufficient for a married couple. I admit that we must take into consideration the national economy but. it is disgraceful for any government budgeting for a surplus of £19 million to require a married couple paying rent and not in receipt of any other income to exist on a paltry £11 a week. The only way in which pensioners, particularly those with no other income, will get justice is through a Labour government. When the pensioners came to Canberra on the occasion of the Budget, 11 members of the Parliament met them. Guess which party those members belonged to. They were members of the Labour Party. Not one member of the Government parties was present to hear the case put by the pensioners. The Government supporters are not very interested in the pensioners. Government supporters would be frightened of being criticised. It is an odd situation that when these people, representing hundreds of thousands of pensioners in Australia, come to Canberra the only people who give them a sympathetic hearing are members of the Australian Labour Party.
– in reply - I would like to refer briefly to a few of the arguments that have been presented in the course of this debate. In particular, I wish to deal briefly with the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). First, I wish to say that there have been a few excellent contributions in this debate. I appreciate fully the effort and understanding that honorable members have put into the problems that arise in dealing with social welfare measures for the community. However, I was rather sorry to hear what I regard as unfortunate comments about my distinguished Country Party colleague, the former Minister for Social Services, the Honorable Hugh Roberton who, I feel, did a great deal to advance the social welfare provisions of this country. Any reflection on his very distinguished term of office was quite unnecessary.
Dealing in detail with some of the arguments that have been presented today, I cannot but help refer to some of the statistics presented by the honorable member for Grayndler. In any group of statistics it is natural that there should be a variation according to the period and according to the relevance of the statistics. During the debate I took the opportunity to refer to some figures that were presented by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who is now in the chamber, during his contribution in the Budget debate. I notice that in that debate on 24th August he gave some percentages of gross national product related to health and welfare. Those figures were so different from the figures presented by the honorable member for Grayndler that I could not understand them until I found that the figures referred to by the Leader of the Opposition related to expenditure on operations concerned with health and welfare. In the course of his Budget speech, the Leader of the Opposition had incorporated in “ Hansard “ a table showing receipts and outlay of all Commonwealth authorities expressed as a percentage of the gross national product. Item 10 in that table related to cash benefits. These amounts represent the percentage of the gross national product that has been distributed under the health and welfare provisions of the Commonwealth Budget.
By the same token, if we look at the statistics and the percentage of funds that has been spent from my Department, not only under the terms of the Social Services Act, but also under the Aged Persons Homes Act, we find that the. figures are somewhat different from those presented by the honorable member for Grayndler, particularly if we look at them in relation to slightly different years. For example, if we look at total expenditure from the National Welfare Fund expressed as a percentage of the gross national product, we find that in 1948-49 the figure was 3.30 per cent. We find that in the year 1964-65 the figure had increased to 3.55 per cent. If we look at the percentage which total expenditure under the National Welfare Fund bears to national income we find that in 1948-49 the figure was 3.84 per cent. I think these were the figures used by the honorable member for Grayndler. By 1964-65 the figure had increased to 4.42 per cent. I put these figures before the House because I think a tremendous amount has been achieved by this Government over the years by increasing the amount of social welfare contributions available to members of the Australian community.
There have been many notable contributions in the debate today by Government supporters who have given details about social welfare contributions and who have analysed them in far greater detail than I intend to do at this stage. I compliment members of the Government members* social services committee, who have put a great deal of effort into investigating social service conditions in the Australian community. In this way, a great deal can be done to assist those members of the Government who are endeavouring to provide for as many members of the Australian population as possible assistance as great as can be afforded within the general budgetary requirements.
I felt that the principal part of the attack by the honorable member for Grayndler on the Government’s social service legislation did not altogether accord with the amendment he moved. In one part of his amendment he suggested that more consideration should be given to areas of relative need in the community. He likes to call them areas of distress due to poverty. He does not like my phrase “ areas of relative need “. Need or poverty is basically a matter of degree. In Australia we are much more fortunate than people in communities not so far from our snores where need is a question of a full belly rather than a full pocket. In Australia we have fortunately long since passed from this area of need. The honorable member for Grayndler said that there should have been a general pension increase. He seemed to disapprove of the idea of choosing those areas where it was felt there should be some improvement of the present pension conditions. It has been rather towards these areas of relative need - in other words, towards the areas where it was felt there was a pension condition that needed improvement - that the Government has directed its efforts this year. I think that it has been very admirably pointed out by honorable members on the Government side that this has been most effectively done.
It has been said that not very much has been provided for all the pension community. However, I point out that the funeral benefit is to be paid to all pensioners who are responsible for the payment of funeral expenses. The legislation has been changed so that all pensioners who are responsible for funeral expenses will receive some benefit. The honorable member tor Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) raised the question of the extension of medical services. This field is related to social services. It is administered by my Department but is basically the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health (Mr. Swartz).
A number of suggestions have been put before the House in this debate. I will look into each of them and see whether something can be done. The honorable members for Watson (Mr. Cope) and Barton (Mr. Reynolds) referred to the availability of literature to advise persons who may be eligible of their entitlement. Officers of the Department are available in most communities. If they are not available in a particular area, they are not very far away. It is very easy for any person, either by contacting his local member or the nearest office of the Department of Social Services, to ascertain immediately his entitlement to a benefit. Any persons who are in doubt as to their eligibility should do this. In this way, the situations mentioned by the honorable member for Watson will be avoided.
I want to deal briefly with one other matter. This was raised by the honorable members for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) and Mackellar and relates to the supplementary incomes of widows. When we consider extending the entitlement of widows to earn supplementary income according to the number of their children - I think this was the basis of the suggestion that was made - we go beyond a purely social services problem into the area of sociological problems. There is some controversy in the Australian community, and in fact in most western communities, as to whether it is fit and proper for a mother with children to go out to work. The government over the years has tried to increase the level of immediate income available from the Government, and it has been rather towards this end that Government assistance has been provided. The honorable member for Mackellar also compared the maximum income of widows with the basic wage. The basic wage, as 1 understand it, is still related to the needs of a man, his wife and one child. A widow with one child at this stage has an income of about three quarters of the male basic wage. In the circum stances, I think the amount of Government assistance to widows is a fair proportion of the basic wage.
The amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler on behalf of the Opposition is in two parts. The first part relates to matters that the Opposition feels should have been done but have not been done. I have tried to deal with this aspect in my criticism of the attack of the honorable member on the Government’s social service programme. I have pointed out that the Government has tried to select those sections of the community where there is an area of need. The Government feels that the funds that are available are better spent in giving direct assistance to persons who are in greater need than to those who may be slightly more affluent. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the supplementary allowance will be of tremendous assistance to quite a number of people whose personal incomes are not as great as those of members of other sections of the community.
The second part of the honorable member’s amendment seeks the establishment of a joint parliamentary standing committee to investigate aspects of social service legislation. One of the problems in such an investigation is contained in :.he first part of this section of the amendment. The amendment says - and recommended the provision of social services and then continues - community facilities and other assistance . , .
The problem that arises in an investigation of the conditions of individuals is that the investigation extends beyond the immediate responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. Obviously, “ community facilities and other assistance” are not solely the prerogative or the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. The major responsibility for the broader aspects of social welfare remain at the government level with the States, and for this reason I would suggest that any extension of an inquiry into these fields, which certainly relates to the needs of the individual, would go far beyond the constitutional responsibility of the Commonwealth. It would not be practicable for any committee to investigate the totality of the situation. I feel, therefore, that the suggestion of the honorable member would be quite inadequate to carry out the investigation that he seems to think is needed.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) said that a survey is now being conducted by a department within the Melbourne University. I think that the universities are the bodies that should properly direct their efforts towards an investigation of the sociological problems pf these people. An investigation of this nature is more a matter for people, within the universities or research institutes than for members of the Public Service. I think that the results of the research being conducted by the Melbourne University will be of assistance to members of the Parliament and to members of the Australian Social Services Council and other similar bodies who are interested in the problems of the recipients of social service benefits. Accordingly, I ask honorable members to oppose the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler and to support the Bill in its present form.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Daly’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Sir John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation for the Social Services Bill 1965 announced.
Message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation for the purposes of an amendment to the Social Services Bill 1965 announced.
Bill committed pro forma; progress reported.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Sinclair) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker, on 29th June of this year, the Industrial Commission delivered a judgment in what had been intended to be a margins case but turned out to be a case in which a decision was given on the basic wage and margins. The great bulk of those who have been associated with industrial arbitration work were astounded at the majority decision handed down that day, because it largely destroyed the basis on which the basic wage has been determined in this country since 1907. The reasons stated in the majority judgment were not reasons that the trade union movement had had to meet on any previous occasion in its history of this kind of industrial work. Most of us were at a loss to understand where the Commission derived the kind of reasoning that it used in its decision which shocked the workers of this country.
In our search for what had happened, many of us felt that there was a hand behind the scene. We knew that the Government had changed its point of view between the time that counsel for the Commonwealth had opened its case and the time when its case was finalised. We knew that the Government had said that any increase in the basic wage at that stage would be dangerous to the economy. We knew - at least we felt - that the Government was not in favour of a one judgment decision. We knew that the Government was opposed to any increase in the basic wage, but we were at a loss to understand the type of reasoning that was used in the majority judgment.
I have mentioned that that judgment was handed down on 29th June. On 6th May the Committee of Economic Inquiry had sent the first part of its report to the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), but that report was not made available to the House until this week. Still thinking of what had happened before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, I was struck by the leading article in yesterday morning’s “ Australian “, the final paragraph of which said -
Perhaps it is coincidence - but since the committee handed in its report four months ago, there has been a basic wage judgment almost exactly on the lines it proposed ….
I would have thought that when that article appeared, whoever was responsible for the handling of this report, whether it was the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) or the Prime Minister, would have had something to say about that comment. But that was not the case. 1 knew that in the Parliamentary Library there was another report that had something to say on this matter, but before I went to that report I decided to see what had been said about this at the industrial level. I then went back to the Library to look at a copy of “ Incentive “ which is now produced by Mr. Maxwell Newton, who was closely associated with the introduction in Australia of the “ Financial Review “ and was on the staff of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ and was later associated with the “ Australian “. In the 23rd June edition of “ Incentive “, which has been available in the Library ever since that date, at page 8 Mr. Newton deals with business notes and, referring to the judgment of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the basic wage case, said -
The judgment will bear on the Government’s budget planning now going ahead. However, the Commission’s consideration for the Government’s planning was not reciprocated in at least one important respect. Mr. Holt stated in his gloomy Brisbane airport interview that he would be interspersing his underwater dives with an examination of the Vernon Committee’s findings which, if what we are told is true, might leave him almost as soggy as one of his dives. (The report is said by officials who have read it to be a considerable letdown and really useful mainly as a text book in elementary Descriptive Economics.) The Arbitration Commission was perhaps mercifully saved the trouble of perusing the whole Report, because the Government only sent the first part along to the Commission - no more was available to it.
This article, dated 23rd June, was produced by a. man who knows something about economics in Australia. He was the brain behind the “ Financial Review “ when it was first produced. When I received the report of the Committee of Economic Inquiry I thought it might be a good idea to see just how much of the report had been copied into the majority decision of the Commission. I draw the attention of the House first to page 7.25 of the Vernon Committee’s report where it deals with margins for skill. The report states -
We believe that adjustments to margins for skill in particular occupations ought to be judged on their merits and not quasi-automatically related to adjustments in other occupations.
That was exactly the principle contained in the majority decision on margins. Then at page 7.28 when dealing with the cost of living, the report stated -
Cost-of-living adjustments are a clumsy device for securing even the limited objective of constant real wages. . . .
So we get the story that the cost of living is not to be affected, a principle which was repeated in the majority judgment. In dealing with capacity to pay, the Vernon Committee’s report states at page 7.29 -
In our opinion, the concept of capacity to pay requires careful interpretation. It tends to give support to the notion that the Commission is assessing the magnitude of a “wages-fund” from which wage increases can be paid.
The tenor of this expression runs right through the majority judgment. Now let me go further to what is stated in the report. I draw the attention of the House to the summary at page 7.35 where it states -
We do not think that there should be a presumption that wages should be increased to the extent of past increases in the cost of living.
I shall now read from a report which shows exactly what the majority judgment said. The report states -
Decides that neither the basic wage nor margins should be altered because of movements in the Consumer Price Index, whether those movements are up or down.
That is the same principle with merely the words changed. I now go to the next reference which caused the trade union movement so much trouble. The Vernon Committee’s report at page 7.36 states -
We believe that the distinction between the basic wage and margins should be retained as a source of useful flexibility, but joint hearings of basic wage and major margins cases should be the rule. We think that annual reviews of the basic wage and the general levels of margins are desirable.
I now read from a report what the majority judgment said on the same subject -
Decides that there should be annual reviews of the economy at which one bench of the Commission should make a simultaneous determination for the following 12 months of the basic wage and the level of margins so far as the latter is fixed on general economic grounds.
I do not think there is any doubt that the report in “ Incentive “ which has been lying in the Library since 23rd June was available to the officers of the Minister for Labour and National Service, who was so anxious today to say that the responsiblity was his. It was available for perusal, and if the Minister and his officers were not sufficiently alert to find that people were saying these things on 23rd June, when in point of fact the decision was being handed down on 29th June, the Minister should not have been so alert today to jump when this question arose.
There is no doubt in my mind that those who wrote the majority judgment had pretty clearly in mind the report that was coming to this House per medium of the Prime Minister in relation to the economic inquiry that had been set up. The first copy of the report of the Committee of Economic Enquiry and its finding on the basic wage and margins was well known to the Commission at the time when the majority decision was written. The decision was brought down to take away from the trade union movement the principles that have been held by the movement since 1907 as the proper basis for assessing living standards in Australia. For the first time, because of this kind of report and this kind of judgment, the workers of Australia who are on a basic wage standard are worse off than they have ever been since 1907.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) obviously suffers from one delusion in that he referred to the Industrial Commission. The fact is that this had nothing at all to do with the Industrial Commission but with the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The honorable member has the Industrial Court mixed up with the Arbitration Commission. He did something that I think is regrettable and should not be permitted in this House. He tried to undermine the integrity and decency of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. He said, on the most flimsy evidence, that he thought there was a hand behind the scenes and that of necessity someone must have provided the Arbitration Commission with a part or parts of the report of the Vernon Committee. I stated categorically this morning that no p*rt of the Vernon Committee’s report had been submitted to the Arbitration Commission prior to the date on which it made its finding.
To show further the astonishing kind of imagination of the honorable member for Blaxland - in other places it would not be called imagination but it would be called by a much more drastic word - he went on to say: “We knew the Government had changed its mind during the course of the case”. That, Sir, is totally untrue. The transcript is available and I am prepared to say that the honorable gentleman has not read the transcript. Certainly he did not ask me for a copy of the transcript or for the daily report on it. From the day we made our first submission we stood by our statement that any rise in the wage would be fraught with great difficulties for the economy. We did not change our opinion from the date on which we first presented that submission until the date on which the case was concluded.
The honorable member went on to say categorically that we were against an increase in the wage. The simple truth is that we thought that there would be an increase in the wage. It was the size of the increase that exercised the imagination of Government members. How does the honorable member for Blaxland know what we thought? I have never told him and the Government has never told him. I would not tell him for a good reason that will be known to everyone.
Those are the points to which I wish to direct attention. I want to state categorically, because I believe the integrity of the Commission is at stake here, that I think this Government has acted honourably and sensibly and with complete decency. I for one want to stand up here and protect the Commission to the limit of my ability. I think it is a matter of enormous regret that this gentleman from Blaxland, who holds himself out on other occasions as being one of those who support the traditions of the Arbitration Commission, should, on the flimsiest of evidence - on one report out of a journal he has managed to obtain from the Library - come here and attempt to undermine the influence of an institution that has been of enormous benefit to the wage earner of this country and particularly to the trade unionist.
– The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) has not attacked the Commission.
– What did he do, then?
– What he did was to put the Government on the spot. What he said was that in a paper titled “ Incentive “, produced by Maxwell Newton, a former high ranking officer of the Treasury-
– Not high ranking.
– A high ranking officer; so high ranking that the Minister and others sent him overseas to study in Britain-
– No, the Bank of New South Wales did.
– In any case, he came back to Australia, left the Treasury and joined the “Sydney Morning Herald” as a newspaper man. He persuaded the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ to publish the “ Financial Review “ and later he left the “ Financial Review “ and the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ to become associated with the “Australian”. He fell out with Mr. Murdoch and then he started a paper of his own called “ Incentive “. These are the facts. In June last “ Incentive “ said, as the honorable member for Blaxland has told the House tonight, that after the Arbitration Commission had finished its hearings and before it gave its judgment certain documents from the Vernon Committee’s report were made available to it. That is the charge of the honorable member for Blaxland. There was no attack upon the Commission. What the honorable member said was that the Government had made the information available. The document in which the charge was made was on the table of the Library in June last. Does the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) expect the House to believe that the officers of his Department or any other Department or the people in the Library did not make that document available to the Government between June and September? The honorable member for Blaxland discovered it and used it tonight.
The Government has a case to answer. The honorable member for Blaxland has criticised the judgment of the Commission, as he is entitled to criticise it, but he has related the judgment of the Commission to the provisions of the Vernon Committee’s report. He has said and proved that this charge was made as far back as June last.
The Minister has not answered the charge. He has tried to smear the honorable member for Blaxland, claiming that he made an attack upon the Commission. There was no attack upon the Commission but there was a criticism of the Commission for having taken note of the provisions of the Vernon Committee’s report. That report was not made available to this House until yesterday, but it obviously was available, on the evidence of Mr. Maxwell Newton in “ Incentive “, before the Commission had delivered its judgment.
Let the Government conduct the inquiry on this issue promised by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) yesterday. It is not the prerogative of the Minister for Labour and National Service to make a reply upon this question, because obviously it has nothing at all to do with his Department. The Prime Minister said that the publication and distribution of the report was the prerogative of the Department of the Treasury. I know that the Minister would like to be the Treasurer, but for some obscure reason which I cannot understand he does not occupy that position. Do not let him mislead the House tonight by claiming to speak on behalf of the Treasury, because he does not do so. It is not the function of the Department of Labour and Naional Service to give an explanation of this disclosure of the contents of the Vernon Committee’s report to the Arbitration Commission, to the detriment of the wage and salary earners of Australia.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.7 a.m. (Friday).
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated -
m asked the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
m asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
d asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1. (a) and (b) Number of Television Viewers’ Licences issued -
n asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1. (a) One Escort Maintenance Ship Two Type 12 Destroyer Escorts
Four Oberon-Class Submarines in the United Kingdom.
Escort Maintenance Ship - 15,000
Type 12 Destroyer Escort - 2,600
Charles F. Adams-Class Destroyer- 4,500
Oberon-Class Submarine- 2,030
Two Charles F. Adams-Class Destroyers-
Defoe Shipbuilding Co., Bay City, Michigan, United States of America.
One Type 12 Destroyer Escort- Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Co. Pty. Ltd., Cockatoo Island, Sydney, New South Wales.
One Type 12 Destroyer Escort- H.M.A. Naval Dockyard, Williamstown, Victoria.
y asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
How many telephone applications are outstanding at this date in (a) the Commonwealth and (b) each State?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The number of outstanding applications for telephone service are assessed at the end of each calendar month. As at 31st August, the position in each State and the Commonwealth was as follows -
b asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
s asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1, 4 and5. Tankers licensed to operate in the coasting trade, their owners, operating companies and ports of registry are as follows -
2, 4 and 5. Unlicensed tankers which have been issued with single voyage permits for the carriage of petroleum products and other liquid bulk cargoes, e.g., molasses, caustic soda, &c, during the twelve months, 1st August 1964 to 31st July 1965, inclusive, together with ports of registry and owners, are as follows. It is not possible to specify the operating companies for these tankers as it is not necessarily known to whom such vessels were chartered at the time permits were sought.
The 12 tankers engaged in the coasting trade have been licensed subject to compliance by the master, owner and agent of the vessel, with the provisions of the Navigation Act and of the Regulations thereunder, and in particular with the following conditions -
Single voyage permits were granted to the unlicensed tankers named above subject to the following conditions -
That loading shall take place within three clear days of the nominated sailing date.
– On 16th September the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Bridges-Maxwell) asked me a question concerning Volume III. of the Report of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia. I have now obtained the information sought by the honorable member on that occasion.
I understand that Volume III. of the Report should be available to the Government next week. We propose to examine this part of the Report promptly and arrangements will be made for its presentation to Parliament as soon as possible thereafter.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 September 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1965/19650923_reps_25_hor47/>.